A/N: Hi, duckies! Shh, I'm not supposed to be over here, I'm supposed to be finishing stuff for other fandoms. But this popped into my head and wouldn't get out, so here's the first short prelude. All standard disclaimers apply.

Scale the Glass Mountain

Jesse stared idly at the unknown number lighting up the display on his phone. It was an Ohio area code, he knew that much. But why would anyone from Ohio be calling him, especially from an unknown phone number? He'd cut ties with everyone from Vocal Adrenaline after his senior year ended, making it very clear that he did not want remnants from his old life haunting him in California. And nobody from McKinley would be calling him; that was certain. Not unless it was to inform him that their sorry excuse for a school had finally raised enough money to hire that hitman to come after him.

Intrigued, Jesse accepted the call and raised his phone to his ear. "This is Jesse St. James," he said, plastering his voice with the brash confidence that had been drummed into him since he was a little child. Jesse St. James did not answer a phone with anything less than the utmost pride. Jesse St. James did not allow the other party to gain an upper hand. "Current and future star of stage and screen. If this is about a contract, please find the contact information for my manager. I don't deal with business crap myself."

There was a pause, then a low male chuckle. A comfortingly Midwestern voice said, "I can see why she'd like you."

Jesse stopped walking along the pathway that led to his dorm. He swung his heavy pack to the dusty ground, suddenly not feeling quite so confident. "Who is this?" he demanded. The voice was unfamiliar to him - generically male, with an accent that showed he had lived for some years in Ohio, though he had not been born there.

"I'm sorry," the voice said, and Jesse caught the river of tension that flowed through the words. This person clearly was going through something quite unpleasant. Jesse sighed inwardly. He hated other people's drama. It took away time he could be focusing on his own. "I'm sorry, Jesse. We're just so worried. Where are you? Is she with you?"

Jesse glanced at his fellow students wandering the campus, oblivious to what was going on with this conversation. He wondered if some nut job found his number and was messing with him. He'd heard stars often had problems like that. "I-I don't know what you mean," he said, trying to pitch his voice to something distant and professional. "Is who with me?"

The voice on the other end sighed impatiently. "Rachel! My daughter, Rachel Berry. Where are you, Jesse? Please say she went to find you! She's been missing for four days, and nobody knows where she went."

Jesse St. James paced the dingy concourses of LAX, fury radiating through his system. Why was he here, anyway? Why was he about to board a cross-country flight in the middle of term, no clear idea as to when he'd be back?

Because of her, of course. Because every time a new dance partner rolled herself into his arms, he was instantly barraged by images of an infuriating little high school girl with the softest hair and biggest pipes he'd ever known. Because Shelby fucking Corcoran's fucking daughter had to go and tuck her cute little fucking self under his ribcage, next to the heart he'd sworn he didn't need. She'd slid her tiny razor-sharp kitten claws into his beating fucking heart, and even now - now, after he'd ordered her out of his life - she was still there, immoveable, no matter what he tried to do. He closed his eyes, he saw her. He opened a music book and heard her. Even things that shouldn't remind him of her did. Nobody here in LA dressed like Rachel, in her ridiculous knee socks and sweaters. And yet these multitudes of nameless blondes in their identical surfer chic wear reminded him of the dark-haired little irritating monster he'd left behind in Ohio. Or, rather, they reminded him of her absence, which was more or less the same thing.

Leroy Berry had been absolutely frantic on the phone. Jesse clenched his jaw and tugged a fist through his hair. When he found Rachel, he was going to grab her by the shoulders and shake her until he heard her little brains rattling like jingle bells in her skull. Shake her until she realized what she'd done to the men who had raised her, who cared more for her than she deserved. Jesse hadn't known what to do with a despondent father; his own had never shown more than mild irritation in Jesse's presence, that he could remember. Leroy bawled like a baby that his little princess was missing. Jesse muttered some choice curse words under his breath as he stalked toward his gate. Not even Rachel's parents thought she might be lost or kidnapped. She'd left no note - which rather surprised Jesse; he'd never known her to pass up a chance for melodrama - but everyone agreed that she had clearly run away. The Berry men just didn't know why.

Jesse didn't know why, either, but the difference was that he didn't care. He didn't need to know her reasoning to know exactly where she'd gone.

Okay, maybe not exactly, he revised quickly. But he knew the general area. There was only one place Miss Rachel Berry would ever leave home for, and if her fathers didn't know that, then they were bigger fools than he'd originally pegged them.

He'd met Hiram and Leroy exactly twice - once, to play the gentleman and officially ask them for their permission to date Rachel. It was the kind of gesture that kept him in good graces both with a girl and with her family, and he was old hat at these little tricks of the trade. The second meeting had been an awkward double date to the theater in Columbus, to watch inferior local performers absolutely skewer Victor/Victoria. Afterward, he'd gently put his foot down. You did not double date with parents, not even for free admission to a musical.

How Leroy got his number, Jesse didn't know. Part of him wished he'd gone through with his plan to change his number when he left Ohio, but he just hadn't gotten around to it. He didn't know whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, now. Yes, Rachel was a hassle. One he didn't want to feel responsible for anymore. But this clean break with her clearly wasn't working. She was still inside him even though she hadn't tried to contact him since he smashed an egg on her head in the parking lot. And that just added insult to injury. She was a nothing at McKinley. Regardless of how little she deserved to be at the bottom of the heap, she was there. And yet she hadn't thrown a fit when he left her. She hadn't tried to cling, to keep him with her. He didn't understand it. No girl had ever left Jesse St. James, and only Rachel had ever let him walk away without a fuss. He'd been prepared for an epic tantrum to end all tantrums. But no. She'd just looked up at him with those big dark eyes - wounded puppy-dog eyes - and shook her head a little. "You promised me," she'd told him, her voice small. Not angry. Not offended. Just hurt and small.

Jesse clenched his hands as he strode down the jetway to the plane. He settled himself in a black first-class seat, hoping that nobody would sit next to him. He had one of those faces that made people want to talk, and he didn't want to talk to anybody right now. He didn't want to be Jesse St. James, the golden child, the good boy who was always ready with a wink and a smile. Right now, he wanted to seethe.

"Hey, hon," the stewardess said, and when Jesse looked up with a raised eyebrow she smiled conspiratorially and tried to hand him a cold brown beer bottle on a little cocktail napkin with the airline logo printed on it.

Jesse made no move to take the offered drink.

"It's on the house, sugar," the stewardess said, reaching it out further toward him. "Go on. You get a free alcoholic beverage in first class."

"I know that," Jesse said, still not moving to take the bottle. "I never fly coach. What you may not know is that it's illegal to offer alcohol to anyone underage."

The stewardess slid easily into the row behind him to allow people to pass by. "You underage? You sure don't look it."

"Next time I'll get my mommy and daddy to pin one of those little "unaccompanied minor" tags on me," Jesse sneered, turning away. He stared out the little plastic window, anger swelling inside him at the stewardess's obvious attempt at flattery. Sometimes he cursed his pretty face. Shrugging himself deeper into the wide seat, he concentrated on watching the luggage being loaded onto the plane. He hadn't bothered to take more than a carry-on and his backpack; he hoped he wouldn't be staying long. At least the stewardess hadn't gotten a glimpse of his charming personality or his angelic singing voice. Jesse scowled at his own reflection in the window. He didn't feel very charming or angelic at the moment.

Rachel. It was such a normal name for such an abnormal person. There were so many fucking Rachels around, but only one was - and ever would be - just plain Rachel to him. There would be Rachel Greens and Rachel Rays and Rachel McAdams' but the only Rachel was his Rachel. Rachel Berry. And she would be his Rachel until the day they died, no matter what happened between now and then. No matter if she got married and had a dozen kids - she'd always belong to him. He knew that now. He didn't like it, but he understood that that was the way it was going to be for him, for them. His heart spasmed as the plane began to taxi, inching toward the runway. Furious, he quashed the quivering feeling. Just because he wasn't able to get rid of her didn't mean he had to moon about it. He'd made his choice, and he'd chosen Vocal Adrenaline. Now he had to live with that choice.

But damned if he was going to let Rachel Berry ruin the lives of everyone who cared about her by running away.