(Goddamn, writing Jesse St. James is fun. Obsessive girl is obsessed, ahoy.)
a season ticket on a one-way ride. glee. jesse/rachel. pg-13.
they are talented and attractive and life should be their musical—but only if they get a set that doesn’t suck.
When he was five years old, his parents took their annual pilgrimage to the Metropolitan Opera and left him behind. He spent the weekend alone in his room at his grandmother’s house, trying not to breathe in the dusty air and making her play La Traviata on her record player over and over again. When they came back, he was singing it. The next year, he could distinguish between Verdi and Wagner and they bought him a tuxedo and let him take a tiny covert sip of their pre-show champagne. In the middle of the shining city, they held their prodigy’s hand and their prodigy looked around at the world beyond them, the world awaiting him. Inside, onstage, the baritone sang Fin ch’an dal vino and Jesse St. James sat up between his parents and listened to every word, not understanding a syllable but feeling the thrum of the big voice in his own throat.
Jesse St. James, decided Jesse St. James, would never be too much of a kid for any kind of music. He grew up swallowing it, chewing up and spitting out operas and Broadway and hipsters on vinyl and Frank Sinatra. The best ones were the ones that made him sing best: he sang the legends like a legend.
Twelve years away from that first trip to the city, Jesse St. James is a star. When the Carmel spotlights burn his face and melt the hairspray in his hair, he thinks of the lights. When he wants to, he shines so brightly he can burn everyone else off the stage.
It’s good to be the lead.
(He mourned not being a baritone, at first. But then he realized that it’s always been the tenors who get all the girls.)
Shelby takes Vocal Adrenaline to each Sectionals. Bulimic Carla on his right just back from the bathroom, Liz the soprano vibrating like a plucked piano string with three Red Bulls and no food on his left, deaf kids howling tunelessly on the stage, it’s a little like hell until she bursts like a Barbra bat out of hell from down the aisle and rips into that song with way more enthusiasm than subtlety. She’s glowing. He can feel her voice vibrating off the walls. The girl on the stage closes her eyes and lifts her arms and shit, he wishes for just two seconds that she wasn’t competition.
(Not just because of the way she looks at the audience over her shoulder when she sings to them. And not just because he's jerked off to Funny Girl. That was once and he was thirteen, and he is certainly not up to a repeat performance.)
At the end, her showface is so bright he can’t tell whether or not she’s breathing. Rachel Berry, the program says. Not a bad name for someone with delusions of grandeur. (Jesse St. James knows a little something about natural flair.)
At the end of the song, he glances down to see Shelby’s face, and catches a moment of less-than-certainty before she makes eye contact and shakes her head. Shakes away the hmmm of ideas that are always lingering behind her eyes.
Shelby goes missing briefly, leaving the team aimless in the lobby outside as Dakota barks at the few girls who still have the temerity to try and buy things from the bake sale table. Leaning against the wall, Jesse watches the winning team file out.
He smiles, plucks a brownie from the table. Dakota has nothing to say to him; the girls look on with ill-disguised envy. He’s the one who carried their trophy home last weekend. He’s the voice, and he eats his reward with careless relish, always. With the luxury of time and talent, he watches them go, and watches as she leaves under the arm of the baritenor who can’t dance.
As they shuffle out to the handi-fucking-capable bus, he can’t even muster up a second of token fear, but he is checking out her legs.
Shelby materializes next to him. “Scoping the competition?”
“Is there something to scope?” he asks.
She doesn’t answer immediately. “I’ll get back to you.”
He’s at the library when he sees her in the Lionel Richie section, framed by a thousand love songs. He’s always been a sucker for the moment.
He doesn’t tell her she’s spectacular. She doesn’t need to hear that, and he’s not sure whether or not he believes it yet. But he gets her onto the piano bench with him all the same. Their voices wrap around the song, and he realizes by the end: yes, yes she is.
If there’s one thing that Jesse St. James loves more than singing, it’s singing better. Better than the original song, better than the song’s ever been before. And that song has never been better than it is when it’s lacing the two of them together. It never will be, he thinks, and smiles at her. She flashes doe eyes at him that don’t even look like acting, in a very shit, you’re not acting sort of way. It’s new.
Well, he thinks, boning Carla in the green room and letting Shelby touch him too close to the waist when she adjusted his posture—that shit was getting old anyways.
There’s no way he’s not getting a second date.
(If it goes wrong, he can always say he did it on purpose.)
He tells Shelby.
Telling Shelby things has become a habit over the years. It comes with being number one, like the private dinners at her house, watching her get drunk and not calling her out when she checked out his ass. And it makes him feel smarter—that much smarter—when she tells him he has a plan.
“Think you can get her for us?” she asks.
“I know I can.”
“You’re an asset to the team, St. James.”
He leaves her office with a disproportionate sense of accomplishment. Of course he's had a plan all along.
Rachel Berry has the shiniest hair of any girl he’s ever dated. It swings around behind her as she moves, slips through his fingers when they kiss, bright as her showtime smile. She reflects the spotlight even when there isn’t one.
She kisses like she’s in an Old Hollywood movie—which makes him Gene Kelly; all they need is rain.
McKinley High itself doesn’t live up to her: it smells like cafeteria and asbestos, the lights break all the time, and the football player steps on his feet in the middle of their director’s inept attempts at choreography. This is temporary, he thinks, this isn’t going to last. It’s reassuring, but he’s needing less and less reassurance with every duet they sing.
This movie, he decides, can take as long as it needs to. Whatever it is, it’s not boring.
When Rachel finally figures out that yes, (for the time being) he is her boyfriend, she stops being awestruck sometimes. (Not all the time. He's still Jesse St. James, after all.) He figures out that Rachel Berry talks a lot. Talks about musicals more than he does (he forgets Chip Zien's name for two minutes when they're talking about the original cast of Into the Woods, and while she forgives him, he doesn't), has about a thousand polysyllables' worth of opinions over everything all the time. But every now and then she stops talking and just looks at him with giant Disney princess eyes.
It’s as good as a spotlight, most of the time.
(Every now and then, he misses a note. But only in his head.)
They sit side by side, listening to Schuester make cheesy music into cheesier lessons, and he does his not-much-effort-required best to distract her. Talking about teamwork to talented people has always made Jesse laugh: teamwork is for the other kind of people, the ones who need microphones. Rachel leans into the crook of his arm and he thinks how little she needs anyone else in the room.
He kisses her lightly on the lips, and she jumps just a little in her seat. Her eyelids flicker in surprise, focus, refocus, but for a few moments there before she turns her face back to the front of the room, he is the center of Rachel Berry's world.
(She's always surprised. It's always gratifying.)
In Jesse’s experience, it’s the sopranos that put on the best show, but it’s the altos that have all the best moves.
Turns out Rachel’s a mezzo: she can sing both parts with aplomb.
They sing through the entirety of The Last Five Years in her bedroom the weekend after he’s signed in as a McKinley student, just the two of them alone in the house. She raises her arms, gasps mouthfuls of music—but she doesn’t close her eyes. Barely blinks as she sings to him, and he can’t break it: he’s seen her get lost in music, but it’s not music now. It’s them. Him. When he touches her, she’s practically giving off sparks.
Her eyes get brighter and brighter as he matches Norbert Leo Butz’s warble, and when he hits a falsetto cleanly he watches her gasp, watches her hand fly over her heart in a dramatic wounded-butterfly gesture that has no right to be sexy and wouldn’t be if she hadn’t just been crying high Cs to the heavens a minute before. It should be a wonderful, easy catch, tabulating her gestures, the flutter of her eyelids: Rachel Berry is attracted to talent. Someday that will help him. But he’s not thinking about someday today. The catch goes both ways.
The song ends, the libretto closes, and she looks around with a shy smile as if she’s just remembered that they’re in a bedroom, with a bed.
He pulls her onto the bed and listens to her breath catch softly, notelessly, as he kisses her, as he runs his hand over the no-man’s-land of her stomach beneath her shirt. There’s hesitation on the tip of her tongue as his hand teases and tests the water, but she looks at him with clarity and only touches his wrist very lightly with her fingertips, faithful that he knows the boundaries. So his fingers stay and read the shifting patterns of breath beneath her ribs.
They are talented and attractive and life should be their musical—but only if they get a set that doesn’t suck.
Jesse St. James presses his lips to Rachel Berry’s neck and waits. They harmonize impeccably, even in silence.