Lauren can still smell the puke, even though she’s taken herself to the bathroom to get away from it. (She certainly did not flee to the bathroom. She’s never run away from anything in her life, and if you value yours, you’ll keep your damn mouth shut.) The lingering mix of perfumes does nothing to mask the smell of vomit. If anything, it makes it worse and Lauren lunges for the sink just in case she’s about to throw up too. She grips the sides of the sink tight and stares down into the basin, her stomach churning.
After a second, the nausea passes, and she splashes cool water onto her face. That’s when she hears the quiet whimper and realizes she’s not alone. The first three stalls are empty, but in the fourth, Rachel Berry is slumped on the ground, her skin waxy and colorless beneath the vomit still streaked across her face.
“Oh, gross, Berry.” Lauren presses her fist against her mouth, choking for a second. Berry doesn’t say anything, doesn’t do anything, doesn’t even blink. Her silence shocks Lauren out of the moment and Lauren finds herself absurdly feeling grateful. (She really, really hates throwing up, okay?) “Berry?”
That doesn’t get a response either, and Lauren frowns and crouches next to her, carefully touching her shoulder. (Careful not because she’s afraid of hurting her, but because Rachel is smeared with purple-gray puke. The color just makes it even worse than regular puke. Crap, if she doesn’t stop thinking about it, she’s going to barf on Rachel too.)
“Rachel?” That gets her a couple blinks at least. “Are you okay?”
“Yes.” Rachel tries to smile, but her voice is raspy and weak and she gives up quickly. “No.”
“Can you get up?” Lauren asks. Her nose wrinkles, because oh my god, Rachel smells horrible, and she’s really not sure why she didn’t just walk away and leave her there. Too late for that.
(Way too fucking late. Like, months too fucking late. Goddamn it.)
“No.” Rachel makes this little noise like maybe she’d be crying but she doesn’t want to let herself get started. “I threw up.”
Lauren swallows hard. There’s nothing stuck in her throat, she knows that, but oh, god, that’s not how it feels. “Okay,” she says, and then, because she doesn’t really know how they’re going to do this, she says it again. “Okay.”
“Okay,” Rachel echoes and tips her head against the side of the stall.
Lauren squeezes her shoulder and gets up. First thing she does is wet a bunch of paper towels with cold water and shove them at Rachel. She takes them, but when she starts swiping at the vomit, she only makes it worse. Lauren pulls an epic face, but grabs a couple of the towels and starts cleaning her up. Oh, god, this is disgusting and she’s going to shower for hours when she’s done.
Once Rachel’s face is clean -- and her throat and her ear and as much of her hair as Lauren can get with just the paper towels, oh god, is there anywhere Brittany didn’t hit? -- Lauren gets up again to throw away the dirty towels. She washes her hands with really hot soapy water, then pulls her phone out of her pocket.
“Hey, Rachel?” She doesn’t get a response until she’s down on Rachel’s level again, sort of in her face. “Do you have any clothes here? Gym clothes, maybe?”
“In my locker,” Rachel mumbles. “I have learned to keep fresh clothing on hand in case of a slushy incident.”
“Yeah, the slushy thing is stupid.” Lauren rolls her eyes, because of all the ways to intimidate people, flavored crushed ice is ridiculous. “What’s your locker number and combo?”
“Why?” Rachel rolls her head until she’s looking up at Lauren. “Are you going to put something nasty inside?”
“Keep up, Berry. I’m going to get you cleaned up.” She taps out a quick text to Tina, shoves her phone back in her pocket, and braces herself, because even slightly cleaner, Rachel still smells horrible. She shudders as she slides her hands under Rachel’s arms -- gross, gross, gross, she can feel sticky chunks against her fingers even there -- and makes sure she’s got a good grip. “Up you go.”
Rachel flails a little, trying to help, but Lauren gets her back on her feet and hooks one of her arms across her shoulders, taking most of her weight. Rachel still stumbles a little as they head to the sinks, but Lauren balances her easily.
For a second, she debates throwing Rachel over her shoulder and carrying her to the locker room. It would be a lot easier to toss her in the shower and let her wash off all the crap. Of course, the way Rachel’s wavering, there’s no way she can stand on her own, and they aren’t the kind of friends who shower together. (They aren’t really friends at all, except Lauren is standing there holding her up despite the puke. So maybe they are.)
She turns on the water and makes sure it’s not too hot, then helps Rachel bend over and rinse her hair again and again. By the time they’re done, Tina’s there with clean clothes for Rachel and, awesomely, a towel. She wraps it around Rachel’s hair while Lauren holds her up and between the two of them, they get her cleaned up and changed.
(A group of girls comes in while they’re wiping vomit off the back of her neck and start snickering, until Lauren takes a big step toward them, glaring, her shoulders forward. “The hell are you looking at?” she snaps and they scatter.)
Rachel slumps against the wall when they’re done, but she doesn’t sink all the way to the floor the whole time Lauren and Tina scrub their hands and arms clean, so Lauren counts it as a win. She’s still looking pretty pasty and wan, so Lauren grabs some Twizzlers from her backpack and pushes them into Rachel’s hand. “Eat,” she orders. Rachel stares at the bag of candy, until Lauren huffs, tears it open, and hands her a strand. “Eat.” This time, Rachel obeys.
“What should we do with her?” Tina asks. Lauren offers her the Twizzlers too, and she takes one, twisting it around her fingers before she tears off a big bite. Lauren pulls one out for herself and lazily sucks on the end while she thinks.
“Choir room,” she says at last. “She can sit down there until she feels better.” Plus it’s kinda a safe space for them -- for the glee club, damn it, not Lauren. Lauren’s safe space is the gym and the weight room and she doesn’t need a fucking safe space in the first place, so shut up -- and she knows Rachel feels most at home there of anywhere in the school. That doesn’t mean she knows her well or anything, because it’s pretty damn obvious.
Lauren shoves the Twizzlers back into her bag and then hands it to Tina. She pulls Rachel’s arm across her shoulders again and wraps an arm around Rachel’s waist, bracing her for the walk to the choir room. They make it all the way to the bathroom door before Rachel goes even paler -- how is that possible? Even her hair looks drained -- and slumps forward.
“Oh, hell,” Lauren mutters and scoops Rachel up.
Tina’s mouth drops open. “Crap, you are really strong.”
“Yeah, well, this isn’t as easy as I make it look, so let’s hurry the hell up.” Lauren is strong, but she’s afraid if she throws Rachel over her shoulder, she’ll just start throwing up again, and carrying someone like this might look good in the movies, but it’s putting a lot of strain on her arms when normally she lifts and throws from her legs.
Tina holds the door for them, and tags along at Lauren’s side, carrying both their backpacks and a plastic bag with Rachel’s dirty shirt and the wet towel in it. The hall is empty, which is good, because carting Rachel around really isn’t badass at all. Especially when Rachel kind of snuggles up against her shoulder and mumbles, “You’re sweet.”
“God, shut up, Berry,” Lauren snaps. Tina swallows a laugh, but she can’t hide that bright smile. “You too, Tina.”
“Hey, I didn’t say anything,” Tina sing-songs. “I certainly didn’t say anything about you going soft.”
“Even carrying Berry, I can totally take you, Cohen-Chang. Watch it.”
Tina laughs out loud, a delighted sound, and does a little two step down the hall in front of her.
Almost they make it without anyone seeing this horrifyingly nice thing Lauren is doing, but they just barely get inside the choir room when the rest of the glee club comes spilling in too, minus Santana and Brittany who, Lauren hopes, are cleaning up, because she is really tired of smelling vomit.
“Rachel!” Finn’s voice goes high and he takes a step forward before he remembers.
Lauren can feel them staring at her -- can feel Puck staring at her -- and her cheeks go hot. She really wants to dump Berry right on the damn ground and go hit something until she’s tough again, but not even she’s that big a bitch, so she shovels Rachel into a chair instead. Mercedes hurries over, uncapping her bottle of water and telling Rachel to drink it slowly. Otherwise, the room is quiet for many long seconds -- Lauren can hear the clock ticking away -- and then they start talking to each other. She can tell they’re kind of giving her the side-eye, but whatever.
Puck, though, struts up. She crosses her arms over her chest and turns her best glare on him, but he doesn’t even flinch. Damn it.
“Zizes,” he says and his mouth twists into a smirk. “Didn’t think you were--”
She snaps her hand up, palm toward him. “Don’t, Puckerman.” He opens his mouth again, but she cuts him off. “Shut up or start losing body parts.”
That quiets him, except he’s still grinning and then, when she glances over to check on Berry -- damn it, if she’s going to help someone, she’s going to make sure they stay helped -- he slips in for a kiss.
Goddamn it. She hits his shoulder, but not even hard enough to really knock him away, and when he leans in again, she kisses him back, because they’re in the choir room and the only people around are the glee club and, you know, whatever, maybe it’s kind of a safe space.