"It's a new year. A fresh start." Mr. Schuester began his opening lecture scanning the twelve faces in the choir room. "Last year was amazing and we grew so much, but it wasn't quiet enough. If we want to have any chance at winning this year and cementing ourselves as a legitimate club at McKinley, we are going to have to work harder than we ever imagine.
When you are on stage performing together, you are a unit, drawn together by the music, but off stage you slip away from each other. I want to solve that problem." The curly haired teacher turned his back and quickly shuffled through some papers on the piano while his students shuffled in their seats nervously.
"Now, I know there were a lot of personal issues last year that prevented us from becoming the cohesive group we need to be. I hope I'm correct in assuming we took this summer to grow from those experiences. And that brings me to our first assignment on the year. You will have partners."
"Bringing out the hat of fate again, Mr. Schue or do we get to pick this time?" Finn asked giving puppy dog eyes to the petite diva sitting next to him.
Brittany's eyes widened. "The duck…" Santana took the eager blonde's hand, smiling to herself.
"Neither. I've chosen for you." Mr. Schuester explained holding up a piece of paper with their names scribbled on it. "You are to pick a song which you can both relate to, sing it in front of the group, and then explain what it means to the other."
The group shrugged their shoulders.
"Sounds easy?" The teacher asked reacting to their uninterest. "Well, it's not going to be. This assignment is to pull you out of your comfort zone and force you to get to know one another. So without further a due, your partners: Santana, you are with Artie. Kurt, it's you and Mike. Mercedes with Brittany. Matt and Tina. Quinn with Rachel. And lastly, Puck with Finn."
The room fell silent only to erupt seconds later with twelve angry voices shouting incoherent protests of unfairness.
"Guys! Guys! This is why I am doing this. If we are going to become a team - a real team, we need to move past our past. I know this is going to be a challenge so it's not due next week. I'm giving you a lot of time because some of you honestly know nothing about each other."
"Mr. Schue, this isn't fair," Finn argued, throwing glares to Puck who shared the same look of disgust.
"I understand your reluctance. But this is how it is going to be this year. If we can't do this as a team, then we aren't going to do it at all. So that means anyone who chooses not to do the assignment will not be performing with us at Sectionals."
"Mr. Schuester, I believe that you are being a bit rash in your decisions."
"No, Rachel" the teacher interrupted. "I'm not. This is for your own good. We have already started to touch base with that unity. Now, we just need to work on the details. I know some of you may find this assignment easier than others, so as you chose your songs, let me know. That's all I wanted to say today. I told you this would be short. However, I want to give you some time now to get to know each other, or relearn one another. So…" He waved his hands indicating his desire for the students to mingle and find their partners.
"This so isn't fair." Finn complained looking to his girlfriend.
Her eyes were filled with sympathy for him but she brushed it away and beamed with her typical optimism. "It's not, no. However, think of this as a test of character, Finn. You may not have to forgive Noah for what he and Quinn did to you, but I believe you can find it within you to push past the reservations you have and prove to Mr. Schuester that we will rise to whatever challenge he creates in his good-intentioned mind despite how truly unfair they are."
His expression never faltered. She lessened her grin to a genuine smile and kissed him quickly on the lips.
"Do this for me then," she asked. "because there is no way I can perform on that stage without you. Please, just…try."
He lamented but stood from his seat, thrust is hands into his pockets, and trekked to the far end of the room. It was only then Rachel saw Quinn looking at her. The blonde was clad in her old Cheerio's uniform which made the diva's stomach churn with anxiety. She was going to willingly subject herself to the blonde's torture for the sake of stardom. No, it was not fair, but it was necessary.
Rachel swallowed her concerns and prepared to rise when Quinn moved first. The blonde stood and calmly walked over to the sitting girl. The flaps of her uniform swished as she walked, accenting the twists of her hips and attitude in her walk. Rachel always figured Quinn would rejoin the Cheerios after the baby scandal, and that thought gave her nightmares over the summer. The blonde would seek her revenge, Rachel was sure of it.
"Quinn," Rachel politely greeted as she took Finn's seat. Despite her attempts to hide her apprehension, the brunettes voice quivered as she spoke her name. The chocolate eyes scanned the tile floor and her fingers gripped the edge of her seat until her knuckles turned white.
The brunette stopped breathing. Rachel. Not Man hands. Not Stubbles or Treasure Trail. Not even RuPaul, a particular favorite of the cheerleaders.
"Breathe, Rachel. I'm not going to hurt you." Quinn's voice was light. Rachel doubted anyone else in the room could have heard it, but she took the girls advice and released her breath. "Better?"
It was awkward. They sat there trying to avoid eye contact until one would open their mouth to speak only to shut it again. Finn and Puck weren't fairing any better. They sat next to each other but didn't even attempt to speak.
"I think they have the most awkward partnership." Rachel announced trying to break the ice. "Ours is based on an awkwardness due to our ignorance of each other which is understandable and easily surpassed."
Quinn slowly nodded and glanced at the pair across the room. "And they're both my fault."
Rachel was suddenly aware of what she really said and clinched her eyes shut, reprimanding herself internally.
"Quinn, that's not what I -"
"But it's true. You offered me a friendship and I turned it down. Well, ignored it more than anything. It didn't help our situation, but it didn't exactly hurt it either." She turned to face back to Rachel, her eyes filled with regret. "But they were best friends and I ruined it."
"I…I don't believe you are solely to blame." The brunette tried to comfort her, retracting her hand as she thought better of trying to give a supportive touch. "If I remember correctly, Noah had placed you in a vulnerable position with his insistence of further alcohol consumption beyond your desired limit."
"Maybe," she shrugged. "But I'm not passing blame. I did what I did, before and after sleeping with Puck."
Awkwardness fell between them again, far more gripping than before.
"Did…I realize this is not the most comfortable environment for two individuals, particularly those with our history, to allow themselves to lower defense and become accustom to the others presences….Did you want to, maybe, come by my house so we could talk and decide what song would be appropriate for our situation?"
Quinn laughed lightly. "Are you trying to tell me you actually relax at home? Because it will be a little bit of a challenge to let down my guard if it takes all of my concentration to interpret your questions?"
"So, is that a yes?"
The blonde nodded. "I think it is a good idea."
Rachel beamed. The whole experience was starting to improve. "Superb. Well, Finn is taking me home. Perhaps you could follow, or would you rather come by later?"
"Or I could just take you home. Unless, you and Finn needed to-"
"No." Rachel interrupted. "I don't really think he will be up for conversation after this experience anyway."
"I have to stop and get a book from my locker." Rachel motioned down the hall as she and Quinn exited the choir room.
The blonde nodded and motioned in the opposite direction. "I'll go get my car and meet you out front?"
Never in a million years had Rachel Berry ever anticipated a moment where Quinn Fabray would offer her a ride home; to be seen in public with her. Granted they were being forced to get to know each other, but the cheerleader didn't have to offer the ride. Rachel even excused her from it.
Maybe Mr. Schuester wasn't so out of touch with reality after all, Rachel thought to herself as she scurried down the hall, her rolling backpack squeaking on the tile floor behind her. It really was dorky. She had no disillusions about the bag. But if her body was going to be able to handle the rigorous demands of musical theatre on Broadway for the next several decades, she couldn't take the chance of straining it in high school. She spent endless hours complaining to her dads how unrealistically heavy all of her school books were until they bought it for her.
"Hey, Freak!" A loud booming voice echoed through the hallway as Rachel swapped her books.
Coming down the hall in full force was Karofsky, cherry slushy in hand. Rachel had been pleasantly surprised this had not happened earlier in the day. Slushy facials were normally provided in full view of the student body for the maximum amount of embarrassment. The petite diva was naive enough to believe she would be sparred since her relationship with the star quarterback was now common knowledge.
"Finn skipped out on us this afternoon for your little gay club." The giant oaf towered over her, relishing in her fear. "The guys think maybe you had something to do with that. Someone said the two of you were dating or something. But I tried to explain to them that Finn was gay. I mean, why else would he have joined the Gay Club." Her eyes glued to the large cup as he rotated it in his fingers threateningly. "Then I remembered you have a few nick names…. Man Hands….RuPaul…. Maybe Finn can be dating you and still be gay." He took a step closer and tightened his grip on the cup. "Looks like you are to blame for him bailing after all."
Rachel saw him move in slow-motion. He reeled his arm back and prepared for the launch, giving Rachel enough time to brace for the impact. Her eyes shut tight, fists clinched, and breath held. She heard the icy splat and unusual clank of the empty cup bouncing on the tile floor. Hesitantly, she opened her eyes in time to see the jock's expression sway from shock to disbelief under the layer of red stained ice chips covering his face. A hand grabbed his letterman's jacket and turned him roughly.
"Find a new target, Karofsky!" Warned a very serious and very pissed Quinn Fabray. "Come on Rachel."
The blonde was already halfway down the hall before Rachel snapped out of her fog of shock. Slowly her mouth turned upward and stretched into her typical smile of superiority and leaned towards the slushied jock.
"As a word of advice, which I am able to provide thanks to the years of abuse endured at your hands: You may want to wash off soon. The red stains."
"You're lucky I came in to get you when I did." Quinn remarked as Rachel fastened her seat belt. The brunette smiled shyly.
"Why did you come back in?"
Quinn shrugged. "You were taking forever."
The blonde shook her head as she pulled away from the school. "Don't apologize. It obviously wasn't your fault."
This was truly weird now. Not only was the cheerleader who loved to torture her giving her a ride home, but also just saved her from a slushy facial.
"Don't…don't you worry that they will try and retaliate tomorrow? It probably wasn't worth it… to save me. I mean, I'm going home now anyway. No one would have even seen me."
Quinn focused on the road and sighed. "They won't slushy me. Santana will kick their asses. And you may be going home, but you're doing it in my car. I don't want to ruin the leather seats."
"Right." Why else, Rachel? She is still Quinn Fabray and you will always be Rachel Berry. They traveled the rest of the trip in silence except for the occasional driving directions.