soooooo... happy one year and two days anniversary since i last updated this. i've no excuses except that the body was willing but the spirit was weak.

many, MANY thanks to bee and liz for their help and cheerleading.

oh, i should also mention i've gone back and edited the first three parts. there's a somewhat substantive change in part 3, in terms of ~feelings towards the end of the part.

...

They fall into a new routine so easily that Rachel blinks and Kurt's been gone for a month.

Can you get mustard, Santana will text her—or anchovies, or a tub of peanut butter, or one time it was three tomatoes that are still a little green—and Rachel will grab them from the Whole Foods at Union Square on her way home from the summer dance class she signed up to once she realized there was a possibility she'd have Cassandra July for dance again next year.

Santana makes dinner whenever she's home in the evenings, which is every night except Mondays and Wednesdays when she has a shift at Starbucks and whenever she goes out, in which case Rachel's with her anyway. Rachel started out helping, but even as an assistant she still manages to almost burn the apartment down. Now she's allowed to sit in the kitchen and watch, and the closest Santana allows her to the food is when she offers Rachel a taste.

She picks up bell peppers tonight, which probably means something from Santana's book of her mom's recipes, and she's practically drooling the entire train home at the possibility. She honestly doesn't know what she's going to do when they stop living together.

"What are you making?" she asks as soon as she's through the door, finding Santana leaning over a pot of something on the stove, hair tied up in a scarf that Rachel thinks came from Kurt's closet.

"Surprise," Santana says, taking the grocery bag from Rachel. "But tell me what you think."

She dips the spoon into the simmering pot and holds it out for Rachel to sip from, and Rachel can accept not knowing what it is because whatever it is tastes amazing.

"Good?" Santana asks and then takes a sip herself, and Rachel watches as Santana's tongue darts out to chase a drop as it trickles down the spoon's handle and onto her fingers, letting out a hum of pleasure when she catches it.

The whole thing is obscene, and Rachel stares, breath leaving her as the image of Santana doing that in a completely different context floods her mind, which is, uh—

"I'm going to take a shower," she says hurriedly, and flees, tossing a distracted, "it tastes great," over her shoulder before slamming the bathroom door closed.

She manages to pull herself together, and the evening continues as it would on any other night when Rachel hasn't imagined her roommate doing, um, things.

It's a Tuesday, so Santana's picked what they're watching, because they don't thumb wrestle for it anymore—not since Rachel's thumb was almost broken that time a rerun of My Name is Barbra was on cable at the same time as Stephanie March's return to SVU—and they're both just sitting in their usual places on the couch, drinking the same shitty wine they've been drinking all summer because it's the cheapest bottle at the bodega across the street.

A perfectly normal Tuesday evening.

Except she's sitting there pretending to watch Selena for what would have to be the third time this month—and seriously, if Santana ever makes fun of how often Rachel watches Funny Girl, she's getting a punch in the teeth—because Santana's nodded off, and has spent the last fifteen minutes tilting further and further to the side until right around the time Selena's murdered on screen, at which point she'd slumped completely against Rachel, snuggling into her side.

It's not as though she's never seen Santana sleeping before. They fall asleep on the couch at least once a week—it's practically part of their routine. But she can't help but look up close like this, her face smoothed from it's usual scowl or smirk, the curve of her mouth a little softer. Rachel knows the harsh lines are a very real part of Santana, but this side of her is there, too, and she can't look away, even as Santana shifts in her sleep.

There must be something wrong with her. It must be a week before her period, or she's crossed some threshold since she last had sex, orsomething, because that's the only explanation for the way her entire body throbs with heat just from Santana nuzzling against her chest, her cheek brushing against the top of Rachel's breast.

Her skin is so soft, Rachel kind of just wants to…

"Ungh," Santana groans, and rolls back against the couch to blink groggily at Rachel. "Why didn't you wake me?"

As a modern, single woman she knows how to take care of herself.

So she does. Repeatedly.

After a long and difficult conversation with herself, Rachel comes to the conclusion that…

...she has no idea what's going on with her.

Well, not no idea. A partial idea. A confusing, awkward, partial idea. She maybe, possibly, could potentially have some kind of sexual inclination towards Santana. Even thinking it has her rolling over to bury her face in her pillow, grateful that Santana is at work as she groans in frustration.

It's not the whole female thing of it all that has her in such a flutter. It's not.

It's the fact that, at nineteen, if it was going to happen, surely it would have already happened, right? She's always been open to the possibility, and it's just never been there. But she feels as though her eyes have been opened to new possibilities, or at least Santana-shaped possibilities, and she's not at all sure what to do about it.

So, she's conducting an experiment of sorts.

The McCarren Park pool is— well, it's free, so she puts up with the overwhelming number of people encroaching on her space in exchange for a conveniently located place to escape the heat even for a moment. The cheap little box unit the three of them split the cost on at the start of summer died that morning, and they're going to replace it on the weekend before her parents arrive. Until then it's the pool while Santana's in class, and then the two of them are going to try not to annoy their regular server at the diner while they hang around until it's dark and therefore cooler in the apartment.

And it does offer her an opportunity to attempt to… experiment. It's for science, is what she tells herself, laid out on one of the pool lounges, as her eyes, hidden behind her sunglasses, shift from one person to the next, taking in the different curve of hips and swell of breasts on display.

There's this girl standing at the edge of the pool, and objectively Rachel can see that she's gorgeous. Tall and blonde, with skin the color of coffee the way Kurt drinks it and an even darker bikini that covers basically nothing, Rachel guesses she's close to her age, but she holds herself with a confidence that's impressive.

And all she can think as she takes in the sight of this beautiful woman is, this is wrong, this is wrong, I am so sorry for looking at you like this, this is so, so wrong.

When the girl turns around to talk to someone lounging a few chairs away, Rachel almost blurts out an apology, because not only does she feel like a pervert, but it's not even doing anything for her. She's failing at being a perv! She should probably take some kind of comfort from that, but all it does is annoy her, because she's at a loss for what to do next. She could go out and hook up with some random girl at a club, but she's not comfortable with being honest enough to not be misleading in that situation. There's always prostitutes, which Rachel is fully supportive of in a safe, appropriately compensated, and properly regulated environment, but the whole idea is so unappealing she doesn't think there would be any possibility of achieving the desired outcome.

By the time she meets up with Santana at the diner that night she's worked herself into such an aggravated state, she's not even thinking about the actual, Santana-shaped problem anymore.

"What's wrong?" Santana asks, tucking away the book she was reading as Rachel slips into their regular booth.

"How do you even know something's wrong?" Rachel retorts, her purse taking the full brunt of her aggression as she shoves it to the back of the booth.

"Well, you don't usually commit assault and battery on your personal belongings. But you also have this little tell," Santana says, leaning across the table to brush her thumb across Rachel's brow, tracing along the crease there. "Right here. Now tell Aunty 'Tana what's wrong."

"I can't," she says, firstly because that would be embarrassing as hell, but also because, "I don't know what's..." She hesitates at calling it something wrong. It's not wrong, it's just different and confusing. "...going on," she finishes flatly, trying not to let the knot of tension push her into a bout of tears.

Santana sits in silence for a moment, watching Rachel fidget with her silverware, before she shuffles out of her side of the booth and then back in beside Rachel.

"Whatever it is," she says, her arm slipping around Rachel's shoulder. "Once you're done over-analyzing it to death, and sung at least three songs about it, you'll work it out eventually. Unless it's the IRS, you've probably got time."

She chokes on a laugh, and even as her skin tingles where Santana's rubbing her shoulder, she feels that tension start to unravel. She leans into Santana's side and remembers that, before anything else, this is her friend and everything else is irrelevant.

"You think you know me so well," she says, and Santana twists around to look Rachel in the eye, even as her arm stays around Rachel.

"I know you so well I can tell you right now, if I have to hear whatever soundtrack you've decided fits this situation more than twice, I will smother you with a pillow."

She hasn't even decided if Wicked or Spring Awakening is more appropriate. "Shut up," she huffs, nudging Santana even as she curls further into her side.

"How do you feel about a free dinner at The Dalloway?"

"And hello to you, too, Santana," Rachel says, rolling her eyes at Santana's complete lack of phone manner. She's sitting on the fire escape waiting for her toe nails to dry, but the glass of wine she's had lets her ignore Santana's ever-present rudeness. "How exactly am I getting a free dinner at The Dalloway?"

"Michaela's agent. Something about bumping into someone there to set up a meeting, or something; I don't know. You can finally meet Celia, too." Celia is Michaela's girlfriend who Rachel doesn't actually believe is real, but who Santana adores to the point where Rachel maybe hates a person who might not exist. "The point is, free food and lesbians. I don't even know which part of that sentence I enjoy more," Santana sighs happily. "Just get into something hot and then get over here."

It's just a coincidence that Santana's taking her to the current lesbian hot spot, she decides, because it's not as if she's done anything to give away her current state of sexual upheaval.

"I don't like oysters," Santana says, head bent down to speak quietly against Rachel's ear.

Rachel hisses a distracted, "what?" in Santana's direction, but she thinks the person at the table across from them is Portia de Rossi, and that is definitely not Ellen she's sitting with, and, "Oh my god, Santana, is Portia cheating on Ellen right in front of us?"

"What— That's not Portia. She cut her hair. Here," Santana says, and deposits her two oysters on Rachel's plate. "Don't say I never give you anything."

"Okay, this is a total bust," Michaela says from across the table, and Rachel spares a final look at Not Portia de Rossi before bringing her attention back to the table.

"Let's go meet everyone at Glossy. We're way overdressed, so at least Santana might," Celia says with a dubious look, "actually get some for once."

"I get plenty, thank you very much," Santana says with an indignant toss of her hair, and Michaela snickers violently, choking on her mouthful of cocktail.

"Whe—" Rachel starts to say, because seriously, when?, but Santana's hand covers her mouth, and Rachel's squeal of indignation is how they end up being asked to leave. They walk the handful of blocks to Glossy, and Santana complains the whole way until Celia tells her to shut the fuck up, at which point Rachel decides Celia is her new favorite person for the night.

"You've got your own girl," Santana pouts when Celia takes Rachel by the arm, dragging her, laughing, further down the street.

"Now I've got two!" Celia shouts, and pulls Rachel along behind her when Santana chases after them.

"Sorry we left you behind," she says to Michaela when they're waiting for drinks, but she waves Rachel off.

"Don't worry about it." They stand, waiting, Michaela looking out at the dance floor while Rachel pays for her drink. "She was so serious when she got here; it's good to see Santana having fun." There's a pause, and Michaela's tone changes. "Maybe too much fun."

Rachel follows her line of sight, spotting Santana dancing all up on a tall blonde that could almost pass for Brittany, and she winces until Santana turns, grinning so wide that Rachel sighs in relief. "Yeah," she says, and Michaela eyes her solidly. "Oh, no. Not like that."

She's at a loss for how to explain what's going on in her head, or not, as the case may be, but the bartender delivers their shots, and after they down them Michaela just takes her by the hand and shouts, "Come dance."

'Everyone', like Celia said, is there, and she feels good dancing with this group of women she's come to really like. It's almost a relief, because she'd been concerned, or at least uncomfortably curious, to see if anything would be different in a situation where she knows there could be interest. Not that she thinks that just because someone's bisexual or a lesbian they're going to be interested in her, but they might be! And she thought it might have made a difference.

It hasn't though, and she lets it go.

Or she tries to, until she finds herself dancing with Maria.

Rachel barely even knows her beyond the fact that she's Michaela's friend and that she and Santana had some kind of… thing. Apparently they danced together that night at Le Bain, but Rachel doesn't remember that at all, though apparently Maria does, because she's working against Rachel's body like she knows what she's doing and— oh, the hands on her hips trail up around to press against her back and…

"Oh," she says dazedly, and Maria tilts her head forward, and, "Oh!"

Maria pauses, even as she keeps them both moving to the beat where they're practically fused together at the hips. "What's wrong?"

"I can't make out with you!" Maria givers her a look like she's crazy, and Rachel continues. "You slept with Santana. I'm not making o—"

The way Maria doubles over laughing is unexpected.

"Santana and I never slept together," Maria chokes out through her laughter, and Rachel's surprise must be written all over her face. "Honey, your roommate had a truckload of things going on back then. Not cute."

"Oh," Rachel says dumbly. "I thought you did."

"Well we didn't," Maria says, pulling Rachel in close again. She's incredibly cute, Rachel realizes, and it's weird that she never noticed before now. "It's okay if you don't want me to kiss you. If it wasn't just the Santana thing."

"There is no Santana thing," she says, and lets the arms around her settle more firmly, moving them back into the beat. "There is a— thing, though. Is it okay if I want to do this when I don't know if I want to do this? Wait, I mean." Her words are a jumble and she sighs, trying to gather her thoughts around the music rattling her brain almost as much as this situation.

"If you just want to know," Maria says against Rachel's ear, "that's okay."

It's easier standing as they are, without having to meet her eyes, when she asks, "Really?"

"I'm definitely not going to sleep with you to help you find the answer," Maria laughs, her breath tickling Rachel's neck. "But I like kissing."

She can't believe she's nervous.

The kiss is slow and warm and, like her partner, Rachel also really likes kissing. But she knew that already, and when Maria pulls back Rachel blushes at the appreciative look she receives, presses another kiss against Maria's slightly smudged lipstick. "That was nice," she says, and Maria laughs.

"You're annoyingly cute for a girl who doesn't know if she wants to make out with me."

Rachel shrugs at that, realizing she's known she'd enjoy kissing people, and not just boys, for as long as she's known what kissing was. She likes kissing, and she probably likes everything else with people, too, but she's a little more selective about that, so it'll just have to wait.

"Daddies!" she calls excitedly, meeting them halfway down the stairs.

Her fathers haven't visited since her show. Not that she's visited them either; her interest in returning to Lima has dwindled from zero to whatever is less than zero on that scale. But still, now that they're here, she feels overly-excited to see them and she nearly trips as she practically leaps from the final step to the landing.

"Hi, baby girl," Hiram says, wrapping her in a hug and lifting her off her feet. She squeals at him to put her down, which he does, but his arm stays snug around her and she doesn't protest. She's not embarrassed by how much she misses her parents, even with Santana watching.

"Can I help with your bags, Mister Berrys?" Santana asks from the top of the stairs, and Leroy chuckles.

"You may, if you stop calling us that, Santana."

Santana actually blushes, and Rachel can't help but laugh at how awkward Santana still is around her parents. Santana came to breakfast with them the morning after Rachel's first show, and it's the only time she's actually seen Santana on her best behavior. It was incredibly disturbing.

Her parents are actually staying at the apartment, and it's sent her into a spiral of panic, but she was the one who made the offer in a fit of excitement that they were coming in the first place, and she thinks Leroy only accepted to see what she'd do.

"Oh, challenge accepted," Santana had practically snarled when Rachel told her what was going on. Santana's dad being a colleague-turned-"our daughters live together so we chat in the hallways" friend with Leroy has absolutely nothing to do with it, Rachel's absolutely sure. Somehow this still didn't translate into her helping Rachel to clean the apartment.

"I think if she carries our bags upstairs she can call us whatever she wants," Hiram says, winking at Rachel.

Rachel slaps at his arm. "Dad, be nice."

The two of them reassembled the space that used to be Santana's bedroom before she moved into Kurt's so her parents would have somewhere to sleep, and seeing the living area back like it was is making her nostalgic for something that ended only weeks ago, but then her dad sits on their couch with his feet on the coffee table and it feels like every day when she'd come home from school and they'd watch whatever had been on TCM the night before.

She curls up beside Hiram on the couch, head resting on his shoulder, and tries to remember what it was like to be that little girl whose toughest decision was whether she would marry Ewan McGregor before or after she'd won her first Tony. It's impossible though, and she shifts her legs so Santana can sit down.

...

Hiram makes dinner and she almost cries at the smell of vegan lasagna filling the apartment, even if the heat is making her sweat.

"Santana, what are your plans for next year?" Leroy asks as she and Santana set the table, and Rachel watches her eyeball the back of Leroy's head from where she's standing behind him with a stack of plates in her hand.

"I, um." Santana licks her lip nervously. "I haven't decided yet."

"Are you still thinking about applying to NYADA? Your father mentioned you were, but that you hadn't—"

"Yeah," Santana cuts in quickly. "Yeah, I'm thinking about it. You know, lots of options out there."

Rachel stops in the middle of whatever she was doing—she's holding a pile of napkins, so maybe it was that—and blinks stupidly at Santana, who's looking at her nervously from across the table.

"Yeah?" she asks, smile pulling at her face before she even knows why.

Santana's teeth sink into her lip and she nods, looking frightened and determined all at once, and Rachel's flooded with so much pride she feels like crying. Underneath that, though, is relief that she hadn't harassed Santana about applying yet. She can see on Santana's face that she wants this, and it's not some half-hearted attempt made because of Rachel's cajoling.

"You're gonna get in," Rachel says, coming around the table to pull Santana into a hug. The fear and fight are still there when she pulls back, but Santana finally looks a little pleased, too.

"Okay, hold up!" Santana says, standing a little in her place at the table, leaning against Rachel's shoulder. "So then Rachel goes up to her, and is like, 'If you fail me, I'm going to report you to the school, because I know that was better than a pass.'"'

Her parents are eating up Santana's retelling of her final encounter with Cassandra July, Hiram laughing as much at Rachel's antics as Santana's terrible impression of her, while Leroy just shakes his head even as he grins at her.

"Stop it," she says, slapping Santana's arm and resisting the urge to melt into the floor, because, really, her parents don't need to hear this.

"How do you even know all this?" she asks Santana, standing to gather the plates and put an end to what's turned into an evening of Let's Tell Embarrassing Stories About Rachel. Her dad is already in trouble for telling the story of her second grade Christmas pageant.

"I have my sources," Santana laughs, and Rachel hipchecks her as she gets up to help clear the table. She knows who Santana's sources are, and Jason is in trouble, too, now.

"Who wants the last of the wine?" Rachel asks, knowing it will result in some kind of argument. Her parents "debate" everything, including which one of them will very self-sacrificingly go without a final glass of wine in the evening.

"I can go get another bottle." Santana shuffles behind Rachel to get to the sink, pile of dishes held above their heads. The kitchen's somewhat cramped with four people in it, and she steadies herself with a hand against Rachel's hip as she goes. The touch burns through the material of Rachel's tank, and she nearly drops the glasses in her hands.

"Can you now, young lady?" Leroy says, leaning back in his seat and dragging Rachel's dazed attention away from Santana filling the sink with water.

"No," Santana says quickly, "I mean, I just meant that there's a- a-"

Rachel shakes her head clear, and can't hold back her laughter at Santana's terrified face, because her daddy is obviously just messing with her.

"It's okay, Santana," Leroy says, winking at Rachel. "If you like, I'll walk with you to wherever this mysterious time portal to two years from now is located."

Santana looks at her pleadingly, like she still has no idea if she's in trouble or not, and Rachel nods towards the door, turning her back to parents to mouth, 'he's harmless.' Her daddy doesn't bite, after all, but he likes to pretend.

She finishes clearing away the table as they leave, Hiram whistling 'Everybody Says Don't' from his spot at the table until she joins in while she starts filling the sink.

"She's performing at Barclays Center, you know."

Rachel rolls her eyes; of course she knows Barbra is going to be doing shows nearby. "No, Dad, I had no idea," she says sarcastically. It's like he doesn't even know her anymore.

"She's rubbing off on you," Hiram says after a moment.

"What do you mean?"

"Santana."

"Ah," she says, focusing on the plate she's washing. "She's a very good roommate, which was surprising."

"Sweetie," he says, and she's startled by his voice so close behind her all of a sudden. "Is something going on with you two?"

The idea of her and Santana, as in her and Santana, is so ridiculous she lets out a burst of laughter. Why would he even think that? For one, she wouldn't keep something like that from her parents, and secondly… her and Santana. "Dad, we're just friends."

"Are you sure?" Hiram asks, hand settling on her shoulder.

"I'm sure," she says, looking over her shoulder at him.

There's nothing going on between them; that would be ridiculous. Just because she finds Santana attractive doesn't mean anything. Sometimes she finds Kurt attractive, and okay, sometimes she thinks being his boyfriend would be wonderful, and— okay, anyway, the point is, she doesn't want to date every single person she finds attractive.

"But," she begins slowly. She hadn't planned on bringing this up, but now that the opportunity has presented itself she finds she wants to talk about it. "If I were to, um, date girls, how would you…" She trails off, because Hiram's face is doing that thing it did the day she told her parents she got into NYADA.

"Baby!" he cries excitedly, grabbing her by the arms. "Your father's going to be pissed, he had money on junior year."

"Dad!"

"Okay, okay, but god, why couldn't you have just dated women in high school? At least we wouldn't have had to worry you'd end up pregnant—"

"Dad!"

"Sorry!" Hiram says, letting go of Rachel and raising his hands in surrender. "Yes, of course, I love you, you're my daughter, I'll love you no matter what," he recites, and then pauses to ask seriously, "and nothing's going on with you and Santana?"

She almost wishes there were at this point. "No!"

Hiram wraps her in a hug, rubs her back, and kisses her hair, and for a moment she does feel like the child she'd wished to feel like earlier. It's not as comforting as she thought it would be, but she leans into the touch anyway, soaking the affection in.

"Okay, baby girl. You know best." He goes back to his seat. "Besides, she seems like she'd be a lot to handle."

Whatever nostalgic feelings of childhood she was reliving evaporate at that, and she struggles not to choke on her own tongue. Where are Santana and her daddy with the wine, because she really needs to not remember her dad possibly implying Santana would be good in bed, and she's going to need to start working on that now.

"What should I wear for this audition on Friday?" Santana asks from her side of the apartment.

Rachel rolls her eyes; they've had some variation of this conversation four times now, and she still doesn't understand why Santana's even going on the audition. It's a week until her NYADA audition, and if she gets this, she'll just have to drop out, because classes start in a month and Santana won't have time for the supporting role she's trying out for.

"You're not going to that audition. It's just rude when you can't take the role." She makes a mark on the script she's studying-Ibsen, NYADA's play production for the fall semester-before glancing over the top of it.

"You don't know that; I haven't gotten in yet. I haven't even auditioned yet." Santana appears at the gap between her sheets, holding up two dresses that are equally inappropriate. "But a shitty Off-Off-Off-Broadway part as a stripper? Shoe in!"

"Neither of those," Rachel says dismissively. "And when did you become such an optimist?"

"Excuse you, rude, I've always been a positive ray of sunshine."

"I must be thinking of some other Santana that I knew in highschool," Rachel says to herself, Santana having disappeared back into her room.

It's quiet again and then Santana returns, no clothes in hand this time.

"Can I ask you something?"

Rachel drops her script on her stomach, sitting up because Santana sounds serious. "Sure."

"Do you think I'm wasting my time?" she asks, moving to stand by the couch.

Rachel blinks up at her. "With what?"

"With everything? With acting classes and singing lessons and going on auditions. You don't even go on auditions. Just," she heaves a sigh, dropping onto the couch, "It doesn't feel like I'm getting anywhere. Like this whole year's been a holding pattern until I give in and go to an actual school. And I'm trying to be positive about everything, running myself all over town, but..." she trails off, fidgeting with the sleeve of a ratty old sweatshirt that Rachel swears Santana wears more than she wore her Cheerios uniform in high school.

"Hey," Rachel says, scooting along the couch. "I was just joking."

"I know," Santana nods. "I just—" she blinks, looking at her lap.

Rachel can see she's swallowing tears, and it has her gut twisting in sympathy. "Do you want to know why I don't go on auditions yet?" she asks, biting at her lip. She's not sure what she's going to say yet.

Santana nods, still not looking up.

"I could tell you it's because I'm exhausted from NYADA, and that would be true. But," she says, and is surprised to hear the truth tumble out of her mouth. "Mostly it's because I'm scared."

Santana's eyes dart up. "Really?"

Rachel nods. "Yeah," she says, her heart racing. "At NYADA I'm becoming a big fish again, and I just— I don't want to burst that last bubble yet."

"I had no idea," Santana says after a moment, sitting back against the couch. "You're good at hiding it."

"Maybe," Rachel says, leaning back too, their arms pressing together. "I am a very good actress."

The day before Santana's audition, she gets a text that just says, come to the freshman rehearsal spaces.

Just because she can, she sends back would a please kill you?

PLEASE. is all she gets in reply, and Rachel pulls on a pair of shoes and heads for the subway, she's so shocked that Santana's actually resorted to basic manners.

She finds Santana in the end room, a tiny space with sound-proofing and some basic recording equipment that they're not afraid the freshmen will break. Her back's to the window, bent over some sheet music with a pencil shoved through the messy knot of hair piled on her head, and Rachel watches her for a moment before tapping quietly on the glass.

"That was fast," Santana says when she pulls the door open. "I didn't think you'd be here so quickly."

"Well, you made it sound like an emergency."

"Okay," Santana says, ignoring Rachel's comment, "I um— I wanted to show, um, you—" She pauses, and Rachel takes in the way her hands are flitting about as she she moves about the room, straightening the pile of sheet music, and it dawns on her that Santana's actually nervous.

Although she'd never say it, she realizes Santana's intimidated by her talent. A year ago, knowing this would have had her prancing around like a peacock in full-plume. Now, it makes her heart ache, and not just because Santana has gone back to not even doing vocal warm ups around the apartment.

Rachel sets her wallet and keys on the floor, goes over to where Santana looks like she's about to have a very quiet meltdown and takes both her hands. "Calm down," she says, forcing Santana to meet her eyes. "It's just me."

"That's not actually helping."

"Well pretend I'm someone else," Rachel says dismissively, because it's time for Santana to suck it up and accept her destiny and it's also time she got the heck over it and let Rachel hear her sing again. "Now hit play and show me what you've got."

Three and a half minutes later, the final notes of 'With One Look' fading into silence, Rachel wishes she'd at least grabbed her purse before she'd come, because Santana's going to open her eyes any moment now and make so much fun of her for how much she's crying and she doesn't even have a tissue.

Whatever she thought of Santana's talent in high school, whatever she's gleaned from the scraps of singing she's heard since then, none of it comes close to just how good she's become in the last year, it's just—

"Oh my god, it wasn't that bad," Santana snarks when she notices Rachel's tears.

"Shut up," Rachel says, slapping at Santana's arm, "Otherwise I won't tell you what I thought."

The confidence she'd shown in her performance melts away, and Rachel watches Santana wilt in front of her. "So…" she prompts, though she sounds more like she's dreading the answer.

"There's no way you're not getting in," Rachel says, and she grins when Santana actually bounces on her feet a little.

Rachel gets a text that just says I GOT IN!, right as she's about to head into Whole Foods for this watermelon juice she's been drinking by the gallon. She turns around and heads straight back into the subway, slipping into the packed L train as the doors are about to closed, and sprinting the whole way home once she emerges from the Montrose Ave station.

"Oh my god!" she shouts by way of greeting, and Santana tackles her in the doorway, lifts her off her feet and actually spins her around as she makes this overwhelmed noise of happiness that Rachel's never heard her make before. It's hot and she's sticky but she clutches at Santana tightly, letting the moment overwhelm her, too.

"I got in," Santana breathes as she sets Rachel back on her feet. "I got in!"

"I knew you would," she says, laughing at just how obviously happy Santana is. "We have to celebrate. And you have to start practicing for dance! Oh my god, you're going to be expelled if you end up with Cassandra. We'll start tomorrow."

It's going to be so much fun with Santana at NYADA. She loves the friends she's made there—ones she pulls out her phone to text the good news to and see about pulling together something for tonight—but a lot of them were seniors last year, so their numbers will be less. And none of them come close to what she and Santana have.

"I know you've been taking classes, but you really need to be in pointe shoes, and—"

"You've got like a year of repressed guidance just ready to be let out, don't you?" Santana says, but her giddiness cancels out any annoyance she might actually have at Rachel's rambling. "Can we go back to the celebrating part first? You definitely mentioned celebrating, and I am so ready to get my drink on!"

Rachel didn't realize she was living with a Woo! Girl, but the way Santana heads to the refrigerator, arms in the air and shouting, "Woo!" as she goes, Rachel's concerned this is something Santana's kept very well hidden from her until now. If this is the price she has to pay, though, to see Santana this happy, in a way Rachel doesn't think she's seen Santana she arrived in New York, then Rachel will gladly pay it.

Kurt arrives with Mark on his arm just as Michaela is popping the cork on a bottle of sparkling wine, and Rachel pulls him into a hug and says, "Congratulations. Be nice, or else," against his ear.

The look Kurt gives her when they move apart tells her she was right to warn him, but Santana's worked incredibly hard and Kurt abandoned their plan, so if he's going to be an ass then he can just leave.

"I promise," he says, and glances over at Santana. "She's pestered me enough along the way that I'd be a hypocrite to wish she'd failed after all that effort."

Rachel didn't know Kurt had been helping Santana. She's about to ask when that had happened, why that had happened—why hadn't Santana askedher?—but glasses start getting passed around, and Rachel finds herself beside Santana as people start to gather.

They toast Santana, and something propels Rachel to step forward, tapping on her glass with her fingernail.

"I just wanted to say," she begins hesitantly, uncertain of her words. "Congratulations, of course. But also that…"

She turns and faces Santana, touches her wrist for just a moment. Santana's head drops, hair falling across her face until she pushes it back, but not even her typical discomfort at attention she didn't ask for can fight the grin off her face. It doesn't matter that Santana didn't ask her for help; what matters is that look of pure happiness of her face.

"...you deserve this. You've worked so hard to do this, and I just know you're going to be amazing. You always have been."

Santana blushes, and it makes Rachel blush as well. She just… she's so proud, she doesn't even know how to put it into words.

Someone coughs, and she realizes they've been standing in silence, and she coughs as well. "And now you're going to kick ass." She raises her glass again, clinking it against Santana's as everyone offers a "cheers!"

There are so many people in the apartment she wonders if the cops might show up, but until that happens she's not going to worry. Too much. She's much more interested in finding somewhere to get a breath of fresh air, people having spilled out onto the landing and the fire escape outside the kitchen window.

Her own window's propped open, but people haven't gathered around it, and she pushes through the crowd and clambers out the window and onto the rusty metal platform. It's cool, and she turns her face into the breeze as she's getting to her feet and—

"Boo," Santana says softly from her perch on the ladder, startling Rachel although she was obviously trying to do the opposite.

"Hey, what are you doing out here? There's a whole party inside just for you."

Her gaze flickers away to focus off in the distance. A tiny part of the Manhattan skyline is visible from the fire escape, the very tops of a handful of buildings downtown, but Santana's glaring at them like she's ready to go all Lima Heights, and Rachel imagines she thinks she's staring directly at NYADA.

"This whole NYADA thing," Santana begins, tracing her finger over a bolt in the metal. "What if it's not..." she trails off, shrugging.

Rachel shuffles along the fire escape, leaning against the railing and reaching out to still Santana's nervous hand. "I meant what I said. You're going to kick ass."

Santana's head ducks down, but Rachel can see that pleased little smile again. "You really think so?"

"Yep," Rachel nods, taps at her temple. "Little bit psychic, remember. I know so."

Santana looks at her like she's crazy but she laughs anyway, before falling silent for a moment. "You're not gonna go all What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? on me or something, are you?"

"What?" Rachel squeaks. "I would never!"

"Um, Sunshine Cor-"

"Okay!" she interrupts, crossing her arms primly and facing away from Santana, because honestly. One mistake and she's never going to be allowed to forget it. "Okay, point made. Don't you think I've grown up just a little since then?"

Santana doesn't answer, and when Rachel turns back around it's to a look she feels all the way to her toes.

"Maybe just a little," Santana says slowly.

"You—"

"Rach—" Whatever Kurt is calling from the bedroom filters through her brain like white noise, and she almost lurches after Santana as she stands, heading towards the window.

"We should get back," Santana says quietly.

"Yeah," Rachel replies, standing but not going any further. "You don't want to…." But she doesn't finish the thought, instead watching as Santana ducks through the window frame and disappears into the crowd.

She gives herself a moment before going to see what Kurt wants, because she just needs a moment.

They're grocery shopping the next day when the thought comes to life in her head.

She's listening to Santana debate the merits of Cap'n Crunch vs Frosted Flakes, and when the sexiness of Tony the Tiger becomes a point of consideration, all Rachel can think is, God you're adorable and I really want to kiss you.

It's the adorable part of that thought that tells Rachel she can't ignore this anymore.

"Do we need bread?" Santana asks when she realizes Rachel isn't beside her, and turns around to see her standing somewhat helplessly in the middle of the bakery aisle.

"No," she says, watching Santana stand there in cut-offs and a pair of Uggs, elbows resting on the shopping cart. "No, we need, um."

She looks down at the shopping list in her hand, but the words written in Santana's sloppy scrawl are incomprehensible, and one day their grandchildren are going to ask when she knew, and Rachel's going to have to tell them this.

"Hey," Santana says, much closer than she was a moment ago. "You okay?"

No! her brain helpfully shouts, but she nods and says, "Yeah," because what's she going to do, ask Santana out on a date surrounded by racks of bread? "I think we need milk."