Pairing: Rachel Berry/Sam Evans
Word count: 9,351
Spoilers: Through 2x16 (Original Song).
Note: Set during Original Song and just after. Written for the glee_rare_pairs exchange for lynnearlington. Posted in two parts due to length.
Summary: Rachel’s running after Finn. Sam’s running after Quinn. Eventually, they realize they’re running side by side.
She makes lists of things she knows are absolutely true, lists that always begin and end with the root of Rachel’s life: her talent. They’re all titled Things That I, Rachel Berry, Know Are Absolutely True, and she prints them carefully in the notebook she usually reserves for history homework. This is Rachel Berry history, though, or will be, some day, so it makes sense to preserve it between drafts of an excellent paper on the Great Fire of London.
I will always love Finn Hudson, she writes. Rhetorical questions are questions you’re not supposed to answer, even if you're bursting to respond. If science could merge Patti LuPone’s voice with Glenn Close’s acting, it would create the perfect Norma Desmond. Hands are the window to the soul.
Rachel has strong feelings about that last one, in particular.
She’s heard the original version more times than she can count, about eyes being windows to the soul. Eyes, of course, communicate many things, especially when said eyes are damp with barely-suppressed emotion. Eyes say a lot even when they’re barely visible – for example, when they’re hidden under a hypothetical person’s rapidly fluttering eyelids, while said person is attempting to get Finn Hudson’s attention. (It’s definitely not this hypothetical person’s fault, by the way, that Finn isn’t sufficiently fluent in eye language to understand the emotional message being communicated.)
Eyes, though, don’t really tell someone’s story, or their desires, not in the way that hands do. For example, there’s a reason she’s watched the YouTube video of Barbra’s 1967 “Cry Me A River” performance in Central Park at least a dozen times. It’s not only that it’s important for Rachel to be familiar with even the more minor moments of Barbra’s early career, if she’s going to use her as a loose template. And it’s not just her phrasing that makes Rachel sigh with delight, although Barbra’s phrasing, as always, is extraordinary. It’s the controlled, deliberate movement of Barbra’s hands that Rachel keeps returning to, again and again. The way she laces her fingers together during the quieter phrases is especially moving. It’s as if she’s trying to contain her voice from getting too big by sealing off her extremities. Rachel can understand that impulse.
It’s hands, not eyes, that give away Finn and Quinn's secret relationship.
They’re very subtle, Finn and Quinn, and they apparently know enough not to moon at each other in public, even though lately they’re sitting together during afternoon rehearsal more and more often. Their connection is clearly too overwhelming for them to ignore. Rachel remembers a time, not that long ago, when it was just like that between her and Finn. Did Quinn watch the two of them, at the beginning of the school year? Did she struggle against “prodigious waves of despair,” like Rachel’s doing now? (That line’s from a romance novel she's read recently, The Well-Endowed Baron, and thinking of it never fails to make her shiver with recognition.)
She hopes Quinn struggled. The wish makes her feel a tiny bit guilty for its meanness, but not guilty enough to shove it out of her mind. She wants Quinn to know what it feels like to stand on the margins and starve for the middle, more than anything.
Rachel hasn’t had more than suspicion to justify her sneaking glances, although that anxious welt in her stomach’s been enough to keep her looking. It’s not until the week leading up to regionals, though, that she gets her first real confirmation they're back together. The two of them are in the hallway when she catches them, Quinn snaking her arm through Finn’s as they walk away from Rachel. They don’t see her.
Quinn’s hand flexes and curls next to Finn’s bicep with the smug certainty of a girl who’s snagged a prize.
“Any new ideas about songs for regionals, guys?” Mr. Schue asks them at rehearsal that afternoon, tapping his dry-erase marker against the top of the piano. “Right now I’m specifically looking for material that doesn’t reference body parts. Although I’m sure we’re all very grateful to Santana and Puck for their contributions last time.”
Rachel’s about to raise her hand to let Mr. Schue know that she’s in the process of writing an ode to her microphone, but then out of the corner of her eye, she sees Quinn: Quinn stroking the sleeve of Finn’s shirt, turning towards him, her fingers lingering over the fabric like they’re hesitant to let go.
“Rachel? Is everything okay?”
It figures Mr. Schue’s actually noticed her exactly at the one moment when she’d rather be ignored. She looks for the words to tell him that yes, everything’s all right, because why wouldn’t it be, but Quinn’s still touching Finn. It makes Rachel want to cry, and it makes her want to physically force them away from each other, and it makes her want to undo her mistakes with Finn like you’d rip away rows of knitting for a single slipped stitch.
“I,” she says, trying not to stare at the two of them, and failing. Her voice wobbles. “There’s –”
“Mr. Schue?” Sam cuts in, too quickly, and she shuts her mouth on the sob that’s threatening to escape, grateful for his interruption. “I’ve been thinking some more about a song.”
“Well, great, Sam!” Mr. Schue sounds enthusiastic, and maybe even a little relieved, which is slightly offensive. Of course, Rachel doesn’t want Mr. Schue watching her while she falls apart, but he really shouldn’t be so easily distracted away from her obvious anguish. “Glad to hear it. What’ve you got?”
“I don’t have anything yet actually written yet, but maybe I could do a song about a world where everyone gets along, and nobody, you know, cheats on anyone.” Sam glances quickly at Finn and Quinn. “In this world it’s cool if your skin is purple, or if you have scales, or if you're awesome at laser tag, or even if you still get out your old Lego set every once in a while.” He trails off. “Like I said, not really a whole idea yet.”
“Legos.” Santana rolls her eyes. “You're literally five years old.”
“Sam’s super developed for his age, though,” Brittany comments. “I thought he was at least eight.”
“Your song sounds, uh, promising, Sam, but I’m really looking for a more substantive offering right now. Something important, you guys. Something that’ll make all those people in the auditorium sit up and listen to what we have to say.”
While Lauren’s volunteering a careless suggestion in her deadpan voice, Rachel steals another glance at Sam. He’s back to watching Finn and Quinn now, and she realizes that she’s not the only one who understands what hands can show. The expression on his face is the exact one she’s trying to keep off her own.
Rachel usually stays for at least fifteen extra minutes after rehearsal, to try and prolong the warm feeling she gets from being surrounded by her teammates. She suspects she’s not the only one who sometimes isn’t ready to let go, because she’s never alone. The makeup of the stay-behinds always changes, though; Rachel’s the only constant.
Today, Santana’s one of the stragglers, still loudly trying to convince Mr. Schue that her highly unsuitable – yet, Rachel admits, surprisingly appealing – ode to Sam’s lips is by far the best option they’ve got for regionals. Mr. Schue’s wearing that weird, scrunched expression he usually only gets around Ms. Sylvester, and he’s doing the thing where he repeats himself and somehow still manages not to say a lot, probably in a passive attempt to try and get Santana to leave. Rachel wonders, sometimes, whether Mr. Schue’s ever considered trying a new approach with the difficult people in his life. If he ever asks her for advice, she’ll recommend an emotional self-defense class. Like the one her dads enrolled her in the summer before high school, to prepare her for the harassment they wisely predicted she’d encounter.
“‘Trouty Mouth’ is a total crowd pleaser,” Santana’s insisting, while Mr. Schue clears his throat. “The song’s universal. Everyone wants on some of that. I mean, Julia Roberts is way popular. Mick Jagger? The guy’s like, eighty, and he’s still got a permanent vacation home in Happy Hairy Valley, probably because those freaking lips of his look like split baby inner tubes.”
“Santana, that’s not appropriate,” Mr. Schue tries, weakly, but she’s on a verbal rampage, drowning out his protests with a blitzkrieg of evidence.
There’s Mike and Tina over in the corner, too, Mike showing Tina a few new steps he’s clearly been practicing. Tina looks a little bored, Rachel notices. She’s never looked bored around Mike before that Rachel remembers. How in the world could she be bored with a sweet, affectionate guy like Mike? Even if he is a little too single-mindedly focused on his dancing. People should be well-rounded, and she makes a mental note to remind Mike of that fact before it’s too late for him and Tina. He’d appreciate her advice, she’s sure.
Sam’s staying behind too, apparently waiting for Santana, and he’s leaning over to shuffle through his backpack as Rachel takes the seat next to his.
“Thanks,” she tells him, in a low voice, as he sits up again, turning towards her. She smooths her hands over her skirt. “I realize that your song idea was actually you attempting to distract everyone from seeing that I was upset. It was very gallant of you, Sam.”
“Oh, hey, it’s cool.” He seems suddenly awkward. It’s odd, but Rachel feels a little protective of him. The way you’d feel towards a little brother, she supposes. “You looked like you needed help. But I wasn’t just making up a bunch of stuff. I’ve actually been thinking about trying to write a song for regionals.”
“You have? About – purple skin and Legos?” They don’t seem like ideal topics for a song – not as personal or meaningful as her hair accessories or her lamentable fraternal solitude – but if they’re what Sam knows, she can understand the attraction.
“I used to, uh, set lyrics to music, back in the day,” Sam confesses, and looks away, clearly embarrassed. “I wrote these lyrics about a girl I knew at our sister school one time, when I was a freshman, and I did it while listening to the soundtrack for The Phantom Menace, you know, the part where Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan battle Darth Maul? It’s called ‘Duel of the Fates.’”
Rachel doesn’t remember that part of the movie, and tells Sam so. She’s never been a big Star Wars fan. Too little romance; also, if you’re going to tell your viewers that wookies pull arms out of sockets, you should really deliver on that. It’s only fair.
“Well, there’s a chorus in the background going – ” He raises a hand for emphasis as he sings the notes. “Korah! Ma-ta! Korah! Ra-ta-mah! And the girl I was writing the song about, her name was actually Cora like in the soundtrack, but she spelled it C-O-R-A. It was kind of a perfect coincidence. She didn’t see how neat it was when I performed it for her, though. I don’t think she liked my lightsaber dance either.”
“That’s awful,” Rachel says, sincerely. “It sounds as though you put a lot of yourself into the song. Any girl in her right mind would love to be serenaded.” She almost adds by you, but thinks better of it at the last second. It might send a confusing message, and Rachel doesn’t want to imply something she doesn’t mean.
“Yeah.” He slumps in his seat. “I thought that about Quinn, too. When I serenaded her. I thought she’d love it, except I figured she’d appreciate Justin Bieber’s music more than anything I could come up with. Seems like most girls do. I guess the real problem was that she just didn’t like me enough.”
“But everyone likes you,” she says, trying as hard as she can not to sound like she’s asking him for pointers. “You’re an extremely likable person, Sam. You don’t even need to work at it.”
He really looks at her, then, for the first time, and Rachel has a strange feeling this conversation is going to be unexpectedly informative. Sam’s always seemed like a easy book to her, the kind where you never think seriously about reading past the first few pages because you’ve figured out exactly what’s going to happen. That expression on his face suggests she might have to reconsider her assumption.
“That’s what you think?” he asks. “That it just comes easy to me, being popular?”
“Well.” It’s the wrong answer, she knows that by now, but she can’t give him another one without sounding disingenuous. “Yes. At least you make it look that way. Because you have great hair, and people seem to like great hair. And your well-defined abdominals – ” Her face heats, remembering the revealing costume he’d worn for Rocky Horror. “And you’re an athlete. Also, you seem to be able to think about others a lot. That’s an admirable trait.”
Sam’s blushing, too, only it’s more obvious on him than Rachel knows it is on her. He’s very pale. “It’s a lot of work,” he tells her, shuffling a nervous foot against the floor. “I mean, it’s cool that you think I make it look easy, but it isn’t. I work out a lot to get my body the way it is. My hair is really – ” He pauses, looking for the right description. “It’s on purpose. And I don’t actually think about other people that much.”
“You think about Quinn, though,” she says, softly, even though she knows they’re talking about different kinds of thinking. “You think about getting her back.”
Sam looks as though he wants to ask her how she’s figured it out, and so she adds, “I do that, too. With Finn. All the time. I have schemes. Currently, three schemes. Right now none of them seem very plausible.” She doesn’t tell him about the scheme-that-isn’t-a-scheme: the fantasy where she wins regionals for them, singing lead to her adoring crowd, and Finn is so overcome with lustful admiration that he kisses her, right there on stage, right in front of Mr. Schuester and Quinn and everyone else. One of those old-fashioned, dramatic kisses where you’re swung around and dipped. There’s applause for them, from all the competing teams on stage; the audience, too. She can almost feel the way his left hand cups the back of her neck and his right hand presses into the small of her back.
“I don’t have any schemes,” he says. “Just, I guess, I feel kinda bad. I miss her. Santana’s fun and all, when she stops making comments about my inflated mouth or how she wants to wash her clothes on my awesome stomach. Which doesn’t make sense, because I’m pretty sure she has a laundry machine at home. But she isn’t Quinn.”
Rachel feels a brief, unfamiliar stab of sympathy for Santana. She understands what it feels like to come in second best to Quinn Fabray.
“Sometimes I wish I was Quinn,” she blurts out, knowing she’s saying something she’ll regret later, but unable to stop herself. “I know it’s silly, because I’ve been blessed with so much talent, and I should just be grateful to be me. But Quinn’s extremely pretty, and people like her even though she’s not nice a lot of the time, just because she’s so pretty. Finn does, and Puck, and even you. You all still want to be with her.”
Sam seems to struggle with this, and she lets him.
“It’s because she’s pretty,” Rachel repeats, quietly. She won’t let herself sound bitter or sullen. She won’t. It’s an unattractive quality.
“No.” Sam stops, and his forehead wrinkles with the strain of reflection. “I mean, yeah, she’s really pretty. She’s gorgeous. But I could take care of Quinn when I was with her. I liked that, I liked taking care of her. It made me feel good. And it made her feel good. And I think making her feel good made me feel even better. That’s probably kind of dumb. Santana says sometimes that what comes out of my mouth sounds like undercooked dough.”
“It doesn’t,” she says, feeling a rush of charity towards him for actually having reasons that don’t have to do with Quinn’s attractiveness. “I mean, it doesn’t sound dumb at all. It sounds very smart. And Sam, Santana’s main area of knowledge is extreme, if admittedly tragic, self-denial, so I wouldn’t put much stock into her opinion.”
“Fine!” Santana yells, and they look at her, startled, while she stalks past Mr. Schue. He steps back just in time to let her by, mute with unsteady resolve. “Whatever, Charlie Brown. You obviously don’t know perfection when you see it. And, just so you know, when ‘Trouty Mouth’ charts on iTunes? None of those royalties go towards glee club. I needs me an indoor Jacuzzi.”
Sam stands up as Santana slams through the choir room door, waving her arms in the air. “I should follow her,” he explains, sounding sheepish. “I gotta calm her down before she tries something dumb like tagging Coach Sylvester’s office. But hey – thanks.”
“Sure,” she says, meaning it without fully understanding what she’s being thanked for. “You’re welcome.”
“I always guessed you were pretty cool, since Finn’s a cool guy when he’s not making my girlfriend cheat on me, and he liked you. But it’s nice to find out for sure.”
It isn’t the best compliment she’s ever received, or the most memorable, but it’s about her, not her singing or any of her other artistic endeavors. She wants to crush it to her, to carry it around, to write it on the inside of her arm: a cheat for when she needs a quick reminder that someone likes her company. Rachel Berry, pretty cool.
“You’re pretty cool too, Sam,” she tells him, and sure, it’s not the most original response, but at least she’s managed to keep the tide of gratitude she’s feeling out of her voice.
Sam smiles at her, bending down to grab his backpack, and he keeps his eyes trained on her as he reaches for the strap.
“It’s the hair,” he says, lightly. “People love the hair.”
Rachel wins regionals for them, and the funny thing is, she owes it partly to Quinn: to Quinn’s vitriol, which pushed the raw stuff of Rachel’s writing talent through her pen. Quinn won’t make the top of her award thank-you list any time soon, but Rachel can see herself referencing Quinn, down the road, in a response to an interview question about her unlikely origins in a mid-sized Midwestern town. I’d like to tell all the aspiring performers out there not to believe your detractors. You’re better than they are. Believe in your dreams. The interviewer wipes away tears.
It’s almost exactly like her fantasy, that amazing moment when they’re awarded first place, except Finn doesn’t grab her and kiss her in front of the entire audience, and she hadn’t exactly expected Ms. Sylvester to lay out the governor’s wife. Everything else, though, is accounted for. She’ll take it.
There’s embracing all around, after they head backstage with their massive trophy. Mr. Schue hugs her while cradling the trophy in one arm, and tonight she forgives him for his split attention; it’s his victory too, after all. Mercedes wraps her arms around her so tightly that Rachel, struggling for breath, has to hit her on the back to let go. Finn’s embrace is much less enthusiastic, his hands skimming her sides as he attempts to avoid touching the length of his body to hers.
“You were incredible,” he tells her, and she’ll never, ever be tired of hearing that from him. Finn could say that on a loop to her for the rest of her life, and she’d still ask him for more. Rachel exhales, slowly, looking at his chest, just a few inches from her face, and steps back before he lets go first.
Quinn finds her just as Rachel’s wandering backstage towards the changing room, still a little stunned with the haze of victory. They stop short in front of one another, more between them than the few feet of space.
Rachel considers making the move to embrace Quinn, in an attempt at temporary truce-making, but doesn’t, noticing her body language just in time. Quinn’s arms are wrapped tightly around her middle. The hug she might’ve given Rachel under other circumstances is apparently reserved for herself.
“Hey,” she says. Her voice is unsteady. “Congratulations.”
Rachel nods. “You, too.”
Quinn blinks at her, not wanting or able to answer Rachel’s comment, and abruptly turns, walking away. Rachel can see the way her fingers grip the side of her body, hands clutching at her body like she’s cold, or maybe holding something inside.
“Rachel,” someone else shouts, and behind her, at the door of the changing room, she sees Sam, grinning with easy joy. “We were so freaking awesome. I can’t believe how great I feel right now. I feel so great. Way better than I felt after sectionals, even."
She’s so pleased to have this new distraction from old histories – Sam’s turning out to be good at distracting her, she thinks – and she grins back at him, wanting the happiness on her face to mirror his. “We did it. We really did it. We’re going to nationals.”
“We did it,” he repeats, and rushes over to Rachel, drawing her into an excited hug. She squeals as he picks her up, spinning her around, dropping her back onto the floor. “I couldn’t see anyone, because the lights were so bright, but I could feel them, all that energy just coming at us from the audience. It was the best thing.”
“Ever?” she says, breathless, and his hands grip her upper arms firmly.
“Maybe not ever,” he amends. “But pretty close. I saw this thing on YouTube once with a bird who could sound exactly like a chainsaw and a car alarm. It was on that level of awesome, and that’s really saying something.”
There must be something in her expression that shows how honestly, sincerely pleased she is by the enthusiasm of his comparison, because he leans down and kisses her forehead. It’s a quick kiss. The press of his mouth on her skin isn’t romantic, exactly, but she’s suddenly warm everywhere.
“Sam,” she says, and tilts her face up towards him.
“Hey, so I didn't mean we sounded like a chainsaw or anything. I just meant we were as cool as that bird.”
Neither of them seem to know how to continue this conversation. Should Rachel favorably compare their glee club to the car alarm, in an attempt at making Sam feel better, since he seems to think he’s unfairly maligned them with the chainsaw association? It’s hard to know what to say when Sam’s still so close to her.
“I should change,” she blurts out, instead, trying to break through the small space they’ve created for themselves.
“Yeah.” He lifts his head, dropping his hands from her arms, and the abrupt movement lets Rachel know he’s just noticed what she’s felt. Maybe he’s feeling something, too. “This shirt is pretty itchy. What’s it made out of?”
“Um, cotton-poly blend? I think. Mr. Schue got the boys’ button-ups from the Discount Bin on Union Street. They were half-off. Apparently no one wears black in early spring.” She’s getting precariously close to babbling.
“Oh. That makes sense. Well,” he says, and the side of his mouth lifts in an awkward half-smile. “Uh, I guess I’ll see you at school?”
“You’ll actually see me on the bus in about half-an-hour,” Rachel counters, unable to stop herself from correcting him. “Unless I’m sitting in the back and you come in last and sit in the front, and don’t look in the back of the bus. Then you might not see me.”
“I’ll see you,” he tells her, and a promise that small shouldn’t send a little leap of pleasure through her. “You’re hard to miss.”