Title: Coin Toss
Author: TheMastress (smartalli on livejournal and tumblr)
Characters/Pairings: Puck/Rachel and Finn/Rachel with Rachel/Santana friendship
Warnings: Nothing short of a bad word or two.
Summary: "Plight? Please. Child hunger is a plight. Homelessness is a plight. Having two guys fighting over you? That's the plot to just about every episode of Saved By the Bell."
Disclaimer: Don't own it. Not mine. Don't sue.
A/N: From a prompt from the puckrachel drabble meme.
The Latina throws her head back and laughs, the loud, bright sound reverberating down the mostly full McKinley High hallway.
Rachel purses her lips and leans back against the locker next to Santana's, clutching her books to her chest. "I'm glad you find my plight so amusing."
"Plight? Please. Child hunger is a plight. Homelessness is a plight. Having two guys fighting over you? That's the plot to just about every episode of Saved By the Bell."
"Noah and Finn are not fighting over me. They're simply both...vying for my affections. And you're a terrible best friend, you know that?"
Santana turns and looks at her and says, "And you have how much experience with having a best friend?" When Rachel wrinkles her nose and looks away from her, Santana says, "Look, you've got two not so bad looking guys who both want you. Far as I'm concerned, you should milk that shit for all it's worth."
She rolls her eyes and leans into her locker. "Okay, okay. I get it. You're a demure little Pretty Pretty Jewish Princess, and you would never think of doing such a thing."
Rachel shifts uncomfortably. "It just feels like the longer I go without making a choice, the more I'm leading them on."
"Or, in other words, what men have been doing to women for years."
Rachel ignores her and says, "It feels like I'm being unnecessarily cruel to them."
"Have they said anything?"
"No. They've both been quite patient with me, actually."
"So again...what's the problem?"
Rachel sighs and tucks her hair behind her ear. "I don't want to be the sort of girl who plays with a boy's affections, just because she can."
"I thought you told me last week you were "taking your time, so as not to make a hasty decision"."
"But I don't feel any closer today to making a decision than I did five weeks ago when all this started. And I'm afraid that means that at heart, I really am a wishy-washy girl, Santana. What if I never know who to choose? What if I force them to live the rest of their lives with me in the middle because I can't make a choice?"
"God, you're a drama queen." Rachel sighs and Santana looks at her a moment before she looks away and points at someone across the hall from them. "Hey you! Freshman. C'mere."
Rachel looks over and watches the boy as the color drains from his face and he begins to shake. He looks around frantically before pointing to himself and mouthing the word Me, his eyes wide and pleading. Rachel feels a little bad for him. At one time, not so long ago, she had a very similar reaction to Santana Lopez.
Santana rolls her eyes. "Yes, you. Get over here. And don't make me ask again."
He scuffles across the floor and stops in front of the girls, his eyes shooting back and forth, most likely planning an escape route. Rachel nearly tells him that using the west stairwell is his best bet, since Santana prefers to avoid running long distances if she can help it, but holds her tongue at the last moment. (Rachel still isn't entirely used to having Santana as a best friend, and sometimes finds herself falling back into her old way of thinking, but she's working on it.)
"Gimme a quarter."
The poor boy – Brett, Rachel remembers...they met in the beginning of the year in the cafeteria and Rachel always makes it a point to remember names – stutters and swallows hard. He can't seem to make a full word come out, and it's making him look like a rather unattractive fish that has just washed up on shore and is fighting to breathe. "I...uh...quar...uh..."
Brett reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small handful of items, including several coins, a gum wrapper, and copious amounts of pocket lint mixed with something...mysterious, the latter of which makes Rachel wrinkle her nose. He pales even further and holds his hand out. "I don't ha...have a quar...quarter."
Santana pulls a nickel out of his hand and says, "Whatever. This is fine." She turns away from him and toward Rachel and is about to speak when she notices Brett is still standing next to them. She raises her eyebrows and says, "You can leave now." Brett starts and then shoves his hand back in his pocket and turns rigidly, walking away as quickly as he can back over to his group of friends across the hall.
Santana turns back to Rachel and shakes her head and Rachel says, "You know, you should be nicer to Brett." She winces. "I think he wet himself."
"Whatever. If Fresh Meat can't hold his bladder, it's not my fault. I'm pretty sure that's a skill he should've mastered by now."
"Still, it seems awfully cruel to steal the poor boy's pocket change."
"I'll give it back. I just needed to borrow it."
She holds up the coin between them and Rachel says, "Please tell me you aren't suggesting what I think you're suggesting."
"Heads, you choose Puck. Tails, you choose Finn."
"Santana, I can't possibly allow a coin toss to dictate a decision as important as this."
"Will you just trust me?" Rachel pauses and looks at the other girl then finally nods. Santana smiles a little and says, "Heads, Puck. Tails, Finn."
Rachel nods again and bites her lip as Santana flips the coin. They watch it spin and flip in the air, rising above the red lockers briefly before it falls back down. Santana catches it in her hand and Rachel waits for the other girl to open her hand and show her how the coin landed, but the Latina's hand stays frustratingly closed. "Well? Is it heads or tails?"
"Which side did you want it to land on?"
"C'mon, Ray." Rachel makes a desperate attempt to reach for the coin and Santana pulls it easily out of her reach. "When the coin was in the air, which side did you want it to land on?" Rachel's shoulders slump. "Yeah, that's what I thought. You know exactly who you're going to choose. So stop being a pussy, and grow a set of balls."
Rachel ignores the graphic nature of Santana's mini-speech (Rachel's getting quite good at letting comments like that pass her by, which is unsurprising, really, considering that Santana is her best friend and Noah is her...whatever he is), but she can't ignore her words. Santana's right. And Rachel knows she's right, but the idea of hurting one of them by choosing the other causes her stomach to turn.
"And hey, no time like the present, right?"
Santana points to Rachel's right, and Rachel sees Finn standing at the end of the hall. Then she clears her throat and Rachel looks back at the other girl long enough to see her point toward the other end of the hall, where Noah stands.
Santana slams her locker shut and says, "Stop being a pussy Ray, and-"
"Grow a set of balls, I know."
Santana reaches forward and pinches her cheek. "Aw, my little baby's growing up." She pulls her hand away and looks over at the other side of the hall, frowning when she notices Brett is no longer there. "Now where's Fresh Meat?"
Rachel smiles slightly and shakes her head. "Brett."
Santana looks back at her distractedly. "What?"
"His name is Brett, not Fresh Meat."
"Whatever." Santana waves her hand at Rachel. "He pissed himself in the middle of the hallway. He's lucky I'm not calling him something worse."
"To be fair, you have that effect on a lot of people."
"True." She gives Rachel a measuring look. "Did I ever..."
"No. I've always had excellent control of my bladder, thank you very much."
Santana shrugs, smirks, and scans the hallway again. "There he is. Hey! Fresh Meat!"
The boy in question turns his head and a terrified look fills his face.
"Whatever." She looks at Rachel pointedly one more time and says, "Balls, Ray. Grow a set," before she starts walking down the hallway, toward Brett. Rachel watches as the boy tries to run away, zigzagging through groups of his fellow students as he makes his way toward the east stairwell. (That's a mistake on his part. There's a guaranteed bottleneck this time of day. He'll never outrun her.) When Santana is halfway down the hallway, Rachel hears her call out, "Dammit, Fresh Meat. Stop!"
Rachel smiles as she watches her go and looks to her right, down the hallway at Finn.
He's standing there in his letterman jacket with his hands in his pockets, smiling that sweet, almost bashful smile of his, the one that always makes her smile a little in response, as though you can't help but smile with him. It's the smile that's captured her attention so often in the past, the smile that she's always loved to see on his face. And it's a smile he readily gives, to anyone and in any situation. Like there's so many of them inside him that if he doesn't give some of them away every day, he'll die one day with a surplus, and he can't stand the thought of that.
When she turns her head to find Noah his eyes are already trained on her face, but unlike Finn, he isn't smiling at all.
She wishes he would. And not the smirk that he gives everyone, or the annoyed smile he gives someone when they say something stupid and he's just humoring them. No, she wants his real smile, the one he reserves for his sister when she does something he's proud of or the one he gives Rachel when it's just them, sitting in the bed of his truck and sipping on slushies while they talk about New York and music and what it'll feel like when Lima stops being their home and starts being a memory. Rachel thinks it's a shame that so few people know what that smile looks like.
She takes another glance at Finn, and then one at Noah, and clutches her books a little closer to her chest.
None of this had been her idea at all. It was theirs. All theirs.
Rachel and Finn had been broken up for about two months when he'd smiled that smile of his after glee one day and asked her to give him one more shot. The smile made her melt again and she'd relented, but only with the understanding that they weren't exclusive, and that she wanted to take it slow. (His smile may have made her melt, but that didn't mean she wasn't wary.) He agreed. The next day, Noah climbed up the tree outside her bedroom and knocked on her window at eleven thirty at night and told her he was throwing his hat in the ring too. He wanted a chance, he said. Just one chance. But a real one this time, not some five day sham. He wanted her, just her, and he wanted a chance to prove how good they could be together. And Rachel couldn't deny him either, not when he was looking at her like that, so hopeful and determined and sure.
It wasn't until the next day at school (after she pulled the both of them aside and explained her dilemma) that Noah and Finn talked it over and decided that if Rachel couldn't say no to either of them, then she could date the both of them. Rachel would set the terms, and when she was ready, she'd choose. She had to be the one to choose.
At first, Rachel had enjoyed it. It was a heady feeling, having two boys chasing after her for her affections at the same time, and something she honestly never thought she'd have. (Two handsome, popular, talented boys, no less.) She enjoyed their attention and their smiles and the feeling that, if only for a brief moment, she was the center of someone's world. (Someone who wasn't one of her dads, that is.)
But as soon as the dates were over, as soon as Noah had walked her to her front door or Finn had driven away down the street, she was reminded once again that she would have to choose one of them eventually, that this couldn't go on forever. And the pressure and responsibility of making that choice began to weigh down on her until it got to the point that she tried to avoid the idea of it altogether, push it into the back of her mind as something she had to worry about in the future, even though she knew that wasn't fair – even though she knows that isn't fair – to them.
Rachel looks down the hall at Finn. He's still standing there with his hands in his pockets, smiling at her, waiting for her to walk over and join him at his end of the hall so he can walk her to her next class. He expects Rachel to choose him, she knows that, and that makes sense. She's always chosen him in the past, so why would today be any different?
When she turns to look at Noah she sees he hasn't moved either, though there are people all around him, pushing their way past so they can get to their lockers or their next class. And he still isn't smiling. He's just standing there, his backpack hanging off of one shoulder, waiting for her to make her choice. He doesn't expect her to choose him. In fact, he's fully prepared for her not to. And Rachel's heart aches for him. She wonders just how many people in his life have passed him over for someone else. How many people did it take before he stopped believing anyone would choose him? How many people did it take before he just expected to be passed over?
The warning bell rings and the kids in the hallway start moving faster, hurrying to get to their destinations while Rachel and Noah and Finn stand there, watching each other. Rachel knows that the time to make her choice is now, and she knows they know it too. They've been waiting for it. They've been waiting for it for five weeks. And they deserve to have the truth.
So Rachel just does it. She stops mulling things over in her head, she stops making lists and considering every angle, and she – pardon her language – grows a set of balls.
She, in short, makes her choice.
And when she turns and walks down the hall toward Noah and sees him smile for the first time all day (that magical, magical gift of a smile that few people ever get to see), happiness practically dancing in his eyes, her heart skips a beat and her stomach clenches and if she feels a little like a teenage girl cliché, she doesn't care.
So long as Noah always smiles at her like that, she doesn't care at all.