Disclaimer: I still don't own them.

A/N Lord knows if anyone will read this after a mortifying six month hiatus, but I have not abandoned this story or you, my dear readers!

Sam steps out of Mr. Arnstein the next morning to the dulcet tones of Kurt Hummel's screeching.

"Rachel, you know you're not allowed on school grounds until the end of the week, do you have any idea how much trouble—Sam?"

"Heya, Kurt," he says, waving sheepishly, thoughts of tracking down Mercedes before the first bell evaporating; Kurt's great, but he's terrible at ending conversations.

"I—wha—what are you doing here?" Kurt stutters, hand coming up to hover near his mouth with shock. "And why are you driving Rachel's car?"

"Um, do you want the long version or the short version?"

"Any version!"

Sam gives a small grin. "Rachel came and got me; I'm here to save glee club."

"You moved back to Lima?"

"Uh, yeah, kinda," he says, walking towards the school; Kurt falls into step next to him. "Just me, though; the rest of my family's still in Florence. I'm staying with Rachel 'til the end of the year."

"I need more details than that!"

"It's kind of a long story, dude—I have to get my schedule and locker assignment from Figgins and talk to Miss Pillsbury about the, um. The alarmingly sudden nature of my transfer," he says, recalling the exact words from the voicemail she'd left with the Berrys last night. "But I can talk to you about it at lunch?"

"Blaine and I were going to go off-campus for lunch, but we can reschedule."

Sam pauses, baffled. "Blaine goes here now?"

He opens the main doors for Kurt, who gives him a half-sympathetic, half-alarmed look. "Honey, what rock have you been living under?"

"Kentucky," Sam grumbles as he follows Kurt inside, because he doesn't really have a better answer. He'd never got back into the habit of checking his Facebook since he regained computer access; he hadn't even missed it all that much. But now the idea of being totally blindsided by the things he's missed makes him nervous.

But, like. It's Lima. How much could have changed in three months?

"Well, in any case—welcome back, Sam."

"Thanks. And hey, sorry about losing the election or whatever; Rachel told me you really deserved it."

Kurt's lips twitch. "Yes, well. It's—it is what it is," he says, voice terse.

"Are you guys cool about everything? She told me you were fighting before, but like… it takes some serious loyalty to get suspended for someone." If there's one thing Sam's started to get a really good idea of in the past few days, it's this: "Rachel's a good friend."

"I know. And, in answer to your question—we're working it out. I was planning on coming over after school either today or tomorrow to talk to her."

"That would be—she'd like that," Sam decides. "So, see you at lunch?"

"I'll text you if I can't make it. Good luck today," Kurt says, placing his hand briefly on Sam's shoulder before disappearing down the hall.

Sam hops on the balls of his feet for a moment to redistribute the weight of his backpack, then starts off in the opposite direction, towards the front office.

And then he has to stop because his world kind of stops.

For the first time in years, Rachel Berry wakes up not to the sounds of Break My Stride, but to the harsh buzz of her phone vibrating against her bedside table. Groaning, she sits up and rubs blearily at her eyes before checking the time—a little after 8 am. Hardly sleeping in to anyone else's standards, but she feels massively disoriented all the same.

Oh, right. Text message.

She yawns and picks up her phone—Sam. She meant to get up and say goodbye to him this morning. She swipes her thumb to unlock the text.

It reads, Y didnt U tell me Mercedes has a bf?!

Suddenly, she's wide awake.

Sam has just enough time to read Rachel's response—a short I'm so sorry; I thought you knew—before he's called into Principal Figgins' office, and he's glad he, like, went to this school before and knows how it works, because there's no way he could listen to anything Mr. Figgins is saying right now. His head is reeling. Mercedes and Shane?

(The words he'd taken for granted on Friday night slowly creep into the back of his brain to taunt him. "What would you say if I said I'm going to be at McKinley on Monday?" "I'd say you're crazy. And that I have a boyfriend."

He'd thought she'd meant him. God, how could he have been so stupid?)

"Everything you need should be in here," Mr. Figgins says at last, handing him a pile of papers. Sam didn't hear a single word he said. "You don't have to go to World History today; Ms. Pillsbury is expecting you, you'll spend the rest of first period with her." When Sam doesn't move, he waves his right hand regally and says, "Off you go, Samuel."

Sam stumbles like a drunk as he makes his way down the hallway towards the Guidance office. Shane? Seriously, that guy? It's not as bad as if Mercedes were dating Azimio or Rick the Stick or something, but like… Sam has a list a mile long of people he'd rather see Mercedes date than Shane Tinsley. (Well, no, he doesn't, but he could write one super fast.) Sam's heard way too much locker talk from that guy to ever think he'd make a good boyfriend to anyone, let alone Mercedes. He's just not a great dude.

How did this happen?

Even if he and she had to stay broken up, Sam thought Mercedes had better taste than to go for Shane Tinsley. He knows she doesn't need him to be her, like, guardian or anything, but just… he doesn't understand what the hell they think they have in common. (Except for the one glaringly obvious thing, and the idea that that might have really mattered to her kind of makes him sick.)

"Sam? Are you planning to come in, or do you just really like my new motivational posters?" Ms. Pillsbury asks good-naturedly from inside her office. He shakes his head to make himself stop staring at her wall and walks through the door.

"Sorry, I'm… I was just…" He collapses into the chair in front of her desk, tosses the papers Figgins gave him onto the floor, and puts his head into his hands. "Today is not a good day," he groans.

"Well that was fast." Ms. Pillsbury leans forward with a kind expression despite her snarky comment, giving him her full attention. "You look nice and slushie-free to me, so you're going to have to help me out. Do you miss your old school?"

"I miss my old life," Sam says. He knows that's super dramatic, but it's honestly how he feels. And like, yeah, this meeting was supposed to just be some fluff thing he had to do because it was the rules, but he's not gonna feel bad about feeling bad. As fate would have it, he actually needs guidance this morning. At Ms. Pillsbury's expression, he explains, "I thought that when I got back I could pick up where I left off with Mercedes, but she's dating Shane Tinsley. I just—I just saw them in the hallway. She didn't see me, but I saw her, and, like—they're definitely dating." He thinks about someone who wasn't dating Mercedes touching her that way, and adds darkly, "They better be dating."

Ms. Pillsbury's eyes soften. "Oh, Sam, I'm sorry. You had no idea?"

"None." Well, now that he knows, he can tell that she tried to warn him on Friday, but that doesn't count.

"Well, hold on, let me see what I've got here," Ms. Pillsbury says, swiveling in her chair to look behind her. After a moment of contemplation, she selects three pamphlets from her stand and slides them across the table for him to look at: So You're Dating a Two-Timin' Ho; How to Key Cars and Not Get Caught: What To Do When Your Ex Wins the Breakup, and I'm Too Depressed to Even Open This Pamphlet.

Despite himself, Sam lets out a laugh. "Thanks Ms. P, but I think I'd rather just talk about it? If that's okay?"

She gives him a small smile. "Okay. Give me some context. Did you and Mercedes talk a lot when you were in Kentucky?"

He sighs, defeated. "No. Not really."

"Do you feel like she lead you on?"

He rubs his temples. "No, it wasn't like—no. Apparently it was all in my head, and that's why it sucks. I know we lost touch and I know it was dumb to think she'd wait for me, but I guess I thought if she started going out with some other guy she'd at least give me a heads up." She probably did, he thinks, even if only indirectly. It's probably all over Facebook. But for the second time this morning, he can't bring himself to care. He spent most of his free time in Florence stripping for money so his family wouldn't starve, so he finds it really hard to regret not wasting a bunch of his time on his computer. And he thought… he thought he would have deserved at least a text or something.

"How did you leave things, when you moved away?" Ms. Pillsbury asks, resting her chin on her steepled fingers. He's honestly surprised she's taking him seriously, but in a good way.

"Well, I mean, we broke up, but like… we broke up because I was leaving. Neither of us wanted to. Or at least…." he frowns, because he'd never had to doubt this before. "Or at least, I didn't want to. Maybe that was just an excuse for her."

"Do you want to talk to Mercedes about this?"

"No," he blurts out immediately, but then he considers it. "I don't know. Maybe. Not today, though. I'm too pissed off."

"Are you?"

He blinks. "Well, yeah."

"You don't seem angry to me," Ms. Pillsbury points out. "You seem sad."

After a moment, he hesitantly ventures, "Do I have to pick just one?"

"Of course not. I just find it interesting that you'd characterize yourself primarily as being angry when so far you've been quite reasonable about it. Just blue."

Sam thinks about it. "I guess maybe I am more sad. I dunno. I don't hate her or anything, I just… I guess I feel cheated?" Unbidden, images from earlier of them totally wrapped up in each other flash in his head. "She didn't even see me," he repeats softly.

"Does it make you regret coming back?"

"No," he says after a moment, "I'm glad I know. I wish I knew before, but I'm glad I know now. And it doesn't change why I'm here."

"And why are you here?"

It sounds silly when he says it to her, but it's the best he's got: "To save glee club?"

"But what about you?"

"Am I… here to save me?" He doesn't understand the question.

"Well, think about it. Maybe you are. When we talked to your parents, they said the biggest factor in allowing you to stay with the Berry family is that they wanted you to have a chance to have your childhood."

"I'm not a child," Sam corrects, peeved. "Kids don't have to see their ex-girlfriends shoving their tongue down some dude's—"

"Your young and reckless high school years, then." Ms. Pillsbury finishes, wrinkling her nose at the thought. She pumps out some hand sanitizer and massages it into her fingers. "But where was I… oh. It's very noble of you to want to save glee, Sam. But you're only responsible for yourself. Don't put the world on your shoulders, okay?"


She smiles at him. "And, while I'm on the subject: how's living with the Berrys, so far? Everything good?"

"Yeah. Rachel's dads are great, and she's actually way cooler than I think I realized. We're having fun."

Ms. Pillsbury leans in conspiratorially. "Don't tell anyone I said this, but—I think it's very brave, what she did for Kurt."

Sam grins. "Me too. Oh, um, she wanted me to ask: can I bring home her homework every day?"

"I can have that arranged; just swing by here to pick it up after school, okay?"

"Okay." The bell rings suddenly, and Sam jumps a little in his seat. He'd totally lost track of time. "Guess I gotta go to, um…" He looks down at the schedule he'd dropped dramatically on the floor, "Gym. Thanks, um—thanks for meeting with me. I'm actually really glad I had to come."

"My door is always open," she says as he picks up his things and slings his backpack over his shoulder.

When he gets back into the hallway, he finds that he has like a million missed texts from Rachel asking if he's okay, if he wants her to talk to Mercedes, if he needs anything, if there's any way she can help or make it up to him.

Its fine, he texts her back, but when he sees how short and kind of jerk-like it sounds, he adds, saw ms pillsbry. Im ok.

He heads to the locker rooms apprehensively, because now he feels like there's no telling what else has gone crazy in his absence. Blaine waves to him from down the hall as he approaches the gym, and like—he totally forgot that was even a thing after seeing Mercedes, but what the hell? Is nothing sacred? (Not that he has anything against Blaine, but the kid belongs in a blazer.)

Nobody from glee seems to be in his gym class, and that's fine with him. He doesn't think he could take any more insane revelations this morning; he needs a breather. Coach Beiste is really happy to see him, though, and that kind of makes him feel better. He'd actually missed her.

"Coulda used you in the big game against Carmel last weekend," she says as she marches the class towards the football field; apparently they're running laps today.

"Thanks, but I think my football days are over." That kind of stress is the last thing he needs. But now that they're talking about it, he remembers what he told Rachel the other night. "I might go out for baseball in the spring, though."

"You're a ballplayer?" Coach Beiste asks, before looking him up and down. He swallows uncomfortably. Ever since he moved he hates being examined the way she's examining him now, but hey, at least this time he has his clothes on. (Dimly, he remembers how much he used to enjoy showing off his body, how much he obsessed over it, how much it motivated him, and like… was he ever seriously that shallow?) "I can see it. What position do you play?"

"Center field."

"Can you hit?"

"I mean, I haven't really played in a while, so…"

"Well. Come find me in the spring, then," she says, before striding forward to the front of the line and blowing her whistle. "Okay! I want a mile out of each of you; no excuses!"

Sam's in the middle of his fourth lap when he notices movement under the bleachers. He's got no one to talk to and he's left the rest of his class pretty thoroughly in his dust, so he pulls off to the side to investigate. All it takes is the smell of smoke and the flash of a lighter flaring to life for him to speed back up again, because he has no intention of getting his ass kicked and the Skanks mean serious business, but then—but then he thinks—


Is he in freaking Bizarro World?

He glances over his shoulder to check if he's being watched, but Coach Beiste seems to be explaining to a group of freshman how to do a hogtie, if her hand movements are anything to go by, so he figures he's got a sec.

There's no use in trying to be sneaky, but he can't bring himself to just walk up to these girls, especially if he saw what he thinks he saw. He takes each step carefully as he inches off the track and behind the bleachers, trying to use the metal framework to hide himself.

"Hey," one of them says—he thinks her name is Ronnie—"Who's over there?"

He sighs. So much for being a ninja. "Sorry, I'm not trying to get you in trouble, I just—"


"Quinn?! It is you. I don't—what happened to you?"

He watches her face carefully—oh my god, does she have a nose ring?—and he can tell she's trying to hide how surprised she is, trying to school her face back into nonchalance and disinterest. "Life happened to me," she says, and the gruff tone of her voice makes him think that the smoking isn't new to her. "What are you doing here?"

"I saw you from the track and I wasn't sure—"

She rolls her eyes. "No, I mean, what are you doing here? Shouldn't you be in Kentucky or some shit?"

He shakes his head even though yes, he should be in Kentucky, because Quinn has pink hair and Quinn is swearing at him and nothing about his life makes any sense at all. "I transferred back."

"Why the hell would anyone want to come back here?" one of the other ones, Sheila, asks. He's not sure if she's asking him or the other Skanks, but he figures it's only polite to answer—and he's not about to risk not being polite to these people. He doesn't hit girls, but he knows for a fact these girls would hit him.

"Um. Rachel came and got me. Because of… everything that's happened."

There's a moment of total utter silence, and then Quinn bursts into hysterical laughter. The other Skanks join in, but they can't match her level of apparent delight.

"Oh my god," Quinn gasps, tears actually forming at the corners of her eyes as she giggles. "Oh my god, she took me seriously."


"She went and got you. Oh my god. Oh my god, I was kidding."

"Did you…?" He feels dumb for even asking, but it sounds like she's saying… "Was this your idea?"

"No," Quinn chokes, "I just—wow. That is priceless. That is… that is perfect." She turns to the other Skanks, and says, "Meet Matt Rutherford."

Suddenly the others are laughing just as hard as Quinn's been, and Sam is totally lost. Who the heck is Matt Rutherford?

"I don't get what's so funny. Glee is important to me, and I want us to win. Don't you?"

Quinn gives him a look that is at once judgmental and pitying. "Oh, wow, are you behind on the times. I'm not in glee, Sam."

He's not the brightest dude ever, but even he can do that math. "But if you're not in glee, we don't compete."

"Bummer," she says, rolling her eyes.

It's not like Quinn being a bitch is new to him, really, but there's something completely different about her tone now. He looks her up and down, sees the way she steels herself against his gaze, and he just… he has to ask again. "Quinn. Seriously. What happened to you?"

"She already answered your question, Donkey Lips," The Mack finally pipes up, and she pushes off from the support she was leaning against to walk towards him menacingly. He'd appreciate the reference to Salute Your Shorts is she wasn't, y'know, insulting him. "Don't make her repeat herself. If you've got a problem with that, you've got a problem with us."

"I don't have a problem, I just—" He turns to look at Quinn. "Are you… okay? Because if you want to talk, or whatever, I—"

"If I want to talk or whatever, I'll talk with my friends," Quinn says harshly, gesturing to the other Skanks, who nod their approval. From across the field, the bell signaling the end of the period rings, and Sam cranes his neck to find that the rest of his gym class is nowhere in sight. "Time for all the good little boys to do what they're told and go to class. Run along," she quips, dismissing him.

He's gonna be so late now; he should have left the field ten minutes ago so he'd have time to change. As he walks away he gives Quinn one last look over his shoulder, but it's like he was never there. Like he was just an annoying fly and, now that she's squashed him, she can move on with her life.

Seeing as it's his first day back, he decides that he can probably get away with going to class late; he'd rather change than have to go to Geology in his gym clothes. They smell like smoke now anyway, and he doesn't want to get in trouble.

Before he leaves the locker room, he texts Rachel, just saw Q. whats happening whats happening

Rachel's on her elliptical when she receives her next text from Sam, but once she reads it, she has to slow down and step off—she can't maintain her momentum and feel as guilty as she does at the same time.

She woefully under-prepared him for school today, she sees that now. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.

I'm so sorry she says again, because she is, and because she doesn't have anything else to say to him. She'd been on her elliptical for the past hour trying to work off her distress at failing to realize Sam didn't know about Mercedes and Shane, but she couldn't outrun her problems on a stationary machine, and she can't outrun them now. Was she mean, or just rude? she asks Sam instead, because even this new version of Quinn comes in degrees. She just hopes Sam wasn't tossed into the fire in his very first encounter.

Kinda both? she gets back after a few minutes. Ill call u at lunch.

Rachel sighs, and runs and hand through her hair, now damp with sweat. She's not exactly looking forward to that conversation.

The idea of getting to lunch—so he can check in with Rachel, and so Kurt can give him an idea of what the hell someone put in the water around here that made everyone go off the deep end—is the only thing that propels Sam through the next four periods. He barely even listens in class, let alone takes notes. He knows that letting himself be distracted on his first day when he's already behind is a terrible idea, but there's just way too much stuff in his head and not nearly enough room for it all; there's no way a pre-calc lecture is going to stick.

Finally, the bell rings at the end of Spanish, and he practically sprints to the door. His first stop is his new locker, because he only needs like half the binders he's carrying, and it hits him as he puts in his combination for the first time that he'll have to, like, re-decorate his locker and stuff. He never cleaned out his old one in Kentucky.

Great. Now he's thinking about home.

Everything from the day just hits him all at once, and he takes a sec to rest his head against the cool metal and just process it. He thinks about what his parents said, and how he snapped at Ms. Pillsbury this morning for calling him a child. He meant it then, but honestly? He feels pretty freaking lost right now. He could kind of use his mom and dad.

After a minute he picks himself up and opens his eyes, because he doesn't have time for this. He's torn between heading to the cafeteria to find Kurt and going out to the courtyard so he'll have enough cell reception and privacy to call Rachel, and those few moments of indecision… well, they kind of alter the course of the rest of his day.

Just as he finally chooses to turn left and go outside, several things happen at once. Finn turns the corner and starts walking towards him—which makes him nervous even though it shouldn't, because he has done nothing wrong—a whole bunch of Cheerios start clustering a few lockers down from him, and in the distance, Quinn comes out of the closest girls' bathroom, followed by the rest of the Skanks. He has a feeling they just swirley'd some poor kid for her lunch money.

What happens next seems to Sam to be almost in slow motion.

Out of nowhere, Brittany emerges from the gaggle of cheerleaders, her trademark smile nowhere to be seen. She's holding an extra large Big Gulp container in her hand, and about a fifth of a second before it happens, Sam realizes what's about to go down.

The second the bright blue slushie hits Finn's face, Quinn and Sam lock eyes. Like she's challenging him. He can't tell if she wants him to move or to stay put, but her look means something, and he can't just—he can't just do nothing. The world falls back into real time, and the sound—which had been sucked out of the hallway—comes back all at once.

"That was for my girlfriend," Brittany says dully to a sputtering Finn. Then she just walks away, as if nothing happened. Santana, Sam notes, is nowhere to be seen. For all he knows, she isn't even in school today.

Finn is just standing there, dripping, making surprised scoffing noises. Sam remembers what that's like. He wonders when the last time Finn got slushied was. He wonders if Finn's ever been slushied at all.

Without even thinking about it, his feet begin to move, carrying him towards the growing blue puddle on the floor. (Blue. Just like his first. But he doesn't think he'll try and hit on Finn in Na'vi today.) "C'mon, dude, let's get you cleaned up," he mutters under his breath, not trying to draw any more attention than they already have. It's a testament to how shocked he is that he doesn't even seem to register Sam's presence as they move down the hallway and into the guy's bathroom.

"Did that really just happen?" Finn asks dazedly as Sam steers him towards a sink.

"Seemed pretty real to me."

Finn blinks when he sees Sam's reflection in the mirror, and turns around to look at him for the first time. "Wait. Sam? What are you doing here?"

"Long story. Look, you should probably start rinsing that off, unless you want it to stain." He knows he had nothing to do with this, but he feels bad when he remembers that Rachel saw this coming. She warned him to watch out this, and he let her down. "Do you want to trade shirts with me or something?"

"What? No, I'm not gonna take your shirt," Finn says robotically. After a second, he asks, "Can slushies give you brain freeze even when you don't drink them? Because I kind of feel like that."

"Been there. Was this your first?"

"No, but it hasn't happened since sophomore year. I forgot how much it sucks." He leans down into the sink and starts washing his face and hair. Sam watches him awkwardly from his position against the wall; he doesn't know how to help, but he'd feel guilty if he just left. His phone buzzes in his pocket—probably Rachel wondering if he's still planning to call her—but he ignores it. Without warning, Finn whips his head back up, like a thought just struck him. "And I mean, what gives? I thought Brittany was nice."

"She is nice," Sam says simply. "But she's also super loyal, and, like. You outed her girlfriend."

"Why does everyone keep saying that?" Finn asks, hands spread wide in his confusion. "I didn't say anything anyone didn't know."

"That's not really true, though, and it wasn't your place to say it. Like. What if it had been Kurt?"

"Everyone knows Kurt's gay."

"But you didn't always."

"Yeah, we did. Why do you think we used to throw him in the dumpster?"

Finn seems to realize that's a horrible thing to admit to about a half a second after it leaves his mouth, but it doesn't stop Sam from shouting, "You did what?" He'd had no idea.

"I was dumb and I didn't know any better!" Finn explains defensively. "And I tried to be nice about it. I'd hold his jacket so it wouldn't get junk all over it. Puck was way worse, and nobody's slushying him."

Sam just shakes his head, trying to make sense of all of this. It's barely after one o'clock and this is the worst, most confusing day he's had in a long, long time. "Look. Dude. I don't know what the hell used to happen in this school, but you know that's not okay. And this is the same thing. What you did to Santana—it was dumb, and you didn't know any better. But the reason people keep nagging you about it is because you keep saying it wasn't ignorant and mean and it was."

Finn looks down at the blue streak on his chest and sighs. "I'll never be able to fix this." Looking totally lost, Finn backs away from the sink and sits down against the wall in front of the radiator. Sam doesn't even want to think about what might be on the floor, but he can't just leave Finn like this, so he crosses the room to sit down next to him.

"I don't get what you don't get," Sam says simply, because he doesn't. It seems pretty clear to him; his parents raised him to take people at their word, and to let them make decisions on their own time. But then, they also taught him that God loves everyone equally, and it seems like all the kids in Lima got some seriously mixed messages about what that was supposed to mean.

"It wasn't a secret that Santana and Brittany are together or whatever. They'd make out at parties all the time. They did that pinky-holding thing. Like, they even went on a date with me once."

Sam blinks. "Both of them?"

"Yeah. At the same time. But it was totally just for the two of them, and it's always been like that. So I don't get how telling Santana she was being a coward by not saying what's true is so bad. How is that not right? I feel like that's right."

Sam sighs, and runs both hands through his hair. "Okay. Can you tell me exactly what you said? Like, as close as you remember."

"We got into this big fight over this thing Mr. Schue had us do, this mash-off, and she was just being a total bitch to me: calling me fat, saying I had no talent. But it's Santana, so I know she's just saying it because she hates everyone because she, like, hates herself. So I told her she should come out of the closet because she's ruining everyone's lives trying to pretend she isn't in love with Brittany. She's so scared of people hating her for the right reasons that she doesn't care if they hate her for the wrong ones. Isn't that a shitty way to live?"

Sam's kind of surprised at how insightful that is, but then, Finn's known Santana a lot longer than he has. And they both dated her, so maybe she just really is that obvious. "That's exactly what you said?"

"Not, like, word for word, but yeah."

"In front of everybody?"

"In front of some people. It was in the hallway. I don't know."

Sam wonders how much of this Rachel has heard; he wonders if it would make a difference. "You're right," he allows, "it is a shitty way to live. But you don't get to decide how Santana lives her life."


"It would be different if Brittany was a guy, or if being gay were okay, but in this school, it's not. It's not safe. Kurt had to leave,it got so bad."

"But it is okay to be gay," Finn says, frustrated. "I never said it's not."

Sam frowns at him. "Yeah, you did. Remember? When I first got into glee, and Kurt wanted to do a duet with me, you told me not to do it. That it would make me look gay, and everyone would think I liked Kurt, and that would make us both targets."

"I was trying to protect you!"

"Yeah. I know you were," Sam sighs. "But that's why this sucks. I'm not gay, dude. Santana is. And you should have protected her." Groaning, Sam shifts onto his knees and stands back up, before wordlessly offering Finn a hand. "Do you get it now?"

"I guess. I don't know. I think so," Finn says as he gets to his feet, but he's got a thoughtful look on his face, so Sam hopes something got through to him. After another helpless glance at the slushy stain on his shirt, Finn asks quietly, "Sam, why are you here?"

There's no use sugar-coating it. "Rachel came and got me to take over your spot in glee, because there's no way everyone will forgive you in time for Sectionals."

Finn stares at the floor. "Yeah. I thought it might be something like that. Is Rachel…" Finn's lips twist, like he's trying to keep a hold on himself. "Is she, like, okay? I know Kurt's mad at her. I mean, he's mad at me too, but—I don't know. I think about her like all the time."

"She's okay. She doesn't like talking about it, but… she asked me to talk to you, if that means anything."

"She did?"

"Yeah. She was worried something like this might happen. She told me to look out for you."

Suddenly it looks like Finn's trying not to cry. "Do you think… do you think I still have a chance with her?"

"I have no idea, dude. But I know you'll never get her back if you don't figure out how to fix everything you did, and why you can't do it again."

"Oh," Finn whispers. "I… how do I do that?"

"I don't know. But it'll probably take more work than just singing about it in glee club."

They both jump a little when the bell interrupts their moment. "Shit, is that the time?" Finn asks, double checking it against his phone. "Crap. You shouldn't have—you didn't have to—" Finn sighs. "Thanks for, like, checking on me and stuff. Sorry I made you miss lunch."

"It's not a big deal," Sam says. He's kind of used to skipping meals, even if he hasn't done it in a while. "Are you sure you don't want to trade shirts?"

Finn gives him a look. "After today I probably owe you, like, every shirt I own. I think I deserved this. See you around, man."

Huh. Sam thinks as he watches Finn walk out the door. I think that's progress.

Any amount of coping Sam'd managed to convince himself he'd done with the Mercedes situation is thrown completely out the window when he walks into English and sees her sitting in the back row, examining her nails.

He should have skipped this period. He should have responded to the missed calls from Rachel or the texts from Kurt and Blaine. He should have talked to Ms. Pillsbury more. He should have stayed in the bathroom with Finn all day. He should have stayed home.

He cannot be here right now.

"Mr. Evans, we're glad to have you back, but please take a seat, class is about to start," Mr. Andrews says, and then Mercedes looks up and sees him, and just—nope. Nope, nope, nope, he cannot do this today.

He drops into the first seat he reaches—in the front row, where he never sits—and stares straight ahead at the board.

Of course, then he hears shuffling and movement behind him, and Mercedes' voice in his ear, hissing, "Oh my god, I thought you were kidding."

"Nope, I really came back. Didn't Kurt tell you?" he snips back, despite his better judgment. He shouldn't be talking to her. He doesn't want to talk to her.

"We don't have any classes together this year, and he was having lunch with Blaine, and oh my god, that's so not even important right now. Why didn't you tell me?"

"I thought I did!" Sam mutters. "And you don't have any right telling me what I should have told you."


"I saw you! You and—and freaking Shane Tinsley."

Yeah, and I told you—"

"I thought you meant me!" Sam says, much louder than he meant to, and the rest of the room gets quiet.

"Fascinating as this is," Mr. Andrews says drolly, "It has nothing to do with The Great Gatsby. Back to your usual seat, Miss Jones."

Sam hasn't read any of The Great Gatsby, so even if he'd wanted to get anything out of the class discussion, he still would have been lost. Instead he sits and stews, thoughts swirling in an endless miserable pattern.

He's been trying so hard not to think about how he thought this day was going to go, how she'd be so excited to see him, how they'd both skip lunch and spend the time making out under the bleachers or something. Seeing Mercedes was like the one thing he was supposed to actually be able to count on and look forward to, and now…

Now he can't stop fantasizing about angrily calling her out in glee with some kind of vindictive break up power anthem. Which is so dumb, but it's like the only thing keeping him sane right now. He's torn between "Cry Me A River" (which he'd love to sing because JT is something of a personal hero, but doesn't really fit, unfortunately) and some sort of angry dude rock version of Adele's "Someone Like You" when he suddenly remembers an old Jimmy Eat World b-side Artie played for him once. He can't recall anything about it but the chorus, but he can't deny that it's perfect in his daydream. He'd borrow the electric guitar from Robbie in jazz band, and they'd set up the laser lights in the choir room just so they could flash red as he screamed out the lyrics, right in Mercedes' face: "THE WORLD DON'T SPIN WITHOUT YOU, I'M AMAZED YOU'RE STANDING STILL. TAKING MY KISSES BACK, WHOA, I WANT MY KISSES BACK FROM YOU."

"Sam?" Mr. Anderson asks, jolting him out of his imaginings, and he flinches.

"Um. Yeah?"

"Miss Jones just made the very interesting point that Daisy is right to choose Tom over Gatsby in the end, despite their personal history and Tom's affair—that she has an obligation to her marriage, and that even though Gatsby doesn't like it, the onus is on him to respect it." He smiles wanly at Mercedes, and amends, "Well, I paraphrased a bit. Call it morbid curiosity, but I was wondering if you had enough insight for a rebuttal?"

"Do I…?" Sam asks dazedly, and he hates that he has to ask. (Hates that it makes him sound stupid. Hates that he probably is.)

"Do you have anything to say to that?" Mr. Andrews rephrases.

He doesn't. He hasn't even read the book, and whatever his beef with Mercedes is, he doesn't want to talk about it in front of the whole class. So he goes with the one thing he knows: "Well, I mean. The book is called The Great Gatsby, not The Great Tom. He's the main character, so even if he's wrong we have to think he's right." He thinks he heard Joss Whedon say something like that in an interview or something. Or maybe he was saying that main characters are always wrong, or you have to let them be wrong, or… god, Sam can't think.

"A fascinating theory," Mr. Andrews says, eyebrows raised, and Sam sighs with relief. "What do you think, you guys? Does Gatsby's position as the titular character give him privileges the other characters don't get?"

Totally spent, Sam sinks into his desk, rests his head in his arms, and waits for this day to end.

Last period is Home Ec, thank god. Plus side is that he has it with Brittany, who's awesome; downside is that she already has a partner, so he's stuck with the chick from the school orchestra who plays violin for them in glee sometimes, whose name he cannot remember for the life of him. It's not so bad, though. The assignment is to make egg drop soup, and theirs comes out actually edible.

At the end of class, Brittany walks over to him and offers holds out two fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies on a napkin. "Here. I made these for you."

He blinks at her. "What, like, just now?"

"Yeah. They had all the ingredients."

"But the assignment was to make soup."

"I know, but you looked like you needed cookies," she says with a shrug. She leans in closer and adds, "Last year when I had to see San going around with Karofsky, I always kind of wished someone would give me a cookie. So I thought I'd make some for you. I actually made more, but the rest are for Lord Tubbington." They're alone in the classroom now; everyone else ran out to get their stuff and go home.

"Thanks Britt, that's… really nice of you. And, um, you should know—I talked to Finn about what happened earlier."

Brittany's face instantly becomes a steely mask, and he almost jumps back at the sight of it. He's seen Quinn do that trick, but never Brittany—maybe it's just something they learn in Cheerios. But he doesn't think he's ever seen Brittany this pissed, ever. "He deserved it," she says.

"I know he did. But I think maybe now he knows he did, too." He hopes.

"Whatever," Brittany says dismissively, but then the cloud lifts and she's back to her usual self. "So? Are you going to try the cookies or not?"

"Oh! Sure," he says, and stuffs one in his mouth. It only takes about a chew and a half before he realizes she must have gotten a bit… creative with the recipe. "What's in this?" he chokes, trying to sound enthusiastic.

"I switched the amounts of salt and sugar; it makes them taste like chocolate covered pretzels, right?"

"Totally," he says, swallowing uneasily.

"Walk you to glee?"

"Thanks, but I have to stop by the Guidance office first. I'll meet up with you, okay?"

"'Kay," she says with a smile, before walking out the door. He waits until she's halfway down the hall before he tosses the other cookie in the trash. (Oh man, oh man, poor choice of words; why would he think about tossing cookies?)

Picking up Rachel's homework from Ms. Pillsbury only takes like thirty seconds, but Sam tries to stretch it out as much as possible. He was looking forward to glee this morning, but now he's pretty much dreading it; after everything that's happened, he just doesn't trust it at all. At this point, he feels like he wouldn't be surprised if Artie got up out of his chair and started dancing. (Is that a jerk thing to think? He feels like that might be a jerk thing to think.)

He's pretty sure everyone knows he's back by now, but he still hesitates at the door before walking in.

"There he is!" Mr. Schue says excitedly as he enters. "Man of the hour!"

"Hey guys. Um, thanks," Sam mumbles as they clap at his mere presence. It's all he can do not to look at Mercedes; instead he seeks out the eyes of those he hasn't seen yet today—Tina and Mike, Puck and Artie. He thinks his hunch from this afternoon was right, because Santana isn't here either, and there's one face that's completely unfamiliar to him.

"Rory," the kid introduces himself in a distinctive Irish brogue Sam immediately wants to try out for himself. "Nice to meet you."

"Uh, yeah."

"So what do you think?" Mr. Schue asks. "A celebratory solo to kick off your triumphant return?"

All of his fantasies from earlier—the electric guitar, the laser lights, the anger—rush into his head, but he pushes them aside. It's not the time, and as hurt as he is, he doesn't think Mercedes deserves that. And besides, he still doesn't remember all the words. "Sectionals is only a week away," is what he actually says. "I think the best thing would be to just, like, start rehearsing. I'll have plenty of time for solos after we win, right?"


"Sam's right, Mr. Schue," Tina chimes in. "Without Rachel and Finn, we have to reassign solos in every number but I Will Survivor. We need to focus."

"That's the attitude I like to hear. And it's great to have you back, Sam," Mr. Schue grins, clapping him on the shoulder. "We're almost there, guys. Just one more person and—"

"Present," Quinn drawls from the doorway, her voice tinged with boredom.

"Quinn?" Not even Mr. Schue can keep his astonishment out of his voice.

"That's me."

"What are you doing here?" Mercedes asks, and Sam bristles automatically, wanting to take Quinn's side just because Mercedes doesn't seem to be on it right now.

Quinn shrugs lazily. "Rejoining glee, it looks like."

"Oh, so now you care?"

"Why now?" Puck pipes up in agreement from the back.

"Wow, really feeling the love and acceptance, guys," Quinn says, rolling her eyes. "If you trust me that little, fine, I'll just go."

"Not so fast, Quinn," Mr. Schue says, stopping her before she can turn around and walk out. "If you want to come back, we're happy to have you. It's just a sudden change of heart, is all. What made you change your mind?"

"Look, it's not that complicated. You guys need a twelfth member in order to compete; I need something to do after school so my mom gets off my case about not having any extracurriculars anymore. It's win-win. So… okay?"

At that Brittany, who'd been fidgeting in the first row since Quinn first leaned against the doorframe, rockets forward and wraps Quinn in a hug. "I knew you couldn't stay away," she says happily. "Welcome back, Q."

Sam observes the slope of Quinn's shoulders, the way she stiffens and tenses in Brittany's embrace before suddenly, inexplicably accepting it. He wonders how long they went without talking. He wonders, once more, what the hell happened to Quinn.

"Well, we've hit the magic number, guys!" Mr. Schue says, clapping his hands once. "Let's get to work!"

Rehearsal is pretty much all downhill from there, though. Sam has a good ear but he's awful at sight reading, and it feels like it takes forever for him to get any kind of grasp on Finn's old parts. He'd be able to concentrate better if he wasn't super aware of Mercedes' eyes on him the whole time, her looks alternating between long guilty stares and fierce bouts of glaring. Like she can't decide if she resents him or pities him. It sucks.

The choreography doesn't go much better, because even though Sam throws himself into it a hundred percent, Quinn seems reluctant to even move her feet, let alone dance, and she snaps at anyone who calls her out on it.

Glee feels like the longest hour and a half of his life. And he has it to look forward to every day this week, and extra on the weekend, just in time to perform for judges.


By the time Sam pulls into Rachel's driveway, the only thing he wants is to go upstairs to the guest room and never leave his bed for the next million years, but he's halted in his tracks as soon as he walks through the door.

"Whoa. What smells awesome?" he asks automatically, kicking off his shoes and slinging his backpack onto the floor.

Rachel comes out of the kitchen wearing a polka-dotted apron and smiles hesitantly at him. "I made popcorn. The actual kind, not the microwavable stuff. I figured that after the day you've had you might want to just watch a movie or something, so, um—I found Iron Man streaming on Netflix? You like that movie, right?"

God, she's being totally serious. He's not gonna lie, part of Sam kind of just wants to cry right now. "Rachel?"


"I'm gonna hug you now, okay?"

That's all the warning she gets before he basically crushes her to him like a human teddy bear, but she's a total good sport and just lets him smush her for a minute. She even reaches a hand up to play with the hair at the back of his neck as she hugs him back, and it's kind of ridiculously soothing.

After a while, she breaks the silence by saying, "I appreciate the sentiment, but I know you take your impersonations seriously, so I feel I owe you an honest critique: I've heard much better Rachel Berry impressions."

Sam laughs weakly as he lets her go. "I'll work on it."

A/N I'm sure my promises mean nothing to you now, but the wait for the next chapter—and ideally, any chapter—won't be as long. The Jimmy Eat World song Sam's thinking of, by the way, is called "No Sensitivity."