Had Rachel mentioned how much she hated gym?
As they all lined up and waited to be picked for sides for the volleyball match, she did her best to ignore the whole thing. She was always picked last no matter who the captains were – and the captains were always Cheerios so that probably explained it.
She'd stopped caring about it a long time ago. She was competent in most sports due to her daily workout routine and disciplined attitude to her physical health and well-being, but she wasn't naturally gifted in that way like some of the other girls were. It was fine. She had talents they didn't, so let them choose her last; she had bigger things to focus her mind to.
She was vaguely aware of Quinn picking Santana and Kassie picking Brittany, but her mind was on Coach Sylvester. She would be co-directing Glee Club from next week and that could only be a bad thing. She had to figure out what could she do to counteract the woman's detrimental effects.
"Berry, don't make me tell you again!"
Quinn's shout penetrated her thoughts. "Pardon?"
"Get over here!" Quinn's eyes were darting around nervously now because she was drawing too much attention.
Rachel realized she'd just been picked second after Santana and as much as she wanted to shoot the blonde down in front of everyone, she couldn't do it. So she scurried to Quinn's side and did her best to ignore the hateful look the Santana was giving her. It wasn't like she'd asked to be picked!
Rachel hadn't looked as elated as she was supposed to when Quinn picked her. In fact she just seemed nervous. It did not make the looks she was getting from the other girls – especially the cheerleaders – worth it.
She'd screwed up; it was too public a gesture. Quinn itched to undermine it by explaining that Rachel was just so hideous that she'd put the other team off of their game and ensure her side the victory.
She stopped herself, just.
"I'm counting on you putting those man hands of yours to good use, Berry," she snarled instead.
She couldn't help it; there was whispering happening now!
"Of course, Quinn," Rachel spoke up, clear and bright. "I don't think you'll be disappointed in what I can do with my hands."
'Holy . . . what?' There was way too much air in her lungs. She expelled a heavy breath and then breathed in again. Just what did Rachel mean by that? As if she couldn't guess! That was crossing a line. There were . . . people here! Rachel couldn't just say stuff like . . . that.
Fighting the urge to blush and telling herself the warmth in her body was just anticipation for the volleyball match ahead, Quinn got a hold on herself and snapped out another name.
"You know, I think I got it wrong," Santana said halfway through the first match.
They were at the back together. Quinn was in the middle in the front row but Santana's voice was low enough that with the squeak of sneakers on the floor, the panting and occasional grunting coming from the other girls and the teacher's voice echoing around the room as she shouted out encouragement, it was a good bet the blonde couldn't hear her friend's words.
"You got what wrong?" Rachel decided to bite but her eyes never left the airborne ball.
Annoyed as she was with Quinn she wasn't going to give her the satisfaction of letting her down and causing their team's defeat.
"About what happened in the bathroom Tuesday." Santana's tone was too innocent to be purely conversational.
"You don't think you got it wrong," she corrected. "You know you did. You made up the lie. I know you sent that text message."
"And what makes you think that?"
"I don't think, I know. You can deny it all you want, Santana, but I know."
"Did Quinn tell you?"
Rachel had to dance back a few steps as the ball arched over her head. She slapped it back into the air to a teammate at the front and the exertion was the perfect excuse not to answer.
"So anyway, I figured it out. You don't have a crush on Quinn after all."
Rachel worked hard on not turning to her in surprise. Hearing that was the best news she could have hoped for at this point, but it surely meant Santana just had an even worse theory.
"I'm glad you finally see the truth," she muttered, "but what makes you think that?"
"You crushing on her wouldn't make Quinn act this way. She'd smack your ugly midget ass down and go on with her day, but she's being really weird about it. I know Q, and I know when she's trying to hide something."
"You've got some dirt on her and she's scared you're gonna tell. It's the only explanation."
Rachel watched as Quinn jumped high in front of her, raised right hand slapping the flying ball and slamming it over the net and into the ground, scoring them a magnificently executed point.
"Why are we having this conversation, Santana?"
"Because you're going to tell me what the big secret is, obviously; if you know what's good for you."
They rotated and it was Santana's turn to serve. Her aim was deadly and it bounced off of Mercedes' head – making her yelp – but another girl swiped at it just before it could hit the floor and Santana growled at losing out on a point herself.
Rachel just looked at her until the ball was back in play. "I have no idea what you're talking about, but I assure you that if I did know any of Quinn's secrets I wouldn't tell you anyway. It would, after all, negate the meaning of the term secret if I did."
"You're gonna tell me. Know why?"
The tone was no longer innocent or conversational and Rachel took her eyes from the ball for the first time to shoot her an anxious look. "Why?"
Santana rolled her eyes, "Because I'm telling you to! Now spill."
That wasn't half the threat she'd been expecting, it restored a little confidence. "I don't think so."
"You know, Stubbles?" Santana's tone was just downright menacing now. "Just because we're on the same team right now doesn't mean I can't take a second shot at splattering that gigantic nose all over your face."
Shuffling sideways away from her, Rachel instinctively put a hand over her nose. "Violence is never the answer, Santana!"
"Maybe not, but sometimes it's just really fun."
"Would you two stop flirting and concentrate," the girl to the right of Rachel barked after defending a particularly wild ball with no help from either of them.
Quinn, now on the far right, heard the comment and turned back sharply to glare at her, eyes flashing with angry heat. The ball was still in play though so the glare only last a second before Quinn was focused again. Rachel couldn't believe the nerve of her. Insulting her one minute and then getting nonsensically jealous the next! Like she would ever flirt with Santana Lopez! Like it was any of Quinn's business if she did!
"Oh, just shut up, Santana!" she snapped.
Generally, it was a stupid thing to do anyway, but on top of that Rachel couldn't have picked her timing worse. As the girl in front awkwardly hit the ball so it went back over her head instead of over the net, Santana took advantage, jumping gleefully and cupping the ball to bring it crashing down. Rachel, eyes dutifully on the ball, could see it coming but there was no time to do anything but scream . . .
The brutal impact never came because Quinn, in a move that surely defied all laws of physics, twisted and stretched so fast her hand intercepted the ball and sent it flying to the floor to bounce by Santana's feet.
"You just made me give away a point," she snapped, at the both of them.
Santana simply waved in an uncaring fashion, but Rachel was very aware that Quinn had just saved her nose from total annihilation and meekly offered, "Sorry, Quinn. It won't happen again."
"It better not. Okay, we're drawing here - against those losers. We need a tactical change."
Quinn called for a time out then and when play re-started Rachel and Santana were as far apart as it was possible to be on the same side of a game of volley ball.
They won by two points. Quinn was pleased, victory always pleased her, but she'd caught enough of the muttered conversation between Santana and Rachel earlier that winning was second on her list of priorities.
Rachel hadn't given her secret up, but the very fact that Santana was sniffing around for deeper dirt had her justifiably worried. She'd have to cool it for a little while, back off from Berry completely until the dust had settled. Obviously it would jeopardize 'the plan' but maybe some space would make Rachel come around quicker in the long run anyway. A little time to miss her might go a long way.
Watching Rachel walk from the gym – hair mussed and sweaty all over (and how could something gross like that make her insides twist in such awesome ways?) and head held high despite the fact that Santana was glaring at her still – her mind changed again.
She wanted the girl.
Not in a throw her down on a gym mat and have sex with her kind of way (although her brain was conjuring some half-formed but fully disturbing ideas in that direction) but definitely, one way or another, she wanted Rachel Berry in her life.
She was several girls behind Rachel as they all entered the locker room, so she was far enough back to be inconspicuous as Santana, already stripping off, turned to sneer at Rachel.
"I don't think so, RuPaul."
Rachel was pulling her sweaty t-shirt over her head and couldn't answer until it was clear. "You don't think what?"
"There's no way you're getting in the showers until I'm done. I'm not having you staring at me naked."
Quinn felt sick.
Rachel looked like she was about to defend herself until several other girls agreed with Santana (all Cheerios, Quinn noted). Rachel's eyes desperately met hers but didn't linger. In the space of a breath it was clear she intended to face the pack by herself.
"Fine, I'll wait," Rachel pulled her t-shirt back over her head. "Because I wouldn't want to put you in a situation where you felt uncomfortable in your heterosexuality, Santana."
Quinn cheered her on mentally and then panicked when Santana, suddenly incensed, sprang towards the smaller girl. "What did you just say?"
Darting forward, Quinn ran through her options to intervene: Pull rank? Remind Santana what a suspension could do to her Cheerios career? Shout at Rachel herself to deter Santana from slapping her face off? Scatter the crowd by throwing up on the floor right in the middle of them?
And the choice was out of her hands, it was going to be the last one. Gym really didn't agree with her anymore and her forward lunge had further roused her stomach and every time her stomach woke up . . . yep, it thought it was morning and then the fun started . . . not.
Still thinking there were worse ways for this to end than with her barfing down somebody's back, she was nevertheless relieved when Brittany saved the day.
Catching Santana's arm, she pitifully whined, "Santana, I'm all sticky. Can we shower now?"
Santana glared for a moment longer before nodding, "'Course we can, Brit. I mean it though, Stubbles! I don't shower with trannies."
Not so much defeated as resigned, Rachel sighed in irritation and sat down on a bench.
Quinn felt her stomach lurch. She was going to be sick any minute, she was sure of it, but she wasn't leaving until Santana was safely in the shower room. Melting back into the girls who had already gone back to stripping off, she watched the way Rachel's shoulder's slumped and was all too aware of the unshed tears in her eyes.
Over half the girls had already gone into the showers when Quinn saw Tina stop and say something to Rachel. She couldn't catch it, but it made Rachel smile a little. When Mercedes also approached and made her own comment, Rachel rolled her eyes and snapped back something that sounded like: "But you didn't!"
"Yeah, well we didn't need to," Mercedes shot back, loud enough for Quinn to hear. "And it's not like you didn't bring this on yourself, anyway. Come on, Tina."
As curious as she was about the parts of the exchange she'd missed, it would have to go unsated, because she could feel the bile hitting the back of her throat now and she had to get to the rest room before it was too late.
She walked hurriedly to the door, but stopped again with one hand pressed to it. The locker room was almost empty, but she was still loathe to leave Rachel in there alone with anyone after what had happened to her on Monday. With one hand on her stomach, trying to coax the sick feeling to stay inside, she looked over the heads of the other girls to see Rachel. It was a few seconds before their eyes met.
Quinn nodded her head at the door she was leaning against. Rachel's head shake was barely perceptible. Quinn nodded her head again, 'Please, Rachel, for both our sakes.' Rachel looked away, down at the floor.
Unable to contain it any longer, Quinn pushed through the door in a rush and ran to a stall, still hoping Rachel would join her soon.
It took every ounce of willpower Rachel had not to follow Quinn.
She was feeling hurt and humiliated by Santana's insinuations and she knew sitting there in such a subdued manner was only lending them weight. If she followed Quinn, Quinn would make her feel better. She had no doubt about that, but how long would it last? Until someone discovered they were in the bathroom together, so about two minutes, and then the accusations would come back and Quinn wouldn't deny them. In fact, if history told her anything Quinn would only reinforce them.
So she stayed on the bench, avoiding eye-contact with the few girls still undressing.
She was never fully alone because as more girls entered the showers others came out; carefree until they saw her there and then shooting unsure glances to each other, whispering sentences that included her name and dressing over or under their towels even though she never raised her gaze from the off-white tiles.
She'd never felt more embarrassed and she hadn't even done anything to deserve it. As a result she found herself hating Quinn more and more.
Eventually there were more girls leaving the locker room than there were in the showers but Rachel, having built herself up to thoroughly mortified and almost at the point where she was believing the accusations were real – because surely if someone said them enough they took on a life of their own – Rachel stayed glued to the bench even after Santana and Brittany left without so much as a word to her. She just stared at her sneakers, wishing she was a thousand miles away from McKinley High.
She looked up, startled, when Quinn came out of the bathroom at the back; she'd forgotten she was in there.
"Why are you still stinking the place up, Berry? Hit the showers already."
"I can't yet," she muttered, eyes back on the floor.
"What?" Quinn checked the clock above the door. "It's been twenty minutes."
"There are still a couple of girls in there." She hated that she sounded so weak in front of Quinn but she couldn't help it.
"Seriously?" Quinn's eyes suddenly lit up. "Santana and Brittany? Oh, score! Quick, come with me."
Rachel stood up but that was as far as she made it. "Why?"
"We're about to bank some currency. Santana can't say anything about us if . . ."
Rachel, not really understanding what she was talking about, cut in. "It's not them. Mercedes and Tina are the only ones in there now I think."
"Oh." Quinn's posture relaxed. She moved to her bag, pulling out some mints. She popped one in her mouth as she asked, "Since when are you scared of them?"
"I'm not! But . . . but the betrayed-slash-pity looks they give me are worse, somehow."
"What did they say to you earlier?"
"Oh, Tina just said that Santana was out of order picking on me like that, because she was just taking advantage of what I'd done to you. I think she was trying to be nice. Mercedes assured me she wouldn't have let Santana actually assault me, because that isn't cool, but I don't know how she could even say it with a straight face when she just stood and stared with the rest of them while Santana was being mean. I sort of threw it back in their faces anyway, which was silly of me and another reason why I don't think they'd welcome me showering with them. They're small fry compared to the overall situation anyway," she added, with a shrug to pretend their hurtfulness wasn't that big of deal.
"I'm sorry, Rachel."
The apology surprised her, drawing her eyes back to Quinn's, even though it wasn't the first time she'd heard it. Maybe it sounded more sincere this time because she was feeling so vulnerable. Or maybe she just needed it more.
"It's okay. It's not like you put the words in Santana's mouth. At least not directly."
Quinn thought on that for a moment and then came around the bench to her. "Come with me."
"No, Quinn! I'm sorry your morning sickness is bad today but I can't help you on that front anymore."
Quinn rolled her eyes. "Berry, just come with me!"
Before she could protest further Quinn covered the final distance between them and took her hand. It caused the usual fireworks and Rachel hated it even as she closed her own hand around Quinn's to prolong it.
She managed, "No!" when they were already half way across the room.
"I'm not dragging you in there to molest your neck!" Quinn muttered. "Just trust me."
"Why should I?"
Quinn stared at her, like she didn't have an answer, or maybe she just didn't trust the one she had. The silence stretched on and they were closer to the showers now. The sound of Mercedes and Tina talking and laughing together echoed out to them over the sound of the running water and it hurt.
Why couldn't she be in there with them? Why wasn't she good enough to be their friend?
Feeling dejected, Quinn was momentarily forgotten and Rachel tried to walk away. She didn't even care about showering off the sweat from the volleyball match anymore she just wanted to go somewhere and be alone.
The hand in hers stopped her, and then tugged hard enough to pull her back around.
"You don't need them," Quinn whispered furiously. "You have me!"
"But I don't have you!" she sobbed, hating herself all over again for showing such weakness but she couldn't help it. Everything was too much.
She was tugged closer still and Quinn met her in the middle and then there were lips, lips, lips that she craved so much against her own and she didn't know if she was more thrilled by the kiss or by the fact the kiss was happening while Mercedes and Tina's voices were still trickling into their ears from just the other side of the partition.
Actually it was probably purely the lips, but the fact that Quinn was kissing her over and over without caring that the other two girls were mere feet away lifted her spirit to incredible heights.
And then with the next peck – warm, unbelievably soft but too fleeting a pressure against her lips – it came crashing down. Quinn only didn't care because they hadn't been caught yet, just like yesterday when she'd been more than happy to kiss in the unlocked Choir room until someone had walked in and changed her attitude faster than a Polka beat. If either Mercedes or Tina left the shower before the other they wouldn't hear the water stop – which Quinn was probably counting on – and then Rachel would be flat on her back in the blink of an eye.
And it would all start again.
Panic crashed over her, not for physical consequences but real emotional fear at the idea of ever being made to feel that way again. Of having this . . . this wonderful closeness ripped from her and cold, mocking hatred forced back in its place.
All of this gripped her in the tiny space between insistent kisses and her head jerked away from the next.
"Rachel, come on." Quinn's free hand slipped behind her neck. "It's okay."
She couldn't listen to her, or her heart that was begging to believe this time would be different, and took two fast steps back.
"I can't, I'm sorry, I can't."
Quinn still had hold of her hand and the grip tightened possessively, desperately even. Rachel panicked, because it felt too good, too right and the contact was suffocating her with the urge to give in. She wriggled her fingers to loosen the hold and when that didn't work she wrenched her hand back with so much force she fell back another step.
"I'm sorry, but I can't do this anymore. I can't stay in this self-perpetuating cycle of amazing highs and soul-crushing lows. It hurts too much and it's too confusing."
"You're describing life, Rachel."
"Then maybe I'm not ready to have a life after all."
Quinn took a step closer, her mouth opened but nothing came out. Rachel couldn't look at her anymore. She couldn't stand knowing that she was putting that look in Quinn's eyes. If it had been anyone else's fault she knew she would break her personal 'Do No Harm' vows and want to punch that person in the face, but she couldn't beat herself up over this – over the years Quinn had already done enough of that for both of them. She started to turn away.
"Wait! I have something to say."
Rachel stalled but didn't look up.
"I . . . I . . ." She sensed Quinn looking over her shoulder towards the showers and her voice dropped to a whisper. "I really like you, Rachel. Like really. I haven't . . . I mean, no one else . . . I've never . . . You're . . ."
She couldn't take it anymore and it sounded like Quinn was about to implode with nerves or collapse under the weight of the mental strain from trying to force out her bumbling confession so Rachel saved them both by jumping in.
"I know, Quinn, I know, but it's not enough. It doesn't make anything better, it just makes it harder. To know you like me but to also know how little regard you have for my feelings . . .?"
"I-I do regard you!" Quinn blurted.
Rachel smiled a little because Quinn Fabray flustered enough to blurt and stumble over words was beautiful. It was who she'd come to think of as her Quinn. Somebody nobody else got to see, not at school anyway, probably (hopefully) not even Finn out of school. It didn't help though, because her Quinn was too elusive, too boxed in by her own reputation to ever truly be hers.
"In your head, perhaps, but not in real life, and that just makes the way I feel about you worse." They stood in silence for a moment, and then seeing Quinn was gearing up to say something else, Rachel had to leave. "I don't feel much like showering any more. I'll see you in Glee, Quinn. Or I won't, because everyone in there knows I'm not allowed to look at you."
It was a mean parting shot, but it was the truth and at least it slammed Quinn's mouth into a firm line, preventing her from saying anything else.
Rachel collected her bag and left the locker room without looking back.
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