Rachel was called to see Principal Figgins' secretary Monday morning halfway through second period. It was always worrying to receive such a note but at least it excused her from Chemistry. She'd never quite recovered from the time Santana had tried to set the sleeve of her barn owl sweater alight with a Bunsen burner.
The meeting turned out to be nothing important, simply a concern about her dietary form required for the upcoming Mock United Nations Club trip. After explaining to the secretary that vegan was not a 'ridiculously expensive ethnic food' and nor was it acceptable for them to expect her to eat Sloppy Joes every day with the rest of the students just because the school refused to hire a decent nutritionist, and that perhaps if the lunch lady actually bothered to look the term vegan up and give it a go there wouldn't be so many students bordering on morbidly obese at this school, and perhaps . . .
She could have gone on but Secretary Donna holding up her form and ripping it calmly into six uneven pieces took the wind out of her sails. It seemed like an over-reaction to what had only been her desire to educate and inform, and one would have thought that in a building designed for teaching the woman behind the desk would have been happy to learn something new, but . . . never mind.
Rachel let it go with an indignant sniff, "It's just as well you're removing me from the trip, you know. It would only have interfered with my strict training regime for Sectionals anyway."
"So everyone's a winner," Secretary Donna drawled as she made a shooing motion with her hand.
Rachel left the Principal's suite of offices, clutching her folders a little closer to her chest as she told herself it was a good thing, her words hadn't been a lie. Glee Club was far more important than Mock United Nations, because it wasn't like she wanted to be the President when she grew up. Although it would have looked good on her resume in preparation for when she became a goodwill ambassador for the real UN.
She was still grumbling under her breath about irrational and probably menopausal administrative staff when she came around the corner to see Quinn kneeling before her open locker. She stopped dead, a fleeting 'can I get by without her seeing me?' running through her head before she could stop it.
That thought was a throwback to a simpler time however, when avoiding Quinn Fabray had been what she wanted to do. Unlike now, when it was the exact opposite. She'd spent the entire weekend thinking about what had happened on Friday afternoon – about discovering Quinn's secret and about the way Quinn's face had felt pressed to various parts of her sweater, and maybe about one more than the other if she was being entirely honest with herself – and the conclusion all of her serious thinking had led her to was . . . this was her way in!
Nobody else knew, meaning this secret was all hers – well, and Quinn's obviously – but that was kind of the point. It gave them something in common, something to bond over and, because being sixteen and pregnant was bound to be an extremely harrowing experience, the perfect reason for Rachel to reach out and make a mark on Quinn's life.
And obviously Quinn would get something out of it too; she'd get Rachel Berry as a best friend to see her through said harrowing experience, and honestly, who could ask for a better life coach than her? She was incredibly optimistic, motivated beyond measure to succeed and more than willing to put in the hours needed to pay her dues and earn her rewards – which, in this instance, was Quinn Fabray (as a friend!)
It was with this in mind that she had come to school this morning prepared and this was so much better than waiting for an opportunity to sneak into the bathroom after her.
After checking both ways just to make sure they were completely alone, Rachel swiftly approached the cheerleader. Quinn was tying her shoelace and didn't look up even though she must have been able to see her feet coming towards her and stopping just inches away.
"Hello, Quinn, how are you feeling today?"
"Are you talking to me? I thought I'd warned you about that."
Rachel sighed but was unperturbed; she was learning to realize Quinn's bark was far more ferocious than her bite. "I apologize for breaking the rules but as I have already done so now, would you mind answering the question to put my mind at ease, please?"
"I'm feeling fine, why wouldn't I be?" Quinn growled, not raising her eyes from the toe of her tennis shoe. "And what does it have to do with you anyway?"
"You can't do something this huge alone, Quinn!" Rachel's voice was little more than a whisper but she knew it was forceful enough to get her point across when Quinn's eyes jerked up to meet hers. "And you shouldn't have to."
"I'm not alone, Hobbit, and even if I was it would still be preferable to you helping me."
Rachel swallowed thickly but she'd been expecting some level of resistance. "I thought you might say that, which is why I decided it would be more comfortable for both of us if I were to utilize a third party for this."
"Third party?" She'd never seen Quinn look scared before and the vulnerability that suddenly pooled in her wide hazel eyes made Rachel's breath catch. "Who did you tell?"
"Nobody! I just bought you this." Rachel looked both ways again before sliding the magazine she'd purchased out of her bag. "It has a four page article on ways to relieve morning sick-"
The next few seconds passed so fast it disorientated her but Rachel doubted that she'd ever forget the sight of Quinn Fabray rising up out of her starter's crouch and into her face. Or the feel of a firm hand twisting into her sweater, fingers brushing her breasts before the material was pulled painfully tight over them as she was swung around. Or the sound as her back hit the metal of the locker beside Quinn's, the clang of it in her ears almost as painful as the impact itself.
She felt the magazine yanked from her hands and Quinn's hot breath rush against her face with a strangled whisper of "Are you freaking nuts bringing this to school!" before she was smacked upside the head with a rolled copy of Pregnancy Monthly.
"Sorry, sorry, sorry!" Rachel chanted, cringing rather than trying to defend herself. "I just thought it might help."
"Help?" Quinn hissed, still holding her hard against the locker. "How would it have helped if someone had seen you give it to me? I'd have been screwed, Manhands! And you know what happens when I get screwed?"
"You get pregnant?"
It was out of her mouth before she could stop it and she was pretty sure that when Quinn smacked her with the magazine again it gave her a concussion. How else could she explain the smirk she saw on Quinn's face? Maybe Quinn just really enjoyed hitting her with things.
"No, when I get screwed, you get screwed . . ." Rachel really did try to bite her lip against her own smirk. "Not like that, you sick freak. God, I should make you eat every page of this damn magazine for being so freaking gross and . . . stupid."
Instead Quinn threw it in her locker, arranged some books over it and then slammed the door shut, all with her left hand because her right was still pinning Rachel. Her grip had relaxed somewhat though and more so as she took a shallow breath and her left hand pressed to her stomach just for a moment.
"Are you going to be sick?"
Quinn didn't respond, she just breathed evenly and her glassy gaze seemed to fix on the shoulder of Rachel's sweater.
She flashed back to Friday, Quinn's nose trailing delicately up the inside of her arm, and it made her feel a little warm and almost . . . dizzy, in a way she wasn't altogether comfortable with but wouldn't walk away from even if she had that liberty right now.
There was the fact that they were in the halls and second period would be ending in about ten minutes still to consider, though.
"If you're going to start sniffing me again, maybe we should go somewhere more private."
Quinn's lips twitched upwards and she took long enough to answer that she had to be considering it. Rachel held her breath while she waited.
"I'm not going into the Janitor's closet with you, Berry."
"Well, no, I'd hope that we both have a little more class than that." Despite her pompous tone, Rachel was smiling and she melted, totally, when Quinn gave in and smiled back. "I was going to suggest under the bleachers."
Quinn chuckled and groaned at the same time. "That's an even bigger cliche."
Rachel shrugged, smiling still, and the way Quinn was pressing her into the lockers with that hand in the center of her chest suddenly felt a lot less threatening than it had before and more like something . . . entirely different.
Quinn seemed to notice it at the same time and straightened slightly, fist flexing around the material of her sweater. "Anyway, I don't care if you book a room at the Carlton Grand for third period, there will be no sniffing. I'd rather puke my guts up."
"Well, that's up to you. Personally I think it's silly to be physically sick when the cure is right in front of you, but that's your call."
And playtime was officially over. Quinn leaned in threateningly again. "You are not my cure. You are nothing."
Rachel forced her face to remain impassive while she buried the pain of that comment and then she nodded, ready to try and push away from the taller girl. She'd done what she came over to do and she had to remember that Rome hadn't been built in a day. It wasn't really in her nature to take things slow but she was smart enough to see that a lot of little baby steps would get her further than just trying to batter down Quinn's defenses with her usual blunt force.
She was allowed to stand up straight but Quinn stopped her from getting away, "So, do you have my towel? Is it in your locker?"
"I thought you didn't want my help?"
The hiss of her name on Quinn's lips sounded so desperate that she gave in immediately and shook her head. "I didn't bring you a towel today."
Rachel's back quickly met the lockers again but it seemed to be more accidental than violently motivated, caused by distress rather than anger. Not that that was going to keep her shoulder blades from bruising.
"Well, I know you're trying to keep this . . . thing . . . to yourself right now and, seriously Quinn, stooping under desks to inhale a towel or . . . or wearing one around your neck at lunch like some kind of prize fighter isn't the best way to go about that. I mean, if even I think you're acting strange, imagine what everyone else is thinking."
Quinn's eyes cut to the side, staring at a band sticker on the locker door beside Rachel's head. "I know, but – and you so have no idea how much I hate admitting this – your stupid towels are the only thing stopping the . . . the . . . it."
"But that's just the thing, it's not the towels, it's what the towels are washed in. That's why sniffing my sleeve and, uh, my, um, stomach helped the other day."
Quinn was blushing lightly, "I am not wearing your clothes."
Rachel grinned because that thought hadn't even occurred to her. And while, yes, Quinn was insulting her, the way her nose was scrunching up like that but without the usual sneer accompanying it, it was really . . . cute.
"Well, no, that wouldn't really stop people from thinking you were acting strange, but I have something better."
Rachel nodded her head to the side, to where she'd dropped her bag as she was swung around. "May I?"
Quinn nodded as she released the grip on her sweater; she even went one better and bent to get the bag for her, holding it up so that Rachel could reach inside. After pulling a long, slim rectangular package out, she took the bag from her and handed over the box.
Staring at it, Quinn seemed to take a minute to work out what she was looking at. "Handkerchiefs?"
Rachel launched into her explanation. "Yes, five. In baby colors . . . not because, um . . . let's call them pastel colors instead. That's one for each day of the school week and you can coordinate with your outfit too so that . . ." Rachel looked down at the Cheerio's uniform, but only for a split second; she wasn't going to get accused of checking the cheerleader out again. ". . . maybe I should have just gotten red and white actually."
"Forget the colors, I like the colors, I'm just not quite sure how these are supposed to help with my . . . you know?"
"Open the box." Quinn did so and it must have clicked because a faint smile already graced her lips. "Sniff one." Quinn was a step ahead of her now and the smile was stronger.
"I washed them all," Rachel said, beaming proudly, "so now if you start to feel nauseous you can inhale one of these to your heart's content, wherever you are, and people will just think you have a cold or allergies or something."
Waiting for a response was killing her. Quinn already had one of the handkerchiefs out – the yellow one – and was holding it to her nose but she had yet to say anything.
"Is it as good as the towel?" she asked nervously, feeling suddenly shy.
"Yes." Quinn took one really big sniff before tucking the handkerchief underneath the side of her Cheerio's top; keeping it within easy reach. Rachel's feeling of shyness increased tenfold when their eyes met again and slowly, that rare equally-shy smile of Quinn's lit up her face. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," she murmured, scared that if she spoke too loud she would scare that smile away.
The bell took care of it for her, ringing loudly across the corridor and making them both jump. Instantly, it seemed, because they hadn't had time to move away from each other yet, the halls were filled with students and when Rachel saw two in particular over Quinn's shoulder coming straight towards them, her eyes widened anxiously.
Quinn never turned around but maybe she recognized the pop of Brittany's gum or could hear Santana's sneer from six feet away because she tensed as much as Rachel did, although she also relaxed a lot quicker.
"Give them to me later," she whispered, sliding the box back into her bag. Then her hand was balled in Rachel's sweater once more and she was leaning in with a vicious snarl. Raising her voice to carry down the halls, she added, "And stay away from my boyfriend, you pathetic freak!"
Quinn released her, hands out to the sides as she stepped back, like she couldn't believe she'd lowered herself enough to touch Rachel Berry even to threaten her. Rachel studied her expression for a moment, but if it was all an act she was an even better actress than her.
As soon as Santana started laughing at her, offering Quinn a high five, Rachel ducked her head and ran away.
Quinn laughed but she didn't watch Berry scamper off like the other two did and she pretended not to see Santana's raised hand too. Shouldering her book bag she set off towards class, Brittany and Santana flanking her automatically.
"So what did she do?" Santana asked, eager for more ammo.
"Yeah, and I thought you didn't mind that she likes Finn?"
"I don't, she doesn't stand a chance with him anyway, but she seems to have gotten it into her thick head that hanging around me will make him notice her," Quinn lied easily.
Berry wouldn't get it but she was actually doing her a favor. If Santana and Brittany believed her they wouldn't get suspicious of the girl's true intentions. Or the fact that for some reason Quinn was willingly accepting her help.
Okay, she knew the reason, and as a wave of nausea struck she pulled the yellow handkerchief from beneath her top and pretended to wipe her nose. It soothed her but the lemony scent wasn't as strong on the thin cotton as it had been on the towels. It would fade more quickly. She'd have to catch Berry alone later to make sure she got the rest of them.
True to her recent luck the chance never came up. All of the classes they shared that day either Santana or Brittany were also in and she couldn't risk being seen willingly talking to Rachel after the performance she'd put on that morning. She'd left her lunch table early to check the choir room and auditorium but for once the girl hadn't been skulking in either place. Quinn had even hovered in the bathroom by their lockers between fifth and sixth period, pretending to redo her make-up in the hope that Berry would magically find her there again. She didn't and after five minutes Quinn started to feel pathetic and left, mentally berating Berry for making her late for class.
Even Glee was a bust, while Quinn was coming up with a valid excuse for sticking around a few minutes afterwards Rachel got into an argument with Mr. Schuester about Mercedes getting her solo and stormed out after ten minutes. Everyone else complained about what an ass Rachel was but Quinn just wanted to slap Mercedes for making her leave.
She was fuming about so many things by the time Mr. Schue dismissed them for the day, and that in turn was making her feel even sicker than usual. She just wanted to go home and lay on her bed with the hanky over her face; maybe if she wet it it would make the smell of the softener come back? But Finn followed her to her locker asking if they could hang out for a few hours.
"Just us two."
"Oh," she didn't mean to say it like that and she didn't mean to grimace either. It wasn't that she didn't like the idea of spending a few hours with her boyfriend, it was just that she really wasn't feeling up to him constantly wanting to make out right now. "I don't know."
He sounded a little offended but quickly offered, "Or we could see if the guys want to go to Breadstix for an early dinner. I know Brittany said she and Santana had to babysit this afternoon but I bet Puck would be up for it and we could ask Mercedes and Tina maybe?"
She knew he was trying to be nice, trying to spend time with her in a way she was comfortable with as she clearly didn't seem to want to be alone with him, but she snapped anyway,
"I don't want to hang out with them!"
"Okay," he said slowly, straightening up. "Is there anyone you do want to hang out with? I could ask them instead."
His question had started off snide but finished as a plea. As she opened her locker for her books and the pregnancy magazine Berry had given her – it didn't matter if Finn saw it, she could just say she bought it herself – she had an idea, a really bad idea.
"Do you have Rachel's number?"
"What?" He straightened up even more and took a step back, chuckling. "No, w-why would I have Rachel's number?"
"It was just a question, Finn," she turned to him with a raised eyebrow. "So why the guilty stuttering?"
"That wasn't guilty stuttering, it was surprised stuttering," he said, still sounding guilty. "Why would you want to hang out with Rachel?"
"I never said I did," she covered sharply and turned back to her locker.
There was a folded piece of paper on top of her books that she didn't remember putting in there. It must have been pushed through the top of the door. Within the privacy of the metal box she used her thumb to flip it open. It wasn't signed but she knew the handwriting now.
I left them behind your right front tire. Don't thank me because I'm not talking to you after this morning. When you're down to one, give the other 4 back to me and I'll wash them again x
Quinn smiled, at the idea of Rachel not talking to her and at the crossed out kiss. She pushed the note inside her Algebra textbook and then grabbed that and the magazine before pulling her head back out of the locker.
"And I don't, ever!" She slammed her locker shut for emphasis.
"Then why did you . . .?"
"It doesn't matter." She took his hand as they walked towards the doors and smiled sweetly at him. "I want to hang out with just you, but can we do it tomorrow? I'm just feeling a little tired."
"Because of, you know, the baby and stuff? Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, and it's perfectly normal." Probably. "I just want to take a nap now so my parents don't suspect anything when they get home."
"Okay," he smiled. "Can I walk you to your car?"
She kissed him once they were there, leaning against the cool metal with her arms tight around his neck as he leaned into her. It was nice, made her feel comforted after her crappy day, and he smelled good but . . . not in a way that soothed the nausea. Maybe she could find a way to switch his Mom's fabric softener without her knowing.
After one last chaste peck goodbye she pushed at his chest. "Okay, I'll see you tomorrow."
"Text me if you need anything."
He kissed her cheek. "Bye then."
She barely waited until he was around the corner to where his Mom's car was parked before she was down on the ground, feeling around behind her right front tire. She found it at once – Berry had pushed it just enough to be out of sight but still within easy reach – and stood up, brushing grit from her hands and knees.
She waited until she was seated in the car before pulling out a fresh one – blue this time – and holding it to her nose.
Oh, that was better!
The following day Rachel was already seated in American Lit. when Quinn arrived. She frowned as she approached because Finn was sitting in her seat, chatting to her. Berry was extremely animated, waving her hands around and laughing as she talked and Finn was grinning like an idiot, lapping up every word she said.
"Excuse me?" she said, stopping next to them.
"We were just talking," Finn said quickly.
"Well, can you talk from somewhere other than my chair?"
"My bad," he stood up, grinning again, and gave her a quick kiss, which she accepted while still glaring at him. "Rachel was just telling me about this movie she saw last night. What was it called again, Rach?"
Quinn's eyes went to her as his did, but her raised eyebrow was completely wasted because Berry was staring nonchalantly towards the front of the room as if she hadn't even heard the question.
"Sounds fascinating," she deadpanned.
"Rach?" he tried again.
"Hudson!" Mr. Laxforth entered the room, dropping papers onto his desk. "Is that where you are supposed to be?"
"Dude's so got it in for me," Finn muttered before heading to his new desk at the front.
Quinn finally sank into her own seat and spared Berry one glance, who didn't return it, before taking out her book and focusing on the lesson.
"So," Mr. Laxforth began. "I assume you all finished the book over the weekend, considering that was your homework." There were various unenthusiastic replies. "Good."
He turned to the board to write and Quinn glanced at Rachel again, she was still studiously staring to the front.
"Did you finish it?" she murmured.
Rachel didn't answer until Mr. Laxforth was turning back around and then it was just a nod.
"Your homework tonight is a one thousand word essay on The Call of the Wild, tailoring your response to answer this question." He pointed his dry erase marker behind him to the board. "And because I'm sure some of you aren't being quite so honest about your reading progress and because I have a wad of papers to mark before fourth period, you may use this lesson to make notes and begin your essays. And no talking, I need to concentrate."
He bent over his own pile of papers immediately, leaving them to get on with it, and Quinn found her notes before opening her notepad to a fresh page.
She wrote for five minutes, launching straight into the essay, before the indifference from the girl beside her became more interesting. Was she really not talking to her now? If it was real it was a good thing, providing Berry was still happy to wash her handkerchiefs, but it was surprising, and the urge to test her resolve was just too tempting.
She switched to a new paragraph and wrote Hey before pushing the pad to the side like she'd done before. Rachel's eyes darted towards the movement, long enough that she had to have read the word, but she just kept writing her essay.
Quinn wrote some more. That was me saying Hi.
Again Rachel looked at it, again she didn't respond.
Wow, she had more resolve than Quinn expected; she always relished a challenge though.
Thank you for leaving the handkerchiefs for me yesterday.
A look and then nothing.
At least she thought nothing until a few seconds later Rachel sat back a little and Quinn could see that, in the middle of a paragraph, she had written something definitely not to do with The Call of the Wild.
-You didn't deserve it.-
That was probably true. Then why did you do it?
No answer, Berry was back to her essay. Quinn watched her write for a few minutes in case she added something for her. She didn't.
Finn and Puck egged his house last Halloween because he said they were too old for trick or treating. He's never forgiven them.
Rachel looked, frowned in confusion, and went back to her essay.
Last week you asked why Laxforth hates Finn, remember?
Nothing! And Quinn was getting frustrated. She didn't usually even pass notes in class and now she was trying to do it with Rachel Berry of all people and Berry was acting like she didn't exist. She wanted to punch her more than ever. Instead she wrote another note.
What is your problem?
Incensed, Rachel's pen scratched furiously across the paper, resolve broken.
You! I thought you might have had the decency to apologize for how you treated me in front of your friends yesterday!
Quinn frowned, Why? How else would I treat you!
Rachel looked like she was about to start yelling at her or crying or both, but thankfully a glance around the room reminded her they were surrounded by their classmates and she simply licked her bottom lip and dropped her eyes back to her pages, shoulders hunching halfway up to her ears. And what sort of reaction was that? Quinn looked back down at the last line she'd written and still couldn't see anything wrong with it. How did Rachel expect her to treat her exactly? Just because they'd had a really, really weird week last week, with all the talking and sort of hugging and . . . sniffing and, um . . . nudity . . . it didn't suddenly change anything between them.
I just warned you away from Finn, I thought you'd prefer that or something. Now I know how ungrateful you are maybe next time I'll warn you away from me instead. See how you get treated then.
She had to poke Rachel in the arm with her pen, leaving a tiny blue dot on the sleeve of her blouse, before the other girl would even read what she'd just written.
Rachel's eyes narrowed, she sneered and then pen met paper like a head on collision. You are such a bitch!
You knew that before you started crushing on me!
It was embarrassing, trying to one-up Berry on exclamation remarks, even more embarrassing that she had written that in the first place and she instinctively went to scribble it out but she was too late.
I DO NOT HAVE A CRUSH ON YOU!
Do you WANT me to have a crush on you?
Quinn felt her face flame even as her stomach turned icy. Just how much trouble would she really get into for stabbing Rachel repeatedly in the face with her pen?
When she'd calmed down enough to not do that, she responded with: Don't be absurd!
You act like you do! You are the one who keeps bringing it up after all.
That's because you keep acting like a horny dog every time we speak! It's unsettling.
And yet you love it!
As soon as her eyes had processed the words she stamped down on Rachel's foot, causing her to muffle a squeak of pain with her hand.
You're delusional, I fucking hate you.
Rachel gasped but her hand was quick. I effing hate you too. And you're the delusional one. You think you're so strong and untouchable but who had whose head buried in my lap last
Quinn didn't wait for her to finish the sentence before ripping the entire page from Rachel's notebook in a flat out rage. The girl tried to stop her but Quinn was too fast and had it in little pieces within seconds. The students around them looked over, until a glare from the head cheerleader stalled their curiosity, but Mr. Laxforth didn't notice a thing.
You just turned my essay into confetti! Rachel wrote on a fresh piece of paper.
Quinn threw the pieces at her face before continuing with her own essay as if nothing had happened.
Why do people keep ripping up my paperwork this week?
Because everyone hates you!
Quinn didn't look up to see Berry's expression but the way her elbow came down between them, shielding her completely, made her think her words had had the desired effect. She kept her huff inside and mirrored Berry's position so that the arm barrier between them was absolute.
She was so freaking infuriating.
Quinn had actually been trying to be nice. So it wasn't something she had a lot of practice in, but Berry was supposed to lap up the attention and give her an A-plus or one of her stupid gold stars for the effort.
Instead she'd . . . she'd turned on her!
Stuffing a pale green handkerchief under her nose and her fist in her mouth, she closed her eyes to hide the shimmer of tears and cursed her damn hormones to hell and back for overreacting to something as insignificant as Rachel-freaking-Berry.
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