Eight years after they part ways, Rachel and Jesse meet on Broadway.
Spoilers: Spoilers up to (kind of) Hell-O.
The only guy we've seen that I could envision in a lasting relationship with Rachel Berry is Jesse St. James. And the only way I could see them happening naturally and without the silly obstacles we have right now is if we set them in the future, a little less crazy. Hence this story!
I wanted to post this before The Power of Madonna aired, so if you're reading this after, please realise that this is with barely existent knowledge of where this show is going to go with every character. And also realise that I've written this out in my head twenty or thirty times, but I keep forgetting tiny things here and there - so if you think this is rushed, or if you come back in a bit and see edits around this story, you know why.
And finally - this story isn't narrative/with a storyline so much as it's basically a string of the little things that take place within this set-up. I feel like that warning is necessary.
After a handful of minor roles, she originates the female lead in the new musical Mink. Its run on West End lasts six months, labelled "critically acclaimed" within a week, "crowd-pleasing" within two. Her name comes up positively in nearly all the reviews, even the negative ones, and she's blown away. She's always known she would go somewhere, but to have it proven to her is something else.
When the musical moves out of the West End into Broadway, the male lead stays, so she lets it go, too. (They'd become quick, close friends, and playing Portia without him feels wrong.) She does go to Broadway, though, and her agent hunkers down on finding her new roles. With her new acclaim, landing an audition isn't hard - not at all as difficult as it'd been in London, fresh out of music school.
Two nights before the day of her third audition back in the city, she gets a call from a ex-classmate, inviting her to a small party of people from Broadway. She jumps at the opportunity.
She still can't get over the fact that after eighteen years of being phased out by most of the public, she's found people who appreciate her. These people know what it feels like to love music, and they know what it feels like to work for it relentlessly. The extent of craziness differs, of course, and she knows she's always going to be a little too much, but for the most part, she fits in. Conversation is easy, and she even finds a couple of people who've watched her or know the people she worked with in Mink.
She's walking alone to the snack table when they spot each other at the same time, both pausing in their surveys of the room as their eyes meet. She's surprised (and very pleased), but she holds it back, schooling her features to form an only mildly surprised expression - and then she lets her natural response through, a small smile. He doesn't bother with a filter - his answering smile is bright, confident as always. She lifts her head in an upward-nod, questioning, and he shrugs. He tilts his head slightly to the right, and she shrugs right back. His smile widens, and he lifts the bottle in his hand to his temple, saluting her lightly.
He looks away when someone walks up to him, and she hope that means he didn't see her flush.
She knows too many people will be surprised that the first time Rachel Berry and Jesse St. James come face-to-face in eight years, their conversation is completely silent.
She nails that third audition, and they give her notes for the callback straight away. She isn't surprised.
All and Sundry is a comedy/musical about four people (two women, two men) forced to live together because of circumstance (there's something about crime, too, which will surely widen her experience and broaden her audience).
Chemistry between both couples, both pairs of friends, and all four of the leads are so important that she's nervous - certainly for chemistry people will need to like her, and she's never been able to manage that right off the bat. The callback audition will happen over two days - she auditions with females leads for half a day, males for the rest of that day, and the next day works on all four.
(She's terrified.) She'll kill it.
The first half of the day goes unexpectedly well. Jenna is the third actress she's fixed to during the rotating auditions, and she's talented. Even better, they take an immediate liking towards each other and their scene just fits. When they hug before all the girls are separated into the guys' rooms, she tells Jenna honestly that she hopes she gets the part. She likes being able to be honest about these things.
They find each other at the same time again, during the second half of that day, and this time he's close enough to her that she can't tone down her reaction to him. Her fists loosen and she reaches up her back to tug the ends of her hair lightly.
"Rachel Berry," he says. His voice sounds the same.
"Jesse," she returns softly, and she's right back to where she'd been nine years ago: bashful, smiling, and with the wind knocked right out of her. "Hi."
"I watched you in Mink," he offers unexpectedly, "You've improved."
"Thank you. I watched you in Michael three years ago and thought your vocal talent had been severely underused. I hope you've been making better career choices lately," she says curtly, falling right back to their old habit of backhanded, almost grudging compliments.
He smiles lightly. "I'm here, aren't I?" And he turns away.
He knows they will either be cast together or not at all around halfway through their audition together. His reasons:
- She still sounds beautiful.
What she will always get better than anyone he's ever worked with is her ability to wear her emotions on her sleeve, so the love song they sing together blows him away - once or twice he is very close to starting his next line too late. The first time he hears her sing to him in years, even with the mask of her character, she's inhibiting her emotions so completely that he's more affected by her performance than he's ever been. One day he'll admit this to her.
- Their voices fit each other's perfectly. It's particularly obvious when they're harmonising, where they work together so well that even the little things fit, like how neither of their voices overpower the other, and his voice slides in to fill in the gaps she leaves.
- (This may be what nails it.) They keep glancing at each other, away from their sheet music.
She's always the first to smile.
When he gets the call, he doesn't even check if his friend Matt's been cast as the opposite male lead first.
He can hear the delight in the director's voice as he replies, "I'm so happy you asked about her."
They settle into routine quickly. Everything about how they'd been before and how they are now is so dependent on something manic and loud that the quietness of their working relationship both surprises him and doesn't. Yes, both of them are still quick to point out mistakes. And yes, maybe he doesn't get angry at her very often because he tends to tune her out when she starts on a tangent (which he knows she does too). But still. Sometimes he does something a little differently and she smiles at him, which makes him think that maybe he isn't really capable of tuning her out completely. And they creep each other out far less than they scare the other two leads, which helps.
One day they even play Scrabble.
She hasn't really changed - it may only be that everything about her is quieter. Even her joy is muted, as if suppressed by experience and being disappointed too often. His own arrogance has been reduced to mere confidence after his years with equally talented people, but seeing Rachel like this is strange, almost unnatural.
Maybe she's just grown into her huge ambitions, just settled into something she was made for. Here she isn't crazy, she's driven; she's not abrasive, but constructive; she's not mean, but awkward. She isn't lonely, she just prefers to be alone.
The closest he gets to how she used to be is when he angers her, so that's what he does. He usually backs away when she starts scowling at his teasing, but after a while she starts provoking him, too. And he'd be lying if he said he isn't enjoying it.
The only glee club members she still keeps in touch with, he finds out, are Mercedes and Quinn, and by extension Kurt and the guy with the mohawk. Early into their initial rehearsals she gets a call from one of them, which she disconnects quickly to check her email on her iPhone. He catches the glimpse of a wedding invite (words in script on a pink background).
Her face visibly falls, though she tries to hold herself back. He steps a little towards her, almost touching her shoulder in quiet support.
She releases the softest of sighs, then holds a low, deep note, as if pulling herself back, pinning herself to the music. He feels the warm thrum of her voice in the pit of his stomach, and he lets himself shift even closer.
Midway through the rehearsals of every production he's been in, he makes the decision to stop rehearsing and start giving his all. The day this happens with All and Sundry, the first scene he's in is with her.
He spends the first run-through of that scene only gazing at her, doing everything in response to her, singing to her. He minds himself, making sure he doesn't end up facing the back of the stage too often, ensuring that the scene still works. At the end of their song, though, she beams at him, uninhibited and incredibly familiar, and he loses his bearings. It's a barely noticeable reaction, because he doesn't miss any cues while gaping at her, but she catches it, and she laughs so hard she collapses into him.
He curls his fingers around her shoulder reflexively as he catches her, smiling, and when he looks up, Matt is staring at him with an eyebrow raised.
What holds him back from anything more is the last time they spoke, before both of climbed onto their respective buses to go back to their schools, after the Nationals. She'd told him good night and he'd told her goodbye, kissed her cheek (the one that always lifted a split second before the other side when she smiled), and left, ignoring the gold she held in her hands.
He wonders if this is the night she's thinking of when she notices his frown at her and Jenna getting to keep a song and scene (Matt's and his had been cut away the day before). She's quick to pull him away to the hallway outside the stage.
She looks hurt, wronged, and completely assured of the truth, all at once, just like only Rachel Berry has ever managed. He would smile at this, but this look of hers also has the ability to make him feel more wretched than anything he's ever encountered, so he only stares as she babbles at him, waving her arms around fiercely.
Suddenly, as if realising something, she double-takes and asks, "Is this because you came in second?" And then - "I've always known you were proud, Jesse St James, but - " and she stops here, righteous fury tightening her chin and reddening her cheeks, leaving her at a loss for words.
"It's not because of that," he snaps. He wants to tell her it's something to do with shame, annoyance at who he'd been, maybe just a little bit of hurt pride; mostly that he's still getting used to her, and that he isn't prepared to see her move ahead just yet. He doesn't tell her any of that.
She stares at him for a while, then looks away, thoughtful. "I don't think we're good at being happy for each other," she tells him, speaking carefully. "Maybe what we need to do is to work on that." It's quiet and short, and the weight of this idea leaves him feeling bad, though it's the way she says it that makes him feel worse.
But the idea is worth considering.
They don't talk about it at all, but he no longer walks her to her apartment every night, and no longer steals the extra tomato slices she picks out of her sandwiches. She's a little quicker to snap at people but also a little quieter. It's noticeable enough that Jenna looks concerned. Rachel tries to avoid that conversation as much as possible.
"Girl, if he looked at you that way in high school, I'm sorry we told you to drop him!"
She turns deep red at this, and turns away to the wall though she knows no one in the room's really paying attention to her on the phone. "Mercedes," she says, embarrassed. "It's just that one photo, you really have no evidence otherwise - "
"Don't know why you haven't kissed the hell outta that boy yet," she continues, ignoring her friend completely. (Rachel and Mercedes will always talk right over each other, but now they do it equally.)
"I have kissed him - "
"Not for real you haven't - "
"Stop it! I don't know. We're working together, it would be silly to sacrifice that chemistry for something we clearly can't be sure of - and then Jenna told me that there are rumours about him not exactly preferring the opposite sex - "
"Then he'd turn straight for you," Mercedes says, and she sounds like she's going to laugh. "And ain't every guy supposed to be gay in that place?"
She bites her lip and glances at the ceiling with a sigh, giving up. "How's Kurt?"
"He's fine. And rooting for you." She pauses and Rachel hears the higher voice of their friend, muffled in the background. "And he tells you there's no way he's gay."
She smiles at this, and spins around to walk away from the wall. She sees Jesse walking towards her from the nearest door and stills. "Jesse," she says, awkwardly.
"Gotcha," Mercedes says, and cuts off the call abruptly. Rachel blinks at the phone in her hand. When she looks up he's stopped, standing only a few steps away from her. The distance - too close to not converse with each other, but too far away to speak about anything they'd want to speak about in private - makes her shuffle her feet. He's torn between looking amused and similarly uncomfortable.
They study each other steadily, and then give up any pretense of conversation, turning away. Neither of them go first, so neither of them will try.
They are professional enough to keep things from affecting their performance, but anyone can tell they're getting something wrong. They are good enough that on a technical level, their relationship works, but anyone can tell that there's something missing. Worst of all, it's not need that draws them both closer together onstage - it's the blocking.
During their last rehearsal, though, two nights before they open, Rachel takes his hand as she always does during their first scene together, but slips her fingers between his, where they settle comfortably. If they take a little too long to look away from each other and finish the scene, no one complains.
She's realised by now that the eye contact they make with each other when singing/acting isn't just for the sake of chemistry (they have enough of that), and neither is it residual tension from the four months they'd spent together. For her it's because it's the only way she knows how to sing with him, and she feels comfortable, at ease. Sometimes when he smiles at her she knows he feels the same.
On opening night, thirty seconds before she's supposed to enter the stage for her first scene, Jesse grabs her hand, kisses the spot on her forehead where he knows the stage make-up is thinnest because of her perspiration, and whispers, "Okay." The wide, silly smile she gets on her face makes her relieved that her happiness is exactly what this scene calls for - there's no way she could possibly pull off anything else.
She's also realised that what they had wasn't a fight - it was coming to terms. It was a block during which both of them had to acknowledge that maybe things would be difficult to manage, that they would probably get a lot of things wrong, but that both of them were ready to do something about it.
Most of the cast and crew head home exhausted when everything is cleared. When she enters the main dressing room, though, he's leaning on the door at the other side of the room. He straightens at her entrance, then walks towards her, confident as he takes her hands in his, and tugs them behind him to rest them on his back. He lifts his arms and rests them on the wall on either side of her, locking her in.
He leans in even closer than he usually does, and she stares at him, wide-eyed.
"Rachel," he whispers.
"Hi," she replies, her voice cracking audibly even over the single syllable. She clears her throat. "Are you going to - "
"Yes," he says firmly. She can tell he's beginning to smile by the way his eyes have crinkled up at the corners.
"Oh." She closes her eyes. "OK, then."
She waits four seconds and decides that he's taking too long, so she pushes herself off the wall behind her to get to him. His arms come around her, steadying her first, then pulling her up, closer to his height. Her fingers clench at the back of his jacket, tugging him closer.
It's habit that deepens their kiss - he tastes just like she remembers, right down to the lightest traces of cinnamon. And she still feels the exact flutters in her chest, combined with the same peacefulness, centering her, grounding her.
The difference is that the flutters start to fade when he pulls away and kisses her again, softer, lighter - fading away to less and less every time his lips press against hers, as if some part of her subconscious is telling her she'd better start getting used to him.
She finds that she doesn't mind that idea at all.