Between classes, the hallways housing the sophomore lockers were the busiest thoroughfares in William McKinley High School. Connecting the main entrance to the Principal's suite in one direction and the stairs to the second floor in the other, with branch lines that led to the cafeteria, the gym and the auditorium, it was always full of activity.
Sometimes it was impossible to squirm or even shove your way through the crowd, it was so thick and slow-moving (pun intended), and trying would more than likely see you shoved back in return, maybe hard enough to land your butt on the floor, providing entertainment for all. And that was just the regular kids. Try shoving past anyone important and you wouldn't just wind up dazed and wondering why you were on the dirty linoleum, you'd also be wondering where your shoes went, and your lunch money, and, if you happened to share a class with the popular kid, possibly any of your homework they hadn't had a chance to do yet too.
Walking these corridors was like a daily running of the gauntlet, as footballs passed overhead; kids were pushed into lockers; gossip and insults filled the air and nobody, nobody, got out of anyone's damn way . . .
It was horrible.
She honestly wouldn't know because when she turned the corner, heading to her locker before her last class just like everyone else, the crowd moved.
For Quinn Fabray, everybody got out of the damn way.
It wasn't like a choreographed movement where as soon as they saw her the crowd shrank respectfully back against the walls - although that would have been awesome, and a little weird. It was more that everyone knew just when to side-step or drift off of their previous path to avoid being in her way.
It was the best feeling ever, this evidence of her power and the control she had in this school. It was something she had craved for so long and now that she had it, no matter how long it lasted, it was a feeling she would never, ever get tired of.
The trick, though, was to make sure no one else ever realized how much she loved it, because if people knew that, it became a weakness. Something that could be used against her. Something that could be exploited to oust her from the coveted position at the top of McKinley's hierarchy. Something that could take all that she'd worked for away.
And, obviously, something she was never going to let happen.
So she walked the halls behind a mask of cool indifference, keeping any genuine pleasure at the way the lower lifeforms scuttled out of her path deep inside, because if people couldn't see it written on her face, they would never suspect it was there. People around here rarely looked much beyond the surface, especially when the surface was as pretty to look at as hers.
It was getting a little harder recently though. Finding out you're pregnant after a stupid, stupid drunken one-night stand (like it had even lasted a night) was probably enough to rattle even those with the strictest self-control, right? And the morning sickness - a new and entirely unpleasant development - was already proving a bitch to hide . . . but she could handle it. She had to handle it because there was no one else to do it for her. There never was.
Telling Finn had helped though; they'd talked over the weekend and he'd promised to stand by her and support her in whatever decisions she made. She was disappointed that he hadn't immediately done the right thing and proposed; it was still early enough that if they had the wedding right away they could convince everyone it was a honeymoon baby, but there was just enough guilt there to stop her from insisting on it.
Besides, what if he refused? She couldn't afford to scare him off.
At least Puck had backed off after his initial outburst. He'd been giving her a wide berth all day. He must have come to his senses over the weekend, realizing that if he just kept his mouth shut that he could get away with his little mistake scot-free and, honestly, she hadn't chosen Finn to let Puck off the hook; she'd lied because Finn was the better man for the job, but she didn't blame Puck for taking the easy out she was giving him.
She just wished there was one for her too.
But there wasn't; she was having a baby and she had to deal with it. The only thing left in her control was minimizing the amount of damage it did to her life. Her future was screwed now, no two ways about it, she wasn't getting out. Having a kid at sixteen was just a shortcut to an adulthood of Lima Loserdom.
But there was no way she was letting this baby screw up her present too. Things were good now, really good, and one drunken mistake was not going to take all of that away from her. It was just a case of keeping it on a strictly need to know basis. Finn needed to know, and that was it. Puck and Mrs. Schuester were wild cards but Puck had nothing to gain from telling her secret and Mrs. Schuester had everything to lose. Nobody else ever needed to know. And when she couldn't physically hide it anymore . . . well, she still had a few months to plan excuses for baggy clothes and missed Cheerios practices.
Fooling the school was the easy part, really. Her greatest worry was how to keep her parents in the dark once she started to show . . . figure that out and her house of cards would be watertight.
In the meantime, keeping up appearances was the most important thing she could do and so she walked down the center of every hallway, pretending not to notice how freaks and geeks side-stepped, shuffled or scooted out of her way, her air of superiority, her mask of indifference never faltering. She had spent years cultivating a facade of unflappable composure to hide her pain, her insecurities, her loneliness, and she had never needed it more. It would take a bomb going off or an Act of God to make her mask slip nowó
A cold, wet wave surged into her left ear and across the side of her neck, its force stinging and then numbing her skin.
Or, yep, a Big Quench to the side of the head would do it too!
When she'd finished gasping at the icy shock that was her first slushie facial, she turned to see who had dared to be so stupid.
It was that idiot, the hockey player, what was his name again? Oh right.
"What the hell, Karofsky?" She pushed the jock in the chest, her composure giving way to outrage.
Her anger gave her the strength to push his solid bulk back half a step and he laughed as he apologized.
"Sorry, Fabray, wasn't meant for you. But you were warned. You hang with the losers so much these days it's getting hard to tell you apart."
"What are you even talking about?"
Looking around she saw a freeze-shocked and dripping Rachel Berry standing in front of her locker. She'd obviously been the victim of a multi-cup attack. Two other guys were holding empties and high-fiving and the girl's stiff, white school-marm blouse was stained with cherry, grape and lime - she looked like rainbow barf. Quinn smirked at the overall effect and how the corn-syrup was still dribbling down Berry's face, until ice crystals sliding under the neckline of her uniform reminded her she wasn't just a bystander.
She turned on Karofsky again. "I was not hanging with her, you moron. I was walking past her."
Karofsky held his hands up as he stepped back. "Well, maybe you shouldn't have been walking so close."
After some more high-fiving, the idiots left, merging with the other students still hurrying to class.
Sighing impatiently, Quinn used a finger to scoop ice from her ear. She hadn't even realized she was walking past the dwarf. The hallway had been busy and she'd been day-dreaming and, really, the only time she ever noticed where Rachel Berry happened to be was when she was all over Finn. Otherwise, who cared?
Speaking of . . . "Hey, what happened? We were talking and then I looked around and you weren't there."
Quinn glared at him for not even realizing she'd stopped, until she remembered they had an audience of one. She softened her expression but couldn't quite keep the annoyance out of her tone as she pointed to the side of her head.
"What do you think happened? Karofsky and his goons slushied me."
"That bastard!" It was gratifying to see Finn's face go all red and angry on her behalf. "I'm so gonna kick his . . . Oh shit, Rachel!"
His eyes went wide as he noticed the girl still oozing flavored ice from her hair and clothes.
"I'm fine," Berry assured him, teeth chattering behind her strained smile. "I'm just sorry Quinn happened to be splashed as a consequence of my being too close to her at the time of impact."
Quinn rolled her eyes, "Sure you are."
"Hey, she is, Quinn, you can see that."
What she could see was that she'd just been hit in the ear by a large cup of ice because of Rachel Berry and her boyfriend was paying some overly concerned attention to the wrong girl.
"Do you have spare clothes here?" he asked her.
"Of course, I always keep an extra outfit in my locker. I like to be prepared for any eventuality that may crop up during the course of the school day. You never know when . . ."
Quinn pointedly cleared her throat.
Finn turned to her immediately. "Uh, do you have . . .?"
"I have a clean uniform, yes. Shouldn't you be getting to class? We're already late now and if neither of us is there they're going to think we're deliberately cutting."
"Uh, yeah, I guess." Finn looked in the direction of the classroom but then hesitated, looking from Berry to her. "But, uh, do you two need my help first or anything?"
Quinn gave him a withering look. "If by help you mean getting RuPaul out of her clothes, I think you'd find the experience extremely disappointing."
Berry was facing her locker but her shoulders hunched up a little more at the remark.
"Quinn," the boy began and she just knew he was about to tell her off for being too mean.
"Rachel and I will be fine," she said to preempt him. "Go to class. We'll see you in Glee."
Berry looked over her shoulder in surprise at her genial tone, just as Quinn was giving him a kiss goodbye. As she pulled back, she caught the girl's eye and held it. Berry went pale under the streaks of red, green and purple decorating her face and Quinn offered her the smallest smirk, letting her hand slide lovingly down Finn's arm as he stepped back with a goofy grin on his face.
He was already running down the hall before he remembered to offer a distracted, "See ya later, Rach," over his shoulder.
Quinn held the eye-contact, allowing her smirk to grow with every second that the girl stood shivering in front of her, unable, it seemed, to look away, until . . .
"I think the cherry will probably stain blonde hair."
"The red corn syrup. If you don't wash it out soon it's probably going to be impossible to get out later. You'll have a streak that stays red." Quinn's cocky smirk faded. "Which might be considered fashionable I suppose, but I suspect eventually it will fade to orange."
"Well, chop, chop then, Manhands!" she clapped her hands in front of her and the other girl flinched, banging the back of her head on her locker door. "What are we waiting for?"
The loser quickly pulled a white plastic bag from her locker and closed the door. "Some of us keep a bottle of shampoo and cleansing wipes in the bathroom down the hall."
"And I keep an entire range of toiletries, not to mention my spare uniform, in my gym locker," Quinn countered, leading them in the opposite direction. "Besides," she gave the girl a look up and down, her smirk coming back at just how drenched she was. "I don't think cleansing wipes are going to cut it this time."
"No," Berry looked down at herself, and Quinn was surprised to see a suddenly bright, amused smile. "I think you're probably right."
The locker room was empty. In two hours it would be filled with Cheerios getting ready for practice, but for now they had it to themselves.
Quinn hit the lights as they entered and then went straight to her locker. Berry hovered just inside the door like she'd never been in the room before.
She pointed to the far end. "The showers are that way."
"I know, it's just a little disconcerting being in here right now. You know, when no one else is. No other girls or, uh, teachers."
"I'm in here with you, aren't I?" Then she laughed. "I take it that's the problem." With her towel under her arm and shower supplies in hand, she slammed her locker shut. "I promise not to steal your clothes and throw them in the boy's locker room . . . again."
"Thank you, Quinn."
"Don't mention it, I mean really, because that promise only stands for today."
"I see." She finally came deeper into the room. "Well, I still appreciate your willingness to allow me a reprieve, a stand off if you will, while we . . ." Quinn stopped listening and headed to the back of the room. "You're showering too?"
She wasn't really keen on showering in front of people right now, not that she ever had been, and she usually found a reason to wait until most of the squad had finished up before hitting the showers herself. She wasn't showing yet, the internet said it was too earlier for that, but she did spend most days feeling bloated and disgusting. She might have still been slimmer than the majority of the girls at McKinley, but in front of the other cheerleaders she would stick out like a . . . well, an unplanned pregnancy.
But this was just Berry, who had no body shape to speak of, and the slushie had dribbled its way under the neck of her uniform and into her bra, leaving her feeling chilled and gross and sticky. So she stripped out of her spoiled uniform without much thought.
"Yeah sure, why?"
"Oh, no reason."
Bunching up the red, white and black Cheerios outfit, she threw it towards the lockers. Coach would kill her if she saw it on the floor but it was going to need dry-cleaning anyway. Hanging her fluffy white towel on the provided hooks, she stepped into the slightly sunken shower area and then hit the first button she came to to start the spray running.
She was stepping under it, tilting her head back to rinse off her face, when she noticed Berry still standing by the partition and staring at the back wall.
"Are you showering in your clothes or what?"
The girl physically jumped at her snapped inquiry. "No, I just . . . uh, I thought, that is . . ."
"Wow, Berry, never heard you so inarticulate. Is water that scary? Do you not wash at home?"
"Of course I do. My personal hygiene routine is extremely thorough."
As Quinn looked over to mock that, she saw the girl was finally shedding her slushie-soiled clothes. She still had her back to her as she took off her blouse and then awkwardly removed her knee-high socks, wobbling as she balanced on first one foot and then the other.
Quinn rolled her eyes and then forgot about her, concentrating on washing her hair, determined to remove any sign of cherry slush. She was on her second shampoo, head tilted back again and eyes closed against the suds, when she felt the warm, clearly naked body bump into her.
"Hey! What the hell?" Her eyes shot open but were immediately blinded by the soap. Reaching out sightlessly, Quinn grabbed an arm and shoved her away. "This one's taken, pervert! Get your own shower."
"Sorry, sorry, sorry," echoed off the walls, Berry's voice high in embarrassment and panic. "I wasn't looking where I was going."
"I had my back to you."
"It seemed like the polite thing to do."
Quinn shook her head, but washed the shampoo out of her hair before saying, "You act like you've never showered after gym before."
"I have, it's just . . ."
"It's just . . ." she repeated sarcastically.
"Nothing. Never mind. I'm just very sorry for bumping into you."
"You better be."
Rubbing conditioner from the roots to the tips of her hair and leaving it in for now, she reached out for her shower gel, and noted with a frown that Berry just seemed to be doing the best she could with plain water and a lot of scrubbing her hands over her skin.
"Where's your soap?"
"I don't have a designated gym locker to keep that kind of thing in."
That would be true, only Cheerios were allowed permanent lockers, Coach Sylvester insisted on it.
She sighed and shook her head; the things she did for the sake of charity. After squeezing a generous helping of the shower gel into her palm she called out,
And sent the bottle down the row of showers in a smooth underarm throw. She'd given her ample time to react and catch the offering but Berry still fumbled it. Throwing her arms out instinctively wasn't enough when her gaze seemed to be glued to the white tiled wall and refused to come unstuck. The slippery bottle slid over the palm of one grasping hand and evaded the other completely before hitting the girl in the ribs and dropping to the non-slip floor.
God, she was such a freak!
"I thought you were some kind of dancer? You have as much grace as a pygmy hippo in floaties and flippers!" She watched as Berry squatted and scrambled around with her eyes strictly on the floor now, dark hair matted to her face by the force of the spray as she hurried to pick the shower gel back up, muttering apologies for her carelessness. Quinn almost smiled at how much of a dork she was. "You'd better not have broken that."
"No, no, it's fine." Standing back up she faced away from Quinn completely now as she uncapped the bottle. "Thank you for letting me borrow some. It's very kind of you."
"Yes, it is." She sighed again as she extended another offer. "If you want to borrow the shampoo and conditioner though you can come and get them. They're too expensive to have you just throw on the floor."
"You threw it on the floor," her defiance was only just audible over the dual shower heads running. "Actually you threw it at me and then it fell to the floor."
"I threw it to you and gently for that matter. You're the freak who wouldn't look in this direction enough to make a catch a five year old could have handled." Smirking, she added, "Is there some reason why you can't look at me right now, Berry? Something that I should be worried about?"
She said it without really thinking, because putting Rachel Berry in uncomfortable situations had always just come naturally to her. This wasn't even one of her best; it was nonsensical in fact because everyone knew Berry was into Finn in a big way. The irritating dwarf didn't even have the decency to try and hide it. So it was the absence of the other girl laughing it off, or saying anything at all actually, that had Quinn quirking a suspicious eyebrow her way.
"You know what they say, don't you Treasure Trail? Only those who want to look are scared to look."
"I suppose that would make sense. Those who didn't want to look wouldn't even realize they were looking."
With the simple acknowledgement, Quinn lost the wind from her sails. It wasn't like she'd planned to thump the lesson into the girl like she'd had it thumped into her after her first gymnastics competition - the first one where she couldn't wait and shower at home anyway - but to have the lesson taken from her completely left her unsure what to follow with.
"Um, yeah, exactly."
"I'm not scared to see you unclothed, Quinn, I've just been led to believe showers should be private."
"Oh." This was ridiculous. Rachel Berry had her on the back foot and how was that acceptable? "Why, what do you have to hide?"
It came a little too quick, a little too strained, probably for no reason other than the girl was feeling self-conscious about being alone with her, but Quinn chuckled under her breath at spotting a weakness she could seize on.
"You don't sound very sure." There was no reply other than Berry's posture stiffening a little more as she resolutely kept her face turned away and that was just making this too easy, but easy could be fun. "Come on, what is it you don't want me to see, RuPaul? Do you have like a third nipple or something?"
She let the awkward silence last a full minute before she amped up the tension with,
"Oh my God, don't tell me that's it. Was I right all along?"
"What? I don't . . . Right about what?"
"You really are a tranny, aren't you!"
Berry didn't so much make words as splutter out random syllables of indignation, taking her question as genuine because she still wouldn't turn to see the wicked grin Quinn was wearing.
"This is huge. I mean, I always suspected," she lied, "but confirmation like this is such a bonus."
"You haven't confirmed anything!"
"But I'm about to." She crept up on the other girl, the noise of her bare feet lost beneath the streaming water. "Come on, let me see it."
Rachel jumped to hear her voice right behind her and took a step away. "Quinn, please stop. You know I don't really have a penis."
"No I don't and you're not really convincing me otherwise."
"This is ridiculous!" Head high, Berry started to walk away from her but Quinn kept pace until the end wall left them nowhere else to go.
"Aww, you're shy," she laughed, teasing, "Look, if you're freakishly tiny I promise not to tell everyone."
"I am not . . ." Berry started and then stopped, shaking her head furiously. "What am I saying? I have nothing to be tiny!"
"Sure you don-"
"Fine!" She turned so fast Quinn wasn't ready for it. "There, see. Look!"
The demand was so unexpectedly forceful it was a few seconds before she realized she'd followed it and was now looking at . . . well, it wasn't a penis. She jerked her eyes up to a point over Berry's shoulder, pulse quickening, cheeks burning with shame.
"Hmm, scared to look, Quinn?"
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