Word Count: 1881
Spoilers: Up to "Prom"
Sam finds it ironic that he has to clean up the mess.
Since, you know, he had nothing to do with the fight and neither girl involved is his either. Technically, one used to be, but that's in the past so it's not relevant tonight.
And yet when Rachel comes out of the restroom with tears in her eyes and the faint outline of a handprint on her cheek he can't not help.
He grabs her hand and tugs her away from a night of fake smiling and meaningless conversation. She follows him demurely, trailing behind him like a puppy on a leash. Sam doesn't look back and he's hoping that she doesn't either.
She clutches his secondhand jacket like she'll float away if she untangles her fingers and cries into his shoulder until he's positive he can feel the tears seeping through to his skin.
He rocks her back and forth and lets her, despite the fact that the classroom floor is really hard and really cold. Plus it's kind of hard to breathe with her choking his suit like that.
It takes awhile but the tears eventually transition into dry sobs and the sobs, in turn, dwindle to sniffling.
But even when she goes quiet and the death grip on his clothes relax, he keeps rocking.
Her throat sounds dry and Sam wonders if it's because she's cried out all of the liquid in her body.
"Anytime," he murmurs back.
"I made you miss the prom," she says
Sam shrugs. "The punch bowl got spiked with lemonade; I don't think we missed anything spectacular."
If Rachel has a problem being cradled like a small child she doesn't say anything. Instead she shifts her arms so that she's hugging his midsection and sighs against him.
"Can we just stay like this for awhile?" she asks.
Sam doesn't mention that the two of them have already been there for awhile. He just nods and hugs her back.
"But I think we'll have to move before classes start up next week unless you want to get suspended for tripping students on the way to their desks."
Rachel doesn't laugh, but Sam can feel her grin and that's good enough.
They don't talk again until Monday.
By then Sam has scrubbed the gel from his hair and the smell of her perfume no longer lingers on his skin.
Rachel is the tragic princess no more but rather the fashion outcast with sores on her heels from the prom shoes that weren't broken in before the party.
She stops at his locker between second and third period. And while she seems oblivious to the suspicious stare Finn is giving the both of them, Sam can feel it like some sort of invisible dagger.
"Your hair looks better this way, you know."
"Uh, thanks?" Eloquent speech patterns strike again.
"I mean, it's more Sam-esque. Look... what I wanted to say was 'thank you so very much for the other night' but somehow that doesn't seem adequate enough to show the magnitude of my gratefulness. I want to repay you somehow. So name it, anything you can think of and I will do my best to give it to you."
Sam doesn't miss a beat before he answers. "A smile."
Her face falters and her eyebrows knit together in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"I mean," he says, closing his locker and leaning towards her, "that you've been faking a smile all day. What I want is for you to really smile. Then I'll know you're actually okay and not pretending for the sake of everyone else."
Rachel doesn't move from where she's standing until the class bell rings and snaps her back to reality. She's ten minutes late to class but she doesn't really care.
She's too busy wondering exactly why her heart is fluttering in her ribcage like a trapped bird.
Rachel gets in an argument with Jesse right before Glee Club meets. He wants her to stop talking to Finn and she wants him to take about two steps back.
Sam wants him to just leave her the hell alone already, but he doesn't say it.
Somehow that makes it more rewarding when she says she has something to do and joins him on the walk to the choir room, leaving a flustered Jesse St. James to walk by himself.
This is how Glee Club goes: Finn glares at Jesse, Jesse glares at Sam, Sam looks anywhere but at either of them, and Rachel keeps writing these notes to Sam that require responses.
So basically, no one learns anything and Sam has to check for holes in the bathroom mirror because he's positive that the stares must have left some sort of scorch mark.
Oh, right. And Rachel has convinced Sam to let her come over and work on their new assignment (whatever it is) together.
And okay, so convinced might be a little strong. Because he only replied with one syllable (Yeah) and then she drew a smiley face ( =) ) and then Sam drew another face ( :B ) and that snowballed until the scrap piece of paper was covered in a conglomeration of faces and the note was pretty much turned into an ink blot test that therapists use in their sessions.
What do you see? Well, sir, I see a piece of paper with about seventy different personalities.
Sam keeps the note instead of throwing it in the trash. Not because it's anything special but because he's not sure that Jesse (or Finn) won't show up at his doorstep if they find out that Rachel is coming over.
If you're wondering where Quinn stands during all of this, Sam is pretty sure that she's pissed.
But she's also not ready to give up on her possible title as Lima Prom Queen just yet.
And while we're talking about people that aren't pertinent to the story, Sam swears he sees Brittany's cat Lord Tubbington getting a perm at a local beauty salon on his way home from school.
Rachel shows up at his doorstep with a plate of vegan cookies in her hands and tears in her eyes.
Sam pulls her inside and closes the door before setting the cookies on top of a stack of his siblings' school books.
"You aren't even going to eat one?" Her voice shakes and her lip quivers so Sam swipes two from the plate and chows down. They aren't half bad, except that the aftertaste reminds him distinctively of the smell of fresh grass right after it gets cut.
"They taste healthy," he compliments honestly, because she still has tears streaming down her cheeks and he's not sure what will make it worse. His words seem to be okay though because she sniffs and tries to smile.
"I know you don't like worrying about ruining all the time you spend in the gym so I thought you would like them better than chocolate chip."
"Thanks Rachel, but um, are you okay? You've got some tears right about here on your face. And here, and here, and here."
She chokes out a chuckle as Sam points at different parts of his face and wipes away tears with the heels of her hands. "Sorry, I didn't mean to be crying, it's just that Jesse came to my house earlier and then Finn called me while I was driving over here. I got overwhelmed I guess…" she trails off, still frantically trying to erase the trail of tears on her face.
Sam glances over at his sleeping siblings before sitting on the floor and motioning for Rachel to join him. He doesn't see any chance of working on their assignment (not that he's complaining in the least). There's no spare couch or bed in the rundown motel room that he's currently calling Home but at least this floor has carpet.
Sam pets her hair and holds her tight and whispers that it's okay, everything will be alright. Sam wonders how many other people have seen her quite this vulnerable (Jesse? Doubt it. Finn? Close, but no cigar). Most of the time Rachel plays the defiant heroine role, thrusting her chin in the air and walking down the halls of McKinley High like she could care less that people poke fun of her behind her back.
But the same girl is here, stripped bare of walls and pretenses, pressing against him so hard it's as if she's trying to burrow inside him, through him, and disappear. She'll be gone by tomorrow, with only the stain of mascara on his shirt to prove that she was even here.
He rests his chin on the top of her head and rubs soothing circles along her spine and shoulders. It doesn't take her nearly as long to stop crying this time, and her breath evens out as she starts to dip into sleep.
"I'm sorry," she murmurs drowsily, "I probably look hideous when I cry like that."
"You're beautiful, Rachel. Always."
Rachel tenses for a moment before relaxing entirely.
Sam doesn't wake her up until it's close to midnight. His back is stiff and his legs are asleep, but Rachel sits up at his coaxing and rubs the sleep from her eyes in a way that makes Sam think of a small child. She has the smallest of smiles on her face and a pleased look in her eyes so it must be worth it.
Sam is exhausted at school the next day, and he's completely perplexed as to why Rachel is not.
She evens brings him a coffee during a class break, and he should probably wonder where she got it from but he knows better than to look a gift horse in the mouth. It doesn't taste like grass and it makes the next few class periods tolerable.
Maybe he'll build a Rachel Berry shrine in his locker later to thank her.
Wednesday is the first day that Rachel's number appears on his caller-ID.
"Rachel?" He sounds more surprised than he means to.
"Sam?" she teases, imitating his intonation.
"Hah hah, very funny. What's up?"
"I broke up with Jesse last night." Sam doesn't know what to say, so he just says, "Oh."
"And I know I'm kind of a mess but I was thinking… would you like to go to dinner? Maybe see a movie?"
And Sam thinks about the brunette girl who falls in love too easily, but isn't afraid to put herself on the line time and time again. He thinks about the way she fits in his arms and what it will feel like to hold her when she's not crying for once. They are two entirely different people, but maybe that's what it takes to work. And if she can put her heart out there, then why shouldn't he?
"That sounds really nice, Rachel," he grins.
The next time Sam sees Rachel he gets what he asked for in the beginning.
She is smiling in a way that could put the Cheshire Cat to shame, the kind of smile that reaches her eyes and declares itself authentic.
Maybe it won't last.
But then again, maybe it will.