Quinn saw Mike walking through the halls towards her first thing Tuesday morning and he scowled as they were about to pass each other.
Luckily she'd come prepared.
She left him spluttering, teeth chattering and dripping raspberry-flavored ice.
Feeling so much better already she gave one of the glossy posters that had appeared on the walls over night an identical toothy smile and dropped the empty cardboard cup into a trash can without slowing down.
Rachel sat up straight, staring ahead with a neutral expression when Quinn took her seat next to her in American Lit. It wasn't going to be easy to get through the lesson with the hostility between them but she had a plan to survive: ignore Quinn at all costs and the tried and tested, no looking, no talking, no touching rules.
It occurred to her that each time the rules had been tested they'd proved less than infallible but this was plan B after all and couldn't be expected to be perfect. Plan A had fallen through when her Daddy had declared she did not in fact have a temperature and a slight case of the sniffles – of which he had seen no evidence of yet – was not a good enough reason to take time off of school.
'No looking, no talking, no touching,' she repeated in her head a few times to make it sink in.
She shouldn't have been surprised that she was already having trouble with that first one. Who wouldn't want to feast their eyes on Quinn Fabray at every opportunity? She stayed strong though. It was the only way.
The quiet greeting nearly made her break rule two but she bit her lip until the urge passed.
"It's polite to say Hi back, you know?"
Rachel scoffed and then bit her lip again hard. Did that count as breaking a rule? She hadn't actually said anything.
"You're not talking to me again?"
What gave it away?
"I had nothing to do with what Santana and Kassie did after Gym, you do know that, right?"
Quinn sounded so concerned that, even though Rachel knew it was insincere, she couldn't help nodding. The head cheerleader's horrified reaction after the event had convinced her that the lesser Cheerios had acted alone, but Quinn was far from innocent when it came to tormenting her. In fact, she'd paved the way for what had happened yesterday with her previous three years of abuse.
"So, you don't really hate me, right? This is just you being a little pissed?"
Rachel didn't respond. Obviously she didn't hate her but she was more than a little pissed!
"Will you just say something? Anything? Yell at me if you want."
While yelling might relieve some of her tension, she couldn't do it in class which Quinn knew and was probably the only reason she'd suggested it. No doubt she was expecting Rachel to back down because of the selflessness of her offer but she wasn't stupid. She saw right through Quinn Fabray now and she wasn't going to be fooled again.
"Fine, don't speak to me, but you can't stop me from speaking to you."
Rachel groaned inwardly and made sure her face betrayed her thoughts – why couldn't she just leave her alone?
To her delight Mr. Laxforth finally started the lesson, meaning Quinn would have to be quiet. She allowed herself a small smile when she heard the other girl grumble under her breath.
"Okay, no new chapter today, but I have a worksheet on the previous two chapters so I hope you've all been paying attention."
Rachel's smile left quickly because she hadn't been paying attention. The only thing she paid attention to in American Literature these days was Quinn. It seemed typical of her luck that the one time she was completely focused on listening to the reading, there wasn't going to be one.
Mr. Laxforth handed a stack of papers to each student in the front row of desks. "You may work on them quietly with the person sat next to you."
Rachel groaned out loud this time and it was Quinn's turn to smile.
Now she had to break rule two, because she was sure Quinn would know all of the answers that she didn't and she wasn't going to fail the stupid worksheet because of this. That would only mean that Quinn had won another battle of their ongoing war.
Quinn took the papers as they were handed back and gave the last one to her. It was half an inch thick! Would the school nurse believe her fake symptoms more than her Daddy had? Since Mrs. Schuester had been fired they'd only had temps in to fill the spot; surely they couldn't be good enough to tell she was faking, not with her acting skills.
"You know, if I wasn't trying to be nice, I would really be taking advantage of how uncomfortable you are right now."
Rachel gave up on rule two but kept rule one, and obviously three, intact as she opened the work sheets. "Why are you trying to be nice? Surely it must be painful for you?"
"You are making it pretty painful."
"Good. Give up then, please."
"Stop being a baby."
"I'm completely serious. At least when you're being nasty I know where I stand."
"I deserve that."
"You haven't been very nice the last week either."
"It's simply been self-preservation, and utterly justifiable."
"A resounding argument, Quinn. Can we concentrate on the lesson now please?" It was a little too mumbled to be successful sarcasm, but she was still proud of the attempt.
Rachel ignored that and bent over question one. She actually knew the answer and wrote it in the space provided without conferring with the girl beside her.
"I just want to talk to you, Rachel."
Rachel's heart skipped a beat. Just weeks ago . . . who was she fooling, just days ago those words would have knocked down her defenses so fast she probably would have swooned cartoon-like to the ground with them. Even said in the small confused way, with the tiny frown creasing Quinn's forehead, like she really didn't mean to be saying these words or any like them at all, they were tempting.
Very tempting . . . and that was what set the alarm bells ringing. Quinn had only said she wanted to talk to her and already she was leaping towards forgiveness? For all she knew Quinn wanted to talk about another fabulous plan that would secretly sabotage Glee club, or more ways in which she could publicly warn her away from Finn. It was Quinn, pleasant conversation between them was only ever a means to a bitter-tasting end.
Still, it couldn't hurt to ask, right? There was no harm in that.
Quinn shrugged, shoulders rising and falling nonchalantly, "You know, stuff."
Stuff? What kind of stuff? The lack of a specific topic made Rachel nervous; small talk was something she associated even less with Quinn Fabray than pleasant conversation. Talk designed to make her feel small, yes that was very Quinn, but small talk itself?
They'd talked more in the last few weeks than they ever had before, but they still weren't 'small talk' buddies in her limited opinion. When they spoke, even the tiniest thing seemed to become hugely significant – at least in her mind, she was sure Quinn felt differently – and now 'stuff' was doing exactly that.
"Could you be a little . . ."
Quinn glanced over out of the corner of her eye and interrupted, "So did you pick a song for this week's assignment yet?"
"The Kelly Clarkson one?" It was a needless question, it wasn't like they had another assignment, but she was still feeling thrown by Quinn's, well, sudden niceness. "I don't know."
"What do you mean you don't know? Either you picked one or you didn't?"
"I'm still deciding."
"Have you narrowed it down?"
Now she thought she knew where this was going and she felt insulted, "If you think I'm going to tell you my song choice so that you can sing it first and make me look foolish . . ."
"I'm not going to do that! Why would I . . .?" It appeared as though Quinn answered her own question because she trailed off again, re-inking the lines of her doodle – it ws two interlinking hearts, she noticed. "I was just curious."
"Oh." She side-eyed her suspiciously for a second or two, before finally taking her words at face value. "Okay, well, honestly I've been going back and forth on a couple actually. I think 'Since You've Been Gone' would sum up my current mood best . . ."
"Why? I'm not going anywhere." The smile Quinn was giving her was disconcerting, so cocky and teasing, that Rachel tripped over a hasty rebuttal.
"It's, um, why, I mean, it wouldn't be about you, I mean, why would it? It's not like . . ."
"I know that." The smile was gone. "It was just a joke."
"Oh." She sighed silently in relief, because of course it would have been about Quinn, what wasn't these days, but the thought of Quinn knowing that was horrible given how things were between them now. "I'm too late anyway, Tina sang it yesterday, didn't she?"
Another shrug while Quinn put the finishing touches to her new doodle – a skull and crossbones? The hearts encased in the top of the skull. It was as unsettling as the conversation they were having.
"I don't know, I didn't attend Glee yesterday either."
"Oh, how come?" She hoped Quinn wasn't starting to slack off; everyone needed to be in tiptop shape with the competition season fast approaching.
"It was a Cheerios thing."
"You don't normally have cheerleading practice on a Monday afternoon."
Quinn glared at her, "I didn't say it was practice. Anyway, it has nothing to do with you."
"Of course not, sorry. I'm sure it was important if you had to miss Glee for it."
As the mood appeared to have changed between them once again, Rachel found it prudent to turn her attention back to the work sheet, it wasn't like she'd wanted to talk anyway.
She'd barely had time to read the next question however before Quinn's mood changed again, her voice light and teasing once more as she casually asked, "So, anyway, aren't you going to congratulate me?"
"On remaining civil for nearly five minutes?" she asked sarcastically before she could stop herself.
Quinn let that go with a smirk and, "I think it was closer to ten, actually, but I was talking about my nomination."
It only took her a moment to understand. She'd heard the news over the school tanoy system the day before but had been too preoccupied with her own unlooked for drama to pay it much heed, but this morning posters bearing all four photographs of the female selection for the Homecoming court had sprung up across the school – and naturally she'd noticed Quinn's face shining the brightest among them.
"Congratulating you on being nominated a Homecoming Princess is like congratulating me on being able to sing Baa Baa Black Sheep without hitting a bum note – something I've been able to do since I was eight months old, incidentally. I honestly think the more surprising thing is that they bothered to waste time and effort nominating a further three people."
Quinn beamed at her, "Thank you."
It hadn't really been meant as a compliment, just a statement of fact, but Rachel was blinded by the wide smile and so didn't point it out.
"I assume, in that case, I can count on your vote?" There was that teasing, almost flirtacious tone again.
She was a great believer in democracy and the whole electoral and voting system, but she wasn't a great believer in popularity contests. Just because Quinn was so pretty all of the girls wanted to be her and all of the boys wanted to date her shouldn't mean she was automatically entitled to rule the school as Homecoming Queen – a ruler should have substance, integrity and shouldn't be as mean as Quinn was capable of being without reason . . .
But when Quinn looked at her like that and spoke to her like this . . . well, Rachel wouldn't just vote for her, she'd gladly bow down to her forever. Except . . .
"I'm given to believe the voting takes place at the Homecoming dance and I don't think I'll be going. Nobody's asked me and attending school dances stag has only ever led to extra ridicule so . . ." she was rambling and she knew it. She even knew why, even if it was stupid, but if there was any tiny chance that Quinn might invite her . . .
"Voting opens on Thursday morning, actually, so you can vote for me without going to the dance."
. . . but of course there never had been any chance of that.
Now realizing Quinn's friendliness had only ever been about getting her vote, Rachel found her strength to resist her untrustworthy charms return.
"I don't think you've done much to earn my allegiance recently . . . or ever."
Quinn sighed noisily and added a few more strokes to her doodle, it was now taking up a quarter of a page, the skull sprouting a speech bubble which read: Go big or die trying.
"What does that mean?"
"What does what . . .?" Quinn seemed to realize her art was on full display and closed her notebook with a soft thwap. "Nothing. Look . . ." Quinn's fingers were sqeezing her pen so tight the tips were turning a pinkish white. "I know things have been . . . weird between us recently." That was the understatement of the year. "But, you know . . . I want to make it up to you."
That got her attention. "Make what up to me?"
"I don't know, whatever bug is up your ass right now."
Rachel actually broke rule one properly for the first time since Quinn had insisted they 'talk' because that warranted a solid glare.
Quinn smirked, "Wrong answer?"
"Yes!" Rachel turned back to her work sheets.
Quinn finally sounded frustrated as she said, "Look, Berry, I'm trying to make nice. Tell me how and I'll do it."
Rachel rolled her eyes as she glared at her again. "Why are you trying to be nice? What's in it for you?"
Quinn stared at her for a second before concentrating on her own worksheets. "I need a reason?"
"From past experience, yes."
Quinn wrote in the answer to the first three questions before she replied – Rachel had only just looked at question two! – and when she did she kept her face turned away.
"I need you."
The three simple words sent Rachel's brain into overdrive, they were everything she wanted to hear but she knew it couldn't be that simple. In her excitement and simultaneous alarm she forgot herself.
Several people, actually nearly everyone, looked over to them, making her realize she'd stopped using her indoor voice. Quinn glared at her and so Rachel covered.
"THAT'S NOT THE ANSWER!"
"Girls, a little less vocal please," Mr. Laxforth said from the front of the room. "This isn't drama class."
Rachel apologized for her outburst and ducked her head down before muttering, "What could you possibly need me for?"
In answer Quinn placed a full box of handkerchiefs on the desk.
Rachel deflated even though she'd known it would be something like this. "No."
"What do you mean, no?"
"I mean, no! I can't. I need . . . I need . . ." To get over you! ". . . to stop being your servant-girl; you do nothing to earn it and it's demeaning and . . ."
"You're not . . ."
"Of course I am. After all, you've made it quite clear you do not wish to be my friend."
Quinn was glaring at her again but she looked . . . scared? Her voice was barely a murmur as she answered, "I also made clear why."
"No you didn't."
"Do you want it written in the freaking sky, Berry?"
Rachel's eyebrows twitched up in confusion. "Do I want what written in the sky?"
"That I . . ." Quinn stopped her angry retort and looked down at her worksheet. "Never mind. Maybe we can be friends, if you want."
Rachel gave her heart a few seconds to soar before she dragged it back down to earth. "And do you mean that or are you just saying it because it'll make me wash your handkerchiefs?"
She watched Quinn's mouth open a couple of times as if about to answer, but then she closed it firmly and filled in questions four and five instead.
Rachel found herself dying to hear whatever Quinn had been about to say, "Well?"
"God, I thought we were already friends or something!" Quinn muttered harshly without raising her head. "Whatever."
"Forming an emotional attachment to my fabric softener doesn't make us friends, Quinn. It just makes me a pusher and you an abuser – which is quite an apt term when you think about it – and the healthiest thing I can do for either of us right now is cut you off cold turkey."
"Rachel, please?" Quinn pushed the box across the desk towards her.
Rachel pushed it back. "I said no."
"It's the only thing that helps!"
"There are other ways to alleviate morning sickness."
"But you're the only one that works for me!" Quinn shook her head and looked down again. "I mean your fabric softener."
"I know what you meant, and my answer is still no."
This was so hard. Rachel just wanted to give in. She wanted nothing more than to take the handkerchiefs and run home right away to wash them for her. She knew she was hurting Quinn by refusing to help, but what choice did she have? If she helped Quinn she would only end up hurting herself and Quinn wouldn't care about that.
She had to stay strong so she pushed the box back towards her again.
"I'm sorry; I can't indulge this misuse of my generosity anymore. I've gone out of my way to be of aid to you in the past and it has only led me to me being . . . disappointed."
She'd nearly said heartbroken. Thankfully she'd been able to stop herself. She dropped her pen on top of her worksheet and scrubbed her palms on her skirt in an effort to control her edginess. This conversation was doing nothing for her already high strung nerves.
"Then I'll try and stop disappointing you," Quinn said softly.
Rachel froze as a warm hand pressed over hers. Fingers curled around it, coaxing it over before settling snugly against her palm. She forgot how to breathe.
"You don't mean that."
"Please, Quinn, stop."
"You're hurting me."
"I'm not; I'm being very gentle."
Oh, Barbra! Just the idea of Quinn wanting to be gentle with her . . . She had to grit her teeth and remember all of the pain and humiliation of the last few weeks, the last few years, to stay on track.
"I mean emotionally."
"Since when has that ever stopped me?"
"Do what I'm asking." Quinn pushed the box across the desk again with her free hand.
"No!" She pushed it back with her own free hand.
A thumb brushed softly over her knuckles, "Yes!"
While her brain was screaming at her to wrench her hand away, Rachel's body totally refused to give up this contact. She tentatively squeezed Quinn's fingers even as she pushed the box back again.
Quinn's eyes closed briefly at the firmer contact of their hands. "Berry, do as you're told." She pushed the box back.
"Or else what?" Rachel pushed it back again. "You'll make my life a living hell?"
"No, I'll just never do this again." She squeezed her hand to show what this was and pushed the handkerchiefs back to her side of the desk.
"Why would I care?" Rachel's heart was beating way too hard in her chest. If she went to the nurse now she could definitely get away with being sent home sick.
"Because you do."
"No, I don't! Stop trying to make me!"
Rachel was about to push the box the other way again but a much larger, masculine hand plucked it from the top of the desk instead.
"While I'm happy I could bring you two together; my class is not the place to be exchanging your one month anniversary gifts."
Both she and Quinn looked up in surprise at Mr. Laxforth as he stood above them, holding the box of handkerchiefs. As the laughter at his comment filtered into their ears Quinn snatched her hand away and glared at her.
Rachel glared right back, daring her.
Quinn didn't disappoint on this occasion. "I kept trying to tell the little freak I didn't want her stupid present. Can I please sit somewhere else from now on?"
Mr. Laxforth smiled as he walked away. "No. Get back on with your worksheets."
It took a while for the chuckles to die down and Quinn kept her head studiously focused on her work until they had. Rachel was pleased because it let her off of the hook Quinn had been dangling her on during their conversation.
After about ten minutes, Quinn murmured, "I hope you're happy. I just lost the handkerchiefs completely now."
"Yes, Quinn," she began sarcastically. "I am extremely happy you taunted me to the point of losing your only respite. It makes me giddy with joy. Can we just focus on going through the worksheets together now please?"
"Answer your own damn questions, Stubbles!"
Rachel just looked at her; she couldn't even summon the necessary emotion for a good glare. Quinn Fabray was mystifying. Maybe it was baby hormone mood swings? Or, more likely, it was just Quinn being Quinn. Either way it just made it clearer that Quinn really had only been interested in getting her chemical fix to assuage her morning sickness, and now that it was denied she was resorting back to her usual unpleasant self.
She set about answering her own questions and, to her surprise, they weren't too difficult. There was a few she had to leave blank, probably because she'd been passing or reading a note during the necessary paragraph but for most of them she could at least hedge around a decent answer.
Quinn had already finished and Rachel had nearly finished when the next mutter came.
"I don't know what to do to fix this."
She didn't take her eyes from her page as she muttered back, "Fix what?"
The bell for the end of class rang and Quinn gathered her books and walked away.
Mercedes and Kurt slushied Santana between third and fourth period and then ran away before she'd stopped wiping it from her eyes.
Rachel watched from further down the hall, a delighted smile on her face at seeing her spitting ice chips. Until, that was, Santana cleared her vision enough to focus right on her.
She must have known Rachel hadn't thrown it, she was at least twenty feet away after all, but that didn't stop Santana from growling out,
"Soon as I get you alone, Manhands, I'm going to pull every hair out of your head one by fucking one!"
Quinn was watching nonchalantly from the sidelines, smirking just a little at the threat.
Rachel gave her a cold look as she walked past to her next class.
Lunch had just started and Quinn was at her locker with Santana and Brittany. Rachel was at hers too, just a few lockers down, with Tina and Mercedes. Maybe her lecture the day before about protecting Rachel had actually sunk in.
Santana and Brittany were talking about a party scheduled for that weekend but she wasn't paying much attention. She was still smarting over what had happened in American Lit. How dare Berry not just do as she say? How dare she make Quinn work for it? And she had worked for it, hard, and Rachel still hadn't given in!
What else could she do?
She heard Mercedes say, "Okay, see you in a minute, girl."
And Tina say, "C-c-call us if you need us." While holding her cell phone up, before they both walked away.
They were just leaving her? When Santana and Brittany, and okay herself, were right there? Were they idiots?
"I'll catch up with you in just a second," Rachel promised them, overly brightly
Yeah, Rachel knew how fake they were. That just made it hurt more that she trusted them over her.
The hall was emptying as everyone left the area to go to lunch but Rachel was still busy inside her locker. Quinn willed her to leave right now. Her telepathy left a lot to be desired apparently and the worst happened.
Santana hadn't been as into the conversation with Brittany as she'd seemed. "Okay, here's our chance."
"Our chance for what?" Quinn asked innocently. "Hey, Britt, are you hungry? I'm starving."
"Is that because you're eating for two now?"
She tensed at the question but forced herself to respond amiably. "Possibly. Shall we go and eat?"
"Yeah, I'm hungry. San, are you coming?"
Santana was single-minded. "You two go ahead. I've got a Berry to crush."
"She didn't even throw the slushie!" Quinn blurted before she could stop herself.
"But she ordered it."
"How do you know that?"
Santana wasn't listening and just a few seconds later she had Rachel by the arm and was dragging her away.
"Hey! Hey! Let me go! Where are you taking me?"
Quinn stayed where she was, beside Brittany who was now looking in her locker like she couldn't remember why she'd opened it.
"Do I have Math or Chemistry next?"
"You have Geography next."
"Oh. Yeah. Thanks, Q."
Santana was dragging Rachel into the nearest bathroom.
"B, can I borrow your phone?"
"Sure." Brittany smiled, handing it over without question.
Quinn reached in and grabbed the Geography book from the locker. "Here you go. Can you do me another favor?"
"Can you go to the lunch room right now?"
"Sure, I was going to do that anyway as soon as Santana comes back."
"No, I mean right now."
"It's Tuesday, hamburger day. One of us needs to go and save a table before they're all gone and Santana's busy and I have to make a call."
Brittany frowned, either at the ridiculous idea that they wouldn't get a table or at the thought of being surrounded by hamburgers and not being able to eat one, but she nodded anyway, "Okay."
As soon as Brittany was walking in the opposite direction Quinn, with a racing pulse and a fast, nervous stride, made her way towards the bathroom.
Rachel was already pinned against the wall and Santana's fist was poised to strike.
"Starting without me?" she asked casually.
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