Notes: References to parental homophobia.

So! I tried my best to get this up Sunday, but between internet problems and the fact that I thought I had strep throat for the past couple days and was off work sleeping (it turned out to just be a bad case of tonsillitis lmao, but I'm due for my yearly case of strep throat so I definitely thought it was that), Thursday night is going to have to do for this week LOL

Also, today on reasons why I shouldn't have forgotten my planning book back in Alberta: High school cheer nationals is in February and chapter 14 is set in April/into early May lmao so ignore that little inconsistency


Chapter Summary: Brittany and Santana hunt down some estranged relatives, and they finally manage to string together three little words.

Chapter Title: if I could do it again, I wouldn't change a thing 'cause it's made me who I am

"You know what?" Santana grumbles in exasperation, so suddenly that she startles Brittany into almost choking on one of her dad's cookies, "I'm really sick and tired of all this emotional shit."

Brittany laughs a little and rolls back over from where she had been leaning over the edge of the blanket—Don't eat it on me, Britt, crumbs are scratchy! Eat over the grass you monster!—and throws her arm across Santana's stomach, effectively pinning her to the blanket beneath them, ignoring the way Santana squirms a little to try and throw Brittany off of her. Despite the barrier between them and the damp grass, the blanket is still cool to the touch. "All this emotional shit is kind of inevitable, babe, all things considered."

Santana snorts haughtily and pretends that she's not cuddling further into Brittany as she shoves at the arm on her stomach. Brittany just goes dead weight above her and presses her cold nose to Santana's skin until Santana gives up on trying to shove Brittany off of her with a long-suffering sigh. "Well, I'm tired of it. I'm going to get my emotions surgically removed and then I won't have to deal with this ever again."

Brittany grins against Santana's jaw. "I wonder how much they'd sell for on the black market."

"Oooh," Santana hums and tilts her head so she can quickly kiss Brittany, "don't tempt me."

Brittany's laughter is muffled against Santana's lips, and Santana squirms a little at the ticklish feeling, but her grin is just as wide, their noses pressed together and their laughter in the other's mouth.

Even the the ground below them is cool, the sun is still warm enough that they don't need to use the second blanket they brought out. The sun sinks towards the ground, painting the Pierce's backyard in shades of pink sunlight and indigo shadows. Spring is in full swing now that it's already into April and the snow has almost completely melted away—save for a few patches of snow under McKinley's outdoor bleachers and a couple piles in grocery store parking lots. But the weather has been unseasonably warm this past week, and Brittany finally managed to convince Santana that cuddling on the grass isn't ridiculous and too damn cold. Santana is bundled up in a stolen hoodie of Brittany's, her hands swallowed by the length of the sleeves and the hood working as a makeshift pillow under her head. Brittany keeps Santana's side warm with her body, her nose finding that spot behind Santana's ear where she smells the sweetest—something that Brittany now knows is a result of a fancy looking perfume bottle that currently has a home on Brittany's dresser.

The rest of the Pierces are currently scattered around Lima, with Whitney and her sister at the munchkin's soccer game and Pierce working a late shift, meaning that Brittany and Santana have the house to themselves for the first time in nearly three weeks. Which is something that Santana had reminded Brittany of about an hour earlier, and after taking advantage of being able to close the bedroom door without a parent busting through it ten minutes later, Brittany had managed to coax Santana outside. Her reasoning was that her parents wouldn't be able to accuse them of doing anything untoward when they got home if her and Santana were hanging out in the backyard; and the unseasonably warm weather and promises of Brittany's secret stash of Pierce's fresh-yesterday cookies and lots and lots of kisses had definitely done their part to convince Santana too.

It's into the first week of April by now, and Santana still hasn't called the numbers they found in Dr. Lopez's address book—not that Brittany can blame her. This is essentially Santana's one and only shot at finding her mom's sister, because after scouring the entirety of Dr. Lopez's office to no avail, neither of them have any idea where else to look. Santana was too young to remember her aunt and uncle's names outside of calling them auntie and uncle, and the only thing she remembers about her cousins is that there was an sss sound in one of their names.

So outside of those three numbers—after Santana and Brittany had finally managed to decipher Dr. Lopez's dumb chicken scratch enough to actually read the numbers—both of them know that there's not much hope in finding Maribel's family outside of sheer dumb luck and coincidence.

The sun has almost completely sunk below the tree line on the west side of Lima, painting the backyard in inky shadows that somehow seem thick and heavy, by the time that Santana sits up and dislodges Brittany from her side to reach into her hoodie pocket for her phone and the piece of paper folded neatly against it. Brittany sits up slowly and once again presses herself to Santana's side, wrapping an arm around Santana's lower back to anchor her hand at her opposite hip, pressing her warmth into Santana's back and side.

"Are you ready?" she asks quietly.

Santana is silent for a moment before she nods resolutely. "Yeah, I just— Is it okay if I put it on speaker phone?"

Brittany smiles a little and quickly ducks forward to kiss the corner of Santana's mouth. "Of course," she whispers.

"Okay," Santana swallows thickly and glances down at her phone, crinkling the piece of paper in her other hand a little as she shakily starts typing in the first number, "Okay."

The first two numbers—the one from Lima and the one from the L section—prove to be dead ends, since both of them are out of service, but the last one, the one from the J section, actually goes through and starts to ring.

Santana tenses a little and stares, wide-eyed, at Brittany, the piece of paper crumbling into a tiny ball in her hand as she clenches her fist. Brittany swallows thickly and tightens her hold on Santana, her stomach churning with nerves and fears and hopes.

A woman answers with a voice that is somehow both warm and firm, and the "Hello" has them both freezing in place. Santana's jaw works for a moment but no words come out, until a second, slightly more impatient and confused, "Hello?" jolts her into motion.

"Um, hi," Santana says shakily, dropping the piece of paper to the blanket under them and holding the phone in both hands, "Are you— Is this— Is this Lorna?"

"Speaking," the woman says, and Brittany lets out an unsteady breath she hadn't really realized she was holding. She ducks her head down to kiss Santana's shoulder when Santana starts to tremble. "Can I help you?" the woman—Lorna—continues when Santana is silent for long moments, trying to force her mouth into forming words but failing miserably.

Lorna's slightly suspicious voice jolts Santana back into stillness, her spine straightening a little as she takes a deep breath to ask the million dollar question, because while it's unlikely, it's still one-hundred percent plausible that Dr. Lopez just so happens to have a phone number in his address book that had the same name as, but ultimately no relation to, his dead wife's sister.

"Are you Maribel Lopez's sister?"

There's a silence over the line that somehow sounds overwhelmingly loud, and when Lorna continues, it's with a voice full of defensive accusation. "Who wants to know?"

"It's— This is— I'm her daughter."

Santana's answer is met with another long pause of silence, and Brittany nuzzles against Santana's neck in an attempt to comfort her before resting her chin on Santana's shoulder, tipping her head to the side just enough that she can meet Santana's fearful and hopeful eyes in the semi-darkness of the sunset.

"Santana?" Lorna finally breathes, and the word is barely recognizable around how choked and tearful her voice suddenly is.

Brittany's heart mends itself, just a little, at the pure, unadulterated relief contained in those three syllables.

Santana laughs a little, teary and involuntary, as she nods almost frantically, turning her full attention back to the phone, before realizing Lorna can't actually see her. "Yeah," she sighs, relaxing back into Brittany and grinning at nothing in particular.

There's a frantic shuffling on the other line, and then Lorna starts asking a whole slew of questions that all kind of bleed into each other, and Santana does her best to answer the ones she can—yes, I'm really Santana Lopez, no, my father doesn't know that I'm calling, yes, I've been trying to find you for a while, no, this isn't a joke—and just cuddles back into Brittany and laughs at the ones asked too quickly for her to answer. It doesn't take long for Lorna to stop her rapid fire questioning, and once she does the three of them just breathe silently; Brittany knows she can't see Lorna, but she imagines that she's grinning widely, just like Santana is.

Lorna hesitantly asks where Santana lives and immediately insists on meeting when she finds out that she's still in Lima, only a twenty minute drive from where Lorna and her family—Santana's family—lives. They quickly make plans to meet up at eleven on Saturday at the Lima Bean, which is usually pretty slow and deserted on weekends in the late morning. There's a beat of silence between making their plans and the presumed goodbye when Lorna speaks again. "Is your," she hesitates and takes a deep breath before starting again, "Is your father going to be there? Does he know that you were going to contact us?"

Santana stiffens for a moment and Brittany quickly shifts around a little until she can settle with Santana tucked between her legs, pulling her girlfriend back into a full embrace. "No," Santana finally says, resolute and strong, "He doesn't know anything about this. And he won't. That's kind of— That's kind of what I wanted to talk about this weekend."

Lorna makes a small noise of acknowledgement that almost sounds relieved. "We've all missed you," she says quietly. "When your father cut off contact with us, he blocked our numbers and basically told us that we'd never see you again. We were all just so shocked and dumbfounded that by the time we tried to protest it, it was basically too late. And then we moved and we figured that he'd— That he'd probably never mention us or make up stories about us being awful people or— I'm sorry," she cuts herself off suddenly, "I shouldn't— He's your father and I don't want to come between you two or—"

"No," Santana interrupts, "It's okay. Really. I think—" Santana glances back at Brittany with a loaded work before swallowing thickly and continuing. "I think we have a lot to discuss."

"Yeah, we do," Lorna sighs, "But that's for another day when we're face to face. For now, just know that, while I'm not even sure how you found my number, I'm so glad you did."

"Yeah," Santana mumbles, smiling widely, bashful and excited and so full of hope, "So am I."

They exchange the type of goodbyes that are slightly awkward solely because neither one wants to hang up, but as soon as Santana's phone goes silent and black again, she spins in Brittany's arms and throws herself at her.

Brittany tumbles back onto the blanket with a carefree laugh that is smothered by Santana's lips on hers. Santana's weight above her is comforting and reassuring, her lips insistent and smiling, and there's basically no better feeling in the whole world than being able to taste Santana's relief and hope and happiness on her own tongue.

That phone call went better than Brittany could ever have hoped, and she can't even imagine what Santana must feel like, to have gone from almost no hope of ever finding her aunt and uncle and cousins, to being able to meet them in two days.

Brittany smiles into Santana's kiss even more and can't tell if the flutter against her sternum is Santana's heart pressed against her chest or her own pounding from within it; she supposes it doesn't really mater all that much, considering that, these days, they seem to beat to the exact same rhythm anyways.

The sun has completely sunk below the horizon by now, and the Pierce backyard is only lit by the faintest hint of golden streetlights shining around the sides of the house and the neighbour's kitchen light cutting across the backyard and the stars and moon high above them. None of the other Pierces have gotten home yet—Pierce still won't get off for another hour probably and, knowing her sister, the munchkin had probably demanded Dairy Queen ice cream if she won her game, and probably demanded it even if she lost too—and it makes the world feel quieter and calmer than usual.

The grass is a little scratchy below them, even through the blanket and their jeans and hoodies, and without the last streaks of sunlight, the evening is chilly and damp. But Brittany is wrapped up in Santana, and Santana is comfortable and warm in her arms, so there's really no place she would rather be right now.

Santana is understandably nervous as they sit in Brittany's truck outside of the Lima Bean Saturday morning; Brittany's own stomach is all tied up in knots in sympathetic anxiety. After going through the whole ordeal of finding someway to even just contact Santana's aunt and uncle and cousins—the desperate fear and the lock-picking and the emotional re-traumatization and the disappointment and the hope—the real test of courage is right now.

Brittany's not sure if Santana's heart can take another blow, so she desperately pleads with whatever unseen force holding the universe together—whether God or gods or gravity or chaos or just a whole lot of sheer dumb luck—to give Santana this, to give her back the family that her father took away. To not let this Saturday morning turn into another Friday night. To let Santana have some sort of happiness come out of finally escaping the toxic household she grew up in and the homophobic father she hid from and the sort of abuse that is less visible than bruises and broken bones but just as traumatic.

Five minutes before the agreed meet up time, Santana finally unbuckles her seatbelt and reaches for the door handle of the truck, only pausing when she notices Brittany's not doing the same. "You coming or is your ass glued to the seat?" she asks with one eyebrow arched up, every bit the snarky jerk that Brittany was so enamoured with months ago, that she's still so enamoured with.

"You sure you want me to?" Brittany double checks for what feels like the thousandth time, "I mean, I understand if you want to go by yourself 'cause they're your family and all and we don't know if they're h—"

Santana rolls her eyes so hard her head rolls with them, and stretches across the centre console to kiss Brittany quickly and fiercely, mumbling her reassurance against Brittany's mouth for what feels like the thousandth time and the first time all at once.

Brittany's not sure if she'll ever get used to the thrill of kissing Santana, and she's pretty sure she doesn't ever want to.

"I've told you like a million times, Britt," Santana says, all fond exasperation, "If they are like that, then I don't wanna know them."

While Brittany definitely knows what Santana means, she can't help the fact that her chest clenches in doubt—there's a small part of her, the part that had spent months yearning and hoping and hurting, that thinks that Santana might want a family to call her own so desperately that she wouldn't think twice about leaving Brittany behind for them. She knows that it's irrational, and that she might be projecting her own fears onto Santana a little (okay, a lot), but she can't help that the fear churning in her stomach isn't just worry for Santana, some of it is fear that Santana's going to find something or someone better than anything Brittany can offer, that she'll abandon her and never look back.

Her bio-dad didn't think twice about abandoning her before she was even born, and every single time he popped back into her life, he continued to abandon her without a second thought; and calling Dr. Lopez neglectful is probably more generous than he deserves. Between the two of them, their combined abandonment issues could probably be the backstory to a couple hundred YA protagonists and superheroes. And no matter how hard Brittany tries to ignore her unfounded fears, her mind can't quite wrap itself around the idea that anyone would ever want to be with her for her, that anyone would stick around, that anyone would ever make her their first choice.

But luckily, Brittany's heart is a lot more courageous than her mind, and it practically beats right out of her chest and into Santana's lap because Santana's mouth is warm and sweet and insistent against hers, and it's enough to quiet her mind for the moment.

Eventually the reality of the secondhand ticking closer to eleven becomes impossible to ignore, so they untangle themselves and hop out of the truck. Their hands are a little clammy when they met and clasp around the front of the truck, but neither of them care—they need the contact more than they care about sweaty palms.

The Lima Bean is basically deserted, just as Brittany and Santana had expected. In one of the comfy armchairs is a neighbour who lives down the street from the Pierces and drinks coffee like it's water, behind the counter stands a tired looking barista with pink streaks in her hair and large glasses that make her eyes look owlish, tucked in a corner by the bathrooms is a woman drinking a coffee that's about the size of her forearm and cooing at a babbling baby, and sitting by the door are a couple of freshmen who glance up at the sound of the bell announcing their entrance. The freshmen recognize them and immediately sink down into their seats to avoid Santana and Brittany's gazes. Brittany and Santana exchange amused glances, knowing that their reputation precedes them among all the students of McKinley, a fact that they take advantage of whenever they can.

The only other people in the Lima Bean is a couple sitting at the table tucked in far the corner, staring directly at them with unmistakably wide eyes. Brittany tugs gently on Santana's hand and nods in their general direction. "Wanna bet that's them?" she murmurs.

Santana's eyes snap to hers and there's a moment of conflict where it looks like Santana might just run out the door and then keep running until she reaches the ocean, but Brittany smiles encouragingly at her and Santana's stormy eyes settle again, dark like the earth after a long, hard rain. She turns her attention to the other couple and sucks in a steadying breath before she starts walking towards the couple, tugging Brittany along with her. There's a steel in Santana's spine and a determined snap to her heel hitting the tiled, muddy floor that reminds Brittany of Santana storming down the halls of McKinley back before they were friends. Brittany just follows behind her and runs her thumb across the back of Santana's hand, hoping it's as soothing and comforting as she wants it to be.

They barely make it to the table before the woman is jumping up and throwing her arms around Santana, murmuring in a jumbled mix of Spanish and English and crying freely. The man steps up and warps his arms around the two women as well, his moustache trembling a little as he presses his head against his wife's.

Brittany allows her hand to slip from Santana's and stands back, allowing the reunited family to have their moment.

The woman, when she pulls back to cup Santana's cheeks, bears practically no resemblance to the Maribel that Brittany remembers from that giant portrait in the living room of the Lopez house. Where Maribel appeared slender and short, even while sitting down, this woman is curvy and tall, where Maribel's hair was thin and wavy, this woman's hair is thick and tightly curled, where Maribel was Cuban, this woman appears to be African American.

It makes Brittany a little suspicious, but that might just be because she used to watch Annie on repeat when she was really young and had nightmares about the scene of Rooster pretending to be Annie's father and then chasing her up that raised railway bridge when everything went wrong.

"You look so much like your mami," the woman gasps tearfully, and Brittany's suspicions fade away because there's really no doubting the emotion in Lorna's voice after that, "You have her smile."

Santana laughs, equally tearfully, but carefree and warm and content and everything Brittany knows she deserves after everything that's happened to her.

At some point, Lorna and her husband—Deon, if Brittany remembers Maribel's obituary correctly—release Santana enough to give her space to breath, and then all three of them are asking and answering questions over top of one another. It's enough to make Brittany smile so wide her cheeks hurt, and she quietly steps away from them to go and buy her and Santana some drinks—a white chocolate mocha for Santana and a caramel latte for herself. Someone steps up beside her at the counter to wait for their drinks, and Brittany pays them no mind while she watches the family reunion in the corner with a soft smile, until a gentle tap on her shoulder catches her attention.

She glances to the person beside her and notices three things at once: one, the girl is about her age, two, she bears a striking resemblance to Lorna, and three, Brittany recognizes her.

Brittany doesn't even give the girl a chance to explain why she got Brittany's attention, before Brittany is snapping her fingers and pointing at the girl with a wide grin.

"You were at Dylan Miller's New Years Eve party!"

"Uhhh," the girl says, blinking at Brittany blankly.

"Yeah!" Brittany continues without waiting for an actual answer, "You were with that blond puppy."

The girl's brows furrow and her nose scrunches a little and, strangely enough, it kind of reminds Brittany of Santana. "I'm pretty sure I would remember bringing a puppy with me to a party."

Brittany's grin slips into a smirk as she recalls the absolutely hopeless way that tall blond kid mooned over the girl in front of her. "Yeah, you were. You know that blond dude? Tall with hair that went out of style around 2009?" The barista calls Brittany's order and hands them over to her with a tired, fake smile.

The girl laughs a little and shrugs. "Yeah, I guess he kind of is like a giant puppy."

Brittany grins and raises one cup in a half-salute of farewell before heading back to Santana, who's now sitting across from Lorna and Deon and animatedly talking about something, completely forgetting that the girl at the counter never actually said why she had gotten Brittany's attention in the first place.

Lorna and Deon see Brittany first, and offer her slight smiles, confusion evident in their eyes. Santana catches their averted attention and glances behind her, brightening and smiling at Brittany and—probably more likely—at the caffeine in Brittany's hands. Brittany passes Santana her mocha and sits down beside her, waiting until Santana gulps down a long sip before nudging her arm and inclining her head towards Lorna and Deon.

Santana seems to immediately understand the silent question, and gives Brittany a smile that's only a little scared, but mostly it's warm and hopeful. She turns back to Lorna and Deon and only hesitates for a moment before she gestures to Brittany. "Auntie, uncle, this is my girlfriend, Brittany. Brittany, this is my auntie Lorna and my uncle Deon."

There's a beat of terrifying silence where her and Santana's hands find each other under the table and tangle together in a mess of bony fingers and trembling anticipation, before Lorna and Deon finally respond.

Lorna immediately brightens and looks back and forth between Santana and Brittany with what looks like a billion questions on her tongue, but it's Deon who beams at them and leans forward on his elbows. "You two make a cute couple," he says warmly, and there's not even a hint of malice in his eyes, and it's so different from that Friday night that Brittany's throat closes up a little. "How long have you been together?"

Santana's grip on Brittany's hand turns so tight it's a little painful for a moment, but Brittany barely notices because she's too busy squeezing Santana's hand back with equal force. Her jaw aches a little from holding tears back, but neither of them actually lose their composure.

Santana laughs involuntarily, breathy and relieved. "Three months now," she answers. It throws Brittany for a moment because, after the emotional whirlwind of the last three weeks, it's kind of easy to forget that it wasn't really all that long ago that they were just friends, that their actual relationship is still relatively new. There's something between them that's just clicked after they started dating, because they had already gotten all the awkward getting to know you stuff out of the way long before the day that particular The Muckraker article came out, because they've figured out most of the god, you can be fucking annoying parts of each other within the first couple weeks of Brittany tutoring Santana, because they've progressed through the hey, I think it's time we moved in together all the way to we live together now in a couple hours instead of the usual weeks of planning and settling.

Because they love each other—even if it's never been outright said between them—and because they know what it means to have to fight for that love.

Brittany is snapped out of her musing by Santana's hand on her thigh, and she blinks and shakes her head a little, glancing at Santana. Her girlfriend's eyes are squinted a little in what Brittany's dubbed her I'm worried about you but also trying to pay attention to other stuff look, and Brittany smiles reassuringly at her.

A shadow falls over the table and Brittany glances up to find the girl from before smiling at them, somehow both sheepish and amused. "Hey," she says to Brittany, "If you hadn't run off so quick earlier I was going to ask you if you were here with Santana."

Lorna and Deon make noises of amusement as Brittany stares up at the girl in confusion. "Wait, what?"

The girl's smile becomes genuine as her eyes slide over to Santana. "Hey, Santana," she says, almost shy and vulnerable, "I'm your cousin, Mercedes."

Santana blinks and her brow furrows a little before her face clears and she grins. "You're the M from my bracelet."

Mercedes reaches into her pocket to produce a bracelet nearly identical to the one Brittany found on Santana's bedside table what feels like a lifetime ago. This one is braided in shades of pink and blue and purple, and instead of a beaded M hanging from the middle, there's a beaded S in it's place.

"You still have this?" Santana gasps, releasing Brittany's hand so she can reach forward and take the bracelet from Mercedes, whose smile is genuine and unreserved now.

Mercedes pulls a chair over and sits down at the end of the table while Santana admires her own childish craftsmanship. "Vince's is still around somewhere too, I'm sure," she says.

"We put both of our initials on his because we couldn't find any Vs," Santana remembers out loud as she fingers the bracelet, "But there was no more Ms so we used an upside-down W instead."

Mercedes' grin widens, her dark eyes a little unfocused as she reminisces on the shared memory that's only just coming back into focus. "Dad and I were digging through old photo albums last night and that just fell out of one from when I was like a toddler."

"You were four," Deon interrupts, and Mercedes scoffs a little.

"Espresso-expresso," she says with a small wave of her hand that causes Deon and Lorna to burst into knowing chuckles as if it's some sort of inside joke.

Santana just keeps darting her eyes between her aunt and uncle and cousin as if she can't believe that they're real; Brittany just keeps smiling at Santana as if her happiness is the best thing in the world, which, to Brittany, it is.

Lorna turns back to Santana and her expression falls a little bit, the laugh lines around her eyes smoothing out as her mouth sets into a serious line. "You said something about your father on the phone," she starts cautiously, "what did you want to talk about?"

Santana and Brittany exchange a long glance, their hands once again finding each other under the table. "It's, uh, kind of a long story," Brittany says when Santana doesn't make any move to start explaining, "We might be here a while."

Santana starts from the beginning, right from when Dr. Lopez banned her aunt and uncle and cousins from seeing her, all the way up to that Friday night and its aftermath, and they're all long finished their drinks by the time Santana gets to their stint in (only mostly illegally) breaking and entering the Lopez house.

The horrified anger that radiates off of Lorna and Deon and Mercedes makes Brittany feel a weird mix of relief and happiness, because it means that, even after all the long years that have passed between Santana and her family seeing each other, they still love her as if no time has passed at all.

Deon mutters something unflattering about Dr. Lopez and, while Lorna elbows him disapprovingly, Brittany is inclined to agree with Deon's assessment of Dr. Lopez's parentage and where exactly he can shove his stethoscope.

"This does explain a lot," Lorna finally sighs quietly, once she's done elbowing her husband and giving her daughter a warning look when she mutters her agreement with her dad's sentiment. "After my dad's—your and Mercedes' lito—funeral, Julio blocked our numbers and told us, in no uncertain terms, that if we tried to see you he would involve the authorities. I don't know if he would have or what they would have even been able to do, but we knew he was serious. We always figured the only reason we still saw you after your mami died was because my dad was still alive. He was the only one from our side of the family that Julio ever really spoke too, even before Maribel died."

Deon shifts uncomfortably and his eyes drop from Santana's for a moment. "Julio was never the most talkative, but he did seem to enjoy talking to your lito, whenever he deigned to grace us with his presence."

"So we can add 'asshole to distant family' to his list of winning qualities," Brittany mutters under her breath, and Santana snorts so hard she starts choking on the very last sip of her mocha. Brittany smiles a little even as she makes a sympathetic noise and starts rubbing Santana's back.

"You— You said that our lito," Santana gestures between herself and Mercedes once her coughing subsides, "died?"

Lorna nods and leans forward on her elbows to give Santana her full attention.

"Is— Is lita still alive? And would—" Santana hesitates and grows quiet, "And would she like to see me again."

Lorna's expression shifts to one of pure fondness and love, her smile soft and small and earnest as she nods again. "She would love to see you again," she promises.

Santana takes a deep breath and lets it out shakily, smiling down at her lap.

"We sent birthday and Christmas gifts and easter candy and invites to Vince's and Mercedes' birthday parties for years," Deon continues, casting a small smile at his emotional wife and niece, "but they always got sent back unopened. We knew better than to go up against him because, well—"

"Because he's a Lopez and therefore practically untouchable?" Santana adds helpfully when Deon trails off. He gives them a wry smile in agreement, but stays quiet least he evoke his wife's scolding look again.

Lorna is quiet for a long moment, both hands cupped around her empty coffee cup and her eyes focused on something just past Santana's shoulder. "Maribel calling me and telling me about her cancer was the second worst day of my life, beat out only by the day she died." Her gaze shifts slightly until it lands on Santana's face, and the harsh edge of the past suffering shining in her eyes softens, just a little. "The only thing that kept me going was Deon and Vince and Mercedes, and the fact that I could already see so much of her in you, Santana, even when you were drooling all over your Sunday best."

Santana flushes and ducks her head down with a tiny smile, the way you do when you're secretly delighted to hear an embarrassing story about yourself as a baby or toddler. Brittany continues to rub comforting circles on Santana's back even though Santana's long stopped choking on her mocha, smiling fondly at her adorable girlfriend.

"So when Julio cut us out of your life, he wasn't just taking away our niece and cousin," Lorna continues. The flame of quiet rage in her eyes reminds Brittany of Santana glaring daggers at the back of Mr. Bartlett's head after suffering through one of his particularly long-winded rants that are subtle in the loosest sense of the term in their racist undertones. "He took away the only remaining piece of my sister that still lived on in you."

Santana's hand curls around her empty cup until it crinkles a little. "He's really good at stealing things that aren't his to take."

"Like a happiness vampire," Brittany deadpans, watching Santana's face carefully and only relaxing when she sees the tiny smile curling her lips, just like she intended. She knows that Santana's thinking about things like her stolen childhood or everybody's right to unbiased medical care or the lose of only home Santana's ever known, but she also knows that humour is sometimes the only way to process difficult emotions.

Santana's fingers tighten briefly around hers in response to Brittany's comment, even while the other occupants at the table exchange slightly confused glances. "Anyways," Santana continues, "the Pierces have taken me in after— After everything with him. But I— I just feel like—" Santana cuts herself off and scowls at the table as she struggles to find the words.

Brittany's heart twists a little because, while she understands where Santana is coming from, she also knows that Santana will always be welcome at the Pierces. Even if they were to ever break up, as unlikely an event as that seems to Brittany, she knows that her parents would never turn Santana away, that they would never disappoint and hurt her like Dr. Lopez has already done; not just because her parents are kind, decent human beings, but because they love Santana like a third daughter.

"Like you're imposing?" Lorna interrupts while Santana continues to struggle for the right words.

Santana's mouth snaps closed and she blinks in disbelief. "How'd you know?"

Lorna smiles, a little bit sad and a little bit fond and a little bit nostalgic. "Your mami was the same way."

Santana is a little taken aback, but she smiles, just a little, in response. "Really?"

Lorna hums in agreement while Deon just laughs, throwing his head back and sliding an arm around the back of his wife's chair. "When Vince was born, we invited your mami to stay with us for a couple days to help us get settled, and the entire time she was fretting over the fact that she was disturbing our 'time with the new baby' even though we invited her."

Brittany grins and nudges Santana with her elbow, smirking at her girlfriend who pre-emptively ducks her head in embarrassment before Brittany even opens her mouth. "Sounds a lot like a certain someone stumbling all over themselves while inviting me over for a sleepover and worrying about being an inconvenience in their own house."

"In my defence," Santana protests haughtily, "I had never had a sleepover before and I didn't know the proper etiquette."

"Sleepover etiquette?" Brittany and Mercedes snort at the same time. Their eyes meet across the table and they grin at each other; Brittany already had a really good feeling about Mercedes because she's Santana's cousin, but she can also see the possibilities for genuine friendship outside of Santana stretching between them.

Lorna smiles indulgently at the two giggling teenagers and the one blushing teenager, before her face falls into something that's both serious and soft. "Of course you can come live with us, Santana," she says earnestly, "You're always welcome. But we live in Delphos, so—"

Brittany stops breathing for a moment, her chest tightening as she glances at Santana to gauge her reaction. Santana is already staring at Brittany with wide, uncertain eyes, her lip caught between her teeth and her free hand twisting in the silky material of her untucked blouse. Despite recognizing the Delphos address in Dr. Lopez's book, neither of them had made the connection between the address and the phone number below it that turned out to belong to Lorna.

There's a stillness in the air that makes Brittany nervous, and they barely notice Deon and Lorna and Mercedes excusing themselves to give Brittany and Santana a moment alone together.

"Britt, I—" Santana starts, her voice small and vulnerable, and despite everything screaming in her to beg Santana to stay, she knows exactly what she has to do.

"Go," she interrupts softly, steady and resolute.

Santana blinks and shakes her head a little, her eyes dark and uncertain like turbulent ocean waves. "I'd be all the way in Delphos," she mumbles quietly, "I don't want— I don't want me living in another town to— To affect us."

"So we'll figure it out," Brittany promises with a small smile, taking both of Santana's hands in her own and forcing her girlfriend to look at her. "Look, I understand why you have to do this, okay? And I support whatever decision you make, but I need you to know that a twenty minute drive north isn't going to make me give up on us. It isn't going to make me give up on you."

Santana sucks in a couple shaky breaths and lets them out through her nose, and when her eyes flutter open and meet Brittany's, there's a determined glint in them that Brittany's hasn't seen in a while. She had secretly feared that Dr. Lopez might have scared it away for good, but she should have known that it would take more than that to break Santana.

Santana ducks forward to peck Brittany on the lips, before pulling back with a small nod. "Okay," she agrees, opening her mouth to say more when a shadow falls across them and stops her sentence before it can even form.

"Sorry to interrupt," Deon says, and his smile is reassuring and concerned when Brittany and Santana turn to him, "But I figured I'd mention this now before you make any big decisions." Santana and Brittany glance at each other before nodding at Deon to continue. "We moved to Delphos for Lorna's new job nearly ten years ago. But I already had a dental office in Lima, and I didn't want to restart in another town, so I decided to keep my office here. So I commute to Lima for work everyday. If you do decide to move in with us and you want to continue attending McKinley here, it would definitely be possible. You would probably have to wake up earlier than usual, and I'm not done until after five most days, but I'm sure we could figure something out."

Santana's eyes glow with possibilities when she glances at Brittany again, and, for her part, Brittany feels a little bit like she could figure anything out, as long as Santana's hand is in hers.

And so it's settled: Santana's the first one of their friend group to escape Lima like all of them have dreamed of doing—though Brittany's not sure how much of an upgrade Delphos is on the ever relevant scale of small-conservative-town-where-you-have-to-be-careful-if-you're-queer.

Then again, Delphos doesn't have a Dr. Lopez, so Brittany assumes that makes it a bajillion times better just on principle.

Vince is just as enthusiastic as the rest of the Jones about reconnecting with Santana, but considering he is halfway across the country and drowning in final papers and final exams, he's unfortunately unable to get on the next flight and come home to Lima to visit, no matter how hard he pouts at his parents through Facetime. Which does end up working out for everyone because—after a quick decor change—Vince's old room becomes Santana's new one, and since Vince is staying in L.A. over the summer for an internship he got there, there's no need to worry about sleeping arrangements after he's done for the semester.

Santana had turned adorably awkward in the way Brittany so adores when Deon and Lorna told her they'd quickly clean Vince's room and prepare it for Santana. She had insisted that they really didn't have to do anything special for her, and then quickly grew vulnerable and wondrous when they told her It's fine, you're family in response—something so simple and unassuming and confident that it had taken Santana a moment to compose herself, after spending most of her life continuously pushed aside in favour of something Dr. Lopez considered more important than his only daughter, it had been nearly overwhelming for Santana to come first for once when it came to something family related.

Brittany can't help but be in awe of how much more at ease Santana is now; she knew how much everything—Dr. Lopez, being disowned, looking for Maribel's family—weighed heavily on Santana, how her shoulders ached from carrying the world on them, but she never realized exactly how much it was affecting Santana until that weight was gone.

She never realized how much it was affecting her until her chest stops clenching every time Santana's smile fades from her face.

It takes a week for everything to fall into place, but eventually Santana and Brittany are once again carrying boxes and suitcases of everything Santana owns into a new house. It's easier this time around though, and lighter, with more laughter and joking and smiling.

That's not to say that there aren't any emotional moments, because Lorna spots a small wooden elephant amongst Santana's knickknacks and nearly starts crying because it had sat on Maribel's dresser for as long as she can remember. Santana hadn't even known it was her mom's because she'd had it since she was a baby, and she's a little shell-shocked to realize that the tiny ache she felt whenever she considered tossing the elephant when going through her angsty preteen phase wasn't just silly sentimentality, but because something in her recognized it as a part of her mom.

And there's the moment that Lorna spots the two half-filled baby albums Santana pulls out of a cardboard box—a stark contrast to the entire three shelves of photo albums Brittany spotted in the living room earlier—and grows small and sad for a long moment. Santana seems to realize this sooner than anyone else, which is probably because she gets that same look in her eyes every time she sees those baby albums. Santana quietly mumbles that she didn't think he'd want them after everything, so I took them all with me.

Julio—Lorna had said as her gaze dropped to Santana's meagre collection of baby photos again—was never meant to be a father. He loved my sister, I'm sure, but he just— He just shouldn't have been a father, especially a single father. He wasn't made to love a child the way they deserve to be loved.

It doesn't matter how true that statement might be, or how Brittany's thought the exact same thing a thousand times over, but it cracks something in her chest that feels ragged and sharp. She's not sure how many more times her heart can break before it won't fit back together again, but she forces it to the back of her mind because whatever she's feeling right now can't even be a fraction of what Santana must feel.

(Brittany's heard of phantom pains before, but she just didn't realize she could feel them for a heart that's not her own.)

Santana puts on a brave face, but they can all tell everything is affecting Santana more than she's letting on, and no one says anything when Brittany insists that her and Santana can get the last load of boxes alone.

Santana doesn't cry when they reach Brittany's truck, but she allows herself a moment of burrowing into Brittany's embrace, and Brittany doesn't protest when Santana kisses her desperately, like she's never going to get the chance to kiss her ever again—she just kisses her back until Santana's breaths don't feel as violent.

Lorna spends the rest of the time hovering around them, reminding Brittany a lot of her own mom, and Deon spends the whole time trying to get her to Just sit down already and leave the girls to it. Mercedes and Brittany and Santana mostly smile indulgently at them while trying to sort through all of Santana's stuff and where to put it all—not that Santana has a whole lot, but Brittany's moved enough times as a kid to know how important it is to make your space your own, even if it means banning your parents from your room for a couple hours so you can sort out everything yourself.

Lorna does eventually let them be once she seems to realize that the three teenagers can handle unpacking one room by themselves, but that realization probably only comes because it's supper time and her and Deon need to find something to feed the three teenagers with. Deon rolls his eyes fondly at the girls, twirling his finger around a couple times near his left temple—and getting a scolding from Lorna, who definitely has the mom instinct, because she's not even looking at him—before following his wife downstairs.

The three of them exchange a look once they hear the two adults get to the bottom of the stairs and immediately burst into giggles as they go about rearranging everything Lorna had put down to Santana's liking.

Without Lorna's fretting or Deon's jokes, they get through the rest of Santana's stuff and find new places for everything within the hour. There's only a couple of things left to finish everything off when Deon calls up the stairs that supper will be ready in another half hour.

Brittany's stomach growls startlingly loudly in response to Deon's announcement, causing all three of them to burst into laughter again.

"Can I ask you something?" Santana says suddenly once they've all calmed down a little, glancing up at Mercedes as casually as she can. Brittany pauses and lowers the pants she's in the middle of folding to catch Santana's eyes across the room. Santana tips her head a little in response and gives Brittany a reassuring smile, so Brittany just smiles in return and goes back to folding Santana's jeans, but she keeps one concerned eye on her fidgeting girlfriend.

"Of course," Mercedes says absently.

"Don't take this the wrong way or anything but— I, um, I mean my mom and your mom don't really look anything alike," Santana stumbles over her words a little, but manages to get them all out coherently, which is probably more than Brittany could manage if she were in Santana's position.

"You noticed that, huh?" Mercedes says with a tiny smirk, but it's kind and open and not defensive or angry.

Santana instantly relaxes, haphazardly stuffing the pjs she had been holding into a drawer—for as spotless as Santana's room was when she lived with Dr. Lopez, Brittany's discovered in the past couple weeks that Santana is insanely messy, which would probably be kind of annoying if Santana's scrunched brow as she tried to locate something in her pile of stuff wasn't so adorable.

"A little hard to miss," Santana deadpans, holding up her thumb and index finger so close they appear to be touching from where Brittany's standing on the other side of the room, "Considering mami was Cuban from what I remember, and your mom is decidedly not."

Mercedes laughs a little and straightens the pillows on the bed. "Yeah, mom's definitely not Cuban but, man, when she's mad and really gets going at you and switches to Spanish half-way through, you'd never know the difference." Mercedes says this with such fondness, that Santana and Brittany find themselves grinning in response. "Lita and lito were new immigrants to America back in the seventies," Mercedes starts to explain, her smile turning a little wistful, "And they got really close to this other couple that lived down the street from them. That couple was my biological grandparents, Paul and Diane."

Brittany perks up a little at that—given her own messy family history, it means more to her than she can properly articulate when she hears about other people finding family they aren't necessarily related to, which is kind of where she thinks this story is going.

"Lita and lito had your mom, and a couple years later, Paul and Diane had my mom. Lita and lito were my mom's godparents and Paul and Diane were your mom's," Mercedes continues, and while her voice is emotionless because it all happened long before she was anywhere close to being born, Brittany has a bad feeling about the next line of this story. "When my mom was almost two, Paul and Diane were killed in a car accident, and so, being my mom's godparents and being named her guardians in their last will and testament, lita and lito took her in to raise her. Eventually, once my mom was old enough to kind of understand what was going on, they fully adopted her." Mercedes shrugs as she finally stops fiddling with the pillows and glances up at Santana with a guarded smile. "Aside from those that knew them all before the crash, no one even knew that my mom was adopted—she was just lita and lito's youngest daughter."

Santana's silent for a long moment, probably processing all the information she just got, because Brittany is doing the exact same thing, before she gives Mercedes a small smirk. "So what you're saying is that our family has always had a fondness for taking in strays," she says, gesturing to herself with a overdramatic flair of her hand.

It's a dumb joke at best, but it makes Brittany chuckle because Santana's her girlfriend and she finds just about everything she does and says endearing, and it succeeds in breaking the tension in the room, which was probably Santana's intention in the first place.

The slightly defensive line of Mercedes' shoulders relaxes instantly and she shakes her head a little, but it does nothing to hide her amusement. "Y'all are ridiculous," she grumbles around poorly concealed laughter.

They all go back to unpacking until all that's left is empty suitcases and half trampled boxes, standing back to survey their work while the faint scent of garlic and onion and oregano and cumin drift up to them now that they've stopped moving around so much.

Mercedes checks her phone and smiles at whatever notifications she has, before turning to Brittany and Santana with a look that's hopeful but almost shy. "I'm hanging out with my two best friends later if you two want to join. Sam an—"

"The puppy," Brittany interrupts with a lazy smirk.

Mercedes rolls her eyes and shoves at Brittany's shoulder, but she's grinning too much to actually dispute the point. "As I was saying," she continues, "before I was so rudely interrupted."

Brittany flips her off but Mercedes chooses to ignore it—Santana, on the other hand, takes Brittany's proffered hand in her own, giving Brittany a disproving look for flipping off her cousin after knowing her for, like, a week, except it's rendered completely ineffective by the wide grin on Santana's face.

"Sam and Sugar are the ones that were at that New Year's Eve party with me," Mercedes finally gets out amid all the interruptions.

Santana's brow furrows adorably as she glances between Brittany and Mercedes in confusion. "Wait, what?" Mercedes face melts into a positively scheming look as she exchanges a smug smirk with Brittany, and as much as Brittany loves Santana, she loves teasing her just as much. "You mean Dylan Miller's party?"

"Yeah, didn't we mention that?" Brittany asks innocently. "We saw each other at Dylan's house a couple times."

"Yeah, it was a good party," Mercedes adds nonchalantly, and Brittany can practically hear the wheels turning in Santana's head as she struggles to process this new piece of information.

Her dark eyes dart between her girlfriend and her cousin for a while before her eyes narrow suspiciously. "You're lying, aren't you," she accuses.

"Maybe," Mercedes says cryptically, "But hey, Britt, did you ever hear how much it cost Dylan to replace that giant red vase that got broken?"

Brittany bites down on her lip to try and contain her laughter as Santana's head whips around to glare at Mercedes, knowing that the only way Mercedes could know about the broken vase is if Brittany told Mercedes about it specifically to mess with her, or if Mercedes is actually telling the truth and was, in fact, at that party. "No, I didn't," Brittany finally manages without breaking character too much, "I'll ask around and let you know, though."

Santana lets out a small growl of annoyance that's nowhere near as intimidating as she probably wants it to be. "I hate you both," she grumbles, extracting her hand from Brittany's and slumping down onto her bed, her arms crossed and her shoulders up by her ears as she pouts fiercely at the ground—Brittany's pretty sure Santana would never admit to actually pouting, but after dating her for over three months by now, she's grown accustomed to it, though definitely not immune to it.

This particular pout just makes Brittany want to pinch her cheeks a whole lot, but instead she bursts into laughter at the same time as Mercedes. Santana continues to grumble grumpily until the other two manage to compose themselves.

"Anyways," Mercedes finally continues, and it takes a moment for Brittany to remember what they were talking about. "Sam is super dorky and Sugar can be, uh, a bit much sometimes, but they're fun and chill. You know, with—" Mercedes raises her eyebrows at Brittany and Santana as if to subtly say they'd chill with you two dating because they're not homophobic assholes, "—and just in general, so."

Brittany glances at Santana, who finally looks back up at her, and it feels like they have an entire conversation in one look. "I told my parents I'd probably be staying over tonight and heading back to Lima tomorrow, so sure," Brittany answers for both of them.

Mercedes grins widely, and even though Santana's doing an admirable job at keeping up her annoyed façade, she can't hide the excitement in her eyes that mirrors Mercedes' at the prospect of getting to now each other better. Mercedes excuses herself to go help her mom with supper, leaving Brittany and Santana to have a few moments to themselves.

"You're not off the hook for the whole New Year's Eve party thing, Pierce," Santana threatens with all the terror of a baby wolf bearing its tiny baby teeth.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever you say, Sunshine," Brittany teases. The glare that Santana sends her way for bringing back that particular nickname is the same one that used to make the hair on the back of Brittany's neck stand on end—now it just makes Brittany want to kiss her.

Santana eventually gives up on her grumpy façade and flops back on the bed, sprawled out like a starfish and only shifting a little bit when Brittany rolls her eyes and shoves her girlfriend's body into a position that is more accommodating for cuddles as she crawls onto the bed beside her.

Santana's eyes are bright and happy and adoring when she meets Brittany's, not a single ounce of her earlier mock annoyance to be found. Her fingers trace a small heart on Brittany's hip as she tries to bite back a smile, before settling her arms fully around Brittany's waist and drawing their bodies together as much as she can with both of their legs hanging off the edge of the bed.

"Now that you're on the bed with me," she says as her grin turns both cheeky and earnest, "it really feels like home."

The first couple weeks of Santana living in Delphos is rough on everyone.

The Pierces have gotten so used to having Santana in their midst that it takes three days before Whitney stops setting a fifth plate for supper; Pierce keeps glancing at the corner where his old record player is still set up, sitting silent for the first time since he gave it to Santana, the end of the couch where Santana used to curl up to discuss the best and worst part of each album they selected together every night remaining empty; the munchkin sulks around the house for the entire week and dejectedly returns to asking her parents for help with her homework instead of crawling up onto the chair beside Santana and asking her a billion questions about history and English and science and life in general.

It's the hardest on Brittany, though, who had gotten so used to curling up with Santana in her double bed at the end of the day that she finds herself an insomniac once again. She stares up at her ceiling wondering if Santana's sleeping alright, if she's having those nightmares again, if she's warm enough because her hands and feet always start to freeze around three in the morning, if she's staring up at the ceiling and wondering about the same things that Brittany is.

(Brittany gets the answer to that last question on Wednesday night, when her phone buzzes at 3:47 with a text from Santana that reads u awake? It's comforting to know that Santana is struggling with this separation as much as Brittany is, but it sucks because she hates the fact that her girlfriend is sleepless and suffering just like she is.)

It's weird to go back to only seeing Santana at school, and by the third week of Santana living with the Joneses in Delphos she decides that she hates it. If it weren't for the soft kisses and hand holding and loving smiles between each class and during their spare and lunchtime, she'd think that she somehow got shot back through time to those early dates of late September when they could barely stand the other's company. But they eventually settle into another new routine, one where Santana hangs out at the Pierce's house until Deon gets off work around five, and then she gives Brittany a quick kiss goodbye and ruffles the munchkin's hair and waves to Whitney and Pierce before sliding into Deon's SUV and heading back to Delphos.

Brittany and Santana have already promised the weekends to each other and their friends and the Pierces, and every Friday Santana brings a duffle bag packed with enough clothes for three days. They focus on hanging out with their friends since grad feels like it's looming over their heads, they focus on taking the munchkin out for ice cream and movies because they know that they won't be able to do that once they finish school and move away, they focus on helping Whitney out around the house and learning cleaning skills and life lessons in equal parts, they focus on baking with Pierce as Santana and him share favourite recipes and vinyl records, they focus on each other and their relationship and growing together even while they're apart.

During the evenings of the weekdays, Brittany and Santana text nearly non-stop, about stupid things that happened throughout the day or funny memes that made them think of the other, about how tyrannical Coach Sylvester is going into cheer Nationals or how jittery Mr. Schue is with show choir Nationals coming up, about what silly joke the munchkin told at dinner or what crazy story Deon recounted about a patient from that morning, about missed goodnight kisses or how hard it is to fall asleep without the other beside them.

It's why Brittany's been counting down the hours until she can go pick up Santana from Delphos so she can spend the rest of the weekend at the Pierces. Usually Santana just stays in Lima after school on Fridays, leaving Deon to make the trek back to Delphos by himself, but Santana's lita is set to be go over to the Jones' for supper for the first time since Santana moved in, so Brittany promises to make the twenty-five minute drive to Delphos to pick Santana up on Saturday instead.

Santana had been a bundle of nerves on Friday at school, almost as bad as she was the day that they met Lorna and Deon and Mercedes at the Lima Bean, to the point that Brittany managed to coaxs her into skipping their bio class after lunch so they could go and get ice cream from the old ice cream shack on the main street. The spring sun was slowly starting to warm into summer heat, and they had taken advantage of the surprisingly hot day by relaxing on one of the benches of a nearby park until their ice started to melt down their hands.

(Santana had never skipped a class before in her life, too afraid of what Dr. Lopez's reaction would be to ever even consider it, and Brittany can't help making a bad joke about taking Santana's skipping-class-virginity, just to see Santana roll her eyes and try to bite back a giggle.)

Brittany hadn't texted Santana at all Friday evening, giving her time to hopefully reconnect with her only remaining grandparent without disruption or distraction, which had lasted until eleven that night when Santana had called her. Santana's voice had been hushed but ecstatic as she recounted the evening with an enthusiasm that Brittany's only really seen directed at Santana's love of music, and Brittany's heart had swelled with love and adoration and excitement for her girlfriend when she quietly admitted that her lita's cooking smelled exactly how she remembered, even in her faintest memories—and Brittany was suddenly reminded of the munchkin's old, tattered book of fun facts for kids that claimed smell was the sense most closely related to memory.

There had been a long beat of silence before Santana confessed that her lita thought Brittany was a very pretty girl when Santana showed her a picture of the two of them and explained that they've been dating for four months. Apparently Santana's lita is very similar to Brittany's own halmeoni and halabeji in that none of them cared much about the fact that their granddaughter's would never—or, at the very least, only have about a fifty percent chance to—settle down with a nice husband like most of society and their families had expected them to.

Brittany supposes that it's because they're too old to put that much effort into caring about their grandchildren's sexuality—knowing that their time with said grandchildren is limited probably makes it easier to accept them for who they are and not who they expected them to be.

All of Santana's excitement just made Brittany long for the moment she could wrap her girlfriend up in a hug again, but she knew it would still be another twelve hours at least before she would be on her way to Delphos, so she resigned herself to curling around her extra pillow with her phone cradled against her ear.

She wakes up the next morning with her phone buried somewhere in her mess of blankets, her call with Santana still, somehow, connected, the duration of the call displaying a still increasing 10:42:07. Brittany smiles and presses her phone to her ear, listening to Santana's soft sniffling snores for a couple moments, her heart expanding at the comforting sounds, before she reluctantly hangs up and starts getting ready to head to Delphos.

She's still not a morning person, but despite the fact that it's not even ten yet, she's wide awake; apparently all she needs to not hit her snooze button six times and end up being incredibly late is the idea that the sooner she gets ready, the sooner she can drive to Delphos and pick up her girlfriend.

She gets there around lunchtime and spends most of the day with the Joneses, who have become like a second family to Brittany even in the short time she's known them. They're some of the kindest people Brittany has ever met, and she's so thankful that Santana finally has them in her life again.

It's evening by the time Brittany and Santana leave the Joneses house for Lima, with the promise that Whitney's famous lasagna is already in the oven.

Delphos is even smaller than Lima, so they're on the highway in no time at all. As soon as they're outside of the city limits, Santana makes herself comfortable and launches into a story about her psychology class yesterday and how her and Tina are suffering through it together. Brittany sneaks glances at Santana the entire time she speaks, marvelling at how comfortable and at ease the Santana that's beside her—the Santana that is her girlfriend—is when compared to the Santana from the beginning of the year that was scared and neglected. The love Santana's gotten these past few months from Brittany's family and their friends and from Brittany herself has done wonders for Santana's general well-being; she seems to glow these days, even with everything that happened with Dr. Lopez, and she's radiating a type of happiness Brittany wants to bottle up and keep forever.

In that moment, she's struck once again by how much she loves Santana Lopez.

It feels a little bit like someone took an icepick to her chest, but like in a good way, somehow. It cracks her sternum open until her heart is exposed and throbbing and fully at Santana's mercy, and she didn't realize how much love could make her head ache, even when it doesn't hurt, even when it's happy and beautiful and everything good in the world—she didn't realize how much she craved that ache until right now.

They're somewhere in the middle of nowhere, halfway between Lima and Delphos, where there's only farmland and tiny circles of trees and fences in desperate need of repair around them. The sun is larger and even brighter than usual as it protests the end of the day, starting its slow descent towards a horizon that stretches in every direction, endless and unbroken. Santana's profile is silhouetted against sun, the visor pulled out against the passenger window doing nothing to block the light that turns the outline of her face to liquid gold and her dark hair to honey. She's talking animatedly with her hands gesturing around so much it's probably a hazard to Brittany's driving, her shoes kicked off in the foot well and one foot tucked up underneath her, her voice bright and carefree.

And at this moment, with the sun just starting to set on Ohioan farmland, in her cousin's old beat-up, hand-me-down truck, on a regular Saturday evening in the middle of May, Brittany doesn't know what in the world she's been waiting for.

"I love you."

Santana freezes, her mouth still mid-sentence and her hands up by the dash mid-gesture, staring at Brittany with wide eyes.

Even though she's going fifty-five mph, it feels like time has frozen completely around them as she processes the fact that Santana seems to be unresponsive, and the ache in her chest tinges with slight panic.

"Um, I— I—"

"Pull over right now," Santana interrupts Brittany's stuttering attempt at forming a sentence, which is a relief, but Santana's tone is completely unreadable and now Brittany's stomach is joining her heart in its churning panic.

"Um— Wh— Why?" she manages to spit out, and a voice that sounds suspiciously like Quinn snorts a mocking articulate in the back of her mind.

"Just do it," Santana says, and the sharpness to her voice makes Brittany flinch as she scans the shoulder of the highway for a safe spot to pull over. There's no one else in sight at the moment, and Brittany quickly starts going through a list of what she'll need to hitchhike her way back to Lima because she's pretty sure Santana's going to, like, kick her out and steal her truck by this point, and Brittany will let it happen because she's hopelessly in love with Santana and would walk straight into hell with a smile if Santana asked her to.

"Um, okay," she starts as she flips her signal on and pulls over into one of those little pull-offs that are usually situated between two side roads, usually for farmer's to park their vehicles while in the field or whatever—Brittany's never really paid attention to them until this moment, so. She puts the truck in park but leaves it running, still so unsure about what exactly has happened in the last couple minutes. "I, uh— I didn't— Um—"

Brittany's inarticulate stuttering is interrupted once again by Santana, and the click of her seatbelt is somehow deafening over the murmur of whatever Top 40s song is playing on the radio. She's bracing herself for the slam of the truck door, when she suddenly has a lapful of her girlfriend. Her hands automatically fall to Santana's hips as Santana's hands thread through her hair, her muttered Shut up lost against Brittany's lips.

Brittany melts back into her seat under Santana's sweet mouth slanting over hers, the pure panic in her stomach and chest easing into something soft and tender and warm. There's nothing but the sound of their lips sliding against each other and Santana's happy little hums and the creak of the old seat filling the truck, the radio crooning softly under the tiny sounds of their kissing. And while Brittany can't really focus on anything outside of Santana's lips on hers, she can't help but smile when the lyrics of the song start to register, no matter how cheesy and cliche the moment feels.

"—My heart's been borrowed and yours has been blue. All's well that ends well to end up with you—"

She doesn't care how cheesy or cliche it is, because Santana's thighs are warm on either side of Brittany's and she's giggling into Brittany's mouth and Brittany can feel her heartbeat in her fingertips where they slide under the hem of Santana's shirt to find smooth skin. One of Santana's hands stays tangled in Brittany's hair while the other drifts down Brittany's front until Santana can press her palm to Brittany's heart, which flutters under Santana's hand. "Oh yeah," she says against Brittany's lips, as if she's remembering something as simple as the fact that she has biology homework to do later, cheeky and tender all at once, "I love you, too."

Brittany laughs, for no real reason other than the fact that she's happy and carefree and kissing her girlfriend in the Ohio sunset. Their laughter makes kissing properly difficult, so eventually they give up on it and press their foreheads together, blue eyes meeting brown as they smile at each other, soft and free and happy.

"Darling, you're my, my, my, my lover."

End Notes: It wouldn't be a glee fic if there wasn't some Cheesy integration of a song into it somewhere lol

Also, I've been waiting Impatiently to reveal the Big Reveal in this chapter