Title: At the Bottom of Everything (3/?)
Spoilers: Maybe some early season 2 spoilers.
Disclaimer: Don't own a thing.
Summary: One chaotic morning leads Rachel to realise that maybe Quinn Fabray isn't coping as well as she pretends to.
A/N: Firstly, thank you to the people who reviewed - it means a lot :) Also, thanks to everyone who story alerted it - i was kinda surprised with how many i got. :)
The girls locker room seemed almost eerie this early in the morning. Her footsteps on the hard tiles echoed through the rows of lockers, breaking the silence in the otherwise empty space. The slightly spooky setting was only adding to Rachel's feeling of deja-vu.
She had arrived at school slightly earlier than the day previously. It wasn't that she was hoping Quinn had also decided to arrive early exactly, and she definitely hadn't planned this to increase her chances of bumping into the blonde.
At least that's what Rachel had convinced herself as she left her house, the sun barely having risen. Her alarm clock had been set for an almost criminally early time, and the elliptical workout that was usually cemented into her schedule sacrificed.
Questioning looks were etched on both of her fathers' faces. Their eyes were still foggy with sleep as they looked from the clock to Rachel and back again, confused.
Rachel did conveniently have other reasons to be at school before even the first faculty member had arrived. Her biweekly myspace video had taken longer to edit the night before than she had prepared for, leaving her with no time to work on her weekly glee solo (this was mainly due to her fathers' 9pm singing curfew, which she still wasn't happy about.)
When she saw the familiar small car parked in exactly the same place it had been the morning before... Well, she couldn't say she was disappointed. If she bumped into the blonde Cheerio, that would just be a coincidence.
The silence that met her elicited a disappointed sigh from Rachel.
'Great. I'm on a wild goose chase... again!'
Gazing around the empty room, Rachel wondered whether to just give up now. Head to the auditorium and not risk wasting another morning chasing shadows. That was until something caught her attention in the last row of lockers. Smiling smugly in victory, she noticed it was a red Cheerio's bag.
Although it had brightened her spirits, and saved her wasting another opportunity to practice in an empty auditorium, Rachel was puzzled. School didn't start for another hour at least, and given the lone gym bag there was no Cheerio's practice this morning either. (Which wasn't surprising, she recalled hearing a rumor that Coach Sylvester was temporarily suspended for pushing Principle Figgins down the stairs.)
It did leave Rachel wondering what reason Quinn could possibly have to be at school.
The singer had found herself sitting on the bleachers, watching a determined Quinn Fabray doing lap after lap of the school's football field.
After checking the gym and coach Sylvester's office, Rachel had finally made her way outside, pleased when she saw Quinn in the distance running.
'So that's what she's doing here so early...'
Although, she wasn't exactly sure why she was still watching Quinn.
The cold air was numbing her eyes, still stinging with tiredness, and the mittens she had brought did little to warm her freezing hands.
Her mystery had been solved, but she couldn't bring herself to leave. Watching Quinn was actually kind of relaxing, seeing her look so determined and focused.
Although Rachel would never admit this out loud, she was also slightly relieved that Quinn was spending her time improving her physical fitness, and not plotting a way to steal her Glee solos.
Not that it had crossed her mind at all...
Despite the cold Ohio temperature, Quinn's t-shirt was clinging to her athletic body with perspiration. Her eyes were set in front of her, never wavering from the track, and never looking up at the bleachers, thankfully.
Rachel's curiosity was satisfied, but she didn't need Quinn thinking she was some kind of stalker.
During the summer Rachel had often seen the cheerleader jogging through the park whenever she had passed by. Honestly, she didn't blame Quinn for wanting to get her pre-baby physique back. She had witnessed the taunting in the hallways the past year, the jokes at the then-former cheerleaders expense. The hallways were filled with jealous girls who were thriving in Quinn's downfall.
There was definitely nothing to be made fun of now though. As her eyes lingered down the blonde's body, Rachel briefly thought that Quinn actually looked more in shape now than before the pregnancy.
Time passed slowly, and Rachel's tired mind drifted off into thoughtlessness, while her eyes never left Quinn.
She couldn't say how long she had been sitting there when Quinn stopped running. Her skin was frozen from the cold wind and her back ached from the hard bench she was sitting on.
As Quinn made her way closer to the bleachers, sweating, panting and clinging to her empty water bottle, Rachel barely had time to duck down before she was spotted.
Watching Quinn retreat back into the locker room, Rachel briefly thought about following her. Realizing she had no clue what to say, and not wanting another unsuccessful confrontation like the previous morning, she decided against it and headed towards the auditorium.
She still did have that Glee solo to work on, and she was suspicious somebody was trying to steal her solos... even if it wasn't Quinn...
Rachel was standing at her locker when she heard it. Collecting the books she would need to complete that night's homework, the arguing voices drifted to her ears from a few feet away.
She was usually more punctual arriving at her locker at the end of the day. A Glee related meeting with Mr. Schue about sectionals, or more Rachel complaining that he had not even started the set list yet, had made her arrive slightly later.
That was one more thing to add to her to do list; compile a list of songs suitable for a show choir competition.
Honestly, sometimes she wondered why Mr. Schue was there at all.
"You're an idiot, Puckerman."
Subtlety had never been Rachel's strongest trait. Still, as discreetly as she could she shuffled closer to the arguing pair.
"Look baby mamma, I'm into you, but I'm gonna need you to let me get to third base a couple of times a week." Puck's voice, filled with cockiness, was clearer now.
Rachel found herself eavesdropping on the heated conversation. Obviously Quinn was upset about something, and Puck was... well, being Puck.
"I have needs baby, sex sharks don't linger near one fish for too long."
Rachel scrunched her nose up, she wasn't sure that even made sense.
"That's why you were sexting Santana before in math?" Quinn's voice was unmistakable, angry and accusing.
"Look, you may be like super curvy now, and even though I said I don't dig fat chicks, I'm still into you, but I have needs and Santana gets that."
Rachel didn't even have to look. She knew a glare would be burning through Noah Puckerman right now.
"Besides, you said we're not dating!" Puck's tone had turned defensive.
"We're not dating!" Quinn snapped. "Why would I want to date a Lima loser like you?"
Rachel turned her head just in time to see Quinn rushing down the hallway, sending people almost crashing into lockers trying to move out of her way.
Puck sighed, running his hand through his barely existent hair. He stared after Quinn for a moment, looking frustrated.
That was until a tall brunette cheerleader walked past him, raising her eyebrows at him.
He smirked and turned to follow her, finally noticing Rachel as he did so.
"Berry," Puck nodded, barely sparing her a glance as he followed the cheerleader.
'Ass' Rachel thought.
Puck wasn't the only one who noticed Rachel. If she had just looked up before turning away from the row of lockers, she would have seen the two jocks coming towards her, wielding slushies in their hands.
It wasn't the cold ice painfully hitting her face, or the brightly colored cups she saw when she opened her eyes.
It wasn't even the feeling of ice dripping down her chest under her sweatshirt.
It was the cruel laughter she could hear from every direction around her that told her that she had been slushied.
Staring down at the floor, Rachel squeezed her eyes together. It was bad enough that everybody had to see her humiliated in the middle of the hallway, they didn't have to see her cry too.
"I think he ruined your sweatshirt Berry. You should thank him."
Her bottom lip trembled as her glassy eyes fought to hold back the tears. 'Don't cry. Don't cry. Don't cry.'
She didn't know who the voice belonged to, she supposed it didn't matter really, but she didn't stick around long enough to find out. Pushing though the gathering crowd, she ran to the nearest bathroom she could find.
Leaving the cruel laughter behind her, as well as a trail of slushy.
As she stared at herself in the large mirror, she couldn't hold back the tears any longer. The red ice had melted, formed sticky trails down her face. The stain on her favorite sweater was already forming.
'Wicked. Phantom of the Opera. Oklahoma. A Chorus Line. Fiddler on the Roof. Hairspray. Chicago. Spring Awakening.'
Counting successful Broadway musicals had always had a calming effect on Rachel, whether it being to help her fall asleep at night, or to stop herself breaking down in an empty school bathroom. It always seemed to work.
Sometimes Rachel wished she could just leave Lima now, skip the rest of her high school years and head to New York early, struggle for a few years as a unappreciated waitress, barely making ends meet, before finally landing a huge starring role in a Broadway show at the tender age of eighteen... It would definitely make for great reading in her future autobiography.
'And it's not like anyone is going to miss me after we graduate,' Rachel thought bitterly.
She was under no illusions that most of the Glee club only tolerated her for outstanding leading vocals that held the group together.
Most of the time Rachel dreamed of making it big in New York. Winning countless Tony awards, being offered incredible roles in Hollywood movies and gaining legions of adoring fans.
But sometimes, she just wished she could have a friend in this school.
The time it took her to get cleaned up was short. The mechanisms having become so familiar, she went through them without thinking.
When she was finished, she looked up into the mirror, willing herself to smile. To not let some idiot jocks beat her. The sight she was met with was so depressing it only led to more tears leaking out of her eyes.
'Funny Girl. Guys and Dolls. Evita. The Sound of Music. Rent. My Fair Lady. Les Miserables. Cats...'
She lingered longer in the bathroom than usual, not wanting to risk running into anymore jocks or Cheerio's waiting to humiliate her further. When she did finally leave the safety of the empty room, the corridor was empty.
Looking down the hallway towards the exit, she saw nothing but the occasional dropped piece of paper on the floor blocking her path. Realizing she didn't really feel like going home yet, where she was bound to face questions as to why she changed her outfit at school again, she headed the opposite way.
Debating whether to head towards the library to start on her homework, or go to the auditorium, Rachel spotted something peculiar: Quinn entering the girls' locker room at the end of the hall.
Okay, maybe under normal circumstances that wouldn't be strange at all, but Rachel was pretty sure Mr. Schue had elatedly told her that Coach Sylvester was under temporary suspension due to a restraining order from Principle Figgins. One that prohibited her from coming within a hundred feet of the school premises.
And Rachel was also pretty sure Becky gave the Cheerio's the week off, after Sue had left her in charge. So what exactly was Quinn still doing here?
She was still wondering that as she sat on the bleachers, in the exact same place she had been that morning. Again, she watched as Quinn once again jogged lap after lap of the football field.
Rachel could feel that deja-vu feeling coming back again.
She had watched Quinn tirelessly exercise that morning, and she was pretty sure the cheerleader had gym class during the day as well.
Sure, she believed in keeping yourself physically fit. Pushing yourself to the limit in whichever aspect of life you were focusing on was important, but this seemed a little extreme, even to Rachel.
Placing her earphones in and playing her 'Show Choir' play-list, Rachel pulled out her notebook and began jotting down ideas for the Glee club's sectional performance. She stopped occasionally to spare a glance at Quinn.
She wasn't sure how much time had passed. Two entire Broadway cast soundtracks had been played. Three pages of her notebook had been filled with her thoughts and ideas. And Quinn hadn't stopped running.
Pausing her iPod she glanced down at the cheerleader. She could at least admire her determination. 'Although, why she can't channel this focus in Glee is beyond me...'
Pulling one earphone out of her ear Rachel realized she'd spoken to soon.
Quinn had come to a halt, bending over and digging her fingernails into her sides. Her chest noticeably rising and contracting with labored breaths.
As the cheerleader glanced around her, looking for her water bottle, Rachel sunk impossibly lower on the bench. She was pretty sure Quinn had no idea she'd been sitting there all this time, and she didn't want to risk being spotted now.
She didn't really know how to answer the question 'Why have you been watching me again, Berry?'
Honestly, she didn't really know the answer herself.
The library was certainly quieter, and a classroom would be infinitely warmer. But something about watching Quinn had been calming. Reassuring, almost.
Quinn dropped backwards, sitting on the cold ground. Her eyes squeezed shut and she still struggled to regain her breathing. Rachel could swear she could almost see Quinn's heart beating under her shirt.
Using this opportunity, the brunette quickly shuffled her notes in her bag before creeping as discreetly as she could to the end of the row in an attempt to sneak away unnoticed.
Glancing down at Quinn once more, Rachel happily noted that Quinn eyes were still tightly shut, oblivious to the tiny diva watching her.
'She wouldn't notice if I just slowly sneaked away- Wait... Is she crying?'
Quinn furiously dragged the back of her wrist against her eyes, roughly wiping away tears that she desperately didn't want to fall.
Rachel looked on, caught in two minds. Part of her wanted to rush down and comfort the blonde, and the other, more realistic, part of her was screaming at her to just leave. Leaving Rachel stuck in the same spot, unmoving.
Finally she saw Quinn's eyes open, aggravated red blotches surrounding them where the skin had been rubbed a little too harshly. Rising to her feet, the cheerleader made her way back towards the lock room door.
Leaving Rachel standing on the bleachers, feeling very confused, and more than a little worried.