YOU ASKED FOR MY ASSESSMENT
A.N. Here's a one-shot I've been toying with for months, set back in Season 1. This is my little fantasy of what came after that performance of Another One Bites the Dust and it's St Berry all the way. Please feel free to give me your own 'assessment'. Oh, and this story may have been slightly influenced by my obsessive re-watching of "Across the Universe" lately (brilliant movie!)
"Jesse?" Rachel asked, her voice faltering and confused. "What are you doing up there with them?"
Jesse St James looked down from the McKinley High auditorium stage on his girlfriend – ex-girlfriend, really, but he had yet to inform her of their change in status. As he watched her expressive doe eyes take in the small army of black and blue backing him up, he could see the doubt starting to grow. Now was the moment, the greatest challenge of this "acting exercise" that had backfired on the heart he never even knew he had; to make her believe she meant nothing to him.
"I've transferred back to Carmel High, Rachel. I'm sorry that it's come to this but you guys were awful to me. You never accepted me, you never listened to my clearly superior ideas…" As excuses went, it sounded pretty weak even to his ears, but it was all part of the new role he was playing – the consummate diva whose talent not only attracted but demanded everybody's respect. Only, before he had met Rachel, that had been closer to who he was than a role. All the more reason to break off this strange liaison with this girl who could seriously mess with his head. Before you knew it, he would lose sight of the one objective he had worked towards for as long as he could remember – fame. Relationships only held you back, his parents and coach had drilled that into him repeatedly. Especially a relationship with a girl who, though his equal in talent, was herself held back by her loyalty to these impoverished clodhoppers that called themselves a glee club. At that moment the head clodhopper lumbered forward and asked the obvious question.
"Why are you here in our Auditorium?"
"The blogs and chatrooms say that we're finished and that you guys are ripe to topple us. We just wanted to show you a little something that we came up with a few days ago to see if you agree with that assessment."
Bom, bom, bom, the VAs counted down, forming a perfect united front, until Jesse Let go and launched into a stirring rendition of Queen's 'Another one bites the dust'. The choice of song and choreography had all been Jesse's work for he knew that nothing sent a stronger message than music. This song was not entertainment, it was a declaration of war. The way they danced, forming military lines behind their leader, or enclosing him in an unbreakable circle, it was clear that Vocal Adrenaline were a formidable opponent, a synchronised machine that mesmerised with their sheer perfection. As the 12 members of the McKinley High glee club gazed upon this spectacle, they all felt their previously high hopes for their chances at Regionals sink to the ground to be crushed by the electric blue high-tops stomping their stage.
With one exception.
You see, Jesse was right when he concluded music was the most effective form of communication for Rachel Berry. He just did not factor in how effective. He should have known better for he was acquainted with Rachel long enough to know music was her drug in the most literal sense – it was a mind altering substance that could lift, drag, calm, excite, arouse and create just about every sensation in the spectrum depending on the genre. For example, when Finn let her down for the Glee captain photo shoot, she had only to sing a few lines of "Smile and the world smiles with you" to fend off the tears and deliver her perfect head-shot smile. After a school day full of insults, mean nicknames and slushies, belting out some of her favourite Broadway 'overcoming adversity' songs in her bedroom was all she needed to bring her spirits back to their usual level of high optimism. And sometimes she would lie on her bed with her ipod earbuds feeding The Beatles 'Strawberry Fields' into her system like a transfusion of psychedelic ecstasy (she now makes sure she is alone in the house when she does this after that one time her Dads had caught her all dazed and blissed out and it took multiple proclamations of innocence and a solemn oath over the Torah to convince them that she was not on drugs).
So when she hears a song that is one pure stream of anger… well, really, he should have seen it coming.
How do you think I'm going to get along,
Without you, when you're gone
You took me for everything that I had,
And kicked me out on my own
Seriously, Jesse? You have the stones to sing those words to the girl you've just dumped in front of both her own club and her chief rivals? As if she was the one who had been unspeakably cruel, she was the one who had done the kicking to the curb.
Are you happy, are you satisfied
How long can you stand the heat
Out of the doorway the bullets rip
To the sound of the beat…
Another one bites the dust
As they finished their high energy number, VA's female vocalist draping herself provocatively over Jesse's tall frame, they looked out triumphantly at the funkified expressions of their competition. This was a tradition for them, part of their preparation for battle to psych out the opposition. Every other year Jesse had revelled in the ritual, basking in that moment when the other team realised just how unbeatable Vocal Adrenaline are. Although this year looking out on the sour expressions of the kids he had sung and danced with the last two months, he was not getting his usual kick. Then he dragged his eyes to Rachel, steeling himself against the crushed agony he expected to find on her face, perhaps a few tears trickling down her tanned cheeks.
What he found was a perfect mask of boredom laced with a hint of disdain. Only the clenched fists she hid in the folds of her skirt betrayed the fury bubbling inside.
"Thanks for letting us use your auditorium, guys," Jesse's dance partner sniped, still hanging all over Jesse. "It was… quaint." With uniform smirks, the rival show choir turned towards the exit.
"Surely you're not going to leave without getting what you came here for?" Rachel's voice cut short their movements. "I believe you asked for an assessment of your little… routine." She turned a puzzled face towards her team-mates, who looked like they were just waking up. "Isn't that what he said?"
Puck was the first to catch on, and his trademark evil smirk came into play as he remembered her confession to him from a few weeks ago; I watch a couple of imperfect performances and a litany of criticisms just start building up inside of me like a volcano and I keep telling myself to hold it in and then it just comes bursting out…
"Erupt away, Berry," he murmured under his breath.
"On the whole it wasn't too horrible," Rachel began, "except that your dance moves convey about as much emotion as a marching band, your back-up vocals were too identical – it sounded like one voice being overlapped, an unfortunate by-product of your regimented approach to performance. Then there was the blatantly sexist treatment of the female dancers – why are girls always being grabbed and flung about like they're pieces of meat in Vocal Adrenaline dances?"
"Either that or they're crouched worshipfully at the feet of the VA boys," Quinn added (she wasn't going to let Rachel lead a feminist charge without her!).
"I don't know how they put up with the sexism," Tina said, shaking her head in disbelief.
"Training," Rachel said knowledgably. "From what I've heard" – she cast a significant look at Jesse, who was starting to break out into a cold sweat at the evil look in his ex's eyes – "the girls in Vocal Adrenaline are nothing more than eye candy, there to make the guys look good. They are taught their place at the bottom of the talent pyramid from day 1." Rachel noted with satisfaction that this announcement had Jesse's dance partner pushing herself away from him in disgust.
"I didn't – I never said anything like that," Jesse protested to his troupe.
"Now, moving onto your choice of costume," Rachel continued, combining raised eyebrows and eye roll that screamed what-were-they-thinking, "I think I'll let our resident fashion expert field that one. Kurt?"
"Thank you, Rachel." Kurt stepped forward, smoothing back his hair as he raked the competition with a critical eye. "Electric blue? Seriously, guys? Aside from the fact that it makes your complexions look like you're suffering from a malaria outbreak, you may well be fending off class action suits from my fellow glee clubbers for burning out our retinas with that ghastly hue. And as for the girls' dresses? Flounces? Really? Do none of you have access to dress patterns that post date the fifties?"
"Alright, you can just stop this charade right now," Jesse yelled, his temper breaking. "I know what you're doing, Rachel, and it's so transparent it's ridiculous."
"And what am I doing, Mr St James?" Rachel asked as she strolled with a lithe grace up the stage stairs until she was standing in front of him, arms crossed. Jesse met her centre stage, Vocal Adrenaline forming a chorus line behind them, New Directions a mosh pit in front of them. It was a shame they were both so consumed with anger that they couldn't appreciate the theatricality of it all.
"You're just making this crap up because you don't want to admit that we just made your little glee club look exactly like the unholy mess that it is. So you can quit the critique right now."
"Quit? But I was just coming to the best part. Don't you want to hear my review of your lead vocalist's performance? Or can't you take a little constructive criticism?" With her lips curving upward and dark eyes glinting, she was flat out daring Jesse to call her out. His eyes narrowed.
"You're bluffing," Jesse snarled, his stance mirroring hers. "My performance was flawless. I have perfect pitch so I know – there wasn't a single note or dance step out of place."
"Oh my God, this is going to be epic," Puck commented to Finn. Finn nodded, but he was feeling a little uneasy. He should be happy because that pretty boy douche was finally dumping the girl Finn had his eye on but there was something about the way Rachel and Jesse were looking at each other, something in their body language that made him feel like something was off but he didn't know what.
That is until Brittany whispered to Santana "Should we leave now? I know you and I don't mind having people watch us make out but I think Rachel is kind of uptight about that sort of thing."
"Are you kidding?" Santana scoffed. "I'm not missing this. Angry sex is always the hottest."
"Shhh, quiet," Artie silenced the Cheerios. "Rachel's about to let him have it – hopefully in a physical, PG18 sense."
"Oh, I have no fault to find on a technical basis, not for any of you," Rachel said, a thoughtful frown puckering her pretty face as she paced in a slow circle around her former beau. "Truly, I haven't seen such perfect synchronised movement since my dads took me on "It's a Small World" at Disneyland when I was 8. You know the one, with all the little robots singing and dancing together?" Rachel smiled inwardly as she heard the snorts of laughter from her friends and saw the fresh fury on Jesse's face at her little comparison. "No, what your performance lacked is something I like to call 'emotional depth'."
"Emotional depth?" Jesse repeated incredulously. "Throwing my own words back in my face, Rachel? Or aren't you creative enough to come up with your own insults?"
"You sang a song about anger born of heartbreak." Rachel held his gaze, dropping all pretence. "It was a song about being betrayed by your lover when you found out they were only using you for their own ends and then discarded you when you had served your purpose." Her voice softened. "Honestly, Jesse – out of the two of us, who has the most right to sing that song?"
His eyes flitted to Hudson's form, always a stand-out on the Glee skyline, and back to Rachel with a subtle challenge, as if to say there is my inspiration. She responded with an incredulous eyebrow raise. Neither of them wanted to drag that particular issue out in front of this crowd, so her reply was murmured for his ears alone "Since the day I met you, every time when the choice came down between you or Finn, I have always chosen you. I even chose you over him when I thought I'd lost you. If I wanted Finn, I wouldn't be standing here now."
Jesse felt his heart speed up at the sincerity in her eyes and shame rushed through him at the hurt he also saw there. How to explain he never meant it to turn out like this, it was never meant to get so real. Yes, he was selfish when it came to his career but so was she; she must understand on some level why he was doing this.
"Don't do this, Jesse."
Jesse knew all the actor's tricks, having studied them from a tender age, and he considered himself particularly adept at using his voice as a tool to convey every different shade of emotion there was. But now he acknowledged he had met his match, as with four words Rachel Berry's soft, sweet words pierced his defences. Then it was like that scene in West Side Story when Tony saw Maria at the dance and everybody else faded into the background – like they were the only two people in the world.
"I was never supposed to stay," Jesse admitted. "I can't stay." But the way he was holding her hands contradicted his words, his tight grip begging her not to let go. She rubbed her thumbs soothingly against his palms, a silent reassurance.
"I don't pretend to understand what this is about – I know from your derisive comments that you never considered New Directions a big enough threat for you to spy on us, so I don't believe that's why you came here. Even so, I always sensed there was more to you transferring to McKinley than the reason you gave, although I so wanted it to be true, that you did it for me."
"It's all been about you, Rach." This much was true, if not in the way she might think. His primary objective had always been to lure Rachel to Shelby. Shelby's mission just gave him the excuse he needed to follow his own inclinations. He drew a deep breath, closing his eyes to the pain in hers. "But our play is over now. It's time to call 'scene'." When he opened his eyes he finally saw the twin streams leaving their shiny trail down her soft skin and he felt something raw and painful in his chest at the sight. He reached out with a finger to arrest the progress from her rainy eyes but stopped himself, as if knowing that touching her again would open a floodgate he could not close. But no amount of restraint could hold back the words he spoke in a soft undervoice, a reluctant confession that would not be withheld. "I loved you."
Rachel gasped as though struck by his use of the past tense, but then she saw the lie in his eyes. His expression was a mixture of the robot she had just accused him of being and the real human boy she had caught increasing glimpses of over their acquaintance. She knew it was the unfeeling, calculating part of him that had pronounced a time of death on their love, ruthlessly decreeing it by force of will. But she saw something else there as well, the part of him that loved Lionel Richie music and danced his heart out to Vanilla Ice and poked gentle fun at her when she presented her watertight case that her mother was Patty La Pone. The part of him that had not been completely subjugated to the will of others and his own ambitions. These two personalities were fighting a battle for dominance, and it was a battle she was very familiar with. The choice between love or the team. She knew the stakes were higher for Jesse than they had been for her, that his chances of a National Championship were much better with the perfect regiment of performers walled around him. She knew the loving, unselfish act was probably to sacrifice her own happiness and let him walk away with his team with a brave little smile and a silent prayer for his happiness.
Yeah, unselfishness has never really been her strong suit.
And really, Jesse only had himself to blame. He was the one that had always applauded her skills of manipulation, her single minded drive to obtain her goals. And wasn't he the one that stood up in front of all the Glee world and told her when you love something you've got to go for it?
Jesse had turned away and taken two steps towards his old comrades when he heard the first words, sung in a slow, sensual drawl that lovingly caressed each note.
Something in the way he moves,
Attracts me like no other lover.
His muscles froze like a character in a sci-fi movie, her voice the siren call immobilising him.
Something in the way he woos me.
I don't want to leave him now,
You know I believe and how.
An acoustic guitar riff, courtesy of Puckerman, inserted itself into the pause as Jesse slowly turned his head towards the girl he had just left behind, except that she refused to be left behind. Her lips curved upwards into a knowing smile as she drew one finger lazily down his forearm, her touch pulling him deeper under her spell. Vocal Adrenaline, New Directions, Shelby – none of these things existed anymore. There was only Rachel and the music, and really, what more did he need?
Somewhere in his smile he knows,
That I don't need no other lover.
She didn't need to look at Hudson to communicate a double meaning for those lines; the promise was clear in her voice, her eyes and touch. In a daze, his body leaned into hers, and he knew from that mystic force that made every impromptu duet between them a seamless effort that his cue was coming up. And Jesse St James never missed his cue.
Something in her style that shows me.
I don't want to leave her now,
You know I believe and how.
They sang the next verse together, frustration at the outside forces that interfered with their love ringing out clearly.
You're asking me will my love grow,
I don't know, I don't know.
Stick around, and it may show,
But I don't know, I don't know.
As Artie's electric guitar joined Puck in the musical interlude that followed, Rachel and Jesse swayed in each other's arms, her head buried in the crook of his neck. New Directions, with the exception of a pouting Finn, exchanged knowing smirks at the sight. The sky-clad members of VA, on the other hand, did not look at all thrilled by the turn of events and Giselle was wondering why the hell they didn't just grab St James, throw him in the trunk of her Range Rover and get the hell out of this crazy house. She even started to make this suggestion to one of the other dancers but he frowned her down with the same look her grandmother used to give her when she raised her voice in Church. For Vocal Adrenaline worshipped at the altar of music; their instinct was to be still and silent when confronted with its greatness.
Rachel looked into Jesse's eyes and saw the peace in them that comes with making a decision you can live with. His hands cradled her face lovingly as he brushed his lips over her closed eyelids, her arched nose that she deplored but he adored and finally her beautiful mouth. His caresses made his choice clear, but he gave her the final verse anyway to make the declaration official, for music was and will always be their first language.
Something in the way she knows,
And all I have to do is think of her.
Something in the things she shows me.
I don't want to leave her now.
You know I believe and how.
As he dips his head for another kiss, he knows there will be hell to pay, but after all, what is one more National Championship trophy after all? He already has three of them. But the girl in his arms is one of a kind, one of his kind in fact with all her deviousness and drive. Perhaps if it was his first championship… but a fourth? No way!
Giselle turns a blind eye to the obvious when she says to him, "Come on, Jesse, it's time to blow loser-town and get back to Carmel."
"Change of plans, Giselle," Jesse says, not taking his eyes from his girlfriend's face. "You guys go on without me."
"Without you?" Sean, their best flipper, replied. "When will you catch up?"
"Regionals," Jesse said as he stripped off his shiny blue jacket and threw it towards Sean. "Oh, and Kurt had a point - you guys might want to talk to Shelby about the costumes before then. The smurf gear was bad enough but if you don't reign her in it's 10 to 1 you guys will be decked out in hot pink shirts before you know it."
"You can't be serious!" Giselle spluttered. "No way are you insane enough to leave the greatest show choir in the country for… for… them!"
"Of course not," Jesse agreed, his traitorous words belied by the possessive arm he circled around Rachel's shoulders. "That would be insane. I'm not doing it for them." He didn't need to finish his sentence to make his meaning clear. It was glaringly obvious to every gleek in that room, the ones stomping out off the stage in disgust and those cheering and applauding from the auditorium, who Jesse was doing this for.
A.N. Sigh! If only!