A/N: Thank you to my lovely betas: Meltalviel, Strange Small Bard, and grownupspashley. You three are amazing and beautiful and wonderful and I can gush for weeks so I'll shut up now. Just know I SO appreciate your help!
And for the record, I do know how to use dashes correctly, but for some reason FFN keeps eating them. Grr.
I don't own Glee.
He invites you to his house one day after school, eyes wide and hopeful. He asks you outside Glee club, right after the bell rings, as your teammates watch with ill-disguised fury. In another world you would have called them friends, but they made it obvious where their loyalties lie in that awful week leading up to Valentine's Day. You can almost hear them berate you: How can you? Why? After what happened to Kurt? Jesus, Santana, you really are a heartless bitch. But you manage to ignore their imagined judgments.
You do, however, give him your signature What the fuck, dude? look. He blushes, reminding you of an overgrown toddler, and mumbles something about wanting to spend time with his girlfriend. He spits the word at Kurt, who is watching your exchange with guarded eyes. Something flashes in their depths - is that repulsion, curiosity, or resigned knowing?-which probably mirrors your stormy gaze.
Dave bites his lip, his high cheekbones making his eyes seem beady. "Please?"
You shrug and reach out to grab his arm, leading him away from your teammates. You glance back to glare over your nose at their dopey expressions. One time you made the mistake of actually listening to a Personalized-to-Torture-Santana Rachel Berry Rant about ignoring others' opinions because they don't matter in the long run, so you can totally ignore the intent in your teammates' soured looks. One dismayed expression pulls you back and makes your heart pang. It's the only glance that's not brimming with hostility; instead, her deep disappointment cuts through you harder than a pout or a cry would have. Her eyes have dark, puffy circles under them that look like someone pressed soot above her cheekbones and you wonder how long they've been there. You're torn between wanting to run away from their hollow gaze or rush over to kiss the shadows away. So to stop yourself from being stupid and doing either one, you turn, grab Karofsky's arm in a vice-tight grip, and drag him away from the predatory eyes of your teammates.
Well? You shrug at him. His teeth tug his chapped lip into his mouth, making him look clownish.
"I just..." he mutters, bringing his hand up to rub his face. "I've never had a girlfriend before, not even a fake one, and I just wanted to know if you wanted to hang out and maybe meet my dad? I mean, you're cold and heartless and scary, but like you said, we play for the same team, and..."
You cut him off, trying to ignore the irony of the fact he, of all people, finds you to be cold, heartless, and scary.
"Okay," you scoff, "Lookie here, Paul Bunyan. When I said we could help each other, I meant you could help me win Prom Queen and become the ruler of this school, not me help you dig yourself further into the closet and lie to your dear daddykins-"
"What about the Bullywhips? 'Z threatened to pee on my beret because he said it made me look... you know, twinky."
"I don't care what you and Ernie do behind closed doors." You snap. Karofsky sputters.
"Save it. Don't wanna know." You run your tongue over the roof of your mouth, sticking your tongue out to wet your lips. "Don't you understand my plan, Bert? I needs to win Prom Queen so I'll be unreachable at this school. And that's where the Bullywhips come in. Teacher approved bullying for our own protection. With the Bullywhips roaming the hall, nobody will even be able to think anything homophobic 'cause we'll read their mind, find them, and ends them with the kidney dagger I keep in my bra."
He peers down at you, his face a pasty shade of green.
"Joke, Karofsky, that was a joke. I don't have a kidney dagger in my bra. But, uh, don't eat the peppermints in my locker."
You decide that Karofsky has some mental deficiency that does not allow him to understand sarcasm because his face now looks like a bowl of oatmeal, all gray and blotchy.
You roll your eyes. "Oh, and honey? You ain't allowed to complain about how 'twinky' the stupid Commie berets are 'cause theys was your idea."
"But I thought they looked cool, like they were from organized crime den or something." He shuffles his foot.
"Stop trying to look cute, Karofsky. It's like watching an adult suck on a bottle wearing footie pajamas-it's just wrong."
He glares. "Seriously, though, why don't you want to hang out with me?"
"You're just a pawn in my outstanding plan to get my girl and be so revered that I'm untouchable and nobody will bother either of us until we can go live somewhere swank, like New York or Portland." You're so painfully honest it kills you sometimes, though that nagging devil (angel?) on your shoulder tells you that that is not your plan. Your actual plan is to just feel some goddamn acceptance before slapping a label on your forehead and ruining your life. You've almost been able to accept that you're going to be an outsider all your life, but you still dig your heels into the dirt when it comes to having at least one experience where a room full of people love you before you go skydiving off the social ladder with a plaid parachute. You're soaking up all the normalcy you can before you're shoved into lockers, called things like "lesbo" and "dyke" and "rugmuncher," or, worst of all, recruited onto the softball team and denied your eyebrow pencils. The gravity of the situation is enough to make you start sobbing again.
Karofsky, oblivious to your watery eyes, looks at you like a confused grizzly. "Portland? What's in Portland?"
"Lesbians," you deadpan.
He raises his eyebrow and reaches out to touch your shoulder. You stiffen and resist the urge to bark No touchy! up in his grill. You don't do touching, especially with guys, and definitely not by choice. Your guy-of-the-week is the exception, and you only drape yourself over him like a ragdoll when you're in public. It's acting, like when the only two straight guy actors in the world are hired to play a gay couple and they have to like, make out and stuff.
You pry Karofsky's hand off your shoulder and glare up at him. He stares back at you, eyes so full of pleading that you feel guilt sink down like a paperweight in the pit of your stomach, but you push it away because this whole feelings thing? You hate it. It was so much easier when you didn't let yourself feel anything; being numb and melodramatic was much easier than this constant rawness you've been feeling since throwing your heart to the wolves. So in a feeble attempt to regain that careless HBIC attitude you've tried so hard to perfect, you put up what's left of your walls and tear away from Karofsky. His voice catches you before you get too far.
"Come hang out with me, Santana? It'll be fun; we can like, watch a movie or something."
You bark the first thing that bubbles to your lips, emotional walls be damned.
"Are you really so desperate for friends that you'd ask me? I ain't nobody's charity case. I'm like a feral cat; I'll look all cute and cuddly until I scratch your eyes out."
He shudders at the mental image of you being cute and cuddly. "Ever think I'm lonely too? I just want a friend who gets it, and I know you don't have a ton of sassy gays lined up on your doorstep asking to be your dyke tyke. We're really similar, San."
You snort at the ridiculous phrase, then quip back: "Honestly, Karofsky? I don't like you, and I never will. So please don't compare yourself to me - you ruined Kurt's life, and a lot of other people's, too. I'd...I'd never do that. Just because you're convenient doesn't mean we're each other's new BFFs. You're too gross to be my lesbro, anyway, so just deal. And don't call me San."
He looks at you like you just kicked him in the shin. You roll your eyes and spit out, "Wipe that hilarious look off your face, Mr. Magoo, 'cause Britt-Britt's the only one who can pout at me and win - I mean live."
He sighs defeat and turns to leave, shuffling off with his head hanging low.
You feel pressure in your throat and behind your eyes. Besides the obvious reason for not wanting to hang with him (he's Karofsky, and Prom plot or no, he's still despicable), you can't really come up with a valid reason not to. He's probably just as lonely as you are; especially now that Brittany and you aren't exactly on speaking terms, you've realized how your fear of vulnerability has pushed everyone away. It's a harsh wakeup call. Sure, you can invite yourself over to people's houses and on their get-togethers, but if they weren't the ones to invite you, you just stand there awkwardly until you make some excuse to leave like a superfluous bitch.
You've been so angry for so long that you purposely ruined any chances of people getting to know the real you, and now it's come back to bite you. You're running out of quality TV to watch by yourself, anyway - you can recite the The Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and even dorkier shows like I Love Lucy and Leave It To Beaver (June Cleaver was hot for a 50's housewife, okay?) verbatim. You've seen so much reality TV that it all seems to blend into one big mélange of messed-up people who either have some obscure mental disorder or a ton of money they don't know what to do with; or both, like Jersey Shore.
"Wait!" you call after him, teetering on your stilettos as you run to his side. He turns around and waits for you to speak.
"Actually, I think hanging out would be... fun." You refuse to meet his gaze because you're scared he'll change his mind. It blows - always has blown, and always will blow - your mind that anyone would willingly want to spend time with you. Your parents don't, teammates don't, and now, Brittany doesn't (you conveniently forget that it was you who tore away from her in the hallway, and you who has been ignoring all her texts and calls since).
"Yeah!" he whoops and pulls you into his side. Your first instinct is to wiggle out of his grasp because ew, you're shoved into hairy/sweaty/fungusy guy armpit, but he actually doesn't smell that bad and his solidness is comforting, like an overprotective big brother or an armored tank. So you roll your eyes and rest your head on his bicep, feeling the thick muscles twitch as he walks.
He calls his dad when you're sitting in the worn leather of his truck. The top of your seat is clammy because the sun just set, but you can feel reserved sunlight wrap around the heel of your hand and up your wrist when you press into the seat, like that time you and Brittany made taffy and you let the sticky candy wind its way around your hands as you two pulled the molten molasses and butter into stretchy, moldable, delectable ribbons. You can hear his dad's voice through his phone-he sounds excited and asks if he can make barbecue, which makes you feel uncomfortable because you've basically bullied this poor man's son into dating you, running for Prom King, and apologizing to the kid he tortured relentlessly because he had a secret, repressed crush on him, and Mr. Karofsky wants to thank you by cooking you meat.
Do you want a pizza or something? Dave mouths at you. You shake your head because the last time you had a home-cooked meal was weeks ago at Brittany's house, and if you're going to encroach on the Karofskys tonight, you might as well go all out. Plus, meat.
Karofsky puts a classic rock station on in an attempt to make the leadened silence less awkward. You're not really a talkative person - talking to people was always Brittany's domain - and you're unsure if there's, like, an etiquette for bearding or not.
Eventually you pull up to a small, suburban house. Before you can slide out of his car, Karofsky stops you with a hand on your arm. You glare until he takes it off, blushing.
"Look... um..." He's unsure of how to word his requests. "Just, try not to embarrass me? My dad doesn't know anything about... you know. He thinks you're this like, amazing and sensitive person who's helped me become myself again and now we're in love and... I know you don't like doing things for other people but would you mind doing this for me? I'll pretend to be your boyfriend for your parents if you want."
You try not to be hurt that he thinks so little of your personality. You growl, "My parents don't give a crap, and I was going to pretend to be your super awesome girlfriend, jackass."
He just gives you a fleeting look of pity before grabbing your bag and hoisting it onto his broad shoulder with some offhand comment about feminism, which you counter by saying no, you really have no problem with people doing things for you, but thanks for asking.
You feel a pang as you jump out of his truck and follow him inside. His father was right: he is a good boy, or at least has the makings of one. He's just a weak kid terrified of the consequences of being a minority in a cruel world and he let his fear overtake him.
But then again, maybe he isn't so nice. What he did to Kurt - directly through his harassment, and indirectly by teaching the students of McKinley it was cool to prey on others' vulnerabilities - was unforgivable. Even in your darkest hour, you know you would have never done what Karofsky had done. You pick on everyone equally, making sure to never pick favorites, tearing down any challenge so they don't think you're weak and revolt against you. High school is like a pride of lions or the Terran Empire: you have to choose whether to eat or be eaten. You're a bully as much as you are a bitch, and you not only freely admit this, you embrace it, but you find the degree to which Karofsky bullied to be absolutely repulsive.
Karofsky leads you through his small house. Peering down the shadowy hallway, you can see the bottom story is a mancave, consisting of a den with giant recliners surrounding a huge TV, a small kitchen with a deep-fryer on the counter, and a bare staircase leading up to the second story. The Spartan décor is a far cry from the soulless plastic and glass of your condo or the homey, hippie-den of soft fabrics that is Brittany's house. The Karofsky household is mercifully clean and as Dave leads you through you can see photos framing the walls: Dave as a young kid, probably around seven but already huge and puppy-pawed, accepting Cub Scout awards; and posing at a lake with his father, holding a fish longer than his arm, prouder than a peacock. There are pictures of Dave and his father on snowmobiles, on scooters, on bikes, racing electric cars and sailboats and kites. There are pictures of them at museums, at fairs, and at gun shows, grinning identical grins into the camera. You feel like an intruder in Karofsky's secret life-he obviously trusts you more than you trust him if he feels like he can bring you into his home and see his childhood photos without you stealing one to post at school and have him become the laughingstock of the year.
"You and your dad are close," you comment as you see yet another picture-12-year-old, acne-ridden Karofsky hefting weights while his father stands next to him, face etched with worry and horrified pride.
"Yep," Karofsky pauses to look at a picture of him and his dad wolfing down pies at a country fair. "My mom left when I was 5, so I'm all the old man's got... he was so sad, it was like his world had ended. He's strong, though. He got over it. But I'm so scared of disappointing him, Santana. It's like he expects me to be perfect."
You bite your bottom lip and give him a small, sympathetic smile. You don't know what to say; you're so unused to saying kind words that they dry up on your tongue and choke you like a mouthful of unripe banana when you try. You know you could provide physical comfort: if it had been Brittany confiding her secret fears to you, you wouldn't have thought twice about wrapping her in a warm embrace and brushing your lips against her hair and face and neck until she stopped squeezing you and would reach up to give you watery kisses, but Karofsky isn't Brittany so trying to comfort him with your body would feel wrong.
He blinks harshly before turning his red-rimmed gaze to you. He grimaces and tells you that the fact he has feelings is a secret and makes you promise not to tell. Then he leads you into his dirt backyard where his father is barbecuing the most amazing slab of meat ever and drinking a beer. It tickles you to see how Dave interacts with his father; he obviously admires and respects him with his whole being.
You go over and introduce yourself to the man whose resemblance to Karofsky is almost frightening. Karofsky is his father's doppleganger in every way - except one, you suppose. Mr. Karofsky is practically bursting with excitement at finally meeting the generous, concerned, open-minded girl who decided to contribute to the betterment of McKinley High's environment by converting his son back into the boy he was proud of; the girl who then fell in love with his son after she saw what a wonderful person he was. You're doubly sick-sick with jealously because you want to be this magnificent girl he seems to think you are, and sick to your stomach you're lying to a man who just wants his son to be happy in the only way he knows how. You hope, from your chest to your belly to the tips of your toes, that Mr. Karofsky is going to remember all the things he loves about his straight son and will realize that nothing changes if his son happens to be gay. You hope he'll be more understanding than you know your own parents will be, and that his devotion and love for his son will conquer any preconceived notions he has about gay men and their lives.
You make small talk with Mr. Karofsky, who tells you to call him Paul or Dad-and they say lesbians push for commitment on the first date. It's obvious he plans to adore you too, simply because he believes you love his son. You wish this situation was real because it's been so long since someone just liked you without wanting something first. You can feel yourself becoming spoiled by this instant approval, and you almost want to be part of this forever. Almost.
You help Dave set the table for dinner and spew Pepsi across the room when he makes you laugh. Then Mr. Karofsky comes in carrying a platter with that irresistible meat on it and you can hardly wait to shove your face into it, table manners be damned. You're at a single man and his son's house anyway, so neat eating probably isn't all that important in the grand scheme of things.
You dig into your meal, which is what you think ambrosia (the food of the gods, not that pudding crap) must taste like-it's garlic-y and peppery and so tender it melts in your mouth like butter in a skillet. Each bite is an explosion of smoky flavor and juice over your tongue which begins to dribble down your chin in wine-colored rivulets. You know you must look like a carnivorous chipmunk with your cheeks so full but you don't give a crap that all your table manners just flew out the window because oh my God it's meat and it's surreal.
"You're a good eater," Mr. Karofsky notices with a proud twinkle in his eye. "I love when women aren't afraid to eat and I'm sure Davie does too."
Karofsky has the decency to look mortified, though it's for a different reason than his father thinks.
You try to say dinner's amazing but it comes out muffled because your mouth is full. You need to write down the recipe because you have decided you cannot survive without meat this good any longer. Maybe you're just deprived: it's such a far cry from the gluey, no-calorie, no-flavor cardboard Lean Cuisine meals your parents sustain themselves on, or the weird soups-with-putrid-fermented-vegetables-and-seafood-with-legs-and-eyes that Brittany's parents serve. And it goes without saying that this is better than whatever crazy diet Coach Sylvester made you stick to, because most of the time that shit wasn't even edible.
You eat until your belly is distended, but you can't care less because that was the best meal you think you've had in your life. You thank Mr. Karofsky profusely for his hospitality and then begin to gather the dishes because, like, even if you refuse to do housework at your own home it doesn't mean you don't know how to be a good guest at someone else's. Dave washes and you dry while Mr. Karofsky watches you both with a proud smile.
You play your part as loving girlfriend well, teasing Dave and snapping the end of your damp rag at him when he teases you back. You idly think that Rachel's got nothing on you; you're an amazing actress and totally deserve an award at the end of all this.
When the kitchen is clean, Mr. Karofsky asks if you want to join him in the den to watch a sports tournament on a TV that's larger than your bed. You politely decline before Dave can say anything, with a laugh about how even though you were a cheerleader, sports honestly don't interest you. Then you drag Dave up the stairs before he can make a softball/golf/shot-put joke because his brain is so minuscule he probably would.
As you ascend the staircase, Mr. Karofsky calls up at you in a fit of attempting to be a good father to use protection, and you're both so mortified that you can't even laugh at the ridiculousness of the notion.
It's the first time you've seen Karofsky's room and it looks just as lifeless as you thought it would. It's slightly larger than your closet, or maybe it only seems that way because it's so full of gym equipment and weights that you can hardly move around without bashing your hips into unforgiving metal. The walls are lifeless gray and the single bare bulb on his ceiling casts shadows around his room that remind you of a hospital.
He's walking over to his computer, which has an ancient monitor that takes up about three-quarters of his desk for a screen that is only about the size of a textbook.
"Remember those videos you sent me?" He asks as soon as you close the door behind you. "About kids jumping off of bridges and hanging themselves and stuff?"
"Wa-nky," you tease as you make your way over to his desk, sitting down on a machine that looks more like it belongs in an Inquisition or Coach Sylvester's office than a 16-year-old boy's room.
He shoots you a withering glance before queuing up Youtube. "I found some videos like them, only better - have you seen the It Gets Better videos?"
Your heart plummets. You've heard of those videos but had never summoned up the courage to watch any. Your dad might like, remember he has a daughter and decide to look at your browsing history or something.
"No, but why should I? I don't need a bunch of happy, successful, flaming queers telling me it gets better. I don't need them telling me that strangers won't harass me; that my parents won't disown me; that I'll fall in love with the dyke of my dreams and we'll live in some fucking suburb and own a million cats while I'm a power lesbian lawyer to support her roller derby addiction if I'd only be myself. Everybody hates me, so I don't see the point of being myself. Those fruits in the videos can talk a good game, but that's only because they don't have an angry mob chasing them down with pitchforks and fire while screaming slurs and hate at them. So they can suck it and go back to their happy little fantasy lives, because I don't want to get my hopes up, only for them to be crushed when it doesn't 'get better.'" Bitter, party of one.
Karofsky looks at you like you'd just told him your breakfast cereal was made from fresh kittens.
"Sorry," you bark at him, "Maybe it'll get better for you, I don't know. You'll meet some frigid woman who's borderline psychopathic and you'll have kids to appease your monster-in-laws, and they'll grow up to be scumbags and prostitutes because their parents are pathetic jokes. And maybe you'll meet some sexy piece of baby gay ass who's working as a paper boy in your dead-end office and you'll get caught feeling him up and be sent to jail or something. So, yeah, maybe it'll get better for you."
Karofsky just stares at you for a moment before doing something that makes your stomach drop and splatter on his mangy floor.
"You know what, Santana?" He looks directly into your eyes, showing you that you didn't hurt his feelings (though underneath the mirth his eyes are broken). "You're hilarious. Seriously. You deserve a medal."
You make a show of preening, hiding your hurt by pretending to be glad that someone finally appreciates your wittiness.
"But you know what else, Santana?" He leans closer so you can feel his warm breath brushing over your face like when you boil water and lean in too close. "I think you're just scared. You're just a scared little girl who doesn't want it to get better because then she wouldn't have anything to be angry about. Because if you aren't an angry bitch, who are you? If you aren't angry what's your defense? You act all high-and-mighty and impenetrable but I think you're more vulnerable than anyone I've ever met."
Now it's your turn to gape at him. When the hell did Karofsky, of all people, turn perceptive?
He pulls back and cues up a video. "Look! Woody says it gets better!"
And you can't help but laugh at his childish enthusiasm, the tense moment over.
So it turns out Karofsky's not that bad of a guy. Sure, he's freakishly wide and blundering, and his forehead-to-cheekbone ratio is way off, reminding you of a woodland creature on steroids-not to mention he sexually assaulted and then threatened to murder your friend - but here, in his house? Karofsky isn't so bad.
He's got a lot to learn, but he catches on fast, and he lets you sit on top of his barbell as he military presses you above his head. And nothing makes you feel more powerful than pretending the bar is a throne and Karofsky is your manservant whose job is to carry you around to bully your subjects.
So when you tell him you've decided that he can totally have the honor of being your dyke tyke he pulls you into an incredibly awkward bear hug and keeps you there, patting his back until you smack him on the neck so he lets go. Then he tells you he's glad you're his friend and that he's relieved you've taught him so much, and you feel tears burn as they press against the backs of your eyes because it's been so fucking long since someone thought you were a good friend that you feel overwhelmed. He senses your impending breakdown and blurts out that he's glad you're going to prom with him, too. He says he's happy he has a super hot date that understands him because it would be awkward as hell to go with a girl who actually like, expected feelings or some sappy shit, and you're inclined to agree because dancing with Karofsky will be way better than feeling Puck's hard-on against your stomach, getting stepped on by Finn, or being swallowed by Sam. There's an air of camaraderie between you two now, a platonic familiarity that you've never allowed yourself to experience with anyone before.
He drives you home, too - reason number twenty that lesbros are way better than one night stands - and you give him a chaste kiss on his cheek before you reach for the door handle. His voice stops you before you can clamber down.
"Thanks for everything, Santana. I really hope my future boyfriend will live up to your legacy with my dad... I'll see you at Prom, okay? Thanks for like, believing me and accepting me and everything. You're pretty cool when your claws aren't out."
And you laugh with the knowledge that he's never seen you with your claws fully drawn, but that's okay because your belated New Year's resolution is to be nicer to people and you might as well start with him. As you saunter up the steps to your condo you find yourself hoping he can remember the benefits of being honest and friendly with people, because if he reverts back to being a complete psychopathic douche and hurts someone you love you will shank him without regrets. But you've got faith in him because he, just like you, is trying really fucking hard, and forgiveness is easier than hate. Isn't it?