A/N: Anyone been reading up on the J Groff return to Glee? I've read it might be for 5-6 episodes. Fingers crossed that this is true! Anyhoo, hope you enjoy this!
The Free Pass
Rachel had one experience with parties and drinking and it was one that landed her in front of the entirety of McKinley high with vomit dripping down her face. She swore she would never drink again after that, at least until she knew how to properly mix it. Yet here she was at a college party tapping her foot in time to some Katy Perry remix.
This guy came up to her, slinging an arm sloppily over her shoulder as he slurred, "You're not drinking anything."
"Teetotaler," she answered, ducking away from his arm. She pushed him away and smoothed down her skirt. His lips pulled into a drunken grin as he stumbled forward and said, "Now, don't be like that. No one likes someone boring."
"I am not boring," she returned firmly. "I simply do not believe in public lewdness. And I would not even be here if it were not for my party-loving UCLA tour-guide." She gestured toward a rather sloppy looking blonde who was doing her best Flashdance impression for an eager crowd. Rachel took pause to watch a particularly painful dance move and shook her head. The girl had seemed so normal before. "Anyway, what was I talking about?" she said distractedly, looking up at the drunk boy who had become more and more confused with each syllable that left her lips. "Oh right-I am not boring. End of story."
"You talk too much," he said after a moment.
"And your point is?"
He stepped forward, causing her to move backward and collide with the wall. Her back was pressed against the wall and he loomed above her, smelling strongly of beer and too much Axe. "My point is that you talk too much."
He leaned forward and she reached into her pocket to pull out her mace (never left home without it and the rape whistle) a hand closed on his shoulder and pulled him away. She looked into the angry face of one Jesse St James and sucked in air as her about-to-get-mace-in-the-eye guy started forward and demanded, "What's your problem?"
"My problem is that you had her pushed against the wall," Jesse said. "That's what my problem is."
"What? There some law against that?" the guy slurred.
"Um yeah, it's called sexual assault."
"Not if she wants it."
Jesse looked over at Rachel and said, "Show this dimwit what you were about to pull out of your pocket."
She looked at him strangely and he nodded toward her pocket. How had he known she had it? This was what she was thinking as she pulled out her slender tube of mace and gave it a jaunty wave before the guy.
"Don't think she wanted it," Jesse said. "So, I recommend moving on before something worse than that connects with your eye."
The guy sloppily held up his hands and sputtered, "I'm going-I'm going."
"Then go on your merry way, buddy." He waved him away and shook his head as the guy walked off, already sizing up his next conquest. "Ridiculous," Jesse muttered. "I hate guys like that."
"Oh please, you probably are that guy half the time," she returned. She caught half a smile from him and added, "Thanks, by the way. I have a feeling I would have made a bit of a scene if I had to use my mace."
"Good thing to carry with you," he said. "Especially you with your little ineffectual fists."
She grinned, ducking her head down away from his gaze. Clearing her throat she told him, "You know, I'm still mad at you for everything that happened last year."
"But I think I'll give you a free pass."
He stuck his hands in his pockets and moved beside her, leaning against the wall. "A free pass?"
"You were all sorts of chivalrous there, Jesse St James. I think that warrants me not holding a grudge for at least one night."
"Well, if I would've known temporary forgiveness was so easy to come by I would have opened doors and pulled out chairs a long time ago." She knew the comfortable banter they had fallen into should be somewhat unsettling but instead she felt right at home. Standing next to him with their shoulders inches apart felt like the most natural thing in the world. He looked over to her and asked, "So, what brings you to a UCLA Sigma party?"
"Weekend campus visit," she answered. "My tour guide is around here somewhere. She wanted me to get a real feel for the school-parties included."
"So you're saying she just wanted to get trashed and brought you along for the ride?"
She nodded. "Yeah, pretty much."
"I see she takes her job seriously."
"I just hope that she gets partied out soon," she said, stifling a long yawn with her hand. "As you can see, I'm about ready to call it a night."
"It's only one," he said. "I'm sorry to tell you this, but you're going to be here for a while."
"Joy." She looked around the room and noticed more than one or two girls paying Jesse glances. She turned her head toward him, hiccupping slightly when she found his gaze only on her. Her eyes were wide and he chuckled slightly as he asked, "What?"
"Nothing," she said immediately, rubbing the back of her neck as her face flushed warmly. "You don't have to stay with me, you know. A lot of drunk girls around here who would probably kill to vie for your attention."
"Yeah not too interested in them. Besides, who knows how long this free pass I got lasts. I'd better take advantage of it while I can." It occurred to her that Jesse St James was choosing her over a bevy of drunk girls and she didn't exactly know how she felt about that. "So, you want a drink?" he asked.
"No, bad memories."
"Well, do tell."
A couch became vacant, its former amorous couple stealing away to a more private area, and Jesse moved forward, gesturing for Rachel to follow. They settled on the couch and Rachel launched into the story of her one wild week of drinking. "I made a fool of myself in front of Finn, made out and fell for a gay guy, and then was puked on in front of the entire school. I don't want to drink for a very long time."
"With valid reasons. So, uh, I'm assuming you and the great Finn Hudson are on a break?"
"An indefinite one," she answered, somewhat morosely. "Seems he has fallen back in love with Quinn."
"Well, he was never good enough for you."
She didn't know whether it was exhaustion or if his words really did mean something to her, but her eyes grew wet and she played with the skirt of her dress as she tried to futilely stop herself from crying. It took Jesse a moment to see that she was upset and he launched into placating comments, only causing her to sob shortly into her hand. He laid a hand on her shoulder and was taken by surprise as she turned into him, her cheek pressed against his chest. Laughing slightly he said, "Rach, you must really be tired."
Once she had gathered herself she pulled away from him and muttered, "I'm sorry. I-I don't know what came over me."
She sniffed and said, "I don't think commenting on exboyfriends is allowed in the free pass." He smiled and offered her his sleeve. "It's not a Kleenex," he supplied, "but its function is much the same."
The gesture made her chuckle for a moment as she gently pushed his arm away. "I'm fine now. I was up very early this morning. I did not expect to be up this late."
"I'm used to your drama, remember?"
His words jogged a question she had held earlier and she asked, "How did you know I had mace in my pocket earlier?"
Very simply he replied, "Because I know you."
She stared at him.
The party seemed to go on forever and in her comfortable seat on the couch beside Jesse, she had drifted to some place between consciousness and slumber and her head found its way to his arm. She woke when he gently shook her shoulder, murmuring, "I don't think this couch is for rent, Rach."
"Time to go," he clarified. She straightened up, wiping her mouth. A first-class drooler, Rachel glanced hurriedly at his shirt and prayed that she hadn't drooled on it. "Which one is your tour guide?"
She looked at the few people left at the party and felt grogginess turn to panic as she recognized not a single person. She stood up shakily and Jesse followed her. Where was her tour guide? Surely someone chosen by the university to show prospective students around would not leave her at some college party. That would be unprofessional. That would be bad.
That would be what was happening.
"How could she have left?" Rachel sputtered, turning to Jesse. "My tour guide has left me stranded at some college party. Why is my life like this? Why?"
"You are not stranded," he said calmly. "You'll come home with me."
"You need a place to stay, and I just so happen to have a place."
"I-I can't stay at your place."
"I don't think the free pass covers that."
"If my parents found out-if anyone found out-they would be furious. And-"
"And you have nowhere else to stay," he pointed out. "This has nothing to do with a free pass or what people will think. You need a place to stay. I have a place. It's either my place or that couch. And let me tell you, I saw some things go down on it while you were sleeping that have some serious sway power." She glanced back at the couch. "Please don't make me do a play-by-play."
She turned back to him and sighed. Her head was pounding and she was so exhausted that she could feel it in her bones. Seems there was no other choice. "How far is your dorm from here?"
"You take the bed," he instructed, pulling a blanket out of the drawer and putting in on the floor for himself. She was wearing a set of his pajamas, the shirt nearly three sizes too large and the pants barely staying up. Still, it was more comfortable than what she had worn to the party. She watched him expertly craft a floor sleeping arrangement and then glanced at the other empty bed.
"Where's your roommate?"
"He usually gets back later than me," Jesse answered. "He'll be back. And just to warn you-he will be loud."
The floor space between the two beds was minimal and she saw that Jesse's sleeping form would be an obstruction to the path to his roommate's bed. She imagined the roommate drunkenly stumbling in and tripping over Jesse. She drummed up thoughts of broken glass and tangled limbs. There were loud yells and the sickening crunch of broken bones.
"You can't sleep there," she said immediately.
"Rachel," Jesse sighed, yawning. "It's too late for your micromanaging."
"It's not micromanaging," she answered testily. "It's called you being a fire hazard. Your roommate is going to trip over you and hurt himself. And you."
"No he won't."
Rachel sighed and scooted over on the bed, pressing herself against the wall. "Get in."
"Jesse, I am tired and I want to sleep. Just get in the bed."
He hesitated for a moment but then gathered the blankets and put them on his desk. He padded over to the bed and gingerly climbed in beside her. The bed was small, so it was impossible for their bodies not to touch. It also was impossible for them to both lie on their backs and as they shifted she instructed, "You lay on your side and I will face the other way."
They inadvertently both turned toward the middle and found themselves face to face, their noses nearly touching. Her eyes widened and she quickly turned toward the wall. She felt him turn beside her and she closed her eyes tightly, trying to convince herself that the churning of her stomach was normal.
"Good night, Rachel."
The heel of her foot brushed against his. "Good night, Jesse."
Rachel slowly woke up, stomach dropping when she found Jesse's arm around her. His face was pressed into the crook of her neck, one leg hitched over hers beneath the covers. They were spooning. Yup, definitely spooning and his roommate was standing beside the bed, again saying, "Dude, pancakes."
She pushed against Jesse and murmured, "Jesse, wake up."
"Hmm?" He mumbled something incoherent and tightened his grip on her waist. "Jesse," she repeated, "Wake up. Your, um, roommate is staring at us. And mumbling about pancakes."
This was enough to wake him up and he pulled away, twisting around to look at his roommate. "Bill, why are you waking me up?"
"You have a girl in your bed," Bill stated.
"Yes, not what you think."
"I don't care," Bill replied. "Unless it gets in the way of Pancake Saturday."
After a moment Jesse turned to Rachel and asked, "Any chance you're in the mood for some pancakes?"
In the dining hall, all three had eaten their fair share of pancakes and Rachel was nursing her third cup of coffee. The stuff tasted like tar but she could feel her headache lifting. Jesse glanced over at her and chuckled as he caught the slight scrunching of her nose after a sip.
"You know, you could just stop drinking it."
"Not an option," Rachel returned, tipping back the cup and finishing the drink. "I have a lot on my agenda today. Lots to see means lots of caffeine." She put down the cup and gathered her hair into a bun, using the hair tie on her wrist. Her phone buzzed and she grabbed it from the table, flipping it open to read her text.
"Is it the elusive tour guide?"
"Yeah, I'm supposed to meet her at Beane Hall in ten minutes."
"I'll take you," Jesse said immediately, beginning to stand up. He looked to his roommate who shook his head and said, "I'm going back for another round. It's Pancake Saturday, man. Only comes around once a week." Jesse laughed and said, "Alright, I'll see you back home."
"You don't have to walk me," Rachel told him as they left. "I can read a map."
"Do you have a map?"
"Well, no, but I could have found one."
He laughed. "I really don't mind. Besides, I like taking walks."
"How Jane Austen of you," she teased. They walked in silence for a while after that, the brisk wind bringing color to their cheeks. They had inched closer as they walked on, close enough for their hands to brush. Immediately Rachel drew her hands into her pockets, stealing a glance at him. His hair was mussed from the wind and his cheeks were flushed from the wind. She had to tear her eyes away, otherwise she would have stared the entire walk.
"Here we are," Jesse said, gesturing toward a large building. "Beane Hall."
They stood before each other, neither one really wanting to say good bye. Both of them knew this was the end to their unexpected reunion. She would meet up with her tour guide and then return to her world. He would return to his. For this moment, though, they were still in the in between. She was still standing in front him, hesitance reading in her eyes. He wanted to speak, eradicate whatever hesitance it was that made her question herself, but oddly words failed him.
"Jesse," she murmured, and surprised him by stepping forward and wrapping her arms around his waist. The embrace was short, but would paint his memories for weeks. She looked up at him and said, "Thank you for your help. I don't know what I would have done if you weren't there."
"I'm glad I was there." He paused for a moment and then added, "I really am sorry about everything that happened last year."
"You didn't deserve that. No one deserves that, especially not you-"
"I should head back in," she interrupted, his apology making her feel uncomfortable because she could sense that she was close to forgiving him. She was near forgetting the past and looking to the future, and her resentment had become a steady friend that she was unsure how to function without. He understood her, just like always, and nodded his head.
"It was nice seeing you Rachel."
"You too." Offering him one last sad smile, she turned on her heel and walked up the steps to the building. She glanced back once as she opened the door and found him watching her from the sidewalk. Her tour guide was waiting for her just inside the building and she offered her a small wave, shutting the door behind her.
"I'm so sorry about last night," the tour guide enthused, shaking her head. "So unprofessional. I can't believe that I did it. I'm a good tour guide, I swear."
"It's fine," Rachel said. "I found someone to stay with."
"Good," she breathed out. "So, anyway, who was that outside? Your boyfriend?"
The question startled her and she shook her head as she answered, "No, no he's not my boyfriend."
The tour guide frowned. "I am really losing my touch. You guys looked so much like a couple to me out there."
Rachel imagined Jesse returning to his dorm, traversing the large campus and disappearing back into his life. She had no doubt that she wouldn't see him again after this. UCLA was only a back-up and she would never find the nerve to actually call him. Him calling her wasn't a real option, not after how she froze following his apology.
It became clear to her that there was now a clean break. She had gotten her apology; they had played nice. Both would now go on in their own separate lives and all the resentment, all the ill wishes would be gone.
On to their separate paths.
"Excuse me, I'll-I'll be right back," Rachel said hurriedly, turning on her heel and bursting out of the hall. She quickly hopped down the steps, looking around hurriedly for whatever direction he could have gone. She didn't know if he had headed back to the dining hall or the dorm. She didn't even know the way to the dorm but she took a cue from her gut and made a sharp right, running down the sidewalk past curious passerbys.
Then she saw him. He was across the quad, walking with what can only be called a long face. She called out to him and he stopped, looking at her across the quad in confusion. Smiling wide she began to walk toward him. Her entire body was thrumming with nervous energy, which reached a fever pitch as he followed suit. They met at the center of the quad.
"Don't tell me your tour guide is MIA again."
"No," she said, shaking her head. "She is at Beane Hall waiting for me."
"Well, that's good."
"My tour ends at three," she said. He nodded slowly and she told him, "After which you are taking me for coffee."
"I'm taking you for coffee?"
"Funny, I don't recall asking you."
His eyes were warm and she smiled softly. "I will be at the Life Science Building. Meet me outside."
"Okay," he answered.
"And don't be late."
He traced the curve of her cheek with his thumb and told her, "Don't worry, I am very punctual." She reached up and laid her hand on the back of his neck, gently drawing his face to hers. The kiss was soft and tentative, just like the hug had been, but it was a promise of more. It was the first of many as their separate paths met.
"Alright, I really do have to get back now," she said, smiling softly. His hands were on her waist and his eyes on only her. For the first time in a long while she felt content. "But remember, Life and Science Building. Three o'clock. Don't be late."
"I'll be there at exactly three for my health if nothing else," he returned with a grin. "I've seen you when people are late. It's terrifying."
"So, I'll see you at three," she said decisively.
He caught her hand with his and squeezed it gently. "You will see me at three."
A/N: I wasn't going to put a kiss in this but I couldn't help myself. Please leave feedback!