Notes: I'm (finally) back with the final chapter lol. I was home for my Christmas break and spent all of my time hanging out with friends I can't see as often because I live in another province now, and seeing a bunch of extended family for the first time in a couple years at my cousin's wedding, (and also constantly playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses because I love Edelgard with my whole entire heart) so I pushed everything else to the side to spend time with them. But it's here and finished now lol!

Anyways, thank you so much for supporting this fic, and especially for sticking through the Weird updating schedule with last 4 chapters while my life got more than a little crazy! The quote at the start of this chapter is from Andrea Gibson's "Good Light," and it's kind of been my guiding principle this whole time for what I wanted Brittany and Santana's separate character and relationship arcs to look like. So I hope I succeeded in that!


Chapter Summary: Everything comes full circle.

Chapter Title: the reverse of being haunted

I mean, that's how I've been living: Decades of "no, no, no, no, no," and that's okay.

An accordion couldn't make a song if it had never closed.

But then I met you.

And I started feeling myself open.

I started feeling my yes coming back, and it was the sweetest thing I'd ever known

Like the reverse of being haunted.

Like taking a deep breath and pulling the fog off the glass.

My love.

My yes.

Do you know how many times a day my gratitude frames your autograph?

It's kind of incredible how easily those three little words come now. After weeks of thinking her crush was insignificant, after months of pretending her crush wasn't crushing her, after an entire semester's worth of yearning and longing, after feeling the sweetest relief flood through her at the realization that it hadn't been an one-sided crush at all, after months of the voices in her head telling her it's too soon and it needs to be perfect and what if it doesn't mean as much to her as it does to you and who are you to think you can be this happy—after all of that, it's like she can't stop saying it. Like her heart was waiting for her mouth to finally open, and now that it has, everything that's been screaming against the teeth sinking into her tongue to bite the words back is finally flooding out.

She tells Santana that she loves her in the mornings and in the evenings and when they say hello and when they say goodbye and in person and over text and everywhere in between.

But Brittany's slowly realized that, while she physically says the words at least once a day, she's been saying it all along and hadn't even realized it. Like when she stayed up until three in the morning watching some trashy reality show that Santana loves just to keep her company even though she had a history exam the next day; or when she let Santana beat her at bowling when Mike picked their weekly hangout last month even though Brittany is amazing at it because it's just angles and forces and velocities and Santana needs the gutters up to just get the ball down the lane half the time; or when she found herself sorting all the Skittles by colour before every movie night because that's the way Santana always eats them; or when she let Santana shower first everyday she lived at the Pierces even though Santana always used up all the hot water; or when she attempted her dad's famous chocolate chip cookies all by herself after Santana did poorly on their government exam, even though she's never tried baking before in her life, even when she knows that getting her dad to make them would be easier and probably tastier, because she wanted to make something special for her girlfriend all by herself.

But it's funny, because, now that Brittany knows what to look for, she can see that Santana's been telling her I love you too all along. Like when she kissed Brittany long and smiling even after having a shitty day and eating Brittany's too crunchy and too deformed and too sweet cookies; or when she waits for Brittany outside the glee room after every single glee even though glee is technically over after Nationals and she hates like seventy-five percent of its members; or when she woke Brittany up with a smile at five in the morning despite the fact that she hates early mornings more than anything simply because she knows that Brittany loves watching thunderstorms in the dark; or when she heard Brittany singing totally off-key in the shower and joined in on her impromptu concert instead of making fun of her; or every single time Santana laughs at her dumb jokes as if they're the funniest thing in the world, even when they're—admittedly—super lame and dorky, even when nobody else laughs, even when Brittany thinks they're super dumb too, because Santana thinks she's the funniest person in the world for some reason.

Now that Brittany knows what to look for, she sees Santana's love for her oozing out of practically everything she does.

And she's not the only one, because she's almost always on the wrong side of their friends' teasing, and even the glee club members who used to think she was the most intimidating person at the school send her sappy, knowing looks whenever her and Santana do something particularly couple-y.

It only gets worse when Santana comes with the Pierces to Nationals in Chicago in near the end of May, because she gives Brittany a bouquet of flowers after their performance and practically leaps into her arms as soon as they see each other in the hotel lobby after the New Directions win; though, Brittany doesn't really mind the chorus of aww so cutes coming from behind her when she has an armful of her laughing girlfriend. But the glee club is just generally annoying and more than a little embarrassing when Santana leaves with the Pierces and Brittany is suddenly faced with the merciless teasing of her so-called best friends and the rest of the glee club about how she, Brittany S. Pierce, McKinley's resident rebel and Lima's infamous troublemaker, is completely adorable around Santana.

(She whines about it on the phone to Santana later, and she gets no sympathy from her amused girlfriend, or from her current roommates, who both throw pillows at her face despite the fact that Brittany doesn't tease them about their own nauseatingly adorable goodnight kisses with Mike and Puck earlier that evening.)

(Well, she doesn't tease them much, at least.)

(Even though Brittany is practically dying to ask Quinn about that particular new development between Quinn and Puck where they're kissing each other instead of trying to kill each other, but she's been trying to keep herself contained because she knows that Quinn will tell her when she's ready.)

(As is to be expected, Zizes is already face down and snoring on one of the beds, and Rachel is no doubt somewhere in the hotel giving Finn some long-winded celebratory paragraph that's mostly composed of her praising herself.)

(And when Quinn's ready turns out to only be a couple hours later, when Rachel and Lauren are both snoring loud enough to be heard in the hallway and Quinn and Tina and Brittany are sneaking out of their room to get chocolate and pop from the vending machines on the floor above them.)

Brittany doesn't think she's ever been happier in her entire life, even with the daunting and slightly terrifying prospect of the future after graduation looming ever closer. And she knows for a fact that Santana's never been happier either, because for the first time in her life she's actually getting the love and care that should be considered a basic human right along with food and shelter and water.

Dr. Lopez continues to be a complete asshole and, apparently not content with just disowning Santana and kicking her out, had apparently been looking into some legal mumbo-jumbo that Brittany didn't really understand at all, even after spending hours googling and reading legal Reddit forms for the fifth time that week. All she really understood was the fact that Dr. Lopez liked control, and he hated the fact that he couldn't control Santana anymore. There were words like emancipation and disownment and guardianship and a whole bunch of other legal terms that were practically meaningless to Brittany thrown around, and even the Joneses and the Pierces coming together to explain it to Brittany and Santana didn't do anything to really clear it up, other than to reiterate the fact that Dr. Lopez that was an asshole who was throwing a tantrum because things weren't going his way anymore.

Santana had insisted that didn't want any of his stupid fucking money or stupid fucking estate anyways, but when Brittany crawls into bed with Santana later that night—after one of their newly created Jones-Pierce weekly suppers at Breadstix or Topp Chalet, Mercedes' favourite restaurant in Delphos—her girlfriend presses her face into Brittany's shoulder and clings to her with a desperation Brittany hasn't felt since the first week after everything happened in that hospital room.

Brittany knows that there's a lot of things that bothers Santana even if she refuses to admit it, but Brittany knows that sometimes the best thing is just to remind Santana that she's loved by so many people and hold her tighter.

It seems to work, and the adult Joneses and Pierces seem to have figured something out, because less than a week later, Lorna and Deon become Santana's official guardians until she turns eighteen in November.

The most surprising thing to come out of late May though, is Dr. Weber contacting Santana with an entire report ready to go about Dr. Lopez's gross negligence regarding some of his LGBTQ+ identifying patients. Brittany and Santana had just stared at each other blankly, unable to fully process this new information until Dr. Weber continued. She explained that—if she was willing and comfortable in doing so—Santana's testimony about the negligence and abuse and homophobia she suffered under Dr. Lopez as both his daughter and as his patient would basically be the final nail in the coffin towards getting him fired from Lima General and getting his license revoked. Apparently, Dr. Weber had suspected some degree of negligence in Dr. Lopez's practice after hearing various whispers of rumours from patients who transferred to her clinic, and had been spending months quietly investigating his work—that night in Santana's hospital room had been the last straw for Dr. Weber, and she went forward with a complaint against Dr. Lopez that included a compilation of all the other testimonies she had collected in the past months. Santana and Brittany were all too aware of the fact that reopening Santana's old wounds would be painful and traumatic and there would be no guarantee it would even be worth it, and Dr. Weber was all too aware of the fact that it's a huge thing to ask of Santana but it would make her case so much stronger, but Brittany knows that this is something that Santana has to do.

With more uncertainty and doubt and fear than either of them had felt in a long time, Santana had agreed, and Dr. Weber had thanked her and promised to sort everything out on her end and let Santana know when she would be needed. It had taken a couple weeks, but eventually Whitney wakes Brittany up with a newspaper to the face one Sunday morning, and Brittany's bleary eyes take a moment to adjust before she manages to decipher the black squiggles in front of her eyes as the words Dr. Julio Lopez caught in possible scandal as an investigation of malpractice at Lima General Hospital begins.

Being such a well known figure around the community can only protect him so far, and his renown had quickly turned to infamy as Lima turned on him far more quickly than the years the community spent singing glowing praises would have suggested. Apparently, neglecting and emotionally abusing his daughter for years and being exposed for negligence in his practice is where Lima draws the line.

The first thing Brittany does is burst into tears of relief, because Dr. Lopez had always seemed like this larger-than-life, terrifying villain who would never answer for all the pain he had caused Santana and so many others, if the number of people Dr. Weber had gathered testimonies from was any indication, and this is so much more than Brittany could ever have hoped for.

The second thing she does is hug her mom and cry into her shoulder for a while, her body shaking with relief and a weight lifting off her shoulders that she hadn't even realized she was carrying.

The third thing she does is call Santana and promise to drive out to Delphos as soon as she puts some clothes on, listening to her girlfriend laugh through her tears at the realization that the man who has caused her nothing but pain her whole life is finally being brought to justice. They stay on the phone the entire time, even when it's just long minutes of them silently breathing as Brittany drives down the highway, and Brittany takes Santana out for brunch at a local diner to celebrate the fact that Santana is finally, officially, free from Dr. Lopez. Both of them smile and laugh so much that the waitress asks if they've got some good news to share, pointedly looking at their left hands with a suggestive smirk—the implication makes both of them blush and smile bashfully at their plates, but neither of them pull away from each other and it's kind of the best thing a stranger has ever assumed about Brittany.

And sure, there's been times when they argue, and times when Santana gets into a bitchy mood, and times where they're both too stubborn for their own good, and times when Brittany reverts to being broody and stand-offish, and times when slamming doors and scowls are more common than goodnight kisses, and times where Brittany wants nothing more than to strangle her girlfriend, and times where Santana wants nothing more than to do the same, and she knows that there will be countless times just like those in the years to come.

But they're in love, and they're happy, even when they want to kill each other, and that's all Brittany could ever ask for.

Since it's already half-way through June, Brittany and Santana stop using their spare as an excuse to goof off—and sometimes make out when the ancient librarian is snoring particularly loudly—and actually start studying again. Brittany only has three exams this semester, on account of McKinley adjusting her required credits so that she could be their math monkey for one final semester, but Santana is unlucky enough to have five subjects, and thus five exams, to study for.

Thankfully, one of her exams is for her Spanish class and Santana could ace that test in her sleep; but it does bring up an entirely new problem of Brittany getting distracted every time Santana practices her Spanish monologue for the oral test, on account of the fact that Brittany finds her girlfriend ridiculously attractive when she's speaking Spanish.

So Spanish study time is banned, because they really don't want to find out what the ancient librarian's response would be to them fooling around on the table in the back of the McKinley library.

Their friends start stressing about college and university and jobs and student loans during lunch time, and Brittany realizes with a start that this is basically the end of high school. Sure, they still have classes for another couple weeks, but all the seniors are just preparing for final exams, and glee is over, and Santana's officially done with the Cheerios—which is a relief because Brittany hates watching sports games, and only started going to them to support her girlfriend (though, according to Quinn, who got dragged to more than a few games with Brittany, the only reason she ever went was to stare at her girlfriend's ass in those cheerleading uniforms, which isn't exactly wrong per se)—which means all that's really left for them is graduation.

It's a sobering thought, realizing that everybody's going in different directions.

Quinn got into Yale, which had resulted in Brittany hugging her tighter than she ever had, knowing how much it meant to Quinn that, despite everything she's been through, she won't end up a Lima Loser like she had always feared.

Mike is heading off to Chicago because he got into some prestigious ballet academy—Brittany wasn't really paying attention enough to actually read his letter of acceptance because she was too busy screaming in his ear and congratulating him, knowing that pursuing dance is basically all Mike's ever wanted to do, regardless of his father's disproval.

Puck has genuine plans for what seems to be a rather successful pool cleaning business, to the surprise of everyone but his real friends, who know that, while half the things he says are nonsensical and very fuckboy-esque, he has dreams just like Rachel Berry—who looks down on all of them for not going to NYADA—and while Puck's dreams may not involve singing lessons like Rachel's, they're no less valid than hers.

Tina still has another semester to complete, and sometimes Brittany forgets that she's technically still a junior since she took so many upperclass classes to fast track her high school diploma, and she's been spending all of their lunches pouting and clinging to Mike; not that Brittany can blame her, because the thought of all her friends leaving her behind in Lima is a horrifying one—one that used to be Brittany's greatest fear until this year.

Brittany honestly never thought she'd even graduate with all her friends, and she's pretty sure if it weren't for her math genius and McKinley's accommodations with the amount of credits she needs to graduate so they could get grant money, she wouldn't have ever crossed the stage—and because of that, she never applied to any colleges. If she's being completely honest, she's never really thought college was for her anyway, which leaves her with lots of possibilities, but basically no real, concrete ideas.

And Santana is crazy smart, something Brittany's known long before Mr. D. asked her to be a tutor that Monday back in September, and she had seen the pile of acceptance letters in Santana's bedside drawer when they were hurriedly packing up all of her worldly possessions. She knows her girlfriend has got accepted to a ridiculous number of prestigious schools, and she knows that Santana could basically go anywhere she wanted, and she's terrified that Santana will head off to some expensive university and forget all about her.

Sure, Santana said she imagined them living together after grad, but that had been a day after Dr. Lopez disowned her and kicked her out, and Brittany's not sure if she even remembers that conversation, let alone if she really meant it, or if she was just so desperate for a place to belong after being kicked out that she said it without really meaning it.

She knows it's pretty irrational, because nothing Santana has ever said or done has made Brittany feel anything less than her entire world, but there's a reason that most irrational fears are, you know, completely irrational.

So Brittany confronts the issue with all of her usual tact—which is to say, none—and blurts it out in the middle of studying for their biology exam, halfway through their Tuesday spare.

Santana's brows furrow and her nose scrunches up and Brittany would think she looks completely and utterly adorable if her heart wasn't pounding so loudly in her chest. "What?" she says blankly.

"I— Um— I was just wondering if—" Brittany takes a deep breath and tries not to pick at her nails, all too aware that Santana knows all of her nervous tics by now and will definitely pick up on her anxiety. "We haven't really talked about the future, you know?" Santana makes a small noise of confusion. Her brows are still furrowed and Brittany resists the urge to kiss the wrinkle between them away for the first time in over five months. "Like Quinn and Mike and Puck have all these plans and stuff," she continues, dropping her gaze from Santana's so she doesn't have to look in those deep brown eyes and see her greatest fear reflected back at her, "Even Tina knows what she wants to do, and she's not graduating until next year. And we just— I mean I know you got all those acceptance letters and, like, I didn't apply to anything because I didn't think I would even graduate and I don't know where you want to go for school or what I want to do or if you'd even want me there with you or if—"

"Britt, babe," Santana interrupts, dropping her pencil in favour of taking Brittany's hands in her own, "breathe."

Brittany sucks in a shuddering breath and attempts to control the word vomit spilling out of her. Soft lips at the corner of her mouth definitely help, and it's like Santana's kiss tugs at something in her chest and unravels it until Brittany doesn't feel like she's drowning anymore.

"You good?" Santana checks as she draws back just enough to look into Brittany's eyes.

Brittany lets out a long breath and relaxes a little. "Yeah, I'm good," she promises, "Just— Panic got a hold of me there for a second."

Santana smiles, and it's beautiful and dimpled and like the sun coming out after a long thunderstorm. "You don't remember, do you?"

"Remember what?"

Santana laughs a little and rolls her eyes fondly, shifting on the bench so she can tuck a leg beneath her and turn to face Brittany fully; Brittany mirrors her, their hands never leaving each other. "I suppose you were half asleep," Santana relents in amusement, pursing her lips and just making Brittany want to kiss them again, "We kinda made plans already."

Brittany frowns and stares at Santana like she's grown an extra head. "No offence, Santana, but what the fuck are you talking about?"

Santana just continues to smile at Brittany, her eyes soft and warm like chocolate melting on a hot day. "I already declined all my acceptance offers because the only reason I applied to those programs was to appease him."

Despite the fact that it's been over two months since that night in the hospital, neither of them have to clarify who they're talking about when they spit he at each other—Dr. Lopez is kind of like Voldemort in that way, where just saying You-Know-Who is enough to identify the villain of the story.

In this story, just spitting he with all the distain in the world accomplishes the same thing.

"None of the things I got accepted for are what I want to do," Santana continues, "because I really want to do music and not be a lawyer or doctor or CEO or trophy wife or whatever the fuck he wanted for me. And so we both kind of decided that college isn't really for us—at least not right now."

Brittany bites back a small smile because, even if Brittany only has the vaguest prickling of a memory regarding this supposed conversation that they had, she still can't quite believe how well Santana understands her, or how well Santana loves her.

"So instead we figured we'd just, like, move to New York, or probably L.A. because Mercedes is going there for that internship she scored, or maybe even Seattle even though you think their hipster scene is super pretentious," Santana says with a smirk, and Brittany doesn't even try to hide her snort of amusement. "And then we'd get an apartment and a couple cats and you can tutor math or find some motorcycle repair shop or something and I can find some cafe that's just pompous enough to scandalize when you pick me up in your leather jacket and all black and combat boots and then I can perform in bars on the weekends and try and get noticed and we can sleep all morning on Sundays and learn—"

"—to play the guitar so we can both equally suck at it together," Brittany suddenly recalls, the hazy memory finally flooding back in.

It was early, too early to bother looking at the time, far too early for either of them to be awake, let alone coherent—and yet Santana was somehow able to form complete sentences full of genuine plans for the future. Brittany had woken to the sound of soft humming and gentle fingers running through her hair. She had simply rolled over and buried her face in Santana's neck, grumbling about the sunlight creeping across the bedspread and it disturbing their Sunday morning sleep. Santana had mentioned that she wanted to do this forever—this being waking up to Brittany's grumpy cuddling—and their drowsy conversation about the future had turned into languid kisses had turned into dozing on and off until noon.

Santana grins and nods and ducks forward to kiss Brittany around their wide smiles, all of Brittany's earlier fears dissipating like fog burning away in the morning sunlight.

"Exams are a bitch," Brittany announces as soon as they step out of Mr. Bartlett's government class long after the bell signalling the end of first period rang, with less than a minute left for the rest of their class to rush to their second period class. It makes Brittany a little bit smug that they both have a spare and can walk through the halls as leisurely as they want to. "Multiple choice plus matching plus short answer plus long answer. All in an hour and a half? Does he think we're all geniuses or something?"

"Well, I mean, you are," Santana snorts, shifting her binder and textbook to one arm so she can tangle her fingers with Brittany's. Their hands slide together loosely as they navigate through the last few people hurrying to class, falling into step with each other.

"If the American government actually ran on mathematics instead of on whatever the fuck Mr. Bartlett was explaining today, then I'd consider running for president."

"Oooh," Santana smirks teasingly, "That'd make me the first lady."

Brittany gasps dramatically and turns to eye Santana in betrayal. "I knew you were only with me for power."

Santana rolls her eyes and tugs on Brittany's arm so hard that Brittany stumbles a little. "Oh yes," she deadpans, "I went through all of that coming out panic just for the chance that you might one day become president of the United States."

Brittany can't help the snort that escapes her. "Coming out panic? I thought it was called gay panic?"

Santana—always so expressive with her hands—waves dismissively, forgetting that Brittany's fingers are still tangled with her own and only succeeding in swinging their clasped hands wildly. "Oh, gay panic was eighth grade. I've been long past gay panic, and was well into coming out panic by the time you started tutoring me."

Brittany holds her free hand melodramatically to her heart in mock-hurt. "And here I thought I was your gay awakening."

Santana snorts and gives Brittany a droll look. "No, that privilege goes to Princess Leia."

"I thought Star Wars was a Mike thing," Brittany says as she frowns thoughtfully, "I kinda figured he forced you to watch them as, you know, payment for fake dating you or something. He forced me and Puck and Quinn to watch them in sophomore year because he got his license first and drove us all around for months. Instead of making us pay gas money, he just forced us to watch all the Star Wars movies. And we all did because we were broke and bored."

"No, I watched them when I was a kid with one of my nannies," Santana laughs, her eyes shining in amusement at Brittany's complaining, "Mike forced me to watch all the prequels and then the new ones and then read most of the comics or books or whatever—out loud to me when I couldn't escape because there's no way in hell I'd physically read them myself." Santana rolls her eyes, but there's fondness twitching her lips and dimpling her cheeks. "I seriously know way too much about the Extended Universe thanks to him. And by that, I mean I hit way too much as soon as I found out that the Extended Universe exists. Besides, Mike was easily paid off by piles of quesitos for years of fake dating because he only makes decisions with his stomach."

Brittany's quiet for a moment before turning to Santana with raised eyebrows. "So, Princess Leia?" She has to bite down on her bottom lip so she doesn't burst out laughing at the incredulous quirk to Santana's brow.

"That's what you're focusing on?" Santana asks rhetorically, and then continues before Brittany even has a chance to respond, "She was pretty and snarky and knew how to outshoot everybody else and was the leader of a rebellion, of course I had the biggest crush on her. Even if I didn't realize it was a crush until years later."

Brittany's quiet for a moment, before grinning Santana. "Remember when I thought you were super straight and super in love with Mike since, like, sophomore year?" she asks, her smirk widening at Santana's slightly suspicious and slightly confused nod, "Yeah, I don't know how I ever thought that because you're like really fucking gay. That's, like, the most stereotypical gay realization to have."

Santana makes an offended sound and shoulders Brittany so hard that she stumbles a step, but they're both laughing and their hands are still tangled, so Santana's attempt at reprimanding Brittany isn't really successful at all. Brittany just grins and lifts Santana's hand up to kiss her knuckles, for no real reason other than the fact that she loves her and all those months of pining and angsting was totally worth it because, after it all, she ended up here.

She glances around the deserted hallway and is surprised—she gets so caught up in staring at Santana most of the time that she usually doesn't pay any attention to her surroundings—to see that they've made it all the way to the arts wing.

Brittany grins and tugs Santana towards the glee room door, knowing that Mr. Schue has a second period history class. Santana groans as soon as she realizes what Brittany is doing, digging her heels into the ground even though Brittany can definitely—and easily—overpower her. "No way in hell am I getting detention again," Santana grumbles, trying desperately to shake Brittany's hand off of hers.

"C'mon, Sunshine," Brittany coaxes, "It'll be fun. You know, for old times sake."

"Yeah," Santana mutters, "I love remembering all the fun times when you thought I was a bitch and I wanted to strangle you with your leather jacket."

"Please," Brittany says dismissively, "I never thought you were a bitch, I know you're a bitch."

Santana barks out a laugh despite herself, finally succeeding in untangling her hand from Brittany's only to smack Brittany in the stomach. "Oh, fuck off, darling," Santana says icily, and Brittany can't bite back the smile curling her lips.

"Just one song," Brittany says in her best begging voice, knowing that Santana is just as susceptible to Brittany's puppy eyes as Brittany is to Santana's. "Just one itty bitty song before we go off and graduate and never step foot in the glee room ever again."

"I hate you," Santana sighs deeply, and Brittany knows that she's won even before Santana steps forward to jimmy the locked door open.

"No you don't," Brittany singsongs, bouncing after Santana into the room and making sure that the door is firmly closed behind them, "You love me." Brittany makes sure to make her voice as obnoxious as possible as she drapes herself over Santana's back. They both stumble a little, but Santana is laughing even as she tries to shove Brittany off of her, and Brittany just loves her a whole lot. They eventually make their way over to the piano and dump their stuff on the ground and the top of the piano. Brittany releases Santana just long enough to squeeze onto the bench beside Santana and press herself to Santana's side, sliding one arm around Santana's back to anchor at her opposite hip.

"I'm gonna be really rusty," Santana warns, her fingers hovering over the keys as if she's afraid they'll break as soon as she touches them, "I haven't played since that Friday."

Brittany quickly reaches up and plays the melody to Heart and Soul—the one song that every single person in glee club only kind of knows how to play—with about seven wrong notes and in what is definitely the wrong key, before shooting Santana a lopsided grin. "Well, you'll definitely be better than I am," she says pointedly, "And it'll be amazing because it's you who's playing."

Santana rolls her eyes in that way that makes her head roll on her neck too, and Brittany's grin widens as she ducks forward to clumsily press a kiss to Santana's cheek. She adores the slight flush that it always brings to her girlfriend's cheeks, even after five months of more than cheek kisses.

Santana tries to bite back her smile as she turns to the piano, but it doesn't really work, and Brittany just continues to grin at her even while she plays a couple of simple scales with both hands.

Santana warned her that she'd be rusty, but Brittany quickly realizes that Santana's rusty is better than most people's well-practiced. It's different than what Brittany remembers Santana playing all those months ago, the day that she caught Santana in the glee room; it's something she's never heard before, but it's somehow a little familiar and a little sad and a little happy, and it still makes something in Brittany's chest crack wide open.

Quiet humming makes Brittany smile even as her heart aches with the beauty that Santana's fingers pull from the white and black keys, and she closes her eyes and lets herself sink into the music. A few notes land slightly off beat as Brittany allows her head to sink to Santana's shoulder, but Santana quickly adjusts and jumps down an octave so she's not bumping her right arm against Brittany anymore. Brittany's chest expands with warmth and love and awe at Santana's ability to make her feel so much with just the piano keys under her fingers and a soft hum in the back of her throat, and she's pretty sure that Dr. Lopez trying to kill all of the beautiful, creative, and amazing parts of Santana is one of the saddest things Brittany's ever witnessed—and Santana's ability to rise above it all is one of the most beautiful.

She's so caught up in listening to Santana weaving a wordless story with nothing more than a few chords and a simple melody, that she doesn't even notice the glee room door opening behind them.

It's Mr. Schue's grunt of surprise at finding Brittany and Santana sitting on the piano bench that alerts Brittany to the fact that this isn't going to go well. Mr. Schue's been really grumpy lately for no real reason. Though Brittany suspects it's because his precious little choir protégés are set to graduate with no real plans—what with Rachel choking on her NYADA audition and Finn being, well, Finn—and he's upset since he can't really help them, which is a little bit sweet, but mostly just incredibly annoying if you're not one of said precious little choir protégés.

"Brittany, and Santana," he says accusingly, scowling when Brittany lifts one hand in a mocking two-finger salute before putting her arm back around Santana, a little bit lower than what's strictly appropriate at school. "What are you doing here?"

Santana exchanges a look with Brittany, and Brittany can already tell that Santana isn't going to play nice, which kind of makes Brittany love her even more, even if it will probably end in detention for the both of them—again. "Playing piano, Mr. Schue," she deadpans, "I figured you'd know what that looks like, being a choir director and all."

Mr. Schue flounders for a moment before he manages to blink away his surprise and his scowl comes back. "You can put that attitude away, Miss Lopez."

Santana rolls her eyes at Brittany and Brittany tries really hard to bite back her grin at the look on her girlfriend's face, but can't quite manage it based on the way her cheeks ache a little.

"What attitude, Mr. Schue?" Santana asks in a voice that's dripping in sickly sweetness, "I was simply answering your question. Though I am surprised that you're here. I thought you had a history class to teach, and as far as I'm aware, second period doesn't end for another six minutes." Brittany looks down at the piano and tries not to laugh at Santana putting her years of practice in politely insulting old, rich men to good use. "And, Ms. Pillsbury is gone today. How weird is it that she's away this time as well? Once is a coincidence but twice is the start of a nasty habit, Mr. Schue."

It takes more than a couple moments for Mr. Schue to regain the ability to speak, and Brittany rolls her eyes at the same time that Santana does as soon as they recognize Mr. Schue's ego flaring up—though Brittany can't really be annoyed like she was the last time she was in this situation, because Santana is purposefully trying to rile Mr. Schue up this time and not just lashing out in defensive fear, and because she finds it hilarious when her girlfriend puts her snarky bitchiness to good use.

"Detention this afternoon, for the both of you," Mr. Schue finally manages to spit.

Santana just smirks and shrugs at Brittany in a what can you do? kind of way. Brittany really can't contain the chuckle that escapes her at how much has changed within Santana since the last time they got caught in the glee room.

"Whatever for?" Santana asks, sweet and confused and mocking in a way that only Brittany can recognize.

"For being in here without permission, again, and for back-talking," Mr. Schue snaps, and Brittany knows she needs to get out of here before Mr. Schue adds a couple more days of detention for mockingly laughing at him or something equally ridiculous.

"Come on," Brittany says as she stands and grabs her backpack, wincing a little when Mr. Schue makes a disgruntled noise at the obvious amusement in her voice, "we have class soon." As if on cue, the bell for the end of second period rings just as Santana is grabbing her binder and textbook off the top of the piano. Mr. Schue turns to head into his office, and Santana childishly sticks her tongue out at his retreating back as she takes Brittany's outstretched hand.

Brittany's surprised laughter echoes in the glee room as they flee before Mr. Schue can turn around and give them any more detention.

By the time the last bell of the day rings, Brittany really doesn't want to go to detention. Not that she ever usually feels any desire to go to detention, but today she really doesn't want to go, because she really just wants to take Santana out for ice cream or for a drive with no destination or to watch the sunset or something equally cheesy.

Santana seems to be thinking the same thing, because she's dragging her feet as they head towards the detention room Mr. Pyking is probably already snoring in. Brittany frowns thoughtfully, glancing around the nearly deserted hallways—McKinley always clears out absurdly fast on Friday afternoons—and realize that they both have their bags packed with all the textbooks and binders they'll need for the weekend; Brittany's already wearing her leather jacket because she always has it on, and it's warm enough that Santana skipped a jacket and only wore a t-shirt and one of Brittany's thicker plaid shirts (which sends a small thrill through Brittany every time she glances at the way Santana's arms practically swim in the excess fabric).

She figures that it will only take her about two minutes to convince Santana to skip detention, since like ninety-six percent of the reason she refused to skip the first time around was because of Dr. Lopez's almost certain rage if he ever found out that Santana not only got detention, but that she skipped it. She slides a little closer to Santana even though there's no one else in the hallway at the moment, their shoulders brush together as Brittany glances down at Santana with her most innocent grin.

"What?" she asks warily, tipping her chin up a little so she can meet Brittany's eyes properly.

"Nothing," Brittany says, over-enunciating each syllable, "Just wondering if you'd be up for a bit of mischief."

Santana raises one brow and regards Brittany with that unimpressed look that used to intimidate Brittany, just a tiny bit, because Brittany was McKinley's resident rebel and she was only ever slightly intimidated by Santana because she had a reputation to maintain as a broody, uncaring badass. Now, though, she can recognizes the flicker of fond amusement in those dark eyes, and it makes her stomach flip over a couple times. "By mischief do you mean trying to hit the top of Mr. Pyking's with rubber bands without waking him? Or do you mean I'll definitely need someone to bail me out of jail later?"

"I'm hurt that you'd think so lowly of me," Brittany gasps melodramatically.

Santana just rolls her eyes and continues to stare at Brittany, unimpressed and just a little bit curious, but mostly fond and amused.

"But, if you must know," Brittany continues, maintaining her overly dramatic voice, "I just thought it might be more fun to skip detention all together instead of spending an hour listening to Mr. Pyking desperately need Breathe Right strips."

Santana glances around the hallway, and Brittany can almost see the ghost of the old Santana, the one who was kept under lock and key by Dr. Lopez's neglectful and controlling behaviour, bristle and grow defensive just over Santana's left shoulder. And then her Santana's warm brown eyes land on hers and the ghost of the past fade away into the recesses of memory. "You've already got me skipping class," she finally says, her eyes glowing with the possibility of mischief, "how much worse could skipping detention be?"

Brittany grins and reaches to take Santana's hand, tangling their fingers together and slowing as they near the detention room. "That's the spirit," she praises teasingly, ignoring Santana's partially exasperated but mostly fond scoff.

They creep forward a little bit, just enough to peer into the classroom serving as the detention room, and are both shocked to find Mr. Bartlett sitting attentively at the desk instead of a slumped over and half-asleep Mr. Pyking like Brittany's used to. There's the usual skanks and football players sitting in the desks at the front of the classroom, staring straight ahead in utter boredom under Mr. Bartlett's watchful gaze instead of gossiping like they usually would.

This makes things a little bit more difficult, and Brittany glances at Santana to see if she wants to give up on the plan now and just go ahead and sit in detention for the next hour—Mr. Pyking is a little bit too lazy to care about dealing with skippers or latecomers, but they both know that Mr. Bartlett takes a little too much joy in handing out detentions like they're candy bars on Halloween night.

But when she meets Santana's eyes, she just sees that spark of mischief and adoration that Brittany feels reflected back at her, and a lopsided grin and a tightened grip is all the warning she gives Santana before she drags her off down the hall.

Santana's laughter definitely alerts Mr. Bartlett to their presence, but by the time he's storming out of their classroom, Santana and Brittany are turning the corner and racing down the stretch of hallway that leads to the student parking lot, their laughter echoing off the cold lockers and empty halls.

They nearly take out Mr. Schue as he comes out of the bathroom, and he shouts after them when he realizes that they're well on their way to skipping the detention he gave them earlier. But his attention is quickly pulled to the side as Mrs. Belling walks up and warmly greets him, wilfully ignoring Brittany and Santana racing down the hall and providing the perfect distraction. A movement near the doors has them stumbling a little and slowing to try and see what their next obstacle is, both of them breathing hard from the exertion of running and laughing at the same time. It only takes Brittany a moment to realize that the movement at the doors is actually Mr. Dunngan, who is holding the door wide open with a small smirk and a hurry it up motion.

Brittany manages to catch a glimpse of the surprised delight on Santana's face as they charge down the hallway and out the door, waving at Mr. D. as they pass him and make it out onto the gravel of the parking lot and the relative safety it provides, but still, they keep running.

Brittany doesn't really feel all that inclined to stop anytime soon, and, to be completely honest, she kind of just wants to keep doing this forever: holding Santana's hand while they run away from trouble, laughing and falling all over each other the whole way.

Brittany's pretty sure that if she could do this every single day for the rest of her life, she'd never want for anything else ever again.

End Notes: I can't believe this is the end of this fic tbh. When I first started planning this out, my life was so different from what it is now, seeing as I was just starting my final semester of university and now I'm in a province I thought I'd never move to with a full time job lol. The first plotting for this fic was way back in January of 2019, but I didn't start writing it until sometime in late July/early August, and it's seriously gone through probably the most revisions of any of my fics. The original conception for it was 10 chapters of alternating pov between Santana and Brittany, and it's been changed so much since then, and honestly I'm really proud of the final product. I wanted to try and make it work with the alternating povs for so long, before I finally decided that in order to keep the Big Reveals secret (i.e., Santana and Mike's fake relationship and Dr. Lopez's aura of mystery and terror and the Joneses as Santana's extended family), I had to stick to Brittany's pov. I have a hard time letting go of things a lot of the time—especially when it comes to creative ideas—but making that change for the betterment of the story was so freeing that it's made me less scared to change my ideas when I need to.

I also wanted to add that I've been thinking of taking a break from writing Brittana fanfic for a while now. I won't be abandoning writing for Brittana completely, and it's not that I'm bored or tired of writing for Brittana per se, but I'm in need of a change by this point, and it's taking a lot of effort to write them lately. I've been writing them for almost two years straight by this point and I kind of want to expand my writing into less familiar characters and relationships and fandoms and stuff to challenge myself and hopefully continue to improve.

I will continue to write them eventually, since I still have through the woods we ran to finish, but I won't be writing them the same frequency or single-mindedness as I have been. Lately I've kinda wanted to be more than just a Brittana writer and to just expand my writing to other stuff to challenge myself. I just feel like it's time to move on from Brittana and focus more on stuff that will once again challenge me, because I've gotten so used to Brittany and Santana's voices that I need something new, and I also kind of want to focus some of my attention on genuinely starting to write my own novel.

So, this isn't me stopping writing Brittana completely, but I need a change and a challenge, and I feel like after finally finishing this fic, which has been my longest and most ambitious piece of writing to date, that it's time to make that change.

So thanks again for reading! I appreciate every single comment I've received on this fic so much, and I appreciate all the support for it more than I can properly explain.