Author's note: This story (which will be a multi-chapter) takes place during Santana's senior year. Nothing in Season 3 has happened, and I don't plan on following canon much, if at all, for that season. I'll probably reference events in seasons 1 or 2. I don't own Glee or the characters herein that also appear on the show. Though, I guess I technically own Natalie...Muahaha! Like Natalie, I'm new here, so go easy on me! :)

Santana had just reached the doors of McKinley High, ready to embark on her senior year, when her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a car door slamming. She turned and saw a girl briskly walking away from an old, beat up car. She watched as the girl swept her long, auburn hair out of the way of the backpack she was sliding onto her shoulders. Her jaw was tightly clenched and her eyes stayed on the ground. A voice trailed out of the backseat after her, "Try not to screw this one up, will ya?"

Santana saw the new girl tense at the sound of what she assumed was the girl's younger brother. She quickly moved up the stairs, never shifting her sight from the ground, and bumped into Santana in her hurry to get through the front doors. Instinctively, Santana let out a harsh, "Hey!", causing the girl to snap out of it and raise her head to meet the eyes of the dark-haired girl in front of her.

Santana looked at the new girl and expected to see the usual expression of fear that her sharp tone would elicit, but instead she just saw a look of defeat as the girl quickly broke eye contact and dropped her head. Instead of the quivering begging of forgiveness the head cheerleader had grown accustomed to, she got a mumbled, almost automatic, "Sorry" spoken to her feet. Santana barely recognized her own voice as it softened a little and said, "It's fine". She pulled the door towards her, propping it open with her foot to let the new girl in. Surprised, she hesitated a moment, searching the Latina's face for a sign that this was some sort of prank. When she was only met with a sympathetic look, the russet-haired girl headed inside, nodding a silent 'thank you' to Santana as she passed and followed the numbered lockers to one that matched the sheet of paper she was carrying.

Coach Sylvester saw the new girl awkwardly sifting through her locker, trying to get textbooks out with one hand while reading her schedule with the other. "Fresh meat," she muttered as she took long, confident strides towards her next victim.

Santana closed her locker and turned to see Sue headed in her direction. She steeled herself for a verbal attack, but was surprised to realize Sue's gaze was locked on someone over her shoulder. She turned and followed the coach's line of vision and realized who the target was. "Let it go, Santana." She thought to herself. "Just be glad you're off the hook this time." She spun on her heel and walked towards her first class. She paused after a few steps and took a deep breath, unsure of whether or not she should do what she was about to do. She rolled her eyes at herself and pivoted back around, bee-lining for the new girl's locker, where Sue had just stopped.

"New Girl, you're not hideously ugly or morbidly obese."

"Uh…Thank you? I'm Natalie."

"I don't care what your name is, New Girl, I just want to know if you have any communicable diseases."

Natalie furrowed her brow and shifted uncomfortably in the shadow of the first teacher she had come in contact with. "Um…no?"

"Great. I couldn't have you infecting any of my girls. We need to be in top form for Nationals. I'm going to do you a favor and give you a chance to skip the awkward 'new kid' stage and try out for the Cheerios. If you don't make me want to strangle kittens, I might let you be on the bottom of our pyramid. Since my former head cheerleader had been sipping the Kool-Aid and is now too pure to be pink, we have an extra spot."

Before she could answer, Natalie felt an arm link around her own from behind. "Don't worry, Coach, I'll make sure she's Cheerio material before she wastes your time at tryouts."

Santana searched Sue's eyes, hoping she bought her line. She held her breath for a moment, since Sue's face didn't change, but her muscles relaxed when she saw a proud smile spread across her coach's face.

"That's my girl." She turned back towards her office, and Santana took the opportunity to drag the new girl quickly in the opposite direction, not caring where her first class was, just wanting to put as much distance as she could between them and the coach.

As soon as she felt they were far enough away, she pulled the new girl over towards the lockers and faced her. "Steer clear of Sue if you can. She'll ruin your life if you let her."

"Sure, thanks. She didn't exactly make it sound like I had much of a choice but to try out for the Cheerios…won't she be pissed if I just blow her off?"

"Maybe. But she's always pissed. It's up to you whether or not you try out, but either way, I've got your back." Santana winced as the words came out of her mouth. She meant it – she had a feeling of protectiveness towards this girl that she couldn't explain – but that sounded so cheesy. She felt better, though when she saw that the girl was blushing a little, giving her a warm smile.

"Thanks. I'm Natalie."

"I'm Santana. I'm kind of a big deal around here, so stick with me and you'll be fine." She motioned for Natalie to follow her as she took off down the hall, and Natalie did just that.

Whatever you do, I'll do it, too. Show me everything and tell me how.
It all means something and yet nothing to me.

Natalie took mental notes of everything Santana was telling her, but she was so ecstatic to have already made a friend that she was having a hard time concentrating.

"Try to avoid the football team; as the new girl, they're probably going to want to welcome you with a slushie facial." Santana said as they walked down the hallway. Two boys standing by an open locker waved at Santana as she passed. "That's Kurt and Blaine, they're pretty cool I guess." Santana tossed them a half-wave as they passed the boys and both of them glanced at Natalie and gave Santana a curious look. She rolled her eyes and kept walking. "I'll introduce you to everyone later. Right now I'll show you the shortcut to the bathroom that never has an annoying herd of girls in it."

I can see there's so much to learn. It's all so close and yet so far. I see myself as others see me.

Natalie glanced back towards her locker, towards the front of the school. She shook off the memory of her awful morning and quickened her pace to keep up with Santana.

I just know there's something bigger out there.

Throughout the morning, Santana showed Natalie around, gave her some tips for dealing with certain teachers, warned her about false directions the other seniors might try to give her. As they met up again after third period, they passed the two boys from earlier, who were now standing with a boy in a wheelchair and an Asian girl with dark eye makeup. The four of them were watching a tall Asian boy do a robotic dance, laughing loudly and ignoring all the stares of the students walking by.

I wanna know, can you show me? I wanna know about these strangers like me.
Tell me more, please show me. Something's familiar 'bout these strangers like me.

Santana made some quick introductions and Natalie learned that it was Tina and Artie watching Mike dance. "Where did you transfer from?" Tina asked her. Natalie saw Santana walk quickly down the hallway, trying to catch up to a small girl with short, blonde hair and a tan-skinned boy sporting a Mohawk of sorts standing by the lockers. "From Findlay, just a few towns over."

"Oh, nice. Well, we have to get to class, but it was nice to meet you!"

Natalie waved goodbye to her new potential friends, who disappeared down the hall, and turned back towards Santana, who was now leaning with her back against the wall, one foot propped up against it. Natalie was surprised to feel her heart flutter as she watched Santana slowly reach up and tuck a stray hair behind her ear.

Every gesture, every move that she makes, makes me feel like never before.

Santana looked over and locked eyes with Natalie, giving her a small smile and motioning for her to come join them. Natalie didn't hesitate to head towards her.

Why do I have this growing need to be beside her?

Santana introduced her to Quinn and Puck as they all headed towards the cafeteria. Natalie was too excited to speak, but smiled and laughed along with them, feeling a warmth spread throughout her chest. As they walked past the auditorium, they paused at the doors to peek in. "I can't believe Rachel and Finn are rehearsing right now. It's the first day of school, and we have Glee rehearsal in like three hours." Quinn said, shaking her head. Puck laughed in agreement, "Well, we all know Finn could use the dance practice." The three of them kept walking, but Natalie lingered for a moment at the window to see what they were talking about. A tall, lanky boy was awkwardly trying to spin a petite brunette into a dip.

Oh, these emotions I never knew of some other world far beyond this place.
Beyond the trees; above the clouds. I see before me a new direction.

"Come on, Natalie, let's go to lunch." Natalie followed Santana towards the cafeteria, letting her eyes linger on the duo and listening to the powerful voice of the small girl drift into the hallway.

I wanna know, can you show me? I wanna know about these strangers like me.
Tell me more, please show me, something's familiar 'bout these strangers like me.

Throughout the rest of the day, Santana led Natalie to all of her classes. They had Spanish together with Mr. Schuester right after lunch. She sat to Santana's left while Brittany, a quirky, bubbly blonde with bright blue eyes sat to her right. Natalie could tell the girls were close and was pleasantly surprised as to how comfortably she slipped into cheerful conversation with them. She couldn't help but be excited when Brittany said, "See you guys after school" as she skipped off to her next class.

The rest of the day seemed, to Natalie, to be the longest afternoon ever. She listened to teacher after teacher drone on, giving almost identical "welcome back" speeches. Finally, the bell rang that marked the end of the last period and she almost knocked over her chair as she jumped up and practically ran out into the hallway to meet Santana. They stopped outside the choir room and Santana turned to Natalie and looked down at her hands. Natalie cocked her head to one side – is this the same girl who confidently paraded her around school all day, parting groups of stationary freshmen with just a look?

Santana looked up and met Natalie's eyes, standing up straighter. "You don't have to do this if you don't want to."

Natalie smiled.

"Santana, I've been looking forward to this all day."

Santana kept her dark brown eyes locked with the sparkling green eyes of this girl she had met just this morning. It was hard to believe that her face ever held anything but that glowing smile, but Santana didn't think she would ever forget the broken look of the girl who climbed the stairs of McKinley High earlier that day. She gave Natalie a nod and a smile.

Come with me now to see my world, where there's beauty beyond your dreams.

It was Santana's turn to be surprised as Natalie's shy smile made her pulse race.

Can you feel the things I feel, right now, with you?

Santana reached out towards her new friend.

Take my hand, there's a world you need to know.

Natalie stood in front of this ragtag group, a unit made up of people so obviously different. The muscular jock with a mohawk nudging the nerdy boy in a wheelchair playfully with his elbow; the sweet-looking, blonde girl exchanging glances with a brunette with impeccable posture and argyle knee socks. She sang to them all, quietly, unsure, asking them - practically begging them - to accept her, to invite her into this unlikely family.

I wanna know, can you show me
I wanna know about these strangers like me
Tell me more, please show me
Something's familiar about these strangers like me

When she finished, for a moment that felt like an eternity, all Natalie could hear was the beating of her own heart, loud in her ears. Then, almost as if on cue, the room burst into applause. She could hear a flow of compliments floating towards her, and a huge smile broke out on her face as she let out a breath she didn't realize she had been holding. She looked around at the smiling faces, all of them warm and welcoming. When she caught Santana's eye, Natalie blushed. She had the Cheerio to thank for this magical moment, and maybe it was the excitement of the moment but Natalie thought Santana almost looked... proud. As the applause died down, the girl in argyle socks and a matching headband chimed in, "Well, you're certainly not ready for the spotlight, but-"

"Shut it, imp. She's never sung in front of anyone before."

"I know that, Santana, that's why in was GOING to say, for someone as untrained and clearly inexperienced in the performing arts," the small brunette turned back to Natalie, "you sounded quite lovely."

Natalie blushed and started to thank her when the small girl jolted out of her seat and headed towards her, pivoting back to her classmates when she reached her side. "Since I need all the backup vocal support I can get, I think Natalie would be the perfect addition to New Directions, especially coming off our glaring defeat at Nationals last year."

Mr. Schuester got off his stool and took a step towards the girls in the center of the room. "Rachel, we-"

"Sorry Mr. Schuester," she interrupted, shifting her attention and addressing Natalie directly without missing a beat, "We made a valiant effort and if it weren't for certain...impulse decisions, we would have certainly placed."

Natalie stood perfectly still, listening to this new face talk a mile a minute, seemingly without taking a breath. "Anyway," Rachel continued, once again addressing the room, "I would like to officially vote for the acceptance of Natalie into Glee club. All in favor?" Rachel shot her hand straight up in the air purposefully and looked to her classmates to join her. A small girl in a leopard jacket and pigtails and Brittany, the blonde Cheerio from class, shot their hands up with equal fervor. The rest of the kids all started to casually raise their hands, sending curious looks towards their teacher. Some were even rolling their eyes, and for a moment, Natalie started to panic - had they hated her? Were they only raising their hands because they felt bad for the new kid?

Before her doubts had time to send a message to her feet to get the hell out of the choir room, Mr. Schuester stepped forward with more determination and put his hand on Rachel's shoulder. "Thank you, Rachel, I'm glad we are all in agreement, but as I've told you before, anyone who auditions for Glee gets in. Singing is just a formality so we can get a feel for their range and style." Rachel pressed her lips together and gave a curt nod. "Right, of course. I just wanted her to feel welcome."

She turned and gave Natalie a small smile before returning to her seat and folding her hands in her lap. Mr. Schuester stepped closer to Natalie and put his hand around her shoulder and squeezed lightly. "Let's officially welcome Natalie, our newest member!" Her peers clapped once again, all smiling and nodding at her. She turned bright red for what felt like the hundredth time in the past five minutes and mumbled a quiet "thank you". The teacher removed his arm and asked her to have a seat. Her heart skipped a beat at the idea of deciding where to sit. She felt a wave of relief wash over her when she saw Santana patting the empty chair between her and the pretty blonde girl in the sundress. As she took her seat, Santana smiled at her and said, "Guess it's official, you're stuck with us. Hope you like it, since you'll never have another friend outside this room."

"Stop it, San, you'll scare her."

"Oh, I'm sorry, Q, how many parties have YOU been invited to this year?"

The blonde shook her head and turned her attention to Natalie. "Don't listen to her, she's just bitter because she has insulted so many people that only the masochists in this room will still talk to her," she said, shooting her friend a smug look. "Good job up there, by the way. We're glad to have you on board." She side-eyed Santana, "All of us." Santana rolled her eyes and crossed her arms, but kept an amused smirk on her face.

"Thanks, I've never been part of a club like this before."

"Honey, there IS no other club like this."

The bell rang and Mr. Schuester raised his voice to be heard over the rustling of kids getting ready to leave the classroom. He called after them, "Remember, since Natalie is new to the club, school and even to Lima, this week's theme is New! Blaine, you're up first! Let's show her how we do things around here."

"Got it!" The boy in a bow tie gave Natalie a wink before catching up with the pale-faced boy wearing an elegant scarf.

Curious, Natalie turned to Santana as they grabbed their bags from under the seats, "Is Blaine...I mean, are Blaine and...uh..." she started to ask, fumbling on the name.

"Kurt, yeah Blaine and Kurt are an item. Blaine actually transferred schools so they could be together."

"Oh, wow."

"Yeah, I know right, it's so cute I could puke."

The two girls started to head out and Natalie stopped at the piano to thank Mr. Schuester. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Santana's red uniform pause at the door. After she said goodbye to the teacher, Natalie turned and saw Santana adjust the strap of her bag on her shoulder. "Let me give you a ride home. Joining Glee slapped a giant L on your forehead; you don't need to get a target on your back by taking the late bus." Natalie chuckled and thanked the brunette for the offer.

As they headed to the parking lot, Santana asked Natalie where she lived. "On Spencerville Road... Near the big cemetery.", she answered.

"Oh, perfect. You're right on my way home."

"Good, because there's no way I would be able to give you directions. I haven't been able to explore too much yet, so I don't know my way around."

"How do you like Lima so far?"

"Well I like the city about as much as I like the bean."


"But as far as McKinley goes, I was expecting something out of Mean Girls or Heathers, so the High School Musical welcome I got was pretty encouraging."

Santana laughed, "You're funny."

"You sound surprised."

"Well you didn't talk much today, so I couldn't tell if you were shy or casing the joint."

Natalie smirked, "Maybe both." The two girls chuckled.

"Thanks, by the way," Natalie added, looking down at her hands in her lap as she twisted her fingers together nervously.

"For what?"

"For showing me around, inviting me to Glee. I'm really glad it was you I almost knocked over this morning."

Santana thought back to the slam of the car door that had interrupted her first-day-of-school strut. "Whatever. You caught me in a good mood. I was having a great hair day." Natalie looked over at Santana and tried to read her expression, but it was impossible. Her eyes were trained on the road in front of her, her hands gripping the steering wheel tightly.

As they turned onto Spencerville Road, Santana asked which house was Natalie's. "The gaudy green one right before the cemetery."

"Jeez, you're not kidding. It's huge."

"Yeah, I guess it's one of the oldest houses in Lima. A 'fixer-upper' the realtor called it."

"More like a knocker-downer."

Natalie smiled, "Well, thanks for the ride..." Santana pulled over to the curb and slid the car into park. Natalie continued, "...and for everything." Natalie climbed out of the car and started to walk towards her new house.

She stopped and turned when she heard Santana call out, "See you tomorrow." as she pulled away.

After fumbling with her key in the too-modern-for-the-house lock, Natalie pushed the large wooden door, cringing at the sound it made as it creaked open. There wouldn't be any sneaking out of this least not through the front door.

"Natalie, is that you?" she heard her mother yell from another room. She cringed at that sound, too. Before she could answer, her mother appeared in the doorway that led to the kitchen on the left of the foyer. "Where the hell have you been? The bus dropped off the neighbor's kids an hour ago."

"I took the late bus," she lied. "I was meeting with some teachers to-."

"Good Lord, are you in trouble already?!"

Natalie bristled and continued in an exasperated tone. "No, I was just getting the summer assignments so I'm not behind." Natalie walked straight across the foyer to the staircase and started to head up. When she got to the landing where the staircase turned left, she heard her mother yell "Take off your shoes!" before disappearing into the kitchen. Natalie stepped out of her Converse sneakers and threw them towards the front door. They hit the wall beside the door with a thud and fell haphazardly on the otherwise neat shoe rack. She heard a distant, "What was that?" but ran up the second half of the staircase before her mother could reemerge.

Once on the second floor, she walked down the long hallway to the third and last door on the left and opened it to reveal another staircase. She started up it, closing and locking the door behind her. When she got to the top, she surveyed her new bedroom. A large, four-paneled bay window on the far wall filled the spacious attic room with sunlight. Her full-sized bed was along the right side of the room, the length of it barely covering a third of the long wall. In the center of the room was an old, faded, rectangular oriental rug that had been in the house when they moved in. The dull purple-and-gold thread was worn thin in some places, but Natalie had refused to let them get rid of it when they were dusting the cobwebs out of the rafters and bringing her furniture up the narrow stairway.

Natalie tossed her bag on top of the large, wooden trunk at the foot of her bed and meandered over to the window seat, where she sat and surveyed what she could see of Lima, Ohio. She pushed any thoughts of her mother out of her head and thought instead of Santana and her new friends in Glee club. She had spent the whole summer dreading this first day of school, but it turned out to be better than she could ever have hoped it would.

[AN: The song is Strangers Like Me by Phil Collins with one purposeful change in lyrics by yours truly. Thanks for reading! To be continued...]