This is the prequel to Nicest Euphemism
and A Smile at the End of the World
. You don't need to have read those first, but it is strongly recommended.
**there is a minor character death in this story.**
Santana's nine when she says yes, and her entire world changes.
She's nine and she's doesn't know her right from left or how to add large numbers in her head; she can read but chapter books are still hard for her to manage; she's good at spelling, and science and her teachers always says she's one of the politest girls in the class. She's a Brownie and next year she wants to be a Junior, if only because they get to go camping for a weekend and she thinks she'd like that, spending time away from her house, in the woods, roasting marshmallows over a fire and letting them get golden brown (or charcoal black, she's not too picky).
She's nine and a voice asks her: are you ready to be strong?
The thing is, she didn't know she was weak.
She walks home from Brownies every Tuesday afternoon with her best friend Brittany. Brittany lives three houses away and the neighbors say they're practically sisters because they switch houses every night. Brittany doesn't like sleeping alone, she's scared of the monsters in her closet, and Santana doesn't like seeing Brittany sad. She figures it's a fair trade.
One week there's a strange man following the girls, looking at them. Santana isn't scared though, she's strong now (she can totally lift her bed off the ground-with Brittany on it!) and knows she can protect Brittany from anything that comes after them. She still makes Brittany walk faster, though, and then run when she sees he's still there. They're breathless and panting when they finally make it home, safe and sound.
Her mom doesn't believe her, thinks her imagination is playing tricks and that she's a bad girl for scaring Brittany like that. Brittany tries to defend her but she's still out of breath and the words are jumbled as she says them. Santana understands what she means, but Santana's been speaking Brittany-ese for as long as she can remember. Her parents are still in the beginner's course.
They both calm down and have cookies with milk for an afternoon snack. Santana dunks her cookies in the milk, enjoying the way they fall apart in her mouth. Brittany watches and nibbles at her own. The doorbell rings and neither girl moves to answer it.
Her parents are sitting in the library with the strange man who was following her home. He's talking a lot, moving his arms around and then his voice is louder and her parents are staring at her, standing in the doorway. Brittany is next to her, never far from her, and Santana reaches out and holds Brittany's hand because otherwise she thinks she might run away, and she can run really fast now.
"Is it true?" Her mom asks her, kneeling down. She moves a piece of hair out of Santana's eyes and all Santana wants to do is disappear, melt down into the carpet. She knows she's not normal and Brittany knows she's not normal but her parents-they aren't supposed to know.
Santana doesn't say anything, just keeps standing there and looking around, trying to avoid looking at her mom. Brittany does, though: "she can lift her bed up and move it around the room. I like it, it's like a ride at the fair." And Santana smiles at Brittany and nods.
"Oh god, baby." Her mom cries into her shoulder. "Why didn't you tell us?"
Santana's confused, though, because she isn't sure what she was supposed to tell them. She shrugs a little and looks at Brittany, looks at her dad, looks at the strange man who is frowning and sad and okay, maybe he wasn't trying to hurt her and Brittany earlier today so she smiles at him a little and pats her mom on the back at the same time.
Nothing changes at first-she goes to school and comes home and dances with Brittany and they play jump rope a lot and walk to the park one bright day when there are no clouds in the sky and Brittany asks Santana for help putting on sunblock because she can never reach the back of her neck. The strange man doesn't show back up again (his name is Andrew, her mom says, and Santana repeats his name in her head over and over again until it doesn't mean anything anymore, doesn't sound like anything anymore) and life is just normal.
She's still strong, and her mom says she has to be careful when she's playing with the other kids because she could hurt them by accident. Her dad says she should stop playing soccer and softball, because if she messes up she could really hurt someone. Santana listens to both parents and then goes to Brittany's house and sits on her couch and stares at the television for a few hours before Brittany asks her what's wrong. Santana tries explaining but Brittany just shakes her head and laughs. "You'd never hurt anybody, 'Tana." and Santana wants to believe her but she isn't sure she can.
She doesn't go to soccer practice that week, and when the other kids are playing softball at school she asks to be in the outfield because none of them can really hit the ball that far yet. Brittany tries to play center field with her but ends up getting distracted and making Santana and her matching crowns out of daisies, instead.
So nothing changes except for everything, really. Her mom looks at her more and if her eyes are redder and a little puffier than normal, well, Santana pretends not to notice. Her dad is gone more and when he's home he pats her on her head and tells her he loves her, that she's a good girl, and Santana just nods because she doesn't know what else to do.
Summer vacation's coming up and she wants to go to Girl Scout camp with Brittany, but her parents shake their heads when she asks and say she has to go to Cleveland, instead, for the summer. She knows Andrew was from Cleveland and she wonders if he'll be there. She kind of hopes he will.
Santana's 12 when she kills her first vampire. It's in a controlled setting, there's other slayers there and Brittany, so she isn't even scared. Brittany claps when it's over with and then helps her clean the dust out of her hair.
She's 12 and she wants to be at home, enjoying the long lazy days of summer that she vaguely remembers from her childhood. She's 12 and everything is different; she has to wear a bra and when Brittany sleeps over they talk about boys and kissing and next year she's going to start middle school
"Good job, Santana!" Andrew calls out, once Brittany's done helping her with her hair. He smiles at her and Santana blushes a little because Andrew's her watcher and he's nice and his hair is shiny, even if he talks a lot. Brittany talks a lot and the two of them seem to get along. They're always giggling together and when Santana asks what they're talking about, Brittany just looks at her and smiles.
Santana nods at Andrew and goes to stand next to the other Slayers, even though she doesn't like most of them. She's the youngest girl there and she's the only one that doesn't board full-time. Her parents want her home as much as possible, even if it means splitting the cost of gas with Brittany's parents and driving back and forth from Cleveland almost every day. Not Wednesdays or Thursdays, though, because those are Santana's patrolling nights and she has to go out with older slayers and watch as they joke around and find demons and vampires and kill them. She doesn't have to help, she's still too young, but she needs watch them, to practice identifying demons and vamps.
Brittany doesn't come those nights, she's too young and her parents won't let her spend the night in Cleveland, no matter how hard both girls beg. Santana's pretty sure they wouldn't let her spend any time in Cleveland if they knew what Santana was really doing, but they don't and as far as Santana can tell, Brittany hasn't told them yet, either.
"Okay, go for a run!" Andrew calls out and Santana moans because when Andrew says run he doesn't mean just a quick 1 mile jog-he means at least a 10 mile jaunt and Brittany can't run as fast as her, so Santana has to run with the other slayers and not with Brittany and its annoying and stupid and she doesn't like it. Brittany runs alone but she doesn't seem to mind.
She finds out about the H-and-H's one summer when she's 14 and she's allowed to actually patrol
and kill things. Demon things. Vampire things. It's not like she didn't have any idea, she's heard the girls muttering and the Council insisted that she start getting Depo shots on her birthday (she's pretty sure her parents don't know about that, because she can't imagine any world where they'd let it go without saying a word, but she hasn't really been talking to her parents a lot lately and her dad hides himself in his work so often that she's almost forgotten what it was like to eat dinner with the man).
She doesn't really know what to make of it at first, just shrugs and starts eating more after patrol. Brittany keeps her company, watches as she scarfs down cake and pie and spaghetti and chips and whatever else the council has in stock in their absurdly large kitchen. The other slayers titter, though, talk about how one H is always so much better to satisfy then the other, and well, Santana's 14 and she's curious
and like, she isn't going to live forever, probably won't even make it to 25, so.
She kisses Andrew and he looks at her and shakes his head, talks about appropriate outlets for her feelings, and sends her on her way. She moves on to Noah Puckerman, a kid from her class that seemed to have the H-and-H's almost as bad as her, even though he didn't have the whole destiny thing hanging over his head. She's pretty sure he just calls it "being a guy".
The first time isn't good
but it isn't horrible, either. Brittany comes in part way through and watches for a while and Santana makes faces at her because she likes it when Brittany laughs. Noah ("Call me Puck, damn it!") doesn't appreciate it but Santana shrugs because she's Brittany
and nothing tops that, not even sex. Puck gets better, and Santana gets better, and Brittany wants to try so the next month Santana makes sure Brittany gets a Depo shot too.
Being 14 is weird because she's in high school. She's hot and athletic and totally makes it onto the Cheerios without trying, but she feels unsure about it. She stopped playing soccer years ago when her dad told her too; she's doesn't play any on any of the sports team that the Council offers. When Andrew finds out about it, though, he just laughs and says that if she ever meets Buffy to be sure to mention it.
She's never met Buffy; hardly met any of the old guard, but she's heard the stories. Her first summers at the Council were filled with stories of what came before, of how things changed, where things were going. It was almost like story-time except the demons mentioned were real, they weren't the imaginary kind Brittany thought still hid in her closet.
So she becomes a Cheerio and then Brittany becomes a Cheerio and the two of them are just as inseparable as they have been their entire lives.
Santana's life can be categorized into three distinct sections: slaying, school, family; the only thing that overlaps is Brittany. Andrew calls Brittany her Scooby, and Santana knows what he means but she's pretty sure Brittany's more than that. She just doesn't know exactly how to explain it, what to say. Instead she hugs Brittany close and runs with her every morning, slower than when she's in Cleveland, and they gossip about the bitches on the Cheerios and the drama that's currently happening in the Lopez family and occasionally, occasionally,
they stop in the park and Santana talks about slaying and Britt listens and hugs her.
It isn't that Santana doesn't like slaying-its been a part of her life for 6 years now and she knows there's no giving it back, no refunds or exchanges, so she's kind of stuck with it-but she doesn't like what it does to her. She doesn't like that her dad doesn't come home and she doesn't like it when her mom waits up for her, even when she's just at a football game or a party. She doesn't like hearing about how the world almost ends two or three times a year and she doesn't like thinking that next time they might not stop it in time.
Brittany, for all that she isn't a slayer, for all that this isn't her destiny, embraces it with open arms and a wide smile. When Santana was younger she thought that meant Brittany just didn't understand, and she can remember too many painful conversations about it where all Brittany said was "a-huh" and "yeah" and "duh" because Santana was saying the same words, over and over again, expecting a different response. It's Andrew that pulls Santana aside and says to stop, that Brittany gets it and she doesn't need to keep hearing about it over and over again because every time she does, Andrew ends up with an armful of preteen girl, crying and sobbing about how it isn't fair and asking what Santana did to deserve it.
Brittany understands and she accepts and that's all it is to her-another layer of Santana to love. Another piece of Santana to celebrate, to cherish. She says this to Santana with every hug, with every midnight food-fest, with every research session (and okay, so she doesn't help so much with the research but she does go out and get donuts and coffee and water bottles and she offers amazing shoulder rubs whenever Santana needs one). She's Santana's best friend and her family and her Scooby and Santana doesn't think she could do this without her.
She joins Glee because she wants to be Captain of the Cheerios, and Coach Sylvester clearly had it in for the club. Brittany tags along because she's Brittany and she loves to sing and dance. Santana actually would have joined Glee just to watch Brittany dance because she has amazing control over her body (Santana attributes this to her Scooby workouts-running and martial arts and constant, constant, awareness of the space around her) and it's pretty hot. Brittany's pretty hot.
The first time Santana finds herself thinking of Brittany like that
she goes to Puck and asks him to fuck her, hard. She says it crudely and with more than a touch of bitch and she kind of hopes he'll take her at her word and just give it to her, fuck her until she can't think of anything else. He does, and it feels fantastic and amazing and her mind blanks out by the end. But when she comes down, when she starts thinking again, the first thought that runs through her mind is that Brittany probably wouldn't understand all the scratches and bruises and she's thankful for her slayer healing so she doesn't even have to explain.
She talks to Andrew about it the next time she's in Cleveland, at a weekend workshop about demonology and the environment (and the less said about that, the better. Global warming apparently had all kinds of fringe benefits for the demon world). He looks at her and smiles and then says that maybe she should talk to Kennedy or Willow. Santana blanches at the mention of the two icons-she's heard *all* the stories about the Red Witch and the Slayer who Tamed Her (and yeah, it was like a harlequin except real life)-and the idea of meeting them, talking to them, is a little heady and scary.
Andrew must see this in her expression because his face softens a little and he hugs her close, telling her that it's all right, that love is love. Santana isn't sure what to make of that because she'd never really thought about Brittany that way (except-her brain tortures her-for every second of every day). Brittany has become so entrenched in Santana's life and the only word that could describe it is love.
She goes home after the weekend is over and sits down with her mom. She doesn't come out to her or tell her about how much Brittany means; instead she sits there and lets her mom talk. Let's her mom cry and worry and do everything Santana has shot down over the years. By the end of the afternoon Santana's crying and her mom is crying and she thinks she feels better and if she were studying for her SAT's she'd probably have another word for the feeling (because SAT vocabulary is important) but she isn't because she doesn't want to go to college, doesn't want to think about life after high school (life after Brittany her brain translates for her) and suddenly she's crying even harder.
She goes to sleep early and when she wakes up her eyes aren't even the slightest bit puffy; she'd think the entire previous afternoon was a hallucination except her mom looks different that morning at breakfast-her eyes are lighter and her step is softer and she looks as if the weight of the world isn't on her shoulders anymore. Santana's pretty much a bitch full time now, but she's almost sad
that she didn't let her mom in earlier.
The two of them are eating eggs when Santana finally says it: "I love Brittany."
Her mom barely glances up from her plate, just shrugs and says: "You've loved Brittany since you were 9. It's not really a surprise."
"No, like-I want to sleep with her, love." Santana mumbles this into her plate because there's brave and then there's brave
and telling her mom that she wants to sleep with Brittany is a bit different from taking on a vampire in the cemetery.
Santana's mom sighs audibly and then there's a slight clank as her utensils fall onto the plate. Santana doesn't look up until she feels her mom's hand resting over one of hers. She takes a breath and raises her head.
"Baby," Her mom runs her fingers over her hand and it's comforting, the connection. "I know. It's always been the two of you against the world." And Santana blinks because her mom is right, it always has been her and Brit against the world, and while she might be strong and fast and a super hero, Brit's been the one holding her together all along.
"Yeah, well-" Santana forces herself to pull her hand back from her mother's grasp. "I just thought you should know." And it feels horrible but necessary, being the bitch, and she watches as her mom nods a little and closes herself off just the tiniest bit.
"You're both lucky to have each other," her mom says before letting her hand drift over to her coffee cup, the moment long since over.
Andrew dies on a Saturday.
Santana finds out the next morning, when she's sitting down at her kitchen table, with Brittany on one side because French toast is her favorite breakfast. The phone rings and Santana answers it mechanically, not even looking at the display. And then she's crying, sobbing, hanging her head down and Brittany is holding her before she even says a word. Holding her tightly and whispering "it's okay, it's okay" in her ear and all Santana wants to do is shout that it'll never be okay, never again, but she doesn't because it's Brittany
and she'd rather walk over a bed of hot coals then hurt her.
Santana drops her cell onto the table and leans back against Brittany's chest, breathing in deeply and savoring the heat Brittany lends her. Part of her is thinking those are Brittany's tits!
But even she knows not to let those words pass through her lips. Instead, she closes her eyes and tries to will herself to think of Andrew. Andrew-her watcher, her friend, her surrogate big brother who was a geek and a total loser and a guy she'd never let anyone from McKinley see her with-and he's fucking dead. Fucking vampires.
She knows she'll eventually have to move, eventually have to tell her parents that her watcher is dead, that her entire world is imploding, but Santana can't bring herself to care. Instead she leans her head back against Brittany and cries.
There'll be time enough later to deal with reality.
She kisses Brittany-or rather, Brittany kisses her-after Andrew's funeral. They're in Cleveland and she's wearing this horrid black suit thing that her mom insists is only appropriate for the man who's had such a hand in raising her. The suit is itchy and not especially flattering but Santana's pretty sure that funeral clothes aren't supposed to be flattering. Besides, it's not like she'll ever wear it again. Unless...
her brain teases her, but she shuts the thought down incredibly fast. No thinking about dead family-Andrew said it'd only psyche her out.
They're at the Cleveland school for the memorial (the wake) and it isn't like she's never made out with Brittany before, but there were always boys there, boys that were looking at them and making comments and that made it easier. They'd been standing in a bathroom and Santana had been rummaging through her purse, looking for makeup because she hadn't wanted to face the other slayers with blotchy cheeks and puffy eyes, and Brittany had just looked at her and frowned a little and then reached out and tucked a lose piece of hair behind Santana's ear. And then she was leaning forward and Santana had leaned forward too, and the kiss was more short and awkward then anything.
But it had happened. It wasn't all in her head. Santana holds that piece of information close to her heart for the rest of the wake, playing it over and over again in her mind whenever she wants to scream in frustration. Andrew's other slayers are already jostling for a new watcher, a better watcher-someone with more clout and status then what he'd brought them. In fighting and politics and Santana is glad she's a Cheerio because she's used to girls going for the jugular.
Brittany stands next to her the entire time, and their hands brush more than a few times. Santana wants to reach out and hold Brittany's hand but she's pretty sure this isn't the time or the place, so she contents herself with the memory of her head against Brittany's breasts and the brief kiss from the bathroom and when their fingers touch, it sends a pulse of electricity down her body.
She already knew she loved Brittany, but now she thinks Brittany just might love her back. And if her heart beats faster with that thought? Well, nobody needs to know. She's Santana Lopez and nobody messes with her unless they want to get cut.
The thing is, Santana's been a slayer for over 8 years now-not quite half her life, but still a long time. She can barely remember a time when she didn't have to constantly be aware of her strength, constantly on the lookout for supernatural baddies. It's become second nature. It's been 8 years filled with stories and legends and myths of the original Scoobies, stories and legends and myths of Sunnydale and a time when there was only one slayer who was expected to work in silence, in secrecy.
When Red shows up at her doorstep with an apologetic smile and a bright: "Hi, I'm your new watcher!" Santana's pretty sure she's daydreaming. Because in no situation did it ever occur to her that her new watcher would be Red, the Witch, the one that nearly ended the world when her girlfriend died.
And now she's there, standing on Santana's front stoop and the world is crooked and weird and this doesn't make it make any more sense-if anything, everything is suddenly off kilter. Santana stumbles over her introductions, tries to pull an attitude but ends up biting her tongue instead, and finally just blushes because RED is in front of her and she's real. REAL real, not story real but flesh and blood and breasts and hair and...Santana bites her tongue on purpose this time because the last thing she wants to do is somehow piss off the woman in front of her; the woman capable of ending the world on a bad day; the woman capable of making the impossible not even improbable.
"Hi," she finally mutters, embarrassed. She's pretty sure every thought she's had over the past minute have been written on her face and it's humiliating.
"Andrew said I'd like you," Willow smiles. "He said that you were a mix of me and Cordy, and I can totally see it, because you have the head-bitch-in-charge thing totally going on; cheerleading, right?" Red says all of this without stopping, without breathing.
Santana stares at her in shock. Then she blinks. "Um, yeah."
"Well," Red puts her hands on her hips and smiles a little playfully. "Are you going to invite me in or what? And do I get to meet your girlfriend? Andrew told me that you two were possibly the cutest couple he'd ever seen."
Santana's eyes water a little at the mention of Andrew, but she steps back, lesson number 6 running through Santana's head: never invite anybody in; never invite anybody in; never invite anybody in.
Willow steps in with a smile and a whispered "Good job,".
Santana wants to be sarcastic, wants to say 'it's not like it's that difficult' and toss her hair, but she bites her tongue and shuts the door.
Santana was nine when she said yes, and her entire world changed.
She's grown up a lot since then, learned to fight more than her fair share of battles; learned how to look after herself, how to look out for Brittany and their families. Andrew had told her to be sure to pick her battles carefully, to fight the ones she could win, fight the ones where she could make a difference, but to know there was no shame in retreat; no shame in regrouping or asking for help or knowing when she was in over her head.
She feels like she's sinking, now, hearing Red talk about leaving and how it isn't a question of saving everybody, but rather saving enough people so they could have a chance at survival, down the road, sometime, in the future. Santana feels like her lungs are filling with liquid and every breath is hard; there isn't enough oxygen getting into her system and she feels her world becoming blurry and distant.
She wishes Andrew was next to her, holding her, making everything normal again. She wishes Brittany were there, even though it would shatter Brittany in a way that Santana can't even begin to imagine. If Brittany were there then after, when Red finally finished talking, when Santana could breath and the world would be crisp and clear once more, they could go walking in the park (just like when they were children, back when nothing seemed to matter except for the feeling of Brittany's hand in hers) and Santana would be able to let herself cry.
Instead, she takes a deep breath and slowly lets it out. She can feel tears leaking down her face, can feel her vision blurring up even more, and she impatiently wipes at her eyes. Now wasn't the time to cry.
There'd be time for that tomorrow, time to break into tiny pieces and let Brittany put her back together. For now she has to listen, and learn, and plan.
"Are you ready to be strong? Stronger then you've ever had to be?" Willow asks, breaking into Santana's introspection.
Santana's voice is lost in the crowd, in the myriad of voices shouting "yes" in every language Santana knows (and quite a few that she doesn't).
Santana was nine when she said yes and her entire world changed.
She's 17 now, older, wiser, screaming "yes" at the top of her lungs because somebody has to fight, somebody has to protect Brittany and their families and the others from Glee and even the assholes who slushied her. She keeps screaming it and screaming it until her voice is hoarse, until the sound gradually dies away and all that's left is Red standing at the front of the room, with Xander beside her, with Buffy off to the side, whirling the shiny scythe from the legends Santana had grown up hearing.
"Good." Red says. "Because we're going to have to be stronger than we've ever been; lose more people than we've ever lost; leave behind our dimension and find a new one to battle from." Santana swallows, because it sounds hard; it sounds impossible; it sounds like something legends are born from. "But we can do it. We will do it. We will win."
And in that instant Santana knows that Red is right, that they will win this war, and years from now there will be another slayer standing when Santana once stood; hearing another impassioned speech about never giving up and winning in spite of the odds, and that slayer will be there because, in part, of Santana.
In that instant she hears a voice whisper in her ear: are you ready to be strong?
She blinks back tears and says, not caring who's listening: "I already am."