A/N: So I originally posted this on Livejournal last November; as posting schedules go, that will probably be updated before FFN. Not much earlier, but, you know, it happens. XD
This fic is mostly AU, so the only spoilers you might find involve Season 1 of Glee, and some points from the Percy Jackson series and The Lost Hero. None of which are mine, just so we're clear. :)
The world takes from Percy Jackson and the Olympians for the most part, but you don't need to have read the books/watched the movie to understand the story. Even then, questions or clarifications are definitely welcome. Reviews, too, would be much appreciated.
Thank you in advance for taking the time to read this, and apologies in advance, too, because it's only fair to let you know that I can be a really slow writer.
My beta, madndizzee, can attest to that. :P So, lastly, huge thanks to her, because she's as much a part in the creation of this story as I am. :D
1: In Which The Stage Is Set
Rachel Berry was not a juvenile delinquent.
The counselors at all five of her past schools had said as much. Unfortunately for Rachel, all of the principals from her past five schools had also disagreed. Most of them violently.
And okay, so maybe she was the guiltiest-looking party when those falling spotlights almost turned half her fourth-grade class into underage pancakes. Maybe she didbuild that papier-mâché Kristin Chenoweth that later somehow blew her third-grade school to bits. That still didn't mean she had anything to do with any of it.
How could she?
Rachel was a scrawny, thirteen-year-old dyslexic with a bad case of ADHD and the stardom bug. She spent her days trying to rig glee club solo selections, not explosives, and contrary to popular belief, she could read sheet music far better than satanic glyphs. Or anything else, for that matter.
The truth was that she was more suited to filling the role of "victim" than the "murderous sociopath" one she kept being cast in - but that didn't stop things from exploding whenever she was around, let alone boost her chances of staying out of juvie. In fact the only chances it probably raised were those of being chased out of town by a mob armed with pitchforks and torches.
As it happened, her new school was in a region historically known for using pitchforks. Which was why, looking back on her time in William McKinley High, she was surprised to have lasted as long as she did.
On the last day of her four months in Lima, Ohio, Rachel marched into glee club with all the sound and fury of a rising legend long denied her due. There was a new solo up for grabs - Defying Gravity, according to her reliable if incredibly disturbing source, the panty-sniffing male lead Jacob Ben Israel - and she'd be damned if the dignity she'd traded didn't nab her more than her regular backing vocals. There was only so much a girl could take after giving up some underpants.
Especially when she was forced to battle the likes of Suzy Pepper for solos. It was bad enough that Suzy won all the time, but losing Mama Who Bore Me while your competitor was in the middle of an esophagus transplant? She'd almost appreciated the creeping arm Jacob Ben Israel tried to put around her shoulders - at least before she remembered her pending request for a restraining order.
The fact was that she was the most - no, the only- talented member of glee club, and she was also the only one who had yet to sing more than the occasional backing "Ooh." So it was an understandably short fuse she walked in with, that last day in McKinley's choir room. Pepper greeted her with the usual mad eyes and taunting smirk; Jacob tried to use his de facto male lead status to sexually harass her; and, just as Rachel took her seat and dispensed her twenty-third ACLU threat of the day, the bane of her gold-starred existence walked straight into the room.
"Good day, Mr. Schuester," she said, as politely as she could. Considering the curly-haired choir director always passed her up in favor of crazed girls with burnt digestive tracts, her tone fell several light years short of "civil and cordial." It was, however, within a ten-mile radius of "mildly offensive," and well within the bounds of "murderously inclined."
Well. She'd tried.
"Hello, Rachel," William Schuester bleated. Literally, bleated, like he always did when he was out to (nervously) ruin her future. She wondered if the "Baa-aachel"was intentional; the implied career sabotage certainly was. "And hi, guys."
"Mr. Schue, I understand we're going to have auditions for a solo today?" Rachel interjected. There really was no need to greet her fellow glee club members; some of them - she glared pointedly at the budding sex offender trying to place a hand on her leg - hardly counted as members at all. Unfortunately, Mr. Schuester seemed to be using a different number system altogether.
"Baa-ha-ha!" The anxiety in Mr. Schue's voice only made him sound like a man harboring several years' worth of dreams about being Wicked's Doctor Dillamond. It was an entirely appropriate act, considering glee club assignments were always tied to some kind of gimmick. For a while that gimmick was "heartwarming moral lessons" care of Mr. Schue, who seemed perfectly happy spouting advice about things like "seeing the best in people."
Then Rachel had asked how exactly one did that with an eye full of corn syrup, to her teammates' loud agreement, and their meetings had been free of Mr. Schuester's Great Teaching Moments for a while. Apparently he'd gotten out of his funk by discovering bad method acting.
"About that," Mr. Schue continued, the goat act thankfully dropped. "I understand we've been doing too many standards, show tunes - "
"No!" Rachel squeaked.
" - so I thought we could try a different approach." The choir director wrung his hands. In his button-down shirt and jeans he could have passed for a standard young, impassioned teacher, but Rachel knew what he was up to. It took more than a bout of bleating to cover up what was clearly meant to be an elegy for her moment of Wicked glory.
"You guys have been asking for more modern stuff, so our next selection is going to be..."
Mr. Schue held his breath, raising his palms and eagerly waiting for something other than tumbleweed to creep into the room. He seemed to be crossing his fingers for excitement. Rachel didn't know about her fellow glee clubbers, but she'd never wanted to punch someone so much in her otherwise-peaceful life.
"...50 Cent!" He finished, looking around and flashing a wide grin that only made him more of a tempting target.
Somewhere in the back, a kid from the AV Club yawned. A can of Coke sailed straight in the general direction of the choir director's face, exploding right on top of the piano. The band kids started complaining about buying Kevlar vests in case of drive-bys. Jacob Ben Israel tried to flex his nonexistent "rapper muscles," and a quick glance to her left revealed a homicidal Suzy Pepper.
For once the room (sans Jacob) crackled with some kind of (mutinous) solidarity. Mr. Schuester had demonstrated rap to them, once, and somewhere between his awkward "breakdancing" and the horrific thought of being shot for condoning such a crime against humanity, they'd all developed a violent aversion to the genre. Being told they had to perform it, well, their teacher probably had good reason to fear for his life: Everyone (again, sans Jacob) looked bent on entering Sectionals with prison records and a mangled corpse for a director. Which, as far as rapping glee clubs went, was admittedly a good start.
Rachel did not want a good start. She wanted a solo, and she did not appreciate the apparent implication that she had to offend her musical sensibilities to get one. Summoning her last ounce of pacifist sentiment, she straightened up in her seat and threw up her hand.
"Mr. Schue, I hardly think this kind of music will get pass the censors - "
"Ah," the choir director cut in, his tone dripping with all the smoothness borne from hours of practice in front of a mirror, "but this year the Ohio Show Choir Board's expressed an interest in welcoming more music from the African-American community." He gave a self-satisfied nod, as if he were filming a PSA about ruining student dreams. "As I understand, one of your dads is African-American, so I would expect you, of all people, to support New Directions' new direction."
For once, Rachel could only gape back. In the pages of her future autobiography it was a moment that could have been set down as groundbreaking: She was being verbally outmaneuvered by a bleating show choir director - and with a move he'd probably stolen from Sue Sylvester to boot.
In any other circumstances, she would have welcomed the sudden growth of backbone in their director - it was a handy trait to have, if they ever needed to grovel for enough money from the school to stage a halfway decent number - but as it was, she was far too busy being horrified about where the spine had come from.
Coach Sylvester was the self-proclaimed celebrity dictator-in-charge of McKinley's cheerleading squad. Or at least, that was her job description. The truth was that she spent most of her tracksuited time stalking the halls, sending McKinley's students into intensive psychotherapy and ridiculing Mr. Schuester's admittedly ill-advised hairdo. She took potshots at the rest of America, too - via her segment on the local news program (true to her name, after the first episode, she really was getting sued) - but her favorite punching bag was always Will Schuester.
In a way, it should have been expected. Research did say that humans learned best through repetition, and Coach Sylvester certainly harassed their choir director often enough for him to pick up something. Usually that was his dignity, what with the coach basically mopping the floor with it, but the tricks were bound to come sometime. It just wasn't expected that he would actually use them.
To the high court of ethics residing soundly in Rachel Berry's conscience, it was nothing short of appalling.
"That is nothing short of appalling, Mr. Schuester," she declared, marching up to the teacher to wag an accusatory finger in his face. Behind her, the other kids groaned. "How long have you been decrying Coach Sylvester's use of manipulation to achieve her goals?"
Somewhere in the back of her skull a tiny Rachel struggled to pull out sticky notes about lying low in school, and avoiding trips to the principal's office, and staying for at least a year in Lima. Somewhere in there a tiny Rachel was prodding the rest of her brain to stop. But the larger part of her head, all 99.9% of it, thrummed with the sound of rushing blood, and the moment Mr. Schuester opened his mouth to defend the erosion of his morals, tiny Rachel dropped her Post-Its and reached for her Bedazzled protest placards.
"Now, Rachel," Mr. Schue started, backing up pass the piano and raising trembling hands as the rest of the club sighed and started filing out of the room. It had become standard practice after Rachel's third day of diva fits, complete with guidelines from the diva herself. After all, if her teammates were going to storm out it was imperative to ensure a modicum of order. The last thing she needed was Mr. Schuester dying by a stampede in the middle of her tirade.
"Oh, come on, guys," the choir director called as the last kid scampered down the hall with a wave.
"Listen, Rachel," he sighed, turning to look at her with the kind of resignation frequently seen on death row. "Let's not go berserk over this, okay?" His eyes grew wide when the words sunk in. "I mean, I know your ADHD makes - "
"How long," seethed the brunette, ignoring her teammates and narrowing her eyes as she pressed on, each stomp punctuated with a jab at her teacher's nose, "have you inundated this glee club with speeches about your views on integrity and teaching?"
"Rachel," Mr. Schue interrupted, stepping out of the line of nose jabs and bracing one hand against the doorway to try and hold his ground. "I know you do this about song choices, and choreography, and costumes, but if you don't stop attacking- "
"But there you are, buying into Coach Sylvester's despicable methods with nary an inch of the malevolent polyester tracksuits required to pull them off!" Rachel huffed, crossing her arms and frowning at her teacher. "For shame, Mr. Schuester, for shame."
Mr. Schue stared at her, looking for all the world as though he'd just been flattened by a steamroller. Rachel smiled. Obviously the choir director now owed her a solo for saving him from Sue Sylvester's own brand of hellfire. The marquees were just starting to light up in her head when a cutting voice flew in from the doorway and shattered them all.
"You should listen to her, Mr. Schue, I'm sure she's got a lot to say about shame."
Rachel stiffened. She'd taken great pains to avoid the even greater pain of that voice all day, and she'd ducked into the choir room for glee that afternoon confident that she'd finally succeeded. As she turned to address the interruption, peering around the still-stricken Mr. Schuester, it was clear that success was short-lived: Leaning against the doorframe, arms folded and eyebrow raised, was Quinn Fabray.
She was clad, as always, in the red and white armor that was her Junior Cheerios uniform, her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail so severe Rachel wouldn't have been surprised if it killed someone. There was a pompom bunched in Quinn's hand, matching the colors of her uniform exactly. Whatever it was that sent her from cheerleading practice to resume the slow and steady destruction of Rachel's life she'd so far reserved for class hours, Rachel knew it could only have been evil.
"I really don't know why you bother with speeches, Stubbles, that sweater says it all." Quinn flashed her a smile. It was so sickeningly sweet she looked like she was trying to kill Rachel with diabetes.
"Quinn," Mr. Schue warned, snapping out of his trance and pushing Rachel behind him for good measure. "I'm sorry, but this is a glee club matter, and I cannotlet you interrupt it by ridiculing my students' sweaters."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Schue," Quinn answered, undeterred."Would you rather I douse her skirt with acid instead?"
The choir director frowned at her. Quinn was never outright rude to Mr. Schue, but she didn't exactly respect him either. The other Cheerios at least talked to him like any other teacher. Quinn, on the other hand - it was like Coach Sylvester gave her a one-on-one course on school-brand malice. Rachel could almost see the syllabus: Lesson One - Looking Down on Schuester.
"Why are you here, Quinn?" Mr. Schue pressed his fingers to his temple. Rachel felt a pang of guilt when she saw his shoulders slump. He looked so tired. "I'm sure Sue doesn't like her cheerleaders being late for practice."
"Oh, she isn't on the field." Quinn smirked, pushing herself off the doorframe and smoothing out her skirt. "Actually, Mr. Schue, if you're done being lectured by Stubbles - "
" - Berry," she amended, rolling her eyes, "Coach says she wants to see you in her office."
Rachel's eyes widened, all traces of pity for Mr. Schuester gone. So now he was holding secret meetings with Coach Sylvester? She pushed her way out from behind him, taking care to glare at both the fallen choir director and the cheerleader waiting to lead him to damnation. Quinn glanced at her, amused.
"Not done talking yet, Manhands?" This time, Quinn plowed right through Mr. Schuester's protests. "You better learn to shut your mouth soon."
She drew herself up, her eyes hardening into a stare so cold Rachel had to step back. In the afternoon light it almost seemed like there was a storm brewing under all that hazel. "I'm sure you're aware that I'm not the only one here who wants to shut it for you. I'm also sure you're very aware that those football-throwing Neanderthals are doing their best to make sure you spend the rest of your life on mute. Horrific as the idea is, Stubbles, ifI were you..." Quinn wrinkled her nose in disgust, "I wouldn't give them any more reason to try."
"You better get going, Mr. Schue," she added brightly, strutting out into the hall. "You know the way. She doesn't like to be kept waiting."
Rachel blocked the door before Mr. Schue could follow Quinn out into the hall, her eyes burning with accusation.
"Did I hear that right, Mr. Schuester? Clandestine meetings with Coach Sylvester - and held frequently enough for you to, and I quote, 'know the way'?" Her fingers twitched with the last ounce of her agitation as she made air quotes. "Mr. Schuester, there is no disrespect meant in this accusation, but I do believe you've turned into a hypocrite."
There was no stab of guilt to feel when Mr. Schue sighed, the wrinkles on his brow looking deeper than ever. She couldn't bring herself to feel sorry for him, not anymore. Her anger was trickling away, or perhaps it had been squashed by the appearance of Quinn Fabray, she didn't know. What she did know was that she could take no more excuses from Mr. Schuester. He wasn't the only one who was tired.
"Look, Rachel." Mr. Schue rubbed the back of his neck. "Whatever you think Sue and I are up to, it has nothing to do with your solos."
"Or lack thereof," Rachel muttered, looking away. She could feel Mr. Schue's eyes on her as she dropped onto the closest chair, squeezing her eyes shut to keep the sadness in. She wondered idly where to keep it, but she heard the answer trickling drop by drop into her voice. "I just don't understand why you keep giving me chorus parts when the closest thing I have to competition has a burnt larynx and someone else's esophagus."
She could feel the words sinking into her chest as she said them, closing off her throat, blurring up her vision. She dug her palm into her eyes, trying to push back the tears. Her daddies had raised her not to be the kind of girl who cried. She'd raised herself to be the kind of girl who tried not to disappoint them. Her chest tightened at the thought that she'd failed - again - at both.
The sound of chair legs scraping across the floor cut into her thoughts. Suddenly there was Mr. Schue in front of her, smiling. It was a smile she often thought was reserved for terminally-ill people. Sad, sorry - but also helpless.
"I know you want to be a star," Mr. Schue started, his patented Teaching Moment voice kicking into gear as he laid a hand on her shoulder, "and I know that's been hard to do in glee club so far. I mean, you must be feeling all this pressure to prove yourself, being the new kid, being the..." He trailed off, exploding effigies and multicolored slushies hanging in the air between them. "But you have to understand, Rachel - sometimes, sometimes people have to wait to get their shot at stardom."
"Sometimes they have to try, too." She wiped the tracks off her cheeks with the sleeve of her sweater. Frustration seeped into her voice. "Why do you always have to stop me when I do?"
"I... " Mr. Schuester frowned, as if trying to pick out the right words. "I know all too well that sometimes people live easier when they don't try too early." He reached over and poked her nose. "Which is what you've been doing." Earnestness crept back into his eyes as he regarded her, anxious. "It's not your time yet, Rachel."
Rachel looked at him, really looked, searching his eyes for more disappointment, maybe even a lie in the vein of one Sue Sylvester - but somehow, studying his face as he waited for her answer, she knew he was telling the truth.
"It's never too early to replace Idina," Rachel finally murmured.
"Maybe a few more years." Mr. Schue gave her a pat on the back as he stood up, looking so relieved he might have started rapping about it.
The school's PA system crackled to life above them, saving Rachel from another terrifying rendition of Vanilla Ice. Mr. Schue looked up at the speaker hanging over the doorway, puzzled.
"Calling William Schuester. Coach Sylvester wants you to haul your underachieving ass - wait, sorry, I was just reading the note - ah -" There was a scuffling noise. Rachel winced as feedback blasted through the halls.
A loud sigh came through the speakers. "Just go to Ms. Sylvester's office, Mr. Schue."