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It was the first day of the last year Rachel would ever attend cheerleading practice.

And she was so over it.

“God, what is up with you today, Green?” her co-captain, Tina, snapped. “Get focused, and get up on that pyramid like, now.”

Okay, so maybe Rachel wasn’t really over it. She was actually still fuming over that jerkwad Chip, who’d cheated on her with someone she thought was a friend. Rachel huffed loudly and let her co-captain and a nervous freshman newbie lift her up.

Rachel raised her arms and said, “Um... Gimme a G?”

“P, Green, P!”

Scandalized, Rachel put one hand on her hip. “Ugh, no, I’m not doing that right here!”

Tina groaned. “The cheer starts with P, remember? And a little enthusiasm would go a long way.”

“Oh, fine.” Rachel raised her arms again and shouted sarcastically, “Gimme a P!”

“P!” the other cheerleaders shouted as they got into formation around Rachel. A couple of smokers laughed at them from the bleachers, and several football players made rude gestures at the cheer squad while heading off the same field toward the locker room. On the far side of the bleachers, Monica sat in the first row with her tall, geeky brother Ross, who was, as usual, visiting home from college. Rachel was glad to see Monica grinning and waving a tiny pendant, but then flushed with embarrassment when she realized Ross was snapping pictures of her with his new Polaroid camera.

“Green! Next letter!” Tina wheezed, still supporting Rachel's right foot, but starting to shake.

Rachel began to shake too, but for a different reason. She shook with irritation over Chip, irritation at herself for being irritated at Chip, and for having to lead the dumb cheer Tina had written.

“Rachel!” Tina cried, and Rachel knew she was in deep trouble, because Tina only used her first name when she was really ticked off at her, “What are you —”

“— Just give me a second!” Rachel snapped, then suddenly, her feet began to waver and the freshman holding onto her left foot buckled. Rachel screamed as her field of vision tilted and she fell over, putting her hands over her face to keep it from hitting the grass.

But instead of landing on grass and dirt, she landed in a pair of arms.

Strong, muscular arms.

“Woah!”

“Hey!”

Rachel pulled her hands away from her face and gazed up at the sky. She’d fallen over backwards and was a bit stunned at having fallen, then being caught at the last second.

As she panted from the shock, the face of the person who caught her blotted out the clouds.

And Rachel’s breath caught in her throat.

“Hey,” the face said again, and wow, what a face. “You okay?”

Below the face wasn't one of the high school team jerseys; instead, there was just a grey T-shirt covered with smudge marks and a ragged hemline that normally would’ve made Rachel recoil in horror – but she could tell he was one of the football players. She glanced back up, at dark hair that fell into eyes which were big, brown, and incredibly warm.

But what Rachel fixated on the most were his lips.

“Are you okay?” he repeated, his eyebrows furrowed in worry.

“Wow...” she said dreamily. “I am now!”

The football player’s expression changed from worry to amusement as he laughed, making Rachel shiver with excitement. He set Rachel down as Tina stormed over to her, and the other cheerleaders crowded around the newbie freshman who had been holding Rachel’s other foot and was now curled up on the ground, sobbing.

“No,” Tina growled, jabbing a finger in Rachel’s face, “No, you are not okay. Melody’s gonna have to see the school nurse, and I’m putting you in the back for the next two games!”

“Wha – the back? Why?”

“Because your head is obviously in a whole different universe right now, and I can’t risk any of our other girls. Go home, Green. And when you come back here tomorrow, you better be here, with the rest of us.” Tina whirled around and marched back to the circle of girls, clearing out a space to pick up Melody.

“Bossy bi...” Rachel started to mutter, then, realizing that the football player who had caught her was still standing beside her – and that she was holding onto his jacket – she lowered her arms sheepishly and corrected herself. “Uh, Bigfoot.”

“Huh?” he said, confusion screwing up his handsome face. So he had fast reflexes, but otherwise wasn’t that fast.

“Oh, uh, never mind.” Rachel suddenly noticed Chip hanging onto the fence near the bleachers, laughing at her with his friends. She narrowed her eyes at him and was about to march on over to give him a piece of her mind, but Hero Guy said, “Well, I’m taking off. Need a ride home?”

Rachel had been around guys long enough to detect the underlying message in his question. She smoothed down her uniform and turned toward him, grinning. This was perfect. She’d never seen this guy before, but he was cute, he just saved her life, and he made the perfect opportunity for her to get back at Chip. Rachel was just going to pull her best flirty moves on him, and was already prepping herself to get him alone and give him the best —

“— Yeah, yeah, blow me, you jerks. Rachel!”

“Rach, are you okay?”

Monica and Ross had parted the sea of rudely shouting football players to get to Rachel, panting from running all the way over onto the field from the bleachers. Monica nearly tackled Rachel, hugging her tightly, and Ross ran his hand through his thick hair, looking scared out of his mind.

“Yes, I’m fine! New guy saved me,” Rachel said, and Monica pulled away from her to gaze at the cutie.

“That was amazing!” Monica gushed. “Like it was right out of a movie, or something!”

“Oh, it was no big deal - I'm just glad you didn't hit your head or anything. That ground can get pretty hard, you know? Well, if you’re good here, I’m gonna take off.” The football player grabbed his helmet, which he had dropped to catch Rachel, and started heading off the field.

“Yeah,” Rachel heard Ross mutter, “you do that.”

Ignoring him, Rachel managed to wrench one of her arms out of Monica's vise-like grip, and raised her free hand to cup around her mouth, calling after the football player, “Wait! What’s your name?”

He turned around, his hair tousled by the wind, and he grinned when he met her eyes.

“Joey,” he said, and for the first time in a long time – okay, two months, but still, long time! –  Rachel Green felt butterflies.

Chapter Text

For the next week, all Rachel could think about was the new football player who had caught her falling off the pyramid. Joey. She daydreamed about him, reveling in the idea of kissing him in full view of Chip, and she stared at Joey a little too long whenever he showed up in her History class, passing by her desk to sit at the back of the room.

“Rachel!”

“Huh?” she shook herself out of a particularly delicious fantasy of making out with Joey under the football bleachers.

When she blinked and focused her vision on reality, she saw her teacher, Mr. Kleiner, glaring at her behind his thick glasses as he stood right in front of her desk, his arms crossed. “Would you care to enlighten us on the Treaty of Versailles?”

Rachel blinked in confusion, and immediately glanced to her right, where Monica was sitting. She was mouthing something, as usual, but Rachel couldn’t make out what she was saying, as usual.

“Um...” Rachel struggled to remember the reading she had barely skimmed over the night before, so she could do more important things: her nails and wondering how Joey’s lips tasted. “Well, it was a... Ooh, I remember this one! It was a fashion show where American and French designers competed to raise money.” Rachel grinned, proud of herself.

Mr.  Kleiner sighed. “No, Rachel, that was the Battle of Versailles. But in your case, I suppose that’s as good an answer as any.”

“Thanks!” Rachel beamed, but when the bell rang, she wondered if maybe that wasn’t a compliment.

“That wasn’t a compliment,” Monica muttered as she lifted her backpack, which was stuffed with textbooks, papers, and baggies of carrot and celery sticks. Rachel had known, since the eighth grade, that Monica could have easily taken half of the advanced classes and gotten straight A’s, but she’d chosen the same classes Rachel did so she could help Rachel study. It didn’t do a lot of good, but Rachel was glad for the companionship.

Sometimes.

“It could’ve been a compliment!” Rachel said, trying and failing not to look behind her toward the back of the classroom. Joey slowly got up, but didn’t have to pack any of his stuff, since he hadn’t brought anything to class since his first day.

“Oh my God!” Rachel seized Monica’s arm as she whirled back around. “He’s coming over. Okay, be cool.”

“Do you realize who you are talking to?” Monica hissed, shaking off Rachel’s arm to zip up her pencil case.

Joey slowly approached Rachel, his hair falling into his eyes and his soft lips broadening into a smile. It made Rachel lean onto her desk for support as the other students jostled her out of the way, filing out of the classroom.

“Hey,” he said when he finally stood in front of her.

“’Sup,” Rachel said, shaking back her hair and wishing she had already gotten that nose job she’d been begging her dad for years.

“Friend of mine’s having a party this Friday. You wanna come?”

Rachel’s cheeks flushed, and she hoped Joey didn’t notice. “Oh, uh, yeah!” Monica started tugging on her arm, but Rachel waved her off, managing to play it off by reaching into her purse for a pen and her notebook. “Where’s it at?”

Joey told her the address and started heading out the door himself. “So I’ll see you there, around 10?”

“Yeah!” Rachel said, half laughing out of sheer giddiness. “Oh, wait! Can Monica come too?”

Joey barely glanced at Monica, then said, “Sure, more the merrier.”

“Okay, great! We’ll see you there!”

She gazed after Joey, admiring the way his shirt clung to the muscles of his back.

“Wow,” she breathed.

“Ugh, no ‘wow!’”

Rachel whipped her head around, looking at Monica. She had her hands on her hips and was tapping her foot.

“What?” Rachel asked, then noticed that she was twirling her hair. She hastily stopped, wondering if she’d been doing that while talking to Joey.

Monica rolled her eyes and made a beeline over to the door. For someone her size, Rachel was in constant awe over how fast Monica could be. Rachel hurried to catch up to her.

“What? Why, ‘No wow?’” Rachel asked, a little out of breath once she caught up to Monica, who was speed walking down the hallway, in the opposite direction Joey went.

Monica huffed, “We are not gonna go to that party.”

“Why not? We haven’t been to a party in ages!”

“Uh, I think you mean you haven’t. Anyway, we’ve got that big Chem test to study for, and remember you said you wanted to practice your cheers so you won’t get kicked off the team?”

“Tina won’t kick me off,” Rachel said with a sniff. “I’m co-captain! And her dad works for mine, so there’s no way she’d try to do that.”

“Well, then, unless you wanna get stuck in the back of the squad for the rest of the season, you need to buckle down and get serious! Trust me, this Joey guy isn’t worth messing up your senior year of high school.”

“But... cute!” Rachel protested as Monica suddenly screeched to a halt at her locker. “It’s not just me, right? You see it too.”

Monica twirled her combination with practiced easy, then Rachel swung out of the way so the locker door wouldn’t hit her in the face. “All right; he is pretty dreamy, I’ll give you that. But I think that’s a road you don’t wanna go down.”

“What if I do?”

Monica gave her a pointed look, grabbed a couple more textbooks, then slammed her locker door shut and spun the combination again before they headed down the hall. “Look, I know you’re smitten because he saved you on the field and everything, but I can tell that guy is Chip 2.0. It’s written all over his leather jacket.”

“He is not like Chip.” Rachel stopped at her locker and turned her own combination, yanked the small door open, and touched up her hair in the mirror she’d taped to the inside door.

“He could be! I’ve heard stuff about him, Rachel, bad stuff. He uses girls and loses them. You just got over the whole Chip and Nancy thing, right?”

“Yeah,” Rachel said quietly, angling her mirror to catch the reflection of Chip kissing Nancy down the hall. “Yeah, I’m totally over it.”

“Then do yourself a favor and don’t do this to yourself again!”

Rachel applied some lip gloss and swung her locker door shut, turning away. Monica snorted in exasperation, reached over to spin Rachel’s combination, and they headed over to the stairs.

“What if Joey’s different, Mon?” she asked. “What if I can actually have something real with him?”

“Rachel, he’s repeating senior year! And probably not for the first time.”

“So what?” Rachel scoffed, “Y’know, if I wanted to date smart guys, I’d go back in time to when they had the Treaty of Versailles and hook up with Albert Einstein!”

Monica stopped at the bottom of the staircase and shook her head. “So cute. So sweet. So simple.”

“What?”

“I’m talking about what your future children would be like.”

“Oh, grow up.” Rachel started up the stairs, tossing her hair to look dismissive while secretly imagining what her kids with Joey would look like.

She had to admit it: they would be pretty damn adorable.

Chapter Text

When Rachel and Monica arrived at the party a little after 11 PM, it was already in full swing. It wasn’t in Rachel or Monica’s part of the neighborhood; Rachel didn’t recognize any of the people there. They stood in the foyer awkwardly, Rachel scanning the crowd for Joey, until someone came in through the front door and bumped lightly against her back.

“Ow!” Rachel wobbled forward on her high-heeled boots, but Monica caught her by the collar of her dress, pulling her upright.

“Sorry,” Ross stuttered as Rachel smoothed down her dress. “You wouldn’t believe how packed it is on the street. Chandler let me out so he could park a couple blocks away.”

“Whatever,” Rachel said distractedly.

Monica, however, fixed Ross with a shrewd look. “Oh my God, are you – are you two chaperoning us? I thought you were just dropping us off.”

Ross shrugged, looking sheepishly at Monica. “Mom and Dad wanted us to keep an eye on you two while we were visiting for the weekend. You know, to make sure you don’t get up to too much trouble.”

“The only trouble I’m gonna get up to is if there’s pizza in the kitchen,” Monica muttered to Rachel. “I’ve made so much progress already, I can’t let it all go to waste!”

Rachel gave Monica a once-over and realized that she did look like she was losing weight. Not a lot, but her face looked a bit smaller, and she was bouncing to the pounding music without panting. Even though it had only been a few weeks since Chandler had made fun of her at Thanksgiving, Monica seemed determined to get back at him.

“Can you believe all those dumb jokes Chandler told on the way over here?” she said, rolling her eyes and flipping her dark hair – which Rachel had curled – away from her face. “He thinks he’s so funny. What a dweeb!”

“Yeah. Total dweeb,” Rachel said, staring at the hallway that led out to the back yard.

Chip was making out with Nancy, leaning up against the wall of the hallway. He looked up for a moment, caught Rachel staring at him, laughed, and turned around to plant a big wet one on his new girlfriend.

Rachel’s hand clenched into a tight fist, her perfectly manicured nails digging into her palms. “Come on, Monica,” she snapped, dragging her best friend forward with her other hand. “Let’s go find Joey.”

“Wait!” Ross said, and Rachel turned around to face him, raising her eyebrows.

“Uh, what’s the rush?” he asked, clearing his throat and making his voice sound deeper. “We could go get some punch while we wait for Chandler.”

“I’ll pass on the punch, but they’ve got beer,” Rachel said, pointing out all the red cups people were holding.  “Come on, let’s go check out the kitchen.”

“Beer?” Ross echoed.

“What if there’s pizza?” Monica fretted.

“Ugh, fine,” Rachel said, dropping Monica’s hand. “I’ll go get beer. If that’s okay with you, Dad,” she added sarcastically to Ross. He shook his head in defeat, and Rachel was off.

There was a keg in the kitchen, which, fortunately, Rachel didn’t have to pass by Chip and Nancy to get to. She pumped a cup for herself and Monica to share, figuring that Ross wouldn’t freak out too much if they both had just one between them.

When she filled half of the cup, she realized she shouldn’t be snapping at Ross – after all, he was just looking out for her and Monica – and decided to get a cup for him too, since he wasn’t driving, but when her hand reached out for another red cup, she realized there weren’t any left.

“Need another one?”

Joey held out a clean red cup in front of her. Rachel laughed out of sheer surprise and took it.

“Saved me again,” she said, already starting to feel better.

He shrugged like it was no big deal, and took a sip from a beer bottle from some company Rachel never heard of. She watched him drink it, admiring the way his hair fell into his eyes, the way his leather jacket tightened around his arm when he flexed it...

“Hey, would you hurry up with that?” some random guy behind her yelled over the music.

Rachel shook herself out of her thoughts, noticing that she was idly pumping beer into her overflowing second cup, and took both it and hers as Joey led her out of the kitchen and toward the living room. It was crammed with so many people, Rachel couldn’t see where Monica and Ross had gone. She twisted around to avoid getting elbowed in the face and almost lost her balance, but Joey caught her around the waist and they landed together on the end cushion of a comfy couch, Rachel sitting on his lap.

“Oof!” she grunted as beer slopped over the side of her cups onto Joey’s jacket. “Oh, no, your jacket!” She tried to set down the cups, but there wasn’t any space to put them.

Joey smiled. “Don’t worry about it. I was gonna get this cleaned tomorrow, anyway.”

Rachel suddenly realized that she was sitting right on top of one of the cutest guys she’d ever met. Her face quickly flushed with heat, and not because of the beer. She took a long, deep gulp of the cup in her right hand, nearly draining half of it.

“Woah, slow down!” Joey said, laughing a little. “You just got here, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, and I’m catching up with you,” Rachel said, grinning back at him.

“I’m glad you came. For a while, I didn’t think you were gonna make it.”

“Are you kidding?” Rachel asked. “I’m a party animal!”

Joey smirked, tipping back his own bottle of beer. As she downed the rest of her first cup, Rachel wondered if she should get up off his lap, but since she didn’t know anyone else at the party – and still couldn’t see Monica through the crowd – she figured it would be okay to hang out with Joey a little longer.

Joey said something to her as she put the empty cup under the one that still had beer, but everyone suddenly started cheering, and Rachel couldn’t hear him. She leaned in toward him, and her knees went weak at the smell of cologne on his neck. She was glad she was already sitting down.

“I said, ‘I didn’t think you’d like this kind of party.’”

“What did you think?” Rachel nearly had to yell back at him, holding her cups away from his face. “That I only go to tea parties?”

“No,” Joey said, brushing his hair out of his face, “But I kinda got the feeling that you were, y’know, too good for this.” Then he leaned in to murmur in her ear, “For me.”

Rachel’s heartbeat began to hammer in her ears. She didn’t blame him for thinking that. She tended to date the kind of guys who wore polo vests, drove fancy cars, and had four-story houses. Their dads knew her dad, and they had country club memberships. Chip had been the first guy Rachel went for who was a little rough around the edges, but even his parents were well-off enough to own a yacht.

Joey was so completely different from them, he might as well have come from another country.

Rachel was just starting to realize she kind of liked that about him, when she heard someone shouting from the center of the living room.

“I told you, Poindexter, I haven’t seen this Rachel chick. You hard of hearing, or something?”

“She’s gotta be around here somewhere, I just want to know —”

It happened so fast, Rachel could barely register what was going on, but the person in front of her stepped aside just as she saw Ross getting punched, hard. He dropped like a sack of bricks, clutching his face.

“Ross!” she cried out, nearly dropping her beer.

Chandler came in and helped Ross stand up. Blood poured from both nostrils down his chin.

“Get out,” the guy who punched him said. “And take your girl with you.”

Rachel gasped, more out of confusion than anything. Ross turned his head and looked at her through the gap in the crowd, and the big dude followed his gaze, laughing as everyone looked at her, while she was still sitting on Joey’s lap. “Ouch, looks like she’s your girl anymore. Maybe you should leave her here, I’ll probably get a turn in five –”

“Hi-ya!”

Ross did... well, something, then. Rachel wasn’t sure what it was. It was some combination of a high kick, spin, and karate chop. He managed to kick the huge, hulking brute a foot into the crowd that had gathered around them, and they pushed him back as he blinked several times, stunned for a moment.

Then his eyes narrowed, and he charged directly at Ross.

Ross stood firmly with his legs planted at shoulder width, holding his arms up near his face. He yelled in anticipation, but —

His attacker never got to him.

Joey – how did he get over there so fast? How did Rachel not notice him sliding out from under her and getting up? – was about half a foot shorter than the other guy, calmly held onto the back of his letterman jacket. Ross’ attacker snapped backward, away from Ross, and the crowd groaned in disappointed, a couple of the girls giggling at the sight.

“Knock it off, Tito,” Joey said, as if the huge guy wasn’t about to do some serious bodily damage to Ross. Rachel could only gaze at the sight, Ross panting, hands still up in anticipation. Chandler at his side, and, unsurprisingly to Rachel, holding Monica back from pouncing on the big dude.

“But Joe, he —” Tito sputtered.

“— C’mon man, you’re too drunk for this. Go home, sleep it off.” Joey nodded at one of the girls in the crowd, dark-haired and, to Rachel’s surprise, with a very similar nose and mouth as Joey, stepped forward to help diffuse the human time bomb.

He deflated, looked at Ross, and shrugged. “No hard feelings.”

“Yeah,” Ross said shakily, finally putting his hand up to his still-bleeding nose.

“Let’s get you cleaned up,” Monica said, her face extremely pale.

“Sure, but... is Rachel okay?” Ross glanced over at her.

Shaken, but with the pounding adrenaline in her ears fading away, Rachel smiled directly at Ross for the first time in probably ever.

“Yeah,” she said, “I’m fine. Thanks.”

Monica and Chandler each gently took one of Ross’s arms and guided him toward the bathroom as the crowd dispersed. Joey said something else to Tito before he left with the girl who looked a lot like Joey. He turned back around to find Rachel sitting alone on the couch.

“Sorry about that,” Joey said with an apologetic shrug. “Tito gets heated up real quick.”

“That was...” Rachel tried to swallow, but despite all the beer she’d drunk, her throat was so dry she couldn’t get any more words out. She realized she was still clutching her red cup, took a sip of beer, and grimaced at how warm it was. “Amazing,” she finally finished.

Joey shook his head and grinned. “Not a problem. It doesn’t take much to get him mad, but it also doesn’t take much to get him to chill out.”

“But you didn’t have to do that,” Rachel said, realizing that, with the dwindling number of party-goers in the living room, it was probably time for her to head home, too. “Thank you, Joey, really.”

“Don’t mention it. I was gonna punch him myself for saying that about you, but… looks like you’ve already got someone who can do that,” he said.

At first, Rachel was so flushed with butterflies at Joey’s admission, but then when she met his eyes, she could see disappointment in them. Realization dawned on her at that, and she set down her cup, getting up off the couch and walking toward Joey. “Oh, you think Ross is my – no, no, he’s not. I mean, he’s more like a big brother to me.”

“Oh. Okay,” Joey’s expression lit up a little at that, and out of the corner of her eye, Rachel caught sight of Chip heading out the front door with Nancy.

It was the perfect moment. All Rachel had to do was take a couple more steps toward Joey, right in front of Chip, and —

“Okay, he’s all patched up and we are officially ready to get the hell out of here. Kinda sad to go, though; I mean, that was better than Pay-Per-View!”

Joey turned around, away from Rachel right as she was about to wrap her arms around him and feel his soft lips on hers for the first time.  Chandler was walking over toward them from the hallway, gesturing behind him as Ross walked out, an arm slung around Monica’s shoulder and tissues stuffed up his nose.

Rachel corrected her beeline toward Joey at the last second and nearly tripped on her own boots. She wobbled, about to fall right in front of Joey again, but managed to straighten up and pretended she had been nonchalantly looking at her nails the whole time as Monica narrowed her eyes knowingly from behind Joey. He turned back around to look at Rachel, his eyes large, warm ,and apologetic.

“Sorry we didn’t get to hang out more. You all good to go home?”

“I’m driving,” Chandler said, and Joey turned back around to face him, holding a hand out for Chandler to shake. “Nice timing, man. One more punch, and Ross’s next gig would’ve been at his own funeral.”

“I had hib, Chadler!” Ross insisted.

Joey reached his hand out to shake Monica’s hand, calling it a “proper introduction” – she was, Rachel noticed with a bit of smug satisfaction, trembling and smiling shyly – then Ross’s. Ross seemed reluctant to shake Joey’s hand, but sighed and did so, mumbling his thanks.

“So, I’ll see ya around?” Joey said to Rachel as the others headed out the front door. Rachel glanced out at the lawn filled with stragglers, hoping to get her second shot at making Chip eat his heart out – and getting to kiss Joey, of course – but he was long gone.

“Yeah,” she said, looking back up at Joey. It would’ve been the perfect moment to kiss him.

“Well, um, have a good night!” she said quickly, then turned to walk out the door, calling for Monica to wait for her.