Disclaimer: not mine.

Good luck, darling.

Mercedes' heart was beating rather forcefully against her ribs. Her palms were sweaty and her breath was coming shallowly. The excitement and anxiousness cursing through her veins were addictive. Even though she'd done this multiple times before, tonight seemed different. It was more important somehow. Tonight was her night to shine.

Not that she didn't love the New Directions. She really did care for them and missed the fun and drama they could create but she had to admit that it was hard to be someone there. It was hard to be heard and however much she wanted to be with them again, she'd found her place with the Troubletons.

She was ready. The girls and Mercedes had rehearsed the number until they had every move, every note memorized and perfected. She shouldn't be this nervous; she knew they were going to kill it. So, why was she so worked up? She felt ready to burst out of her skin. One would think it would be an unpleasant feeling but Mercedes felt as if she could do anything. As if she was the most talented, the most beautiful girl in the world. As if the world was at her feet. She felt alive, filled with passion and joy. The heady mix of feelings was starting to get to her and she realized she needed some air. The Troubletons weren't due to perform for a little while; she could definitely sneak out for a walk.

She sought out Santana and waved her over.

"Is every one all right?"

Santana rolled her eyes. "We got this!"

Mercedes nodded. "I'm going for a walk."

If Santana was surprised, she did not let it show or comment and Mercedes was grateful for it. She left the auditorium by one of the side doors and made her way down the long corridors that ran alongside the building.

As she walked, she ran through the steps of the choreography one more time while humming the melody of the mash-up under her breath. Usually, it helped her relax before a performance but today, it didn't seem to be working. She still felt strangely exhilarated and try as she might she couldn't really understand why. She had tried to blame it on the sectionals buzz and the fact that for the first time in her life she'd be front stage. It seemed like a good, logical explanation but, deep down, she knew it was more than. It wasn't something pushing her forward, it was someone. A someone that had no business coming back and claiming he'd fight for her. No business intruding her every thought and certainly no business making it hard for to remember why she had "moved on".

She pushed the thought out of her mind but the feelings remained.

Lost in thought and growing frustration, she did not realize that one of the doors to her left had been pulled open. She started as she heard the New Directions cheering loudly in mutual encouragement. They looked glamorous and beautiful in their costumes. Mercedes could feel their giddy and nervous energy wash over her.

She felt that familiar ache. The persistent pinch to her heart that kept reminding her of what she was missing.

'Front stage. Front stage. Front stage,' she chanted to herself while she smiled at her friends once they noticed her.

Kurt and Blaine came to her at once, gushing about her fabulous hair and outfit. Rachel timidly but warmly embraced her, wishing her the best of luck. Mr. Schue smiled; it was both proud and sad and Mercedes felt a fresh wave of guilt engulf her. It wasn't fair; she shouldn't be feeling so torn. She deserved the spotlight as much as the rest of them.

This day had been so fraught with emotions; she wondered how the hell she was still standing. The reason was simple enough: she was Mercedes Jones. Chin up, shoulders squared and spirits high, she would march on. She had to.

She smiled fondly at the group.

"Good luck!"

They all grinned back. "Cheers!" Rory said and they were off.

She watched them go, her smile turning into a small frown as she realized that a certain blonde person was missing from the group. She barely had time to form the thought that a hand grabbed her wrist and pulled her none too gently into the New Directions' green room. She didn't even gasp, recognizing the soft touch immediately. It said a lot about her situation if she could still remember the way his hands fitted on her, the way they made her feel.

He closed the door and pushed her against it. He was smiling down at her. It was a funny smile. Crooked, confident, familiar and charming; it was one of her favorites. She steeled herself, trying not to smile back stupidly or notice that there was barely any place left for air between their bodies.

"Evans," she greeted coolly and almost lost her breath when she saw the possessive gleam in his eyes.

"Jones," he smirked.

"People will be looking for me soon."

"Let 'em look," he replied with a careless shrug. The movement brought them closer somehow and Mercedes' body hummed in recognition and yearning. She had to remind herself to breathe. Funny how some things never really changed. She knew the steps to this dance; she didn't even have to think about it, it came naturally to her. His body, her body, breathless tension and anticipation. The bickering and false bravado, too; it was all part of this enchanting dance.

"What do you want?" her tone was sharp but it was her only defense.

It was too bad it had no effect whatsoever on her ex-boyfriend. "I just wanted to wish you good luck."

"And you couldn't have done that two minutes ago with the rest of the glee club?"

"I wanted something more private," he said. His voice was low and his tone intent. The look in his eyes was unmistakable. Mercedes shivered.

"Sam, I told you already-,"

"Let's not mention Seamus-,"

"His name is Shane!"

"Don't care! He's not here. All the better. I should send him a 'Thank you for being the worst boyfriend ever' note."

"I will punch you!" she threatened but her voice had grown shaky with anger and frustration and anticipation.

"We'll see," and his voice was so arrogant Mercedes almost did just that but he dipped his head and his lips were on hers. They were as soft and as delicious as she remembered. Of course they were, she thought bitterly.

He kissed her lazily and hungrily as if he had all the time in the world and had absolutely no intention of letting her go anytime soon. His tongue, devilish and succulent tongue, came to tease her lips apart and Mercedes let it. She was weak all over. She had no defenses against his warm drugging mouth. She could take on the world but put Sam Evans' lips anywhere near her person and she gave up all fight.

The exhilarating feeling of earlier was back. She felt whole and alive and beautiful and she knew he was the cause for it. Always had been. Always would be. So, she kissed him back. She'd always known she was fighting a lost battle. He wanted her. He was fighting for her and it meant too much to her. She loved him so much for it.

She nibbled on his mouth, finally doing what she'd been dreaming about for months, and he moaned low in his throat.

"Mmmm. You taste so good," he whispered against her mouth. "Just like I dreamed, like I remembered," he peppered the words on her mouth and Mercedes felt herself melt completely and drown in them.

He tasted wonderful, too.

Suddenly, the doorknob rattled and they jumped apart, all red lips and disheveled hair. Mercedes almost whined, remembering how soft and lovely his mop of hair had felt under her fingers.

Mike came into the room, took their appearances in and grinned. Sam smiled back and turned slightly to wink at her, not caring that he had an audience. A very curious audience. She glared with all her might but he kept on smiling, his eyes twinkling in triumph and mirth.

"Sorry to interrupt but Sam, Mr. Shue is looking for you," Mike announced, his voice surprisingly steady for someone who looked on the verge of bursting out with laughter.

Sam nodded. "Be there in a minute."

Mike smirked which infuriated Mercedes to an unholy degree, before leaving them alone once again.

"Do not say a word," she enunciated the words clearly but it was useless, Sam was next to her in a step. To her surprise he didn't jump on her as she thought he would. He simply leaned over and kissed her cheek.

"Good luck, darling," he whispered against her cheek, his voice hot and his southern accent showing.

She was still shivering when he left the room.