Trigger warning: contains low-level violence.
Santana let her eyes wander over the crowded and smoky club. She lazily stirred the remaining ice in her glass, the melting cubes clinking against the sides. It was noisy and dark, the other patrons chatting amongst themselves in shadowy corners and gathering against the long bar on the far wall. Bartenders in white collars and black vests served scotch on the rocks and dirty martinis, laughter flowing around the room. Leaning back in her leather armchair with a lit cigarette, Santana watched as familiar faces mixed with the new. Karofsky, her bodyguard, lounged close by on a barstool making small talk with one of the club's staff. While her right-hand man, Puckerman, stood watch at the main door, his black fedora pulled low over his eyes.
Schuester's was the most popular speakeasy on the strip, the wealthy and the infamous flocking there every night, and no matter where Santana's gaze landed, she would spot one of her men, or someone who was under her family's protection. But in a town this small it was hard to escape. And it didn't matter who you were, you knew who the Lopez family was, whether by association or word of mouth. You couldn't walk in a fifty foot radius without passing one of their businesses, or running into someone who'd paid them to make it their business. It had been that way for almost two decades, and only now did it seem to be taking a turn.
Just the mere thought of what Santana had lost all those months ago, and what she was unwillingly entrusted with sent a familiar tightness to her chest. Ever since the death of her father, other families had set their eyes on the protection and laundering game. One family in particular was stirring up more trouble than the rest. It wasn't unusual for new and old rivals to surface, challenging her family's name, but the St. James' had a very different view on how business should be run, and it threatened to disturb a structure Santana's father spent years building. They dealt in stocks and banking in the next town over, and the youngest, Jesse, wasn't anything but a privileged trust fund kid out to prove himself. He had no qualms about delivering threats to small businesses if they didn't pay up, or some of the time if he was just bored with his own wealth. And he'd only just recently started to expand his family's reach, gaining the wrong kind of attention from the Lopezes.
With a sigh, Santana looked around the large ballroom at the low hanging chandeliers, slow jazz playing from the stage just beyond the wide dance floor. Santana took a short drag of her burning cigarette, her eyes drawn to the girl gripping the microphone. That voice floated over the chatter and brought warmth where the tightness had once been. She kept her gaze on the brunette, her tanned fingers sliding down the metal stand and lacing together halfway down. She was mesmerized. With each note and every ring of the piano keys, she was pulled further in. Couples slow danced around the floor with rhythmic turns and low dips, but her eyes stayed with the singer. She'd been watching her for a few weeks now, and every night was the same. Santana would watch her intently, each song holding a new weight. And every night they would make eyes across the crowded room, a wide smile spreading over the other girl's face, and tonight was no different, that same smile on her lips.
Santana took the last sip of her drink and placed it on a passing waitress's serving tray. She could see the club's owner, William, approaching her with his usual friendly grin, his black tux immaculate as always.
"Evening, Miss Lopez," he greeted cheerily with a nod of his head.
"Will," Santana replied curtly.
The man kept his hands clasped behind his back as the pair exchanged pleasantries. It was his duty as host to welcome his regulars every night, it was part of the reason he had the reputation he had. He was nothing if not gentlemanly and polite to all his patrons. But when it called to be stern, he had no problem with laying the law in his own club. Santana was just about to ask about his wife, Emma, and their young son when Puck came up beside her and bent low to speak with her.
"Jesse's here," Puck said in a hushed tone.
"Bout time," Santana muttered. "Excuse me."
"Of course," Will bade, making his way over to greet the next table of guests.
Santana turned her eyes to the main entrance as her friend took a seat next her at the large circular table. Just as he settled in, Santana saw Jesse make his way across the room, followed closely by his lackey, Sebastian Smythe. She bit down on the inside of her lip, the taller of the two making her skin crawl with just a look. The pompous man had always repulsed her. Sebastian was sadistic and calculating, and had no conscious in regard to his own actions. Santana guessed that was why the St. James family kept him so close. He was nothing but a tool they used when they wanted to send a message. He frankly just didn't care for anyone but himself and his own gain. And his boss wasn't any better. They're smug expressions and the air in which they both walked got right under Santana's skin, though she didn't show it.
The quiet honey sweet voice reached her ears, Santana tearing her eyes away to be met with brilliant hazel and flowing blonde hair. The girl leant down slightly, placing another drink in front of the brunette with the hint of a smile on her pink lips. Santana took it gladly, slipping a generous tip into the front pocket of her plain black dress.
"Thanks, Quinn," Santana smiled with a wink.
"My pleasure," she murmured, blushing slightly before walking off.
Santana watched her leave as Jesse reached their table, his wavy greased back hair glistening in the low glow of the overhanging lights. Puck stood up from the table with a hard set to his jaw, waiting for the two men to take a seat. Both chuckled at his demeanor, before sitting in the empty armchairs opposite.
"Ladies," Jesse addressed smugly, opening his arms wide. "What can I do for you this evening?"
Santana smiled humourlessly and leant forward at the jeering comment. She stubbed out her dying cigarette in the glass ashtray in front of her, before setting her eyes on him.
"Well, it seems to me that you need a little reminder of who owns this town. I think a wire may have been crossed somewhere along the line."
"I'm not sure I know what you're referring to," Jesse intoned, leaning back with a smarmy grin.
"Don't test me, St. James," Santana replied sternly. "You know exactly what I'm talking about."
She shifted her gaze to Sebastian, staring him down. There weren't many women that men in this town didn't dare cross, and when Santana took over from her father she was quick to make it known that she was one of them. If either thought that she was to be trifled with, they had another thing coming.
"Your family does indeed have influence, I'll give you that. But how long do you think that will last, Santana?" Jesse asked innocently. "I mean with your father gone-"
Before he could even finish his thought, Puck shot up from his chair, the heavy mahogany table jolting across the polished floorboards. The two men backed away slightly as Santana reached up a hand and placed it on her friend's arm in a halting gesture. Puck calmed at the touch, but didn't retake his previous spot in the armchair, standing his ground.
"You might want to watch your tongue and remember where you are, less you want someone to cut it off," Santana reminded coldly. "Make no mistake, it takes more than money and underhanded threats to gain you respect in this town. You're swimming in a pool that's entirely too deep for you, Jesse."
Santana removed her hand from Puck's forearm, the man taking his seat once more. She then shifted her hard gaze back to centre stage and back to the jazz singer who was staring right at her with a small glint to her eye. She continued to belt out the last notes of the song, Santana watching her in silent awe. Rachel Berry always had the attention of everyone in the club, no matter who you were your eyes would always find themselves wandering back to her. She just had something that was hard to dismiss or ignore. And unfortunately for her, she had attracted the attention of Jesse and the St. James'.
"And also if I were you I'd spend a little bit more time keeping those eyes on your girl," Santana suggested in goading tone, before narrowing her gaze. "-rather than on things that are no business of yours. Wouldn't want anything to happen to her now would we?"
Jesse's smug expression turned into a scowl at her taunting words, Sebastian looking on indifferently. Santana enjoyed the small pleasure of wiping the haughty look from his face as she took another sip of her drink. She turned back to the stage with a satisfied grin, watching Rachel make her way down the few steps and toward the back exit. It wasn't long before Quinn was walking back over to their table with a shy smile, sliding a slip of paper across the dark shiny surface.
"For you, Miss Lopez," she stated, before making her leave back to the crowded bar. Santana eyed it cautiously, pulling it closer and flipping it over.
Meet me in my dressing room after the show - RB
Santana's smirk grew wider at the neat cursive, pocketing the note in her dark fitted slacks. "We're done here," she said, standing up. "Puck, see to it that our guests are shown out."
Jesse scoffed lowly, Sebastian pursing his lips in a hard line as they both rose to their feet. Santana watched as Will came over to help escort them out, all of her men spotted about the room turning to see that they left without a word. As soon as they were halfway across the room, Santana turned and nodded discreetly to Kurofsky, her burly guard excusing himself from his current conversation with the bartender.
"Yeah?" he mumbled when he reached her.
"I'll be back soon," Santana instructed just loud enough for him to hear. "Make sure no one follows me."
He gave her a short nod in response and wandered back to the bar. Santana grabbed her coat from the next chair, slipping it on before venturing toward the door she'd just seen Rachel leave through. Karofsky watched her go, Santana passing Quinn on her way around the corner. It was a narrow corridor that saw left into the kitchen and the back exit. But Santana turned right, her short heels echoing off the wooden floorboards.
The dark walls lead further down until she noticed a crack of orange light seeping through one of the doors that was left ajar. As she approached she could hear music drifting softly from a record player inside. With a smile, Santana edged the door open further to be met with Rachel in a red silk dressing gown that finished just below her knees. She was busying herself with something on her dresser, Santana closing the door behind her with a tiny click.
"You've got quite the voice."
The girl turned around, those eyes locking onto her with that same glint from before. It sent a slight shiver down Santana's back and had her wandering further into the small dressing room.
"Thanks," Rachel smiled, pulling the stopper off a bottle of dark liquor and pouring two glasses. "I'm glad you enjoyed the show, or at least from what I could see you were."
Rachel shot her a playful smirk, making her way over and passing her one of the glasses. Santana watched her silently as she returned to her vanity, placing the crystal bottle back against the wall.
"Do you sing?" she asked over her shoulder.
"My mother did, so naturally," Santana half shrugged as if it wasn't all that important and took a sip of the offered scotch. "I do find myself wondering about what your man thinks of you playing my club though. You would think he would want to keep you a little closer than that, all things considering."
"But it isn't your club," Rachel countered lightly. "It's Mr. Schuester's if I'm not mistaken, hence the sign out front and the one hanging on my door."
Santana nodded with a small chuckle, loving the sound of her quick words. This girl wasn't folding for anyone, something that Santana admired. "Well, it's under my protection," she relented. "And you didn't answer my question."
Rachel placed her drink down on the dresser and sat up on the polished surface, crossing her bare legs. Santana leant against the round table opposite, trying her best to keep her eyes from straying down their length.
"Though Jesse has his own ideas about it, I'm not one of his family's shares he can just keep for the sake of value. He doesn't own me, and has no say in what I do," Rachel shrugged, before that glint came back. "Or who I see."
"Clearly," Santana murmured, leaving her drink on the table and taking the unspoken invitation. She crossed the room as Rachel leant back on her hands, watching her carefully.
"So Miss Lopez, when you say protection, what exactly does that entail?" she edged with a smile.
"Well, let's just say you gave me a dollar," Santana began, walking even closer. "And then the next week you gave me another, and then another. And in return I would make it known to everyone that you were mine, so that no one would hurt you."
Rachel nodded thoughtfully, before narrowing her gaze, "But for that to work wouldn't you have to threaten people into paying you, otherwise what's the point. Nothing would be stopping them from retracting their business since there would be no fear of retaliation."
Santana had come to a stop in front of her, her eyes wandering down the smooth skin of her neck and down toward the V of the silk. Rachel waited for an answer to her question as Santana's gaze flicked back up to met hers, the girl holding an amused expression.
"Well, that's how it would work if Jesse had his way," she told her, trying her best to keep the ferment from her tone. "But my father saw it differently. He always said that if you respected your customers there was no need for threats."
A lump formed low in her throat at the mention of him, but she swallowed it down, reaching her hands out cautiously and running her fingers lightly up her bare thighs. Rachel shivered at the contact, goose bumps rising over her skin. She bit down on her lips, her back leaning up against her large mirror. The gentle scent of her perfume was making Santana lose her train of thought, her words coming out in an almost husk.
"I'm not the bad guy, Rachel," Santana mused, her eyes on her wandering hands. "My family protects this town from people like St. James and Smythe, not the other way around."
"But if it's so dangerous, why do it?" Rachel asked curiously through a labored breath. "Why not leave it up to the local authorities. I don't claim to be a saint, Miss Lopez-"
"Santana," the darker girl interjected, Rachel letting a laugh escape those lips.
"But it just seems like too much of an unnecessary risk to me."
"Money," Santana answered honestly. "Plus, it's sort of a family business."
Her fingers had reached the hem of Rachel's thin dressing gown, Santana watching those eyes for any sign of rebuttal. When she didn't receive any, she continued her path higher until her fingertips met with soft lace, Rachel's arms moving up to wrap around her neck. Santana could still hear the sound of slow jazz coming from the record player to her left as Rachel let out a breath, leaning further into her touch.
"It all just sounds like toy planes and adult games to me," Rachel said wistfully. Santana smiled at her words, before dragging her hands back down tanned thighs, eliciting a faint whimper. The sound drowned out the music that filled the room. Santana edged closer until there were only inches separating them, being able to catch the scent of aged scotch on her breath.
"You might be right," Santana whispered before closing the remaining inches and brushing her lips softly over Rachel's full ones. They melted against hers, her eyes closing momentarily. The warmth inside her chest flared, completely drowning out the familiar tightness that had been there for the past several months. It had her moving her hands back up Rachel's legs and up to her small waist, where they gripped her hips gently through the dark silk. Small fingers dug into the soft skin of her jaw, Rachel moaning lightly into Santana's open mouth.
Just as she felt hands tug at her black jacket, a loud crack had both girls breaking the kiss and turning toward the dressing room door. Santana pulled away, crossing the room in only a few short steps and throwing it open. Artificial light spread down the dark empty hallway, Santana peering uselessly into the shadows. She was about to step back from the doorway when her eyes hit the floor, noticing an abandoned waitressing tray at her feet. Santana lifted her gaze back to the hall. Distant chatter was still able to be heard from the ballroom, laughter and the clinking of glasses echoing down the narrow passage. With one last look, Santana shook her head dismissively and locked the door behind her.
The man had always had a low, rumbling voice, but it was one of the most calming sounds Santana had ever known. When she was a young girl hiding beneath her sheets during a thunder storm, it would only take a few assuring words from her father to have all her worries floating away. He was her security blanket where others would have materialistic things for comfort. That was just who he was to her. And looking across the table at him, she'd felt that same sense of security.
"Santana, pass your father the salt, would you?" he'd said, momentarily breaking their dinnertime discussion.
With a small grin, she'd grabbed the porcelain shaker in front of her and handed it to the taller man at the head of the table, his dark combed back hair falling in his kind eyes. He'd shot her a wide smile as Santana took a sliver of roast lamb. As she chewed, the light beyond the dense tree line had slowly drained, spreading an orange glow across their estate's green lawns. It was beautiful when the sun went down, the crickets and night birds coming out in abundance, her father often choosing to serve their dinner outside on nights like that night.
"Burt Hummel came by earlier," he'd mentioned off-hand, bringing a forkful of potato to his mouth.
"How's his heart?" Meribel had asked in conversation.
"He's going to be fine."
"Thanks to you," she'd cooed, reaching over and squeezing his hand affectionately.
Santana had watched her parents that night with a smile. The love that they'd had for each other was always something she'd taken for granted. And it wasn't until the piercing crack had rung out into the night sky and her father had slumped forward that she realized what she could lose in the blink of an eye, or the simple pull of a trigger.
"Santana?" came Puck's voice, breaking her away from the all too vivid memory.
"I was just asking if you think St. James got the message," Puck repeated in a wary tone.
They were sitting across from each other in her father's old office, the worn leather and mahogany still smelling of him. Like tobacco and aftershave. Santana guessed that's why she liked to spend time in here, reading or just sitting back in the large armchair and closing her eyes. It was almost as if he was still there with her, the same sense of security and calm washing over her.
"To be honest, he seemed more threatened by my actions than my words," she told him after a silent moment, her thoughts going back that dressing room and that kiss.
"You wouldn't be talking about a certain petite brunette, would you?"
Santana just smirked in response, her mind still on the girl. Puck chuckled at her smug expression as he took a small puff of his cigarette. The two of them had grown up together, back when everything was simple and innocent. Santana's mother had practically raised him as her own when his father walked out on him. So while Santana's lifestyle wasn't widely known, there was never any judgment from his part on the way she chose to live her life. She was Santana, and as long as that was still true then he didn't care for the rest of it.
"Noah," a commanding voice chimed from behind them, both switching their gaze to the study door.
"Mrs. Lopez," he returned politely, before getting to his feet and promptly leaving the room.
"Mother," Santana bit back as Puck closed the door behind him. Meribel didn't say a word, her lips pursed and her eyes holding a disapproving stare to them. Santana merely rolled her own, catching on that she must've caught wind of her impromptu meeting the night before. "Look, if you're here to lecture me again you can save it," Santana retorted before she could scold her with her words too.
"Don't you dare speak to your mother in that tone. I brought you up better than that," she snapped at her only daughter. "Your father brought you up better."
"This isn't how a young lady should behave, Santana," Meribel continued, ignoring her objection.
"My father left me with no choice. And the person that took him from us," Santana accosted, feeling like she'd had this same conversation a hundred times. "I didn't choose this life."
"None of this business is going to bring him back, mija," she implored, taking a step closer to the desk. "And I've told you that your uncle is more than capable and willing to take over-"
"Sorry to interrupt, Mrs. Lopez," Puck apologized from the door, before eyeing Santana. "But Kurt's here."
Meribel spun back to face her daughter, that disapproving light not leaving her eyes. She knew why the boy was here. She knew what they would talk about. Her mother had never accepted Santana putting Burt's son in harm's way. Burt and her husband had grown close during his treatment, so to see Santana use Kurt for her own gain wasn't something she would ever condone.
"Thank you," Santana sighed wearily. "Let him in."
Her mother shot her one last stern look, before turning for the door. Santana knew what it meant. It was always the same one she received from her when she went searching for answers, and Santana had grown tired of it. She never understood why her mother never sought closure from her husband's death. But she didn't dare broach the subject with her.
Meribel passed Kurt as he came around the corner, brushing his shoulder affectionately. He offered her a sad smile, before both she and Puck left them alone, closing the study door behind them. With an uneasy breath, the boy made his way over to the armchair Puck had just vacated and carefully took his seat.
"Kurt," she smiled weakly. "What brings you here so late, other than the sheer pleasure of my company?"
Kurt attempted a chuckle at her teasing, but it fell flat. Santana cocked a curious eyebrow at his sudden melancholy expression. It was unusual for the boy to be in such low spirits. She hadn't seen him this way since his father's heart attack.
"What is it?"
"I feel like I should be going to the police with this, but under the circumstances I think you need it more than they do."
"What are you talking about?" Santana asked, suddenly nervous of where this was heading.
Over the past year she'd had Kurt keep tabs on the St. James', making sure they steered clear of her family, so the boy would only come to her when he had information on their movements and dealings. But usually he would be more chipper with sharing his findings, often laughing at Jesse's expense. As her mind raced with stray thoughts, Santana's stomach began to sink uncomfortably at his down turned lips.
"The other night I was over at Sebastian's apartment," Kurt explained. "And while he was in the shower I went through his bedside drawers. I was trying to find some matches, save me going into the kitchen to use the stove."
"And," he annunciated careful. "I found this under some of his socks at back of one the drawers."
He reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a small wooden box no wider than a hip flask. It was worn, and the polished lacquered surface had faded in patches. Kurt placed it on the desk between them and edged it forward for Santana to take. She looked at it cautiously, then back up to scared blue eyes. Chewing nervously at her bottom lip, she made a grab for the box and flipped open the lid.
"What is this?" she questioned, though she meant it more rhetorical. She could see clearly for herself what was inside.
With a shaky breath, she began to lift out small crinkled photographs. They were of men and women, some bound at the hands, while others were seemingly lifeless. But they were all of people Santana knew to be dead, all within the past few years. Stray bullet casings littered the tiny box, along with a single lock of hair that Santana tried to avoid touching.
"It seems Sebastian likes to keep trophies of sorts," Kurt mused, his voice tight. Santana continued to flip through its contents until a yellowing piece of paper caught her eye, her skin turning cold.
"Is this?" Santana choked, brushing her fingers over the faded newspaper clipping. There was no headline or description, but Santana wouldn't have needed it. She would've been able to recognize the photo either way. It was the one that rested just beside her bed down the hall. And it was the same one given to the local news when her father was killed.
She gripped it tightly between her fingers and gritted her teeth as the tightness twisted painfully in her already aching chest. Silent tears had begun spilling down her cheeks, Santana drawing her own conclusions. She did her best to wipe them away with the back of her hand, save Kurt seeing them. But it was no use. So she let them fall, the boy noticing her obvious distress.
"I'm so sorry, Santana," he said in a rush, leaning forward in his chair. "I'm not suggesting that he was the one to-"
"You can leave now, Kurt."
"Just go," she breathed. "Please."
She didn't look up at him as he reluctantly got to his feet, her eyes trained on the wooden box still in her hands and on the yellowing news clipping of her father. Santana's throat continued to constrict as Kurt neared the office door, the boy sighing audibly and reaching for the brass handle.
"You were right about one thing, Kurt."
"And what's that?" he murmured, turning to face her.
"You should have taken this to the police."
Santana made her way through the crowded club, heading for the back exit. Women in glamorous gowns and men in black and white tuxes and pinstripe suits parted like the Red Sea when they saw her approaching. Karofsky was at her side, the man's gaze flicking cautiously around the large ballroom. Santana could see the band setting up to her right as she neared the door, the pianist and drummer taking their seats amongst the other musicians. It was just closing in on half past eight, the singer due on stage any minute.
Santana wasn't entirely sure why she was here of all places. She could think of several other appropriate avenues rather than the one she was currently taking. But as soon as Kurt had left her, she'd found herself on her feet and calling for her car. And on the way over she tried to convince herself to just turn around and go home, or even just going straight to the police. But the tightness in her chest kept her lips sealed and her driver's foot on the gas.
She reached the dark narrow corridor from the night before, a waitress catching sight of her and spinning around on her way out of the kitchen. "You can't be back here, Miss," the redhead exclaimed.
Santana ignored her, Karofsky ushering her off before turning around to stand watch. She left him to his own devices and kept on walking down the hall, passing Quinn along the way. The girl faltered when they locked eyes briefly, a nervous flush coloring her pale cheeks. She cleared her throat awkwardly before continuing on toward the bar area out front. Santana just shook her head, somewhat confused and crossed the last few feet to the dressing room door. She didn't bother knocking, turning the metal knob and entering unannounced.
Rachel appeared to have just finished pulling on her black stockings under a beautiful emerald green dress when she turned at the sound of the lock clicking into place.
"Santana?" she said in slight shock. "Hi."
"Where is he?"
"Who?" Rachel asked in confusion, leaning her back against the dresser.
"Sebastian," Santana snapped. "I know you know where he is."
Recognition flashed over those dark brown eyes at her words, Santana staring back at her with an icy glare. Rachel bit her bottom lip gently before sighing audibly, "You found out, didn't you?"
Santana's heart stopped, not wanting to believe it. Not wanting to believe that the girl before had known all this time and didn't tell her, or at the very least come forward about it. Given, she hadn't known her for all that long, but it didn't make the shock any less painful to bear.
"So, it's true?" Santana choked.
Rachel dropped her gaze solemnly, unable to look at her anymore. Santana took measured breathes, trying to control her anger. But her hands had sought out the small crystal vase on the table beside her, grabbing blindly at its base and throwing it at the opposite wall. It smashed on impact, shattering shards of glass across the floor. Rachel flinched and looked back up at the jarring sound but stayed silent, her tiny chest heaving visibly beneath her dress. Santana calmed somewhat at the scared expression lighting her slight features. She crossed the room in three short strides, pinning Rachel against the long dressing table.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Santana questioned, her voice strained. "-or at least told the police."
"I couldn't," Rachel pleaded. "I was scared. If Jesse-"
"If Jesse nothing, I could have protected you," Santana objected before she could finish. Rachel smiled sadly at her, reaching up a hand and brushing her fingers along Santana's jaw. The darker girl leaned into the touch, her eyes half closing at the calming feeling.
"You really would have risked it all for a girl you barely even know?" she murmured.
Santana wanted to say it, but she held her tongue, settling instead for running her hands up her thighs and resting them on her hips. Rachel pulled further into her, moving her own hands down Santana's neck and down to the lapels of her dark jacket.
"Please tell me where he is."
"Why don't you know already, why come to me?" Rachel asked. "You have countless men at your disposal that could tell you, or tail him. Even Kurt."
Santana's mouth popped open at hearing the boy's name, her mind racing at how she could have possibly known about her arrangement with him. But she digressed after a moment. Clearly Rachel knew a lot more about her family than she gave her credit for.
"I don't know, maybe I just wanted to see you again," Santana said truthfully, before lowering her gaze. "And I guess I trust you."
Rachel let out a labored breath gripping her collar in her tiny fists. She seemed to decide something, pursing her lips in slight contemplation. Santana moved even closer to her, the girl's legs parting around her hips. The hem of her dress rode up her thighs, the tip of her dark stockings showing just enough of her perfect tanned skin.
A minute or two passed before Rachel loosened her grip on Santana's suit jacket and looked sadly back up at her. "He'll be at my mother's gentlemen's club on the main strip tomorrow night. He's booked a private room," Rachel told her in a quiet voice. "Do you know it?"
The hint of a smirk came across Santana's lips at her words. In a town this small it was hard to come across somewhere that her family hadn't touched, and Shelby Corcoran's club was no exception.
"Yeah, I know it," Santana nodded, before starting to pull away. But Rachel grabbed a hold of her arms, preventing her from going too far.
"What are you going to do?"
Santana didn't answer her, partly because she didn't have the heart to lie to her, and the other because she was scared to admit it even to herself. Rachel picked up on her wordless admission, tightening her hold and pulling her back into her embrace.
"Santana, just go to the police, you don't have to go through with this," Rachel implored, bringing her hands back up to her jaw and forcing her to look into those perfect eyes. Santana just stared back into them with an unreadable expression on her face.
"I'll come back for you," she promised, leaning into her and kissing those lips fiercely. Rachel pushed back just as hard, her fingers burning a trail down the bare skin of her neck. Santana tried not to let her tears fall, feeling the telling sting in corner of her eyes. Savoring the last few seconds, she tore her lips away and made her leave without looking back.
"So what, you're just going to storm the place?"
Santana was pushing the last bullet into her clip when Karofsky spoke up. She continued to lock it into the chamber of the Colt and place it on the desk in front of her before looking up at him. "I'm planning to have a bit more tact than that, but in theory, yes."
His brow furrowed. Santana could tell he had reservations with the idea of confronting Sebastian. But the man didn't voice them, instead pacing over the other side of the study with his arms folded across his wide chest. Puck was also looking skeptical as he sat opposite her in one of the two leather armchairs, his fingers worrying against his jaw, deep in thought. The other two men, Sam and Mike, lounged by the door silently, though their nervous expressions said that they were just as concerned.
"Look, I understand if I'm alone in this, so I'm going to give all four of you the chance to back away now," Santana told them, though she hoped she didn't have to go through this on her own. "I won't hold it against you."
Puck looked up at this, his hand dropping from his face. With a sad smile, he begun to shake his head, "I might think this is just about the most reckless and stupid thing you've ever done, but I promised your father a long time ago that I would never leave you. You're stuck with me, Lopez."
"Yeah," Sam agreed from the door, the other two nodding, Kurofsky with a little more reluctance.
Santana nodded as well rather shakily, her hand going for the drink that sat beside her father's now loaded handgun. She took a tentative sip, her mind going over the plan once again. A part of her wished Kurt had just gone to the police. She would have hated him for it, but she wouldn't be planning to do what she was if he had. Smythe would potentially be behind bars and out of her reach. She would be safe. She wouldn't have stayed up all the night fighting with herself on whether to just hand the box over to the authorities and let them handle it, or if what she had eventually decided on was the thing that was going to take away the tightness she had lived with since that day on her back porch.
"Santana, what do you think you're doing?"
All five sets of eyes shot to the now open study door. Meribel was standing with her brow knitted in confusion and her fingers gripping the tarnished handle. Her gaze settled on the tiny wooden box and then to her husband's gun, her eyes going wide.
"Oh, no you don't. This is foolish," she scolded, stepping further into the already crowded office. "Your father wouldn't have wanted this for you, any of you."
"Mom, just walk away," Santana stated as calmly as she could.
"No, I forbid you to do this," she exclaimed.
"I'm not your little girl anymore."
"As long as you're living under my roof you are."
Santana dropped her gaze to the desk, her chest heaving angrily. Her throat was tight. If her mother kept talking, she might just convince her to walk away. But she needed this. She needed the closure that only looking the man in the eye would do. That only hearing the truth from his toxic lips could offer. So with her head still hung low, she sighed heavily and gripped the cool metal of the gun between her fingers.
The man rose to his feet and wordlessly approached the shorter woman, her lips still pursed in a hard line. Meribel looked him up and down in slight shock.
"Noah," she warned lowly.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Lopez," he apologized sincerely, before grabbing her by the arm and escorting her out of the room. She shook him off as they neared the door. With one last look at her daughter, Meribel slammed it shut behind her. Santana flinched as it cracked loudly against the jam, the other four standing up straighter than before. Santana straightened as well, swallowing thickly and slipping the gun into her belt.
Santana still remembered the first time that she saw Rachel. The first time she heard that voice, and looked into those perfect dark eyes. It was late, and she and Puck were sitting at their usual table as people merged onto the dance floor. She'd sipped at her drink and watched as men with greased back hair and wide neck ties spun their partners, leading them around the floor. It was an elaborate waltz in time to that heavenly voice. And as soon as it had reached her ears, she'd turned in her chair, seeking out its owner. Then when her eyes met Rachel's through the crowd, that warmth had slowly crept into her chest, eliminating the ache that once resided there.
She'd stared at her from across the room, the girl holding her gaze for a long moment. That smile had edged its way onto her full lips as she continued to sing the softest of melodies. And even now as Santana sat in the back seat of her Chrysler with cold metal pressing against her abdomen, her mind still went back to that night and the ones that soon followed. She couldn't shake her, or her parting words from the day before. They rung in Santana's ears, pleading with her not to go through with it. To not leave her. But Santana did her best to shut them out as the car's engine rumbled lowly beneath her feet and up through the leather seats.
Puck was next to her with Kurofsky further to his left, her best friend's eyes hardened and unreadable. He was gazing out at the darkened street, an overhead lamp flickering and spreading broken light across the faded asphalt. Mike was behind the wheel, his hands tightening and then relaxing with every silent minute that passed with Sam in the passenger side playing nervously with a small knife, flipping the concealed blade in and out rhythmically.
But Santana's eyes were on the entrance to the club, waiting for the first sign of the girl that had entered not fifteen minutes before. Seeing Rachel again, especially when Sebastian was somewhere behind those closed doors, had Santana abnormally anxious. When she'd come by the car window moments earlier, she'd insisted that Santana waited until she got back before entering the club. It had been a quarter of an hour and there was still no sign of the brunette. So with silence came the irrational worrying, Santana chewing on her bottom lip, her eyes not leaving the double doors across the street.
"Something's gotta be up," Sam voiced from the front seat, the clicking of his metal knife filling the silence. But no sooner had the words left his mouth when Rachel appeared outside the doors and edged her way out onto the damp sidewalk.
The red neon sign above her head tainted her skin and caught in her eyes as she hailed a passing cab, the driver pulling to the curb. She wrapped her coat tighter around her against the chill and popped open the side door. Before she could duck inside out of cold, she met Santana's intense gaze across the wide main road, giving her a small nod. After a lingering glance, the girl hopped in the waiting taxi and pulled out onto the unusually quiet street.
Santana watched Rachel go until the red taillights faded in the distance, the car disappearing into the low mist that had settled over the main strip of town. "Let's go," Santana instructed in a flat voice, before addressing Mike. "Keep it running, we won't be long."
The four exited the black Chrysler and crossed the street without a word. Their heels echoed off the surrounding buildings and mixed with the rumbling of the car's engine. A couple was crossing in the opposite direction, their laughter filling the night air. But Santana didn't take any notice, nearing the front entrance and slipping inside. The distant sound of horns and local traffic were cut short when the heavy doors closed behind them.
It was dark inside the gentlemen's club, cigarette and cigar smoke floating low over their heads in thick clouds. Chandeliers hung from the ceiling, throwing a soft glow over the rather seedy establishment. They could hear slow jazz playing from an unknown source as the four of them made their way through the small crowd. The walls and surrounding couches were velvet red, the narrow passages and small open spaces disorientating. The club might have been under Santana's protection, but in no way was it familiar.
A few women came up beside them, running lazy fingers along each of the boys' chests and winking at them suggestively. Santana scowled, dismissing them with just a look, the ladies hurrying off in the other direction. Spotting a discreet sign on the wall, Santana veered to the right and down a short hall. Several doors lined the walls, all marked with gold numbers. The music from the main area began to fade as they edged closer to the private rooms. Santana looked between the five doors that lead off from the hallway, all of them closed and seemingly identical.
"Shit," she muttered under her breath.
"Santana," Sam called from the other end of the hall, the girl turning on her heel to face him. He was holding up what appear to be a small wooden plane tied to one of the doorknobs.
Santana smirked at the miniature toy, causing Sam to quirk a confused eyebrow at her. She simply shook her head dismissively and strode over to the door, before unhooking the tiny plane from the handle. Kurofsky and Puck trailed closely behind her, the girl stepping back after a moment and giving them a short nod.
Puck returned the gesture and took in a steadying breath, before slamming his shoulder hard against the door, the wood splintering off its hinges and swinging wide. She heard a low scream from inside just as a man pushed past them and took off down the hall, his open shirt fluttering out behind him. The other two took little notice, rushing in and grabbing Sebastian by the arms from where he sat stunned on a wooden chair just inside the room. The taller man grunted in protest, struggling against their strong grip to no avail, his eyes drawing up to Santana as she walked into the room. He chuckled lowly as she sat down at the table opposite, Sam shutting the broken door as best he could and standing watch outside.
The room was dark with the same red as the rest of the club, but somehow it seemed more sinister and cold. Sebastian was still smiling sadistically up at her, his shirt and pants discarded on a nearby double bed. Santana leant back in the wooden chair, noticing thick silk ties around his bare ankles, keeping him seated. "Kinky," Santana quipped.
"What the hell do you want?" Sebastian retorted. "I'm little busy."
Santana set her jaw at his sheer arrogance and retrieved the small box from her suit pocket. She placed it down on the table for him to see, watching him as recognition passed across his face.
"Oh," he mouthed, that infuriating smile still on his thin lips. It got right under her skin, anger spreading down her arms and across to her chest. But Santana swallowed it back, removing her father's gun from her belt and cocking it, before placing it on top of the box as well.
When she looked back at him, she could see actual fear in his eyes, the man sitting up straighter than before. "It wasn't personal," he reasoned. "It was just business."
"Business?" Santana spat.
Without a second thought, she launched out of her chair, pulling a knife from her pocket. She crossed the room in two short strides and grabbed him roughly by his short hair and yanked his head back. He groaned lowly as she held the sharp tip to his neck. Kurosky and Puck kept their hold on his arms, both keeping their mouths shut and their eyes on the carpeted floor.
"Easy," he intoned, pulling back as far as her grip would allow.
"I should just tie you up and drop you in the Ottawa River," Santana hissed. "Leave you to drown."
She twisted her fist full of hair and wrenched it back harshly, the man crying out in pain. Letting her grip go, Santana returned to the small table, her back to a now seething Sebastian. She was shaking, her emotions getting the better of her. She didn't know what she expected to gain from confronting the man. Was she after answers, or did she just want to inflict the same pain he had caused her. But whatever the reason, standing before him now didn't feel anywhere near as satisfying as she thought it would. It felt wrong.
"Jesse was the one to give the order. A shot like that," Sebastian told her with a shake of his head. "-not my style."
"And when Jesse says jump, you say how high, right?" Santana shot back at him, her lips turning up in disgust. "You're pathetic."
"Like I said, not my style," he shrugged in nonchalance. "If it was me, I would've gone after your mother first." Santana spun around at his menacing words, her stomach churning and her hand gripping the knife tighter. "And then you," he grinned manically. "Then I would have taken enjoyment out of watching your father suffer."
Santana couldn't listen to anymore. Making a grab for the gun, she turned and put it to his head. Sebastian only laughed harder as she moved it to his left temple, trying her best to stop her hand from shaking. She could feel her eyes brimming with angry tears, ones she was quick to blink away. "And I would've gotten a lot more than a newspaper clipping, that's for sure."
She felt the trigger move ever so slightly beneath her forefinger. It would so easy just to pull it. All the pain and heartache would all fade if she just squeezed a little tighter. People like Sebastian didn't deserve to live when ones like her father never got the choice. She'd be doing the world a favor. But as she pushed the metal tip harder into his hairline and as his eyes narrowed, Santana heard those pleading words as if Rachel was in the room with her. And then suddenly the wooden toy in her pocket felt like it was made of lead.
This was wrong.
Santana took in measured breaths around the lump in her throat that the thought of the girl brought. Her eyes closed momentarily and the weight of the gun only got heavier. She was just about to lower her aim when that laughter met her ears again, making her skin crawl.
"You're not gonna do it."
Setting her jaw once more, Santana swung her right arm low, her knife lodging just beneath his ribcage with a sickening crack. She leant forward into him, Sebastian choking for breath. "Try not to take it personal, it's just business," Santana whispered brokenly in his ear. "I'm sure you understand."
She let go of the pocketknife and backed away across the room. She stared dejectedly at him as he slumped forward in the chair, his chest still heaving. Her own breath was coming out in short bursts, her adrenaline wearing thin as the weight of what she had just done began to hit her. Puck moved his gaze up to meet hers, Santana nodding shakily at him. Without a word, the man grabbed the small handle and twisted. Sebastian groaned as Puck pulled up sharply, the blade snapping off at the base.
"Santana, we need to go-"
Sam's voice had barely reached her ears when the three of them turned to see a stern woman standing in the doorway. Puck and Kurofsky let Sebastian slump forward where he sat just as the club owner sauntered into the room. Her face was unreadable as her eyes surveyed the room. They looked from Santana, to the gun still in her hand, and then to the tall man still struggling for air. People like Jesse may know that it wasn't wise to cross Santana, but Shelby Corcoran wrote the book on it. She was a hard woman, and no one in this town dared come up against her.
Shelby walked further into the room, her black floor length gown dragging across the red carpet. Santana stepped back, the woman running her hand over the small wooden box still on the table and flipping the lid.
"Noah," she stated, holding her hand out behind her without turning around.
Santana watched as he moved forward and placed the broken knife in her waiting palm. She closed her fingers around it, her other hand sifting through the photos and stray news clippings. "You should go," she said in an eerily calm voice, not looking up from the box. "I'll make sure he gets to the authorities."
None of them dared argue, backing their way slowly out of the room. The three men made a break down the hall as soon as they reached the door. But Santana stopped, her hand gripping the splintered wood frame, still shaken and slightly dazed.
"Say hi to your mother for me," Shelby called over her shoulder. Santana didn't respond, turning back to the doorway and taking off down the hall.
"You do know that this could very well start a war, Santana," Kurofsky muttered, his eyes trying to seek out hers. But she just sat in complete silence across from him, the brunette not even having the energy to look up from her drink. She just stared at the slowly melting ice cubes in her glass, not saying a word.
The other four were seated around the table at a crowded Schuester's, all nursing their own scotch with their minds deep in thought. It was getting late, though large groups of friends still gathered at the bar, all joking amongst one another. William was chatting with one of his staff near the kitchen, looking up every so often at them from across the room. He was yet to approach them, but the look on Santana's face seemed enough to keep him at a distance.
The girl was completely lost. She'd never thought she was capable of truly hurting someone like that. But her hands could still feel the knife and the smooth ridges of the handle, and her body just felt numb. Her father had always brought her up to never be afraid and to stand up for what she believed was right. But this wasn't right. It was the furthest thing from it. With a heavy sigh, she brought her drink up to her aching head, letting the condensation cool her heated skin.
"If Jesse knows what's good for him he'll stay away," she mumbled.
The others were slightly startled by her flat voice, but Mike was the first to respond, "But do you really think he'd do that?"
Santana just shrugged helplessly. She honestly didn't know what to think at this point. They were all looking to her for answers that she didn't have, ones she knew she never would. A part of her just wanted to go back, before tonight. She just wanted go back so she could listen to Rachel's urging words and actually heed them. She just wished she'd stayed in that dressing room with her and tried to forget what Kurt had shown her. She just wanted to forget, even if it was only for a moment , about how screwed up her life had gotten in the past forty eight hours. But she knew she never could, so her mind strayed to the last sip of her drink and to her cigarette that was slowly dying in the glass ashtray in front of her.
She was just about to bring the last drop to her lips when her eyes caught sight of Quinn at the next table over. She quickly dug into the inside pocket of her suit for a pen and began scribbling on a nearby napkin. The waitress looked up just as Santana finished, the darker girl motioning to her.
"Yes, Miss Lopez?" Quinn asked in a polite tone.
"Could you give this to Miss Berry, please?"
Quinn looked down at Santana's outstretched hand and then back up to met her gaze. There was a slight sadness to her hazel eyes as she reached for the white folded napkin. Their fingers brushed gently, Quinn biting at her lip and nodding in understanding.
"Thank you," Santana murmured softly.
"My pleasure," she inclined, before walking off backstage, Santana staring after her until she disappeared through the crowd.
The cool midnight air seeped through a crack in the open window, sending a chill into the boxy apartment that sat just off the main strip. Santana was propped up on her elbow as blue moonlight shone across bare skin, her long fingers tracing small patterns over Rachel's stomach. She could feel the slight goose bumps beneath her fingertips, the girl beside her staring at her wandering hand.
"Are you okay?"
"No," Santana answered truthfully. "But I will be."
She continued her ministrations, moving lower and circling her navel, brushing over the tiny hairs that stood up on end. Her motions sent a small shiver up Rachel's back, Santana smirking in slight amusement. Being around her was calming. Santana felt she could just close her eyes and be. She felt safe, like nothing outside the four walls could hurt them. Time stood still for her, and it was what she needed after everything that had happened. She needed simple.
"Do you know what you're going to do?" Rachel asked, her hand finding Santana's on her stomach. "If Sebastian's still alive, it's only a matter of time before he starts talking, and then Jesse will be after you."
"I'm not scared of him," Santana said, her gaze not quiet meeting Rachel's.
"Well then I'll be scared for you."
Rachel's eyes were glassy in the low light, Santana smiling sadly and edging closer to her on the mattress. Reaching out her other hand, she brushed a finger along her jaw, Rachel leaning into the soft touch. She didn't want her to have to worry, but she had no words that would comfort her right now, at least none that were the truth. And it was already clear that lying to her wasn't something she was prepared to or even capable of doing. So instead, Santana brought her lips to Rachel's, kissing her slowly and lovingly until she could feel the girl pulling away.
"I'm serious," she whispered against her mouth.
"I never chose this life, Rachel. It was always just something I tried to convince myself my father would've wanted for me. It's been nearly a year and I'm still not convinced."
"It's just toy planes, Santana," Rachel smiled, running a hand across the girl's cheek. Santana laughed breathily and placed a light kiss to her palm. "You may have been forced into this life, but it's never too late to choose a different one."
Santana knew she was right. Even her father had his medical practice whenever he needed to escape the side dealings and constant threats that came with the family business. That part of his life really was just an adult game that he eventually ended up losing, and so would she if she stayed. Walking away from it all had always been an option, but her tendency to not let things go had kept her there. But now nothing was really holding her to this town, and somehow it no longer felt like it fit. It was like a distant stranger with only vague memories of normal.
"If I asked you to run away with me," Santana began in a quiet voice. "Would you?"
Rachel was silent for a moment, just looking into her eyes. Santana knew it was reckless and maybe even foolish, but she couldn't stay. And the thought of leaving without her, even though she'd only know her a few short weeks, was something she couldn't quite bring herself to imagine.
"Where would we go?" Rachel finally asked, the hint of a smile on those perfect lips. Santana smiled lazily back at her and leant back down to meet them in another soft kiss.
"Anywhere, my love…"