xxii.

It is strategically planned. Every single thing – to exactly when he smiles, to the moment he pulls the book down to see her face, to the moment he says: "Jesse Saint James". In fact, he even planned her reaction which is almost spot on – she does blush and introduce herself, but what Jesse didn't expect was the slight flash of distrust in her eyes right before she shakes his hand. He shrugs it off and heads to the piano, singing Lionel Riche with her. Her voice is a little off, a little too high, a little too pitchy. But the emotion in her voice is enough to make her sound perfect to him.

xxiii.

Rachel Berry is slightly crazy.

She's loud and obnoxious and sometimes rude, but she's very talented and Jesse admires her because in a way she's his female counterpart – except not really the counter, because she's just like him and it sort of hurts. She talks a lot about being a star, and Jesse listens, at first annoyed but then slightly intrigued (don't tell anyone) because she is so like Shelby.

A few days after he meets her they're sitting in her kitchen. Rachel's studying and Jesse is watching her, smiling slightly at how much she's concentrating. He wonders if Shelby wants him to simply befriend her, or something more. Rachel has fallen for him – she fell for him the moment they sung in the music shop, but Jesse doesn't know this part of the plan. He figures that if she's already fallen for him then there isn't much he can do. She flings her pen down suddenly, always the diva, and stares straight at him and says: "I shouldn't associate with the enemy."

Jesse doesn't expect an outburst from her, especially while she's focusing on Spanish homework. He ignores the way his heart speeds up and how his brain tells him crap, she's figured you out! Instead he smirks and leans back in the chair slightly. He's Jesse Saint James right now, not Jesse. He's arrogant and too talented to be stuck in Ohio.

"I'm not your enemy, Rachel. I'm just someone who happens to be on a different team. Besides, it's not like I'm stealing set lists."

Rachel's mouth opens in horror. Wrong thing to say, obviously.

"You … you're here for the set list?"

"… I think I just said I wasn't here for that, Rachel. I like you. Even if you are 'the enemy', as you put it. Now get back to your homework!"

Rachel smiles at him and the crisis is averted. Jesse ignores the feeling in his stomach that feels a lot like guilt.

xxiv.

"So who's Rachel?" Grace asks on Saturday, walking into Jesse's bedroom with his phone in hand. She's obviously reading his texts, because Jesse has been careful about Grace finding out about Shelby's mission, or about Rachel at all.

"I'm pretty sure that's my phone." Jesse responds, standing and attempting to grab it. Grace is too quick and ducks under his arm, eyes scanning every text.

"Grace! That's really none of your" Jesse grabs the phone in triumph and finishes: "business."

"So she's someone you need to keep a secret, right? Meaning she's either someone you think I won't like, someone you shouldn't be with or both."

Jesse wonders when Grace became Sherlock Holmes, and hurriedly puts a password on his phone that she won't guess very quickly.

"Or neither. Maybe I just met her and want to wait before I know it's serious before you meet her." He congratulates himself for the lie and watches Grace carefully. Finally, after a few seconds, she nods.

"I will meet her though."

It was bad enough lying to Rachel, but he can't tell Grace the truth either. She's a better person than him; she'd tell Shelby to go away, that she wouldn't hurt someone else just for Shelby's praise. But Jesse isn't like Grace.

So Jesse takes that as a warning.

xxv.

Rachel stands in front of him, anger in her eyes. She's shaking slightly as she straightens her posture, trying to reduce the size difference.

"I have to ask you something, and I need you to tell me the truth because if you don't there will be consequences. Because if I give myself to you and it turns out you're just playing me … I might die. Not literally, but emotionally. It'll be the kind of heartbreak that girls like me hold for the rest of their lives."

Jesse wants to tell himself that she's being a diva, but the way her eyes shine and the way her hands are shaking prove otherwise. He pushes down all feelings of guilt and laughs, inching closer so he can hold her arm gently.

"You're more of a drama queen than I am." He says, but she doesn't look like she's giving up with the I-might-die thing, and he's pretty sure that's not the road Shelby wants him to go down. So he steps back and holds out his hand.

"Hi, I'm Jesse. The guy who would never hurt you."

It works, as predicted. She smiles and falls into his arms. He holds her close and tries not to fall like she has, but then she kisses him and something changes. He knows this isn't a good thing – the way his body instantly relaxes against hers, and he can see Shelby at the side, a smirk on her face. So he closes his eyes and deepens the kiss, ignoring the way his stomach flips and his brain screams that this is so wrong.

And he knows this is all going to crash around him, that he'll break her heart and she'll crumble into pieces. But something about the way she looks at him, with adoration in her eyes, just makes him feel wanted for something other than his talent.

So he holds her close to prevent them both falling even deeper than they have already, and hopes this all works out in the end.

xxvi.

Finn is a problem.

Jesse watches them perform Hello Goodbye, sees the way Finn looks at her. Something has happened between them, because Rachel seems to be avoiding him, or at least making an effort to try and move out of his way. But then, if he looks deeper, he can see the way Rachel hesitates before looking away. The way their voices harmonise.

And then Rachel walks off at the end of the song, before anybody else even moves. Jesse knows that Finn is even more of a problem than he previously thought, and takes pride in knowing that Rachel's voice harmonises with his more than it ever will with Finns.

So he stands up and sneaks out of the auditorium, heading straight to where he knows Rachel will be, trying to ignore the reaction in his stomach that feels like jealousy.

xxvii.

"You're going to tell me what the hell is happening, Jesse, and you are going to tell right now."

Grace is standing in front of him, clutching the paper Jesse knows is his acceptance letter to William McKinley. He doesn't bother to look innocent, instead taking the letter from her and thinking of what to say.

"Don't you dare lie to me, Jess. I've had enough of that from Dad, and you know it."

Jesse avoids her gaze because she's right and he's lying again. He wonders when exactly he went from telling Grace everything to hiding it all.

"Rachel is a member of New Directions. You know that our relationship was pretty much doomed from the start."

It hurts Jesse to know that this part is the truth – that even if he did (does) like Rachel, nothing could ever really happen. If (when) she finds out why Jesse is befriending her, she'll never want to see him again.

"So you decide to move to her school? Are you insane? You've known this girl for a few weeks and suddenly you're switching schools, switching everything, just to be with her? This isn't a romance novel, Jesse. This is just a disaster waiting to happen!"

A disaster he doesn't want to happen but, inevitably, will.

"I asked for the truth, Jesse. I know you, even if you have changed. You wouldn't drop Vocal Adrenaline, especially not for a girl. So when you want to tell me the truth, you know where to find me. But this is all going to blow up in your face – and you deserve to tell Rachel that."

Jesse wishes that Grace's fury makes him change his mind. He wishes that her words would convince him to tell Shelby he doesn't want to do this, or tell Rachel the truth.

He wishes that the anger behind Grace's sentences would make him realise how bad of a mistake he's making.

xxviii.

"This is Jesse. He's transferred from Carmel High and I hope you'll all give him a warm welcome."

This is the third time those words have been spoken, and Jesse still doesn't feel the least bit welcome. The history class he's standing in reacts as both his math and biology classes did – with hushed words and confused glances. He spies an empty seat and sits down, ignoring the slight huff of annoyance to his left.

"Isn't that the kid from Vocal Adrenaline?"

"I hear that he quit, apparently wasn't getting enough solos."

"Well I hear he got expelled."

Jesse rolls his eyes and doesn't say one thing the whole lesson.

After the lesson he hurries outside and comes face to face with Rachel. He grins (acting, of course) and pulls her into a hug. She walks with him along the corridor, the strange looks they get having little effect on Rachel other than the fact that she smiles brighter with every look.

"I love that we don't have to keep our relationship a secret anymore," Rachel says – a little louder than necessary, but Jesse never expected anything less.

He assumes the strange glances have less to do with their 'forbidden relationship' and more to do with the fact that Rachel has never been popular and now she's dating a senior.

Jesse doesn't mention this though – just lets Rachel smile at every student and teacher they pass, keeping his arm around her shoulders.

xxix.

"She trusts me."

Jesse lets this revelation sink in as he sits beside Shelby in the auditorium. Rehearsal finished a few minutes ago and even though Shelby told him to transfer to William McKinley she won't let him practice with Vocal Adrenaline. Jesse knows she really doesn't want to mess up the second chance she has with Rachel.

"I don't … I don't want to break that trust." He continues softly, avoiding Shelby's gaze. "I'm scared that if I betray her she'll break entirely."

He thinks back to Rachel's questioning before he moved schools – the way she insisted that she'd emotionally die if he was playing her, the way her voice wavered slightly as she looked him in the eye.

"I'm not your therapist, Jesse. Rachel is a strong girl – she's my daughter, and you know how much this means to me. She'll never find out you were only there for me."

What if I'm not there for you anymore?

xxx.

Jesse decides that the students in New Directions have a lot more heart and emotion than Vocal Adrenaline. Not that they're better, because Vocal Adrenaline are obviously superior, but Jesse can't ever recall seeing such smiles on his team members faces as he does when he watches New Directions perform.

So he's not surprised that underneath the surface there's tension and jealously. When the Glist comes out he knows who the culprit is, even if Mr Schue and the rest of the Glee Club don't. But it's not Quinn he's concerned about - it's Rachel (it always is). When she reads the Glist her smile falls and her hands shake slightly before she puts on her mask of pretence (I'm fine).

The mask does not work on him because, a lot of the time, he wears one of his own.

Jesse knows that she'll take this badly – that she'll try and 'fix' her unpopularity once more. He waits on edge for her inevitable crash, which eventually comes in the form of:

"I'm thinking of doing a music video for Run Joey Run."

He doesn't expect that – can't really understand why she'd pick that song, nor why she wanted to make a video. But he nods and says sure; he'll be in it.

Obviously he doesn't expect to watch Puck and Finn singing too. And it hurts but it shouldn't and he's just falling deeper and deeper into the spiral of never ending Rachel Berry.

xxxi.

He misses her.

It's another sign that he's falling (fallen) for her and he hates that he has a weakness. Vacation was meant to be fun, but all he can see is Rachel's tears and all he can smell is her apple shampoo.

Jesse wants to call her, or at least send her a text to ask how her Spring Break is going, but before he can the bitter hurt comes back to the surface and he hears the chorus of 'Run Joey Run' in his ears.

Grace spends Spring Break with then – adamant that she wouldn't be left behind. It takes hardly half an hour before everyone notices something is clearly wrong with Jesse. Vocal Adrenaline tries to cheer him up (Jesse figures his sister forced them into it) by going to a concert and then Grace drags him go-karting, but it's obvious even to the bored teenager at the repair shop that Jesse is somewhat depressed. Grace confronts him, asking what the hell has happened and asking if Rachel is alright, but apart for the flinch she sees when Rachel's name is mentioned she receives no response.

"This isn't like you, Jess. What's happened to you?"

Jesse wishes he could answer that question without the scent of apple shampoo trailing behind him wherever he goes.

So run, Joey run, Joey run.

xxxii.

Shelby grows even more impatient over Spring Break.

"It's been a long time, Jesse, and Rachel still has no idea who I am."

Jesse wants to tell her that if she wants this so badly then she can go and screw up her relationship with her daughter, but instead he replies that he's trying, and if she wants this done right she has to give him a chance.

Though he still hasn't seen, heard from or contacted Rachel since their sort of break-up and he's not sure what to expect, let alone how to bring up the subject of her mother.

He wonders when this will blow up in his face and hopes that Shelby takes most of the impact.

xxxiii.

The cassette Shelby hands him looks too small for the destruction Jesse is afraid it will cause. She informs him that it's harmless, but the writing Mother to Daughter does not seem like a small happy message in any way. Jesse wonders why, even now, he still won't tell Shelby that he doesn't want to do this.

He tricks himself into thinking that finding Shelby will be good for Rachel – she obviously wants to meet her mother, and this gives her an opportunity.

But what if it goes wrong?

Jesse knows Shelby. He knows that when she finds an older Rachel, she'll realise that what she wanted to gain all along, a young daughter – the baby she gave away, doesn't exist anymore. Instead, in her place, is a talented teenager who wants more than anything to perform, to finally be loved for her talent.

So Jesse takes the cassette tape and knows that he has to do this. Because if Rachel finally meets her mother than her questions can finally be asked. Even if they're the wrong answers.

xxxiv.

He knows where she'll be – it's Wednesday, three forty-five, so he heads to the ballet studio with determination, knowing that despite everything Rachel will still keep on schedule.

She's there (of course), twirling even though she looks tired. He watches in the doorway, not wanting to interrupt because he knows how important her schedule is.

"I can see you, you know."

He smiles because it's the same Rachel, her tone accusing and hard.

"Hi." He replies, stepping into the studio. She glares at him but returns the greeting. She looks nervous, even if she is trying to hide it.

Jesse wonders when he became such an expert in Rachel's body language.

"What were you rehearsing?"

It seems to be too much of a personal question because she hurries to her bag, cutting her lesson short by ten minutes to get away from him. Jesse pretends he doesn't care as he waits for her answer.

She mumbles about dreams and performing on Broadway and he smiles because this territory is so familiar.

"That's not a dream. A dream is something that fills up the emptiness inside. The one thing that you know if it came true, all the hurt would go away. You singing 'Don't Cry for Me Argentina' in front of a sold out crowd isn't a fantasy – its inevitability."

And the gap between them closes as he wraps his arms around her, smiling at the way this is so familiar and right.

"I thought you'd never come back." She whispers into his shirt, like she's telling her best kept secret to him.

"I miss all your drama." He replies, and then, quietly "I'd never leave."

He wishes it was the truth, but knows that it's far from it.

Later, as they walk down the hall, he asks what her dream is and hopes she won't say anything like –

"My mom. I would just … like to know who she is. Is it wrong to miss someone I've never met?"

He hopes she doesn't see his face fall as he realises this is it.

"No, it's not wrong. Let's check it out – if this is your dream then I'm not going to stop until it happens."

Rachel's dream coming true leading to his dream being crushed, he thinks as he watches her face lit up.

A dream for a dream.

xxxv.

It's too easy. The way she leads him into the Rachel Berry museum with a smile on her face and her heart on her sleeve as she takes down the boxes labelled 'baby'. He looks on, fascinated at how young she was when she won her first competitions – how happy she looks holding her first trophy. She places the two boxes on her bed and starts to sort through them, and Jesse holds the tape in his hand, waiting for the perfect moment. He gently places it into the box and looks away hurriedly, focusing his eyes on a picture of six year old Rachel, cheeks flushed and arms around her fathers.

He counts to five before once more picking up the tape, faking innocence.

"What's this?" He asks, and pretends that he doesn't feel the least bit guilty when Rachel reads the writing excitedly.

She doesn't listen to the tape, and Jesse ignores the relief he feels – that he still has a few hours, maybe days, before she finally finds out who her mother is, before she leaves him.

So when she finally listens to the tape, and tells him excitedly that her mother is the Vocal Adrenaline coach, he smiles and hugs her, pretending he's happy when really his heart is sinking.

xxxvi.

She screams at him so loudly that Jesse would be surprised if he didn't expect it.

"I hate you!" She yells, striking him across the cheek. It stings long after she leaves him. "You are a liar."

He lets her cry and shout for five minutes before she collapses onto the stage, sobbing. He gently picks her up, wary of protest, but she doesn't move away from his hold.

"Did you ever love me? Or was that an act too?" She whispers into his shirt.

Jesse hesitates, unsure what to tell her– if it would change anything. But he's lied enough and Rachel deserves the truth, for once. And it's not the declaration he thought and hoped it would be, but he tells her anyway.

"Yes." He whispers, cradling her for the last time. "I love you."

xxxvii.

Vocal Adrenaline twists the facts. They see Rachel as the enemy and suddenly Jesse realises that they want revenge.

"She hurt you, and you either hurt her back or you're out."

Jesse thinks of Adam, of Tony, of freshman year.

"You can't do that. Rachel didn't do anything and if you kick me out you have no chance at sectionals, let alone regionals."

"We'll find someone. If you don't do this, then you won't have a chance. We'll make sure everyone knows who you are. For all the wrong reasons."

Jesse takes the egg and feels the sudden sense of déjà vu wash over him. He doesn't have a choice – not really. Rachel already hates him, and singing is the only thing he has left.

So he nods, angry at them, angry at Shelby and angry at himself for ever agreeing to this in the first place.

And as Rachel's tears slide down her face along with the egg yolk, he realises that everything has crashed down around him, and there's not one thing he can do to stop it.

xxxviii.

He sits on the stage alone, wondering where the hell it all went wrong.

He doesn't hear someone sit beside him, but he knows it's Grace, even before she entwines their fingers in the one gesture he'll always hang on to. It would be funny if he didn't feel guilty. He's the older twin and her brother, and surely these two factors balance out to him protecting Grace, not vice versa? But Grace never did stick to rules. Not since she beat up those bullies way back in fourth grade.

"You screwed up, Jess," she says, voicing what he's been thinking ever since he saw the look on Rachel's face. She doesn't know how much he's ruined everything.

Jesse wants to protest, tell her it's not just his fault, that Rachel should have know, damn it. But what he actually says when he opens his mouth is "I know".

"I didn't mean for this to happen," he finally whispers, his voice frail. He feels horrible, weak, vulnerable, but all he can see is Rachel's eyes, shining with unshed tears. "I didn't mean to hurt her, Grace."

"It'll be okay, Jesse. Rachel will forgive you."

Jesse doesn't tell her to stop lying.

xxxix.

He phones her up three days after 'the disaster'.

"I'm sorry, Rachel," he whispers, but he knows she hears.

"I'm sorry, too. Sorry for believing it was actually real." And then he hears a dial tone before he can protest, before he can tell her that somewhere between the fake and the reality, he really did fall for her - did love her.

He stands still for a while, and pretends that the phone lost the connection. It's easier to deal with than Rachel finally giving up on him.

xxxx.

Three weeks after winning Regionals, Jesse gets punched in the face.

It was bound to happen at some point, but Jesse just didn't expect violence from Finn Hudson. Even as he cradled his broken nose he felt like laughing because this is what it comes down too.

"Don't you dare hurt her again."

Jesse doesn't quite understand how he would ever have another chance in which he could hurt her, because Rachel didn't answer his only call and never replied to his two texts. He gave up with the little dignity he had left and decided that he'll see her on Broadway in a few years, maybe that would be enough (it wouldn't).

"There won't be an again, Hudson." He finally replies, his voice thick with pain. Jesse blames in on the broken nose.

"You don't deserve her, Jesse." Are the last words Finn says before walking away.

Jesse wonders what the hell that means and watches the blood drip from his fingers, bright red against the darkness.

xxxxii.

Two months later Jesse gets a text that could only be from Rachel. Despite deleting her number from his phone a few days ago the words could only be from one person, and they sting.

Parking lot, 7pm.

He goes, of course. To show that he's sorry and to deal with the humiliation from her and the rest of New Directions like he should have done all long. Except it's just Rachel there, alone. He walks up to her and neither of them say anything for a long time. It hurts to see her so vulnerable, to see what has happened to her because of him. But Jesse knows that he has to wait for her to say what she needs to, to give her the chance he never gave in the first place.

"You broke my heart."

Jesse flinches, but lets her continue.

"You hurt me and it took me a long time to even think about forgiving you, Jesse. I warned you that I would emotionally break and you still went on with your twisted plot. But I" she takes a breath, preparing herself for the words she can't take back "love you, and I am sorry about your broken nose. But I'm not sorry about the slashed tires because you deserve that. So I forgive you, but if you ever, ever hurt me again then I won't hesitate to break more than your nose. Or get Finn and Puck to do it for me."

He nods, trying to mask the relief he feels wash over him. She smiles tentatively and he gently pulls her closer so that she fits in his arms.

"I'm not lying, Jesse. I am perfectly capable of destroying your future career."

He smiles softly, taking in the scent of apple shampoo. "I'm sorry, Rachel."

He feels her nod and doesn't say anything more – just holds her tighter in a promise that he'll never let her go.

xxxxii.

Rachel Berry is slightly crazy.

She's loud and obnoxious and a little bit rude, but she's Jesse's.

(And that's good enough for him).

fin.