Title: I Don't Want to Jump In (Unless This Music's Thumping) (1/3)
Author: Misty Flores
Pairing: Rachel/Santana, implied Quinn/Santana
Teaser: Years after they were roommates in a cold loft in New York, Broadway Rachel Berry and Superstar DJ Santana Lopez reconnect on the other end of the success spectrum.
Spoilers: Through S4 of Glee
Note: For the Santana Anthology. Sorry I missed the deadline! Title is taken from Cake's 'Love You Madly'. Also, a Glee Girls Smut Meme fill.
Also I really REALLY didn't want to post this as a WIP, but honestly it's a three chapter story and it's been my primary focus to get it done, so I figured I'd at least post the start of it so it wouldn't any later. I apologize for the lateness of the other stories, honestly, there just hasn't been time, but they're by no means forgotten and I'll update them all when this story is done posting.
Nothing Really Matters
But the Beat
- David Guetta, Nothing Really Matters
It's not until her second year living in New York that Santana discovers people are like songs.
She takes an extension course at NYADA called music theory and composition. It's just a random class and she doesn't really get why she takes it at first, except that's she's fucking tired of auditioning and being told she's not 'black' enough or 'latin' enough or 'white' enough for anything except Skanky Bitch #5.
Living with the music nerds must have rubbed off. It's all that mash-up bullshit that Mr. Schue talked about, but she somehow gets it in a way she didn't before: how music ebbs and flows, how beats are constructed, how notes are built together in such a way that it can suck the soul right out of a person and put them back together again.
The class comes with a free copy of Ableton Live, cause the teacher is some sort of aging hipster lesbian who used to DJ, and that's how Santana starts screwing around with mixing songs and matching beats.
It turns out she's really fucking good at it.
She thinks it's because she gets it. Every song has a soul, and there are angry songs and happy songs and songs that exist for no other reason but to get a body moving to an insane refrain.
She's good at music like she's good at sex, and it becomes like a drug to her, because her Music Orgasm is fucking amazing, and only one girl has ever come close to making her feel that way. But Brittany's been swallowed up by MIT, being hailed as the new Albert Einstein and coming up with equations that make professors nearly three times her age swoon with adoration. And though Santana's proud (finally, Brittany's being seen as the genius that Santana has always known she is) it means Brittany has bigger dreams and aspirations and has no time for love.
So Santana focuses on the music and at the end of the semester, she's somehow slept with her aging hipster lesbian teacher and landed a gig at a local dive bar, fucking around with songs and mashing them together into non-stop orgasmic beats.
It's the music. It infects her. It takes her over. The pulse scorches her, digs into her bloodstream and pumps through her body. Nothing else really seems to matter.
Nothing else should matter, anyway. The world has moved on. Her friends have moved on. Rachel didn't get Funny Girl, but she made enough of an impression on the show's producers than she was brought in to become the new Cinderella in a rebooted version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical classic. Workshops started in San Francisco not long after, and then Rachel just kinda… left.
It's funny because Santana never pegged Rachel to be the one to leave them all first.
Kurt drops out of NYADA in the second year when he rediscovers his love of fashion, thanks in large part to Isabelle, who sees so much promise in him and never really lets him go. He's offered a too-good-to-be-true opening as a stylist for Vogue Spain, and then he's gone too.
Santana's left with a loft full of memories of friends she considered family and not really much else.
So she keeps her head down. She lives her life on stage and in the corner of her dark room, graduating from speakers to headphones and futzing with turntables and her Macbook.
Things start to happen. In six months she's got a regular gig mixing Saturday nights at this hot club in Manhattan called 'Sheik'.
In a year, one of her mixes that she's uploaded online gets a ton of club play, then radio play, and it lands her a profile on the online version of Rolling Stone.
In another few months, she's landed a record deal and a featured article in the print version. She's got half a million followers on Spotify, been to four different continents and almost never sees the daylight. In Miami, Steven Soderbergh sees her mixing at a party for P!NK and decides he likes her look. He writes a part for her in his next thriller, this film noir send up where she plays a vamp in a red dress who slinks on a piano like a real life Jessica Rabbit. Critics and fans alike are surprised as hell when they realize she can sing.
Soderbergh likes her so much he decides to star her in her own film – a Magic Mike-style 'fictionalized' view of a superstar DJ with international locales, hot women, and the gorgeous girl-DJ with killer abs and an even better rack, who is just a lonely puppy looking for something real in a field of shallow. Soderbergh is still on a kick for adding in musical acts so the character moonlights as a burlesque dancer before she gets her big break. Santana's agent jokingly dubs it Magic Mike 3.
Critics and fans aren't surprised she can dance, but they are oddly stunned when they realize she can actually act.
She's never going to be Julia Roberts or Meryl Streep, and Santana still prefers her tables and her Mac to the long hours on a movie set, but it sells her music and she gets fame.
She also gets notoriety, because she's an out lesbian and somewhere along the way she's gotten a tattoo or two, and a reputation for being as good at sex as she is at music. So women tend to throw themselves at her, either eager for a good fuck or a quick scandal to land in a tabloid somewhere.
They use her the way she used boys when she was in high school, and privately, it rips her to shreds, because fuck her reputation, what made her the happiest, what made her WHOLE, was when she was in a long-term, monogamous high school relationship with a girl who was meant to be the love of her life.
But no one knows that. It doesn't vibe with this Super Star DJ – slash- Actress mystique. She gets VIP lists and paparazzi and a reputation and lots of meaningless sex with some seriously gorgeous women. That's what the fame gets her.
That's what the music earns her.
So she's still got nothing really except a bunch of memories, and she's still lonely but this music?
It still feels like home.
All the things I know right now
If I only knew back then
- David Guetta, No Getting Over You
If one isn't careful, the magic of Hollywood can quite easily overwhelm someone to the point where reality will begin to fade away, and then there is no ground to stand on. It's then that a person drowns, lost in lights and fame and flashes and drugs.
The thick plastic she's standing on, transparent and placed over the massive pool to serve as a dance floor, seems to mock her with that very fact. It creates the illusion that they're dancing on air. But they're not, and any minute this transparent floor can crack underneath them, leaving them all to slip into the deep depths of this expensive salt-water pool.
It's an odd thing to be contemplating at a party such as this, and Rachel herself wonders why she's thinking it at all. She's not drunk; not even tipsy. This is an A-list party, and though Rachel is definitely NOT A-list (she's reminded of that on a daily basis), she's lucky enough that their A-list host is a fan of her Broadway pipes, and offered the invitation.
Rachel attends these parties for the connections she can make. She knows better than to let her clingy, insecure, gropey drunk self make an appearance.
She may be the only one. She has only just arrived (shooting on the primetime show she's guesting on went late), but the crowd that's currently writhing and grinding to the pulsing beats of the music that blare through the speakers have all but lost control, and though Rachel suspects that a part of that has to do with the extremely competent mix of music that's being blasted so loudly her teeth shake, she knows it's not the only reason.
Hollywood is super predictable when it comes to its dependence on drugs and alcohol to make the fantasy seem just a little more real.
Maybe that's what's so depressing about all this. It feels like this secret that they're all in on, and yet no one will say anything, because they're all so desperate to sell this image of perfection and bliss.
Someone steps on her heel and the sharp stab of pain breaks her out of her surly thoughts. The culprit, a little slip of a girl who would look fifteen if not for the slather of makeup that's creamed across her face, barely notices her and just continues her sexual gyrating against another girl who is wearing even LESS. This is clearly for the benefit of the oddly familiar handsome stud swaying beside them, one hand on each ass, a smirk on his famous face.
He catches Rachel watching and offers a lecherous wink.
Disgusted, Rachel turns away. She hobbles her way through the dancing mass, doing her best to pick her path toward the only slightly less crowded deck without spilling her wine. She doesn't quite succeed and ends up being jostled by a stray elbow, splashing the liquid over her toes. It seeps into her thousand dollar pumps and a bad mood gets even worse. When she finally reaches the edge of the deck, she pulls out her phone and scribbles out a text to her absentee boyfriend that pretty much threatens to withhold sex for a month the next time he ditches her and leaves her to attend one of these things alone.
He doesn't respond, but Rachel doesn't really expect him to. Troy can be as self-absorbed as the rest of the pretty-boy actors in his age group.
The only place on this patio that has even the slightest bit of standing room is the spot right next to where the DJ booth has been set up, with these massively huge speakers that thump their bass so loud Rachel knows she'll be half deaf for the next two days. Rachel quickly regrets her decision to stand there when a whine on the speaker screeches so loudly that Rachel actively winces.
"Wassup, bitches!" Drew squeals into her microphone, half drunk and obviously super happy about it. From this angle she can barely see the actress, but she can certainly hear her, as well as the guests that roar in reaction to her enthusiastic greeting. "You assholes better be having fun at my birthday party!" Rachel shakes her head and places her half-empty wine glass on the tray of a nearby passing waiter, grabbing a few cocktail napkins in the process. Drew Barrymore is actually amazing considering she's been in Hollywood since birth, but does every sentence have to end in an exclamation point? "Now I know this is my party, but I gotta say, the best gift I got tonight was the fact that my hubby managed to snag my favorite superhot DJ to mix tonight..." Drew pauses for dramatic effect and Rachel is too busy trying to sop up some of the liquid around her toes to wonder who the big celebrity DJ is. "Can I get a spotlight over here?!" Obviously, it's someone impressive spinning, because there's suddenly so many gasps and girlie squeals Rachel wonders seriously if Justin Bieber has decided on a new career path. "Calm down ladies, I know you're already wet, but this girl is more than just her fabulous rack! Let's give it up for the super talented Santana Lopez! She's been spinning these hot tracks for you all night!"
Rachel's head whips up so quickly, she nearly loses her balance and has to actively reach out to a nearby party goer to steady herself before she crashes face first on the concrete.
She yelps loudly, and apparently when one does that at a crowded party and nearly bowls over a few people over like a row of pins, it gains attention.
"Holy shit, Berry?!" she hears a very familiar voice gasp into Drew's microphone. "Is that you?!"
And yes, it certainly is her former roommate, Glee Club rival, and quite possibly one of her best friends, Santana Lopez, who is staring down at her with that still-familiar-after-all-this-time half-astounded, half-disgusted expression.
Rachel regains her balance, and does the only thing she can do in a circumstance like this. She straightens, and with as much dignity as she can muster, waves with one hand. "Hi, Santana," she breathes.
The very last thing she expects this superstar DJ to do is to drop the microphone, nearly vault over the elevated mixing table, shove her way through the crowd and plow into her, wrapping arms around her in such a furious embrace it nearly sends Rachel sprawling all over again.
But that's exactly what Santana does, and when the shock wears off, Rachel finds herself clinging back just as tightly. Her vision goes blurry with emotion, and maybe it's because Rachel's had a really crappy night or maybe it's because Santana's always had this habit of dismantling her with her unexpected tenderness, but Rachel finds there's no more room for self-pity or bad moods.
God, she missed her.
In reality, it's kinda inexcusable that they lost touch the way they did. This is Santana, the woman who, for at least a year, was one of Rachel's two best friends. And though sometimes she likes to qualify that by admitting that it started due to circumstance more than an actual genuine connection, she knows that those days and nights in a Chelsea loft were spent with someone she once considered family.
It feels like so long ago, such a departure from who she is now, and Rachel wonders if it's the same for Santana. Rachel just can't stop STARING at this gorgeous woman, hungrily looking for traces of the Santana that she still thinks of as HER Santana.
Santana's mouth is still plump and full, but now her tongue pokes out the corner, a sign of concentration, as her friend offers her a wink and keeps the large headphones planted against one ear, futzing with dials and knobs and strokes of her keyboard that whip through a program, selecting the upcoming tracks that will meld in perfectly to the one playing now.
"Gimme a sec," she mouths, and Rachel just nods, content for the moment to just sit in the corner of this booth on a plastic crate that is used to carry a box of Santana's scratch records. Apparently she's 'old school' about some techniques.
Rachel has no idea what that means, but she figures is has to do with the way Santana's slender fingers handle the black record, bobbing her head to the music and then slipping two digits up and down against it, creating a stattaco that sends a shiver up Rachel's spine.
She of course knows of Santana's success. She'd have to be living under a rock not to, but honestly, out of all the ways Santana could find the fame she so desperately wanted, Rachel would have never predicted this path for her. Still, Rachel finds that it suits her.
She remembers quite vividly now, when Santana came home from that first music class just days before she got that fateful call for Cinderella, complaining about the crazy teacher she swore was a lesbian and the software she had to learn.
There's something about seeing an older Santana, inked up with a couple small but prominent tattoos that stand out proudly on her biceps and shoulder thanks to the fitted tank top that shows off Santana's still ridiculously toned body to full advantage, looking so at home surrounded by this block of machinery that is just… satisfying.
As lost as Santana used to be, searching for her dream, that's how at home she looks in this booth.
Dark eyes catch hers, and Rachel finds herself smiling nervously when Santana's lips curve into a mischievous smirk that is all too familiar.
"What?" she asks, immediately suspicious, because that flash in those eyes means something.
Santana crooks her head. "Come here," she says, in a tone that would be sweet if Santana wasn't nearly shouting because this is a party and the Pitbull song that Santana is currently remixing is loud.
It's really weird, how easily Rachel blushes when Santana's hand reaches out. She attributes it to the giddy emotion that comes with best friends reuniting, but she's fully aware of how it looks to the Santana Groupies that are gathered just under the DJ booth, watching their every move and just waiting for the moment Santana decides to take a break and step out of the protected box.
Seriously, if looks could kill.
Still, Rachel's no novice. More than a year as Santana's roommate subjected Rachel to more than her share of jealous girls who saw her as a threat for her lesbian roommate's affections, and so Rachel doesn't bother to do anything other than adjust her short skirt and allow that strong hand to pull her up and into Santana's own space.
Santana puts her between her and her turntables, and Rachel's breath catches unexpectedly when strong hands palm her hips. She feels Santana's still tight body press in behind her and is momentarily glad Santana can't see her expression when she bites down on her lower lip in reaction.
Santana's mouth hovers over her ear, intimate and lower than Rachel's used to hearing when she says as quietly as she can manage, "Wanna learn how to scratch?"
Rachel has no idea what that means, but this is the woman who once taught Rachel how to execute perfect booty shake during a particularly rowdy birthday party at the Coyote Ugly. The feeling is as thrilling now as it was back then. Honestly, it's even better, because Rachel discovers as she inhales that she recognizes Santana's smell, the way her perfume mixes with the light musk of her human scent. It's another gentle reminder that she's reconnecting with an old friend, one who is just as happy to see her.
It's exhilarating. With a smile, Rachel nods.
Santana's fingers press in once more against her, almost like an affectionate squeeze, before one of Rachel's palms is being lifted and with a careful, gentle touch, placed reverently against Santana's board, near the spinning record that nearly vibrates with the intensity of the song. "Remember how you taught me about breath control?" she hears that velvety voice say. Santana stays so close that her breath causes a ticklish shudder against Rachel's sensitive lobe. She swallows hard and nods, and determinedly keeps her eyes trained on the complicated looking mixing board and the revolving LP. "It's kind of like the same thing," Santana says. "Close your eyes."
With a loaded inhalation, Rachel obeys. She's learned to trust Santana years ago.
A moment later, those large headphones are being carefully placed over her ears, shutting Rachel out to everything but the music that flows through the wires, vibrating her ear drums.
Rachel sucks in an intense breath. The vibration seems to come from within her now. She feels Santana press in closer behind her, until she's flush against Rachel; hips to ass, breasts to back. Rachel registers the sensitive flutter in her stomach as Santana's fingers trail lightly against her forearm, a tingling journey up her skin until she feels a warm palm settling over her own, fingers curling over her wrist and lifting just enough to hover in the air.
Possessive fingers spread against her abdomen. Rachel feels her muscles contract underneath the touch. Santana's cheek slides against hers as she mimics her posture intimately.
There's a loaded moment, and then suddenly the fingers that are holding her own so reverently lower and Rachel's fingers touch spinning vinyl. The world stops.
Santana guides her. Rachel's not being touched as much as being used as a puppet, but … God… it doesn't matter.
Overcome, Rachel can only allow it, inhaling sharply as she registers the way the beat jumps and skids, responding to their combined touch the way a woman would respond to a lover.
Rachel's smile widens and her eyes remained purposely closed, because as her fingers move and Santana scratches out this perfect mix that bleeds into the song and deepens it, makes it better, she finds herself discovering music in a way she's never experienced.
God... how has she ever-
They're rushing forward to some unseen cliff, with the bass so loud it pounds the booth and vibrates deep inside of her.
She laughs breathlessly, eyes opening as the music races toward this incredible climax. A hitch, a breath, and suddenly their joined hands skid again and it breaks; the beat starts thumping again. Santana's fingers lift, and Rachel watches the crowd, this massive, living body, roar with the excitement, infected by this beat that came from their combined touch.
Rachel's heart stampedes with them. Her eyes glisten, and her groin aches and she pants, because she FEELS the music in a way she hasn't felt it in years.
Santana's fingers unclasp from her own. Rachel doesn't move. She holds her breath as Santana reaches up to gently pry the large expensive headphones off her. There's not much room in this booth, but there's just enough for Santana to take a half step back.
Rachel's head turns immediately, aware of the loss of contact and missing it intensely. With wild eyes, she takes in the beautiful, shy expression, the way Santana half-smirks at her. She's just shown Rachel this gorgeous piece of herself that Rachel has never known, and yet when they regard each other, all Rachel sees is HER Santana.
The love surges within her with such force she is helpless against it. Without hesitation, she swivels, arms flinging around Santana's neck to reel in her friend.
"I really, really missed you," she breathes, and presses her lips to the corner of Santana's mouth, because she means it absolutely.
There's an after party (because of course there's an after party. It's Drew.), but thankfully, it takes place at the Lucky Strike down in Hollywood, who opened their doors especially for Drew and a select few of her guests. Rachel tries not to take it personally that it's only because of Santana that she even gets told of the exclusive event. It's kind of obvious that Drew has this big gay crush on Santana, and considering that Santana has only grown more stunning as she's matured, Rachel isn't sure she really blames her.
But Drew is also hammered, and it would be annoying if it wasn't so adorable. She demands birthday gifts in form of personal favors from every guest, and that's how Rachel ends up giving an impromptu over-the-top performance of 'In My Own Little Corner' for the drunken, amused party-goers. Santana gets a different kind of order. Drew wants a wet birthday kiss and the right to grope Santana's boobs. The kiss Santana bestows on her is surprisingly chaste considering Drew is literally panting at her, but Rachel suspects that has more to do with Drew's good-natured husband Will, who sighs and just pulls her away, than Drew herself.
Santana and Rachel end up in a corner booth, sipping coffee as the wasted patrons trip and laugh their way through their impromptu bowling games. Rachel is content to watch for a bit, before her eyes are drawn away from the action on the lanes to the picture that Santana presents, lounging across from her dressed in stylish high tops, that distractingly tight black tank top and expensive jeans that seemed tailored to fit right at her waist, revealing the firm lines of her stomach where the shirt rides up. Her hair is still long and healthy, but tonight she wears it tucked tightly in a stylish do that is an intricate blend of braids that keep her hair off her face. There are some highlights that tint the locks that fall over her strong shoulders. It's… very rock and roll.
It's kinda … hilarious… to see this side of Santana. It's not that Santana's gone... butch persay. Rachel knows that Santana grew up a tomboy, but as long as Rachel's known her, Santana has always been the epitome of femininity. Honestly, half the time it felt like those painful-looking heels and tight dresses were proving some sort of point about bucking lesbian stereotypes.
But she supposes that those mini-dresses aren't exactly conducive to out-running groupies and spending all night on your feet in a hot box with thumping speakers and lots of electrical equipment.
Not that it matters. Santana could wear a parka and make it look sexy and feminine. Rachel has always envied that about her.
She raises her cup to her lips, oddly flushed when Santana catches her staring and arches an inquisitive brow back. Rachel just takes her sip, but Santana sees it as an opportunity to talk.
"I have to admit," she says, sitting up and crossing her legs and arms as she rests lazy eyes on Rachel. "I kinda figured we'd run into each other eventually, but I never imagined it'd be tonight. Here."
Rachel let's her eyes linger on Santana's tattoos, the colored nails, the gorgeous flowing hair and stunning face. Rachel has come to terms with her unconventional beauty, but it almost stings to be reminded that even after high school, Santana can fall in the gorgeous elite almost without trying.
"We don't exactly run in the same circles," she says, with a touch of bitterness.
Except that's not fair, because this is her former roommate, and Rachel remembers exactly how much time Santana took on her appearance. She knows exactly how much Santana's father paid for that delicious cleavage that fills out that tank top so perfectly. Santana's naturally gorgeous, but she knows how to play the beauty game.
Santana doesn't seem to take offense. "Did we ever?" she asks, and Rachel has to bite down a smile, because there is the cocky bitch she remembers.
"Good point," she concedes, rolling her eyes half-heartedly at Santana's smug confidence.
Someone shouts and a bowling ball goes sailing past the barrier, nearly killing a well-known director, who yelps and trips on his own feet trying to avoid it. Rachel wonders briefly what idiot manager thought it was a good idea to let a bunch of drunk people try to bowl with only a couple fluorescent lights for visibility.
"How is Broadway, Rachel?"
Rachel blinks, focus brought back to her old friend, who watches her carefully. Rachel's smile turns bittersweet.
"Broadway is… amazing," she breathes, and nods with the sincerity of it. "It's everything I thought it would be." And that's true. Rachel has always loved performing, and the Broadway stage is her home. It always will be. Her mouth feels dry and her tongue darts out to moisten them, because Broadway is also so far away. "But," she continues with a heavy tone, "It's also very competitive for the lead roles and my agent says I need to be more marketable and nowadays winning a Tony isn't enough to get a headlining part in a theatre." Santana absorbs that quietly. Rachel offers a pragmatic shrug. "People who buy tickets want to see stars – the ones that are on TV and in the movies, so…"
"So for now, you're in Hollywood," Santana finishes. "Building up your cred."
She nods. It's a rat race she never wanted to have to deal with, to get work she needs fame, and with fame comes the ever present need to stay relevant, because no one casts anyone purely based on talent. Not anymore.
She doesn't want to think about it, so she shifts in her seat and focuses instead on her famous friend. "And you're… a DJ."
"Mmm," Santana says, in mid-sip as her finger goes up. "Actor-Slash-DJ-Slash Famous Lesbian," she corrects, the moment she brings her hand down.
She's making fun of herself with that line. Part of Rachel wants to press in deeper, because clearly Santana isn't all that happy with it, though Rachel's not exactly sure which part.
Santana has always been skittish, however, and Rachel is far too familiar with her defensive habit of lashing out when she's backed into a corner.
Maybe it's selfish to want to ignore it, but she JUST got Santana's back. She's not ready for a fight. Not yet.
She opts for teasing. "Yeah, I saw those groupies," she notes, laughing lightly when Santana groans and rolls her eyes. "They looked ready to string me up for daring to even touch you."
A stray lock of raven hair has stuck to Santana's lips. She unceremoniously blows at it, before losing patience and batting it away. "Yeah, thanks for that, by the way. Wasn't in the mood to deal with them."
"Does… that happen a lot?"
Santana's shrug is careless. "Well, when you have a sex tape and a Steven Soderbergh movie that some critic called 'a shallow but vibrant love song to Santana Lopez's abs'," she air quotes, "The chicks are bound to follow." Rachel blinks and discovers herself once again fighting that heated blush. She saw that movie. Santana's gorgeous abs got their fair share of close-ups. And yes, she's seen the tabloids. Santana's got a reputation as a heartbreaker, but it's hard to judge her for that, considering how much of that garbage is usually lies.
"I saw a few guys standing around too."
Santana snorts gruffly. "I swear to God, if I hear one more guy tell me that he's a lesbian on the inside I'm going to fucking murder someone."
"God, I can imagine," Rachel commiserates, because the douches in this town just get older, not better. "I hate dating in this industry."
Santana's lips purse. "Well, last I heard you didn't have to worry about that." Rachel isn't quite sure where Santana's going with this, until she notices the way Santana's eyes glint with a mischievous glimmer. "What's the name they call you and your boytoy? Troychel?"
"Oh God." Rachel's entire body shudders with embarrassment, head lowering in shame as she covers her face. "Please don't," she begs, but of course Santana's never exactly been subtle when it comes to disapproving of Rachel's boyfriends. "I know he's ridiculous sometimes."
"Sometimes?!" The judgment is evident in Santana's tone. "Troy Ross makes Rob Pattinson look like a member of MENSA."
"Now you're just being mean."
"Being mean would be telling you that I've seen the underwear model pictures and his dick is clearly tinier than a Vienna sausage."
"He's not tall!" she snaps, because Santana is openly insulting her boyfriend and Rachel SHOULD be trying her best to defend him. The fact that a laugh slips out doesn't help her case at all. "And he's a grower!"
"Gross. It makes me long for the days of Finchel," Santana says, relentless now that she actually sees Rachel laughing. "At least Finn had height. This guy makes Tom Cruise look like a giant."
Rachel has actually had the pleasure of working with Mr. Cruise, and yes, having to stand in a ditch just so Mr. Cruise could appear six inches taller than he actually was a little awkward. But still - "Excuse you, he's taller than you!"
Santana falls back against the booth and says simply, "You can do better."
Rachel's smirk fades. It's not the first time she's heard those words from Santana. "You're not wrong," she admits.
It's sobering, to say that out loud.
Rachel's fingers scratch lightly against her coffee cup. She hears the whistles and sounds of the group around her laughing, caught completely in the moment. She suddenly wishes desperately she could be just like them. Satisfied. Happy.
Santana's teasing smile has faded. Dark eyes look at her, but the judgment is gone. Rachel supposes she shouldn't be surprised. Her and Santana's relationship has always been seeped in brutal honesty. It's what makes them… THEM.
"Not at first," she breathes, because that's true. Her relationship with Troy began so typically: late nights and a shared connection and chemistry that extended off the set and into trailers and bedrooms. "But…" The sadness that clouds her suddenly is hard to shake. "Yeah… lately it's felt… less than real." Months and distance have taken its toll. They have their own individual legions of support – agents and publicists and managers, but different projects have taken them in different directions, and a relationship that started because there was attraction and mutual affection has begun to feel and act like a business partnership.
"But it gets you press."
Rachel hates that this is the state of things. That this is normal. That Santana isn't even surprised that Romantic-Rachel is this candid about being in a relationship for the perks and not the love. "He's got a lot of fans that love him and me being with him? Being seen with him?" She shrugs. "It's not terrible for my career. You know the press loves us. The Broadway Belter and the Bad Boy Action Star? It's a modern day fairy tale."
Santana takes that in, but her expression is unreadable as she reaches for her coffee and takes a long, quiet sip. "Even if Prince Charming is a self-absorbed douche that cheats?" she asks, as the cup lowers.
Rachel's chest tightens. "How do you know he does?" she asks in a tone meant to be light and airy. Santana's brow lifts, and the lightness fades. "Yeah, okay." Her eyes prick with sudden moisture, and Rachel has honestly never felt so SMALL. "I mean I used to care but…" But she doesn't love him. But this is work. But her image is more important than her heart. "At least he's careful about it," she continues, and knows she sounds pathetic. "It's more than what some girls can expect."
Santana grimaces, shakes her head as she exhales. "Good point."
Rachel's shoulders slump. She waits, because judging by past experience, this is right about the time that Santana blows up at her, telling her that this isn't the Rachel Berry who annoyed the shit out of her in high school, and she doesn't recognize her anymore.
Honestly, Rachel kinda wants to hear it, which is really pathetic. Is she really that homesick for the lofty loft in New York?
But Santana, who has been surprising her all night, continues the streak, and says instead, "Do me a favor and walk me out when this is over, okay? I have a feeling that Drew is gonna ask for a threesome and I'm so not in the mood to be polite about saying no." She sighs, and then pauses when she notices Rachel's startled face. "What? She asks all the time!"
"That's it?" Rachel asks.
"You're not going to judge me? Yell at me? Accuse me of selling out and not being the wide-eyed, idealistic and proud Rachel Berry you remember?"
Santana's eyes narrow. After a moment, she sits up in her seat and recrosses her arms. "I guess that depends," she answers evenly. "Am I the Santana Lopez you remember?"
Rachel takes a breath, and lets her eyes linger over the familiar form of Santana Lopez with all her unfamiliar traits: new tattoos, highlights in her hair, the way she just stares at her with no judgment. "Undecided," she muses.
Santana's mouth quirks into a barely-there smile, before it fades just as quickly. She shifts against the leather and comes in close, until they're sitting side by side. "Look," she begins, when her bare arm is pressed against Rachel's and her thigh brushes against Rachel's naked leg. "I get it. And honestly, I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I'm just so fucking happy to see you, you could have your OWN sex tape, and I'd be offering to mix beats at the release party."
With Santana pressed in so intimately, Rachel can notice the details that she can't believe she's forgotten: that tiny scar just below Santana's lower lip (from getting a mole removed) that gets just a little more pronounced when she smiles. The outlines of Santana's contacts that do nothing to diminish the deep brown of her eyes. The way Santana smells, subtle and yet so pronounced Rachel used to know immediately whenever Santana was home before she even saw her.
She remembers late nights, pillow fights and real fights. She remembers dancing barefoot on cold wooden floors and bundling up on a couch for warmth and having to break Santana of the habit of bringing home every single busted piece of gross furniture she could find.
Suddenly, Rachel is really, really happy. With a shaky smile and glistening eyes, she leans in against her friend and tilts her forehead against that soft, slender shoulder. "I missed you too, Santana."
Rachel honestly just spent the night reconnecting with a friend. Every hug and kiss she gave Santana that night is because she loves her and genuinely missed her.
TMZ sees it differently.
Rachel learns of it when her publicist JoAnn sends her an email the next morning with a lot of clickable links and a Google alert that features grainy cell phone pictures of Rachel and Santana intimately intertwined at Drew's party.
"Broadway Diva's Wild Night with Santana Lezpez!" is the cheerful headline.
She's staring at one picture in particular, which she recognizes immediately as the moment Santana 'taught' her to scratch, when she gets a phone call.
"Would you like to share with the class?" JoAnn asks, in that typically unflappable amused tone.
"It's not what it looks like," she says immediately, because whoever took this got an angle that makes it look like Santana's practically licking her ear, with her arms twined around her and Rachel leaning back into her embrace, a big sloppy smile on her face. "Santana is just a friend."
"Santana Lopez, Lady Killer, is just a friend?" JoAnn adds, clearly skeptical. "Do you and this friend make out often?"
Rachel scrolls a little further and sees that yes, that same person got a picture of Rachel pressing a kiss against Santana's cheek. She does dimly remember hitting the corner of her mouth, but at this angle, it looks disturbingly like they're frenching.
"I was going for her cheek! Getting her on the mouth was an accident!"
"Then we need to work on your aim."
Rachel sighs, and bunches her covers closer in around her. There's more. Thankfully none of Drew's Lucky Strike After Party (she can't even begin to imagine what they would say to her and Santana being in a secluded, dark booth all night), but their reintroduction after all this time has been immortalized on grainy loop video. She feels like a curious outsider as she watches Santana plow through a crowd to practically straddle her.
"So, heads up, Tumblr is going nuts. Don't go into the Rachel Berry tag. The Troy-bots are livid."
Rachel eyes flutter closed in exasperation. "Then I'll stay off Twitter too," she mutters because yeah, his fans are quite protective of poor little Troy and nothing is ever good enough to deserve him. She's been on the receiving end of their ire before. It's never fun. "Have you told Troy?" A vibration against her ear distracts her, and she pulls back to glance at the incoming message. Her mood turns sourer still. "Nevermind. Just got his text."
"What's he say?"
"In his own words," she begins, irate. "Hot."
"Love that guy," JoAnn sighs, and she's actually being sincere about it. Rachel bites her lips to stop herself from making a very dramatic eye roll. "Okay, Rachel, why don't you tell me what really happened, so we can figure out how to spin this?"
It's ridiculous and infuriating. Rachel has been a little lonely lately, and maybe that was enough to forget that there were other people at this party, but it's just…
She futzes with her tablet, and finds herself studying a picture of her and Santana leaving the venue. This one is a pap shot, so it's clear and crisp. Their hands are intertwined as they keep their heads down, obviously walking fast to get away from the paparazzi and their flashes. Rachel is gripping at Santana for support, because her heels are making the downhill slope of the concrete slippery.
Perez Hilton says she's obviously hammered and can't wait to be the next notch on Santana's belt. An anonymous commenter says it reeks of desperation. Some anonymous party-goer reports that it was actually kinda sweet to see them like that, like there was no one else in the world but the two of them. And that they were clearly eye sexing.
There's something incredibly wrong about having her beautiful night of reconnecting with a woman she once considered family be reduced by the online gossip blogs to a torrid lesbian fling.
"Nothing happened!" she snaps, eyes fluttering closed as she rubs at them in exasperation. "I swear, JoAnn. Santana and I used to live together-"
"Excuse me?" JoAnn clips, tone rising in urgency.
"Not like that!" she snaps because God. "In New York. Before I got Cinderella. We lived with this other guy-"
"He was gay!" She yelps. "Stop!"
Her phone vibrates again. This time, Santana's name appears on the screen with a message that reads: HOLY SHIT.
Rachel can only laugh at the absurdity, putting JoAnn on speaker so she can quickly type back: I KNOW!
"Look," JoAnn sighs. "I know the gay thing works for a few people, and it really works for HER." Rachel grimaces, but finds she has to agree as the phone buzzes again: Why the hell didn't you tell me we were fucking?
She grins at the joke: Well, it's not exactly a Uhaul but…
"-but that is NOT your image and it's not your audience."
Rachel's smile fades immediately. "My audience?" she repeats, infuriated. "JoAnn, I'm a Broadway actress who has two gay dads. I've performed at more Pride Festivals than I can remember AND flew on a Gay Cruise for Rosie. Gays are exactly my audience."
"Sure, and that's why you're slumming it on the ABC Cop Drama instead of starting that new workshop with Sondheim."
God, JoAnn always did know how to hit below the belt.
"Look, it's not like that. Seriously! Santana and I are just friends, and I was just really happy to see her."
Her phone buzzes again: Just wait until these assholes find out we were in Glee Club together.
Rachel's head shakes at the thought: We'll break YouTube. Who do you think will catch it first? TMZ?
"Yes," she grouses, because she is not in the mood to be polite.
The fans. Those girls find everything. I've seen my sex tape gifed so much that it's like… got a Meme now. That's what it's called right?
Rachel blinks. Remind me to never Google you. Ever.
"Okay!" JoAnn says brightly. Apparently Rachel has been sufficiently convincing. "Well then in that case, let's have some fun with this."
You're missing out, Rachel Berry.
Rachel frowns. She has no idea what either woman means.
"How would you like to do a song together?" JoAnn's teeth are so white it's almost blinding.
"… what?" Rachel asks dumbly, because for a momentarily she's utter flabbergasted. "I thought you told me you wanted to play DOWN the rumors."
"Well, apparently this is the injection of crack that Colombia needed to finally push forward on your album."
This, apparently, is JoAnn's big strategy. Rachel has to admit, as far as publicity stunts go, it's a good one. There's been an active fight with Columbia to move forward on her record deal, and Rachel knows why. She's a Broadway singer, and though Columbia has shifted her to their smaller label, she knows their expectation for a Billboard Pop hit is low. She's simply not a priority.
And then Santana happened.
The Glee Club connection was discovered quite quickly by their fans, and now old videos of New Directions performances, both on stage and in the Choir Room are being circulated, including a (in retrospect) rather incriminating cover of 'I Kissed a Girl' and a rendition of 'So Emotional' that, upon rewatch years later, really does look insanely flirtatious.
Santana's fans are not her fans and now that they are publically in each other's orbit, she's noticed quite a shift in her own buzz. Rachel has always been considered unconventionally sexy, but apparently a perceived raunchy lesbian fling with Santana Lopez can do wonders for your sex appeal.
That's now a good thing. JoAnn adopts the 'any press is good press as long as the lesbian thing isn't really true' mentality, and while Rachel heads on Troy's arm to the premiere of his next movie, her manager gets to work with Santana's management to talk about doing a collaboration.
She's always known they sing well together. It's actually kind of a thrill to realize that the rest of the world agrees.
Your people are talking to my people, Santana texts her later that night. I feel like I'm in a gang.
She smiles at the text, but it fades quickly when Troy presses his weight in against her and curiously glances at her screen. "Playing with your friend again?" he comments sleepily, looking at the image on her phone that Rachel has chosen as her default thumbnail for Santana. It's grainy and the flash makes them both look washed out, but they're tucked in close together in that Lucky Strike corner booth with their faces mashed against each other, and grinning so toothily they look like idiots.
"Actually, we're going to work together on a song for my album," she responds with a touch of annoyance, and she quickly types back, Well, we already got our street cred from West Side Story…
"Cool," he says, and goes back to playing the racing game on his IPAD.
Well this song better be a little more hip than that. I gotsa rep to protect, Hobbit.
Please. Do I even have to ask if you still have that gross girlfriend pillow Kurt gave you way back when? :-P
Fuck you, Cathy is family.
"Just be careful."
Rachel stiffens. "Be careful of what?" Troy doesn't look up, too engrossed in his game. "Troy," she presses, now openly irritated. "Just spit it out."
The car crashes, exploding in all its SFX glory. He sighs, though Rachel isn't sure if it's because of her or losing his game. "Look," he says, bringing the tablet down and looking at her. "Santana's hot and she makes you hotter, and that makes me hotter by extension, so you know I'm cool with that." Rachel's eyes roll hard. Troy's hand lands on her arm, pressing lightly. "But the minute people think there's something real there, it's gonna fuck us all over. I can't be the guy whose girl turns into a lesbian. And you don't want to be Anne Heche."
The pit that has suddenly weighted her stomach is revolting. "Do you even know who Anne Heche is?" she asks.
"Does anyone?" he asks pointedly. Rachel falters, her annoyance tempered when he shoots her a knowing look before flopping over to his side of the bed.
Troy is a smart guy. She sometimes forgets that. There's a reason why he's so successful in this industry. He plays the game like he was born for it.
She glances down at her phone, looks at Santana's name and the tiny picture of the two of them together.
Getting Santana to help mix a new song on her album gets things moving at Columbia. Already, it's helping to age her fanbase down.
It's the best thing for her career right now, and she knows it.
But there's a sinking pit in her stomach that tells her that this feels like she's using Santana, and Rachel isn't sure why she can't shake it off.
She doesn't... back off persay. There's nothing really to back off from. She and Santana are legitimately just friends. And really, so what if the media and their fans seem to read into every little thing they do?
She gets a text while she's sitting on a chair on set, waiting for the lights to be reset, and being prodded and pricked by hair and wardrobe: So are we doing this thing or not?
It's Santana who, according to her manager, has been in Germany the last week headlining some crazy music festival. Rachel feels her heart jump. It's almost silly how much she's missed Santana, considering that before this month they hadn't spoken in years.
Juan, the hair stylist, spritzes some product in her hair while she tilts the phone and types back: Is that your way of telling me that you're back in town and ready to start collaborating?
"Babe, I need you to lift your head for me."
She obeys, so Margot, the makeup artist, can carefully float some powder on her nose to keep it from shining. Rachel's phone buzzes again.
God, sue me if I forgot how to speak Rachel.
The grin that floats on her face seems ridiculously giddy. I'd say you're still pretty good at it.
"That the boyfriend or the publicist?" Rachel glances up, smile muting as Margot puts her brushes back in her fanny pack. Margot is being sweet and conversational, and that's all.
So she resettles in her chair and shakes her head, ready to answer when a text comes back almost immediately: I'm good at a lot of things.
She laughs, until she realizes that both Juan and Margot are now both looking at her with blatant curiosity.
"Neither," she answers finally, but keeps her eyes on her phone: That I've also heard.
"Well whoever it is, they've got you blushing, honey."
She's NOT, though she does feel a little heated at the moment. Television sets are normally cold to overcompensate for the bright lights, but this one seems unreasonably warm. "It's just my friend Santana."
Apparently that was the wrong thing to say. Both Juan and Margot freeze in almost scary synchronized unison.
"Wait… not Santana Lopez," Margot says, eyes narrowing.
Rachel's phone buzzes, and she wills herself not to look quite yet. "Yeah," she says haltingly. "Are you a fan?"
"So the rumors are true?!" Juan squeaks, and Rachel rolls her eyes and glances back down at her screen: Well now I wanna know what you heard.
"Oh honey, no," Margot says with this dramatic sigh. "Don't do that to Troy! You can crack a walnut on his little tush!"
The happy flush that's been crawling up her cheeks fades momentarily. In its place, she feels a cold chill of annoyance. "You two are ridiculous," she snaps, before her teeth press gnawingly into her lower lip and she types, Nothing you haven't heard yourself, I imagine. "We've been friends since high school and now we're working on a song together. Not everyone wants to sleep with Santana Lopez."
"Hell, I do," Juan twitters. "What?" he says defensively, when both women stare at him. "I told you guys I was straight?!"
"We didn't believe you," Margot informs him and ignores the face he gives her when another actor calls for makeup. She's off, like brush-laden Make Over superhero.
"And you wouldn't have a chance anyway," Rachel says to Juan, hand drifting distractedly to her nape as her phone buzzes: Hmm... I would say people exaggerate but when it comes to the skillz, I have to admit, I'm pretty bad ass.
Rachel's quiet smile widens: I know. I was in the next curtain room over, remember?
"Oh don't do that!" Juan slaps at her hand, keeping it out of her hair. "I just fixed that."
"Sorry!" she says, but feels oddly self-conscious when he just stares at her. "What?"
"You realize you're giggling like a giddy school girl, right?"
Rachel stiffens. Her eyes flicker up coldly. "What you're seeing is someone who is grateful and happy to reconnect with her best friend. That's all."
"You sure?" he asks, brow rising high.
"Yes," she snaps, and crosses her legs. The annoyance is starting to become real. Juan won't GO AWAY, and though she usually enjoys his company, it's beyond obvious that she's busy. "Juan, what?!"
"Are her boobs real?"
"Get away from me," she says, shoving at his chest with a heeled foot. He guffaws and bows, waving his hand in surrender as he heads over to check the rest of the actors in the scene.
Oh shit, well two can play at that game. Remember that time I literally got a face full of hairy Man-Butt because you and Brody forgot I slept on the couch? Cause I sure as hell do.
Rachel's laughter nearly explodes from her throat. She does remember that now. Brody used to equate that memory of sitting on a sleeping cat, claws and all.
Okay, number 1 - Brody used to wax. That butt was clean. and two - That was entirely your fault. I told you to buy a bed!
... Gross. Rachel shakes her head; the picture of Santana's disgusted expression is conjured almost too easily. And you still owe me for that.
Santana would think that. Rachel's tongue darts down to wet her lips. Mmhmm. And what do I owe you exactly?
For a moment, all Rachel sees is the tiny little dots that show her that her message is being read. She sits, oddly on edge as she waits for the reply. Been figuring that out for five years, Rachel.
It's a little disappointing that Santana isn't more specific. Rachel's kind of curious what kind of favors Santana looks for nowadays: Then I look forward to finding out.
Me too. Thursday? Dinner, wine then an intimate jam session at my place?
I think it's a date. Can't wait.
"Two minutes!" Rachel nods to the AD so he knows she's heard him and brings her attention back to her phone. After a moment, she finds herself swiping over to her gallery of photos. There's a few from Drew's party, taken later in the evening when she and Santana were a little tipsier. They're cheek to cheek; Rachel's eyes are closed but her face is scrunched in a silly smile. She looks so happy, pressed intimately against Santana, arms thrown sloppily around her shoulders.
She has a moment of hesitation, before Rachel squares her shoulders and makes up her mind. Quickly, she opens up Instagram, and chooses a filter for the photo that brightens up the dark picture. She uploads it with the caption, "Nothing better than reconnecting with old friends." and adds the hashtag #loftymemories.
She adds a smiley for affect and tags Santana's Instagram account. A moment, and then a press of her finger and it's uploaded to Cyberspace. Rachel immediately pushes off her chair, heading toward the waving AD, ready to replace the Stand In and get through the scene.
When it's over, Rachel goes back to her chair and discovers she's already received a flood of notifications. The one that makes her smile is from Instagram account SantanaDJLopez, who comments, "New York ain't got nothing on LA. The best is yet to come. #makingbeautifulmusictogether."
Rachel stares at the comment, and then at Santana's profile picture.
Her stomach twists, her chest tightens, and it's the best possible emotion.
When Rachel's phone rings and she immediately recognizes the ringtone as Kurt's, she knows it's either an emergency or Kurt is drunk. A Madrid party goes all night, and Kurt has adapted as readily and eagerly as any gorgeous, successful gay man would.
Rachel's driving to Santana's, but thankfully, she's never lost that responsible edge and so she easily answers via her voice automated Bluetooth. "Kurt, why are you calling? It's four AM in Madrid!"
"Bitch, I know what time it is!" So… drunk then. "And don't try to distract me! I'm so pissed at you!"
"Kurt, I'm driving," she warns, and signals for a left turn. "Can you be pissed at me tomorrow when you're sober?"
"No! I wanna be pissed right now! Why didn't you tell me you had met up with Santana?!"
"Because the time zones suck and you never answer your emails or texts during Fashion Week?" she sputters, and then blinks, making the turn. "And how did you find out?!"
"Tina Cohen-Chang-Chang sent me a link to some VERY steamy pictures."
Rachel would roll her eyes extra hard for emphasis, but unfortunately, she has to keep her attention on the road. Los Angeles drivers suck. "Doesn't she have anything else to do other than send everyone every bit of New Directions gossip she can get her hands on?"
"Don't change the subject."
"I'm not!" Rachel's head shakes with annoyance. "It's just sad and a little stupid!"
"What's stupid is that I had to find out from TINA that my two old roommates are hooking up!" he squeals, words slurring a bit in his drunkenness.
Rachel comes to a stop sign and sighs, eyes closing in frustration. "Kurt, we're not hooking up. Don't be ridiculous. You of all people should know better."
"I see… and this picture of you hoover-latched on to her mouth-"
"I was going for her cheek!"
"Why didn't you call me?!" he pouts, genuinely put out by it all. "You know I miss her too!"
"You're on a whole other continent," she reminds him, but oddly, she finds herself wondering why she hasn't called him. It should have been her first impulse. She and Kurt may not be as close as they used to be, distance will do that to any friendship, but they still try to maintain their monthly SKYPE gossip-fest. Considering their history and the fact that he and Santana had their own special gay-friendship, he should have been the first to know that they had found each other again.
But she hadn't told him. She hadn't told anyone. Not even Quinn, who still calls often and randomly talks about Santana and how annoying it is to see her and her abs splashed on different posters around New York.
This thing with Santana, random texts that make her smile and give her a giddy, wonderful feeling, she's kept to herself.
Maybe Rachel hasn't been ready to let the rest of the world in. They've invaded enough of their privacy.
"That is no excuse."
"I'm sorry," she relents, because there's nothing else she can say. "Honestly, it's just happened so quickly. We ran into each other at Drew's party, and then now we're working on a song together-"
"Oh My God, does Quinn know?"
"… No," she responds, because that's random.
"She'll want to know," he twitters. "Oh! Tell that Santana bitch to call me! And ask Santana if she's got ab implants! And whether or not I can confirm that boob job!"
"Oh for the love of God, Kurt!" Rachel shakes her head, and reminds herself once more than her chatty best friend is also drunk as hell. Her GPS warns her that she's approaching the residence of one Santana Lopez. "Look, I have to let you go-"
"I promise I will call you and tell you EVERYTHING, but right now I have dinner plans."
"Oooh, what does Troy think?!"
"I'm hanging up!" she snaps and follows through, cutting off the call even though Kurt sputters in complaint.
Santana owns a gorgeous place in a quietly expensive part of West LA, in an area where parking can be a real pain unless you have a garage or a permit. Santana, thankfully, has already given Rachel permission to use her driveway, and so she easily pulls up behind Santana's now recognizable red metallic Mercedes G 63 AMG. Rachel makes a note to bite her tongue in order to keep from scolding Santana on the gas-guzzling, presumptuous monstrosity.
She sits in the car for a brief moment, and considers her situation. There's a tense knot in her stomach.
Rachel equates it to nerves. She's been reminded of the stakes once again by her publicist, who has told her in no uncertain terms that she needs this. Rachel's wrapped up her recurring guest stint, and is now treading water in that horrible limbo that comes with waiting for different prospects and projects to pan out and hoping her headshot is the one that lands on top.
There's also a very real possibility that she'll be back on Broadway soon; her old producer who launched her career with Cinderella has begun working on a modern revival of Into the Woods, and Rachel's her first choice for the role of the Witch.
Provided, of course that she can 'get her investors in line'.
Rachel's worked in the business too long to be ignorant about what that means; it's not her talent that's in question. Apparently, Leighton Meester has also expressed interest, and has a hot new drama on TNT that gives her cache.
There's real pressure to deliver something good with Santana, something that will get her noticed and put her on the charts with a solid hit or at least the right kind of buzz. Enough buzz will sell tickets, put asses in seats and will give investors the incentive to cast Rachel in the part.
Rachel glances up to eye herself in the mirror. She's determinedly casual, but she makes a point of fluffing out her bangs and rechecking her eyeliner before she opens her car door and begins the significantly long walk up the sidewalk.
It's hard not to wonder what Santana is getting out of this. Her friend's fame may be a little more scandalously earned than her own (her rise to fame is predictably boring in comparison), but she's appreciated for more than just her sex tape. Santana has worked with some of the most recognized music artists in the industry. She's Stephen Soderbergh's current muse, and though Santana seems to genuinely prefer music to acting, she's in that very fortunate place where she's hot and marketable and able to pick her projects.
It takes more humility than Rachel thinks she has to admit that Santana doesn't actually need this. The fact that Santana has agreed to this collaboration so readily has had Rachel wondering quite a bit what Santana's true motivations are.
It's unfair to Santana, really. They had their differences, and yes Santana used to be manipulative as hell when she wanted something, but what could she possibly gain here other than a chance to sing and work with an old friend?
She knows Santana cares about her. They forged a genuine and real connection in New York; Santana was there for her when even Kurt couldn't begin to know how to help her. God, Santana even confessed to genuinely loving Rachel, and that was during the period of time when Rachel kicked her out of her apartment for trying to expose her man whore boyfriend, making Santana's 'breasts ache with rage' in the process.
This is an opportunity, and a good one. The fact that it's with Santana? It's icing on the cake.
Bolstered, Rachel heads up the stone steps to Santana's impressive home and raises her hand, ready to knock on the heavy wooden door when suddenly it bursts outward, flying open and making her nearly trip back down the stairs in surprise.
It's Santana of course, with her hair pulled back in a messy ponytail and her bright brown eyes shining brightly with mischief. "Guess what I picked up at Pavilions," she says in a tone that's almost CHIPPER, like it hasn't been at least a month since they've last seen each other. She holds up a copy of STAR. "We're not just digital anymore."
It takes Rachel a moment to gather herself. She narrows her eyes and focuses on the magazine that Santana is shaking at her. And oh wow… she's actually looking at a recently snapped shot of her and Troy at his movie premiere, with a dramatic line splitting the two of them. 'Hollywood Homewrecker?" is the question in bright white font. Nestled meaningfully between the two is one of those ridiculous shots of her and Santana intimately standing together at Drew's party. 'Inside the torrid Bi-sexual love triangle', reads the caption below it.
Rachel's eyes widen and her breath quickens in horror. "Oh God," she breathes, snatching the magazine out of Santana's hands to get a better look. "Are you kidding?"
Santana just looks fucking amused. "Apparently, I rocked your world and ruined you for all penises everywhere," she preens, which is really aggravating.
"This is so stupid," Rachel breathes, stepping into the house and keeping her fingers and eyes glued to the glossy pages, turning and skimming until she finds the cover story. There she is, plastered all over the spread. Supposed confirmed sources 'close' to her and Santana state confidently that she's infatuated with her high school friend and ready to leave Troy.
"Well obviously," Santana says, shutting the door behind her. "But it's also pretty damn funny."
It's really, really not.
"Why is it funny?" she snaps.
Had Santana not presented her with this piece of trash the second she walked up to her door, Rachel might have taken the time to notice Santana's house, compliment her on the dark tones and tasteful decorations clearly placed there by an interior decorator and not Santana herself, who Rachel remembers as always being somewhat of a messy roommate.
Instead, Rachel thoughtlessly sinksdown onto Santana's black vintage couch, scanning the article with an increasing sense of dismay.
"Why is it not?"
"These people are telling lies about us, Santana!"
Santana seems distressingly unperturbed. "Oh come on," she says, in that same dismissive tone she always used to use when Rachel was trying to actually be sincere about something and she never gave a shit. "They're just excited. It'll be old news in like a month." She's sipping on a glass of red wine, legs crossing as she settles in a lounge chair, regarding Rachel like some dame from a forties flick. "Do you know how many girls I've reportedly corrupted?"
It's the blasé tone that pushes the irritation into actual annoyance at her old friend. "I do actually," she snaps, slapping the magazine down and tossing it on the cushion beside her. "And I'm not exactly itching to become one of them."
"What the hell does that mean?" Santana asks after a moment, with a defensive hitch in her throat that Rachel immediately recognizes, because of course NOW Santana decides she's insulted.
Rachel's eyes flutter closed. She's heated and blushing, and there's a panicky fluttering in her chest that makes it difficult to breathe.
Still, she tries her best to calm herself, pressing her palm against her face and breathing in deeply. "Nothing," she mumbles, because it's just a stupid magazine and it's lies and it's not worth it.
But of course, now that Santana's hurt and pissed off, it's apparently completely worth it to her."No really, you're actually complaining about this?" The boots Santana wears kick in the direction of the stupid magazine. "What happened to any press is good press, Rachel?"
"Santana," she moans, because this isn't what she came for. Not now. "Can we not-"
"When's the last time you've been on the cover of Star, Rachel?"
Santana still knows how to slice where it hurts. Though she and Santana have texted frequently since their reconnection, they've never discussed career beyond the first night. It's been a subject that's been avoided because it seems to be a sensitive subject for both of them.
At least until one of them gets pissed off.
With stiff shoulders and a cold glare, Rachel finds herself drawling to her glaring friend, "Well it's nice to know that all these years haven't made you any less of a bitch, Santana."
She regrets this turn of events immediately. She's been looking forward to today. She's wanted to see Santana again for weeks now, and honestly all that she wanted when she came to the doorway is to see Santana's beautiful face, hug that gorgeous figure, and smile and chat over a glass of wine. She didn't want… petty arguing over something that shouldn't mean anything at all.
And God, she knows better.
Rachel knows how easily Santana's feathers get ruffled. She's always been annoyingly delicate, like an armadillo that's been turned over, with that soft squishy belly hidden under those armored plates.
"Fine," she snaps, and knocks her glass so hard on the table beside her it nearly sloshes over the cup. "Whatever Rachel." She rises and it makes Rachel stand too. "You know if this is bothering you this much we don't have to work together."
Of course, that's exactly where Santana goes. "Santana," she sighs, tired of this now. "Come on."
It's almost annoying how even after all these years, Rachel can recognize the hurt that flashes in Santana's suddenly vulnerable eyes before she's met with that stone-faced expression.
"No seriously!" Santana's hair falls forward, hiding her face from Rachel as she whirls, snapping up the stupid magazine and shaking it at her. "If you're so afraid of your pussy getting Santana'd then we can just quit this right now. I don't want you to catch the gay!"
And God, wouldn't that be delicious tabloid fodder? The Broadway Diva and the temperamental Superstar DJ can't even spend five minutes with each other without wanting to claw each other's eyes out? Collaboration dissolves over personality conflicts!
She needs to stop thinking in headlines.
Rachel isn't sure how the anger has faded. It seems to have ebbed away as quickly as its come. Rachel is glad for it. It gives her perspective, and now she's feeling both guilty and apologetic. Clearly, she's hit a sore subject with Santana, and maybe Santana's encountered this before. It can't be easy to be such an easy target with the media, to be seen with a woman and immediately be painted as a harlot or a home wrecker.
Maybe Santana thought Rachel would be the one person to not care about any of it. Who would look at that magazine and just laugh, because it's not true and Santana is just Santana to her.
No more, no less.
With an indrawn breath, Rachel palms against her thighs and steps forward. She guides herself with instinct, edging forward until she's carefully moved into Santana's space. Santana stiffens, but doesn't move away. It's a good sign.
"You know I don't want to do that," she says quietly, almost a whisper against Santana's cheek.
She hears Santana's breath go uneven. Dark eyes turn and study her intensely. "So what do you want?" she asks, soft and quiet. Rachel feels her heart thud with affection because she knows that Santana doesn't really want to see her go, any more than Rachel wants to leave.
She offers a smile that Santana once called 'infuriatingly charming', and presses in closer. "I want to sing with you," she admits, quiet and to the point. "And I want to not give a shit what the rest of the world thinks about it." Santana's mouth twitches at her crassness. She always did like it when Rachel swore. Rachel tilts her head, drags the toe of her heels on Santana's hardwood floor. "Do you want to sing with me?" she asks, quietly vulnerable.
There it is, that sweet smile that forms on Santana's lips when she's amused or affected against her will. "Fuck you Rachel," she sighs, and Rachel's mouth stretches into a genuine grin when she continues grumpily, "God help me, I really do."
That giddy, happy feeling that's Santana's managed to bring out of her so easily lately with just a text or a call comes back in full force.
"Then let's start over," she says, and clears her throat, shaking her hands to rid herself of the negative energy and offers her well-practiced mega-watt best smile for her friend. "Hi Santana, it's good to see you. I've missed you."
Santana's brow rises, clearly amused against her will, and she rolls her eyes and mutters, "Berry, it's good to see you too."
"I'm going to hug you now," Rachel warns, because she's close enough and she wants to do it. She doesn't wait for Santana's permission; just takes in that extra half step to slide her hands around Santana's tiny waist and bring her in close.
Santana's arms press in against her shoulders, and Rachel can hear her friends heartbeat, unsteady thanks to their little spat, bopping against her chest like one of those bass speakers that Santana loves so much.
Lips brush against her forehead and Rachel sighs in contentment.
"You know it's been years," Santana mumbles against her temple, "You don't have to warn me every time you hug me. I'm used to it by now."
Rachel laughs and reaches back to slap her friend lightly across her shoulder. Santana smiles sweetly, and Rachel is so, so glad that they're okay.
She finally gets a tour, of the first floor at least, and some hot tea instead of wine, because she is going to be singing after all, before they venture downstairs to Santana's basement and into Santana's sound-proofed, professional and intimate recording studio. In here, Rachel sees Santana's true self. Piles of records and pinboards tacked with old pictures and notes litter the area. There's an award or two there, because Santana's only released a couple albums but there's been a few hits on both, and a little mini-fridge that hums and makes Rachel think of a dorm room.
It's such a leap from the tiny computer and huge headphones that Santana used to wear sitting on the couch back when she took that music theory course, and Rachel discovers she's actually choked up with pride.
"Impressed?" she hears, and turns from the expensive equipment to Santana, smug as hell as she leans against the doorway, content it seems to just let Rachel discover the place.
"Um… wow," she laughs, because this is an amazing space to work and honestly she is jealous as hell. " I am impressed." Her fingers skim against the table that features the audio interface, all the knobs and levels and dials that will fine tune the sound.
"I usually have a few assistants and my producer but I thought since we're just brain storming, it can be just me and you."
"Do you work from out here a lot?"
There's a small stool in the center of the room, poised with a microphone fitted loosely in its own stand. It looks quiet and lonely, all by itself.
Rachel's distracted from the image when she feels the brush of Santana, who settles in beside her, fiddling with the levels, flipping on switches that turn lights green and red. She's gentle as she works with her equipment, and Rachel finds it quietly fascinating.
"I still go into the studio to record the big label stuff, but this is home to me." Santana pauses, and glances at her, and seems to reconsider that. "Well… New York is home," she amends. "But when I'm here… here I am."
It explains the cold, impersonal house. Santana makes her living hopping continents. Rachel would venture a guess that when Santana is in town, she spends more nights on that raggedly old leather couch that's settled in the corner than in the pristine thousand dollar mattress in her bedroom upstairs.
"I know what you mean." Rachel drags her fingers along the equipment, careful not to disturb anything. With an exhalation of breath she didn't realize she was holding, she steps away from Santana to head for that stool. She settles down onto it, oddly content and passive as she watches Santana in her element, manipulating all those little buttons and grabbing hold of the giant headphones that look more expensive than Rachel's designer watch.
"You know I bought that loft."
Rachel blinks, eyes lifting to witness Santana's suddenly shy smile. She finds her smile widening, a laugh of disbelief falling out of her. "Are you serious?"
"Mmmhm." Santana turns away from the interface, and leans up against it, arms crossed, regarding Rachel. "Don't get too excited. It's not exactly the same. I put in actual walls," she drawls with a sly, mischievous smile.
Rachel fights the urge to roll her eyes as she shakes her head and replies just as flippantly, "Well I'm sure there's quite a few ladies that are happy to hear about that."
If it was something she constantly heard Santana complain about, it was the fact that they lived like hippies and all knew exactly when and how often the other roommates got laid.
She also once told Rachel that she was living out her own nightmare because she now knew that Rachel was as loud in bed as she was in the shower, and then proceeded to do an eerily accurate imitation of Rachel having an orgasm.
It was mortifying.
The heated blush that tints her cheeks doesn't fade because following that memory comes another one, when during a visit from MIT genius Brittany, Rachel heard sounds coming from Santana's curtained room all night (and all morning) that sounded like she was being murdered by pure pleasure.
God, she knows exactly what Santana sounds like when she comes.
Rachel has no idea why the very idea makes her so breathless.
"Not as many as you'd think," Santana says suddenly. Rachel glances up heatedly, but Santana doesn't face her. She's lost in her work, and Rachel's glad for it.
Goosebumps have prickled on her arm and there's an image of Santana naked that it entirely too easy to conjure up, because that bathroom was SMALL, and they had surprisingly little boundaries for a lesbian, a gay man and a woman who is mostly straight. Probably.
She's not really sure anymore right now.
"Right," she says, and nearly kicks herself when she realizes how strained her voice sounds. "I'll have to text Kurt. I know he loved that place as much as I did." She manages a smile. "It might be nice to see it sometime."
"I'll keep you posted," Santana says, low and quiet, absorbed in whatever program she's pulling up. Rachel is struck by how… husky her voice sounds in this small room. Rachel has always admired the raspy quality of Santana's tone, but it's never felt this… thick before. She attributes it to the padding on the walls, engineered so no sound can escape it. "Sometimes I sublet." There's a smirk on Santana's face; it's sexy in a way Rachel doesn't ever remember it being.
She realizes she's staring the moment Santana's dark eyes lift and connect with her own.
The sudden emotion that erupts within her so unsettling Rachel nearly spills her tea. She fumbles, eyes skimming away, bringing the cup to her lips and drinking deep.
"So…" Rachel begins, once she's regained her poise. "Music?" she tries, because there's a reason why they're here, and it's not to contemplate on why Santana seems to be suddenly leaking pheromones.
"Right," Santana says after a moment, and Rachel's quietly grateful when she turns away, back to her dials and headphones. "Well… I've been thinking about style, and working on a few beats."
Rachel's done a little preparation of her own. She's heard Santana's albums. It's surprising; Santana doesn't sing on her tracks as much as she would expect. Santana's instead put her talent in mixing the music. She's chosen certain artists to match the different songs, clearly experimenting with genres and different voices. Still, they all have their own unique pulsing rhythm; Santana's mixed beats are intoxicating and perfect for a dance floor or a work-out routine.
Rachel has always known her own strengths and her own weaknesses. Even in high school, she knew what her voice was suited for. It's a remix of Amy Winehouse' Rehab. "Okay," she answers unsteadily, feeling suddenly vulnerable. "I'm not sure how good I am at disco music."
Santana pauses long enough to shoot a hard glare over the console. "I'm going to ignore the fact that you called my shit disco music," she says, with enough exaggerated offense to make Rachel giggle, "And instead say that I have something else in mind."
Santana grins this secret smile that is more charming than it should be. She pauses, brushing bangs out of her face as she glances back up at her. "Yeah. Remember when you sang that David Guetta song 'Without You' in Glee Club?"
"I do." Of course she does. She remembers that day vividly. It comes back so quickly, young Rachel perched on a stool so similar to this one, pouring her heart out to Finn Hudson, because at that moment he was her very world and she needed desperately for him to know that.
A knot suddenly locks into the back of her throat.
She didn't think she could live without him, and now… when was the last time she's even thought about Finn?
"I liked it." Rachel exhales, shaken out of her memory to find that Santana isn't facing her as she makes her confession. Instead her friend seems oddly shy, like a kid who's just admitted a crush.
The painful nostalgia is replaced with heartwarming affection, because honestly, what are the odds that this person would be the one that's still around after all this time?
"Thank you, Santana," she breathes, as sincerely as she can.
Santana finally looks at her. "I want to do the same thing here," she explains. "With us." Santana settles into the large swivel chair, and leans forward, eyes on Rachel as she speaks in a tone that is confident and firm. "I want to hear you raw and emotional… no one does it like you do, Rachel." Santana's palms open and she straightens, motioning to her mountain of equipment. "And then I do what I do with the beats and a harmonizing chorus."
She's going to sing with her then. Rachel smiles. "Sounds like a winning combination," she answers honestly and is rewarded by an excited, gorgeous smile.
They share a quiet moment of appreciation, before Santana turns once again to her interface. "Listen to this."
Rachel waits, literally on the edge of her seat as she watches Santana in her element, slender fingers flying. Suddenly little waves begin to pulse on the monitor and the bass speakers thump with notes, a melody that is synthesized into a catchy, quick beat. Santana lets it play, bobbing her head to the rhythm, and then reaches for a piece of paper that she leans forward to hand to Rachel.
It's scribbled with lyrics, half written. "I figured we could work on that together," Santana say. "Since I got myself a genius lyricist right here."
Rachel can't tell if she's kidding or being sincere, because yes, Rachel wrote Get it Right, but she also wrote My Headband, and she knows Santana's never quite forgiven her for that.
Still, the music is inviting, and Rachel discovers herself humming along to the notes that Santana's inscribed, feeling the melody out with her vocal chords, sounding out the words on her tongue.
It's a surprisingly soothing tone, dipping over the mixed beats a little like a surfboard slipping serenely through waves.
"You like it?" Santana asks.
Rachel's head lifts. "I like it," she rasps, but it feels like an understatement.
Santana's throat bobs with a hard swallow. There's a moment where Santana just smiles at her, so pleased and perfect, and then suddenly she lifts her hand and offers her the floor. "So sing it for me."
Santana turns up the speakers, and matches the power of Rachel's voice as she looks down at the half scribbled lyrics and lets the music flow.
Her heart trembles, her eyes shine, and as Santana nods happily. She joins in, taking the harmony, matching her voice so beautifully Rachel wonders if it's possible that feeling like she's gone back home can come from a person… from a song… not a place at all.
They didn't write the world's most amazing love song. It's a pop song with an infectious beat and a chorus that's so simple it almost feels TOO simple, but the power comes from the fact that they've written a ballad matched to a dance song.
It's late and they forgot to eat.
Rachel's throat is scratchy. She's worn out and her body is sluggish, but when Santana plays the finished rough cut of the song one more time, it fills her with such a sense of pride she finds herself sinking into Santana's side, giggling with happiness.
"Fuck," Santana laughs, sliding an arm around her waist to keep her curled up against her, and Rachel knows she feels it too.
She's taking slow, tired steps toward Santana's foyer. The song demo has been sent to the suits and her agents. Rachel decides she doesn't want to think about what the inevitable notes will be. Even if they hate it, she thinks it's been worth it.
Tonight has been incredible.
"You know it's funny." Rachel's got her purse on her shoulder, she wavers in the hall. Santana's walking with her, and Rachel thinks it's terrifyingly sweet, how carefully Santana's guiding her to the door, considering she's sure Santana's just as exhausted as she is.
Rachel hums, mouth flattening as she considers her words. "Don't get me wrong, you're insanely talented," she concedes, and shrugs her shoulder in apology. "But I never took you for a song writer." Santana's eyes narrow, debating whether or not to take offense. Rachel grins. "Well you know, except for 'Trouty Mouth'."
Santana snorts good-naturedly, and it makes Rachel chuckle, pressing back against the empty wall of the hallway. "Well, you know, not everyone can match the brilliance of 'My Headband'."
"My Headband is a classic," she retorts. "And your ex-girlfriend LOVED it."
"If you start singing it I'm going to kill you," Santana warns. "Brittany wouldn't stop playing that damn song on loop in high school. Drove me fucking nuts."
Rachel's mouth quirks again, but that smile fades. It really is late. Rachel has a meeting tomorrow, and she knows Santana is due to be on a plane to Florida for some concert event.
The crickets battle with the occasional vroom of a car passing by. Rachel stares at the closed wooden door, and yet can't quite bring herself to push off the wall.
She doesn't want to go yet. Instead, Rachel gnaws quietly on her lower lip, and once again stares at her friend. "This is a good song, isn't it?"
Santana's lips purse. She possibly notes the vulnerable expression on Rachel's face, because her expression softens and she comes closer to slip fingers slip in her own, tugging lightly, until she breaks the loose hold over her chest and their interlocked hands hang between them.
"Look," Santana says, firm and quiet. "This may be a hit and it may not be." Thumbs slide delicately over her fingers. Rachel sighs raggedly and studies the way their fingers mold together, rubbing gently together, skin against skin. "I'm not a mind reader, but every song is like a person. It has to have a soul. And this song has soul. It's got a little bit of me," she whispers, bringing their hands to rest briefly against her chest, "And a little bit of you." The fingers now press against Rachel's breast, right where her heart beats.
As it on command, Rachel's heartbeat trips unsteadily. She smiles mutely, eyes blinking with moisture because she gets what Santana's trying to say. She does. What they've done is special. Santana's taken the best part of them both and created a song from the pieces. Because songs, Santana explained flippantly, are like people. And if people are like songs, then Rachel is a ballad. Bold and dramatic and maybe a little too sappy for her own good.
As for Santana? Well, Santana is just a crazy mix of all the right beats. Rachel studies the beautiful face intensely; notes the way their fingers have interlocked, how close Santana is to her now. There's solid wall at Rachel's back, but Santana is now less than a foot away. She smells her perfume; feels her heat. "So if a person is like a song, then what's a duet?" Rachel asks in a low, careful voice.
Santana's breath goes a bit unsteady. Rachel swallows at the reaction, and lowers her attention to the fingers that play idly with her own, smoothing delicately over the tip of her digits, until there's a thread of sensation against her sensitive inner wrists.
"I don't know," Santana murmurs, eyes on their fingers and the way they dance together. Dark eyes lift and connect with her own. "What does it feel like to you, Rachel?"
What does it feel like?
Santana's fingers drift away from her own. Hands smooth against her bare forearms, and suddenly the palms are pressing in on either side of her. Rachel's fingers are now lightly pressing against Santana's flat stomach. She skims instinctively, and feels the muscles underneath the shirt jolt in reaction.
Rachel licks her lips. The air is thick around them, and Rachel wonders if it should be suffocating, to have Santana so close. "Honestly?" she half whispers, as she catches the fabric of Santana's shirt between her knuckles, elbows sliding back to pull her in that much closer.
"Do we do anything else?" Santana asks, but that mouth is so much closer than it was before, and Rachel sees hooded eyes and long lashes, and then nothing at all, because her eyes have drifted shut at the brush of lips against her own.
The jolt strikes inside of her like flint. Her fingers flex, her mouth opens, and Santana partakes greedily, kissing her with an experienced hunger that inflames Rachel's arousal.
Fingers drag into Santana's nape, drawing her in closer, and Rachel's tongue slips wetly between Santana's parted lips, sighing when Santana groans in reaction. Rachel's heart pounds; her head pulses and when an open palm boldly slides against her clothed breast, catching against her erect nipple, the buck of her hips brings her back to reality.
She gasps harshly, so intensely Santana breaks away.
The silence is deafening. Rachel blinks, breathing deeply. She looks at those swollen lips, feels the way her mouth tingles, the way her heated and aroused body throbs for more.
But Santana just stares at her, eyes brown and wild, expression hooded and impossible to read.
Suddenly Rachel can't feel anything but panic.
"I should go," she whispers unsteadily.
Santana doesn't say anything, doesn't do anything, when Rachel breaks free from her hold and heads shakily to the door. She lets Rachel leave and never says a word, and Rachel can't even begin to comprehend why it matters, but it does.