Disclaimer: Not mine!

Watching Iron Man with Rachel is surprisingly awesome. She gasps at the right parts, laughs at the right parts, and makes these adorable little "awwwh" noises when Tony and Pepper are being cute. Things almost get awkward about halfway through when his arm cramps up and he stretches it over his head just long enough for Rachel to lean into his side a little, making it impossible for him to lower his arm again without wrapping it around her shoulders. He's worried for a second that she'll think he was making a move, or that she actually was making a move, but then she doesn't even acknowledge it, and maybe… whatever. Cuddling is nice and she probably just misses Finn, and he gets that. He doesn't mention it.

As the credits roll she turns to look at him, pulling herself out of his loose grip. "So are you going to tell me about school?"

What? "There's, uh. Not much to tell."

"Sam. You walked in here looking like you wanted to cry. Was it awful?" she prods sympathetically, eyes wide, and he feels himself shaking his head even though it was.

"Not all of it," he says, which is true. He isn't sure how to talk to her about the whole Finn thing, or even if she'd want to know, so he opens with, "Quinn rejoined glee."

Suddenly Rachel bounds off the couch, letting off a high-pitched squeal. "She did? Why didn't you tell me?" she asks, starting to pace in what he assumes is an effort to work off her sudden rush of energy.

"Um, because Iron Man?" he ventures.

"That's wonderful! That's twelve! I knew I could get through to her. Everything's going to work out, I just know it."

"Well I mean, it didn't exactly go great. She barely participated, and pretty much no one trusts her."

"It's just going to take time, that's all," Rachel says dismissively. "Gosh, that's the best news. What else happened?"

"I don't know. Not much."

Something in his tone must sound suspicious, because she stops wearing a hole in the carpet long enough to give him a searching look. "What aren't you telling me?"

"Nothing," he mumbles, unable to meet her eyes.

She sits back down, trying to catch his gaze. "Sam. I know our sure-to-be-lifelong intimate friendship is still in its infancy, but I promise—you can trust me. So… what is it? Did Shane give you trouble?"

"No, nothing like that. I, um." He takes a deep breath. "I talked to Finn."

He hadn't noticed how open Rachel's posture had been until he watches her literally seize up before his eyes. Her voice is stiff and uncomfortable as she asks, "And what did you talk about?"

"Santana, mostly. Like you said."

"Did something happen?"

He hesitates a moment longer before giving in. She's going to find out eventually; it might as well be from him. "Brittany slushied him at lunch for payback, and I helped him clean up. And he totally didn't get why it happened, so I tried to explain it to him. I think he listened? I don't know. He asked about you."

Any questions Rachel might have had about the slushying die on her lips. "He did?" she asks quietly, and Sam feels this innate, dudely urge to like, go out and do something to fix it so she'll stop looking at him like that. He's always been a total sucker for a girl with sad eyes.

"He said he was worried about you, because you're home and you're fighting with Kurt." Sam doesn't know if he should keep going, but he's not gonna lie if he can help it. "He wondered if there's any way you'll give him another chance."

Rachel curls up into the couch, pulling her knees against her chest and holding them there. "I don't know. What he did was… it was so awful, Sam."

"Santana wasn't even in school today. I think she wanted to avoid him."

He cannot stand how exhausted and torn Rachel looks in this moment. She opens her mouth to speak, seems to change her mind, closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. After a pause, she says, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't make this about me when you've had such a trying day. Do you want to talk about Mercedes?"

"Not really."

She opens one eye to scrutinize him. "Are you sure?"

"Maybe later. I talked to Ms. Pillsbury about it this morning, and that helped, but… I can't even decide how I feel about it yet. The only thing to talk about is how much it sucks, and that's just… no. I don't want to talk about it."

"Well, if you change your mind, I'm always willing to—" Before she can finish her sentence, she's interrupted by the front door opening.

"Rachel, I'm home," Hiram calls out, his voice approaching the den. "And you'll never guess who I found outside."

When he enters the living room, Kurt's trailing sheepishly behind him. Rachel automatically gets to her feet, smoothing out her skirt.

"What are you doing here?"

"I'm not sure yet," Kurt says primly, but his expression is guilty. "But I just sat in your driveway for about a half hour trying to decide if I should come in or not, and your dad caught me, so…"

"Can you give us some privacy?" Rachel asks Sam, and he jumps off the couch as if it's lava.

"Yeah, sure, no problem." He turns to Rachel's dad. "Need any help with dinner or something, Mr. B?"

"It's Hiram, and no. I'd much rather you try and catch up on your schoolwork; I'm sure there's a lot to get done."

"Don't remind me," Sam groans, but obediently makes his way towards the stairs. He pauses on the third step, though, and doesn't keep going until he hears Kurt say, "Do you want to go first, or should I?"

Suddenly it's just Rachel and Kurt in the living room, awkwardly standing at opposite sides of the room. She rubs her arm, letting her hand hover there as weak protection. On the one hand, Kurt's here, which seems a vast improvement over the last few days, but with the way he's looking at her…

"Are you ever going to not be mad at me?" she finally ventures in a small voice, when it becomes clear that he's not going to start this conversation on his own.

He gives a curt laugh. "I don't know what you want me to say, Rachel."

"Well, starting with a yes or a no would give me an idea of where I stand."

"Of course I'm going to forgive you, Rachel, I just—" Kurt rolls his eyes with an exasperated sigh. "You are so frustrating, you know that?"

She smiles unevenly, flashing back to her attempt to write a song with Quinn for Regionals last year. "You're not exactly the first person to tell me that, no."

"I just don't understand how you could do that to me. What were you thinking?"

"I was thinking that it was your idea, and that I wanted my best friend with me in New York."

"And now neither of us will get there, Rachel, congratulations."

"It was your idea!"

"But I didn't go through with it, because you told me not to! You said it was immoral and it was; what gave you the right to go behind my back and do it anyway?"

"Because I wanted you to win! All I wanted was for you to get what you wanted, and you know what? Maybe you have. Now I'm suspended and I'm sure you're more than happy to take over my solo for Sectionals, so why do I still have to be the bad guy?" Rachel blurts, and then the room gets very quiet, very fast.

"What?" Kurt breathes, nostrils flaring, and Rachel throws herself onto the couch. It's all she can do not to curl up into a ball completely.

"Forget it," she whimpers into the cushion, but he won't, she knows he won't, and sure enough—

"No, I'm not going to forget anything. You're going to explain yourself, because if you think playing the victim will get you anywhere, it won't. And if you honestly think this was all some sort of ploy so I could get a competition solo, then I don't have anything to say to you."

"I don't know what I think!" she cries miserably. "I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry I tried to run against you and I'm sorry I cheated for you and I'm so, so sorry if I ever made you feel like I don't believe in you, because everything I did is because I do. I'm already being punished for that, and I just—I really don't want you to hate me." She unfurls herself just enough to swipe at her watery eyes, and looks up at him. "You're not in trouble, Kurt. I took all of the blame—which I admit I deserved—and you're mad at me anyway, and I don't know how to fix it and I'm sorry."

"Rachel, you're not making any sense. What on earth does that have to do with Sectionals?" Kurt asks, voice far gentler than it has been as he goes to sit with her on the couch.

She snorts, rolling her eyes. "Please. Don't tell me you all didn't jump for joy when I left that room and you realized you could restructure our set list without me."

"Are you kidding me? We panicked. We're still panicking. We depend on you, Rachel! Which is why it was so selfish of you to put yourself in this position, don't you see that?"

"Put myself in the position of giving up what I wanted and breaking the rules for you to get your way? No, Kurt. I—I am sorry, but I don't see how that's selfish."

"I didn't ask you to do that."

"You never do." She sniffles. "I just—I don't blame you for feeling frustrated and underappreciated, Kurt, and maybe now that I'm out of the picture you can be in the spotlight the way you deserve to be. I do see that I picked a terrible way to do it, and I'm apologizing. I can't make you accept it."

Kurt sighs. "Why does it always have to be one or the other with you?"

"Um, because that's the way it always is? That's how it was with Mercedes at the Night of Neglect Benefit last year. That's—that's how it's been ever since Mr. Schue took over glee club. Every competition, every solo. It's always m-me against everyone else, and I know I have to learn to be less self-centered. Believe it or not, Kurt, this was me trying to be."


"It's not fair," she says, and her red-rimmed eyes seem suddenly clear. "It's not fair that all anyone asks me to do is step aside so they can shine, and then they tell me I've betrayed them when I do." She takes a shaky breath. "You don't depend on me. You depend on my voice, and that's not the same thing."

He scoots over on the couch and—with slow movements, as if asking for permission—delicately takes her into his arms. "Oh, honey. I think maybe I owe you an apology," he says, staring resolutely at the corner of the wall.

"What?" Rachel sniffles again, sure she misheard. "I—why?"

"Because apparently I've been a jerk, okay?" Kurt rolls his eyes, frustrated with the both of them. "Not that we all haven't. But, look, even if you didn't go about it wisely, I do see that you were trying to help me. And lord knows no one else was trying to. I appreciate that about you, Rachel, and… it scares me that you think our friendship only works if I'm winning and you're losing. I never meant for you to feel like that."

Rachel sighs and settles her head more comfortably into the crook of his neck. "I don't, I promise," she says in a small voice. "…Most of the time I don't."

"That's not okay," Kurt says back, just as quietly. "And I'm sorry."

After a moment, she lets her eyes drift closed. She feels totally drained. "Can we be done fighting now?"

"Yeah," he assures her, giving her a squeeze. "We're done."

When Sam comes back downstairs, he finds Kurt and Rachel cuddling on the couch, watching an episode of Teen Wolf. And like, really cuddling—she's practically on Kurt's lap, her legs stretched over his thighs and her head resting on his shoulder.

"Looks like you two made up," he comments lightly, only to be shushed for intruding.

"Not during a Sterek scene, Sam!" Kurt chastises in a hiss, and Sam has no idea what a Sterek is, but he figures he should leave them alone. He stopped watching Teen Wolf like twenty minutes into the first episode, because there was just no comparing it to the Michael J. Fox movie, which is one of his all-time favorites.

He wanders into the kitchen, where Rachel's dad is standing over a pot of simmering spaghetti sauce. "Now do you need any help with dinner, Mr.—Hiram?"

Hiram laughs. "That depends. Are you caught up with your work?"

No. "Yes."

"Well alright then. I'm just about done with this, but we still need a salad. How are you at chopping vegetables?"

"I am awesome at chopping vegetables."

"Excellent. Consider yourself on sous chef duty. There are extra aprons in the pantry."

Sam takes a good look at Hiram's Kiss The Cook apron for the first time. "Um. Do I have to wear…?"

"House rules," Hiram says with a wink. Sam's not sure if he's kidding, because Rachel was wearing that polka-dotted one earlier just to make popcorn, so…

Whatever. He can make polka dots work.

(Dr. Berry laughs at him when he walks in and sees what he's wearing. But then again, Dr. Berry apparently isn't even allowed in the kitchen on nights when they eat Italian food because one time he set a fire trying to toast garlic bread in the oven, so Sam feels pretty confident about his place in the pecking order.)

Kurt ends up staying for dinner, and Rachel beams the whole time. It's like when Sam mentioned Finn all over again, only in reverse—this time, instead of going from relaxed to tense in a split second, after her talk with Kurt she's gone from… he doesn't even know.

It's starting to dawn on him that Rachel really hasn't been happy, for the past few days. It was like… the first thing he thinks of is that line from How The Grinch Stole Christmas: there's a light on this tree that won't light on one side. She'd been trying it, faking it 'til she made it, but now that he can see the difference it's pretty easy for him to figure out that things haven't been okay with her lately.

This is what she looks like when she's happy: lit up.

Rachel's dads seem happy to see Kurt—or at least, happy that Rachel's happy to see Kurt—and ask him all sorts of questions about Blaine and college applications and his dad's election.

Of course, then they ask Sam about his first day back (shitty) and his homework (totally not done) and he turns to Rachel helplessly in hopes she'll save him.

"Well, according to Sam's report, he and I don't share any classes, but his locker is only partway down the hall from mine. So we'll see each other during the school day."

"We'd see each other anyway, wouldn't we?" Sam asks around a mouthful of food. When Kurt gives him a pointed look, he swallows sheepishly before continuing, "Like at lunch and stuff?"

She looks at him funny, like she can't tell if he's joking or not. "We already share breakfast and dinner together every day due to our living arrangements; I'd hardly be upset if you wanted to spend at least one meal a day with someone else."

"Like who?" Sam asks, genuinely baffled. He likes hanging out with Rachel, and it's not like they don't have all the same friends. For the most part.

"Like…" Rachel's face falls as she seems to realize he can't exactly sit with Mercedes or the football players, but then she inexplicably brightens. "Like Quinn! Now that she's back in glee, I'm sure she'll be more open to socializing with us again. She's always had a soft spot for you."

"Wait, Quinn's back in glee?" Leroy asks, looking at Sam and Kurt for confirmation, and Kurt nods.

"God only knows why, but she is."

"Well that's wonderful!" Hiram laughs, raising his glass in a mock-toast to Rachel. "Well done, sweetie, your tenacity prevailed!"

"When doesn't it?" Leroy grouses, and Rachel pouts at him.

"Daddy, don't be mean."

"Who's being mean? I'm just stating a fact. But in all seriousness, I'm very glad to hear that it's all worked out, and glee club isn't in danger of being disbanded. This week."

Kurt snorts into his meatless meatball, and Rachel glares at both of them. "It isn't funny!"

"Of course it's not, babydoll."

Kurt lingers as long as he can over the dinner table, but eventually he says he has to go home, thanks Rachel's dads for a lovely meal, and walks out the door.

Sam lasts about seventeen seconds before tearing after him.

"Hey, Kurt, wait up," Sam says, jogging to catch him before he can open his car door. "Can I talk to you a second?"

"Yes…?" Kurt says, raising an eyebrow. He's probably super talked out from spending the night with the Berrys, but Sam just can't stop himself.

"How did—is—" He doesn't know how to ask what he wants to ask. He exhales sharply, and sets his shoulders. "Is Mercedes mad at me? Is this a revenge thing?"

Kurt laughs a little. "What? Why would you think…?"

"Because Shane Tinsley sucks and I just don't get why she'd date him unless she's mad at me." It feels good to say, even if he does feel like a jerk for even thinking it.

"It wasn't like that. They worked at the pool together over the summer, they clicked, they got together. It happens. I don't know what to tell you."

"I'm sorry, but I don't buy that. How can they click when they have nothing in common? Maybe revenge thing was putting it a little harsh, but just be straight with me, dude: is she mad at me? Because, like…" He runs a frustrated hand through his hair. "If I'm gonna walk into glee tomorrow just to have her be all 'everything you own in a box to the left,' I need to know about it. I can't handle that with no warning."

Kurt's eyes are doing that soft, pitying thing they sometimes do. Sam's never liked that look; it always means someone sounds super dumb and Kurt doesn't know how to tell them so. "I am being straight with you. Well, as straight as I know how to be," he quips with a smirk, before letting his expression fall back into something more compassionate. "Sorry, I couldn't help myself. But… what I think you don't get about this situation is that for Mercedes, this isn't Beyonce-level drama. At all. You were gone a long time, Sam. This is Rihanna drama at best."

"Like Take a Bow Rihanna or, like… Love the Way You Lie Rihanna?" He'd almost asked S&M Rihanna but it probably isn't that. He thinks.

"Neither. What's My Name Rihanna."

"That's… not even a fighting song."

"No. It's not," Kurt says slowly, and, like… oh.

Suddenly he hates his brain for thinking of those stupid Beyonce lyrics, because now all he can think is he must not know about her, after all. Which is just—dumb. On so many levels.


"Is she happy?" he asks suddenly, because he has to know.

"She doesn't seem… unhappy," Kurt says carefully. "Sam, you have to understand: when you left, you just completely fell off the grid."

"I was dealing with a lot!" he snaps, because, like—he was.

"I know you were. But you weren't here, and Shane was. And as far as she's concerned, that's it. She doesn't owe you anything."

"He's not a good guy, Kurt. She deserves better than him. Have you even, like, talked to her about it?" Suddenly Kurt's eyes are on his shoes, the lamp across the street, anywhere but Sam, and it raises alarm bells. "Kurt."

"To be honest, we haven't been talking much, lately."

"And that doesn't make you think something's up?"

"People change. The things they want change. Things never really got back to normal between us since I started dating Blaine, and that's okay. Some friendships don't last forever, and I have Rachel now. Mercedes is allowed to have her own life."

"Yeah, but—"

"What is it that you think is going to happen, Sam? You're just going to march back into her life and demand that you pick up where you left off?"

"No, but—"

"You don't have to like the fact that she's dating Shane, but you do have to respect it."

"But he sucks!" Sam shouts, way louder than he intended, then claps a hand over his own mouth. It's getting kind of late and the last thing he wants is to make Rachel's neighbors hate him.

"It's Mercedes' choice to make. Lord knows I'll never be friends with Shane Tinsley, but if he's who she wants, then that's that."

Suddenly Sam's own words to Finn from earlier are ringing in his ears. You're right, it is a shitty way to live. But you don't get to decide how Santana lives her life.

He just can't keep up the energy to be mad like this anymore, and he deflates all at once. "Yeah. Yeah, you're right. I—it'll just take time for me to get used to it, I guess. Thanks for…" He can't get his tongue to form the words talking some sense into me. "Thanks."

"Just returning the favor."


"I owed you one. What you said about Rachel this morning made me think about some things, and… I'm really glad I came over tonight."

"Oh. Well. No problem." He takes a step back. "Drive safe, Kurt."

"See you tomorrow."

Rachel's waiting for him in the foyer when he steps inside, which—he doesn't think she was eavesdropping, but he also wouldn't put it past her—and before she can finish asking "What was that about?" he's halfway up the stairs.

He feels bad about being kind of a dick to Rachel, but his brain is just, like, on fire with everything he's had to deal with today. He knows that with glee club on the line and Sectionals so close and with everything that's happened with Santana that his problems are, like, not even close to being important, but he's spent all day acting like it and he's just exhausted.

It's just—it sucks. It was one thing to give Mercedes up, but it's another thing entirely to lose her, and he was so unprepared for that. He didn't even know it was an option.

Suddenly—desperately—he wants to go home. He misses his parents, he misses his siblings, he misses feeling like he had a clue what was going on in his life.

He digs out his phone and dials.

Calling home helped a little—hearing his mom's voice, listening to his dad's advice, getting to wish Stevie and Stacey goodnight—but Sam knows his day can't really end until he has this conversation.

He knocks on Rachel's door.

"Come in!"

As he steps into her room, he takes a brief moment to look around. It's actually his first time seeing it, despite having been here several days. It's cute—all pastels and stuff, and all of her posters are actually framed and hung nicely, rather than thrown up with sticky tack like his were back home. It suits her. She's laying on her bed watching a youtube video, but she pauses it as he closes her door behind him.

"Hey, Rachel? I just wanted to, um. Say thank you, for earlier. With the movie. You really didn't have to do that, and it… meant a lot, that you did."

"It was the least I could do. I should have prepared you better for…" she thinks about her wording before settling on "—all of the changes. I wasn't thinking. And to be honest, I was glad to have something to do. It's just the first day and I already hate being suspended." She smiles, like that was a joke, but he's just too tired to laugh and her face falls a little. "Sam, are you sure you don't want to talk about it?"

"No," he mumbles.

"Why don't you come sit," she says, sitting up herself to make room for him on the bed. Unwilling to argue, he drags himself over and sits across from her. "…So?"

He takes a deep breath. He doesn't know how to talk about this. "I don't like being mad."

"I don't think anyone does," Rachel says, keeping her voice neutral.

"I guess I was kind of hoping that if I didn't talk about it I could just… not be mad? But god, I just—at first I was just sad, and pissed off that she didn't tell me, but like. There shouldn't be anything to tell. I don't get this." He runs a hand through his hair. "I just. I guess I can believe Mercedes doesn't want me back. And I'm happy she's happy, but…"


"But I just can't figure out why she'd choose him over me."

"To be honest," Rachel says slowly, clearly choosing her words with care, "I was never really sure what you saw in each other in the first place. I'm very fond of you both, but you just never seemed all that compatible."

"What, because she's black and I'm white?" he blurts, because it's been on his mind all day and he hates it but that's what it is. It's the only thing he can think of.

Rachel gives him an acid look he's never been on the receiving end of before; he flinches automatically. "How dare you. Have you forgotten that I myself am the product of an interracial marriage?"

His jaw slackens. "I… jeez, Rachel, sorry. That was a stupid thing to say. I'm sorry. I'm just… used to having to be defensive about it, I guess. Was used to it."

"Did you fight about it a lot, when you dated?"

"No? Maybe. I mean, I didn't think we fought. For a long time she wanted to keep us a secret, but I thought that was just about not wanting to rock the boat, with the club being so crazy around Nationals last year. Maybe it wasn't. Maybe it was this whole big thing for her and I didn't even notice."

"Did anything ever happen?"

"Like what?" Sam asks, because—of course stuff happened, they dated for like two months.

Rachel seems really sad, though. "I'd… rather not repeat some of the things my fathers have been called by people in this town."

"Oh! No. No, nothing like that. Sometimes her parents would tease her about me when I came over for dinner—call me White Boy and stuff—but I didn't think… I mean. Your parents tease you. I didn't think it was weird. God, am I really that stupid?"

"You're not stupid, Sam."

"Well, apparently I am, because Shane freaking Tinsley is better at figuring Mercedes out than I am."

Rachel frowns. "Wait. You just said you didn't fight, and nothing happened, but before that you said you were used to being defensive about the relationship. That doesn't add up. Were your parents a problem?"

"No, but she didn't want to tell them about us being together for like a really long time. So I guess we did fight about that. It just never seemed like a big deal to me."

"Sam, you'd just come out of a relationship with Santana, and before that, Quinn. Do you think it's possible that you just… missed some things, because she wasn't being outright hostile with you?"

Sam's eyes widen. "That's—"

"Very rude of me, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything."

"No, I was going to say that's kind of a good point. I don't know. I never would have thought about this stuff if she wasn't dating Shane now, but she is, and it's like that makes everything different. I thought we had a good thing going. She was the Zoe to my Wash."

"I have no idea what that means."

He reaches over for her laptop, and with her nod, opens a new tab and does a quick google image search. "That's Zoe and Wash. They were a couple on Firefly, this—whatever, it's not important. She's like this badass warrior woman and he's this total nerd, but they loved each other."

Rachel stares at the pictures on her screen with a furrowed brow. "I don't claim to be an expert, but what I learned with Finn is that maybe… just because you wanted her to be Zoe doesn't mean she was. Maybe she didn't want to be Zoe. Maybe she just wanted to be Mercedes."

"It wasn't like that!" Sam insists defensively, but like. What the hell does he know? They're broken up and she's dating someone about as opposite from Sam as he can imagine. Maybe it was like that. "All I know is that Mercedes just got me. Like, maybe we don't seem all that alike at first, but she bought out good stuff in me, and I brought out good stuff in her. And she thinks I'm dumb and cute for being dumb at the same time. Thought. I don't know. We had the really important stuff in common. Glee. Church. We talked about a lot of stuff." It sounds weak, even to his own ears.

"…I'm sorry things didn't turn out like you wanted," Rachel says after a long movement.

"Yeah, well. I'm getting used to it."

That night, Sam dreams about Mercedes singing Irreplaceable at him in the choir room.

The worst part is that she sounds awesome on it.

A/N So it's been a while! And unfortunately it may be a while again; I'm applying to film school this year, and so I'm trying to write a screenplay on top of my two jobs. Being an adult type person is annoying. But this fic is in it for the long haul!