Puck met them at the front door. "Wow, you're looking kinda there hot, Berry!"
Rachel blushed, even more so when Mike said, "Hey, eyes off of my date, Puckerman!"
And that was her introduction to her first high school party, because everyone close enough looked over and they all learned right away that their host thought she was looking hot and that she was Mike Chang's date. That and walking in with Quinn Fabray certainly smoothed her way into a party that even she knew she had no place being at.
Quinn had been right; other than her, Kurt and Mercedes, every kid there was either a jock, a cheerleader or someone at McKinley who managed to be cool without belonging to either clique. Rachel was finding it hard to shake the idea that it was a reunion for all the people who had ever slushied her or tortured her in some other equally demeaning but less frozen way.
At least she wasn't alone. Puck high-fived Matt as he came through the door but then laughed. "You brought two dates? Dude, I appreciate the kink, but threesomes are supposed to go 'girl, guy, girl' not 'guy, girl, guy'! Unless you're a chick, then you can mix it up however you want."
"I only invited Mercedes," Matt hissed. "She invited him."
"Sure, whatever, man." Puck's leer never lost its strength. "Beer's in the kitchen, help yourselves. Quinn, we gotta get you out of that Cheerios uniform, babe."
Rachel's eyes weren't the only pair that snapped to him. Quinn's beat hers by at least half a second and Finn was giving him a wounded puppy look.
"Dude, that's my girlfriend!"
Puck held his hands up. "I'm just saying that uniform, hot as it is, is getting boring. Don't you own any other clothes?"
Quinn growled in frustration. "Where did you say the beer was?"
Again three pairs of eyes snapped to attention to watch her retreating back, she wasn't first this time either but she was a very close second. Strangely enough Finn seemed to be last.
Because, apparently it was the first thing you were supposed to do at a party, she and Finn had the perfect excuse to follow Quinn into the kitchen. Puck, being the host, also had good reason to show them the way. The fact that Mike, Matt, Mercedes and Kurt all followed them was annoying but it wasn't like Rachel could tell them not to.
Finn was hovering silently by Quinn's side as she searched the fridge and Puck was leaning against the counter, arms crossed and clearly unhappy but equally as silent. Rachel really couldn't make him out, which wasn't unusual because Puck had been a complete mystery to her since the day she'd met him, but his reaction and now acute observation made her think he knew at least as much as she did about Quinn's situation.
Their silence was bothering her though. Okay, they had an audience, but one of them should be subtly trying to distract Quinn from drinking alcohol.
When they didn't she had no choice. "Quinn, do you really think . . ."
The Cheerio turned to glare at her so fast that Rachel forgot there was a table in-between them and stepped back. "Firstly, who gave you permission to talk to me, Stubbles? Secondly, don't ever presume to know what I'm thinking."
There were tense murmurs from many of the Glee club members present, the 'fight' from the day before still fresh in their memories.
Rachel was torn between backing down, because it really wasn't her place to say anything and, because Kurt was watching, standing her ground and biting back.
Puck saved the day, in his own fashion. "Here, have a beer, Berry."
"I do not need alcohol to enjoy myself, Puck."
"Have one anyway. Might help the rest of us enjoy you." Puck twisted off the cap for her and held it out. "Go on, down it."
Rachel was about to decline again but then she caught the half-amused, half-disapproving look in Quinn's eyes and against all rational thought she took the bottle.
"Okay. Cheers, everyone!"
She drank from the bottle neck like it was water. It was cold and she didn't like the taste much and she hadn't ever realized that beer was fizzy but she had excellent control over her breathing and no gag reflex to speak of and triumphantly drank the entire bottle down in a series of lengthy swallows.
Only on her fifth gulp did she realize how stupid she was being to give in to peer pressure like this. By her seventh she'd stopped worrying so much about that and by the time the last of the beer was sliding down her throat she decided Puck's ridiculous hairstyle was obviously hindering his brain power in some way, making him an idiot, because Quinn's cheerleading uniform was pure awesome.
She hiccuped as she openly admired it, and the girl inside it who was glaring her down. She had such a pretty glare. Rachel wondered if anyone had ever told her that before. Somebody should, she decided.
"Wow, you are just really unbelievably pretty, Quinn, I just . . . I just can't even . . ." The beauty was so overwhelming she couldn't even finish the sentence and trailed off in awed wonder.
Quinn hoped her eyeroll was subtle and then turned her back on Rachel to search the fridge for any form of juice. She wasn't stupid, she knew she couldn't really have alcohol, but she didn't want people to start asking her why she was suddenly teetotal either. Her impatient request for a beer had been a ruse and those three idiots might as well have just blurted out the news of her situation with how obvious they were being.
It occurred to her that now that Rachel was drunk – within ten minutes of arriving at the party, that had to be a new world record – she was only going to be less subtle about the pregnancy. And . . . other things, as her sudden proclamation had just proved.
Quinn was going to have to watch her like a hawk all night now so that she could intervene if Rachel opened her big stupid mouth; and, seeing as she clearly couldn't handle her alcohol, to stop her from dying or, you know, getting pregnant in Puck's bedroom.
She groaned, allowing her forehead to bump lightly against the refrigerator door as she pushed it closed. Babysitting Rachel Berry was not how she'd planned to spend her evening.
"I agree, it's complete insanity. Quinn Fabray giving Rachel Berry a ride to a party." Rachel tried unsuccessfully several times to untwist the cap on her beer. "I was surprised an earthquake didn't rip open the road and swallow me whole or a . . . a horde of singing zombies didn't swarm the car and eat my brains. But I'm still actually waiting for the disaster part of this disaster movie to befall me."
Mercedes did the job for her and handed the bottle back. "I'm sure it's coming. This is Quinn we're talking about; let no good deed go without a full on major bad deed right behind it."
"Thank you." Toasting her with her beer, Rachel guzzled a mouthful or two. "You know, Mercedes, I'm just not so sure about that anymore. I mean, yes, obviously she is pure evil wrapped up in a hot sixteen year old body but sometimes . . . sometimes . . ."
"Sometimes?" Mercedes prodded, and then her eyes widened, "Uh-oh, disaster at twelve-o-clock."
"Right after news at eleven." Rachel giggled.
Unaware of what her fellow Glee-clubber was referring to and still thinking wistfully of a certain hot sixteen year old body, she raised her bottle to her lips for another gulp but it never made it there. It was snatched smoothly from her hand and then Quinn was walking away with it without even slowing down.
"Well, that was rude." Rachel stared from her empty hand to the back of the blonde's alluring cheerleading uniform and promptly forgot that she was upset about something.
"And lame. I thought she'd at least pour it over you."
"Mercedes, I'm going to ignore that you sound disappointed by the fact that she didn't pour it over me because I understand you must feel as nervous and out of place at this party as I do and to see me singled out for public humiliation would, no doubt, help you to relax in the knowledge that you are at least a level above me in the hierarchy of this social gathering."
"Uh, I guess."
"Well, cheer up, the night is still young and I'm sure it's only a matter of time before someone pours a drink over my head. Or, maybe even an entire bowl of potato salad, who knows."
Mercedes pointed both index fingers at her. "You're scary when you're drunk."
"It's very freeing, I highly recommend it." Rachel beamed as she patted her shoulder. "And now I'm going to further my search for freedom."
"I'm going to get another beer."
Sitting on the couch with Mike was nice, it was like they were in a little bubble surrounded on all sides by people standing up, a wall of backs and legs that made them feel secluded in the midst of everything. Yeah, a bubble, she decided again, sipping from her drink, but not a private bubble because someone was in here with them and it was making her nervously edge closer and closer to Mike.
Mike was being very attentive without being too forward. He asked questions, listened to the answers and maintained very good eye-contact throughout but he had yet to show any physical affection. He hadn't even tried to put his arm around her since they'd sat down. A few hours ago she would have been pleased with how respectful he was being but she was feeling surprisingly tactile tonight and, really, what was the point of having a date if they didn't even try to sneakily hold your hand?
Thinking of sneaky hand-holding made her drift off for a second or two, or maybe it was longer because Mike suddenly paused his conversation with Brittany to ask if she needed another drink or anything.
"I'm fine, thank you, Mike." She sipped from her bottle to prove it. "I was just thinking about physical intimacy."
"Uh, ohhkay," he didn't seem to know whether that was a good thing or not.
Brittany leaned across her to stage-whisper. "I think she wants you to make out with her."
Rachel tensed, because even with liquid courage inside of her, having a Cheerio this close was scary. "No, I didn't mean that level of intimacy, after all this is only our first date."
"But you've already been on the date for like two hours. If I haven't reached at least second base by this time I get bored and go home."
"Okay," she squeaked, taking an instinctive gulp from her beverage. "But . . . but I don't have your levels of experience or expertise, Brittany, and while I greatly admire the way you embrace your sexuality I don't think I have quite the same . . . daring as you do in this arena; yet, anyway."
"Okay," Brittany smiled at her. "Thanks . . . um . . ."
"Rachel," she prompted.
"Your name's Rachel?" Now she frowned. "Has it always been that?"
She suppressed the urge to roll her eyes and used them to thank Mike instead when he distracted Brittany with talk of Mr. Schuester's choreography for It Takes Two. A few moments later she smiled when Mike's fingers curled around hers, loosely holding her hand. It wasn't the same but it was nice.
And then, her smile dropped and she gripped her bottle and Mike's hand more tightly and wondered where on earth the flash of guilt came from as she looked up to meet frosty hazel eyes.
"Move it, Manhands, I need to talk to Brittany."
"Manhands!" Brittany suddenly squealed. "That's what I thought your name was."
Quinn quirked a smile at her friend before glaring back at Rachel. "I said move."
"I'm actually quite comf . . ."
A hand swept down, reaching under her elbow and then she was up whether she wanted to be or not.
"Quinn . . ." Mike began.
She ignored his attempted interruption and pulled her further so that the loose grip of their hands was broken. "Losers don't get to sit on the couch. If you want to keep holding his hand you can sit on the floor by my feet . . . our feet, by his feet. Sit!"
Rachel snorted and spluttered, raising a hand to her mouth quickly but too late to cover it as Quinn mangled her order. The cheerleader's eyes narrowed and Rachel ducked her head because if she didn't stop smiling at her their fake fight the other day was going to look, well, fake by what Quinn would do to her now.
"Actually, I think I need to use the bathroom . . ."
Rachel started backing up but wasn't fast enough to keep her grip on her beer bottle. Quinn's long reach plucked it from her hand and then she sat down on the couch like nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
"You're welcome," Rachel said with as much sarcasm as she could muster when her lips were still trying to twitch into a smile.
Quinn tipped the bottle neck towards her in silent, mocking thanks before pressing it to her closed lips. If even a droplet made it into her mouth Rachel would have been surprised. It was a relief Quinn wasn't drinking, but it just made it that much more annoying that she kept stealing her beverages!
"You know I really thought beer would taste disgusting, and don't get me wrong, it really does, but it's also rather moreish," Rachel explained to a cornered Kurt.
As she was about to take another sip from her fourth beer a hand came out of nowhere, closing around the condensation-slick bottle and slipping it easily out of her grip.
"Thanks for the drink, RuPaul."
"Hey, that was mine!" she called after Quinn's back. She turned to lament on her fate with Kurt, "That was mine."
"And are you just going to let her get away with it?" he asked, a gleam in his eye.
"You think I should antagonize Quinn Fabray on her own turf?" Rachel grinned at him, still plenty tipsy even if she couldn't keep a drink for two minutes. "Now that really would be suicide."
"Of course not," Kurt wheedled, "if you're happy to accept the way she treats you then there's no reason to do anything at all. Why rock the boat? I'm sure stronger girls than you have quailed at the idea of standing up to her. You shouldn't feel bad."
Rachel frowned. "I can stand up to her. I do stand up to her."
"Of course you do, Rachel."
"You don't think I can? I'll show you. I'm going to get another beer and I'm drinking it, all of it, and watch out Quinn Fabray, because this boat is about to start rocking!"
Kurt smiled as she skipped away, knowing full well what he had just done. He did feel a twinge of guilt about it though, which was why he lightly touched Mercedes arm to get her attention as he slowly followed Rachel to the kitchen.
"Where are we going?" his best friend asked.
"To watch a show . . . and possibly try and prevent a bloodbath."
They saw a better show than they ever bargained for.
The kitchen was so much quieter than the rest of the first floor of the house that Quinn actually breathed a sigh of relief as she entered, dropping Berry's beer onto the first available flat service and heading to the fridge for more juice.
Finn and Puck were already in there, sitting at the square laminated table playing cards with two other jocks. They both looked up attentively when she came through the door, but she ignored them. The nausea was back – thanks to the combined smells of sweat, cheap aftershave, smoke and alcohol that was thick in the overheated living room already. Carrying half empty bottles of beer around for most of the night really wasn't helping either.
The orange juice was too sweet and she abandoned it after a couple of sips to pull a handkerchief out of her handbag. She was already down to one, having apparently snorted all of the goodness out of the other while in the Berry Bathroom. She should have brought all of them.
Puck was watching her, so after just a few delicate sniffs she folded it back up and tucked it away again.
He nodded like he didn't believe her but was thankfully distracted by someone else coming through the door and striding so purposefully into the kitchen that she knocked into the back of his chair.
Okay, scratch the 'thankfully' part.
"Berry!" His arm snaked out, catching the small girl by her far hip so that she swivelled on the spot to face him. "Did I tell you you look hot tonight?"
"Only three times, Puck, now if you would unhand me I . . ."
"Seriously, though, you've been holding out on us. Who knew you could look so fine out of school?"
Berry was blushing but it was hard to tell if it was at the compliments or just because she was embarrassed at the way Puck and the other two jocks – not Finn, though, he was deliberately staring hard at his cards now – were ogling her.
"Well, thank you for those kind words but I'm afraid I really can't take credit for my attire tonight. Quinn dressed me."
"Sweet. Think I'd rather see her undress you though." His eyebrows jumped a few times and he high-fived the thickset moron sat beside him. "Know what I mean?"
Had he forgotten she was in the room? How dare he? Did he know? Had he guessed? Did he troll her MySpace page too and had seen their conversations?
Her eyes darted to Berry's face. 'Oh, please Rachel, drop dead of a killer brain fungus before you open your big mouth to answer that and I might even let you kiss me. . . once . . . no tongues . . . maybe a little tongue . . . not helping . . . please, Rach, don't let me down.'
"I assure you I have no idea what you mean, Puckerman, but if I did I would tell you how inappropriate and disturbing such a suggestion is. The idea that I would ever have the poor taste and judgement to let Quinn Fabray ever do such a thing to me is, quite frankly, insulting."
Quinn's eyes narrowed. "Hey!"
Her eyes went comically wide when Rachel suddenly zeroed in on her voice and threw an arm up to point straight at her, saying, in what was a really booming voice for someone as small as she was, "You!"
"What about me?" she snapped back.
"Stop stealing my drinks! They're my drinks!" It was anticlimactic after the big start. Rachel dropped her arm and went about searching the kitchen. "Where is all the beer?"
"We're out," Puck explained. "Jackson and Tito left to score another case. Be here in a while. You can have some of mine while you wait if ya want."
Quinn saw that he was pouring a generous measure of vodka into a plastic cup and topping it up with cola even as Finn spoke up.
"Is that really a good idea?"
"She'll be fine; I'll keep an eye on her."
Oh, no way was that happening. She reached the table at the same time as Rachel politely accepted the cup. Quinn tried to snatch it out of her hand but, seeing her coming, Rachel danced back out of the way.
She was pointing again. "Ha, no, it's mine! I'm gonna rock your boat tonight, Quinn, whether you like it or not!"
Quinn froze in shock. Had she really just said that? Out loud?
The other people in the kitchen were as wide eyed as she was, making it easy to hear the snickering coming from the doorway. She glanced over to see Mercedes and Kurt and the distraction was long enough for Berry to take a few loud swallows from her cup.
"Hmm, not as bad as the beer."
Suddenly the chuckling morphed into two disgruntled cries and then a Cheerios uniform was bursting into the kitchen and heading straight for Berry. It took a second for Quinn to realize it was Santana and then recognize the expression on her face – murder!
"You fucking little . . ."
The half-full cup leapt from Berry's hands and hit the floor, splashing its contents everywhere as the suddenly terrified girl threw herself back against the counter, her flailing elbows sending several semi-empty bottles skittering along its surface.
Without thinking Quinn lunged forward and grabbed Santana's upper arms, pulling her back sharply. Her extra inch of height and slight weight advantage – that she would never admit to, obviously – made it possible for her to bring her friend up short, but Santana was a hellcat, twisting and turning in her arms, spitting for Rachel's blood.
"What the hell is going on?"
"Let me at her, Fabray!"
"Calm. Down. Tell me why you want to kill her and if I think it's worth the assault charge she will no doubt bring against you, then I'll let you go."
"She called Brittany a slut!"
Quinn nearly did let her go. "You did what?"
"I called her no such thing!" The way Berry regained some bravery and indignantly straightened back up made Quinn think she was being falsely accused. "I was nothing but polite to Brittany when we spoke."
"Oh yeah, you think you can get away with it just because you wrap it up in fancy words that Britt doesn't understand? She might think you were being nice but, Stubbles, I know exactly what your snide little comments meant."
"What snide little comments?" Rachel shot back. "Do you have an example? I'd like some proof of what I'm being accused of."
"You said she was a ho because she's slept with a lot more people than you – which hello, like that's hard, no one wants you anyway – and that you admire the way she doesn't give a shit and sleeps around."
Rachel blinked a few times, processing, reminding Quinn she was pretty drunk. "First of all, the only word of that that I actually remember using was 'admire' and I applied no negative connotations to it. I'll admit I was a little uncomfortable at Brittany suggesting I, um, go further than I am ready to on my first date, but at no point did I suggest I thought less of Brittany for doing so."
"Huh?" Santana was still struggling in her hands but it was less violently now. "You think I'm going to believe that from a prude like you?"
"I am not a prude, Santana. Just because I have yet to meet someone with whom I want to have sexual relations does not mean I would be averse to doing so when I do. I was being sincere with Brittany; I do admire her ability to be in control of her sexual needs, and as long as she is physically and emotionally safe during her liaisons then it is of no concern to anyone but her and her chosen partner what they do in private.
"I'm sure that Brittany's open attitude to dealing with the subject of intercourse has actually led to her being one of the more sexually aware girls that we know, leaving her in good stead for dealing with the pleasures and pitfalls of such ventures. As I have said before, the teaching of abstinence is actually in some ways quite irresponsible, leading to people our age being completely unprepared for when those intense feelings of attraction hit us and making us prone to the downfall of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy."
Quinn had actually been lapping up her speech, just like everyone else in the kitchen, amazed and enthralled that Rachel could speak so candidly and passionately about a subject that most of them still found taboo even if they pretended otherwise. Those last couple of words had broken the spell though, because she'd seen Berry's eyes flick to hers.
She held onto them with a glare, and then with a cruel smile, released Santana.
It was too late and the fight had gone out of the girl. She just stood there, giving Berry a confused frown.
"I told you she wasn't being mean," Brittany whispered loudly from the doorway.
"Yeah well," Santana shrugged. "Don't do it again! Come on Britt-Britt, let's go dance."
Barely ten minutes had passed since Berry had entered the kitchen but Quinn was reeling from everything that had happened. Struggling to hold Santana back alone had churned her insides up again and now she was left to notice it the nausea hit hard. She scrambled in her bag for the handkerchief, her fingers missing it the first few times in her haste. When it was over her nose she was dismayed to find it did nothing to help.
"Damn." She took a few deep breaths, trying to quell it.
Finn was up out of his seat. "Quinn, are you okay?"
She tried to nod but it didn't come across very well.
Now Puck was on his feet too. "Do you need to sit down? Jimmy, get out of your damn chair!"
"I'm fine," she bit out, hating the attention.
"You don't look very good, Quinn," Kurt stepped forward.
"Yeah, girl, you're all kindsa . . ."
Berry was the only one who hadn't said anything but her eyes were watching anxiously.
"I'm fine," she snapped again. "But Puck I need the key."
"Q, you know . . ."
"Give me the damn key!"
Puck went instantly into his pocket, producing a small key ring and handing it over. "Don't make a mess."
"I'll try not to, asshole!"
She started to leave the kitchen, and no one was more surprised than her when she suddenly turned back, lunged for Berry's wrist and pulled her after her – okay there might have been, oh five people more surprised, Berry being one of them.
She didn't protest though, allowing Quinn to drag her out of the back of the kitchen and down a small passage-way.
"What in the hell was that about?" Mercedes asked once they were out of sight.
Finn and Puck both shrugged.
"Oh, come on," she insisted, "That was first rate weird."
"Don't girls always go to the bathroom together?" Finn asked.
"Some girls, sure, not Rachel and Quinn."
"It is an anomaly," Kurt agreed, his guilt had actually stepped up a notch. "You don't think she's going to hurt her in there do you?"
Puck shrugged, "Maybe. Quinn does seem pretty dead set on breaking Berry tonight."
"Do you think we should go and help?" Kurt asked, shooting Mercedes a nervous look.
"Nah, I'm pretty sure Q can do the job on her own."
Now Finn shot Puck a look but he spoke to the other two. "They'll be fine. Quinn won't hurt her. I think she just wants to make sure Rachel's okay after Santana's flip out."
"Yeah, right," Mercedes chuckled like he was making a joke.
Puck took matters into his own hands. "Okay, anyone still in the kitchen in thirty seconds has to play strip poker." He shuffled the cards like an expert. "You know how to play, Mercedes?"
He leered at her, "Then sit down, Sugar."
"I don't think so!"
Kurt looked intrigued and was about to take a seat but Mercedes, looking completely traumatized, grabbed his arm and dragged him from the kitchen after her. Puck smirked before turning his leer on Jimmy and Faber.
"You guys in?"
They both left the kitchen at a dead run, faster even than Mercedes had. Grinning, Puck threw the cards on the table and sat back.
"I think it's morning sickness," Finn muttered once they were alone.
"Why did she take Rachel with her though? She hates Rachel."
"I don't know, maybe she wanted someone to hold her hair back. Chicks are into that kind of thing when they throw up, right?"
They were silent for a minute until Finn said,
"I'd have done that for her if she'd asked."
"Screw that, it's my job."
Finn's eyes snapped to him. "What did you say?"
"How many beers have you had, Hudson? I said screw that job! I mean, she's blowing chunks right? Why put yourself through it, man?"
"True; it is kinda gross when you think about it."
Puck rolled his eyes and poured them both another drink.
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