Disclaimer: I don't own Glee or any of its characters. Don't own any of the songs in this chapter either. I do, however, own Maria Arioso :)

A/N: Hey guys, long time no write. If you read my author's note, you know I spent a few of the last several months on my back-what I believed to be a 'flu' turned out to be a bad case of swine flu (I relapsed a few times) which then evolved into a bad case of bronchitis. Right now I'm trying to get all my things together and catch up on what I've missed. My hiatus still isn't over, but I managed to pen here and there between everything once I got my hands on a new laptop (my old one finally quit on me after six or so years).

So here's the next chapter of Just A Kiss. It's got a lot of Faberry and some more plot progression. I hope you all can be patient with me. Thanks for all the well-wishing, by the way, guys. Your kind words really helped me get through the last few months. :)

If y'all are interested, I've created a gaming/reading Tumblr. I haven't watched Glee since the beginning Season 3, so I have NO idea what's going on in the fandom/show, so I figured it'd be best for me to stick to something I do know-books, music, and gaming. :) Link's in my profile, if you're interested!

Anyway guys, enjoy, read and review, if you would be so kind, thanks. :)


Chapter 21: Another Day


"I wonder if Beethoven felt like this when he wrote the ninth symphony," Rachel groaned, fingers playing across the piano's ivory keys. She reached up, plucking the pencil from behind her ear. She violently hashed out a faulty pairing of chords.

"Felt like what?" Quinn inquired. She sat on the ground, leaning against one of the piano's polished legs. Her fingers shuffled over the numerous piles of sheet music fanned out before her.

"Like he wanted to tear out all his hair and break his piano into a million little pieces," Rachel gritted out. "Classical composers make it seem so easy. Most of them started writing music when they were in diapers! Look at me, 17 and still nothing to show for it." She threw her hands up in frustration.

"Hey," Quinn reached out, pressing a soothing hand to Rachel's leg. Her voice smoothed over Rachel's frayed nerves. "Not everyone's Mahler, Mozart, or Stravinsky. Sometimes, it just takes a little bit more of a push to find the inspiration. You'll get there."

"I'm sorry," Rachel sighed, rubbing her eyes wearily. "I shouldn't be taking this out on you it's just… I didn't think it'd be so hard to write a song. Music's always been in me. I've always heard the sound and heard the words. I've always felt it deep in my heart.

"But the one moment I need to write," she dropped her hands to her lap, "the one moment that we need it, the music's left me. I don't know what's wrong."

"The last few weeks haven't been easy," Quinn gave Rachel's leg a soft squeeze. "Between your Dads and the club, you've had a hell of a time. I'd be stressed too."

The encounter with Jesse St. James certainly hadn't helped either.

Something about him still made Rachel uneasy.

This encounter he'd been far more open and obvious in his goals. There'd been no underhanded attempts at getting physically closer, no sleazy smiles stretched across his lips, no show face to block the play of emotion across his features.

Jesse had been candid with her. Apologized for thinking that she might be interested. Apologized for believing that she was some naïve little girl who bent at every brilliant, artificial smile.

For not seeing her as an equal.

Now he knew Rachel could play the game. That she could be every bit as talented as him. Could see through his lies and right into the heart of his character. He knew she couldn't be manipulated.

So he extended his respect and admiration to her. The offer to be seen as an equal and be acknowledged as a threat.

Jesse offered to be her friend.

Rachel accepted because she couldn't see the slightest hint of falsehood hiding behind his eyes.

She could sense nothing malicious. That nagging sense of self-preservation that plagued her entire existence since the day she'd left Lima had been absent when he offered.

But that didn't stop Rachel from feeling some sense of… wrongness as she accepted.

Because that absence of trickery, the absence of nagging vulnerability made the warning bells sound just as loudly.

Jesse St. James wasn't the type to do friendship without trickery. To suddenly take an interest in someone whose Glee Club didn't pose a threat to his own magnificent group. This was unusual. Alarming.

Genuine respect? Genuine interest? These things did not fit Jesse St. James' character, and so Rachel did not trust him.

She had seen that glint of something in his eye. That maliciousness.

She would keep him close, make him think he was a friend. But she would be ready to discard him at the slightest moment. Ready to throw him away before he detonated and destroyed every single little thing she worked so hard to rebuild here in Lima.

Rachel would not be broken again. She wouldn't allow it.

But that didn't make things any easier.

As expected, the Glee Club hadn't taken kindly to once again being "told what to do."

Rachel introduced the idea of original songs at the opening of the next meeting. She tried to ease into the idea as easily as she could, lessen the aversion to the idea.

Schue stood at the front of the room, marker tapping down various song ideas. After several moments, Rachel meekly raised her hand for a suggestion.

"So what's your suggestion, Rachel?" His voice was light, a smile curling softly on his lips. His eyes, however, begged for a day without confrontation. His shoulders squared themselves, bracing for the oncoming storm.

A half-smile curled on Rachel's lips before she began to speak. "I suggest we throw out these songs."

"And I suggest that you shut up," Mercedes' gaze burned into Rachel. "We all agreed to find a new set list yesterday. We're not going to allow you to dictate what we do anymore."

"First, we all didn't agree to abandon that set list," Rachel swiveled to face Mercedes, eyes narrowing. "Don't even pretend this was a unanimous decision. Everyone else agreed to use the set list. You and Kurt threw a juvenile tantrum and threw away all our hard work. Let's get that straight."

Mercedes opened her mouth to protest.

"Ah!" Rachel raised her hand. "No! I'm not done yet.

"If you'd just let me continue, I think you'll be much more amenable to this idea. After all, you'll have the chance to make something all about you for once," Rachel turned to Schue. "Mr. Schue, may I?"

"O-oh," Schue nodded slowly. "Alright. The floor is yours, Rachel."

"Thank you," she nodded, before standing. She took up a marker, turning toward the group. "What is the one thing all these songs have in common?" Rachel tapped the suggested list.

"They're all different," Quinn quickly answered. "They represent various facets of personality or different people."

"Yes," Rachel said, nodding. "They're all distinct songs, beautiful in their own right. They're reflections of the people that wrote them."

She crossed them out. "The problem is that they're the wrong reflection. They don't blend to create anything. They don't reflect and meld together the way the music we produce together in New Directions does."

"So if you don't want us to use any of those songs," Kurt began. He crossed his arms. "Then what do you want us to use?"

"I'm glad you asked," Rachel smiled. She wiped the board down, then wrote "Original Song" in neat, plain script.

"Shit," Santana gave a low whistle. "Midget, are you serious?"

"I'm very serious," Rachel grinned, capping the marker. "I think we should write our own songs. A perfect reflection of each person in this club. A solo, a duet, and a group number that completely encompasses New Directions as a whole."

"And have you decide?" Mercedes snapped. "Hellz to the no! You'll just choose all the songs you and the fruit loops wrote!"

"No," Rachel shook her head. "We'll be fair. We all perform songs for the solo, then the songs that get the majority of votes will be performed at Regionals. Everyone gets a say. Is that fair enough for you?"

"You're friends with most of the people in the room," Kurt argued. "How do we know they'll be impartial?"

"Because if my song sucks, they won't choose me," Rachel turned to face her friends. "They want to win just as badly as you do. They wouldn't sabotage our chance of winning just to be my friend. Right, guys?"

"You got that right," Santana huffed, crossing her arms.

"I swear by all the unicorns in the world," Brittany said, crossing her hand over her heart.

"I promise on my stacks of NES, Playstation, and N64 games," Artie nodded.

"Ditto," Tina nodded.

"I promise," Quinn complied.

"Well," Rachel clapped her hands together. "We're all in agreement. The question is: are you both in agreement as well?"

Mercedes studied her curiously for a moment before nodding slowly. "Fine. Sounds as fair as it can get."

Rachel walked up to Mercedes, extending her hand. "Shake on it?"

"I can do that," Mercedes said, grasping Rachel's palm firmly.

"Hey."

Rachel shook her head, clearing her mind. She shifted her gaze to lock with concerned hazel.

"Are you alright?" Quinn leaned forward slightly, shifting closer. "You look like you're thinking troubled thoughts."

Rachel's lip lifted to a bitter curve. "Seems like that's the path my mind meanders down most often."

Quinn studied Rachel's features intently for several moments. She shifted, standing. She stepped over several stacks of music before coming to stand behind Rachel. Quinn nudged Rachel. "C'mon, move over."

Rachel furrowed her brow. "Why?"

Quinn rolled her eyes. "Because I want to sit next to you, stupid. Now scoot."

Rachel shifted on the bench, allowing Quinn to take a seat beside her. As Quinn settled herself, Rachel crossed her arms. She lifted a single brow. "Now is there a reason you came all the way up here?"

"Yes," Quinn reached out and flipped the notation paper over. "I'm here to make you take a break. We're gonna clear out that stress by playing a little bit of fun music."

"Fun music?" Rachel questioned flatly. "That's your plan to make me feel better? We're going to slack off and play fun music?"

"It's better than sitting here and watching you tear your hair out for another few hours," Quinn replied shortly. She prodded Rachel on the shoulder. "They say music wipes away the dust of the soul. So come on now, let's hear something happy. It'll put you in the right mindset."

"Something happy?" Rachel drawled, putting her hands to the keys. "I just don't know if I can do that. I mean, I'm being so dark and broody."

"Play something happy, Berry," Quinn threatened, "Or I swear I'll make you wish you were happy."

"Oh alright, alright," Rachel sighed. She played a short, ragtime style intro. "Well, here's the most lively, rousing song I can think of. Always cheers me up when I feel sad."

Ragtime blended to a bleak funeral dirge. "When you attend a funeral, it is sad to think that sooner or later those you love will do the same for you…"

Rachel grinned as Quinn's jaw dropped. "And you may have thought it tragic, not to mention other adjec-tives to think of all the weeping they will doooooo… But don't you worry. No more ashes, no more sackcloth, and an armband made of black cloth will someday never more adorn a sleeve." Her fingers played a short flourish.

"…For if a bomb that drops on you… gets your friends and neighbors too, there'll be no one left behind to grieve. And we will all go together when we go-."

"That is not a cheerful song!" Quinn interjected, slapping Rachel's arm.

"It's a song about the whole of humanity uniting and purging the loneliness within," Rachel drawled with a smirk. "What could be more positive and uplifting than that?"

"It's about everyone on Earth dying in a giant explosion!"

"It's about not being left behind… And it's not just explosions."

"I'm SO sorry that I don't know the rest of the ways humanity can DIE in your awful murder song," Quinn threw her arms up.

"Well… they fry and bake," Rachel paused for a moment, thinking. "And explode."

"Yes, because that's MUCH better!"

"Actually it is," Rachel grinned. "There's variety in the manner of death. No two people shall go the same way, yet they shall be united in their demise. It's rather poetic, if you think about it."

"Don't be a smartass!" Quinn chided. A smile fought its way onto her lips. "God, I get up to cheer you up and all you give me is sass. I never should've wasted my energy coming up here!"

"Ah ah ah," Rachel grabbed Quinn's arm. "I'm sorry. You were being serious. Okay, hold on. I'll put on my serious face." She smoothed a hand over her features, straightening her smile into a single firm line. "Okay, speaketh thy truth, oh happiness whisperer."

"The only way to forget your troubles," Quinn placed her fingers on the keys. "Is to let them go every once and a while. Just forget about everything that's bogging you down and sing something joyful."

"Alright, I'll play along," Rachel chuckled. She slid over, closing the distance between them on the bench. "I'm fresh out of song ideas right now though. Don't make me think of anything. We'll go with your song selection."

"Alright," Quinn cracked her knuckles. "How about some Rent? Since we never got to crack that set list."

"Yes," Rachel rolled her eyes. "Because Rent is a bright, optimistic musical that's not full of drama, death, and depression."

"There are a few happy songs in there. Here," Quinn reached down and grabbed her bag. She shuffled through the folders, pulling out a blue one labeled "Glee Club" in a steady hand. She rifled through the sheets for a moment. "Ah, here we go."

Quinn placed the music on the lid, playing through the first few bars with a smile.

"This is your idea of a happy song?" Rachel questioned, lifting her eyebrow. "No Day But Today?"

"It may not be the happiest song," Quinn's fingers settled against the keys. "But it's got the right idea. Sometimes, you need to live in the moment to be happy. Don't think of the future, don't think of the past. Live right in the moment."

"Easy to say, hard to do," Rachel chuckled. "Trade lines?"

"Sure," Quinn nodded in her direction. "Why don't you do the honors?"

"Alright… give me two, then I'll come in," Rachel closed her eyes, taking a heavy breath.

Quinn's fingers tapped against the keys for several moments, releasing a soft, tinkling intro into the air.

"The heart may freeze or it can burn. The pain will ease if I can learn," Rachel sung out clearly.

"There is no future, there is no past, thank God this moment's not the last," Quinn sung in reply.

"There's only us. There's only this. Forget regret—or life is yours to miss, no other road. No other way, no day but today," Rachel crooned. Brown met soft green as Quinn smiled gently at her.

"There's only yes, only tonight. We must let go to know what's right," Quinn's voice swelled with the melody. "No other course, no other way. No day, but today."

"I can't control… my destiny," the music swelled, crescendoing into the darkness of the theatre. "I trust my soul. My only hope is just to be."

"There's only now, there's only here," Quinn pounded the keys, adding several flourishes. "Give into love, or live in fear."

Their voices joined as they sang the last lines, echoing through the confines of the auditorium. "No other path… no other way. No day but today."

As the last notes of the song faded into nonexistence, Rachel began to notice how close they'd become. They sat shoulder to shoulder facing each other, eyes locked, chests heaving.

Rachel could feel her heart pound in her chest. A slight bit of anxiety screamed at her to back away and laugh the situation off.

The same magnetism from the party flooded her veins, beckoned her to lean forward the last few inches and just kiss Quinn.

Her hard won control, the self-awareness that served her well for so many years, failed in the face of whatever this was between them.

Rachel couldn't bring herself to stop.

'Give her a chance,' Maria implored somewhere in the hazy depths of her mind.

Goddamned Maria.

Silence reigned between them as they studied each other, tension thick in the air.

Quinn moved first.

She lifted a gentle hand, stroking over Rachel's cheekbone with a slight smile etched on her lips.

"Do you feel better?" Quinn asked. Her voice lowered to nothing more than a mere whisper.

"Y-yeah," Rachel stuttered. She trembled against Quinn's fingers.

The gap between them lessened once more as Quinn pressed a shaking palm against Rachel's side, careful to keep pressure light.

A strange, wistful half-smile creased full lips as Quinn cupped Rachel's cheek tenderly. Her breath shuddered onto Rachel's lips as she bent closer, resting her forehead against Rachel's.

"God," Quinn whispered, her voice husky. "You really have no idea, do you?"

"Of what?" Rachel breathed.

"Of what an extraordinary person you are," Quinn closed her eyes. "Of how beautiful you are. You're so shy, so unsure… so broken.

"You hide behind this veneer of false smiles, a shield of bravado. Sometimes the act is convincing. You've been doing it so long that you believe the mask you wear is you," Quinn's thumb traced Rachel's cheekbone. "But the mask always fades away, and sometimes you just seem so lost and lonely."

"Quinn-."

"You try to shoulder everything yourself," Quinn powered on. "You act like you can handle everything. You're beautiful in your brokenness, you're wonderful despite everything that's happened to you.

"But that's not when you're the most beautiful," Quinn. "You're most beautiful when you power through it all. When you become strong, stubborn and blunt. When all those things are tempered by the kindness inside your heart. That's when you're most beautiful.

"…That's when I lo-…" Quinn's jaw clenched for a moment, struggling with the words. "…When I like you most."

The two of them stayed fixed in that position for several moments. Silence pervaded the room, the only sound the whisper of air leaving Rachel's mouth as she struggled to think clearly.

She closed her eyes.

It always came back to this.

Always back to Rachel and Quinn.

Ever since they'd met each other, there'd been this undeniable attraction, this magnetism that kept drawing them together, no matter how many times Rachel messed up.

Several months ago the connection would've scared Rachel into oblivion. She would've distanced herself from Quinn and road out the storm of emotion. Would've forcibly sought to sever their friendship before it began to ascend into something else.

Something more.

Rachel was notoriously terrible at relationships. Her partners were ill suited, awkward matches that ended in disaster.

Sometimes it'd been her fault—her boyfriend would be more emotionally invested in the relationship than she was. They loved to spend time with her, sought to make their partnership something intimate and infallible.

Rachel feared those words. Anything that would strip away the barriers separating her from another. Anything that forced her to expose the scarred, vulnerable girl hiding behind the stony façade of Rachel Berry, choir singer, friend, and dancer.

The first and only time she allowed her guard to fall, she'd been tricked into giving a saliva sample that effectively tore her family asunder and widened the chasm of loathing between the two people she treasured most in her life.

If Rachel knew that the DNA test would allow Papa to take her away from her Father, she never would've opened her mouth in the first place.

She would've locked herself in her room, bit his fingers, done anything to resist.

But Papa looked at her with shimmering eyes, holding the swab out with trembling fingers and promised that one little brush on the inside of her cheek, and all the fighting would disappear.

She'd been dumb and naïve enough to believe him.

Rachel vowed never to trust wholly in his… in anyone's words again.

And so her boyfriends would mumble and complain.

They claimed she was "distant" and "cold."

That she had no real desire to fall in love and if she could just let them in they could fix her and everything would be right in her life again.

She scoffed at them each time.

Fix her. As if her feelings were something they could stick together with some nails and tacky glue. As if they could gather the shattered pieces scattered about her heart and make them into something better.

What gave them the right to say that?

Rachel never had the desire to let anyone in to fix her.

Maria would sometimes wander amidst the shards, gather them up, and lovingly patch things together here and there. Do a little tidying, warm the pieces with her friendship and smiles.

But no one had ever completed the puzzle.

No one ever cared enough to.

Not until Quinn Fabray.

She pressed herself between the cracks, gently forced her way in until she saw the mess scattered about Rachel's mind.

She accessed the damage, resisted the continuous pushes for her to leave, and slowly began to rebuild things just as they were, brick by brick.

Quinn wasn't fixing her.

She was making things exactly as they were before Rachel's world fell apart.

Here and there a piece was missing. Some shards were ground into fine powder and lost in the winds of time. In those places, Quinn placed a bit of golden stucco, smiled, and continued on.

Rachel feared Quinn. Feared the vulnerability, feared the ache of familiarity Quinn brought with her in each interaction, feared the memories and emotions she stirred.

But Rachel didn't fear them enough to push her away.

So she let Quinn come so close, she could count her lashes, she let her lean close and take what she wanted.

God, Rachel never could resist Quinn.

Even as ever fiber of her being screamed for her to wait, to get herself back into an emotionally stable place so she could actually be something for Quinn, she couldn't resist.

...Until her phone rumbled and jingled in her pocket.

Rachel stiffened against Quinn, jerking out of her grasp.

Her cheeks burned as she reached into her pocket, eyes falling embarrassedly to the ground as she flipped the lock on her iPhone, before staring at the message on the screen.

The blush faded into a grimace of annoyance as Rachel took in the message on the screen.

'Good day, Miss Berry. Might I request your presence at the Lima Bean this afternoon, 3:30 sharp? I have some items of the utmost importance to discuss with you. Please respond ASAP. –Jesse.'

"There went the song high," Rachel muttered. She ran her hand through her hair, frustrated.

"Who is it?" Quinn asked, clearing the huskiness from her throat.

"St. James," Rachel's hand fell to her lap. "He wants to have a coffee after school to discuss 'items of the utmost importance.'"

"Didn't you just give him your number last week?" Quinn scowled. "He's calling on those friend privileges already?"

"I was hoping he'd just forget the number was in his phone," Rachel groaned. She gathered the sheet music up into a neat stack, pulling a folder from her back and stuffing it in unceremoniously. "The moron's probably got it under 'rivals to crush,' down at the very bottom of the list."

"A contact list for rivals?" Quinn lifted her brow.

"You can't tell me a guy as pretentious as Jesse St. James doesn't have one," Rachel shoved the folder into her bag. She peered down at her phone again. "…I supposed I should send a message confirming his little rendezvous… though we'll have to change the location."

"You're going to meet him?" Quinn questioned incredulously. "You're actually going to go meet him? Are you insane? Rachel, he could hurt you!"

"What's he going to do? Serenade me to death?" Rachel scoffed. "No, better to go and see what he's up to. Better to stay close and keep an eye on what he's got going."

"Vocal Adrenaline is known from sabotaging the competition, Rach," Quinn stood, pacing. "They've slashed the competition's tires to prevent them from getting to the venue. They've destroyed music rooms, they've even paint balled and humiliated select singers. They play a dirty game. This isn't just show choir anymore, Rach."

Rachel chuckled, putting her jacket on. She threw her scarf around her neck, draping her bag over her shoulder. She grabbed Quinn's arm, forcing her to stop pacing. "Quinn, if you keep worrying, you're gonna sprout gray hairs. Just relax."

"How can I relax if you're going to go sip coffee with Jesse St. Moron?" Quinn's voice heightened to a near squeak. "You could be walking straight into a trap!"

"And if I do, I can handle myself," Rachel forced Quinn to turn around. "I took several years of self-defense. If St. James tries to pull anything, I'll flip him on his ass and put him in a triangle."

Quinn giggled, eyes warming before she placed a hand on Rachel's forearm, expression straightening. "But Rach... Be careful, we don't know what he's up to."

"I know," Rachel nodded. "I'll be super careful. I'll even call you after I get home to tell you all about it. Is that agreeable?"

"It is," Quinn smiled.

"Alright, then I'll give you a ring when I get back in," Rachel shoved her hands in her pockets. "Talk to you later?"

"Yes," Quinn waved, then paused. "Rachel?"

"Yeah?"

"…I'm sorry about, you know," Quinn bit her lip nervously. "I got carried away. I know you set boundaries and everything. I won't-."

"Quinn," Rachel interrupted. She tilted her head to the side and smiled. "It's alright. There's nothing for you to apologize about."

"Are you-."

"Sure?" Rachel waved her hand dismissively. "I'm sure." She paused for a moment, before continuing. "It… made me forget for a moment, you know?"

She cleared her throat as she pivoted on her heel, blush powering once more to her cheeks. "A-anyway! I'll talk to you later!"

"Yeah," Quinn flexed her fingers, pale cheeks rosy. "Later.


"It's funny, I didn't think you'd show," Jesse chuckled. "You were so adamant we change venues, I was beginning to worry you'd ditch me."

"I'm not the type to bail once I make a commitment," Rachel replied staunchly.

The two singers sat across from one another, nestled in the farthest corner in the Lima Bean.

Jesse relaxed in his chair, slouching gracefully into position, one leg cross over the other, arms resting on the sides. Silver rings glistened on every other finger, hair falling handsomely over dark blue eyes as an indulgent smile played across his lips.

Rachel sat as straight as a sentinel, fists balling her jeans into sweaty wads. Her lips curved into a severe frown as her eyes followed the trails of steam emanating from her cup.

"What's so important that you needed to meet?" Rachel asked stiffly.

"Relax a little, Rachel," Jesse chuckled, lifting his cup of tea and sipping idly. "You look like you're doing juries in University. I'm not here to judge you just… to talk about a few things."

"Then let's get to those 'things' and not waste our time," Rachel gritted out from between clenched teeth. "I need to get home and work on a history project. I don't have any time to waste on pointless conversation."

"Ooo, frosty, are we?" Jesse drawled, amused. "Very well, I came to ask if maybe you'd like to attend a workshop at Carmel."

"A workshop?" Rachel questioned.

"A music workshop," Jesse nodded. He sat up, leaning on the table. "It's being run by Vocal Adrenaline's director. She'll be covering proper singing technique as well as holding some master classes. Song writing, blocking. All that. It's invitation only, and since we were friend, I figured I'd extend an invitation for you."

"And what makes you think I'd be interested in going?" Rachel crossed her arms.

"Because it'd give you an edge," Jesse replied. "You're stuck in a creative block and this might be the thing that finally gets you to write something.

"I'm not extending this to you because I'm looking to trip you up," Jesse continued. "I'm doing it because I'm interested in your potential. I want to see if your Glee Club has what it takes to bring us down."

Rachel's eyes narrowed, a hint of red entering her vision. "That's what you want? An opponent?"

"I want a challenge," Jesse smirked. "Friendly competition. It's been boring without someone with real talent around. If I help nurture your talent, make you give your best show, I'll extend as many opportunities as I can."

"That's touching," Rachel deadpanned. The shop's bell rang distantly, chased by a sudden, slight drop in the shop's warmth. "But I don't need to attend a clinic to write my song. So thanks but-."

"Rachel Berry?"

A chill played down Rachel's spine as her gaze swiveled from Jesse to the newest visitor.

"Ms. Corcoran," Rachel stated, surprised. Her hands dropped to her sides and she straightened in her chair.

"Ah, I thought it was you," Shelby smiled widely. She looked over to Jesse, bright smile fading into a fond curve of her lips. "And you're here with Jesse. Am I… interrupting something?"

Rachel bristled at the tease in the teacher's voice, eyes sharpening to a polished burnt sienna.

"Alas, fair Miss Berry turned me down the moment I tried to win her over with my charms," Jesse said, chuckling as he leaned back in his chair. "I asked her here to invite her to Clinics, Ms. Corcoran."

"Clinics?" Shelby turned her attention back to Rachel. "Are you interested in attending? We'd be honored to have you."

"I'm not sure I'd be comfortable," Rachel replied, scratching the back of her neck nervously. "I'm not exactly the most skilled performer. I think I'd stick out like a sore thumb amongst your students."

"Nonsense," Shelby shook her head. "Your set at sectionals was amazing. You were pitch perfect during your solo and your dancing was superb."

"You watched our set?" Rachel asked, surprised.

"It's my job to keep an eye on the competition," Shelby nodded. "I heard McKinley added a contender to their team, so I decided to take a look at what your set.

"It was surprising," Shelby continued. "Your school didn't perform as well last year. The sudden improvement was astounding. I'm really looking forward to your next set."

"Uhm," Rachel blinked. "Thank you. I'm honored by the compliment."

"And I'd be honored," Shelby placed a hand on Rachel's shoulder, "if you'd consider coming to the clinic. It'd be fantastic to get another perspective in choir. It's my understanding that you were quite the singer back in… where are you from?"

"California," Rachel said in response. "Originally from Lima, reared in California."

"Yes well," Shelby placed her hands in her jacket pockets. "We'd really love to have you. Perhaps my kids could learn a thing or two about passion in music."

"Ms. Corcoran-," Jesse began.

"Jesse, you kids know how to smile and look pretty," Shelby scolded, staring down at him, "but you know little about making emotion flow through the music.

"We could use some fresh blood," Shelby nodded in Rachel's direction. "Some perspective. You could all learn something from her."

Shelby returned her attention to Rachel. "Please, Rachel. I'd love for you to come and perform a number at the clinic. We can see what to do about your own set. It'd be a good learning opportunity for everyone involved."

Rachel studied Shelby's features intently. She searched for some sign of dishonesty, some reason to be wary.

But she could find none. Only a genuine interest to see her perform. A hint of anxiety in the slight ringing of her hands and the twirling of the ring about her index finger. The silver lay a tarnished gold in the places where her fingers worried the metal.

The only emotion that surprised Rachel—that sent an alarm bell crashing through her mind—resided in Ms. Corcoran's eyes.

Eyes that mirrored her own in shape. Eyes that were several shades darker than her own—a dark, burnished, intense brown.

In past videos featuring Vocal Adrenaline, those eyes burned through the competition. They cut into rival directors and made them frightened children.

They never faltered in their determination, always stared straight into the horizon, cutting down the competition and looking into the future.

That steady gaze faltered as Rachel peered into them. They were speckled about the irises with hesitation and...

Rachel's eyes widened in realization.

Yearning?

Yes, yearning.

She'd seen it often enough when Leroy sat at the kitchen table at night, staring at Hiram's picture with tears trailing down his cheeks.

She'd seen it in Quinn's eyes as she sat looking into the horizon, lost in a haze of desirous remembrance.

But this look of wanting… it was devoid of lust. Devoid of the sort of romance pining that was present in both her Father and Quinn's features.

No, this was a curious wanting. A desire to know. A terrified shock of nerves dedicated toward fulfilling a wish.

It was the sort of wanting Rachel often found hiding in her own eyes as she stared herself in the mirror at night, recalling her Fathers' divorce.

It intrigued her, this look.

And so, despite Leroy's warnings, she would carry this through.

A part of her knew this would lead somewhere. That the familiarity in Shelby Corcoran's features was not coincidental.

But she didn't have the proof she needed to confirm those suspicions, and she needed it.

She couldn't believe wild conjectures anymore, she'd grown too old for such delusions.

So with a bright, plastic smile on her lips, Rachel nodded.

"On second thought… yes, yes I'd be more than happy to attend your clinic, Ms. Corcoran."


A/N: I hope it was a good chapter for you. It's a nice little slice of fluff and more plot progression :)

Let me know what you think, yeah?