Full Summary: "She had a very simple plan. Just be what he needed and turn up the charm. She hadn't counted on wanting him too." AU back nine. Rachel is VA's female lead. When the up and coming New Directions threaten to the dethrone them, it's her job to seduce and break their male lead. But some things are just inevitable. Finchel-centric with appearances by Shelby, Jesse, and the rest of ND.
Author's Note / Disclaimer: Obviously I don't own Glee, but I want to reiterate that the concept for this story was also not my idea. This rather brilliant premise was conceived by gleeme33 (you should totally check her stuff out, by the way) and it is being used WITH PERMISSION. I'm essentially using her idea as a starting point and then taking it a completely different direction. Hope you all enjoy it.
Rated T for Puck (his existence just seems to attract four letter words).
Prologue (AKA "Sectionals")
When Shelby Corcoran finally dismissed Vocal Adrenaline for the night, Jesse St. James was the first one off the stage. He led his teammates back to the dressing rooms with a little more spring in his step than one might expect after a five hour rehearsal, changing in record time before he returned to the auditorium, where Shelby was still scribbling away at her desk halfway up the rows. He went to grab his backpack from the pile in the front row and was digging in the pockets for his car keys when Rachel Berry emerged from backstage, marching around him and up the aisle towards Shelby.
Just the sight of her made him want to scowl. No sophomore in Vocal Adrenaline had ever been as bossy and demanding as she habitually was, and they all knew the only reason she wasn't left whining outside the auditorium doors was an ugly case of show choir nepotism. Worse still, Jesse seemed to be the only one who left was truly bothered by it.
His teammates had had his back at first. They were all furious when she marched onto their stage her freshman year without so much as an audition, and everyone had found their own subtle ways of making her feel as unwelcome as possible. It had been like waiting for a bomb to drop, knowing it was only a matter of time before their coach abandoned all pretense of fairness or seniority and brought her daughter into the spotlight. But when Rachel stayed firmly in the ensemble all year, everyone had slowly relaxed and gone back to ignoring her. Everyone except him.
He couldn't help it; she ruffled his feathers. She was quiet in rehearsal, but she talked Shelby's ear off every second of every break. Didn't that girl ever have to pee? It took months, but, just once, she dropped the act. Andrea Cohen, the closest thing to a female lead they had before Rachel, kept messing up a dance combination they were rehearsing for their Invitational. Rachel had shocked everyone and shouted that Andrea had to lead with her right foot or she would keep falling on her ass. Andrea had given her a look that would curdle eggs, and Rachel had set her jaw and fallen back in line. But it was enough. He knew there was something under there, waiting for the chance to be unleashed. So he kept watching.
The first rehearsal of the new year – his senior year – Shelby laid down the law in her usual no-nonsense fashion: Rachel would be trying out lead on a few numbers. End of discussion. Jesse felt little satisfaction at having been right. Mostly, he was curious; with no audition and a year of nothing but perfecting her ooohs and ahhhs, he had yet to hear her sing. And then his worst fears were realized: she was good. (And Jesse knew it, even if he'd rather swallow steel wool and chase it with OJ than admit it out loud.) By Sectionals, Shelby had given her a number to perform completely solo, and she was the uncontested female lead of Vocal Adrenaline.
What pissed him off the most was how quickly his teammates had gotten over it. No one who'd ever been on the receiving end of Rachel's blunt criticism actually liked her, but they conceded to her talent without complaint. It probably helped that Shelby was just as hard on her daughter as she was on the rest of them. Rachel might be clinging to her delusions of grandeur now, but in a matter of months, he would be going off to the University of California, Los Angeles, and she would still be here.
A hand on Jesse's shoulder made him look up. It was Andrea, eyeing him lewdly.
"We still on for tonight?" she asked, her voice low. "We have that history test tomorrow, and I could use a good cram session."
He smirked. "Just have to stop home first."
"Jesse," Shelby called, and he turned to give her his full attention as she got to her feet behind her desk. "McKinley's Sectionals are next Saturday. You free?"
He understood. They'd heard all about McKinley's new director, how he'd been recruiting to start the club from scratch. Most new choirs had all the coordination of a rush hour pile-up, but they'd actually managed to qualify for Sectionals, which meant they were worth checking out.
"Wouldn't miss it," he told Shelby, nodding.
"Me too," said Andrea, her hand still on his shoulder.
Shelby looked between the two of them for a moment, then said abruptly, "Take Rachel with you."
Andrea let out a throaty chortle before she could stifle it and immediately made herself scarce at Shelby's glare. Rachel turned to glance up at her mom in surprise – apparently this was news to her too – but she looked pleased. Only Jesse's superb acting skills kept his own displeasure from showing as he gritted his teeth and nodded in agreement.
He pulled his backpack onto one shoulder and started up the aisle towards the doors. "We'll swing by to pick you up," he told Rachel shortly as he passed her on his way out.
All thoughts of Rachel left his mind as he left the building and ran to his shiny new Range Rover, smirking at the number one on his personalized license plate. Damn straight. He had to hurry or he wouldn't have time to shower before going over to Andrea's. Though, if their previous study sessions were any indication, they wouldn't be doing much actual studying, which was just fine with him.
Rachel settled into a seat in the back of the auditorium, watching as the last of her teammates escaped to their fleet of Range Rovers in the parking lot without sparing her a second glance. She didn't know where they were always going, although she heard about parties and movie nights she was never invited to. They were mostly civil to her in school and rehearsals – well, except for Andrea Cohen – but none of them spent any more time with her than they had to, something she hadn't yet been able to change.
She started to dig out some homework to do while she waited for her mom to come back from her office, but the echoing clang of a door made her look up. It wasn't Shelby returning, but rather a bizarre medley of kids filing into the theater through the side entrance. A trio of cheerleaders in uniform led the way, followed by short black girl who was arm in arm with a boy in a loud red sweater beside her. A girl in a visibly goth outfit was looking around the auditorium with interest, while another really tall guy hung back a little, apparently fascinated with the empty bird's nest in the balcony overhang.
Realizing the cheerleaders were not sporting Carmel's colors, Rachel got to her feet and descended toward them. "Can I help you?" she asked curiously.
"Hi!" said the shorter boy in an astonishingly high voice. Wait – were those heeled boots? "We were looking for Dakota Stanley. Are you Vocal Adrenaline?"
"Yes," she replied proudly, drawing herself up. "I'm Rachel Berry. And you are…?"
"Wondering what practical joke resulted in that sweater," said the dark-haired cheerleader, sounding genuinely perplexed.
"E-Excuse me?" Rachel stammered, taken aback as she glanced defensively down at her favorite reindeer pullover.
"That's really not helping, Santana," Mercedes shot at her loudly. "That's Santana," she repeated unnecessarily, inclining a finger in the cheerleader's direction. "And that's Quinn, Brittany, Tina, Kurt, and Finn. And I'm Mercedes."
"We're the McKinley High Glee Club," said the nearest blonde cheerleader – Quinn – in a haughty, impatient tone. "And we're looking for Dakota Stanley."
Ohhh. McKinley… That made sense. Rachel bit her lip. These guys were her competition. There was absolutely no way she was going to betray her team and her coach (AKA her mom) by handing them any advantage.
"He's not here today," she said honestly. "Frankly, even if I had his contact information, it wouldn't be fair to my team for me to just give it to you." She could probably find it if she dug around her mom's office, but that was beside the point.
Kurt's hopeful expression immediately vanished, and nearly all of them visibly deflated. The tall guy – Finn – was focused closer to the ground now, his brow furrowed so intensely Rachel was sure she could see the wheels turning.
"I told you this was a waste of time," Santana told the group, and Rachel just caught the barely-discernable disappointment in her voice.
Rachel swiveled her head quickly to make sure the auditorium was still empty, and made a split-second decision she could only call temporary insanity. "Look, uhh, we have a rehearsal with him on Thursday. We usually finish about this time," she said casually, though her expression was anything but.
"Really?" Quinn asked, sounding doubtful. "Why would you help us?"
Rachel shrugged. "It would've taken you about two seconds to find him online. I'm just saving you the trouble." The cheerleader managed to look a little sheepish.
Her phone buzzed in her skirt pocket, and she pulled it out to glance down at the screen. It was a text from her mother, saying to meet her in the faculty parking lot.
"I have to go," she told them, replacing her phone in her pocket.
"Thanks," the tall guy – Finn – said, meeting her eyes over the others with a grin. "We owe you one."
Eyeing their odd group as she backed up the main aisle, she returned the smile. "Let's call it even."
"Why?" he asked as she turned to leave, sounding puzzled.
"You haven't met him yet," she called over her shoulder, unable to keep from grinning wolfishly.
She set us up! Finn thought in disbelief.
Dakota Stanley was a very, very bad man. Except he was more like half of a bad man because he was really short. He was an evil elf!
Quinn was totally right about that Vocal Adrenaline chick with the shiny hair… Rachel, right? She was really short too. Maybe she and that wacko were related. That would explain a lot, 'cause she totally sicced that show choir Nazi on them on purpose. (Frankenteen? Really?) Quinn bitched and I-told-you-so-ed for almost an hour after they'd come to their senses and fired him. It had also been her idea to hire him in the first place, but whatever. Everyone was relieved when Mr. Schue agreed to come back to rehearsals after that.
Except now they were back to square screwed. Thanks to Mr. Schue, a fluke, and Beyonce, they had won a football game and gotten a few of the guys to join glee, meaning that they finally had the twelve members they needed to get on stage at Sectionals. It was what they would do when they got there that had everyone freaked out.
They did more fighting than singing the closer Sectionals got, and he was afraid they would never be able to agree on a set list. They all wanted to win, but everyone seemed to think they were the club's best shot. Hiring Dakota Stanley had been a last ditch attempt. They needed to rally around something they could call their secret weapon. When that didn't work, people had kinda snapped.
Mr. Schue had been trying to hold everyone together. He'd talked Mercedes and Santana out of a catfight twice this week already. But it was obvious that he didn't know how to fix this either.
"Finn," Mr. Schue called across the choir room after another disastrous rehearsal. "Stick around a minute."
Finn left his backpack on the floor as he plopped into the front row. Mr. Schue dragged a chair in front of him and sank into it backwards, crossing his arms over the back. "What's up, Mr. Schue?" he asked, bouncing his knee restlessly.
"We have a big problem here. This club won't exist after Saturday unless we can get everyone to put aside their differences."
"I know," Finn said, swallowing. "And I know you're tired of all the fighting, but please don't give up on us yet."
"I'm not giving up. I'm trying a new approach," said Mr. Schue with a small smile. "See, I could just make the set list myself, tell you guys what to sing. But that's not why we're here. And if you guys get up there on Saturday and sing songs I picked out, even if you're letter perfect, you'll still lose."
Finn knew he looked confused. This was Mr. Schue's worst pep talk ever.
"You have to pick songs you believe in, and that can't come from me. This club needs a leader right now, Finn, someone they trust to stand toe to toe with the competition and not back down, the way you do on the football field."
He was afraid that's what Mr. Schue was getting at.
"What if I just make it worse?" he heard himself ask.
Mr. Schue raised an eyebrow at him, chuckling. "Seriously? How much worse could it get?"
"Schuester!" bellowed Coach Sylvester from the door, indicating with a finger that he should follow her.
He grimaced. "Just try, please," he said, patting Finn's arm as he replaced the chair and left.
Finn sat there a few more minutes, waiting for his brain to catch up. He had brought the club together once, but he wasn't sure he could do it again. There were twice as many egos to deal with this time, for one thing. And if his solution didn't involve heavily featuring Quinn, he would pay for it in blood later, or maybe boredom.
But Mr. Schue was right. He was probably the only one everyone would listen to. He knew they all wanted to save the club, and if he could find music that reminded them why they were all there in the first place, maybe they could work together long enough to perform the songs, win Sectionals, and then get back to ego tripping next week. Assuming the club even had a next week. He wasn't expecting a miracle.
That Saturday, Rachel sat at the end of their row at McKinley's Sectionals. Jesse was on her right, Andrea on his other side, and the two of them had been engaged in a hushed conversation since they sat down. She had wondered briefly if they might be talking about her – Andrea had been sneering at the knitted horse on her sweater since they picked her up an hour ago – but she quickly put those thoughts out of her mind. The only reason her mom wasn't there herself was because she trusted Rachel to accurately size up their competition, whomever it turned out to be, and she was determined to take it seriously.
At long last, the lights dimmed, and the coordinator walked out from the wings to announce the first team: the Jane Addams Academy, which was apparently an all-girls ensemble. Rachel hadn't heard of them before, but thirty seconds into their first number she summed up their crowd appeal in one word: hairography. It was the most amateur of flashy distraction tactics, not even close to resembling a threat.
At the first break, Rachel excused herself from Jesse and Andrea – who had resumed their muttering the second the lights came back up – and went to get a bottled water. She was just pocketing her change when she saw them. McKinley's glee club was clustered near the opposite entrance, apparently with too much nervous energy to stay in their seats. She recognized most of them from their visit to Carmel the week before, plus a few more guys, including one with a Mohawk, and… was that kid in a wheelchair? She couldn't wait to see how they worked that into their choreography. She looked up, and realized the tall guy she met at Carmel had caught her staring – Finn, she remembered. She gave him a small smile, but he didn't return it. In fact, he looked… a little hurt? Angry, maybe? What was that about?
The sound of chimes broke their stare-off, and she had no choice but to hurry back to her seat before the next club took the stage.
Rachel stopped paying attention to the second choir the moment she heard the words "School for the Deaf" leave the coordinator's mouth. She had to fight the urge to clap her hands over her ears throughout all three numbers, each more excruciating than the last. If all this chaotic noise damaged her pitch-sensitive ears, she'd be filing a law suit.
It was pretty dark in the theater, but she could still pick out McKinley from here – it helped that the kid in the wheelchair was parked in the aisle. That tall guy was sitting a couple chairs in, his head drooping forward like he was falling asleep. So much for nervous energy. She couldn't figure out what his attitude had been about in the lobby. Maybe he thought she was spying. (She was spying, but whatever – it was a public event and there were no rules against them attending. She'd checked.) Maybe the pressure was getting to him; not everyone was destined for this, after all. He'd better get it together if he wanted his team to do well.
Finally, the deaf choir took their bows, and McKinley filed out through the far aisle to change and warm up during the break. Looking down, she saw she'd finished her water, though she couldn't remember taking more than a sip. Andrea stood up abruptly and climbed over both of them, heading for the exit. After a moment, Rachel realized that left her with Jesse.
"So," she began, hoping to avoid an awkward silence. "What do you think?"
"I've seen both of those teams before," he answered matter-of-factly. "On top of their obvious flaws, they're inconsistent. McKinley is the only reason we're here. It's important to size up any new competition." He smirked, as though he were enjoying some private joke with himself.
"But they've competed before, right?" Rachel could've sworn she'd heard of them through her mother long before joining Vocal Adrenaline.
He nodded. "They showed at Sectionals three years ago with their old director and did some ill-conceived tribute to Josh Groban dressed like ancient Egyptians. I guess they couldn't generate enough interest after that. They haven't been back since."
Until now, Rachel added silently. Maybe Dakota Stanley had been able to help them after all, if they were here.
"You don't like me much, do you?" Jesse asked bluntly, turning to look at her.
Rachel smiled in spite of herself. She did appreciate honesty. "You're very talented, Jesse…"
"Oh, I know," he said candidly. "But…"
"But, you refuse to accept me as part of the team. I'd take it personally except you don't acknowledge anyone else's talent either."
Surprisingly, he smiled at her. Trust Jesse to turn something like that into a compliment. "You're right," he said finally.
"I haven't been very welcoming, and I suppose it's partly my fault that the rest of the team hasn't either."
She gave a small nod in response.
"We should rehearse a duet this week," he said suddenly.
Rachel gaped at him. She couldn't remember Jesse volunteering to split the lead on a number ever. "Really?"
He shrugged, though he continued to hold her gaze. "Yeah. Shelby wanted something different for Regionals. This definitely qualifies."
"Okay," she agreed, grinning at him. "Let's do it."
As if on cue, the lights overhead flashed, chimes signaling the start of the next act. Andrea appeared a few moments later, and Rachel jumped into the aisle before Andrea could brush past her rudely again, noticing the way Jesse unashamedly stared at Andrea's butt as she slid past him. Rachel rolled her eyes and ignored them as she sank back into her seat, preparing to see whether McKinley would prove to be a threat after all.
The coordinator announced the New Directions, and the lights went down. Music started up, a familiar heavy beat she couldn't quite place, though from Jesse's scoff next to her, he already had. She waited for the curtain to go up, and was nearly blinded as a spotlight swept past her on its way to the exit instead. Finn, the tall guy, pushed his way through the curtains, took a wide-eyed sweep of the room, and began to sing. Well, she had to give them points for ingenuity.
Even after meeting him, albeit briefly, she would not have pegged him as the lead. His voice didn't quite have the power of Jesse's, or a fraction of his confidence. But here he was, carrying his team with his own clumsy yet mesmerizing quality. He made his way steadily down the aisle next to her and towards the stage. He didn't see her, though with the spotlight in his face he probably couldn't see much of anything. As he climbed the stairs and reached center stage, the curtain lifted to reveal the rest of New Directions in rough formation on the risers. Arms at their sides, they joined in to harmonize the last verse of his song with him. The entire team paused for a few long moments, eyes to the floor – and Rachel was shocked at the audience's earsplitting reaction – and then launched into their first group number. She immediately recognized this one as a classic by the Rolling Stones.
McKinley was not what she expected at all. Most schools went for as much flash as possible to impress the judges, especially in the case of new choirs. She heard raw talent in their voices, though they were neither polished nor perfectly synchronized. Their choreography was incredibly basic, and most definitely not Dakota Stanley's work – maybe they chickened out and never called him, or decided he was too pricey – but they did have an energy neither of the other choirs had. It was encompassing and palpable, and yet it was subtle too. It was in the way they caught each other's eyes mid-lyric, when other choirs would be focused on the audience, or the little extra swing someone threw into a particular move just because they felt like it in the moment. They looked like they were having fun up there together. Part of her longed to know what that felt like.
It came as no surprise to Rachel when, after yet another break – who planned these things? – the judges took to the stage and announced McKinley to be the winners. She couldn't wait until her mom heard about this.
Jesse and Andrea dropped her back home after the competition, leaving her to report their observations to her mother alone. Which, she thought stubbornly, was just fine with her. Rachel wasn't stupid. She knew it was her they were trying to avoid, and not their coach. Shelby Corcoran was famously severe, but it was obvious from the moment Rachel joined Vocal Adrenaline that Jesse and her mom had developed an easy professional rapport, one she still envied in her most insecure moments.
"Mom?" she called as she hung her jacket in the hall closet.
"In here," came the muffled reply.
She dropped her bag at the foot of the stairs and walked down the long hallway towards her mom's home office, easing the door open slowly.
"Hey," her mom said, eyes still trained on her enormous desk. It looked like she was storyboarding choreography. She put a giant X through one panel before finally looking up. "So?"
"McKinley won," Rachel said matter-of-factly as she sat down.
Shelby nodded, leaning back into her desk chair. "I can't say I'm surprised. Those other two teams have barely gotten through their numbers the last couple years. I bet the judges were praying for something new. What do you make of them?" she asked her daughter.
Rachel couldn't help but savor the moment. She loved Shelby as a mom, but that someone as accomplished and formidable as Coach Corcoran valued her opinion meant the world to her. "They couldn't hope to compete with us technically, but they did have surprising chemistry and stage presence. The audience ate it up, and apparently so did the judges."
Her mom seemed to consider this. "Did you enjoy it?"
"The performance. You don't spend much time in the audience these days. It gives you a whole new perspective on what we do up there," she said wistfully.
"It does," Rachel agreed, thinking of the joyful expressions New Directions had worn every second on stage. She wondered what Vocal Adrenaline's trademark "show face" – did that patent ever come through? – looked like to a crowd.
"Listen, hun," Shelby said, sitting up straighter, "I'm almost done in here. So why don't we –"
"Say no more," said Rachel agreeably as she stood up. "I'll get started on dinner."
"Please no more fake meats for a while," Shelby said, with feeling. "I don't know where this new vegan kick came from, but you're not dragging me down there with you."
Rachel made a face, though her eyes twinkled. "Fine. Pasta, it is. But then I get to pick the movie!" And she fled, grinning deviously, before her mom could argue.
A/N 2: And we're off. This prologue sets up most of the background you need to know for the rest of the story, which despite the alternate history will link in with a lot of canon plot from the back nine (with some very intentional and important deviations). This is my first Glee fic and a very different writing style for me, so any feedback from you guys (particularly constructive feedback) is HUGELY appreciated.