Magician Man (My Pretty Baby, Would You Like to Dance?)
Jesse St James is sat at the hotel bar, nursing the smallest, cheapest glass of wine on offer. His wallet is upstairs in the room he's sharing with Schuester, and there's no way in hell he's going anywhere near the New Directions trainwreck right now.
"I can't believe they were so selfish," he tells the bartender. "It's my career they've put on the line. People will judge me by their performance. It was unprofessional. Worse, it was unrehearsed."
The bartender moves away to serve someone else, but Jesse knows he'll find an audience if he keeps going. People are drawn to him. They want to watch him, to listen to him. It's just one of those things that mean he's inherently a star, no matter what his current circumstances are.
"I can't show my face in Ohio again."
"I can't imagine why you'd want to."
And there's his audience.
Jesse doesn't turn to look at him at first, so all he sees is an arm clad in a black shirt in his peripheral vision, a platinum credit card held in hot pink manicured fingers.
"A martini for me," his audience says, "and get this man another of whatever he's having."
"I'll have a martini as well," Jesse says. The wine tastes terrible, and the last thing he wants is someone with a platinum credit card to know how cheap he is.
The bartender pushes the drinks across the bar to them and takes the card.
"You want to pay now, Mr Evans, or-"
"Oh, let me run up a tab," Mr Evans says. "And my new friend, too."
Jesse shifts on his stool to get a better look at the guy. Nice. The guy's a bit Aryan posterchild for Jesse's taste, and the whole jodphurs and the pink patent leather boots combination isn't really helping (it's kind of Queer Eye for the Straight Nazi) but he's got a sharp fedora angled over his blue eyes and he holds himself upright with his balance just so, like he's about to start waltzing any second now.
Okay, so maybe Jesse isn't the most self-aware guy in the world, but he's known this about himself for a while and right now the idea of someone so diametrically opposite to Rachel is really appealing. Especially if this someone is going to keep buying him drinks.
"You here for Nationals?" Jesse asks.
"Just to watch. My school never had a show choir – the musical theatre was amazing, so there was just no need to start one – but I love coming to see everyone perform. You?"
"I'm a show choir consultant," Jesse says, "but my consultees decided to improvise at the last moment. I don't know what that's going to do to my business."
"New Directions?" Mr Evans asks.
"Did any other choir stoop to such unprofessional pandering?" Jesse says bitterly. "I knew I should have hooked up with Vocal Adrenaline, but I was a member when we won Nationals... Well, every time we won Nationals. It didn't seem like it would really show off my talents, not compared with getting a bunch of nobodies like New Directions all the way here, but at least Vocal Adrenaline made it into the next round."
"It wouldn't surprise me if they came in the top three, but they're a little lacking in male vocals," Evans says, sipping his martini. "You must have left quite a hole."
"Well, of course," Jesse says, because honestly, even if they guy is flirting the fact ought to be self-evident. "Sunshine is amazing, but that's half their problem: they simple don't have anyone with the power to balance her out. Vocal Adrenaline build the whole set around their solos, but this time it's let them down."
He finishes his martini and puts it back on the bar. His fingers have barely left the stem when it's replaced by another one. Damn, this guy gets service.
"Jesse St James, by the way," he says.
They shake hands, and Ryan's grip is firm and dry. Jesse lets his hand linger a little longer than necessary, dragging the tips of his fingers across Ryan's palm as he eventually pulls his hand back. He's rewarded by a faint blush, high on Ryan's cheekbones.
"What do you do when you're not watching high schoolers sing their little hearts out?" Jesse asks.
"I've just finished touring with a production of Hairspray actually, then I'm back at Julliard in the fall." Ryan flashes Jesse a pearl-perfect grin. "We passed through Ohio, actually."
Please, like Jesse is impressed by some chorusline college student. He's got his own business here.
"I must have been in LA at that point," Jesse says. "You know how it is."
Okay, so he's a little impressed.
His martini glass is empty again, and then it's not.
"That scarf is cute," Ryan says. "Dee and Gee?"
"I should have known." The back of Ryan's hand is warm against his collarbone as he fingers the material of Jesse's scarf. "I had one just like it, but my sister stole it." He sighs. "She does that with all my favourite things. Scarves, spotlights... Men."
"I know a few people like that," Jesse says. Tall people, who can't dance and can barely carry a tune. Who sacrifice Nationals to kiss Jesse's girlfriend in front of hundreds of people. "I'm not the type of person to get stolen, personally. I've got too much self-respect."
"That's what I like to hear."
Someone starts playing something on the piano and Ryan all but launches himself away from the bar.
"I love this song! Do you dance?"
"Do I dance? Twelve years of ballet, nine of tap, and thirteen of ballroom," Jesse says.
"Seven years of ballet," Ryan says, "fourteen of contemporary, and thirteen of Jazz. My ambition is to have a jazz step named after me. Well, one of my ambitions." He smiles, tilting his head slightly to one side, and puts his hand out.
Jesse considers, just long enough to let Ryan know he has other options, and puts his hand in Ryan's. Ryan tugs him towards the clear space in the centre of the bar.
The lyrics make Jesse think of Rachel –
there was this girl who looks like a school teacher
– and he's distracted by pushing the thoughts away. When his focus snaps back to the room he realises Ryan is leading.
For a moment he panics. No, not panics. Panic is unprofessional. He considers his areas of expertise and finds that following is not among them, and the realisation just happens to raise his heartrate and make his palms sweat.
Ryan pushes him away and pulls him back in. Jesse's feet move without conscious thought, and he's halfway through being spun when he realises that Ryan's good. Really good. Almost as good as Jesse.
Turns out following is easy. Ryan pushes and pulls and spins and dips and Jesse enjoys every second of it and enjoys it even more for not having to think about it. His body responds automatically to Ryan's and they're both smiling like idiots and Jesse knows that every pair of eyes in the room are on them. And it's so easy, because Ryan's leading.
That's what he wants, he realises. He wants someone else to lead. He wants to not think, just for a while. He was never very good at it anyway and it seems like he's been making a lot of bad decisions lately. Here's a guy with an amazing wardrobe, smooth moves, and a platinum credit card. Seems like a recipe for not thinking, at least until he gets his head straight again.
New Directions would be on the next flight back to Ohio. Jesse St James wouldn't.
But it didn't matter anyway, because we danced all the same. And it seemed to me we were dancing better than her.
(It almost ended before it began, when Jesse woke up to find Ryan had written his number on Jesse's Prada scarf...)
(...but Ryan took Jesse shopping for their first date, and it worked out.)