A/N: Okay, guys, I hate to say it, but yeah, this is the last chapter. Thank you so much for reading it and for the kind reviews. Hope you find the ending satisfactory. Let me know what you think! :)
I want to be with you everywhere
- Fleetwood Mac, "Everywhere" (Christine McVie)
The light bulbs around the mirror were softball-sized and bright enough to cause temporary blindness. They generated such heat in the confined dressing room that it rivaled any sauna. But Rachel didn't mind the warmth, at least now that runny makeup was of little concern. She did, however, remove her plum-colored cardigan—the one that symbolized the final act transformation of Sybil, whose torturous abuse during childhood left her with a fear of ordinary objects, including anything purple—and hung it on the stiff-backed wooden chair she sat in. Facing the mirror again, she couldn't help but smile at her reflection. Vanity had nothing to do with it. She looked plainer than usual with her hair clipped in a ponytail at the nape of her neck and her white oxford shirt buttoned tiptop. Nevertheless, she felt that, like the character whose costume she wore, her life had reached its newest chapter.
Maybe she was jumping the gun a bit. Tonight's performance had only been the first, and in the fickle world of show business, even the most stellar production could have its run cut short by poor sales or bad reviews. But her optimism about the show's success couldn't be dampened at the moment. Not after that reception by the audience at curtain call. The rest of the play was a blur in her mind. For all she knew, she had entered one of the fugues she acted out on the stage. Whatever happened, though, it must have been good. The applause during her bow had gone from enthusiastic to riotous, especially among the motley crew seated in the front row. Her parents—all three of them—looked ready to burst with pride. Kurt and Blaine clapped like madmen. But it was Santana's reaction that delighted Rachel most. By far the loveliest woman in the room, her onyx hair in a loose updo, her trim figure poured into the teensiest lavender dress imaginable, Santana created the biggest racket of all, pinkies thrust into either side of her mouth as she whistled like a rowdy fan at a sporting event.
Even if the show ended up as a flop, life had already taken a turn for the better: Santana was in it. Sometimes Rachel considered pinching herself to see if she were dreaming, to be sure that they were indeed together. But if it were a dream, she didn't want to wake from it. And despite being interrogated by Kurt, she still didn't have a definite answer for how it came to be. She just knew that, more than any other relationship she had been in, this one felt real. Santana understood her in a way that no one else she'd dated ever had. They could have actual conversations without Rachel finding it necessary to dumb herself down as she always had for Finn—in fact, matching wits with Santana proved daunting at times, but the challenge of it was fun. Unlike Jesse St. James, with his knack for artifice, Santana never kept one guessing at where they stood in her opinion. Her tender side often took Rachel's breath away. And not once did she make Rachel feel the need to choose between love and a career.
It wasn't perfect between them. They were both prone to emotional outbursts, and Santana's had been particularly intense during the withdrawal. She still had rough days. But after everything else they had gone through together, an occasional blow-up didn't much faze either of them.
"Plus, making up afterwards is my favorite part," Rachel said to the 8X10 glossy of Barbra Streisand that resided on the table in front of her. The picture of her idol was one of many good luck charms she'd brought from home. To its left, the gold star glass that Shelby had given her in high school twinkled with refracted light; to its right, a small plush toy of Lucky the Leprechaun slumped against the frame, the rainbow-shaped marshmallow Santana had glued to his palm poised just under Barbra's mouth, as if he offered a treat. Rachel knew the mascot was a dig at her height, as much as a reminder of the cereal she indulged, and sometimes bribed, Santana with at every opportunity. But she grinned whenever she looked at him. Like now.
She patted Lucky on his green top hat and resumed changing out of Sybil's wardrobe. When she reached the third button of her shirt, someone knocked at the door behind her. "Come in," she said, twisting around in the chair as she waited for whoever it was to enter.
Santana poked her head into the room first, her body easing in a second later, mindful of the bouquet cradled on her arm like a sleeping infant. She hung back for a moment, beaming, the posy-like embellishments on the bodice of her dress giving her a floral appearance of her own. "There's my leading lady," she purred in a teasingly seductive tone, urging the door closed with the heel of her lavender suede pump.
"You brought me flowers?" Rachel said, a hint of wonder in her voice. She got to her feet and rushed at Santana, kissing her soundly on the lips before she could answer. Then, stepping back, Rachel fawned over the elegant bouquet as it was placed in her arms. Its airy pink blossoms were shaped like tiny Victrola horns, the pistils tickling her chin as she inhaled their heady scent. She nestled her cheek lightly against them, hugging the long stems as she looked up at Santana and murmured, "So beautiful."
"They're amaryllises." Santana stroked one of the petals with her fingertip, then continued the caress along the outline of Rachel's jaw. "Otherwise known as belladonna lilies. And also?" She tapped Rachel on the very tip of the nose and quirked an eyebrow suggestively. "Naked ladies."
Rachel gave a small hum of approval. "I didn't realize you knew so much about flower terminology," she said, petting the velvet ribbon that held the arrangement together.
"I'm full of surprises. And my mom kept a garden."
Now that some of the animosity between Santana and her parents had dwindled down, she'd begun to mention them from time to time. There was a lot of healing left to do, but Rachel hoped one day to see the family restored. She still harbored guilt about the failed reunion at the hospital. More importantly, she did not want Santana to go through that same hurt all over again.
"Well, I love them," Rachel said, allowing her eyes to convey the rest as she caught Santana by the hand and kissed the inside of her wrist. They stood that way for a while, until Rachel could no longer contain her curiosity. "How was I?" she whispered, her shoulders scrunched as if she were preparing to be lashed.
"You were incredible," Santana said almost as softly.
"Mm-hmm. It was like watching Barbra Streisand and Sally Field's mentally unstable love child."
Rachel gasped and cupped a hand to her mouth. "Oh, my God, that's the nicest compliment I have ever received."
Giggling, Santana gathered the bouquet back into her arms and laid it on the dresser nearby. "It's true. You acted and sang the hell out of that role. I knew you were good, but this was a whole other level." She took a step towards Rachel, clasping her by the waist, pulling her closer yet. "I discovered something else, too," she said, her hands wandering up and down the small of Rachel's back.
Suddenly the air sweltered, but it had nothing to do with blazing lights. Rachel swallowed the thickness in her throat, attempting to sound casual. "What's that?"
"Seeing you up on stage like that," Santana said, inching the oxford shirt from beneath the waistband of Rachel's pleated skirt a little at a time, "commanding everyone's attention... stealing the entire show..." She slid her hands under the shirt when it came loose, fingernails grazing bare skin. "Gets me really..." A kiss to the ear. "Really..." A nip. "Hot."
Rachel expelled the breath she hadn't realized she was holding in. "Santana," she said, gripping her by the hips. She struggled not to moan as the kiss just below her earlobe vibrated when Santana asked, "Hm?"
"They might be expecting me at the stage door..." Rachel spoke without much conviction, her head drifting to the side as several moist kisses traveled down her neck. She couldn't resist a small sigh when Santana blew on the damp spots.
"You're the star. Make 'em wait."
Rachel let her head loll backward this time, the smell of citrus wafting from Santana's hair as she laved her tongue over the notch where throat ended and sternum began. Since confessing that the area was an erogenous zone, Rachel had been subjected to ruthless assaults such as this on more than a few occasions. "There's no lock on the door," she said weakly.
"Then pin me against it."
The imagery and the husky tone it was conjured up with were too much to bear. Rachel did exactly as Santana suggested, guiding her in reverse until a firm collision of bodies rattled the door on its hinges. She paused with her lips just shy of Santana's, their open mouths hovering for a split-second. "Maybe just a quickie," she said, running her hand up smooth inner thigh, lingering near the hemline of skirt that covered only what was necessary.
Santana drew a shuddery breath as she nodded, too impatient to form words. Crushing their lips together, she pushed Rachel's hand the rest of the way up her skirt. She delved into Rachel's mouth, plying her tongue with eager nibbles and sucks.
Responding in kind, Rachel briefly teased the soaked-through crotch of Santana's thong, then tugged it aside and slid her middle finger into silky wet folds. Her own arousal surged at finding Santana so ready, and it became impossible not to squirm against the close-fitting Spanx she wore. It crossed her mind that the boy shorts—convenient onstage, freeing her from worries of flashing panty at the audience—might not be so practical now. But when Santana lifted the pleats that concealed them, her hand working into the constrictive material, Rachel's hips jerked at the pressure on her groin. She forgot about her own fingers as a thumb rubbed against her clit, but an urgent squeeze from Santana's thighs got her attention.
For a few minutes they tried to establish a rhythm that pleased them both. Soon, however, the slippery fumbling lost its appeal and turned frustrating. Someone was going to have to forfeit. Their kisses grew hungrier by the second, and as Santana rocked towards her, straining for more, Rachel made a decision. Gradually, she peeled herself away from their union, beginning with lips and moving further on. She stepped back, leaving Santana no choice but to retract her hand.
"What're you doing?" Santana asked, with an indignant little huff.
"You'll see. Stay put." Rachel hurried over to grab the chair by her makeup table and toted it back across the room.
Santana was leaning on the door, dress slightly rumpled, the skin around her mouth stained pink by lipstick and passion. The sight of her made Rachel a bit weak at the knees, and she fleetingly wondered who would benefit most from sitting. But she stuck to her plan, pushing the chair against the door when Santana took the cue to move aside.
"Come here," Rachel said, crooking her finger. When Santana obeyed, Rachel pulled her in for another deep kiss while nudging the tight skirt up, until it was bunched at the waist. She curved both hands along Santana's ass, reluctantly moving on as she slid the thong down to mid-thigh and let it drop past the knee. After directing Santana to sit, Rachel knelt in front of her and coaxed her legs apart.
"You don't have to," Santana said quietly, resting her palm against Rachel's cheek as she was about to lean forward.
In the two weeks since their relationship began to heat up, Santana had needed a lot of reassurance that Rachel was a willing participant. And at first, Rachel had been tentative—but mostly out of the persistent fear that she would be an inadequate lover. For months she watched Santana strive to turn her life around, giving up drugs, alcohol and the work that demoralized her into using the substances to get by. Rachel didn't fool herself into believing those problems would never resurface, but she had faith in Santana's strength and determination. She'd been at the opposing end of both enough times to vouch for their endurance.
"I know." Rachel dotted a kiss into the palm before urging it to grasp her ponytail. As fingers looped in the strands of her hair, she bent towards the thigh at her left. She trailed her tongue up the inside, then swiped it between Santana's legs. Beneath the fabric of the lavender dress, Santana's abdomen clenched. Smiling wickedly, Rachel repeated the motion until the sounds above her went from tiny gasps to soft, sighing moans. She flattened out her tongue, dragging it upwards in one long stroke that earned her a curse and a slight yank to the ponytail.
"Sorry," Santana said breathlessly.
"Hm-mmm," Rachel said, lips pressed to Santana's clit, two fingers parting the surrounding flesh.
"Oh, fu—... right there."
"Mm-hmm." Rachel sucked steadily at the tender bud, flicking her tongue against it in a way she had quickly learned brought Santana to climax almost every time. Within seconds, Santana's entire body tensed, her hips moving in subtle circles as she arched towards Rachel's mouth. When Rachel reached around to grab her ass, tugging her closer for more fervent licks, Santana gripped the side of the wooden chair until her knuckles were white. Her other hand holding Rachel's head firmly in place, she came with an intensity that—although she tried to muffle it—could undoubtedly be heard and recognized by anyone passing through the hall outside.
Rachel didn't stop. She got a tiny, devilish thrill at the thought of someone overhearing the wanton sounds for which she was responsible. But she slowed when Santana's full weight settled onto the chair again. And she ceased altogether as a limp hand rested on her ponytail, absently massaging the crook of her neck. The gesture reminded her of a contented feline kneading its paws, and she couldn't help grinning as she looked up.
"What?" Santana asked, chest still heaving.
"Nothing. You're just... adorable." Rachel wiped the corners of her mouth with the back of her hand, then licked one last taste from her lips.
Santana bit her own bottom lip as she watched. "Okay, we seriously need to work on your dirty talk. But first..." She leaned down for a sensual kiss, plucking the front of Rachel's shirt open button by button.
It was extremely difficult to interrupt, but Rachel summoned every ounce of self-control she had and stayed Santana's hand when it groped at her breasts. "I really should get freshened up and make some sort of appearance out there," she said, giving Santana an apologetic peck before easing back to look her in the eye.
"But you didn't get a turn."
Rachel suppressed a giggle at the dismay in Santana's voice. "It'll give me something to look forward to later," she said, reaching up to wipe away the miniscule beads of sweat that had collected at Santana's hairline, then caressing her cheek fondly. "Besides, you are way too beautiful to go mussing yourself up." She swept a glance over the decidedly unchaste view before her and smirked. "Any more than you already are."
"Ugh, a tease and an ass-kisser," Santana said, but her eyes twinkled with delight at the compliment. She sighed dramatically. "All right, fine. Go get those Evita arms ready for your adoring public, Ms. LuPone. I'm sure there'll be plenty more dressing rooms for us to... christen from now on, anyway."
In spite of—or perhaps, because of—its casual delivery, the reference to their future together warmed Rachel from head to foot. "Promise?" she asked.
Santana drew an "X" on Rachel's chest with her fingertip. "Cross my heart."
Three pairs of fists banged against the table, rattling the silverware and glasses of soda pop diluted by melting ice. People were beginning to stare. From behind the hand she was using to shield her face, Santana hissed, "If I do it, you'll shut up?"
The chant shifted to, "Yes, we will. Yes, we will," as the pounding continued.
"Give it to me, then," Santana said, reaching for the microphone that Kurt waggled at her from across the table. She rolled her eyes as he cheered along with Blaine and Rachel, the three of them trading high-fives with each other. Loath to release her dangerously high grip on Rachel's thigh, which she had achieved after toying with it off and on all through dinner, she gave a parting squeeze before standing up. Then, as she headed for the bright alcove that served as stage and contrast to the otherwise mellow lightning in the room, she discreetly flipped off the trio who taunted her with applause.
Aster was one of those trendy restaurants everyone buzzed about, but Santana seldom visited because of outrageous menu prices. However, tonight had been about celebrating Rachel's debut as Sybil, so when the other members of their group were keen to give Aster a try, Santana didn't object. Expense turned out not to be a problem because Marcus and Simon Berry insisted on paying for her meal, as well as their daughter's. And though Rachel hadn't found the right opportunity to tell her fathers or mother about the relationship just yet, Santana got a feeling from the close scrutiny she'd been under all evening that it wasn't much of a secret. They were kind to her and seemed approving, but it was a welcome distraction from the barrage of questions when, not long after their late dinner, an emcee announced the stage would be opening for karaoke.
To Santana, the introduction of karaoke in such a setting was like the oddball cousin showing up to cause a scene at the family reunion. She enjoyed every minute of it. The Berry dads' off-key and poorly choreographed duet of "Brass in Pocket" came first. Santana didn't know which amused her more: their complete lack of musical ability or Rachel's maniacal laughter through the entire number. Rewarded with facetious clapping and hooting, the men swaggered back to the table with such arrogance that Rachel and Shelby immediately cooked up a plan to outdo the hammy performance. Adopting deep Southern twangs, they sang a rendition of "Does He Love You"—Shelby as Reba McEntire, Rachel as Linda Davis—fraught with growling enunciation and catty glares. But neither the overacting, nor the awkward song choice for a mother and daughter, could disguise their talent. They got a real ovation. Awhile later The Fugees' cover of "Killing Me Softly," with Kurt singing in the style of Lauryn Hill while Blaine supplied beatbox, worked the crowd into a ripple of tapping toes and bobbing heads.
And now it was Santana's turn.
If only she had made a run for it when Rachel's dads and Shelby retired early to their hotels, exhausted from traveling. The butterflies in her belly surprised her. Any stage fright she ever possessed was driven out of her ages ago by Sue Sylvester bellowing criticism at her through that bullhorn; glee club put the fun back in performing, while requiring nerves of steel to endure the bullying that came with it; timidity was unacceptable for an exotic dancer; and work at Kenickie's Diner felt like a never-ending karaoke session itself. Still, it had been a long time since she was alone on a stage, with nothing other than her voice to entertain the audience. She almost wished she had accepted Rachel's offer to sing with her, but she wouldn't reconsider—bundle of energy or not, the starlet should be conserving her voice for the play instead of using it to bail out her girlfriend.
More than that, Santana wanted Rachel to sit back and listen to the words of the song she had in mind.
"Do you have 'No One'? By Alicia Keys?" Santana asked the DJ when she approached his booth, holding the microphone away as she leaned in secretively. After a moment of scanning selections on his laptop, he gave her a thumbs-up. Seconds later, the mike poised in her left hand, its stand gripped in her right, she waited under the miniature spotlights that framed the archway of the stage. As her eyes adjusted she sought out Rachel's face amid the sea of strangers. When she heard the familiar intro to her song, comprised of tinkling piano keys and thumping bass, she pointed at Rachel. Then she began:
"I just want you close
Where you can stay forever
You can be sure
That it will only get better
Her shaky start evened out quickly and she patted her hip to the beat, relaxing enough to rock her body along with the music—not dancing, just small, rhythmic movements—as she continued to the next verse.
"You and me together
Through the days and nights
I don't worry 'cause
Everything's gonna be all right"
Santana had listened to the song on repeat so often in recent weeks she didn't need to follow the lyrics on the monitor beside her. She kept her focus on Rachel and didn't flub a single line. When she finished, generous applause accompanied her return to the table, but the only reaction she cared about belonged to the tiny brunette who was clapping vigorously in between blotting a napkin to her damp cheeks. Sitting down beside Rachel again, Santana smoothed away the remaining tears with the pad of her thumb. "Hey, beautiful," she said gently, "don't muss yourself up, remember?"
Rachel pulled her into a tight hug that lasted until Kurt and Blaine chorused, "Awwww."
"Lesbians are so cute," Kurt said, resting his head against Blaine's as they grinned and went on cooing like Santana and Rachel were puppies in a pet store window.
"What is with everyone calling me cute and adorable tonight?" Santana asked, leaving her arm draped around Rachel's shoulders when they separated. She played with the feathery trim that lined the sleeve of the gauzy, vanilla-colored dress she had watched Rachel change into after their anything but vanilla encounter at the theatre. Under the table she uncrossed her legs and crossed them again the other way. "I'm about to go all Lima Heights on the next person who tries it. Seriously, I'll ends all y'alls if I have to."
"Even me?" Rachel infused her tone with a sugary sweetness that matched her doe eyes perfectly. It was a lethal combination.
Dammit, Santana thought. And out loud: "Everyone but you."
Kurt snapped his wrist and imitated the sound of a cracking whip.
"Totally," Blaine agreed.
"Shut up," said Santana.
"Good," Rachel said, ignoring the comments, "because we have some unfinished business to—" Her conclusion was indistinguishable through a wide, noisy yawn.
After tidying themselves up in the dressing room, Santana and Rachel had parted ways so they could get the full experience of meeting outside the stage door—and in case no one else showed. But Rachel need not have worried that her friends and family would be the only ones waiting. At least a dozen other people were lined up, eager to meet her and praise her exceptional performance. Santana's heart swelled with pride as she listened to them tell Rachel what a huge star she would become. And Rachel, in her height of glory, treated each stranger just as graciously. She even got to sign a few autographs. Since then, she had bordered on hyperactive, but it appeared to be wearing off all at once as she blinked drowsily and yawned again.
Santana crinkled her forehead in concern and glanced around for a clock. Spotting Blaine's watch, she reached over to grab the hand he was propping his chin up with, pulled it towards her to check the time, then let it drop to the table. "Shit, it's almost eleven. We should be home in bed," she said to Rachel. Then, before the wisenheimers across from her could speak up, she added, "Sleeping. You've got another busy day tomorrow."
"I am a little tired. But I—"
Santana turned to look at what had made Rachel stop and glance up. Her mood instantly darkened at the sight of the man standing next to her, his hand on the back of her chair. She didn't remember ever seeing him before, but his posture and the arrogant expression on his face were all too familiar. Out of sheer habit she eyed his charcoal pinstripe suit, noting the quality of fabric and its tailored fit. Expensive. Gucci, maybe. This was the kind of guy she would have let cozy up to her at Eden's Gate. An uneasy feeling stirred in her belly as she wondered if he had already done just that.
"Sorry to interrupt," he said without sounding the least bit apologetic. His gaze stayed fixed on Santana, as if there were no one else seated at the table with her. "I don't typically do this, but I heard you up there a moment ago..." He nodded towards the stage, where a tipsy blonde was butchering "Son of a Preacher Man" while molesting the microphone stand. "And I decided to come over."
His mop of sandy brown hair had probably taken hours to style into that carelessly tousled look. And those copper eyes were nothing short of penetrating. Somehow he managed to seem boyish and masculine at the same time. Pretending to be attracted to him wouldn't have required much effort. Angered by the thought, Santana glared at him like he had put it in her mind.
"Dex Maguire," he said, extending his hand, then simply returning it to the back of her chair when she didn't shake it. "You may have heard of me?"
"No. Haven't." Five small but powerful fingers locked around Santana's knee. She gave Rachel's shoulders a reassuring squeeze and continued to scowl at the man as he reacted like she'd said something humorous.
"Right. Well, I'm a record producer with Sony," he said, pausing to let the statement sink in, then moving ahead when she only blinked at him. "I gotta say I was impressed with what I just heard. Have you ever considered a career in the music industry?"
The guy deserved props for originality. Santana had been dealt a lot of lines over the years, but this was one of the better ones. She almost believed him. "Who hasn't?"
"Touché." Dex Maguire tipped his head, the corners of his smile angular rather than curved. "But most people don't have what it takes. You, on the other hand... you've got a unique sound. And—" He raked his eyes over Santana in a way that suggested he knew exactly what she looked like beneath the lavender dress, whether or not he had ever seen her dance. "The right look. You'd be extremely marketable. I'm sensing you've got the cojones it takes to survive in the business, too."
Santana couldn't decide which was more annoying: hearing him talk about her as if she were a product he could sell, or the fact that her open hostility didn't faze him in the least. Both options made her want to punch him in his cojones. She had a clean shot, with his close stance. For the sake of her friends, she restrained herself. "Is there a point to this?" she asked.
"Yeah, I want to hear some more from you. If you're interested—"
He examined her for a second, his sharp eyes narrowing. Finally, he seemed uncertain how to handle her. But it didn't last long. "Right. Well, I won't take up anymore of your time." Standing to his full height, he reached inside his jacket and withdrew a silver fountain pen and a business card. Turning over the latter, he placed it on the table and scribbled on the back as he said, "But I'll leave my card, in case you change your mind. The number in front is my office, but this'll get you my cell." He slid the card over to her with his fingertip and tapped the row of digits. "Think about it."
Before departing, Dex Maguire aimed his pen at Santana and said to everyone else, "Talk some sense into her, will ya?"
Santana stared down at the phone number for several moments after he left, too ashamed to lift her head. Quietly, she slipped her arm from around Rachel and picked up the card with both hands, flipping it to the opposite side. Dougherty wrote his number on the back of a business card, too. And there had been others—some surreptitiously tucked into her G-string, some licked and pressed to her body so that the ink clung to her skin like a brand. Even though she hadn't used them, they had stripped away her pride a little at a time until she felt cheap. Only good for one thing. And now, she held proof of it in her hands yet again.
There was a collective gasp as she tore the card in half. When she glanced up with surprise, Rachel, Kurt and Blaine were gaping at her in horror. Kurt found his voice first. Sort of.
"Santana. That was... I can't... what... Dex Maguire!"
"Like that's even his real name," Santana said, snorting with contempt. "He probably stole it off the last corpse he had in his trunk."
Kurt scrambled to collect the pieces of card stock when she dropped them on the table. He fitted them together with the delicacy of a bomb squad technician—one false move and they would all be blown to smithereens—then slumped against Blaine in relief when the cell phone number was still decipherable. "Have you been living under a rock?" he demanded of Santana. "How can you not have heard of Dex Maguire? He is the golden boy of the recording industry. Practically everyone he signs becomes an overnight sensation. He basically offered you a record deal, and you... he... I—" He gazed helplessly at Blaine. "I have so many feelings."
Gathering the bits of paper back up, Santana studied the information on the front. It did look legit. She fretted her bottom lip and turned to Rachel. "Is that true?"
Rachel gave a slight, regretful nod. "Yeah, sweetie," she said lightly, "it is."
"Because the way he was acting... I thought..." Santana fiddled with the scraps of Dex Maguire's business card. She hung her head again, unable to explain any further with Kurt and Blaine there. But she didn't have to.
Gently, Rachel urged Santana's chin up, until their eyes met. "He's a pompous ass," she said, confirming that she, too, had noticed his behavior. "But he's a very successful pompous ass who wouldn't give out his personal number to just anybody. He means business." She cupped both of her hands around the one Santana held the card in. "So, here's what we'll do. He's over there schmoozing with a big group of people now, so it's not a good time to approach him. You don't want to go running back to him right off the bat, anyway. Let him think you spent the night reconsidering. We'll go home, get some rest, then first thing tomorrow morning you can give him a call. If Kurt's estimations are correct, you'll be a pop icon sometime around Wednesday."
Hearing the plan laid out with such confidence and rationality put Santana at ease. But it was Rachel's sweet, sincere face that made the bad memories that had been dredged up begin to melt away. Santana had the sudden desire to be alone with her—not to fulfill sexual needs, but just to have the person she cared about most all to herself. "Yeah. Let's do that," she said, taking one of Rachel's hands and knitting their fingers.
"Well, be sure to get an early start," said Kurt, whose thumbs moved at such a furious pace the keyboard of his phone was in danger of bursting into flame. "When Mercedes reads about this, she is going to hunt you down and kill you."
"Tell her I said bring it." Santana tossed her head haughtily as she snapped her fingers.
"Word," Rachel added.
"Oh, dear God." Kurt prodded Blaine with his elbow, hurrying him as they gathered their jackets and scarves. "Rachel is trying to speak ghetto. Let's get out while we still can."
"Don't hate on my girl," Santana said, getting to her feet and tugging Rachel along with her. "She might not look it, but she's straight up gangsta."
When all eyes focused expectantly on Rachel, she flashed a megawatt smile and curtsied, holding out the edge of her frilly skirt. After the laughter quieted down, she and Santana helped each other into their coats, then exited the restaurant, bidding Kurt and Blaine goodbye with hugs and promises to update them the minute Dex Maguire put Santana on the path to superstardom.
On the cab ride back to the apartment, Santana and Rachel talked animatedly for several blocks, debating who would have a more successful career and pointing to only the swankiest condos they passed, with vows to live there once they were filthy rich. They bickered over who got to decorate ("You are not devoting an entire room to Barbra Streisand"), what kind of food the cupboards would be stocked with ("We have to eat other things besides Lucky Charms" ), and who had dibs on the biggest closet ("Me"). But they did agree on one thing: whichever building they chose, a fabulous rooftop was essential.
They drifted into a comfortable silence as they neared their actual neighborhood. Within seconds, Rachel's head began to droop a little at a time, until it landed on Santana's shoulder. At first she seemed to be asleep, but then she drew Santana's hand into her lap, palm facing up. With the tip of her index finger, she traced a brief straight line down the middle of the palm—"I" or "1". Next came the shape of a heart, easy to discern even in the dark cab. And finally, as Santana held her breath, a small, inverted arc. Releasing the breath slowly, she placed a kiss in the soft hair by her cheek. Then she turned Rachel's hand over, copied the message and pressed two extended fingers into her palm.
Rachel fell asleep with her arm encircling Santana's waist. And by the time they were parked outside their building, Santana knew for certain that whether it was here or the most expensive apartment in New York City, anywhere would feel like home with Rachel by her side.