A/N: Yes, yes, I'm/we're still here. This is my Glee fic that seems least popular, but (sorry guys!) it's the one I'm most interested in at the moment.

See If I Can Sleep

"He's beautiful," Brittany gushes late that night as they sit on the ends of their mattresses to do Shelby's required slow stretches before bed. Sometimes it hurts so much it's nearly impossible to comply, especially if they've had a long day of grueling dance practice and then spend the evening cold, sitting still and studying. But they've done very little except recite lines today, and everyone is limber as they stretch forward, laying their heads gracefully on their knees and grabbing their feet for a long, slow count to twenty.

"He's hot," Santana corrects. It's a word they've learned from Mr. Schuester's modern music and, as such, not one they particularly want to voice around Shelby. But their director has gone home by now—she doesn't linger on non-performance nights—and they feel fairly safe to talk freely. "Girls are beautiful. Jesse St. James is something else entirely."

Rachel secretly agrees with both of them, though she doesn't volunteer her opinion. She's a little uncomfortable with talk of Jesse, though she doesn't really know why. Talking about the other boys doesn't make her feel like this at all.

The girls' sleeping room is much smaller than their study and practice space, and it consists of scuffed, bare wooden floors strewn with mattresses, one for each girl. In the corner there's a big dresser, and they each have a couple of blankets and a pillow. These pillows and blankets have never been replaced—Rachel has had the same mustard-yellow cotton covers and limp white pillow for as long as she can remember.

They move almost in unison, releasing the stretch and hooking one leg over the other, twisting slowly to the side. Mercedes' spine pops several times. Quinn is quiet, as they always are after a quick trip to the box. She is not resigned—the hard look on her face tells them that much—but she isn't yelling anymore. Shelby went to fetch her after about ten minutes, and that was all it took to make Quinn behave.

Rachel thinks about Jesse St. James. He is going to be her Rolf. She knows this story—knows she is going to have to dance with him, maybe even kiss him. She's never kissed anyone but Shelby before. And it's no guarantee, she tries to tell herself. Shelby has cut kisses from scripts before, because she claimed they weren't appropriate. Whether she'll do it this time or not, Rachel doesn't know. It's almost impossible to guess Shelby's actions unless you make her angry.

What will it feel like, she wonders, to touch him? To dance with him? She's only ever danced with Finn and Blaine. Finn is too big and he frightens her. He's awkward, and gawky, and he's dropped her more than once. She's always nervous when he puts his big hands on her waist, or hoists her by the arm or leg. She knows how to position herself to make things as easy as possible for her partner, especially during lifts. Shelby has taught her well. She needs to suck in her belly, giving them a nice divot under her ribs to put their hands. Then she needs to help with the lift, jumping a little at just the right moment, lending momentum to help him complete the movement. A lift isn't about a man doing all the work—not even close. It's a partnership, Shelby has explained over and over again. But a partnership requires trust, and she just can't trust Finn enough to give him the help he needs—to put herself wholly in his hands, to make that perfect, exquisite leap of faith.

Jesse is a stranger. Rachel bites her lip, chewing on the tender flesh. Shelby seems to think that it isn't Rachel's fault that she can't relax around Finn, but Rachel isn't so sure. And if she can't make that leap of faith with Finn, whom she's known as long as she can remember (though not well), how in the world is she supposed to make it with Jesse? She doesn't even know him. All she knows is his name, and that his smile does something uncomfortable to her insides, making her feel like they've turned to warm goo. She wonders if any of the other girls saw that smile—the smile he gave her when he caught her watching him during vocal warm-ups. He did give that smile just to her; she knows it. How, she's not sure, but it's true nonetheless. That smile—that frightening, beautiful, know-it-all smile—was given just to her. No one else.

"I'm going to be your baby sister," Brittany laughs, and she jumps from her mattress to land on Rachel's lap. Santana scowls, but Rachel doesn't mind. Brittany is too excited about their new project to even notice. "It'll be just like real life. Shelby will be our nanny, and you'll be, like, the next in line."

"Governess," Rachel corrects, always a stickler for details.

"What's the difference?" Tina wonders, chewing idly on a fingernail. It's not a usual habit for her, but she's been doing it all day as if it's a subconscious reaction to having her diet restricted. Shelby has slapped her hand away from her mouth more than once, but it hasn't made a bit of difference yet.

The girls look at each other in silence. None of them know.

"Is a nanny for babies and a governess for bigger kids?" Brittany asks hesitantly.

Santana and Quinn both shrug, no longer interested in the conversation.

"I'm hungry," Mercedes whines. This is not unusual. Rachel is too, actually, but she knows better than to say anything. Shelby isn't around, but the behavior is instinctual by now.

"I wonder if Shelby will make you pick me up," Brittany says, laying her head in Rachel's lap. The girls have abandoned their stretches by now, and Rachel wiggles slightly until the hard pressure of Brittany's skull is no longer digging into her muscle. "They do in the movie."

"She'd drop you," Santana snickers.

"She's the smallest," Quinn mutters, and it's clear she's still unhappy about the casting decisions even though she's no longer fighting Shelby's edict. "It doesn't make sense for her to be the oldest. If she tried to pick you up, the audience would laugh their asses off at us."

Ass is not a word they are supposed to say. Shelby says it sometimes, but she swears she'll smack the behind of any girl who utters it. Rachel slipped up once. It's not an experience she wants to repeat.

"You just want a chance to dance with Jesse," Mercedes says, and Quinn scowls so furiously that Rachel knows it's probably at least somewhat true. The other girls are jealous because she gets to play the Von Trapp child with the biggest part, but they are also jealous because she will be spending time with Jesse. Jesse is new, and he's beautiful. Put the two together and it's a recipe for envy.

"Shelby won't let her kiss him, though," Santana says with more assurance than Rachel thinks is really necessary. "You know she won't."

"We're getting older," Tina says. "Maybe she will."

"Do you want to kiss him, Rachel?" Brittany asks, shifting so she's looking up at her dark-haired troupe-member. Her eyes are big and blue, and there's not a hint of jealousy in them, only a vaguely childlike sort of curiosity.

It's a good question. Does she? Rachel doesn't know. Boys make her nervous. She doesn't really understand why anyone would want to touch or kiss one. Her contact with them has only ever been directed, tightly choreographed, and watched over by Shelby's strict eye. She doesn't want to dance with Finn, but that's because she knows he'll drop her, or stumble, or do something else equally unpleasant. Blaine is nicer, but he's always a little hesitant when they dance, as if he's cowed by either her or Shelby's no-touching rule, and he's afraid to hold on too tightly, or too long. It makes Rachel think he doesn't like her, and though she knows it's probably just fear, she still doesn't like it.

Jesse is an entirely different situation. And they're not asking about dancing. They're asking about kissing.

What would it be like to kiss someone—anyone? Rachel doesn't know. She raises her hand to touch her own lips with her fingertips. They're soft, warm. She wonders if a boy's lips would be as soft, if they would feel exactly the same, or different? Or maybe it depends on the boy? Finn's lips are thinner than Jesse's, not as full or pink. They look like they would feel different. But how can she know? She has absolutely no experience to relate it to.

"Brit," Santana says, a hint of fond exasperation in her voice, "come here."

Brittany raises her head from Rachel's lap and scuttles over to Santana's mattress.

"If you really want to know what it feels like to kiss someone," she says, "I'll kiss you."

"Okay," Brittany agrees, and she puckers her mouth up in imitation of the way Shelby does when she wants them to kiss her on the cheek.

Except Santana doesn't aim for Brittany's cheek. She puts her fingers on Brittany's lips, almost the same way Rachel has just touched her own. The silly pucker smooths out, but before Brittany can ask a question, Santana replaces her fingertips with her mouth and kisses her softly.

It's sweet, quick and gentle, and Rachel considers as she watches them. It doesn't look unpleasant. But, then, Brittany and Santana are best friends. They're like each other's twin, or shadow; where one goes, the other follows. They've been inseparable since they were very small.

And, most importantly, they're girls. Since one of them isn't a boy, it doesn't seem quite the same.

"That's nice," Brittany says, her voice slow and considering, as if she's replaying the kiss in her head, trying to decide if she likes it, and how much.

"Want another?"

Santana leans toward her, but before she even gets close to Brittany's mouth, Quinn clears her throat loudly. "Do it again and I'll tell Shelby," she says.

It's a worrying threat. Shelby hasn't specifically told them they can't kiss each other—the issue has never before come up—but it's something Rachel is willing to bet Shelby won't like. There are many things Shelby does not like.

"Why?" Brittany asks, cocking her head to the side. "Are you jealous? I'll kiss you, if you really want."

Quinn wrinkles her dainty little nose. "No, thank you," she says. "Your breath stinks. Santana must be used to it by now, but I'm sure not."

Rachel hides a smile. Brittany's breath does smell, largely because she brushes her teeth maybe once a week. She claims she forgets, and it's probably true. Shelby says sometimes that Brittany would forget her head if it wasn't fastened on.

When Shelby first said that, years ago, Rachel puzzled for days over the odd words. That was before Shelby had explained, with short, irritated words, about figures of speech and common sayings. It's a funny way of saying Brittany is forgetful, nothing more. Rachel's not at all sure she understands the humor, even now, but if Shelby says it's funny, it must be true.

Brittany sticks her tongue out at Quinn, who shoots her a disgusted look before rolling up in her blanket and turning away, clearly finished with the conversation.

"Maybe she only wants to kiss a boy," Tina mumbles through her incessant nail biting.

It's what Rachel wonders, too. Whether it feels different, not just lip to lip but on the inside—being so close to a boy, something Shelby does not allow. Rachel has trust issues, though she does not know this. How can she? This life, this theater, is all she's ever known.

"Do you really think she might let you kiss him, Rachel?" Brittany asks, half curious, half wistful. "On stage? For real?"

Rachel shrugs. It's impossible to tell with Shelby. The only thing she's sure of is this: her first kiss, whenever it comes, will happen on stage and it will be Shelby's to decide and control. Not hers. In a way, it makes things easier, she supposes. Shelby will take care of her. Shelby always takes care of all of them.

The next morning she looks for Jesse in the group of boys as they file out onto the stage. He's there, in a ratty black t-shirt and sweatpants. He wears his clothes better than Rachel thinks she's worn anything in her life. The self-assured way he raises his head, back straight, chin out, catches attention—demands it, even. His curls of brown hair, lighter than hers, look silky-smooth under the house lights. Brittany nudges her and puckers her lips teasingly when she catches Rachel looking at Jesse, but Santana yanks on her arm and makes her stop as the tell-tale tap of Shelby's heels echoes through the wings. A moment later she appears, snaps at Mr. Schuester to hurry up with vocal warmups, and just like that, the day has started.

It's a confusing whirlwind, beginning with the nuns and Maria at the abbey. Santana is the worst nun ever, shimmying provocatively every time Shelby's back is turned. Rachel isn't entirely sure what a nun is—she knows they wear funny black clothes and live all together in a place called an abbey, and apparently it's hard to become one because Maria fails. Maybe Rachel and the rest of the girls at the theater are a kind of nun, too? They all live together, and Shelby is like the Reverend Mother.

"Rachel!" Shelby snaps her fingers several times in Rachel's face. "Care to rejoin the rest of us? You know wandering attention during rehearsals is not acceptable."

"I'm sorry," Rachel breathes, just thankful that the snapping fingers wasn't a slap. "I just - "

"Just what?" Shelby sounds impatient, but that's normal. "If you have a question, ask it. If not, let us get on with our rehearsal."

"What is a nun, anyway?" Rachel finally asks. It's not a question related to acting technique, and she's not sure Shelby will be happy about that. All the boys are watching from the sides of the stage, and the theater is suddenly silent.

Shelby's eyes drift over Rachel, falling to the cluster of other girls also waiting to hear what her answer will be. Her mouth quirks oddly, as if in triumph, though Rachel can't imagine why. "Nuns," Shelby says slowly, "are women who have pledged their lives to a cause. They choose to give up family ties and the promise of a normal life for the sake of what they believe."

"So they're like us, then," Tina says, echoing Rachel's thoughts from a moment ago.

"Very like," Shelby agrees, that strange smile never leaving her lips.

But now, Rachel isn't so sure. I never chose, she thinks silently. None of us did.

Right now, it doesn't really matter. Shelby is done discussing exactly what a nun is, and she's ready to begin the scene where Maria asks forgiveness of the Reverend Mother and is told she must leave the abbey for a while to think on whether this life really is for her. Perhaps even more than the thought of dancing with Jesse, this scene has been worrying Rachel. She's not at all sure she can handle being Reverend Mother to Shelby's Maria. The power dynamic is not right at all, though this is not a term she's familiar with. All Rachel knows is that everything feels very wrong the moment Shelby grasps her hand and kneels, however briefly, at her feet.

She can't stop herself from shaking, a fine tremble radiating from her spine out to her limbs, and she swallows hard against a suddenly dry throat as she sees the top of Shelby's head for what is perhaps the very first time.

"Come here, my child," she manages to squeak out, though her mouth feels like sandpaper. Shelby's eyes flash a warning, though it's out of character for Maria to rebuke the Mother Abbess.

"Oh, Reverend Mother, I'm so sorry," Shelby gushes. Something deep in Rachel's insides twists and grates uncomfortably. It's literally painful, having Shelby at her feet. She takes a breath, trying to wet her dry lips. She knows her line, but she can't say it. It isn't her place to bestow forgiveness upon Shelby for a perceived wrong. Maybe one of the other girls might find it funny to have their roles switched, but for Rachel it is anything but.

Shelby's face melts into impatience, and Rachel's heart begins to pound. She'll be in trouble in another instant if she can't force the words out.

But her body just won't let her. They can give her all the lectures they want about staying in character, but she can't make herself pretend, even for a moment, that she is Shelby's better. A strange, tight noise of protest echoes in her throat, and it's all the sound she can make.

It's a simple line—just a few words. I haven't summoned you here for apologies. But Rachel cannot say it. Her lower lip trembles, and she feels the bitter sting of tears against her eyes. This is doubly troublesome—Shelby hates tears unless a script calls for them. She has no patience for inconveniently-timed emotions.

"Broom," Shelby finally snaps. "Now."

There's no chance to explain—not that Rachel would have tried. Shelby does not want explanations. She wants results. With an inward quiver, Rachel moves to the edge of the stage where a broomstick waits on the ground. Without further prompting, she kneels on the hard pole and laces her hands together behind her back.

"Take over," Shelby says, waving a negligent hand at Mr. Schuester.

Already the pain is intense. Rachel hates this—after only a few minutes, it can feel like knives are stabbing up through her bones. She won't be able to dance properly for the rest of the day, and it's only mid-morning. Quinn levels her with a satisfied little smirk that Shelby either does not see or chooses to ignore as Rachel struggles to keep her back straight and posture perfect.

"You know I hate punishing you," Shelby says. "You're my little diva, and it reflects poorly on me when you don't meet my expectations."

"I'm sorry," Rachel whispers. She hates the scolding, but it's difficult to pay attention through the pain beginning to throb in her knees. Shelby tries to make the punishment fit the girl, like taking food away from Mercedes or separating Brittany and Santana, but to hurt Rachel in a deeply personal way would hurt the theater. The only thing that is dear to Rachel's heart is the performance, and Shelby will not deny her that. Pain, then, is as great a motivator as any.

"I haven't summoned you here for apologies," Shelby intones. "Repeat it!"

"I haven't summoned you here for apologies." The words are easy now, as Rachel kneels and Shelby looms large over her. They are just words, just sounds, nothing more. The impossible context of bestowing forgiveness upon her director faded once Shelby stood, and now they are back to normal. Though the punishment hurts, it's also…almost soothing, in a way. The world has righted itself. Shelby is Shelby, Rachel is Rachel.

"Again," Shelby snaps.

"I haven't summoned you here for apologies." Her knees hurt. Her thighs hurt. She is young and strong, her body flexible and supple, but she has never figured out how to bear this familiar punishment. In the back of her mind she can dimly hear the other girls begin a first run-through of "Maria." Mr. Schuester orders the boys to sing, too, to give them something to do. Shelby never likes anyone to be idle.


"I haven't summoned you here for apologies." Oh, it hurts. When her muscles are sore from a long workout or her feet feel like they can't stand one more minute on pointe, Rachel has learned to relax into the pain. To accept it—not to fight it. Relaxing and giving herself over to the hurt makes it easier to push through it, to give Shelby what she demands. But this—it feels like her kneecaps are breaking apart, the joint forcibly pulled asunder by the weight of her body pressing down. Her concentration and therefore her balance are thrown off, and she wobbles.

"Hands behind your head," Shelby orders. "Again."

Rachel feels the first tear spill over as she forces the words from her mouth, willing her voice not to break. She laces her fingers together behind her head, elbows out to the sides like wings.

"Stay there until I come to get you. Don't you dare move."

Shelby turns away, taking over from Mr. Schuester and telling him to run his boys through a rehearsal of their revue while she continues instructing the girls on their song. The theater is still open for nighttime performances while they rehearse for Sound of Music, and tonight the boys are up.

Rachel is supposed to stare straight ahead, but her eyes sneak to the side to watch the boys, attempting to block out at least some of the pain by distraction. Jesse won't know the choreography, though he might be familiar with the music. When will Shelby expect him to begin performing with the boys? Surely not tonight. Will she wait until Sound of Music is ready? Rolf is a good part, but not a big one. Is she giving him time to find his footing before making his debut? It's impossible to tell; they've never had a newcomer before.

Whether Shelby expects him to participate or not becomes a moot point when the boys launch into their first song. It's the opening number to Newsies. Rachel is unfamiliar with the story, but they have practiced some of the music. This song is familiar enough to her. It obviously isn't to Jesse, as he keeps his mouth shut, but he throws himself into the choreography with a will, watching the boys around him and mimicking their movements only a breath behind. By the third time through, he's got it down and has also started to sing. Shelby will like this, Rachel thinks. She likes it when her kids take the initiative…as long as it's not too much.

It's over an hour later when Shelby finally strolls close to Rachel. She's shaking by this point, her arms numb, and the only way she can keep her hands locked behind her head is to tangle her fingers through her hair and pull. Shelby stands beside her for a long time, not looking at her, not acknowledging her in any way. Rachel tries not to get her hopes up. Shelby has been known to walk away before in moments just like this, crushing the hopes of the one being punished.

"I haven't summoned you here for apologies," Shelby says, still refusing to look at Rachel.

"I…haven't s-summoned you here for ap-pologies," Rachel stutters, biting down on the inside of her cheek to force the words out.

Quick as a flash, Shelby leans over and delivers a sharp smack to Rachel's rear. The sting hurts, but it isn't as bad as the disruption of her balance. She heaves forward, struggling not to faceplant on the floor, her fingers too tangled in her hair to leave her head and help her.

"Again," is all Shelby says as Rachel fights her way back upright. "And I don't want to hear any stuttering. Don't make me stop practice for a lesson in enunciation."

"I haven't summoned you here for apologies." The words are quivery and rushed, but it's all Rachel can produce at this point. Her body is on the verge of breakdown. Cold sweat slinks down her back from her struggles to remain perfectly still.

Shelby is silent for a long moment. Rachel hears her own heart thudding painfully against her ribs. It hurts—everything hurts. Even blinking her eyes seems to send an echo of pain shooting through her body.

Finally Shelby speaks the word Rachel has been waiting to hear. "Sit."

She collapses sideways instantly, fighting her hands out of her hair to grab at her red, throbbing knees. They're swollen and dark, her circulation impaired by the broom. Tears continue to stain her cheeks, but she doesn't cry out. Her knees won't unbend just yet, and Shelby knows she won't be able to stand for a while. So she lets her sit, bent legs off to one side, arms propping her body up. The feeling of blood rushing back into her forearms and fingers is followed by the unwelcome pins-and-needles of returned sensation.

"Rachel," Shelby says, and her voice is softer now as she stands over her. Rachel basks in the sound. It is all the comfort she's ever known. "You know I don't like to punish you. But you will never forget that line again, will you?"

Rachel shakes her head. She wants to tell Shelby that she hadn't forgotten the line, but she keeps quiet. Excuses will only earn her another punishment. What she's really afraid of is the next time they rehearse that scene. Will she freeze again? Punishment can't and hasn't taken away the inherent wrongness of the situation, Shelby kneeling before her, asking for forgiveness. Will Rachel ever be able to accept this, to see past her director's face and fall into the role thrust upon her? She doesn't know, and that worries her.

"Stretch your legs out," Shelby says. She straightens her shoulders. "When you can walk again, you may rejoin the group."

Schuester warned him. Jesse can't say that he wasn't warned, but he honestly didn't believe Shelby's standards could be so high until he saw her order Rachel to kneel on a broomstick, drilling the flubbed line into her head and then leaving to let her think about her mistake. Jesse has no idea what kneeling on a broom feels like; he's never done it before. Punishment at the Adrenaline Circus consists of cleaning elephant stalls or sweeping up after patrons. Occasionally the ringmaster or other adult would slap him upside the head when he got too mouthy or insolent, but this sort of calculated pain for a seemingly minor infraction is new to him.

He watches her surreptitiously, stealing glances every now and then. During rehearsal all of his attention should be focused on learning choreography that the other boys already know. Some of the songs he's familiar with, others not. The entire experience is exhilarating—exciting. To think, he's finally where he always wanted to be. Broadway. He's getting the chance to prove himself, to show that he's just as talented as any of the kids raised here. More talented, even.

But through the rush of adrenaline, a hesitant, nagging doubt will not leave him alone. When they pause between songs to hear Schuester's feedback, his eyes stray to the girl kneeling silently in the corner of the stage. She's obviously hurting. Tears glitter on her cheeks, and as time progresses her whole body begins to tremble. But she does not utter a word, and she does not drop her arms or collapse. Her face is drawn into an expression he instantly recognizes in spite of the fact that he does not know her at all. She is determined—resolute. She will not back down from this task, painful and unfair though it is.

It's this look on her face that lets Jesse know he's going to like this girl. He recognizes it because he's worn it many times himself. Her delicate jaw is squared, her mouth set in a firm red line, and her dark eyes snap with resolve even as they leak tears. She's strong, this girl. A fighter, just like him. Jesse wonders what her story is—why she's here. The boys are not forthcoming with information about this place, and Jesse isn't sure what to make of the uncomfortable silence that often follows his questions. He gets the feeling that they have been together for a very long time, but just how long is hard to say. Maybe Rachel left a bad home, like he did. That look on her face makes him believe she certainly has the personality for it. Maybe Shelby saved her? Took her in, like he was taken in by the circus. That could explain the silent devotion, the way the girl puts up with unnecessarily harsh treatment.

He's relieved when Shelby finally lets her sit, and he watches as she massages her bare knees, working obviously stiff legs until they are able to unbend. Her poor knees are deep red and badly swollen, and he can't imagine how they must feel. Far before it seems advisable, she forces herself to her feet. Her knees buckle and try to fold, but she stays upright through what looks like sheer force of will.

"Don't stare," Sam hisses in his ear. "Shelby will skin you alive if she catches you."

But it's impossible to ignore the girl for long. Even wobbling along the edge of the stage on unsteady legs, there's an innate air of grace that hovers around her. Her complexion is ashen under the natural tan of her skin. He finds, oddly, that he's unnaturally impatient for the chance to work with her. Their big scene together and duet of "Sixteen Going On Seventeen" is the one he's most looking forward to.

They break for lunch soon after, heading back to their living quarters for sandwiches and sides of carrots and celery. Both Puck and Mike have been slapped by Shelby for mistakes, and she gives Finn the stink eye every time she sees him. That in itself is reason enough for Jesse to respect her.

"You did exceptionally well this morning," Schuester tells Jesse. Finn glances their way with a sullen stare, but he says nothing.

"I enjoyed it," Jesse says honestly because, really, he has. The only damper on his mood is thinking of Rachel and her ordeal with Shelby. But it's really none of his business, he supposes, and he's glad at least to have seen firsthand the truth of Schuester's warnings. Now he knows just how volatile Shelby can be, and he understands a little more what's expected of him. Obviously Shelby's expectations of Rachel are higher than her expectations of Finn. He fumbled no lines today, but his dancing's barely passable. Jesse has a feeling he'll be held to Rachel's standard, if not higher, before long.

"We'll see how much you enjoy it the first time Shelby lights into you," Kurt says darkly.

"She won't." Jesse settles back in his chair, meeting the younger boy's eyes unflinchingly. "I don't make mistakes." It's wildly cocky and not strictly true, but he's a little irritated with Kurt's attitude.

Kurt doesn't rise to the bait, instead shrugging as if to say you'll see, and Jesse chooses to let it go. It's too soon in his tenure here to start alienating people. "Well, I did enjoy it," he says instead, turning back to Schuester. "When can I go on stage with you?"

"Not during this revue, I'm afraid," Schuester says, smiling sympathetically. "I know you're eager to prove yourself, but Shelby won't put anyone in front of an audience until she's sure you're ready. For you, that means Sound of Music."

"Rolf is a test," Jesse guesses, and he knows he's right when Schuester's mouth quirks.

"You're quick," he acknowledges. "Yes. Shelby wants to start out with a reasonable goal before pushing you too hard."

It makes sense. Rolf is a good role, and Jesse's glad to have it. But he's not a character with much stage time. It's a perfect middling test to see where he stands—and also not a bad way to test him alongside Rachel.

The thought of her sends Jesse right back where he was before, his mind's eye full of those sparkling, dark eyes.

Jesse has never been a "joiner." He works best alone, in the spotlight, the center of attention. It's not a flaw, in his mind. It's proof, as if he needed any more, that he was born to do this. He's a star—or will be, soon enough.

So this preoccupation with Rachel, a girl he hasn't even been introduced to yet, makes no sense. It's confusing. She is confusing. How can such a small girl capture his attention when she isn't even doing anything? Is it something natural within her, some sort of innate gift? Might he have it, too, and not know it? Does she know she does this to people?

"When will I get to start rehearsing my scene?" Jesse asks, hoping the question is innocent enough. Rolf has more than one scene, yes, but his big moment is the duet.

"Shelby makes the schedule," Schuester says with a shrug. "She might continue this afternoon working on the abbey scenes. Or she might switch it up, to give the girls a chance to practice swapping characters. It's impossible to say."

"I want to show her what I can do," Jesse says, and it's true. He does. But he also wants a chance at that scene with Rachel. He hasn't heard her sing solo yet, and he's beyond curious about her voice. Will it be clear or fuzzy? Strong or tremulous? Soprano or alto?

They finish lunch and Schuester designates two boys to quickly wash dishes w before they all head back to the stage.

A/N: I'm excited to see these two try their first scene together! Is that weird? It's probably weird. What's possibly weirder: I actually tried kneeling on a broom for a while to see what it felt like. It's apparently a pretty common means of discipline. Of course, I have no idea if I was doing it right; there are various ways you can interpret the phrase "kneeling on a broom." If I didn't do it right, I apologize; I'm not terribly knowledgeable when it comes to corporal punishment. ;-)

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