Actions

Work Header

Hopelessly Devoted to You

Chapter Text

 

Chapter One: Summer Loving

Rachel Barbra Berry never once imagined that this thought would cross her mind, but sitting by the ocean with a certain blonde lifeguard by her side, she found that she shockingly didn't miss New York.

Had someone told her that this would happen three months ago at the beginning of the summer when her fathers, LeRoy and Hiram, whisked her away to California before her Senior Year of high school started, Rachel would have told them that they were positively bonkers. New York was in Rachel's blood. Her heart beat along to the same rhythm that the city did and had ever since she was a little girl.

New York was where everything that was near and dear to Rachel was located. Her friends, her home, and most importantly Broadway. There was no Rachel Berry without musicals. She had grown up on them, singing before she was talking. "Hello, Dolly," had been her first words, sending her fathers into a tiff about which one of them she had been addressing until they finally realized she had sung the word Dolly not Daddy.

The musical toddler hadn't at all lost the song in her heart as she grew up. If anything, all it did was grow to be louder and more prevalent. The amount of songs Rachel could recall and sing on cue was vast, and she wouldn't have it any other way. It was as if her brain had an infinite capacity for retaining song lyrics. If only it also worked that way with algebraic formulas.

Lolling her head to the side, Rachel peered through dark, shaded lenses at the reason why she hadn't spent her summer begging her fathers to hop on a plane to get back to her hometown. Even through her sunglasses, she found herself fascinated with the beautiful, elegant lines of the blonde's profile. The girl was as gorgeous as she was fun to be around. It had been nearly impossible for Rachel to focus on missing New York when her head had been filled to the brim with thoughts of her.

It had all started when Rachel nearly died.

Okay, maybe that was exaggerating a little, but it had sure felt like it at the time.

After growing tired of all the prodding from her dads to just go and at least try to enjoy California, Rachel had reluctantly made her way down to the closest beach. On its face it seemed that she was acquiescing to their request, but really it was a tiny rebellion on her part.

Rachel knew damn well that LeRoy and Hiram were hoping that she would start to explore California and get suckered into believing that this was actually a good idea, but she wasn't going to give them that satisfaction or risk proving them right. By limiting herself to the beach, she was getting out while still not giving into their devious little plan. To Rachel, California was nothing more than a temporary pitstop on her way back to the bright lights and wonderful music that gave her life and it was going to be treated as such.

Rachel trudged down towards the shore, beach bag hiked up high on her shoulder. The bright pink straps that perfectly matched the frames of her sunglasses and her flip-flops were digging into her flesh, prompting her to walk a little faster. With every step she took, more and more sand wedged itself in between her feet and her shoes, making her wonder why she had even bothered wearing them in the first place. When she first stepped foot on the beach, Rachel had been concerned that grainy sand would end up scratching the hell out of her feet, but quickly found that wasn't the case. So far, she couldn't say very many nice things about California, but even she had to admit that the sand here felt like silk. It was much different than the sand surrounding the lake of the dance camp that Rachel had attended the summer of eighth grade. Between the scratchy sand and the rogue pebble that had wedged itself into her heel, she had been unable to dance for an entire week and had sworn off beachy shores for the rest of eternity. Which, obviously, didn't pan out.

After weaving her way through a handful of beaching families that she hoped to God wouldn't end up being too obnoxious to sit by, Rachel finally settled on a patch of sand to claim as her own. Dropping her bag to the ground, she angled her head down and to the right to survey the damage. As Rachel expected, the straps of her bag had left an unsightly, angry red mark across the expanse of her shoulder. It clashed horribly with her bright green, polkadotted tankini swimsuit.

Rachel's cheeks puffed out, the breath that gathered there releasing itself as sigh seconds later. After kicking off her flip-flops, she reached into her bag and extracted the beach towel Hiram had shoved into her hands on her way out the door. As she shook it out, Rachel quickly realized that she should have taken a better look at the towel before accepting it. Her mouth opened, jaw dropping as she took in the decal decorating its length. It was her father's Duck Dynasty towel.

"Ick," Rachel muttered, releasing all of the fingers holding the damn thing except for her thumbs and forefingers. Duck Dynasty was one of those guilty pleasure shows her father watched that she liked to chastise him for. Duck hunting personally wasn't her cup of tea and would never be. Rachel was the type of gal that loved animals so much, she had sworn off of eating them when she was only 12 and had never turned her back on that promise, unlike the one she had made to stay away from bodies of water and the dirt that surrounded them.

Oh, well. It looked like she'd be spending her day on the beach draped along a camouflaged covered towel that was sporting a duck surfing on a rifle. Not ideal, but she'd rock it regardless. After all, she was Rachel fucking Berry.

Gripping back onto the edge with all of her fingers, Rachel willed herself to shake the towel out forward, lowering it to the ground. As soon as it was situated on the sand, she plopped down, eager to cover up the design the best she could with her body.

Twisting at the waist, she snatched her beach bag and tugged it towards her so that she could find her sunscreen. Rachel's olive skin faired decently well in the sunlight, but she didn't want to tempt fate. If she wasn't careful, she could end up as red as the marking on her shoulder and that simply wouldn't do. During her freshman year of high school, Rachel had let her best friend Lindsey talk her into trying out her mother's brand spanking new tanning bed. Long story short, Rachel still heard the occasional carrot joke as she walked through the hallways of her school and it had been years since the mishap.

Ever since then, Rachel had been particularly careful to take good care of her skin tone, keeping it at a perfect shade of bronze even during the harsh winter months with the help of her local tanning professionals.

Pulling the slender orange bottle from her bag, Rachel tried to press the cap open to no avail. Her fingernail pressed to the ridge in the bottle and an encouraging "come on" left her lips as if she could actually coax the cap into behaving.

Just as her finger slipped right off the cap, startling Rachel to the point that she dropped the sunscreen into her lap, a soft chuckle could be heard in the distance.

Rachel's head shot up, much like that of a meerkat's. Brown eyes narrowed into small slits as she scanned her surroundings, looking for the source of the noise. Surely they weren't laughing at her…

...except they were. It didn't take Rachel long to find the perpetrator.

Perched on top of what appeared to be some sort of makeshift lifeguard stand was the most beautiful blonde that Rachel had ever seen in her life.

Rachel tried not to stare but failed. The blonde was clearly amused by Rachel's little tussle with the sunscreen and made no attempts to hide that. The girl was staring straight at Rachel over the tops of her Ray-Bans with a smirk on her face.

Rachel knew that she should have been infuriated and somewhat embarrassed, but she found that she was more captivated than anything. The white tank top that the blonde wore bearing the word LIFEGUARD in large red letters hung loosely around her torso and revealed thin, perfectly toned arms. Rachel was already picturing her cutting through the waves of the ocean with those strong arms…

"Oh my God, pull yourself together Berry…" Rachel muttered, reminding herself that gawking at a stranger - albeit a breathtaking one - was rude. Also, she tried to remember that she should be feeling indignant, not awestruck. The girl had been laughing at her.

Forcing herself to pull her gaze off of the lifeguard, Rachel picked her bottle of sunscreen up and went to try her luck with the cap again before thinking better of it. Fingers latched around the pesky blue plastic and twisted, removing the cap all together.

'Take that Banana Boat!' the brunette thought triumphantly. A feeling of smugness overcame her as she set the cap down and extended her hand, palm up, before tipping the open bottle towards it.

Banana Boat wasn't done with her, though.

Instead of a reasonable amount making its way onto her palm, half of the fucking bottle discharged into her hand, going everywhere it wasn't supposed to. Large globs of sunscreen slipped through the cracks in between her fingers before landing on her legs and creating dots that matched those decorating her swimsuit.

Rachel's jaw had lowered and she was staring at the sunscreen disaster slightly stunned. If it wasn't for the sound of laughter coming from the distance, she probably would have just sat there and stared at the mess a moment longer.

The blonde wasn't even attempting to stifle her amusement. Rachel tried to resist the urge to look in the lifeguard's direction, but failed horribly. Brown eyes narrowed and followed the sound of the melodic laughter before landing on the blonde. Rachel knew that her pink sunglasses were seriously impeding her glare, but there wasn't much she could do about it at the moment. After all, one hand was still dripping with sunscreen and the other was clutched tightly around the offensive bottle that had caused this disaster in the first place. Rachel knew she should set it down, but the irrational part of her was fearful of moving it at all and chance the rest of its contents escaping.

A few seconds later, Rachel's focus shifted and she found that she was now grateful for the sunglasses shielding her eyes. The brunette could feel her glare softening and was happy that the lifeguard had no idea that she was now busy checking out the defined lines of her calves instead of her face. God, how did she get them that toned? Yoga? Maybe Pilates? Or perhaps good old-fashioned running? Rachel shivered at the thought. Running was the absolute worst.

Wanting to convey at least an ounce of disapproval, Rachel set her lips into a thin line before turning her attention back to the mess in front of her. Stay calm, Rachel. No need to get all into a tizzy over some sunscreen. This moment can be salvaged. You can get the last laugh.

Carefully setting the bottle down next to her thigh, Rachel reached for the cap that she had removed earlier and placed it on the top, waiting until she felt the grooves line up before twisting it back into place. There. That was easy. Now to figure out what to do with all of this goddamn sunscreen.

Deciding to play it cool, Rachel lifted her head up and straightened her back. Pressing her hands together, she rubbed the sunscreen around spreading it out across her palms and fingers as if this had always been her plan.

Pressing one hand to the curvature of her bicep, Rachel began to slowly work her way up and down her arm and shoulder, massaging the sunscreen into skin which happily absorbed it. The brunette purposely made a show of the entire occurrence, lathering up one arm and then the other with deliberate and purposeful movements. It occurred to Rachel that she probably looked as if she belonged on a commercial for Banana Boatproducts. Then realized that wouldn't be the worst idea in the world. The sunscreen company would be lucky to have her. One commercial with Rachel Berry and they'd be selling their product by the gallons.

Rachel used whatever traces of sunscreen that hadn't soaked into the skin of her arms to lather up her neck and the parts of her chest and upper back that were exposed. After her hands were bare, she turned her attention to her legs. Pressing her palms against the splattered sunscreen as if this had been her intention all along, Rachel brushed her hands down the length of her thighs, stopping right before her knees. There was the distinct lack of laughter coming from the blonde's direction. Tilting her head to the side, Rachel attempted to surreptitiously peer in the lifeguard's direction to see if she was getting the desired effect.

Bingo.

The blonde's gaze was still focused over the top of her sunglasses in Rachel's direction and her body was completely still, like a statute. Pearly white teeth had sunken into the skin of her bottom lip. Rachel could have been mistaken due to the distance between them, but it appeared as if her eyes had darkened.

Rachel had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from grinning. Turning her attention back to her legs, she finished up coating her skin with the protective lotion before deciding on a ceasefire. That had been enough public exhibition for a lifetime.

Laying back against the length of her father's towel, Rachel closed her eyes and reflected on the last few moments. That had been entirely out of character for her. The one area of her life where she was the most modest had always been when it came to her body. Rachel was of the belief that it was better to leave as much to the imagination as possible. Realizing that she had star potential at a young age, her fathers had always stressed the importance of being careful about how she portrayed herself. This had translated into Rachel being fairly chaste in her interactions with those she was attracted to.

Except this time, apparently. Rachel didn't even know the girl's name who she had put on a whole little beach show for, but she didn't feel at all bad about it. Oddly exhilarated, but not bad. Plus, what happened in California could stay in California.

~ooooooo~

"Come here often?"

Rachel's cheek was pressed up against her forearm, eyes closed as an unfamiliar voice spoke to her. After tanning her one side for about an hour, she had flipped over to make sure that her coloring stayed even. If the day ended with her looking like a lobster, well then Rachel wanted to be a consistent lobster.

A single lazy brown eye opened up to see the source of the noise. A bronzed Adonis was crouching down and looming over her. Blocking her damn sun.

You're barking up the wrong tree was what Rachel wanted to say, but the manners that had been instilled in her over the years prevented her from doing so.

Opening up her other eye as well, Rachel gave the boy a small, polite smile, not bothering to lift her head up from its cozy position against her arms.

"I'm not from around here," she replied sweetly. The upper half of her body that he was blocking the sun from was beginning to get a little cold and Rachel wished that he would move.

"I could show you around, you know." The boy's voice was eager and Rachel wondered if he was aware that he wasn't employing even a modicum of tact. Didn't he realize that you couldn't ask a girl to let you show her around town when not even ten words had been shared prior to the question? That sort of brazen, clumsy maneuver wouldn't have worked on Rachel Berry even if she was into men.

"I'm sorry, I'm not really interested," Rachel admitted honestly, figuring that it was the fastest way to go about ending the conversation so that she could get back to sunbathing. Plus, lies never seemed to really sit right on her tongue. The most she ever seemed to be able to accomplish whenever she attempted to be dishonest was a white lie or a half-truth. Honesty was the best policy.

Or so Rachel thought.

It was crazy how quickly the boy's features changed. Kind, inviting features quickly twisted into a display of indignation and surprise. Rachel guessed that he had never been turned down before.

"Are you sure about that?" the boy asked, clearly puzzled and a little bit offended.

"I'm sure," Rachel assured, resisting the urge to roll her eyes from behind her sunglasses. Even though they were shaded, she knew the boy was close enough to spot the movement even from behind her darkened lenses. Rachel wasn't trying to destroy this poor California boy's ego; she was simply attempting to get her fucking sunlight back. "Thank you so much for offering, though, that was really kind of you," Rachel tacked on, wanting to soften the blow of her decline a bit.

Much to her dismay, it didn't work. The boy looked even more taken aback by Rachel's words and she wondered how their wires had gotten crossed. Didn't he realize she was being generous? There were ten million other ways that she could have turned him down, none of them as nice as the way she had chosen.

"Your loss," the boy chastised, finally standing up. Rachel could feel the sun hitting her in certain spots as its rays made their way around his limbs. A contented sigh left her lips at the feeling of warmth. It almost felt nice enough to make her forget how rude his tone had just been. Almost.

Rachel didn't reply because she had been taught that, if she had nothing nice to say, to say nothing. Another sigh escaped her as her eyes began to flutter closed.

Just before her lids actually finished their path downwards, Rachel spotted something in the corner of her eye that erased any and all traces of peaceful bliss that the sun's rays provided her with. The boy that she rejected had just taken it upon himself to steal her flip-flops and was running off towards the water with them. That little shit.

"HEY!" Rachel yelled out, scrambling to get to her feet. Her legs were lazy and her mind was moving faster than her body was willing to, causing her movements to come across as gawky and awkward. Rachel didn't care, though. Being graceful wasn't exactly her number one concern when some asshole was trying to escape with her favorite fucking pair of flip-flops.

Before Rachel could manage to catch up with him, the boy made it to the water's edge. The heels of his feet dug deep trenches in the packed, damp sand as he came to a stop. Looking back at a flustered, scrambling Rachel first, the boy then gave her a wicked grin and then turned towards the ocean, launching her shoes into its waves one by one.

"ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" Rachel exclaimed as she came to a stop herself, watching helplessly as her shoes landed in the water, far away from the sandy shore. Rachel hadn't realized that, earlier, when she thought of the boy as being an Adonis that he also had the ungodly strength that came along with the title.

A litany of curse words ran through Rachel's mind, none of them actually emerging from her mouth. Her fathers had taught her better. Rachel's thoughts were always ten times more colorful than what she actually said. Normally, she enjoyed being on her best behavior.

Except right now. Right now she wanted to curse up a storm, retrieve her flip-flops, and shove them down the boy's smirking mouth. Fuck being a lady.

Leveling a seething glare in the boy's direction, Rachel drew in a deep breath through her nose to compose herself and uttered a level sounding, "Fudge off."

The boy tilted his head, looking at her questioningly. "Fudge?" she heard him ask. Rachel didn't pay him any mind, though. She had shoes to retrieve.

Rolling her shoulders back and straightening out her spine, Rachel confidently strode into the water, heading in the direction of her shoes. In the distance, she could see two hot pink discs being tossed around by the water's waves. Squinting, she tried to gauge if they were floating farther away from her. Fuck. They were. Time to hustle.

Giving up her calm, cool, and collected façade, Rachel picked up the pace, trudging through the water. As she moved forward, the crest of the waves that were hitting her started reaching higher and higher up on her body. Every time she took a step, it seemed like her flip-flops would move even further out of reach. It was incredibly infuriating.

It felt like an eternity before Rachel was able to get close enough to even attempt to grab her shoes. It had been tempting to give up and leave them there, but Rachel Berry wasn't a quitter.

The water came up to her chest now and her feet just barely grazed along the sand at the bottom of the ocean. Occasionally she felt an unidentified object brush against her skin and every single time it happened she'd have to try and convince herself it was nothing but kelp. How had she managed to forget her irrational fear of sharks before brazenly trekking into the depths of the ocean? If she ended up getting eaten by a fucking shark because of that asshole who couldn't take rejection, she was going to be pissed. Dead, but pissed. Rachel would haunt his ass for the rest of her days. Yeah. That worked. Vengeance would look good on Ghost Rachel.

Except Rachel didn't really want to die. After all, she hadn't yet gotten the chance to grace a Broadway stage with her presence. The world deserved to hear her sing someday.

Now that she was close enough to at least attempt to retrieve her flip-flops, Rachel reached out to try and snatch the one closest to her. The shoe was bobbing up and down in the water, but by some miracle Rachel was able to hook her finger into the bright pink strap that she usually slid her foot into.

"A-HA!" she proclaimed brightly, holding the shoe up high into the air as a display of the triumph she felt. Rachel was on top of the world in that moment. Nothing could hold her back.

Or so she thought.

Taking a step forward, Rachel lowered her hand and tried to move towards the matching shoe. Before her toes even hit the sand, a sharp, searing pain shot up the length of her calf, causing her to yelp. Rachel could feel a familiar tightening in her leg and her mind registered what was happening immediately. It was the same thing that happened to her every time she was low on potassium but high on exertion. A fucking Charley horse.

The cramp that was quickly taking over every inch of her right leg below the knee was so painful and jarring that Rachel dropped the shoe she had been holding. All thoughts of her flip-flops were forgotten as she instinctively reached down to try and soothe the aching, throbbing muscle. Rachel's cheeks filled with air as she prepared to dip her head below the water's surface, but before she could accomplish that feat a wave much stronger than its predecessors knocked into her, cresting over her head. All of the oxygen in her slender body was forcefully knocked out of her as she stumbled to the side, completely losing her balance. Before Rachel knew what was happening, she was all turned around. She didn't know which way was up, which way was down, or why the fuck she was here in the first place. This never would have happened if she wasn't in California. Golden State, my ass.

The waves came more steadily now, preventing Rachel from getting her bearings. The brunette's arms flailed wildly in the restless water, her feet trying to get some sort of hold on the ground below. Every time she tried to stretch out her cramping leg, a new burst of pain would shoot up her body, causing her to cry out.

"HELP!" Rachel managed to croak out just before another wave crashed into her, undoing any semblance of progress that she was desperately attempting to hold onto. Rational thought and hope were beginning to abandon her, leaving her in a pure state of panic. This was it. This was the end. Rachel Berry was going to meet her demise on the sunny shores of California and it was all her dads' fault. Rachel wondered if she would be able to figure out the mechanics of sending a message from the great beyond to her fathers because she would really love to tell them I fucking told you so. Curse word and all because Ghost Rachel didn't give a flying fuck about manners.

Relegating herself to her fate, Rachel whimpered and simply tried to keep her head bobbing above the water when two strong, unexpected arms bored their way underneath her own arms, wrapping around her torso. Rachel was delirious and her vision was blurry thanks to the salt water that had not only knocked off her sunglasses, but had filled her eyes, so she couldn't see anything other than the sunny, blue skies above her head. She allowed the protective arms to drag her away from the precarious waves, meekly kicking the foot that wasn't suffering from a gnarly cramp as her way of "helping" her savior. Perhaps it was the mean-spirited Adonis who was helping her. It was altogether possible that he had realized that he didn't want a death on his hands. Except the arms didn't feel as big as his had looked. They felt strong, but not large. They kinda fit around Rachel perfectly, as if they belonged there.

Once her head was free and clear from the ocean, Rachel sputtered, spitting all traces of water from her mouth that didn't belong there. It wasn't the most attractive sight in the world, she was sure, but who cared about being cute when you almost fucking died?

But then the strong arms shifted, scooping Rachel up into them so she didn't have to deal with the ocean at all anymore. Rachel's arms instinctively looped their way around the Good Samaritan's neck, her eyes blinking rapidly to clear them as a familiar, beautiful face swam into focus. Near death experience or not, Rachel suddenly cared again about looking cute. There was still some salt water in her mouth, but Rachel swallowed it back instead of attempting to spit it out. She didn't even mind the scratchy feel it left in her throat because she was too busy getting lost in determined hazel eyes that she hadn't gotten a good look at earlier.

Way too soon for Rachel's liking, the lifeguard got her back to the beach and headed right for the set-up that the brunette had abandoned during her mission to retrieve her flip-flops. Rachel was then splayed out across her father's towel and she didn't even bother trying to resist. Loosening her grip on the blonde, she relaxed all of her muscles. Even her traitor leg wasn't as tense as it had been. It still ached, but Rachel was able to extend it more than she had been able to in the water.

"Are you okay?" the blonde asked, pulling Rachel's attention back up to her face. Concerned hazel eyes stared at her and Rachel briefly wondered where the lifeguard's Ray-Bans had gone before realizing that they were situated at the top of her head. The blonde looked surprisingly put together considered the rescue attempt she had just heroically staged. Rachel knew the same couldn't be said about herself. She could tell that her thick mane of hair was clinging to her face in unsightly, thick bands. Reaching up, Rachel attempted to brush some of those away from her cheeks, suddenly self-conscious.

"I'm okay," Rachel assured, her voice coming out a lot raspier than usual. Clearing her throat, she tried to speak again, hoping that she wouldn't sound like a frog this time. "Thanks to you."

A smile skittered across the blonde's lips. Or at least that's what Rachel thought she saw. It was only there for a second or two and she wasn't entirely convinced she hadn't hallucinated it. Rachel was sure that was a normal side effect of nearly drowning.

"I didn't do much," the lifeguard insisted, eyeing Rachel carefully as if she were looking for any sign that she wasn't as okay as she was insisting. Rachel could tell that the rays of the sun were already managing to dry her short, choppy blonde hair. It framed her face nicely, stopping just above her shoulders.

The shirt she was wearing wasn't have the same luck with the drying process. Rachel's eyes dropped and took in the way the soaked through white tank clung to the blonde's six pack abs. Holy shit. This girl was toned all over. Why she hadn't bothered to rid herself of the tank all together before heading out into the water, Rachel didn't know, but she supposed that she was grateful the girl hadn't stopped for those few seconds when her life had been at stake.

"You saved my life," Rachel insisted seriously, forcing herself to look back up. Eyes, Rachel, eyes. It's improper to have your gaze linger anywhere else.

The blonde chuckled ruefully, head shaking. "I don't know if I would go that far… I mean, the waves were a little rough, but I don't think you would have died."

Rachel shook her head back at the lifeguard, wishing that she had the energy to protest vehemently. Okay, perhaps everything would have worked its way out eventually, but it sure hadn't felt that way at the time. Rachel was well aware that she had completely panicked and had practically given herself over to the sea prior to be rescued.

"What's your name?" Rachel blurted out, realizing that she didn't even have the proper moniker to thank the girl with.

The blonde stopped her full body scan of Rachel, which was good because it was making her cheeks burn. Their eyes met.

"Wanna know a secret?" the lifeguard whispered.

Rachel nodded solemnly. She wanted to know anything this girl was willing to tell her.

"My real name is Lucy, which not a lot of people know or remember, but… I prefer to go by my middle name, which is Quinn."

"Quinn," Rachel repeated slowly with a smile. "I like that."

"I showed you mine, are you gonna show me yours?" Quinn asked, a brow lifting with her question. Rachel could feel her cheeks flushing even more, though she wasn't sure why. All Quinn was asking for was her name. Pull it together, woman.

"R-Rachel," she offered up, stumbling over her own damn name under the intensity of Quinn's hazel gaze. The beauty that was in front of her suddenly had Rachel questioning whether or not she truly made it out of the water. Was she in Heaven? Was this what an angel looked like? Most importantly, did Heaven have its own version of Broadway?

"R-Rachel," Quinn repeated, purposefully including the little stutter that had snuck its way in there. "Two Rs?" she asked. This time the small smile of amusement that found her lips was unmistakable. The corners of her mouth quirked upwards and Rachel was left wondering if she was joking or not.

"Just one R," she corrected, wanting to play it safe.

"I was just teasing you, Rach," the blonde said easily, surveying Rachel's body once more. Rachel squirmed a little under her gaze, but winced as soon as she moved her sore leg. The Charley horse had faded, leaving her to deal with the obnoxious aftermath for the foreseeable future.

Hazel eyes immediately darted back to her face. Quinn didn't miss a thing.

"Are you hurt?" the blonde asked. The concern in her voice sounded genuine and Rachel wondered if that was just who Quinn was as a person or if it was her lifeguard side kicking in.

"No, no, I'm fine," Rachel insisted, head shaking. "My pesky leg hurts, but that isn't the ocean's fault. I, um, got a Charley horse when I was out there… Hence, the flailing and the almost dying, etcetera…"

A ghost of a grin found Quinn's lips, but she didn't argue with Rachel over the almost dying thing this time.

"Those suck," the blonde said bluntly, her gaze shifting over to Rachel's legs. "Which leg was it?"

Rachel looked at Quinn questioningly, but pointed to the offensive limb. "This one." Fucker.

Much to Rachel's surprise, Quinn reached out for her tense calf. Slender, strong fingers curled around the muscle and began to message at it. Rachel had to bite her damn lip to keep from making a noise at how good it felt. Surely this was Heaven because Quinn's touch was magical.

"I used to get these all the time until bananas and I became fast friends," Quinn explained, fingers still working at Rachel's leg. All Rachel could do was nod, her head moving in what felt like slow-motion. How could this feel so good? Had Rachel been missing out all of these years? Clearly. No wonder people raved about massages, they felt glorious. Or at least Quinn's did.

"Bananas…" Rachel repeated, her mind working to catch up with the conversation. It was hard considering how damn distracting Quinn's fingers were. "Oh, right! The potassium!"

Quinn chuckled, nodding. "You got it, Champ."

Champ. Rachel had never been called that before but found that she didn't mind the name. She had a sneaking suspicion Quinn could call her almost anything and she'd be okay with it.

"Feeling any better?"

Rachel reluctantly nodded, honesty winning out over her desire to have Quinn keep massaging at her leg. Who knew a Charley horse and a near-death experience could turn out to be such a good thing?

"Much better," Rachel affirmed, smiling up at Quinn. Winking, the lifeguard released her leg and then seemed to spot something that caught her eye. The intent way she started staring unsettled Rachel and left her wondering what she could possibly be looking at. Quinn's gaze seemed to be directed in the general direction of where her tankini top met her bottoms, which had Rachel blushing all over again.

"Duck Dynasty, huh?"

Okay, so she wasn't checking Rachel out. Just the towel. Fucking Duck Dynasty. Rachel was never borrowing anything from her fathers ever again.

"It belongs to one of my dads," Rachel hurriedly explained, not wanting to take credit for the hideous design she was currently draped over. "It was handed over and silly me didn't check it before actually using it. I am not at all a fan of the show. Or hunting. I believe pretty strongly in animal rights actually. I have for a long time. You see, I'm actually a vegan…"

Oh dear Lord, Rachel. Stop. Please stop. Rein it in. Verbal diarrhea is not attractive.

Before Rachel could dig her hole any deeper and launch into a full-blown story about how she decided to go vegan, Quinn interjected and saved her from herself.

"Are vegans allowed to eat out?"

Quinn's eyes were gleaming and Rachel wasn't sure if she was teasing her again or not. Regardless, she eagerly nodded in response to the question.

Quinn chuckled, a grin spreading on her lips. "Okay, then you're coming out to eat with me. Tonight. 7 o'clock."

It was a statement, not a question, but surprisingly Rachel didn't mind. It was hard to feel any type of way about Quinn's smug bluntness when Rachel was too busy trying to contain the squeal of delight that threatened to escape her. It took every ounce of her self-control not to viscerally react to the declaration that they would be hanging out that very night. Suddenly, California didn't seem all that bad.

Before Rachel could even gather up the mental faculties needed to respond to Quinn's quasi-invitation, the blonde in question was already standing up and flicking her sunglasses back down so that hazel eyes were shielded once again. Quinn strode off, leaving Rachel stuck in the position of simultaneously admiring how the muscles in her legs looked in motion and wondering if she truly was conscious for this entire thing. Rachel reached over and pinched herself in the arm to help assure that this really wasn't nothing more than a very realistic dream sequence.

Just as Quinn reached the lifeguard tower, a thought managed to make its way to the forefront of Rachel's hazy mind.

"WAIT!" she called out, probably attracting the attention of half the beach. Rachel didn't care, though. She was too busy pushing herself up into a sitting position. A hand lifted so that she could shield her eyes from the sun since her shades had been lost to the ocean. "I don't have your number!"

Even with the distance between them, Rachel could see the grin on Quinn's lips spread.

"You know where to find me!" the blonde called back. Rachel had no way of being certain, but she could practically feel the wink Quinn was giving her.

The entire plan was a lot less concrete than Rachel normally liked, but she was determined to roll with it. It surprised her. After all, she was the type of gal who liked to schedule everything out and have all her ducks in a row. It would normally have driven her crazy that all she had by way of a plan for her night was a time, a person, and a vague idea of where to meet up with them. However, Rachel felt content.

When Rachel laid back down on her towel, too tired to even consider leaving the beach right then, she had the hugest smile on her face. Going to the beach hadn't been the worst idea in the world, but she would never tell her fathers that. It would be her little secret.

~ooooooo~

All of this was what led Rachel to sitting on the beach by Quinn's side, not at all missing New York. It had quickly become a part of her daily routine, but she wouldn't have it any other way. The feeling was bittersweet, though. Today was Rachel's last day in California. Her fathers had already begun packing up their belongings in preparation of their impending flight home. Rachel, being the strong minded individual that she was, had rebelled against that, not packing a single item yet. She knew that she would regret it in the morning, when she was stuck frantically shoving her things into suitcases, hoping that she wasn't accidentally leaving anything behind. It was a consequence she was willing to deal with if it meant putting off the reality of her situation for one more night.

Rachel wasn't ready to leave Quinn or California behind. Both had grown on her, even though the latter took a little while longer. It was through Quinn's eyes that Rachel grew to love the state that she was in, despite its distance from the one city she'd always hold dear in her heart. Even the idea of having to say goodbye made her a little teary eyed whenever she would think of it. Which was why Rachel was determinedly not thinking of it. Not yet.

Quinn, of course, had already asked her out on a date for their last evening together. Rachel hadn't even bothered to flirtatiously hesitate. Her acceptance came quickly, along with a silent vow to commit every second to memory. Rachel already knew that she'd be stuck replaying their summer together in her mind over and over again. This was a fate she had resigned herself to, considering how aware she was of her tendency to fixate on the things that made her happy. And Quinn made her incredibly happy.

Rachel rolled her head back so that her gaze wasn't focused on Quinn anymore. A hand reached up, adjusting the sunglasses that Quinn had bought her to replace the ones that had been lost forever. The frames weren't the bright pink that she usually gravitated towards, but Rachel was okay with it considering that, instead, they were a hue that matched Quinn's hazel eyes. It was a token of their summer together and one that she would always cherish.

That feeling of sadness that had been nipping at her heels all week long began to resurface, but Rachel drew in a slow, subtle, comforting breath through her nose and willed away the negative emotions. For now, as far as she was concerned, she had nothing to fret about other than making sure she soaked up enough of the sun's rays. And deciding on a dress to wear that night for her date.

Everything else could wait.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two: Those Summer Nights

Quinn Fabray only had one goal for the summer before senior year: Get laid.

This plan had been shot to hell by a pretty little brunette with warm chocolate eyes and a penchant for dramatics. Meeting Rachel Berry had been the best and worst thing to happen to Quinn all summer long.

It was the best because they had a blast together. Quinn had never spent time with anybody like Rachel before and was endlessly fascinated by all of her quirks and her bubbly personality. Their summer together ended up being a whirlwind of lounging on the beach, sipping lemonade while walking the boardwalk, bowling at the arcade, and kissing whenever possible. Lots of kissing. But just kissing. The closest Quinn got to rounding any bases all summer long was that time her hand had accidentally brushed across Rachel's chest when she was helping her climb into one of the ferris wheel baskets. Surprisingly, Quinn wasn't bothered by this fact. Sure, her friends would have tortured her endlessly if they knew, but most of them hadn't even been in town throughout the summer.

It was also the worst because Rachel was returning to New York tomorrow morning and leaving Quinn behind.

Never in million years did Quinn think she'd fall in love over the summer. Yet here she was, head over heels for a girl who she'd probably never see again. Life was cruel.

Rachel was all that was on her mind as Quinn sprawled out on her Queen size bed, green stress ball in hand. Tossing it up into the air, she caught it as it came down. Quinn began to repeat this motion over and over again as she tried not to obsess over the fact that tonight would be their last night together.

Up. Down. Don't think about Rachel leaving. Up. Down. Don't be sad, Quinn, come on. Up. Down. Pull yourself together, she's just a girl. Up. Down.

This tactic she was using to distract herself wasn't exactly working considering that Rachel wasn't just any girl. Quinn felt silly even thinking it to herself, but she had to admit that Rachel was special. You'd have to be blind not to see it.

It was absolutely something she'd never say out loud, but to Quinn, Rachel Berry was like a walking beam of sunshine. The brunette seemed to approach everything in life with this unbridled, enthusiastic passion that was hard to find in people nowadays. Some may call her a little naïve, but Quinn didn't look it at that way. Rachel's innocence was endearing, but it wasn't all there was to the girl. Quinn could tell that Rachel had a feisty side underneath her warm, gooey, happy layers and it made her just that much more interesting. It made Quinn want to get to know Rachel better and really get into that head of hers. For once, Quinn found herself interested in more than a girl's body and it was blowing her freaking mind. Was this what being in love truly felt like?

Quinn had told plenty of girls that she loved them in the past, but not once had she felt this strongly about them. Those three magic words had been used mostly as panty droppers as opposed to anything else. It was incredible what you could get a girl to do when you whispered "I love you" in their ear. It was part of how Quinn had earned her reputation as the heartbreaker of Rydell High.

But with Rachel, everything was turned upside down. Instead of saying that she loved Rachel, Quinn felt it. Which somehow made her incapable of actually vocalizing the sentiment. Every time it had been on the tip of Quinn's tongue, she had swallowed it back. The idea of actually saying the words "I love you" to Rachel evoked emotions that Quinn was entirely unfamiliar with such as fear, uncertainty - and then the one that really threw her for a loop - shyness. Quinn Fabray wasn't shy. Except for the moments where she was gazing into Rachel's eyes, admiring the way her smile always seemed to reach them and finding herself on the verge of confessing her feelings. It was too intense of an emotion for Quinn and she hadn't yet found a way to work around the wall that seemed to pop up in her mind anytime she even considered saying the words out loud. It would have been easier to strip naked and take a stroll down the boardwalk in peak daylight. That would somehow leave Quinn feeling far less vulnerable.

Tossing her ball up and down, Quinn wondered if she should try to say the words to Rachel that night. They wouldn't have any strings attached to them, clearly, since tonight marked the ending of their whirlwind summer romance. Was it wrong of her to let Rachel leave California without knowing the truth? Or was it cruel to leave her with that knowledge, despite the fact they both could never do anything about it?

Quinn sighed. This was definitely something she was going to have to give more thought to before making a decision. Either she was going to man up and tell Rachel she loved her or she was going to let the girl go back to her city of bright lights and buzzing activity none the wiser.

Snatching the ball out of the air halfway on its journey back down, Quinn tilted her head to the side so that she could see how much time she had before having to make such a difficult choice.

"Shit!" she exclaimed, scrambling to sit up. There was only an hour left before Quinn was supposed to meet Rachel on the dock for their date. Where the hell had the time gone? Had she really been that lost in thought?

Chucking the ball in a random direction, Quinn scurried off the bathroom to get the quickest shower known to mankind and get ready. Maybe she'd manage to find some clarity there. After all, she did some of her best thinking in the shower.

~ooooooo~

Quinn reached up, anxiously tugging at the collar of her favorite button down short-sleeved shirt as she waited for Rachel to get there. It wasn't even as if it was tight against her neck considering that the first couple of buttons were undone. It was just something to do with her idle hand since the other one was currently wrapped around a bouquet of flowers. Quinn knew that, once Rachel got there, that she'd be able to play it off as if she was cool as a cucumber, but in the interim she was a bundle of nerves. Those damn butterflies that Rachel stirred up inside of her always had Quinn on edge until she actually laid eyes on the object of her affections.

"Quinn?"

The sound of Rachel's voice had Quinn almost jumping out of her skin. She had been so lost in thought that she hadn't even heard the petite woman sneak up on her.

Taking a deep breath to compose herself after the slight scare, Quinn turned towards the sound of the most beautiful voice she had ever heard, eager to see the girl that the voice originated from.

"Rachel," Quinn breathed out. When she first laid eyes on the brunette, the butterflies in her stomach exploded with activity. However, after a few seconds of staring into those warm chestnut eyes, the anxious feeling subsided, just as Quinn knew it would. It was impossible not to feel calm when face to face with Rachel; the rest of the world always seemed to melt away when they were together.

After a moment, those lovely brown eyes dropped down to the flowers in Quinn's hand, reminding her of their presence.

"Here," Quinn said hurriedly, sticking out her hand so that Rachel could grab the bouquet from her. "These are for you."

Quinn hoped that the other woman hadn't picked up on the nervous energy that she had been emitting at the start of their encounter. Quinn had a reputation for being a relaxed, chill person and normally she was able to play that role perfectly. Never before had she known another person that threw her so far off of her game, but she was fascinated by the sensation. Quinn knew that Rachel had to be different for that very reason and wished that she had the time to properly explore that connection.

It wasn't time to think about that, though. That could wait until later.

"Oh, Quinn," Rachel cooed, her eyes lighting up as she took the flowers from the blonde and surveyed them. Dipping her nose into the bundle of bright coral roses, she closed her eyes and made a show of taking a deep breath. "These smell heavenly," Rachel announced as she lifted her head back up, opening her eyes and beaming over at Quinn.

The sun was low in the sky, but wasn't completely gone yet. The sky behind Rachel was a pinkish orange haze and was the perfect backdrop for the beauty standing before Quinn. The dress the brunette had chosen to wear that night was one that hadn't made an appearance before, but was already Quinn's favorite. It was a long, flowy yellow sundress that easily caught the passing breeze and moved along with it, brushing against Rachel's bronzed legs. The neckline ran a lot deeper than her previous attire and showed off just enough while still being modest.

"I'm glad you like them," Quinn stated, doing her very best not to allow her gaze to linger on Rachel's chest. It was hard because it was an area she had spent all summer long wanting to explore. Seeing more of it only intensified Quinn's desire to slip her hands underneath the fabric of the dress and see if the rest of her skin was as silky smooth as the little bit of it she had gotten to touch so far. "You can keep them in my car until…" Quinn trailed off, clearing her throat instead of finishing the sentence. What she was going to say was "until the end of the night" but it wasn't a reality she was ready to deal with. Not with Rachel standing right there before her, within reach.

Rachel seemed to pick up on what Quinn had meant judging by the small flicker of a frown that danced across her full lips before they reverted back to a smile.

"Sounds good," the brunette said with a nod. All of a sudden, a flash of something that Quinn couldn't quite put her finger on made its way into those chocolate eyes. "Well… aren't you going to kiss me hello?"

Quinn immediately grinned at Rachel's forwardness. It was rare when it happened in terms of something romantic, but was oh, so appreciated when it did. What made the moment even more amusing was the bashful look that came over Rachel's face after her statement. A hint of pink matching the summer night sky settled onto the apples of her cheeks as she shyly diverted her eyes.

"Of course, gorgeous," Quinn stated, easily settling into her normal confident demeanor. This was her wheelhouse, after all.

Stepping forward, the blonde reached an arm around the smaller woman's waist, pulling Rachel in towards her chest. The brunette managed to maneuver the flowers over to the side just as their bodies molded together. Quinn's lips descended, capturing Rachel's. She could hear the soft noise of crinkling cellophane as Rachel's bouquet settled gently against her back. It was mostly drowned out by the whoosh of the nearby ocean and the pounding of Quinn's heart. Rachel's lips always managed to elicit a whole host of excitable responses from Quinn, no matter how many times they kissed.

As much as Quinn wanted to deepen the kiss, she knew that it was a risky move. There had been several times over the course of the summer that she had gotten a little bit too intense, earning herself a playful reprimand from the brunette that drove her crazy in the best way. Even though she was always immediately respectful of Rachel's wishes and it was never held against her, Quinn didn't want to get their last night together started off on the wrong foot. After a moment, she slowly pulled from the petite brunette, only shifting away enough to gaze down at her.

"Wow," Rachel mumbled, clearly awestruck. This was a common occurrence, regardless of the duration and intensity of the kiss. Whoever had kissed Rachel Berry in the past clearly hadn't done it right.

Their loss.

~ooooooo~

Rachel was smiling ear to ear as Quinn walked her down the boardwalk. The temptation to skip alongside of her was there, but she refrained. It would have been a poor idea considering the wedge sandals she had loosely slipped onto her feet prior to leaving the house earlier. Still, it was hard not to give into the urge. Being near Quinn made her feel as if she were walking on air. Or sunshine. All of a sudden that damn catchy song made sense to her.

Excitedly squeezing the hand that Quinn had wrapped around her own, Rachel beamed and took in the sights around her. The boardwalk was a place that they had frequented throughout their summer adventures, but it still hadn't lost its magic. The colorful booths that decorated the sides of the wooden walkway were filled with delightful crafts and activities far removed from those you could find on the crowded streets of New York City. Both towns had their own unique charm which Rachel had become enamored with.

"What would you like to do first?"

At the sound of Quinn's voice, Rachel snapped to attention. The intent for tonight was to absorb every single second of their date and commit it to memory. Rachel already had accepted that these were the memories that she would be replaying in her mind on a loop back in New York. Whether those memories would be complemented by continuing conversations with Quinn, she wasn't sure. The two of them hadn't discussed what their relationship would look like once they were on opposite ends of the country. It wasn't as if Rachel hadn't tried to discuss it. At least once a week, the impatient brunette had managed to casually slip into their talks how it was 2017 and keeping a long distance relationship going was hard, but not impossible. Every time the topic was raised, Quinn succinctly shut it down. Normally this was done with a "shh, baby, not now" and a kiss that sent Rachel's mind reeling to the point where she couldn't remember what she had asked in the first place.

"Hmmmm, no preference!" This was a lie. Rachel Berry always had a preference, but she could also be a team player. When she wanted to be. "What do you want to do first?"

Quinn chuckled knowingly before turning her head and ducking it to press a quick kiss to Rachel's cheek.

"I asked first," Quinn stated plainly, using that voice that let Rachel know there was no winning this conversation. "This is your night, Champ. You pick."

Rachel smiled at the moniker. On the rare occasion Quinn used it, it would immediately elicit memories of their first meeting. That day had already gone down in the history books as being one of the best days of Rachel Berry's life. It was right up there with when Rachel had been 12 and her fathers took her to see Barbra Streisand in concert. The cd that Barbra had autographed was currently snug in a box, wrapped carefully in several layers of bubble wrap despite the fact that it wasn't exactly that fragile. It was the only thing she had been able to bring herself to pack before getting ready for her date with Quinn. Rachel wasn't taking any chances with it. She had done the same thing when taking it from New York to California to begin with. When her fathers had teased her, asking if it was really necessary to take the unopened autographed cd with her just for summer break, Rachel had been thoroughly offended. "How could you ask me that?!" she had exclaimed before making a vow not to speak to them for the next 24 hours for daring to make light of her Barbra Streisand love. It didn't last, though. Rachel loved talking almost as much as she loved Barbra. Within an hour, her fathers had cleverly managed to wheedle her into speaking by inquiring if she wanted to head down to the absolute best vegan ice cream parlor in New York.

Now it was time for Rachel to pick where their last night together would officially begin. That was easy enough considering she had already played this night out several times in her mind's eye during the brief time they had been separated from one another. Rachel knew exactly what she wanted to do.

"Skee-ball!" the brunette announced after taking a moment to pretend she had been pondering the question asked of her. Rachel didn't exactly want Quinn to know that she had spent a lot of time imagining their date already. Quinn Fabray was one of the coolest, most relaxed girls she had ever come across and it inspired Rachel to try and pretend she was at least a fraction as cool and chill as the blonde. It didn't always go as planned, but hey, all a girl could do was try.

Skee-ball was a game that Quinn had exposed her to, back at the beginning of the summer. Rachel would never forget the look on Quinn's face when she had revealed that she had never heard of the game, let alone played it. After accusing Rachel of living under some sort of rock, she immediately took her to the closest arcade and showed her how to play.

At first, Rachel had been dismal. Awful. Absolutely horrible. The worst Skee-ball player that ever rolled a ball. Rachel had been trying so damn hard to maintain her girly, dainty demeanor that over half of the balls didn't even make it up to any of the holes where you actually scored any points. Most of them went straight into the gutter and some of them were rolled so weakly that they didn't make it all the way up the ramp before rolling back at Rachel. Quinn stood there valiantly, doing her best not to make any faces as she witnessed this train wreck. After a couple of rounds of the same thing over and over again, she finally gently suggested that they try another game. Rachel, always the stubborn one, refused. As much as she wanted to be a lady, she wanted to be a winner more.

As soon as Rachel gave up trying to act poised and perfect, it was all uphill from there. Ball after ball, she was able to sink each one in with ease. By the end of the night, she had managed to set the new high score. It had won her a new t-shirt bearing the name of the arcade as well as a matching Tervis tumbler. The words 'Rachel Berry' were currently neatly printed across the dry erase board to the right of the skee-ball machines, letting all who came there know who was responsible for setting the high score. All summer long, nobody had managed to break it, which was exactly how Rachel liked it. There was no way she was going back to New York without first ensuring that her name was still up on that board. Even in California, she was a star.

Quinn always credited herself for Rachel's sudden, vast improvement and the diva had no plans on correcting her. Rachel loved the proud grin that would spread across Quinn's face every time she would start talking about her "excellent coaching skills" and how it had made all the difference. Rachel didn't have the heart to explain to her that she simply wasn't trying at the beginning. Plus, she really enjoyed the way Quinn would refer to them as a team. It was fun to think about life that way; her and Quinn against the world. Rachel was positive that they could overcome any obstacle together. At least, that's how Quinn made her feel.

Hand in hand, the two of them made it down to the arcade, maneuvering around various groups of people the best they could without actually letting go of each other. Rachel was determined to squeeze every last second of contact out of their night since it was to be the last time they would see one another for possibly forever.

It was busier on the boardwalk than usual. Rachel suspected that a lot of people were trying to make the most of the last night of summer. She couldn't blame them. Summer was a magical time. It always had been for Rachel, which was part of why she had been so bummed out about spending her favorite season far away from the place that held her heart. No one could have predicted that she would have found something even more magical than New York City in the form of a tall, blonde lifeguard.

As they made their way into the arcade, Quinn guided Rachel around the throngs of people as they headed towards the desired machines. Rachel gracefully twirled her way around several small, hyper, screaming children, all the while keeping her hand joined with Quinn's. Normally the sound of screaming children caused the hair on the back of her neck to stand up and her ears to feel as if they were bleeding, but not tonight. Tonight, nothing could ruin her good mood. Nothing could wipe the smile off of her beaming face. Nothing at all.

Except for the new name on the high score board.

A loud gasp escaped Rachel as her feet skidded to a stop against the brightly colored carpet they were walking across. Since her hand was still firmly latched to Quinn's, her actions pulled the other woman into a jarring stop as well. The blonde reached for her shoulder and rubbed at it, muttering an "ouch" almost as if Rachel had come close to ripping her arm out of the socket. Normally a moment such as this one would have been accompanied by a string of apologies from the brunette, but she was too busy fuming to even pick up on the other girl's discomfort.

"Who on earth is Santana Lopez?!" Rachel exclaimed, staring bug-eyed at the board before her as her voice reached an almost inhuman pitch. What she really wanted to ask was who was the bitch that had thrown a wrench into her night. Rachel had never even met the woman and already she hated her with the passion of a thousand burning suns. How dare she steal the high score from Rachel on the last day of vacation? The nerve of her!

Quinn's brow furrowed in the center at Rachel's question. "How do you know…" the blonde trailed off as she followed the diva's line of sight and caught a glimpse of what had Rachel so out of sorts. "Ohhhhh. Well, I guess she's back in town for school," Quinn stated, giving the most unhelpful answer ever. Nothing about what she said provided Rachel with any details. It would have been much more helpful if Quinn had offered up some simple information such as this woman's address so that Rachel could march over there later and give her a piece of her mind. Not that she would actually ever do such a thing, but it was nice to dream.

"So, you know her?" Rachel asked, eyes still fixated on the name of her new mortal enemy in life. In her peripheral vision, Rachel could see Quinn nod in response.

"I...do," Quinn stated, speaking slowly. There was a hint of concern in her voice. It was more than likely concern for Rachel's sanity. "She goes to Rydell High. Part of a group called the Pink Ladies. And… um, she likes to play Skee-ball."

"Obviously!" Rachel chirped in response, finally looking over at Quinn. She couldn't tell if the blonde was trying to be funny or not.

The grin on Quinn's face was a dead giveaway. Rachel had seen that expression many times over the summer; Quinn was messing with her.

As much as she wanted to be annoyed with the blonde, it was virtually impossible. Rachel already felt her frustrations melting away. If you could call them that. 'Murderous desires' might have been more accurate.

"Okay, well," Rachel started off, deciding against continuing on any sort of tirade. Ladies didn't go on tirades. At least not when they could do something about their problem instead. "We simply cannot leave until we fix this."

"Agreed," Quinn said, clearing her throat as she attempted to hide a chuckle. "Let's do this."

~ooooooo~

It took an hour of blood, sweat, and tears for Rachel to be able to knock this so-called Santana Lopez back off of the high score board. But she did it. As she knew she could. When Rachel set her mind on something, she had a fire and a determination that was unparalleled. Nothing could stand in her way when she wanted something. Rachel Berry gave a whole new meaning to 'eye on the prize.'

Graciously turning down the offered t-shirt and tumbler this time, Rachel made sure to loudly announce that she was still enjoying those same items that she had won at the beginning of the summer and explain that she had merely been trying to reclaim her title. The speech she gave managed to earn her some scattered applause from the various patrons surrounding her. Sure, the people clapping were mostly teenage potheads that probably were clapping because they found her attractive, but applause was applause. As William Shakespeare so accurately remarked, all the world's a stage.

"Thank you, thank youuuuu," Rachel called out, giving an exaggerated bow which triggered an eyeroll from Quinn. Rachel couldn't ignore her adoring fans, though. This was merely practice for when she managed to bring everyone to their knees on the Broadway stage in the future.

Gleefully grabbing Quinn's hand, the two of them made their way back through the arcade, heading towards the exit so they could get some food. Rachel had insisted that they eat at the mini restaurant storefront that they had shared their first meal at. Sure, the salad she had there had been subpar and she was pretty sure that the cherry tomatoes they had sprinkled on the top were past their prime, but that wasn't the point. Rachel was a huge fan of nostalgia. As a woman of the arts, she had no problem suffering through an awful meal for the romance of it all. Perhaps this time the lettuce would actually be crunchy!

As they walked past the bowling alley situated along the side of the arcade, Quinn began to snicker. Rachel knew exactly what was triggering her amusement, although she was attempting to appear as if she didn't remember.

"You sure you don't want to fit in a quick game of bowling?" the blonde teased, squeezing at the smaller woman's hand and flashing her pearly whites. Rachel rolled her eyes in such a wide arc that she was surprised that they didn't roll right on out of her head. There was no fucking chance that was happening tonight.

"No way," Rachel asserted, gently bumping her shoulder against Quinn's as they continued walking. Quinn had deliberately slowed her pace down as they passed the bowling lanes, but Rachel was determined to move them along. "I don't think it'll be prudent to end the summer with me breaking my poor ankle allllllllll over again."

Quinn snorted. "You didn't break it! It was mildly sprained."

Rachel scoffed, using her free hand to reach up and flip some of her long brown hair over her shoulder as a show of her indignance. "Po-tay-to, po-tah-to."

Now Quinn was laughing. "It really isn't the same thing," she exclaimed, shaking her head. "Plus, was it really that bad? I carried you around everywhere for a week after that."

Rachel tried to hide the smile that threatened to blossom at the memory, but failed miserably. While bowling had been a complete and utter disaster, the aftermath had not. After Rachel had managed to somehow not let go of the fucking ball when attempting to toss it down the lane, which caused her to stumble over her two feet and come crashing to the ground, Quinn had been quick to tend to her. Rachel was thoroughly embarrassed when she realized that the entire arcade was staring and snickering at her, but Quinn did a brilliant job of distracting her to the point that she was no longer even concerned what anyone else in the room thought. By the time Quinn got her down to the closest pharmacy and wrapped up her ankle, Rachel was laughing so hard that she hardly felt the pain emanating up her leg.

"You're supposed to actually let go of the ball, ya' know," Quinn had teased as she stabilized Rachel's ankle, carefully wrapping the ACE bandage around it. Rachel had blushed at the remark before reminding the blonde that she had warned her. Right when Quinn had first suggested bowling (and joked that she was surprised Rachel even knew what it was), Rachel had been sure to tell her that it was a bad idea. Bowling was something that she had never been able to get the hang of, even as a kid. It had nearly broken her fathers' hearts. Or at least that's what it seemed like to little, 8 year old Rachel Berry.

Both of her dads had been a part of a bowling league for years and had been excited to get their daughter in on the sport. They had signed Rachel up for a children's league and had even bought her a glow in the dark bowling bowl with an outline of Mickey Mouse stamped on it so that she would have something special to use on the nights the team did Cosmic Bowling. However, after Rachel nearly took the head off of another student when she tossed a ball backwards instead of forwards, she had swiftly been removed from the team. It was years before she tried it again, only to find that teenage Rachel was no better at bowling. Rachel was 13 at the time and had managed to accidentally toss a ball right into a nearby glass trophy case. The owner hadn't exactly been amused when Rachel had insisted that "a bit of lovin' with a glue gun" would fix his prized possessions right up. She hadn't felt terrible guilty, though. The dude was a dick.

That had been the end of Rachel Berry's bowling career right up until Quinn managed to talk her into it again. It wasn't going to work this time. Bowling had no place in the perfect night she had planned out for them both.

"It wasn't the worst thing in the world," Rachel admitted, thinking of the way she had gotten to travel around in Quinn's arms and on her back for the rest of that week. That had been the most wonderful part of injuring her ankle. Truth be told, her ankle wasn't even hurting at all that final day Quinn carried her around. Rachel had milked that injury for all it was worth.

"But who would carry me around in New York?" the diva asked softly as they both stepped out into the night air. The sun had managed to disappear from the sky during their time in the arcade.

A slight frown tugged at the corners of Quinn's lips, but it was gone as quickly as Rachel had spotted it. Back in its place was that calm, cool demeanor that she had become accustomed to throughout the summer. It didn't appear as if either one of them were ready to fully address the elephant in the room yet. The elephant had been there between them so long that Rachel even had a name for it in her head. Harold. Harold the goddamn unwelcome elephant.

Quinn let go of her hand and in response Rachel's lower lip began to jut out into a pout. Before it could become a fully formed expression, though, Quinn had wrapped her arm around Rachel's shoulders and was pulling the smaller woman into her side.

"Let's go get you that salad you love," Quinn remarked, pressing a kiss to the side of Rachel's head.

~ooooooo~

Rachel ate her salad slowly. So slowly. One soggy lettuce leaf at a time.

As painful as it was to make her way through such a depressing bowl of food, Rachel had every intent on stretching out her meal as long as possible since eating dinner with Quinn was one of the things that she was going to miss most when she left. A lot of the things they did together were so active that this was really the time that they got to sit down and talk. A lot of their dinners had turned into two or three hour long events as they sat there, unabashedly taking up a table and talking about their lives, their hopes and dreams for the future, and anything else you could possibly think of. Conversation flowed freely between them and tonight was no exception.

"And that is how a Brazilian Steakhouse works. As you can imagine, I do not eat anything beyond the salad bar, but my fathers love it. I refuse to go with them when they want to dine in. I can't stomach watching all of the slabs of different meats getting brought by the table. It's like a carnivore's heaven."

Quinn nodded, looking at Rachel with this expression of awe on her face. Quinn had no qualms about eating meat, which is what prompted Rachel to see if she had ever been to such a place before. Although it wasn't her own cup of tea, she felt as if it was the type of dining experience that every meat eater should partake it at some point in their life.

"So, they just keep coming by with all of these different meats? And you can have as much of it as you'd like?"

Rachel nodded solemnly before popping the last piece of soul-sucking lettuce into her mouth. She was going to have to eat all sorts of veggies in the next week as penance for sharing this fact with Quinn and perpetuating her meat eating.

"Woooow," Quinn mused, leaning back in her chair and considering all that Rachel had shared with her. "I'm going to have to try this out one day."

Rachel nodded once, setting her fork down and picking up her napkin. She tapped it against her lips daintily hoping that her lipstick wasn't too messed up.

"As long as you spare me the details when you do," Rachel stated, folding her napkin over twice before placing it next to her plate. "I mean, do tell me allllllll about how a wonderful idea it was for you to go, but just don't fill me in on what specific animals you have."

"Deal," Quinn agreed, chuckling as she extended her hand towards Rachel with a grin on her face. Rachel playfully rolled her eyes before accepting the blonde's outstretched hand, allowing them to seal their agreement with a handshake. Quinn didn't let her hand go afterwards, though. Instead the blonde used it to tug her in close and plant a kiss on her lips. Rachel hoped that she didn't taste like sad salad.

"So," Quinn started off, pulling her own napkin from her lap and setting it on the table. "Where to next, beautiful?"

Rachel immediately felt herself melting. All thoughts of her craptastic salad flew out of her mind as she allowed herself to bask in the happiness that being called beautiful by Quinn caused her to feel. Every time that word was used, Rachel could practically feel herself turning into a real life version of the heart-eyes emoji.

Since they had burned up a lot of time between reclaiming her title at Skee-ball and talking at dinner, they were only about an hour away from Rachel's curfew. At the beginning of the summer, her fathers had told her that she needed to be home at 9:00pm sharp every night. However, after seeing how enamored Rachel was becoming both with a certain lifeguard and with California, her dads graciously extended the curfew until 10:00pm. Rachel and Quinn always pressed the night right up until the limit, hanging out until the last possible moment.

Since tonight was a special night and her last night there, Rachel had been able to cajole her parents into giving her an extra half an hour until she needed to be home. Instead of stomping her foot and trying to demand more time, she had been grateful for the addition and had accepted it without a fight. Any extra time with Quinn was worth holding onto and Rachel wasn't about to let a classic Rachel Berry temper tantrum cause her to lose her the ground that she had gained. No fucking way.

"I think that we should go for one last walk on the beach," Rachel replied, ducking her eyes as she reached for Quinn's hand. As she spoke, she traced random patterns against the other woman's palm. "I was thinking we could go down to the dock. You know, the one where we first…"

"Where we first kissed?" Quinn finished for her, smiling. Rachel's eyes flickered up to Quinn's warm, hazel ones. Then the diva nodded.

"I think it's a good place for us to… end our night," Rachel explained, deliberately tracing a heart against Quinn's skin now. "Plus, it's right where my dads will be picking me up, so we won't have to worry about missing curfew or anything."

"Sounds like a great plan to me," Quinn said, watching as Rachel drew against her palm. It almost seemed as if she was going to say more at that moment, but she didn't. Rachel wasn't sure if she was imagining things.

"It's settled then," Rachel announced, ready for them to leave the crowded restaurant and make their way to somewhere much more private. Grabbing onto the hand that she had been playing with, Rachel lifted it to her lips and pressed a kiss where she had traced the heart. When she lowered Quinn's hand and released it, she found herself smiling shyly at the blonde. Public displays of affection had never been a part of Rachel's repertoire. Not until she had met Quinn Fabray. Around Quinn, she found herself doing a lot of things that she wouldn't normally consider. It wasn't a bad thing, though. Being around Quinn made her feel free.

~ooooooo~

As they made their way across the beach, Rachel had one hand wrapped around Quinn's and the other hooked into the straps of her shoes. Throughout her time with Quinn, she had come to appreciate the feel of the cool sand in between her toes. Especially at night. Rachel had really come a long way from the city girl that had almost been swallowed whole by the ocean. Now, she actually fit in amongst the people there. One of the greatest compliments Quinn had given her that summer was the night she told Rachel that she could probably fool someone into believing that she wasn't a tourist.

It was a warm, muggy night, so Rachel wasn't regretting her choice in dresses and the amount of skin she currently had exposed. There was a slight breeze coming off of the ocean which made the temperature that much more bearable. That breeze seemed to pick up the closer they got to the dock.

Their walk had been carried out in silence for the most part. As much as she loved talking to Quinn, and talking in general, Rachel found that she was more interested in simply enjoying the other woman's presence. When she babbled on it made it harder to concentrate on what really mattered. Like the way Quinn's hand securely held her own. The way she would squeeze at Rachel's hand every so often. The way the wind would catch the ends of Quinn's choppy blonde hair and make her look like some kind of model that just stepped off of the set of Baywatch. What Rachel loved the most was the way she would catch Quinn in the corner of her eye gazing longingly at her whenever she thought the diva wasn't paying close attention. Sometimes Rachel would deliberately let her gaze wander off to the side just to see if she could spot Quinn looking over at her.

As soon as they got close to the beams that made up the bottom of the dock, Rachel found herself smiling like a fool. All summer long, she hadn't been able to get anywhere near that dock without immediately finding herself lost in thought. It had been where Quinn had first kissed her and it was unlike any other kiss that Rachel had ever had before. It had stolen her breath away, made her weak in the knees, and made her feel like the world had shifted on its axis all at once. It was a kiss that made her question her usual ladylike ways and had Rachel ready to toss them all out of the window if it meant that Quinn could kiss her deeper, harder, and more often.

Quinn was always respectful of Rachel's boundaries, though, so it never truly got to the point where the brunette had to question whether or not she wanted to do away with her vow to always take the physical aspect of a relationship slow. They kissed eagerly and often, but it never progressed beyond that. Sometimes Rachel found herself in the position of considering pushing it further, but was always too gun-shy to actually act on her impulses.

Rachel was in the middle of wondering whether or not tonight was the night to finally act on those unladylike impulses when Quinn's lips descended and molded against her own. Sighing happily, Rachel's eyes slid shut as her lips conceded to Quinn's. They quickly fell into the comfortable, easy rhythm that they had established at the beginning of summer. Quinn's hands settled onto the curves of Rachel's hips, fingers pressing gently into the fabric of her dress. Typically, Rachel wasn't too forward when it came to their bodies pressing together. The contact was always light, but tonight it wasn't as satisfying as it typically was. Rachel felt an intense desire to be closer to Quinn. Instead of overthinking the decision as she would normally do, she simply acted on impulse. Sighing happily into their kiss, she molded her body more to the blonde's, pressing up against her firmly. It earned her a voice that sounded as if it was on the cusp of being a soft moan.

One by one her shoes were released from her hand as it made its way up to the back of Quinn's neck. Rachel could hear her wedges hitting the sand with a soft thud as she pulled her pretty blonde lifeguard in even closer. The hand resting at the nape of Quinn's neck toyed with the hair there as Rachel's other hand pressed against her back. The kiss, as usual, was intensifying. Rachel felt the tip of Quinn's tongue press out briefly, instinctively swiping against her now swollen pink lips before disappearing again. It was, yet again, another example of Quinn trying to be respectful and not push things farther than Rachel was comfortable with. It also meant that they were probably seconds away from Quinn pulling back. It seemed to be how the blonde kept a handle on her self-control, but Rachel didn't want that to happen. Not now, not tonight.

Before Quinn could take it upon herself to end their kiss, Rachel made an impulsive decision and parted her lips, her tongue making its way out of her mouth as she acted on the desire to deepen their kiss. When Rachel's tongue brushed against Quinn's lips seeking entry, there was the briefest hesitation from the lifeguard. Rachel could practically feel her surprise, but luckily it didn't keep Quinn from granting her wish. Quinn's supple lips opened up and Rachel's tongue pressed inside, eager to explore. Their tongues tangled and the brunette couldn't quite remember why she had insisted on being so chaste in the first place. It felt amazing and Rachel wanted more.

In response to Rachel's surprising gesture, Quinn paid her back with a new move of her own. The blonde switched things up, sucking gently on Rachel's tongue. The brunette's body reacted immediately. A low moan bubbled up from the back of her throat as dark eyes rolled upwards behind closed lids. The hand that had been toying with Quinn's hair flattened, pressing against the woman's neck, indicating how much she wanted her to stay there. After a few seconds, when oxygen became too pressing of a need to ignore, Rachel reluctantly tipped her head back. Both girls took the opportunity to draw in a couple of deep breaths before diving back in. Rachel didn't even open her eyes. As soon as she had managed to inhale enough oxygen to soothe the burning ache that had accumulated in her lungs, she was pressing forward, easily managing to capture Quinn's lips again.

This time, Quinn was the one swiping her tongue across Rachel's lips. The movement wasn't nearly as timid as it had been all of those times before, when the blonde knew she wasn't going to actually act on her desires. Now that Quinn had this new sense of permission, her actions were a lot bolder and more confident. Rachel melted into the kiss, wasting no time parting her lips. Quinn easily took the lead, setting this new, slightly fevered pace for them both. For someone whose mind was continually working, Rachel found that that it was surprisingly easy to stop thinking for once.

As she gave into the kiss, Rachel switched into some sort of autopilot that she didn't even know she had in her. The hand that wasn't anchored at the back of Quinn's neck shifted, pressing its way in between their bodies and pushing up against the firmness of the blonde's defined stomach. There was a soft noise from Quinn, letting Rachel know that action was appreciated. This only encouraged the diva who flattened her hand and slowly began to press it upwards. Within only a few seconds, Rachel felt the sloping of Quinn's body changing into an area which the brunette had yet to explore. Rachel's fingertips pressed against the structured cup of Quinn's bra, triggering her imagination. They had discussed bras before, dozens of conversations ago. Quinn had shared that, when she wore one, she tended to select sports bras since she was such an active person by nature. Rachel knew that this was no sports bra, though, leaving her to wonder if Quinn had purposefully selected a nice bra for their date. One thought led to another and all of a sudden Rachel found herself wondering what color it was. Did it have any lace? Would it be uneasy to unhook and pull off…?

'Whoa there, Rachel,' she thought, mentally chastising herself for getting way ahead of the game. They were nowhere near the point where they'd be unhooking bras here. But maybe, just maybe, she could do a little bit more exploring…

Before Rachel could fully mull over this thought, she could feel Quinn's smooth palm pressing against the back of her hand, guiding it up the next few inches and making the decision for them both. Rachel provided absolutely no resistance and curled her fingers around the cup of Quinn's bra as their tongues continued to tangle. Quinn's hand rested there, unassuming, but Rachel was ready to up the ante all on her own. Squeezing gently, she had to resist the urge to grin when Quinn briefly broke their kiss in favor for a sharp gasp. Tipping her head up a little more, Rachel recaptured those lips she loved so much and reinitiated their kiss as her fingers busied themselves with massaging the new real estate they had claimed. Although she was beginning to feel lightheaded and practically dizzy with excitement, Rachel still had enough of her wits about her to wonder what it would feel like if Quinn touched her like this. Almost as if she was reading Rachel's mind, one of Quinn's hands detached itself from the diva's hip and began to climb upwards…

HONK HONK!

Startled, the two girls swiftly released their hold on each other and began to look around, searching for the sound of the noise. Were they the ones being honked at? Rachel had a sneaking suspicion that they were. A suspicion that was confirmed when she glanced over her shoulder and caught sight of her fathers off in the distance smiling and waving at her from the confines of their car which was now currently parked on the road closest to the dock. Immediately, Rachel's eyes narrowed into slits. How could they look so cheerful after having ruined such an amazing moment? They were going to pay for this somehow. Maybe Rachel would give the silent treatment another go on the trip home. They would be so bored without her entertaining them. Yeah, that would do the trick.

For now, Rachel didn't want to think about that. Not her fathers and especially not the return trip to New York. If these were her last seconds with Quinn, then that's what she wanted them to be about. Quinn and nothing else.

"ONE MINUTE!" Rachel called out in the direction of her father's car, holding up an index finger just in case her voice didn't carry all the way there. Something did the trick, prompting Hiram to yell back an affirmation.

As Rachel turned her attention back to Quinn, she found the lifeguard examining the face of her Fossil watch before looking up apologetically. "Curfew," Quinn said flatly, as thrilled about this interruption as Rachel.

The diva sighed dramatically, expelling all of the air from her lungs. "I figured as much," she grumbled, taking a step forward and closing the gap between them again. Lifting her arms, she loosely draped them around Quinn's neck and smiled up at her. Tears were beginning to fill Rachel's eyes, causing them to glisten in the glow of the moon. "I guess- I guess this is… Good..." Rachel paused, clearing her throat before trying this again. "Good…"

"It's not good-bye," Quinn said abruptly, cutting Rachel off and saving her from herself.

The brunette's smile drooped into a bit of a frown. "But I'm going back to New York. I might never see you again." This was the first time Rachel had managed to speak the words out loud and already her heart felt as if it were in a vice.

"Don't talk like that, Rachel," Quinn chastised, looking as serious as the diva had ever seen her. A crease settled into the center of the blonde's brow as she regarded Rachel.

"But it's true," Rachel protested as a little bit of a whine found its way into her tone. Denial had been working so well for her the last few months but now that they were actually addressing the issue, she found herself overcome with emotions that she had been avoiding all summer long. "I just had the best summer of my life and now I may never see you again. It isn't fair." By the end of her sentence, Rachel's lip was quivering. The tears that were filling her eyes threatened to spill over even though she was doing everything she could to keep that from happening. Why oh why hadn't she put on waterproof mascara earlier that evening? Sure, the one she had put on was her favorite and made her lashes look fucking incredible, but clearly she hadn't thought this through. Rookie mistake.

Before she could devolve into a puddle of tears, Quinn's lips were pressing to hers, giving her the bit of strength she needed to hold herself together. This kiss was far different from the ones that had immediately preceded it. It was slow and tender and caring. Most of all, it was full of the good-byes that Quinn was refusing to say.

When it ended, Rachel's eyes slowly opened, latching onto a gaze that now appeared to be just as tear-filled as her own. They were both holding strong though, determined not to cry. For now, at least. Rachel had no doubt that she'd cry herself to sleep later that night. But for now, she had one last question.

"Is this the end?" Rachel asked tentatively, unsure if she really wanted the answer.

"Of course not," Quinn whispered, reaching up and brushing a loose tendril of hair back behind Rachel's ear. As her fingertips ghosted across the skin of Rachel's cheek, the diva leaned into the touch. "It's only the beginning."

Chapter Text

Chapter Three: Tell Me More, Tell Me More

The glass of the window felt cool against Rachel's forehead. With her head resting there, she kept her chocolate eyes trained on the passing scenery. When she had first arrived in California, it all looked dreary to her. Not anymore. As the Berrys drove back to what had been their home for the summer, Rachel realized how much she had come to appreciate the view now. The landmarks that they passed by were no longer random, unimportant places that meant that she was far away from New York. Instead, they were places where memories had been made. Memories that Rachel would cherish for the rest of her life, she was sure. Just in case any of the details of this summer began to fade away - which Rachel highly doubted because of her amazingly sharp memory, but hey, better safe than sorry - she had each and every day spent with Quinn documented in the sparkly pink diary that was currently nestled under her pillow. As soon as she got home, she planned on documenting the night's events immediately so as to not forget a single second of what had been one of the most perfect nights of her entire life. Packing be damned.

When she had first gotten into the car to go home, Rachel had every intention of replaying the entire night over again in her mind so that it would be even fresher by the time she got to put pen to paper. It didn't exactly work out that way, though. As she sat there, eyes trailing up and down the sloping palm trees that they were driving by, Rachel found that her memory was stuck on a specific part of the night. It was almost as if her mind was a broken record with the needle stuck on a very specific portion of the album that it couldn't quite get past.

It had happened shortly after she had finally mustered up the self-control necessary to make the trek over to her dads. Quinn, of course, had insisted on walking with her. Hand in hand, they made their way over to the car while working on accepting their fate. It was harder than Rachel expected, especially considering that they had jumped into this summer romance with both of them knowing full well that it would end along with the season. Knowing that she had to let Quinn go didn't seem to make it any easier. Rachel had the overwhelming desire to stall - so she did. Remembering that Quinn had that bouquet from earlier in the night safely tucked into her backseat, Rachel informed her dads that they would need to grab something from the lifeguard's car before leaving. Luckily, they didn't give her any sort of resistance. In fact, they seemed quite chipper. Rachel suspected that, even though they had been all gung-ho about this California trip, that they were looking forward to going home. If only she could say the same.

Heading over to Quinn's car, Rachel held on tightly to her one hand while the blonde used her other to open up the car door and retrieve the bouquet. Handing it over to Rachel, they gazed into one another's eyes for a beat, knowing that this was truly the end now. There was no more stalling, no more prolonging it. Rachel had half a mind to run back to her dads and beg them to extend her curfew again, but she knew it would be futile. They had a very early flight back to New York in the morning and a lot to accomplish before heading out to the airport. Besides, Rachel didn't exactly want Quinn's last memory of their summer together to be her having a full-blown temper tantrum. Not cute.

With a sigh, Rachel went to say something along the lines of "see you later" since Quinn seemed serious about them not saying good-bye to one another. Just the thought of saying such a thing was heartbreaking in a way, since she didn't know if it would be true. However, before she could get the sentiment out, Quinn started speaking first.

"Rach…" Trailing off, the blonde looked suddenly and uncharacteristically shy. Or at least, that's how it appeared to Rachel. She couldn't be entirely sure though because Quinn had become a little blurry through the tear-filled haze Rachel was currently fighting through. "I love…" Again, Quinn trailed off. Rachel blinked a few times in surprise as her heart began to soar. Was…she about to say those three magic little words Rachel had been dying to say herself all summer long? Was this real life? Was it finally happening?! "...texting. So, I will definitely make sure to text you all the time."

Okay then. That wasn't exactly what Rachel was expecting. Or hoping for. But it would do. A soft smile graced Rachel's lips as she whispered her reply. "Likewise."

With that, Quinn had kissed her one last time - briefly, seeing as Rachel's dads were only a few feet away and were excitedly watching their every move. "See you later," Rachel had managed to choke out as she excused herself, finally getting into the back of her dads' car, flowers in hand. They were resting in her lap now as she looped that moment back over again a few times in her mind, wondering if Quinn had really been intending on ending her sentence that way all along. It didn't seem like it, but Rachel wasn't sure if she was simply seeing things the way she wanted to. As a person with a very active imagination, sometimes it ran wild.

Moments later, the Berrys were pulling up the driveway. Although Rachel had spotted the familiar house, she didn't register right away that they had arrived. Her mind was far too busy to process that information. It wasn't until LeRoy looked back, telling her that they were home, that Rachel managed to snap out of her haze of sadness long enough to exit the vehicle. Being careful not to harm the bouquet in her hands, Rachel unclipped her seatbelt and made her way out of the car before trudging up the driveway. All the while, her dads were practically skipping up to the front door. Skipping. Had they no respect? Here Rachel was, in mourning over the fact that tomorrow she would end up 2,816 miles away from the girl of her dreams (not that she had looked it up or anything, of course…) and her dads were positively giddy. At this rate, Rachel was going to end up giving them the silent treatment for a lot longer than the flight home. Or at least, she would attempt to.

Shutting the door behind her, Rachel pivoted in the direction of the staircase that would lead her up to the room that had served as her bedroom all summer long. All she wanted was to be alone with her journal so that she could document the night and then have a nice, good, long cry.

"Rachel honey? Family meeting in the living room in five! We have big, big news for you!"

Or not. Were they trying to fucking kill her?

"But daddy," Rachel whined, not bothering to hold back now that Quinn wasn't there to witness any displays of petulance. Turning towards Hiram, she pouted. "Can't it wait? I'm tired and want to go to bed." To write. To cry. To hug her pillow while pretending it was Quinn. All things that her dads didn't need to be privy to.

Now LeRoy popped into sight, peeking his head over his husband's shoulder. "Sugarplum, you're gonna want to hear this news!" he sing-songed, grinning over to her.

Sugarplum. Shit. Rachel knew he only ever whipped that one out when he was serious about schmoozing her into agreeing with something. Whatever this was, it better be fucking amazing. The most wonderful, incredible news that Rachel had ever gotten. If it was anything less than them informing her that a Broadway director had stumbled across one of the many audition tapes she had scattered throughout YouTube, then she was going to throw a fit. An absolute fit.

"Fiiiiiiiiiiine," Rachel huffed out before storming her way over to the living room, making sure that her footfalls were anything but light. She may have been giving into their request, but she sure as shit was going to ensure they knew she wasn't happy about it. Flinging herself into what had become her favorite chair over the summer, Rachel dramatically crossed her arms and slouched back into the cushions, waiting for her dads to assemble in the room as well. After a moment or so, they were seated in the couch adjacent to her. Rachel expected them to begin talking right away, especially since they were in such a good mood, but instead they remained silent. Once the dead air got to be too much, Rachel finally pulled her gaze from the box across the room that she had fixed it on and looked over at her dads. They had matching expressions on their faces, a mixture of excitement and nervousness. At first, Rachel had been annoyed with this impromptu meeting but now her curiosity was beginning to win out. What was going on here?

"Dad… Daddy… is everything okay?" Rachel finally asked, breaking the silence herself. The longer they sat there, staring at her, the more concerned she felt. It was rare for her outgoing, fun loving dads to be at a loss for words.

"Everything is fine," Hiram quickly assured, sharing a glance with his husband before continuing. "We simply wanted to...run something by you. See how you'd feel."

"Yeah, exactly," LeRoy jumped in, seemingly finding it a little easier to speak now that the initial ice was broken. "It's...an idea. Only an idea. But...it's something that we need to make a decision about now. Time is of the essence, so…"

"We wanted to get your opinion now so we can make a choice."

Okay. Now Rachel was intrigued. Uncrossing her arms, she pressed her palms to the arms of the chair and pushed herself up into a proper sitting position. All traces of annoyance were gone as she sat there, looking at her fathers, waiting for them to finish filling her in here. The last time they had acted even remotely like this had been when they had told her they were going to all be spending their summer in California. Even then, they hadn't been nearly this fidgety. Whatever they wanted to get her opinion on, it had to be major.

"See, sweetie, your dad here got a job offer today…" As he spoke, Hiram placed his arm around his husband's waist, giving him a small squeeze and a proud smile before continuing. "...a good one. An amazing one."

Rachel wasn't sure whether or not she should react yet. It sounded like incredible news, but the tone of her father's voice let her know that there was probably more to the story here. Opting for patience, she continued to sit there silently, waiting for them to elaborate on why this had turned them both into excited, nervous wrecks.

"There's a catch, though," Hiram continued, exchanging another anxious glance with his husband before attempting to continue. "You see… Well… It's… Um…"

"ThejobishereinCaliforniasowewouldhavetostayinorderformetotakeit," LeRoy cut in, getting out the whole sentence without taking a breath. Afterwards, he was winded, sucking in deep breaths as if he had just finished running a half marathon. Rachel used that time to process what her dad had just said, breaking the words apart in her mind while trying to figure out what on earth was going on. It only took a few seconds before realization dawned on her.

"So…" Rachel started off, not missing the way her dads sat up much straighter as she started to speak. "What you're saying is that you got a job offer. An amazing one. And in order for you to take it, we would have to move here. As in, we wouldn't live in New York anymore," she finished, talking the scenario through out loud as a way of soaking it in. Pausing, Rachel waited for her dads to either confirm or deny what she said before trying to come to any sort of conclusion as to how she felt about it.

Both Hiram and LeRoy began to nod. Slowly. Their eyes fixed on Rachel and their bodies tensed as if they were preparing themselves for a very bad reaction.

Had they pitched this idea to Rachel at the beginning of summer, she would have vehemently spoken out against it. The idea of leaving New York only for a few months had been difficult enough. Leaving it forever? Well, that thought was incomprehensive to someone like Rachel who lived and breathed Broadway. Or at least, it had been. Now? Well, now she wasn't so sure moving was out of the question…

Pursing her lips, Rachel considered what her dads were saying. New York held a special place in her heart. But after this summer, so did Quinn. Considering that she couldn't have them both, she was going to have to make a choice. Which felt nice. Surprisingly nice. Earlier in the night, Rachel had felt like a victim of fate. The Universe had brought Quinn to her and it was also taking her away. However, with this news...everything was different. Her destiny was in her hands and damn, did it feel good. It didn't take long for Rachel to make up her mind. Even though on paper it looked like an impossible decision, her heart knew exactly what it wanted. New York would always be there waiting for her. Quinn, on the other hand, would not.

"Okay!" Rachel finally said, sounding much more chipper than she had back when her dads first picked her up. "Sounds good to me!"

Both LeRoy and Hiram responded to this decision by proceeding to stare at Rachel as if she had two heads. As amusing as it was to watch the bewilderment play out on their faces, Rachel still wanted to head upstairs as soon as possible to document all of this in her diary. It was proving to be such a major night for Rachel Berry that it would probably get an entire chapter dedicated to it down the road when she was famous enough to justify writing her autobiography.

"Is that everything?" she asked sweetly, trying to hurry this little powwow along.

Rachel's dads looked at one another again before addressing her question. "Um...well, I mean, the only other thing is that...if you're sure that you'd be okay with staying here, then you're going to have to start school at Rydell High next week…" Hiram trailed off looking at Rachel suspiciously, as if he was contemplating whether or not body snatchers were a real thing. Rachel didn't notice, though. She was too busy internally celebrating this news. Rydell High was the school that Quinn attended.

"Okay, that's perfect!" Rachel chirped, clapping her hands together twice before using them to push herself out of the chair and into a standing position. "Can't wait!" Before her dads could come up with something else to keep her from heading upstairs, Rachel closed the gap between them and bent down, placing a quick kiss to LeRoy's cheek before wrapping both of her dads in a big hug the best she could. "I'm so excited for you, daddy!" she exclaimed, releasing her hold on them and taking a step back. "I'm pooped, so I'm going to head to bed...but I want to hear alllllll the details of your new job over breakfast tomorrow! Deal?" Rachel waited until her dad nodded before continuing. "Excellent! Nighty-night!" Blowing them both a kiss, she turned on her heel and headed straight for the stairs, practically skipping as she made her way up them to her bedroom. Just like earlier, she felt as if she were walking on air.

Heading straight for her room and tugging her sandals off along the way, Rachel chucked the shoes onto her carpeted floor as soon as she crossed the threshold. Closing the door behind her, she launched herself onto the bed. Finally, some privacy.

Reaching for her iPhone which was plugged in and charging on the bedside table, Rachel immediately unlocked it and went to the messaging strand her and Quinn had developed over the summer. Excitedly, she typed out a message.

I HAVE THE BEST NEWS!

With her perfectly manicured thumb poised over the send button, Rachel quickly read her short message over, ensuring there were no typos. She was a perfectionist, even when it came to the tiniest of details. Before actually sending the text, though, an idea struck her. If there was one thing she enjoyed as much as perfect spelling and grammar, it was surprises. And what would be more surprising than strolling up to Quinn on their first day of senior year, planting a big kiss on those incredible lips, and informing her that she was here to stay? It was genius!

Shifting her thumb over, she deleted her message and typed out another in its place.

Missing you already. xo

It was the perfect text. It was completely honest and yet was misleading in the best way. Quinn would have no idea. Even though all of Rachel's plans were wonderful, sometimes she managed to even outdo herself. This was guaranteed to be her greatest surprise yet.

Adding a kissy face emoji to the end of her text, Rachel hit send before setting her phone down on her comforter and reaching underneath of the pillow in search of her diary. Just as her fingers pressed to the cool, hard cover of the tucked away book, her phone screen lit up, drawing her eye.

Missing you more xoxo can't wait to see you again.

Soon, Quinn. Very, very soon.

~ooooooo~

The nervous energy that Rachel felt as her dads drove her to school (stopping exactly half a block down from the entrance - Rachel informed her parents that she didn't want to look like a total dweeb with them dropping her off by the door) was way worse than the usual first day of school jitters. The fluttering feeling in her stomach wasn't so much butterflies as it was pterodactyls. Large, active, Jurassic World sized flying dinosaurs. Rachel blamed on it the fact that, not only was she completely starting over here, but she was going to be seeing the love of her life somewhere in those hallowed halls. It had been a long couple of days not seeing Quinn. Torturous even. Rachel had become quite spoiled after the summer where she hardly ever had to wait more than 24 hours in between seeing the cute blonde lifeguard that always made her heart skip a beat. But Rachel was dedicated to the cause. A few days of torture was well worth the smile that would surely find Quinn's lips when they locked eyes for the first time since they had parted ways. It was going to be the perfect moment. The kind that people wrote poems and sonnets about. Just thinking about it had Rachel swooning.

Until she realized that her dads had parked and that they were telling her it was time to get out. Now was not the time for daydreaming. No longer did Rachel Berry have a reputation to maintain, now she had one to build from the ground up. Leaning over, she gave each of her dads a stealthy, quick kiss on the cheek before exiting the vehicle, pulling her brand new messenger bag out along with her. It had been a 'Thanks For Being So Great About This' gift from her dads, which she had happily accepted despite the fact that staying in California wasn't really a true burden. Did she miss New York? Of course. But she missed Quinn more.

The pads of Rachel's fingers gently brushed against the sequined star that she had ironed onto the front of her bag the night before as she confidently strode towards the walkway leading towards the entrance to Rydell High. This was going to be her year. Rachel Berry: Senior. Future Broadway Star. One half of what was certain to be the most envied couple of Rydell High. Everything was coming up Rachel Berry!

Until she turned the corner around some shrubbery and disaster struck in the form of a slender man slamming right into her.

"Ooof!" Rachel exclaimed, arms shooting out to the sides as she flailed around like a madwoman trying to keep upright as she balanced precariously on a single heel. The last thing she needed to do was get dirt all over one of her favorite sundresses mere moments before strolling into her new school.

"Sorry! Ohmygosh, I'm so sorry!" the man in front of her exclaimed in a high pitched shrill as he reached forward, grabbing onto Rachel's arms to steady her enough that she could put both of her feet solidly on the ground. "I was honestly not paying any attention to where I was going and I ran right into you! I am a clumsy mess this morning, please forgive me?"

Rachel leaned forward a little to ground herself more, her fingers curling into the pink satin that covered the length of the man's arms. If he had caught her in a bad mood, she would have had half a mind to tell him off and would have given him a mini lecture about how traipsing around bushes all willy-nilly was never a good idea. Except...Rachel wasn't in a bad mood. Plus, she really needed to make some friends here considering, so far, Quinn was the only person she knew.

"You're forgiven," Rachel assured, releasing her grip on the man that had nearly barreled her over. "On one… No, two conditions," she clarified, holding up two fingers to illustrate her point. Her audience of one was listening intently and nodded right away.

"You name it!"

"First," she started, dropping one finger so that only one remained erect. "I would like to know your name."

"Kurt," the man answered easily. "Kurt Hummel." Rachel was pleased to hear that some of the nervousness from seconds ago had left his tone, but he still didn't seem totally convinced he was forgiven for nearly flattening her into a Rydell High pancake.

"Kurt," Rachel repeated, trying the name out with a smile. "I've never known a Kurt before. Anyway, I'm Rachel," she added, dropping her hand and holding it out to him. When Kurt accepted it, she gave him a very firm handshake just as her dads had taught her to do. Hiram always said that first impressions were lasting impressions and that a firm handshake let the other person know that you were no pushover. "Okay, so the second thing…" Kurt arched a brow. "Please tell me that my hair still looks great, I spent all morning straightening it."

Kurt heaved a sigh of relief before breaking out into a smile. "It looks perfect! You look perfect," he promised, reaching into the pocket of his jacket before pulling out a small, pink square. There was some sort of writing on the front of it but Rachel didn't get a chance to make out the words before it was being opened and offered to her. "If you don't believe me, check yourself."

Grabbing what she now realized to be a compact mirror, Rachel did exactly as Kurt had suggested and checked herself out. Every hair was still perfectly in place, just as Kurt had said. Not only that, but her makeup was not smudged and her skin was still clear. Rachel was looking fresh to death. Definitely Quinn ready.

"Thanks a bunch!" she said, snapping the compact closed. This time, she got a good look at the phrase on the front. On Wednesdays, We Wear Pink. Rachel smiled as she handed the small object back over. Mean Girls was one of her all time favorite movies. She liked Kurt already, she decided.

"It's the least I could do," Kurt assured, tucking the compact back into his jacket. "You're new here...right?"

"Yup!" Rachel answered with an accompanying nod. Lifting her hand up, she tucked her hair behind her ear before continuing. "Me and my dads just moved here. From New York City. It's not as bad as it sounds, though, because I spent the summer here in California so I'm not completely unfamiliar with the town. Just have to get used to Rydell High now and I'll be golden."

Kurt chuckled ruefully. "Well, there's definitely a lot to learn about good, old Rydell High. Luckily, you are speaking to an expert here. I've survived three whole years here and much, much longer with these jokers," he said, gesturing to the other people scattered throughout the courtyard. "If you want, I could totally show you around. Give you the lay of the land."

Rachel instantly perked up. "I would love that!" This was perfect. Not only would she be walking into a new school with the most perfect girl in the world waiting there for her (even if Quinn didn't know it yet) but now she had an experienced tour guide by her side. One with fabulous taste in movies and perfectly coiffed hair. Senior year was going to be a fucking breeze.

"Great!" Kurt exclaimed back, displaying the same degree of enthusiasm as Rachel. Stepping over to her side, he pivoted so that they were both facing the same direction and held out of his arm for her. "M'lady," he said, nodding downwards towards his arm. Rachel smiled as she looped her own arm through his, sure that this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

~ooooooo~

By the time the lunch bell rang, indicating that it was time to head to the cafeteria, Rachel and Kurt were best friends. Not only did they have all the same classes, but they had the same taste in clothing brands, makeup, television shows, music… You name it and they bonded over it. Never in a million years did she think that she'd literally stumble into someone here at Rydell High that she got along with a million times better than any of the kids she attended school with in New York, yet here she was. Bonding with Kurt had made the fact that she had yet to run into Quinn slightly more bearable. Slightly. Although she kept a smile on her face the entire time, internally she was dying to see Quinn. So far, they hadn't had a single class together. Not one. Not even homeroom. (Why did those always have to be arranged alphabetically?) It was getting a little frustrating, but Rachel remained confident that she would run into Quinn eventually. Things had been going in her favor so far and she didn't foresee that changing anytime soon.

It was tempting to ask Kurt if he knew of Quinn and had any idea where she could find her, but Rachel held off. She had pictured their reunion a million times over the last few days and not once did she pictured it being orchestrated by another person. Rachel wanted it to happen naturally, much like some of her favorite scenes in the romantic movies she loved to watch. It would be worth the wait, she just knew it.

That was exactly what Rachel told herself as Kurt led her towards the cafeteria, excitedly filling her in on who she was about to meet. Apparently Kurt planned to introduce her to a group that he belonged to that had christened themselves as the Pink Ladies. While sharing this fact, Kurt spun around to show off the back of the satin jacket he wore. Lifting his hands up and over his shoulders, he thumbed towards the etching on his back. Rachel oooohed and aaaahed, appropriately displaying her interest over what Kurt was explaining. Other than the fact that they were one of the more notorious cliques at Rydell High and that their self-proclaimed leader could be a little prickly, Kurt hadn't shared much about the Pink Ladies. Instead, he promised that Rachel would get all the details once she got the chance to meet the rest of his friends. This was perfectly fine with Rachel. Potentially having a whole group of friends was even more exciting than simply having one! Prickly or not, Rachel was confident that she could win their leader over and infiltrate the group. Before they knew it, she'd be a Pink Lady herself, she was sure of it.

After getting some food (which wasn't exactly easy - where on Earth were the vegan options on the menu?!), they headed outdoors to what was considered to be the senior cafeteria. According to Kurt, only their grade got the option of eating outside. As soon as Rachel spotted the three girls that Kurt was heading towards - two of them wearing the same jacket as him - she put on her winning, signature smile. They were all huddled around one of the tables in the cafeteria, obviously engrossed in conversation. It wasn't until Kurt scooched his way onto the bench, causing one of the girls to move over, that they realized he had arrived.

"Hi ladies! I have someone new for you all to meet. You're going to love her." Moving over more, Kurt created enough space for Rachel and patted the seat next to him. Taking his cue, she sat down and placed her tray on the table before making eye contact with each girl in the group, still smiling. "This is Rachel Berry, who just moved here from...you're never going to believe this...New York City!" he explained, tacking a squeal right on the end of his sentence. The blonde girl across from them squealed right along with Kurt until the grumpy dark-haired girl at the end of the table shot her a look. Even though the look hadn't been directed at her, Rachel bristled a little. This girl had to be the leader of the group. Already, Rachel could tell she was going to have to bring her A game if she had any chance of winning this one over.

"Rachel, this is Tina..." Kurt started off, leaning back in his seat and gesturing over to the girl seated at his other side. Tina gave a small finger wave, her head ducking shyly in response to the attention. "...Brittany…" he continued, waving his hand across from them towards the blonde who responded by beaming back at them. "...and then this is Santana…" he finished, gesturing towards the girl at the head of the table with a flourish. Santana didn't seem to care about these introductions that were occurring here. All they got out of her was a curt head nod, the smallest of signs that she had actually been paying attention here. Rachel was too wrapped up in trying to remember where she had heard that name before to be bothered by it…

"Santana Lopez?!" Rachel blurted out as realization dawned on her. The way Santana's eyes immediately narrowed let her know that she probably shouldn't have asked that question out loud, right there, with them all sitting at the table. It appeared as if her suspicion had been correct, but it didn't negate the fact that nobody liked it when someone you just met knew a personal detail about you that you hadn't yet shared, like your last name. It was akin to accidentally referring to a piece of information you found out solely by creeping on someone's profile online. Everyone did it, but actually acknowledging it made you look creepy. Rachel was a lot of things, but creepy was not one of them. Oh, well. It was a mistake. Perhaps they could all move past it and pretend as if it hadn't happened.

"Speaking. How exactly did you know that, though?

Or not.

"Well," Rachel started off, nervously smoothing out her dress as she tried to think of a way to explain how she remembered the name without admitting that she had spent the other night obsessed with knocking this girl off of the high score chart. "Santana is a pretty unique name and I remembered seeing it last week on…" Act natural, Rachel. Like you aren't some kind of fucking skee-ball obsessed lunatic. "...some sort of board, I think, while I was at the arcade."

Rachel didn't think it were possible, but somehow Santana's eyes narrowed into even smaller slits. Pulling her gaze from Rachel, the leader of the Pink Ladies directed her attention back over to Kurt. "What did you say her name was again?" she asked, acting as if Rachel wasn't right there, perfectly capable of fielding this question herself. The temptation was there to butt in, but Rachel resisted, pursing her lips to physically prevent herself from speaking up.

"Rachel Berry," Kurt answered, his voice flat, as if he was unimpressed with Santana's antics.

Santana's gaze shifted back to Rachel. "Ah, now I recognize your name… You were on the skee-ball leaderboard when I got back into town," she mused, remembering. "It was a pretty decent score. I mean, I was able to top it my very first try. But still. Not too bad."

Rachel highly doubted this, but okay. Opening her mouth to point out that she had since reclaimed her spot as Queen of Skee-Ball, she then thought better of it. Clearly this Santana here liked being the best, possibly as much as Rachel did. There was no need to burst her bubble, as much as she wanted to. Making friends was more crucial at this moment than flaunting her immense talent. For now. Bragging could come later, once she had solidified her spot with the Pink Ladies.

"Oh yeah, I noticed that!" Rachel exclaimed, offering up a half truth by way of contributing to this conversation. "Very impressive." And infuriating at the time, but Santana didn't need to know all that. "It's nice to put a face to the name," Rachel added, trying to butter her up.

"Yeah, yeah," Santana said, brushing her comment off. However, there was now a small smile curving its way onto her lips. Rachel knew she was at least making some progress here. "So...Rachel," she started off, tilting her head slightly to the side. "If you're from New York, then how did your name end up on the leaderboard? Spend some time out in California this summer?"

Rachel nodded. "Yup, all summer actually. It was my first time here and I totally fell in love." More so with a girl than with the state, but that could be left unsaid. Rachel didn't know this group well enough yet to know whether or not it would be kosher to sit there and brag about how wonderful her love life was. What if they all were currently single and jaded? Rachel didn't want to risk alienating herself by sharing how utterly incredible Quinn was and how happy they had been together over the summer. She made a silent vow to only share those details if they opened the proper door for that particular conversation.

"All summer, eh?" Santana remarked with a nod. "No wonder you were able to beat my score."

Again, Rachel's self-control was tested, but she was able to keep quiet about how long she had actually held the title of top scorer. Mum's the word, she told herself.

"Meet any hotties?" Brittany asked, blue eyes flashing with excitement as she asked her question, leaning in and wiggling her eyebrows up and down as she waited for an answer. The inquiry seemed to get everyone to perk up a little, even shy Tina that had been eyeing the table instead of Rachel for most of lunch so far.

Quickly, Kurt jumped in, asking a follow up question before Rachel could even begin to respond. "Yeah, any summer romances? I love the idea of a summer romance, but I've never gotten into one myself. You see, as great as California can be, sometimes it's slim pickings around here and…"

"Kurt," Santana cut in abruptly, giving him what Rachel had dubbed in her head to be Santana's Signature Look. "Let the girl answer before next summer rolls around." Shifting her glance over to Rachel, it softened a bit. Rachel could still see a sort of tightness around Santana's eyes though, as if she was continually sizing the diva up. Rachel was hopeful this meant she could earn Santana's acceptance at some point in the (hopefully) near future. "Well? Lay it on us. I hope that you had at least one hot fling after all the build-up."

At the words 'hot fling' Rachel's cheeks darkened. "It wasn't a fling," she mumbled, suddenly feeling uncharacteristically shy now that she was actually faced with a real opportunity to speak freely about Quinn. Internally, she scolded herself for her hesitance.

Snap out of it, Rachel. You wanted this, didn't you? Finally, you have a whole group of people you can gush to Quinn about. An audience. You LOVE audiences. Remember, Darling, all the world's a stage.

With these words fresh in her mind, Rachel straightened up, feeling a renewed sense of confidence. Clearing her throat, she launched into a much more Rachel-like explanation of how her summer with Quinn had went. "However...it was definitely with a hottie." Grinning, Rachel pushed away her untouched tray of food and leaned forward, pressing her elbows to the table as she made it seem as if she was going to be sharing some sort of big secret with them all. In a way, she was. Although her dads knew about Quinn, she hadn't really shared any intimate details with them beyond the surface stuff. So far, only her diary knew the juicy details.

The gesture worked and she immediately had everyone's attention. All of them, Santana included, leaned in closer to hear what Rachel had to say. Boy, did she know how to pander to a crowd.

"I met the most incredible, sexy, talented bombshell blonde lifeguard at the beach this summer. You see, she saved me from drowning and it was all uphill from there. Almost as if it were fated in the stars." The diva paused, purposefully adding a dramatic sigh to her diatribe. "It was a brilliant summer romance, but it all felt so fast…" Rachel added, purposefully trailing off to build the suspense.

"Tell me more, tell me more!" Kurt and the girls pleaded in unison. All except for Santana, who was simply observing, trying to look less invested than the rest of them.

"Like, does she have a car?" Tina chimed in, surprising Rachel with her question.

Beaming over at her, Rachel nodded. "Uh-huh, but we didn't really need to get into it. Spent most of our time at the beach and the boardwalk. Plenty of time near the ocean, since you know, her day job was making sure everyone stayed nice and safe. Myself included." Rachel paused, giggling a little as a few errant memories popped into her head. "She was a total show-off, though, in the very best way. Loved running past and splashing me, getting my suit damp anytime I tried to just get my feet wet. Such a tease. But that was nothing compared to those summer nights." Rachel placed a hand to her chest and swooned at the thought.

"Tell me more, tell me more!" they all beckoned again, clearly getting a kick out of Rachel's story. Rachel herself was running on a high, both from the memories and the attention they were giving her.

Separately, Kurt asked, "Was it love at first sight?"

Rachel thought back to that first time they had met and how annoyed she had been by the way Quinn had laughed at her. However, even then, Rachel had definitely been attracted to her. It wasn't really until Quinn saved her life and they got the chance to chat, though, that she could say she fell in love. It was really more Love At First Conversation than anything. Close enough, though. "Oh yes, of course," Rachel assured, looking around at all the girls. Santana was leaning back in her chair now, still feigning indifference. Bullshit that she wasn't hanging on to each and every one of Rachel's words. Pfft. "Then, after we met, we started doing everything together. We went bowling in the arcade. Went strolling, drank lemonade. Kissed plenty of times, right under the dock. Every night we would stay out until ten o'clock!"

Kurt and Brittany gasped, sharing a look and a brief squeal before turning their attention back to Rachel.

Santana, on the other hand, simply said, "She sounds like a drag."

Completely ignoring this, Rachel continued. "She got friendly, holding my hand," she told him, smirking a little before raising and lowering her eyebrows along with her sentence. "She was always respectful of me, though. She was sweet, just turned eighteen."

"Tell me more, tell me more!" the Pink Ladies - sans Santana - asked again, getting Rachel to laugh this time at the overly eager way they begged her in unison to continue along. Rachel had them all eating out of the palm of her hand and she was loving it.

"How much dough did she spend?" Brittany chimed in, looking way too invested in this particular question.

Rachel blinked before continuing along, deciding to sort of dodge that particular question. A lady never discussed something as personal as finances on a whim like that, especially not those of another person. "Enough," Rachel said before quickly delving into her next point, hoping that Brittany could be easily distracted. Besides, it was time to wrap it up and get to the bittersweet, yet dramatic ending of her story here. "Then it started getting colder out and we, even though we had been trying to ignore it all summer long, had to accept that our time together was finally coming to an end. I was supposed to go back to New York and all," she explained, adding a sad sigh along to her statement as a delicate pout curved its way onto her full, glossy lips. "So, we said good-bye. It was so sad. So heartbreaking. Neither one of us wanted to leave, but alas...it was out of our hands."

"Did you finally get some then?" Santana asked, arching a perfectly groomed brow in Rachel's direction.

In response to her question, Rachel gasped and her hand flew up, covering open mouth. "Goodness no! Like I said, she was totally respectful the entire time. Kissing and nothing more," she elaborated, chopping a line through the air with her hand as she lowered it as if to indicate where Rachel and Quinn had drawn the line in their relationship. There was no need to share how ready Rachel had been to hop right on over that line on their final night together. That little tidbit could remain her secret.

"So...what happened then?!" Kurt asked, gesturing wildly for Rachel to continue.

"Yeah, I mean, you didn't go back to New York!" Tina added.

"Does this girl know you stayed behind?!" Brittany chimed in.

"Not yet!" Rachel told them, looking around at her audience before filling them in on her big plan here. "I intend on surprising her. Turns out, she goes to Rydell High too. I mean, come on, could things have worked out more perfectly? I think not!"

Santana rolled her eyes to the sky but everyone else shared Rachel's excitement. Tina and Kurt clasped their hands together, cheering, and Brittany started to gush over the plan just as the bell rang, signaling that it was the end of lunch.

"Awwww," they collectively groaned as everyone reached down to pick up their trays to dispose of any uneaten food. Rachel still hadn't had a bite to eat, but she didn't care. It looked awful anyway. She was really going to have to remember to ask her dads to pack her lunch going forward. Luckily, she had a couple of vegan granola bars in her messenger bag which was currently stashed away in her locker. Rachel Berry was always prepared.

Once they had all tossed their trash and stacked their trays on the shelf placed there for that exact purpose, they started to walk back towards the building. Santana was a few steps ahead of them, taking the natural position of a leader. Rachel hung back with the rest of the Pink Ladies, though. Didn't want to step on any toes.

"She sounds real nice!" Brittany exclaimed as they walked.

"True love and she didn't lay a hand on you?" Santana added, glancing back over her shoulder as she continued to stroll forward, holding her Pink Ladies jacket in one hand and her sunglasses in the other. "Sounds like a creep to me."

To this, Rachel immediately took offense. Sure, she was trying to weasel her way into this obviously tight group, but she wasn't going to stand there and let anyone assault Quinn's character! No fucking way.

"Well, she wasn't," Rachel said simply, shaking her head. "She was a perfect lady."

"Hey, uh," Kurt started, drawing Rachel's attention and distracting her from the ire she currently felt towards Santana. "What was her name?" Everyone looked over at the diva in anticipation of her answer.

"Quinn. Quinn Fabray," Rachel shared, beaming.

A couple of things happened all at once, like a whirlwind of activity. Kurt stopped in his tracks. Brittany and Tina burst out in a fit of giggles. And Santana spun around so quick that Rachel was resisted the urge to reach up and check her own neck to ensure she didn't get some sort of secondhand whiplash. Was it something she had said? Did they know Quinn?

Out of the corner of her eye, Rachel could have sworn she saw Santana swat at Brittany, putting a quick end to the giggling. What was going on here?

"Well, I think she sounds peachy keen. I'm sure she's going to be thrilled when she sees you again," Santana assured, suddenly smiling widely. It reminded Rachel a little bit of the Cheshire Cat. "In fact...I bet I could make that meeting happen for you. Say...how about right before senior study hall? Right by the rickety old girls bathroom down in C corridor? You know, the one right around the corner? I can even go with you, if you'd like."

Rachel nodded slowly as she came to realize what was going on here. No wonder the group had seemed so amused! They must have known that Santana had the connections to arrange for Quinn to find out about Rachel's presence at Rydell High. Thinking about it, she was giddy herself. As much as Rachel wanted it to happen naturally, fate was taking far too long to get its ass into gear here. This would be close enough provided that Santana did one thing.

"Okay," Rachel started off, biting at her lip to keep from grinning so wide that her face just might crack in half. "One thing, though. Can you please not tell her that I'm here? I really, really, really want it to be a surprise."

"Oh, don't worry," Santana replied right away, that smile still plastered on her face. "I won't say a word. Your secret is safe with me." To illustrate this fact, Santana reached up and pantomimed zipping her lips shut and tossing away the key. "Come on, girls!"

In response to her command, Brittany and Tina took off, leaving Rachel and Kurt behind. When the girls waved good-bye, Rachel waved back, happy to have had shared such an amazing lunch experience with them all. Kurt may have been right about Santana being a little prickly, but it seemed as if she had a good heart under all that sarcasm and brass.

Turning to Kurt, Rachel reached out and placed a hand gently on his forearm. "This is so exciting! Do you think she'll be thrilled? Oh Kurt, I'm getting butterflies like mad just thinking about it!" Rachel let out a short, high pitched squeal to which Kurt smiled at. His smile seemed a bit more constrained than usual, but it was probably just his way of trying not to get swept up in all of Rachel's current, big emotions. Of which she had many. She couldn't exactly blame him for that. Sometimes the Rachel Berry train was too intense of a ride for other people. What could she say? She was a fucking force of nature.

"Erm… Yeah, sure. I think it's...possible she'll be thrilled," Kurt said, hesitant in his answer. The diva was far too wrapped up in her own happiness at the moment to realize, though. Looping his arm through hers, he began to walk her the rest of the way towards the building. "Do you promise to tell me all about it later?" he asked, shooting her a concerned expression.

Aww. It was so cute that he asked! Rachel was touched by the small gesture of kindness and the interest he was showing in her life. "Of course!" she assured, reaching over and patting the hand that Kurt currently had curled around her arm. "I promise to tell you everything!"

Two hours later, when Rachel was standing in front of the bathroom in C corridor with a face full of what smelled and tasted like lemon lime slushie, she couldn't help but wonder where it had all gone wrong.

Chapter Text

Chapter Four: Summer Dreams, Ripped At The Seams

~7 hours earlier~

It was the first day of senior year. Quinn should have been thrilled. Over the moon. After all, she had been waiting for this year to roll around ever since stepping foot in Rydell High for the first time three years ago. Although high school had been a much better experience for her than it was for most, Quinn felt restless whenever she was trapped in the walls of Rydell High. She was a girl who valued freedom above all else and now she was a short year away from achieving just that. And yet...all Quinn could think about was the one and only Rachel Berry.

It had only been a couple of days since they had parted ways and already Quinn missed Rachel like crazy. She missed the adorable way the diva's nose would scrunch up whenever she didn't like something, even if she was trying to hide it. She missed the way that Rachel would get caught up in any song that was playing around them and would sing it softly under her breath. She missed the way it felt to hold her hand and the way Rachel would light up whenever their fingers laced together. She missed the way she laughed, the way she smelled, the way she'd always practically skip towards something she was excited about. Quinn missed it all.

The separation was driving her nuts. So much so that the night before, Quinn had been looking at the prices of a flight to New York and fantasizing about being able to swing it on the reg. The truth was, even though she did have some money squirreled away in a savings account, that Quinn would have to pick up a job or two or three over the fall semester if she was actually going to be able to fly across the country and back anytime soon. There wasn't just airfare to consider, but also finding a place to stay. Considering that Quinn had never really spent time with Rachel's dads save for a quick hello or goodbye here and there, she was sure that they wouldn't feel all that comfortable with her crashing at their place, in prime position to corrupt their otherwise chaste, behaved daughter. Realistically, Quinn would have to find a hotel to stay at. Those prices were even worse than the cost of a plane, though. They were horrifically expensive. By Quinn's approximation, it would cost an arm and leg to even be able to stay in a shoebox in New York for a night. Even between the money she had earned by lifeguarding over the summer and the set allowance that her parents awarded her on a weekly basis, it would take forever to accrue enough to comfortably afford such an expedition. At this point, if she wanted to spend time with Rachel, she was going to have to win the lottery.

None of this had been said to Rachel, though. Quinn knew that, although they hadn't really talked about it, that they both were vainly hoping to find a way to stay in one another's lives. Despite being a stark realist herself, Quinn didn't exactly want to burst Rachel's bubble of hope when it came to them being able to continue their relationship. Deep down, in her heart of hearts, Quinn knew that she was going to have to let the diva go at some point in the near future. Their lives were so separate and so far apart, that there was little chance of them being able to carry out a long distance relationship from coast to coast. Sure, they could probably pull it off for a short while, but eventually it would all get to be too much. And even if it didn't, Quinn knew that it would be incredibly selfish of her to keep Rachel on the line, preventing her from establishing a relationship with someone closer to home. It was a conversation that they were going to have to have...eventually. For now, Quinn was content with them jointly basking in denial for a little while longer.

What she was not content with, however, was the way the sun was peeking out over the arched ceiling of Rydell High, hitting her squarely in the face.

Reaching up, Quinn extended her index finger and tapped the top frame of her signature Ray-Ban sunglasses, dislodging them from their position on top of her head. They fell down smoothly, landing on her nose as intended. Once they were perched there, Quinn reached for both sides of her open leather jacket and pulled gently, wiggling her shoulders around and fixing the way it sat on her body before even daring to make her trek up the high school's walkway. It had been months since she had donned that particular jacket, as well as the persona that went along with it, but it still fit nicely.

There was a sense of comfort that came along with that jacket. It was one Quinn had custom made, back at the beginning of high school when she had founded what quickly became one of the most notorious groups at Rydell High: The T-Birds. They were the most elite glee club that the school had ever seen, having won several competitions throughout their time there. They only hurdle that they had yet to overcome was making it to regional level of the big, annual, national glee contest that Rydell High entered into every single year. Another local glee club - appropriately named The Scorpions - was based in a school only 16 miles away from theirs and always managed to snatch that honor away from them. The T-Birds were still the cream of the crop at Rydell High, though. Only one other glee club in those four walls had ever managed to come close to stealing the spotlight they had earned as the high school's main representatives. However, the Pink Ladies were missing that special something that they needed to put them at the top. Quinn had ousted their club during her freshman year and had every intention of keeping them in their place for her senior year. In fact, this year she planned on taking things a step farther and achieving the school's next big goal - making it to regionals.

That would all come in due time. For now, Quinn had other priorities, such as getting reacquainted with her fellow T-Birds. All of them had been on separate adventures throughout the summer and had only kept in touch via a group messaging text strand that sometimes got so frustrating that Quinn would have to turn her phone off just to give herself a break from the constant Ping! of messages rolling in. It would be nice to finally get to catch up with them in person and hear their stories live.

Assured that everything was now in its proper place, Quinn began her oh, so confident stroll up the main walkway of Rydell High. This was her school. This was her year. It was sure to be incredible. Well, as close as to incredible as she could get with the love of her life currently living thousands of miles across the country.

As her classic black Chuck Taylors hit the pavement in easy, even strides, the sounds of her best friends' voices could be heard drifting down the courtyard. The corners of Quinn's lips tugged up into a grin. They were all damn fools, but she had missed them dearly.

Before she could get closer to the source of the rambunctious cackling and howling that was currently rising above the rest of the courtyard hubbub, a pretty little brunette sporting what appeared to be some sort of designer dress managed to scoot herself directly into Quinn's path. The leader of the T-Birds stopped, already knowing what was going to be happening here. The grin that had been toying with the corners of Quinn's mouth flourished, turning into a full formed expression as she nonchalantly leaned against the wall of brick pavers lining the walkway she had been traveling. Here, at Rydell High, Quinn was known as the ultimate catch. Girls from all different walks of life would approach her at any given time of day and Quinn was always, always ready for them. No matter how tired or hungry or stressed she was, flirting came naturally to the charming blonde. It was as if being in the presence of another female flicked some sort of switch, transforming Quinn into Rydell High's most notorious Casanova.

"Fancy seeing you here," the girl cooed, blinking deliberately to show off her long, dark, thick lashes. Some of the mascara she had caked on earlier in the day was flaking off and dotting her cheek, but it was hardly noticeable unless you were up close like Quinn was right now.

"I do go here," Quinn said simply, lifting her shoulders into a ghost of a shrug. Short, sweet statements were her favorite thing to fall back on when entering into this familiar dance. It forced the other person to work a little harder, revealing more of their personality. It also gave Quinn that air of mystery that girls seemed to be suckers for. There had only been one girl to immediately see past that particular facade of Quinn's, but she was gone. Probably off having the time of her life in New York.

There was a loud giggle from the brunette that could only be described as being over the top. It was clear she was trying to bring her flirting A-game here. "You've always looked so...mature. I would have thought you graduated already."

"Ah, that's an easy mistake to make. I am, after all, wise beyond my years," Quinn remarked, her lips settling into a half-grin as she regarded the girl through the dark lenses of her sunglasses. Shades or not, eye contact was key. There were many theories on the best way to a girl's heart, but Quinn knew what did the trick: Attention. In a world where people typically were too busy scrolling through Twitter or Tumblr or Snapchat to really, truly listen to what was being said, it meant a lot when someone focused in all of their attention on you. Quinn had managed to win over quite a few girls simply by listening to what they had to say. Work smarter, not harder.

"And it shows," the girl replied, leaning her elbow against the wall as well. Slender fingers ending in French tips brushed across the back of Quinn's hand in a not so subtle flirtatious gesture. Ladies and gentlemen, looks like we have a bold one on our hands.

This was normally the point in time where Quinn would pull out a line such as, "What's your name, gorgeous?" or something similar. Except...as she stood there, staring into eyes that were a dull mahogany versus the molten chocolate ones that she had gotten lost in all summer, Quinn found that she really didn't care what the girl's name was. Flirting came as naturally to Quinn as breathing, but there was a distinct lack of desire at the moment. There was only one brunette that she wanted to be talking to and the person standing in front of her was not it.

The girl didn't seem to pick up on Quinn's veiled disinterest though. Instead of being fazed by the silence that had settled down onto them, she had other concerns. Reaching into her handbag, she extracted a pen. Without hesitation, she reached for Quinn's hand and turned it so that her palm was tilted up towards the sky.

"I'm Jenny," the brunette explained as she wrote a number - presumably hers - in flowy script across Quinn's palm. "And you, Quinn Fabray, should give me a call sometime. We'd have fun."

Quinn was unsurprised that the girl knew her name. After all, over time Quinn had become one of the more recognizable faces of Rydell High.

"QUINNIE!"

Quinn's head immediately turned towards the sound of her nickname, although she really didn't need to look to know who exactly it was coming from. Just as she expected, Noah "Puck" Puckerman stood across the grass, hands held up to his mouth to form a makeshift megaphone as he screamed. Other members of the T-Birds flanked Puck on both sides making hooting and howling noises as they wiggled their hips and beckoned Quinn to come over and join them. See? Morons. Lovable morons, though.

Grateful that she was saved from coming up with some sort of lie about how she'd definitely call that number later, Quinn promptly exited stage left.

"Sorry darling, gotta go," Quinn remarked, gracefully pulling her hand out from Jenny's lingering grasp so that she could leave. Wanting to reward Jenny for her boldness and give her something to take away from the interaction since Quinn had no intention of using the number decorating her hand, she reached out and brushed some of that brunette hair back behind the girl's ear and leaned in, quickly pressing a kiss to the apple of her cheek. It was a rewarding moment not only because of how Jenny immediately blushed, but also because of the impressed cries of her best friends. Moments like this were what kept Quinn's reputation going strong. By the time the final bell rang, nearly all the females of Rydell High will have heard of the lucky girl that got a kiss from Quinn Fabray in the courtyard that morning.

Even though it seemed as if she hadn't lost her touch over the summer, this moment felt differently than it had in the past. There was this creeping sadness that Quinn felt instead of the usual sense of empowerment such an interaction normally gave her. There was no question in Quinn's mind why this wasn't enjoyable as it had been a few months ago. Last year, she hadn't known that Rachel Berry existed. It hadn't even been a week without her yet and already Quinn was starting to realize that it was going to be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to find anyone that even began to compare to the lovely New York native she had fallen in love with over the summer.

But now wasn't the time to think such depressing thoughts. Which was easier said than done. However, the way her friends practically pounced on her, pulling her into a big, messy group hug with limbs flying everywhere did certainly help things.

"All right, all right!" Quinn called out, pressing her way out of the clumsy group embrace so that she could run her fingers through her short, choppy hair to ensure that it wasn't all messed up now. Once that was done, she pushed her sunglasses back up to the top of her head so that she could properly take a look at everyone. Although her voice was chastising, the wide grin on her face and the chuckle that escaped her revealed that Quinn was simply being playful with them. "We've only been apart for the summer, it's not like one of us came back from the dead or something."

"You may as well have with as little as you reply on the group message!" Sam announced, giving Quinn his best glare. The leader of the T-Birds replied non-verbally, putting her hand on her heart and giving them her best Who? Me? Look. It was true, though. Out of all of them, Quinn was probably the least chatty via text (unless it was Rachel she was texting). There was a running joke that she was the ghost of the group, always there, looking and observing, even if she wasn't actively responding. When a member of the club really wanted to get a response out of her, a ghost emoji was typically sent as a gentle way of prodding Quinn into actually replying to whatever question or comment preceded the image.

"Ah, that's Quinnie for you," Puck said plainly, reaching out and patting her twice on the back.

Hazel eyes narrowed into small slits as Quinn looked up and over at her friend. "And what did I tell you about using that name?"

Puck paused, tilting his head and scratching at his temple as if he were actually considering her question. "That you love and adored it and wanted us to only use Quinnie from now on. I seem to recall something about you wanting it etched onto your tombstone…"

Instead of honoring his remark with a statement of her own, Quinn simply lifted her elbow and leaned in, ramming it into Puck's side. Although he did his due diligence and acted as if it had hurt him, Quinn was pretty sure it had hurt her more. After all, Puck was made of pure muscle mass. When he wasn't busy hanging out with them or practicing the mashups they would piece together for competitions, he could be found on the football field. They would tease both him and Finn for it on occasion, but the truth was that their status on the football team was a part of why the T-Birds had earned their reputation for being the coolest group in school. It didn't matter what part of the social hierarchy you belonged to - everyone had the upmost respect for them and their sick harmonies.

"Cut Quinn a break and let her tell us allllllll about her summer at the beach!" Mercedes chimed in, giving the guys a look that let them all know she meant business. Quinn knew that Mercedes took her gossip very seriously. It was part of what she loved about her. Anytime Quinn had some hot tea to share with the group, Mercedes was always the one to make the biggest fuss about the news, no matter what it was. Quinn and Mercedes had been homies long before the creation of the group and their bond had only gotten stronger throughout high school.

"Ah… the beach…" Quinn stated, sighing loftily as she purposefully took her time in responding to Mercedes' inquiry. It wasn't only for the sake of building anticipation, although that was part of it, but it was mostly to buy time so that Quinn could figure out what she was going to say. She couldn't exactly tell them all that she had fallen in love and had the most monogamous summer that she had ever had in her entire life. That wasn't the type of news that they were looking forward to from her. The group loved to hear about Quinn's various conquests and live vicariously through them. They would be bored to absolute tears if Quinn shared that, not only was she with the same girl all summer long, but that they had come nowhere close to rounding the bases with one another. Hell, they hadn't even made it onto the baseball diamond.

"Quinnnnn," Mercedes whined, drawing out the name as a pout formed on her lips. "Don't mess with me like that. I have been waiting eagerly to hear about all the ladies you wooed this summer, plucking them heroically from the ocean's waves." Mercedes paused to sigh, looking off as if she was daydreaming. Quinn didn't miss the way the guys rolled their eyes at her antics. However, despite their shows of annoyance, she knew they were just as invested in her answer as Mercedes was.

Quinn chuckled, finally settling on some sort of answer. Keep it vague, Fabray. Very vague. "I actually did manage to save one girl." It wasn't a lie. After all, Rachel herself had thanked Quinn over and over again throughout the summer for supposedly saving her life. "An out-of-towner. From New York." Quinn paused and let that point sink in. As expected, Mercedes gave a small, excited squeal. "Not only was she from the Big Apple but she was fiiiiiiiiine." Quinn smacked her lips together, much like you would after sampling something delicious.

"Did you guys… you know…" Puck trailed off and lifted his hand up to his mouth, forming a V with his index and middle finger before flailing his tongue all around. To his right, Sam played along, thrusting his hips in quick, exaggerated movements. Even Finn, who was easily the most reserved of the group at times, joined in and started alternating between little gasps and moans. Now it was Quinn's turn to roll her eyes.

"Who do you think you're talking to here?" Quinn asked, reaching up and brushing imaginary dust off of her shoulder before looking around, wiggling her brows at her friends. Okay, so the implication was there. Sure. But she hadn't lied! Wasn't that what counted? If they assumed, that was on them. "Now cut that out before you're all taken to the nurse's office to make sure that you didn't hit your heads over the summer."

Mercedes, as always, backed Quinn up. Moving over, she reached up on tiptoes and gently smacked the back of Puck's head to get him to stop. Once the ringleader of the impromptu promiscuous parade stopped, the rest of them fell in line as well.

"You said she was an out-of-towner," Mercedes remarked, still clearly looking for information beyond what Quinn had shared thus far. "Does that mean she went back to New York?"

"Yup." Reaching up, Quinn lowered her sunglasses once more. It was both to signify that it was time to wrap this conversation up because the bell would be ringing any moment and to hide her expression, not wanting her eyes to give anything away. Quinn wasn't the type to get all hung up on what technically amounted to nothing more than a summer fling and did not want to endure the hours and hours of teasing that would occur if her friends even remotely got the impression that she had become attached at all.

Mercedes laughed, shaking her head. "Boy, do you know how to pick 'em!" she exclaimed, patting Quinn on the back. "That's perfect. You don't have to worry about doing the whole… love 'em and leave 'em move when they're the one forced to do the leaving!"

The boys in the group all nodded along their agreement while Quinn stood there, dying a little on the inside. This conversation was surprisingly painful. It made her all too aware of how much she actually missed Rachel. It felt wrong to stand there, celebrating the diva's exit from California when it had been the worst thing to happen to Quinn all summer long.

BOOOOOOOONG!

As subtly as she could, Quinn breathed out a sigh of relief. Saved by the bell.

"All right, knuckleheads, let's move along," Quinn prompted, waving her hands towards the door. A few members of the group gave her a weird look, seemingly surprised by her eagerness to abide by the beginning bell. "Look, as much as I like messing with the fine faculty of Rydell High, I'm not beat for getting a detention our very first day back. I'm looking to get out for some beach time later in the day before the sun goes down."

Quinn's fellow T-Birds looked around at one another and shrugged before turning towards the building, beginning to walk towards it. Keeping a bit of space between herself and the group, Quinn followed, surreptitiously pulling out her phone to see if Rachel had texted her yet. Disappointment hit her squarely in the chest when no notifications from the diva appeared on her screen. Rachel had been suspiciously absent all morning long. It should have made Quinn feel better considering the fact that she frequently found herself dwelling on the fact that they were going to have to let one another go at some point. But it didn't. It didn't at all.

~ooooooo~

Quinn grinned as she snatched the paper bag out of the air. Sam had just tossed it her way, lobbing it into the air with ease. A frustrated Puck trailed behind the group of them all, looking for an easy way to squeeze his way past Finn and Mercedes, who were forming a sort of wall with their bodies. It wouldn't hold up for long considering Puck's girth, but it was buying them some time at least.

"What did Mama Puck pack you this time?" Quinn asked, spinning on her heel so that she was walking backwards down the hallway now. Reaching into the bag, she pulled out a small plastic container filled with juicy, pink cubes of fruit. The grin on Quinn's face spread as she openly laughed. "Did...did you have your mother cut up some watermelon for you? And…" Holding the container up to the light, she paused and squinted through the plastic. "...she deseeded it and everything!"

The other members of the T-Birds laughed and Puck finally decided to put some muscle behind his movement, pushing his way through his friends and plucking the container from Quinn's hand.

"Haters. You're all haters," he grumbled, grabbing the paper bag from Quinn's grasp as well before she could pull anything else out of it.

"I'm actually, no bullshit, pretty jealous!" Mercedes announced as Quinn fell back into line with her friends. The two of them high-fived as Puck tucked his fruit back into his bag. It was a running joke between them all, poking fun of how much of a momma's boy Puck could be. In all honesty, they found that bond between the gentle giant and his mother to be endearing, but it didn't stop them from having a good time with it. Joking around was how they showed love.

Today, he had made himself an easy target. Earlier, when it had been time for lunch, Quinn had spotted the bag nestled into the back corner of Puck's locker. Knowing that they would all be eating together, he had left it there as a way of trying to avoid their taunts. It wasn't the first, and it wouldn't be the last, time that Mama Puck had packed her darling son a custom made lunch, built with care. Last year, they had teased him relentlessly when a cutesy note had fallen out of his lunch bag, only to be snatched up and read aloud by Finn. Hope you have a great day, Snookums! Don't forget to eat up to keep those muscles big and strong! it had read. To this day, if one of them was far enough from him to avoid getting whacked in the head and was feeling a bit reckless, they would call Puck by that lovely nickname before dashing away.

"Yeah, same," Quinn chimed in, linking arms with Mercedes as they continued making their way down the emptying hallway. The bell for their next class was going to be sounding any minute. "I wish someone would cut up my watermelon like that." Although her tone was teasing, there was a hint of truth to what Quinn was saying. Really, when it came to her family, she would simply take them noticing her. There were no cutesy, hand-packed lunches for Quinn Fabray. Instead, her parents simply opened up an unlimited credit line for her at the school's cafeteria. Throwing money at something was how they expressed love. Or at least, that was what Quinn told herself.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Puck mumbled, shoving the lunch into his messenger bag. Quinn saw him eye the nearby trash can, considering it for a second, but she knew he wouldn't dare. His mother was the person he respected the most and she knew he'd never disrespect her or one of her kind gestures like that. "Anyway, have any of you seen Sue Sylvester lurking around these parts yet? Maybe the old hag finally up and quit or something."

Quinn snorted. "Only in your wildest dreams, Puckerman."

Puck glanced over at Quinn, throwing a smirk her way. "You have no idea what happens in my wildest dreams…"

"Nor do we want to," Mercedes chimed in, using her stern voice. "Gross."

"Gross?!" Puck sputtered, waving his hand at the group as they all nodded their heads in unison. "My dreams are fucking beautiful. Masterpieces. Really though, I'm wondering if she finally cashed in her retirement card and went to the big shuffleboard palace in the sky…"

"Puck!" Quinn exclaimed, completely flabbergasted by what he had just said. Sure, they were all jackasses from time to time, but they did at least usually attempt not to be completely heartless assholes.

"What?! Isn't that where people go when they retire?"

"Dude," Sam said plainly, shaking his head. "Florida. Old people go to Florida when they retire. The place you were describing was Heaven…"

"Ohhhhh," Puck stated, drawing out the word. "That explains why I heard that phrase used when my great aunt Helen passed away. It happened only a week after she retired, so… I guess I got my wires crossed somewhere."

"And water's wet, Puckerman," Quinn said cooly. Her lips twisted into a grin as she caught a glimpse in her peripheral vision of him sticking his tongue out in her direction.

"ANYWAY… If she is still principal of Rydell High, I'm not taking any of her shit this year. Sue Sylvester can take all of her cockamanie platitudes and shove them-"

"Shove them where, Noah?"

The sickly sweet, yet gravely voice that emanated from behind them caused every member of the T-Birds to freeze in place. Quinn could already feel her skin crawling. A second ago she had been thoroughly impressed by Puck's use of "cockamanie platitudes" but now all she could think about was what would be the fastest way to escape. There was no escaping Sue Sylvester, though. Not when you were on her home turf. So instead, Quinn opted to try and make herself be as invisible as possible. Ducking her head down, she moved, shifting so that she was leaning against the nearby lockers as Principal Sylvester sauntered up to Puck. The rest of the T-Birds followed Quinn's lead, huddling near the lockers as well, trying to act as if they weren't hanging onto every word of this current exchange.

"Principal Sylvester!" Puck chirped, his voice coming out an octave higher than usual. "I didn't know you were there! How have you been?"

Quinn resisted the urge to roll her eyes. There was not even a snowflake's chance in hell that the tactic he was using was actually going to work.

"Never mind that. I'm just so, so curious as to where I can stick my...what was it?" Quinn and the rest of her group collective held their breath, hoping for two things. 1. That Sue Sylvester hadn't actually heard what Puck had said. And 2. That Puck wasn't foolish enough to actually answer that question. "Oh, that's right. My cockamanie platitudes."

The T-Birds winced in unison.

"Heh heh, oh that?" Puck asked, reaching up and tugging at the collar of his shirt with his index finger as he stalled for time. "I was just...uhhhh...trying to spice up my vocabulary a little. I'm sure you heard that I passed the SATs last year and I guess a bunch of those words stuck."

Principal Sylvester's head cocked to the side. "I did hear that you managed to squeak by with an acceptable score. I even considered sharing the news with our local evangelical team as an offer of proof that God really does exist."

Quinn pursed her lips. Don't laugh, Fabray. Don't do it.

"Well, if you don't have a good answer to my question, I suppose I should give you some time to percolate on it, eh? Ha. Percolate. Now there's an SAT word for you."

"And a great one at that!" Puck's attempts to butter the principal up were kinda sad but you couldn't blame the guy for trying.

"Glad you agree! We can talk more about it allllll week in detention." Just as Puck's face fell, the bell rang, meaning that they were all now late for class. The lot of them shared frantic glances before looking over at Principal Sylvester to see if she'd be doling out punishments to them as well. Her gaze, however, was still fixed on Puck. Reaching forward, she patted him twice on the shoulder. "Looking forward to all the wonderful talks we'll be having this week, Noah. Ta-ta for now."

As soon as Sue Sylvester turned and stepped away from them, the group devolved into a small fit of giggles. That ended quickly though because within seconds she was facing their direction again. "If you guys do not want to join Noah and me for what is sure to be several rousing after school talks, I suggest you get your heinies to class. MOVE!"

The second Principal Sylvester barked an order at them, they shot into action. Each member of the T-Birds, Quinn included, bolted down the hallway in the direction of their next class. Although Quinn had a reputation for being quite the rebel, there were certain lines that not even she crossed. Ignoring a direct command from Sue Sylvester was one of those lines.

Turning around the corner, Quinn took a step towards the door to her Chemistry class when slender fingers shot out and wrapped around her wrist like a vice. Before Quinn knew what was happening, she was being tugged into a storage closet. This wasn't at all the first time this had happened to her. Except, usually, the person tugging her into a closet was a horny lesbian. This time, it was a lesbian all right. But she was far from horny.

"Santana?!" Quinn exclaimed, tugging her wrist away and freeing it. "What are you doing?" Her brow furrowed as she regarded the leader of the Pink Ladies. Quinn knew with 100% certainty that this wasn't a booty call, so she had absolutely no idea what was going on. They had hooked up - once and only once - and then had both made a sacred vow to never let it happen again. The sex had been incredible, but it wasn't worth dealing with the fallout that would occur if there was a long-term hookup between two titans such as themselves. They were too much like oil and water to ever properly mix. Plus, there were no words for how much shit the other Pink Ladies and T-Birds would give them if they ever found out. Quinn and Santana were best known in Rydell High as frenemies and that was the way it was going to stay.

"I have a question for you," Santana stated simply, acting as if this was the most normal thing in the world.

"A...question," Quinn repeated. "What...what could possibly be so important that this…" Quinn paused to gesture around at the tiny room they were currently in. "...was where we needed to talk."

Santana rolled her eyes. "Listen, did you select the target yet?"

Immediately, Quinn stiffened. "You know that is official T-Birds business..."

Santana threw her hands up in mock surrender. "Hey, I'm not here to crash your little party. I'm simply here to make it fucking epic. I have thee most perfect person in mind for the beginning of the year tradition. I know, I know, you're perfectly capable of picking someone out yourself, but...trust me. This girl I have I'm thinking of? She's the one."

Quinn's lips pursed as she considered hearing Santana out. The truth was that she hadn't really given her intended target all that much thought. The guys had brought it up earlier at lunch, but Quinn had been too preoccupied with thoughts of a certain brunette to actually ponder it. However, she was running out of time to pick her unsuspecting victim.

Last year, the graduating seniors had chosen Quinn and her group to carry out one of Rydell High's longest running traditions: The Slushie Toss. On the first day of school, every single year, the chosen senior would select one of the incoming freshman and christen them with a slushie to the face. It had become so well-known that the freshman would hear about it in middle school and walk into Rydell High on red alert. They would wander around all day wondering if they were going to be the poor unfortunate soul to get drenched in cold sticky ice soaked in high fructose corn syrup. It was the mystery of who would get selected that made the event so exciting. The school would buzz about it all day long. Every once in awhile, the faculty would make some sort of statement about how hazing of any kind was not allowed, but they never followed through on any of the threats they would make. It was the unspoken general consensus that the staff enjoyed the tradition almost as much as the seniors did. After all, freshmen were the worst.

"I'll bite," Quinn said after a long moment of quiet contemplation. "Who are you thinking of?"

Santana smirked, obviously pleased with Quinn's response. "You'll love this... Okay, so she's new to the area. Completely. Meaning that she has no idea what could possibly be heading her way. You'll have the element of true surprise which, as you know, is very rare nowadays since the freshman normally all know what's coming for one of them. Also, her voice? Annoying. Soooo annoying. This girl is more chipper than a motherfucking chipmunk. She practically needs a slushie to the face so that she can calm her tits for a moment."

Quinn held up a hand to stop Santana from rambling any further. "Sounds like she rubbed you the wrong way. I'm not really beat for settling the score on one of your petty personal vendettas, so…"

Santana huffed but quickly regained her composure. Quinn didn't miss the way she drew in a deep breath before speaking again. "It's not a personal vendetta. I could care less about the freshmen of Rydell High. I simply...thought it would be good for you to start the year off with a real bang. You only get one chance to do the first slushie of the year and to do it right."

Santana had a point and Quinn knew it. The day was already winding down with only a few classes left. One of which that Quinn was already painfully late for. She was going to have some explaining to do to her Chemistry teacher, but she was sure she could think of an excuse that was at least somewhat believable. If it came down to it, she could always blame period cramps. Those two words were like magic around Rydell High when it came to dealing with the males on the staff. It was how Quinn had managed to get out of running the mile every year.

"Do you have a name?" Quinn asked. When Santana perked up, Quinn held out a hand. "Don't cream your pants there, Lopez. I'm just asking. I haven't made up my mind yet."

Another huff. "I didn't exactly get her name, but I did get something better."

"What's that exactly?"

"Her agreement to come with me and my crew to the girl's bathroom in corridor C right before our senior study hall begins." Santana stopped there, crossing her arms and grinning at Quinn, obviously pleased with herself.

"How exactly did you do that?" As much as Quinn didn't want Santana to know that she had piqued her curiosity, she couldn't help but ask.

"I told her we were having a meeting there and that perhaps she could be the first freshman to ever be invited to join the Pink Ladies. Worked like a motherfucking charm."

"Are you sure she'll go? I mean, she could have just been being polite when she agreed…" Quinn was teetering on the edge of agreement. It would be easy, so easy, to take Santana's idea and run with it. However, something about this whole situation felt...off. Quinn couldn't put her finger on the problem, though.

"Oh, I'm sure she'll be there with bells on. Trust me on this one."

Quinn snorted and Santana's eyes narrowed. "That's asking for a lot…"

The leader of the Pink Ladies opened up her mouth to say something in rebuttal but thought better of it. Quinn took the silence as her opportunity to make a final decision here.

A moment later, the blonde extended her hand.

"Let's do this."

~ooooooo~

As Quinn stood in C corridor with her hands wrapped around a large plastic cup that was beginning to drip with condensation, she began to wonder if she had made a mistake in trusting Santana.

Their meeting had ended after Quinn asked how she would know she had the right person to throw the slushie at. Santana had assured her that she already had it all figured out. The plan was that Santana was to personally lead the freshman to the desired hallway and then provide Quinn with a signal. As soon as Quinn got the verbal go-ahead from her, she was to toss the slushie into the face of the poor girl that was chosen to be the first sacrificial lamb of the freshman class. It was unfortunate, sure, but someone had to fill those shoes.

The rest of the T-Birds weren't quite as worried though. As Quinn waited there, straining to hear the footfalls of anyone approaching, the rest of her group stood a safe distance behind her, trying not to laugh their asses off. The moment hadn't even happened yet and already they were drunk with anticipation.

"Shhhhh," Quinn chastised, briefly whipping her head back to send a glare their way before refocusing on the entranceway to C corridor. "You dingbats are going to ruin the whole thing if you keep cackling like a group of hyenas."

"Dingbats?" Quinn heard Sam whisper from behind them. "Harsh, Q."

"You know, Quinn, it's ironic you just accused us of being cackling hyenas considering that a group of hyenas is actually called a cackle…"

As much as Quinn loved Mercedes, she couldn't help but shoot her a look in that moment.

"Sorry, Q," Mercedes stage-whispered back before hushing the rest of the group, serving as Quinn's second-in-command.

With her friends taken care of, Quinn focused her attention back on the task of hand. She sure hoped that this girl would get here soon or else her fingers were going to freeze off…

Luckily, Quinn got her wish. Not even a full minute later the familiar voice of the leader of the Pink Ladies penetrated the silence that had befallen the group.

Without hesitation, Quinn launched the frozen beverage at the form of the girl that turned into the hall. At first, all she saw was a flash of dark chestnut colored hair. Then, through the tears of laughter that were filling her vision, Quinn managed to catch a glimpse of a small gold star resting at the end of a slim chain draped around the girl's neck.

Ice flooded through Quinn's veins as realization smacked her across the face like a thousand-ton Mack Truck.

"RACHEL?!"

Chapter Text

Chapter Five: Look At Me, I'm Rachel B.

Rachel couldn't see a damn thing.

In fact, she was pretty positive she was blind. Whatever was currently oozing off of her face, clogging the perfect pores that she worked so hard at keeping pristine, didn't smell like anything that had been created by nature. Rachel was sure that the chemical additives coating her eyelids and seeping into her skin would have nothing but adverse consequences. If she developed a pimple from this, heads would roll.

Even if this moment had left her unable to see, the bewildered outcry that happened next confirmed that at least there were no problems with her ears. Those were working perfectly fine. And what Rachel heard - more specifically the distinctive voice she immediately recognized - left her shook.

'No… It can't be…' Rachel thought to herself, retreating firmly into the camp of denial as she stood there, wishing that the floor would just open up and swallow her whole. Forcing her limbs into action, the diva reached up and pressed the pads of her fingers to the inner corners of her eyes before slowly pulling her hands outwards in a vain attempt to brush away the sticky liquid that was clinging to her skin. In the background, she heard a voice she didn't recognize ask, "Do you know this girl, Q?"

Q? No. No way. It couldn't be. That was impossible. Quinn, her Quinn, would never do such a cruel thing. Surely they were talking about someone else! Maybe a Quinton. Or a Quincy. As for the voice she had heard, Rachel would believe that her mind was playing tricks on her. After all, she had literally just experienced what was probably the worst thing to ever happen to her in high school - which was saying something. It was altogether possible that she was hallucinating a little.

Sucking in a sharp breath through gritted teeth, Rachel attempted to open up her eyes so that she could take stock of her assailant. The first time she pulled her eyelids open, they fluttered frantically before closing again. Rachel's fingers brushed against the sides of her already soiled dress before reaching back up and rubbing at her eyes once more.

This time, when Rachel tried to open her eyes up, she blinked frantically before finding that she was able to keep them open now. At first, her vision was blurry. All she could see before her were smudges of color. Slowly but surely, everything sharpened, transitioning over into clarity. A flash of yellow morphed into short, choppy blonde hair. Streaks of black transformed into a sleek looking leather jacket that Rachel had never seen before. The hazel eyes that swam into focus were ones that she knew almost better than her own.

"Quinn?!" Rachel screeched, speaking for the first time since she had gotten a face full of slushie. The girl directly across from her winced, shame coloring her otherwise beautiful features. Rachel's knee-jerk reaction to being face to face with Quinn Fabray again was to be filled with excitement. There was the irrational impulse to lunge at her, pulling her into a big hug, slushie and all. However, when Rachel's dark eyes dropped to the empty cup in Quinn's hands, all of that evaporated. Confusion filled the places that excitement had appeared, causing her brow to furrow.

"What are you doing here?!" Quinn asked, taking a small step forward.

"I...I… We didn't go back to New York, my dads got a job here so we're staying," Rachel sputtered out. "I wanted to surprise you." Which really, judging by the expression on Quinn's face, she had succeeded at. What Rachel wasn't expecting was getting an unpleasant surprise herself.

"Oh, Rach…" Quinn whispered, one hand releasing the slushie cup and moving slightly, as if she were going to attempt to brush some of the liquid from Rachel's face. However, the sound of a person clearing their throat pulled Quinn's attention away from Rachel. When the blonde looked back over her shoulder, Rachel's gaze followed along. Back behind Quinn was a group of people all wearing the same leather jacket as she was, all giving her the strangest looks. Which was something that Quinn really seemed to take to heart because when she looked back over at Rachel, the warmth and concern that had been featured in her hazel eyes seemed to have disappeared.

"Quinn?" Rachel said softly, entirely unsure of what was going on here. Why had Quinn thrown a slushie in her face? Who were these friends of hers? Why hadn't she ever mentioned them? And why on earth was Quinn looking at her like that?

"It's cool that you're staying and all, but don't get your hopes up for a personal tour or anything." Angling her body a bit, Quinn launched the empty plastic cup towards a point just to the left of Rachel. Instinctively, the diva stepped back, away from the projected path of the cup. Her gaze followed the object as it landed right into the intended trash can. "I know we had like a thing this summer, but my time is wayyyy too valuable to be wasted on the guppies of Rydell High."

Rachel's jaw dropped. What the fuck?

"Quinn?" she repeated. This time her voice was a lot louder and sharper than it had been before.

"That's my name, don't wear it out," Quinn replied, adjusting her jacket before running a hand through her silky blonde hair. Looking back at her friends, who had closed the gap between themselves and Quinn, she exchanged smirks with them all. The tallest member of the group nudged Quinn with his elbow, chuckling appreciatively at the scene that was playing out here. Their amusement was getting under Rachel's skin. The confusion she felt was steadily being replaced by an entirely different emotion: Fury.

"What the…" Fuck. Rachel really wanted to say fuck in that moment, but tapped into every ounce of willpower she had to refrain. No need to stoop to the level of the uncultured jerks in front of her. As one of her idols once said: When they go low, we go high. "...heck do you think you're doing? Do you think this is funny?" Rachel's eyes narrowed into small slits. Her nostrils flared. Her fingers curled, tucking themselves against her palms until fists had been formed. Worst of all, her eyes began to sting. Not from the slushie that had been maliciously tossed into them, but from the tears that were forming. Tears that she was determined not to cry while she standing there, face to face what she had determined to be a group of bullies. How unfortunate it was that Quinn identified with that group.

"You aren't the girl I met at the beach this summer," Rachel remarked, her words spoken slowly and deliberately so that she could articulate them through the anger that was beginning to bubble over. It wasn't a question, but a declaration.

"No?" Quinn asked, taking a step back in an exaggerated manner and acting as if she were surprised by Rachel's statement. "Then maybe you should put out an alert for her. Post her photo to your Facebook page. Hold a candlelight vigil so that everyone can hold hands and pray for her safe return."

Now Quinn's group of friends were laughing so hard that some of them were doubled over. Rachel, on the other hand, was feeling angrier than she had ever felt in her life. This was even worse than the time in fifth grade when Colby Richardson had pushed her down into the school's filthy pond because she had told him she'd rather eat lunch with Stacy Daniels than him. Although she was young when it had happened, Rachel never forgot how furious she had been over having to walk through the entire school to get to the nurse's office looking like something out of Creature from the Black Lagoon. This was so much worse, though. So, so much worse.

While everyone else had a good laugh at her expense, Rachel made the decision to get the hell out of there. She was done. Both with this situation and with Quinn.

Tapping into that burning desire she felt to exit stage left, Rachel rolled her shoulders back and straightened up her posture. Once she was at her tallest, she took two deliberate steps forward, moving so that she was face to face with the girl that she had thought she had fallen for over the summer. Immediately, Quinn stopped laughing and looked down, right into her eyes. Hazel irises dropped to Rachel's lips before flickering back upwards. The movement didn't at all go unnoticed. It caused Rachel's stomach to do a flip and had her resolve wavering. Only for a few seconds, though. The glob of slushie that dislodged itself from her head and started streaking down her face helped to remind Rachel that she needed to state her piece and then get away from these assholes.

"I hate you, Quinn Fabray, and I wish that I had never laid eyes on you," Rachel stated, doing her best to keep her voice emotionless. Quinn didn't deserve to know what she was feeling. She didn't deserve to know anything about Rachel. However, despite all of this, Rachel couldn't help but feel a pang in her chest at the sight of the hurt that danced through the hazel eyes that were currently staring right at her. There was this desire to take it all back, tell Quinn she hadn't meant it and that she wanted to work through what had just happened. The impulse was fleeting. What Rachel wanted to do more was get herself to a place where she could be alone and finally give into the tears that had been demanding her attention this entire time.

Stepping back, Rachel made a point of keeping her head held high as she regarded the group standing before her. "Don't any of you dare follow me," she commanded before pushing her way right through them, heading towards the bathroom that was right there.

As soon as she stepped foot into the bathroom, tears flooded her vision, making everything blurry once more. Turning towards the mirror, she caught a glimpse of her sorry self before closing her eyes tight. Rachel's hands reached out, finding and gripping onto the edge of the counter as the tears she had been fighting off began to escape. One by one, they tumbled down the smooth planes of her cheek, creating salty streaks through the dried out sugary mix that coated her skin. Her tiny body shook from the force of her sobs. There was the sound of the door opening up behind her, but Rachel hardly registered it.

"Rachel, don't cry…"

Even in her distressed state, Rachel recognized Kurt's voice right away. With everything that had just happened, she had completely forgotten that the Pink Ladies - more specifically, Santana - were the ones that had escorted her over to Quinn in the first place. Had they all known what was going to happen? Was this everyone's idea of a funny joke? Santana definitely had been aware. After all, Rachel hadn't forgotten the fact that Santana had yelled out "NOW!" a second before she ended up with a face full of slushie.

Despite the fact that she wasn't sure if Kurt was complicit in the atrocity that just occurred, Rachel didn't pull away from him when he gently tugged her hands from their vice grip on the counter. Instead she turned towards him and opened up her eyes, briefly, before needing to shut them again. Moving into Kurt's offered embrace, Rachel wrapped her own arms around his slender figure and buried her face against the pink satin covering his shoulder.

"Honey, I had no idea this was going to happen," Kurt assured, almost as if he had read her mind a second ago. This only made Rachel sob harder. There were no words to express how relieved she was that her new friend hadn't been involved. "I'm so sorry, though. With the cagey way Santana was behaving I knew something was up, which is why I made sure to tag along, but I didn't know that this was what she had in mind. She can be such a bitch."

Rachel agreed with that statement, that was for sure. But she had bigger concerns of her mind than Santana.

"Q...Quinn…she...so...mean," Rachel choked out into between sobs, hardly making any sense at all. Luckily, Kurt seemed to pick up on what she had been trying to convey.

"Sweetie, I can't say for sure, but I don't think she meant what she was saying. I think Quinn was caught in between a rock and a hard place and that she chose the complete wrong way of handling things. Also…" Kurt trailed off, rubbing at Rachel's back. Now that she had a distraction, something to listen to, she was beginning to settle down. Her sobs had turned into soft cries and she had been listening intently to what Kurt had to say.

"Also…" Rachel slowly pulled away from Kurt so that she could brush the tears from eyes and look at him properly. "Also, what?"

Kurt grimaced a little before answering. Reaching up, he brushed some of Rachel's sticky hair from her face. "Also, I don't think Quinn was expecting to ever see you again. Especially not around these parts. See, here, at Rydell High… She's known for being a player. A big one. I have no idea what happened between you two this summer aside from what you've told me, but I don't think she ever intended for the world you guys created together to collide with the one she has here."

Rachel frowned. This explanation was logical, but was still incredibly hard to hear. It somehow made things worse to know that this was par for the course for Quinn.

A soft sniffle escaped the diva. "My heart hurts," she said simply, her voice small.

Kurt brushed at more of her hair, even though it was a total lost cause. "I know, honey. But you know what will make it feel better?"

Rachel shook her head.

"If you come to the sleepover I'm hosting tonight."

Rachel's first instinct was to accept Kurt's invitation, but then something occurred to her.

"Will…" Sniff. "Will Santana be there?"

Kurt nodded slowly. "Yes, but… she's really not that bad once you get to know her. I know what she did here sucks, but it was basically just her twisted way of trying to show you who Quinn really is. I think." Kurt shrugged, looking at Rachel sympathetically. "I would really love it if you came, though. And I know for a fact that Brittany and Tina would too. They were really excited to meet you. It's been a long time since we've met anyone who has even come close to being Pink Ladies material."

Rachel couldn't help but smile a little at that. Flattery would get you everywhere with her.

"Ah, there's that beautiful smile!" Kurt remarked, smiling as well. "So what do you say? Will you come?"

This time, Rachel didn't hesitate. "Yes. I would love to come."

"Perfect!" Kurt exclaimed, clapping his hands together. "Okay, well, let's get you cleaned up and then we'll get the hell out of here. Senior study hall is easily the most skippable class here, they won't miss us at all."

Rachel nodded, turning back towards the sink. She watched with sad eyes as Kurt turned on the water and then grabbed a few paper towels. This wasn't at all how she intended to end the school day, but you had to deal with the cards life handed you. No matter how much they fucking sucked.

~ooooooo~

"What about Suzie?!"

Kurt rolled his eyes so hard that Rachel was half-expecting them to roll right on out of his head.

"Suzie? What are you trying to do to this poor girl? Throw her to the wolves? Suzie would chew her up and spit her out." Kurt reached over, putting a hand on Rachel's leg. "Which is not at all a slight at your ability to handle things. This girl...if you can even call her that...is the worst. The absolute worst. She's more ogre than girl."

Brittany burst out into a fit of giggles, rolling around on Kurt's bed. "Like Shrek!" she exclaimed, getting Tina and Rachel to laugh as well.

Rachel had no idea what this girl actually looked like, but it was hard not to smile at Brittany's reaction. The blonde seemed so free and full of joy, there was actually a small part of Rachel that was jealous. Even though she was seated there, curlers in her hair and a smile on her face, she felt anything but jovial on the inside. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't stop thinking of Quinn. This conversation wasn't exactly helping matters either. As much as she appreciated everyone's attempts at finding her a replacement suitor, Rachel's heart wasn't really into it. Despite everything that happened that day, her heart still wanted Quinn.

"Okay so not Suzie!" Tina agreed, throwing her hands up as a show of her surrender. "Who else is even left? We've gone through most of the girls in the senior class so far."

"But not all of them," Kurt pointed out as he grabbed another curler and a lock of Rachel's hair. As he spoke, he carefully rolled her hair up towards her scalp. "There has gotta be someone we're missing. Someone nice, but fun. Pretty, but not conceited. Awesome, but single." Reaching for a clip, he opened it up and slid it into its place so that it would hold the curler to Rachel's scalp.

"Don't you think that's a bit of a tall order?" Santana asked from her position in the corner. Perched on one of Kurt's chairs, she had her feet resting against his ottoman and a file in her hand. As she worked on shaping her nails, she didn't even bother to look over at them. "I mean, you're looking for a freaking goddess for Rachel amongst a herd of fleas. You may have to lower your standards here."

"Nope," Kurt said easily, picking up another curler. His free hand patted Rachel's back twice. "I say that she deserves the best and shouldn't have to settle."

Rachel grinned at this, making sure to angle her head towards Santana as she did so. She could tell it was killing her to sit there and listen to Rachel be praised. It was glorious.

"Whatever," Santana mumbled, switching the nail she was working on. "Don't come crying to me for advice when you can't figure out anything. I personally think good old Rachel here should stay out of the game for a little bit. Get the lay of the land. You're new to Rydell High and I'm thinking your chances of snagging one of the greats is pretty low right now."

Rachel's jaw clenched although she did her best to keep the smile on her face. She was determined not to let the bitch have the satisfaction of seeing her rattled. "I wouldn't doubt my ability to...how did you say it...snag one of the greats? I had Quinn all summer long, didn't I?"

Santana snorted. "So you say."

'Conceal, don't feel,' Rachel told herself, recalling the lyrics from one of her favorite Disney movies. 'Don't let them know.'

"So I know," she replied, giving Santana one of her best smiles. It was the same smile that she had spent hours practicing in front of her bathroom mirror in New York in preparation for the day that it would be used while traveling down red carpets. It was glamorous, just like her. In the corner of her eye, Rachel saw Tina and Brittany exchange a look. She was getting the distinct impression that people rarely contradicted anything Santana had to say. Good. The bitch deserved to be knocked down a peg or two. Rachel wasn't the type to back down to bullies and that wasn't going to change now. No matter how badly she wanted a satin jacket of her own.

"Santana, give her a break," Kurt spoke up, looking over at the brooding brunette. Finally, the leader of the Pink Ladies looked up. "I haven't exactly seen you wooing any of the lovely ladies of Rydell High yourself lately."

Santana scowled, setting her file down. "Shows what you know," she grumbled, reaching for her Pink Ladies jacket and pulling it towards her. "I've actually been seeing Sasha lately, thank you very much."

It was only there for a split second, but Rachel could have sworn that she saw disappointment flicker onto Brittany's face. Was there...an attraction there? No, there couldn't be. No way. Santana wasn't exactly warm and fuzzy towards the other members of the group and Rachel couldn't imagine one of them actually falling for her.

"Sasha?" Tina asked, sounding surprised. "I thought you two swore off of each other last year."

"Yeah, Santana, you guys didn't exactly have the tamest break-up ever," Kurt remarked as he watched her fish around in her pockets for something. Turning his head towards Rachel, he mouthed, "Sasha cheated on her."

"I saw that, Kurt," Santana announced, finally finding what she was searching for and pulling it out. It was a small, white box with a red band wrapped around the top of it. It took Rachel a second to realize what it was. Cigarettes. Gross. "We're working on things. That bitch wouldn't dare try cheating on me again so I'm not all that worried."

There it was again. That look of disappointment on Brittany's face. Rachel was sure of it this time. It appeared as if the diva wasn't the only one with her heart set on someone totally unattainable. Even without knowing any of the details or circumstances, Rachel's heart went out to her.

"If you say so," Kurt said, turning his attention back to Rachel and her hair.

Santana flipped the top of the box open, plucking out one of the slender cigarettes contained within. Rachel couldn't help but scrunch up her nose.

"Oh, I'm sorry, do you want one?" Santana asked, smirking now. Lowering her feet from the ottoman, she got up and moved so that she was seated on the bed near where Rachel was perched. The diva was already shaking her head by the time the box was extended out towards her.

"Noooooo way," Rachel said, her distaste for what was being offered to her coming through loud and clear via the tone of her voice. "I value my throat and voice way too much to smoke." Reaching up, she rested her fingertips at the base of her throat as she shuddered at the mere thought of coating her wonderful vocal chords with the shit that was contained in even one cigarette.

Santana seemed thoroughly amused by Rachel's reaction. Reaching for a nearby lighter, she sank back onto the bed and lit the cigarette.

"Don't even think about making a mess," Kurt warned, grabbing onto an ashtray with his free hand and moving it over towards Santana. "This is a brand new comforter, completely unsullied."

"Oh really?" Santana remarked, smirk still lingering on her lips. "I don't think that's what Blaine would say."

Kurt blushed immediately. As a crimson hue traveled across his skin, spreading like crazy to the point that even his ears were red, Santana took a drag on the cigarette. Tilting her head towards Rachel, she puckered her lips and expelled the smoke that was contained in her cheeks in one big burst.

"Santana!" Rachel shrieked, pushing herself up and off the bed and dashing away from the smoke as if it would be fatal to inhale even a bit of it. Santana and the rest of the girls burst out laughing. Kurt, on the other hand, was left holding a curler in one hand and a brush in the other, looking miffed. "It's not funny!"

"Oh it's funny all right…" Santana mused, taking another puff as she stood up, moving so that she was facing them all. Then, much to Rachel's horror, she began to sing.

"Look at me, I'm Rachel B. Lousy with virginityWon't go to bed 'til I'm legally wed!" Santana held her hand out, cigarette perched in between her index and middle fingers, as if she were showing off a wedding ring. Kurt dropped the tools in his hands and scrambled to grab the ashtray, holding it under the path of the falling ash in hopes of catching most of it. "I can't, I'm Rachel B!"

Good-natured Brittany was all too willing to play along. Bouncing off the bed, she went to move in towards Santana.

"Watch it!" Santana sang, side-stepping the blonde with a big grin on her face. Pretending to look demure, she continued. "Hey, I'm Doris Day. I was not brought up that way. Won't come across, even Rock Hudson lost…" At this point, Brittany and Tina both chimed in, actually harmonizing together brilliantly. Even though she was the subject of the mocking that was occurring here, Rachel couldn't help but appreciate the way they all sounded together. "His heart to Doris Daaaaaaay!"

"I don't drink," Santana sang, feigning chugging a beverage. Everyone else - Kurt included - chimed in with a melodic, "No!" Rachel, on the other hand, stood there, crossing her arms. Who said she didn't drink? She had snuck a sip of daddy's wine cooler at a party once. That totally counted, right?

"Or swear!" Oh, Rachel swore. All the time! In her head.

"No!"

"I don't rat my hair!" Of course not. It would look awful!

"Ewww!" The backup singers all squealed, rolling around in delight as this continued on. Deep down, Rachel was somewhat amused, although she didn't plan on letting them know that. This was, after all, an assault on her character.

"I get ill from one cigarette!"

The girls and Kurt coughed three times in unison. Brittany playfully pranced up to Santana, pretending to try to pull up the long t-shirt she was currently sporting.

Playing along, Santana hopped away and dramatically flung the arm that was sans cigarette onto the front of her shirt, pressing down it onto her body. "Keep those filthy paws off my silky drawers! Would you pull that crap with Annette?" Hopping onto the bed, she danced her way over to a large poster that Kurt had hanging over his bed. Pressing her back to the wall, she looked over and sang to it. "As for you, Troy Donahue, I know what you want to do…" Santana shook her finger at the defined, toned body featured on the wall and Rachel rolled her eyes. "You got your crust, but I'm no object of lust! I'm just plain Rachel B."

As Santana moved to hop over to a different part of the bed, Kurt lunged forward and snatched the cigarette from her hands. It had been trailing ash like snow throughout her performance and he had clearly had enough of it.

Standing on the edge of the bed, Santana waved her arms in the air, thrusting her hips all around. "Elvis! Elvis! Let me be! Keep that pelvis faaaaaaar from me!" Everyone howled in amusement, but the diva managed to keep a straight face.

"Just keep your cool, now you're starting to droooool!" Jumping down from the bed for what Rachel assumed was the big finale here, Santana pretended to pop her collar and ended things out with a, "Hey Fongool, I'm Rachel B…"

Swaying her hips a few last times to whatever beat was playing out in her head, Santana then dramatically dove onto the bed right in between where Brittany and Tina were now sitting. Brittany happily shifted over, making some room for Santana, but not too much room. Their bodies were snug as all the Pink Ladies looked over at Rachel, waiting for her reaction. Only Kurt looked somewhat nervous now that the laughter had died out as well as the song itself.

Rachel, while slightly offended by the underlying accusation that she was the biggest goody two shoes to ever walk the planet, could take a joke. Especially one delivered by song. Rachel's appreciation for great music ran so deep that it softened the blow of their teasing. Also, she knew that Kurt wouldn't have chimed in if it were truly meant to be malicious.

"Funny," Rachel finally said, using her best sarcastic voice. A half-smile settled onto her full lips as she regarded the group. "I appreciate the fact that at least you were all in tune while you were poking fun at my values." Winking over at Kurt, she gave into the grin seeping onto her features and let it blossom fully. Plopping down in the seat that had been vacated by Santana at the beginning of the song, she reached out and started to undo one of the curlers locked into her hair. "You guys sound great together, really. You should consider getting into music."

"Wayyyy ahead of you, Rach," Kurt announced, pushing himself off the bed so that he could pass over the bin for Rachel to put the curlers and clips into as she removed them. "We actually have our own little glee club at school. Thursday afternoons, we normally get together and do some singing as well as piece together the mash-ups we want to use for competition."

Rachel lit up at this. In New York, glee clubs were notorious. Every single school, even the lower level ones, had multiple programs that focused on the arts. This was mostly due to their close proximity to the Tisch School of the Arts. Rachel hadn't realized that this practice was common at Rydell High as well. She had been so focused on setting up the perfect reunion for her and Quinn that she hadn't even considered looking into the kinds of programs her new school had for those that were musically inclined. Rachel had been the star of her old school's glee club, if she did say so herself. Just knowing that there was a chance of that happening again had her over the moon.

Santana must have picked up on her excitement because the leader of the Pink Ladies held up a hand, stating, "Don't go creaming your pants there, Berry."

Rachel's face fell slightly. She was sure that some sort of rude remark about how she'd never be a part of the Pink Ladies was going to follow, but to her surprise the conversation went a different route.

"We have our club, yeah, but it's mostly for fun. The whole singing scene is dominated by a certain group of assholes at school, so we've never really gotten to flex our skills officially. It blows because the Pink Ladies, prior to us getting to Rydell High, were well known as the school's most notorious glee club." Santana shrugged in an attempt to appear nonchalant, but Rachel hadn't missed the bitterness in her voice. "Your girl, Quinn, is the ringleader, by the way."

"She's not my girl," Rachel corrected right away, ignoring the way her heart constricted uncomfortably at admitting that fact out loud.

"Whatever. Anyway, she's the leader of the T-Birds, whom you...um, met today." Santana rolled over, looking up at the ceiling when she spoke. Brittany followed suit, but Tina remained on her stomach and Kurt took a seat on the ottoman. Rachel tried not to think about that so-called meeting and continued gingerly pulling curlers out of her hair. "They're a bunch of conceited dicks that don't like to share."

"We were thinking of staging a sort of coup, though," Tina stated, surprising everyone when she spoke up. Santana's head whipped to the side and she hissed at her. "What? Rachel's good people, she's not going to tell anyone."

"Yeah, Santana, cool your jets," Kurt chided before looking over at Rachel to elaborate what Tina had been talking about. "Our school has always entered only one glee club into the big, nationwide competition that happens every year. Tryouts are held at the end of the preceding year, which we went to. We, of course, lost because the faculty at Rydell High is obsessed with Quinn Fabray's voice." Rachel couldn't necessarily blame them for that. She had caught snippets of Quinn quietly singing along to music here and there. Even just from that, she could tell the girl had the voice of an angel. "So Rydell High is paying their way to Thunder Road."

"Thunder Road?" Rachel asked, arching a brow.

Santana lifted her hands in the air, creating a big arch with them as she spoke. "Thunder Road - The Road to Regionals," she explained before lowering her hands back down to her sides. "It's the contest where you have to compete with the schools in the immediate area before being allowed to compete in regionals, where you...as I'm sure you've guessed here...compete with the schools in the nearby regions. Then after that is the statewide competition and so on and so forth. All the way up to nationals."

Rachel was familiar with the concept. She herself had competed - and won - at national singing competitions before. Both as a soloist and with her glee club.

"After losing to the T-Birds...yet again...we went and took at the rules ourselves," Brittany said, chiming in. "Kurt here, our hero, noticed something."

At this, Kurt beamed. "I noticed that there was nothing in the rules against more than one club from a school competing. Meaning…"

"Meaning that you could go and compete too!" Rachel said, excited for them.

"Bingo," Santana said. "We just have to pay the entrance fee ourselves, which is easy when split between the four of us. We plan on submitting our paperwork early next week."

"The T-Birds are going to be sooooooooo surprised," Brittany giggled, kicking her feet up into the air as she spoke.

"Your girl…"

Rachel cleared her throat. Loudly.

"Sorry, Quinn...well, she's gonna shit a brick. It'll be amazing."

Before anyone could add anything else to the conversation, a car beeped outside. Santana immediately sprung up, scrambling off the bed.

"Ahhhh there's my ride!" she announced, smirking as she collected her clothes and began changing into them. After she pulled the oversized t-shirt from her body, she flung it into Kurt's direction. Who caught it. With his face.

Tugging the shirt from his face, Kurl revealed a big scowl. "You didn't tell us you were bailing on us all for Sasha."

"I didn't?" Santana asked, trying her best to look innocent as she shimmied into her jeans. "I could have sworn I…"

"You didn't," Brittany chimed in, sounding somewhat dejected.

"My bad," Santana said, shrugging into her Pink Ladies jacket. Reaching for her sunglasses, she perched them onto the top of her head before making her way over to the window. Of course she couldn't just leave through the front door like a normal person. "Well, I'll catch up with you guys later. Good luck of thinking of someone for Rachel." There was one last cackle of amusement from Santana before she climbed out the window and made her way down to the car that was waiting for her.

"Bitch…" Kurt stated, although Rachel could tell that he wasn't really bothered by her actions. She had a feeling that this was typical Santana behavior.

Although Santana had left, Rachel wasn't ready to let the glee club conversation drop just yet. "You know, if you guys want any help coming up with song ideas, I must say that I am quite adept at picking out music that goes together. I was president of the glee club at my old school and we always did fabulous. I'm sure many tears were shed when they heard that I wasn't coming back this year." Except from Danica Sedgewick. That bitch had been sniffing around Rachel's position as president for the last three years.

"We would love that!" Tina chimed in, sounding truly enthusiastic over the idea. It made Rachel smile. It felt good to be wanted, especially after what had happened earlier that day.

"Yeah, totally! Santana said something about you being too pure to be pink, but I don't think she was serious," Brittany announced, nodding furiously along with her statement. Rachel suppressed a sigh.

"Pay no mind to Santana. We would love to have you. We could always tell Santana that you helping us out with the competition is sort of your...initiation into the Pink Ladies," Kurt mused, thinking out loud. "I think you could definitely earn yourself a pink jacket by the end of the whole thing."

The whole group was smiling at Rachel and nodding encouragingly. Rachel found herself smiling back. Finally, after what had been a dark and depressing day, there was a light at the end of the tunnel for her future at Rydell High. It was small, but it was there.

"Perfect. There's nothing I would want more than that."

Except for Quinn Fabray.

~ooooooo~

It was three in the morning when Rachel made her way outside. The Pink Ladies - sans Santana who was still out on an adventure with Sasha - were all sleeping soundly in Kurt's room. Rachel, on the other hand, was feeling too restless to sleep. A thousand thoughts were simultaneously swirling through her head, leaving her feeling overwhelmed to the point that she was desperate for some fresh air. Rachel was hoping that outside, she would be able to find some peace of mind. Or at least that she would be able to settle down enough to get sleepy. Sleep sounded like it would be such a wonderful reprieve right now, provided that her dreams were Quinn-free. Rachel just wanted a break from the emotions that were weighing heavily on her heart. She was no stranger to rejection, but it had never been delivered to her so coldly by someone that she loved so much.

Walking over to a nearby oak tree, Rachel rested her back against its strong trunk and stared up into the night sky. It was the same sky and same stars that she had spent so many nights looking at with Quinn. It had become a game between them to try and find miscellaneous patterns hidden amongst the stars. There were no set rules to this game, but it appeared as if whoever found the most ridiculous shape in the sky won. Mostly because the other person would be laughing so hard that they couldn't concentrate enough to find another pattern.

During their brief separation from one another, these thoughts had given Rachel comfort. Now? They only made her heart ache. They were memories of a relationship that had proven itself to be nothing but a farce, built with one of the biggest phonies that Rachel had ever met in her life.

Rachel had no idea how to even begin processing the pain that she felt over what had happened. Whenever she was in a difficult emotional situation, she normally turned to music to express herself. Tonight would be no different.

"Guess mine is not the first heart broken, my eyes are not the first to cry," Rachel started off softly, her hand resting against her chest as she clutched the spot of her nightgown that covered her aching heart. "I'm not the first to know, there's just no getting over you."

Pulling her eyes from the sky, she looked over at a nearby street lamp instead. "You know I'm just a fool who's willing, to sit around and wait for you." Thoughts of all the time they had spent seated on a bench underneath a very similar light positioned outside of Rachel's favorite arcade came flooding back to her. Tears began to prick the corners of her eyes. "But, baby, can't you see there's nothing else for me to do? I'm hopelessly devoted to you."

Dropping her gaze, Rachel pushed herself off the tree. Clumsy feet carried her forward. "But... now... there's nowhere to hide, since you pushed my love aside. I'm out of my head, hopelessly devoted to you." Stopping at the cute granite fountain that Kurt had in his yard, Rachel stood at the edge of it, curling her hands around the lip of the basin as she sang. "Hopelessly devoted to you…" A single tear escaped, trailing down her cheek. "Hopelessly devoted to you…"

Releasing the fountain, she spun around and pressed her back up against it before reaching behind her and gripping the granite again. "My head is saying...fool, forget her. My heart is saying...don't let gooooo. Hold on 'til the end, that's what I intend to do." Looking back up into the night sky, she saw a shape that looked a lot like a turtle. Rachel wished with all her heart that Quinn was there to point it out to. "I'm hopelessly devoted to you."

Letting go, Rachel stepped forward, walking back towards the front porch that she had descended when she had first headed outside. The house was still dark inside, everyone blissfully unaware of her heartache. Rachel's arms outstretched wide as she sang. "But... now...there's nowhere to hide, since you pushed my love aside. I'm out of my head, hopelessly devoted to you." Lowering her arms, she slowly sank down onto the porch steps. "Hopelessly devoted to you…" Her voice, normally always steady, was beginning to crack. The emotions that she had been keeping bottled up were starting to rear their ugly heads full force. Singing was proving to be the catharsis that she so desperately needed in this moment. "Hopelessly devoted to youuuu…" Rachel's voice cracked once again as she finished out her song. Pulling her legs in against her chest, she pressed her forehead to her knees and allowed herself to give into the sadness that had been simmering underneath the surface all evening long.

About a half an hour later, Rachel finally returned to Kurt's room with a tearstained nightgown and the urge to go to sleep. Tomorrow would be a new day and Rachel was determined to make it a much better one, Quinn or no Quinn.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six: Hopelessly Devoted to You

Rachel smiled politely at the girl seated across from her. It had been a couple of weeks since what Rachel liked to refer to as The Dark Day in her head. In that time, she had managed to help the Pink Ladies come up with a killer mash-up to perform (one that was so amazing, not even Santana had anything bad to say about it) and in return, not only had they invited her to sing along with them (not as an official Pink Lady, she was still in her "probationary period" according to Santana) but they had also finally settled on someone for Rachel to date. Which is how she ended up at the town's local 50's themed diner, The Sock Hop, splitting an order of fries with Marley Rose. Cheese on the side, of course, since Rachel was a vegan.

It was their third date and it was everything that Rachel had come to expect from their interactions with one another - predictable, yet nice. Marley was always respectful of her and her values, never poking fun at the various quirks of Rachel's that would crop up here and there. They got along well and seemed to enjoy each other's company enough. There was only one teeny, tiny, itsy, bitsy, little issue with their attempted dalliance…

Rachel was bored. So utterly fucking bored. Bored to the point that there were times where she was pretty sure that her eyes actually glazed over while Marley was talking.

It wasn't the girl's fault, really. She was perfectly nice and talked about all the appropriate things. Family, school, the weather, her cat, her part time job over at Radio Shack. She even made sure to ask Rachel a decent number of questions about herself to keep the conversation from becoming too one-sided. But there were only a handful of times you could have a full-blown conversation over whether a cloud fell into the nimbostratus or cirrocumulus family before you started dozing off. Rachel and Marley were both in the same science class, so it had proven to be one of the few things that they discovered they had in common with one another. As a result, they ended up discussing said class ad nauseum.

It just really wasn't Rachel's cup of tea. Rachel Berry was the type of person who liked to look up at a cloud and distinguish them in much simpler ways. Such as… hey, that one looks like the Dole Whip at Disney. Or… wow, that one really looks like the stuffed sheep Bartholomew that I carried everywhere with me when I was three. And it wasn't as if she hadn't tried to expose Marley to her fun way of looking at life. Ohhhh had she tried. However, her attempts had been met with nothing more than a blank stare and a polite laugh. Tough crowd.

Despite this lack of instinct chemistry, Rachel was determined to really give this relationship the college try instead of throwing in the towel so soon. Rachel was no quitter. Not only that, but it did feel nice to be in the company of another person, even if that person wasn't Quinn.

"So, what did you get on Mr. Cabello's test on Milk and Honey?" Marley asked as she carefully plucked a fry from their dwindling pile before dunking it into her own personal cup of cheese.

Rachel technically heard the question, but it went in one ear and out the other thanks to the girl that was currently walking into the diner. Over Marley's shoulder, Rachel's eyes settled on Quinn as she entered the building with her fellow T-Birds filtering in right behind her. Luckily, it wasn't the first time since getting a slushie to the face that she had caught sight of her...ex-girlfriend? Ex-lover? Ex-fling? Rachel had never been in this situation before and was not at all sure what title to slap on their summer romance now that things had fallen apart. Had you asked Rachel a few weeks ago what Quinn and her were, she would have said soulmates. Now they felt more like star-crossed lovers, destined to remain in one another's orbit while never actually ending up together.

"Rachel?"

The diva's eyes shifted back to her date as she realized her faux paus. Smiling, she said, "I'm so sorry, Marley. I drifted off there for a minute. That's just me, head always in the clouds!" Reaching for her water, she took a sip of it before asking, "What was your question?"

Marley repeated it, to which Rachel responded by telling her that she had aced it and then asking the same question herself. Although she was doing her best to act like her mind was on the conversation at hand, that couldn't have been farther from the truth. As Marley talked about her favorite poems by Rupi Kaur and explained how grateful she was that they had all managed to make an appearance on the exam, Rachel kept stealing glances over at Quinn and her friends. They were all laughing and having a grand old time, to which Rachel was a bit jealous over. Personally, she couldn't remember the last time she had really, truly laughed. It had certainly happened at a point in time before Quinn had publicly shunned her.

"That's great," Rachel said, nodding. She was fairly certain that was the proper response to whatever Marley had just finished saying. The nod that she received from her date let her know that she was indeed on the right track here. "Tell me more," she urged, not ready to start talking herself yet. Rachel knew that she would be a poor conversationalist in the moment. All she wanted in that moment was to know what Quinn and her friends were discussing. What was making her laugh like that? Had she noticed Rachel was there? Did she care? Did she get the same ache in her chest when they were in the same room as one another?

At Rydell High, they had walked past each other several times in the hallways. A few times Quinn had tried to get Rachel's attention, but the diva had ignored her, always darting away and making a quick escape before the other girl could catch up to her. Once, in her haste to escape Quinn, she had accidentally darted into the Dungeon and Dragons club meeting. It had been an experience. After making a comment about how she had been the most beautiful girl to ever step foot into their sacred realm, Rachel was stuck there for at least ten more minutes while they tried to cajole her into joining their club. As someone who relied heavily on her charm and ability to weasel her way out of almost any social situation with grace, Rachel had managed to get away without completely crushing their hopes and dreams. As a consolation prize, she had blown them all an air-kiss before getting the hell out of there. That had seemed to satisfy most of the group. Rachel was pretty sure one of them had even managed to take a sneaky video of the moment on their phone so they could memorialize it forever. It didn't bother Rachel, though. She would take a group of thirsty, well-meaning nerds over being face to face with the girl that had shattered her heart into a million pieces any day.

In addition to ignoring her at school, Rachel had declined every phone call and erased every text message from Quinn without even reading it. There were half a dozen new voicemails on her phone from Quinn, but all of them sat there, unlistened to. At the time, Rachel hadn't been prepared to hear her voice. The same voice that had spoken all of those wonderful lies to Rachel over the summer. It would have been too painful. So they went ignored, like everything else.

Eventually, Quinn stopped messaging her. Rachel figured - or at least hoped - that it was out of respect to her wish to be left alone. Still, it was bittersweet to watch Quinn's efforts to reconcile taper off. It made the entire situation feel more final, as if their love story was really, truly over.

And yet...sitting there, only several yards away from where Quinn was, brought a lot of familiar emotions back to Rachel. Even with all the hubbub around them and the buzz of so many people talking at once, Rachel could make out the sound of Quinn's laughter above everything else. It sounded magical, as always.

After a few more moments of this, Rachel couldn't take it any longer. Curiosity was getting the best of her. She was a nosey person by nature, although she would never admit that out loud. Regardless, she had to know what was going on. It had been so long since she had gotten a peek into Quinn's life and their last interaction had left such a bad taste in her mouth that she was in desperate need of a palette cleanser.

Spotting the old fashioned jukebox over in the corner of the room, not far from where Quinn and her friends were seated, Rachel settled on a plan of action.

"Do you have a quarter?" Rachel asked, turning her full attention back to Marley. The look on the other girl's face let Rachel know that there was a good chance she had just cut her off mid-sentence. Whoops. Looking properly apologetic, she twisted a little in her seat, nodding over towards the jukebox. "I'm so sorry, but I am a sucker for the golden oldies and I would love to be able to go and pick out a song!"

"Oh, okay!" Marley said, still sounding jovial. It appeared as if Rachel's explanation had been good enough to smooth over any potential annoyance the girl felt over the diva being such a space cadet throughout their date. Reaching for her clutch, which was hanging on her chair, Marley opened up a small zippered compartment on the side and extracted the desired coin before passing it over to Rachel.

"Thanks a bunch!" Rachel said excitedly before scooting her chair back and heading straight towards the jukebox. As she passed Quinn's table, she slowed her stride down enough that she would be able to make her presence known and possibly pick up on a piece of the conversation that was going on there. Rachel succeeded on both counts.

"Girls are only good for one thing," the big one said, earning himself a dirty look from the two females at the table. However, Quinn's glare faltered when she caught sight of Rachel. Immediately, the blonde sat up straighter and for a second, Rachel swore that Quinn was going to bolt out of her chair and run right up to her. That didn't happen, though, and the conversation continued.

This time, one of the other guys spoke up. He had shaggy blonde hair and a smirk on his face. "Yeah, but what do you do with them the other 23 hours and 45 minutes of the day?" he asked, wiggling his eyebrows. Rachel couldn't stifle the scoff that bubbled up from the back of her throat, but fortunately no one at the table seemed to hear it. The only person in the group that was watching her was Quinn.

"Wait, it only takes 15 minutes?" Rachel heard one of the other guys ask. The rest of the group burst into laughter at the question just before she stepped out of earshot, completing her trek over to her desired target. Although it had only been a snippet of what the T-Birds had been discussing, it was enough to confirm Rachel's suspicions about them all being jackass pigs that she wanted nothing to do with. It was oh, so unfortunate that Quinn was a part of that group. Life was so unfair.

With a heavy heart, Rachel started looking over her options. The least she could do after temporarily abandoning her date was actually put Marley's quarter to good use. She became so engrossed in pouring over the songs listed there that she didn't even see Quinn get up out of her seat and slip away from the T-Birds, sneaking her way over to where Rachel stood.

"Hey."

The sound of Quinn's voice startled Rachel so much that she gasped and jumped back from the jukebox.

"Shiiiii...take mushrooms!" Rachel exclaimed, spinning so that she was facing Quinn. Adrenaline was coursing through her veins now after that scare, making it easier to keep her cool despite the fact that she was now literally cornered by the girl she had cried herself to sleep over more times than she cared to count. "Were you trying to give me a heart attack? Was that next up in your little game of... let's mess with the poor girl that I courted all summer long?"

"No," Quinn assured right away, sounding defeated. "Rach, I told you… I had no idea that you were going to be the one rounding that corner. Santana tricked me!"

Rachel crossed her arms, lifting her chin up in the air. "You told me no such thing."

"Not...not directly no," Quinn stated. She seemed slightly baffled. "Didn't you get any of my messages?"

"Nope," Rachel said, not bothering to provide an explanation along with her denial. Quinn didn't exactly deserve an explanation after all the shit she'd done.

"Okay, well…" Quinn trailed off, running a hand through her short hair and sighing. "Let me say it again, then, because you really need to hear this."

Rachel didn't say anything, but she also didn't move. As much as she would have loved to be that strong, independent woman that marched away from situations such as this one, she wasn't that person at the moment. Instead, she was just a girl, nursing a broken heart, desperate to hear anything that contradicted all of the awful explanations for Quinn's behavior that she had come up with on her own.

"Rachel," Quinn started off, reaching for her shoulders. Rachel stepped away though, shaking her head.

"Don't touch me. Please," she whispered, wrapping her arms around her body even tighter.

"Of course," Quinn murmured, dropping her hands. Rachel could see the raw disappointment on her face, but didn't regret her statement in the least. If she had any chance of holding onto both her sanity and her self-respect during this conversation, then she had to leave a healthy bit of space between herself and Quinn. One touch and Rachel knew that her resolve would crumble.

"Rachel," Quinn started off again, this time keeping her hands to herself. "There are no words for how sorry I am over what happened. The person you saw that day? That wasn't me, okay?"

Rachel scoffed, shaking her head. "Really? Because it sure as heck looked like you."

Quinn winced, but continued. "It wasn't me. It was...I would love to blame something epic like a body snatcher, but really what you saw was just a persona I put on in school. I have an image there, you know? Always have and it's… I guess it's hard to step away from that, but I never ever intended for you to get hurt. Especially not by me."

"You may not have intended it to happen, but the fact remains that it did," Rachel said plainly. "You hurt me, Quinn. A lot."

"I hate that I did. So much. Which is why… I would love to make it up to you, if you'll let me," Quinn asked, sliding her hands into the pockets of her leather jacket as she looked into Rachel's eyes. There was a hopeful tone to her voice, as if she actually thought this would work. Fat chance.

"I'm seeing Marley now," Rachel said, glancing over at the girl she was speaking of before looking back at the one she was speaking to. "And she's a great girl. Very nice. Considerate of other people's feelings. Doesn't have a so-called image to maintain." Rachel did finger quotes as she said the word image. "I think we could really be happy together."

Quinn looked at Rachel as disbelief colored her expression, taking over her features. Her brows raised slightly as she said, "You gotta be kidding me." Looking over in Marley's direction herself, Quinn pulled a hand from her pocket and pointed, as if she were trying to make sure they were talking about the same girl. Rachel swatted her hand out of the air.

"It's not polite to point!" Rachel whispered.

"Sorry, but… You really can't be serious. There is no way she is your type!"

Rachel had never seen this side of Quinn. If you asked her, the blonde seemed almost...jealous. It was actually kind of nice. It made Rachel feel as if she had the upper hand for once.

"I don't know what you're talking about. Marley is wonderful. So accomplished too." Rachel shrugged and Quinn's jaw became unhinged, her mouth hanging open slightly as she seemed to flounder with what to say to that. Considering how hard it was to ruffle Quinn's feathers, this moment was glorious. "What have you ever done?"

Quinn's jaw dropped down even lower. A bark of laughter escaped her as her eyes widened. "Enough! I could run circles around that girl," she insisted, furrowing her brow as she examined Rachel's face, as if she were trying to figure out if the diva was being serious.

"Ha!" Rachel shot back, uncrossing her arms and deciding that it was time to make her grand exit. She had Quinn on her toes and that was exactly where she wanted to leave her. It was petty, of course, but a small part of Rachel hoped that after this conversation, Quinn would be the one to suffer from a sleepless night for once. "I'll believe that when I see it."

With that, Rachel turned on her heel and scurried back up to where Marley sat. Upon reaching the table, she bent down and made a show of kissing the girl on the cheek. Out of the corner of her eye, Rachel could see Quinn slinking back to her table, looking miserable. Perfect.

"Find anything good?" Marley asked, seemingly unaware of the exchange that had just happened between Rachel and Quinn. It appeared as if she wasn't the nosey type, or else she would have spent her time at the table watching them both like a hawk. It was yet another thing that her and Rachel did not have in common.

"Nah," Rachel said, handing the unused quarter back over to Marley. "Nothing worth my time."

~ooooooo~

Quinn hadn't been able to get Rachel's words out of her head ever since their brief conversation at the diner. There had been an implication there that Quinn was an underachiever and that hadn't sat well with her at all. Not only was it untrue, but it was the absolute last thing she wanted Rachel thinking of her.

Considering that Marley had been the one that she had been compared to, Quinn had spent all night long pondering what Rachel could have possibly been so impressed with when it came to her. There wasn't a lot she knew about the girl, but Quinn did have an idea of why Rachel considered her to be impressive. Marley Rose was best known for two things: Her curve-breaking grades and her position on the soccer team. Quinn had the grades, although not many people knew about them. All her life, she had been naturally gifted when it came to schoolwork. The only difference between her and the other high scorers at her school was that she never discussed her grades. Quinn always felt as if her grade point average would tarnish her image. After all, it was hard to be seen as a total badass when you were rocking a solid 4.0.

As for sports...well, that had never been Quinn's thing. Schoolwork came naturally to her, but athletics did not. Gym had always been her least favorite subject, even more so than Earth Science. It was a sad day when the study of igneous rocks was a bigger highlight than anything else.

However...if that was what Rachel wanted out of the girl she was dating, then that was what she was going to get. Rachel Berry was the best thing that had ever happened to Quinn and she wasn't going to let the girl just up and walk out of her life like their summer together hadn't meant anything. Not without a fight.

This line of thought was what had Quinn standing outside of Coach Beiste's door, wondering what exactly she was about to get herself into.

"Ms. Fabray!" Coach Beiste said grandly, pushing the door open and waving Quinn in. "What a pleasure to see you! Come on in."

Quinn gave the coach a half-hearted smile before stepping inside of the small office reserved for the head of the athletic department.

"Take a seat, take a seat," Coach Beiste prompted, gesturing towards the two chairs that were positioned in front a large desk. Quinn did as directed, lowering onto one of the old, faded cushions. It immediately sank down underneath the weight of her body, forming a Quinn shaped divot in the cushion she was seated on. "So, I hear that you're looking to get into sports. Am I correct in saying so?"

Quinn nodded. "Absolutely."

"Brilliant!" The coach smiled at her and Quinn mimicked the expression, smiling back and hoping that it didn't look too much like a grimace. "What sport did you have in mind?"

Well, shit. Quinn hadn't thought that far. It was hard enough working up the willpower to ditch her leather jacket and make this appointment. Quinn had never stopped to consider that she would have to actually decide on some sort of specific sport to get started.

"What did I have in mind?" Quinn repeated back, chuckling. "Um… Yeah… I would have to say that… The sport I had in mind, you see… It was sporty. A sporty sport." Quinn reached up, tugging at the collar of her shirt as she somehow managed to keep on digging her hole even deeper. "Probably one with a...ball. Maybe a net?"

Shockingly, Coach Beiste managed to keep a straight face. A fist slammed down onto the desk, causing the objects on it to rattle and Quinn to sit up straighter. "You have come to the right place! I know just the thing."

A half an hour later, Quinn was awkwardly standing on a basketball court, questioning all of the life decisions that she had made that led her to this very moment in time. What the fuck had she been thinking? Oh, that's right. Rachel. She had been thinking of Rachel. Impressing Rachel. Getting Rachel to smile. Maybe hearing her cheer. Kissing her on those pretty pink lips of hers…

A rogue ball smacked Quinn in the back of the head, forcefully pulling her from the train of thought that she had been going down. It was probably for the best considering that she didn't exactly want to stand there, fantasizing about Rachel Berry in public. It didn't stop her from being annoyed, though.

"Watch where you're throwing that damn thing!" Quinn yelled, reaching for the comb that she had tucked into the waistband of her pants. Pulling it out, she brushed its teeth through her choppy hair just as she caught sight of the disapproving look Coach Beiste was giving her from the sidelines. "Sorry!" Quinn called out, doing one last pass through her hair to ensure that the ball hadn't completely fucked it up. "I'll do better!"

Except that was a lie. Quinn did not do better. In fact, at one point, she had gotten so distracted that she tossed the ball towards her own team's net. Thankfully, it hadn't gone in, but neither did any of the shots that she had made at the proper net. Even worse than that, Quinn couldn't seem to get the hang of dribbling the ball. It was much easier to simply carry the damn thing across the court and she didn't understand why it wasn't allowed. Eventually, she got so frustrated that she chucked the stupid ball at a teammate's head. That, she actually managed to hit.

Which was how Quinn ended up on the wrestling mats instead.

"It appears to me as if you have some...anger you need to work through," Coach Beiste had said to her gingerly, trying to explain the change in sports. "I think this could be good for you."

Quinn was game. After all, wrestling seemed to be pretty badass. It was fun to watch on television, too.

What you didn't see on TV, though, was how fucking painful it was. By the end of Quinn's first match, she was pretty positive she had pulled not one, not two, but at least three different muscles, all in places where she didn't even know that she had muscles to pull. It was excruciating. There was no way, no how she was going to let a group of overeager punks wreck her body like that. Fuck that shit.

So next, Quinn was placed in a non-contact sport. There was a much lower chance of pulling anything. Or at least, that was what Coach Beiste had promised her. Quinn took the coach's word for it and that was how she ended up standing at home plate with a bat in her hands. Quinn had never swung a bat before, unless you counted her time in tee-ball as a kid. Even then, she hadn't been very good at the sport, but perhaps that had changed over the years. Quinn figured that there was a chance that baseball was simply one of those sports that you grew into. Plus, perhaps it was easier to hit the ball with a real, wooden bat versus those crappy plastic things they give you when you're a child.

"Swing, batter batter, swing!" Quinn called out as recalled the only baseball related rhetoric that she had picked up over the years.

"You're the batter, dummy!" one of the girls called out, earning herself a death stare from Quinn and a chastise from Coach Beiste.

"Play fair," everyone was told.

"Whatever," Quinn grumbled, lifting the bat up and setting it against her shoulder. Spreading her legs wide, she crouched down a bit and waited for the ball to be tossed her way. Before she even knew what was happening, the catcher behind her was yelling.

"STRIKE!"

Quinn blinked, unsure of what she had just witnessed. Was the ball even thrown? Was that what that streak of white had been? Holy shit, how fast was that going?

"She didn't even try to hit the fucking ball!" a girl called out, complaining.

"Language!" Coach Beiste chirped from the sidelines. "Quinn, go on, give it another try. Take your time with it, I'm sure you can do it."

"Didn't even try to hit the fucking ball," Quinn muttered, shaking her head. What kind of scam was this stupid sport anyway? How were you supposed to hit something you couldn't really see coming?

The ball was thrown again - or at least, Quinn thought that was what had happened - so she swung, trying to hit it. Except she didn't hit anything. What she did manage to do, however, was let the bat slip right on out of her hands. The solid wooden stick launched into the air like a missile, heading straight for a group of girls that were hanging around the sidelines. They all screamed and scattered, shooting off in a bunch of different directions. The bat landed on the ground with a thud, leaving Quinn thankful that it hadn't managed to take out anyone in the process.

"No harm, no foul!" Quinn called out with a sheepish chuckle. Reaching up, she pulled her baseball cap from her head and wiped at the perspiration that had formed on her brow. "Unless fouls are good in this game… Or is that hockey… Are fouls ever a good thing?"

Quinn turned towards Coach Beiste as she asked this question. All she got in response was some head shaking and a defeated sounding, "Okay. Well. Baseball is not the sport for you. It's a damn shame this school doesn't do shot put with the way you throw."

Quinn wasn't sure what shot put was but this sorta sounded like a compliment, so she was going with it.

Coach Beiste sighed. "I have... one last idea for you. Just one. If you're up for it."

Quinn wasn't really up for it, but what other choice did she have?

Which was how she ended up on the very track she always used the excuse of her "time of the month" to avoid. Fate could really be a cruel bitch.

What was even worse than standing amongst the school's track team was the fact that Quinn had to don a hideous gray sweatsuit to do so. But she was wearing it. Taking it like a champ. Not only that, but she was running. Actually running. Okay, it was more of a jog, but it was something and it was much more than she had done in years.

Surprisingly, it didn't feel...horrible. As Quinn made her way around the track, she began to think to herself that perhaps there was something to this whole running thing. She was only on her first lap around the track and already her head felt clearer than it had in weeks.

That is, until she saw Rachel sitting on the bleachers, running her fingers through Marley's hair.

Quinn was so startled by the atrocious sight, she almost tripped over her own feet. Somehow she managed to stay upright and maintain her dignity, which Quinn was grateful for. It gave her the chance to catch Rachel's eye. Once she managed to do that, Quinn decided she was going to show off a bit. It was time to show Rachel how hard she had been trying and how dedicated she was to winning her over.

Turning her attention back to the track, Quinn picked up the pace, transitioning into an actual run. As her feet hit the ground, her stride grew to be nice and steady. Confident. Hell, it actually looked like she knew what she was doing!

Which was why, when Quinn approached the hurdles set up along the track, she decided to attempt them. How hard could they be, really? People jumped those damn things all the time. They didn't even appear to be all that high.

The first hurdle Quinn cleared with ease and it was a rush. It felt so cool to simply launch herself into the air before landing gracefully on the track. Maybe this was what she was born to do. Perhaps, by opting out of the mile run every year, Quinn had been missing her calling in life.

This feeling was only heightened by the way she managed to jump over the second hurdle. This was great! Fantastic. Rachel had to be impressed. Could little Miss Soccer Player do this? Doubtful.

There was a third obstacle coming up on the track and Quinn had no doubt in her mind that she wanted to jump over it as well. With the way this was going, she was sure it would be a piece of cake.

Quickening her speed, Quinn approached the hurdle with an exhilarating and building sense of confidence that was giving her the motivation needed to take this on. As soon as she was close enough, she launched herself into the air, mentally preparing herself for what was guaranteed to be a graceful landing on the other side. What Quinn was not prepared for was the way the toe of her sneaker got caught on the upper bar of the hurdle. That was all that was needed to throw her balance off completely. Instead of the nice landing that she had with the other two hurdles, Quinn tumbled to the ground, taking the damn thing along with her.

"Fuuuuuuck!" Quinn yelled out, momentarily forgetting her burning desire to come off as cool, calm, and collected. Lifting her knee up towards her chest, Quinn cradled it and hoped that the shooting pain that was traveling down her leg would go away soon.

"QUINN!"

Quinn's head lifted, looking for the source of the most beautiful voice that she had ever heard. It almost made this moment worth it. Almost.

Within seconds, the gorgeous face that matched the voice swam into view. Rachel's features were tinged with concern as she gazed down into Quinn's eyes. Briefly, Quinn thought to herself that she really needed to buck up and put on a brave face. But then Rachel's fingers were brushing the hair off of her face and Quinn realized that it would be more beneficial to her to not put on a mask this time around. She was rewarded for her vulnerability when Rachel cupped her cheek, brushing the pad of her thumb across Quinn's skin.

"Are you okay? Should I go get someone?" Rachel asked, her eyes examining Quinn's face with an intensity that made it feel as if they were the only two people in the entire universe at that moment. It made Quinn forget for a little bit that they weren't together anymore. Made her forget that she had fucked everything up.

"I'm fine," Quinn finally said once reality crept back up on her, reminding her of their current situation. The temptation to reach up and pull Rachel in for a kiss was there, but Quinn refrained, not wanting to overstep the boundaries that currently existed between them. "It's ironic though, isn't it?"

"What is?" Rachel asked, her brow furrowing. Not once had her eyes moved from Quinn's. It was lovely. Just like she had all summer long, Quinn quickly found herself getting lost in them. She had gazed into the eyes of many girls before, but never had she found anyone that could enthrall her in such a way with a simple glance. There was something magical about Rachel's eyes. Hell, there was something magical about Rachel Berry, in general. There was no doubt that she was one of a kind.

"Well," Quinn started off, releasing her leg and wincing as she lowered it the ground. It ached still, but she had a feeling it would be fine after some ice and some time. "Look at our positions right now. Does this remind you of anything?"

Rachel blinked before surveying their situation again, thinking it over. Quinn watched as realization dawned on her, showing in her eyes before spreading to the rest of her face. Then the most wonderful thing happened. Rachel smiled.

"Like our first meeting," she said softly, her gaze finding Quinn's again.

"Yeah," Quinn affirmed, smiling herself. "Just like our first meeting. Except…" she trailed off on purpose, building the suspense. It worked. Rachel leaned in, waiting to hear what Quinn was going to say next. "I'm not here, purporting to be on my death bed, so… it's slightly different."

Rachel tsk'ed her tongue against her teeth, releasing Quinn's cheek so that she could nudge her shoulder. "Har har har. You're hilarious."

"You know it," Quinn whispered, watching as Rachel's smile slowly receded before fading away completely. It was as if she had just remembered that she was supposed to still be mad at Quinn. It felt as if someone had punched Quinn right in the gut. It sucked.

"Do you think you can get up?" It seemed as if Rachel was itching to change the subject.

"I do," Quinn assured, shifting so that she could push herself up into a sitting position. The way that Rachel watched carefully with concerned eyes only made Quinn want to kiss her that much more.

"Okay, good," Rachel remarked, standing up and brushing out the skirt of her dress before extending her hand towards Quinn. She didn't hesitate to take it, eager to feel Rachel's hand in her own. It had been far too long since the last time it had happened.

Once they were both standing, a sort of awkwardness seemed to settle down between them. It was an odd feeling, especially considering how easy being together over the summer had been. Quinn didn't like it, not one bit.

"Rachel…"

"Quinn…"

They both laughed at the way they had spoken over one another.

"You first," Rachel said, stealing the words right out of Quinn's mouth.

"Rachel…" Quinn trailed off, realizing that she wasn't exactly sure what she wanted to say. She knew she needed to say something, but she also knew that she had to make it good. Rachel had been making it a point of keeping a decent amount of distance between them, so a chance like this was rare. "Would you have dinner with me? Tomorrow night?"

Rachel seemed surprised by her question and quite frankly, Quinn was too. There was so much she knew she had to address and yet, that was what had popped out of her mouth. It was almost as if, instinctively, Quinn knew that talk was cheap and that she needed to prove herself through her actions. Plus, the least she could do was take Rachel out to dinner after accidentally chucking a slushie at her face.

"Please?" Quinn tacked on, really wanting Rachel to say yes. However, the brunette being addressed paused, looking over at Marley who was still seated on the stands. "Unless...you already have a date?"

Rachel shook her head. "No," she stated, looking back at Quinn. "No date. In fact...I don't think Marley and I will be going on any more dates."

Quinn knew that she wasn't supposed to look happy in this moment and so she did her best to keep any and all traces of the mirth she felt over Rachel's news off of her face. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. At least not for that," Rachel clarified, shrugging her shoulders. "No chemistry. It's unfortunate, but it happens."

Quinn nodded, not wanting to say anything else considering the only word on the tip of her tongue was hallelujah.

"So...dinner," Rachel said slowly, feeling the words out as she spoke them aloud. "With you."

"With me."

"In a public place?"

Quinn nodded, already knowing where Rachel was going with this. Was she ready for her friends to see her out and about with Rachel? Hell no. But would she deal with it? Absolutely. Being without Rachel was way more painful than anything her fellow T-Birds could dish out at her.

"With...no slushies right?"

Quinn winced at the memory, causing the hint of a smile to appear on Rachel's lips. Quinn hoped that was a good sign and that she was starting to find the whole situation at least a tiny bit of amusing.

"No slushies," Quinn assured.

"Promise?"

Quinn traced a big X across the chest of her gray sweatshirt. "Cross my heart and hope to die."

Rachel's nose crinkled. "I never liked that one… Too morbid," she explained, shaking her head before lifting up her hand and extending her pinkie finger. "How about a good old fashioned pinkie promise instead?"

"Works for me," Quinn stated, reaching up and hooking her own pinkie finger into Rachel's. Gazing into one another's eyes, they stood like that for a moment. It felt so nice to be right there with the girl she loved that Quinn hardly noticed the dull ache in her leg anymore. In fact, she probably could have stood there exactly like that all night long if it meant that she got to be around Rachel.

When the moment finally did come to an end and Rachel released her hand, Quinn consoled herself with the fact that they were going to be having dinner together in the very near future.

"See you tomorrow?" Rachel asked as she took a few steps backwards, creating some space between herself and Quinn.

"Yes," Quinn replied with a nod. "I will definitely be seeing you tomorrow."

Rachel gave her one last smile before turning around and continuing her walk back to the bleachers. When she was halfway there, she froze, pausing right in the middle of the track. Quinn watched curiously as the diva turned back around towards her.

"I'm… I'm looking forward to it," Rachel admitted. Her voice was so uncharacteristically soft that Quinn had to strain to hear it. However, once the words registered with her, she felt her heart soar. There was something about Rachel that made her feel invincible, like she could take over the world. No one had ever made Quinn feel the way that Rachel Berry did.

"Me, too."

~ooooooo~

It had been Rachel's idea to go to The Sock Hop for dinner. Although she put on a brave face, deep down Quinn was wary over the idea. There was sure to be people she recognized there. Even worse than that, there was a hell of a good chance that either the Pink Ladies or the T-Birds would be there. Quinn was more than ready to reconcile with Rachel, but she still wasn't thrilled over the prospect of destroying the reputation that she had worked so hard to build.

Quinn had a sneaking suspicion that was all part of the reason why Rachel had chosen that location in the first place. She couldn't blame her for it. After all, Quinn knew that Rachel had no reason to trust her after the horrible way that she had treated her back in C corridor on their first day of school. If Quinn were to have any real shot at winning the diva back, she was going to have to really step up to the plate here (figuratively, of course, since it had already been proven that she didn't belong within ten miles of an actual baseball diamond) and prove herself to Rachel.

Which was why, when they entered the diner hand in hand, that Quinn did her absolute best to not openly react to the fact that her worst nightmare had come true: Both the Pink Ladies and the T-Birds were there. The temptation was there to ask Rachel if they could go somewhere else, but Quinn refrained. There was no way that she could pass it off as an innocent inquiry without revealing how truly painful it was going to be to march into a room full of people that knew and respected how much of a player she was.

So instead, Quinn took a deep breath, opened the door ready to accept her fate and...bolted to the back of the diner as quickly as possible, leading Rachel through the mess of bodies and tables that obstructed their path.

"Quinn!" Rachel called out as Quinn skidded to a stop, almost toppling them both over. Reaching out for the brunette's arms, she steadied them both before grinning and pulling out a chair for Rachel.

"Yes, beautiful?" Quinn asked, attempting to look as innocent as humanly possible. For a split second, she thought that Rachel was going to call her out on the way she had trucked them both to the back, away from the main hub of people, but instead the diva started to smile. It made Quinn think of the first time she had called Rachel beautiful, all those months ago. For someone who exuded such confidence, she had really seemed surprised to hear herself described in such a way. Quinn knew that just because someone presented themselves as being strong didn't mean that they didn't need to be reminded of how wonderful they were every now again. When it came to Rachel, Quinn loved pointing out all of her best qualities and making her feel really, truly special. It was a feat that she had been able to accomplish all summer long and Quinn hoped that she would be able to do the same going forward.

"Nothing," Rachel murmured, still smiling as she tucked a tendril of hair back behind her ear and took the seat that Quinn was offering to her.

Once Rachel was settled, Quinn hurried over to her own seat and plopped down, reaching for the menus that were settled into a metal wire rack on the table. Passing one to Rachel and keeping one to herself, she opened it up and held it high so that it covered her face. Maybe this would be her lucky day and if she managed to avoid being spotted long enough, her friends would leave. It was possible, right? Probable even. There was no telling how long her friends had already been there and it was slightly past prime dinner time.

"Quinn?" Rachel asked right as her fingers emerged over the top of Quinn's menu. Much to the blonde's dismay, those fingers curled around the laminated cardstock and tugged downwards, revealing Quinn's face. "I'm surprised you have to look at the menu, considering how much you said that you like to come here," Rachel remarked, looking at her suspiciously. It was only a few seconds later that her expression softened and Quinn felt relieved. "Regardless, can you not cover up that face of yours while you look it over? I've missed seeing you." When Rachel spoke, it was one of those rare occasions when she sounded shy. These moments always made Quinn's heart feel as if it were melting.

Immediately, Quinn felt like a damn fool. What exactly was she doing? Why was she working so hard to hide that she was sitting there with the most wonderful girl in California? No, in the entire planet. This was ridiculous. Absurd. Who cared what her friends saw and what they thought as long as it meant that Quinn got to have Rachel in her life? It was time to turn over a new leaf.

"Quinnieeeee!"

The new leaf idea flew right out the window as Puck sidled up to their table, grabbing a chair and turning it around before plunking himself down in it. Immediately behind him were not only the rest of the T-Birds, but the entirety of the Pink Ladies. The shit-eating grin on Santana's face had Quinn wishing that the ground would open up and swallow both her and Rachel whole so at least they could be together - alone.

"What did I tell you about calling me that?" Quinn asked, speaking through gritted teeth as she plastered on a fake smile and looked over at Puck.

Puck ignored Quinn and gestured for everyone to pull up a chair. There wasn't enough room for the whole group at the table, so Sam and Finn grabbed the next closest table and slid it over so that everyone would have a place to sit. Much to Quinn's dismay and horror, everyone settled down with a few of them reaching for menus, indicating that they hadn't eaten already. Fuck. Fuck everything.

"So, what are you crazy kids up to?" Santana asked, eyes flashing as she looked from Rachel to Quinn. "Planning your wedding? Big house, white picket fence, three kids? Deciding who is gonna carry the little brats? Hey, maybe you guys can take turns!"

The group laughed, Rachel blushed, and Quinn's eyes narrowed. Never before had Quinn been such an easy target for public ridicule and it didn't exactly feel great.

"Shut up," Quinn ordered Santana, earning herself a swift, but gentle kick in the shin. Even without being able to see who the culprit was, Quinn knew right away who had kicked her. Looking over at Rachel, she found the diva gaping at her.

"That's not nice," Rachel stated, causing the group to howl with laughter again.

"Yeah, Quinnie, that wasn't very nice of you. Don't forget your manners!" Puck said in sing-song while the rest of the T-Birds cackled. The Pink Ladies, on the other hand, were leaning into one another and giggling. Was this what hell felt like? It sure seemed like it.

"Don't forget your manners," Quinn muttered to herself, quietly mocking Puck as she angled herself away from the group, staring at a point at the wall instead of at any of them. All she wanted was to enjoy a nice night with Rachel. Was that too much to ask for? Apparently.

The annoyance that Quinn felt evaporated as soon as Rachel's hand slid into her own. It was a simple gesture, but it felt so nice. There was this odd sense of comfort that Quinn felt every time that they held hands. A sense of belonging. It was new to Quinn, but she loved it. There were many times with Rachel that Quinn felt more at home than she ever had with her own family. Best of all, when she was with Rachel - well, alone with Rachel - Quinn found that she could be more herself than she could at any other point in time. With her, Quinn didn't feel the need to put on a show or to behave a certain way. Which was part of why it was proving to be so difficult to be around both her friends and Rachel at the same exact time. It was as if the two versions of Quinn were colliding and she was finding that there wasn't room for the both of them to exist together peacefully. Nor was she ready to make the decision to commit to only one side of herself.

It was this train of thought that had Quinn sitting there, trying to think of a good reason to excuse herself from what had quickly turned into an unwanted group dinner. As much as she loved her friends, she didn't want to sit there and be put in the position of pandering to the image they had of her. All Quinn wanted to do was spend time with Rachel and work on mending the bridges she had unintentionally burned there.

"Hey, Rachel?" Quinn whispered, squeezing at the hand she was holding and giving the brunette her full attention. The rest of the group continued chatting away next to them, debating over what to order and who was going to split what.

"Yes, baby?" Rachel whispered back, causing Quinn to smile. This was the first time Rachel had called her 'baby' since the summer. Quinn hadn't realized how much she had missed it until that exact moment.

"I forgot that I have to my English paper submitted on Blackboard by midnight. I'm only about...halfway done it," Quinn explained, settling on an academic explanation in hopes that it would appeal to the brunette, who was very grade-conscious herself. It wasn't a bold-faced lie either. The paper really was due by midnight. Considering that Rachel had a curfew, Quinn had been banking on having plenty of time to finish it after their date. The part of what she had said was a lie was her only being halfway done. In actuality, all she had to do was work out her conclusion and then proof-read, but Rachel didn't have to know that.

"Oh, no." Rachel whispered, her brow furrowing. "Doesn't that teacher take off like...ten points or something for every day that a paper is late?"

Quinn nodded solemnly.

"That'll drop you a whole letter grade!" Rachel exclaimed. "We can't have that!"

Quinn shook her head. "Definitely not."

Then the most wonderful thing happened. Quinn was dreading having to turn to her friends and cite schoolwork as her reason for leaving, but she was spared from having to do so.

"Guys? Hey guys?" Rachel called out, tapping on the table to get everyone's attention. "I hate to be a party pooper, but Quinn and I are going to be leaving now."

There were several groans from the group and Quinn did her best not to scowl at them for being so petulant. Quinn knew that they were mostly disappointed that their entertainment for the night would be leaving. Assholes.

"We'll be sure to do this again soon, though! It was nice to be able to actually see you all this time around," Rachel stated, releasing Quinn's hand and pushing herself up into a standing position. Quinn followed suit. "You know, now that I don't have all of that crap on my face," she said, pointing at herself and laughing good-naturedly. It was nice to see Rachel being such a good sport about what had happened, but it still made Quinn feel like a jerk. That day would forever have its place on Quinn's list of her biggest regrets.

"You look hot either way!" Sam called out, beaming at them both. Several members of the group nodded in agreement with Kurt giving Rachel a wink and a thumbs up. Only Santana seemed unamused. Rolling an unlit cigarette back and forth between her fingers, she avoided eye contact and pretended as if she were blissfully unaware of the reception Rachel was receiving at the moment.

"Thank you, thank you," Rachel said with a giggle, curtsying with ease before taking Quinn's hand.

"Yeah, um, see you guys later," Quinn stated, giving them all one last forced smile before taking a step away, beginning their exit. "Let's go, Champ," she encouraged, settling on one of the nicknames she used for Rachel which didn't sound as cutesy and meaningful as it actually was.

Rachel smiled and nodded, moving in closer to Quinn as they began to make their way out of the diner. Finally.

As they stepped outside into the cool, crisp air, Quinn let go of Rachel's hand only long enough to shrug out of her T-Birds jacket and drape it around the brunette's shoulders. The worst part about the excuse that she had used to get out of dinner was that it meant her time with Rachel was going to be cut short as a result.

"Do you want me to swing by that vegan place you like on the way home so that we can grab takeout from there for dinner?" Quinn asked. Not only did she want to stretch out the remainder of their time together, but she also wanted to make sure that Rachel's needs were met. After all, Quinn had technically just cheated them both out of a dinner for the sake of saving face.

Rachel's head shook. "There's plenty in the fridge when I get home," the brunette assured as they headed towards the passenger side of Quinn's car. "All yummy stuff, too. Daddy made his vegan lasagna last night and you know how amazing pasta tastes the next day."

Quinn nodded in agreement. Even though she wasn't a vegan, that sure as shit sounded good to her at the moment. Especially considering she was pretty hungry herself. It was a damn shame she had her so-called homework assignment to get to, or else Quinn would have been tempted to try and snag an invite to this dinner plan herself.

"You know," Rachel started saying as they slowed to a stop right next to Quinn's car. "I could wrap up a piece for you to take with you, if you're interested. I know daddy wouldn't mind. He loves, loves, loves it when people try his cooking. The only caveat is that you would have to report back to me with your thoughts on it because he'll be dying to hear them."

There Rachel went again, surprising her. Quinn wasn't used to anyone trying to take care of her, but it was a common occurrence when she was around Rachel. The diva had once confided in Quinn that people seemed to label her as being self-centered, but having gotten to know the girl, she knew that was far from the truth. Although Rachel was a very confident person who seemed to vocalize her needs and go after what she wanted out of life, she also had an incredibly warm and loving heart. Not once had Quinn ever felt shafted or as if she wasn't important when she was around Rachel.

Stepping in closer to the brunette, Quinn rested her hands at her hips. Their eyes met, Rachel's sparkling in the moonlight. Everything about this moment was perfection.

"I love…" Quinn whispered, the words tumbling from her lips before she could think them through. Shit shit shit shit shit. They had only just reconciled and Quinn wasn't looking to drop any bombs on Rachel's lap this early on. Quickly, she tacked on a different ending than what she had originally wanted to say. "...lasagna so much! I would be happy to take some home."

It was hard to read Rachel's expression and honestly, Quinn didn't want to overthink anything. All she wanted to do was enjoy being in the presence of the most amazing girl that she had ever met. Which was why, before Rachel could respond, Quinn lowered her lips and kissed her for the first time in what felt like an eternity. Never again did she plan on going so long without kissing Rachel Berry.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven: Born to Hand Jive

Rachel knew that a big dance was coming up. It was all anyone in school could talk about. Even Santana - who rarely expressed enthusiasm over anything - had brought it up several times today alone during lunch. Rachel, who was seated next to Kurt, had been quietly tallying the number of times it came up. It had been mentioned 15 times so far between the four Pink Ladies. Rachel herself hadn't added to that total at all, as she was purposefully trying to avoid the subject. It was a sore spot for her considering that she hadn't been asked to it yet.

It had been taking an endless amount of self-control to not hint around about the dance whenever she was speaking to Quinn. The only thing that was keeping Rachel from bringing it up was her stubbornness. Rachel didn't want to have to be the one to initiate the conversation. What she really wanted was for Quinn to take it upon herself to ask her out to what was sure to be the hottest dance of the year.

The reason why it was generating so much buzz was that it was no normal dance. According to Kurt, this was not going to be the usual, boring, old, winter shindig. Instead, it was going to be a competition. More specifically, a dance-off. Rachel hadn't been able to contain her excitement when Kurt had explained this to her. The diva loved dancing almost as much as she loved singing. Not only that, but she thrived on competition. If she thought that dominating at skee-ball had been thrilling, then she was sure that kicking everyone's asses at the Rydell High dance-off would feel positively orgasmic.

Despite how thrilling the prospect of showing up to the dance-off and emerging as the star of Rydell High was, Rachel didn't want to attend unless Quinn was the one by her side. She had no interest in going with anyone else and she certainly wasn't going to go stag. It was Fabray or bust, in Rachel's opinion, even if it potentially hindered her chances of winning. Other than a few slow dances on the beach underneath the night sky, Rachel hadn't really gotten a glimpse of Quinn's dancing acumen. It was altogether possible that, when put to test, Quinn really had two left feet. But Rachel would gracefully accept defeat if it meant that she got to share the experience with the girl who had her heart.

This way of thinking was a really big deal in the world of Rachel Berry, who had been winning competitions ever since she was no more than a tiny, three year old ballerina with a penchant for the spotlight. It rare for her to ever want to put something else above her success, which was a sign of how much she cared for Quinn. The feeling didn't appear to be mutual, though, considering the fact that the dance was this weekend and Rachel still hadn't been asked to go. By this point, Rachel was beginning to worry that Quinn had asked someone else. That would be devastating, but she would cross that bridge when or if she ever came to it. For once, Rachel was trying really hard not to make any assumptions here. Creating imaginary scenarios was a dangerous game to play and never seemed to work out well for her overall state of mind.

"Hey, I'm gonna go," Rachel said suddenly, acting on impulse. For the last several minutes, she had tuned out of the conversation, but she had a decent idea of what was being discussed and needed to get away from all the hubbub for a while. Standing up, she grabbed her tray and took a step back, trying to not to allow herself to be swayed by the frowns three out of the four members of the Pink Ladies were giving her.

"Are you sure?" Kurt asked, eyeing her tray and the vegan brownie still perched on it. "You haven't even had dessert!"

"I'm sure," Rachel said, extending her tray out towards Kurt and nodding at the brownie. Picking up on the cue right away, he grabbed it with a smile. "I will see you all at practice later, okay?"

"Okay!" Brittany chirped, her frown quickly morphing into a smile. "See you then!"

~ooooooo~

Glee practice had gone well, but it still hadn't been enough for Rachel to completely get her mind off of the invite that she had yet to receive. This was odd for her. Normally music always served as the perfect escape and yet, here she was, still feeling shitty even after a solid hour of singing. Everything involving Quinn felt so different from Rachel's prior romantic entanglements. So much more intense. It was appealing and terrifying, all at the same time.

After saying goodbye to the ladies and politely turning down an invitation to head out to The Sock Hop for a late night dinner, Rachel walked out to the Rydell High parking lot where her dads were supposed to be waiting for her. They had seemed to sense that she was feeling a little down when they spoke on the phone earlier because her dads promised that they had a surprise for her. Rachel figured that they were going to be stopping for vegan ice cream on the way home. They always thought they were so slick, but Rachel thought they were more predictable than anything. She loved that about her dads, though. They were always there for her, no matter what she was going through. They treated all of the pain she felt as equally important, whether she was suffering from a paper cut or a broken heart.

With thoughts of vegan Chunky Monkey dancing through her head, Rachel moved over to one of the streetlamps near the curb and stood underneath of it, waiting for her dads to pull up. However, the familiar car that drove up didn't belong to her fathers, but to Quinn.

Rachel's otherwise smooth brow furrowed and a hint of a grin captured her lips as she watched the girl she loved slow down to a stop right in front of her. The confusion on her face only intensified when she realized that there was something painted onto the windows of the car. Even with the streetlamps, it was still a little dark, so Rachel had to squint to make out the what it said.

"Will… you… go… to…" Rachel read out loud slowly. While she was reading, Quinn got out of the car and walked around to the front of it so they were facing one another. Her hands were in the pockets of her leather jacket which was currently zipped most of the way up. When Rachel's eyes met Quinn's, she found that there was a sort of mischievous twinkle in them. "What's-"

Before Rachel could finish her question, Quinn was lifting her hand and extending a finger, wordlessly asking her to stop. The hand that she had held up dropped, latching onto the zipper of her jacket. With a grin, Quinn pulled it down, revealing the shirt she was wearing underneath of it. Even from the small strip that she could see, Rachel could tell that there were more words painted onto there. Quinn's hands curled into the leather of her jacket before she opened it up fully, allowing the material to slide down her arms before it fell off and pooled into a pile on the ground. This left Quinn in jeans and a plain white t-shirt with hand-painted words on it written in the same script that decorated the side of the car. Now, Quinn gestured for her to continue speaking.

"...the...dance...with...me?" Rachel finished reading, hardly able to get the words out because she was so choked up with emotion. After days of worrying and fretting over whether or not Quinn would ask her to the dance, it actually happening - and like this! It felt so nice that she wasn't entirely positive that she wasn't about to start blubbering, crying happy tears.

"Well?" Quinn asked, arching a brow as she regarded Rachel. There was a semblance of hesitance there, both in her facial features and in her voice that let Rachel know that she was actually worried that she wasn't about to get a positive response.

"Yes!" Rachel assured right away, her voice coming out as an excited squeal. Normally she was pretty good at controlling herself in public, but there was no room for manners or proper decorum in a moment such as this one. Unable to resist the urge, Rachel dropped her bag onto the ground and launched herself forward, closing the gap between herself and Quinn in only a few short strides. Jumping up into the blonde's arms, she cried out in delight as Quinn caught her easily. The hem of Rachel's dress hiked up her thighs as she wrapped her limbs around the taller woman's body, eagerly pressing their lips together. "Yes, yes, yes, yes," she mumbled in between kisses before pulling back enough to look into warm hazel eyes. "I would absolutely love to go to the dance with you."

"Perfect," Quinn whispered, grinning widely.

The two of them remained just like that for several moments, kissing and simply enjoying one another presence, until Quinn drove Rachel home. That night, each of her dads would get an extra hug and a kiss before bed as a thank you for the part they played in making Quinn's surprise happen. For the first time since the summer had come to an end, everything felt right in the world of Rachel Berry.

~ooooooo~

Picking out a dress for the dance had been complete and total agony. It wasn't supposed to be. After all, Rachel had selected an outfit for the dance days prior to even being asked to it by Quinn. It was the type of person she was: A planner. Rachel did her best to anticipate anything that could come her way so that she was never unpleasantly surprised. Life rarely turned out the way anyone expected, though, so many times she was stuck in the position of adjusting her game plan. Which was exactly what happened several hours before the dance when she found out that Santana planned to wear a dress that was the exact same shade of magenta as the one Rachel had picked out for the dance. The last thing Rachel wanted was to show up to a major event, accidentally twinning with anyone else. Especially not Santana, of all people. That would be a nightmare.

To remedy this unexpected complication, Rachel managed to cajole her fathers into taking her dress shopping immediately following the final bell that Friday. They were going to have to be quick, but she knew that they could do it. Could she have chosen to go through her closet instead and pick out one of the many dresses from there? Sure. But then it wouldn't have felt special. And Rachel wanted everything about tonight to be special. Although she had been to many dances in her past, never before had she gone to something as exciting as a dance-off. Even more importantly than that, Rachel had never gone to a dance with a person she had real, true feelings for before. The girls that she normally selected for such events had always been more eye candy than anything else. An accessory. It was a common practice when it came to celebrities going to red carpet events, so Rachel had no qualms about employing such a practice when it came to her own life, even if she was still a few years away from becoming a celebrity herself. Rachel always figured it was a type of rehearsal for when she became a star.

It didn't take long for Rachel to discover that the prospect of going to the dance with the girl she loved was far more thrilling than anything else she had ever tried out beforehand. Anything she ever did with Quinn felt special and this was no exception. When she was with Quinn, Rachel felt as if she experienced things differently. Colors were brighter, smells were more intense. She had always heard that being head over heels in love was something that seeped into all aspects of your life but had never truly understood the concept until meeting Quinn Fabray.

Which was why everything had to be perfect on Rachel's end for this dance. It was a honor to get to go to such a thing with Quinn in the first place and Rachel was pretty determined to see that it all went off without a hitch. Not to mention that it would only be their second public outing since getting back together. Rachel knew now that there was a large part of Quinn that was worried about her status and reputation at Rydell High, so the diva didn't want to do anything to tarnish that. It was her turn to be the eye candy, which was a role that she was happy to take on.

By the end of their shopping excursion, Rachel ended up going for a look that would be simple, but classic. She had chosen a flattering little black dress that hugged all the curves of her body just right but was still modest enough to fit her persona. The only bit of flair adorning the outfit was a thick red satin bow that wrapped around her body right underneath of her bust. Rachel completed this look with a matching headband, ruby red lipstick, and a pair of her favorite black heels.

In addition to purchasing the dress, Rachel had grabbed a red tie off of the rack in the men's section that would perfectly compliment her outfit. Earlier that day, when she had texted Quinn to see what she would be wearing (considering that she already had to change her own outfit, Rachel wanted to ensure that the new ensemble she selected wouldn't clash with Quinn's), the leader of the T-Birds had responded by explaining that she was choosing to wear one of her favorite tailored suits that night. It was perfect, really, because it made coordinating their outfits much easier than it would have been if they both chose to wear a dress. Also, Rachel thought that Quinn would look incredibly fucking hot in a suit.

This suspicion was confirmed later that night, when Quinn picked Rachel up at her house so that she could drive them both over to Rydell High. It was a good thing her dads were standing right behind her when she first caught sight of Quinn or else she would have been tempted to abandon all of her morals right then and there, telling her that they really should skip the dance and find somewhere to be alone. Quinn looked smokin'. The white suit she was wearing was indeed tailored to her body and fit like a glove. Quinn had seemingly chosen to leave the jacket part at home and was instead sporting a sleek black vest with satin trim, with the sleeves of her bright white shirt neatly rolled up to her elbows. A matching tie was tucked into the vest, but Rachel's dad Hiram helped Quinn switch over to the tie that his daughter had picked out instead. Hiram was an expert at tying ties and managed to make the transition happen in under a minute.

In addition to selecting the most flattering outfit ever, Quinn had done her makeup with an intense smokey eye and a dark liner that perfectly complimented what she was wearing. To finish the ensemble off, the blonde had her bangs swept up and off her face to the side, held in place by a glossy black clip that matched the trim of her vest. Quinn looked far more stunning than Rachel could have ever imagined, even in her wildest dreams.

When they stepped into the auditorium of Rydell High, hand in hand and looking the way that they did, Rachel felt a burst of confidence unlike anything she had ever felt before. It was incredible. Everything felt as if it were just as it was supposed to be, with Quinn by her side. Rachel was operating on such a high that it felt as if she could take over the world. Or, at the very least, completely destroy everyone at this dance-off.

"Come on, let's go say hi to everyone and then warm up!" Rachel encouraged, squeezing Quinn's hand and pulling her eyes away from everything else long enough to find those hazel irises she adored.

With a grin, Rachel went to take a step over towards where she saw some of the Pink Ladies dancing with their dates, but found that she was unable to complete the trek over there. Before she could get close to her friends, Quinn had her arms around her body and was whisking Rachel out onto the dancefloor, effortlessly moving her around in between the huddled bodies that crowded the floor.

"Quinn!" Rachel exclaimed, laughing as she minded her feet and made sure to match the pace her date was setting. "What are you doing?"

"Shhh," Quinn prompted, releasing Rachel only long enough to spin her around before pulling the brunette back into her arms. "First we warm up and then we'll go play nice," she whispered, barely loud enough for Rachel to hear her over the steady thrum of music playing. Tilting her head in so that her lips were next to Rachel's ear, her warm breath hitting the lobe, she added, "Wouldn't want them to get a jumpstart on us, would we?" Quinn ended her remark by dropping her lips lower and pressing a soft kiss to the skin there.

Okay. Quinn was really speaking her language here. Between the kiss, the huskiness of Quinn's voice, and the alluring away her date was insinuating that she was in it to win it here, Rachel was feeling especially… God, dare she say it… turned on.

"Mhmm," Rachel murmured in response, finding herself unable of actually articulating any of her thoughts at the moment due to the pleasurable lightheadedness that Quinn was causing her to feel. All she really was able to do in the moment was let her body language do the talking for her instead. Pressing her chest even closer to Quinn's, she prompted them to pick up the pace slightly before deferring back to her date. Rachel always found it difficult not to try and lead when she danced with other girls, but somehow it was easier with Quinn. Hell, everything was easier with Quinn.

Any fears that she had experienced previously about Quinn having two left feet were quickly dispelled. For a while they danced, making their way past the other couples on the dance floor with an easy grace that indicated to Rachel that they were going to have an easy time with this competition. Like taking candy from a motherfucking baby. Rachel was so excited.

But not excited enough to forget that they still hadn't said hi to any of their friends yet. Rachel didn't want to be rude, so as soon as "I Want You Back" by the Jackson 5 started to wind down, she began to tug Quinn off of the dance floor and towards the spot where she had spotted the top of Kurt's head. Rachel had seen him earlier in the night, dancing with a tall, dark, and handsome gentleman that she presumed was the illustrious Blaine. More than anything, she wanted to meet the man that had her best friend so enamored.

Before she could accomplish this goal, a loud chime rang out, filling the room with its reverberating noise. The music had died down completely and within seconds, Sue Sylvester's booming voice was filling the gap that it had left behind.

"Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to the first ever Rydell High dance off!"

Principal Sylvester paused and the room erupted with cheers. The woman on the stage beamed, soaking it in as if everyone was cheering for her and her alone. After a few moments of this, she began to wave her hands around, signaling for everyone to quiet down. When that didn't do the trick, she resorted to using her voice instead.

"SIMMER DOWN!"

It wasn't so much what Principal Sylvester said, but the tone of voice she used to say it that actually got everyone to stop what they were doing. It was somewhat amusing to watch so many people collectively get chills at once, but it was mostly terrifying. Even Rachel, who had only been at Rydell High for a short while, had already figured out that the principal there was a force of nature that was not to be messed with. It wasn't so much that she was respected, but she was most definitely feared.

"That's better," Principal Sylvester said sweetly, smiling as she looked around the room. As quickly as the smile appeared, it faded away. "Time to get down to business! This should not be a surprise, but there are some rules that I need to lay out for you miscreants before we really get this party started. NUMBER ONE!" Sue Sylvester held up a single finger to illustrate what she had just screamed into the microphone. Rachel winced at the feedback that she had caused by doing that. "If you are tapped on the shoulder, you leave. No ifs, ands, or buts. If you even try to argue with the faculty member that taps you on the shoulder, you will be BANNED from any and all future dances. That's right, banned. For those of us here that are still taking remedial English and are not the best with vocabulary… that means that you will never be allowed to attend another dance here ever again. This includes prom and the end of the year dance to celebrate our graduates."

There were a few brave souls in the crowd who attempted to boo what the principal was saying, but she managed to silence them with a single look. If looks could kill, there would be a pile of dead bodies in the middle of the dance floor right now. This bitch was intense.

"NUMBER TWO!" Principal Sylvester yelled into the phone, causing even more feedback. The arm that Quinn had around Rachel's waist tightened. "There will be no and I mean NO dancing like hoochie mammas on my dance floor. Got it? You can whip..." She paused, demonstrating this move for them all. Rachel felt the urge to laugh, but resisted. The last thing she wanted to do was get herself kicked off of the dance floor before the competition even began. "You can nae nae…" There was a demonstration of this as well and Rachel found herself thanking her lucky stars for all of the acting classes her dads had paid for in the past. It was a large part of why she was able to keep a straight face here. Quinn, on the other hand, was struggling a lot more with this moment in time. Rachel could feel that the leader of the T-Birds was actually shaking from the force of her suppressed laughter. "You can even go old school and macarena." Sue Sylvester acted this dance move out as well, but this time she didn't stop. As she continued speaking, she kept on doing the macarena on a loop. Rachel found herself making a mental note to check Facebook later to see if any student caught this wonderful moment on film. "But don't you dare even try to do anything unsavory in my school on my dime. If it's a move you'd do in the bedroom, don't bother trying it here! I will be watching… I will ALWAYS be watching…" The fact that she was doing the macarena while saying all this somehow made it even creepier.

"Finally, that brings us to… NUMBER THREE! Now folks, this is the most important rule of all..." The macarena continued. For at least two whole minutes. Sans music. With a whole room of people awkwardly staring as she did it. Clearly Principal Sylvester was trying to build up some sort of suspense, but Rachel wasn't sure she was succeeded on that front. Personally, she was feeling quite uncomfortable herself. "I WANT YOU TO HAVE FUN!" she finally said, tossing her hands up into the air and stopping the solo dance concert that she had been hosting at everyone else's expense.

As Principal Sylvester stood there, looking out at the crowd, it was obvious she was waiting for some sort of visceral response to what she had just said. However, everyone was too shell-shocked to react at first. It wasn't until she cleared her throat and whipped her infamous death stare back out that people started to applaud. It was mostly timid golf claps at first, but grew to be thunderous applause once people realized that they were going to actually be allowed to start the competition soon.

"LET'S GET THIS PARTY STARTED!"

Rachel threw her arms up into the air and cheered at this, thrilled over the prospect of dancing her little toned ass off all night long.

"We'll do a quick song to get you all fired up and then we will get down to business," the principal explained before finally passing the microphone back to the MC for the night.

As the opening notes of "Marry You" by Bruno Mars began to play, Rachel and Quinn turned to face one another. The blonde extended her hands towards the diva, smiling.

"May I have this dance?"

Rachel smiled demurely as she took Quinn's hand and did a small curtsy. "Always," she whispered.

In response, Quinn used that hand to pull Rachel in. Pressing up against one another again, they began to sway to the beat of the music. And then, much to Rachel's surprise, Quinn began to sing to her. It was soft, but loud enough for Rachel to hear over Bruno Mars and the chatter of the people around them. As the song continued, Quinn's voice grew to be louder and more assured.

Rachel couldn't remember ever being serenaded by anyone before off stage, but it was lovely. So lovely that all she saw was Quinn at first. The rest of the world faded away as they made their way across the dance floor. It wasn't until Quinn twirled her around that Rachel spotted their friends were only a few yards away.

"Hi!" she called out over Quinn's shoulder, waving at the group and beaming. The blonde continued singing as she looked over at who Rachel was waving at. Immediately, Quinn's voice changed. Instead of the sweet, melodic tone she had been using to woo Rachel, it morphed into something much louder and gruffer. By the time they slid on over to their friends, Quinn was practically yodeling. It was not attractive.

Everyone else found it to be hilarious, though. They all laughed and Puck even gave Quinn a high five for her "sexy singing." Rachel rolled her eyes, saying nothing. This had been a wonderful night thus far and she wasn't going to allow her mood to be dragged down by anything, even juvenile humor.

Slowing to a stop, they stood in the huddle with everyone else.

"Are you guys ready to get your asses handed to you?" Puck asked before grinning and reaching behind him, wrapping his arm around the waist of a pretty girl that Rachel had never seen before. She had tanned skin and dark hair, along with a fiery expression in her eyes and a smug smirk on her face. Her hips swayed along with the beat as she moved in closer to Puck. Glancing over at Quinn, Rachel found that she had the most curious expression on her face. It was a combination of what appeared to be surprise and trepidation. It was odd. Did Quinn...know this girl? If so, how did she know this girl?

"Don't get ahead of yourself there, Puckerman," Sam chastised, pulling his own date in towards him. "I'm pretty sure your chance of winning are slim…"

"Not with Carmen here by my side," Puck responded, looking down at the woman he was speaking of and smirking at her. "She's been dancing since before she could walk."

Rachel was tempted to point out how that was not actually possible considering that dancing was somewhat of an offshoot of walking, but she refrained. Instead, she looked over at Kurt, hoping that he'd be able to provide some clarity for her as to what was going on here. However, Kurt was too busy gazing lovingly at Blaine to be paying attention to anything else that was happening around him. Rachel would have been annoyed that her best friend wasn't going to be able to help her understand this moment or provide her with any subtly conveyed gossip, but he looked too damn cute with his boyfriend to actually get mad at. She was going to have to figure this one out of her own.

"Quinn's well aware of that, aren't you Q?" the girl who had been identified as Carmen stated, running the tip of her tongue across her glossy lips after asking her question. Rachel may be considered to be naive at times, but there was no missing the implication that had been there. To further confirm her suspicions, Rachel snuck a quick peek over at her date. Although she was doing a great job at keeping a poker face on, the tips of Quinn's ears had gone red, revealing how uncomfortable she was at this moment. If Rachel had to guess, she would say that Carmen was an ex-lover of Quinn's.

"You know, this is kind of cheating," Finn pointed out, looking over at Tina and Brittany who nodded their agreement. Earlier that day, they had told Rachel that they would be coming to the dance together since they had both been unable to find dates. Santana, on the other hand, had decided to come with Sasha, which was why she wasn't currently with the group. Sasha had Santana out on the dance floor as they practiced the moves they planned on using throughout the night, completely oblivious to the fact that Brittany was shooting them sad looks every so often.

"Cheating how?" Rachel asked, speaking up for the first time. She couldn't help herself, she wanted - no, needed - more information. Next to her, Quinn squirmed in place.

"Carmen doesn't even go here," Tina explained, eyeing Puck and his date with thinly veiled disdain. "Even worse, she's a Scorpion."

Rachel gasped. "A Scorpion?!" she exclaimed, completely baffled by this news. Thus far, she had only heard about them through the grapevine. The Scorpions were the local glee club that always managed to somehow edge out Rydell High when it came to the semi-regionals every year. They were the sole reason that their high school hadn't managed to make it farther. Practically everyone at Rydell High hated them and everything they stood for. According to Kurt, not only were they winning machines, but they were pompous assholes as well.

"Hey, nobody said we couldn't bring a date that wasn't from this school," Puck said, finally pulling his eyes from Carmen long enough to properly address the group. "Don't hate on the Puckster."

Before Rachel could ask any other questions, the bell chimed again and Sue Sylvester's voice warned that the actual competition would be starting any second now. Quinn took the chance to mutter a quick good-bye and pull Rachel away from the group. Not wanting to be rude, the diva waved and told them all that she'd see them later before turning her attention back to Quinn.

"What was all that Quinn?" Rachel asked, just as the music began to swell. "Born to Hand Jive" started to blast through the speakers, revealing the first song that they would all have to dance to. It was an oldie, but a goodie. One of Rachel's favorites, actually. She would have been thrilled had it not been for the weird feeling the encounter with Carmen had left her with.

"It's not important, baby," Quinn assured, tugging Rachel towards a more central location on the dance floor, away from the watchful eye of the faculty judges that were beginning to circle everyone. "Let's just dance, okay?"

Rachel was rational enough to know that this was not the time or the place for such a conversation, so she acquiesced to Quinn's request fairly quickly. With a nod and a smile, she then slipped right into the dance that went along with this song, moving her hands quickly as she acted out the hand jive in perfect time with the beat of the music. Quinn did the same, matching her movements to the point that they were dancing together in perfect unison. It was amazing how quickly they found their rhythm, almost as if they belonged together.

Just like that, they continued to dance as the couples around them did their best to keep up. In the corner of her eye, Rachel spotted a handful of pairings get that dreaded tap on the shoulder that meant they were done for the duration of the contest. It would have been awful to get booted so early on, but Rachel wasn't worried about that happening. Her and Quinn looked too good together to earn the ire of any of the judges. Rachel suspected that, with the way that they were moving, they would be in the competition until it came down to a handful of skilled couples. Hell, if they were able to keep their energy up like this, then Rachel figured they had a pretty good shot at winning the whole damn thing.

As they bopped around the room, Rachel did her best to not pay too much mind to what was going on around them. Although it was fun to see the other pairings get eliminated one by one, she didn't want to risk getting so distracted that she lost her place in the song or even worse, tripped or stumbled into something. Eye on the prize was the mantra that was running through her head.

It wasn't until Rachel laid eyes on Puck and Carmen that she almost had any sort of mishap. The way that Carmen moved her hips with a fluidity and grace that even Rachel was jealous of was so distracting that she missed a step, almost tripping over herself. Thanks to one of Quinn's steadying hands, Rachel managed to stay on her own two feet and recover so smoothly that none of the judges spotted her missing a step, but it was too close of a call for comfort. If they were going to manage to take home the prize, Rachel was going to have to make a concerted effort to ignore how...well, fucking sexy Carmen looked on the dance floor. The thought that Quinn had possibly been which such a woman in the past made Rachel feel insecure in a way that she didn't think possible. A way that she didn't want to focus on while she was busy trying to get her groove on.

Shaking her head to clear it, Rachel drew in a breath and committed herself to the hand jive again. As the music transitioned to a part where they were able to freestyle, Rachel and Quinn easily changed tactics without having to exchange a single word. The diva found that reading Quinn's body language and adapting to it came effortlessly to her. Not only that, but the two of them seemed to be on the same exact page. It was going smoother than Rachel could have ever expected it too. And it was so much fun.

Quinn's hands gripped firmly onto Rachel's waist, lifting her up and tossing her into the air with ease before setting her back on the ground. Then the two of them shimmied and moved together, alternating between getting closer and then backing away from one another. As Rachel often liked to do when dancing, she was creating a narrative in her head. In this particular dance, she imagined her and Quinn as ex-lovers, flirting with the idea of getting back together. That was Rachel's inspiration as she moved her hips all around, playfully dodging the blonde when she would reach for her. It wasn't a hard story to imagine, especially considering that they had only recently found their way back to one another.

At one point in the song, the two of them ending up forming a sort of train, with Quinn at the head. As Rachel skipped along behind her, as if she were in pursuit and marveled at how well this went along with the story that was playing out in her head. It was almost as if Quinn was able to read her mind and was picking up on the wavelengths of thought that she had been sending out into the ether.

It was fucking perfect! Award winning even. It was so intriguing and polished already that they probably could have taken it to a So You Think You Can Dance audition and gotten an invite to be a part of the show. They were definitely going to win and it was going to feel oh, so good.

Or so Rachel thought.

Just as she was getting ready to speed herself up so that she was no longer trailing behind Quinn and they were once again dancing together, she felt a pair of strong arms wrap around her tiny waist. Before she could orient herself or figure out who was behind her, Rachel found that she was being lifted up into the air and being placed on the sidelines. Frantically, she kicked her feet in the air, struggling against the hold of whoever had their unwanted arms around her. As soon as she got free, Rachel spun around, surprised to see that it had been Finn to pull her off the dance floor.

"Sorry," he said, looking sheepish now they were face to face. "Santana gave me $50 and promised me her panini press if I did this."

That. Fucking. Bitch.

Unfortunately, Rachel didn't have time to properly react to this bullshit. She had a dance-off to win!

Hoping that she would be able to easily transition back onto the dance floor, Rachel spun around just in time to catch sight of the tail end of Carmen sauntering up to Quinn and engaging her into dancing together. At first, Quinn appeared to be hesitant. The movements of her body slowed and she looked over her shoulder, as if she were searching for Rachel. The diva was confident that Quinn wasn't going to be playing along with any of these stupid fucking games. No way, no how! Of course Quinn was going to leave the competition as well and come join Rachel on the sidelines. If they were going to be losers, then at least they could be losers together. Maybe Quinn could even have a serious chat with her so-called "friend" Finn.

Except none of that happened. Instead, Quinn stayed right out there on the dance floor with Carmen, the two of them moving together as if they had done this before. Danced together. Been together. Rachel couldn't believe what she was seeing with her own eyes.

The anger she felt at Finn was replaced with a much stronger cocktail of rage and hurt, all of which was directed towards the one and only Quinn Fabray. Embarrassed, angry tears stung the corners of Rachel's eyes as she watched Quinn and Carmen tearing it up on the dance floor. What was even worse than the fact Quinn hadn't put her foot down about the sneaky way that Rachel had been replaced was the way that they were dancing with each other. Quinn was definitely more handsy now that her dance partner had been replaced. Rachel watched in horror as the girl she loved brushed her hands down the contours of another woman's chest before their hips swayed together in time to the music.

The diva wasn't alone in her misery, either. As Quinn and Carmen danced their way across the gussied up gymnasium floor, Rachel caught sight of a dejected looking Puck standing on the opposite side of the room. The look on his face said it all and Rachel suspected that her expression mirrored that of his.

This was excruciating to watch. Had Quinn learned fucking nothing after the whole slushie incident? Was her reputation really so important to her that she needed to tastefully slut it up on the dance floor with someone who was supposed to be her mortal enemy just to impress the whole school?

What Rachel truly couldn't wrap her mind around in that moment was how Quinn could do this and not think that her behavior was hurtful. The fact that she hadn't stopped these shenanigans as soon as she realized what was going on meant one of two things: Either Quinn was so emotionally stunted that she really didn't see how this could hurt Rachel's feelings or she knew what she was doing was fucked up and simply didn't care.

Regardless of what the actual reasoning behind the blonde's behavior was, Rachel was done with this. Absolutely 100% fucking done. As much as she wanted to spend the rest of the dance with Quinn, she had too much dignity and self-respect to stand there like some sort of lost puppy dog, waiting for her date to return to her. If Quinn wanted to dance with Carmen, then fine. She could dance with Carmen all night long for all Rachel cared. At least she wouldn't be around to witness it.

Turning on her heel, Rachel stalked across the room, heading straight towards the exit doors. In the distance she heard a voice calling her name but she didn't bother to stop or even look behind her to see who it was that was trying to get her attention. It sounded a heck of a lot like Kurt's voice and, if that was the case, Rachel could easily apologize to him at a later date for ignoring him. Kurt would understand, he always did.

Rachel didn't slow her pace down until she actually reached the doors. Tears blurred her vision as she talked herself out of taking one final glance over at Quinn to see if she had realized that Rachel was leaving and that she had been acting like a damn fool. It didn't matter, not at this point. Plus, judging by the way the crowd was cheering, Rachel highly doubted that was what was happening here.

So instead of looking back, Rachel pushed at the metal bar that controlled the door and made her way out of the gymnasium, swearing to herself that this would be the very last time she allowed Quinn Fabray to break her heart.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight: There Are Worse Things I Could Do

Rachel's arms had been crossed against her chest the entire ride over to the drive-in movie. Why she had ever agreed to do this with Quinn, she wasn't sure.

Okay, that was a lie. Rachel knew exactly why she had agreed to it and it had a lot to do with the poor willpower she had when it came to anything involving Quinn Fabray and even more to do with the power that those damn hazel eyes had over her, especially when they were looking all sad and remorseful. As soon as Quinn had added a pout to the mix, Rachel had been a goner. Didn't even stand a chance. However, even though she had agreed to give Quinn another chance, she sure as hell wasn't going to sit there and act as if she was happy this was happening. Fuck no. If Quinn really wanted to make things up to her, then she was going to have to actually work for it.

In the days following the dance debacle, Rachel had thought long and hard over whether or not there was anything to salvage between them. As much as she liked - okay, loved - Quinn, there had been a been a lot of bumps in their road. Ever since Rachel had started going to Rydell High, there hadn't really been anything easy or simple about their romance. Not like it had been during the summer.

The summer? Well, everything had been perfect. They didn't fight, unless you counted playful arguments over who was going to hang up the phone first. They didn't ever shun one another in public or do horrible, awful, nearly unforgivable things like throw a slushie in the other person's face. None of that. Things had been so simple and now… Now they were so damn complicated that Rachel had nearly torn her perfect hair out in frustration (she would never actually do such a thing, but the diva inside of her like to dream up dramatics all the time).

The only thing that had stopped Rachel from reaching for the metaphorical scissors of life and cutting Quinn right out of hers was a single, solitary idea that had occurred to her in the midst of all of this, late when night when she had been sitting on her bed and chatting with (more accurately to) one of her many posters of Barbra Streisand.

"Isn't love supposed to be work sometimes?" she had asked Barbra with a heavy sigh. "I mean, it's so so so nice when it feels effortless, but that's not always the case, is it? When I think about it, all the greats had to overcome hurdles to end up together. What couples do I speak of, you ask? That's a fair question. Let me think…" Rachel had paused for a second, considering this. "There's Bella and Edward. They had to get through a ton to end up together. Oh, no I don't count Breaking Dawn in that. I still stand by my theory that book was a poorly written fanfiction that accidentally ended up being printed… Anyway, there's Callie and Arizona! Look at all they went through. Okay, so they're not exactly still a couple now, but I'm not counting that. They're MFEO and I won't hear anything else. This is a negativity free zone, Barbra." There was another sigh from the diva. "Let's see, who else… Oh oh, I know! Spencer and Ashley. Now there is a great example of a couple who battled the odds and ended up getting their happily ever after. It's a perfect comparison, really, since they fell in love while they're were still in high school just like me and Quinn did. Well...no, Barbra, Quinn hasn't technically dropped the L-bomb on me yet, but… What did I say about this being a safe space? Anyway, I really miss South of Nowhere, don't you? They don't make television shows like that anymore!"

The conversation continued on like that for a while longer with the end result being Rachel's epiphany about love not always being easy. However, she wasn't willing or ready to simply hand Quinn over a blank slate after all she had done. Rachel needed to see concrete reasons that she should stay committed to making this burgeoning relationship work. Even though she had come to the conclusion that love could be painful at times, she certainly didn't believe that it should be filled with more torment than joy. There was a line drawn firmly in the sand as to how much shit she could take from one person and Quinn was coming dangerously close to dancing right over it. Literally. The only saving grace for Quinn Fabray at the moment was that Rachel knew the girl she had fallen madly in love with over the summer was in there somewhere. She just needed to find her.

All of this was what was on Rachel's mind as Quinn busied herself parking the car in a nice spot where they would have a clear view of the gigantic inflatable movie screen while still being comfortably close to the concession stand. The alluring smell of buttery popcorn assaulted Rachel's senses, causing her mouth to water. If she were speaking to Quinn, which she wasn't at this point, she would have asked if they could go buy a bag.

"We're here," Quinn announced, stating the obvious in what was a pretty transparent attempt to get some sort of verbal response out of Rachel.

The diva wasn't ready to speak yet, though. Considering how fucking terrible she was at the silent treatment, she had every intention of dragging this out for as long as humanly possible. So instead, keeping her arms crossed against her chest, she turned only her head towards Quinn and politely nodded. After receiving a frown in response, Rachel turned her gaze back onto the screen several yards ahead of them, her eyes focusing in on the dancing snacks that were parading across the screen.

"Rachel, you said you were giving me another chance here," Quinn stated, speaking up against the diva's petulant behavior for the first time since they had gotten into the car together. "This doesn't really feel like a chance, this feels like you're punishing me.

Damn skippy, she was! Quinn's behavior at the dance had been atrocious, second only to the time she had thrown a fucking slushie into Rachel's face!

Rachel didn't say anything of this though. In lieu of a verbal reply, she turned her head back towards Quinn and arched a perfectly groomed brow.

Luckily, Quinn was quick on the uptake and was able to interpret this message with no problems. "Okay, so maybe I deserve to be punished," she admitted, looking apologetic instead of offended now. Sliding over in her seat, Quinn eliminated some of the space between the two of them. Slowly, she reached over, testing the waters as she reached for Rachel's hand. When Quinn's fingers slid in between Rachel's palm and the arm it had been resting on, she was able to spot hesitance in the blonde's eyes. It looked as if she expected Rachel to pull away from her, but the diva did no such thing. Even though she was clinging to the silent treatment here, Rachel didn't have the willpower necessary to turn away Quinn's touch. Not when it was something she found herself craving on a regular basis.

When Rachel didn't pull away, Quinn pushed things a little further. Holding onto the hand she had captured, the leader of the T-Birds gently pulled, undoing the arms Rachel had crossed against her chest. When Quinn reached over and grabbed her other hand as well, Rachel was left with no choice but to angle her body towards the other girl in the car or else they were going to be stuck in quite an awkward position.

"Better…" Quinn whispered, gazing right into Rachel's eyes as they sat there. It was hard to remember why exactly she was so angry when she was looking right at the most brilliant shade of hazel she had ever seen in her life. Even under nothing more than the night sky and a few strategically placed lights to help cars find their way to a spot, Quinn's eyes were breathtaking. Quinn was breathtaking. Rachel couldn't remember ever meeting anyone as beautiful as Quinn Fabray, nonetheless ever holding hands with such an enchanting person. Why couldn't every moment be exactly like this one?

"You really hurt me, you know," Rachel finally said, her voice coming out lower and huskier than normal since it had been a bit since she had last spoken.

"I know," Quinn admitted, not even attempting to sidestep the issue. The frown she had worn earlier returned. "I really, truly don't know what got into me. I...got caught up, I guess. In the adrenaline. In the excitement. It took me a minute to even realize that you had been replaced by Carmen and when I did… I ran with it. I wasn't sure why you weren't there, my first thought was that you had chosen to walk off, but I should have known better. Regardless, I absolutely should have stopped and gone to find you."

"You should have," Rachel confirmed, hating how the hurt she still felt over that night managed to seep its way into her tone. "I don't even know how to properly describe to you how disappointed I was when you stayed there, dancing with her. Not to mention how you were dancing with her."

There was a sheepish look on Quinn's face and Rachel knew immediately that she had struck a chord. It made her feel simultaneously better and worse. Better because it meant she hadn't been crazy and imagining things that night. Worse because it meant that she was onto something here and Carmen wasn't some bitch that had randomly set her sights on Quinn.

"You two dated in the past, didn't you?" Rachel asked, feeling emboldened in that moment. Normally she wouldn't dream of being so forward, but she needed the facts here. Quinn had been acting so odd and so unlike the girl Rachel had come to know and love that she needed details so that she could better understand why that was.

"We did," Quinn confirmed. "Not for long, but...we did date for a little bit. It ended… probably about a year ago by now."

"I see," Rachel said simply.

"It meant nothing to me, though," Quinn continued. "Carmen and I didn't have a damn thing in common other than liking dancing, singing, and extra jalapenos on our nachos. That was it. It's part of why we didn't last. Rachel, you see, I've...never felt about anyone the way I feel about you. Not even close."

Rachel's first impulse was to press on what Quinn was hinting at here. What did that mean anyway? Rachel wanted it to mean that Quinn loved her. She wanted it so much that it scared her to realize just how much she wanted that to be true. The idea of possible getting a confirmation or a denial on that issue was so frightening that Rachel remained uncharacteristically silent.

Too nervous to open up her mouth and risk having the wrong thing come tumbling out, Rachel decided to respond to what Quinn had said to her in a different manner. Pulling a hand free from the blonde's grasp, Rachel reached over and cupped Quinn's cheek. The pad of her thumb brushed across silky smooth skin for a second before her other fingers pressed down, gently guiding Quinn's head forward. A few seconds later, they were no more than an inch apart, still gazing into each other's eyes. The air around them was filled with anticipation. The buzz of the bustling people around them faded away into a sort of white noise. All Rachel's could hear in that moment was the steady beating of her own heart. The closer she got to Quinn, the faster the pounding got.

Unable to resist any longer, Rachel allowed her eyelids to droop down and she leaned in, erasing that last bit of space that existed between their lips. Their relationship may have been complicated, but this wasn't. Oh, no. This was the easiest thing in the world.

Their lips moved together with ease. Despite everything that had happened between them in the last several weeks, there wasn't even a hint of awkwardness in this shared moment. Just like during the summertime and the time they had actually spent together on the dance floor, all of sudden they were in tune with one another. Rachel instinctively knew exactly what to do with her lips. When and where to kiss. How much pressure to apply. When to tilt her head so that their noses didn't collide. It was magical. That was the only word that properly encapsulated how it felt to kiss Quinn.

Ever since she started attending Rydell High, the affectionate moments that Rachel and Quinn got to share with one another had been rare. Definitely far too uncommon for Rachel's tastes. If she had it her way, she would get to spend every single day from now to the end of time getting to kiss Quinn Fabray. It was unfortunate that hadn't been the case lately, but for the first time in what felt like forever, Rachel's mind was finally clear of such thoughts. All she could think about was Quinn and how amazing it felt to kiss her. When their lips were locked together, Rachel's worries and fears had the tendency to evaporate.

It had been so long since they had really, truly kissed like this that Rachel was feeling much more free in the way that she was expressing herself. Instead of hesitating and overthinking it like she usually would, Rachel allowed her lips to part and for the kiss to deepen. It didn't even matter to her that they were in a very public place, sitting in the midst of a crowd of people in cars with their tops down. The part of her brain that was worried about coming off as a lady seemed to be completely overridden by the part of her that really fucking missed kissing Quinn.

Quinn didn't seem to mind either, if the soft noises of contentedness that she was making were any indication of how she was feeling. Rachel could feel Quinn releasing the hand that she had still been holding in favor of brushing her palm up the skin of the diva's arm. Rachel wondered if she would be able to feel the goosebumps that were coating her flesh. It was yet another example of the effect Quinn had on her.

The hand that had been traveling across her arm brushed up and down a few times before slowly transitioning over to the side of Rachel's waist. The two of them gravitated even closer towards one another throughout the kiss, so Quinn didn't have to reach far at all. A few seconds later, that same hand began to travel once more. Rachel could feel it moving up the curve of her body, heading towards a part of her than Quinn hadn't yet been able to explore. Surprisingly, the idea of stopping her didn't even occur to Rachel. She wanted this, manners be damned.

Just as Quinn's hand was no more than a centimeter from uncharted territory, the most horrible sound ever hit Rachel's ears, forcibly shattering the bubble that had seemed to form around them.

"Wow, guess I don't make the lasting impression that I thought I did, huh?"

Startled by the voice that boomed overhead, Rachel and Quinn quickly separated from one another, retreating back into their respective sides of the car. Even before Rachel looked up at the person that had interrupted one of the best kisses she had ever experienced in her entire life, she knew exactly who the perpetrator was. It didn't matter that they had only met once before. It was a voice and a person that Rachel would never forget.

"Carmen," Quinn said on the tail end of an exhale as she tried to catch her breath. Under normal circumstances, Rachel would have felt smug over being the one to leave Quinn in such a state. However, she was far too irritated to feel anything above and beyond the annoyance that Carmen stirred up deep inside of her. "What are you doing here?"

"Watching a movie," Carmen stated, dragging out her words as if Quinn had just asked her a completely unnecessary question. "And wondering why you invited Big Nose over here instead of me."

"BIG NOSE!?" Rachel exclaimed, the words escaping her before she could even consider controlling her response her and pretending as if she were an unshakable individual. Blame it on the post-kiss high, but Rachel was feeling a lot more reckless than usual. "Big nose?!" she repeated again, as if she couldn't quite grasp the fact that such a juvenile insult had actually been leveraged against her. Rachel could hear Quinn chastising Carmen for being a bitch in the background, but she wasn't done speaking her own piece. "At least my boobs aren't made of silicone!"

Carmen seemed unaffected by this insult. Quinn, on the other hand, was gaping at Rachel. The diva knew that, although to the normal person this insult didn't sound all that bad, Quinn understood how out of character it was for Rachel to say such a thing. However, nobody had any clue that Rachel had almost used 'tits' instead of 'boobs'. After all, tits was such a fun word! But Rachel hadn't completely abandoned her manners. It would have taken a few extra minutes of French kissing Quinn for her to get to that point.

"Carmen, you're not welcome here," Quinn said after she was finally able to close her mouth.

"Really?" the fiery brunette shot back, cocking her hip to the side and placing a hand on it. Uh oh. Whatever she was about to say, she meant business. "That's not what you said when you invited me into your house and up to your bedroom after the dance."

As shocked as Quinn had been over Rachel's insult, the diva was at least a hundred times more surprised by the bombshell Carmen had just dropped on her. It was the kind of earth-shattering news that instantly triggered Rachel's fight or flight instinct. Fuck this shit.

"You are fudging kidding me," the diva mumbled to herself, completely in shock as her shaking hands fumbled with the lock on Quinn's door. "I can't believe that I gave you another chance! How stupid am I?!" It only took a few seconds to get the damn thing to open and as soon as it did, Rachel tumbled out onto the grass. It was only by the grace of God that she managed to stay upright and not fall into a heap on the ground.

Quinn was calling after her and Carmen was laughing. What sucked was that Quinn wasn't even yelling out any kind of denial. Instead, she was asking - yet again - for the chance to explain herself and her actions. Rachel didn't care, though, all she wanted was to get the hell out of there. As she dashed off towards the perimeter of the drive in movie set-up, Rachel saw Quinn scrambling to get out of the car as well. It appeared as if Carmen wasn't having that, though. For once, Rachel was actually grateful for the bitch because, while she blocked Quinn, the diva was able to move onto a path where she would be out of their line of sight.

Desperate feet continued to take her far, far away from Quinn's car as clumsy hands retrieved the phone that had been nestled into the pocket of her dress. Finding Kurt's contact information, Rachel didn't hesitate to press 'call,' phoning the only person in the world other than her dads that could possibly make her feel better in this moment.

Rachel would tell him that night, over several pints of Ben & Jerry's, that she was swearing off of Quinn Fabray. Forever.

~ooooooo~

As Rachel sat in one of the chairs backstage that had been reserved solely for members of the Pink Ladies, she found that she was surprisingly unaffected by the competition atmosphere that she was surrounded by. This was very, very unlike the future Broadway star. Usually, Rachel was the type to make her rounds, cheerfully greeting each and every one of her competitors personally in the hopes of both getting the chance to size them up and possibly psyche them out. Unfortunately, there hadn't been a single cheerful bone in Rachel Berry's body since the night her and Quinn had what was guaranteed to be their last date ever. Even a glee competition wasn't proving to be the aphrodisiac that it normally was.

The Pink Ladies were lucky that Rachel was there at all. If she had her way, she would be in her bed right now, curled up in her favorite comforter like the big sad burrito she felt like at the moment. Kurt hadn't allowed for that, though. Even after she had ignored all of his texts and phone calls, he had still shown up to personally escort her out of her bed and into the back of his car so that Mr. Hummel could drive them both over to Carmel High School, home of the Scorpions. They had been randomly selected to host the semi-regionals. At least, that was the official story. Santana told the group of them that she had it on good authority that the leader of the Scorpions had paid off the host of the event because they wanted the benefit of having the home team advantage of being incredibly familiar with the venue.

This was the type of thing that normally would have gotten Rachel all riled up. Ever since she was a kid, she had been strongly against social injustices. However, the advocate inside of her had nothing on her broken heart. Rachel couldn't bring herself to really care about that or anything. Thoughts of Quinn and Carmen together had been playing through her head on a loop for the last several days, making it impossible to really concentrate on anything else.

Rachel had spent a lot of time lately wondering if things would have been different if she had...as the cool kids would say...put out. Surely it had been hard for someone like Quinn to adjust to the kind of relationship that Rachel was offering her - one that was slow and steady, where trust was built up long before anything incredibly intimate occurred. According to Kurt and the rest of the Pink Ladies, Quinn was known for all of the notches she had put into her belt throughout her time at Rydell High. Rachel believed it, too, considering how important Quinn's reputation seemed to be to her. It had been the reason why Quinn had publicly shunned her back on the first day of school and had never ceased to be an issue between them. Rachel herself was big on maintaining a certain image, but she had never done it at someone else's expense. It didn't hurt a soul that she preferred to say fudge instead of fuck when she was in public. And, even though it would keep her in line at times, Rachel's values never really got in the way of her following her heart. In her opinion, it was altogether possible to have a healthy relationship and a good reputation coexist in harmony. Just because Quinn hadn't seemed to learn that life lesson yet didn't make it any less true.

At the end of the day, when all was said and done, Rachel had zero regrets about not sleeping with Quinn for the sake of their relationship. Chances were that it wouldn't have changed a damn thing. Even though it was difficult to not sit there and consider whether or not it had been an issue, Rachel knew deep down that it had nothing to do with why they had officially called it quits. The physical aspect of their relationship and the boundaries that had governed it never got awkward or uncomfortable. All of Rachel and Quinn's problems had stemmed from the latter's inability to be perceived as "uncool" which was apparently synonymous with being in a loving, monogamous relationship.

"Rachel, have some water," Kurt prompted, plopping down in the seat next to the moping diva.

Rachel's head lolled to the side as she stared at her best friend who had his arm extended, water bottle in hand.

"Pleaseeee? For me?" Kurt asked, giving Rachel his best puppy dog eyes. When that didn't seem to work, he switched tactics. "You know… dehydration is not good for your skin."

Kurt knew exactly the way to get through to Rachel, even when she was determined to do nothing but sit there and bask in her misery until it was their turn to go onstage. Bastard.

"Fine," Rachel conceded with a sigh, sitting up only enough to pluck the bottle from Kurt's grasp before sinking down against the back of the chair. At least he had brought her the fancy New Zealand water that she loved from Whole Foods. Kurt's taste was almost as good as Rachel's. Okay, in all honesty, sometimes it was even better than Rachel's. She had never met someone even more bougie than her before, but she loved it. It was part of why their friendship worked so well.

Twisting the cap off of the bottle, the diva made a big show of lifting it up to her lips and taking a gulp of the water contained within. It almost bit her in the ass when she came a centimeter away from losing her grip on the bottle, but luckily she was able to regain her hold on it without ending up drenched. "Happy now?" she asked, looking over at Kurt and poking her tongue out at him.

"I'll be happier once we get to actually sing…" Kurt reached for the water bottle in Rachel's hands and took a swig of it himself before handing it back to her. "The anticipation is killing me. I think if I send Blaine one more text about how nervous I am, he'll toss both me and my phone into the Pacific Ocean."

The ghost of a smile found Rachel's lips.

"At least you'd have the whole drive over to the coast to try and talk him out of it," she remarked, taking another sip of the water.

Kurt beamed. "Aw, there she is. I was wondering where this Rachel has been the last few days." Reaching over, he patted her leg twice. "I've missed your sass."

Rachel filled her cheeks with air, allowing them to puff out before exhaling in one big breath. "Yeah, I'm sorry about that," she finally said, only glancing over at Kurt before looking back out at the other contestants in the room. "I really appreciate you putting up with me lately."

"You never have to thank me for that," Kurt assured, reaching over and draping an arm around Rachel's shoulders. Squeezing her gently, he rested his head on her shoulder. "I'll always be here for you. Friends are the best way to navigate through the crazy waters of life."

Rachel couldn't help but agree. It was a large part of why she missed Quinn so much. When things hadn't worked out between them, Rachel hadn't only lost a girlfriend. Most of all, she had lost one of the best friends that she had ever had. That hurt more than anything else did.

"Are you two having a moment?"

Rachel's eyes had closed as soon as Kurt's head had hit her shoulder. Opening them up, she was not thrilled to find Santana standing in front of her, looking especially pissy. It appeared as if Santana reacted to stress the same way she reacted to everything else: By being a complete and total bitch. Ever since they had all gotten there, she had been bossing them around and yelling at them all.

For the first time since she had met Santana, Rachel found herself unbothered by her behavior. It had nothing to do with Rachel's heart and everything to do with the email that had circulated around school earlier that week. It turned out that Sasha was a lot more untrustworthy than anyone had suspected. Behind Santana's back, the snake had videotaped them hooking up and then sent it out to the entire study body to watch. Even the faculty had been cc'd on the email. Santana would never admit it, but Rachel had seen her face when she saw the video. There were no words for how mortified she had looked.

At first, Santana had stuck up for Sasha to the rest of the group, swearing up and down that she wasn't capable of such a thing. That notion had been quickly dispelled when the girl in question had walked up to their lunch table, boasting about what she had done. The rumor was that Sasha had been dared to do it. There were a handful of people at Rydell High that were dying to see Santana knocked down a peg or two and this was apparently their way of making that happen.

Rachel and the rest of her friends had tried to convince Santana to turn Sasha in, but the leader of the Pink Ladies refused. Santana insisted that she didn't want the bitch to get any credit for what she had done, but Rachel suspected there was more to it than that. As much as she liked to pretend that she didn't have feelings, Rachel got the feeling that Santana cared a lot more about the people in her life than she let on.

"Yes, actually," Kurt said, not lifting his head from Rachel's shoulder. "You should try it. It's better than pacing around like a madwoman. Been there, done that."

Santana opened her mouth to respond to what Kurt had said, but was cut off when Brittany toppled into her, knocking them both onto the ground.

"BRITTANY WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK ARE YOU DOING?!" Santana screeched as Kurt and Rachel shot out of their chairs, helping their two fallen comrades back up onto their feet as the teams surrounding them began to snicker. Whatever. They wouldn't be laughing later, once they got their asses handed to them by the Pink Ladies. And Rachel.

"Sorry, sorry, sorry!" Brittany repeated, bouncing in place in time with her sorrys. "Tina, tell them what happened, I'm too excited!"

Rachel hadn't even noticed that Tina had made her way over to the group and that she was now standing about a foot behind Brittany, looking at the ground shyly.

"What the fuck is going on here?" Santana asked, glaring at both Brittany and Tina. "Can one of you please let me know why I now have to go wash soot off of my brand new Miss Me jeans? Now."

Brittany didn't seem to be bothered by Santana's tone. Tina was the only one of the two who flinched and then began to explain.

"Brittany and I were on our way to the cafeteria to get a snack when we overheard one of the competition officials talking with Quinn."

Rachel died a little on the inside at the mention of Quinn, but kept on a brave face since she was genuinely curious as to where Tina was going with this story.

"It sounds like Puck and Finn both have laryngitis and can't compete today. Quinn said something about them sounding like dying frogs, which I would love to hear actually-"

Santana cleared her throat and glared, which was all it took for Tina to get back on track.

"Anyway, according to the rules, you need to have at least four members to compete. Since Puck and Finn can't sing right now, it's just Quinn, Mercedes, and Sam left. Meaning…"

Santana grinned so wide that Rachel wasn't entirely convinced that her face wasn't going to split in half. There was no way her muscles were used to smiling like that. Santana was one of those people with perpetual bitch face. In all of the time they had known each other, Rachel had never seen her look so damn...cheerful before.

"They don't have enough members to participate in the competition!" Kurt squealed, enthusiastically finishing off Tina's sentence. "Omgosh I have never heard anything so wonderful in my entire life!"

Rachel felt this odd sense of concern for Quinn in that moment, but caught herself right away. 'Cut that shit out,' she told herself as she forced herself to smile along with the rest of the group. Rachel knew how devastated Quinn must be over not being able to compete but reminded herself that it wasn't her problem. It didn't matter what Quinn was feeling or how she was doing. Quinn was a big girl and had made it perfectly clear that she was capable of managing things herself.

"Our chances just got sooooooo much better," Kurt continued on. "Holy shit."

"Hey now," Santana said, shooting him a look. "Them getting disqualified is nice and all, but don't act like we couldn't have kicked their asses. Especially with our secret weapon here."

Rachel's brow furrowed, wondering what this so-called secret weapon was until she realized that Santana was now looking right at her.

"Don't let it go to your head, Berry," Santana tacked on right away. "You got some pipes, okay?"

No. Could it be? Was Santana...warming up to her? Rachel was going to have to document this moment in her diary later, for sure. There was a good chance that this was the most complimentary thing that Santana would ever say to her and it deserved to be memorialized in some way.

Before Rachel could press her luck and try to wheedle another compliment out of the leader of the Pink Ladies, their impromptu huddle was interrupted by a guy that belonged to one of the teams they were going up against. Running right up to them, he stepped up between Brittany and Tina, slinging his arms around their shoulders as if they were all old friends. The expressions on the girls' faces let Rachel know that he was as much of a stranger to them as he was to her.

"Um. Can we help you?" Santana asked, crossing her arms and rolling her shoulders back a bit. Even when she wasn't on the defense, she was the type of person who exuded confidence naturally, so it was no surprise how intimidating she sounded when she was actually trying to come off as somebody who shouldn't be messed with.

"I think so," the guy said, flashing her a grin. Rachel didn't like the way he was looking at Santana. Or the way he appeared to be unaffected by the death stare she was giving him. There was definitely something amiss here. "Me and my team were wondering which one of these lovely ladies here today that you were planning on fucking and whether or not we could watch. I mean, you did such a wonderful job in that video, we are all dying for an encore. My vote is for the brunette," he added on, nodding in Rachel's direction.

In response to this dickhead move, a couple of things happened simultaneously. Santana flushed, her tanned skin turning an unsightly shade of crimson within seconds. Both Brittany and Tina pulled themselves away from the guy's hold on them, looking incredibly disgusted. Kurt gasped, his hand flying up and covering his mouth - even for him, who was someone that thrived off of witnessing juicy moments, this was beyond scandalous. There was no question that this dude had crossed a serious line.

While all of this was happening, Rachel found herself having the most surprising reaction to the affront that had been leveled at Santana. She wasn't sure why, but she felt a pressing need to do something to defend Santana in that moment. Perhaps it was because she had just complimented Rachel for the first and possibly last time ever. Or perhaps it was because Rachel was so. fucking. over. everying. Regardless, without giving it much thought at all, she acted on the impulse she felt. Stepping forward as Brittany and Tina pulled away from this jackass, Rachel reached out with both hands and pushed the guy with all of her might.

"Go and crawl back into whatever primordial ooze you crawled out of!" she demanded. While Rachel wasn't the strongest girl in the room, she had caught him off guard enough to actually knock him back, away from the group. The asshole barely managed to stay upright as he stumbled backwards. Right into a tray full of nachos that a girl was in the process of bringing to her team.

Rachel could hear the splat of cheese hitting the back of the guy's button down shirt as a disgruntled howl left his lips. As she watched him hop around, muttering something about how hot the cheese had been, Rachel felt oddly satisfied. Of course she hadn't meant for some innocent girl's nachos to also be a victim here, but Rachel would offer to pay for her replacement snack. It was worth it considering that she got to see the smug smirk evaporate right off of that asshole's lips.

This would have been a perfect moment of nothing but sheer, triumphant success if it had stopped there. But of course nothing could ever be that simple, now could it?

Rachel had heard of the Butterfly Effect and understood the basic concept. Really, what the theory was saying that even the smallest action could set off an entire chain reaction that was full of unforeseen consequences. It had always made sense to her, of course, but it wasn't until that day that Rachel truly saw the concept in action, playing out right before her very eyes.

It happened like this: Jackass, who got a back full of nachos, startled the girl that he had nearly toppled over after Rachel had pushed him. As a result of the jump scare, the girl dropped the tray that the towering piles of cheesy goodness had been sitting on. Jackass was already flailing around by the time this tray hit the ground and one of his feet managed to connect with it, kicking it out into the bustling crowd of nervous glee kids that they were surrounded by. A short guy wearing pants that came up too high and looked as if they were giving him a major wedgie happened to be stepping down right as the tray slid underneath the path his foot was on. Considering that the tray had absolutely no traction, as soon as Short Guy's foot connected with it, his leg slipped out from underneath of him, causing him to lose his balance and fall backwards onto the ground. Just as Short Guy hit the ground, a giggling girl wearing a big poofy ball skirt took a step backwards, accidentally sending part of her skirt over Short Guy's face. It took Giggling Girl only a second to realize that someone was there and that he had a perfect view of her hoo-ha (which, judging by the look on his face, he did see something). This, in turn, caused her to scream and to toss the bouquet of flowers that she had been holding and practicing with as a prop for her upcoming performance. The flowers shot up into the air and landed in the lap of tall, skinny dude that had headphones in. As soon as the flowers were in Tall, Skinny Dude's airspace, he started to sneeze uncontrollably. With watery eyes, he chucked the bouquet of flowers away from him. Said flowers hit an empty chair before bouncing off of it and falling to the ground below. Unfortunately, the floorspace right in front of the chair was occupied by a goth girl who was laying flat on a rolled out yoga mat with her eyes closed, singing to herself. Goth Girl shot up like a missile, frantically looking around for whoever dared to throw the flowers at her. It didn't take more than a few seconds for her to spot Giggling Girl, who was the only member of her group currently sans flowers at the moment. Goth Girl, totally making the wrong assumption here, scrambled to get to her feet so that she could properly confront Giggling Girl. But Giggling Girl's friends closed their ranks right away, prompting Goth Girl's teammates to join the party as well. As soon as Goth Girl reached out, yanking on Giggly Girl's side ponytail, it was very apparent some sort of altercation was going to break out. About a second later, that came to fruition and both of the groups started pushing one another and yelling. This quickly devolved into an all out brawl.

All the while, Rachel had been frozen in place, watching this play out in what felt like slow motion, completely unable to peel her eyes off of the action. It was like watching a train wreck, but worse since she was really the person responsible for the fight that was breaking out if you wanted to get technical about it. 'Did I do that?' Rachel wondered, her internal voice sounding a heck of a lot like Steve Urkel in that moment.

As the fight grew, it began to migrate, getting closer and closer to where Rachel was standing. Luckily, a strong hand clamped down on her arm, tugging her away from where she had been rooted in place and pulling her away from where she was sure to be tramped.

"Berry, I'm getting you the fuck out of here," Santana mumbled as she swiftly led Rachel through the crowd that was gathering to watch the action. The brunette followed along, walking briskly as she put her trust in Santana. Rachel had no idea where she was being led, but she figured anywhere had to be better than the mess they were leaving behind.

After a moment of barreling through throngs of gathering people, Santana turned and made a beeline down a hallway, still tugging Rachel along with her. It only took the diva a second to realize that Santana was leading her towards the safety of the girl's bathroom. Before she knew it, they were both in the room, with Santana's back pressed up against the door.

"Phew," the leader of the Pink Ladies sighed, closing her eyes for a second and shaking her head before looking back at Rachel. "You're crazy, you know that, right? Also...primordial ooze? Really?"

Rachel opened her mouth to defend herself, but closed it when Santana began to laugh. For once, it wasn't her signature mocking cackle, but a real laugh. It was genuine, full of warmth, and had Rachel smiling at the sound of it. She wasn't exactly sure what was happening here, but she didn't mind it. It was nice to hear Santana express a real, human emotion, even if she was sorta laughing at Rachel in the process.

"I ain't ever had a friend like you, Berry. Damn. I wish I had caught that whole motherfucking spectacle on tape. That was the best thing I have seen in a long time. Especially when…" Santana continued on like this, excitedly recapping the various mishaps they had witnessed, but Rachel was too elated to concentrate on what exactly she was saying. Friend. Santana had just called her a friend! Rachel didn't even really like Santana and yet, this was hands down one of the best things she had ever heard in her life. Rachel's chances of becoming a Pink Lady had been looking a little grim lately, but now? Now, everything was coming up Rachel Berry! This was fabulous!

So, naturally, just as Rachel was internally doing cartwheels, she had to pick up on the sound of Carmen's voice approaching the bathroom. Motherfucker!

"Drat!" Rachel breathed out, cutting Santana off as she looked around, panicking as she tried to figure out what to do. She had absolutely no intention of coming face to face with that wretched girl, so what she was really looking for here was an escape route. Unfortunately for Rachel, the only exit to the bathroom appeared to also be the entrance. This left her with only one choice.

Grabbing Santana's hand, Rachel turned on her heel and quickly led them both into the nearest stall, slamming the door behind them and locking it.

"Have you lost your fucking mind, Ber-"

"Shhhhh," Rachel urged, reaching up and covering Santana's mouth with her hand. Dark eyes flashed at her, narrowing. At the same time, Rachel heard the door open and what sounded like two girls walk in. Santana still didn't seem pleased with the fact that she was currently crammed into a stall with Rachel, but surprisingly remained silent as she had been asked to do. Other than reaching up to pull Rachel's hand from her mouth, Santana remained still as a statute, sensing that they were trying not to give their presence away here.

"Can you believe that fight that broke out? Wild!" Carmen exclaimed.

"In all of my years competing, I've never seen anything like that!" the other girl said, laughing. "Oh, well. Their loss, our gain! Now that both teams have been disqualified, it's less competition for us."

Rachel and Santana looked at each other and grinned. This was a pleasant surprise.

"Yeah, if we ever get to actually compete… I don't really understand what the hold-up is, but whatever," Carmen snipped.

"Relax," the other girl prompted, stressing the word. "I heard that everything has been worked out and that they're going to be calling on teams to go any minute now. The delay really worked in their favor since three teams have been cut already. Shame about those T-Birds, you know? I always enjoy beating them." There was a sigh and Rachel couldn't help but roll her eyes. Although she wasn't exactly fond of the T-Birds, she had this weird sense of school pride instilled in her already and didn't like how smug Carmen's team member had sounded.

"Whatever. Quinn got what was coming to her," Carmen muttered bitterly.

"Oh, after turning you down, you mean?"

Immediately, Rachel perked up.

"Shut the fuck up," Carmen insisted with a sigh. "It's not funny. Really. Yet you keep feeling the need to mention it."

"Hey, it's not every day the great Carmen gets knocked off of her high horse."

Rachel may not have liked what this girl had to say about the T-Birds, but she certainly liked her take on Carmen.

Carmen said something back in rapid fire Spanish and the only word Rachel was able to pick up on was puta. Then she said, "It's not my fault she's all hung up on Big Nose."

Rachel was not sure how to feel about this. A large part of her was offended that she had, yet again, been called Big Nose. But the rest of her was incredibly intrigued by what Carmen had said. What exactly did she mean by that? Had Quinn said anything about her to Carmen?

When Santana pointed at Rachel and raised a brow, the diva bit back a sigh and reluctantly nodded.

"I really thought we were going to hook up again. I mean, who the fuck invites someone over to their house and takes them up to their bedroom just to sleep? I thought that she was bullshitting me when she said it, but noooooo. Quinn was deadass serious. I don't know what's happened to her since we broke up, but maybe she took a few knocks to the cabeza."

"You were really wasted that night," Carmen's friend pointed out.

"Yeah, yeah, but the old Quinn wouldn't have pulled that whole… Sleep it off nonsense on me. We would have had hot drunken sex."

"Maybe you've lost your touch."

Carmen scoffed. "That's bullshit and you know it. There's nothing wrong with me or my touch. It was just… every time I tried to initiate something, it was Rachel this and Rachel that. If I hadn't been so wasted, that poor sap would have spent all night trying to find Big Nose to apologize. I was doing her a favor by keeping her otherwise occupied."

"Were you doing her a favor the other night at the drive-in too?"

Carmen laughed. "Sure was. You should have seen the look on Big Nose's face when I let her think that me and Quinn had made wild, passionate love to one another. It… was… ah-mazing."

The conversation continued on, shifting away from the topic of Quinn as the girls moved on to discussing whether or not their hair was camera-ready. Rachel had stopped paying attention, though. Once again, Carmen had managed to turn her entire world upside down. All of a sudden, the stall seemed to shrink, becoming ten times smaller than it really was. The air around Rachel felt hot and heavy, as if it were physically weighing her down. Her heart was beating wildly in her chest, pounding away as the feeling of dread hit her like a ton of bricks. What exactly had she done? Rachel had broken things off with Quinn based on something that had never really happened. Which meant that she had made a mistake. An awful, terrible mistake.

Just as she was about to throw caution to the wind and bust out of the stall with Carmen and her friend standing right there, life threw a softball her way for once. The two chatty Scorpions exited the bathroom, prompting Rachel to reach around Santana and unhook the bathroom door. They both went to leave the confined space at the same time and ended up crammed into the doorframe shoulder to shoulder. The diva was eager to break away though, and managed to do just that, squeezing herself out and stumbling forward.

"Careful there, Berry," Santana warned, grabbing at Rachel's arm to help steady her. "Wouldn't want to break that big nose of yours."

Rachel was too flustered to even pick up on the fact that she had just been insulted.

"Oh Santana, I messed up so badly," Rachel said, her voice shaky. "I don't know if she'll ever forgive me for this! I persecuted her without even stopping to ask for her side of the story." As she continued on, her lower lip began to quiver.

"Whoa there, none of that," Santana warned, stepping forward and placing her hands on the diva's shoulders. "No crying. I don't do crying. However…" Letting go of one of Rachel's shoulder, Santana hooked her index finger underneath her chin and lifted her head up so that their eyes met. "I think I can help you fix this."

"Really?" Rachel whispered. To say that she was surprised by what Santana was offering was an understatement.

"Yeah. I mean, I sort of owe it to you at this point." Santana paused before asking, "Rachel, do you trust me?"

Had Rachel been asked this question a month, a week, or even an hour ago, she would have unequivocally said no. Things were different now, though. Rachel could feel that something had shifted between them. Based off that sensation alone, the diva decided to take a leap of faith.

"Yes."

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine: We Go Together

Rachel had no idea what Santana had meant when she said that she thought she could fix things, nor would she have ever guessed what the leader of the Pink Ladies had in mind. The trick that Santana ended up having up her sleeve was brilliant. Absolutely genius. It was far and above anything that Rachel could have come up with herself and that was saying something considering how the diva normally prided herself on how creative she could be when it came to tackling issues. Santana was in a whole other league, though. Rachel could see now how she had ended up the leader of her own group now and no, it wasn't through bullying as she had originally suspected.

After promising Rachel that she would take care of things, Santana had exited, leaving the diva with some much needed alone time so that she could properly pull herself together. Rachel had been on a roller coaster ride of emotions these last several weeks and it had been taking its toll on her. It was getting to the point where it was a little ridiculous. Just yesterday, Rachel had teared up because a particularly cute corgi had walked past her with his owner while she was out retrieving the mail. "Oh, but his little butt was so cute and orange," she had cried to her dads over dinner while LeRoy and Hiram exchanged concerned expressions with one another when they thought she wasn't looking. They had never seen her like this before. Sure, Rachel was well known for being a naturally dramatic person, but never to this degree. Something had to give.

Once Rachel was finally confident that she wouldn't burst into tears in front of the next person that made eye contact with her, she took one last look in the mirror before striding out of the restroom with her head held high. Heading back into the waiting room, Rachel didn't find her friends in the same spot she had left them. Luckily, the sound of Brittany's voice was incredibly hard to miss, so Rachel was able to follow it over to where the Pink Ladies were practicing. Much to her surprise, their little group had grown significantly since the last time she had seen them.

"Hey Rach, we're going to have some friends join us on stage today," Santana announced as the diva approached the huddle of Rydell High students that had formed in the corner.

"If that's okay with you, that is."

Rachel's stomach flipped at the sound of Quinn's voice. Turning her head towards the sound, she found that the blonde was standing in between Kurt and Mercedes and was looking much more hesitant than Rachel could ever remember seeing her look before. If Rachel had any questions as to whether or not their break-up was affecting Quinn as well, she finally had her answer.

"It's perfectly okay with me," Rachel assured, surprising herself with how sure she sounded when she spoke. "I think it's a great idea, actually." And she did. Whatever vocal power they already had was sure to be doubled - if not tripled - with the addition of Quinn, Mercedes, and Sam. Rachel had never personally heard the T-Birds perform together as a group, but hadn't heard a single bad thing about their talent.

It was evident by Quinn's expression that she was not expecting Rachel to react this way, which made the diva feel badly. She hated that there was any trace of awkwardness or trepidation lingering between them at all. So much had gone wrong between them in the last several weeks, but it hadn't seemed to erase any of the love that they had cultivated over the summer. Standing there, only a few feet from Quinn, Rachel was forced to come to terms with the fact that the flame the blonde had lit inside of her all of those months ago on that first day at the beach was still burning strong.

In an effort to try and alleviate some of the tension there, Rachel gave Quinn a small smile. It wasn't returned, though. Instead, hazel eyes pulled from brown, moving over and focusing in on the person who was speaking instead.

"Now, as I was saying, are you sure you guys are good with picking up the material quickly? We finally got our time slot card and…" Santana glanced down at the index card cradled against her palm, sucking a breath in through her teeth. "We don't have a whole lot of time here, guys."

"I think we'll be fine," Sam said as the other members of the T-Birds nodded their agreement. "I mean, the flow between songs is amazing. I think that makes it ten times easier to figure out."

"Rachel's responsible for piecing together our arrangement," Kurt said proudly, pointing over at her as if everyone in that group didn't know exactly who he was talking about. Rachel played along though, chuckling and blowing Kurt a kiss for giving her a shout out. She could tell by the twinkle in his eyes that he was purposefully trying to talk her up since Quinn was right there. Such a good friend.

"Yeah, this was all Berry's work," Santana admitted, her dark eyes flashing over at Rachel before appraising the rest of the group. "Well, if you're sure… then let's do this. Does anyone have anything to add before we really hunker down here?"

"OOOOH LOOK WHAT I FOUND!"

Startled by the sheer volume of her voice, everyone in the huddle turned to look at Brittany. The blonde was trying to pry something shiny off the ground. It wasn't until she succeeded and held it up to the sky that Rachel was able to identify what she had been so enamored with.

"See a penny, pick it up, all day long you'll have good luck!" Brittany announced to the group, grinning from ear to ear as she continued holding the coin up into the air like some sort of trophy. You really had to appreciate the girl's enthusiasm.

Everyone chuckled good-naturedly, except for Santana, who reached over and tugged Brittany's arm down. "Are you trying to draw everyone's attention to us?" she scolded in a whisper. However, Rachel could hear that her voice wasn't nearly as stern as it normally was. Also, there was the hint of a grin lingering on the corners of her lips. Rachel suspected that Santana had a difficult time actually feeling anger or annoyance towards the well-meaning blonde.

"Well," Kurt started off, clapping his hands together once to get everyone to look over at him. "Now that we have our lucky charm…" Brittany beamed, cradling the penny to her chest. Santana rolled her eyes. "Let's get ready to kick some ass!"

~ooooooo~

Rachel sighed as she stared up at the moon. It was about a night or two away from being full, so it was gleaming brightly. Even now, years later, Rachel recalled the very first time that she had learned the moon wouldn't be illuminated if it wasn't for the rays of the sun. It had made her sad, when she was little. Rachel remembered telling her dads that it wasn't fair the moon got no light of its own. Hiram had assured that it was nothing to fret over and had said that it wasn't sad, it was beautiful. "Imagine burning so brightly that you can light up everything around you," he had said to her, appealing to Rachel's sense of wonder. It had worked, too. "When I grow up, I want to be the sun, daddy," she had whispered back. "You will be, Princess. You will."

That night, Rachel had gotten a small taste of what it felt like to be the sun. Taking first place at Thunder Road would always go down as being one of her all time favorite memories. It wasn't her first win, but it had somehow felt sweeter than any of the victories that had preceded it. It wasn't because she had been surrounded by friends when it had happened or because there was so much hype surrounding the fact that Rydell High never made it past that stage before. No, it was because she had gotten to sing side by side with Quinn Fabray.

When the music had swelled, transitioning over to the "No Air" duet that was originally going to be sung by herself and Kurt, Rachel finally got the chance to hear Quinn really, truly sing. Man oh man, did that girl have a voice. Rachel already knew that from the few times she had gotten to hear her sing before when they were together, but there was nothing like the real deal. It was so distracting - in the best possible way - that Rachel had needed to use every ounce of concentration she had to keep from losing her focus and dropping a lyric. What helped was that singing together seemed to come as naturally to the pair as kissing had. Their voices blended together brilliantly. Never before had Rachel sung with another person who she felt was her true equal on stage. The diva had an incredibly high standard for other singers considering her upbringing, but Quinn managed to completely bowl her over with how painfully beautiful her voice sounded. Was there anything about Quinn that wasn't beautiful?

The end of their performance had been met with thunderous applause and a standing ovation from all of the three judges on the panel. Rachel and Quinn had ended up next to one another when it was time to take a bow, meaning that they needed to take one another's hand. In that split second, Quinn displayed the same hesitance that Rachel had picked up earlier. She seemed uncertain, as if she wasn't sure if it would be okay to actually touch the diva. Rachel put that fear to rest though when she firmly grasped onto Quinn's hand and pulled it up into the air with her own.

It wasn't until a few moments later, when they were all heading towards a back office that they had been told was labeled "The Winner's Circle" that Rachel finally worked up the nerve to actually speak to Quinn.

"I know now that you didn't actually do it," Rachel said softly as they walked towards the room. They were next to one another, trailing a couple of feet behind the rest of the group. Santana had been snapping at the rest of them to move along, which Rachel suspected was done for her benefit considering that only her and Quinn were immune from the leader's ire.

Quinn glanced over at Rachel long enough for her to register the surprise on the blonde's face.

"I'm so sorry I didn't stop to ask you what had happened. I acted like a real jerk, Quinn," Rachel continued on, feeling like she had so much to say but so little time to do so.

"No, Rach, stop…" Quinn whispered back, causing the brunette to fall silent. Rachel couldn't tell by the tone of her voice how this was going. "It's not your fault. I've been acting like such an asshole lately, no wonder you thought I was capable of doing that."

Rachel exhaled slowly. That was a much better response than she had been anticipating. It was nice to hear Quinn actually address out loud what had been the main problem between them ever since their perfect summer had come to a close. Sure, she had apologized for specific actions here and there, but this was the first time Quinn had really taken ownership of her overall behavior towards Rachel. And it was so appreciated.

"I think we can work through that, don't you?" Rachel asked after taking a few seconds to absorb what Quinn had said. "I've missed you, Quinn. So, so much."

"Rachel, I-"

Much to Rachel's dismay, Quinn didn't get to finish that sentence. As soon as they stepped foot into the office they had been directed to, they were practically tackled by the other members of Rydell High that had come to observe the event. Puck and Finn, although unable to speak, displayed their enthusiasm by tugging Quinn up onto their shoulders and parading her around like the winner she was. While that happened, Brittany and Tina tugged Rachel towards them so they could shower her with praises over how well her handcrafted mash-up of songs had gone over with the judges.

Normally, Rachel loved being praised, but what she really wanted was to finish her conversation with Quinn. When it was obvious that wasn't going to happen in the near future, Rachel opted to chase after the second thing she desired right then - solitude.

Rachel normally preferred to be around other people as opposed to being alone, but there were those rare occasions where she was so overwhelmed that she found herself wanting to be by herself so that she could properly work through whatever was weighing her down. Tonight was one of those nights.

Which was why Rachel was currently perched on the roof of Carmel High with her legs against her chest, her arms wrapped around her legs, and her eyes fixated on the moon above. As she sat there, she wondered how she could turn things around with Quinn. Their relationship hadn't survived the transition to Rydell High, but Rachel was sure there was someway they could salvage it. She just needed to figure out how to do that exactly.

Obviously, what they had been doing hadn't been working. It was nice to know that Quinn had done some reflecting on her own behavior and had come to the conclusion that she hadn't been the easiest to be around lately. However, that didn't let Rachel off the hook here. Relationships were a two way street. If this was going to work between them, then she couldn't expect Quinn to make all of these changes while she herself did absolutely nothing to try and make things better.

Rachel wasn't sure what exactly to change, though. A lot of what Rachel believed in wasn't up for debate. When it came to her most important values, she didn't plan on tossing those aside simply for the sake of winning a girl over. But that didn't mean she couldn't shake things up. It had to be possible to become cooler without forsaking all of your morals. Rachel had always been taught by her dads that where there was a will, there was a way, and she was sure that had to apply here too. She was determined to figure out what she could do to show Quinn that she really cared about working things out before the end of the night.

"Rachel, what on earth are you doing up here?"

Rachel smiled at the familiar, friendly voice.

"Thinking," she answered honestly, before tapping the space on the ground next to her.

Kurt sank down in the spot she had indicated. Once he was settled, he reached over with the hand that was closest to her and began to rub small circles on her back. It felt nice. Comforting. Although she had needed that bit of time by herself, Rachel was ready for the company of someone she loved.

"You really should be celebrating instead," Kurt pointed out gently.

Rachel shrugged. "I will, eventually. I promise. I just...needed some time."

"I understand," Kurt said, his hand still rubbing circles against her back. "I know you have had a lot going on lately, but… Let me just say one thing."

Rachel pulled her eyes from the moon for the first time since settling down in that spot. Looking over at Kurt, she waited for him to continue.

"No matter what happens or doesn't happen between you and Quinn, I want you to know that I am infinitely grateful that you made your way into Rydell High and into my life. You are one of a kind, Rachel Berry, and you should never forget that."

There was no stopping the tears that sprung up into Rachel's eyes. That was, hands down, one of the kindest sentiments anyone had ever expressed to her.

"You're gonna make me cry…" Rachel chastised playfully before tipping her body over to the side a bit so that she could nudge Kurt in the ribs with her elbow.

"Oh I am positive that you are going to be wailing like a bitch baby any second now," he teased with a chuckle. Rachel's brow rose. It wasn't until right then that Rachel realized that Kurt had his other arm tucked back behind his back this entire time.

"What is-" Before Rachel could finish her question, Kurt was maneuvering his hidden hand to his lap, revealing what he had been holding onto this entire time. The pink satin was practically glistening in the moonlight.

"Santana said to give this to you."

Okay, now Rachel was crying. Taking the jacket from Kurt's grasp, Rachel lowered her legs and pulled the material onto her lap. As tears streamed freely down her face, the pads of her fingers traced the stitching on the back of the article of clothing.

"Don't cry, honey," Kurt whispered, moving the hand that had been rubbing at her back over to her shoulder so that he could pull her in towards him for a hug. "You're a Pink Lady now and our leader does not do crying."

Rachel laughed through her tears. "So I've heard," she remarked, fingers still brushing across the raised lettering on the back of her jacket. Not only did it feel wonderful to finally be a Pink Lady, but it left Rachel feeling inspired. "Kurt...will you help me with something tomorrow?" she asked, keeping things vague because she wanted to really marinate on her plan first before sharing it.

"Absolutely!" Kurt assured. "I would be happy to!" Rachel loved that about Kurt. He was always there, ready to be on her side, without requiring more than a request from her to do so.

"Wonderful," Rachel whispered, lifting her hand up to brush at some of the moisture on her cheeks.

"Now, will you come downstairs and celebrate with me and everyone else?" Kurt asked, squeezing at her shoulders and shaking her from side to side gently. "Our bus is due to be here soon, so we don't have a lot of time left. I think everyone's going to be headed to The Sock Hop afterwards, though."

"You go right ahead and I will be done in a minute," Rachel said, pulling back enough that she could look over at Kurt. He looked skeptical. "Really. You go because I am sure Blaine is wondering where you ran off to…" Even with only the light of the moon illuminating them, Rachel could see Kurt's cheeks darken. "...and then I will be right down. I promise."

"As long as you promise," Kurt said, leaning over and pressing a quick peck to Rachel's cheek before releasing her and standing up. "Pink Ladies always keep their promises."

"Duly noted," Rachel remarked, lifting her hand up to give Kurt a playful salute and a smile. "See you soon."

Kurt nodded and turned to leave, making his way back into the building.

With a sigh, Rachel focused her attention on the moon again. As she sat there, clutching a jacket that was already the most important piece of clothing she owned, she recalled the words that Santana had tormented her with via song only a couple of weeks ago. Although she had managed to win the Pink Ladies over, the sentiment of the song still kinda bummed her out. However, if the plan she was formulating in her mind right now worked out, that would change.

"Look at me, there has to be something more than what they see," Rachel sang, using the melody that Santana had created, but tweaking the lyrics that had been used against her. "Wholesome and pure, oh so scared and unsure… A poor man's Rachel B." Pushing herself up into a standing position, Rachel dusted her skirt off before clutching her Pink Ladies jacket tightly to her chest with both arms. "Rachel, you must start anew, don't you know what you must do…" Pulling the jacket away from herself, she shook it out and held it up to admire the back of it. "Hold your head high, take a deep breath and siiiiiiiiigh…" Turning it around, Rachel slipped one arm into its opening, shrugging it onto her body before slipping her other arm into the empty sleeve. It fit like a glove. "Goodbyeeeee to Rachel B!"

~ooooooo~

It had been two long days since Quinn had spoken to Rachel. Their conversation during Thunder Road had been short, but meaningful. It had left Quinn eager for more. However, ever since being pulled apart from each other that night, she hadn't heard a peep from Rachel. No texts, no calls, nothing. Not a single attempt to make contact had been made, leaving Quinn feeling both disappointed and confused. What Rachel said the night of the competition had led her to believe that they would be trying to work things out. Which would mean communicating.

Of course Quinn could have tried to initiate a conversation herself, but she was trying really hard to be patient. After the way she had been behaving, the least she could do was leave the ball in Rachel's court and wait for the diva to come to her.

Except waiting was excruciating and patience was not one of Quinn's virtues. Which was why, when she heard from Santana (of all people - go figure) that Rachel would be attending the celebratory carnival that the school was hosting in honor of a Rydell High glee club snagging a spot at regionals for the first time ever, Quinn started formulating a plan.

Since talk was cheap, Quinn figured expressing herself through her actions would be a much better idea. After all, a major part of the problem here was that she had been consistently putting her reputation ahead of Rachel's feelings. Why was that? Quinn wasn't entirely sure. A lot of nights had been spent reflecting on that very question, but she hadn't managed to come up with a concrete answer as to why she had been acting like such a fool.

The only possible answer that Quinn had been able to think of had to do with the fact that, for a long time, her reputation had been her shield. Growing up a Fabray hadn't been easy. Quinn's childhood, for as long as she could remember, had consisted of constant insults and so-called "helpful" guidance on how to be better, do better. Nothing she did was ever good enough and it was draining. So by the time she got older, Quinn found herself desperate to create her own little niche in the world where she wasn't constantly criticized. Shedding her given name of Lucy and the persona that had gone along with it, Quinn had stepped foot into Rydell High all of those years ago determined to be a person that people admired instead of criticized. It had worked like a charm and before the end of her freshman year, everyone knew who Quinn Fabray was. People wanted to either fuck her, befriend her, or sing with her. Some wanted to do all three. Either way, she became the kind of person that was put onto a pedestal instead of torn down at every turn.

As much as she loved and adored Rachel, giving up the reputation that she had worked so hard to build had proven to be much more difficult than she could have ever imagined. It was why Quinn had tried to simultaneously juggle the persona she had created for herself and her relationship with Rachel at the same time, despite knowing that there was a snowball's chance in hell of being able to pull it off. Deep down, all along she had known that it wouldn't be possible to remain Rydell High's most notorious Casanova and also sustain a healthy, public relationship with the sweet, straight-laced girl that she had fallen in love with over the summer. Quinn had been playing a dangerous game and had avoided making a choice between the two of them for so long that she nearly lost her ability to choose all together.

It was a mistake that Quinn was determined not to make again. If Rachel was really going to give her another chance, then Quinn was determined not to fuck everything up this time around. Quinn's choice was Rachel. 100%. Reputation be damned.

Now all she needed was a way to convey that to Rachel. This was where her plan was going to come into play. If Quinn was going to prove that she was serious about changing, she couldn't hold back here. She needed to put it all onto the line. No holds barred. All in.

"All in," Quinn whispered to herself as a means of encouragement as she paced up and down a hallway in Rydell High, trying to work up the nerve to go through with what she had decided on earlier that day. Several feet away was the entrance to the gym where students were filing in, excited to see what treats awaited them inside. From what Quinn had heard, not only was the entire gym filled to the brim with booths and games, but Principal Sylvester had gone so far as to rent a handful of rides for outside. There was a rumor going around that she had won a massive bet by placing money on the results of the competition and that was why she was in such a generous mood, but it had yet to be confirmed.

"Okay," Quinn breathed out, shaking each limb one at a time as a way to try and release the nervousness from her system. "Let's do this."

Inhaling deeply, Quinn straightened up and let her Chuck Taylors carry her down the empty corridor she had been hiding out in, towards the gym full of the people she had been going to school with for the last few years. Towards the desk where Spanish teacher Will Schuester and guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury were marking off the names of people who were attending the event, assuring that they actually were Rydell High students.

Slowing down to a stop in front of the table, Quinn waited patiently to be addressed. A few seconds later, Mr. Schuester glanced up at her before looking back down at the clipboard in his hands.

"Name please?"

Quinn's brow furrowed. Tilting her head, she chuckled a bit as she said, "Come on, Mr. Schue, I was only in your class last year. Surely you haven't forgotten all about me by now?"

Looking back up from his clipboard, Mr. Schuester looked confused as he stared up at Quinn. It appeared as if he was trying really hard to put a name to her face and Quinn was starting to feel a tiny bit insulted. 'Guess he had been lying when he said that I was one of his favorite students…' she thought to herself bitterly.

Right when Quinn was about to just tell him her name and be done with this awkward encounter, Mr. Schuester's face lit up with the telltale signs of recognition. "Quinn Fabray!?" he said...no, asked? Why did it sound like there was a question mark at the end of that sentence?

"Yeah…" Quinn replied hesitantly, watching him and wondering if he had lost a couple of marbles since she had been in his class. Mr. Schuester normally wasn't very scatterbrained, so this wasn't like him at all.

"Oh man, Quinn, I'm so sorry! I didn't recognize you in that get-up," the teacher explained, pointing his pencil at her and wiggling it up and down as a way of gesturing to her outfit. Quinn grimaced and suppressed a groan. No wonder he had been looking at her like she had two heads. Quinn knew she looked different but damn was it really that bad? As if reading her mind, Mr. Schuester quickly added, "It's a really good look for you, though! Very...studious." Another grimace from Quinn. "Anyway, how you have been?! Gosh, it's been too long."

"Good," Quinn said, keeping her response simple in an attempt to keep this conversation on the shorter side. It wasn't that she didn't like Mr. Schuester, but she had other, more important things on her mind here. Like finding Rachel.

"That's great! I've been good, too. Actually, Emma and I here-"

As much as she hated to be rude, Quinn wanted to extract herself from this moment until it became too long and drawn out. Lifting a hand up in the air, she waved as if someone was calling for her, and said, "I'll be right over!" Looking back down at Mr. Schue, she frowned. "So sorry, but we'll have to catch up sometime soon."

"Of course! Just give me your hand and we'll get you all settled here."

Extending her arm, Quinn watched as Mr. Schuester fastened a neon green band onto her wrist.

"You're good to go, Quinn," he stated with a nod and smile. Returning his smile, Quinn said her goodbyes and made her way into the bustling gymnasium. If luck was on her side, then Rachel would already be there. Although Santana had been emphatic about the fact that Rachel would definitely be attending, a small part of Quinn still worried that the diva would bail on the event at the last minute. It would be a huge relief once she finally laid eyes on the girl she had every intention of impressing tonight.

Making her way towards the center of the gym, Quinn craned her neck and started looking around for Rachel. Every now and then, she would catch a glimpse of various students giving her a weird look or doing a double take, but she was determined to not let it bother here. Who really cared what anyone else thought of her? Quinn hadn't even spotted the only person whose opinion she was concerned with yet. Where was Rachel?

"QUINN?!"

Okay. Well. At least he didn't call her 'Quinnie' this time. That was a positive, right?

Closing her eyes, Quinn took a second to try and mentally prepare herself for this moment. 'You can do this, Quinn. You are a motherfucking badass no matter what you're wearing. Plus, it's Puck. You've literally seen this kid run buck naked through sprinklers in front of the entire school on a dare. Pretty sure his sad, cold, wrinkly junk flopping everywhere for the world to see is at least a hundred times more embarrassing than your outfit.'

After this short pep talk, Quinn forced herself to open her eyes back up and turn around to face her friend. As she did so, the glasses she had put on earlier slid down the bridge of her nose. It had been years since she had switched to contacts, so the frames fit somewhat awkwardly on her face. Quinn only still had them in case of an emergency and this particular situation had qualified as such. Of course, when she had kept the frames, she had never intended on using them for a purpose such as this one, but life was funny that way.

"Puck," Quinn said coolly, lifting her hand up and using the tip of her index finger to slide the glasses back up her nose. "How are you?"

"How am I?! How...am I?" Puck repeated, his chest already shaking from the laughter that was building up inside of him. On either side of him was Finn and Sam, both of whom were staring at Quinn as if she had two heads.

Quinn, on the other hand, found herself desperately wishing that Puck was still without his voice.

"Did I stutter?" she asked, crossing her arms as she narrowed her eyes at him.

Puck didn't respond. Instead, his eyes became glassy, filling with actual tears over the amusement he felt in this moment. Seconds later, he finally burst and began howling with laughter.

Quinn's eyes narrowed into even tinier slits as she stood there, foot tapping against the floor impatiently as she watched Puck attempt to work the laughter out of his system.

"Are you done yet?" Quinn asked as Puck bit down on his knuckle in an attempt to stifle his uncontrollable sobs.

"What… are… you… wearing…?" Puck panted out in between bursts of laughter.

Quinn sighed. She wasn't going to dignify Puck's question with a response. It didn't matter what he thought, Quinn had dressed like this to prove a point. Her clothing was supposed to say, "Hey, look at me! I don't have to hide behind my leather jacket anymore because I don't give a fuck what you all think of me!" Judging by Puck's reaction, her outfit was getting this message across in spades.

Earlier that night, before heading out to the carnival, Quinn had spent a decent amount of time choosing what to wear. In addition to her ancient glasses, her ensemble was composed of: A pair of high-waisted jeans that her grandmother had bought her for Christmas the year before as opposed to the fitted American Eagle skinny jeans that she was an absolute slut for, a polo shirt that made her look as if she should either be out golfing at some country club or sipping tea with her pinkie out, and then the pièce de résistance - the letterman jacket that Quinn had already managed to earn as a result of making the Varsity track team. Although Quinn had only joined track as a way to impress Rachel, she had quickly discovered that she actually did well on the team (once she stopped tripping over hurdles, that is). It turned out that all of those years she had spent finding creative ways out of running the mile during gym class were totally unnecessary. Not only was Quinn good at running, but she really enjoyed it.

None of this was anything that Quinn wanted to tell Puck about, though. And if he didn't stop laughing soon, she was going to be tempted to resort to physical violence to get him to cut this shit out.

"How about you grow up a little and-" Quinn stopped what she was saying when, all of a sudden, Puck froze in place. His reaction seemed a little bit excessive considering that she hadn't even actually threatened him yet. Sure, that was where she had been headed with what she was saying, but there was no way he knew that.

It was at that moment that Quinn realized two things. One - that there was a series of wolf whistles erupting throughout the gym. Two - Puck wasn't even looking at her anymore and instead was staring at a point over her shoulder. Confused, Quinn spun around to see what was going on here.

"Holy shit," the blonde whispered, her jaw dropping.

~ooooooo~

~ten minutes earlier~

"Oh my God, Kurt, get those tissues away from me!" Rachel squealed, pushing the box away from her.

"Racheeeeeeel," Kurt whined, pouting at her. "Are you sure?"

"I'm positive!" Rachel assured, chuckling as she shook her head. "I don't need them!"

"I don't know, Berry…" Santana remarked, clicking her tongue against her teeth as she appraised the brunette. Reaching forward, she cupped her hands around Rachel's breasts and jiggled them around a little. "I really don't think some extra volume would hurt…"

"Santana!" Rachel exclaimed, grasping onto her wrists and gently extracting Santana's hands from her chest. "My boobs are perfectly fine, okay?" As if she wanted further confirmation of this, Rachel angled her body towards the bathroom mirror. Realizing that her breasts were lopsided now that Santana had fucked with them, she dipped a hand into the corset she was wearing and adjusted them one at a time. "There. They're perfect!" she remarked, turning back to the group and opening up her arms so that she could show off her voluptuous chest.

"I agree!" Brittany said, nodding eagerly. "Rachel has great boobies. I've always thought that."

Rachel had never seen Santana look so murderous. Yikes.

"Ooooooookay moving on…" Kurt announced, seemingly picking up on the tension that had suddenly befallen them all. Brittany was the only one who appeared to be oblivious. "Guys are we done? I think we may be done here."

"Let me get a good look at our girl," Mercedes insisted, stepping forward and pushing her way past Santana so that she was standing in front of Rachel. Ever since the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies had competed together, their groups had begun to intermingle more than ever before. Now that the rivalry between them had died off, Mercedes and Kurt had really hit it off. This had led to Mercedes being invited to their Pink Ladies movie night the day before. It had been Rachel's turn to pick and she had selected Funny Girl in an attempt to educate her friends. They had, luckily, taken her serious when she warned that anyone who dared to say a bad word about Barbra would end up suffering the consequences of their actions. Even Santana had been taken aback enough by the tone the diva had used when announcing this to actually abide by what she had said. It was for the best, really. Had anyone even tried to insult Barbra Streisand, Rachel would have had to put her bitch pants on and that was never a good thing.

As Mercedes looked her over, Rachel held her breath. The diva was hoping that she would pass muster since she was getting antsy to get out there and find Quinn. It was crazy how much she missed her. Rachel wanted so badly to gaze into her hazel eyes and feel Quinn's hands in her own again. Most of all, she wanted to kiss her. It had been too damn long since that had last happened. But all in due time. The surprise that she had in store for the blonde needed to be absolutely perfect. Rachel had no intentions of stepping out of that bathroom until she was sure that she would succeed in what she was trying to do here.

"Guys…" Mercedes started off, looking around at the group before locking eyes with Kurt. Since he had been the mastermind behind this particular look, he seemed just as anxious as Rachel to hear the final verdict. "I think she's ready! Damn girl, you are smokin' hot. You should consider dressing like this all the time!"

Rachel released the breath she had been holding and smiled. "You're too kind, but… let's take it one day at a time, okay?" Winking at Mercedes, she laughed, turning back to look at herself in the mirror one last time. The person looking back at her wasn't necessarily one that she recognized, but that was okay. The heart beating underneath the black lacy corset she was wearing was the same as it had always been.

"Wait!" Tina called out, passing an article of clothing over to Kurt. "Can't forget this!"

"Definitely not," Kurt agreed, gesturing for Rachel to hold out an arm so that he could help her into her Pink Ladies jacket. Once she was ensconced in the comfortable satin, he pushed the opening apart wide enough that her chest was back on display. "Come on," he whispered, smiling at Rachel proudly. "Let's go get your girl."

With a nod, Rachel straightened up and began to stride confidently towards the door. It was game time.

Or at least, it would have been if the heel of her stiletto hadn't gotten caught in between the bathroom tiles. Luckily, Santana and Kurt managed to catch Rachel before she either twisted an ankle or hit the ground below.

"Whoaaa there," Santana warned, helping Rachel find her balance again before slowly releasing her. "Gotta watch your step in those."

"Sorry," the diva murmured sheepishly. The shoes were on loan to her from Santana's closet and were much higher than the heels she was used to wearing. They made her calves look fucking amazing, though. "Let's try this again…"

This time, Rachel managed to keep her balance as she made her way out of the bathroom. The Pink Ladies - and Mercedes - trailed behind her, keeping a bit of distance between themselves and Rachel out of respect. This was her big moment and none of them wanted to get in the way of that.

Having already collected her wristband when she had first arrived at the school earlier that evening, Rachel was able to stride (carefully) right on into the gym. Any nervousness that she felt over whether or not people would think she was absurd for trying to pull off this look disappeared as the students of Rydell High began to notice her. Their reactions let Rachel know that Kurt and her friends hadn't steered her wrong at all.

As Rachel began to make her way through the gym, she found herself half-wishing for the sake of entertainment purposes only that her dads could witness this moment. Oh, what she wouldn't give to see their faces when they saw their baby girl all dressed up in a tight corset with leather trim and matching leather leggings that hugged every curve that they touched. Not to mention the "hooker heels" that Santana had insisted she wear. To finish the look off, Kurt had spent upwards of two hours working on Rachel's hair and makeup. Her silky locks had been curled and mussed, framing her face with a beautiful wildness much different from the way she usually did her hair. As for her makeup, Kurt had chosen shades and hues that were nothing like the nudes and glosses she usually sported. However, they still all matched her skin tone perfection. The guy really had a knack for this sort of thing. Rachel's favorite part was the ruby red lip Kurt had given her to finish her makeup off. The diva was pretty sure her dads would shit a brick if they saw her like this, but it was kinda thrilling.

It wasn't long before she spotted some of the T-Birds. They were talking to someone who had Quinn's height and stature. Even her hair was the same color, but it wasn't at all styled like Quinn's. It was bone straight with the sides held back by barrettes. If it wasn't for details such as this and the mom jeans that the girl was wearing, Rachel would have thought she was looking at Quinn.

'Where the hell is she…' Rachel wondered, slowing to a stop so that she could look around. At the same time, the blonde haired girl turned around. Much to Rachel's surprise, it actually was Quinn fucking Fabray looking quite dapper in an outfit that Rachel could have only conjured up in her wildest dreams. In fact, Rachel was pretty sure that she had actually had a dream where Quinn was wearing something similar. Not that the clothing had stayed on long…

Clearing her throat, Rachel tried to push away her surprise and remember what she was there to do. Although the gym was pretty loud, she heard the whispered exclamation of surprise that fell from Quinn's lips. That, paired with the way Quinn eyes were hungrily soaking in the sight before her, made Rachel grin.

"Hi there," Rachel said, doing her best to sound sultry. Kurt had made her practice on him earlier. While it had felt very weird talking sexy to him, Rachel was now very grateful that he had insisted on it.

"Rachel?" Quinn asked, still looking her over as if she could not wrap her mind around the fact that it was indeed Rachel Barbra Berry standing there before her. This meant it was time to whip out the second thing that she had practiced with Kurt.

"Fucking A," Rachel replied confidently. Out loud. This was the first time she had cursed in public in her entire life and holy shit did it feel amazing. Maybe she would do it more often!

Somehow, Quinn now looked even more flabbergasted. However, she also kinda looked...turned on. Whatever that expression on her face was actually conveying, it was giving Rachel life. The brunette briefly wondered if pulling out her phone and snapping a quick pic would be socially acceptable.

Taking a step forward towards Rachel, the blonde bit down on her lower lip as she locked eyes with the diva.

"You look…" Quinn trailed off, giving Rachel another look from head to toe before continuing. "Fudging hot."

Rachel's grin spread as she did her best not to devolve into a fit of giggles at Quinn's use of the word 'fudging.' She wondered if that was how ridiculous she sounded when she used it herself. Probably.

"You gonna kiss me or…?" Rachel asked coyly, her long lashes batting flirtatiously as she tilted her head to the side.

"You better believe it," Quinn replied, reaching forward and looping an arm around Rachel's waist, pulling the diva in with one sleek movement. As their lips connected, applause broke out all around them. Rachel didn't care that the whole gymnasium was watching their every movement. All that mattered in that moment was Quinn.

When the kiss ended, Quinn took a second to open her eyes back up. It appeared as if she was trying to savor the moment. But once that was done, she addressed the crowd around them.

"All right, all right!" the taller girl called out, peering around Rachel at everyone as she spoke. "Nothing to see here!"

At Quinn's prompting, the crowd began to break up, heading towards whatever attraction they were most interested in. The only people that really lingered around them were the Pink Ladies and the T-Birds. Amongst that group, Rachel spotted Santana gazing over at a certain blissfully oblivious girl. Now that she was in the midst of getting her own happy ending, the diva felt like sharing the wealth.

After trying to take a step back from Quinn, Rachel smiled when the blonde's hold tightened on her.

"Where are you going?" Quinn whispered, leaning in and brushing the tip of her nose against Rachel's. "I just got you back."

"I need a minute," Rachel whispered back. "Just one itsy bitsy minute. Trust me on this," she added, tipping her head up and pressing a quick kiss to Quinn's lips before pulling out of her hold. Immediately, Rachel missed the feel of her strong arms.

Walking right up to Santana (while being mindful of where she was stepping - these heels were lethal!), Rachel tugged her over to Brittany, who was chatting with Finn and Tina.

"Berry, what the fuck are you doing?" Santana asked under her breath right before Rachel pushed her over to Brittany.

"Hey Brittany?" Rachel said sweetly, getting the peppy blonde's attention.

"Yeah Rachel, what's up? Your boobs still look great, by the way, if that's what you're worried about."

Santana shot her a look, but Rachel's smile didn't falter. "I appreciate that and you, Brit, but no. I came over here to tell you that Santana totally has the hots for you and that you guys should probably be making out right about...now."

Rachel could see shock skitter across Santana's face out of the corner of her eye, but she wasn't concerned. There was a very good chance that Santana would be thanking her later.

"Oh, sweet!" Brittany exclaimed, looking over at the leader of the Pink Ladies excitedly. "I've always had a crush on you, I just never said anything!"

"Look don't take what Berry says ser-" Santana trailed off, realizing what Brittany had actually said. "Wait really?"

"Really really! I've liked you since…" Brittany trailed off, glancing at Tina. "How many years has it been?"

Tina snorted. "Since we were like in diapers. But seriously though, Brittany's liked you forever."

"See!" Brittany said proudly as she looked back at Santana. "Forever."

Santana didn't say anything else. Instead, she reached her arms out and latched onto the sleeves of Brittany's jacket, tugging the blonde into her. Brittany stumbled forward, falling right into Santana's arms. Their lips crashed together with a raw eagerness that further confirmed to Rachel that they had been circling one another for far too long.

When she turned to go back to Quinn, Rachel caught sight of Kurt watching her, still wearing that proud expression on his face. Blaine was standing behind him with his arms wrapped around Kurt's body and was smiling as well. At the same time, they both gave her a thumbs up.

Laughing softly, Rachel responded to the gesture with finger guns. Kurt played along, clutching his chest as if she had shot him before grinning and blowing Rachel a kiss. Catching it, the diva placed it against her heart before focusing her attention back on the only girl that had ever stolen her breath away.

Rachel's smile spread immediately when hazel eyes locked on her own. Taking a step towards Quinn, she was surprised to find that a solid mass jumped in her way. Looking up, she realized that it was Puck standing before her.

"So… like… are you sure you only like the ladies?" he asked, raising a brow. "Like 100% sure? Because if there's any wiggle room there, I would really like…"

"Noah Puckerman, don't make me tell everyone here about the first time you sent a girl a dick pic," Quinn interrupted, reaching around Puck and latching onto Rachel, guiding her around the beefy football player. Immediately, Puck blanched. Rachel couldn't remember ever seeing someone look so horrified. Even if Quinn didn't plan on sharing that story right then and there, Rachel was going to have to get it out of her later. "Now shoo," the blonde prompted, waving the hand that wasn't holding onto Rachel at her friend. The diva was grateful when Puck listened.

As soon as Puck wandered off with a few of the other T-Birds, Quinn pulled Rachel back into her arms. "Much better," the blonde whispered, smiling down at her.

"Agreed," Rachel replied with a giggle. "So...what do you think?" she asked, gesturing down at her outfit. Quinn had already said she looked hot, but Rachel had every intention of milking this moment as much as she possibly could.

"I think…" Quinn started off, grinning as she gazed into chocolate eyes. "You are quite possibly the sexiest creature to ever walk this planet." Rachel beamed. "However… I want you to know that you don't have to change a damn thing about yourself, Rach. You're perfect as you are."

Rachel hadn't been sure where Quinn was going with that "however," but she was smiling warmly by the end of what Quinn had to say. As much as she was enjoying getting the play the part of the sex kitten for once, it was still nice to hear that she was desired by Quinn either way.

"Same goes to you," Rachel remarked, her fingers toying with one of the buttons of Quinn's letterman jacket. "As much as this whole get-up you're wearing makes me think naughty thoughts, I wouldn't change a thing about you, Quinn. Okay, well maybe the whole slushie throwing thing I would change, but that's small."

Quinn was grinning too widely to be affected by the playful jab Rachel had made. "You're thinking naughty thoughts, eh?"

Rachel's eyes rolled. "Shut up and fucking kiss me," she prompted, pulling Quinn in by her jacket.

And kiss her, Quinn did. By the time their lips parted, Rachel was gasping a little for air.

"I will never grow tired of that," Rachel chuckled breathlessly.

"Good, because there's going to be a lot more of that in your future. You're the one that I want," Quinn whispered, reaching up and brushing a curl back behind Rachel's ear. "Do you know why?"

"Because…" Rachel trailed off, trying to figure out what Quinn was hinting at here. "We go together?" Even if it wasn't what Quinn was going to say, Rachel knew in her heart that it was true. They went together like peanut butter and jelly. Macaroni and (vegan) cheese. Peas and carrots. Cereal and (vegan) milk… Wow, Rachel was fucking starving. They were going to have to stop at the cotton candy stand pronto.

"I mean, that is true," Quinn remarked, nodding as she mulled over what Rachel had said. "But there's another reason. It's…" Once again, Rachel found herself holding her breath. Instinctively, the diva knew that this was one of those moments in her life where she was standing on the precipice of something amazing and life-altering. When Quinn finally finished her sentence, it didn't disappoint. "Because I love you, Rachel Berry."

Rachel could actually feel herself melting at what Quinn had said. It was a good thing that the blonde's arms were making their way even more securely around Rachel's body because, if not, she may have turned into a literal puddle of lace and leather on the ground. Never before had her heart felt so incredibly full. There was not a trace of doubt in Rachel's mind as to what she wanted to say in response.

"I love you, too, Quinn Fabray."

As words suddenly became superfluous, Rachel found herself stepping forward to erase the small sliver of space that was lingering between her body and Quinn's. As their lips locked and Quinn's arms wrapped around her tiny waist, Rachel felt this sense of calm wash over her. In that moment, Rachel realized that nothing would ever feel more like home than Quinn's embrace. Not even good old New York City.

~ooooooo~

Rachel's feet swung back and forth in the air as she laid on her stomach, humming along to the latest Adele song and finishing up her official account of the day before. The tip of her favorite pink pen (gifted to her by the Pink Ladies) glided across the last empty page in the special journal she had bought at the beginning of summer specifically for the purpose of chronicling her relationship with Quinn.

I'm 10,000% positive that I will never ever forget the day that Quinn Fabray (finally!) told me that she loved me. In fact, I'm pretty sure the world stood still for at least a solid minute when it happened. It was hands down the most magical moment of my entire life! (Can't believe I'm saying this but… Yes, even more magical than the first time I got onto a stage! SHOCKING.)

Well, at least until our friends decided to come over and drag us outside for the rides. They're lucky they are all such loveable goofballs or else I might have been pretty peeved… Lol jk, I couldn't be mad at them after all they've done for me! Plus, I truly had a great time. The carnival was actually a blast! Quinn and I made out in the funhouse (scandalous, I know - who have I even become?!) and we all enjoyed the Flying Cars ride. I maybe sorta played up the fact that I was scared of heights so that Quinn would hold me tighter...shhh, don't tell her.

I know we only just made up, but I'm so looking forward to our relationship developing. Oh and to competing with her at Regionals! We are going to kick ASS. :D But really, there's nothing I want more than to be with Quinn. I know we still have a few things to work out, but I believe that yesterday was a big step in the right direction! I'm committed to never letting petty drama or bullcrap pull us apart again. I love Quinn and she loves me. Isn't that what matters?

"Princess?" Hiram yelled up the stairs, getting Rachel's attention. The hand holding her pen froze as she cocked her head in the direction of the noise.

"Yes, daddy?" she called out sweetly, hoping that this interruption meant that her girlfriend had arrived.

"Quinn is here to pick you up! I think she may have found a new vegan place for you guys to try! Isn't that exciting?!"

Rachel beamed. It sure was exciting.

"Be right down!" Rachel yelled back, grateful that she had gotten dressed up and date ready prior to starting her diary entry. After a quick look in the mirror, she would be good to go. But first, she wanted to close out what was sure to always be one of her favorite journals. Although Rachel had reached the end of the book, she knew that this was only the beginning when it came to her relationship with Quinn Fabray.

Rereading her last few paragraphs over quickly, a small grin captured Rachel's lips as she settled on the perfect way to close out this chapter of their story.

As the great Barbra Streisand once said: There is nothing more important in life than love.