Chapter 1: Chapter 1
There are a lot of things that Brittany doesn't know. She doesn't know the actual square root of four, or the real cause behind heart attacks. She has trouble remembering her middle name on occasion, and doesn't understand why keeping a bird in her locker at school is a bad idea.
What Brittany does know is the human body and how it reacts to expressions of passion. Dancing, cheering, sex; all of them influence the body in ways that Brittany recognizes and revels. Brittany immerses herself in the feelings those activities create.
Brittany also knows affection. She knows that a hug or a kiss can brighten anyone's day, and is happy to see just how much a kiss can lighten her best friend's mood. Something as little as a quick peck on the lips when the Latina picks her up in the morning for school can erase Santana's scowl. It's an effortless act and Brittany doesn't mind; she finds it cute that her friend can be so easily pacified with the mere touch of her lips on the blonde's. It's like Santana loses all the tension she carries around, practically melts into a relaxed, carefree, loving version of herself, the one content to link pinkies with the taller girl instead of throwing verbals barbs at her peers.
It's hard for Santana, Brittany has long since realized. The Latina girl has an attitude so large and fierce and just passionate that Brittany sometimes thinks her body isn't quite enough to contain it. Santana isn't tall like Brittany but she's not short like Rachel either. She's compact and solid muscle, with a build resembling that of a mountain lion more than Brittany's cheetah. Quinn is a jaguar or leopard in Brittany's mind, slinking in the shadows until she is ready to pounce, fully content to let her prey fear the predators that are more obvious, like Santana.
Santana needs that release. It's only around Brittany that Santana trusts herself to not be hurt, and to let go of all her pent-up frustrations. To put them aside, if only for a little while, because she knows that Brittany will never betray her. The brunette cheerleader never once lashes out at her friend, because Brittany has never once made her feel weak. With her, Santana becomes a rock, and Brittany clings to her, because Santana protects her innocence (and it's not so much her physical innocence, because even Brittany is not sure when that was lost or tainted or given with adoration).
Rachel was the hardest for Brittany to describe, all legs underneath that petite, small build, with a knack for listening into things that Rachel shouldn't be able to if she didn't have hearing like one of those servals, all large ears and unique fur patterns. And her fashion sense is definitely one of a kind. Brittany thinks this suits Rachel perfectly, her vast vocal range similar to all the noises a serval makes as well. Plus, for as loud as Rachel can be, she's unusually timid and hesitant around people when she's not performing.
It makes Brittany sad that Rachel is acting twenty-four seven, that she can't even feel comfortable enough most of the time to let her real self through, to pull down the facade and melt into the more mellow person she really is, even in glee club. She thinks that Rachel and Santana are alike in that regard, wearing masks around everyone for their own protection. Except Rachel doesn't have a Brittany to help her relax, to give her a time when she doesn't have to hide who she really is so that her spirit doesn't become broken and disjointed.
So when Brittany notices that Rachel's dancing during their newest number at practice is a bit more stiff than usual, she doesn't hesitate to wrap the girl in a one-armed hug, one of Brittany's most casual forms of affection. When the short singer's body seems to become even more taut and doesn't relax at all like Brittany expected it to, her brow creases in confusion and she pouts. It doesn't help that when she glances over to Santana for an explanation, the cheerleader is glaring at them with her arms crossed from across the room.
Brittany's surprised. She knows that Santana easily becomes jealous, but she didn't think her best friend would ever be envious of Rachel. There's not even the potential for anything happening there; as far as Brittany knows (and this is one of the things she's pretty sure she does know), Rachel isn't interested in girls. And even if she was, Rachel is dating Finn, which, yeah, Brittany is still finding that coupling 'gross', but she respects it. Well, in a 'I haven't made a move on Rachel before so I won't now' kinda way.
It's not that Rachel is uncomfortable with physical affection, because Brittany has hugged her before during practice and the singer has never had this reaction. Plus the brunette doesn't seem to tense when Finn or anyone else touches her in a friendly way. Except for when it's Quinn, but Brittany's pretty sure that's just because Rachel can never be sure if the touch will be a kind one or if Quinn is about to manhandle her in some way.
So Brittany starts paying closer attention to Rachel. It irritates Santana because Brittany hasn't been showing her the same dedication the Latina has come to expect and begrudgingly appreciate, and it brings out Finn's possessive side because he is so sure, Brittany secretly thinks, that she is trying to take from Rachel what Santana took from Finn – what Finn willingly gave her best friend. He probably wouldn't admit it, but Brittany believes that's the conclusion he's come to when she starts going out of her way to initiate physical contact with the tiny brunette, in an attempt to ease this new found skittishness.
Plus it's a nice distraction from the drama regarding Quinn's return to the Cheerios. She's only been back on the team for a couple of days, but tensions are already high between her two friends as they try to claim the head spot. Brittany's hoping one of them doesn't do something to tear their already fragile friendship apart, but the fact that both of them seem to be scrambling for dirt on the other to squeal to Coach Sylvester isn't exactly raising her hopes. Well, Santana is looking; Quinn seems pretty nonchalant about the whole thing, but she's definitely egging the feisty cheerleader on in her search with a few well-placed taunts. Brittany figures it's because Quinn has nothing left to hide after last year.
Brittany doesn't know a lot of things. But when she hugs the short singer in glee club at just the same moment that she's reaching forward to grab some sheet music and sees the bruises on her wrists previously hidden by her sweater, Brittany knows something's wrong with Rachel.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Rachel has put up with a lot. She's withstood verbal assault, slushies, egging, insults, general harassment, and disappointments from people who are supposedly her teammates, fellow outsiders. She's put up with the occasional threats from Quinn or Kurt, and watched as Mr. Schuester gave away solos he had previously given to her, in the name of confidence-building.
What Rachel cannot put up with is secrets. Nothing good has ever come from secrets; her whirlwind romance with Jesse, her fathers' secrecy about her birth mother, Shelby, Kurt's sexuality – although that was the worst kept secret in Lima since her fathers, Terri Schuester's fake pregnancy, the truth behind the paternity of Quinn's baby – all of them have caused nothing but trouble. It's part of why Rachel has such a brutal honesty policy. There's less chance of something coming back to hurt you at a later date.
So Rachel can't help but loathe her own secret. Perhaps it would be better if it was always lurking in the back shadows of her mind, but even Rachel can't escape the physical evidence of her transgressions. As much as secrets have hurt herself and the people around her, Rachel's learned that the truth can hurt as well. The blow-up right before Sectionals last year thanks to her interference is proof of that. She got involved in the mess with the baby, something that had nothing to do with her, and hurt everyone around her, as well as their chances for winning. Quinn deserved to hit her for opening her 'trout mouth'.
And maybe Rachel is tired of telling the truth and always being attacked for it. Her blunt comments have earned her nothing but alienation, even from those who are almost, almost outcasts just as much as she is. They are nothing but the truth, although sometimes burnished with a bit of melodrama or over-exaggeration, but they are nothing like the little white lies Rachel hears told everyday. Maybe she's not cut out for high school. Everyone else has managed to quell their quirks enough that they've found acceptance somewhere, and quarrels during glee about glee have become almost nonexistent. So why can't Rachel find her place?
Even Quinn, with her multiple sins just last year, has managed to reclaim her position in the social hierarchy – though Rachel is not yet quite sure how she managed it, she's almost certain that knowledge will reach her later – and is once again surrounded by people who accept her. Or rather, worship the facade she puts up. But Quinn still has New Directions in her corner should it ever come to that again. Quinn has befriended many of those that she once tormented.
Rachel's not foolish enough to say no one cares as much as her. She knows passion when she sees it, can recognize it in its many forms; singing, dancing, sports, cheering, and a multitude of other way that Rachel never thought to consider before New Directions existed. Perhaps that's why Rachel hasn't opened her mouth yet; passion never hurt anyone, after all.
Except Rachel's passion for singing is hurting her, socially. She's so driven, so determined to make it out of this cow-town where ambition for your dreams is frowned upon. And opening her mouth is why this happened the first time, and again, and again.
So Rachel keeps her mouth shut, just this once. She talks so much about everything else that no one would ever notice if she's silent about this, right? Except one person seems to have noticed, and it's completely the wrong person. Sweet, affectionate Brittany, with her own penchant for speaking her thoughts, in a random, nonsensical way, seems to have picked up on Rachel's discomfort. And it's not anything Brittany has done, but the blonde is determined to fix whatever she thinks is broken. It makes Rachel nervous, because Brittany with her tight, squeezing hugs and her habit of hanging out with violent, passionate Latinas makes her way, way too close to the situation. If Brittany notices the dark, mottled skin around her wrists and how Rachel flinches in her grasp, she doesn't say anything and it gives Rachel hope that maybe Brittany hasn't quite picked up on what is going on.
And then Rachel is hearing how Quinn managed to climb back up to her throne so quickly, and all she can think is, no no no no, because this is not happening. But it is, and Rachel can't even question her source because that fight between the two cheerleaders and Brittany's pleading on the sidelines is all over school in addition to Jacob Ben Israel's blog. It's not that she isn't, well, happy for Quinn isn't exactly the right phrase, and neither is proud, and even Rachel with her large vocabulary has trouble looking for the right combination of words that express her sentiments over the blonde's return to her proper rank. She's wary, of course; Rachel has plenty of reason to fear that Quinn is once again going to directly complicate her life.
If Santana shoots her an extra glare at lunch in addition to the one she's aiming at everyone else just to see Rachel wince because Brittany spends the period talking to Rachel instead of comforting her best friend's smarting pride, it's not because Rachel wanted it to happen. She spends the last two classes before glee placating Finn's panic that he may not be enough for her now that he's been kicked off the football team, even when he points a finger at her and raves, blaming her for ever getting him involved with singing and Artie and teamwork in the first place, not bothering to point out that she had nothing directly to do with recruiting him for New Directions. And Rachel takes it, like she takes everything else, because no one can ever say that Rachel Berry with a gold star didn't accept her punishments without complaint, unless they involved the redistribution of solos.
She gets slushied for the first time that year in between last period and glee. It's when Rachel is in the bathroom in the process of changing her sweater out for another top that she hears the gasp and wrestles with the cardigan impeding her sight to see who the intruder is.
Brittany. The blonde rushes over and helps her further situate her shirt, brushing back her wet hair, before encompassing Rachel in a hug. It's warm and reassuring, but Rachel lets out an involuntary hiss as the pressure on her ribs causes the injuries formed earlier that day to ache in protest. Brittany pulls back, confused before grasping the bottom of her top. Rachel moves her hands to cover the tall blonde's, but Brittany is faster than Rachel and pulls up. Sickly, purple flesh is revealed and the cheerleader lets out a choked sob before narrowing her eyes and bolting out into the hallway, muttering to herself.
Rachel darts after her in the direction of the choir room, always, always, too slow and doesn't catch her bathroom companion until Brittany is ranting unintelligibly in a bewildered Finn's face. Her fists are clenched impossibly tight by her sides, and as Rachel reaches out to either embrace Brittany or hold her back, she's thankful that the Dutch girl didn't see the scratches marring her back.
Rachel may have put up with a lot in her life, but it only takes one person finding out her secret for it all to come crashing down around her.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Brittany's furious. It takes her only a second to figure out that those bruises aren't the kind one gets from messing up a dance number, and another second to dash off to the choir room, intent on only one person because in the back of her mind she can still see the mottled flesh and recognize how each mark is just slightly bigger than Finn's hand. Finn's giant, meaty hands. She's seen him tackle players and just how far he can throw a football. Not in a straight line usually, but that doesn't matter if he's hitting something. Like she suspects he is.
It's not until Rachel is wrapping her arms around the tall blonde that Brittany realizes the dumbfounded look on Finn's face isn't just because she's verbally attacking him or being unnaturally hostile, but because he really has no idea what she's saying.
It's Quinn who points it out. “Were you just speaking Dutch?”
Mr. Schue steps in at that point. “Brittany, what's going on?” Brittany shoots the group a look, wondering if any of them know about Rachel. She doubts it; hardly anyone knows anything about the singer other than the fact that she has a voice.
The dancer takes a deep breath, mentally switching back over to English to answer before she realizes Rachel is tugging on the back of her Cheerios top and instinctively wraps her arms around the petite singer lightly, taking a step away from the group in the process to ward off any eavesdropping. The greedy look in Kurt's and Mercedes' eyes tell her they'll be trying to hear everything, but they won't approach her and Rachel.
“Brittany, let it go,” Rachel implores. “Just drop it.”
“What?” She notices Rachel looking warily over her shoulder and gently grasps her chin to redirect her focus back onto the blonde. “Rachel, this is serious.” She brushes a strand of the singer's still-damp hair behind her ear.
“I know it is, but you don't know what's going on.”
“I'm not stupid, Rachel.”
“It's not worth dealing with.”
“I'm not stupid. This,” she grasps the petite singer a little closer, still mindful of her mottled flesh, “is dangerous Rachel. You could get seriously hurt.”
“I know that. But it's not what you think.” Brittany eyes the brunette dubiously. She buries her head in the crook of the taller girl's neck. “Please, just trust me.”
It takes a while, but Brittany finally nods and Rachel just looks at her in disbelief. “Okay.” Rachel may be broken, but Brittany isn't going to be the one to shatter the diva by shredding whatever little peace of mind the petite girl is clinging to.
“I still want you to tell me, but yes.”
Rachel smiles at her gratefully.
“What the hell is going on?” growls Santana, storming over to the two. The outburst startles Rachel and she flinches in Brittany's arms, inching closer to the blonde. The Latina scowls and Brittany frowns reproachfully.
“San,” she warns, but Santana isn't looking at her. She's glaring holes at the little brunette in her arms. “Stop it.”
Santana looks up at her then, surprise crossing her face for a split second before it morphs back into her usual disgruntled frown. She glances back down at Rachel and seems to recognize something in her expression before she nods. “Fine.” Santana flops back down into her chair, irritation lacing her features. “Can we practice now?” she snaps, like she doesn't care about this most recent glee club drama, and Brittany admits that she probably doesn't. It doesn't affect her after all, except in the capacity that it's affecting the tall blonde.
It's Rachel moving in her arms that pulls Brittany's attention away from her best friend. “I'm going to be sick,” Rachel murmurs, curling in on herself a little and impossibly closer to the cheerleader. The diva cups a hand over her mouth slowly, swallowing.
“Mr. Schue, I'm going to take Rachel home. She isn't feeling well,” the blonde calls over her shoulder, steering them out of the room.
“I can take her,” offers Finn, rising slightly, though he drops back down at the sharp look in Brittany's eyes, one completely different from Quinn's icy stare or Santana's fiery gaze. It's just as unbelieving, though, like the dancer doubts what he said, not at all the look of incomprehension he's seen numerous times before from her.
“No,” the tall girl speaks with finality, before sweeping the tiny brunette out of the room. Somehow they manage to make it back to the bathroom to collect Rachel's things and out to the parking lot without any complications from Rachel's queasiness. “Get on.” She slings a leg over the bike, Rachel's backpack slung over her shoulder.
Rachel's mouth moves for a second before she shakes her head forcefully. “Are you serious?”
Brittany just pats behind her. “It's not a big deal.” Rachel bites her bottom lip. She offers the brunette her second helmet, which the girl reluctantly takes.
Brittany goes slow for Rachel's sake. Well, partially for her own as well, because she would rather not be puked on. She waits patiently while Rachel unlocks the door and follows her inside, slightly worried the singer would try to escape telling her. Once inside, Rachel doesn't seem to know what to do, however, so Brittany glances around.
She remembers a remark Quinn made once long ago, about how the Berry house was probably a shrine to Rachel, full of trophies and awards and year-by-year pictures of the girl. Instead the walls are a soft cream color, with photos of two men Brittany assumes are Rachel's fathers scattered here and there. Every odd once in a while a picture of the three of them will pop up, Rachel dwarfed by one father and herself overlooking the other one.
Brittany turns to the singer. “Do you want something to eat?” Rachel blinks up at her, and Brittany's not sure if it's because she's treating Rachel like a guest in the brunette's own home, or if she's waiting for the blonde to demand an explanation for earlier. “San taught me how to make these awesome sandwiches. I don't have to follow a recipe!”
Rachel just nods, not saying anything, which causes Brittany to worry ever more. A quiet Rachel is not necessarily a bad thing, but it's not a good thing in this case. If she was quiet because she was relaxed, it would be different, but a stressed out Rachel that is oddly silent is even more of a cause for concern.
The brunette is still silent as she picks at the sandwich, and Brittany watches her, trying to decide what is best. Pushing Rachel seems like the obvious choice, but she's not especially close to the girl and the diva may close off instead of opening up.
“Rachel,” Brittany starts, finally deciding. “The bruises? Is someone causing them?”
Rachel doesn't meet her eyes, just stares at her sandwich. “Yes.”
The answer to the next one should be obvious, but she asks just the same. “Do you want them to stop?”
“I don't know. No. Yes.”
“Do you want Santana to kick their ass?” Brittany's serious with this question, but the brunette just snorts and lets out a peal of laughter. “I'm certain she could do it.” Rachel laughs even harder.
“You think Santana would help me?”
“San will understand.” Brittany's never been more sure of anything. If she can get Rachel to finally talk, and get Santana involved, then everything would be all right and Rachel can be safe again.
Rachel doesn't meet her eyes, just continues to fiddle with her sandwich. “While I admire your optimism, I do not think it's that simple, Brittany.”
“Once she knows what's going on, she'll understand.”
Rachel looks at her before shaking her head slowly. “No she won't.”
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
“Rachel,” Brittany starts, and Rachel can't help but look up at the usually cheerful blonde that is full of optimism and quirkiness. “San's a good person. She just hides it well. She'll help.” The taller girl is adamant, determined to get her point across, resolute in her belief that Santana can make everything better.
Rachel just looks at her sandwich, mouth firmly shut, before setting it down. If only it were that simple. If only Santana showed that side to a person other than Brittany. “I can't eat this.” If only.
“Rachel.” She hears the firm yet gentle rebuke in the word. The name she hears so rarely.
“No, I really can't. It's tuna.” She's already compromised who she is on so many points this year, but this is one thing that she isn't willing to change about herself.
If you'd asked her to change anything about herself last year – minus the makeover – she would've refused.
Rachel watches Brittany observe her for a minute before the taller girl nods with a glint of understanding that Rachel's never noticed before. “Okay. How about I make you a Sylvester Smoothie? I'll even add in marshmallows although we're not supposed to. Coach says they cause ulcers and counteract the cleansing effect of the sand as it scrapes down your throat and clumps in your tummy.”
She bites back the retort that is on the tip of her tongue, the one that goes “Do you want to finish off what's already been done to me?” and instead just shakes her head in the negative, too aware of Brittany's watchful eyes on her to mention the mildly hazardous concoction that the cheerleading coach requires them to consume.
Brittany's innocent. Unlike some others. And she won't take that from her.
The cheerleader isn't quite back to her usual level of perkiness, as evidenced by the serious expression crossing her face, but it's with an audible skip in her step and a twinkle in her eyes that she asks, “How about a bath?”
Rachel pauses, rolling her shoulder and fighting off a wince as a wave of pain lances through it and down her side, spreading out amongst the mottled bruises over her ribs. “That's a good idea.” Perhaps soaking will make everything hurt less noticeably tomorrow, will ease the aches and pains that have been plaguing her since they were inflicted, and Brittany will forget everything.
Rachel knows it's not likely, that she's not really that forgetful yet rather frequently distracted, but it's preferable to the blonde continuously bringing up the Latina and offering to get Santana to help.
Before she can stop her – not that Rachel had much of a chance of doing so anyways – the blonde is up the stairs and instinctively making her way to Rachel's room, then zipping across the hall into the bathroom. Rachel gets up to follow her, slightly anxious, when a chirp sounds from the other side of the table. She freezes, apprehensively looking over at the device.
Rachel's so focused on the harmless hunk of instant communication sitting across the kitchen that she jumps when her own phone vibrates in her pocket. She slowly pulls it out, a feeling of dread falling over her.
Stay away from her Hobbit.
A second message.
And dont u dare tell her anything.
“Hey, you have this wicked cool bubble bath – what's wrong?” Brittany skips into the room, sudsy bottle in hand – she idly notes that she seems to have dropped it in the bathtub and spilled about half the bottle in the process, and Rachel fights back the tremble running through her and the spike of terror as she snaps the phone shut and hides it behind her, fumbling with it until it drops onto the table.
“Nothing.” Rachel knows the blonde doesn't believe her, but she doesn't elaborate any further. Can't elaborate.
Brittany reaches forward, and – gently, Rachel notices – wraps her hand around her wrist, tugging softly. “C'mon, let's go upstairs.”
She follows, pausing only for a second to look back at the two innocent phones, her own uneaten sandwich and Brittany's empty plate between them.
It feels weird being led into her own bathroom. It hasn't happened in several years. She lets Brittany position her in the middle of the small space and watches as she slips passed her, turning the taps off. Rachel's relieved that the tub hasn't overflowed, although the bubbles wave at her from above the edge.
The relief vanishes when hands wrap around her neck. Rachel's eyes lock onto their reflections in the mirror, a non-descript buzzing drowning out Brittany's voice speaking softly, noting the distinct, sharp, difference of Brittany's paleness against tan and for a second she wants to laugh hysterically against the surge of panic, appreciating the irony of the fact that Brittany's ivory skin is frequently pressed against a different shade of bronzed flesh.
Damaged by a devil and murdered by an angel.
Rachel welcomes the darkness that oxygen deprivation brings, barely aware that she's slipping downward to slowly rest on the cool tiles of her bathroom floor.