a very big thanks to the regular crew of hand-holders.

if you are reading this somewhere that let me get away with not tagging the prologue, thanks for showing up in the first place :)

...

And pardon her mistake, it's Rachel Hudson.

"Is this Candid Camera," she says out loud. "Are they remaking Punk'd?"

"Santana," Rachel asks, pulling the phone away from her ear. "Oh my god, hi."

"You're my 9am." It's not a question. She had a bad feeling about today, and oh look, here's that bad feeling come to life like Frankenstein's fucking monster.

"Hold on just a second," Rachel puts the phone back to her ear, turning away from Santana.

The urge to run away is making her legs shake in a way they haven't in years.

Rachel looks the same as always, flapping her gums like she's trying to catch bugs. Exactly like the Rachel Berry she would remember if she tried, only without the pedophile-bait outfits. Hey, she's not judging, she wore some seriously hideous shit in high school, too, and— see. This is the problem. Two seconds with this reminder of her past, her old life, and she's already thinking about high school.

No, thank you. This needs to go away.

Rachel's put her phone in her purse and is turning towards Santana and, shit, she doesn't need this.

"My god, Santana, it's so good to see you," Rachel is beaming at her like they're long lost pals, which, what the fuck? They sang some songs together a couple of times, they were never friends. The last time Santana saw Rachel was at some point — she has zero clue when exactly, possibly Finn and Rachel's wedding? — during the summer between high school and college. Rachel's wedding was definitely not on her priority list at the time, and she hasn't been back to Lima since she left for college.

(Mike's been going less and less over the years, and he's the only person from Lima she still talks to. Jake will never, ever set foot in that town, not if she has anything to say about it. Which she does.)

"You're a stylist? You're my stylist? That's amazing, I had no idea. Robert, my manager, just told Cassandra, that's my PA— he just told her to find the best in town, and surprise, that's you!" Not at all a surprise is the fact that Rachel can probably still talk under wet cement. "How are you? Seriously, you look amazing."

And then she laughs and fuck, there's just no way to stop that Rachel is reaching over to hug Santana, short of physically shoving her away.

She thinks about raising both her hands and pushing at Rachel's shoulders, pushing and pushing and pushing her out the door and back into what she thought was a very securely locked away part of her brain, clearly marked "Do Not Touch" and less clearly marked "High School". She thinks all these things, but there's movement over Rachel's shoulder, and Stacey, her bitch of a manager, is standing there staring like Jesus just walked in and told a filthy joke.

This probably is a weird sight, for about twenty five million reasons.

...

Also: she can't tell Rachel to get out.

Stacey might as well be the Newbury Street Gazette, for how quickly word would get around about her kicking a client out. Shit like that has cost her in the past, and only her actual talent kept her in a job long enough to learn to stop pulling that sort of crap, and she'd rather take a bath in peroxide and razor blades than have those stories come back again. She's a grown-ass adult now, she can act like one.

...

And seriously, fuck Stacey. So she's not affectionate with anyone, ever — besides her kid, obviously — but she's not a fucking leper.

...

Except acting like an adult isn't that easy.

Stacey disappears back into the office at Santana's glare, and that leaves just the two of them. Rachel's talking, but Santana's not listening, just steers Rachel over to her station, snatches the coat from her hands, and tells her to sit. She tosses the coat on the next chair over, before stepping up behind Rachel.

If Rachel says one word about Jake, she'll rip her hair from her scalp and charge her for the privilege.

"What's this for?" She rolls a lock of hair between her fingers.

"My usual stylist is in New York, and I have an event this evening. Actually, it's going to be—"

"How formal?" Rachel's hair is the same length it was in high school — she could have been a Cheerio on the strength of her hair, if she'd wanted — but someone good is currently cutting it. No more kindergartener's bangs and there's a sleek curl to the ends that make her look like a super hero. (Shut up, Jake loves Wonder Woman, but he can't read all the words on his own.)

"Oh, it's black tie. I've been invited to—"

"Okay. Just a trim and then something that will hold. Got it." She lets the hair sift between her fingers and steps away.

Santana tosses her own jacket into the back office, the black leather catching on the arm of the couch. She ignores Stacey, and hits play on the sound system as she walks back, her fingers nudging the volume knob up as they drag passed. She works better with bass, and best without mindless chit chat.

...

She throws a towel at Rachel and shouts, "Come on, Yentl" over the music. Not even close to the best she could do, but she's very much out of practice on this particular target.

Rachel stands to follow, but drops the towel on her chair for a moment and pulls off her sweater. Nothing scary is revealed, just a black tank and toned arms. She drapes the towel around her own neck with a smile and moves over to where Santana is messing with the shampoo bottles.

Santana's never, ever been good at this part. Thankfully, the self-involved bitches that make up her usual client list these days have no problem filling the void, but whenever she's stuck with a non-talker, shit tends to get awkward fast. Then there are the creeps who get off on her touching their head, but that's a whole other story, and right now she's just glad she's made it basically impossible for them to have a conversation without shouting.

Rachel sits down, rests her head against the lip of the basin, and closes her eyes like it ain't no thang. What the fuck? Crazy bitch is just like, exposing her neck for Santana to slit it if she felt like it.

(She knows she's being her own kind of crazy bitch about this, but seriously. It's taken five and a half years to make the calm, mature person you see before you today. Shit like Rachel Berry appearing in her life out of nowhere? That threatens to undo all this wonderful growth she's achieved as a person. She doesn't even tear waitresses new assholes when they screw up her order anymore.)

A couple of things she thinks about as she runs the water over Rachel's hair and begins to lather it with shampoo: First, Rachel's hair smells like coconut, but that won't survive Salon Hair. Shame. Second, she wants Italian for dinner. Third, she hasn't checked her Facebook account in five and a half years plus a couple of weeks.

...

The first time she cut someone's hair, she had no idea what she was doing, and they never knew that at any second she could rain down destruction on their person and wouldn't know it until it was far too late.

The feeling terrified her.

Dumb luck and a good eye had saved that situation, but that level of recklessness was doing damage to her life and she was about to pass the damage onto someone else, and so she'd spent the months she grew as big as a damn house also learning how to remove a piece of someone without doing any harm.

...

There's a notch in the skull under her fingers and she wonders how it came to be; if something happened or if it's been there since birth.

(Jake has this ridge across the bottom of his skull that sometimes makes his hats fall off.

When he made the connection between something he'd seen on Discovery (horse breeding, that time, but he really loves shows about tigers) and humans, he wanted to know who he got his hair and his ears and his one wonky tooth from, but she struggled to explain why his head hated baseball caps even though he loves them so much. She wasn't about to explain to him exactly where babies come from because there's no need to traumatize the kid, and had settled on, "Not everything comes from a mom or a dad," and traced the scar on his knee from the time he fell in the park.)

She watches the soap bubbles wash down the drain, watches until the water runs clean, barely catching something about rain and snow coming from Rachel's mouth.

...

Rachel has fucking fantastic hair, and better for the change in cutting line Santana's made around her face. She suspects whoever cut Rachel's hair last was trying to minimize her giant schnoz, but honestly, what's the point in even trying? Besides, that photo from when Rachel had gone all Single White Female on Quinn junior year had given her nightmares. (She bites her tongue at asking if Rachel's still a vegan, because she doesn't give a rat's ass, but seriously, no Birkenstock-wearing lentil-lover she's ever met has had such nice hair.)

She resisted the urge to do Rachel's hair up, because despite pants suits at age fifteen and an addiction to old lady music, black tie formal doesn't mean she needs to look like a seventy-five year old woman. There's a natural curl all the way through that Santana wants to tell her to stop brushing out, and she's worked that up into a very deliberate bed head. So long as the weather stays as it is, and Rachel doesn't go home and have a marathon sex session with Finnocence — ew, she's given birth and yet the hint of a reminder of Finn and sex still makes her want to barf — she'll be good for the evening with half a can of hairspray and a few well placed bobby pins.

Point is, she didn't half ass this, even if she'd wanted to, but Rachel needs to go now so she can start pretending this never happened.

...

Rachel leaves her a one-hundred dollar tip on top of the seven-hundred dollars she'd apparently agreed to pay for Santana's services.

She'd have given it back along with a slap to Rachel's motorized mouth, but Stacey had taken care of it while Santana stood in the court yard out back and chain smoked three cigarettes. She's gonna need to brush her teeth before Mike brings Jake by, but she stays huddled in her jacket until her fingers start to tingle.

...

When Mike walks in with Jake a couple hours later, both having survived the morning's skateboard lesson, she doesn't mention the poltergeist from lifetimes past. They've been friends, and whatever else, long enough that he wouldn't even hesitate to get all up in her business, which she'd rather just not. Of course her business basically is his business, but that's beside the point.

Mike brought her some lunch from the van they had stopped at for themselves, as well as another coffee. They're sitting in the office, and Jake's getting ketchup all over his face as he tries to talk around his mouthful.

She knocks his hat off his head and checks for bumps while he wriggles around on her lap.

"Mommy, I wore my helmet," he says.

"I'm just checking, okay," and she pulls his hat back into place. He jumps off her lap and his feet smack against the polished cement.

...

So Santana's day is going awesome, thanks for asking.

Jake tied his shoes perfectly all by himself for the first time, so they stopped for hot chocolate (for Jake, coffee for her because duh) on the way to school. It didn't snow the entire walk to school or back, and she made a repayment on the loan she took out for the salon that puts her less than a year away from being completely paid off. Now she's watching videos of dogs talking on the internet while she eats a sandwich. There's going to be lasagna for dinner, thank you Mrs Fogliano at the place on the corner of their block, and it's Dynasty rerun night. (Jake likes Alexis's shoulder pads. He thinks she's a super hero.)

Just a few more hours.

She actually loves her job. She loves being her own boss. She's a good little foot soldier when she needs to be, but she very quickly discovered there's very little need for that sort of thing out in the real world. She's great at running a business, she's good at dealing with bitches because no one out-bitches Santana Lopez, and she's kick ass at what she does, which is taking a sharp pair of scissors to someone's head.

Her sandwich finished, she shuts her laptop and heads out to the floor to meet up with her 2pm. She's just sent Julia (not Joanna) to go pick up some more coffee from down the street when Rachel walks in. Fuck, she wishes people would warn her about this sort of thing ahead of time. It can't be good for her heart, and she'd like to live to see her kid learn to read.

"Uh, hi?" It definitely comes out with a question mark.

"Santana, hello," Rachel beams, "I'm so glad you could fit me in. It's not quite the emergency it was the other week, but it seems the show's stylist cannot be trusted to use anything more than use a hairdryer and a comb."

Rachel's dressed in a pea coat and a fuzzy knit cap, black from head to toe, and she pulls the cap off, releasing her hair. Someone's turned the new line to the front of Rachel's hair into, shit, she can't even tell if they are supposed to be bangs or not. Why the fuck is Rachel smiling?

"You have a seriously warped sense of emergency," Santana says to herself, and takes a moment just to sigh, because, "Oh my god, please go sit over there before I lose the use of my eyes, Flowbee."

...

It's not really her fault that Julia returns with coffee then starts talking Rachel's ear off, and oops, Santana doesn't say a word to Rachel until they're done.

She wonders what she missed, because Rachel's acting like a perfect stranger. All she remembers from last time, what little she hasn't yet completely suppressed, is Rachel hugging her, then blah blah blah and then that insulting tip, so something must have happened during the blah blah blah.

It's been forever since she's sorted someone's bill out herself, and it's too late after Rachel is thanking her "so much, for everything", like, what? The words out of her mouth aren't matching up to anything that makes sense. And then she's out the door before Santana thinks to check if, yeah, there's another insultingly large tip.

...

They're running really late, but it's just kindergarten and according to all the stupid parenting books she's read, it's better to let kids slowly do boring tasks themselves than rush them through it with your help.

Jake is double-checking he has everything in his school bag when Rachel's complete lack of acknowledgement of any history between them at all pings as weird. If not for the part where this is exactly her choice of interaction with people she'd rather not be interacting with at all, it would be down right rude.

"Do you," she starts to say, later that night, after she and Mike have put Jake to bed and they're having a beer while football is on. They try to do dinner as a family at least once a week, which is difficult and why they always do Saturday mornings together. "How do you, when you go," she tries again, not even sure what she wants to ask.

Mike just looks at her from his place on the couch, and it's not just the place he's sitting on at that moment, it's the place he always sits. He waits, takes a couple of pulls from his beer, but he doesn't press.

"People thinking things is a bitch," is what she settles on. Mike just nods, because she's not making much sense, but this is an old theme. When he leaves after the Patriots win he kisses her cheek and says he'll bring dinner again tomorrow night, "Since I'm a gentleman of leisure and everything right now. I'll make you empanadas."

...

God dammit, seriously, she's going to start checking the appointment book since people keep not warning her about this.

(Not that she asked to be warned.)

What is with this woman and hair emergencies?

She really wants to say something, even just a "what the fuck?" She really wants to, but at this point it's just easier to grimace in Rachel's direction, send Julia for coffee — Rachel takes hers regular; New York regular, which last week she was surprised to learn is regular in Boston, too, like everything in New York is just so damn different — and call Rachel over with a spastic jerk of her head.

Turns out not to be an emergency at all, just a regular old hair appointment.

"I know I was here last week, but I've gotten used to having my hair done every week," Rachel seems almost defensive. Santana just shrugs because whatever, that's not even close to the weirdness she gets from some of the old society ladies who've taken a liking to her.

Santana takes Rachel's coat and actually hangs it up like a non-asshole, and Rachel sets her things on Santana's station. There's sheet music poking out out from the top of her purse, and it's almost funny how Santana can't get the image of Rachel's hideous tights out of her head. So much happened senior year, and even though it was then that they become friends, it's junior year that Rachel's presence in her life has more weight. Her world was very small that year, and things like hideous tights stand out.

Rachel's taking her sweater off again, and she shouldn't do that because she's just going to mess her hair up later.

...

She's talking about the weather again.

Apparently the cold is wreaking havoc on her skin or something, but Santana can't see it. She's busy working conditioner into the ends of each lock of hair and wondering why people pay money for this. The old society ladies she gets, but she has a handful of regulars her age — Rachel's age — who come in all the time just for a blow wave. It's not actually that hard to do yourself.

Rachel's obviously doing well for herself. Or Finn— no, that's too much. Rachel's got a PA, so it's all her. Of course it is. Finn is probably a stay at home husband. Maybe they have a kid already. The idea of Rachel ever having been pregnant is enough to make her bark out a laugh, and Rachel's eyes open, tracking up to where Santana's standing over her.

"Ow," she says with very little conviction, "hot water."

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, happens all the time."

"Are you sure," Rachel goes to sit up, "I can get you some ice."

'From your purse?' is what Santana thinks, and nudges Rachel back down into the chair with a, "it's fine." She flips the water back on, but Rachel keeps her eyes open.

...

Rachel's pulling her sweater back over her head, and yes, it's fucking up her nicely finished hair. Santana just rolls her eyes as Julia appears at her side, but she's going to make sure Rachel doesn't tip her again, because she's not some whatever Rachel thinks she is.

"Go grab more towels from out the back," she says, because this doesn't need witnesses, even though the place is packed. "I'll fix Mrs Hudson up myself."

If she were turned even half an inch away she would have missed the look that passes over Rachel's face. That look that she knows she's worn herself, though not in a while.

"It's not," Rachel says, "Mrs Hudson."

Whoops.

"It hasn't been for a long time, now, actually."

The bite in there has Santana shutting her mouth on the words that want to come out, because, well shit, she'd want herself to shut up if she were in Rachel's position.