A/N: Cough. Okay, this one needs some disclaimers.
#1: This is a very belated birthday present for michemistic, who likes her some dark!Jesse, so here he is. If you don't care for that or you find it OOC (I'm kinda on the fence, myself), you've been warned.
#2: Chris is the waiter from "Rhodes Less Traveled," the guy who has been held back for years at Carmel so he can stay in Vocal Adrenaline. I looked him up on IMDB, and he's wearing a nametag on screen. So, no, I did not write myself a cameo as a dude (lol!)
#3: The Model UN is a lovely organization that does good things, and I mean no disrespect to them at all.
#4: This is a fairly common fundraising tactic on university campuses, though I haven't heard of it happening at the high school level (not saying it doesn't, but I imagine there are added complications with underage children and all that).
#5: This isn't posted as a chapter in "Inevitability" because it is not a "fix." It does riff off the Britney Spears episode, but it isn't a "fix" in my definition of the term, so that's the answer to that.
#6: All standard disclaimers apply. I don't own them, I'm just going to hell for what I do when I borrow them.
She'd told them no the first three times they asked.
And the fourth.
And the fifth.
The sixth hadn't been a request so much as absolute begging. One of the other girls had backed out, they pleaded, and they needed someone last-minute to take her place. Rachel immediately snapped that she understudied for noone, but her fellow members of McKinley's Model UN team didn't see it that way. It wasn't understudying, they said. Technically it was replacing, but not really, since the event hadn't actually happened yet.
Rachel still wasn't so sure.
She'd been against this particular fundraising event from the start, saying that McKinley's branch of the Model UN shouldn't toy with something that sounded so dangerously like they were making light of human trafficking. It was all in fun, her fellow clubmembers told her. There was no real danger to a slave auction where students volunteered to be bidded on by their classmates. They had rules, after all. The "purchase" consisted of a few hours of the "slave's" time each day, and only lasted a week. Nothing violent, illegal, or sexual could be requested of the "slave," and participation was completely voluntary.
Still, Rachel didn't like it. She knew it was a fairly common technique for raising money without selling magazine subscriptions or candy or other stuff nobody really wanted. But both her fathers' people were slaves once, and she disliked the connotation, even in fun. So she'd refused to help with the planning of the event, telling the other members of the Model UN that they'd have to do this without their star organizer.
It wasn't until after she'd started wearing Britney Spears-inspired outfits to school that they even asked her if she would consider being one of the volunteers.
And it wasn't until after Finn rejoined the football team, effectively ignoring her ultimatum, that she said yes.
Now Rachel stood backstage with the rest of the volunteers, wringing her hands and wishing she hadn't let her anger and jealousy at Finn goad her into doing this. She didn't want to be here. It was against everything she believed in, she told herself. Besides, she wasn't popular. It wasn't like they were going to get much for her. Likely nobody but Jacob ben Israel would bid on her, and she'd be humiliated in front of the entire school.
Most of the other volunteers were cheerleaders or football players hoping to get some nookie out of this arrangement despite the prohibition. Puck and Santana were here, and Brittany. Quinn had flat-out refused, saying that buying and selling people was anti-Christian. Rachel's irritated comment that that hadn't been the case in the 1800's in America earned her a withering glare, but she was in no mood to deliver a real historical treatise. Not when she essentially agreed with Quinn's position, no matter how historically inaccurate the blond girl's motives were.
"Easy, Rach," Puck said now, squeezing her shoulders from behind. "You look like...I don't even know what."
She made a face at the football player who was alternately sweet and awful to her; it wasn't always clear day-to-day which it would be. "I don't know why I let them talk me into taking that girl's place. It's not like they'll get that much for me," she muttered.
Oh, god, what if they got nothing? What if Jacob for some reason wasn't here—not that he ever missed an event he could report on—and she was left with no one willing to bid for her?
"Well, last week, sure," Puck said with a shrug. "Last week, they would have begged you to stay away. But now—now it's like your hotness level went up by, like, a whole Britney."
Rachel looked down at the outfit she'd chosen for the night—it was more or less the same sort of thing she'd been wearing all week, variations on Britney Spears' sexy schoolgirl look. And sure, she'd been getting more attention in the hallways. It was also true that no one had dumped a slushie on her or slipped a nasty note into her locker since she started dressing differently. But that didn't equate to popularity; she wasn't stupid enough to believe that. Nor was she idiotic enough to think that a subtle shift in her clothing choices was enough to make this night salvageable. "I'm going to puke," she whispered, her stomach churning, as the announcer called for Brittany S. Pierce, the first volunteer, to come out on stage. There was a riot of cheering and wolf whistles as the announcer gave her name and age, and proceeded to rile up the audience with a litany of reasons why they'd want to bid on her. Most had to do with her generally-accepted hotness, as well as veiled references to her willingness to put out for just about anyone. Bidding started at $100 and quickly rose from there.
"Shit, if that's all you're upset about, just think of it as a performance," Puck said. "Here." He put his hands on her shoulders again and pulled her gray cardigan firmly down her arms.
"Noah!" she reprimanded, grabbing for the material.
"What?" He tugged again. "You worried about how you'll sell? Show some more skin and they'll be begging to spend money. It's like the golden rule."
"That's not the golden rule," Rachel said, picking nervously at the sleeve of her cardigan, unsure whether she should follow his advice. "Besides, this isn't supposed to be about sex."
"The hell it's not about sex," Puck snickered. "They just say that to make the teachers agree to let us do it. Don't kid yourself; this is all about sex and there's nothing Principal Figgins can do about that. He's not even really trying."
"Sue won't let anyone sell her Cheerios for sex!" Of that, Rachel was completely sure. She could just imagine their tall, intimidating coach yelling that thiswillnotstand.
"I didn't say they were being sold for sex," Puck said. "I said the auction was all about sex. Totally different concept."
"I don't believe you."
"Then why did you agree to it?"
Rachel opened her mouth to answer, and found that she couldn't. She didn't have a good reason. She'd done it because one of her clubs was in a pinch and they needed her. She'd done it because she almost always volunteered for just about anything if it got her name mentioned. But mostly—and this was the hard part to admit—she'd done it because she was flattered to be asked. Because in that moment it had felt like they wanted her, like they thought she could do something good. It was a heady feeling, and she hadn't been able to resist.
But now that the night was here, she really had no idea what she had been thinking.
"I can't do this," she muttered.
"Rachel Berry backing down from a performance?" Puck scoffed. "Say it ain't so! I think hell just froze over."
And in that minute, the familiar mocking from Puck steadied her. He was right, after all. She never backed down from a performance and it was ridiculous to think that she'd start now. No, she wasn't backing down. She was going to do this. No matter the humiliation, running away would be far worse.
"No sweater?" she asked a little hesitantly.
"No sweater," Puck agreed. "The rest of it—smoking."
Puck wouldn't lie to her. Not about this. He had no problem telling her that she sucked, or that she looked weird. If he said she looked good, she had to trust that. Not because she trusted him, per se, but she trusted the rude, blatant honesty that came out of his mouth and in this moment that's all she needed. With shaky knees but stubborn tenacity, she took to the stage.
It was hard to see the audience, but then, Rachel was used to that. The spotlight temporarily blinded her, as it always did when she was on stage, but she distinctly heard the sound of several appreciative whistles and it steadied her confidence. So maybe she'd sort of let herself be coerced into this. She was going to own it anyway. Drawing her shoulders back slightly, reaching her full height and refusing to either look or feel anxious, Rachel waited.
"Maybe the fastest turnaround of not to hot in the history of McKinley, ladies and gentlemen!" the announcer crowed, and Rachel carefully schooled her expression to something she hoped was appropriately aloof—like a model on a runway. She didn't need the audience to see how much it affected her; how much she didn't like knowing that her entire popularity at this school rested on a simple shift in clothing. It wasn't even that the Britney look was all that different than her regular—it was just Rachel with the volume turned up.
"A last-minute addition to our roster," the announcer, a holier-than-thou senior who never let Rachel chair their Model UN meetings, said. "And boy, are we happy to have her. We'll start the bidding on this Brunette Britney at $100."
One hundred dollars was the starting price for all of the "slaves," so it wasn't exactly unusual or anything. Rachel put a hand on her hip and tried to look nonchalant, as if she didn't really care what someone from her school might pay for the privilege of bossing her around for a week.
For several heartbeats, there was no noise. Her heart dropped into her feet. This was it, then. The final humiliation. Despite the wolf whistles earlier and Puck's assurance that she looked good, no one was willing to bid. She'd forever live in infamy as the girl who couldn't even make reserve.
But then two male voices called out almost simultaneously. "One hundred!" the first yelled, just slightly before the second.
"We have a hundred," the announcer said, pointing toward the side of the room where the first voice had sounded. "Care to bid him up, Down-Low-Too-Slow?"
"One fifty," the second voice said agreeably.
Rachel wasn't sure she was actually breathing. Her heart was racing wildly. She'd gotten a minimum bid, and a second. That was all she really needed to feel better about this. Even if nobody else said a single word, she could end the night with her head held high.
She didn't recognize either voice just from sound alone, but that didn't necessarily surprise her. As far as the boys she knew went, Puck was backstage, Mike was already attached, and she and Artie didn't get along well enough for her to even guess he'd spend money for her company. Kurt was...Kurt. Finn wasn't pleased with this whole auction idea and didn't have the kind of money to make a bid anyway, so he was going to have to deal with the fact that another guy was essentially going to buy his girlfriend tonight. They'd already spoken and he wasn't happy, but he wasn't the kind to tell her what she could and couldn't do.
Or, she'd thought so. Before this wardrobe change, anyway. Now things were different. He didn't like guys staring at her in the hallways, and he didn't like the little extra confidence boost that the attention gave her. He wanted her to stop wearing revealing clothes, and Rachel honestly wasn't sure she was ready to do that for him. The attention honestly felt pretty good. Besides, he wasn't ready to give up football for her, so why should she give up this for him?
"Two hundred!" a third voice called, pulling Rachel back into the present. She was a little miffed at Finn anyway, and the thought of making him jealous was actually more than slightly appealing.
Brittany had "sold" for six hundred, and Rachel was now hoping that maybe she'd get at least half of the cheerleader's price. That would be extremely gratifying. Especially after the terrible "Glist" debacle last year. This would feel like a redemption of sorts, even if she was fully aware that this sort of popularity was fleeting. Quinn had managed to hold on to the juice despite an unplanned pregnancy and a disastrous breakup with her quarterback boyfriend, but Rachel had no such illusions about her own chances.
"Four hundred!" a voice called out, effectively doubling the price. There were some startled murmurs from the crowd.
Rachel grimaced. She'd know that obnoxious little whine anywhere. Jacob ben Israel had finally joined the party. He had plenty of money—or, at least, his parents did—so she didn't feel too upset by the thought of him wasting it. She hoped beyond hope that whoever the other guy was, he won. Anything was better than Jacob. Even Azimio or Karofsky, though she didn't hear either of their voices in the mix of people calling out bids.
But just as the thought crossed her mind, so did a wash of fear. Oh, god, what if one of them—or one of the other jocks; it didn't really matter who—was bidding just for the express purpose of making her life a living hell for the next week? Once he paid, he could basically do what he wanted as long as it wasn't against the rules—no violence, sex, or law-breaking. Anything else was fair game. He could make her dress in her nicest clothes, only to throw slushies at her all day long. He could tell her she had to walk around like that for the rest of the day, not changing or washing. He could—
"Six hundred!" the other voice called out.
And the bidding war was on. Jacob fought valiantly—Rachel didn't even want to know how many months' worth of allowance from his well-off parents he was risking—but she really couldn't believe it as the numbers began to climb higher and higher. When they cleared a thousand with no sign of stopping, the audience started cheering after each new bid. They were picking sides; Rachel could hear it, though she still could not see what was going on. Some were rooting for Jacob, and some were rooting for the voice she still couldn't place. Rachel herself honestly didn't know which to pick. Jacob was slimy and despicable, but he was also easily bullied. She could slap him if he said or did anything inappropriate. Scratch that, she thought, just catching herself before rolling her eyes on stage. When he did something inappropriate, not if.
When the bids reached eighteen hundred dollars, Rachel was sure she was going to pass out. Jacob was still trying hard, but he had reduced his bids to fifty, then twenty-five dollars, while his competitor kept jumping by the hundreds. It was clear at this point who was going to win; Jacob didn't have a prayer. Whether he was still hoping to win by some fluke or just bidding his rival up out of spite, Rachel neither knew nor cared. Not only was she not going home in disgrace, but four people had actually bid on her, and she had more than doubled Brittany's price. Since the guy who won Brittany was almost sure to get sexual favors out of it despite the prohibition, Rachel thought this was a pretty shocking development. Especially since her mystery bidder wasn't getting anything like that from her, no matter what the final price. She had a boyfriend. Sure, she was pissed at him right now, but that didn't mean she was going to cheat.
But when the final bid of twenty-two hundred dollars rang out, she literally thought she might faint on stage. She held her breath—along with the rest of the audience, she was sure—just waiting to hear Jacob's increasingly-desperate whine.
It didn't come.
"Going once..." the announcer said, to the sound of muted whispers in the audience.
"Going twice..." Rachel thought she might die.
The audience exploded—cheers and whistles and violent stomping ensued, and Rachel almost numbly followed the announcer's direction as she walked carefully down the stairs of the stage to the little table on the side where winners left their money and claimed their prize.
Brittany was already there with the vaguely-recognizable football player who had won her. Rachel had been too nervous to really pay attention to Brittany's auction, but she thought she might have heard Artie bidding on the cheerleader.
Puck was next on stage, and the crowd ate up his mugging like no tomorrow. Rachel tried to tune out the raucous cheers and catcalls as she waited impatiently for her mystery bidder to appear out of the crowd.
"So Berry the slushie-target has suddenly become popular," the football player with Brittany sneered. "If I hadn't used all my money already, I would have bid on you just so I could throw them at you all day. It would be a completely different kind of rainbow party."
Rachel felt a quiver in her belly. Yes, that's what she'd been afraid of. God, what if her mystery bidder felt the same way? What if she'd been permitted this glimpse at popular success only to be later humiliated?
She turned hastily, eying the guy who pushed his way out of the crowd and up to the table. He was...nondescript. A little on the short side, though she certainly wasn't one to talk. He had a broadly-appealing face, neither handsome nor ugly, and a cheerful look to him. She didn't know him from Adam, but she felt her shoulders relax ever so slightly. He didn't look threatening.
"I'm the guy who, uh, won Rachel Berry?" he said, looking altogether more nervous than any guy who had just bid twenty-two hundred dollars on a girl had any right to be. His voice rose at the end of the sentence as if it was a question, and he eyed the attendant at the table almost sheepishly.
"What form will the payment be in?" the attendant—an overexcited freshman who probably had never seen that much money in one place before—asked. "And you need to sign a copy of the rules and regulations."
The guy pulled out fucking Benjamins, counting out a pile of crisp bills, and signed the rules without reading them. Rachel began to feel a small amount of...not panic, exactly, but...who did things like that?
Now that she thought about it, he did look maybe a little familiar. Just slightly. Something tugged at her memory—not a face in the hallway, like she would expect, but something else...
"I'm Chris, by the way," he said, turning to Rachel with an apologetic air. He took a breath to say something else, but a sudden roar from the crowd as Puck's final price was announced—nine hundred dollars—drowned him out. He flushed and glanced at the doors. "Can we talk somewhere a little more quiet?" he asked, his eyes almost begging her to say yes.
Rachel considered. She knew perfectly well what that sheet of rules said, and she was also going to slap this guy with an entirely different—and much longer—set of restrictions. Might as well get it over with now. They were at school after all. Plenty of people would be milling around in the hallway outside the auditorium; it was perfectly safe.
Nodding slowly, she stepped into the crowd, assuming he would follow. She felt eyes on her the entire time, not sure if they were Chris's or just members of the audience. If she were in the crowd, she had to admit, she'd be curious about the girl whose price tag was so much higher than anyone else's, and about the guy who was willing to pay it.
And that really was a disturbing thing to say, even in her own mind. She, Rachel Berry, had willingly allowed someone to put a price on her head. Sure, it wasn't meant like that, but it unnerved her just the same. She was pretty sure her dads wouldn't be at all happy about this if they knew, even if it was for a good cause.
When they reached the hallway outside the auditorium, Rachel leaned against a wall and regarded Chris carefully. Out here, he looked just as non-threatening and awkward as he had inside.
"So..." he said, rubbing his hands together as if wiping away nervous sweat.
"Let's get one thing straight," Rachel snapped, folding her arms across her chest. "I realize you paid a lot of money for the privilege of bossing me around for a week, but that doesn't mean I'm going to listen to you. And—"
He held up his hands in a gesture of surrender, an amused smile flickering over his face. "Whoa, calm down there," he said with a pleasant chuckle. "I come in peace. Besides, I'm not the one you need to tell."
"What does that mean?" Rachel asked suspiciously. She narrowed her eyes. "And why don't you look all that familiar? This school isn't that big. I should know you at least by sight."
He looked startled. "I look familiar? Even just a little bit?"
"A little," Rachel admitted.
"That's...unexpected." He smiled again quickly. "You've only seen me once or twice in your life as far as I know."
"What does that mean?"
He paused, looking nervous again, before pushing on. "I don't go to this school. I go to Carmel."
Everything suddenly clicked into place.
Carmel. Vocal Adrenaline. Their rivals—their enemies. These people had absolutely destroyed her last year, thanks to Jesse and Shelby, and it had taken her dads and Finn the better part of the summer to soothe her ruffled feathers as she did a massive amount of self-help to fix what could be fixed and push away the bad feelings that would only lessen with time. Now those hated rivals were back again, and she didn't know why. Sectionals were still months away, Regionals even further. It made no sense for them to start funkifying New Directions now.
Unless they were going for total destruction this time—get them before they could have an Invitational, even. Crush them from the beginning until nothing was left.
"No," Rachel whispered, though there was strength behind the soft word. "No."
"Easy," Chris said. "Chill, okay? I'm not here to fuck anything up; I'm just following orders."
"Sure," Rachel snapped, taking a step back. "Like you were following orders when you egged me in the parking lot? Like you were following orders when you trashed our choir room?"
"I wasn't there for the egging," Chris said, and she saw a flash of something very like fear in his eyes. She knew she could be quite impressive in a temper, and she hoped he was getting the full force of that right now. "I was sick that day."
"Great excuse." Rachel glared as hotly as she could. "So what's the brilliant plan now? Why pay all that money? I hope you know it's a lost cause. Whatever you think you could do to me, or coerce me into doing, you're wrong. I don't have to honor a contract with someone from Carmel."
The corner of Chris's mouth flickered ever so slightly. "He said you'd say that."
"Who?" Rachel snapped. "Goolsby? He's useless. He couldn't come up with a cunning plan unless it was somehow attached to his mirror, the narcissistic prick."
"No. Not Goolsby." Chris was trying to hide a smile and doing a very poor job of it. "Look, I didn't buy you, okay? Someone else did, he just wanted me to physically do it for him."
"Who?" Rachel demanded yet again. "I don't owe him anything."
"He said you'd say that, too." Chris handed her a piece of paper with a typed address on it. "He wants you to meet him here after school tomorrow. He says he's absolutely sure you don't give a shit about the money he just spent, or honoring the contract, so he knows you won't go just because of that."
"Then why?" Rachel felt anger welling up insider her. Who? Who could possibly know her well enough to have coached this guy in the exact things to say? "Why would I have any interest in meeting him?"
Chris merely smiled. "He says it's a dare."
A/N: Yes, yes, this is just a setup chapter. Yes, there's more written. No, it won't be out this weekend. It's no fun unless you get to stew for a few days! Mwah! Happy birthday, michie!