Disclaimer: I don't own Glee.
Summary: Like a butterfly, Santana's journey out of the closet occurs in stages. From the first time she heard the word gay to the first time she flew free from her chrysalis, she can remember everything. Spoilers up to 2.22.
A/N: A HUGE thank you to lajeunefilleenfleur for working with me on chapter 4. I am humbled and honored to work with such a talented person. I—and my story—grew a lot (for the better!) under her guidance.
Thanks to lingeringlilies and terriblemuriel for their assistance.
And for those who don't know, mariposa is Spanish for butterfly. I'm going with a butterfly life cycle theme for Santana's emergence from the closet because it's a metaphor and metaphors are important. Reviews are much appreciated!
Santana was eleven the first time she ever heard the word lesbian, and, looking back on it, how she wished her first time had been different.
She'd been at a Junior Cheerios sleepover. The captain of the squad, Tiffany, had monthly sleepovers for her hand-picked group of favorites; now that she and Brittany were on the 'yes' list, their attendance was mandatory.
Santana could even remember where they were all sitting. She and Brittany were curled up next to each other, bare thighs flush together in their Soffe shorts, huddled under Brittany's glow-in-the-dark sleeping bag. Tiffany was perched on a leather recliner, her two favorite lackeys by her feet. Ten other girls were lounging around in the den, chatting noisily amongst themselves and gossiping in a way that would put their equally stuck-up mothers to shame.
"Hey, Santana," Brittany whispered. Well, it was Brittany's version of a whisper. She hadn't quite mastered the art of whispering quietly yet, so she sounded like a chain smoking, slightly deaf person.
"Hey Britt-Britt." Santana gently nudged her with her shoulder.
"Guess what?" Brittany's thigh began to twitch with excitement and pent-up energy. She could never sit still for long. Even in sleep, she kicked and punched and wiggled like a flag in a hurricane.
Santana hummed. "Um... you want a pet unicorn?"
The posse's heads snapped to glare at the girls. They were supposed to be pre-teenagers now. Unicorns were for babies. So were sprites, fairies, trolls, and ogres. Too bad Brittany still believed in them. Santana slid further under the slippery blanket.
"I mean... that that Penelope girl is totally bulimic?" She blurted. The posse settled like a flock of chickens, feathers rustling and everything.
"Totally. But that's not what I wanted you to guess. D'you know what today is?"
Santana racked her brain. She hadn't forgotten Brittany's birthday because that was a month ago and their matching silver friendship bracelets were still clasped around their wrists, the solid weight reminding Santana of Brittany every time she lifted her hand. Her own birthday was still a few months away. Brittany's baby sister's birthday was during the summer.
"Nope, tell me."
"It's our Best-Friends-Forever-a-versary!" Brittany squealed. "We've been best friends for a whole year!"
The group of girls began chattering amongst themselves. Santana's ears burned. She loved her best friend so much, more than she loved anyone, but why did she have to be so embarrassing? Brittany could be so weird sometimes. She'd wear two different shoes out of the house; would wear stripes with checks but not polka dots; dancedconstantly and everywhere; and she talked about monsters and ghosts and gnomes like they were real (and in the dark, curled up against Brittany's belly, Santana nearly believed too).
Brittany's problem was that she didn't care who she talked to: she would tell the janitor about her homework, her teachers about what she had for dinner, and her parents about every forbidden thing she and Santana did together. And, secretly? Santana loved her all the more for her quirkiness. But she was constantly messing up her plans: plans to secure their popularity now so they didn't have to work so hard in high school. Brittany attracted awkward situations like the feeder outside Brittany's house attracted hummingbirds, but the hummingbirds handled their dinner with a lot more grace than Brittany handled confrontations. She cried when others called her names, she tattled when kids stole her school supplies, and when Tiffany had finally invited Santana (and Brittany, because they were kind of a package deal) to one of her legendary sleepovers, Brittany had hugged her in excitement.
"Is it?" Santana tried to act nonchalant and too cool to be interested in such elementary-school things like best-friend-a-versaries.
"Mm-hmm. I should have gotten you a present."
Santana fought back a grin. "That's okay, Britt. I didn't even remember so I guess I owe you a present."
"Gosh, you guys are such babies." Tiffany let out a short, barking laugh, which the other cheerleaders copied. She got up and shook out her enviously long showgirl legs, marching over to the large TV mounted against the wall. "Don't make me regret letting you come here. We're watching a movie now."
Brittany, oblivious to Tiffany's warning, turned to look at Santana. "What're you going to give me?"
"Ummmmm," Santana trailed off, the wheels in her brain turning. "I dunno. Give me a hint?"
Brittany made her fingers skip across her bouncing, suntanned thighs. "Something small and sweet."
Small and sweet... like doughnut holes, if they weren't forbidden by Coach. Or Easter chicks, if Brittany was allowed to have little pets. Or... Santana's heart began to thud and her armpits prickled. Could she? It would be little. And sweet. And romantic, and goodness knows Brittany loved gooey, romantic things.
Santana sucked in a deep breath and glanced around, her eyes darting around the room like a searchlight. All the girls were occupied, arguing about which movie to watch. So, with another gasping breath, Santana leaned forward and pursed her lips.
She meant to kiss Brittany on the cheek, on that soft spot on her cheekbone that still had some baby fat, but at the last second Brittany must have turned her head or something, because she was kissing the corner of her mouth. Santana felt a shiver zap down her spine like a live wire. Brittany's mouth was so soft, and she smelled so good, like bubblegum and sleeping kittens and frangipani blossoms. Santana could feel Brittany's heartbeat through her thin skin, speeding up the longer she kept her lips pressed there. She knew she should pull away but something kept her there, kissing her best friend almost-but-not-quite on the mouth.
"Oh my gosh, you girls are lezzies!" came the offended shriek. Santana shot backwards, eyes wide. Her hand came up automatically to cover her lips. She didn't know what that word meant but she knew it was bad. Shoot. Shoot shoot shoot. She'd ruined everything. There went her future. Shoot.
Brittany squinted one eye and tilted her head. "I don't understand," she said. The girls laughed.
"Of course you don't." Tiffany sniffed.
Santana's hackles raised. As frustrated as she could be with Brittany's Brittany-ness, she was allowed to be. She was her best friend. She loved her. She would never make her feel stupid on purpose. Never ever.
But how to defend Brittany and save face? This was Tiffany's sleepover. Tiffany still knew what that funny word meant. If only Santana knew the meaning of that word, then she could find a comeback more original than so's your face and one-up her so she and Brittany could laugh. Then it hit her. Why not just ask? Play the innocent card. Their spots at the sleepover could still be safe.
"I don't understand either. What's... lezzies?"
Tiffany tried to raise her eyebrow, but she couldn't lift one by itself so she looked like someone had shined a bright light in her face. "You've seriously never..?" Santana shook her head.
"It's when two women like, have... they... do things with each other. They like... love each other. Like guys and girls are supposed to. It's like, so gross."
"But I love Santana…" It comes out like a question and it made Santana's blood curdle.
"Not like that!" she squeaked. Brittany's face fell.
"You don't... love me?"
Shoot. "No, no, of course I love you! Just not like..."
"Not like lesbians," a girl sneers. "My daddy talks about the gays like, all the time. He says they're gross and going to hell and if I talk to one they're going to steal me because they can't have kids of their own."
Brittany looked confused. "Are lesbian and gay the same thing? Because my favorite uncles are gay and I love them lots. They have a poodle and a swimming pool!"
The girls gasped. "Weren't you scared?" One girl asked, mouth open in an O. "Aren't you afraid of catching the gay?"
"She already has it!" another girl squealed, scrambling backwards away from Brittany. "She's already infected Santana and she's going to infect the whole squad!" The girls began to shriek.
Brittany looked tearful. "They're so nice, though... they got me rainbow ice cream with sprinkles and we built a blanket fort and read stories inside. Why are you being so mean?"
"Can we just watch the movie already?" Santana stood up and brushed off her shorts, trying to look like she didn't care. But her stomach felt really funny, funnier than that time Brittany dared her to eat a bag of marshmallows while standing on her head. "Brittany and I aren't... Lebanese. We like boys! Isn't Turner sooo cute?"
Turner was Tiffany's crush. That was sure to get a rise out of her and make her forget they ever had this conversation.
"Hey!" Tiffany wheeled around to stare down at Santana. "Don't you dare try anything! Turner is mine for the spring dance! Mine! He wouldn't like you, anyway; your knees are all knobby and your hair is kinky and you're just too Hispanic."
"Whatever," Santana rolled her eyes and sat down next to Brittany. "I hear he gave Berry a pen in science class."
"No! He didn't!" Tiffany began to pace, plotting Rachel Berry's demise.
Eventually, they managed to calm Tiffany down enough to start the movie. It was some stupid gushy teen comedy where some loser liked a jock but he had a super popular girlfriend. Santana couldn't be bothered to pay attention. She stared ahead at the screen, the light flashing painfully behind her eyes. Her heart felt heavy, like it was too big for her chest. She was constantly getting called names, so being called this new one—lesbian, she remembered—shouldn't make her feel so weird. Maybe it was because she was always sure to give herself a nickname first? After getting called a big fat meaniehead for knocking over Georgie McNelp's block tower in kindergarten, Santana had made it a point to slip in disparaging words whenever she talked about herself. That way, whenever someone else called her something nasty, it didn't hurt as much because she had pretty much given them permission to call her those particular names.
Or maybe she felt heavy because of what that word insinuated? Being a bitch was a choice, a decision she made so she would be strong and not get walked all over by people meaner than her. But this... this lesbian thing. What did it mean? Why was it so bad; why did it make all the girls scream and shrink and gag? She loved Brittany, but that wasn't bad, was it? She loved Brittany with her whole self, so much it hurt sometimes. They understood things about each other that nobody else could understand. They were best friends, the best kind of friends there were.
But then, the love Tiffany had been talking about was different, wasn't it? It wasn't just best-friend love, it was, like, fairytale married love. It wasn't just I-love-you-and-want-you-to-be-happy love, it was I-love-you-and-want-you-to-be-happy-with-me love. Bile rose in Santana's throat, choking her. That was what she felt about Brittany. That was the feeling she got whenever they had sleepovers in the winter and Brittany forgot it was below freezing and wore a tank top and underwear and Santana had to lie on top of her as they slept so she wouldn't turn to ice. She wanted to protect her and make her smile that special Brittany smile only Santana got to see. She wanted to wake up next to her every morning forever. She wanted... no. She couldn't.
She loved Brittany. But she couldn't.
A tear escaped when Santana screwed up her eyes against the glare of the TV. It slithered down her cheek, leaving a burning-hot-then-icy trail in its wake.
She couldn't love her. Not like that. Not when people reacted like Tiffany and the rest of the squad did. Not when she hadn't known two women could love each other like this before tonight.
She'd just have to hide it. Nobody would ever have to know, right? She would date guys once they grew from scrawny, stinky kids into muscled teenagers, and so would Brittany. They'd still be friends, though. They'd have to. And Brittany would always be her favorite. Not being close to her wasn't an option. She loved her too much for that.
The rest of the night was a blur. Santana curled up in her sleeping bag and tried to shut out the world as the rest of the girls gossiped around her. She usually would have joined in—her nicknames were legendary and she was ruthless—but she just didn't have the energy for it tonight. She just felt too heavy, like a Santana-sized sandbag.
Later that night, after all the girls had fallen asleep in a line like sardines, Brittany crept into Santana's sleeping bag.
"Hi," she chirped, running her fingers through Santana's hair.
"No more cookies," Santana murmured back, her voice rusty with sleep. "I'll get fat."
"No, you won't. Wake up, Santana."
"Huh? Britt?" Santana's heart began to race. Brittany was so close to her. She smelled so good. Damn Tiffany for making her aware of her feelings. Things were so much easier without them.
"Hi," she breathed, nuzzling her face into Santana's shoulder. "I just wanted to thank you. That was a lovely BFF-a-versary present. I'm sorry it got you into trouble. I know how much being here means to you."
"S'okay," Santana yawned and kicked her feet, trying to calm her speeding heart and rushing head. "Not your fault. They were being jerks."
"Yeah. I don't like them anymore, Santana. They're mean."
"Being mean gets you places," Santana pressed her shoulders and wrists down at her sides. "I'm sorry they were mean to you. I'm sure your uncles are super nice."
Santana could feel Brittany's smile through the darkness. It made her heart feel all heavy again.
"Can I give you a BFF-a-versary kiss too?" Brittany asked hopefully. Santana went rigid. Maybe if she didn't answer Brittany would forget?
After a minute, Brittany poked Santana in the shoulder. "Are you asleep?"
"N-no." Santana's voice was high and shaky.
"Do you not want me to? I liked your kiss. It make me feel like I was riding a unicorn. Except that that's unethical, because unicorns aren't meant to be ridden. But it made me tingly, which is what I think riding a unicorn would feel like."
"I..." Santana's voice sounded like it was coming from behind a very thick wall. "Britt, did you understand? That's not... we're not... it's just bad..."
"Do you really think so?" Brittany's voice was slow and sad. "Did you not like it?"
Santana whimpered and reached out to cup Brittany's cheek. "No, I did. A lot. We just can't..."
"Nobody has to know, Santana. I just want to kiss you. It doesn't have to be a big deal. Please?"
Santana felt tears prickle the backs of her eyes. If only real life could be like that. It was too much. Everything felt like it was spinning.
"Kiss me, Brittany."
Brittany beamed into the darkness before pursing her lips and pressing them against Santana's ever-so-tenderly. Her lips were soft and sugary and slightly chapped. They made the world stop spinning, leaving Santana dizzy and nauseous with whiplash. Brittany pulled away a few seconds later and enveloped her in a cocoon-like hug.
"I love you, Santana." Brittany kissed the top of her head. "But I promise not to tell you in front of the meanieheads anymore."
Santana made a noise that sounded like a mix between a fish out of water and a howl, her whole body aflame. She began to cry into Brittany's neck, clinging to her shoulders for stability.
There was no denying it: she loved her. But nobody could ever know.