"Come on," Santiago said. Jake looked up from his desk because Santiago not getting what she wanted was one of his favorite all-time pastimes, next to not doing paperwork, and this seemed particularly good. Rosa wasn't even looking at her.
"What's not to like?" Santiago asked. "Free food, free booze, probably a couple of presents --"
"I know, you probably don't do the whole 'holiday thing'." Santiago even made air quotes here. "But my family's not that bad! Sure, there's a lot of them, but I do have seven brothers and a couple of them are even single!"
Rosa actually paused at that. "Wait. Your brothers are all cops, right?"
"No." Rosa walked away, and Jake guessed Santiago was feeling particularly brave because she stuck her tongue out at Rosa's back as she left. But at least Jake now knew four things about Rosa; she definitely didn't have an extra set of eyes hidden under all that hair. Because Santiago still had a tongue.
Santiago huffed out a breath and flopped into her desk chair.
"Problems?" Jake asked.
"No," Santiago pouted. In his head, Jake counted 1-2-- "Okay, yes. Kylie was supposed to come to my parents' house for Christmas Eve because they somehow got it into their head that I have no friends --"
"To be fair, you only have the one."
"Shut up. Anyway, she backed out on me because she started dating some guy who's a part-time ski instructor, can you believe that? Anyway, he invited her to Tahoe for a week over Christmas, and she's going just because some douchebag with big muscles and a great tan asked her. She even called it Tahoe like she's ever been skiing in her life, and now my mom will think I'm a friendless loser instead of a strong independent woman with a healthy social life."
"So you decided to harass a coworker into going along? Definitely an indicator of a healthy social life."
"Shut up. Everything's terrible," Santiago said, rubbing her face. She suddenly stopped and looked up. "Wait."
Jake immediately shook his head and started pushing his chair back. "Oh no. No, no, no. I hate holidays, you know this."
"Come onnnnnnn," Santiago said. Jake had to admit he was impressed at her ability to stretch two syllables into five. "Christmas Eve in New Jersey? Big Cuban family, lots of liquor, lots of gifts? We roast a whole pig!"
"I'm Jewish," Jake said. "Well, half. And it's my mother, so it's the half that counts."
"Are you trying to tell me you don't eat pork? You and Boyle each put away a rack of ribs three days ago."
"Ribs can be beef!"
"From Uncle Larry's Oink Oink House?"
Jake sighed. "Fine. I'm down with the roast pork. I'm not down with driving over the river just to prove you have a healthy social life. Besides, how healthy could it be to take a coworker anyway?"
Santiago shrugged. "I won't tell them how I know you. Come onnnnnnnnnnnnnn." Eight syllables. "You know if you stay in town, Holt's just going to put you on a bunch of double shifts."
"How would Holt even know if I was still in town?"
Santiago raised her eyebrow.
"Yes, fine, you're right, he knows when I'm sleeping and when I'm awake," Jake said. "Fine. I'll go to stupid family stupid Christmas stupid dinner with you."
Santiago jumped up with a little squeal and clapped her hands together. It was cute, but he'd never admit that out loud.
"And it better be better than double shifts!" Jake called as she started to run from the room. "I expect presents."
"You won't regret this!" she said over her shoulder.
"I doubt that," Jake muttered under his breath.
Jake regretted agreeing the second his ass was meant to squeeze into Santiago's rental Prius. They were cops, for Christ's sake. At the very least that had to mean they drove in cool cars, undercover operations as soccer dads notwithstanding.
"It was cheap and the gas mileage is good," Santiago explained sensibly. "I didn't ask you to chip in for gas or to borrow your cool car or anything, so settle down." She had a point.
The drive into New Jersey was helltastic, as always. Before they even left, they had an argument about which route to take. Santiago wanted to go into Midtown and take the Lincoln Tunnel home because there was no traffic in the tunnel, but that was ridiculous. Why would anyone drive into Manhattan voluntarily at any time, let alone in December? Just getting to the entrance would take as long as the rest of the trip and the Verrazano was right there. It's not like they even had to pay tolls on the way out of the city -- and trust Jake, it hadn't escaped his notice that you never had to pay to get into Jersey, only to get out of it. Eventually, she gave in to his superior logic, which well, Jake had known Santiago for a long time and she'd probably rather be taken prisoner by everyone in holding than agree he knew what he was talking about, so Jake knew he was like 4000% in the right on this.
A little over an hour later, they were pulling into Santiago's parents' driveway, a nice-sized suburban house that in no way could have fit eight kids growing up.
"Where'd they put you all?" Jake asked as Santiago turned off the engine.
She shrugged. "Wherever they could squeeze us. I had to share a bed with Emilio till I was nine and everyone got weirded out by the whole thing. Then I got put in with my older brothers, since Dennis was in the Academy and moving out on his own, and that was even weirder because they were always sneaking girls in."
"When you were nine?"
"Ugh, They'd make me leave, Peralta," Santiago said, punching him in the arm. It took everything he had not to rub it; she hit almost as hard as Rosa. "I slept in the hallway a lot." She got out of the car and walked around to the back with Jake following, and popped the trunk. Jake nearly choked because that tiny little Prius trunk was packed full of presents. At a glance, there were at least fifty.
"For me?" Jake said. "Santiago, you shouldn't have."
"Shut up and help me with the bags." She shoved a few elaborately decorated gift bags at him. "One's for you," Santiago called over her shoulder as she headed up the front walk.
If Jake figured out which one, he was going to shake the hell out of it.
Walking inside the house was like walking into a baby-sitting movie starring a wrestler. You know, kids screaming and running around, harried parents on the phone not meeting The Rock's eyes, loud grandparents in the kitchen shouting instructions to their adult children, except times a hundred. Like Jake knew Santiago had seven brothers and some of those brothers were married and some of those brothers had kids and some of those kids were small, but seeing the generational chart all mapped out in front of him was more overwhelming than trying to rope off a crime scene in a packed hipster bar. Fewer beards and cans of PBR, though.
"Tía Amy!" one of the tiny children shouted a few seconds after their arrival. He started barreling toward his aunt, only to skid to a stop two feet in front of Jake. Tiny nephew started pointing and frantically shouting, "STRANGER STRANGER STRANGER STRANGER," drawing the attention of most of the house while Amy knelt down to calm him.
"Marco, baby, calm down. This is just my friend Jake. He's visiting for Christmas."
A twelve year old girl wearing a One Direction t-shirt strolled up to them and eyed Jake critically. "Is he your boyfriend, Tía Amy? His hair's all right, but he's got a butt chin."
Santiago cracked up. "Not my boyfriend. But you're right about the butt chin."
"I can hear you, you know," Jake said, rubbing his chin self-consciously.
Santiago shook her head. "He can dish it but he can't take it," she said. "Come on, I'll introduce you to everyone."
Forty-five minutes later, Jake had learned exactly three things: one, there were way too many names to learn in Santiago's family; two, he had to stop referring to her as Santiago out loud because the one time he did that, fifteen people all turned to look at him; and three, Santiago's mother was a MILF, especially for a woman who'd sprung eight children from her loins. She was also a hugger, which Jake appreciated.
"Oh, Amy," Mrs. Santiago said, pulling Jake in and squeezing him close to her bosom, "I'm so glad you finally met someone."
Santiago let out a groan. "Mama, I told you, he's not my boyfriend. We're just friends."
"Barely," Jake agreed, though the word was muffled. He didn't mind, though air circulation was getting to be a problem.
Mrs. Santiago sighed and hugged Jake harder. "It's just that you're such a sweet girl, and so beautiful, and you work so hard. Why can't you just meet someone nice?"
"I know plenty of nice people," Santiago said. "Jake here is very nice. And besides, Paulie and Tomás are still single and I don't hear you bugging them every time they're home."
"They're not my baby girl," said Mrs. Santiago. At least, that's what Jake thought she said. He was about five seconds from passing out. He squeaked and flailed a bit.
"Let him go," Santiago said wearily. Mrs. Santiago finally released him from her soft, cushiony prison. Jake cleared his throat and ran a hand through his hair.
"Can I help with anything in here?" he asked.
Mrs. Santiago accusingly pointed a spoon at Amy. "Such a nice boy, too!" she said, before addressing Jake. "No, sweetheart, you go mingle. I'm sure Amy's brothers will want to talk to you."
Oh, that sounded not at all intimidating.
Two minutes later, Jake found himself pressed into an armchair in the Santagos' living room, surrounded by nearly identical, dark-haired men. They looked like a line-up, and if Jake were in a darkened room trying to pick out one from another, he wouldn't have been able to do it. He guessed it was good they'd all decided to go into law enforcement because they could have made one hell of a crime syndicate.
"Are you comfortable?" one asked, smiling. Jake knew this act. Jake had practically invented this act. Well, okay, fine, he hadn't invented good cop/bad cop, but he'd certainly played it a lot. And now being on the other side of it, he suddenly understood why it was such a tried and true fallback.
Jake nodded uncertainly.
"How did you meet Amy?" another asked. "Are you treating her good?" He was staring down sternly and had his arms crossed over his chest. His biceps were roughly the same size as Terry's, which made him slightly less identical to the other six. So this was Enforcer Brother, got it.
"Uh," said Jake. "I treat her with as much respect and dignity as I think she deserves."
Across the room, Santiago rolled her eyes and pushed through her wall of brothers. "Knock off the act," she said, perching on the arm of Jake's chair. She stared down all of her brothers until they all started cracking up. "They've been doing this since I was fifteen and I have no idea why because they're all giant teddy bears."
The Enforcer was grinning hugely now. "We do it because it's fricking hilarious."
"Ha," Jake said weakly. "Ah ha ha ha." Santiago patted his arm reassuringly. At this rate, the gift bag with his name on it had better contain a million dollars. Sure, it might count as bribery, but what's a little law breaking between cops?
Dinner wasn't exactly subdued, but it was a little easier on Jake, given that everyone was focused on the presentation of The Roast Pig and shoveling said pig into their mouths, once Santiago's dad and oldest brother had carved into it. He was seated in between Santiago and her 85-year-old deaf grandma. Even that could have been worse, even if all attempts Jake made at conversation were met with Abuela yelling, "Qué? Qué?" over the din of the room. He finally got her to stop by shoveling a spoonful of plantains onto her plate.
For what it was worth, Santiago hadn't lied about the copious food and booze at dinner, and that was a family tradition Jake could get behind. He wasn't close to his dad's family anymore, and his mom's side hadn't really gotten together properly for Hanukkah since his little brother graduated high school, especially with his mom working so much. And though Jake had gamely kept on his childhood Christmas Day tradition of getting takeout by himself from whatever Chinese restaurant had the most dead ducks hanging in the window, there was something nice about being surrounded by a table full of food and family and kids already whining for dessert and present-opening.
"This is nice," Jake told Santiago.
She smiled and nodded. "Told you so," she replied, because of course she had to say that and ruin Jake's little moment.
"How come your whole family cooks like this, and you can't even make mashed potatoes?" Jake shot back.
"Your mom can't make mashed potatoes," Santiago grumbled.
Jake shrugged. That was a weak comeback and she really couldn't, so.
"I'm glad you came," Santiago said, and it wasn't even grudging. In fact, it was very nearly sincere
"I'm glad I was third choice in your friend race," said Jake, and that was pretty sincere, too. Santiago smiled.
"QUÉ?" asked her grandmother on Jake's other side. He passed the plantains to her again.
After dessert, Peralta and Santiago wound up on the swing on Santiago's front porch. If Jake didn't have the top button of his jeans undone from being so full, it would have been almost idyllic. Jake burped loudly, trying to dodge when Santiago took an inevitable swing at him. He managed to catch her wrist, and so she settled for pulling away and sticking her tongue out at him.
"Gross," she said.
"Whatever." Jake shrugged. "I was just inside, I know I can't even compete with the level of grossness going on in there."
"They're not so bad," Santiago said.
"Weren't two of your brothers fighting over who gets the snout?"
Santiago shook her head. "You know damned well they're not so bad. Besides, one's my nephew, and only I get to make fun of them. They're my family."
"Well, if you come over for Passover, I totally give you permission to make fun of my Great Aunt Tova. Not only could she eat your brothers under the table, she also has more facial hair than all of them put together. And it's gray."
Santiago raised an eyebrow. "So you're inviting me for Passover?"
Peralta shrugged. "Don't go getting a big head. I'm all about making things even."
"Oh really?" she asked. "Is that why you're down by five solved cases now? Because you're all about keeping things even?"
"Shut up," Jake replied cleverly. "Do you really want to talk about work?"
"No," admitted Santiago.
They swung together in silence for a while, but it was the good kind of silence, which made it a weird kind of silence. If someone told him he'd be contentedly hanging out with Santiago two days ago, he would have laughed pretty loudly. But he was used to the frantic pace of the precinct and the competition between them. He hadn't really thought of her as a real person before. Maybe that's all it was.
Still, he couldn't really see doing this with Charles, as much as Charles probably would have dug it, and as much as he was surprised, he wasn't surprised surprised when Santiago reached over and grabbed his hand. Jake raised an eyebrow at her and she shrugged back.
"I like the holidays; what can I say?" Santiago said.
"I still hate them," Jake said, but he was lying. There was one of those weird beats then, one of those moments where either something monumental happens or nothing does. Jake mentally flipped a coin and chose monumental, leaning in. Santiago hesitated for a second, but leaned in, too. They met in the middle for one of the nicer kisses Jake could remember having in a pretty long time, and the fact that it was with Santiago was only about 65% weird.
"Kids!" called Santiago's mother from the doorway, making them jump apart like teenagers getting caught doing something bad. "It's time to open presents!"
Even without the kissing bonus, Peralta's gift bag from Santiago turned out to be worth the trip. "Die Hard: 25th Anniversary edition!" he exclaimed. "Holy crap, five Blu-ray discs!"
Santiago shrugged. "I pay attention to you sometimes."
Jake's evening turned out so well that even sharing a room with two of Santiago's brothers wasn't that bad.
When they got back to Brooklyn, Jake fully expected things to go back to the way they were, so he wasn't surprised when Santiago slammed paperwork on his desk first thing Monday morning.
"Ugh, paperwork," Jake said.
"Just look at it, jerk," Santiago replied.
At the top, the paper read EMPLOYEE PERMISSION FOR FRATERNIZATION.
"What a nerd," Jake said, but he was smiling. "You can't even have a proper illicit affair with your coworker."
"Damned right I can't," Santiago said. "Sign the paper, Peralta."
Obviously, he did.