Many Suitors of my Own

1.

In sophomore year, she's partnered with Tina for a maths assignment.

"So, do you know how to do this?" she asks, blissfully confident.

"...N-No," Tina stutters. They've only just met, thanks to the Glee club – Tina has some talent, but isn't quite extraordinary yet – and Rachel's not entirely sure how comfortable they're meant to be together.

She looks down at the page. "Well, then it's a good thing I have absolutely no idea either. We'll rock this academic failure style."

Tina laughs. Rachel smiles. She made Tina laugh.

Like they're friends or something.

At lunch that day, she wonders where to sit. Tina, Artie, Mercedes and Kurt are all crowded around one table – their whole club except for Finn, who sits with the jocks somewhere else. She takes one step towards them.

Mercedes looks at her like she's crazy. Kurt sends her a withering glare. Artie looks blank. Tina avoids her eyes.

Rachel turns back around, and makes her way towards her usual (empty) table.


2.

In first grade, David Karofsky punches her in the face.

She's still nursing the bruise when someone grabs her by the shoulder, and stands by her side. "What the hell?"

Rachel gasps. She only dares to mutter that word when she's alone in her room; whispering it where her daddies can't hear.

She turns around and finds the 'someone' is Matt Rutherford. Is it bad that her first thought is he can talk?

David shrugs innocently. "What? It's the fag-daughter."

Rachel flinches. She knows exactly what that means; she and her daddies have heard it way too many times. She should come up with some defense right now – that's what she usually does – but she can't think, mostly because her nose hurts.

Matt just wraps an arm around her shoulder and leads her away, almost like they're teenagers and he's her boyfriend. The thought makes her blush. She likes this knight-in-shining-armor idea.

"Come on, let's go tell the teacher," he says.

"I don't want to."

He blinks at her. "You should. David should be in trouble for that. You don't hit a girl."

"But... wouldn't that make me a dobber?"

"No," says Matt, but he doesn't offer an explanation. He leads her to the teacher.

David has to pick up rubbish for the rest of lunchtime. Matt stays by Rachel's side.

"So... what's a fag?" he asks.

She bites her lip, and explains it. "It means 'gay'. He's referring to my two dads," she says – everyone knows about her dads; he shouldn't be surprised at that. He looks confused. "It's a really offensive word," she adds.

"Why?"

"I don't know," she admits. He doesn't say anything more.

The next day, David talks to her before class. "Thanks for ruining my lunchtime yesterday," he says. "You can tell your fag-daddies thanks too."

Rachel gasps, and looks behind him to see Matt sitting. She asks for support with her eyes.

Matt looks at them and shrugs. "You probably shouldn't have punched her in the first place."

Rachel smiles.

"If anything, the fags of this town are going to know all the good lawyers."

Then Rachel feels like her heart has been given to mountain lions.

David smiles back at Matt in that particular boy way she can't understand; that means everything between them is totally forgiven. As if to prove his point, David sits next to Matt.

"Well," she says, "Clearly my fathers' litigious nature will come in handy when we sue you for defamation."

She flounces off. She always enjoys bamboozling her classmates with a long word she only knows from reading too much, although she knows she doesn't have a real defamation case.

Now, she just needs to make it back to her usual seat without crying.


3.

In second grade, they have assigned seating. She winds up placed with Santana Lopez and Brittany... huh, she doesn't actually know. She couldn't be happier. She wants to be their friend so bad.

That doesn't mean they're very nice to her.

Usually, she feels someone kick her under the table. She knows it's Santana, but the girl denies it.

"Hey, don't look at me. It's our friend, the ghost – she's weird like that," Santana raises her arms 'apologetically'. Brittany just looks confused.

When Rachel says "Uh huh," she thinks she means to be sarcastic.

One day, they ask her to play hide and seek with them at lunch.

"Oh," she says. "I'd be thrilled! Thank you, really!"

Santana and Brittany share a look Rachel can't understand. "Alright, cool," says Santana, "See ya."

At lunch, she's still floating. She meets up with Santana and Brittany, and Santana tells her what to do – Santana will count to twenty, Brittany and Rachel will hide. Rachel knows the rules of hide and seek, but Santana's bossy. Plus, it's Brittany, so...

She winds up hiding – quite poorly – under a bench. She waits for Santana to find her.

For half an hour.

Eventually, she sighs and pulls herself out, sitting on said bench. Either she's been forgotten about (which seems more likely if it was Brittany looking for her, honestly), she's been abandoned, or her hiding place was better than she thought. Anyway, they should understand.

Brittany and Santana come around the corner. "Rachel!" Santana yells. Rachel beams at her.

"Santana, Brittany, hello! I was–"

"Why aren't you hiding?" Santana asks.

"Oh, uh, I was," says Rachel, "But I was there forever, and I thought you weren't going to show up, so I..."

Santana looks furious. "Rachel, you ruined our game! The point is you stay hidden until I catch you! You are so selfish."

Rachel bites her lip. "But... my knees were hurting..."

Santana rolls her eyes. "Boo-hoo."

Brittany looks confused. "'Tana, I thought the point was we'd ask her to play then leave–"

"Shut up, Britt!" Santana yells. Brittany steps back into line, not that it does any good. Rachel knows exactly what the whole point was now.

She wishes she could be more surprised than she is.


4.

After a student transfers due to bullying in fourth grade, their teacher makes them all talk about their experiences with bullying. As she watches her fellow classmates say, one by one, how they have been hurt, for the first time Rachel Berry is lost for words.

When Mr. Gorgon comes to Brittany, Rachel finds she doesn't need to. "I bully people a lot," says Brittany – there's no Santana here to tell her to shut up right now. Everyone stares. Brittany shrugs. "Well, it's true. Like two years ago, when Rachel really wanted to be our friend, so we were really mean to her for ages and then we lied to her to make her think we'd be her friend, then we abandoned her, and pretended it was all her fault. We were mean."

Everyone whispers, and Rachel just stares. Brittany eventually looks at her. "Oh, your actually here. Sorry."

Rachel nods. "It's okay."

She looks back down at the floor, smiling. Brittany just apologized. Brittany and has recognized and accepted the way she and Santana acted was wrong; now Rachel can ask for them to respect her like any human being. Honestly, if Brittany is going out of her way to say sorry, Rachel can't think that might be an indication of something – Brittany knows she missed a chance there. Brittany wants to be her friend.

Rachel will surely be slow to accept that, but still.

She goes out to lunch in bliss, until she runs into Santana.

"Hey, Berry," Santana's recently taken to calling Rachel by her last name, "Do you think you're meant to be in my space?"

"That doesn't even make sense," Rachel shoots back. "The space belongs to everyone, not just you."

Rachel looks at Brittany for support, remembering what she said. Brittany shrugs. "Rachel, we're the cool ones, we get the space. You suck, so you don't."

Santana smirks. Rachel gapes. "You said..."

Rachel trails off as Brittany just looks confused. She walks away, and listens to the girls giggling behind her back.

She's confused too.


5.

She begins middle school with a newfound optimism. Yes, it is mostly the same people she knew from elementary school, but still it is a change and Rachel steadfastly believes when things change, so do people.

Speaking of which:

"Whoa, Berry! Looking good now! What's with the Catholic schoolgirl skirt; seriously, I approve."

She knows it shouldn't, but it makes her smile anyway. Boys never call her pretty. "Thank you, Noah!" she calls, turning around to face him. "I am opposed to the objectification inherent in your statement, but I recognize that is part of your persona."

That's just the way Noah Puckerman is – frequently cruel, but he genuinely doesn't seem to know better. He's nice, some of the time – rarely, but still. Rachel believes people can change; if he would change... well, she doesn't know. But he thinks she's attractive now.

He looks taken aback. "Okay, I understood like, nothing you just said. And my name isn't Noah; that's the dude with the ship in the Bible, and I'm a Jew," so is she, but that's not the point. "Fuck, you really haven't changed at all, have you Berry? Still a freaky little dweeb."

The guys around him laugh, but she's barely affected by the insult. They walk off.

Figures. Noah Puckerman; he'll never change.


6.

"And now, Rachel Berry!"

She can't believe she's doing this. She can't believe they're letting her do this – her, their graduation: a performance for the ages.

Time to show them what she's got.

She steps across the stage, making small dance moves to get into the music. She can vaguely see the crowd in front staring at her, but not really; she's in the music, she's in the moment. This is hers.

She doesn't notice the egg until it's already in her hair.

She stops dead. The music stops dead. She can vaguely hear titters towards the back – it's hard to make it out over the sound of her own pulsing heartbeat. No. No this is not happening. This is my big performance; my debut; they are not ruining this for me. This is their graduation! Why would they do this?

Egg white runs down her face, and she runs off. She storms her way down to the girl's bathroom and slams the door behind her. This cannot be happening.

Yet, as she stares at herself and the egg on her face in the mirror, it is. The took this from her. They humiliated her. The moment where she was meant to finally show them what she was; everything she had to offer... and they tore it to pieces. Like it was nothing; like she was nothing.

Someone coughs from behind her.

She spins around to see who it is. "Mike?" she asks. "Mike Chang?"

She doesn't understand. Mike is one of the 'popular' boys; he's good at sports and athletics, and he hangs out with guys like Puck (as he now insists on being called). Has he just come to humiliate her further?

"I think so, yeah," he says.

"You're in the girls' bathroom," is all she can think of. "Won't you get in trouble?"

He shrugs uncomfortably. "I'm trying to be nice, so I think they'll let me off the hook," he says. "Fuck, are you okay?"

She nods and turns back to the mirror. "Of course. Those sorts of people are just ignorant Neanderthals. Although I have heard of girls who put eggs and the like in they're hair to give it volume and such, so maybe it was just a badly timed beauty tip?"

Mike comes up behind her, uncomfortably putting a hand on her shoulder. Something inside her snaps, and she breaks down sobbing. She turns around and leaps into his arms, and he lets her; he holds her tight and lets her cry into his neck, all the while whispering 'it's okay, it's okay'.

After a little while, she manages to get herself back under control. "Sorry," she says, pulling back. "It's just... this was meant to be my moment, and they ruined it."

Mike winces. "If it's any consolation, you were a totally awesome dancer for those, like, seven seconds. I mean, I don't have expertise or anything, but..."

"Oh, um, thank you," she can't help but grin. "I've taken lessons since I was five?"

"Really?" he asks. From the sound of his voice, he's interested, and Rachel suddenly realizes she's found someone with which she has a common interest. And it's Mike Chang. "I mean, um, what do they have you..."

The door swings open and a whole bunch of guys walk in – Mike's friends. "It's not what it looks like!" Rachel blurts out before she remembers that saying so is probably the best way of guaranteeing they think it is what it looks like.

However, the guys just look at her witheringly. "Why would he ever touch you?" asks Dave Karofsky. Rachel looks at Mike, who doesn't react.

Puck steps forward. "What are you doing here anyway, Mikey?" he's lightly tossing an egg up and down in his hand. Rachel gasps quietly. Bastard. "Come to rub it in some more?"

"Dude, shut up," Mike whispers. Rachel looks at him in confusion. Puck ignores him.

"I guess it makes sense; I mean, you only got to throw one at her in the end. In fact..." Puck transfers the egg to Mike's hand, and Rachel's eyes go wide. He did it? "...Why don't you take another shot now?"

Mike stares at him. "Puck..."

"What? Come on, man, it's Rachel fucking Berry."

Mike hesitates for a second.

Then he smashes the egg down on her head.

"Alright Mike!" yells Puck, raising his hand for a high-five. Mike does it with a very genuine-looking grin, and Rachel just stares – she's starting to feel sick.

"Guys, this is boring," says someone at the back of the group – she realizes that's Finn Hudson. "Can we go do something normal? Before we get caught in the girls' bathroom?"

There are grumbles, but Puck rolls his eyes and sighs "Fine, Hudson." They all start to walk out.

Rachel pauses for a long moment. "...Well, isn't it funny you just follow your best friend's command like that!" she yells as Puck walks out, but he doesn't hear her. Finn is at the back, and looks at her. She turns back to the mirror. Like he expects her to be grateful, after he let it go on until she'd had two eggs hit her.

When they're all gone, she collapses and breaks into tears again. She stays like that until Mrs. Horowitz finds her, and promises to call her dads. Rachel doesn't mention anything about the boys.

The next day, Mike Chang shows up at her house with a plastic box.

"What do you want?" she asks – she's not bothering with pleasantries for him.

"I wanted to say sorry," he explains sheepishly. "What we did to you yesterday... We shouldn't have. We were awful. You didn't deserve that."

"Then why did you do it?"

He looks sheepish. "It's just that... I'm popular, okay? Everyone knows this. I don't have a fucking clue why, but – you get, like, pressure to treat everyone else like shit. And if you don't, you're just as bad as them, you know?"

She just stares at him for a long moment. "Sorry, Mike, I don't know," she says. "I've never been in that sort of situation; I can't imagine how."

"I'm sorry," he repeats. "Look, I made you cookies and everything."

He lifts the box up slightly, and she realizes for the first time that it is a box of cookies. She flinches – she's made cookies before, and is familiar with the sorts of ingredients required: sugar, flour, eggs.

"I'm a vegan." She slams the door in his face.


7.

On the first day of high school, she winds up with Santana Lopez and the new girl holding a raspberry slushie in front of her. "Come on, Fabray, just do it."

Okay, it is wrong to call her just 'the new girl' – Quinn Fabray is getting attention; Rachel knows who she is. A beautiful, instantaneously popular girl who just came from her conservative Christian school to here. Rachel's learned who she is by word of mouth; not like Quinn would ever talk to her.

"Santana, I don't even know this girl. Why would I throw a slushie at her?"

Rachel vaguely wonders is she should taking advantage of this time to run away. Instead, she just stares at Quinn.

"Because she's a dork, duh. Come on, hurry up with it."

Rachel can't help but quirk a smile. Quinn's not going to do it. She's seen this plot play out in a million books, movies and TV shows: the new girl is immediately taken in by the popular folk, who ask her to 'prove' herself by hurting a 'loser'; the new girl is too bound by her moral code to do so, and abandons the respect of the popular crowd and usually becomes friends with said 'loser'–

Rachel's train of thought is cut off by the hit of red ice to her face.

"There!" Santana laughs. "Wasn't that fun?"

"...Yeah," says Quinn. Rachel stares at the now-empty cup in her hand; she wishes she could pretend the tears she's fighting right now are just from the chemicals that must be in those things. But no matter how much it stings, she can't.

"Now come on, or we'll be late to our first class," Santana drags Quinn off, and Rachel stands there in shock. The people around mostly laugh at her.

Mike catches her eye and stares. She shakes her head and runs to the girl's bathroom.


8.

She's more than a little surprised when Kurt offers to give her a makeover. However, she accepts – she's heard more than once her sense of style is unusual, and he seems to have a better handle on that sort of thing than her. Besides, given their similar personalities, her dads and his sexuality, she feels like they should be closer than they are.

"...Sometimes it's hard to appreciate what a good singer you are because all I'm thinking about is shoving a sock into your mouth."

He doesn't mean it, not really – he's exaggerating her flaws, but highlighting a real problem of hers. She thinks she once heard that you can be worse to your friends than to people you don't know, because you expect them to forgive you automatically. Not to take it seriously. So she does that – this just means Kurt is her friend. He proves this by promising to help her; by giving her actual advice – maybe it's wrong to be so fixated on Quinn's boyfriend, especially given the baby, but she's horrible to him. Some of the things she says could come out of any of of those Monstrous Boyfriend movies on Lifetime. He won't abandon the baby if he leaves Quinn; he just... deserves someone better.

"You look like a sad clown hooker."

Rachel can't understand it. She doesn't want to understand it. Finn's talking about a conversation he had with Kurt, and – Oh god.

He knew. He knew, the bastard; he knew this was exactly the wrong way to go about this; he manipulated her, he lied to her, and he...

...He meant everything.


9.

She feels bad after Sectionals. They won, sure, but – Mercedes was so excited for her solo, and then poof, it was taken away from her. Not that Rachel isn't proud of herself for her performance, but – she can understand if Mercedes is hurting.

"Hey," she says, walking to where the girl is sitting alone. "So... we won."

Mercedes chuckles. Rachel's glad. "This surprises you?"

"Well, given the cheating and all, I'd say we took underdog status," she says.

"I think your solo did us some good," Mercedes says, looking pensive. "You weren't kidding when you said you'd being working on that since you were four, huh?"

Rachel hesitates. Really, how does she answer that. "...I guess. I mean, it is Barbra. But your solo, um..."

"Rachel, it's okay," Mercedes says. "I mean, sure I'm a bit disappointed I didn't get to sing like I wanted, but that doesn't mean you have to pretend you weren't amazing. This chocolate storm's just gonna have to wait for Regionals."

"Oh thank god," Rachel blurts out. "I mean, I'm trying so hard to be sensitive nowadays, but – I did kill that, admit it."

"Agreed," says Mercedes. Rachel smiles. It's nice having people embrace her fabulousness as a performer as something that helps them, not hinders – it's nice having Mercedes acknowledge Rachel is trying her best to be kind about this. It's like having a friend to talk to.

Wow, that's depressing.

"I mean, that song does mean a lot to me," Rachel says. "It was one of the first pieces I ever heard, and the thought of performing it terrified me because I could dreadfully let it down–"

Rachel cuts herself abruptly. Mercedes stares at her like she's grown a second head.

"Anyway, I think Kurt still has my scarf. I gotta go get it. See ya," she says, walking off with a (fake) smile.

Rachel resists the urge to groan out loud. Shit, she thinks, despite her distaste for swearing. She should have known when Mercedes said it was okay, she didn't mean it.

(Mercedes walks across the room and out of Rachel's eyeline, until she finds Kurt. "Hey, home boy, you got my scarf?"

He looks confused. "Uh, it's in my bag somewhere," he fishes it out and gives it to her. "And why were you just talking to Rachel?"

Mercedes looks confused. "Uh, because she's our teammate and sort of my friend?" she says. Kurt snorts. "Really, she's not that bad.")


10.

"Hey Rachel."

"Ah!" she cries in surprise. "Oh, uh, Artie, hello," she says. She looks around the choir room, and they're alone. "Look, if you're here to berate me over the stupidity and cruelty of my stunt with the Run, Joey, Run video – the majority of Glee has already done so; I fully recognize I was being selfish and short-sighted. I probably don't have any right to ask this, but could you just... not?"

Artie looks uncomfortable. "Actually, I wanted to apologize. For walking out on you with everyone – I shouldn't have; I'm a massive fucking hypocrite."

She blinks at him. "Huh?"

He stares. "Okay, in case you have somehow forgotten this, I directed that video – I knew full well what was going on, and didn't have a problem with it at the time. However, when everyone else did, I just pretended I was as mad and as innocent as them, and I hung you out to dry. So I'm really, really sorry. The only reason they're not as mad at me as they are at you is because they don't know I had anything to do with it, and I don't have the guts to tell them."

Rachel blinks at him. "It's okay," she says. "I mean, it was my idea, you just went along with it. It wasn't up to you to stop me being stupid. You don't have to..."

He nods at her. "...Yeah, I don't feel much less guilty."

Despite herself, she laughs. "Sorry," she says. Then she gets serious again. "Did you really not see I was doing anything...?"

Artie looks uncomfortable. "...I could kind of guess it might end badly. More with Jesse than the other two, and I don't really like him, so... I sort of convinced myself it wasn't a big deal. Honestly, I kind of thought, if this did what you wanted it to – it would send me up in the Glist rankings too, and it was kind of stupid, but I wanted... well, you know."

She nods. "Yeah, I get it," she says. "I guess we were both dumb."

"Plus, I didn't actually put that much effort into your video, so I guess I should apologize for that as well. I mean, compared to the Vogue thing I did for Kurt and Mercedes..."

"It's alright," Rachel says. "I mean, they're your friends; of course you would–"

"Actually, it's more like Sue Sylvester is terrifying; you would not fuck up her video," Artie explains. Rachel blinks at him.

"Oh, okay," she says. "Well, um, thank you," she says before she walks off.

It doesn't mean anything. Artie may have apologized, but that was probably just to calm his own conscience – when she thinks about it, he did sort of let her down. Not that she has any right to be mad, given how she let everyone down. Artie's just going to go back to being one of those people she doesn't feel comfortable approaching without an excuse, for fear she'll annoy him – and she's okay with that. It's always been that way.

That day at lunch, she's heading for her regular table (alone again, because Jesse's taken a few weeks off – some Carmel High thing) when someone calls out from behind her. "Hey, Rachel!"

She turns around, and cocks her head to the side. "Artie?"

He nods. "Last time I checked, anyway," he says. "Sit with us," he indicates himself, Mercedes, Kurt, Tina, and now Brittany for some reason. "You look depressing when you're all alone."

Everyone else just looks at her expectantly. Rachel's a little confused, but makes her way towards the table anyway. "Okay," she says, sitting down slowly. "I think I just entered an alternate universe where spending time with me isn't a fate worse than death."

They laugh. She made them laugh. What is this?

Brittany blinks. "So, have we decided to stop hating Rachel for no reason?"

Kurt rolls his eyes. "Yes, Brittany."

Brittany beams. "Awesome."