Title: In the Margins
Synopsis: When Santana loses Prom Queen, and Quinn's date ends up in a fist fight over a girl that's not her, each girl runs from their devastation. Brittany, knowing she and Santana aren't on good terms, sends Rachel to check on Santana, though that's the way the diva would have run anyway.
A/N: Lyrics from Ani Difranco's "In the Margins." This is an experiment in possibilities and alternate pathways, and how the littlest moment creates an entirely different perspective. This is, as of now, a one-shot only.
Such an intent stare
One eye at a time
Your talons like fish hooks
You are a rare bird
The kind I wouldn't even mind
Writing in the margins of my books
Devastation is a funny thing; it's not something one intends to witness, just as one doesn't intend to witness a train colliding into a car, but often it's being in the wrong (or right) place at the right time. Both fortunate and not, it is with morbid fascination people seem to search and identify with the pain in others. That's why, when Santana lost Prom Queen and Quinn lost ... well, her dreams of mediocre suburban perfection, Rachel could identify with that pain. It stung her as deeply as she allowed. Maybe it was her hyper-emotional state after singing "Jar of Hearts" but she had to bite back tears watching the departure of her fellow glee-clubbers. Two girls who by all standards didn't really like her much at all, but nonetheless Rachel didn't let that affect her caring or not caring for them.
Brittany had seen everything just as well, and rushed over to Rachel in a panic. There had been a tension between the blonde and Santana for the last week or more, and while Rachel wasn't 'in the know' she was quite aware of the relationship the girls shared. Or perhaps, had once shared.
"San is mad at me," Brittany stated, pulling Rachel away from the dance floor. "Seeing me will only make it worse, and I mean she's not - " the taller girl frowned at Rachel, "it's not my fault but she's sad and mad and everything just got worse. You go check on her, please?"
Rachel nodded earnestly, and had momentarily forgotten about Quinn as well, "And you .. you should check on Quinn. I'm the last person she wants to see right now, and she needs a friend."
Brittany made a sound of agreement before she squeezed Rachel's shoulder and hurried in the direction Quinn had disappeared. Rachel nervously bit her bottom lip. She wasn't all together sure that the Puerto Rican girl would even want to see her, but Rachel had never not cared about Santana. They had disagreements and tossed insults back and forth, but they had also had moments of understanding. Namely Rachel's faith in Santana's essential goodness beneath all her bitterness and sarcasm, and Santana's subtle protection when it really mattered.
As Rachel made her way out of the gym and down the short hall to the office in which Santana had disappeared, she felt nerves tighten her stomach. To steel herself, she tried to recall moments when Santana had done something for her. Granted, they were few, but the Latina had at one point nearly pummeled Jesse St. James when she'd caught wind that he'd egged Rachel, and gone so far as to threaten him after he made an appearance at McKinley. The girl cared, and Rachel knew it.
Her hand gripped the knob and she turned it. She opened the door rather slowly, not wanting to startle Santana into a rage. Rachel flinched when she heard the squeak of a chair.
"What are you doing in here, Berry?" Santana's voice, while angry, also sounded tearful.
Rachel had read somewhere that elephants in mourning were the most dangerous. The human intellect being very similar to elephant intellect, she expected to take a bit of a verbal beating. "I .. I just wanted to make sure you were okay. You looked pretty upset and I just .. " Rachel felt her tongue still, as if it had dried up and settled in the back of her throat. Santana was staring at her tearfully in the dark.
She didn't look angry at all. She looked very desperately sad. Rachel's instincts took over and she quickly moved in front of Santana, kneeled at her side, and took one of the Latina's soft hands.
"I can see that you are very much not okay," Rachel all but murmured, eyes searching Santana's face.
"Everyone hates me," these were words Rachel had said many times but had never expected to hear Santana echoing them. The Latina was nearly full-on crying, eyes puffy and lips slightly swollen from the effort of holding sobs in. "It's not .. fair, I mean I know I'm a bitch but most of the time they deserve it and when they don't it's just because I don't feel like being nice."
Rachel didn't want to point out that Santana really didn't have to be nice, maybe if she would just be a little bit less ... venomous. Her insults could be below the belt sometimes. The diva only cupped Santana's hand carefully and watched Santana's expression to read her emotion. When she let herself notice, she realized Santana was tightening her grasp.
"Everyone, everyone hates me and I don't even blame them," Santana laughed in a self-deprecating manner, and Rachel realized this was the first time she'd ever seen Santana even remotely vulnerable. She made a note to thank Brittany for sending her after the girl. It felt ... special. Felt important, to see that Santana was human, too.
Rachel didn't know what to say exactly, only knew she had to say something. If she sat silent for too long, Santana would send her away, "I don't hate you. I know it's quite hard to believe, as we have a spotted history with one another but you're ... I know you're a good person, Santana." She wanted to say I believe in you but it seemed too much a stretch for Santana to swallow.
The Latina was staring at her, unshed tears making her eyes shine. Santana was biting her bottom lip, brow furrowed in concentration, and she seemed to be examining Rachel's facial expression to detect any hint of a lie. Rachel only earnestly stared back, and to emphasize her sincerity, she squeezed Santana's hand. It felt warm in her own, and for a second she thought she felt Santana's thumb stroke the underside of her palm.
"Nobody deserves to be hated. You may be ... at times, slightly ... vicious, but that doesn't mean you deserve to be hated. It's just a crown. It's stupid, really, to put all your self-worth into such a temporary title," Rachel spoke as softly as possible. She didn't want Santana to think she was calling her stupid. She wasn't. "In a year we'll all graduate high school and we'll grow up and become something much better than prom queen or class president or most likely to succeed," the shorter girl slowly stood, let go of Santana's hand. Momentarily she thought she felt Santana reach out as if to reconnect, but when she looked back she saw Santana's hand shoved under her legs. Dark eyes were cast to the ground, and the Puerto Rican girl was still sniffling. Rachel sought out tissues, found them atop one of the filing cabinets, and moved to the desk. Gently, she offered a tissue and waited quietly as Santana dabbed the tears from her eyes.
"I'm just such a bitch and I just ... I don't know, I hoped I could have one good memory from high school. So far it's been shit. I don't want to leave this place hating it and everyone in it."
It was the most honest thing she'd heard Santana say, possibly ever, aside from 'it's the best part of my day, okay?' Rachel took a breath and watched her carefully. She didn't know what else to say, and in fact was much less confident in comforting Santana than she might have been comforting Quinn. Quinn she understood. Santana was far more complex than she appeared.
"Do you hate me?" Santana spoke after a few moments, and stared at the damp tissue in her hands. This timid Santana was unfamiliar.
"I told you I didn't," Rachel insisted quietly.
Santana nodded, laughed in that ironic way, "Well, that's something. You're a sucker for bullshit, though, Rachel. How do you know I'm not faking it, or lying?"
Rachel merely sat against the desk, gazed at the blank wall in front of her. She felt the warmth of Santana's knees near her thighs. "Do you really want me to believe you're lying?"
"I didn't think so. I choose to believe that you're just as, if not more, vulnerable as the rest of us. You're just as human, and you hide behind sarcasm because you don't want people to see that they can hurt you. If they know they can hurt you, they will." Rachel shared her insight, and felt Santana push up from her chair.
"Fuck you, Berry, I'm not vulnerable to anyone," Santana reacted in a way Rachel might expect. "Come in here acting like you know the way I work when you and I haven't shared any fucking understanding of one another."
"I understand you were hoping someone would notice your rather dramatic exit," Rachel murmured, cast her eyes to the ground and flinched at the harsh tone of Santana's words. She half expected to get slapped. "Someone who cared."
"Like you do."
"It might surprise you to find more people care than you think. More than just Brittany."
Santana flinched at the sound of her best friend's name, and for some inexplicable reason turned her back to Rachel and started to cry again. It was a mixture of crying and laughter, the way bitter people laugh through their tears.
Rachel moved away from the desk, and as she reached up to touch Santana's arm, the Latina was quick to smack her hand away.
"Don't touch me, Berry," she hissed.
The diva considered following the instruction, hesitated in front of Santana. There was an immeasurable gap between them, a vast ocean. They were on two different shores entirely and Rachel felt she had to reach her. "Santana," her voice preempted a certain tension. Rachel's hand grazed Santana's elbow, slow and careful as one would touch a wild animal that's been wounded. When Santana didn't react with violence, Rachel slid her fingers up the back of Santana's arm, shaped to its firmness, and her brown eyes searched the sad and confused face in front of her. "It may not matter, but I'm not pretending to know you. I'm only ... trying to make you feel better, and hoping that in some way I can make you realize I don't have to know everything about you to know you're a good person, to ... care about you."
"You don't care," Santana stubbornly defended. Rachel could tell she was afraid to let anyone in normally, and this was no different. Persistence.
"How shall I prove it? There's nothing I can do in this moment to prove it other than what I'm doing right now. Any other person would have left by now, with the way you've spoken."
"So why don't you?" Santana began to move forward, to shove Rachel if she could, but something stopped her.
"I'm not just every other person. I'm .. well, different than them." The conversation became circular, and Rachel felt the edge of frustration. Not knowing what else to do, she moved closer to Santana and allowed her hand to slip around Santana's shoulders. Standing on tippy-toes, her other arm wrapped around the other side. Had Santana been an inch taller, Rachel would've been hanging from Santana's neck. The diva buried her head gently in the transition between Santana's throat and shoulder, and noted that she smelled of cocoa butter. It was a pleasant, musky smell. She also noticed that Santana wasn't shoving her off. She felt two hands at her hips, surprisingly gripping them before they cascaded up Rachel's shoulders. Fingertips dug near her shoulderblades.
Santana's warm tears made Rachel's neck moist. Anyone who might have walked in would've thought it strange - the two girls were essentially clinging to one another.
Santana just needed someone to be bold enough to show her they weren't afraid and they weren't going to let themselves be run off. Rachel was that someone. She held tighter, and felt the responding clutch of fingers against her back. Their torsos pressed flush together, Rachel heard one of them emit a quiet sigh.
"Will you be all right?" Rachel asked, pulling away after what seemed both too short and too long of a time.
Santana sniffed, nodded.
"I know you ... are going through a lot. And clearly you've come with Karofsky as a ... well. What I'm trying to say is perhaps we should ... I mean that is if you'd want to share a dance with me? N-nothing slow just .. just dancing. To make you feel better." Rachel flushed three shades of red and she wasn't all together sure why she was blushing so badly.
The taller Puerto Rican girl seemed to be considering the question, and Rachel really didn't even know where on earth the idea had come from. Santana cared very much about her repuation, that was why she was so mean. Maybe, though, it would just be for the moment. To make some kind of happy memory.
"A happy memory," Rachel supplied. "I know I'm not the ideal person you'd like to ... that is I'm rather sure that you'd be dancing with Brittany or someone who's not me ... " Rachel fell silent when she felt a hand slip into hers. Those intense eyes stared at the connected hands, Santana's eyes nearly black. She seemed to be experimentally moving her thumb over Rachel's palm, to see how it felt. Rachel felt her breath grow short, and she tried to swallow. Little electric shocks were driving up her skin with every stroke.
They reappeared on the dance floor, and while some heads turned, nobody really seemed concerned that they were holding hands. The music was loud and joyful, and Rachel broke into a grin when she felt the energy of the room. For just a moment, they could all be young, innocent teenagers with not a worry in the world. She felt Santana's hand slip from hers, but saw a dark, playful gaze challenging her. Santana had let her go but had not gone anywhere. It surprised Rachel. The diva smiled even bigger, so large that it hurt a little, and blushed. Santana's gaze had somehow warmed, and they danced together.
The loud music was exchanged for the softer sort. People paired off, and just as Rachel was about to leave the floor as courtesy, she felt a hand clasp her wrist. Surprised as she was, she knew it was Santana's hand holding her there. Rachel didn't dare look back yet, afraid that perhaps it wouldn't be what she thought, but when she did glance over her shoulder, Santana swallowed.
Their eyes lingered. Intensity built between them, tension thickened. Rachel felt Santana's hand loosen, and the diva nervously stepped forward into Santana's arms. While she kept slight distance between them, she felt Santana pull her completely against her. The way young lovers would tango together. The Latina's hand was resting on Rachel's lower back, conforming to the curve there, and Rachel watched as Santana's eyes rose from the lack of space between them to Rachel's face. The shorter girl slipped her hands to Santana's shoulders.
Suddenly it was just them. All that existed between them was a silent gaze, full of tension and full of questions neither thought to ask. They swayed together, with Rachel searching Santana's face for answers she might have never been looking for if not for this moment. The Latina's grip tightened around her waist, and Rachel couldn't breathe very well with the way Santana was looking at her. Instead she settled for resting her head against Santana's shoulder.
"Thank you," the whisper was so soft, Rachel wasn't totally sure she hadn't imagined it.
She danced with Santana, oblivious to anything but the warm hand holding her in place.
Sometimes I see myself
Through the eyes of a stray dog
From an alley across the street
And my whole mission just seems so finite
My whole saga just seems so cheap
I mean I know that now is all there is
And love'll just make you cry
So I live for the sight of a rare bird
Suddenly flying by
After prom, Rachel and Santana hadn't quite left the premises. Instead, they sat on the bleachers in the gym, watching the janitors unhappily clean the mess. They hadn't had contact since their unexpected slow-dance. Nobody had said a thing about the surprising turn of date-swapping. Or rather, date-abandoning since Rachel's date had gotten kicked out of the dance and Karofsky had ended up talking to Kurt and Sam the rest of the time.
They sat in silence. Rachel had let her hair down, and it hung past her shoulders. She sifted her fingers through it. "I hate up-dos. My hair is so thick it's absolutely damaging. I just ... thought it would look nice."
"This is all bull shit, you know? High school. For some reason, I can't care about anything else. Popularity and all kinds of shit that doesn't even matter. It's cheap, like a bad story. What's worse is everyone's going to go on to do something great or at least mildly successful and I'm not good at anything."
The admission surprised Rachel. Again, rare moments of vulnerability. She glanced over at Santana, who was scowling at her hands as if they were the ones committing the crime of mediocrity.
"It could be wonderful, you know," Santana continued. "Life after high school. What the fuck have I got to look forward to, though? Ending up alone with a dog in a cheap ass apartment with nothing to look forward to. Rolling out of bed at 6 a.m. to work at Starbucks."
"There's more to life than that. There will be more to life than that."
Santana shook her head, silent.
As Rachel was about to speak, her phone rang. "Daddy? Oh! I'm so sorry I was ... sitting with ... a friend. Would you mind if she ... stayed tonight?" She hadn't exactly asked Santana if this was alright with her, but she figured Santana wouldn't want to go home with the mood she was in and she didn't dare think of where the Latina would actually stay. "Yes, thank you so much. We'll be right out." Rachel hung up, stood, and gave Santana no say in the matter. "Come on," she murmured and took Santana's hand in hers.
She tried to ignore the way Santana's fingers fit between her own, and the way the Latina was tucking Rachel's hand against her hip as if to keep it.
And I meet your stare
One eye at a time
Writing in the margins
Of my mind
And that's when your song calls to me
From way up in a tree
And I look up
And the whole world
is as it should be
Santana re-emerged from Rachel's bathroom in poorly fitted gym shorts - which on Rachel would have bagged, but on Santana hugged all the right places - and a t-shirt. The Latina had surprisingly not argued against staying, but she'd given Rachel some trouble when she'd refused to let Santana sleep on the couch.
Rachel glanced up from her text-book, took in Santana's expression, and offered an apologetic smile. "Sorry, my .. well you know. I'm shorter than you."
The girl shrugged and climbed into bed, wordless as she turned her back to Rachel. She didn't seem angry, nor tense, but she seemed ... preoccupied. It wasn't until Rachel finished studying and crawled into bed that Santana spoke. She was staring at her ceiling when she was jarred from her mental silence.
"The worst part about all of this is that I'm going to be all alone," Santana's words were quiet.
Rachel took in the silhouette and shape of Santana from the side, moved closer and leaned up on her elbow. Her eyes adjusted to the dark and Santana's expression emerged. Rachel used her free hand to pull the covers just a little tighter over them both. "That's simply not true, Santana Lopez."
"It's not?" The skepticism was thick in her voice when she answered Rachel.
The brunette only shook her head, "It's not true."
"If you're so sure." Rachel could hear the eye-roll that accompanied Santana's words. Figuratively, at least.
"Have you not heard anything I've told you tonight?"
"I care about you," Rachel's voice softened. "Obviously, or you wouldn't be here and we wouldn't have ... had a nice time this evening after everything." Feeling suddenly insecure, she lay back on the bed. "You can never be alone when there is someone who cares for you," she echoed words her fathers had once told her when she'd expressed her fear of starting kindergarten.
Santana scoffed, but shifted beside Rachel. She was facing her now, and even in the dark Rachel could feel that intense stare. "You're the last person in the world that should care about me."
"Too bad," Rachel answered stubbornly. "You should know I don't listen well to what others believe I should do."
Santana laughed. A quiet laugh, but a real one. It was light. "Ego."
Rachel smiled, because she heard the subtle affection in that one word. After a few moments, she thought maybe Santana had fallen asleep, but she felt a hand cascading up her arm slowly. Not over fabric, but on the bare skin of her arm. Goosebumps erupted wherever Santana touched, and her breath stopped short of her throat. Santana's fingers danced along her collarbone, her jaw, and she felt them encouraging her to turn her head.
She didn't want to mean nothing. That was the last coherent thought running through her head as she turned to look at Santana in the dark only to feel the pressing of warm lips against her own. It was a tentative brushing of lips at first, and Rachel whimpered. She didn't know where this had come from. Santana was kissing her.
It was a gentle kiss, perhaps more gentle than she had come to believe Santana could offer. Her trembling hands reached up and tangled themselves in Santana's hair, mouths parting slightly against one another. It started to become a little more than gentle, with Santana's hands grasping Rachel's hips.
The diva had never expected this, but her head was swimming. Santana kissed her and kissed her more, with Rachel all but pleading and encouraging the interaction. Her whole body seemed to gravitate upward against Santana's, the half of the Latina's torso pressing against her own.
The kiss eventually ended, with Rachel and Santana breathless and speechless. Fear settled in Rachel's belly, but she felt soothed when Santana's head ducked against her shoulder and she felt a loving kiss pressed to the skin there.
She meant something to Santana. There were no answers right now, but that one pressing of lips against skin was a silent promise, a gesture of affection that affirmed that Rachel meant something to Santana. By some powerful night magic, something had been seeded between them.
They fell asleep shortly after, the Latina pulling Rachel into her arms, fingers stroking Rachel's scalp before she drifted off.