After sixth period it was time to go to Glee and despite all of her big words yesterday Rachel wasn't looking forward to it. She was going to go, they were not running her out, but she really didn't want to walk into that room after what had transpired yesterday.
So she took the long way around, idly fantasizing that things were completely different and that Quinn was going to walk in with her, holding her hand the way she had in the hallway earlier, while they both glared at anyone who dared to question their love.
Her round-about route took her past Mike's locker, which was just around the corner from her own. He was there, alone, and Rachel strode over before she could think herself out of it.
"Can we talk?"
He glanced at her before looking back in his locker. "What about?"
"About yesterday. What Quinn said . . . well, it wasn't true."
"It's none of my business anymore."
"Mike, please, I understand your anger but I promise you it isn't like you think."
He slammed his locker closed and turned to her. "So what was it like?"
"I didn't try and kiss Quinn against her will."
He took a moment before he asked, "So you didn't kiss her?"
She hesitated. Why did she hesitate? She was a fool to herself with all this honesty business.
"I . . . I may have been confused about a few things, but I'm not now."
Oh, her feelings were still really confusing but she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt now that she would never be Quinn's chew-toy again. After the blonde's confrontation with Noah she wasn't sure she could ever trust the girl to do right by her again.
"No, definitely not."
"Okay." Mike looked nervous all of a sudden. He stared down at the floor and rubbed the back of his neck, then turned to his locker only to realize he'd already closed it. He tapped his fingers against the dial a couple of times but didn't re-open it. Finally he swivelled back around to smile at her, only to get lost in reading a poster on the wall behind her head. "You know, Homecoming is tomorrow."
Yes, she knew that. Anyone who walked the halls of McKinley couldn't help but know that at the moment. The propaganda . . . sorry, promotional posters were everywhere. Was Mike not feeling well? He was perspiring, swallowing extensively and . . . jittery.
"Mike, do you need the nurse?"
"Maybe." When she was about to run and fetch one, he caught her hand and softly laughed. "No, I'm fine. I think I'm fine. If you were serious, that is, about Quinn. Were you serious?"
Yes, she was very serious about Quinn, but thankfully she had not forgotten the context of their conversation. "Yes, I have no desire to be anywhere near Quinn."
"In that case," Mike said, still looking strung-out. "I wanted to hang out with you yesterday because I was going to ask . . ."
Rachel stopped listening when she saw Quinn come around the corner, sucking a big gulp slushie up through a straw. Their eyes met and electricity crackled until Quinn looked away and Mike's voice filtered back in.
". . . so did you want to? Or have I just been really lame? I have," he deduced from her blank stare. "I've just spent twenty-four hours giving you the cold shoulder and now I'm asking you to come to Homecoming with me." Mike groaned in self-depreciating despair before grinning shyly. "But, my total lameness aside, do you want to? Because I'd really like to go with you, Rachel."
Rachel was stunned. This had never happened to her before. No one had ever asked her to be their date to a dance. She wanted to jump up and down in excitement but figured such dorkiness would make Mike regret asking.
She wasn't thinking about how this was a bad idea if she was hung up on somebody else and she wasn't thinking about how it wasn't fair to even think about saying yes for the same reasons. She was just completely caught up in the moment; the moment of someone liking her enough to ask her to Homecoming.
It was something Quinn would never do, that much Rachel was sure of.
"You want me to be your date to the dance tomorrow night?" she checked, still not quite able to believe it.
Her stunned excitement made Mike smile, "Yea . . .arrrghh-what-the-f. . .!"
The smile had been slapped from his face, his lips now making the frozen 'O' of the recently slushied as Quinn sauntered on by with an empty cup, straw still sticking out of the corner of her self-satisfied smirk. A shocked giggle burbled out of Rachel at her audacity and the downright jealousy on display.
"You set me up!" Mike yelled, humiliated as he scrubbed the raspberry-blue drink from his face with furious motions.
The giggle stuck, almost choking her. She was horrified by the accusation. "No, I didn't! I didn't know she was going to do that!"
"Yeah, right! Whatever. Just stay away from me!" he snapped before charging off to the nearest boy's bathroom.
He ignored her. She turned on the spot, careful of the slushie near her feet.
The head Cheerio gave a little wave over her shoulder and then disappeared around the corner.
Quinn was maybe the seventh person to arrive in the Choir room that day. Rachel would obviously arrive after her, because she'd left her gawking by the lockers a few minutes before.
Finn and Puck were already there. Her boyfriend gave her a grin and eagerly patted the red chair beside him. Coach Sylvester's interruption hadn't dampened the high of their 'alone time' then, but what was he really thinking about things since her confession? Puck stared at her as she approached. The twist of his mouth was contemptuous but his dark eyes looked filled with angry pain. She ignored him and sat beside Finn, taking his hand in hers. She needed the comfort right now, today would be the first time she sang a solo in front of the entire Glee club.
Not to mention, you know, because of yesterday.
Several people glanced at her, Tina, Kurt, Mercedes, Matt and more, but none of them were actually brave enough to catch her eye so she settled for looking annoyed and ignored all of them too.
Santana suddenly slipped into the seat on her other side. "Heard Stubbles tried it on again today."
"Shut up, Santana!" Finn said without even looking at her.
The trouble-maker was ready to retort, until Quinn added to her supposed friend. "You heard him. Leave us alone."
Her grip tightened around Finn's hand when Rachel finally entered the room and whatever snarky thing Santana was saying faded out and was forgotten. It could have been dangerous, losing her attention so solely to Berry, but it wasn't like she was doing it consciously. It was just happening. Rachel was there and it was like, she couldn't help but look.
She wasn't the only one. Rachel's entrance, while silent apart from the click-clack of her shoes across the floor, was large enough to draw every eye in the room. The mix of petulant stomp and proud stride made most of the kids mutter irritably and roll their eyes but Quinn was impressed. Nearly everyone in the room, after yesterday, would have slunk in and made themselves as small as possible. They would have wanted to paint themselves red to blend into a chair. Rachel, without a word, made sure every one of them knew she was there and that she was staying; whether they liked it or not.
Quinn hadn't realized she'd been paying any more attention than anyone else though until Rachel marched right up to the chair in front of hers and they were locked in a staring match before Quinn could blink.
"You might want to be more careful about the way you look at me. People in this room have a habit of jumping to the wrong conclusion about things." Rachel's tone was cutting enough but her punchline was the stab in the back. "But they only need to get it right just once, Quinn, and then everything would be different."
Had she really just said that? In front of everyone? In friendlier times, and not spoken at such a high volume, it could have been a serious and well-intentioned warning. Not this time. The threat, while obscure, was heavily implied. Obviously the gloves were off. Fine. If Rachel wanted to play dirty, Quinn could oblige. This was her area of expertise after all.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Rachel, but I do know you need to stop speaking to me." She dropped her eyes from the other girl's. "It's making me uncomfortable."
The use of her given name and the vulnerable action of bowing her head was a double strike. She didn't have to see to know nearly every eye in the room hardened even further with varying degrees of disdain.
Rachel pursed her lips for a moment, shifting gears, before calmly volleying back, "Well, if I make you that uncomfortable, Quinn, you should have followed through on your decision to quit Glee Club. Or is this just more proof that you never actually mean what you say?"
"I mean what I say when it means something. You don't mean anything to me."
"I think we both know that's not entirely true, don't we Quinn!" Rachel lilted and then twirled around, crossed her arms and parked her ass firmly in the red chair she'd been leaning over.
Did that really just happen? From the nonplussed looks surrounding her, she'd say it had! The gloves were off. Okay.
"Too close, Berry." Quinn planted her tennis shoe in the back of the chair, tipping it forward. "If I'm going to stay in Glee we need some ground rules. And the first one is you have to be out of touching range at all times."
If anyone registered the total turn-around from her meek attitude just a minute before they were keeping it to themselves.
Rachel had already turned indignantly. "You touched me!" she snapped defiantly. Quinn smiled on the inside. "You kicked my chair!"
"Yes. To prove you were too close."
"Here's a radical idea: don't stay in Glee!"
"Sectionals is in what, six weeks? You're not going to find anyone else to join and learn all the routines, especially It Takes Two in that time."
"It's plenty of time!"
"Not once I black-list the club, it's not. I'll make sure no one dares come near this room. And, if you think the last few weeks have been hard for you all," she let her eyes travel over the ex-members of Team-Berry before looking back at Rachel, "try it when I'm actively participating in taking you down."
Nobody questioned why she hadn't been before. Not even Santana. Oh, being on top was awesome. It got even better when others did her dirty work for her.
"So to keep twelve members and prevent our lives being made a misery," Mercedes checked slowly. "Rachel just has to stay away from you?"
"Yes. I think ten feet is fair. Twenty-five would be better obviously but I don't want to disrupt Glee too much." Rachel only rolled her eyes so she pushed a little harder. "And I don't want you looking at me, okay? Or talking to me unless I talk to you first."
Rachel was shaking her head now with a wry smile; struggling to believe that Quinn was listing their 'No looking, no talking, no touching' rule in front of everyone. At least she got it.
Quinn said with her eyes, 'Yes, I went there.'
Rachel just rolled hers again.
"And obviously, no trying to kiss me anymore."
Rachel's eyes went wide.
'And I went there.' Could she get away with winking? No, that was pushing it. She risked a smirk though and it was worth it to see Rachel's eyes blaze and her mouth press into a tight-lipped grimace. 'Please be a sign that she's fighting her own smirk.'
"Quinn," Finn cautioned quietly.
"What? She started it."
"Anyway, I think that's a reasonable request," Kurt decided on behalf of everyone. "Rachel, move."
"I will not. Quinn can move."
"I was here first."
"Just move down a few seats," Artie said.
"It's for the g-g-good of the c-club."
"No, it's ridiculous," Rachel barked at them all. "And I'm not going to be persecuted in this way. Also, if Quinn chooses to leave do not think you can lay the blame at my feet. It will be on her head and yours for giving her such power."
Santana sat forward. "I could just save us all some time and move you myself."
"Yeah, we could move you into the dumpsters behind the science block," Puck agreed. "You don't have a problem with dead mice and dissected frogs, right?"
Rachel went pale, there may even have been a gulp. Quinn remembered their conversation about veganism and animal rights and was quick to realize she had to take back control before Rachel started thinking she'd actually let that happen.
Santana got in one more shot. "Or, we could carry out some poetic justice."
"What do you mean?" Rachel was clearly way more scared of Santana than she was of Quinn because her voice trembled.
"I mean, we should lock you in a bathroom with that creepy little Jew-fro kid. He's as obsessed with you as you are with Q. You two could swap notes on stalking, if you can still speak with his tongue down your throat that is," Santana mused, faux-thoughtfully.
Rachel jumped from the chair and whirled around. She backed down a step to the floor, not trusting having her back to her Glee-mates anymore. Her eyes darted between Santana and Puck, not sure who to be more wary of, but eventually Quinn, in the middle, caught her eye. And held it.
"No, I'm back in charge now," she said, voice cold but her eyes hopefully a little reassuring. "I'm going to say what happens next."
"And that is?" Rachel asked, with a smidgen of her previous defiance back.
"You do as I tell you from now on or I go and I take the rest of . . . " She rolled her eyes as she always did every time she said either lame name. ". . . Team-Fabray with me."
There were gasps from the peanut gallery – Team-Berry – plus a few comments from her supposed nearest and dearest.
"But I like singing and dancing at the same time."
"Shhh, Britt-Britt," Santana soothed. "We can sing and dance other places. It'll be okay."
"Uh, Quinn, I can't just walk out of Glee. I, we need that scholarship."
"Let's not pretend you were ever on Team Fabray . . ." Eye-roll. ". . . in the first place, Finn," she said as watched Rachel work through the implications. "And I think after what happened with Mike in the halls just before, he won't be back either."
Matt looked concerned, "What happened with Mike?"
"He asked Berry to be his date to Homecoming," she couldn't help sneering the word. "And she threw a slushie in his face. It was actually kind of hilarious to watch." She never took her eyes from Rachel.
"I did not do that! You threw the slushie. It was raspberry. They're the only flavor that make you feel better after you've been morning sick. You probably still have a blue tongue to prove it!"
It was a valiant effort at a comeback but it was thwarted by Puck.
"You know an awful lot of little details about a girl you're not stalking, Berry."
"And why would Quinn throw a slushie at Mike anyway," Brittany looked around for an answer. "He didn't ask her to Homecoming. Which would make more sense really, because she's hotter, oh, but she's with Finn. I get it now."
Rachel didn't even blink at the insult. "Yes, I wonder why she would do that. Maybe that's something we should discuss as a group too."
Okay, Quinn was starting to regret indulging her desire to spar with her. Rachel's manic grin was a little too scary.
"How about we stick to what's important. Do you agree to my terms or do we leave you to find six new members before Sectionals?"
"No! I do not! In fact why don't you all just leave now? I get enough allowance to easily bribe six students from the Chess club, the Debate club or the Black Student Union to replace you and, let's face it, for the most part it wouldn't make any difference to our overall success."
Quinn glared at her for real now, but it was needless because it seemed nobody shared Rachel's faith in her ability to bribe anyone.
"For goodness sake, Rachel," Kurt snapped, "Just move already."
"Yeah, are you really gonna make all of us fail just because Quinn doesn't feel the same as you? Jeez, get over it, I had to with Kurt."
"Fine!" Rachel gave in with a theatrical wave of her arms. "Does anyone have a tape measure on them? I'd hate to destroy Glee Club by being an inch too close!"
Her sarcasm was washed out when Kurt actually produced one from his pocket.
"What?" he asked off of everyone's surprised looks. "I need to take up my new pants."
Rachel took it, looked at the rolled tape like she couldn't figure how she'd ended up in such a situation and then with a slight huff went into action. After one step towards Quinn she went back into inaction and huffed again.
"Could someone please go and hold this end next to Quinn's chair?"
Quinn smiled at her and then mentally slapped it into a smirk. Smirks were safe enough.
Tina took the proffered end, handed it back to Kurt, who handed it back to Brittany, who passed it off to Santana beside her. Santana offered it to Quinn with a grin. She was clearly loving this.
Quinn took the end lightly between finger and thumb and smirked straight at Rachel again, quirking an eyebrow, waiting to see what she would do.
"This is going too far," Finn whispered to her.
She was impressed he actually bothered to whisper. She knew she was pushing his promise to stay quiet to the limit right now.
"It's fine, honestly," she murmured back. "It'll be fine. I'll make it right later."
He didn't have to know how. She didn't really know how herself, but she figured thank you hugs and sniffing would feature heavily. Maybe even a kiss. This felt like more foreplay again after all. She really hoped Rachel felt the same.
Five feet had already been reeled out from where Rachel was standing. With another eye-roll, she started to walk away from her down the line of chairs.
"Uh, not this way!" Artie said quickly, making a shooing gesture with his hand. "I mean, there's so much more empty space the other way, you'll have more room to, uh, be further away."
Rachel looked like she'd been kicked while she was down. Quinn wondered where Jesus would place pushing Artie down the auditorium steps one day on the good and evil balance, considering the circumstances.
Mr. Schuester finally arrived – fifteen minutes late – as Rachel was determinedly marching to the other end of the risers, tape measure spooling out behind her. Ten feet took her to the very last but one chair at the bottom. It looked like miles away to Quinn. She should have said six feet.
"Sorry I'm late, guys. Sue cornered me on the way here. Looks like she'll be joining us next week as co-director after all." There were several groans from around the room at this news, but Mr Schue had finally spotted the weird scene before him and that took priority. "What are you doing, Rachel?"
She didn't beat around the bush. "Allowing myself to be emotionally blackmailed in order to ensure the future of the Glee Club. You can thank me any time you like."
"Okay, thank you. Why?"
Rachel sat down in the isolated chair and didn't answer.
His eyes seemed to find Quinn instinctively, even though he looked a little surprised to find her sitting there.
"I'm glad you came back, Quinn. It's good to have you here. But can you tell me why you and Rachel are holding a tape measure between you?"
She kept her face impassive. "We came up with a few ground rules while we were waiting for you." She managed to make it sound like it was his fault. "To make us all more comfortable. One of them was . . . distance."
"I see." He looked like he wanted to say more but didn't. His eyes roamed the room for a moment. "No Mike? Okay, we'll catch him up tomorrow. Right, Coach Sylvester is joining us Monday, so we only have two more days to finish up this week's assignment and there's still quite a few who haven't gone, so let's get started. Who wants to go first?"
Quinn definitely didn't. She wasn't even sure of her song choice now after everything that had happened today. It had seemed so clear in the middle of the night, but now . . . maybe she should just do Longshot after all. It wasn't like anyone but Rachel would get it at this point anyway.
She was saved from having to decide right away by both Puck's and Rachel's hands going up. For once Mr. Schuester chose right.
"Rachel, why don't you go first?"
In a completely uncharacteristic move, that had Quinn worried, Rachel shook her head. "No, that's okay, I'll go after Noah."
"Are you sure?" The teacher sounded as surprised as everyone probably felt.
Rachel nodded and looked down at the floor.
"Okay. Puck, you're up."
He stepped down from his seat beside Finn and grabbed an acoustic guitar from where it had been propped against the wall.
"Okay, I know you said this was supposed to be a solo number or whatever, but me and Artie got to talking about what tracks we wanted to do and we kind of ended up putting this one together."
"In other words, he threatened me," Artie deadpanned as he rolled forwards and spun around to face the risers beside Puck.
"Uh, okay. What song is it and why does it mean something to you?"
"It's Cryin'." Puck slung his guitar strap over his shoulder. "And it means . . . I don't know, love's for suckers or something."
"It means nothing to me." Artie said, quickly distancing himself from Puck's opinion.
"Why don't you just . . ." Mr. Schuester waved his arm to hurry them along and Puck went with it; nodding his head at Artie as he counted them in before strumming the opening chords.
Artie took the first verse alone, his voice working the melody well, but then Puck joined in with the bridge and um, hello? Oh, God, why was he looking at her?
"All I want, is a love I can't resist!
I know, all I need to know,
By the way I got kiiiiissed!"
He winked at her, he actually winked at her!
"I was cryin' when I met you,
Now I'm trying to forget you.
Your love is sweet misery . . ."
And there was no mistaking that he was singing to her. Just what the fuck was he playing at?
Seriously, he was right? She wasn't the only one seeing it?
"I was cryin' just to get you,
Now I'm dying cos I let you
Do what you do, down on meeeee!"
As he dragged out the last word she felt her knees go weak, even though she was sitting down. She hated him, and this was clearly pay back for her harsh words earlier.
As Artie took the second verse Puck used the big gap between Rachel and everyone else to climb the risers, on the chairs, stepping over the backs until he was right in front of her and Santana. A side-eyed glance to the left showed that Santana was oblivious, simply lapping up the attention as Puck softly crooned,
"We're partners in crime,
Yeah got that certain something
What you give to me,
Takes my breath away."
Quinn breathed a sigh of relief, maybe she'd been mistaken, until . . .
"Now the word out on the street,
Is the Devil's in your kiss.
Goes up in flames,
It's a fire I can't resist!"
There was no mistaking who Puck had been singing to then, especially not for Santana who was sitting right next to her!
"Asshole!" Santana stood and pushed him hard in the chest.
It was a miracle he didn't break his neck, but Puck had more lives than a cat and didn't even lose the beat as he was shoved backwards into the air. Landing on his feet he barely even staggered and his guitar strumming didn't falter and neither did his voice.
"I was cryin' when I met you,
Now I'm trying to forget you . . ."
It was awesome but it irked that his natural showmanship was so good. Quinn would have preferred for him to land on his ass and embarrass himself and no doubt Santana would have preferred that too.
"What the hell, Fabray?" she hissed.
As Quinn turned to defend her innocence, she caught Rachel's eye and her friend was forgotten. Rachel was staring back at her curiously, but as their eyes met Rachel mouthed back 'sorry' and turned to face the front again.
As Puck and Artie joined again for the final chorus, singing to Mercedes and Tina in the front row, Quinn breathed freely. She looked at Rachel. Rachel didn't turn around again. Maybe she'd just had enough hassle for one day or maybe she knew Puck had mostly been singing to Quinn and was upset about that. Either way, she kept her eyes squarely on the floor.
When the song was done everyone clapped – it had been a great performance after all – Quinn clapped a couple of times just for the look of it and Rachel did the same, her hands dropping to grip the edge of her seat as soon as she stopped.
The set of her shoulders looked nervous. Was it because she had to perform next? That was a new one.
"Okay, guys, that was great. I really felt the emotion in that. So, Rachel, are you ready to blow us away?" Mr. Schue was obviously trying to build her up, Rachel just looked smaller than ever.
"Of course." Rachel took her time standing up and making her way to the middle of the floor.
She had been second-guessing her song choice for most of the afternoon. In the bathroom, while Quinn had been sleeping on her, she'd thrown it out completely. Afterwards, with the way Quinn had spoken to and about her when she'd been yelling at Noah, it had felt valid again. She'd gone back and forth through her last class, because did she really want to hammer that final nail into their coffin when Quinn had almost done the right thing?
But if almost was the best Rachel was ever going to get? Just look at what had happened in the past twenty minutes. Yes, she knew she'd started it, coming into the room and shooting some home truths at her for everyone to hear. And yes, she'd been able to tell Quinn had just been playing with her to 'teach her a lesson'. And she actually appreciated Quinn pulling rank on Santana and Noah when they were being mean to the extreme. And Quinn's smirk was dangerously alluring whatever the weather. All of that was true, but none of it swayed from the fact that while Quinn might be attracted to her on some levels - enough so to protect her physically - she obviously didn't care enough about Rachel's feelings, if at all.
And that was all she'd needed to remember.
"Okay, Brad. When you're ready."
By the time the short piano intro was over most of the girls were already swaying in time, Quinn was not, she was just watching. Rachel started to sing.
"I will not make the same mistakes that you did
I will not let myself
Cause my heart so much misery."
She risked the quickest of glances at Quinn. She was still watching but her face was stoic. Rachel went back to staring at a random empty chair. It was the safest way.
"I will not break the way you did,
You fell so hard
I've learned the hard way
To never let it get that far
Because of you
I never stray too far from the sidewalk
Because of you
I learned to play on the safe side so I don't get hurt
Because of you
I find it hard to trust not only me, but everyone around me
Because of you
I am afraid."
She let her eyes sweep everyone, catching as many eyes as she could, but not Quinn's. They were all listening to her, she could tell, she knew a hooked audience when she saw one, but none of them seemed to care about what she was saying through the song.
"I lose my way
And it's not too long before you point it out
I cannot cry
Because I know that's weakness in your eyes
I'm forced to fake
A smile, a laugh every day of my life."
On that line Quinn met her eyes, there was nothing Rachel could do about it. She didn't know what it meant but she forced herself to not be the one that backed down while she continued.
"My heart can't possibly break
When it wasn't even whole to start with
Because of you
I never stray too far from the sidewalk
Because of you
I learned to play on the safe side so I don't get hurt."
Quinn was still looking into her eyes. And so Rachel felt justified in putting even more emotion into the rest of the chorus.
"Because of you
I find it hard to trust not only me," She slapped a hand to her chest, "but everyone around me
Because of you
I am afraid."
She was not looking away until Quinn did.
Quinn was not looking away.
"I watched you die
I heard you cry every night in your sleep
I was so young
You should have known better than to lean on me."
She took a step closer to Quinn's seat without thinking about it. Quinn stiffened but still didn't look away. She might have even leaned forward a little bit.
"You never thought of anyone else
You just saw your pain!"
She saw Quinn flinch as she stabbed the lyrics at her, she actually saw it! Then the worse thing happened; Quinn got up and left the risers! Was she just going to leave like that? Yes, this was probably hard for her but . . . but didn't she know how rude it was to walk out in the middle of a performance?
Rachel's head had turned to follow her, but she wasn't going to let it be her undoing. With true showmanship she whipped her head back to the audience and belted out the next few lines with even more passion.
"And now I cry in the middle of the night
For the same damn thiiiing."
They might have all hated her right now but at least half a dozen people clapped when she held that note for so darn, perfectly long. The other half were watching Quinn leave. She must have been taking an awfully long time to do so.
That was good. She'd always intended to sing this next part to Quinn and she turned so that it would follow her out into the hallway (and hopefully continue following her for the rest of her life!) only for her eyes to be treated to the sight of Quinn stretching and bending by the wall.
What on Earth was she doing? Was this some form of sexual sabotage? Did Quinn think she could throw her off with a glimpse of well-muscled thigh and a flash of danger-red spanks? Oh, she had another think coming!
Rachel closed her eyes, clasped her chest and sang her heart and soul out to Quinn's rear-end.
"Because of you
I try my hardest just to forget everything
Because of you
I don't know how to let anyone else in
Because of you
I'm ashamed of my life because it's empty
Because of you
I am afraid
Because of you.
Because of you."
As she let the last word trail away she was completely overwhelmed by the applause that followed. It wasn't a standing ovation or anything but at least seven out of the eleven Glee Clubbers present were clapping like they meant it.
Rachel bowed her head in appreciation, and because it allowed her to side-eye Quinn's bottom as she touched her toes at the side of the room. Was she warming up for Cheerios training early?
"That was awesome," Brittany coo'ed.
"Thank you," she beamed, forgetting about Quinn long enough to accept her praise.
"It really was, Rachel," Mr. Schuester said, giving her a bright smile. "But you never told us why that particular song was important to you."
"I'd like to think the song spoke for itself."
"Can you be a little clearer?"
Was he being deliberately stupid?
"Well, I . . ."
"Okay, I'm bored." Quinn stalked into the center of the room and turned to the glare at the teacher with one hand on her hip. "Can I sing now?"
"Oh, um, yeah, of course, Quinn."
"I was speaking!"
"Nobody cares, Dwarf!"
"I prefer it when you call me Gnome," she said petulantly as she made her way back to her seat.
Quinn glanced at her for the smallest second as they passed. "That's only because you think it's some kind of pet name for you."
And she had and now she'd ruined it. Or Quinn had ruined it. One of them definitely had.
Mr. Schuester tried to diffuse the tension. "Why don't you just sing, Quinn?"
"Yes, why don't I." The blonde took her music to Brad, spoke to him quietly for a minute and then came to stand in the center of the room. She looked nervous, like really, and Rachel wanted nothing more than to give her some words of encouragement.
"You're going to do great, Quinn, just focus and . . . feel it."
She never had been good at keeping her words to herself.
Quinn didn't answer, or smile, she seemed to be really focused on her breathing. Wow, she really was nervous, but as Brad started to play, she saw Quinn's lips move.
And then she was singing.
"Hearts b-break too fast when they're, ah, s-sentimental
W-won't stay, won't last when it's love at f-first sight."
Rachel recognized the song – she was pretty sure she knew intimately every song Kelly Clarkson had ever recorded now – but Quinn, who could sing so sweetly most of the time was not doing it justice. She ached to stand up and say something, to help, but she didn't dare, not when it was Quinn. Her ego was just so fragile sometimes.
Thankfully Quinn was no idiot and raised her hand as she stopped singing. As the piano stopped a bar later, she said, "Sorry, that was terrible. Can I start again?"
Mr. Schuester nodded and Quinn glanced at Brad, who also nodded and played the intro again. He had to play it twice but then Quinn was off!
"Hearts break too fast when they're sentimental
Won't stay, won't last when it's love at first sight
So why are my convictions blinded by your spotlight
Can't breathe, can't sleep
Need some medication
I've kissed goodbye to my reservations
I know there's other fish out in the seas
Not for me
I want you."
In contrast to how their eyes had been locked together through-out most of Rachel's solo, Quinn hadn't glanced at her once yet while she sang. That wasn't to say her eyes weren't busy, they bounced around nearly everyone else in the 'audience', with Finn racking up the highest number of hits.
But then, she wasn't standing still as Rachel had – letting her voice steal the show. No, Quinn was dancing to the music, the choreography tight enough that it had obviously been practiced several times beforehand. Amid a sea of feelings, intrigue was cresting the highest waves; surfing on the back of delight.
Watching so closely, it would have been hard to miss the nod to Brittany as the chorus opened. Rachel would have assumed it pre-planned – due to the instant compliance – if she hadn't recognized the pleading light in Quinn's eyes. The decision had clearly been made on the fly, but as the tall, leggy cheerleader jumped down from the risers and watched Quinn for half a second before emulating her dance style, it had also clearly been a good one.
"If I can't have you
Then I don't want anyone
I don't want anyone
If I can't have you
Then only damage has been done, baby."
With her best friend already supporting Quinn, Santana must have felt the need not to be left out, because suddenly she was taking big strides down to join them. Rachel caught Quinn raising her eyebrows in askance, but Santana just shoulder-checked her amiably and fell into step with Brittany, slightly behind Quinn but not so much to lose all of the center-stage feeling.
She knew Quinn should be her main focus, and she was mostly, but Rachel couldn't help but marvel over how all three Cheerios danced so well together. The synchronicity they were capable of in an unrehearsed routine was enviable and Rachel knew that, whatever their differences, she couldn't realistically afford to lose any of them before Sectionals.
Quinn was in the moment now, giving her full focus to the song. She'd been so nervous to begin with she'd struggled to get started but now the lyrics were flowing as effortlessly as her dancing.
"We can break these rules
If you wanna have some fun
If you wanna have some fun
Think of all the love that you will lose
If I can't have you
If I can't have you."
When she'd been writing down the lyrics and rehearsing over and over again, the second verse had given her pause. It was kind of . . . suggestive. Deep down she felt every word, and on a personal level she was fine with it – she wouldn't be trying to so hard to get Rachel to come around if she wasn't – but what if anybody else figured out how literal the lyrics were to her? What if she caught Rachel's eye at a wrong moment and somebody saw it (it would be hard to miss now that Rachel was sitting so alone) and put it all together? What if . . .?
It was too late to worry about it now, the second verse was upon her.
"Heartbeat cold sweat
Thoughts slippin' under
Can't fight no threat
'Cause there's just no use
One look, no hesitation I'm slipping into you
Forgive these eyes, these lips you're tastin'
No time to waste on an invitation
My shame, my self-control has suffered enough
And everybody wants to be loved."
It had happened. In those last few lines she'd made eye-contact with Rachel. She couldn't even pretend it was an accident, although it hadn't been planned. Her reward for taking the risk was the sight of Rachel sitting forward in her chair, beaming and bright-eyed, too engrossed to even sway in time to the music. Quinn took one last risk, winking at her as she sang about being loved, and then snapped her eyes to the safety of the back wall as the music launched immediately into the chorus.
"If I can't have you
If I can't have you
I haven't seen the best that love has had to offer
They say perfection's always right around the corner
Could be true
But if I can't have you
If I can't have you . . ."
It was over before she knew it and the nerves and adrenaline had turned into euphoria. She was buzzing as she received her applause, one as enthusiastic as Rachel's. She'd have thought it was just pandering, if she wasn't so sure it was simply Rachel and Finn's clapping combined that made it sound so spectacular.
"That was wonderful, Quinn, really." Mr. Schue clapped too. "Your pitch was great, your lyrics clear. I think you've found your zone."
Brittany gave her shoulders a one-armed hug and ran back to her seat with Santana following with a begrudgingly impressed half-smile.
"Can you tell us why that song was important to you?"
"Yes." She actually saw Rachel hold her breath at the question, but Quinn already had a flippant response on the tip of her tongue. "Obviously it's my ode to becoming Homecoming Queen tomorrow night." She smiled sweetly around as she strolled back to her seat. "I hope I can count on all of your votes."
"After a performance like that," Artie began as he turned around to smile at her, only to catch a less friendly eye on the way. ". . . Although Santana's dancing was A-list too," he hurriedly added and turned back to face the front.
Once they were all seated, Mr. Schuester clapped his hands together. "Okay, I know it's twenty minutes early, but let's call it day. Principal Figgins wants Coach Sylvester and I to draw up a joint lesson plan by five 'o' clock and seeing as I'm expecting her to sabotage us every step of the way I want to get a jump on my side. Really great performances today though. I look forward to seeing Matt, Kurt and Brittany sing tomorrow." As everyone began to leave he stopped Matt on his way to the door. "And if there's any way you can get Mike to come back?"
Matt nodded, "I'll try."
Everyone else left as quickly as usual, but Quinn had no desire to rush around. The singing, the dancing, the applause . . . it had made her feel amazing at the time, but now the moment was over her stomach was rolling. The baby was probably still going round and round in there. There was no urgent need to run to the nearest bathroom – thankfully – she just needed a minute of calm so she strolled to the piano to collect the sheet music she'd given the piano man earlier.
A shadow fell over her while she was standing there. She half-expected it to be Puck, back for another go. That boy really was too thick-headed for his own good. It wasn't him; Finn stood beside her with an easy smile on his face, backpack slung casually over his shoulder. He really was perfect high school sweetheart material when he looked at her like that. Right now, unfortunately, it was doing nothing for her. She pursed her lips, waiting for him to explain why he was hovering.
"So, I have extra football practice now, Coach wants us sharp for the Homecoming game tomorrow, but I'm free after."
She should hope so. Her eyes narrowed, wondering why he was telling her things she already knew.
Sensing he'd somehow already made a mess of whatever he was trying to do, Finn hastened on. "So I was thinking that's when we could do something."
Do something? Do what exactly? "I'm busy," she said, the perfect catch-all.
"But earlier, you said . . ."
Ohhh. The kiss in the corridor. Now it made sense. She laughed to lighten the blow she was about to deliver. "Sweetie, earlier I was caught up in the moment, but you know I don't make a habit of kissing on school grounds." Unless your name is Rachel Berry, she sassed herself. "Save it for the weekend, okay?"
"But this morning," he tried again, looking at her like she was the idiot. "You said you wanted to hang out tonight."
Oh. He was talking about a different kiss. With everything that had happened today she had forgotten the way she'd thrown herself at him to make Rachel jealous. She felt bad about that now, but was more preoccupied with how she was going to let him down. It would have to be gently. She'd been running too hot and cold with him lately as it was.
He was still speaking, ". . . if you don't want to go to mine, it's cool. I have some money left from my allowance so we can go to Breadstix. It's not like I'm only interested in you for your body," he joked with a playful smirk.
Under normal circumstances that probably would have made her laugh, but as Rachel suddenly appeared on her other side the circumstances were anything but normal.
"Finn," she mildly snapped, wondering how she should play things.
Should she encourage the boy? To let Rachel see what she was missing. Or shoot him down so Rachel had no cause to get irritated with jealousy. It was a tough call, both could lead nowhere which would be unhealthy for her already overwhelmed state of mind.
Rachel wasn't helping, standing so close their elbows were touching while pretending that neither of them existed. Finn wasn't helping either with the way he was staring at her like she'd just slapped his face and screamed instead of saying his name with slight impatience.
Really he ruined it for himself when he said, "But it was your idea. You said you didn't care what we did tonight as long as we did it together."
She was still staring daggers at his confused puppy face when Rachel piped up.
"Oh, does that mean there's another Celibacy club meeting tonight? I'll be sure to attend. Should I bring my own balloon?"
Laughter burst from Quinn before she could clamp down on it.
"No, Quinn provides those," Finn assured her, trying to be helpful.
"Okay. Do you go through a lot of them then, Quinn?"
"No, she doesn't! That last one popped because of my zipper, I swear."
Did he really think he was coming to her rescue? Quinn had her teeth clenched together now but a giggle was tickling her throat. She had to get rid of him fast. Or Rachel. One of them had to go! If she had to choose though . . .
"Finn, you're going to be late for football practice. Go now and text me when you're done. If I'm feeling okay we'll go out."
"Why wouldn't you . . .?" his brain kicked on before she had to shout at him. "The baby, right. Okay. We can go see a movie if you're not up for Breadstix. Whatever you want." She just nodded to get him moving faster. "Okay." He dropped a peck on her lips before she even had a chance to decide if she was going to let him kiss her goodbye. Pulling his backpack further up over his shoulder, he stepped back and addressed Rachel. "Hey, I'm sorry about yesterday. If you still wanna be friends . . . that's cool, I guess." Catching sight of the Choir room clock, he said, "Shit, Coach Tanaka is gonna make me run laps! I'll call you," he promised Quinn and then he was running out of the door.
"Never a dull moment," Quinn sighed.
"What was that about?" Rachel asked.
"Football practice?" Quinn turned to check out the rest of the room. It was empty. "I've got a better question, what was that about? The Celibacy club stuff?"
"I was just making innocent conversation about a common subject," Rachel (probably) fibbed. "Now back to my question . . ."
The piano player – who had been so quiet so far he'd been as good as invisible – interrupted Rachel to confirm an apparently pre-scheduled one-on-one rehearsal the following day and then excused himself.
Quinn cocked an eyebrow in askance and Rachel scowled. "It's exactly as it sounds. He plays for me a couple of times a week. I'm not sleeping with him, and it has no impact on his impartiality when it comes to Glee club performances."
She huffed out a laugh. "Okay, Miss Overshare. I just remember you saying he was practically glued to his piano stool twenty-four seven."
"Perhaps he needs to pee," Rachel shrugged. "Everyone needs to pee sometimes."
Nose wrinkling, Quinn nodded to concede that and then sought out a subject change away from piano player's urination habits. Luckily Rachel had already provided one.
"You were asking about the apology?" Quinn smiled, knowing this was about to win her some Brownie points. "I may have told him the truth about Tuesday."
"You did?" Rachel started off excited, but it was quickly tempered. "The whole truth?"
"Gnome, do you really think he would still want a date tonight if I'd told him the whole truth? I just told him you didn't really try and kiss me. That you were just in there to avoid a confrontation with Santana – which is why she's mad at us both – and I explained I only went along with it because Santana was playing dirty and that I feel bad about it now."
"Okay." Rachel was smiling and it made Quinn feel bold.
"So are we good now?" she asked with a smile of her own.
"That depends, are you ready to tell everyone else the same thing?"
She hesitated because, no! Rachel picked up on it.
"We're not good yet, but we are better though."
"That was a big deal for me!" Quinn griped, slapping the polished surface of the piano.
"It's a big deal for me too. Don't think I don't appreciate it, Quinn. Finn knowing is great, but it still leaves ninety-nine percent of Glee club thinking I did something wrong!"
On that point there was no room for her to argue, so she didn't even try. "I know, I'm sorry."
"But not sorry enough to do anything about it."
"That's not true! Didn't you listen to my song?"
"Yes. It was a beautiful ode to your hopes of becoming the Homecoming Queen."
"It wasn't about that and you know it!"
"Yes! But nobody else does!"
"Rachel, I'm trying here!" Taking a deep breath to calm down, she added. "I'll work on the rest, okay, but for right now could you cut me a little slack? Surely baby steps are better than no steps."
"I guess," Rachel agreed slowly.
Quinn nodded, pleased to make some headway. "So I think I deserve a reward, don't you?"
Rachel finally smiled again. "Do you? What reward did you have in mind?"
"Well, I have to be at Cheerios practice in like . . ." she checked the clock. Wow, didn't time fly when you were having fun. ". . . Fifteen minutes, but once I'm done I could come over to yours?"
"To hang out?" Rachel asked with a smirk.
"Yeah." Quinn didn't really get the smirk, until she remembered the definition of 'hanging out' she'd given Rachel on Tuesday. "Um, is that something you'd want?"
"Less pleasantries, more making out? Is that what you want?"
Quinn didn't trust herself to actually say words out loud to that, but nodding was easy enough (if anything it was stopping the nodding that was difficult).
"I'd like that too . . . but not until you've cleared my name."
"Oh, come on!" It felt like that mysterious, enticing door was opening again and she wasn't going to let it slam shut in her face a second time. "I'll clear your name later!"
"I don't believe you."
"I promise!" Quinn stepped further into Rachel's personal space and repeated softly, "I promise."
She could already tell she'd taken Rachel's breath away, even before the gasp of: "You really promise?"
"I promise," she said a third time and leaned in.
Rachel took a half-step back, closed her eyes for a moment, opened them again, bit her lip, and took a half-step forward. That was a green light if ever she'd seen one. As she dipped her head Rachel arched up to meet her in a kiss that was chaste and just lips and yet felt needy and wanton at the same time. In a melty daze she brought her hands up to cup the back of Rachel's head, discouraging her from breaking this perfect moment too fast. That seemed to be the last thought on Rachel's mind as she wrapped her arms around Quinn, hands splayed across her lower back and feeling so good.
Rachel hadn't said that! But she pulled away fast, an 'Oh shit!' look in her eyes. It filtered through to Quinn's brain, too fast and too slow at the same time, the voice was Brittany's. It was coming from the door. She'd just been caught kissing Rachel.
She pushed without meaning to. Her palms pushed at Rachel's shoulders and she'd only wanted to force a few inches, feet, whatever, of distance between them but she hadn't realize how close to the piano stool they were.
The words were already escaping from her mouth. "How many times do I have to tell you, Treasure Trail! I'm not interested!"
Rachel was already falling over the stool. She was on the floor beside it by the time Quinn had finished speaking.
"Is everything okay? Did Rachel do something bad again?" Brittany asked from somewhere behind her.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she chanted silently to Rachel but she already knew it wasn't enough.
"Tell her no!" Rachel mouthed back, still on the floor.
But she couldn't, because Brittany had just seen them kissing? She couldn't admit to that.
"I'm sorry," she mouthed again. "Berry was just trying her luck again, Britt, no big deal."
She couldn't take back what she had just done and she couldn't come clean to Brittany of all people, could she? But thankfully her body was better at doing the right thing than her mind was and she instinctively reached down, grabbed Rachel's hand and pulled her back to her feet.
"Are you okay? Are you hurt?" she checked before putting some spin on it. "Wow, I knew my lips were good, but I didn't know they were that good. Maybe you should think twice before you try and kiss me next time, Berry. We wouldn't want you to fall over again, would we?"
Rachel smoothed the back of her skirt down and shot her a look. "Oh, I'll be sure to, Quinn. We wouldn't want me to make the mistake of kissing you again, would we? I'm done now, Quinn, I promise. You don't have to worry about me pestering you ever again."
Oh God, she meant it! Quinn could see it in her eyes. She really meant it!
Quinn watched, speechless and helpless as Rachel collected her bag and left the room. She wanted to call after her, no scream after her, to not do this, to not end them, but Brittany was standing right there between them and she couldn't do it.
"Is everything okay, Q?" Brittany sounded concerned and dubious and accusing at the same time and she couldn't take it.
"I'm fine, just getting sick of Stubbles trying to stick her tongue down my throat."
"Then why do you keep letting her?"
Quinn blinked several times. "Why are you here?"
"Coach asked me to come find you. She wants to see you in her office."
"Q, what's going on? With you and Rachel?"
"Nothing!" she snapped, and then the tears came. Her eyes were too wet to see Brittany approach but when comforting arms curled around her she reluctantly folded into them. "Nothing will ever be going on between me and Rachel!"
"You made a mess, huh?"
Quinn nodded against her shoulder, but then sniffed hard and straightened up. How embarrassing was that? Of all the people to break down in front of . . . Well, there was worse, but still.
"Sorry, I'm okay now. What does Coach want?"
"She didn't say." Brittany used a thumb to clean up some missed tears from her cheeks. "Hey, Quinn?"
"Yes?" she snivelled.
"You know how Santana and I have lady-sex sometimes?"
"I'm just saying, it's doesn't make you evil or anything. God loves everyone, except for murderers and cat haters obviously."
"Thanks, Britt." Quinn wiped the last few escaping tears from her eyes. "Has my make-up run?"
"Totally. You look like a sad Panda."
She giggled wetly. In a world of confusion, it was nice to know she could always at least count on Brittany to tell it how it was.
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