Title: don't you know people write songs (about girls like you)
Author: texaswatermelon
Fandom: Glee
Pairing: Rachel Berry/Cassandra July
Rating: M
Summary: There's something about Rachel Berry, an endless optimism and a confidence in her own talent, and it's something that absolutely infuriates Cassandra from the start.
Disclaimer: Glee is owned by Ryan Murphy and Fox. No infringement intended.
Word Count: 7,593
A/N: So. Anon prompted me this: "First, they can't fight it. Next, they can't help it. Until finally, they can't live without it." I don't know if this really fills that, but it's what kind of inspired me while I was writing. I don't know if Finchel are like actually broken up or not, I'm kind of confused about that, so for the purposes of this story they're sort of still together. Also, I believe the army would have matured Finn in the real world, so I didn't write him as a hateful bastard because we get enough of that on the show.

Spoilers for season four, obviously. Rating is because of lady sex and swearing. And this is unbeta'd, so all mistakes are my own. But a huge thanks to blairdrof for spurring me forward. Hope you all enjoy!

xx

There's something about Rachel Berry.

Cassandra notices it in the way that Rachel's back straightens immediately when she enters the studio (ten minutes late, because she likes to make the freshmen squirm on the first day of class). She notices it in the way that Rachel's eyes follow her every move, how it looks like she's filing away every word and breath that comes out of Cassandra's mouth for future reference.

There's something about Rachel Berry, an endless optimism and a confidence in her own talent, and it's something that absolutely infuriates Cassandra from the start.

(It won't be until months later that she admits even to herself that it isn't because overly optimistic people are just annoying.)

So yeah, she gives Rachel a really rude nickname and dogs her harder than anyone else in her class. She tells herself it's because Rachel needs to be knocked down a few hundred pegs.

She never expects Rachel to just keep climbing right back up.

xx

The Oops… I Did It Again performance makes three things perfectly clear.

1. Rachel Berry has a voice that is spine-tinglingly special.

2. Rachel Berry is determined to prove every bad thing that Cassandra says about her wrong.

3. Rachel Berry is sexy as fuck.

Cassandra decides that it's the second one that causes her to completely dismiss everything she's just seen and heard and attack Rachel's confidence once more. She completely ignores that the third one exists.

But when Rachel finally grows a backbone and lashes out, she does it in such a precise and biting way that she must have been trained by some bitches in high school who were experts in the business of cutting people to shreds. It hurts more than she thought it would, but she's become exceptionally good at covering those emotions up with anger.

Still, kicking Rachel Berry out of her class doesn't take the sting of truth away. A bottle of Malibu rum later that night does, though.

xx

Admittedly, lashing out at Cassie July is one of Rachel's least proud moments. It really doesn't make any sense to her why this woman should be able to get under her skin so easily when she dealt with years of bullying from people like Quinn and Santana, who are now actually her friends. There's just something about Cassie that makes Rachel crave approval more than she can ever remember doing in her life.

So she goes to apologize, because she needs this class and she really does feel awful about what she said.

Cassie is predictably cold at first, but then she actually kind of starts talking about things that make her seem human. And they're kind of alike, Rachel realizes, because she was willing to send Sunshine to a crack house in order to protect her spot in glee club, and Cassie just wanted things too much, just like Rachel.

When Cassie motions for Rachel to come over and help her stretch, Rachel hesitates. Partially because she's afraid she might get her ass kicked or something, but also because Cassie is always flawlessly gorgeous and she makes Rachel really nervous. But she does what she's told because she's really in no position to be refusing anything when she's still begging to be let back into class.

She presses gently on the leg in front of her because she has no way of knowing how stretched out Cassie is, and accidentally hurting her would be a total fucking catastrophe. But then Cassie reaches up and places a hand over hers, and it's softer than she was expecting and gentle, even while it demands more pressure of her.

And then suddenly Cassie is on her front, motioning for Rachel to press down on her back. Rachel is sure that she's saying something important, but it's a little difficult to concentrate when her hands are splayed against the smooth plane of Cassie's back and those blue eyes are boring into hers through the mirror. It isn't until she's informed that NYADA's school policy has saved her ass from being kicked out of class that she snaps back to reality. She's relieved beyond belief. She has a chance to prove herself once more.

Still not enough to distract her from the fact that Cassie's ass is suddenly directly in front of her face and looking fabulous in those pants, but she'll take what she can get.

xx

She makes Rachel sit out for two weeks while they practice the tango, and Rachel does so without complaint.

On Tuesday, she has to double back after class because she forgot her coffee cup. When she cracks open the studio door, she finds Rachel there, practicing her posturing all by herself. Rachel doesn't notice her, and so she takes the opportunity to just observe.

Rachel is relentless in her practice. If she makes even the tiniest mistake in her movements, she starts all over again, face set in a deeper expression of determination each time. It makes something awful and heavy shift in Cassandra's chest, and so she leaves without comment or her coffee cup.

The next day, she orders one of her best male students to take Rachel as his dance partner.

xx

Being allowed to participate in class again hasn't stopped Rachel from staying for a few hours afterwards to keep practicing. For reasons that she doesn't care to explain, Cassandra starts joining her in the studio to practice as well, rather than doing it in the late afternoon like she normally does.

The first time Cassandra actually makes her presence known, Rachel nearly jumps ten feet into the air.

"Miss July!" she exclaims breathlessly, actually clutching at her heart like this is some sort of stage drama. Cassandra raises an eyebrow at her and Rachel's cheeks flush even more than they already are. "I—I'm sorry, I didn't think anyone would need this room right now, and—"

"Can it, Schwimmer," she says with an eye roll, because whatever tirade Rachel is about to embark upon is of no interest to her. Rachel's mouth snaps shut immediately and she looks at Cassandra with wide eyes. "I think the studio is big enough for the both of us, don't you?"

Rachel nods vehemently, but rather than resuming her practice, she stares mutely at Cassandra as she walks over to the piano and drops her bag. Cassandra can still see her staring several minutes later while she's warming up in front of the mirror. She meets Rachel's eyes in the glass and raises an eyebrow. Rachel blushes furiously and hastily goes back to dancing.

xx

Over a month later, and Brody is still very insistent on trying to be with her. It's not that he tries to kiss her again or anything—he's just as respectful as he said he would be—but she can see it in the way that he looks at her. She still doesn't really understand why the sexiest man she's ever seen is chasing after her when he could probably have his pick of any girl in the city.

She talks to Finn every now and again on the phone. He finally called her, apologizing for not getting in touch sooner. He was really busy with boot camp, but he also wanted to give her some space while she settled into her new life. The way he explains it, so gently and soft-spoken, she finds it difficult to be upset with him. He's different in ways that she doesn't quite understand yet, but she can tell just from talking to him that he has matured by leaps and bounds.

The really frustrating thing is that Brody, Finn, the guys that stare at her legs too long while she waits on the train… as the days go on, none of them really interest her at all. She finds her thoughts becoming increasingly occupied with Cassie July.

They dance separately every day after class. Usually they don't even speak to one another. But there is this thick tension in the air that Rachel can't describe as she spends the majority of her time pretending not to watch Cassie work.

The worst part is, she knows without a doubt that Cassie is spending most of her time pretending not to watch Rachel work, too. And she's not really sure what the hell that's supposed to mean.

xx

"You're too tentative, Schwimmer."

Rachel nearly falls flat on her face in the middle of a turn and has to catch herself on the bar. She and Cassie haven't spoken to one another during these practice sessions in weeks, so her clear voice echoing through the room completely throws Rachel off balance.

Cassie is directly in front of her by the time she's steadied herself.

"Dance is about being bold. Confident. You have to know what you want and take it, no exceptions."

She's standing a lot closer than Rachel thinks is strictly necessary, and her shampoo smells fresh, like flowers. She moves a fraction of a step closer and Rachel has to refrain from stepping back.

"Tell me Schwimmer, without thought or hesitation," she says, and her voice is low and gravely, "what's the one thing you want to do right now that you're too afraid to do?"

Rachel opens her mouth to answer, but there's this glint in Cassie's eye that says this is a test, and so instead of saying, "I really want to kiss you," she just lunges forward and does it instead.

She knows she's passed when Cassie's fingers dig into the back of her skull and her other hand squeezes harshly at the underside of Rachel's ass. Their lips smash together messily. Cassie tries to take control of the kiss, but Rachel isn't letting her, isn't backing down, and there's a low growl in Cassie's throat before she nips sharply at Rachel's bottom lip. Rachel, to her credit, doesn't back away, just gasps a little and then snakes her tongue across the dot of blood and into Cassie's mouth.

Cassie lifts her up without really any effort or warning, and fuck it's sexy how strong she is. Rachel wraps her legs around Cassie's waist with a moan while she gets carried across the studio floor at lightning speed. She finds herself being placed on top of the piano, and Rachel can't even count how many times she fantasized about someone taking her on top of the piano in the choir room. This is just as good, better even, because she's in the city of her dreams, at the school of her dreams, being pretty much ravaged by her very hot dance teacher.

Cassie's lips attach themselves to Rachel's neck, and there's pretty much no question that she'll have bruises there tomorrow, but she can't seem to find it in her to care as hands skate their way along her inner thighs. Rachel has never hated tights so much in her life as she does now. Cassie seems to agree—she gives a frustrated tug, but Rachel's tights won't budge. She sucks particularly hard on Rachel's neck, as if it's her fault they decided to do this while she was dancing.

"Cassie," Rachel sighs, because yeah, she clearly likes the roughness.

Cassie's chest rattles with a deep growl and she bites down on Rachel's shoulder.

"Say it again," she demands, and practically rips Rachel's tights in two, so Rachel moans her name again and gets rewarded with two fingers plunged inside of her.

It doesn't take long after that. Cassie is rough, but she never gives Rachel more than she can handle, and it's not as if she won't have scratches and bruises all down her back from where Rachel dug her nails in just to keep herself grounded.

Rachel's cries echo around the room, and when she comes, she slumps down into Cassie's body like a ragdoll. Cassie lets her, holds her up while she catches her breath. When Rachel can finally stand on her own two feet again, Cassie helps her down off the piano and then takes a step back.

"You have a pair of sweats you can wear out of here?" she asks, looking at where Rachel's tights have been pretty much decimated. Rachel nods. "Okay," Cassie murmurs, and then she's gabbed her bag and left.

Rachel's not really sure what this means for her as Cassie's student, but for once she's not actually worried about it. And if nothing else, this will make for a great chapter in her autobiography.

xx

So.

Fucking a student is maybe not one of her best ideas ever.

In her defense, Rachel did initiate the first kiss, and she definitely didn't stop Cassandra from going further, which she could have done at any time.

Still, she's pretty sure that won't hold up if she ever gets questioned by the board of trustees for her actions.

(The worst part is that when she sees Rachel in class the next day, wearing a brand new pair of tights, all she can really think about is that she wants to rip them off of her and do it all over again.)

But Rachel doesn't stay after class to practice today, nor does she stay for the next three days after that. It's just long enough for Cassandra to start to worry if maybe Rachel didn't want it as much as she thought she did.

When Rachel finally does decide to stay, she's quiet for a good ten minutes after the rest of the students leave the class before Cassandra finally decides to break the silence.

"Look, Schwimmer, about what happened the other day…"

"I don't think we should sleep together again," Rachel blurts out suddenly, as if she'd been holding that in for the past several days and the pressure of not speaking for once in her life built up to such a point that she just couldn't keep her mouth shut anymore. Cassandra's eyebrows shoot up into her hairline and Rachel blushes. "It was very unprofessional of both of us to allow that to happen, Miss July, not to mention the fact that I have a boyfriend."

Cassandra's eyes narrow at that, and she can't help the nastiness that bubbles up into her throat like a gag reflex. Who is this tiny little obnoxious girl to turn her down?

"Okay, first of all, we didn't sleep together, Schwimmer. I fucked you on top of the piano, and you liked it." Rachel looks like she's been slapped, and it should be enough, but there's still more venom in Cassandra's mouth that needs to be spit before it burns through her. "Second, I wasn't offering to do it again. If you think I'm about to lose my job just to watch you writhe around and scream a little, you're delusional. All I wanted to do was teach you a lesson, and frankly I think I did my job pretty well considering the fact that you dance about twenty times better now that you've finally had a good lay."

Rachel's eyes actually well up with tears, and if she cries Cassandra's not sure what the hell she's going to do. But she doesn't. Instead, she juts her chin out, nods curtly, and strides out of the room.

Cassandra has been an asshole to quite a few people over the past ten years. She's never felt nearly as awful about it as she does right now.

xx

Rachel still stays after class to practice. She's faced plenty of adversity before, and she's not going to allow Cassie's awful attitude to stop her from living up to her promise to be the best she's ever seen. If anything, she's more determined now than she was before.

But they stay far, far away from each other. Cassie pretty much never comes over to adjust her posture in class. She settles instead for sending scathing criticism in Rachel's direction, and nothing more. They don't acknowledge each other during their practices at all.

Meanwhile, Rachel tries out for the NYADA spring production. She doesn't get the lead, obviously, but she does get a small speaking part and she has a solo, which is mostly unheard of for a freshman. So yeah, she's pretty damn proud of herself.

The musical takes up most of her time now, with practices running until sometime past midnight most days. It's exhausting, but she's not going to complain. Still, it means that she's spending a little less time in the dance studio these days. The only indication that Cassie notices is that she makes some venomous remark in class one day that Rachel's other commitments must be important enough for her to risk looking like a retarded monkey when she dances. Rachel has pretty much learned to block it out by now.

She decides to stay after class on Wednesday, because she feels as if her lack of practice is starting to show, and she's got a little bit more energy today than usual. Cassie doesn't acknowledge her presence as usual, which is fine. Rachel's hardly in the mood to get into another bitch match with her professor.

Forty-five minutes in, though, Cassie does finally speak up.

"Does that belong to you?" she asks, gesturing to the door where a very large human being is peeking through the window.

"Finn!" Rachel squeaks, and what is he doing here?

She runs over and wrenches the door open, leaping into Finn's arms, which are much more muscular than before. He hugs her tightly, and it reminds her of the comfort she felt when he did it all those times back in high school. He is stronger and leaner now, his hair buzzed. When she looks him in the eyes, they twinkle with excitement, but there is a maturity there that never was before. He leans in and kisses her sweetly, laughs when they pull away and sets her down.

"How did you get here?"

"I took the train," Finn says. "I wanted to come congratulate you on your part in the musical now that I'm finally done with basics. Kurt told me how to get here; I wanted it to be a surprise."

"Consider me surprised," she says, and he laughs again. "It's so good to see you, Finn."

She falls into his chest for another hug, head turned toward the studio. She can see Cassie looking at them through the mirror. Her face is curled in total disgust, which, whatever. But aside from that, Rachel's stomach drops at the memory of what the two of them did on that piano. She didn't tell Finn. She doesn't know if she can.

"Let's get out of here and get something to eat," she says because she can't stand having this reunion with her boyfriend in front of the woman that she cheated on him with. Rachel thinks that Cassie is just as likely to spill the beans to Finn as she is to keep her mouth shut and just taunt Rachel about it for the rest of her life. She's not taking her chances.

xx

Kurt has gone to stay at a friend's house for the night, some boy that he met working at Starbucks, to give them some privacy. She finds Finn watching a football game on the television and is simultaneously relieved and disappointed that some things never change.

It isn't until they're in bed making out, Finn groping at her breasts and trying to take her top off, that she realizes she no longer has any physical attraction to this man. He is hard and defined and still a little clumsy when he touches her. It is a stark contrast to Cassie, to her precision and the way Rachel could mold into her body.

"I slept with someone," she blurts into his ear while he sloppily kisses her neck. He rips his head away and looks into her eyes, immediately incredulous, and this is the Finn she remembers so well.

"What?"

Rachel scoots away from him, her face full of shame.

"Finn, I'm so sorry."

"How could you do that to me, Rachel?" He's angry now. His face is getting red and blotchy like it always does.

"It honestly had nothing to do with you, Finn," Rachel says, because it's true, and they're not in high school anymore. She loves him, but he's not her future. She knows that now. Maybe she's known it all along and was just too scared to admit it. "I didn't plan it. I didn't do it to hurt you. It just happened."

For a few seconds his eyes remain hard with anger and she thinks that he'll probably get up and storm out. But then he surprises her and deflates with a sigh. He looks… tired. And she suddenly understands just how much he's changed. That while she's been gradually falling out of love with him in New York, he's been gradually falling out of love with her at boot camp.

"So I guess that's it," he says quietly a few minutes later, and it's so anti-climactic that she feels tears spring to her eyes.

"Yeah," is all she can choke out.

He holds her for a little while as she cries, and then he gathers his things to leave.

"Good luck, Rachel. Keep in touch."

"You too," she says, and feels herself about to cry all over again.

The door closing behind him is so final, and this is the end of an era. She cries herself to sleep that night. It still hurts, even if it's something neither of them can change.

xx

Rachel collapses to the ground sobbing right in the middle of their after-class practice. Cassandra's immediate reaction is to kind of rush over to her, because she's not totally heartless and if Rachel's injured herself being an idiot, she needs to be sent to the hospital.

"What happened? Where does it hurt?" Cassandra asks brusquely, hands searching Rachel's legs for any immediate signs of injury.

Rachel sobs even harder, harder than Cassandra has ever seen anyone cry, and puts a hand over her heart, clutches at her chest like she might try to rip it out. Cassandra's mind is plagued with an image of her sixteen-year-old self curled up in a ball in the middle of her bed, crying after Derek Rice broke up with her—just two days after he took her virginity.

She sighs and sits on the floor against the wall, pulls Rachel into her. It's not hard. Rachel folds into her body and cries like there will be no end to her tears. Cassandra strokes her hair and waits.

xx

"I told my boyfriend what happened between us," Rachel says about an hour later. Her voice is worn out and her eyes are red and puffy. Her head is still resting in Cassandra's lap. "We broke up. I'm sure it's for good this time."

"I'm sorry," Cassandra says. She's not really, because she could tell just by looking that Rachel's destiny was way bigger than that oaf. But she's also not really into the drama of breaking up people's relationships. "Was it because of that?"

"No," Rachel says immediately, and she sounds very sure. "We broke up because we weren't in love anymore. What happened between you and I just confirmed it."

Cassandra doesn't know what she can say that won't sound completely cliché and idiotic, so she just mumbles another sorry and continues stroking Rachel's hair.

Rachel suddenly lifts her head, and now her eyes are level with Cassandra's, and very close. Her breath is hot—it smells like coffee and salt. She is pretty even in her disheveled state.

"Why are you being nice to me all of the sudden?" she asks, and it's not suspicious like Cassandra would ask it if she were in Rachel's position. It's open, vulnerable, curious. Asked in a way that tells Cassandra that Rachel is likely going to get hurt very badly some day, if she hasn't been already.

But Cassandra doesn't know the answer. She doesn't know why Rachel is the most annoying, infuriating girl she's ever met, and yet she feels compelled to be around her constantly, to interact with her even if it means being a complete cunt for no reason. She doesn't know why she's letting this eighteen-year-old student of hers get to her so much.

Rachel looks at her like she understands, like she can read her mind or something. She leans forward and kisses Cassandra. It's soft, tentative, the kind of kiss that Cassandra hates. She adds more pressure, leans into it a little. Rachel pulls back and exhales against her lips.

"Can we just be done fighting? I'm so tired," she says, and the circles under her eyes are not the tired she's talking about.

Me too, Cassandra thinks. I've been tired for the past ten years. But she's not sure if she remembers how to put down her weapons. She wonders if that's something that Rachel can teach her.

"Yes," Cassandra says firmly, and moves forward until Rachel is lying back on the floor and arching up into her.

xx

The first time they meet outside of the dance studio is purely by accident. It's at a Starbucks, of course. Because where else would they have in common but the local café?

Rachel is studying for her music theory test, which is on Monday. Cassie is just fueling up as usual. They don't even notice each other until after Cassie has made her way through the mile-long line and gotten her drink. Coffee, black.

"Fancy meeting you here, Schwimmer," she says, startling Rachel out of her thorough note highlighting process. She sits down across from Rachel uninvited, not that Rachel thinks Cassie July ever needed an invitation, with a smirk. Rachel frowns at the nickname, but it's different than before, said with the barest hint of affection rather than malice.

"Hello, Cassie," Rachel finally replies, straightening out of her study hunch. Cassie's blue eyes get a sort of glint in them when Rachel uses her name, and her smirk stretches almost imperceptibly. "How are you?"

"I don't think we're at the pleasantry stage yet, Schwimmer," Cassie says. Pleasantry stage of what, Rachel thinks, but doesn't say anything. "What are you doing?"

"I have a music theory exam on Monday that I'm studying for," Rachel says. Cassie rolls her eyes.

"Music theory is completely useless if you want to work on Broadway."

"That may be, but it's still a required course at NYADA," Rachel tells her.

"It's only Friday," Cassie says. "You have plenty of time to study over the weekend." Rachel raises an eyebrow in question, but Cassie closes Rachel's notebook and stands up. "Come on," she says, and Rachel pretty much as no choice but to follow her out of the coffee shop.

"Where are we going?" Rachel finally asks when they're underground waiting for the subway.

"My place. There are other lessons you could be learning right now."

Rachel thinks it must say something about her that she becomes immediately aroused by that.

xx

She's pretty sure they're not dating, but then again she's never really done anything like this, so she can't be certain. What she does know is that she's spending less time in the dance studio these days and more time in Cassie's loft (which really is in SoHo), when she's not practicing for the musical.

They never go out to dinner or to see a show together, which Rachel expects they might do if they were actually dating. But they watch TV sometimes on the couch, and when Rachel puts her head on Cassie's shoulder, Cassie lets her. Sometimes she sleeps over, and when she does, she always wakes up to a steaming cup of coffee and a plate of tofu scrambler.

Sometimes the sex is really rough, usually on days when someone in class is being completely incompetent and Cassie is pissed off about it (this happens exactly as frequently as one would expect). Sometimes it's slower, more passionate, and they cling to each other for hours, gasping and moving under the covers like they simply can't get their fill of one another. Whatever it is, Cassie always lets Rachel burrow into her side afterward while she catches her breath. Sometimes Rachel wakes up in the middle of the night and Cassie is holding her from behind, breathing softly into her neck.

So she's pretty sure they're not dating. But Rachel is so much more okay with that than she ever thought she would be.

xx

Cassandra realizes something really fucking awful on the first of December. What she realizes is that her loft feels really fucking empty when Rachel's tiny body is not in it. She realizes that she gets colder at night when Rachel is not lying curled up into her. She realizes that she wakes up feeling happier and more rested when she wakes up next to Rachel.

She realizes that all of these things add up dangerously to something resembling a feeling that she was not planning on feeling for one Rachel Berry. It puts her in an absolutely foul mood, and when Rachel's stupid smiling face walks into her studio that morning, she feels her fury ignite.

"Schwimmer, you looked like a pregnant cow just now," she says very loudly only five minutes into class. Rachel falters and blinks at her stupidly over her dance partner's shoulder. "You know, I would have expected you to get better at this, what with you being in the musical and all. Seems like you're determined to be the biggest disappointment I've ever had in this class."

It goes on like that for the entire class, and the fact that Rachel takes it all in stride just infuriates Cassandra more. Why the fuck won't Rachel just fight back, give Cassandra a reason to kick her out of class so she can start getting this girl out of her system? But she doesn't. She keeps on dancing, even as Cassandra's insults get more and more brutal, more personal. She ends class with a particularly nasty comment about Rachel's nose, which she knows is a sore spot.

Rachel storms up to her after everyone has left, and she even looks cute when she's angry, which is just fucking ridiculous.

"What is your problem?" she hisses, but Cassandra can see the hurt in her eyes. Rachel obviously thought they were past this.

"You didn't think this little fling would last forever did you? I'm done with you, Schwimmer. I need someone who can satisfy me, in life and in other places," Cassandra says scathingly. It's a low blow, really, and total fucking bullshit, but Rachel is insecure enough about her sexual performance to believe it.

"You're just a pathetic, washed up wannabe, and one day when you're too old to do anything about it you're going to realize just how lonely you are, and you're going to wish you weren't such a hateful bitch to everyone who ever tried to get close to you!" Rachel practically screams, and storms off just as the tears spill over onto her cheeks.

Cassandra gets very, very drunk that night and lets herself cry for the first time in years. Her loft feels emptier than ever, and she shivers even with two blankets on and a lot of alcohol in her system.

xx

Kurt reapplies to NYADA, and his audition seems like a great success as far as Rachel is concerned. They have one more night in New York, and then they're flying home for Christmas/Hanukkah break. Rachel has never been more excited to see Lima in her life.

She and her dads spend about an hour laughing and crying at the same time when they meet up, and then they sit down and have a musical movie marathon. It's the perfect homecoming. She didn't realize just how much she needed her fathers until she was sandwiched between them on the couch, warm and safe and free from insult.

She allows herself, briefly, to think of Cassie—wonder if she's going to celebrate the holidays, and how, and who with. Does she even have anyone who likes her enough to spend this time with her? The image of her sitting alone in her loft drinking Christmas margaritas and watching A Christmas Story marathons seems rather fitting to Rachel, really.

xx

She gets a call on the very last day of Hanukkah. She considers ignoring it for three whole rings, but then curiosity gets the better of her. She's seen all of her friends from high school this week and she's feeling pretty happy and generous.

"Happy Hanukkah, Schwimmer." Cassie's voice is scratchy, as if she might be sick. She actually sounds guilty, tentative even, which is just unbelievable.

"What do you want, Miss July?" Rachel snaps, and she can tell by the soft snort of breath on the other end that Cassie is not pleased by the name. There's silence for a few minutes, long enough that Rachel considers hanging up, but then—

"I'm not good with feelings, kid. I'm crazy. You know that."

It's the first real personal admission that Cassie has made to her (and the first time she's ever referred to her as anything other than Schwimmer outside of sex), and Rachel can tell that each word pains her. The fact that she's even making and effort for Rachel is pretty miraculous. But still.

"I didn't hear an apology anywhere in there," Rachel says tersely. She's come too far to let another pretty blonde bully her and get away with it. That's not her life anymore.

"It really sucks here without you," Cassie says, and God if she doesn't sound desperate. It's almost enough to make Rachel melt into a puddle.

"Still waiting," Rachel says, and though her voice is serious, she can't help but crack a smile. Cassie sighs heavily.

"I'm sorry," Cassie says finally, and it's really a pathetic apology, but then she adds a really at the end, and Rachel can tell she's sincere.

"Apology accepted," she says. "But the insults have to stop. You can't keep being mean to me just because you can't deal with your own emotions. I may be your student, but I'm still an adult and I deserve a little bit of respect. Especially if we're going to be…"

She doesn't put a label on it, and she can almost feel Cassie's sigh of relief at that.

"Yeah, I know, Schwimmer. I'm still working on my shit, okay? Take heart in knowing that the next fifteen years of your life won't really make you any more emotionally mature."

Rachel chuckles at that. She can imagine Cassie's little half smirk, and her heart swells a bit.

"I have to go light the candle for tonight," she says softly.

"Yeah, okay. Have fun. And… come back soon."

Rachel hangs up and practically throws herself face down on the bed, rolling back and forth with a huge, stupid smile on her face.

She's pretty sure this means they're dating now, even if they don't call it that.

xx

December 25th is like any other day to Cassandra, except she never has to teach, so she usually gets wasted and watches It's a Wonderful Life over and over again (not A Christmas Story because that movie is fucking stupid). She hasn't celebrated Christmas for the last six years now that both of her parents are dead, and she doesn't even bother thinking about that bitch sister of hers that lives in Vermont or somewhere stupid like that. There is no tree, no lights, no garland. She never gets any visitors.

Which is why she can't fathom for the life of her who the hell is knocking on her door at ten in the morning. It's not quite time for alcohol and movies, so the only thing that's being interrupted is her channel surfing, but still. She opens up the door to see pretty much the last person she would ever expect, but there Rachel is, all bundled up and red-faced from the cold and still carrying suitcases.

"Schwimmer," she says, doing absolutely nothing to hide her surprise. Rachel smiles sweetly.

"Merry Christmas," she says, and hands over a brand new travel mug with a gold star on it and a red bow wrapped around it. "Yours is getting kind of gross, and the handle is broken. Gold stars are kind of my thing."

Cassandra can't help but smile, a real, genuine smile at the little rant and the gesture. She's not sure when she turned into one of those girls who melts over stupid, thoughtful things like this, but for the first time in six years she's not alone on Christmas and Rachel is actually at her place and she feels happy, so she doesn't really mind.

"Thanks. That's really sweet." Rachel blushes and scuffs her foot on the floor. "Come inside; your nose looks like it's about to fall off from the cold."

Rachel follows her inside and takes off her coat and scarf and hat while Cassandra pours her a cup of coffee. They meet at the couch. Rachel thanks her for the coffee and they sit several inches apart.

"How was home?" Cassandra asks, and yeah they're at the pleasantry stage now she guesses.

"It was great," Rachel replies, "but I think the small talk can wait," and then she's crawling on top of Cassandra, kissing her hotly, and this is much better than getting piss drunk and watching It's a Wonderful Life on repeat.

xx

They spend most of the rest of break in bed, but they actually do other stuff, too. They visit FAO Schwarz, because Rachel's never been. She spends nearly half an hour jumping around on the giant piano mat, laughing and singing and making a general fool of herself. Cassie tries valiantly not to be amused, but she only lasts about a minute before she's cracking smiles and laughing and playing along.

They take a walk through Central Park in the snow. Cassie looks gorgeous in her simple black coat, white scarf, and white knit hat and gloves. It's freezing, and even though Rachel's bundled up to the max, she still shivers. When Cassie notices, she puts an arm around Rachel's shoulders and draws her in close. They walk like that for the rest of the way, and Rachel feels like she might explode with happiness.

Cassie takes Rachel to her favorite pizza place, and yes they serve vegan pizza. It's a hole in the wall, really, and Rachel can hardly imagine the magnificent Cassie July frequenting a place like this, but she knows the people there by name and laughs with them while she orders. She looks about twenty years younger in this moment. She looks perfect.

Rachel spends the entirety of the meal settling into the realization that she's head over heels in love with this woman. It is both heavy and miraculous at once.

xx

They don't do Times Square for New Years. Cassandra absolutely refuses to deal with that clusterfuck, and Rachel doesn't even suggest it, because who really wants to stand out in the freezing cold for hours packed in with thousands of people when they can have a better view of all the festivities on Cassandra's television screen and be warm?

They drink a bottle of wine together, though Cassandra ends up drinking the majority of it because she realizes after two glasses that Rachel is a total lightweight, which she could have guessed. She's really bouncy and adorable and even more talkative when she's drunk, if that's possible, and yeah. It's just a good night over all, and they don't even have sex, which is saying something. They totally would have, except Rachel passes out at 11:30 and Cassandra has to rouse her awake at midnight.

"What? What's wrong?" Rachel asks groggily, and there's the tiniest bit of drool at the corner of her mouth. Cassandra grins.

"Nothing," she says quietly. "Happy New Year, babe." She kisses Rachel softly. The girl blinks twice and smiles sleepily.

"I love you," she says, and then completely zonks out again.

Cassandra almost chokes on her own spit at that. She spends a good three minutes just staring at Rachel, who is snoring softly, as if waiting for her to open her eyes and laugh it off as a joke. She doesn't, of course, so Cassandra finally picks her up bridal-style and carries her to bed. She then strips out of her own yoga pants, leaves her sweater on, and crawls in. Rachel rolls into her instinctively, and Cassandra wraps an arm around her instinctively, and…

Yeah, she does love Rachel, she guesses. She's kind of known this for a little while now. It's sort of impossible not to, and Cassandra has certainly tried her damnedest to counter that. She's more or less accepted it at this point.

The part she really can't believe is that Rachel loves her back. She was pretty sure she was incapable of being loved. Leave it to Rachel to prove her wrong.

xx

The musical opens in the middle of March, and Rachel is sure she's going to throw up from excitement. Her fathers and Kurt are there. Finn would have come, but he has drill right now. He sent her flowers and called to wish her luck. Mr. Schuester and Ms. Pillsbury brought the entire glee club up on a field trip to see her. Quinn took the train down from New Haven. Almost all the people she really loves and cares about are here, not to mention a ton of important people that will see her. This is her first chance to really get her name out there.

Cassie meets her in the dressing room a few minutes before the show starts.

"Break a leg, Schwimmer," she says with a wink, hands Rachel a rose, and then disappears again. There is a small note attached, written with black ink in Cassie's slanted handwriting. It reads:

Schwimmer,

You are the best I've ever seen.

I love you.

Cassie

She could fucking kill Cassie for doing this to her right before she's about to go on stage, but really it just gives her one more reason to completely own this performance. Which she does do, of course. She's met by a mob of people after the show, all of them clamoring to congratulate and hug her. Cassie meets her eye over the crowd, gives her a look that makes Rachel's panties wet, and then leaves. They will meet up later for private congratulations, but for now everyone else wants to take Rachel out for one giant dinner. It's really worth having to wait to go to Cassie's in order to see all of these wonderful people again.

When it's all over and everyone has gone to their respective transportation home or to the hotel, Rachel hops on the train to SoHo. She barely raises her hand to knock before Cassie rips the door open, drags her inside, and fucks her senseless against the wall. It takes them four more orgasms to make it to the bed, and Rachel loses count after that. She's not sure if it's watching Rachel on stage or confessing her love that has Cassie so turned on, and she really doesn't care.

They pass out sometime after four in the morning, still tangled up in one another.

xx

"You didn't give up on me," Cassandra says on a random Saturday morning during breakfast. She hadn't actually meant to voice this thought out loud, but now that it's out there, she figures they might as well discuss it. Rachel looks up from the vegan pancakes that she and Cassandra made together.

"What?"

Cassandra leans back in her chair and fixes a serious gaze on her girlfriend.

"Nearly everyone I've ever known has given up on me. Family, friends… Broadway. All of them. They watched me slink away and turn bitter and just stepped back and let it happen. But you kept coming back even when I did everything I could to kick you away. Why?"

Rachel looks startled for a moment, but then gives a small smile.

"Because I know what it's like to be the person who's so full of talent, but never gets recognized for it. The bitchy, annoying diva who everyone hates, and who throws up walls to protect herself from all of the awful things that people do and say to her. And I know that there's usually a person worth knowing, worth loving under all of that, if someone is just willing to stick around and try."

Cassandra feels her eyes soften and her chest expand to the point of bursting.

"I love you too," she says, and Rachel's smile is beatific.

xx

There's something about Rachel Berry.

Cassandra's not sure if she'll ever understand it, but then again she doesn't really have to. She just knows that it makes Rachel the most incredible person she's ever met. It's what's going to make her a star in a business where ninety percent of hopefuls fail. It's what makes her fall a little bit harder for Rachel each day, even if she is a tiny, annoying little thing who knows how to press all of Cassandra's buttons without really trying. She also knows how to make Cassandra feel like maybe she still has a chance to be a good person, to do what she loves again. Cassandra figures that's probably worth the daily infuriation.