First period was American Literature again and these days Rachel never knew whether to look forward to it or dread it.
She took her seat beside Quinn but stuck to the rules: she didn't look or speak and obviously she didn't touch.
"I assume your computer is in tiny little pieces now."
She smiled, "No."
"Guess I'll have to swing by later and do it myself then."
She smiled more. "You want to come over?"
"I'll be sure to do so when you're not there."
"Or you could come home with me after school so that you can see the proof for yourself that I have deleted every comment you left, except for the horrible one; and that way you can leave my computer intact."
"Is this you trying to get me to come to your house for dinner or something?" Quinn asked, quirking an eyebrow at her.
Rachel paused, assessing her tone, the smirk on her face, and decided it was safe enough to continue. "If you like."
"Don't you have plans with Mike?"
"We haven't made any."
"I have Glee after school anyway." There was a pause. "Do you have Glee after school?"
There was a longer pause while Rachel thought about it. "I don't think so. I just really don't think I can get through this routine and it would appear as though you can't either if I'm involved."
"I was fine yesterday."
"You were looking at me . . . strangely."
"I was forcing myself to think about puppies and kittens to get through it."
"Do you always look at small animals like that?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
Mr. Laxforth began the lesson then and there were no further opportunities for conversation.
The class was drawing to a close, people were talking, chairs were scraping back, at least half of the students were already out of the door.
Quinn sighed as she gathered her books. She'd been trying to talk herself out of this all lesson, and it should have been easy, but she kept coming back to the same thing – she didn't want to be responsible for Rachel quitting Glee.
"Ms. Juliene's out today so we both have study hall fifth period. Meet me behind the maintenance shed instead."
"Just do it, Berry."
Five minutes after she should have been in study hall Rachel was sneaking to the back of school instead. She felt guilty for missing class, even though she knew she wouldn't be missed, but she'd been too intrigued by what Quinn had in mind to not show up.
It had crossed her mind that this was when the cheerleader was going to 'kick her ass' but she'd dismissed it, because if - or when - that happened, the whole point was for Quinn to have an audience.
When she covertly rounded the workshop the other girl was waiting for her with a CD player.
"Okay, let's get this over with."
"Get what over with?"
Quinn pressed play and the song Mr. Schue was having them dance to played from the small built-in speakers.
"We're here to practice?"
"Until we get it perfect. We have all of fifth period; I'm just hoping it will be enough."
"Won't that be . . . awkward, with just the two of us?"
"More awkward than in front of everyone?" Quinn had a point. "It's going to be very awkward, but we're going to do it anyway."
Rachel nodded, "Okay, restart the song."
Quinn did so and then stood with her right hand out, waiting. Rachel counted herself in, then she counted herself in again, and then again.
"We don't have time to wait for your exact cue. Let's just get it over with."
"I wasn't. I was just psyching myself up." Quinn smirked. "Okay, I'm ready."
She counted herself in for real this time and then took a deep breath before turning twice and reaching for Quinn's hand – there was that damn feeling again as soon as there was palm to palm contact! It was intoxicating. Rachel forgot what was supposed to happen next and Quinn was forced to twirl her an extra half a turn before her feet caught in the three inch grass and she nearly went down on her knees.
Quinn kept her upright by their joined hands but yanked hers back as soon as Rachel was steady to scrub her palm on the skirt of her Cheerio's uniform. "Okay, again."
Rachel counted herself in. Turn, turn, contact! And how did it manage to get better each time?
Quinn twirled her so fast before instinctively pulling her hand away that Rachel spun around three times before bouncing off of the chain-link fence.
"Damn, are you okay?"
"Dizzy. The Earth's spinning too fast."
"Congratulations, Berry, I just rocked your world. Not many people can say that."
Rachel laughed, "Quinn, anyone who's ever laid eyes on you can say that."
Brow furrowed and mouth open, it took Quinn a few seconds to respond, "Are you calling me a slut?"
"No. I'm calling you beautiful." The scenery finally stopped rotating. "Okay, again."
Count down. Turn, turn, firm contact, that was good, Quinn's hand felt good, especially when she squeezed back as she raised their arms. It made Rachel's palm hum and shot tingles all the way to . . . to . . . um . . . well, it was fair to say she was feeling Quinn's touch in places it shouldn't be possible to reach just through the connection of their fingertips.
When she pulled her hand away this time it was with a yelp of alarm – because such chemistry just couldn't be possible in real life, surely – and Quinn was thrown off balance to stumble back until her hands were braced on the workshop wall behind her.
"Maybe we should wear gloves." Rachel's gaze snapped to her, surprised Quinn was even feeling it, let alone acknowledging it. "That was a joke."
"Many an honest thought has been told in jest."
"You just totally butchered that quote."
"Well, forgive me Quinn, if the fact that I'm going crazy is overshadowing my knowledge of literary quotations."
"You're forgiven. Give me your hand."
"Manhands, do as your told!"
"Do you have to call me that right now?"
"If it makes you feel better you can pretend I lash out when I'm feeling . . . unsure about something."
"Is that true?"
"I don't know, Treasure Trail, what do you think? Now give me your freaking hand, Rupaul!"
"Okay, that seems like overkill." But Rachel held out her hand, holding her breath at the same time.
How could such a small gesture feel so amazing? Quinn's hand was soft, warm, bigger than hers but not so much as to engulf her own. They fit, that's what it really came down to, they just fit. They fit several different ways in fact, and Quinn experimented with shifting her grip first one way and then the other, lastly entwining their fingers and giving hers the slightest squeeze.
"See, it's just holding hands, it's nothing." She didn't really sound like she believed it even as she was saying it.
But Rachel dutifully said back, "Yes, of course it's nothing."
"So I don't know what you've been spazzing about."
"It's just holding hands," Quinn repeated. "It's fine; nothing to be scared of."
"You're absolutely right. This feels perfectly normal. It's no different to holding hands with my Dad."
"Exactly, or Finn. Not Finn, I meant . . . Brittany."
"Totally, it's like holding hands with my Dad or Brittany, and not like holding hands with Finn or Mike."
"You've held hands with Mike?"
"Well, no, but I imagine it would feel nothing like this."
She looked up from their joined hands in time to catch the tail-end of Quinn's smile before she bit her lip against it. Yep, she thought that sentence had come out sounding wrong.
"Okay, now that we've proved how boring this is, let's try the routine again."
Rachel let go and took her place as Quinn restarted the song.
Turn, turn, their hands clasped – it still didn't feel anything like boring! Their patience and sacrifice had paid off though. The twirl was everything it should be, as if they'd perfected it years ago, and Quinn was the perfect height for her too. They were both grinning at how effortless they'd made it look, happy they'd finally gotten it right, until Rachel's arm curled closely around Quinn's shoulders and they froze.
"Crap, I'd forgotten about this part."
Rachel didn't know whether she wanted to giggle or cry. "Me too."
Their faces were inches apart, bodies only separated by their entwined hands between them. They were in the exact position they should be for the next stage of the dance but Rachel wasn't reassured by that.
"What should we do?"
"I don't know, but I don't think I'm comfortable staying like this for five minutes until it gets boring."
"This is never going to get boring," she breathed without thinking and then cursed herself when Quinn let go of her hand and shrugged out from under her arm.
She'd take a vow of silence for a year if she could just have those words back right now.
When Quinn raised her hands to straighten her pony-tail Rachel flinched back. Quinn pretended not to notice. "Okay, let's start from the beginning again."
"Really. But this time we don't stop, we don't think, we don't look at each other. We just dance."
Rachel nodded and skipped the CD back to the start.
The twirl went fine. When it came time to dance together Rachel kept her eyes down and was met with an up-close view of Quinn's extremely tight Cheerio's top. Her feet faltered and she stepped back.
"Sorry. I need to find a better visual."
"A better visual than what?"
Rachel's gaze gave her away.
Quinn looked down at herself, confused, and then rolled her eyes, blushing even as she smirked. "Good luck with that."
Rachel smirked too. "Okay, Quinn Modest Fabray, I'm going to try your shoulder."
"Be my guest, that's hot too."
Rachel rolled her eyes but as they tried the dance again, it turned out Quinn was right. They got through it though, they actually got all the way through it, and although it felt like a lifetime to Rachel only thirty seconds or so later she was standing at full reach holding Quinn's left hand (which, incidentally, was no more boring than the right hand!).
"We did it!" She thrust their joined hands in the air making Quinn smile. "If this was any other dance I would insist we run through it a few more times until we were sure we were flawless, but I'm hesitant to suggest that in this situation."
Quinn checked her watch. "Fifth period's almost up anyway."
Rachel tried not to sound disappointed and nodded, "Okay."
"We have time for maybe two more run-throughs, three if you keep your eyes up."
Now she was trying not to sound too happy. "Okay." She seemed to be constantly trying to find a balance between the two these days.
Quinn started the CD again.
The first two were passable but the third and final time really was flawless. They were also back to gazing into each other's eyes as they turned to the music. It was unnerving and exhilarating at the same time.
"Are you thinking about baby animals again right now?" Rachel whispered.
Quinn's eyes seemed to sparkle with something as she murmured back, "I have no idea what you're talking about."
As Rachel was gracefully twirled away she felt like she'd just seen Quinn naked again.
"You can go first this time. I'll hang here for another ten minutes."
"Are you sure? I don't mind . . ."
"I'm sure." Quinn needed the ten minutes to clear her head anyway. "So you're coming back to Glee this afternoon, right?"
"I wouldn't miss it for the world."
"Down, Berry." Quinn reached into her bag for the box of handkerchiefs. "Can I ask you . . .? Is there any chance you can wash these by tomorrow?"
"Are you asking me now so that I'll still feel obligated to uphold my promise after you've 'kicked my ass' later?"
She sighed, "I'm not going to physically hit you, or kick you."
In truth she didn't want to go through with her plan at all, but she had to, perhaps now more than ever.
"May I ask what you're going to verbally abuse me over considering I didn't take you up on your kind offer to flirt with Finn?"
"I don't know, something will come to me at the time. I can always rely on you to be super annoying like that."
Quinn smiled when Rachel rolled her eyes. "I'll ask Finn to sing a duet with me in front of Glee and I'll wash your handkerchiefs by tomorrow, but one day I'm going to expect something in return."
"Fine, but I reserve the right to veto if it involves either of us being naked."
"Quinn! I would never ask something like that!" Quinn grinned at how hard she was blushing. "Besides, I have heard it's possible to have sex with your clothes on, you know."
Now Rachel was grinning while she blushed, "Vetoed! So, so vetoed!"
Their laughter was soft and it was easier than it ever should be.
"I still don't have a crush on you, just so you know."
"I should probably change my MySpace name then."
"That would be appropriate. Why do you need the handkerchiefs by tomorrow anyway?"
"I want to have a few handy at Puck's. There's nothing more embarrassing than throwing up on the patio when everyone knows you haven't been drinking."
"Oh, the party."
"Yeah. Do you have plans tomorrow night?" Rachel looked up so eagerly that Quinn felt awful about getting her hopes up. Although over what she didn't want to question, it was just a vague feeling . . . honestly. "It's just, I think Mike was going to ask you."
"Oh, I see. That's nice of him. And brave, going against the Queen of McKinley's direct order and all."
"Rachel," Quinn started but stopped with a shake of her head. She wasn't going to apologize. "It means you shouldn't do a duet with Finn though, it would probably piss Mike off."
"That's okay, I don't see Mike and I developing anything other than a working relationship at this point anyway."
"Oh, why's that?"
"He's not really my type."
"I knew it!"
"Finn, may I have a word with you?"
"Sure, Rach, what's up?"
"For a while now I've been wanting to sing 'Secret Lovers' by Atlantic Starr and, as clearly you are the obvious choice as my duet partner, I was wondering if you were free to come to mine tonight to work on it. My Dads won't be there so we'll have the whole house to ourselves to, um, work on the song."
Was batting her eyelashes a little over the top? Probably. Especially as she hadn't rehearsed it that way. The extra flourish wasn't needed anyway, the general chatter in the room was already dropping away as everyone gawped from her to Finn to Quinn – who was standing no more than ten feet away talking to Brittany and Matt.
"Did she seriously just ask him that?" Santana sneered from across the room, echoed in various sentiments by the others.
The expression on Finn's face alone was priceless. "Uh, I don't know if that's a good idea, Rachel."
"Oh. Why not? We've rehearsed one-on-one before."
"Right, that's the last straw you little freakshow!"
She turned sharply as Quinn came at her, charging the short distance between them, and braced for impact. It was unnecessary. Quinn sent her flying over a chair, three others being smashed out of the way by her passage, but Quinn's hands remained tightly gripped in her sweater. She went down fast but surprisingly gently. She still couldn't help screaming a little.
Quinn hauled her up again just as fast and the most uncomfortable thing about it was being forced to stand on her tiptoes.
"I've had enough of you trying to steal my boyfriend! He's with me, RuPaul! And even if he wasn't he would still never go for a misshapen dwarf like you. Stay away from him or I will end you, Stubbles, am I making myself really clear here? Are you getting this?
Rachel's eyes were wide with fear and it wasn't because she was an excellent actress.
Quinn shook her. "Are you?"
"What's going on in here?"
"Berry just pissed in the wrong pool, Mr. Schue," Puck was already laughing about it.
"And now Quinn's marking her territory," Mercedes added.
Through the ringing in her ears Rachel vaguely heard Brittany ask, "So does that mean Quinn's pissing in the pool too? 'Cause that's kind of gross. What if we want to go swimming later?"
Quinn held onto her sweater until Mr. Schue tried to break them up; if he realized it was surprisingly easy he didn't ask why. At the last second before she let go, Quinn mouthed, I'm sorry; her lips moving only enough for Rachel to understand the shape of the words. It didn't mean anything to her right now and after staggering back a few steps she turned and fled the Choir room.
She had to get to a bathroom before she was sick.
Quinn had to wait twenty minutes before she could reasonably excuse herself by saying she was just too angry to get into Glee today. Finn wanted to go with her, but she managed to convince him that it would make the whole session a wash if he wasn't there to sing the male lead and that wasn't fair on the others.
It had taken her another twenty minutes to find Rachel; she was starting to think she'd just run home instead of waiting for her Dad. The last place she looked probably should have been the first in retrospect.
The girl was sitting with her back against the wall of the seldom-used workshop, knees pulled up to her chin, staring through the chain-link fence at the whirls of colorful falling leaves. Quinn sat beside her without a word, staring up at the changing patterns of blue and grey in the sky beyond the branches.
"So, that was kind of harsh."
"You know why I had to do it though, right?"
"I was trying to steal your boyfriend."
"Don't 'Rachel' me! Since when do you call me Rachel anyway? Stick to what you're good at, Quinn. You're much better suited to calling me 'Stubbles' or 'RuPaul' or 'Freakshow' or . . ." Quinn winced with every name. ". . . or . . . misshapen dwarf!"
Rachel made a choking, snorting sound and Quinn's eyes went wide. Oh God, she was about to start bawling her eyes out! She couldn't handle that. She didn't know how to deal with people crying. She always ignored Santana when her friend's fiery temperament resulted in tears, or steered her in Brittany's direction at the very most.
"Hey, come on. Don't be such a baby. It wasn't that . . ." she ducked her head to meet Rachel's gaze, hoping she could glare the tears away, only there weren't any. The deep brown eyes looking back were warm and dry and . . . "You're laughing about this?"
"No!" Rachel covered her mouth to stifle a giggle. "There is nothing funny about being . . . about being called a . . . a misshapen . . . dwarf . . . Oh dear . . . in front of your peers!"
Quinn was too surprised to relax yet. "You're not angry with me?"
"Of course I'm angry with you. You made me throw up and I know you know how horrible that feels."
"Because I pushed you over? Did you hurt yourself?"
"Well, being flung over a chair wasn't fun but no, it didn't hurt me. No, because in the three years you've been bullying me you have never terrified me like that – Santana yes, but never you – and I don't know why it did because I knew it was make believe, but you are one scary girl when you want to be, Quinn Fabray."
"And you spat on me when you called me Stubbles."
"Oh wow, that's embarrassing."
"Really?" Rachel finally turned to look at her. "You are embarrassed by something that just happened in the Choir room? I nearly wet myself, Quinn!"
She did try to respectfully hold her laughter in but a giggle escaped anyway. Rachel huffed at her but as she turned back to the chain-link fence a smile was tugging at her lips.
"So do you think it at least accomplished your mission?"
"Our mission," she corrected absently. "And yes, I don't think anyone's going to be starting rumors about you and I being, you know, together anytime soon."
"In that case, when you think about it, this would actually be the perfect time to start a clandestine affair."
"It would be. It's a pity you don't have a crush on me, isn't it? Almost feels like the waste of a perfect opportunity."
"Sometimes I don't know when you're joking."
"Good to know. Also, you owed me big before. Now you owe me really big."
"I'm still not having sex with you."
"Was that a joke?"
Quinn bumped their shoulders together as she chuckled, "No!"
"Are we at least friends now?"
The laughter died away with a sigh. "No, Rachel, we can't be friends. That would make what I just put you through completely redundant."
"Then what are we? Because I know I'm not well versed in many, well any, of the social intricacies that glue our student body together, but I'm pretty sure this is something." Her small hand slipped into Quinn's, where it rested between them, as if to prove a point.
Quinn's head tipped back against the wall, her eyes slipping closed at how it felt, the way their palms slid together and connected perfectly.
"I think what we are is confused," she murmured. "But you were right . . . this is nothing like holding Brittany's hand."
"Or my Dad's."
"Or," she bit her bottom lip to keep from saying it, but the words wanted to be out there and so she closed her eyes tighter and whispered, "Or Finn's."
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