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these strange steps

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Celine Dion has performed on the stage she's looking at right now.

Somehow, Rachel always thought this moment would mean more to her, but the stage in the Colosseum isn't that much bigger or brighter than any other stage she's been on, and honestly, when she'd told Kurt that she wanted the summer off, she didn't mean I just want to go to a different city and do the same thing I've been breaking my back doing for the past three years.

She's more or less a household name now.

She's also pretty sure that if Time ever ran an expose on the 100 loneliest people in America, she'd be at the very top.

The only highlight of her career, which on paper is everything she's ever wanted, is that somehow she's surrounded herself with people that she knows and loves, albeit not in the way that she wishes she could. Puck has gone everywhere with her, starting out as just a roadie on some of her solo tours after the Les Mis revival she headlined shortly after graduating from NYU, and Kurt became her manager not long after that, when he finally felt like he had enough experience to deal with someone with actual star potential.

When she's busy doing bit parts in LA, she crashes with Brittany and Santana, and when she's in New York, she hangs out with Tina and Mike and discovers hidden and mysterious Chinese take-aways with illegible menus. Back in Lima, Sam and Mercedes are happy with their first kid underway, and Finn will always be there, holding on to his glory moment of winning conference and wondering how it is that none of the girls in his life stuck around for the end.

Glee club had started out tenuously enough, with nearly everyone in it obviously hating her, but by the time they'd graduated, they'd all been friends. At least, she thought they had been, and they now are the only people who remember the Rachel Berry who occasionally had moments of weakness, and occasionally gave up a solo in exchange for a hug.

There's only one person they've all lost touch with, and when Rachel starts wondering about what ever happened to Quinn Fabray, she knows she's had way too much to drink.

Puck wraps an arm around her waist and says, "Rach, you're killing yourself. You don't need to do three dress rehearsals. You're going to kick ass either way, you know that. You could sing a bum note and nobody would even notice. They're here for the image, babe. They're not here for you giving them everything you've got."

She knows he's right, but he should know by now that the only way she knows how to do her job is by putting everything in. It's the only way that she can stop thinking about the things that are missing from her life, and the delicious irony that Kurt Hummel, possibly the gayest man on Earth, has to keep reminding her that it would be prospect-destroying for her to come out at this point in her career.

She's about to break into Hollywood, he keeps saying. And the money in Hollywood is conservative. You're not seeing anyone anyway, Rachel, so while I appreciate that it matters to you to be true to yourself, you can be true to yourself when you've made enough money to retire.

The worst part is that he's probably right.

"I'm so... how did I get here?" she whispers into Puck's neck, and he lifts her out of her seat and hugs her tightly.

"I don't know, babe," he says, pressing a kiss to her head and tucking her under his arm. "We'll figure something out."

...

The next day, she feels moderately better emotionally, and so much worse physically; she throws up once, and then a second time after attempting some Pilates on the floor by her bed.

They rented the house, because it's a three month gig at Caesar's, and she spends enough of her time in hotels as it is. Sometimes, she thinks about getting a dog or something, just to keep her company, but pets aren't suitable for her way of life. She can't even remember the last time she spent eight hours a day at home, let alone with the energy to take a Golden Retriever jogging through Central Park.

She also can't remember the last time she's set foot in Central Park, but that's a different story.

There are two messages from set managers on her phone, and she forwards them to Kurt without listening, because honestly: she's just there to sing. Everyone else can take care of the issues surrounding that, because the only thing she herself has left to offer these days is her voice.

...

She worries the show will fall flat. She's seen Celine's Las Vegas show live and on DVD, several times, and so much of what works about it is related to Celine's relentless energy and audience interaction, and the latter is the part of her job that Rachel likes the least.

"I don't even know why they asked me," she tells Kurt, picking aimlessly at the watercress and radicchio salad she's having for lunch. "I'm not exactly known for being a crowd darling."

"You're known for being kind of a bitch, you're right," Kurt says, batting at his lips with a napkin. "This is a chance for you to undo some of that damage you did when you refused to sign that fourteen year old girl's playbill two years ago."

The moment still haunts her. The thing the media had reported on was that she'd snubbed a small girl, who had been her 'biggest fan' ever—like that's measurable somehow—without so much as batting an eye. The thing the media had not reported on was that she'd been running a 102 degree fever and her understudy had sprained her ankle and she'd barely been able to keep standing throughout the performance, let alone muster up the energy to make some fourteen year old's dreams come true.

"I don't care about my reputation," she tells Kurt, because she doesn't. She's had it for so long now that honestly, if she could do it all again, all she'd do is add an, "I'm sorry, I'm really not feeling well" to her previous dismissal.

The public, especially in New York, thinks they own her.

The absolute best thing about Vegas so far has been the fact that with just a pair of sunglasses, she's a complete nobody, surrounded by hundreds of other famous people looking to get away.

...

On opening night, her dads call and tell her to break a leg.

She remembers clearly when they used to come to all of her performances, but the travel is too extensive these days and they both have jobs. She understands; it's not that she doesn't.

Just, sometimes, it would be really nice to have someone in particular to sing to. It would tip her performance from being what it is now into what all her performances used to be: tortured love songs to Finn Hudson that melted the hearts of everyone who watched them take Nationals in 2011 and 2012.

The most painful thing of all is the realization that the only time she's ever thought she was in love, it was with a guy.

She spends all of her time singing and acting out emotions that she has basically never fully felt for herself, except in those fleeting moments when Quinn Fabray used to let her guard down.

Not that she'd known it at the time. Hell, she hardly knows it now, except that the only half-relationship she's ever been in was with a dancer from the Les Mis troupe who had blonde hair, graceful legs (if there even is such a thing) and the ability to keep things strictly professional.

They were all traits that remind her, now that she's working on being a little more honest with herself, of a girl that she never had the chance to get to know in high school.

Maybe she got out, Rachel sometimes thinks, going through old McKinley yearbooks and seeing Quinn's face on every single page, beaming with contempt, the way she'd smiled in every picture that she'd known was going to be taken of her.

Somewhere, in a box full of things that she knows she shouldn't let herself look at, Rachel has a picture of Quinn and Santana, captured by Brittany at some moment during the run-up to senior year Nationals, when they'd been goofing off in their hotel rooms and Quinn had, just for two precious seconds, forgotten that she hated absolutely everything in this world.

But: maybe Quinn got out. And just maybe, she found something out that she didn't hate, out there.

Rachel's never known how to not be hopeful about these kinds of things.

...

Her melancholia is particularly noxious after the third show, somehow, and Puck and Kurt exchange worried looks while she's taking off her make-up—Swan Lake inspired, for reasons she's never bothered asking the choreographer, because they could dress her up like a sad clown hooker and it would still just be part of the job.

"You need a night off," Puck finally says, but to Kurt, not to her.

"We all have one on Tuesday," Kurt says, without even glancing at the schedule. "Though I would advise you to not suggest anything particularly stupid. I mean, this is Las Vegas. She has a certain image to uphold."

"Yeah, people think she's some child-hating bitch. Please, what can we possibly do to shred her rep even more?" Puck says, with a loud scoff.

"I'm right here, guys," she reminds them, quietly, and watches as they both lower their eyes with something akin to guilt. "And while I agree that I do need a night off, I also agree that I'm not particularly in the mood to be in the public eye."

"Yeah, well, I'm not giving up my first free night in Vegas to fucking play board games with you in that empty-ass mansion you're calling home, Rach," Puck says.

She looks at herself in the mirror and absolutely hates what she sees, which is the only reason she says, "Come up with a plan that assures us relative anonymity, and I'll come out with you."

"I can do that," Puck says, exchanging a small and rather effeminate low-five with Kurt that they think she can't see.

It just about makes her smile, a little.

...

Here's the thing that nobody knows about Rachel Berry, Tony winner and two-time guest star Emmy nominee:

She's seriously, cripplingly agoraphobic.

… okay, so some people know. Puck knows, Kurt knows, Tina and Mike and Brittany and Santana sort of know, and her dads know, but everyone else just assumes that she stays inside most of the time because it's a pain in the ass to go places when you're so recognizable.

It is a pain in the ass. It's also something that basically locks her heart in her throat these days, and makes her entire body shake until it just stops working for her and all she can do is lie down on the ground and close her eyes, willing the crowds of people around her to go away.

Her therapist is convinced there's a clear trigger to when this started, and it's linked somehow to a really unfortunate karaoke experience in her sophomore year of college when some of her classmates decided it would be fun to toss her into a crowd of drunken onlookers and it took her almost five minutes to stop screaming.

All she knows is that she didn't have it when they took Nationals in 2012, but even now, the only way she can do Vegas comfortably is from behind a car door and with two Xanax in her system. A great combination with the amount of alcohol she's already working on consuming.

Really, her entire world is a fog right now. It's exactly how she likes it.

"We're going someplace small and discreet," Puck says next to her, driving them out of the hotel parking garage and heading onto the Strip.

Some part of Rachel thinks she could grow to like Vegas, because it's nowhere near as claustrophobic as New York and, after some heavy testing of her condition, it's become clear to her that she's afraid of crowds, not of open spaces. Vegas is nothing but open space; exit the city proper, and there is nothing but sand around them.

She briefly thinks that an ideal vacation could be spent in the desert, in a hut or something, learning how to crochet.

She laughs, and Puck looks at her in surprise.

"Sorry. I'm just a little—" she says, and she doesn't need to say more, because Puck knows how she self-medicates.

"Hey, if you feel a panic attack come on—just tell me, okay?" he says, reaching over and squeezing her knee.

She tilts her head against the window and closes her eyes, not opening them again until he lets on that they've arrived at their destination.

...

"What the fuck," she hisses at Puck when the bouncer waves them through.

"Okay, here we go. Look, Rach, I'm all for you getting pissed at me for bringing you here, but come on. You're twenty five. You're hot. And you live like you're some fucking eighty year old woman who's one foot in the grave, and let's be honest, only some of that is because of your condition," Puck says, reaching for her coat.

She shakes her head, disbelieving, and stares at him.

"I want you to be happy. Okay? Now, I know you probably don't think that a strip club is going to make you happy, but we'll get really drunk and watch some hot chicks straddle poles and I don't know. Maybe you'll forget about—whatever it is you need to forget about right now, okay?"

He means well.

The only reason she doesn't immediately turn on her heels is because she knows he means well.

"You brought me to a strip club," she just flatly says, instead.

He shrugs, a small smile playing around his lips. "Kurt may think you need to like, stay in the fucking closet forever, but what Kurt doesn't know won't kill him."

She sort of laughs and sighs at the same time and then says, "Okay, but I have no idea what the protocol for these places is, so I'm relying on you to make sure I don't embarrass myself."

"'course."

Maybe it's not the worst idea after all, she thinks, before looking at him and tentatively asking, "You brought a stack of dollar bills, right? Because if I'm going to be in a strip club, I want to do it right."

"Please—I got this," Puck says, grinning and wrapping an arm around her lower back before ushering her into the club.

...

Not that she has much of a concept of what a high class strip club looks like, but it's not a dive, thank God.

She looks around questioningly, trying not to flush at the sight of a good dozen or so topless girls, and then blinks at Puck. "This—how did you find this place?"

Puck picks a toothpick from a tray by the bar and says, "Brittany. Her dance partner used to work here or something. She said it'd be cool; they're into like, privacy and safety and shit."

"Safety?" Rachel asks, raising her eyebrows. "As in what, the strippers here don't carry guns?"

"No, more like, they get tested for shit," Puck says, before leaning over towards the bartender with a wink and ordering himself a Jack and coke and Rachel a vodka tonic.

"Um. Perhaps I'm missing the point of stripping, but I was under the impression it's a hands-off activity," Rachel says, feeling a bit of a blush run on her cheeks.

"Sure. Unless the stripper is hoping to make an extra buck." Puck leans back against the bar and nods towards the stage. "Thing about this job is that the girls are in charge. Security is air tight in places like this; any dude who tries to grab without permission, they've got panic buttons and bouncers all over the fucking place."

"Right," Rachel says, staring at the stage. The lights are as bright as they are on Broadway, and she knows from experience that it's basically impossible to see anything in the audience.

It makes her feel strangely better; like the dancers get to keep some of their dignity.

"So, the menu's like this; the dancers in the room are a free for all," Puck says, around the tooth pick. "You can look, and you can tip, but you can't grab. Okay?"

Rachel makes a small noise and then picks up and drinks half of her drink; she's going to need it if she's going to actually participate in Noah Puckerman's idea of a relaxing evening.

"Then, on top of that, there's other girls who don't dance on stage."

"Why?"

"They're better," Puck says, with a small smile. "This place is high-end, obviously, but even then there's rankings. You see that brunette on stage? Bad boob job, almost thirty. She's not the same kind of bet as whatever it is they've got out back."

"How do you know?"

Puck ignores her question, and instead points towards the back of the room. "You place your order there. You can take something on the stage, something random, or ask for something in particular."

"Like..." Rachel says. Her drink's almost gone, and the haziness in her mind is comfortable, dulling her surroundings just enough for her to relax.

"Like—say you wanted to act out some fantasies about a certain... blonde cheerleader that—"

"Don't," she tells him, shortly.

He smiles faintly, but lets it go. "Well, whatever. If you're in the mood for something in particular, or a particular outfit—you let them know, and they'll accommodate, if they can."

Rachel chews on her lip for a moment. "How many of these places have you been to in your life?"

His expression darkens briefly, and then he sighs. "It's not easy being a single mom in Lima."

Shit, Rachel thinks, and the apology is already on her lips when he continues with, "They're people, Rachel. Okay? So—we're here because maybe all you need is a little bit of consequence-free attention. No muss, no fuss; not for you, and not for whatever girl is going to be riding your lap later."

She takes a deep breath and says, "I'm not sure I can handle this, Noah."

He smiles at her crookedly. "C'mon, baby. You're Rachel Berry. You can handle anything."

...

Six drinks later, she's forgotten about that thing where she doesn't want to talk about blonde cheerleaders to anyone, ever, let alone the guy who knocked Quinn up and put the first dent in her golden future.

Puck winks as he slides another dollar into their waitress' g-string, and Rachel smiles when she notices—not for the first time—that he does it in what looks like the least sexual way possible. His hand doesn't even touch skin, for God's sake.

Noah Puckerman: resident good guy. She never would've thought he'd be one of her best friends, but honestly, without him...

A flash of blonde hair in the background distracts her from the thought, and for one second she thinks that—

But it's obviously just wishful thinking.

Still. Isn't that what this night is supposed to be about?

She's feeling wishful now. There is a lot of wishing and hoping, and long list of things that are never going to happen for her.

Seven years of the occasional one night stand, usually with guys whose names she doesn't even know, just because the alternative of seeking out someone who looks like her is too humiliating. Seven years of wishing she could've done something different, back then.

Maybe it's time. Maybe, she's feeling just about wishful enough to put her drink down and say, "I—yeah. I'm going to do it. I'm—"

"Go get 'em, tiger," Puck says, with an encouraging smile, and then whispers something at the waitress, who beckons gently with her head.

Rachel follows without tripping, which is pretty much already an accomplishment, but then has to somehow vocalize some sort of request.

"What's your type, beautiful?" the waitress asks, in a way that sounds more soothing than sexual, and Rachel exhales shakily and says, "Blonde. About five foot six. … small breasts, great ass."

The waitress blinks at her a few times and then says, "You know, you're not the first person who's had a really specific type, by some distance... but you're the first one that I'm actually going to promise that we have exactly what you're looking for."

Rachel swallows hard and watches as the waitress disappears behind a curtain; she almost changes her mind in the minute or so that it takes for the girl to come back and say, "C'mon. We'll get you settled, and your dream girl will be with you in a minute or so."

I doubt it, Rachel thinks, but she's had enough to drink for thinking hard about what she's doing to not really an option anymore.

...

She wanders around in the little room she's left in, which is somehow tastefully done up in creams and reds, rather than the black she always figured that back rooms at strips clubs were.

Not that she's spent a lot of time thinking about that.

She's drunk, but not drunk enough to not be a little bit nervous and gun-shy. Her hands fly to the buttons on her coat but then drop again, because—maybe she needs to wait for the certainty of instruction. Is it okay to take her coat off? Will she keep it on? Does it even matter?

The door opens behind her, just when she thinks that she's going to bail—again, and some part of her bitterly reminds her that the Rachel Berry she used to be wasn't a quitter—and she sort of freezes on the spot.

"Okay," a quiet and sure voice says, behind her. "There are a few ground rules that we need to go over."

This isn't real, Rachel thinks. Xanax and the alcohol—I'm hallucinating.

But it's undeniable. It's the voice. Even though she hasn't heard it sneer at her in years, and the last time she did hear it, it definitely wasn't saying, "You keep your hands on the sides of the chair at all times" or anything even remotely like that, Rachel knows Quinn Fabray's voice like the back of her hand.

"Oh, my God," she says, sitting down on the chair just because it's there, and that brings her lap dancer of choice—the girl of her dreams, her hazy brain reminds her—in full sight.

At the sound of her voice, Quinn turns around from where she's doing something to the stereo on the table by the door, and their eyes lock.

Rachel can't breathe. She tries, but all she can do is sit and watch as Quinn's eyes widen, just for a second.

Then, Quinn straightens abruptly, and that impeccable mask slides back over her expression.

Rachel was the one who was going to make money acting, but Quinn was the one who actually played all the roles. It's how it's always been between them, and somehow, even with Quinn in six inch heels and a loosely-fitted charcoal gray suit—with a matching fedora, and God, if that isn't a throwback to Glee club Rachel doesn't honestly know what would be—that hasn't changed one bit in the last seven years.

"My second rule is that you keep your mouth shut," she says, after a moment, with a bit more bite than before. It's the only sign that any of this is getting to her. "Think you can manage that, Rachel? Or has absolutely nothing about you changed?"

Rachel looks down at the floor and presses a hand to her lips, wondering how she can make herself wake up. Wondering if, if she closes her eyes tightly enough, she can conjure up a time machine, or something, so that she can go back in time and slap Puck for his idiotic suggestion and slap Brittany for giving Puck this address, of all the places she could've gone in Vegas.

"Take off your coat," Quinn says, a little more calmly.

It's not a question, and it's definitely not going to happen.

Rachel wills her legs to move and she shakily gets up on them, jittering like Bambi on ice, but unable to look away from Quinn's… everything.

The words spill out, a drunken and garbled mess. "I can't do this. I'm sorry, this is … well, no, I'm sure it's worse for you than it is for me, but it's pretty bad for both of us, but either way, I assure you that nobody will ever know about this, because there isn't really any earthly way for me to explain how I ended up almost getting a lap dance from Quinn Fabray anyway so—"

Quinn exhales slowly through her nose and leans back against the table, crossing one leg slowly in front of the other and then crossing her arms. It's so reminiscent of who they were years ago that Rachel almost cowers instinctively, and then just lowers her eyes again.

"The door's open," Quinn finally says. "Your money's right here, next to me."

Rachel's legs move her towards the table automatically, but when she reaches for the bills her hand freezes above them. It's that stupid impulse she's always had: to show Quinn kindness, when Quinn wants none.

"Keep it," she says, softly.

Quinn is at her side in a flash, harshly hissing into her ear. "I don't need your charity, Rachel. I didn't dance for you, so you need take your fucking money and go."

Rachel's fingers close around the bills, squeezing hard, but then she glances to her right, at Quinn's face—almost blank, but there's barely suppressed anger there—and says, "No."

"No?" Quinn repeats, incredulous.

"No. I'm—oh, God, I'm drunk, and I'm fairly sure I'm sixteen seconds away from either waking up or realizing I'm dead and this is what the afterlife is like, but the Quinn Fabray I knew in high school would not be a stripper unless she desperately needed the money. So—no. I'm not taking the money, and you don't have to dance for me."

Quinn's lips twist violently, and then she reaches for Rachel's hand, closing it around the money. "You don't know the first thing about me anymore, Rachel. So take your cash, and take your brilliant, successful life, and get the hell out of mine."

Rachel sways dangerously and squeezes her eyes shut, because God, this hurts. Seeing that this is what became of Quinn just hurts. "You could've been so much more than this. I always hoped—"

"I swear to God, I am going to hit you if you don't stop talking, and then I'll lose this job and—" Quinn says, before exhaling sharply, taking two measured steps backwards and balling her fists. "Why the fuck are you even here, Rachel? Surely the great Rachel Berry can get laid any time she wants to and doesn't need to resort to paying for what she wants?"

Somewhere, Puck is laughing at her; who but her would manage to screw up a lap dance so completely? It's a lap dance.

Maybe this is humiliating for Quinn, and maybe that's why she's lashing out, but the reality of their situation is that Quinn has done more degrading things to her than whatever this is. All those pictures, the jokes about how she should get sterilized, the endless reminders that she'd never be good enough for Finn Hudson…

Her hand relaxes, and the bills flutter back onto the table.

"If dancing is the only way you'll take the money—then you'll dance for me," she says, as evenly as she can. "But we abide by your rules. You don't ask me why I'm here, and I don't ask you why you're here. Nobody talks."

Quinn almost smiles at her when she says, "Who knew that we'd finally find something to agree on?"

It's about the least erotic experience of Rachel's life so far—fifty percent nausea and fifty percent horror sums it up—but when she sits back down on the edge of the chair and Quinn takes two quick strides to end up directly in front of her, her breath catches in her throat anyway.

"Last chance," Quinn says, in barely more than a whisper.

God, it's just a dance, Rachel thinks. I make my living doing musical theater. People have mounted me for professional reasons for years, so this is hardly going to be a novel experience.

She shakes her head as a sign that she's not backing down, watching as Quinn's entire body goes from bone-rigid to limber at the snap of a finger, and Quinn's hands slide up her body, from her hips up past her breasts, towards the skinny tie around her neck.

...

Despite messing with the stereo, Quinn doesn't use music.

Rachel watches without wanting to, and wonders why not—if Quinn just never does, or if maybe the no music rule is for those rare occasions when you're giving an old classmate a lap dance.

Maybe it says so in the stripper handbook.

God, stripper. Quinn Fabray is a stripper. It sounds unbelievable, and yet Quinn is right in front of her, staring at her and slowly twisting the tie she's wrapped around her hands, before looping it around Rachel's neck and sliding onto her lap.

It takes every bit of restraint that Rachel has to not panic and to not start babbling like crazy. Babbling is what Rachel Berry, old or new, does in situations where she has no idea what else she can do. Some part of her is dying to compliment Quinn on her style, because she has to be the classiest stripper that Rachel has ever even thought of seeing, and the rest of her just tries to desperately think about things other than the fact that Quinn's thankfully still-clad hips are rocking into her own.

Quinn, true to her word, doesn't say anything; but the no touching rule doesn't apply to her, and when she nudges Rachel's chin up with a pointed finger and arches her eyebrow, the challenge is clear.

You're paying for me to do this, so you're damn well going to watch me do this.

Rachel exhales shakily, even as Quinn's other hand falls away from the tie around Rachel's neck as well, and then reaches for the collar on her suit jacket.

The silence in the room is making the entire experience almost claustrophobic. It's adding to the embarrassment she's feeling, because Rachel knows she's breathing heavily enough for it to be audible. Meanwhile, Quinn's just—untouchable.

She laughs shakily when she thinks it, and Quinn's eyes flash for just a second before she shucks out of her jacket and it crumples to the floor at Rachel's feet.

Nothing about this is too strange so far, Rachel thinks, dimly. The rocking motion, maybe; the way that Quinn's left hand is holding on to her for balance, but other than that, it's not so different from the Push It dance she did with Finn in high school.

Of course, then Quinn starts slowly unbuttoning her crisp, white cotton shirt, and it pretty soon becomes clear she's not wearing a bra underneath it. Rachel's eyes shift down, and then up again, and then down, and then up again. Her hands clutch the sides of the seat, and even though she hasn't moved an inch since this started, they're now almost brushing against Quinn's thighs.

When her gaze flickers back up to Quinn's face, there's a small smile playing around Quinn's lips.

Just for a second, though, and then Quinn gets back up, her shirt loosely hanging around her, and oh, this is a visual that Rachel's never going to forget: Quinn's hips slowly twisting back and forth in a circle, even as her hands slip down to the button on her slacks and pop it, quickly and loudly.

The rule is no talking. Rachel is fairly sure she hasn't violated it with the strangled little noise she just made, but Quinn hesitates for a beat anyway.

She's a professional, though. It's clear from every aspect of what Quinn is doing: the rules, the carefully measured space between the parts of her that aren't on offer and the parts that are; and the way that when she starts slowly working her pants off her hips, she follows them with her hands. All the way down to the floor. All the way.

Rachel's stomach twists uncomfortably at the sight of her bending down, and God, the knowing little smile Quinn gives her as she slowly straightens again makes it worse. Or better. She can't even really tell anymore.

She curses herself for being as drunk as she is, because she has no idea how much of this she's going to remember, and if Quinn's tightly-coiled anger is anything to go by, they're not going to have coffee and laugh about it like old friends afterwards.

They were never really friends.

And they're definitely not friends now, because Quinn's just wearing an unbuttoned shirt and a black thong, and this time, when she slowly approaches Rachel again, straddling her on the chair without lowering her ass all the way, forcing Rachel's face between her breasts, Rachel's composure trips and falls completely.

She moans, because it's all she can do that wouldn't be breaking all the rules; her nails are already digging into the chair hard enough for it to hurt.

The sound that trips from her lips is loud enough for Quinn to sit down fully, lean back and look at her with an inscrutable expression.

"Sorry," Rachel whispers.

Quinn just stares at the wall behind her head, until she sighs. "Are you done now?"

"With—"

"Rubbing it in?" Quinn asks, in a steely tone of voice that really doesn't fit the moment, because Quinn is still sitting on her lap.

"I'm—this isn't—I didn't know," Rachel says, stupidly, even as Quinn pulls the ends of her shirt back together and starts closing it.

She gets up off Rachel a second later, and when she gets dressed, all Rachel can think of is dressing rooms at Nationals, with Brittany helping Santana with her make-up and Quinn carefully curling her own eyelashes.

Quinn's gestures are so reminiscent of those that existed in her old life that Rachel knows she's going to cry if she doesn't get out of there right now. Now.

She grabs her coat, and feels around the pocket for all the cash she has left, and deposits all of it on the table before running out and blindingly looking for the rental car, leaning heavily on the hood when she finds it and squeezing her eyes shut, gasping for breath.

Puck finds her like that a few minutes later. He puts a steadying hand on her lower back, and says, "Shit. Was it the closeness? Do you need a pill?"

She shakes her head and sucks air back into her lungs, but it's a moot point, because she's going to throw up and Puck's ready for it, already reaching for her hair and pulling it back.

It wouldn't be the first time that an innocuous experience has randomly set her off. And it's definitely not the first time that Quinn Fabray has made her cry.

...

She sleeps restlessly, that night.

It's on and off tossing and turning, until she finally gives up and digs around a box full of old Lima crap that travels everywhere with her for reasons she refuses to think about.

Until, there it is; the picture of Quinn that's always at the back of her mind.

God, what happened to you, she thinks, and knows that she'll never be able to let this go—to associate this girl, with her free, uninhibited laugh, with the stoically angry woman that straddled her earlier. They're about as much the same person as Rachel Berry, Gold Star of the New Directions, is the same person as Rachel Berry, seeking out strippers because that's all the human connection she can handle these days.

She only manages to nod off when she decides that this isn't where this ends, between them. Maybe Quinn has rules about not talking to each other during the show, but Rachel's always been good at finding those little exceptions to the rules that make the difference in how things end up.

Chapter Text

She wakes up the next morning from a tentative, half-drunk dream that involved Quinn sliding off that hat and letting her hair tumble down her back, arching over her like some sort of hellion and then saying something—she can't remember what, though.

Her head is throbbing and she almost immediately and blindly reaches for the nightstand to take some Aleve, but there isn't any there; there's just Kurt, sitting on it primly and staring at her.

"Holy hell," she exclaims, watching as he almost laughs at her, before sobering again quickly.

"Puck told me that—you might not be in the best form today."

"Which is an excuse for you to just wander into my bedroom? There could've been someone—"

He arches an eyebrow at her, and she sighs, rubbing at her eyes.

"Okay, so there couldn't have been someone here, but that's still no reason for you to just show up here when I'm dead asleep."

Kurt clears his throat gently and says, "Do we need to call your therapist?"

"No," Rachel says, softly, before sitting up a little bit more and stretching, her comforter scratching at her skin uncomfortably. "I'm okay. It wasn't—it's not what you think it was."

"A little more explanation wouldn't hurt, Rachel. According to Puckerman, you basically hightailed it out of the bar you were at and then spent ten minutes hyperventilating and throwing up by the car."

She directs a sharp look at him and says, "Sometimes, I feel like you forget that all you manage is my career."

Kurt looks very unimpressed with her. "And since when is your career separate from your life?"

They stare at each other. Rachel looks away first, which is nothing new.

"I didn't have an episode," she finally says. "I had an unexpected encounter with … with a fan, who sort of invaded my personal space, and I'd had far too much to drink."

"Okay then," Kurt says, uncrossing his legs and sliding off her nightstand. "I'll go and get us some smoothies for breakfast, and then we can talk about that interview you're giving a few days from now about your show. The critic from the Post is coming to watch next week, remember? It's time for some positive publicity—and it would be great if we could sustain the momentum this time."

"Of course," she says, though it's clear to both of them that she really couldn't care less.

...

Rehearsal that afternoon is a disaster.

Not because she's hungover, because honestly, that's nothing new. No, it's because the middle part of the show involves this number in which all the female dancers around her cross-dress in dark grey, pin-striped suits, and then slowly start taking them off as she sings.

One of the girls, Layla, used to do burlesque shows and can lift her legs in ways that Rachel has only ever seen Brittany do. She's also blonde, and wearing her head up in the same kind of small French bun that Quinn had in place underneath the fedora last night.

She forgets words.

It's the first time in her life, and when she makes her way off stage, mumbling something about needing the bathroom, it's like her high from the night before finally wears off all at once.  She's suddenly almost throbbing with repressed memory: Quinn's cheekbones, angular as ever and set into sharper relief by that whorish shade of red lipstick she'd been wearing; her eyes, dark and moody and impossible to read, not least of all because Quinn still has the longest eyelashes she's ever seen on another woman; her legs, which, honestly, Rachel doesn't even know if she's ever seen that much of them before, Cheerios skirts notwithstanding. And the shirt, with crisp white tails loosely swaying in front of Quinn's torso, occasionally showing glimpses of perfectly round, hard-nippled breasts.

She can't think of this Quinn as a grown-up woman who's had a child; and this is not Quinn Fabray, eighteen and beautifully angry at the world, either.

This is a wet dream, coming back to haunt her.

She locks herself in the bathroom closest to the stage and leans against the stall door heavily, working her way through a breathing exercise that sometimes is enough to stave off a panic attack, but the problem is that this isn't panic. It's just mind-blowing, unfiltered want.

Her motives for going back to Rapture are altruistic. Her motives for sliding a hand up her thigh and working her fingers inside her panties, in the middle of a goddamned rehearsal for a show that's supposed to bolster her CD sales enough for her to actually be able to take a six month break afterwards—

No, there's nothing altruistic about the way she pictures Quinn's knowing, dismissive smirk—the curve of her lips, the burning in her eyes—right when she comes all over her fingers.

It's downright selfish, when all she really wants to do is take Quinn away from a position where anyone ever gets to buy the right to see her like that.

...

Because she is, at the end of the day, a consummate professional, nobody bats an eyelash when she comes back and cites food poisoning; except Puck, of course, who mimes a drink at her and raises his eyebrows.

Well. It's probably better if they all go home thinking she's turning into an alcoholic. It's not like the press didn't get into that particular brand of speculation ages ago, so whatever.

...

Masturbating while thinking about Quinn Fabray is not a new thing for her.

God, not by a long run. The first time it happened she'd still been dating Finn, and somehow the one thing that always got her off after their awkward, clumsy make-out sessions was thinking about Finn making out with someone else—which then somehow automatically became Quinn.

She'd written it off as it just being too awkward to picture herself three-dimensionally at first, but then fantasy-Quinn had started moaning in a way that real life Quinn never would have done, at that age, and at some point Finn had just disappeared from her imagination altogether.

No, from about age seventeen and a half onwards, at least three nights a week, Quinn Fabray has been in her mental bedroom. Rachel can't even remember the last time she had an orgasm that wasn't somehow about the idea of Quinn pressing her back into the mattress, threatening her with all sorts of things—"if you're not quiet, I'll tell everyone what a slut you are", which, honestly, it's so cliche and yet somehow, with Quinn's abrasive personality, completely in character. And the in character part of it has always been what gets her wet; the idea that Quinn could turn some of that focused anger into sexual attention, because when Quinn wants something—

Masturbating while thinking about Quinn is definitely not a new thing. What is new, though, is how much she knows about the way Quinn's hips roll forward when she's simulating sex; the way Quinn's hand feels dragging down her neck. The way that small tendrils of Quinn's hair work their way out from under that ridiculous hat while she's slowly shimmying out of her clothes.

Quinn has always been in her sexual fantasies, but after that ill-fated lap dance, she's suddenly there in technicolor, vivid and present like she's never been before.

After the show, Rachel drinks half a bottle of wine straight from the bottle and fucks herself three times; by the third time, she's completely given up on even feeling embarrassed about it.

If she just gets it out of her system, she might actually be able to carry out her plan and have a conversation with Quinn, next time she sees her.

...

Brittany and Santana drive up that weekend, by which time Rachel feels slightly more in control.

Reality has gotten in the way of whatever else she'd like to be doing in a painful way; now, she's mostly just being plagued by the knowledge that Quinn has a lot of information on her that Kurt has been trying to keep out of the press for a very long time.

Like:

Rachel Berry goes to strip clubs.

And:

Rachel Berry moans at the feel of another woman's breasts near her face.

She should've stayed, and talked to Quinn about her privacy. Hell, they keep non-disclosure agreements in the car at all times just in case something like this happens. (Not that anything even close to something like this has ever happened to her before, because she's normally intelligent enough to say no to Puck's harebrained schemes.)

She should've just marched back in there, demanded to see Quinn again (or whatever her stripper name is. That's a thing, isn't it? Stripper names?) and forced her to jot her Jane Doe on the page, so that she could've gone back to her house and spent the rest of her existence having tortured fantasies without worrying about when People or Us Weekly were going to out her.

The most terrifying part of all of this is that sure knowledge that Quinn, for whatever reason, could use the money that would come from selling her out.

She has legal representation coming out of her ass, thanks to Kurt, but not a single person she'd be happy to talk to about this. That's why it's great that Brittany and Santana are visiting, because Brittany's the one who knew about the club, and Santana's the one in law school.

They give her tight hugs—the kind she gets from people who secretly feel sorry for her, but she doesn't mind it so much from them—and she pours them both some Cabernet before they settle in her living room. (It's almost sterile levels of white and gray and feels more like a doctor's office than a house, which is why she's spent exactly ten minutes in the living room before now.)

"You look worse than you normally do," Santana says, wrapping an arm around Brittany's shoulder, who angles her head down and rests it on Santana's shoulder in kind.

It's ridiculous how envious she is, even of so little. "Thanks, Santana. That's—I'm glad to see you're doing well, as always."

"Hey, we're friends. Friends tell each other the truth," Santana says, with a pointed look. "If you're really as worn out as I think you are, you should've told Kurt to fucking shove this show somewhere and just taken off. Hawaii's awesome this time of year."

"It is," Brittany agrees, reaching over and twisting the band on Santana's finger. "Really pretty, and like, super relaxing."

"Yeah, well. Maybe after the summer," Rachel says, without any real feeling.

Hell, she doesn't even begrudge Kurt pushing for the tour. It's good for her career, and she doesn't know what she'd do with herself if she wasn't working. Probably just drink all the time in her apartment; listen to old Broadway classics on vinyl and forget to cook. She needs the routine of the work almost more than she needs the break.

It's easier to admit that she needs her job than that she needs help, after all.

"I have a situation," she finally says, folding her legs under her. The bags under her eyes feel heavy, and it took twenty minutes for Cheryl to cover them before last night's performance. She wants a haircut, but can't get one, because all the hair pieces depend on her having shoulder-length hair. Sometimes, she wishes she could just perform wearing her glasses, because she's had three eye infections in six months from her contacts. And yet all of that pales completely to what she's about to say. "This requires your complete discretion, and on top of that, I would really appreciate it if you didn't laugh."

Santana's lips already twist into a light smirk. "Damn, Berry, I'm not making any promises. What's with the secret service talk?"

"Sh," Brittany says, and then nods for Rachel to continue.

"The other day... Puck took me to this place called Rapture," she says, looking at Brittany's face.

"The strip club?" Santana asks, before looking at Brittany as well. "The one that Ashley used to work at?"

"Unless there's two of them and the other one is like, I don't know, a petting zoo," Brittany says, squinting at Rachel. "I don't think she'd be so weird about going to a petting zoo, though."

"Britt, I have to ask you something, and I want an honest answer, okay?" Rachel says, ignoring Santana's small smile and eye roll.

"Sure," Brittany says, shifting up a bit and leaning into Santana more casually. "Is it about stripping?"

"No, it's—how much do you know about the people who work there?" Rachel asks, because there's not really a better way to put it.

"Well, my friend Ashley used to. I mean, we do fusion jazz ballet together, right. She's really cool and told me about it, and then I told Puck because Puck wanted to know about things to do in Vegas. But I don't know anyone other than Ashley, and I mean, she doesn't work there anymore. Why?" Brittany asks, with a frown.

"Well," Rachel says, biting her lip, and working her way through the lines she's been rehearsing all morning. "I sort of... got a lap dance from someone. And realized after the fact that they knew who I was. And I didn't get them to sign off on it. I was hoping that you could tell me—I was hoping you'd know more about the girls that work there. Maybe assure me that if I go back with an NDA that..."

Santana laughs. "Rachel, are you dumb?"

"What?"

"You can't go marching into a strip club with an NDA like four days after you got a lap dance. First of all, if that shit was going to get sold to the tabloids it already would have been; and secondly, stripping's like hooking. There's a code of honor. Whoever gave you a wettie that night, it's never going to leave that room."

Rachel looks between them and shakes her head after a moment. "No. I need more than that. This is my entire life, for God's sake. A code of honor isn't enough."

"Well, an NDA over something that's already happened isn't going to fly, legally. You sign before you find out things; not after," Santana says, finishing her wine and putting the glass back on the table. "You're going to have to go about this the old school way."

"Which is?"

"Asking nicely," Brittany suggests.

"Yeah, no. I meant bribery," Santana amends, before leaning down and kissing Britt. "Too sweet for this world, Britt-Britt."

"Someone has to be nice," Brittany says, with a shrug.

Rachel's had many similar thoughts in the last four days, albeit for totally different reasons.

...

By the time Tuesday rolls around, she's back to shaking. She blows off rehearsals, because it's been two weeks and the show's glued to the back of her mind already. They're making a few changes to the mid-show intermission that will hold up actual rehearsing today anyway, and she doesn't need to be there for those meetings—it's the one part of the production she has no personal stake in.

Instead, she goes to the gym and spends a good hour on the elliptical, trying to work as much frustration and anxiety out of her body as she can.

By late afternoon, she's staring at the bottle of pills in her nightstand, but—she just can't. Xanax helps, but it also turns her into a zombie. She knows for a fact that she would've handled seeing Quinn again a lot better the first time around if she'd been less out of her mind, and this is her last chance.

If it's even a chance at all.

The last time, she'd been wearing a simple black dress with flats, just because Puck hadn't told her a thing about what they were doing. Now that she knows who she's seeing—and yes, her intentions are just to talk to Quinn, but even so, she'll be damned if she doesn't look her absolute best—she's taking out a short, strapless red dress instead. The kind of thing she doesn't wear in public anymore, because it's asking for twenty million pictures on TMZ that the entire world then starts tearing apart.

She's not lacking in confidence. She's just a lot more selective about who gets to see what parts of her these days.

With the dress come five inch dark red heels that will, if she's guessing right, just about bring her at eye level with Quinn. If Quinn doesn't wear those six inch stilettos again, and they stay standing. Her gut roils at the idea that they won't be, because if they're sitting down—

There's only one chair. She looks down at the hem of her dress again, and wonders how far it will slide up if she's scoots back onto that chair, gripping it for dear life while Quinn more or less bullies her into accepting a dance she doesn't really want.

Except that's a lie.

She's going to be sober this time, and it would be fucking torture, but Rachel accepted a long time ago that being tortured by Quinn Fabray is something that holds a lot more appeal for her than it should.

Why the hell else would she have put up with it for so long in high school?

...

The drive over is smooth enough; traffic hits an early evening lull in Vegas that is wholly unfamiliar to someone used only to endless jams out of LA and a complete lack of desire to own a car in New York, but she's at Rapture by seven thirty, which has to be the weirdest time on earth to be entering a strip club.

The bouncer looks at her and says, "Welcome back", which—she gives him her best haughty glare, but he just looks amused by her. She can't blame him; she probably looks positive provincial right now, what with that baby rabbit look that she knows is all over her face.

Still, she shakes her hair out and formally asks, "I apologize for asking what is probably a very strange question, but do you serve any vegan food?"

The bouncer laughs. "You're not here for a dance, are you."

She smiles almost despite herself. "Not... immediately, anyway."

"Kitchen does things on request, so if you can explain your vegan food, you're good to go."

It's how she ends up eating a tofurkey burger while watching three strippers talk about their hair extensions in preparation of their eight pm show.

...

Her appetite isn't what it should be, but she makes her way through most of the meal anyway, rolling her eyes when the waitress leans down extra far to ask her how it was.

"Delicious, thank you," she sort of murmurs, before sliding a twenty up the girl's hip and snapping her panties against it to keep it in place.

"Is there anything else we can do for you?" the waitress asks, with a small smile at Rachel's pretty serious blush.

"I—a vodka tonic, please. Double."

She might not want to be out of her mind right now, but she's not going out back completely sober, either. Not when back there, in that room, Quinn holds all the power and she can at best just hope to not make a fool out of herself two weeks in a row.

...

Her handle on the situation drops abruptly when she makes her way over to the entrance to the back area and finds a different girl manning the table there, around nine pm.

"What can we get you?" the girl asks, a little gruffly, and Rachel feels a twinge of guilt at the reminder of what all of these girls are doing here.

Still. She's the exception to the rule, because honestly, she really is just here to talk, tonight.

"There—you have a girl; she's blonde, about 5'6... likes suits," Rachel says, fumbling over the words.

"Oh, right," the girl says, scanning down the reservation list in front of her. "You mean Rachel."

"I—what?" Rachel asks, blinking at her.

"Blonde in suits, nice ass, right? Rachel. She's with someone right now, but she's free in about half an hour. How long do you want her for?"

Rachel hesitates. "... thirty minutes."

"You got cash for that?" the girl asks. It's a fair question, because fifteen minutes is two hundred dollars.

Rachel smiles wryly and says, "I don't suppose you take American Express."

Seconds later, her card is swiped through a terminal and she's signing her name off on a bill that says, quite clearly, private services as the purchased item. God, the amount of physical evidence—Kurt would kill her if he ever found out.

Something about the look on her face must tip off the girl in front of her, who chews her gum loudly for a second and then reaches for her hand. "Hey—don't worry. I know who you are, as does everyone else in here, and nobody's ever going to be told by us, okay? We all have secrets we'd like to keep."

Rachel takes a deep breath and nods, handing back the pen, and running a hand through her hair just to have something to do.

"You can go on ahead if you like. She'll join you when she's done," the girl says, holding the curtain open again.

Rachel thinks she's marginally more ready for what's going to happen next this time than she was the first time.

...

Unlike the first time, Quinn's hair is down tonight; curled lightly at the edges, but otherwise flowing the way she used to wear it when she'd quit the Cheerios the second time around.

The impression of what Rachel expects to see and what she is seeing, absolutely overlapping for a change, is almost too much for her to handle.

"You have got to be kidding me," Quinn says, pausing in the doorway, one foot off the floor like she can't honestly decide if she wants to come in further to kick Rachel's ass or just turn around again and decline her payment.

"I'm—" Rachel hesitates, scanning up and down Quinn's black skirt suit. It's hemmed just above the knee, and weirdly, it looks like a real suit. Not the kind of fantasy fodder strippers would wear. Her collared shirt underneath the jacket is skin-tight and baby blue. The outfit is topped off by another skinny tie, this time tucked snugly under the jacket, and honestly, if she didn't know better she'd think Quinn was on her way to some sort of Young Republicans fundraiser.

Quinn purses her lips for a long moment, before stepping into the room and closing the door behind her.

"I didn't buy a dance," Rachel says, getting up off the chair just to make that really, really clear. (She only sat down on it because fifteen minutes is a long time to be pacing.) "I came to apologize, and then—"

Quinn stays silent and unmoving.

After another deep breath, Rachel adds, "I was hoping we could talk."

"My conversational skills aren't for sale," Quinn says, sharply.

"I'm not here for pleasantries, Quinn," Rachel says, feeling the conversation slip from her grasp. "I don't want to catch up on the last seven years or bond over how much we both loved Finn Hudson in high school."

Quinn says nothing to that; just leans back against the door and raises an eyebrow at her.

Good God, that look makes her weak at the knees. Even after all this time.

"I'm—" Rachel starts to say, and then looks at the floor, licking her lips and gathering her thoughts. "As far as the rest of the world knows, I'm in a relationship with a man."

Quinn makes a small sound that clearly means and I care why?

"There are many reasons as to why we perpetuate that myth, but the foremost reason is that there just isn't a lot of money in being the female lead in romantic comedies as a lesbian," Rachel says, a little more firmly, before glancing back up at Quinn. "And you know that romantic comedies have always been my forte.  If I make it in Hollywood, it will be in that genre."

Quinn's blank expression shifts to understanding within seconds. "You're here to make sure I don't tell anyone you went to a strip club."

"Yes," Rachel says.

"And moaned loudly at the feeling of another woman sitting on you. Touching you," Quinn says, before pushing off and away the door.

Rachel says nothing, but swallows hard at the almost predatory look on Quinn's face.

"Well. I can't say I saw this coming," Quinn murmurs, stepping into Rachel's personal space without any hesitation whatsoever. Rachel abstractly wonders if there's even such a thing as personal space in this job, but then Quinn continues with, "You have the entire world wrapped around your finger, Rachel, and yet here we are, with me holding your future in my hands."

Rachel closes her eyes unwillingly and says, "I would really appreciate it if we could both be adults about this."

Quinn laughs softly and says, "Yes. Because that's what you and I have always excelled at. Being adults together."

"High school was a long time ago, Quinn. I've put all the shit you've done to me beside me, so maybe you can get over your issues with me as well, and we can just... shake on it," Rachel says, forcing herself to angle her head just enough to look into Quinn's eyes.

Quinn's expression slackens for a second, and then she demands, "Tell me, Rachel. What part of it did you get off on last time—the fact that you finally had one up on me, or the fact that you could finally touch something you've apparently been wanting to touch for seven years?"

Rachel feels herself blanch. "I don't know—"

"We're all friends; the other girls and I," Quinn says, with a small but mean smile. "Tracy said that you might as well have held up a picture of me when you… requested the dance."

"Why are you doing this?" Rachel asks, quietly.

Quinn says nothing in response to that, but thankfully does take a step back. "If I was going to try to ruin your life, I would have done so three days ago."

"Why haven't you?" Rachel asks, exhaling slowly and willing her legs to stop shaking. "It's not like we were ever friends. It's not like you owe me anything. And you clearly need the money, so—"

Quinn stares her down, and Rachel bites her lip at that look; it's the one that, in every single one of her fantasies, precedes Quinn shoving her up against a wall, or a mattress, or a tree, or anything, and then taking her without even asking if it's okay.

This isn't a fantasy, though, and so Quinn just says, "You know what my rates are. So you must know I don't need the money that badly."

Rachel flushes heavily. "You're—I mean, I would make a joke about how you're overpriced, but—"

Quinn snorts dryly and then asks, "How long do you have me for?"

Rachel almost swoons at the question, but then sobers immediately when she remembers that it's not an offer of something more. It's just a statement of fact.

"Thirty minutes," she says, feeling incredibly ashamed of the words and their implication. "And I meant what I said, I don't—"

"Are you sure?" Quinn asks, her hands already moving towards the front button on her jacket.

"Quinn, you're—you might not be a friend, but you're not a—"

"A whore?" Quinn says, dryly, with a small smile.

"I was going to say purchase, but—" Rachel says, before swallowing the rest of her sentence.

Quinn's smile lingers when she says, "I suppose you're going to insist I keep the money?"

Rachel makes a strangled noise and sort of halfway nods. It's the best she can do.

"I told you before that I don't do charity," Quinn says, calmly.

"I—"

"Sit down, Rachel. And don't bother trying to pull your dress down further. At four hundred dollars, you've earned a little thigh on thigh contact."

Rachel mutely sits down on the chair and watches as Quinn walks around it, until Quinn is standing behind her.

"Would you like some music, or—"

"God," Rachel exhales, softly.

"We're really going to have to work on rule number two with you, aren't we," Quinn murmurs.

Rachel almost asks something stupid like why are you doing this to me, but vocalizing that question would not only break rule number two; it might make Quinn stop, which is now the last thing she wants. She might be paying for it, God, and she can already tell she'll feel horrible about all of this tomorrow, but Quinn is being professional to the point where she can almost forget that much, for now.

If this is her fantasy, she'll live it out the best she can.

"I'm not good at staying quiet," she says, ignoring the way her voice cracks. "And I don't care about the music. Do what you want."

Quinn laughs low, her hands pressing down on Rachel's shoulders, and says, "You know, I can't even tell you how many times I wished someone would gag you in glee club. It's funny how things turn out, isn't it."

Seconds later, Quinn's skinny tie is slipping down over her forehead, past her eyes, her nose, and then finally settling on her lips.

"Bite down on it," Quinn says. It's not a question, and all Rachel can do to stop from moaning really prematurely is close her eyes and follow Quinn's instructions.

The tie is tied behind her head quickly after that, and Quinn moves back to stand in front of her, her fingertips trailing around the upper part of Rachel's back.

"I wish Finn Hudson could see us now," she then murmurs, softly.

Rachel's knuckles are already whitening with her grip on the chair, and Quinn hasn't even undone the second button on her jacket.

It occurs to her far too late that Quinn might simply be trying to kill her, but when Quinn starts softly humming something a moment later, glancing at Rachel's face from time to time but mostly just watching her own hands run up and down her own body, Rachel can't honestly bring herself to care.

...

She's breathing heavily around the tie by the time Quinn's down to her underwear—a matching black bra and panties this time—and settling down on Rachel's lap.

"You know," Quinn says, her voice still not much more than a low murmur, "I've always wondered what women get out of this."

Rachel could explain, if she wasn't gagged, and if she wasn't too busy staring at Quinn's hand, trailing down between her own collarbones and then cupping her own breast through a sheer bra.

"I mean—" Quinn says, before sliding forward just that little bit more, until her thighs are sliding Rachel's dress up the rest of the way and they're almost stomach to stomach; and Rachel can feel Quinn's hand between them, clearly plucking at her own nipple and running the back of her hand against Rachel's chest every time she does it. "It's not like you can actually feel me against anything that—matters."

Rachel inhales sharply when Quinn's mouth moves up to her ear, and continues with, "Though maybe you don't need actual contact. Maybe just the thought of me, finally this close, is enough for you."

Her heart is almost beating out of her chest and she knows Quinn can feel it.  She can tell that Quinn's enjoying herself immensely, and God, this is so high school. Not that she'd ever thought she'd be getting a lap dance from Quinn Fabray in high school, but they're still being bitchy sixteen year olds, fighting over … God knows what, at this point.

Maybe fighting just to win. All Quinn seems to want is to best Rachel, and all Rachel wants is for Quinn to realize that this isn't something she needs to be besting her at.

Well, she wants that, and maybe a hand between her legs; fuck, she'd settle for a thigh right now.

Quinn's looking at her carefully, smiling viciously at the way Rachel's pupils have blown, and the small sheen of sweat on her forehead.

"How long have you been thinking about me like this?" she asks.

Rachel makes a helpless noise, because they're not her rules and it's not her tie.

"Senior year?" Quinn asks, raising her eyebrows and running her hands up and down Rachel's arms.

Rachel shudders at the feel of Quinn's hands—soft, feminine—but is cogent enough to shake her head.

"Junior year?" Quinn asks, circling Rachel's wrists and then gently pulling them Rachel's hands off the seat.

Rachel inhales sharply through her nose and shakes her head again.

Quinn's relentless levels of satisfaction at the power trip she's on drop away a little when she leans back and says, with a frown, "Surely not sophomore year." Her thumbs are still brushing against Rachel's wrists, and Rachel's heart rate kicks up another notch at the feel of the small shapes they're tracing.

Rachel shrugs helplessly. There's no point in lying about it; she'd found Quinn unbelievably attractive before the pregnancy, but it wasn't until Quinn's life had fallen apart completely that she'd felt anything other than abstract admiration for her.

Quinn's expression hardens for a moment, but then she sighs.  "It doesn't really matter. I don't know why—"

Rachel swallows carefully and then looks down at their hands; at where Quinn's thumbs are still etching circles right up against her pulse points.

Quinn snaps out of whatever mood she's in and pulls on Rachel's wrists, almost crushing their bodies together, but then bringing both of their hands up towards her upper back.  Rachel can't help a little surprised noise at what she thinks is going to happen.

Quinn looks at her sternly and says, "Do it without touching skin, or we're done."

Rachel honestly doesn't know how she has any feeling or blood left in her fingertips, but they cooperate, and that's when it occurs to her that she might not just have to put up with Quinn tormenting her like this.

She's past the point of being embarrassed, because so what if Quinn knows how she feels? Quinn's the one who's mostly naked and straddling her. They're in this together, and that means that she's not the only one who can play this game.

She lets her left arm fall away, and brings her right hand up towards Quinn's bra clasp, squeezing it together with just two fingers—carefully, to make sure that she's not accidentally touching skin—and then letting it snap open.

The bra falls forward, between them, and Quinn stares at her for a long moment, not saying anything.

Rachel stares back and then tracks one strap of the bra, up and over Quinn's shoulder, to where it's mostly dangling on her upper arm now, with just the tip of a finger.

Quinn watches that finger move, until it stops right at the edge of the cup and lingers there, and then says, slowly, "I would've thrown anyone else out of the room by now."

Rachel blinks slowly and almost smiles, but she can't. Not when she finally isn't making a complete fool out of herself.

And, okay, maybe this is kind of about winning. Maybe it's about proving herself to be good enough.

"You never could follow direction for the life of you," Quinn notes softly, rolling her shoulders until her bra actually drops away, and then letting it dangle from one of her fingers for just a second, right in front of Rachel's face, before tossing it to the side. "Hands back on the chair, Rach."

Rachel abstractly wonders if it's possible for her to come without anyone touching her, which is when Quinn turns around on her lap and hooks her legs between Rachel's, then spreading them further until she can sit between them.

Her ass rocks backwards, and Rachel's moan is completely to be expected at this point, muffled as it is by the tie. Quinn looks over her shoulder and smirks before rolling her hips back again, with a sharp, "I hope you know that this is pathetic."

Rachel could legitimately give a fuck, and closes her eyes as Quinn shifts against her, again and again.

...

Then, just like that, it's done.

With a quick glance at her watch, Quinn's off her lap and says, "Keep the tie; you've practically bitten through it."

Rachel reaches behind her head and unties it slowly, before forcing her legs together and jolting when there's contact.

"Jesus Christ," she mumbles.

Quinn's already mostly dressed again by the time she can think clearly enough to pull her dress back down, and then stares at her with an inscrutable expression.

"I was never going to tell anyone," she says, finally.

"Trust me, neither was I," Rachel sighs, standing up clumsily, one hand on the back of the chair to steady her.

Quinn's collected expression falters for a moment as she's zipping up her skirt. "Would there be anyone to tell? Anyone I know, I mean."

Rachel takes a deep breath and says, "I can't do this, right now. We can talk, but—not here."

Quinn's face falls, for a millisecond, and then shifts to that calculated level of cold again without warning. "Right."

Shit.

"Quinn, oh my God, don't," Rachel says, immediately desperate to undo this. "That's not how I meant it. I'm obviously not judging you, I just—"

"I shouldn't have asked," Quinn says, running two hands through her hair and giving Rachel a dismissive look. "We're not friends. A good tip doesn't make for a relationship."

"For God's sake, I didn't—"

"Rachel. You're a client. And I'm a dancer. Lima might as well be another planet as far as I'm concerned. I haven't been back since high school, so the reason I don't actually want an answer to my question is because I don't care," Quinn bites out.

"How did you end up here?" Rachel blurts out, because she can't help herself. "Are you—are you okay?"

"It's really none of your business," Quinn says shortly, while heading to the door.

"Wait," Rachel says, feeling around her purse for the bills she knows are in there. "Let me—"

"So help me, if you're going to try to tip me two hundred dollars again, I will do a lot worse than gag you next time," Quinn snaps at her, her hand pushing down on the handle and then pulling the door open, without looking back. "It's how I choose to make a living, Rachel. I don't need to be pitied for it."

Rachel stops in her tracks and watches as Quinn disappears around the corner, with only one thought running through her mind.

Next time?

Chapter Text

The rest of the week is plainly torturous. Rachel considers taking a freezing shower and then standing outside in the night air for like five hours just to give herself pneumonia by Thursday, but while that would get her out of her nightly performance commitment—which she can't focus on in the slightest—it would also give her ... pneumonia.

There's basically nothing she can do but count the days, twisting desperately under a top sheet each night while Quinn whispers next time in her mind.

The times when she's not singing her way through Broadway and popular classics on autopilot, she's picking at meals with Puck and Kurt while wondering what else Quinn can do to torment her. She knows she should stop it—she's an adult, for God's sake, and Quinn might not want to have a conversation with her but she doesn't have to keep going into the club and paying for Quinn's time. She can also just... what, exactly? Wait outside of Rapture for Quinn to finish, and stalk her outside of her car? Take her out to an early breakfast or a really late dinner, and discuss where they've been for the past seven years over some Eggs Benedict and diner coffee?

There is no way Quinn would agree.

And honestly, the more questions she asks Quinn, the more questions she herself will have to answer. Things that Quinn seems to enjoy prodding at as it is; her ridiculous crush, her sexuality, her inability to do anything about either of those things.

The reality of it is that those thirty minutes she buys are the only window she's ever going to have, and she's going to have to work within them. Quinn needs to dance to keep some semblance of dignity, and Rachel needs to give her money out of some sense of irrepressible do-gooding, or whatever.

There's a reason she supports five different charities. Maybe this is just the sixth one.

… and that, right there, is the real problem.

She's letting Quinn Fabray torture her with her body out of some misguided sense of pity, and that's just not okay.

She's going to have to change the way they relate to each other if she ever wants it to be about more than that.

...

By the time Sunday rolls around, Quinn is all she can think about.

The show is a disaster; she trips on a cue and almost face-plants into her male dancer's lap, which would've probably given a bit of extra swing to the bad impression of Mariah Carey she's currently powering her way through—if not for the part where it's decidedly not sexy, and just kind of amateurish.

She's not an amateur, for God's sake. She hasn't been an amateur since she was five and won her first legitimate singing competition. Even so, she can't seem to stop acting like one: almost flubbing lines, flopping cues and nearly freezing on stage every time she sees shoulder-length blonde hair or a woman wearing a suit.

She already knows that she's going to get reamed out by her vocal coach by the time the summer's over. Her voice is strained and the rest of her is too tired to compensate for it with technique.

Kurt starts looking guilty by the time the Monday rehearsals roll around, at which point she asks that some of the dancing numbers are replaced a few sit-down numbers.

For one moment, he drops the concern about her career and her choices and just says, "I have an idea."

His voice is out of practice, but next to hers, it doesn't even really matter; she introduces him as her best friend and "the only other Evita worth hearing" and they get a standing ovation from the audience after a toned down, hand-held version of Don't Cry For Me Argentina that brings tears to her eyes.

"Thank God," Kurt whispers against her neck, when he's hugging her afterwards, also sounding choked up. "You do still feel it, sometimes."

It adds another crack to her heart, bisecting the collection she's already carrying with her and has been ever since high school.

...

On Tuesday, she feels essentially the exact opposite from how she felt the week before. It's not ready, exactly, because God knows that she's never going to be ready to see Quinn, but it's a lot calmer, anyway.

Two dresses are hanging on her closet for most of the day while she putters around, resting her voice by for a change not humming and actually taking the time to cook something for lunch rather than relying on another round of take-out. By the time she's running out of ways to distract herself, it's almost time to head out.

Of course she's looked up Rapture's opening hours. Frankly, there's less of a chance of her getting spotted if she's there embarrassingly early, and it's not like Quinn can possibly make her feel worse about being there..

And maybe, there's the added fact that last time, she'd had to hear that Quinn was with someone else, and—

God, now she's getting possessive about a stripper. A stripper who, by all accounts, hates her more than ever.

She shakes her head and looks at the dresses; one white, skin-tight and mid-thigh, and the other black and long, and in a rare moment of clarity, considers if maybe, she's been going on about this all wrong. Quinn obviously has no problem playing head games with Rachel Berry, Broadway's favorite cretin, but she might have a lot more difficulty pretending that this is all just a job if she's faced with Rachel Berry, the girl.

She pulls on her oldest pair of jeans, a pair of ballet flats, and a soft, red cashmere sweater and does absolutely nothing to her hair aside from run her hands through it a few times for volume. When she looks in the mirror, she looks almost eighteen again to herself—and maybe that will be the thing to make Quinn stop and actually listen to her for a change.

...

The bouncer smiles at her and she smiles back, and the bartender asks, "Vodka tonic, right, Ms. Berry?" when she walks over to it.

It makes her realize she's somehow become a regular, in two visits. Which then makes her realize that Quinn is probably waiting for her; well, as if the phrase next time hadn't been indication enough.

So much for the advantage of surprise.

Not that she was ever hoping to have it, anyway. She's never managed to surprise Quinn. Even when she told Finn about the baby, Quinn had been bracing herself for it all along. And that just brings her back to wondering what the hell Quinn is bracing herself for now; what it is that's gotten her into this city, into this line of work, and how long she's been doing it given how good she is at it.

The waitress who brought her Quinn the first time around smiles at her from across the room, and Rachel awkwardly raises a hand before taking another large sip from her drink. It seems to be enough of an invitation anyway, because the girl—Tracy, she thinks—stands next to her and says, "So, you and Rachel."

"Me and Rachel," Rachel agrees, before laughing softly. "What does it mean when someone uses your name as their stripper alias, exactly?"

Tracy shrugs and slides a tray of empty ashtrays onto the bar. "It has to be a name that you'll respond to; something easy to remember. Something close to you. Tracy's my middle name."

"Right," Rachel says, wondering if she looks as confused as she feels.

Tracy hesitates for a moment, before looking at Rachel with an open, curious expression and saying, "Who does she remind you of?"

"Hm?"

"Everyone who comes to places like these is hoping to find something to replace something they don't have anymore, or never had at all. People who come more than once suffer from it more badly than others." When Rachel blinks at her twice, Tracy smiles and adds, "I'm majoring in psychology. Debt-free, I might add."

Rachel exhales softly and says, "Shit, I'm sorry. I'm sure that my assumptions were all over my face, even if I didn't say anything."

"Hey, it's fine. According to the Enquirer, you eat babies for breakfast, and that clearly isn't true, either," Tracy says, with a smile.

"You know, this is probably the most honest conversation I've had in months," Rachel says, finishing the remainder of her drink and putting it on the bar. "And you're not wearing a shirt. Or pants. If only the Enquirer knew, right?"

Tracy laughs, but then sobers quickly and says, "Whoever it is you're trying to forget about—this isn't going to help in the long run, you know. Rachel's just a fantasy, and she's never going to be more than that."

Rachel sighs and says, "It's a little more complicated than that."

"In what way?" Tracy asks.

Rachel glances towards the back area and says, slowly, "It's not my place to say."

Tracy lets that go easily enough; just glances at the clock above the bar and says, "Her shift starts in ten minutes. Can I book you in?"

"Yeah," Rachel says, already reaching for the cash she had the foresight to bring this time. "You can."

...

The first thing she does when she gets to the room—a new one; sea foam green with accents of yellow, like some sort of beach house fantasy that Rachel doesn't really care for too much; it feels more like a bathroom, and definitely not the kind of place where clothes are going to be tossed around for entertainment—is pick up the chair in the middle of the room and move it into the corner.

Then, she sits down on the floor in the middle of the room, legs folded under her body, and just waits.

It gives her a little bit of edge, but just for a second, because when the door opens and Quinn walks in—

Rachel actually gasps, and Quinn smirks in response, before nudging the door shut with a white tennis shoe.

"You're almost ridiculously predictable," she says, without any real rancor, her hands already reaching up to her hair and pulling it up into a ponytail with such practiced moves it's like they're actually still eighteen, or at least in high school, and Quinn's about to go to a pep rally and show the entire world her spank pants.

Rachel doesn't bother trying not to stare; not when that's the whole point of the outfit. No, she stares at Quinn's face for a short while, before dropping her eyes and scanning up Quinn's bare legs to that shred of a skirt that doesn't cover anything—honestly, whoever designed the Cheerios uniform was at best a pervert and at worst a pedophile—and then the top, tighter than it ever had been on teenage Quinn. The lack of sleeves have always been what got to Rachel back then; they offered such a clear view of Quinn's arms, which were almost unwillingly defined and giving her an edge that good, Christian girls really didn't have much reason to have.

Not that she got the feeling there were any good, Christian girls in the room right now.

"Jesus, Berry," Quinn says, when her careful, slow gaze finally settles on Quinn's eyes again. "Desperate much?"

"Honestly, Quinn, I'm not ashamed to say that this is doing something to me. What defies belief is the idea that you would dig out a seven year old uniform just because you think it will get a rise out of me," Rachel says, praying her voice will stay steady.

The certainty on Quinn's face flickers away for just a few seconds, but it's enough for Rachel to realize there is an opening here for her, and so she surges forward. "I know why I'm here, but why aren't you throwing me out?"

Quinn's eyes are sharp when she says, "Because you keep paying for me to be here."

"You said the other day that you didn't need extra money," Rachel points out, pulling her legs up to her chest. "Surely a few hundred bucks aren't worth having to spend thirty minutes near someone that you never liked and now positively loathe?"

She watches as Quinn's jaw works for a moment, but there's no response forthcoming.

"What are you getting out of this, Quinn?" she asks again, with a little more strength now. "Just the knowledge that I want you and I can't have you? Or is there something else?"

"How long?" Quinn asks, in response, but it's with an undercurrent of steel that wasn't there before, and Rachel gets up to her feet when she realizes that she's actually getting through to Quinn.

"I'm not here because I pity you," she says, taking a tentative step forward. "I need you to understand that. This isn't about—maybe it is a little, but it's not just about pity. Not for me, and not for you."

"Why would I pity you?" Quinn asks, her voice thready. "You got everything you ever wanted."

Rachel takes another step forward, until she's in Quinn's space, and looks at her as steadily as she can. "Not everything."

Quinn's lower lip disappears between her teeth, and Rachel watches as she chews on it. It's probably the most human thing she's done since Rachel first saw her at the club, and it makes her want to reach out and touch Quinn's face; hold it, maybe. Kiss her.

She digs her nails into her palm and shakes her head to clear her mind..

"I paid for an hour," she says, softly. "And you can't possibly take that long taking off your clothes, since you're only wearing about four pieces anyway. So we'll have to figure out something else to do for the remaining, oh, thirty five minutes."

Quinn's eyes darken abruptly. "Do we really, Rachel? Because the way I see it, all I have to do is sit on you for an hour and the terms of our little agreement here will have been satisfied."

Rachel sighs when they're at the same fucking impasse all over again. "And what if I don't pay you?"

Quinn's mouth sets. "Then you leave, because someone else will."

That thought sets something sharp and angry running through Rachel's gut, and she looks back up at Quinn abruptly. "That's not an option."

"Fine. Then sit down on the chair, and let's get started," Quinn says, straightening abruptly; it's all very head Cheerio, and Rachel smiles unwillingly, before shaking her head.

"No."

"Rachel, stop wasting my fucking time—"

"I'm the one paying you, so you don't get to tell me how to fulfill my fantasies," Rachel says, a little sharply. "I'm tired of that particular repetition of our game."

Quinn's eyes close and open slowly, and then she smiles sharp—like a shark. "Your body wasn't exactly complaining about what I did for you last time."

Rachel narrows her eyes and says, "You're the one who insists on dancing for me, and I figure that at eight hundred dollars a dance, I can start making some requests. Or am I still not understanding your job description correctly?"

The clearly visible anger and annoyance on Quinn's face is way too much of a turn-on. "Fine. What do you want, Rachel?"

Rachel takes a deep breath and says, "You. Controlling me. Telling me exactly what I can and can't do. Making me beg."

"Beg for what?" Quinn asks.

"I really don't care," Rachel says, with a sense of belonging that she doesn't think she's felt in years. Not since the last time she had one of those raging bitch fights with Quinn, anyway, and—judging by the small smile playing around Quinn's lips, she's not alone. "You've always been smart, Quinn. Figure out how to work around what I want, and give me what I've paid for."

Quinn examines her for another moment and then says, "Fine. If at any point, this heads in a direction you don't like, say Hudson."

"I'm—" Rachel blinks at her a few times, and then smiles faintly. "I'm not sure how I'll manage that when you're bound to just gag me again."

Quinn's answering look is downright predatory. "Do you want to be gagged?"

Rachel feels herself get wet even before she says the words running through her mind, but forces them out anyway. "No. In an ideal world, the only thing covering my mouth would be your hand."

Quinn's eyes flash with something she can't interpret at all, but then Quinn just says, "I'm willing to bend the rules a little for eight hundred dollars. Talk all you want."

"What about touching?"

Quinn's expression sobers quickly. "I'm not a goddamned prostitute, Rachel, no matter how much you might wish I was one."

Rachel makes a small noise in the back of her throat and says, "You have no idea what I wish you were, but I would never demean you like that."

Quinn hesitates for a moment and then just says, "Get the chair, please."

...

Rachel's first request is simple enough. "Dance for me. In front of me, I mean. Not on me."

"I thought you wanted me to … control you," Quinn says, lowly.

Rachel heads over to the chair and puts it a little closer to the center of the room again, before sitting down on it and crossing her legs.

"We both know what I said, Quinn. Figure out how to make it work," she says, finally, watching as Quinn heads over to the stereo system by the door and flicks through the iPod on it.

"Fine. You don't move. No matter what I do, you don't move," she finally says, not even looking at Rachel.

Rachel smiles for a second, before the slow pulse of some old Garbage song that she faintly recognizes comes through the speakers.

It almost reminds her of Glee club, the way Quinn slowly turns around and mouths the lyrics; except this song is about singular obsession and devotion, and the look on Quinn's face is knowing, even as she starts softly singing I would die for you over Shirley Manson.

Her hands start loosely at her sides, but soon enough slide onto her hips, then up towards her waist, and finally up towards her own breasts.

Rachel almost points out that Quinn's instruction is kind of pointless, because she's not really capable of doing much more than mutely stare as Quinn dances a little further into the room. She was always good with choreography, but she's almost Brittany levels of fluid and graceful now.

It occurs to Rachel belatedly that she can actually say something, tonight. New rules..

"You've improved, since high school," she ventures, quietly.

Quinn glances at her for a moment, and then—right as the chorus starts—starts slowly sinking down into a straddle splits, one torturous inch at a time, her sneakers easy giving way on the floor beneath them. When she settles she says, "Yeah. I picked up a few things since then."

Rachel almost laughs, but the way Quinn then twists her upper body and drags it across the floor before arching it up towards Rachel—her laughter trails off into sort of a whimper instead.

"God, yes, you really have," she murmurs, noting that Quinn sort of smiles at her, but the lightheartedness of the moment can't last; not when Quinn's hands slide up her own body and she pushes up from the floor again using just her own knees as leverage.

It's—fucking impossible, and yet happening, and Rachel is almost transfixed by it.

Quinn sings a few more lines of the song, and then starts moving around the chair in a circle, running a hand along the back of it without touching Rachel, and Rachel almost cranes her head back to look but—the rule is no moving, now, and so she digs her heels into the floor a little bit more and then jerks unintentionally anyway when one of Quinn's hands slides down over her left shoulder, brushing past her breast without really touching it.

"I think we'll chalk that up to reflex," Quinn murmurs, leaning down low so she can press her mouth right up against Rachel's ear.

"It was," Rachel points out, a little helplessly.

Half of her is stuck in some archaic fantasy where all of this is happening in the middle of gym class, and she and Quinn are alone in a locker room, Quinn's fingers sliding up her thigh at an alarming pace, before fucking her hard and fast, biting words of resentment and caution in her ear, like be quiet and you're disgusting, look at how much you want me.

The other half is watching as Quinn apparently decides she's done dancing in front of Rachel, and slides down onto her lap in one smooth movement, before singing a little bit more of the song, hands running up her own legs and then under the pleats of the Cheerios skirt.

"How do you still fit in that," Rachel asks, dazedly.

Quinn shrugs a little and says, "I stay in shape. I'm clearly not alone, there."

"No," Rachel agrees, and watches as Quinn's hands slide from under her skirt up Rachel's thighs, before wrapping around Rachel's back and sliding down, until her hands are locked between Rachel's ass and the chair. "Oh—what—"

"Don't even bother denying that you like this," Quinn says, squeezing hard without warning, and Rachel jolts forward, almost sending them both sprawling to the ground.

Quinn has the presence of mind to put a foot down and balances them both, but then tsks at her warningly anyway.

"Sorry," Rachel whispers, and then watches wordlessly as Quinn stops moving altogether and just stares at her.

"Were you in love with me, in high school?" she finally asks.

I'm in love with you now, Rachel thinks, stupidly, and then just says, "Maybe. I don't know. We didn't know each other well enough."

Quinn tilts her head, running one hand back up Rachel's back. "Yet somehow, all your fantasies are about me... using you."

"It's not about being used, Quinn," Rachel says. Her voice shakes when Quinn's hand slides under her sweater and a fingernail trails up her spine. "It's about giving up control."

"Why would anyone want to do that?" Quinn asks, her eyes flickering from Rachel's face to the bare patches of space between their hips, before she rolls hers again to the slow, steady beat coming from the stereo.

"You wouldn't understand," Rachel says, almost smiling but not really; she's working too hard on not shuddering to smile. "But there's a reason that all my fantasies were about you."

Quinn's eyes drop down to the edge of Rachel's sweater, and after a second she tugs on it. "Take this off."

"I don't—"

"Take it off, Rachel," Quinn repeats, with another one of those slow rocks forward, and Rachel inhales sharply and bites her lip.

"You first," she finally says, and watches as Quinn smirks and starts slowly dragging the Cheerios top over her head.

...

Whatever rules there are about Quinn's job, some part of Rachel knows that a hell of a lot of them are being violated.

For one thing, it's not normal for the stripper to be undressing their customer, but somehow she's exactly as topless as Quinn, and when Quinn tells her to shift forwards on the chair and then wraps her legs around Rachel's waist, she actually gasps, because it brings them together in a way that—

"Put your hands on my hips," Quinn says, softly. It's an order, but it's a tentative one.

"I thought you said—"

"Balance, Rachel," Quinn insists, and Rachel's not about to start arguing the physics of their current position; not when with every twist of Quinn's hips into her stomach, the chair starts to cant a little bit.

She's getting better at her levels of control, though, and maybe that's how she ended up shirtless to begin with; Quinn looks moderately annoyed at the fact that she's not a shaking mess like she has been the last two times already, and is pushing the envelope to get her into that state.

Quinn's hands stop using Rachel as an anchor, just to steady herself, and instead start moving; blunt fingernails trail up and down her sides in swirling shapes. When Rachel tries to both move into and away from Quinn's hands, Quinn makes a small noise of approval.

"I'm not being still," Rachel reminds her, and Quinn glances up at her face, looking positively distracted.

"Can you even be stiller?" Quinn asks, and—there's something about her voice that makes Rachel's toes curl.

"What—"

"Shut up," Quinn says, sitting up further and reaching back to unsnap her own bra.

"God," Rachel says, because—there's no coat tails covering anything this time; Quinn's just wearing spanks and the skirt and her tennis shoes, and her breasts are right there—until they're not just there, but actually brushing up against Rachel's bra when Quinn shifts forwards again.

Rachel feels her hands dig into Quinn's hips and releases a strangled noise that results in a low chuckle from Quinn. "Am I living up to your expectations yet?"

"No," Rachel says, because she can, but her head cants forward dangerously and settles on Quinn's chest—by the time she remembers that she can't touch unless told to, one of Quinn's hands has already settled in her hair and is holding her in place. And God, she's so close; so close to Quinn's breasts, but she can't do anything about that other than try to keep breathing.

"Talk to me," Quinn says, somewhere above her.

Rachel shivers involuntarily and says, "About—"

"The fantasies that keep bringing you back here. They must really be something, Rachel; you didn't have an awful lot going for you in high school, but you always had dignity," Quinn says, sounding amused.

Rachel groans and says, "Surely you're kidding."

Quinn leans back to look at her and says, "I'm not known for my sense of humor."

"Yeah? Because calling yourself Rachel is pretty amusing from where I'm sitting," Rachel says.

It's almost a pleasant conversation, she realizes a moment later, when Quinn's expression relaxes and she says, "Consider it a particularly petty form of revenge."

"Revenge for what?" Rachel asks, wondering when Quinn's going to say something about the way her fingers are almost kneading Quinn's sides—but all Quinn does is run the back of her hand down her own chest, brushing over her own nipple on the way down, before saying, "It doesn't really matter."

Rachel makes a small noise, before watching the trek of Quinn's hand on the way back again—Quinn's other hand still in her hair, forcing her to keep watching—and God, then she actually brushes her thumb past her own nipple. Inches away from Rachel's face.

"What would you be doing right now, if you could?" Quinn asks. Something about her tone of voice has changed completely in the past few seconds, and—of course it has. She's thumbing her nipple, and now pinching it. There is no way to simulate that movement, nor is there any way to stop a reaction to it.

Rachel stares, transfixed, and breathes out, "You know what."

Quinn's fingers twist again, and then she says, airily, "You'd like it better if I demanded you do it, though, wouldn't you."

Rachel knows she's going to be throwing out a pair of panties later that evening when she glances up at Quinn, eyelids heavy and vision not entirely 20/20 anymore. "And to think that people thought we didn't understand each other."

Quinn's hips still against her stomach, just for a few seconds, and then she says, "Scoot forward. I'm going to sit behind you."

Rachel starts to protest, but Quinn tips a finger under her chin and looks at her with an incredibly haughty—and hot—expression on her face. "I thought you wanted me to take control. Don't be a coward, Rachel. It's unappealing."

Rachel wonders if she should be talking to her therapist about how being so summarily dismissed is somehow the bigger turn-on between that and Quinn shifting around her, pressing into her back. Five seconds later, Quinn's legs are pushing her own apart, wide open, and—she can't do a thing about it. She's locked in place, with Quinn completely in charge.

If not for the fact that she's wearing jeans, she'd be incredibly exposed right now, and she knows it.

If the low humming sound Quinn makes behind her is anything to go by, she's not the only one who knows it, either.

...

They have twenty minutes left, and honestly, there is not a lot of dancing going on anymore—Quinn's faintly undulating against her ass, but most of what she is doing involves fingertips dancing around her skin, moving around (but not onto) all the places where Rachel would like to get touched.

Not that she's not back to her previous state of shaking, hot mess despite Quinn skipping all the good parts, though, because there might not be a lot of dancing, but there's a lot of talking. Quinn's voice, silky and purely evil in her ear, demanding to hear every last one of her sexual fantasies is doing so much to her that for one stupid moment she actually wonders if she's going to have a spontaneous orgasm.

"No, on my stomach," she says, closing her eyes and moaning quietly when Quinn's nails scratch down her stomach again, lingering around the waistband of her jeans.

"So I'd be pressing you into the mattress from behind?" Quinn asks, and it's cruel, now, to ask for more detail; Rachel's just about painted a fucking portrait of the position they're discussing.

She can't even formulate a yes anymore; just makes another helpless sound, her head tipping back onto Quinn's shoulder as she gasps for breath.

Quinn's hand brushes past the button on her jeans, just once, and then her hips still completely. "If you could do anything at all right now, what would you do?"

"God, Quinn, you know what—"

"Stay within the rules," Quinn reminds her, still right up by her ear, and for one ridiculous second Rachel thinks she can actually feel Quinn's lips on her neck.

"I'd—fuck—" she says, forcing some more air into her lungs, but the truth is, if it wasn't for Quinn's arm around her waist, she'd be slipping to the ground. She'd just evaporate.

"Fuck what?"

"I'd—myself," Rachel admits, feeling her cheeks burn red even though it's surely not possible for her to be embarrassed anymore at this point.

Quinn's fingers dance around the front of her jeans one last time, and then snap the button without any hesitation. "Do it."

"Are you—"

"I said do it," Quinn repeats, and even though some part of Rachel is pretty sure this is an awful idea, her hand has a mind of its own and disappears under the waistband within seconds.

"You're going to have to be quiet. We don't want to alarm anyone," Quinn says, low; when Rachel glances to the side, Quinn's eyes are trained on Rachel's hand, moving rapidly between her helplessly spread legs, and masked only by her jeans.

"If you honestly believe that now is the first time in my life that I'm going to shut up—" Rachel starts to say, in one big rush of breath, and Quinn's hand covers her mouth before she can get the rest of it out.

"I wonder what everyone at McKinley would say if they could see you now," Quinn says, even as Rachel's teeth close around one of Quinn's fingers, and Quinn's hand swallows the first moan Rachel can't contain.

She inhales sharply through her nose, even as Quinn murmurs, "You're so depraved. And to think you spent all of those years pretending to believe in waiting for the right guy. Look at you. You can't even wait until you can get home."

Rachel closes her eyes and wishes she could shift her jeans down, or something, because the angle is tight and she can't quite get her hand down far enough to comfortably penetrate herself. Instead, her fingers are forced to just stay near her clit, sweeping past it and then around it while Quinn keeps on saying awful shit about her.

"It's sad, Rachel. All those years of pretending to be obsessed with Finn, when really you were thinking about his girlfriend. I mean, what is that?"

Sad, Rachel thinks, which hardly stops her hips from jerking upwards hard enough to dislodge Quinn's hand from where it's hovering on her thigh, though.

Quinn's breath catches in her throat and then she says, "You're nothing but a coward. Always telling me that we're both destined for great things. That I'm more than just a face. That reaching the top was all that mattered to you, really. And now look at where we are; the darling stepchild of Broadway, fucking herself in front of a stripper."

Rachel's fingers slip and slide helplessly around her clit, she's that wet, and she knows that Quinn is going to have some uncomfortably visible bite marks on her middle finger for the next few days, but it doesn't matter; she's close, incredibly close, and all it's going to take is—

The next words out of Quinn's mouth are, "Tell me, Rachel. Is this where you think you belong?"

She comes so hard she sees stars, which would be a joking matter at any other point in her life, with any other person holding her up and leaning away from her.

It takes her a good twenty seconds to catch her breath, and Quinn slips out from behind her in that time, casually getting dressed again—except for the part where she's clearly shaking, a little, and Rachel exhales, "Don't", before forcing herself to take another deep breath and to pull herself back together.

"Don't what?" Quinn asks, disinterestedly.

"Don't pretend that that didn't just happen."

"There's a difference between pretending it didn't happen and not caring," Quinn says, before giving Rachel a pointed look. "Finn Hudson is a fairly accurate representation of the average man in terms of stamina, Rachel. You're hardly the first person to come on the job."

"That wasn't the job," Rachel states, with certainty.

"Believe what you want, Rachel. All I care about is if you think it was worth eight hundred dollars or not," Quinn says, coolly, before fishing her bra off the floor and looking at her wrist watch. "Unfortunately, we have five more minutes. I didn't expect you to … finish as fast as you did."

Rachel flushes furiously, but then forces herself to look at Quinn; really look at her. "Do you really expect me to just pick up my shirt and go home after this?"

Quinn stares at her with a hint of regret for a second, but then she just shakes her head. "You're still so naive."

"And you're still not capable of letting yourself feel a damn thing."

The mask comes down completely at that accusation, and Quinn just says, "Don't come back again, Rachel. There is nothing here for you."

"You're wrong," Rachel says, with certainty she hasn't felt in years.

Quinn's out of the room before she can add anything to those words, and she manages to just about get her sweater on before she feels her eyes well up.

Chapter Text

It's ridiculous to be crying.

It's ridiculous, because Quinn is right. It doesn't make Rachel any less right, but it does mean that in seven years they've managed to not move an inch forward from where they were when they last saw each other: at high school graduation, Quinn giving the speech and still sounding like her future was ready to bloom at any second.

Rachel had cried then, too, because at some point Quinn had looked right at her and almost smiled—and it had almost made it all worth it. The bullshit about Finn, the final year of having to watch Quinn separate from him altogether and grow up into her own, the realization that she'd stopped giving a shit about Finn and instead wanted to follow this new, mature Quinn wherever she was going, and then finally the knowledge that it was never going to be an option.

She'd hoped, then, that things could be different. And now? Now, she's sitting in her car, deadly still, wondering what the hell else she can do. She wants to talk to someone about this; not her therapist, who would just tell her that she's being unhealthy.

Well, no shit. Of course she is. Being told that she is unlikely to help at this point.

She'd tell Puck, but he and Quinn have such a complicated history that she has no idea what his reaction would be: barging in and fireman-carrying her out of the club, or just that deadly, jaw-locked expression that he gets sometimes when he doesn't want to let on that something upsets him.

A bigger issues is that she can't tell anyone who knows Quinn, because it would mean giving up Quinn's secret, and—maybe she doesn't care if her friends know that she's now blown an embarrassing amount of money on lap dances, but she cares too much about what they would think of the person giving them to her.

Her own reaction had been oh God, what has happened to you. Santana's and Puck's wouldn't be as polite, and they had been Quinn's people, once. She can't even imagine how Kurt would react.

There's only one person who wouldn't judge Quinn, but Brittany still can't keep a secret from Santana for the life of her, and so all Rachel can do is sit in her car and wait for her vision to clear, hoping that an answer will just come to her. .

...

The knock on the window is what wakes her up, and when she blinks blearily, she sees Quinn. Not that that's something new; except that the frown on Quinn's face isn't exactly the stuff of dreams, nor is the impatient motion she's making at the window.

"What are you doing?" she asks, when the window is lowered..

"I fell asleep, Quinn. Last I checked it's not a crime."

Quinn's mouth sets, but then she says, "Are you hungry?"

"No, but I could use some coffee," Rachel says, because it's true; her hands are shaking with something and the caffeine will steady her.

"There's an all night diner about five minutes away from here," Quinn says, after another second of hesitation. "I can direct you there."

Rachel says nothing; not because she doesn't have words, but she's worried that if she voices any of them, Quinn will just disappear again.

It would really help if she had some idea of what was happening right now.

...

The diner's almost empty, and after a few moments Rachel slides off her sunglasses and almost relaxes into the booth.

She watches as Quinn rattles off an order that sounds a lot like "the usual" and then asks for some regular drip for herself.

"What happened to your hair?" she finally asks, when Quinn folds her hands together on the table and doesn't say anything otherwise.

"They're extensions. I haven't let it grow out since senior year," she says. She's in jeans and a white, fuzzy sweater and about an eighth of the make-up that she wears on the job.

Rachel feels herself fall in love all over again, which is just so wrong and masochistic, because surely this is yet another ploy in Quinn's many ways to screw with her.

"So. Rachel Berry's a lesbian, huh," Quinn says, blithely, when they've been served.

Rachel nearly chokes on her first sip of coffee and then glares at Quinn, who barely hides a smile while cutting into her hash browns.

"I'm not trying to …" Quinn says, and then spears some potato, blowing on it before bringing it to her mouth. She swallows quickly and then says, "I'm trying to have an actual conversation."

"You could pick a slightly less controversial starting point, given what … happened earlier," Rachel says, gripping her coffee tightly.

Quinn makes an assenting noise but then says, "It's not a big deal, Rachel. You're not alone."

"Well, clearly I am, or I wouldn't have blown a chunk of my retirement money on getting lap dances from you," Rachel says.

Quinn coughs loudly and then says, "God, you really haven't changed much."

"Where I stand, honesty isn't something to be disparaged for."

Quinn wipes at her mouth with a napkin and levels Rachel with a look that promptly makes her shut up. "What I meant was, you're not alone, in being gay."

Rachel blinks at her a few times. "You're—"

"There's a reason I can stay detached from what I do," Quinn says, a little absently. "It's because it doesn't do anything for me."

"When did you realize?" Rachel asks. Her voice is little more than a whisper, because something about this answer matters a lot.

"Shortly after moving out here," Quinn says.

"Which was—"

"After high school. UNLV offered me a partial on cheerleading, and they were cheaper than most of my other options."

Rachel frowns. "But surely your parents—"

"Broke, after the divorce. And not the kind of people I wanted to be dependent on for much longer anyway," Quinn says, cutting up a sausage and slathering some ketchup on it.

Rachel watches her eat it for a moment and then says, "Is this what you eat every night when you clock off?"

Quinn shrugs.

"Okay, not that I'm in any position to lecture you on the benefits of a home-cooked meal, but how on earth are you staying this thin?"

Quinn's lips twist. "I have a fairly high-energy job, Rachel."

With that muted reminder, Rachel feels her stomach turn hard again, and she knows it's showing on her face when Quinn's relaxed expression disappears within seconds.

"I'm sorry. About—earlier," Rachel finally says, because they're finally doing what she wanted to be doing all along: talking. Maybe even reconnecting. It seems inappropriate to not at least attempt an apology for—well, whatever they want to call it.

"Don't apologize," Quinn says, scraping her knife around the plate and then licking that clean, too. She does it casually, but Rachel feels a low throb in her groin anyway. It's the tongue. Or maybe the satisfied little noise Quinn makes. "Like I said; it wasn't out of the ordinary."

"Don't be ridiculous. It was you and me," Rachel says, a little more sharply than she means to; mostly to distract herself from what she really wants to do right now, which is shove their orders off the table and crawl over it to kiss the living daylights out of Quinn.

The corner of Quinn's mouth lifts. "It's a more interesting way of dealing with our... issues than slapping you in the face, don't you think?"

Rachel says nothing, because there's nothing to say.

...

It's a strange ending to an even stranger night, but when Quinn pays—with a humiliating, "don't bother; this is all your money anyway"—and reaches for her jacket again, Rachel says, "Wait."

"What?"

"What—what do we do now?"

Quinn's already halfway out of the booth, but settles back into it and gives Rachel a cautious look. "What do you mean?"

"I mean—so we've had coffee, and we didn't kill each other. Can I—" She trips on the words, and how embarrassing is that? "Can I see you again?"

Quinn's expression glosses over quickly. "I don't think that's a good idea."

"I just—"

"Rachel—clearly tonight did something to you, and I'm not in the habit of ignoring people I know when they're sitting in their car, looking like their dog just died. You look like you can drive, now, so I'm going home to get some sleep, and I suggest you do the same."

It's cold. It's so cold that it actually hurts, but the one thing that Rachel has now is the knowledge that on some level, Quinn cares.

"You're so full of it," she says, training her eyes to Quinn's and not flinching when Quinn's eyes narrow. "You're so desperate to not connect with anyone who knew you before that, what, you're just going to make me feel awful until I back away?"

Quinn says nothing.

Rachel pulls her sunglasses back down and says, "Really, Quinn, after four years of doing it daily, you should know by now that making me feel like shit really doesn't result in me giving up."

"Yeah, well, maybe it should," Quinn says, sharply.

"Maybe you should just try something else for a change," Rachel responds, getting out of the booth.

Quinn follows her outside and then reaches for her shoulder, stopping her.

"You're here for what, two more months? It's a fucking summer holiday. You're having some fun because you can, for a change, and then you'll go back home and it'll all just be this fond memory you have of Vegas. But I don't get the luxury of leaving this behind, Rachel, so—what the fuck do you want from me?" she asks, from somewhere behind Rachel.

Her voice betrays that this is the first true thing she's said all night; maybe since even since they met.

"If you actually think that I could ever put this behind me, you're more ignorant than I thought you were," she responds, softly.

Quinn's hand falls away, and by the time Rachel turns around, she's already walked off towards a bus stop across the street.

She looks young, and tired, and altogether like someone that Rachel wishes she could actually get to know—have lunch with, cook dinner for, joke about the plot of an awful movie with. It's Quinn, rather than that girl who strips for her, and when Quinn shoves her hands in her pockets and leans against the bus stop sign, looking down at the ground, Rachel knows that she's going to keep trying, no matter how hard Quinn might try to discourage her.

Forgetting about her altogether isn't ever going to be an option. Not now.

...

In the end, she calls Brittany anyway.

Britt's at some sort of dance class, but gamely cancels the entire thing when Rachel says, "It's important."

"What's up?" Britt asks. There's some rustling and then a sigh and Rachel smiles faintly at the sure knowledge that Brittany's managed to contort herself into some ridiculous position only she would find relaxing, bracing herself for a long, rambly phonecall.

It's not clear when they became friends, let alone good ones, but whenever she needs to forget about her day to day existence, Brittany is the first person she calls. She's always exactly what Rachel needs, with her funny animal facts and ability to construct an entire conversation around the guy she saw walking to the bus stop with the cane that morning.

This isn't going to be quite as light, unfortunately, but—God, she really just needs to talk to someone about it.

"I've been seeing a stripper," she says. After careful considerations of various ways to break the news, blunt honesty seemed like the best one.

"What, like—dating one?"

Rachel feels her entire body cringe when she says, "No, like... paying one to give me lap dances. Every Tuesday for the past month."

Brittany says nothing for a moment, and then goes, "You don't need to pay for sex, Rachel, you're way too hot for that."

"Thanks, Britt, and—I'm not having sex, so that's not it. It's really just—well, I guess it's not really just dancing, but... there are reasons for it."

Brittany sounds like she's smiling when she says, "Okay, I'm confused, and that sentence was way too rambly. Why are you paying for a stripper?"

"Because," Rachel says, "the stripper in question is Quinn."

Brittany says, "Oh." A long pause, and then, "Really?"

"Yeah," Rachel says, rubbing at her forehead.

"Huh," Brittany says, and then adds, "I've always wondered what happened to her. Stripping, huh?"

"Britt, you can't tell anyone."

"No, of course not, she'd kill me," Brittany says, and Rachel sighs in relief when apparently, seven years of not speaking don't undermine the Cheerios hierarchy one bit.

"That includes Santana."

Brittany makes a noise of assent. They're quiet for a few seconds, and then Britt asks, "So, is she good?"

Rachel knows she's turning a ridiculous shade of red. "At... stripping?"

"Well, yeah."

"Yeah, she's—" Rachel bites her lip and says, "I—oh, my God, I've never been more sexually frustrated in my life."

"You should ask her out," Brittany says, in response to that.

"I—what? I mean, I've tried. She doesn't want to."

"Oh, that sucks," Brittany says, sighing. "I hate when Quinn used to do that. Like, we all knew she had a thing for you, but she was always like blah blah I can't. You know, how Santana was during junior year, but like way worse."

"Wait," Rachel says, blinking. "She had a thing for me?"

"Oh, yeah," Brittany says. There's a loud crunch—an apple maybe—and then she adds, "Come on, Rachel, you saw those drawings in the bathroom."

"She drew those to … bully me. And humiliate me," Rachel says, dimly.

"Well, sure, but that's just because it would've been super gay to just carry around a notebook full of drawings of you all year, I mean. What if she lost it?" Brittany says, with another loud crunch and some chewing. "Not to mention that like, when you hate someone, the way I hate that guy with the balloons over by the bus stop, you don't draw them with flattering boobs, okay."

Rachel wonders how it's possible to feel so close to laughter and tears at the same time. "Okay, hypothetically speaking, if you are right about this—why wouldn't she—I mean, I'm here now. And she knows I'm available—"

"How?" Brittany asks, sounding genuinely curious.

"It's—nevermind, Britt, not really the point," Rachel says, before chewing on her lip and saying, "Why won't she just—is it that awful to like me?"

"Aw, honey," Brittany says, or almost coos. "Of course not. Quinn's just complicated. Santana always said that she's like an onion, because she makes people cry a lot when they cut her, or something. You know?"

Rachel laughs weakly and says, "Yeah, I know."

"So maybe don't cut her; just try to peel her, and it'll be okay," Brittany says, before yawning loudly and adding, "Hey... did you know that ducks have like two lady spaces? One real one and a fake one, because they get sexually assaulted a lot and if they don't like the guy duck that's trying to do them, they're just like, no way are you getting into my actual baby duck maker."

Rachel gives up on not laughing at that point, and half an hour later, when Brittany has to go, she actually feels substantially better.

...

Technically, there is nothing stopping her from hiring a private investigator.

There's no Q Fabray (or L Fabray) in the phonebook, and trolling Facebook just reveals that Quinn has a locked profile that Rachel clearly can't do anything with. Nobody else she knows would have Quinn's phone number, and she can't exactly call Judy Fabray out of the blue and be like, "May I have your daughter's number? I ran into her at a strip club recently and would really like to reconnect in a way that doesn't involve quite so much grinding."

So, she can hire a private investigator, which would be beyond creepy and invasive, or she can spend yet another Tuesday night at Rapture.

She doesn't even bother reapplying her make-up at home this time, and when Tracy says, "Hey, we didn't think you'd be coming back—" Rachel just says, "Here's eight hundred in cash; tell her to wear her normal clothing, please."

Tracy blinks and says, "Okay, but—"

"I'll deal with her questions. Customer is king, right?" Rachel asks, a little pointedly, and with all the fake diva bluster that three years of being a media darling have taught her to have. So what if she's already feeling a little faint, and she knows this level of bravado will evaporate as soon as she's near Quinn?

So what, indeed.

...

Quinn actually looks mostly amused when she walks in, wearing a knee-length red skirt and a white off-the-shoulder t-shirt that brings up all sorts of weird Flashdance thoughts—not that Rachel really needs more thoughts about Quinn dancing.

She's barefoot, also, which is even stranger.

"I'm glad to see that you're willing to listen to reason," she says, dryly.

"Shut up and sit on me," Rachel responds, tilting her chin up and almost daring Quinn to say no.

Quinn's lips twist subtly, but then she says, "Or what, Rachel?"

"Or we have a conversation. About why you work here, maybe. Or about how long you've had feelings for me."

Quinn's eyes darken immediately. "Where the hell did you get that—"

"That's a funny way to react to something that you clearly don't think is true," Rachel says, smiling in a way that she knows will piss Quinn off even further.

Quinn takes a quick, sharp breath and then says, "So much for wanting us to be friends this time around, huh, Rachel?"

"I find that friendship can't be built on a bunch of bullshit and lies, Quinn, so anytime you're willing to drop those and admit that you feel something—just let me know," Rachel says, leaning back against the chair and patting her lap gently. "Until then, I'm happy to be involved enough for both of us."

Quinn shakes her head, but after a few moments moves to stand in front of Rachel anyway. "What do you want today?"

"You," Rachel says, before reaching and tugging on the hem of Quinn's skirt until their knees are almost touching.

Quinn says nothing for a moment, but then says, "I'm going to blindfold you."

"Shouldn't you be asking me if I'm okay with that?" Rachel asks, her fingertip still skimming along the edge of Quinn's skirt, but not touching anything—not breaking the rules.

Quinn leans forward, brushing Rachel's hair away from her ear, and says, "It feels so much better when I don't give you a say in the matter, though."

Rachel grips the skirt, hard, and then blinks in surprise when seconds later, it's slipping off Quinn's hips altogether.

Quinn doesn't ask how much time they have; just trails her finger down Rachel's cheek and says, "Don't move. I'll be right back."

She walks out of the door in just her shirt and a pair of boycut panties, and Rachel almost laughs at the sight of it—how the hell someone so comfortable with their body can be so uncomfortable with what it wants—

Like an onion, she reminds herself, and starts unbuttoning her own light blue dress shirt just because really, she's going to need to work a little harder at peeling Quinn if this is in fact going to be the night that things change between them.

...

"How many of these ties do you own, anyway?" Rachel asks, when another one is slipped over her eyes and quickly tied behind her head.

"A few," Quinn says, non-committal, and then asks, "Can you see anything?"

Rachel shakes her head, and then sits and waits, hands on the sides of the chair again, for something—anything to happen.

"I'm not sure this is the best idea," she finally says. "I'm spending a small fortune to watch you dance, because God knows I don't get to touch you, so—"

Quinn's hands reach for her own without warning, and next thing she knows, she's running them up and down Quinn's sides—or well, Quinn is making the movement for her, straddling her legs easily and then pushing their joint hands up to her breasts.

"I—" Rachel starts to say, but then shuts up when Quinn's nipples harden against her palms. "Oh, my God."

"This is the last time," Quinn says, softly—so softly that Rachel almost doesn't think she's actually said it, until she continues with, "I need you to leave me alone after this, Rachel."

"What if I—"

Quinn's hips shift forward abruptly, and Rachel's hands grip almost without meaning to.

"I've given you everything I can. It is just going to have to be enough," Quinn says, in a tone of voice that sounds like an ending.

Rachel closes her eyes despite the blindfold, and then finally nods. "Okay. I—okay."

Quinn moves in even closer after that, and says, "Run your hands up and down my back; slowly, and use your nails."

Rachel feels her panties soak, and bites her lip to not make too much noise too soon. They both like the anticipation, and if this is the last time—God, she can't even think about it.

She just can't.

...

Quinn's face tracks along hers, nose brushing against her skin—first her cheek, then down her neck, and finally nuzzling between her collarbones. She can only feel where Quinn is going to go next, and Jesus, this really doesn't meet the textbook definition of a dance in any way whatsoever anymore.

Her own hands are slipping under the back of Quinn's bra, and she knows she's marked her—knows that whoever comes next is going to get some seriously second hand goods, and even though she's more turned on than she ever has been in her life, the thought makes her feel like she's going to be sick.

"How much for the entire night?" she asks, when Quinn's nose brushes past her shoulder, and her hips slam forward hard enough to make the chair wobble.

"That's not how this works," she says, roughly.

Rachel's hands blindly fumble until one of them is covering Quinn's own hand, and says, "It works however you want it to, doesn't it?"

Quinn's hips grind to a halt, and then she says, "You do the math. I'm on until two. It's eight thirty."

Rachel laughs and says, "You actually think I can do math right now?"

"Thirty six hundred," Quinn says, after a moment.

"Done," Rachel says.

Quinn's movements halt. "Rachel—"

"I know you're not for sale. And we'll do the hour, and after that, you can do whatever you want; read the newspaper, get an early late dinner, or play Scrabble with me or whatever. I just don't want—"

She can't finish the sentence, and Quinn takes an incredibly deep breath right by her ear and then asks, quietly, "Why are you doing this?"

"Because you won't," Rachel says, and unsnaps Quinn's bra, without asking for permission.

...

Most of her is focused on creating a memory.

A memory of the way Quinn smells, like a weird combination of vanilla and cinnamon that just reminds her of Thanksgiving somehow. One of the way Quinn's lips feel close to her skin at all times, even if they're not. One of the way that Quinn's hips don't ever really stop moving, even if it doesn't feel like she's focusing on their movement. One of the way Quinn's hands are digging into her back, now, even as Rachel is trailing her own hands around and letting them rest just below Quinn's breasts, silently asking if it's okay.

Quinn says nothing, but her hips jerk with a little less control, and Rachel decides that she's a little tired of waiting for Quinn to voice anything she actually wants.

It's never going to happen, and if Rachel herself wants something, she's just going to have to take it.

Her head lolls when her fingers first touch the puckered skin around a nipple, and she listens to Quinn breathe lightly through her nose.

"Is this—"

"Harder," Quinn says, without even a second of hesitation, and Rachel's hands clamp down almost involuntarily; cupping entire breasts, and then pinching Quinn's nipples tightly enough for it to hurt.

Quinn's hips jolt, and Rachel almost smiles—almost, because she thinks she might actually lose her mind from wanting.

"I want—" she starts to say, but Quinn bites down on her shoulder, hips still sloppily rocking forward, and Rachel trails off into a moan that's loud enough to drown out the sound of the dance floor in the main club.

"Fuck," Quinn hisses, around the skin between her teeth, and Rachel twists her thumb and forefinger, wondering how much longer they're going to pretend that this isn't—

She thinks she imagines it, the first time, but Quinn desperately cants forward again, pressing herself against Rachel's stomach again, and she's then she's sure. She knows.

She can feel it.

"You're—" she breathes, taking a deep breath and licking her lips, hoping for just a little bit of control. Just once. She'll give it back, but—just for now..

Quinn lifts her head off Rachel's chest, and then says, "What?", all irritably and like she really can't give a fuck about whose lap she's on.

"You're wet," Rachel says, pushing the blindfold off and looking at Quinn's face. Part of her still can't believe that it's true, but—Quinn's hips stop moving immediately, and Quinn's entire expression tightens until they're just staring at each other. "You're—oh, my God. You're getting wet."

"Rachel—"

"You want this," Rachel repeats, because you want me sounds like far too much to read into the situation. "How can you possibly still expect me to pretend that you don't want this, when I can feel what it's doing to you?"

Quinn's off her lap in a flash, and by the time Rachel can think of what to do now, Quinn's already shrugging back into her shirt.

"Quinn—"

"Rachel, just shut the fuck up," Quinn almost snarls, before fishing her bra off the floor and heading over to the stereo with jerky movements.

The music stops.

Rachel's off the chair as soon as the silence hits her and—fuck the rules, she thinks. Fuck them. She reaches for Quinn's shoulder, and then gasps when Quinn whirls around and, without a break, grabs for both of Rachel's wrists and holds them tightly.

"Don't touch me."

"Why are you so upset?" Rachel asks, taking a step back, and rubbing at her wrists when Quinn lets go of them.

"Why the hell do you think?" Quinn asks, in a trembling voice that usually precedes her cracking open almost completely—Rachel flashes back unwillingly to junior prom, and wonders if she's going to get slapped in the face again.

"I don't know, Quinn, because clearly you're not the only one in this room who is incredibly turned on right now," she says, hating the way her voice sort of whines through it, but unable to stop it.

Quinn exhales through her nose and then straightens, slowly. "This is a job. This is—for God's sake, a few nights a week, I perform a few dances, because it's getting me through my degree and I need the money. It's a fucking job, Rachel—a job without attachments and with clear limits that avoid conversations like this happening."

"I know there are limits. I didn't ask to breakthem. You made me touch you," Rachel says, sharply. "And I'm not the one who has consistently insisted on paying for privilege of having your company, either. If you want to fuck me, you could've just—"

"No, I couldn't have," Quinn says, slowly and deliberately.

"Why the hell not?" Rachel asks, twisting her wrists, but Quinn's holding on tightly.

"Because you're Rachel Berry, and when you look at me, you see a fucking fantasy you had years ago at best, and a stripper you can pay for at worst," Quinn says, her voice bursting with loathing on the last word. "You just tried to buy me, Rachel. I don't care what your intentions are—"

"So what, this is all about pride?" Rachel asks, unable to keep her voice from hitting hysterical registers. "The reason we're standing here having this conversation is because you get to keep your pride?"

Quinn doesn't say anything, and Rachel, for once, wonders if she might be the one to snap and hit Quinn instead.

"What about my pride? What about the fact that I can't pretend that I don't feel things for you, or the fact that I've let you back me into this ridiculous corner where the only parts of you I get are the ones that you can justify giving up under the pretext of this job?"

Quinn's hand slips away from her wrists, and Rachel rubs at them sorely for a moment, before shaking her head. "I can't believe you think I've ever thought so little of you."

"Why? It's the truth, isn't it?" Quinn says, running a hand through her hair and leaning back against the door. "I'm not ashamed of the fact that I'm using my body to make money, Rachel, but there's a substantial difference between not being ashamed, and being stuck here with someone who only knows what I used to be. And what is that to you, even, Rachel? The head cheerleader? The senior prom queen? The prettiest girl you've ever known?"

Rachel licks at her lips and says, "I don't know, but I don't … we don't have to be stuck here. If this isn't what you want me to see, then don't let me see you like this."

"It's a little too late for—"

"Let me take you home."

Quinn's entire face draws shut. "What, now that you've paid for it?"

"Not because I've paid for it. Because you want me to."

Quinn exhales very shakily and then says, "Rachel—"

"If you can't, I need a reason," Rachel says, not even caring that she sounds like she's begging now. It won't be the first time, around Quinn. Not by some distance.

"Because this is my life, and my job, and you're destroying my ability to compartmentalize," Quinn says, sounding every bit as torn up as she did when she said I don't hate you in that hallway, all those years ago.

This is the girl that Rachel's never known how to not be in love with, because there is something so incredibly beautiful about a Quinn Fabray who's falling apart in front of her.

"Okay," she says, quietly, lowering her eyes to the ground and looking for her shirt.

Her back is turned when she's shrugging into it, and her fingers tremble around the buttons too long; she misses one and has to start over, and then all of a sudden, Quinn is right behind her again, her forehead dropping onto Rachel's shoulder, and she says, "I hate you for doing this to me."

"Doing what?" Rachel asks, now completely out of her depth.

Seconds later, Quinn's hands are swatting away her own, and her shirt is pulled open, buttons flying everywhere, and then she's being backed into a wall, with Quinn's angry, biting kisses pushing her over there, step by step.

...

She doesn't get a say in what's happening.

The last words that sounded in the room were Quinn's; a rough bark of, "Don't talk, for once in your life—", but then she'd covered Rachel's lips with her own again, bruising them and plying them apart with her tongue.

Now, she's so wet it's almost painful.

It's a moot instruction. Rachel has no need for words at all; she's just holding onto Quinn's shoulders desperately, arching towards her and backing into the wall at once when Quinn pushes her legs apart and slides a thigh between them.

"Jesus," she moans, when Quinn scratches down her sides and then reaches behind Rachel's back, trailing hands up the arch of it and unsnapping Rachel's bra so quickly that Rachel almost protests—they have time, they have—

But then Quinn traps her hands in the shirt she's still sort of wearing, and she's bucked into the wall with every thrust of Quinn's hips; Quinn's hands are back on her stomach, sliding upwards, and Quinn herself still kissing her and barely giving her a chance to breathe.

"Is this how you've pictured us," Quinn finally asks, her voice low and shaky, before her mouth presses against Rachel's neck and she inhales sharply. "Up against a wall, you soaking through your panties, grinding against my thigh—and God, you want to touch me, don't you, but you can't."

Rachel just whimpers and knits her hands into the shirt again; Quinn plucks at her nipple with a sigh.

"Fuck, Rachel, how stupid are you if you think you're the only one who's thought about this?" she says, and Rachel's so glad she opted for a high school style skirt, because God, the friction Quinn is creating against her is delicious—it's driving her crazy and yet not even close to pushing her over, and she wants this to last...

She just wants this to last.

Quinn thumbs one of her breasts again, and then brings her hands to Rachel's wrists, holding them against the wall, before lowering her head and nudging her bra away from her breasts with her nose. "You're so—" she says, her eyes almost burning a hole in Rachel's chest.

Rachel watches as those eyes slip shut, and Quinn then peppers a trail of kisses right down the middle of her sternum, before flicking a tongue out against her already painfully hard nipple. She can't keep her own eyes open after that; she just feels herself desperately rubbing up against Quinn, whose soft, breathy moan when she sucks, hard, for just a few seconds, gets her wet all over again.

"Quinn, please—"

"No," Quinn says, with a small, sharp bite. "You don't get to tell me what to do. Not now."

Rachel's eyes roll back into her head, and the only other concession she demands is easy; her fingers reach for Quinn's hands, still pushing against her wrist, but the message is understood, and seconds later their hands tangle together.

She's strung so high so quickly that when one of Quinn's hands falls away and reaches for her thigh, she doesn't even realize it at first—not until Quinn's knuckles are brushing up against her panties, and Quinn straightens and looks so fucking smug that for one second, Rachel has to remind herself that this isn't about winning and they're not in high school anymore.

"Don't act surprised. I've wanted you since the first time I laid eyes on you," she says, smartly,to cut through all the pretense.

Nothing unravels Quinn more quickly than the truth.

Quinn's eyes drop to her mouth, just for a second, and then there's another one of those kisses that, fuck, she can't focus on anything else; not until Quinn's pulling her panties down just about far enough to reach inside of them with two long, slender fingers that stroke their way down and then hover, not touching anything that matters.

It feels like she's waiting for permission, which Rachel gives just by rocking her hips forwards and giving her an almost pleading look, when Quinn pulls back long enough to raise an eyebrow.

The thigh between her legs drops away, and Rachel's struggling to hold herself upright; the angle isn't ideal because Quinn is tall—taller, now, than she's ever been before; maybe that's just a feeling but it feels real.

No, it's not an ideal angle, but when Quinn bends down enough to pull Rachel's completely destroyed panties off the rest of the way, carelessly tossing them behind her when Rachel steps out of them with a wobble, she has a good go at it anyway. Quinn's nails scratch up Rachel's inner thigh hard enough to leave marks, and Rachel spreads her legs more almost on instinct, praying that Quinn's remaining hand can keep her steady, given that she's now on her toes.

Quinn's fingers swipe past her clit, just once, and she almost keens at the feel of it; but then they're pushing inside of her, slowly and with just enough burn for her to be able to dwell on the reality they're in right now: Quinn, inside her. Quinn, fucking her. Quinn, looking like she can't believe it any more than Rachel can.

"You're so fucking tight," Quinn states. "When's the last time—"

"Eight months ago," Rachel says, slamming her hips down on Quinn's hand when that agonizingly slow speed at which her fingers are twisting and pulling is just not even close to being enough.

"And you're—are you—" Quinn hesitates and then says, "Are you clean?"

Rachel blinks her eyes open and says, "Are you?"

Quinn nods, a slightly guarded expression on her face, even as her fingers curl up and she presses down a little bit harder. Rachel moans and says, "Good, I mean, I had no doubts, and you're fine, I'm—"

Next thing she knows, she almost falls down, because Quinn's on her knees, pushing up her skirt and disappearing underneath it.

She hates not being able to see much, but at the same time, it's probably for the best, because at the first touch of Quinn's tongue, she knows she's going to come in about five and a half seconds. She look on Quinn's face right now would probably just send her right over, and she wants to savor this—Quinn's fingers inside of her, three of them now, stretching in a way that's uncomfortable but so right, and Quinn's tongue, pressed up against her clit, drawing something that feels vaguely like a letter—like she's being marked.

Her hands grip Quinn's shoulders as Quinn's spare arm presses her against the wall, and when Quinn pulls away just long enough to glance up and say, "Come for me, Rachel", she has no choice.

She's never been able to stop her reaction to her name slipping from Quinn's lips, and with Quinn's fingers dragging an orgasm out of her that she starts to feel in her toes before it really even starts, and Quinn's tongue rubbing at her clit before sucking on it lightly, she really doesn't stand a chance.

The arm against her waist holds her up, but barely, and it's for the best that Quinn gets on her feet shortly afterwards, pressing a wet hand against Rachel's cheek and licking her lips until they're not as fucking shiny with Rachel anymore.

Rachel waits for her heart to stop hammering, and then whispers, "Now what?"

"Now, I give you back your money," Quinn says, looking away.

"Quinn," Rachel protests, but so weakly. If this is Quinn's latest avoidance tactic—if the plan was to fuck Rachel so hard she can barely think, well, mission accomplished.

Quinn's eyes shift after a moment, and she examines Rachel's face closely. "I'm not opposed to doing this again. Elsewhere."

It's hard not to start sobbing in relief, or something. Rachel just takes a deep breath and waits as Quinn runs her tongue past her teeth and then adds. "I'll write my number on one of the bills. You call me next Tuesday. Not any sooner than that. Do you understand?"

It's not the kind of proclamation that dreams are made of, but after almost forgetting how to dream at all, Rachel will take it.

"What about—" she then says, carefully, says, because Quinn does look a little strung out and Rachel swears she can almost smell how wet she is, God; she honestly doesn't think she's up for another round, but there are parts of her that clearly feel otherwise. She just glances down at Quinn's hips, and those unexpectedly sexy boy shorts.

Quinn tenses and says, "Not now. I need—I can't, here. Okay?"

The hidden message there is I have some thinking to do; for once, even though Rachel can still barely formulate thoughts, she has no difficulties interpreting Quinn at all, and it's unexpectedly soothing.

"Okay," she just says, and then hesitantly reaches for Quinn's face, cupping it. "Next week."

"Yeah," Quinn says. "I'm off all day on Tuesday. Until—"

And, just to stop what is bound to be a devastating reminder of what their lives are, and how they got here, Rachel leans forward and kisses the corner of Quinn's mouth as a thank you.

Reality can wait until tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Patience has never been her strongest suit.

It surprises her that she lasts until her dinner break on Friday to dig out the note with Quinn's number on it—her print still fine and girly, as an almost morbid contrast to the rest of her these days—and shakily dials it. She doesn't let herself get nervous, because if she starts to think about it, she'll just—

"Hello?" Quinn asks, sounding distracted. Rachel can hear traffic in the background, which is good, because it means that Quinn's not—on her way to work. Or at work. God, that thought smarts. She pushes it to the side and clears her throat.

"It's me."

"Oh," Quinn exhales. There's another loud honk in the background, and Rachel waits patiently. "I thought I made it clear that—"

"I can't stop thinking about you," Rachel says, because it's a little bit better than we only have two months, Quinn, stop wasting our time. Not much, but a little.

The line is silent, background noise notwithstanding, until that suddenly dims and Rachel hears a door slam. She closes her eyes and tries to visualize Quinn's place; is it an apartment or a house? Is it homey or distant? Sleek lines or the same kind of archaic, Napoleonic print that Finn once told her lined the Fabray house?

"Is this how this is going to be?" Quinn finally asks.

Rachel feels her entire frame tense, almost immediately. There's no warmth in Quinn's voice; if anything, she sounds distantly annoyed, like Rachel is some fly buzzing in her ear.

"I don't know what—" she starts saying, just to say something.

"Is following my … requests only an option for you when I'm fucking you?" Quinn asks, more harshly now.

Rachel closes her eyes and pinches the bridge of her nose. "No. I'm … I'm sorry. I said I would wait and I was going to but—"

"Yeah, but. But, nobody says no to Rachel Berry these days, do they? Or hell—I don't even think I mean these days. Has anyone ever told you no? Have you ever even cared?"

This isn't how this is supposed to go. They fucked, and that's supposed to be the first step towards... she doesn't know what she was thinking.

"I haven't thought of you … in forever," Quinn adds, with a little more composure, when Rachel doesn't have the nerve to interject again. "You come waltzing into … my place of employment, with your platinum card and your hero complex, and you expect me to just be okay with that because the sex could be really good."

"It's not just about—"

"Of course it is, Rachel. It's about wanting to fuck me and wanting to save me. It can't be about anything else because you don't even know me. And you know what? As much as I didn't want to associate with you in high school, at least back then you weren't constantly being followed by people with cameras who are a little too interested in your dating life for me to be comfortable with any of this."

Rachel rubs at her eyes and says, "Technically, I think I'm the one who's supposed to be worried about things like that."

"Oh, yeah. Of course. It's primarily a concern for you that you're all chummy with an exotic dancer. It's not like I have a career to be conscious of here, or people who don't know about that part of my life for very good reasons," Quinn bites out.

Rachel tugs her lip between her teeth and then says, "So what are you saying?"

"I'm saying that I wanted a week to figure out how I can do this."

"And that's just your decision, now?" Rachel asks, before sighing. "No, never mind. Of course it is. God forbid we act like the adults we are and talk about what this means for both of us. Jesus, Quinn, I don't even know what you do, aside from … the dancing. So how exactly am I supposed to help you keep that safe?"

Quinn doesn't say anything for a long moment and then asks, "Why did you call?"

"Because I can't stop thinking about you," Rachel repeats, more emphatically.

"Thinking about the way I fucked you, you mean," Quinn presses.

Rachel gnaws on her lip hard enough for a little blood to swell to the surface, and her palms start to itch in that way that normally means, I need a drink, or more than that. Maybe she needs a pill. Maybe she needs, God, better ideas than to push Quinn Fabray because when has that ever worked out in her favor?

The blood is tangy, but real, and it settles her in an unexpected way. It settles what's at the surface of her mind, anyway, which is the memory of Quinn's fingers inside of her, Quinn's mouth moving against her, and...

Rachel Berry, the singing enfant terrible, is nobody's hero.

"Yes," she admits, and can almost feel the satisfaction trickle through the phone line; because Quinn has her where she wants her, now. Backed into another corner of Quinn's choosing.

"So this is a booty call," Quinn muses. Her voice has changed, though. She's definitely not not interested, and Rachel slides down a little further on the couch, putting her plate on the coffee table, and running the back of her hand past her bleeding lip.

"Something like that," she says, after a second. "I thought it could be... a preview. Of what happens next. If you want."

"If I want? I'm not the one who called, Rachel," Quinn says, now sounding slightly amused.

It's weird, because this is exactly the same kind of fractured conversation they've been having ever since they encountered each other again; but rather than it feeling unsettling, Rachel just sinks further into the fabric of the sofa and starts toying with the first button on her shirt.

"I know. But you're right, you know. We don't know each other. Maybe we can learn to talk, but..."

"What are you wearing?" Quinn says. The crinkling of a bag sounds in the background, and Rachel frowns abruptly.

"Hang on. Are you... have you been putting away groceries all this time?"

Quinn hesitates for just a second. "My life doesn't stop just because you call. Especially given that I asked you not to."

"What did you buy?" Rachel asks, settling into this role now; Quinn, brusque and dismissive? Yeah, that she can handle; her hand automatically plucks at the first button on her shirt. "Tell me, and I'll tell you what I'm wearing."

Quinn laughs softly. "I don't even know where to start with you right now."

"I very much doubt that," Rachel says, her finger brushing against her sternum just about under her shirt.

"Spaghetti," Quinn says. "Tomatoes, some crusty bread for bruschetta. Olive oil. Um."

Rachel chuckles unexpectedly and says, "My God, that's pedestrian."

"I live a surprisingly boring life, when I'm not busy giving Broadway starlets lap dances," Quinn says, a little mockingly. "What are you wearing?"

"A pink dress shirt; I think it's Puck's," Rachel says, her finger slipping underneath the fabric again, toying with the second button. "Um, cotton work-out shorts. And... that's pretty much it."

She can picture the look on Quinn's face at the image she's painted; her nostrils, flaring for a second, the only thing to give her interest away.

"No underwear?" Quinn asks, voice even lower now.

"I'll answer that if you tell me what your plans for the night are."

Quinn snorts. "Jesus Christ, Rachel."

"Just go along with it," Rachel says. "Or I'll stop unbuttoning this shirt, and then what will we do?"

Quinn's sigh in response sends a shiver down her spine. "I was going to watch a Buffy rerun and eat some pasta. Maybe do some work on my thesis."

"Your thesis?" Rachel asks.

"Pop another button," Quinn says, in kind. Rachel feels herself twitch, at this first indication that Quinn is willing to … play. Even if she did break the rules. "Slowly, and then tell me where your hands are."

The button snaps loud enough for Quinn to hear it, and Rachel says, "There. Right by my breasts, and the other one is, um, holding the phone, obviously."

Quinn makes a small noise that sounds a little like give me a break, Rachel, but then says, "Ritualistic marking of female victims in murder cases involving sexual assault."

Rachel's thinking about Quinn's mouth, moving—making words, shapes against her, which is why it takes her a second to react to those words. "Wait, I'm sorry—what?"

Quinn's laughter is sincere, this time; it sounds different. Better. "You did ask."

"Yeah, but—"

"You know what they say about curiosity, Rachel. Another button."

The increasing urgency in her voice makes Rachel drops the pretense, and she quickly fingers the remaining buttons on the shirt open. "They're all done, now. What next?"

"Spread your legs," Quinn says, much more softly.

"What are you doing?"

"Looking up a recipe for tomato and herb pasta," Quinn says, dryly.

Rachel laughs unwillingly, and then gasps when her spare hand trails down her stomach, goosebumps following in its trail. "What are you actually doing?"

"Thinking about my hands, on you. Inside of you," Quinn says, her voice incredibly neutral. It somehow only makes it hotter, that she's being so explicit. Clinical. Maybe that has something to do with that thesis, or whatever Quinn is studying. She'd ask, but...

Her eyes slip shut, at the idea of Quinn, inside, and all she can manage is, "Oh."

"I'm putting you down for a second, because I don't think I can get myself off with these jeans on," Quinn says, abruptly.

Rachel's hips jerk upwards against nothing, hard. She focuses on breathing evenly as she hears the phone being put down, and then sighs when her knuckles brush down further, stilling near the top of her shorts.

"The things you say," she sighs, when Quinn appears to be back; Rachel can hear her breathing now, and it's making her uncomfortably hot and antsy.

"The things you make me want to say," Quinn responds, almost in hazily, until her voice finds focus again. "Where are you?"

"Sofa, in my living room," Rachel says. "I'm—can I touch myself?"

"No. I'll tell you when you can."

Rachel's eyes shutter, and she knows that she just whimpered loud enough for Quinn to hear it, but God, does Quinn ever know how to press her buttons. "We have to hurry up, though; I'm meant to be on stage in about half an hour," she says, shakily.

Quinn laughs low and says, "You know, prior to three weeks ago, the only thing I thought when I thought of you was that I really fucking hated how successful you'd become."

Rachel snorts almost despite herself. "Am I supposed to be disappointed by that? After what you did to me, you think I care about whether this is old or new?"

"I don't know, Rachel. What do you care about?" Quinn asks, a little sarcastically.

"Feeling like this," Rachel says. "Like—if you don't touch me, or if I don't touch myself, I'm actually going to die."

"I can't believe how fucking … easy you are," Quinn says, before moaning quietly. It's the first noise she's heard Quinn make, and her hand slips underneath the waist band of her shorts immediately. God, she's hearing Quinn touch herself.

"I have thought about this so often," Rachel says, knowing her heavy breathing is going to give her away if she moves her hand, and so she has to ask. "Please, Quinn, can I—"

"Two fingers, inside," Quinn says, almost immediately. "Slowly; the way I'd do it. I'd make you feel it, Rachel, and I wouldn't give you what you want. Not immediately. You know that, don't you?"

Rachel swallows a moan with relative success. "Tell me what you're doing? Please?"

"I don't think so," Quinn says, with a soft gasp. "You don't get to make demands right now."

Her fingers are picking up in pace even though Quinn told her to go slow, but with the soft little whimpers on the other end of the line getting louder, she just can't help herself. "What—just tell me what to picture. God, please. I've thought about this for so long, and you—"

"I like drawing it out. Even when I'm by myself," Quinn says, before swallowing audibly. "My fingers move around my clit, but never directly on it. Not until I can't stand it anymore."

"I—oh my God," Rachel says, her hips arching off the couch, heels digging into it for a better angle. She's almost shaking with frustration at this point, because the fullness inside feels fucking amazing but it's never going to make her come.

"I'm not going to go inside, because—fuck, Rachel, I want your fingers there, not mine," Quinn says, shakily.

"I need—can I please—" She can't even formulate whole thoughts anymore, let alone words.

"Yeah," Quinn exhales, gasping again almost immediately. "Go fast, I'm—"

Rachel doesn't need to be told much more than that; her fingers slip out, slick and sticky, and start rubbing her clit almost immediately. "I'm—oh, God, I can't stop thinking about your mouth, Quinn—" she says, because it's true—there might be fingers circling and stroking right now, but all she can think of is Quinn's tongue, tasting her with soft mewling noises.

"So don't," Quinn says, voice pitching precariously. "Think about it, because I want to do that again, but next time I'm going to tie you up and—"

"God—"

"Yeah, you like that," Quinn says, with a small laugh that trails off into a moan. "Jesus, Rachel, I always thought you were square as hell in high school."

"You thought was square?" Rachel asks, breathlessly. "You were—oh my God, I can't have a conversation with you right now—"

For a few seconds there's nothing but Quinn's patchy breathing on the other end of the line, until she trails off into a whimper. "If I told you to stop, right now, could you do it?" she then asks.

Rachel's fingers lift almost immediately, and her hips follow her hand, but she doesn't let them connect again. Tears well up into her eyes without warning. "Oh God, why would you do that—I—"

"I'm not. I just wanted to see if—oh, fuck, Rachel, now," Quinn says, gasping loudly.

Rachel stops breathing, because she wants to hear everything; every little sound that comes out of Quinn, and if she concentrates hard enough she can actually hear how wet Quinn is. God. With that thought, it only takes about three more aimless strokes until she's done, just about hearing Quinn say, "Damn it, Rachel, come for me" before also crying out softly.

Her hand lies limply on her thigh, afterwards, sticking to her shorts. She flexes her fingers for a long moment, working on slowing her breathing, and listening for any cues from Quinn that this was—okay, maybe. Or at least not not okay.

"Well," Quinn finally says, long after Rachel's started biting her lip not to blurt out something stupid. "I suppose I can forgive you for calling early."

"I'm—"

"Don't ignore me like that again, Rachel. When I tell you to leave me alone for a week, it's because I need that much time to think. Not because I'm playing some silly, adolescent game of hard to get."

It's not quite as big a cold shower as most of the things Quinn has said to her after their … time together, but it's also hardly the warm hug she was hoping for, and Rachel squeezes her eyes shut and digs her nails into her leg.

"Can I still call on Tuesday?" she finally asks, not liking how thick her voice is, or how deeply Quinn sighs at it.

"How about I'll call you, this time? And you can just work on actually listening to me when I ask you to do something," she finally proposes, sounding bone-tired.

It feels like a massive concession, but Rachel has no idea if it's a good thing or not.

...

The concert is a mess. She can't stop thinking about having Quinn in the audience, looking at her knowingly, and while being incredibly horny does add a certain warmth to her voice, it's also incredibly distracting.

She splashes cold water in her face at the intermission and then jolts hard when Puck puts a hand on her shoulder, popping up behind her from out of nowhere.

"What is up with you, Rach?" he asks, frowning at her darkly. "I mean, I know your heart's not in it and shit but come on, you're better than this. What—"

"I know," she says, wiping her hands under her eyes, bringing away streaks of apparently not-so-waterproof mascara. "I'm just going through something."

"Is this about—that strip club?" Puck asks, tentatively.

Rachel glances at him in the mirror and then takes a deep breath and a risk; she's sort of lucked out with all the other ones she's taken lately, so why not this one?

"I'm—I met someone. There."

Puck blinks. "What, like, a dancer?"

"Sort of. She's... a student," Rachel then says, because it only occurs to her once she's started talking that she has no idea what Quinn is actually studying, or how the hell she's still in college even though she moved to Vegas immediately out of high school.

"A student who strips for a living," Puck asks. His face goes through a variety of expressions, until he finally says, "Look, I obviously know they're people just like you and me, but not all dancers are good people, okay? Are you—does she know who you are?"

Rachel almost laughs; it's painful. "Yeah, she does."

"So—is there any chance that you're just being dicked around for your millions?"

Rachel does laugh at that. "What millions, Noah? You know as well as I do that I'm nowhere near being a millionaire."

"Yeah, but does your stripper know that?" He gives her a pointed look and then sighs. "Look, Rach, not that I'm not all about you finally moving on from that bullshit crush you've had on Quinn basically your entire life, but—a stripper? Really?"

It rubs her the wrong way, unexpectedly. "You know, as much as you like to talk a big game about how you respect that it's just a job, you're being awfully quick to jump to conclusions here."

"Rachel, you're my best friend and let's face it, you're—" He trails off.

"A mess?" she asks, pointedly.

"Your words, babe, not mine."

"Yeah, well," she says, before blotting at her face with a paper towel and taking a deep breath. "Maybe I wouldn't be such a mess if the people in my life actually for once approved of the few choices I still get to make for myself."

Puck says nothing else, but squeezes her shoulder in a silent apology.

...

She spends the rest of the week making up for that awful, awful Thursday show. She doesn't call Quinn again, and instead works on self-improvement, in little ways: having a real breakfast that isn't just some stale coffee she's reheated from the night before; actually spending her requisite half an hour on the elliptical; working through her vocal exercises even though her coach is halfway across the country.

By the time Monday rolls around, she almost feels like herself again—whichever version, really—and thinks that the show is getting better.

Kurt confirms as much for her. "You sound more—involved," he says, with a small smile. "I don't know what brought this on, but can we please focus on making it last? I know you sometimes think I'm just out to make your life miserable, Rachel, but—"

"I know what your job is, and I know I'm not grateful enough for how well you do it," she says, legs curled up under her on the sofa. "I'm working on it, okay? It's just a lot to—I still distinctly remember being able to go and buy my own groceries without being mobbed, and without having severe panic attacks, and now my entire life has been reduced to my apartment, carefully emptied locations, and the stage."

"There was a time when you thought you wanted your entire life to be the stage," Kurt says, in a tone of voice that clearly means that he's open to having a real conversation with her. As friends, not colleagues.

"Yeah, well, I was wrong," she says, lowering her eyes and then smiling faintly. "It was just easier to want the stage than to admit to myself what I really wanted."

Kurt crosses his legs gently and leans forward, touching her knee. "You know, I'm all for moving on; you know that I didn't shed any real tears about Blaine not wanting this kind of life at the end of the day. But—when you've tried as hard as you have, and it's still not happening... Rachel, why don't you just try to look her up?"

She laughs weakly and says, "Because it would be insane."

"You were friends, weren't you? Near the end?" He tilts his head and says, "As much as Quinn had a relentless capacity for petty backstabbing, I'm sure she's done some growing up in the years between. I honestly—" He hesitates and then says, "Do you want me to get a number? Because I can."

"No," Rachel says, sharply, because—what a fucking mess. Of all the times for Kurt to prioritize her personal happiness over her work, this has to be the worst one. If he finds Quinn's number, he'll also find a Vegas area code, and then she'll have a lot of explaining to do. "You and Puck have been right. And—I'm working on it."

"What, moving on? You—"

"I'm seeing someone," Rachel says, curtly.

Kurt's expression shifts from caring to annoyed in seconds. "And you didn't think this was relevant information for your manager to have because..."

"Because it's new, and it's probably not going to last for more than the time we spend in Vegas, and I'm being careful, and—" She knows that some sort of episode is coming on when her breath rushes out of her with a, "Jesus Christ, Kurt, I want something that is just mine. Why the hell is everything I do always for everyone else? Why can't I—"

"Oh, Rachel," he says, and when she looks at him there are honest-to-God tears in his eyes. "You know that we don't—"

"It doesn't make it any less awful," she says, and heads to the bathroom without waiting for his response. One pill, just one, she tells herself. It's just one. But it's so necessary.

...

She leans heavily on the bathroom counter for a long moment, looking at the small piece of temporary forget in her right hand.

Her phone rings from the other room, and she's still swallowing when she makes a run for it; Kurt hasn't respected her privacy in years and is unlikely to start now.

"Don't," she snaps at him, when she catches him already reaching over and glancing at the caller display. She thanks her lucky stars that she was smart enough to put Quinn in as Rachel, because honestly, the worst he can ask is why she's calling herself.

"Is this—" he asks, when she's reaching for the phone, still ringing.

"You can let yourself out," she says, shortly, and walks into her bedroom without waiting to see what he will do.

Her thumb brushes up against the slider and bites her lip when Quinn says, "For someone so eager to talk to me on Friday, you sure did take your sweet time to answer now."

Rachel rubs at her face. "Sorry, my—manager is in the other room."

Quinn makes a sort of scoffing noise. "Well, we can't have your manager knowing that you're talking to... what would you prefer to call me, Rachel? An exotic dancer? A performer?"

"Whatever you prefer, Quinn. And for the record," Rachel says, trying not to force her annoyance with Kurt onto Quinn,"my manager is Kurt Hummel. I thought you would appreciate the discretion, if our last... conversation was anything to go by."

Quinn says nothing for a moment; then a skeptical, "Really?" follows.

"Why would I make that up, Quinn?" Rachel asks.

She's tired; the pill is slowly dissolving its way through her system, and she can already feel that blissful don't-care set in.

"I don't know," Quinn admits, and then sighs. "God, this is going to get complicated."

"What is?"

Quinn doesn't respond to that, obviously. Rachel's not even really expecting a response.

"What do you want?" she asks, instead. It comes out a bit sharper than she means for it to, and so she adds, "Not Tuesday yet, last I checked. … Is this a booty call?"

Quinn makes a small noise and says, "I—it can be."

"That's my line; try coming up with one of your own," Rachel says, sinking down onto the mattress and closing her eyes. Her heart is hammering away in her chest still, and she takes a deep breath. "What are we doing here, Quinn? Because you know what I want, but—"

"No, I don't," Quinn says, sounding frustrated and exhausted. "There's a big difference between you having had some school girl crush on me back in Lima and whatever is going on with you now."

It's a fair point, and Rachel takes a second to collect her thoughts. "Okay, well, since clearly you're just getting a kick on me putting myself out there without any sort of concessions on your part—"

"Rachel," Quinn says, warningly.

Rachel sighs and says, "I'm attracted to you. Obviously. I saw you in that club, four weeks ago, and I wanted to fuck you as badly as I've ever wanted to fuck you."

Quinn exhales audibly.

"But—I've never just wanted to fuck you. Your body is just what appears to be available to me, right now. I think that.." She trails off stupidly and then amends her thoughts to, "I don't care that you're not eighteen anymore. I'm hardly the same person that graduated McKinley all those years ago myself. And I know that we hardly know each other."

"But?" Quinn asks, in an unreadable tone of voice.

"I want to get to know you. God help me, you are possibly the worst person in the world for me to want any of this from, but I want—I want something real. An actual connection with … another human being," Rachel confesses, and then bites down on her cheek, waiting for the inevitable laughter, or whatever new, cruel ways Quinn has come up with in the last seven years to reject her.

Quinn doesn't react for a long moment, but then says, "This is Vegas, Rachel. Everything about this city, and what you're doing it in it, is just about the opposite of real."

"That's a no, then," Rachel says, already swallowing heavy around the sting of disappointment, but it's muted, of course. Muted by her medication. The way her entire life is usually muted by her medication. It's the only thing that makes this somewhat bearable.

Until Quinn sighs, and carefully says, "We're speaking a different language. All I know right now is that I'd like to see you."

"Naked, you mean," Rachel clarifies, before feeling the remaining fight drain from her. "Because—that's what this is, on your terms. I can either pay for you to be my stripper, or I can sit here and let you turn me into your mute and obedient whore."

There's a sharp intake of breath on the other side of the line. "If you're suggesting that any part of what we've been doing has been non-consensual..."

Rachel closes her eyes and winces. "No. No, I'm not, I'm … shit. I didn't mean it like that, but if you plan on just... calling me for the occasional hook-up, I think it's probably best that you let me know that much now so that I can determine if that will be good or bad for my self-worth in the long run."

Quinn makes a noise that doesn't quite turn into a word, and after a second Rachel feels compelled to laugh weakly.

"It was a joke, Quinn."

"Was it really?" Quinn asks, and—God, for one awful moment, she actually sounds like she cares. Like there's some part of her that isn't just a human calculator, running through her options for maximum personal gain.

What a silly thing to imagine.

"Sure," Rachel says, finally, because any concerns she has are starting to slip away completely, and it's lovely. Everything is just lovely.

They stay silent on the line for a moment, drifting—like Rachel is nothing more than just a tiny little skip on the ocean, and Quinn is the waves. Of course Quinn would be the waves, swallowing her whole.

Then, Quinn clears her throat. "Okay. Meet me for lunch tomorrow, then. There's this place—"

Whatever bliss the pill has brought her—a tangible reminder that there is a way for her to shut all of this shit off, and just be—disappears in an instant.

In its place, there is the complete inability to breathe.

"No," Rachel protests, as forcefully as she can.

Quinn hesitates and then asks, "No, what?"

"I can't—meet you. Not in public. I—" Rachel says, or stammers, really, and she can feel her entire body get clammy almost on the spot. "I just—"

Quinn's voice grows icy almost immediately. "Right. So when you said you wanted something real, what you really mean is some dirty fucking secret because God forbid anyone finds out that Rachel Berry associates with a stripper."

"It's not about—" Rachel starts to say.

To the dial tone.

"Fuck," she snaps, and calls back immediately, but it just goes to voicemail.

Her head falls back onto the mattress, and for one awful moment, she considers taking the easy way out: just a few more pills, until she can fall asleep for the rest of the day without thinking about anything.

Quinn would hate her for doing that, though—and so she forces herself out of bed and calls Puck instead.

"I don't want her number. Get me an address," she says.

To his credit, he doesn't ask a single question and just says, "Okay."

It's really not, though.

Nothing about this is okay.

Chapter Text

Days pass in a blur.

It's not even the pills. It's just that literally every fucking day is the same. She wakes up, she eats (when she feels like it), she works out (when she feels like it), she watches a daytime television show with half an eye until it's time to run through a sound check (and why on earth those are going on daily, as opposed to just after her nights off, she doesn't know, but it's not worth asking), and then either does a show or falls asleep in front of the television.

Then, on Sunday, Puck knocks on her front door, and she drags herself off the couch, afghan wrapped around her shoulders, to go and tiredly open up for him.

Puck stares at her with a questioning, cautious look on his face, and then says, "She's in town."

"What? That's—wow, what a coincidence," Rachel says, in possibly the worst bout of acting she's produced since that disastrous musical they'd attempted to put on in sophomore year.

Back when she'd honestly believed that her career was more important than any personal relationship she could craft. It's been a long time, since then, and that's probably a large part of why her hand shakes when she holds it out to him, for the slip of paper that he's probably got in his pocket with Quinn's address on it.

Puck raises his eyebrows at the gesture, or maybe the unconvincing—well, everything. "Dude—"

"Puck, I swear; I will tell you all about this as soon as there's something to tell, okay?" she says, a little urgently, because she needs him to let this go.

When he gives her another look, she lowers her eyes. "Please don't push me on this right now. It's going to be hard enough to talk to her without—"

He sighs. "Okay. You're right, it's none of my business what you are or aren't doing with her, but just—be careful, yeah? Quinn is—"

"Neither of us have any idea what Quinn is or isn't anymore," Rachel says, brusquely.

His lips twist into a half-smile as he digs the address out of his pocket and hands it over to her. "I hope she's ready for you."

"Yeah. So do I," Rachel says, before closing the door again and leaning against it hard.

It's just four lines on a torn bit of envelope, but they practically feel like the only thing between her and a nervous breakdown right now.

...

It's late morning on Monday; Kurt thinks she's off with her personal trainer somewhere, jogging along a desert trail—and it's just such a relief that Kurt and nature don't mix, because no person with any sense of direction would have bought that line from her given that there isn't any such thing as a 'desert trail' anywhere near her house—and Puck is fielding all other questions for her, under the guise that she's taking a personal day to rest her voice.

It doesn't really matter whether anyone buys into that, or if it pisses anyone off. Her team can all yell at her for the rest of her life for bailing on yet another rehearsal and fucking up this show when it's supposed to function as her bridge to Hollywood.

She doesn't think it will change how she feels, or what her priorities are right now. Hell, she can barely bring herself to care, about how any of this is affecting her career.

It's been ages since she's even felt like there was something more to her life than her career. That's what gets her out of the rented house and into her rented Lexus. That's what has her getting out of her car, when she thinks she's in the right place.

Quinn's apartment block is on the outskirts of the city, in a neighborhood that Wikipedia describes as being up and coming and kind of bohemian hip.

Rachel has a really hard time picturing any of that in Vegas to begin with, let alone picturing Quinn in it, but it's as good a reminder as any that she doesn't really know what she's doing here. Or who she's here for.

She's probably in love. She's suspects she is, anyway, because she faintly remembers this kind of obsessive behavior from high school, when Finn Hudson had been the start and end of her existence, except it's amplified by this constant hunger that she never had for him.

It has to be something like love, but she's not sure what it's for. It could be Quinn from years ago, and it's probably at least Quinn's potential, but she can't honestly tell herself that she's in love with Quinn, because there are far too many things she doesn't know the first thing about when it comes to Quinn. Calling it love is stupid and self—deceiving.

Instead, she's calling it lunch.

Lunch is what she can handle, right now. Lunch is what Quinn proposed last week, as a compromise, so they should be able to navigate through it together. If they're lucky, they'll manage to have some sort of conversation that doesn't result in Rachel being bent over the back of Quinn's sofa—in her mind it's fabric, something cool like grey or ocean blue, and it will burn her skin every time she's pressed into it, but in a good way.

If she's honest, though, given the way Quinn's eyes burn into hers when she's not trying to keep her distance, lunch is probably going to segue with something exactly like that.

And God, she wants it. That makes it so hard to be rational about any decisions she should be making right now, for her own good. But what is she, even?

She hasn't been anything other than a performer in so long now that—

Well, maybe that's the common ground, between her and Quinn. Performance.

She sighs and opens her car door, before tentatively walking over to the front door of the complex and eyeing all the buzzers. There is a Q Fabray there, thankfully, and she wipes her hand on her jeans quickly before pressing the button, just once.

There's no answer, and Rachel leans the side of her head against the front door.

Then, she sits down on the steps in front of the building and gets out a torn, ratty paperback copy of Wicked; she's read it so many times that she almost has it memorized, but it's still the only thing that reminds her that even outside of her personal life, there are things she hasn't done yet.

Things that she really, really wanted, once upon a time.

Things that she might be able to teach herself to care about again, some day.

...

She feels Quinn before she sees her, getting out of a this-year's-model Beemer, and then freezing next to the car door for a few seconds before slamming it shut.

It shouldn't be possible for all the hair on Rachel's body to stand on end with Quinn still twenty feet away from her, but it happens anyway.

Quinn's expression goes from surprised to vaguely angry to detached in seconds, but—and this doesn't surprise Rachel—she doesn't back down. Other people would get back in their car and drive off, maybe sending a text message that boiled down to a fuck off, but not Quinn. Quinn just gathers a few paper bags full of groceries from the trunk and carries them over to the front door of her apartment complex.

"Aren't you worried you're going to be seen?" she asks, pointedly.

There's something about her voice that tells Rachel that she's not the only one who hasn't been able to put this—whatever it is—to the side. But there's a time to push, and then there's a time to just be to the point, and hope for the best.

"No," Rachel thus says, quietly.

Quinn stares at her for another moment and then says, "The keys are in my back pocket."

Rachel fishes them out without lingering and unlocks the front door on the second try, before mutely following Quinn up to the second floor.

"I'm not sure I want to invite you in," Quinn says, when they arrive in front of apartment 205.

"You don't have to," Rachel says, as steady as she can. She watches as Quinn nods towards the door anyway, and then slides a different key into that lock, before letting go and wringing her hands together. "I just wanted to offer an explanation."

Quinn's smile is wry. "What, you think you're the first person to have had some problems with my part-time job?"

"Quinn, it really—" Rachel starts to say, bone-weary and already feeling that dull pressure of being stuck in an unfamiliar place sneak upon her. There are not words for how crippling her condition is, and in the end all she ends up doing is opening up her purse and wrapping her hand around three different prescription bottles. "Did you study psychology, like you were going to?"

Quinn nods warily after a moment.

Rachel lifts her hand out of the purse and shows Quinn the three bottles and says, "The Paxil only helps about twenty percent of the time but I'm afraid to stop taking it; Propanolol makes me intensely nauseous but I take it every night before going on stage just because I can't handle the combination of the crowd and the adrenaline rush that comes with performing; and every time I even so much as think about leaving my house, or seeing you, I have to fight the urge to drown myself in Xanax. My therapist thinks I'm becoming dependent, which is therapy speak for you're completely fucked, Rachel." She fakes a smile after a few seconds, when Quinn's eyes flicker towards hers with a new understanding. "So, believe me. It's not about you."

"When?" Quinn asks, twisting the door handle and pushing it open.

"A long time ago," Rachel says, because it's true.

Quinn lowers her groceries to the floor, just around the corner from the door, and then closes it again, before looking at Rachel with what Rachel can only call a professional once-over. "You hide it well. I'm assuming the media would have picked up on it by now if you didn't."

"Yeah. I suppose I do, after all this time. To tell you the truth, I was out of my mind the first time I saw you. In Vegas, I mean," Rachel says, with a small laugh. "I'm—trying to be a little more present, now."

Quinn fishes her keys out of the door and then pauses, before very deliberately saying, "I'm not inviting you in." She holds up her hand when Rachel starts to speak and says, "It's not about you. It's about me. And I want us to—if we're going to try to actually have a conversation, I want it to be on neutral ground."

Rachel has been in therapy long enough to recognize an iron-willed defense mechanism when she sees one. "Okay."

"What are your limits? Condition-wise, I mean. Where can we go?" Quinn asks, before gesturing for Rachel to start walking back to the staircase.

"That diner was fine. Anywhere I'm going to be recognized is out of the question; no malls, no crowds, no signings," Rachel repeats off by rote. It's like a life mantra at this point.

Quinn nods carefully after a moment and says, "Would you be up for mezze at this Lebanese place that's three blocks down? It will be empty at this time of day."

Rachel shrugs. "I won't know until I try."

It's apt commentary on their entire situation.

...

They manage a conversation. Stiltedly, and Rachel suddenly feels more like she's in a counselor's office than that she's making a … a friend? Even with that uncertainty in mind, it's the closest thing they've had to semi-normal interaction in, well, ever.

"I'm surprised you're not more hair-trigger about intimacy," Quinn says, breaking off a piece of pita bread and swiping it through some hummus. "Not that neuropsychology is my specialism by any measure of the imagination, but, from what I remember—"

"Who says I'm not?" Rachel says, taking a sip of water just to not have to look at Quinn.

"You're not with me," Quinn points out.

"You're—from before," Rachel says, because it's the closest thing she can do to offer an explanation. "You also didn't know. It makes a difference, somehow."

Quinn nods after a moment, and Rachel watches her face; contemplative and withdrawn, but somehow more present than she has been since they met up again. It makes her look so lovely, and Rachel has to quickly eat an olive to stop herself from blurting out anything that she might regret—that might shatter this quiet peace they're building right now.

"What are you studying?" she asks next, because it's a nice, neutral question. "I checked the UNLV website and there is no mutilation major listed, so..."

Quinn chuckles briefly. "I majored in psychology as an undergraduate and am now getting a master's degree in forensic psychology. Hence why... I have to stress that I'm hardly an expert on conditions like yours."

"Because I'm not a serial killer?" Rachel quips, and Quinn's lips quirk up for a second.

"As far as I'm aware, anyway," she responds, before dabbing at her lips with the napkin. "My semi-awareness of agoraphobia is not professional anyway; I can sort of relate, albeit in a small way."

"Claustrophobia, right?"

At Quinn's nod, Rachel feels a need to retreat a little again; the fact that she knows these things about Quinn doesn't mean she knows Quinn. It's such a fine line to walk, but after a second she smiles. "So. Graduate school..."

"Yeah," Quinn sighs. "Feel free to analyze the fact that as soon as all expectations of me excelling at academia fell away, I actually realized I liked school."

"I don't want to analyze you, much," Rachel says. Her hand has been subconsciously inching across the table, and her fingertips are now just about in reach. She glances at Quinn's face before making just the briefest brush of contact. "I'd rather find out things because you tell me about them."

Quinn smiles faintly and says, "And there it is; Rachel Berry's inability to be anything but brutally honest."

"I was lying to all of us for the entirety of high school," Rachel reminds her.

"Keeping your sexual orientation a secret is not the kind of lying that makes you less honest," Quinn says, and covers Rachel's hand with her own, in a flash, before pulling back again.

That seems like an opening, and Rachel holds her breath for a second before asking one of the questions that's obviously been on her mind for a month now. "Are you out?"

"As what—a dancer or …" Quinn asks, before calmly taking a sip of water.

"I meant... as gay," Rachel sort of hushes, in a whisper.

"My friends know," Quinn says, after a second.

"Your parents?"

Quinn's mouth twists in an ugly way for a second and then she says, "I would've probably informed them by now if we still spoke, but we don't. Yours?"

Rachel glances at the table for a moment and then sighs. "No. They don't, because I don't want them to be sad about—what I'm doing."

"That being..." Quinn prompts.

It's strange, being in this state of complete discomfort—and feeling more exposed than she did when Quinn's mouth was buried between her legs, because while that was just as honest, as least she'd been prepared for it—while also being almost... okay.

It helps to remember that an instant fix-it is in her handbag, but she doesn't need the pills as a crutch right now. Quinn is just there. It's okay.

"Pretending I've been in love with Noah Puckerman for years," is how she finally puts it.

After, she studies Quinn's face, because this is the kind of honesty that gets her in trouble; not that Quinn doesn't already have career-ruining essentials on her, or that Quinn can't destroy her in other ways, but somehow this feels worse. Like she's betraying the mission she's been on for forever, and she's not even really sure if she'll get anything in return.

A strange look washes over Quinn's face at the Puck factoid, and Rachel bites her lip to not start apologizing or explaining. It's none of Quinn's business, really, but even so, Quinn sinks back in her chair, like suddenly the game has changed.

It takes Rachel a moment to realize why, and then the words slip from her without permission. "Does Beth know you're gay?"

Quinn fumbles her fork, and then stares at her with such shock and … is it contempt? Is it hurt? There is a really thin line, with her current companion, and Rachel holds her hand up in apology.

"I'm sorry. It's none of my business, but—"

"No. She does not," Quinn cuts her off, pursing her lips for a moment. "There has never been any reason to tell her."

"No serious girlfriends?" Rachel asks, relieved when the moment of brutish tension passes without any serious disruption to this otherwise relatively pleasant lunch.

Quinn shakes her head after a moment. "No."

"Is this where you say something like, I'm not really the relationship type?" Rachel prods, and Quinn smiles faintly.

"We all have our issues, Rachel."

It's hard for the girl with the three prescription bottles in her handbag to protest that statement, but something about the way Quinn doesn't look away at those words—like she's testing Rachel's ability to cope with any potential roadblocks—is oddly comforting.

For a month now, she's felt like a desperate screw-up, being toyed with like bait. The fact that Quinn might as well have just admitted that nobody has gotten close to getting an 'in', maybe ever, …

Well, that's a chance. It's more of one than Rachel thought she had, and after a second of hesitating she puts her cutlery back on the plate and flags down for the check.

"I can get it," Quinn says, and after seeing the Beemer and the apartment, Rachel knows it's the truth; but as much as she thrives on Quinn wearing the pants in bed, she's not without some measure of pride in how far she's made it.

"It's okay," she says, and produces a platinum card that has Quinn's lips flicker in and out of a smile in a second. "I'm obviously good for it as well."

...

After she signs the check, there's a moment of awkwardness, where they stare at each other.

This has been a lunch of equals, in a strange way; but that's definitely not how everything between them works, and so it's not really much of a surprise that after a few seconds, Quinn's eyes narrow dangerously.

"What are you doing the rest of the day?" she finally asks, in a tone of voice that turns Rachel's spine to liquid.

"I'm... due in tonight, for the performance. I'm free until about 5.30, though," she says, biting her lip at the interest that flashes through Quinn's eyes. "What about you?"

"I'm thinking about exploring," Quinn says, after a moment.

"Exploring what?"

"This," Quinn says, leveling her with a look that makes Rachel instantly wish they weren't in public.

"Come—you should come see the show," Rachel says, aimlessly. "I mean, I can get you on the guest list."

"I hate Celine Dion," Quinn says, completely casually, like Rachel isn't about to dissolve right in front of her. "No offense; I'm sure you're still a brilliant singer, but—no thank you."

"I don't care if you like my singing. What I know is that you like the idea of me on stage, soaking wet and thinking about all the ways in which you touched me just a few hours earlier," Rachel says, in a careless rush, her eyes still searching all of Quinn's face.

Quinn is out of the chair in a second and pulls Rachel up by her hand, somewhat roughly, but mostly just with purpose; and moments later, they're out in front of the restaurant, and Quinn's free hand is fumbling around for her car keys in her back pocket.

The Beemer responds with a honk, and Rachel licks her lips, hanging in a moment that won't change everything but—this is more real than they have been. More real than the comfort and anonymity of the club, and they're agreeing to do this together...

God, her brain short-circuits completely.

Quinn stares at the car for a moment and then says, "Where can we go will no one will see us?"

"I live in a remote house on the outskirts of town, and nobody in Vegas thinks I'm worth knowing," Rachel says, after a second. "I can't... promise that nobody will see us, but—"

Quinn looks back at her for a second, almost frowning. "And you're fine with … this just being invited into your house like that."

Rachel tries not to sigh, because it's starting to become very clear that Quinn's hang-ups about being recognized and together really have very little to do with Rachel's fame, or reputation, or … well, shit, she has no idea, but they're not about her. "It's a temporary home, if it makes you feel better. It might as well be a hotel."

At that, Quinn visibly relaxes. "Does your bed have a slatted headboard?" is the next thing out of her mouth, and Rachel actually gapes at her for a second, until Quinn half-grins and says, "Never mind. I can improvise."

"Yeah. I have no doubts," Rachel just about manages, before walking around to the passenger side and shakily sitting down in the seat there.

...

Their drive back to Rachel's is quiet, directions notwithstanding, but it's not a terrible silence.

It's just one rooted in the fact that this is new: a woman, in her house—her bed. And then it's a woman who wants to know about the qualities of her headboard, which...

The most Rachel can do is stare out the window and focus on the scenery, and on breathing, because if she sees Quinn's hands flexing around the steering wheel one more time, she might just off-road them by mounting Quinn right there, in the car.

That would definitely get media attention, and so instead she looks away and crosses her fingers that Vegas remains wholly disinterested in her life, and that Puck and Kurt have better things to do than show up uninvited today.

Really, it's her house, but she's never been so fucking frustrated at how infrequently 'hers' means anything in her life anymore; until Quinn reaches for her wrist, when they pull up the driveway, and forces her to look up.

That look, right there: that's definitely hers. To enjoy, and mull over, and remember.

Quinn opens her mouth, as if to talk, and then closes it again, before frowning. Rachel waits—for once in her life, it comes easy—and then startles when Quinn quietly says, "You're not a whore."

"I know," Rachel says, but it comes out a little questioningly.

"You're—your interest in sex, and your comfort with your own sexuality—those are good things," Quinn adds, after a moment, before pinning her with a very serious look. "It takes some people years to get to that kind of point. Some people never do. Don't apologize for knowing what you want, and don't ever be embarrassed about it. It's a blessing."

Rachel feels her breath catch, and then can't help the slightly concerned look that washes over her face. "Is... are you comfortable with what we're doing?"

Quinn averts her eyes at that and pulls the keys out of the ignition. "More or less," she says.

That admission is kind of a mood killer, and Rachel gnaws on her lip before twisting her wrist until she's just loosely holding Quinn's hand in hers. "It goes both ways, you know. Anything you don't want to do, even if I would like you too—"

"Rachel," Quinn murmurs, and then laughs weakly. "Regardless of how many doubts I have about … whether or not this is a good idea, given that you are famous, and clearly are having some... personal problems..."

Rachel winces at that description, but Quinn stops her with a squeeze of her fingers that borders on almost being too hard.

"And given that I have my own … baggage," Quinn adds, firmly, before raising her eyebrows as if to say, it's okay, all right? We're both incredibly fucked up. She sighs and laughs at the same time, before looking at her own lap and shaking her head. "Despite all of that, we are exceptionally compatible in bed."

Quinn's summary of what draws them together is not meant to be demeaning. She knows it, and in some ways she even knows that she's doing the same thing to Quinn, by diminishing her to that authority figure who orders her around and gets her off so hard she thinks it might kill her some days. They're tugging each other along, and that's the part of it that somehow makes it just about bearable.

Just about. But not really.

"Is that all you see, here? Compatibility in bed?" she asks, swallowing thickly.

Quinn's hand falls away from hers and runs through short, messy blonde hair after a moment, until Quinn tips her head back against the head rest. "I don't know. This is our first civil outing in the entire ten years we've known each other, and..." Quinn sighs, before looking at her with the most empathetic expression. "What do you want me to tell you? That this is going to work out wonderfully, for both of us? Because I can't, Rachel You're a risk. You're a risk because you're famous and I have secrets I want and need to keep, and you're a risk because despite your glib comments about how it's all fine, you're apparently self-medicating your way into a stupor, and you're a risk because..."

The words hang between them, and Rachel feels her throat close up uncomfortably; but damn it, she's not going to cry, because Quinn is right. "What else, Quinn? Just get it all out there."

Quinn closes her eyes, looks out the window at the ugly garden gnome on the corner of the front yard—more desert than grass—and then finally tightens her jaw, before forcing out a few more words.

"You're a risk because... every time you beg me to take you, all I can think is that this is the first time someone has actually understood me, and... I'm not a good person, Rachel. The things I want to do to you—"

"Bullshit. You're afraid of how much you like controlling me, and that's fine, but it doesn't make you a bad person," Rachel cuts her off, sharply; the sting of tears hardens her voice, but she can't help it.

Quinn swallows hard and then looks over. "Yeah? So you wouldn't have any problems telling your friends about how much you really just love it when I call you a desperate slut before forcing you to hold back on coming just because I can?"

Rachel blushes furiously—and curses herself for reacting viscerally to Quinn's words, as they're really not meant to produce that kind of reaction in her—and then says, firmly, "What we do together in bed is private, and between us and nobody else."

"Fine. Then, just between you and me—" Quinn says, before closing her eyes briefly. "I need this level of control, or I can't be with you. Or anyone. It might just be fun and games for you but—"

"It's not," Rachel interjects, quietly. "It's not—it's the only thing I've ever really gotten off on. Maybe it's because—of how I felt about you in high school, and how you treated me, or maybe I was just born this way. Either way, what matters is that I don't want to control you, Quinn. I have no desire to … change the way we work, together."

Quinn's eyes focus on her desperately, and apparently see what she needs to—confidence, in Rachel, for a change?—because after a second she nods. "Okay."

"That said," Rachel says, before taking a measured breath. "There is more than that to me, and there is more to us than that."

The corner of Quinn's mouth that she can see twitches at those words. "Yeah. That's where my concerns lie, believe it or not."

Apparently, Rachel isn't the only one capable of brutal honesty anymore.

"Is it that fucking horrifying to you that you might actually like me as a person?" Rachel asks, before she can stop herself.

Quinn looks over sharply at that, and opens her mouth to respond, but no words come out.

The pills jangle in her purse, crying out for her, but she forces herself to look at Quinn and not miss a single thought that passes over her face. "Is that what the problem is? That you don't hate me as much as you used to?"

"No," Quinn finally says, before looking away and reaching for the door handle. "It's not."

She's not going to get a better answer.

...

Ten minutes later, when Quinn's shrugging out of the last of her clothing before pushing her onto the bed, she's not really sure she even wants one.

"Grip the headboard," Quinn says, before kissing her, biting at her neck for just a moment—and it might mark, God, it might mark.

Rachel can barely even handle how quickly she gets wet at the idea of actually needing to cover up what Quinn's done to her—but then Quinn orders, "Don't let go", and it's all done; she's a soaked-through, shaking mess, and Quinn knows it.

The fact that Quinn knows only strings her up higher.

"Good girl," Quinn murmurs, shifting upwards from where she's straddling Rachel's hips, and then, within scant seconds, there are warm, slim thighs settling around Rachel's head.

Rachel almost swoons with emotion at this … this gesture. It has to be one, after Quinn's tense embarrassment about how much she needs to be in charge, because this position makes her vulnerable. Not that Quinn will surrender her ultimate control; she knows, instinctively, that Quinn is going to tell her, in explicit and sanity-destroying detail, just how she gets off, from this angle.

It's exactly right, Quinn sitting on her face like this. It's—oh, it's fucking perfect, Rachel thinks, and looks up at Quinn, looking down at her with a searching look on her face, until she finally just says, "Don't use your fingers until I tell you; and I like it slow. Take your time, Rachel."

Her eyes slip shut. Her mind just slips.

This thing between them, it's not real, per se. It's not a promise of anything more, and it's another rendition of the we really love fucking encounters they've had so far, but somehow it's just different enough—with Quinn, on top of her, ready to let go in front of her—that it matters.

She's going to savor every last moment of what she's doing right now: Quinn's taste, the trembling in Quinn's thighs, and the relentless way in which Quinn is seeking out her orgasm, hips rocking almost brutally up into Rachel's mouth.

Bursts of words slip from Quinn's lips, unconnected and random, and they make Rachel desperate to give her everything she can. Quinn's breathing grows heavy, and her palm presses hard against the wall behind Rachel's headboard, until her thighs start shaking and that palm drags down the wall like nails on a chalkboard.

Quinn breathes out Rachel's name, right before she comes, and Rachel feels it like a physical touch, everywhere.

It's a pretty lethal combination, the things that Quinn Fabray can still do to her without even really trying.

When Quinn lets herself sink back down onto the bed and Rachel rolls over to kiss her, deep and slow and in all the ways she's always wanted to kiss an eighteen year old girl with so much potential, she feels her heart rate spike again, just notching higher and higher.

She shifts on top of Quinn fully, watching as Quinn captures her wrists with one hand again—like a hello between them, at this point—and her own part in their interactions crystallizes again, just like that.

She takes a deep breath, locks her eyes with Quinn, and gives herself up as much as she can.

"Please. Just touch me."

Quinn's eyes flash at her request, and then she feels her legs being spread by Quinn's knees, exerting pressure against her thighs, and … oh.

For all the times she's thought about Quinn touching her in new, exciting and forceful ways, nothing prepares her for the way she melts when Quinn's hand just slides up between her legs, stroking ever so gently, while she's pressing long, hard kisses up against Rachel's neck.

It's the opposite of all of her fantasies, and the things they can admit they have in common out loud—but maybe it's what she should've been fantasizing about all along. Quinn's lips never stop moving, never stop pressing small, instructive words against whatever part of her they can reach, and when she gets close—when she can feel the slow build of Quinn's probing fingers hit a plateau that will only ever precede a peak—she lifts her head off of Quinn's shoulder just long enough to say, voice trembling, "I think we can be friends."

Quinn's low laughter sets her skin on fire. "Is this what friends do, Rachel?"

"Depends on the friends," she gasps.

Quinn's eyes focus on her slowly, her fingers stilling for just a second, until she says, "I'll come. To the show", which is not at all what Rachel was expecting her to say.

It has the same effect on both of them, though; her body curls inwards onto itself and she comes with a sigh, before pressing her face down onto Quinn's chest and listening to her heart beat. It jumps and skips all over the place, right up against Rachel's ribcage, hitting a crescendo when Quinn whispers her next desire right into her ear.

"I'm going to tie your hands to the headboard and eat you until you beg me to stop... and since we're friends now, maybe I'll actually stop, once the begging starts. What do you think?"

Rachel's eyes shoot back open, and as Quinn is flipping her over and reaching for a scarf that Rachel has draped over her nightstand, she starts to wonder if maybe she's not the only one who has no idea how they're supposed to not do this.

There's good ideas, and then there's bad ideas, and then there's Quinn's fingers running up her arms, stretching them out above her.

"I'm going to love watching you perform tonight, after what I'm about to do to you," Quinn murmurs at her. "You'll remember it, won't you?"

It's obviously a rhetorical question.

Like she's ever going to be able to forget.

Chapter Text

A hand cups her cheek, afterward, until she manages to get her eyes open and blearily tries to read Quinn's expression.

If anything, this is sort of what her therapist looked like when she'd gone in to renew her Xanax prescription about three weeks before she was due to.

"Okay?" Quinn asks, and there's such calm and certainty in her attitude that Rachel nods and then flexes her wrists, wincing when they still can't budge.

Quinn hovers over her for a moment and long, graceful fingers pluck at the scarf binding her, until it disappears and she can lower her hands. They fall to the pillow, limp, and then her shoulders burn at finally being able to move again. It's the weirdest, most pleasure-inducing contrast to how utterly boneless the rest of her body is.

She feels a little helpless to explain all of this, even though Quinn is shifting back down and is still looking at her with some concern, and—God, she feels so much. She doesn't have the words for it.

Her eyes start watering without permission, and Quinn's eyes widen just enough for her to know she has to say something to indicate that she's fine.

That she's... just really, really alive right now. That she's probably not going to be able to sit comfortably for about three days, but that she's never felt so cared for in her...

And those words, they almost undo her completely; with a painful twist, she covers her eyes with her hand and wipes at them before she can actually start crying.

Then, she feels fingers slide under her back, and Quinn's hand starts digging into her shoulder, loosening the knot there. When it gives, and she moans audibly, Quinn reaches for Rachel's hand and pulls it away, looking into her eyes.

"Okay?" she asks again, more softly this time.

"Can—can you get me some water?" Rachel finally says, blinking at the light coming from the window; it's unexpectedly bright, and when she glances at her alarm clock, she realizes it's only three thirty.

It feels like a whole day has passed, but... it's only the middle of the afternoon.

The bed dips, and she watches as Quinn—naked as the day—disappears from the bedroom and pads down the stairs. A minute and a half later, she appears again with two bottles of spring water and, after a second of hesitating, sits down on the edge of the mattress. It takes her another moment, and a few sips of water, before she swings her legs back around, and then she settles next to Rachel again, handing over the second bottle.

Drinking the water grounds her; she starts feeling a little less like she's not even in her body with every sip that trickles down her throat, and when she's finished about half the bottle, she puts it on the nightstand and then turns to look at Quinn.

"I'm not much of a cuddler," Quinn says, after a moment, before capping her own bottle and putting it down on the ground; then, she lifts the covers and slips under them, and rolls over onto her side and looks at Rachel, hands folded under the pillow.

"Is that an assumption or a fact?" Rachel asks, ignoring the croak in her voice for now; hopefully, it'll be gone by the time she goes on tonight, and if not... well.

Quinn's eyes stare past her for a long moment, and then she tips her head back until she can look at Rachel's face. "I'm not really sure. I just don't want you to expect... things."

Rachel sort of snorts at that, unwillingly, and shifts down the bed until they're face to face again, nearly sharing a pillow; except she's on top of the covers, and Quinn is under them.

"I didn't push you too far, did I?" Quinn voices, after a moment of searching Rachel's face.

The uncertainty is unexpectedly gutting, and Rachel gambles; she's in Vegas, after all.

Her hand lifts off the mattress, and she ignores the ache that produces, because what she really wants to do is just... let Quinn be. Her fingers run through Quinn's hair, and Quinn's eyes slip shut at that, which she files for future reference. The tip of her index finger traces down the shell of a small, delicate ear, and Quinn bites on her lip in what looks like a reflex; and then she's cupping Quinn's jaw, thumb brushing past the corner of her mouth until those haunting eyes flutter open again.

"I've never done anything like this before," Rachel finally says, focusing on the way Quinn's lips are curving into her thumb's gentle sweep. "And—it was so much more than I thought it would be. Overwhelming. I don't think I've ever felt..."

She stares out the window, past Quinn, and after a moment shakes her head, pulling herself out of her head, because this—the talking about what they're doing—is probably more important than just doing it.

"It's been a very long time since I've felt like I could let go like that," she finishes, because it's honest. Maybe, "Thank you" isn't the right thing to follow that up with, but the way that Quinn's posture shifts and she suddenly relaxes... well, Rachel has said less appropriate things in her life.

Quinn licks at her lips and then says, "You've known you wanted to, though, right?"

"Be tied up?" Rachel checks.

Quinn, to her surprise, flushes a little, and it's so endearing that her hand shifts automatically, until even teeth dig into her thumb for a moment. She smiles, in reaction, and Quinn almost smiles back. "Yeah. If that's what you want to condense all of this to."

Rachel shifts onto her back and stares at the ceiling, before blinking in surprise when Quinn's hand grabs her own before it can really retreat. Her fingers are being played with, and it's unexpectedly nice and normal.

"Yes. I've known. But I'm not sure I've ever trusted anyone enough to..." she then says, before shrugging. "I was surprised to hear you say you'd never had a serious relationship with another woman. You shouldn't be surprised to hear that I haven't."

Quinn makes some non-committal noise in response, and traces a shape in her palm. "I'm sure it's not been for lack of offers."

Rachel feels her lips curve. "You're quite right. The fact that I supposedly am in a relationship really doesn't mean much to most of the people I encounter."

When she looks over, Quinn is studying her, and she tries not to squirm under the scrutiny. It's hard not to, though; it's obvious now, that Quinn wants her, in whatever way—but this kind of examination goes beyond wanting. And that's when things get complicated, because their hairy history is never all that far from her mind, even though things are really different.

Even with that in mind, though, she feels like—they've crossed a line, together, today, and that's the kind of shift in direction that means they should be able to ask questions. Pressing, or otherwise.

"I'm not really sure how to put this," she says, carefully, watching as a small frown line appears between Quinn's eyebrows almost immediately.

"Just ask," she then says, fingertips now moving towards Rachel's wrist, and—oh, that's turning into a Pavlovian thing, more quickly than it should.

Rachel feels her nipples harden almost instantly, as soon as there's even the slightest hint that Quinn might circle her wrist. It distracts her, for a second, but then she looks over and sees Quinn's small smile and remembers that—this isn't just about fucking. They've known each other for too long for that to ever be true.

"Are you in... some sort of trouble?" she ventures.

Quinn's hand stills, and for a second, Rachel thinks she's fucked everything up completely, but then Quinn just asks, in a neutral, unreadable tone of voice, "Financially, you mean?"

Rachel nods, hesitantly. "You don't have to—I'm not asking you to share things that you don't want to talk about, but if … if you need money, I'd be happy to set up a loan of some kind so that—"

Quinn laughs softly, and she runs her fingers up to Rachel's elbow, tracing there for a moment. Just about everything is turning into an erogenous zone, and Rachel chews on the corner of her mouth just to stay focused on the conversation.

"Rachel, I drive a brand new car that costs more than a house does, and you've seen where I live."

It's a fair rebuke, and Rachel sighs. "Okay. I mean, I … won't pretend that my imagination hasn't run off with me; my only real... experience with strip clubs has been a few movies here and there, and in those, the girls are usually indebted to... well, their pimp, or some gangster, or..."

Quinn snorts and rolls onto her back as well. "You need to find better things to watch."

Rachel smiles faintly, before twisting her neck to look at Quinn again; she's so incredibly beautiful, relaxed and yet poised. Like she's always ready to strike. Or run. Whatever she needs to do. "Just promise me that if you are in some kind of trouble, and you need help, you'll... you'll let me know."

"Sure. That's what friends do, isn't it?" Quinn says, stretching slowly, and Rachel feels a burst of arousal hit her straight in the gut. She doesn't have to energy for round four, though, and they really should be talking more, and so she ignores the heat pooling low and just sits up, wiggling her toes and wondering how on earth she's going to stay standing for almost two hours tonight.

"Did you—have a good time, today?" she finally asks. The self-doubt drips from her voice, and she can't really look Quinn in the eye when she voices the words, but then the mattress undulates beneath them and a hand settles at the base of her back.

"Don't ask idiotic questions, Rachel."

The words are a contrast to that sweeping brush of Quinn's hand, and Rachel glances over her shoulder. "We don't know each other well enough to make assumptions."

"Then work with what you know," Quinn says, before hesitating and looking at the sheets for a second. Then, she glances back up and says, "This was the first orgasm I've had at anyone else's hands in a very, very long time."

"You've been celibate?" Rachel asks, unable to hide the shock in her voice, and then annoyed with herself almost immediately. "I'm sorry, there's nothing wrong with that, and I suppose you were president of the Celibacy Club—"

"So were you," Quinn says, mildly. "But no, I haven't been celibate. That's not what I meant."

Rachel feels words bubble up her throat, but somehow clamps down on all of them and finally just stares at Quinn, who stares back unwaveringly.

"Are we going to talk about that?" Rachel finally asks.

"Not... right now. Not here," Quinn murmurs, after a second, and then drops her head down to bite Rachel's shoulder, just about hard enough for it to sting; but it's an oddly affectionate gesture, and Rachel melts backwards into this unreachable, indecipherable creature she's let into her bedroom despite herself.

When they're both dressed again, and Rachel's whipping them up some much-needed coffee in a kitchen she's barely ever used, Quinn looks around the room and then says, "I've seen pathology labs with more personality than this place."

Rachel sort of chuckles, before flicking the coffee maker on, and then turns around, leaning against the counter, to look at Quinn. She's all ease now, settled at the breakfast bar and just sort of gazing around. Her hair is a fucking mess, but it's just—well, God, she's never thought of Quinn Fabray as cute before, but the way her eyes curiously flit around the fixtures in the open-plan living and dining space...

"Why forensic psychology?" she asks, when Quinn looks at her again.

Quinn's eyes narrow in concentration, and then she shrugs. "It spoke to me."

"Okay, that's not—exactly the kind of thing you want to hear coming from the woman who just tied you to a bed and had you at her complete mercy," Rachel says, hoping that the teasing note in her voice translates.

Quinn dips her head and chuckles softly. "Not like that. In fact, I should revise that to, it didn't speak to me, and that's why I pursued it."

"How do you mean?" Rachel asks, before pulling open the drawer next to her and getting out a coffee spoon. "I'm—not trying to pry, but—"

"No, it's fine," Quinn says, folding her hands together, and offering a distant sort of half-smile. "Quid pro quo, though, right? I answer your questions, you answer mine."

"I didn't realize you had any," Rachel notes, and Quinn scoffs.

"Just because I don't blurt out every little thing I'm thinking..."

Rachel rolls her eyes, and Quinn laughs—a spontaneous, open laugh.

"Are you going to storm out of the room?"

"I outgrew that, thank you," Rachel says, turning to pour them both a mug; and then adding, not without embarrassment, "In large part because open spaces scare the shit out of me these days, which makes storming anywhere sort of a lose-lose proposition, but the rest of it is definitely a sign of maturing."

Quinn is still grinning a little when Rachel settles across from her and pushes a mug over, and then watches as Quinn—with exacting, compact movements—adds three spoonfuls of sugar to her coffee. That's disgustingly sweet, and her nose wrinkles before she can stop it.

"I have a sugar habit that I disguise with coffee," Quinn says, when she notices; then, she drops her chin into her hand and says, "And, to answer your question, I started out majoring in sexual psychology."

The sip of coffee that Rachel has in her mouth goes down the wrong pipe, and she coughs desperately for a moment before gulping in some air and then staring at Quinn. "Um—"

"It … was sort of a fuck you to my parents," Quinn says, a small hint of color tinting her cheeks. "Real mature, I know. But after so many years of being made to feel like the whore of Babylon for one mistake, and being almost unable to even entertain the idea of having sex again, I just needed some answers. Majoring in psych was a way of getting them without needing to talk to someone about myself."

Rachel's fingers clench around the mug. She remembers Russell and Judy Fabray, of course; remembers how they threw Quinn out, specifically, and how Quinn really hadn't recovered from that in the entire time they'd been in school together.

"Why did you change?" Rachel asked.

Quinn's eyes focus on her coffee, and after a moment she shrugs. "The courses started hitting a little too close to home. A good clinician stays detached from what they are doing. This was never detached for me, and while I learned a lot of fancy words for what was … wrong with me, I wasn't getting better. I was getting worse."

"So... you switched to forensic psychology because—it's not about you," Rachel concludes, gently, and Quinn nods. "What about... your issues?"

Quinn's expression glazes over momentarily, and then she says, "My parents threw me into counseling in high school, after they permitted me to move back in, but it was a complete waste of time. Therapy only works if you love talking about yourself."

There's a hint of playfulness in those words, and Rachel sighs. "Yes, thank you. I'm aware."

Quinn smiles briefly, but then grows serious again, her fingertip tracing around the edge of the mug. Something that benign shouldn't—can't—be sexy, but it is. The show tonight is going to be catastrophic. Kurt might kill her.

But all of that pales in comparison to how much she wants this conversation to continue.

"I knew therapy wasn't for me. At least, not when I was twenty, and finally being allowed to think for myself for the first time in years. I wasn't ready to share any of that with anyone."

Rachel almost blurts out that not much has changed, but it would be both unnecessarily snide and untrue. The idea of Quinn in high school so passively telling her these things over a cup of coffee is laughable. This is different, no matter how many barriers Quinn still clings to.

"That hardly changed that I needed some way of figuring out how to cope with my sexuality," Quinn continues, her voice taking on an almost anecdotal tone; like she's addressing a medical issue, and not her own life. "After significant consideration of how I could do that, I knew that I needed to start with something... commitment-free. Pushing my issues onto another person just felt..."

"Selfish," Rachel says, because she knows. She's been there.

Quinn nods. "So, then my friend Nicole mentioned one night, when particularly drunk at a psych department mixer, that... she made some money on the side working in this high-end gentleman's club where really, any sort of interaction was specifically catered to satisfying customer demand. There was no default performance."

Rachel takes a careful sip of coffee and then frowns. "So—you went to Rapture as a customer?"

"Only once," Quinn says, and then rubs at her cheek for a moment, before scoffing a little. "And... it was a disaster. I obviously knew I was claustrophobic, but it tends to be triggered by things like elevators and, well, closets. No pun intended. But when that girl sat on my lap and trapped me in place..." Her eyes glaze over and she shakes her head.

Rachel can picture it without difficulty. "You panicked."

"Yes," Quinn says, before taking a sip and falling quiet for a moment. "Nicole thought I'd been sexually abused somehow. It's nothing like that. I figure the control thing is inherent; my discomfort with myself as a sexual being was a product of my upbringing."

A tendril of pure regret winds itself around Rachel's heart, and tightens abruptly. "Oh, Quinn."

Quinn gives her a look that says, don't you dare pity me, and then adds, "I've come a long way, since then."

Rachel hesitates, and then winces as she asks, "Have you? Really?"

Quinn smiles faintly. "I'm obviously comfortable with my sexual orientation and my body, now."

"But not with intimacy, or your own desires," Rachel concludes, softly, because this is what Quinn meant when she said she hadn't been celibate. Quinn has had other people; but nobody has had Quinn.

The pressure of that knowledge is almost enough to make her avert her eyes, but she can't; not when this is so important.

Quinn's expression hardens for a moment, but then she nods, without saying anything else.

Rachel takes a deep breath. "Therapy helps, you know. I mean, if you're willing to use it the way it's intended."

"Like you are?" Quinn asks, pointedly.

Rachel smiles and glances at the table. "It's almost in the job description to be in some form of therapy, and I'm mostly honest with my therapist about … most of my issues. The agoraphobia, obviously."

"But not Xanax dependency," Quinn states. "Or how depressed you are."

Rachel looks at her sharply, and Quinn just shrugs.

"I don't find it hard to read you. I never have."

That's a little terrifying, and Rachel abruptly feels exposed in a way that makes her want to—to—

"Hey," Quinn says, calmly, and reaches for her hand. "Don't. I'm not fishing because I want to call you out. But... if we keep doing this, I need to know what I'm getting myself into."

"I'm not suicidal," Rachel says, after a second, when her heart doesn't feel like it's going to push out of her chest anymore in pure panic. "I'm... it's not..."

"But you need help," Quinn says, softly. "And a break."

"I'm getting one after... this summer," Rachel says, swallowing past the words. "I mean, I'll—talk to Kurt. There are some discreet treatment facilities in Hawaii and... I should be able to go to one without irreparably damaging my career prospects."

Quinn looks like she wants to say more, but then closes her mouth and pulls her hand back.

"What?" Rachel asks, after a second.

Quinn shakes her head. "I'm—I have no desire to start counseling you. That means we need to stop talking about this, though."

Rachel feels her heart sink in her throat, and stares at the counter for a long moment before sighing deeply. "It's too much, isn't it."

"What is?"

"All of this. Me. How... how close I am to bottoming out completely. I get it. I wouldn't want to get … involved with someone that fucked up either—" Rachel starts to say, until Quinn shakes her head and rolls her eyes.

"Yeah, because I'm a real catch. Don't fuck us, we'll fuck you. Girls really love it when that's your closer on a first date."

Rachel looks at her for a moment and then starts laughing, before covering her mouth and saying, "Well, it's worked okay for me so far..."

Quinn also chuckles and then just sighs deeply. "I think the key words there are so far."

The laughter trails off quickly at that, and Rachel looks at Quinn with tired eyes. "Is this what you meant, when you said you had concerns?"

"More or less," Quinn says, and then smiles at her wryly. "You're the first person in a very long time that I've been able to be ... close to. It's hard to resist, however little I can offer you in kind."

What comes to mind next is a very masochistic question to ask, but given how big a part of their relationship masochism is anyway... Rachel chuckles, at herself more than anything, and then just tilts her head at Quinn with as much acceptance as she can muster up. "What can you offer?"

"Friendship," Quinn says, after a long moment, and then glances at her wrist watch. "And—ways to navigate through downtown traffic that will get you at Caesar's in time."

"Oh, shit," Rachel bitches, and slips off the stool as Quinn just sort of laughs and says, "Sorry."

She runs to the bathroom, stopping only in the bedroom to check her phone and quickly assure a probably now-frantic Kurt that she is in fact still alive.

When she checks her phone, there are at least fifty three missed calls and messages.

For once, the sheer idea of having that many people to account to doesn't actually make her want to lie down and close her eyes.

...

Quinn doesn't hang around after the show.

Rachel's not honestly sure what she was expecting; the fact that she stuck around to attend it was enough of a surprise after the incredibly open conversation they'd had.

A quick call over to her team on the drive over—with Quinn behind the wheel—and a Sue Sylvester had been added to the guest list without issues, and honestly—the blinding lights have never come in better than during this show, so as to slightly blot out her awareness of Quinn, somewhere in the audience.

It's not even entirely disappointing, that Quinn has left and isn't waiting around backstage for her; and God, there's a dream she hasn't let herself have in years now. The idea of someone waiting for her when she's done, telling her exactly how good she was or wasn't on the night, before taking her into her dressing room and letting her unwind from the rush that performing does still give her, medication be damned.

They're friends, and she feels less on edge about calling Quinn now, and that means that the after-show signings—with a carefully queued, small crowd of people who bought the best seats in the theater, obviously—actually feel like they mean something, for a change.

When she's done, Kurt takes her by the arm and says, "Someone just left some fan mail for you at the bar."

"What, in the restaurant?" she asks, blinking at him and letting him lead her back to her dressing room.

"Yeah," Kurt says, feeling around in his jacket pocket and then handing her a folded note. "I'm hoping this isn't as bad as it looks."

Rachel unfolds the note, which says, truth: you got more bang for your buck when you paid to see ME perform :), and bursts out laughing.

"Rachel—what on earth—" Kurt asks, giving her a concerned look.

"It's—oh, my God. I assure you this is not as bad as it looks," Rachel says, swallowing the rest of her laughter and mentally cursing Quinn.

"Okay," Kurt drawls, slowly, opening her dressing room door and locking it as soon as they're both inside.

Rachel deflates a little, after placing the note on her dresser, and starts pulling the pins out of her hair, always up for the closing number for some reason. When she glances back at Kurt, it's clear that he's not done talking to her.

He narrows his eyes after a moment and then says, "Puck gave you an address."

"He did," she confirms.

"And?"

"And—I will let you know what comes of that," Rachel says, as neutrally as she can.

Kurt smiles slyly and says, "So there's absolutely no reason for me to think that you could have possibly lied to me about where you were most of today and snuck out to see a former prom queen?"

Rachel tosses the pins onto her dresser and turns to look at him. "If you know where I was, why are you asking?"

"Rachel, as much as it pains me to have to know what you're up to at all times, I like the illusion that you would just tell me what's going on with you because I'm your friend," Kurt says, sounding a little peeved. "If you're not going to give me that courtesy, then—"

"We had lunch," Rachel says, without elaborating. "It was—possibly the first time ever that we managed to spend an hour together without ending up in a cat fight over some boy we both liked. She indicated she'd be amenable to... a friendship, of some kind."

Really, it's meant to come out positive, but she's not with Quinn right now, carefully treading around certain subjects like I've loved parts of you for the better part of my life. She's with her oldest, dearest friend, and he knows how invested she can't help but be, after all this time.

"I'm sorry," Kurt says, lowering his eyes.

Rachel looks at the note on her dresser, covered in scattered pins, and says, "I'm not. I never expected any sort of … reunion between us to be easy, Kurt, and a slow start is hardly going to deter me at this point."

"So you're going to see her again," Kurt says, rather than asks, tilting his head.

"Yes," Rachel says, reaching for her hairbrush.

"Rachel—what if friendship is all she can offer you?"

The question is gentle, and she knows she's not dealing with her manager right now, so she'll do him the courtesy of being honest. "Then, at least, I'll have tried."

He smiles weakly at her, but they both know it's the most she's sounded like herself in a fucking age—and maybe that's why he slips out of her room without further comment, and lets her be.

She wonders if the normal etiquette of waiting a day or two before initiating contact again applies here, now, still. Or if she's supposed to call at all.

She also knows that wondering about those kinds of things is just a waste of time, because unless she keeps pushing, they won't get anywhere. Quinn will just wait in the background, still and seemingly detached, because—

Because that's easier than running the risk of getting hurt.

Rachel wishes she had those kinds of self-preservation instincts.

...

Quinn surprises her, though.

At 5.30 am, the next morning, her phone rings and Quinn says, "Are you coming tonight?"

Rachel says, "Well, if you're offering..."

Quinn's laughter is muffled by something, which Rachel realizes is probably breakfast when she glances blearily at the clock.

"Rachel, I have to—okay. I know this isn't the best time to have this conversation, but we have certain rules at Rapture," Quinn says.

"We?"

"The club. They—it's not exactly encouraged for people who know the dancers in their private lives to—show up."

Rachel rolls onto her back and closes her eyes, pinching at the bridge of her nose. "Quinn, it's not even six am and I had a long night. Can you just tell me what you need me to do?"

Quinn sighs deeply, and Rachel hears a spoon clatter against something ceramic.

She holds her breath, because she'll start babbling just to not have to listen to Quinn's clearly conflicted silence for much longer, but then relaxes as soon as Quinn says, "Even if this is merely a friendship, you're a part of my personal life now, and as such, you're banned."

"Oh," Rachel says, only realizing when she's said the word that she hadn't even considered going to the club later that day.

She hasn't thought about the club at all, for at least twenty four hours, because Quinn had been in her house, in jeans and a sweater, drinking coffee, and she'd been able to forget. Even if they'd talked about Quinn's issues, and why she'd started dancing in the first place. It had all just felt like ... a story.

Not something she'd still have to deal with, because Quinn had admitted to being over a lot of her hang-ups, at which point—was it the money?

Christ. It's none of her business. Not that that's ever really stopped her from asking questions, but for once, she's not planning on shooting herself in the foot prematurely.

Friendship, right? And she'd never tell a friend how they could or couldn't make their money, so—

"You knew what I did for a living before any of this started, Rachel," Quinn says, a hint of challenge in her voice.

"Yes," Rachel says, biting her tongue to not add anything else to that sentence. Like: but things have changed, haven't they?

Quinn is silent for a short while, like she's trying to decide if Rachel's words are genuine or not, and then finally says, "You also know I don't get involved. You're the exception to a lot of rules, and I don't plan on there ever being another one."

Well. That's quite the concession, from a friend, and after a second Rachel forces herself to move on. "When are you next free?"

"The weekend," Quinn says. "I have a busy week; many dates with many dead bodies."

"How will I ever compete?" Rachel sighs, dramatically, and Quinn makes an amused sounding 'hmmm' noise that makes Rachel's heart skip a beat in pure affection.

"I'll call you when I get a break, okay? Bye, Rachel."

The word bye somehow feels like a slow-burning promise, and when the call disconnects, Rachel lets her phone fall to her pillow before rolling onto her side and looking at her nightstand.

The scarf is still draped across it, like a tangible reminder of just how much has already changed in the last day; how much of herself she's given up, and how much she has gotten in return.

It somehow makes everything she's not getting just a little less significant.

Chapter Text

For the remainder of Tuesday, she just focuses on keeping busy.

She reads a book, or tries to.

It's a victory; for once, she actually makes it through three entire chapters before zoning out completely. When she does, it's not because of any of the usual reasons her mind shuts down: concerns about the job, or how long it will take before someone actually figures out she's destined to screw up in a way they can't hide from the press. Thoughts about how alone she is, even with Puck and Kurt and her other friends flitting in and out of her presence constantly. Memories of how things used to be.

No, this time, all she can think about is the way her shoulder still vaguely aches; and that's a reminder of Quinn, who is currently—

She glances at the clock, and then glances away, and finally heads to the bathroom for a bath.

Submerging her entire body just about dulls out any and all visuals she really doesn't want or need right now, and the heat of the water and the steam in the room a few minutes later just about make her drowsy enough for a single sleeping pill to knock her out.

...

That covers Tuesday. Which only leaves Wednesday, Thursday, and possibly Friday until they can do it all over again.

Although, again...

Rachel has no illusions about it ever being exactly the same as it was before. Quinn is an apt pupil, studying her reactions to everything they try together, and she's starting to distinguish between the things that do and don't make Rachel quiver underneath her.

Every time is better than the last, so far, regardless of whether they're even in the same room or not.

It's something to look forward to—the next time. And the fact that she finally has a real prospect is enough for her actually voice a few opinions during Wednesday's rehearsal. Later, she manages to make it on stage with only one Xanax in her bloodstream. The entire concert doesn't just pass her by in a daze, but she's a real part of it, and realizes that she doesn't want to keep doing the same songs, over and over.

She tells Kurt as much, afterwards; that it's open to discussion, but that she'd like to change the second opener into something more … uplifting.

"Such as?" he asks, raising his eyebrows.

She shrugs, letting him follow her back to her dressing room; she remembers (for a change) to wave at the few fans they encounter on the way, and offers them a mostly genuine smile. When they reach the door, she turns to Kurt and frowns at him slightly. "Something more … like what we used to do in Glee club."

The hint of a smile plays around Kurt's lips, and after a moment he nods and leaves her be.

She pulls the pins out of her hair and glances at her phone, her heart jumping when there's a message there. Nobody contacts her during evening hours, really, because they know she won't see messages until she's ready to go to bed—unless it's an emergency, or...

"Or" is the better alternative, and for once, she feels like she's earned it.

I've been in a library cubicle for the last seven hours and am starting to feel like the walls are closing in on me. I thought you'd be able to relate.

She smirks at the forced casualness of the message, because Quinn is clearly taking her up on her suggestion that they could be friends in a very serious way—and here Rachel had been thinking she'd just get mercilessly teased for it during sex for the rest of her... summer. But no, Quinn is playing along, and somehow that's … exactly what she needs, after a long but actually rewarding day.

I find that a bottle of Merlot and a hot bath normally get me back on track, she returns after a while of punching in words and erasing them again, because they're not quite right.

It's not even entirely untrue; the medication she's on is a precaution, but once an attack is triggered, nothing helps short of riding out the panic and then finding a place to be alone. Usually with wine. Usually in a bathtub.

She's already driving home when her phone sounds again, and while she normally doesn't check her messages while in a car—unless she's being driven, but that would mean being in New York—she can't really resist temptation, this time around.

I don't have a bottle of Merlot. :(

A red light about three minutes out from her house has her finger hovering over the send button for a long moment, but—surely she's not misinterpreting this? Quinn likes playing games, but she's never been subtle or coy to the point of that message not being a very deliberate hint.

I do. :)

She doesn't really expect another texted response, and then a good twenty minutes after she gets home, her doorbell rings, and she pulls on the collar of her t-shirt for a moment and then just sort of snorts at her attempt to, what, gussy up?

She's in sweat pants and her hair is in a messy bun and whatever, they're friends sharing a bottle of wine after a long day.

That's the idea, anyway.

When she answers the door, Quinn is in a UNLV hoodie and a pair of old, worn-looking jeans, and looks exhausted; a pair of glasses hang from the collar of the sweatshirt and she leans tiredly against the wall next to the door, right underneath the porch light.

"Not a single liquor store near your house?" Rachel asks, with a small smile.

Quinn just sort of rolls her eyes, and then steps in closer and—well, on a purely objective level, it's an almost friendly kiss. The objective level doesn't take into account the way Rachel's knees weaken at just the slightest hint of pressure from Quinn's lips against her own, however, or the way Quinn gives her a knowing look before tapping the tip of her nose with a murmured, "Smartass."

After that hello, she nudges past Rachel and into the hall like that one time she's been at Rachel's has been enough for her to forever be comfortable in the place, and Rachel watches her walk down the hall and toss her backpack onto the floor next to the couch.

"Is the wine breathing?" Quinn then calls out, heading left towards the kitchen, and for one long, gracious second Rachel just lets herself picture this scene as a permanent fixture: the end of a long work day, and Quinn asking about the wine before pouring them both a glass and then...

Well, not snuggling, perhaps, but something.

It's just a second, and then she closes the door and follows Quinn into the kitchen, before tipping onto her toes and attempting to pull two wine glasses from one of the top shelves.

Her breath catches when Quinn presses up against her back and reaches past her. "Not the handiest place for someone so … minute to keep their wine glasses," she teases, in a low undertone.

"I don't drink by myself," Rachel responds, before turning around—her entire body brushing against Quinn's in the process, and that gently stirs the first shimmer of arousal, but only barely—and looking at Quinn wryly. "I figure one private drug habit is enough for any person."

"How was it today?" Quinn asks, putting the glasses on the counter but not backing away. "The show, I mean."

"Good. Okay, I mean. By both medical and personal standards," Rachel says, before taking a deep breath and gently pushing on Quinn's hips. "But I am exhausted, and I'd like... something uncomplicated, tonight. If that's okay."

Quinn sobers quickly at those words. "Of course. Truthfully, I'm not sure I have the energy to … well. Get it up?"

Rachel laughs softly. "It's okay. I'm not just interested in … your up-ness."

That gets her a small smile, and then Quinn backs away and picks up the Merlot; a 2012 bottle, rich and nutty, according to the label. Quinn's eyes scan past it quickly, and then she raises her eyebrows. "Twenty bucks says there's a decent episode of SVU on somewhere."

"Would that count as a professional interest or a personal one?" Rachel asks, grabbing the glasses, and following Quinn into the living room, where Quinn settles in the corner of the sofa and pulls her knees up to her chest, handing Rachel the bottle when she settles on the opposite end.

"Neither; I'm just past the point where I can handle the idea of watching something semi-intelligent," Quinn says, with a small yawn that finally actually dims the constant current of sexual tension between them.

It's nice, to feel just a little less on edge; but without that to focus on, it suddenly occurs to Rachel that she doesn't have many female friends, and the ones she does have don't tend to come over just to 'hang out'.

When she leans over to put the bottle back down, her arm brushes against Quinn's as she's putting her glass on the floor, and they both sort of chuckle.

Apparently, this isn't just new for her, then, Rachel thinks, before wondering what would happen if this was a scene in a play. She glances to the table, where the remotes are, and picks one up and tosses it towards Quinn. "You're probably right about SVU being on, but I'm not watching it unless it's an Alex Cabot episode."

Quinn sort of smirks at that. "Is that a quality control issue or..."

Rachel sighs and trains her eyes on the television, resting the wine glass against her cheek for a moment before taking a sip. "Mostly quality control," she then says, before sinking into the cushions more and waiting for Quinn to stop flicking through the channels.

After about ten minutes of watching the episode, she feels herself start to drift off, and then Quinn's hand is on her ankle, squeezing until her eyes blink open again.

"Do you need to go lie down?" she asks. And wow, those won't ever not be loaded words; Rachel knows she's blushing, but then shakes her head.

"Sorry—just... drifting."

"We could talk, instead of watching this... junk," Quinn suggests; some of her gloss has smudged onto the wine glass and Rachel has to look away from her as she takes another sip. It's all of these little things that just make her want to take these sparse moments and string them together, but tonight isn't the night for that. It's too soon.

"Sure," she just says, instead, stretching out her legs until she can plant her heels on the coffee table—and her dad would kill her for it, but there are some joys in being an adult—before tipping her head back and looking at Quinn. "What do you want to talk about?"

"Safe words," Quinn says, evenly, after a long pause.

A mouthful of Merlot sprays all over Rachel's sofa (white), rug (white) and shirt (light blue), and then she's just kind of hysterically coughing while Quinn snorts laughter and lifts off the couch, heading to the kitchen and returning a moment later with a wet rag.

"What is wrong with you?" Rachel complains, taking the rag and dabbing at … well, everything, but red isn't going to come out without some professional cleaning and she knows it. The easiest thing to do is to just take off the shirt and get changed, and so she sighs and presses the wet rag back into Quinn's chest. "You can't just—say something like that to a person who is very casually enjoying a glass of wine next to you."

"Yes, because this is a topic of conversation that can be gently introduced somehow," Quinn says, rolling her eyes a little, and Rachel stills—her hand still pressing that wet rag against Quinn's chest, because... there's something there. A minor undercurrent of nervousness that...

"You've never done this before either, have you," she finally murmurs, and Quinn's eyes lock with hers for a long second, until they fall away.

"I've... no. Not... to the extent that I think I want to. With you," she then admits, softly. "It's been all I've been able to think about for the last two days, which... frankly, I'm running up against a chapter deadline and I thought that perhaps setting some boundaries with you would help me focus for the next two days. Until..."

"Until... the weekend," Rachel finishes, her breath catching in her throat.

It occurs to her very suddenly that they've talked a lot about her desires, both casually and within the context of Quinn's power games back at the club, but not the reverse; and, oh. Heat sinks down her body and courses back up just like that, and then she makes the mistake of looking into Quinn's eyes, and the way that even teeth are worrying a full lip, and—she swoons. On the spot.

"Yeah," Quinn agrees, shortly, her hand finally taking the rag away from Rachel and then brushing down the length of Rachel's arm, with a small, final tickle in Rachel's palm. "Go—get changed. Into something... not enticing, please. This is important, and we both need to be focused on what we're saying. Wear a parka, maybe?"

Rachel laughs abruptly, and takes a careful step back, and then can't help a small smirk. "I thought your whole thing was being in control."

"Sure. During, maybe. But... well, we can talk about that when you're... less transparent," Quinn says, roughly, with a quick raise of her eyebrows; Rachel laughs again, and watches as Quinn heads towards the kitchen, shaking her head.

Rachel almost runs to her bedroom, and … well, she doesn't own a parka, but the loose-fitting cardigan she puts on ought to help them both keep it in check.

Maybe.

The bottle of wine gets corked again, and placed in the refrigerator for the time being, and it's close to midnight when they settle back in the living room to have this talk; Quinn in the armchair, this time, her hands folded together in her lap.

Quinn's posture reminds Rachel of a group therapy session she'd been in as a teenager, and almost instinctively she wraps her arms around herself and settles into the corner of the sofa furthest away from Quinn.

It's not how this conversation should start, maybe, but it's how they both can handle it.

"So," she finally says, when Quinn stays staring at the coffee table like it holds the answers to all of life's questions; her eyes are burning into it, almost, and for not the first time, and probably not the last, Rachel wishes she could just read Quinn's mind.

It would save them both so much effort, and time.

Quinn's eyes flicker over to hers, and then she smiles faintly. "So."

"Safe words, huh," Rachel says, forcing the words past the tightness in the throat. She doesn't really know why she's nervous. It's a conversation they should've had—and possibly did have, briefly—but they should've had it in more detail by now.

"I suggested Hudson, before, but..." Quinn hesitates, and licks her lips for a second before frowning at Rachel. "My research on … this type of setup strongly suggests that any words chosen should hold some significance on the part of the..."

"The..." Rachel prompts, when Quinn trails off.

Quinn's cheeks color wildly when she adds, "The, uh, bottom."

Rachel feels her facial muscles contort, and she has no idea what the hell kind of look she has on her face right now, but in response to it, Quinn mumbles, "Sorry" and looks away.

Rachel takes a deep breath. "No, that's—okay. The bottom. That's .. okay. So … a phrase that holds some sort of significance to me."

"Ideally, to us... but... yes, at the very least to you," Quinn says, still sounding incredibly embarrassed.

Rachel exhales slowly and then says, "Well. That definitely rules out Hudson."

Quinn starts laughing a moment later, before covering her mouth, and then just sighs and stares at the table again. "Okay. Sorry. I didn't expect this to be so … strange, given that we've obviously figured a lot of this out instinctively."

"It's okay," Rachel says, with a small smile. "I appreciate that you're taking it seriously. My... comfort, I mean."

"It's for both our sakes. Because we've kept things fairly organic, so far, but—" Quinn says, before clearing her throat. "I … you know. I don't know. I guess we could just write out a list of what we both want and swap notes but it's probably better if we establish the basic boundaries out loud. Together."

The word together somehow take this from one of the most awkward moments of her life to one of the more important ones, and she shifts until she's not quite as defensively far back as she was before; Quinn watches her, and then also stops clenching her hands together, instead leaving her palms facing up on her jeans.

It's better, immediately, and Rachel smiles after a moment.

"Julie Andrews."

Quinn blinks at her. "I'm sorry?"

"My safe word. Julie Andrews."

Quinn's lips part for a second, and then she just raises her eyebrows and says, "Well, I suppose it's comforting to know you wouldn't normally call out her name during sex."

"What … what would you pick, if you were. You know. The bottom," Rachel says, with as much gravity as she can.

Quinn rolls her eyes, but muses over the question anyway, and then says, "I'm not sure. Jeffrey Dahmer, maybe."

"Oh, of course," Rachel says, dryly. "That's not disconcerting at all."

"It would get most sane people to stop, wouldn't it?" Quinn says, with a small smile.

It's kind of terrifying, the way she can't really tell if Quinn is kidding or not. But it doesn't really matter. Quinn isn't the bottom. Quinn will never be the bottom, and ... that's just the iceberg's tip, really, of a plethora of issues they need to work out here.

So many more miles to go, before they...

She blinks, and looks at Quinn's face again; so foreign, and yet so lovely.

"I haven't needed to Julie Andrews you, yet," she finally says.

Quinn's lips quirk at her choice of words, but her body language is primed for a further explanation. She's almost bracing herself, but making it look casual somehow.

It's—Rachel abruptly wonders what Quinn will be like as a professional. Not a stripper, but the psychologist she's training to be. Devastatingly efficient, she imagines. She wonders if the job comes with a lab coat. If not, it should. The image in her mind—

"Where did you just go?" Quinn asks, sounding amused.

"... I'll explain some other time," Rachel says, shaking her head to clear the cobwebs. "I... what I meant was, you haven't... pushed me. And yet we've done nearly everything … I mean, not literally, but in terms of how we relate to each other; I think we've touched upon everything I've admitted to wanting."

"Yes," Quinn agrees, after a moment. "It's mostly about surrendering control with you, isn't it."

Rachel hesitates for a second, and then says, "Yeah. Mostly. The other part of it is in fact a rather concrete desire to see you in your... element, I guess."

Quinn's eyes study her face briefly, and then she nods. "Okay. I can understand that."

"What about you?" Rachel asks, when there's another small lull in the conversation, even though it's decidedly less stilted than it was even two minutes ago.

"What about me?"

"What about... what you want?" Rachel asks, carefully.

It's so hard to tell how far is too far, because sometimes Quinn is downright accessible and light-hearted, but other times, even the slightest hint of proximity sends her shutting down. But—this isn't just about her own desires. Quinn must have some, or this would've never come up, and at the thought of Quinn wanting to take them further...

A sharp burst of want blooms in her chest, and suddenly, the physical gap between them is almost painfully wide—but it's necessary, because if Quinn actually wants to talk about her own needs, she probably won't be able to do so if Rachel gets closer.

She watches, as still as she can, as Quinn's forehead wrinkles and smooths over again, a few times in a row, until she finally stares out into Rachel's back yard, through the living room windows, and says, "I'm not into physical pain. Inflicting it, I mean, though I'm not into receiving it either."

Rachel blinks, because that isn't what she was expecting to hear—but now that the words are out there, she's not really sure why not. Her own rudimentary exploration of her sexual interests have led her down paths that she knows are not for her, and sado-masochism is among those.

"I'm not either. On both counts," she says, and Quinn visibly relaxes again.

"Good. Because I don't think I could do that for you. There are just limits to—what turns me on, and while obviously your submission is a very key element to that..."

Rachel smiles as encouragingly as she can. "Quinn—you're authoritative, but you've never been cruel. Not… physically, anyway."

Quinn looks at her again at those words, and then slowly asks, "But... I am verbally."

"Sometimes," Rachel admits, before sighing. "I find it hard to … say anything about this because you … you're a friend, now. Not a close one, obviously, but you're also hardly the girl who used to basically get her kicks from calling me names on a daily basis."

Quinn swallows visibly and then rubs at her cheeks with her knuckles. "Yes, I don't want to bring that into our... friendship. Obviously. God, I'm not that child anymore."

She still sounds slightly ashamed, but—she's right. That is in the past, and this conversation is very much not.

For now, Rachel just tilts her head and says, "... you don't want to bring that into our friendship, but—you do want to bring it into the bedroom?"

A strangled little noise escapes from Quinn's mouth and she licks her lips again, which Rachel is now starting to think of as an endearing, subconscious tic.

After another long moment of silence, Quinn just looks at her and says, "Do you?"

"If you're asking me if I get off on you ... demeaning me, somehow—" Rachel starts to say, slowly, and then has to swallow before she can actually finish the words. "... I... yes. I do. Not always, and not in all ways, but..."

Quinn nods. "I thought as much. I mean, again, we've played around with this—but I don't want to permanently scar you with … throwaway words during sex. It's not—" She winces, and her hands start knotting together again. "I don't mean... I mean, …"

"Hey—it's why we have safe words, isn't it?" Rachel asks, before Quinn can get any more flustered.

Quinn sighs. "Yeah, but—"

"Do you understand why I get off on being called... well, I don't know. A slut, for instance?"

Quinn sort of deflates. "Not even a little. I've had the word directed at me more time than you can imagine, from about age sixteen onwards, and I can't imagine wanting to be called it by someone who is sleeping with me."

"Okay. So you don't understand what this does for me, but you're okay with it," Rachel says, before raising her eyebrows. "Can you accept that it's the same for me, but in reverse? In that, I don't understand what you get out of this, and you don't have to tell me, but... I'm okay with it? And I understand it's a purely sexual desire that doesn't reflect poorly on you in other contexts?"

Quinn doesn't react for a long moment, and then finally just rubs her palms across her face and says, "Yeah. I think I can. As long as you—I mean it, Rachel, this is probably the way in which I'm most likely to actually hurt you and that's not... I'm not interested in that. You need to let me know, clearly, what your limits are, okay? And you need to stop me if I go to far."

"I'm fairly sure you won't, but—"

"Rachel."

She nods, at Quinn's urgent look.

Another slightly awkward silence, but even the awkwardness is starting to feel normal now, and so Rachel just waits it out.

Finally, Quinn takes a deep breath and says, "What about discipline?"

"Um," Rachel says, blinking a few times, then stares at the coffee table because—well, God, maybe it does have all of life's answers. "What do you—"

"Because I'm not generally interested in, well, most of what I've read about discipline, but the idea of spanking you is—"

"Oh, my God," Rachel blurts out, before she can stop herself; her cheeks burn, almost instantly, and then she looks at Quinn and they both start laughing.

"Is that a yes?"

"I—" Rachel says, and then has to take a deep, slow breath, at the multitude of visuals that are assaulting her brain all at once. She's always had a visual imagination. It helps, with seeing scripts come to life, but the kind of nonsense she has to read professionally doesn't come close to what she's currently seeing flit around her head.

"It's okay. You can think about it, if you—" Quinn starts saying, almost apologetically.

"No, no, that's... that's a yes. If you had any idea what was going on in... um," Rachel says, before covering her over-heated face with a slightly cooler palm and giving herself a few moments. "I'm not … opposed. Just... you know. Your hands. Not a paddle or …"

"How much reading on this have you done?" Quinn asks, now sounding a little breathless herself.

Rachel lowers her hand and then says, "There was a stretch in my freshman year of college where... well. I read everything I could. I haven't much since then. There hasn't been any point."

They both fall silent at that admission, and then finally Quinn takes a deep breath and says, "I'm sorry. I know you wanted something uncomplicated, tonight, but—"

"Quinn," Rachel cuts her off, as softly as she can, before giving her a wry smile. "When has anything between us ever been uncomplicated?"

"Yeah," Quinn exhales in a sigh, and then, after a second of tensing, gets out of the chair and sits down on the sofa next to Rachel. "There was one other thing I wanted to bring up, and it's... about the consequences of what we're both into. I know that the emotional release for... the bottom—"

"Stop it," Rachel says, swatting at her thigh, and Quinn chuckles before sobering quickly.

"You know I've said that I'm not much of a cuddler, but—it's part of my responsibility to make you feel safe, if we start pushing your limits further," she finally says.

"I trust you," Rachel says, almost instinctively, and she hears more than sees Quinn's sharp intake of breath at that admission.

"Yeah, and I'm saying that... maybe you shouldn't. Not with all of you, anyway."

"Maybe," Rachel concedes, but then reaches for Quinn's hand, pressed hard into the leather of the sofa, and covers it with her own. "But I do. And I know you'll take care of me."

They exchange the barest of glances after that, and Quinn's eyes flit to her mouth immediately afterwards, and Rachel holds her breath until slightly darker, and slightly more intense eyes focus on her again.

"We weren't going to do this tonight, but..."

Rachel can feel her mouth dry just at the way Quinn is staring at her, but gamely says, "But—"

"I want you," Quinn finally just says, plainly and in barely more than a whisper; but it starts to melt Rachel's resolve to work on their friendship before they get even more tangled up in … the other parts of their interaction.

Said resolve evaporates completely when Quinn adds, in the exact same tone and volume, "Let me have you. Please."

The word always presses against the roof of her mouth, ready to be shared prematurely, but she swallows it, and instead just gives a simple nod that means yes, for now.

It's not really cuddling, but Quinn's arm is under her head and she's staring at the ceiling, catching her breath, and trying to rank this time among all the other times.

Had it been simpler? There had been no props; no scarves, no ties to blind her—it had just been Quinn, walking her backwards into her bedroom and lifting her onto the bed, and then pinning her down with nothing more than the weight of her body.

But the things Quinn can do, with just her hands and her instructions and her eyes, so destructive—

Quinn never needs the props. Rachel dismantles for her with the barest of suggestions, and had again tonight, tightening painfully hard around Quinn's fingers once, and then Quinn had bitten down, hard, on her nipple right as she'd stopped coming. It had felt like Quinn's way of saying, I decide when you're done. And that thought alone had been enough to make her come again, even harder than the first time, with barely any air left in her lungs.

She's starting to think that blacking out, after Quinn is done with her, is almost merciful; having to breathe through the aftermath is beyond draining, and she's exhausted now.

And they're not even done; not entirely, because Quinn's arm is tense underneath her neck, and when Rachel rolls onto her side, the entirety of Quinn's torso breaks out into goose bumps.

"May I?" she asks, after a long moment of just studying Quinn's measured, slow breaths, also directed at her ceiling fan, as if just breathing steadily can make Quinn's obvious arousal more long-term manageable.

Quinn's wet to the point of being uncomfortable. She has to be, by now. It's enough to perk her back up, and make her acutely want to give back; make Quinn feel at least an approximation of the things that Quinn makes her feel. If she even can. She's honestly not sure, but God, is she willing to work at it.

A curt nod is her answer, and then she's gently shifting on top of her now three-times lover—the first time in this position, and she moves slowly, not really sure just how Quinn will react to being literally, though not metaphorically, underneath her.

"If you start feeling trapped... Jeffrey Dahmer me?" she offers, softly.

Quinn's eyes focus on her face for a second, and then she reaches up with a steady hand that cups Rachel's jaw, stroking her cheek firmly with a thumb.

"I'll be fine," Quinn then says, before shifting her hand to the nape of Rachel's neck and tugging her down by it, into a kiss that says more than fine.

Five minutes later, after she's finally been given a chance to actually explore Quinn—all five and a half feet of her, and they are five and a half fucking perfect feet; from her hairline down to her toes, there isn't a part of Quinn Fabray that isn't worth worshipping—she's settling between Quinn's legs, and looks up to see Quinn watching her intently.

"Don't look away," Quinn instructs, almost conversationally, and Rachel almost laughs.

Out of all of Quinn's instructions, ranging from the initial no touching to tonight's finger your clit for me, Rachel, but don't make yourself come—this is going to be by far the easiest to follow, she thinks, before bending down just a little bit more and pressing her lips to Quinn's.

It's one of many things she'll never get tired of, and when hands tighten in her hair, hard, and start directing her, she knows she's going to need to come a third time before she stands even the slightest chance of falling asleep tonight.

"You should start keeping water in your bedroom," Quinn says, reappearing with a smile and tossing Rachel a half-empty bottle of water.

Rachel catches it, and then glances at the alarm clock. It's close to two in the morning, and it's why Rachel sits up on one elbow when Quinn starts pulling her jeans on again—commando, this time, for rather obvious reasons, but Rachel still winces at the mere idea of jean fabric being near her privates right now.

Or maybe, she winces at what's obviously happening here. Before she can think better of it, she blurts out what's on her mind. "Quinn, you don't have to—"

Quinn looks at her over her shoulder and starts buttoning up her jeans. "What, go home? I do, actually."

"... I have a guest bedroom, if this is about personal space or—your limits, or whatever," Rachel says, horribly awkwardly, but it's the truth and—maybe this is why Quinn had warned her, that she isn't cut out for this. That she's not going to meet Rachel's needs in every sense of the word.

Who the hell just runs off after...

She squeezes her lips together to not say anything else, and watches as Quinn tugs on a down-trodden pair of Converse again and then turns fully, shifting onto her knees, and putting two hands on Rachel's shoulders, before looking at her seriously.

"Don't … turn this into a thing. I have a six am meeting with my supervisor and some teaching to do at eleven, so—"

"Okay," Rachel says, lowering her eyes. "Sorry, I thought—"

"I know," Quinn says. "And you're not wrong. The other part of this is that I don't want to … overextend either of us. But I'm not trying to be dismissive. So—tell me what you need, right now, short of me staying here."

Rachel gnaws on her lip for a moment and then just says, " Are we still on for this weekend?"

"Yes," Quinn responds, with certainty. "Absolutely."

"I have … a standing lunch date with Puck and Kurt on Saturday," Rachel adds, before looking up. "They know you're in town. They're how I know where you live. Puck has... his ways, I guess."

Quinn's expression tightens abruptly. "What are you saying?"

"You should join us. As my friend. Or, … shit, Quinn, it's not just me you used to be friends with. I … the stranger we act about this, the more questions they are going to ask, and..."

Quinn stares at her intently, before taking a deep breath. "I'll think about it."

"It's just—"

"No, Rachel, it's not just anything. You know that as well as I do," Quinn says; the quick kiss pressed to the corner of Rachel's mouth afterwards is something of a consolation prize, but not much of one. "The best I can do is tell you I'll consider it. Is that good enough for our plans to... hold out?"

Rachel sighs, and watches as Quinn gets to her feet. "Honestly, you need to stop assuming I'm still some petty high school girl who doesn't know how to compromise on things. My entire life has been a compromise for the last three years."

Quinn nods, looking remorseful. "You're right. I'll work on it."

"Thanks for... um, coming over," Rachel finally says, and … there is no point in being modest, around Quinn, but she can't help but pull the sheets up anyway. Something about watching Quinn in her real life clothes, getting ready to head back to her real life, just makes her feel incredibly exposed, without warning.

"Thanks for... having me. And letting me have you," Quinn says, with a small smile. "I'll talk to you soon, okay?"

Please just stay is not an appropriate response to that, and Rachel knows it; and so she watches as Quinn closes the bedroom door behind her, and then flops onto her back and stares at the ceiling.

"What are you doing, Rachel?" she says, out loud, just to test herself.

Some people say that talking to oneself is the first sign of encroaching insanity, but with the number of pill bottles in her medicine cabinet, it probably isn't the first sign.

Besides—who else can she talk to?

The answer to that comes to her the next morning, on the elliptical, when she's trying to ignore the mild chafing between her legs—Quinn's fingers are long, bigger than her own, and much more forceful, and while during it's absolute mind-blowingly good, the after tends to just remind her of how little sex she's had in the last... ever—and focusing on actually making her exercise goal for the day.

That just makes her think of who even set her exercise goals, and … before she can think too hard about what she's doing, she's off the elliptical and on the phone to Brittany.

"I have a joke for you," she says, when Britt answers.

"Oh, awesome," is the response, and she smiles before rubbing at her own forehead.

"How many Broadway singers does it take to peel an onion?"

Brittany is silent for a moment, and then just says, "Um, are you using a peeler or not? Wait—is there even an onion peeler? Because there are potato peelers, but onions are all slippery. So maybe—wait, how long are your nails right now?"

This is so not where this conversation is supposed to be going, but it's her own damn fault for trying to get wisdom from Brittany using metaphors. Either way, it's making her feel a lot lighter than she has most of the morning, so why not?

"They're—shorter than they usually are," Rachel says, glancing at them for a moment and flushing with heat at the memory of just where her fingers were, not even six hours earlier.

"But if you're trying to peel an onion, you need long nails," Brittany counters.

"Trust me, Britt, the onion in question wouldn't appreciate it if I had long nails right now," Rachel finally says, trying not to laugh.

"... are you fucking the onion?" Brittany asks, suddenly a lot more serious sounding.

"I'm fucking the onion," Rachel admits, and just like that, it stops being funny.

"Okay, and just so I'm totally clear on this and … I mean, I think we're talking about the same thing, but I don't know—maybe you're into vegetables these days—"

"Yes, I'm talking about Quinn," Rachel says, closing her eyes with a cringe. "And—Britt, please, this is just between us, okay? I need someone to talk to, but it can't be Santana. That's way too much difficult history right now and... the present is already almost more complicated than I can handle. I don't need Lima getting in the way of this."

The line is silent for a moment, and then Brittany sucks in a deep breath. "Okay. That's cool."

Rachel thinks of a few different things to say next, but none of them really cover the depth of her current—what is it, even? Happiness, but not complete? Confusion? Misery at the idea that this is all just a temporary fling that … Quinn will be all too happy to put behind her when Rachel's show ends?

Before she can even attempt to sort any of that out—and damn it, she should've made a list; she always thinks best with lists—Brittany clears her throat and gently says, "So... um. How is the onion? In bed? Or … outside of bed? Wait—if she's a stripper onion, is she peeling herself?"

It probably should surprise Rachel, that she bursts into tears out of nowhere, but it doesn't really.

She hasn't been emotionally stable in years, and the things that Quinn is pulling out of her just with a few carefully planned touches have her closer to her breaking point than she ever has been. Even if she also feels alive again, for the first time in years.

It's all just such a mess, and when Brittany softly sighs, "Oh, Rachel" in response to Rachel's muffled, but still clearly audible sobs, it's like the only thing holding her together just snaps in half.

She sinks to the ground and cries, for at least twenty minutes, and even after that, she can't find any words to say except, "I'm in so much trouble."

They say enough, for now.

Chapter Text

Brittany doesn't have any solutions.

It helps a little, though, for Rachel to stumble out loud through hesitant explanations about what she's doing, and what Quinn is doing, and how much it's all going to end in—God, and she can't even look at her phone calendar anymore, where the date her commitment ends and she returns to New York has already been plugged in.

It's five more weeks. It's only five more weeks.

The fact that there's such time constraints in some ways make it easier for her to get up off the floor again, and tell Brittany that she's fine, honest, and that she just needs to get going to work; and it even makes it bearable for her to call Puck and ask for a ride.

He doesn't ask questions, because there are days—or there have been, in the past—where even the sensation of being stuck in traffic is enough to make her feel like she's hovering on that knife's edge that she can topple off of at any moment.

He just shows up about half an hour later with a bagel and a cup of coffee for her, and—it hits her, abruptly, how glad she is that he's in her life. It's something that she hasn't told him in far too long, and he's been slugging along through the same punishing schedule that she's kept in place just because time off means thinking about the things she doesn't want to think about.

The way she hugs him probably surprises him, but after a moment he gently strokes her hair and then says, "All right, Rach?"

"Yeah, just—happy you're here with me," she tells him, and then accepts her coffee with an almost-there smile.

He tilts his head at her a little, and then takes off his sunglasses and squints at her, and says, "You wanna talk about it? Quinn, I mean?"

She's sort of expecting the question, at this point, because both he and Kurt know they've had lunch—possibly more than once—and, yeah. It hits her all over again, how this stretches back into the recesses of her life, and they're all bundled together there.

A sip of coffee buys her some time to come up with an appropriately neutral response, and they both lean against the side of Puck's rental—not as flashy as her own, but he doesn't care and neither does she—and stare at the sun, almost directly above them.

"She's doing well," Rachel finally says. She's not hungry, but takes a bit of bagel at Puck's pointed look, and then slowly chews on it, before adding, "She's getting a master's in psychology and moved out here straight out of high school. Hasn't kept in touch with anyone, so it's not personal."

Puck runs his nails against his jeans for a moment, and then shifts a little awkwardly before clearing his throat. "Has she said anything about... um. About Beth?"

Rachel swallows hard, and chases the bite of food with another shot of coffee, and then shakes her head. "Not really. Other than that... Beth doesn't know that she's gay."

"Wait," Puck says, and turns to her more fully. "Back up."

"I've... asked her to consider coming to lunch with us, this weekend. I think you should really ask her anything else yourself," Rachel says, carefully, before blotting at her lips with the napkin Puck wordlessly hands over.

"No, I mean—she's gay?" Puck asks, raising his eyebrows.

"I doubt it has anything to do with that one time you fucked her, Noah," Rachel tells him, before smiling at him gently.

"So are you two like—" he asks, because that's what's great about him; he doesn't get hung up on the dumber things he says, or she says. He just carries on like nothing has changed since high school, and sometimes, she really needs that to get through the day.

"Not really," she says, finishing up the coffee and then feeling around her purse for a breath mint. "I mean, we … know about each other. I was honest with her about you, and how that's not real. But we've... we've just seen each other twice, now. Once over lunch, and once over a bottle of wine. We're... becoming friends. Maybe."

If anyone can tell she's lying, it's Puck, and he doesn't bat an eye at her explanation; just says, "Cool", and then narrows his eyes. "Does this mean you're like, done with that stripper?"

"Yeah," Rachel says, because she is.

She's done with the stripper. Whatever she's doing now, she's doing with Quinn.

A chill runs up her spine, but she manages a smile.

"Wasn't meant to be."

"Well, no shit, Rachel. Aim higher," Puck says, gently hip-checking her, and she laughs before handing him her empty coffee.

They've been together for so long now that he doesn't even bat an eye at being used as her manservant, and watching him head over to her garbage bins with the same laid back stroll he'd had all throughout high school, Rachel suddenly feels like maybe, she can actually make up for lost time.

With everyone, not just Quinn.

It's just a question of actually going for it, and—she's almost there.

The call comes during the sound check on Friday, and she takes it with an apologetic hand up at her team, but—whatever.

She's actually been in good form, and overheard two dancers tell each other that "at least our dear lead finally stopped acting like she's too good for this show" the other day. It was the kind of thing that would've sent her curling up in a ball in the corner of her dressing room even a few weeks ago, but … now, she's almost capable of only hearing the good parts.

She'd excelled at that, throughout high school. If it's coming back, it's a relief—though she doesn't think she'll ever be as wilfully blind to how little it matters that she has talent if she has nothing else again.

"Hey," she says, softly, heading out into the wings and sitting down on a stool left there for last-minute sewing adjustments to the dancers' costumes. "You okay?"

"Fine, just taking a break," Quinn says, easily. "Made my deadline, so that's good news."

"Oh. Does that mean that..." Rachel says, before really thinking it through, and then stops when she hears Quinn sighs softly.

"I'm not doing lunch tomorrow," she then says, almost apologetically. "I need—more time to prepare. Questions to ask you, and …"

"Quinn, for goodness' sake, it's a lunch with old friends; not a CIA interrogation," Rachel protests; she hopes that the hint of humor she injects in her voice is enough to not ruffle already ruffled feathers further, and after a moment Quinn just sort of sighs again.

"It's... Jeffrey Dahmer, Rachel. Okay?"

No.

It's not okay at all, that the mere prospect of immersing further into Rachel's life is sending Quinn into such a spiral, but she doesn't really know what the hell else she was expecting. For every step forward, there's at least two in a different direction that she just can't predict, and—

Five weeks. Fuck, she doesn't even really want to have lunch with Puck and Kurt.

"Okay," she says, as calmly as she can. "So what are our plans?"

The relief in Quinn's voice is palpable when she says, "I thought I'd come over and cook you a real meal, since you appear to be living on take-away and that shit is just awful for your skin, Rachel."

Her own laughter surprises her, because—well, it's such a silly thing to say. But there is a side of Quinn that is just that: a little offbeat, and...

She wonders if anyone else has ever gotten a chance to see it. Some part of her, selfishly, hopes not.

"I didn't realize my skin was a problem," she says, when Quinn also chuckles a little.

"It's not. It's flawless. I'd like to keep it that way," Quinn then says, with a little more warmth now, and Rachel does what she can to stop from preening. It's just such an unexpected compliment, and from exactly the right person; there's nothing that compares to the way Quinn can make her heart skip beats without even trying.

And while that's normally a cause for concern, right now? Right now, it's just nice.

"I'm still vegan," Rachel says, after a second.

"I can work with that."

"Are you... a decent cook, or should I have some sort of back-up option in the house?" she then asks.

Quinn laughs softly. "I thought you'd figured out by now that I don't do anything unless I know I can do it well."

"Oh, for God's sake," Rachel sighs, fighting a blush. "Did you have to go and do that? I'm due back on stage in a minute and now I'm all... distracted."

"Makes two of us. I'll make it up to you tomorrow," Quinn says, still intimately, and then her voice changes pitch so quickly that Rachel almost reels. "Hey—do you have any board games in that place?"

"Um..." Rachel says, before chuckling a little. "Is... are you planning on showering me with Monopoly money?"

"There's an idea," Quinn says, dryly, before clearing her throat and saying, "No, I just really like board games. It's been a while since I've had someone who can probably keep up with me at the more intelligent ones."

"I happen to be the Berry Household Scrabble Tournament Winner of... oh, five out of the last seven years," Rachel says, after a moment. "Are you willing to take on that challenge?"

"Yes," Quinn says, intently, after a moment.

Rachel's vaguely hopeful that she's no longer talking about Scrabble.

….

On Saturday morning, she calls Kurt and begs off sick from lunch.

She'd say she feels bad, about lying, but in the grand scheme of things, this is one of the whiter lies she's told both her manager and her friend—and she needs a little time to herself, to prepare for … whatever is coming tonight.

The anticipation makes her vaguely nauseous, but in a way where her entire body hums with energy, and she goes for a run around her neighborhood shortly after noon just to get to a point where she feels a little more settled.

A little is the bare minimum, for whatever Quinn has planned with her; she's put another sleepless night behind her, just hearing Quinn's voice ring around her head with promises of more and yes and now, Rachel, and... God. She could move to Antarctica and still lie awake at night, thinking about just how Quinn makes her feel.

The idea that there's no escape, really, and that she's stuck feeling this way, is oddly enough the thing that finally calms her down enough to just get her in front of the TV, watching a cooking show and then wondering if it would be weird or just overly helpful if she started gardening a little in her rented accommodation (which comes with a gardener).

It's one of those things that nobody really warned her about, when she packed up and left for New York; that there wouldn't be any scope, really, for her to set up a vegetable garden like the one they'd had in the back yard in Lima. Dirty fingernails are something she said goodbye to without realizing she'd miss them.

She now thinks a lot harder about the things that she leaves behind, wherever she goes, and... it's on that somewhat morose thought that the doorbell rings.

Her outfit is—well. It's not casual. It's definitely something she'd wear on a date, but on a date with say, the school quarterback she's also in Glee club with and knows very well. The nerves ricocheting off her insides don't really match the dress she's wearing, but she looks good in navy and the amount of leg she's showing will probably produce some sort of reaction in Quinn.

Who, as she can see through the door, is wearing a pair of form-fitting khakis and a short-sleeved button-up shirt and aviators, and... Christ. A cartoon image of a dog salivating at the sight of a steak pops into her head, and she almost laughs, but then there's a second pan and scan of Quinn's everything and—God.

The things she wants, she doesn't even have names for.

"Hi," Quinn says, before holding up a Whole Foods bag with a small smirk. "I'd ask if you could guide me to the refrigerator, but that would require you to know where it is, so..."

"I hate you," Rachel says, with a sigh, before stepping aside.

Quinn almost does, but then turns on her toes and leans down for a quick kiss that has Rachel freezing; and then Quinn also stills for a second, before finally rocking back on her heels and clearing her throat. "Hi. Um. Right."

"It's... you know, friends kiss, sometimes," Rachel says, completely incoherently; all she wants to do is reach up to Quinn's collar and smooth it down, or pull her down by it, or—cling to it while Quinn presses her up against the door. Yeah. That. The last one.

"The only friends I've ever known who kiss kiss are Brittany and Santana," Quinn says, a little awkwardly.

Rachel snorts involuntarily and says, "Well, they're an even more terrible example than they used to be, given that they're married now."

It's a curse, that Quinn's eyes are hidden behind her sunglasses, because—something happens to her face, but Rachel can't read it for the life of her. It's all a flash, anyway, and then Quinn just very neutrally says, "Yeah? Good on them."

"I'm... we're close, Quinn. I guess I should've told you that before, but … well. I'm sort of at a loss, at what to tell you that won't scare you off," Rachel says, closing the door behind her just to have to not look at Quinn for a second. "I'm sorry if that's overly honest, but—"

"No, that's fair," Quinn says, quietly. "I guess I lied, when I said I didn't want to know who you still talk to, or how everyone is. I just don't know how to ask, really. Some bridges really just burn, you know?"

Rachel smiles after a second and then says, "Hey—I won't lie and say that Santana's the forgiving sort, but Brittany honestly would just be glad to see you again, and you know how they work. Once you win Britt over..."

Quinn forces a small smile, and then makes an exaggerated tired noise before lifting the bag. "Can we start putting these away?"

"Sure," Rachel says, and … well, she'd do this with Kurt, for God's sake, at which point it's worth the risk, putting a hand on the small of Quinn's back and then guiding her towards the kitchen. Quinn reaches up and finally plucks off her sunglasses, folding them and sticking them on the breakfast bar, and then they quietly put away the groceries.

Apparently, they're doing some sort of Italian pasta thing tonight, and Rachel smiles involuntarily. "How'd that tomato and herb pasta recipe work out for you?"

Quinn stares at her uncomprehendingly for a moment and then blushes furiously, and Rachel laughs.

"There's really no point in being shy now, okay."

She watches as Quinn just sort of rolls her eyes and then gets a glass of water from the sink, drinking a few sips before finally turning around again. "Maybe I am shy."

"Okay, the girl who basically told me how to finger myself in the middle of a strip club is not shy," Rachel says, leaning against the breakfast bar and still smiling a little.

"No," Quinn agrees, after a pause, before pinning her with a very deliberate and yet teasing look. "That girl isn't. But there's probably a difference between that girl and me, just like there's a difference between the uppity little thing I'm currently talking to and the depraved little thing that will be begging me to touch her later tonight."

Her panties are instantly ruined, and Quinn knows it, just by looking at her, if that slight darkening of her eyes is anything to go by.

Rachel takes a deep breath, but then looks back at Quinn anyway, because—she's right. There's in here, where they're putting things away together and having conversations and where Quinn blushes and Rachel teases, and then there's in there, where the only thing she wants to do is...

She shivers, and then glances at her watch. "Is uh... four pm too early for dinner?"

Quinn chuckles at that and then says, "Yeah, probably a little. I hear there's a Scrabble legend in this house, anyway. I'd like to exercise my brain before I engage in any other kind of... exercise."

Rachel licks at her lips, dry and automatically parted, and then nods. "Okay. Sure. I can kick your butt any time of day, so that's fine."

Quinn shoots her a look that basically says, bring it, and—yes. This is arguably the weirdest foreplay she's ever engaged in. It's also the best foreplay she's ever engaged in, which should probably worry her a little, but it really doesn't.

It's hard not to have faith that Quinn will get them where they need to go, at least for the next five weeks.

"I can't believe you saved and played effigy," Rachel bitches, before pushing up onto the counter and letting her legs dangle.

Quinn is butchering an onion next to her, which—yeah, no comment, she thinks, and blinks rapidly when her eyes start to water. It's purely the onion, though, because Quinn just sort of smugly smiles at her.

"Effigy. I'm setting up a new house rule, which is no Christian words."

Quinn laughs and brushes the onion into a sauce pan, where it immediately start to sizzle. "I think we'd call that cheating over in the Christian world."

"Hey, my house, my rules. You want to beat me with your Jesus loving ways, take me to yours," Rachel says, with a shrug.

It's meant to be light-hearted, but Quinn's knife stops dicing mushrooms for just a second, before picking up in pace again. "Or you could just accept that I beat your ass fair and square."

"You'll find that I'm an exceptionally sore loser," Rachel says, watching as the mushrooms and some cilantro are also swept into the pan, and Quinn then reaches around her for a bottle of red wine. When Quinn shoots her a look, she smiles. "What?"

"I don't know, all this talk about sore and beating your ass..." Quinn says; even teeth close around a perfectly pink lip a second later, and then she grins. "It's like you know what's coming."

"Pun intended?" Rachel says, her voice abruptly a little hoarser. When Quinn's grin widens a little, she actually squirms. And Quinn knows she squirms, and finally just carefully lowers her knife and leans against the counter, looking at Rachel carefully.

"I know … we've talked. More about this than about anything else, and while I'm dying to know what your favorite movie is and what bands you like, or whatever..."

"Quinn," Rachel says, gently, before reaching for her fingers—pressed against the counter, flat, and unresponsive. "Just spit it out."

"Everything we've talked about," Quinn finally says, hesitantly but with an intense look in her eyes—Rachel can just about spot it, even though it's directed at the floor. "... we've been setting up how we play, haven't we? Even if... we haven't called it that."

The word choice is a little awkward, and it takes Rachel a second to decide if she understands what Quinn means, but then she tilts her head in assent. "Yes."

"And we won't always play. Some parts of how we relate to each other will always be there when we have sex, obviously, but—" Quinn says, finally glancing up.

"The last time we had sex... we just had sex," Rachel says, after a moment, and then stares into Quinn's eyes. "And tonight, we're going to..."

"Play," Quinn says, softly and with so much promise than Rachel almost whimpers in response.

"If we both want to."

"I want to," Quinn says, after a second, and then finally lets go of her grip on the counter and reaches for Rachel's fingers, stroking them slowly before pulling back. She scoffs a little, at herself, and then adds, "I've... brought … things. They're in the car, but … I wanted to make sure we're on the same page here."

There's something about Quinn's careful word choices that makes Rachel acutely realize that they're still in the kitchen, not in the bedroom, and this is Quinn's haphazard way of asking for some sort of consent.

"You've come up with a plan of some kind, haven't you," she finally says, when they're still just staring at each other, breathing a little unsteadily.

The onions in the pan hiss behind them, loudly, and Quinn glances at them quickly before focusing back on Rachel, and locking their fingers together.

"Yeah. I … I have many ideas, about what you need from me, and how I can give it to you," Quinn says, before swallowing visibly. "But I want you to know that—we don't need—"

She presses a finger against Quinn's lip before anything else totally unnecessary can be said, and then just says, "I want to play. Okay?"

It's the understatement of the year. What she means is, I want everything, but those aren't words she can say just yet; but the way Quinn's lips press against her finger a moment later, before she nips at the tip of it with a small, but confident smile—

Yeah. Maybe they can skip the favorite movie bits of this, and just go with what seems to matter to both of them.

Dinner is delicious.

Or well, she assumes it is. She can barely taste it, because every time she glances across the table, Quinn is there, doing something very every-day but … God. Rachel can't stop looking at her, or wanting her.

She compliments the food, and they manage a conversation about their favorite things that don't involve sex, and find that they both really love cheesy romance novels about time-traveling vikings, which … well. Friendships need those kind of commonalities, and the way Quinn smiles at her hints at a form of relief.

In her mind, a split takes place; between Uppity Rachel and Shy Quinn, who really are the ones at the dinner table right now, slowly getting to know each other as people and not just bodies. But, the longer the meal lasts, the more they're being replaced by Other Quinn and Other Rachel, and... she can't really sit still anymore.

Quinn takes a sip of water—and this too was unspoken agreement; apparently they both want to be sober, this new first time—and in the curve of her wrist, as the glass is lifted to her mouth, Rachel sees nothing but memories and promises of how those wrists flex when they hold her down, or how they bend when Quinn is pushing fingers inside of her and—

"I'm done eating," she finally says, clearing her throat and picking up her napkin, depositing it on the plate.

"Is it not—" Quinn starts to ask, and Rachel shakes her head.

"I'm going to have a spontaneous orgasm if we don't start... something soon, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm probably not supposed to come tonight unless you let me... right?"

Quinn very, very carefully lowers her water glass and looks at the table for a second, and then—just like that—they're done. It doesn't matter if they're still in the kitchen; they're in the bedroom now, and Quinn dabs her napkin at her lips for a second and then says, "Don't assume things."

"Okay," Rachel says, softly.

She watches as Quinn slides off the stool and then takes both plates and drops them off in the sink, and then turns to look at her with... God, she feels so naked, the way she's being examined. It's instantaneous. It's ridiculous that five minutes ago, she was being teased over Funny Girl actually being her favorite movie—which she acknowledges is ridiculous levels of cliche, but that doesn't change that she really likes it—and now...

"Go to the bedroom and take off everything but your underwear. If you're wearing lingerie, take it off and switch into the most comfortable set you own. The more virginal, the better," Quinn says, after a moment.

Rachel's entire body breaks out into goose bumps, and then she nods.

Quinn blinks, just once, and then adds, "Wait for me in the center of the bed, on your knees. Touch absolutely nothing of interest until I get back."

"Okay," Rachel says, again, almost automatically this time, before—and God, she has no idea how she knows she's not supposed to move, but it's not until Quinn nods that she gets off the chair and... well, scrambles to her own bedroom.

Less than half a minute later, she hears the front door close, and nearly falls all over herself to pick through her underwear drawer until she can find a plain black bra and a matching pair of boycut briefs, and... on her knees. The mattress dips beneath her, and she... is she supposed to be facing the door?

Shit. It's unreal how even this one simple instruction, and her own inability to actually completely follow it, has her completely on edge, because she really doesn't want to do anything to let Quinn down yet but—maybe it's the point? Maybe this is setting her up to fail, so that she can get... punished?

She swallows and closes her eyes, and digs her hands into the sheets, and then waits.

And waits some more. And … Jesus, her entire body is starting to shake in anticipation, but she has to stay on the bed, and...

Her phone rings, and—that's Quinn's ringtone. Which. Okay, now she knows she's being set up to fail, but what's worse—moving or not answering?

She takes a deep breath, and then reaches for the phone.

"We have company," Quinn says, tersely.

"I'm sorry?"

"Your... manager is outside," she adds, before hanging up.

Rachel stares down at her mostly naked body and can only just about manage an, "Oh, fuck" before scrambling off the bed and back into her clothes.

She knows she looks rumpled, when she reaches the door and steps outside—barefoot, because she couldn't find socks fast enough—and … her hands nervously run up and down her legs, smoothing out the front of her dress, which is … wrinkled. Like she's been rolling around on the floor.

None of that really matters when she sees the look on Quinn's face, though, which—holy shit, Kurt has terrible timing. Half an hour earlier he would've had Awkward and I'm Leaving Quinn to deal with, which... they could've made any sort of 'dinner between friends' excuse look plausible. Now, she looks like she just ran back inside from making out in the barn with her stable hand lover, and Quinn just looks like she wants to strangle Kurt.

"Kurt is... concerned about you," Quinn says, slowly. The tension drips from her voice, and God, this is the most like high school Quinn she's been. Rachel recognizes the defenses for what they are now, though, but that hardly gets Kurt out of harm's way.

"Yes, well, imagine my surprise when Ms. Fabray here came sneaking out of your front door before opening up her trunk and pulling out... whatever that is," Kurt says, before dramatically gesturing at the bag by Quinn's feet and raising his eyebrow. "Pray tell, Quinn. Do you bring the body bag to all your dinner engagements, or only the ones with Broadway stars you're planning on murdering?"

Quinn licks at her teeth for a second and then just shoots Rachel a look that blatantly means, get him out of my face before break his.

Whatever is in the bag clangs loudly when she lifts it over her shoulder, and Rachel feels the slowly simmering anticipation that's been running through her body for the last hour reach a new peak, because—well, shit. One way or another, she's in trouble now.

She averts her eyes when Quinn heads back inside, however great the temptation to just stare at her ass is, and gives Kurt an exasperated look. "Thanks. Can you for once in your life just call before you come over?"

"Maybe I would have, had I known you were going to be busy," he says, the smart in his voice obvious. He holds out his hand a second later and she stares at the paper bag that's in it. "Vegan miso. For the patient. I came by to see if you maybe wanted to watch a Sandra Bullock marathon while you're recovering because, well, I didn't want you to be alone as well as ill all weekend."

The apology is at the tip of her tongue, but, for crying out loud, she's an adult with her own life and she doesn't need to say she's sorry for being busy. The lie is a separate issue, but sometimes? Sometimes, it's nice to remember that she pays him, and not the other way around.

"I appreciate the gesture, but this—automatic assumption that I don't have anything better to do than to entertain you is going to have to stop, Kurt."

"Why? Because you plan on doing Quinn Fabray?"

She takes a deep breath and then takes the bag from him. "I'm going to pretend you didn't—"

"Oh, sure. Pretend away. And while you're busy pretending, feel free to field your own PR, Rachel. You're such a master at it that, oh, right. I'm spending all summer with you just for kicks, while my other clients at best get me on the phone. But they all get it, you see, because after the last five articles or so that called you a rude, stuck up bitch that's increasingly more difficult to work with, I think everyone's aware that damage control doesn't even really begin to cover being Rachel Berry's manager." He falls silent, even though he's clearly still seething, and then adds, softly, "The thing that used to make up for how hard the job is was your friendship, but if you're not going to do me the courtesy of telling me that you're involved with—a woman, and it's presumably serious given that she just walked in with an overnight bag—"

"It's none of your—" she starts saying, before wincing when Kurt explodes.

"The hell it's not, Rachel. This isn't just some fling with some waitress that we can bury while you … live out whatever sapphic fantasies you've been sitting on for the last five years. You think I haven't covered up your past excursions? I'm so good at my job that you have no idea what kind of hoops I jump through just to ensure that you can, from time to time, let loose a little. But we had deal. We had a deal, and that deal includes you letting me know when something actually important is happening in your life so that I can fucking protect you."

He's breathing heavy by the time he's done, and she doesn't honestly think that she's ever heard him swear in his life. He turns to face his car, chest heaving, and then turns and gives her the most disappointed look he's ever directed at her.

"I hope you know what you're doing. And that she's… sweet Jesus, I don't know; a primary school teacher with a heart of gold, because the minute anyone gets a whiff of this, they're going to be all over the both of you."

Rachel looks back as steadily as she can. "She's a student. She's getting a degree in forensic psychology, and she teaches part-time. We're at best friends, and I might've told you all of this before inviting you to lunch with us next weekend if I hadn't thought you would treat this exactly as you are doing."

"Yeah? And how is that?" Kurt asks, his mouth setting again.

"Like it's a problem that needs solving, rather than … potentially the start something I have wanted desperately for longer than I can remember, and something that … I would like to be able to talk to my best friend about without finding him on the phone ten minutes later, getting everyone who's ever even spoken to Quinn sign to the relevant disclaimers."

Kurt exhales softly and then stares at the pavement for a second, before taking a huge step forward and pulling her into a hug, crushing the soup between them.

"Is she good for you?" he finally asks, but this time, she knows she's talking to the real Kurt; the one who is concerned for her, and who knows she's been slipping away, and who hasn't known what to do about any of it.

"In ways you can't even imagine," she says, after a moment.

She feels him nod against her, and then he pulls back with a sigh. "Forensic psychology, huh?"

"She's kind of a brain," Rachel says, relying on all the acting training she has to not budge beyond that. "Kicked my ass at Scrabble tonight, if you can believe that."

"And you're sure there's not … a set of handcuffs and some steak knives in that giant bag she just carried in?" Kurt asks, his lips twitching after a moment.

Honestly? No, she's not.

But he wouldn't understand that, and so she rolls her eyes and says, "Thanks for the soup."

"Anytime," he says, and then heads back to his car.

Strangely, it feels like the first time in about three years that she's managed to move out of an impasse with him on both a professional and a personal level. And like they might be able to go back to just being Kurt and Rachel again.

It's a relief; and then she turns and heads back inside, to find Quinn pacing in the kitchen with an obviously annoyed look on her face.

"I am going to murder Kurt, I don't care if he is your manager, who does he think he is just coming over like that and—" she starts to say, and Rachel lowers the bag of sick food to the ground and pads over to her the rest of the way, before coming to a halt in front of Quinn.

"Hey—relax," she says, carefully. The somewhat wild look in Quinn's eyes fades after a moment, and then she just exhales slowly.

"Sorry—it's... hard to snap in and out of..."

"I know," Rachel says, glancing self-consciously down at her own attire. "Believe me. But nothing terrible has happened, okay?"

"I wasn't... expecting anyone to find out about..." Quinn says, slowly, before just sighing and looking away.

"Kurt will be fine, okay? He was just surprised, but he has no idea what … we're actually doing, and … lord, if he walks away from this just thinking we're dating and taking some appropriate precautions, I think we should both just thank him."

Quinn relaxes a little, at those words, and then asks, "Precautions?"

"A quick… look into your immediate environment. And I'm assuming he'll make sure that there are no connections between you, and me, and Beth, and Shelby, because—Christ, it's probably easier to explain to the press that I'm close friends with a stripper than to try to untangle that in the public eye," Rachel says, after a moment; she tries for a smile, but Quinn's eyes are still darting everywhere, and her fingers are tense, where Rachel's rubbing them with her own.

It takes another solid twenty seconds of them just looking at each other until Quinn sighs and says, "This is what your life is like, isn't it?"

"Pretty much," Rachel says, tilting her head. "Want a Xanax?"

"No, thank you," Quinn says, slowly; and Rachel reaches up and rubs at the frown on her forehead until it smooths away. "I need a second to... regroup."

"What can I do?" Rachel asks, quietly.

Quinn examines her, at that offering, and then there's that shift again; but it's slower, this time, and steadier, and when Quinn cups her chin, she knows it's going to happen and lets it happen.

"Same thing as you did before," she finally says, with a quick stroke of her thumb past Rachel's cheek.

It feels so unexpectdly affectionate that Rachel lowers her eyes, and then turns her head to kiss Quinn's palm; and... maybe that's taking liberties that she shouldn't, right now, but it pays off.

Quinn smiles, looking much more settled again, and then just says, "Go."

She does.

Her wrists hurt.

Not because of the way Quinn has bound them, which is fine, but because of the way she can't help but struggle against the restraints, because Quinn is right there—she thinks, anyway, she obviously can't see, because the blindfold was the first thing that came on and will probably be the last thing that comes off—and she just can't touch her, and holy God, she's never wanted anything more in her life.

Not a Tony, not the EGOT, not even the starring role in West Side Story. She's never … it's not even wanting. It's a desperate desire, a need, and at that thought—

"Please," she manages, but her throat is dry and Quinn's response is another silent one; a bite at the base of her neck, the sting of which is taken away with a harsh suck, and oh, God, the way Quinn is slowly fucking her, it's not even sex anymore. She's being plied apart, and the burn of the sheets on her ass—raw, if she has to put it in a single word—is so distracting from the pleasure that—no, she's wrong. The discomfort adds to it, because she knows that Quinn knows that it stings and yet she's braving it, she's doing what Quinn wants her to, and—

"Please what?" Quinn asks, long moments later; steady, curved fingers are still stroking her apart, never quite letting her climax, and then—they disappear, and she feels even teeth dig into her thigh. "Please what, Rachel?"

"I need—" she says, but the rest of her sentence just chokes off when Quinn licks at her clit, swirling around it for a second before pulling away and blowing cold air on it.

"What do you need?"

She needs to come. It's been hours; she thinks, anyway. She has no idea. Most of the evening has been this endless, dull thread of almost—almost—almost, but she can never quite grasp it in time, and Quinn has been merciless. Telling her that she hasn't earned the right to come yet, that it won't happen until she's demonstrated she can be good, and... oh, God, she's done everything Quinn has asked of her, she really has, she's tried to, at least, but still they're not done.

She's never felt so out of control in her life.

She doesn't even know what she wants, anymore. Words are completely useless to her, and all she knows is that she's just... there. Unless Quinn tells her, she doesn't know anything anymore.

It makes her want to—

Quinn's hand slaps the side of her ass, and she moans softly before squirming again, and biting down hard on her lip, before angling her hips upwards towards Quinn's fingers.

They retreat almost immediately. "What, Rachel?"

"Please, Quinn," she says, before licking her cracked lips. She's sotired and yet so strung tight, and she can't do this on her own. She needs— "Please let me come, I can't take this anymore—"

"Yes, you can," Quinn tells her, coolly; but when she continues, there's just the barest hint of warmth in her voice. "Come on. Just a little bit longer; you're doing great."

And just like that, there's relief.

She's doing great.

It's been—fuck knows how long since anyone has told her she's been great at anything, and...

She's doing great.

She sucks air into her lungs, and holds it there, and then slowly lets it out. Nobody moves, for a long moment, and they're barely touching, and … out of nowhere, she feels her entire body relax, because... Quinn will let her come when she's accepted that she can't.

That's the point of this, isn't it?

And so she takes another deep breath, and... forces her body—sore ass and all—back into the mattress, and waits.

The lightest of sounds, just a brief exhaling, gives Quinn away; and before she can really dwell on finally having gotten it right, Quinn's mouth is back on her. She's being rewarded, she knows, because the next strokes to her clit are more deliberate, and on target, and then Quinn pulls away just long enough to say, "Okay, that's it, Rach, you're done. Let go, now."

...

When she does, it's unlike everything she's ever experienced; it ends in tears, which—God, she doesn't know how to explain those, but she feels a bit of hysteria come on when she stops coming, and then Quinn is tugging the blindfold off her eyes and she just—she loses it completely when Quinn looks at her with so much... God, is that affection? Is it—

She needs to touch her, and she still can't, and she starts sobbing when she realizes her hands are still bound; and then Quinn just shushes her, running a hand through her hair before quickly undoing the restraints, and then—

"I've got you, you're okay. Hey, Rachel? Listen to me. I've got you—shhh—you're okay. It's okay. Hey, listen—you did wonderful, and what you're feeling is normal, I promise, you're okay—"

Compared to hard she fell apart to Brittany on the phone on Thursday morning, this is like a tidal wave, and she clutches at every part of Quinn she can reach, until they're curled up on the bed together in a small ball, and the only thing she can still hear is Quinn's voice, telling her that she's okay.

She starts to believe it, after a while, and then all she can feel is Quinn curving around her, while her eyes slip shut and she just fades away.

When they open again, she tenses at the feeling of a hand on her hip, and then carefully rolls over.

Quinn looks—

"You're still here," Rachel says, tiredly, and then shifts away a little, because Quinn looks on the verge of having a panic attack, but then takes a deep breath and shifts a little until they're not touching anymore.

Rachel feels—

She can't put it into words, but every swoop of air into her lungs feels like the first. She hasn't felt this present, or this clear, in years. Not since a therapist first gave her a prescription to deal with the stress she's been under, but... there's no stress right now. There's absolutely nothing, because Quinn took everything away from her and—

God, she's so in love with at least one version of Quinn that it's almost unbearable, especially with the way Quinn is now staring at the ceiling and anxiously clenching her fingers together.

Quinn gave her something she can't explain, today, and after indulging for just another few moments—watching, this creature who isn't quite Shy Quinn but also isn't Other Quinn, but … someone else entirely, capable of taking her places she's never even considered and then catching her once she falls—she clears her throat.

"I could... use some water. We're out, though, so … there's a corner store about a mile and a half from here?"

Quinn doesn't react for a long while, but then gives her a look that's equal parts know what you're doing and thank you, and then sits upright and slips off the bed.

It doesn't occur to Rachel that Quinn didn't have a single orgasm during the three hours they were at it until Quinn's already out of the house. Then, she shifts, and the sheets literally chafe her ass to the point of tears stinging her eyes, and that's when she gets up and looks at her self in the mirror. And, God, it's shocking; she's marked with little bites basically everywhere, like Quinn set about staking a claim before actually demanding ownership, and there are red blotches all over her ass that are going to hurt for days.

That's shocking, but—not nearly as shocking as the look on her face, because she looks...

She takes a deep breath, and then heads to the bathroom to freshen up a little, and … it's only when she's done with all of that that it occurs to her that Quinn might just not come back.

A swell of panic bursts in her chest, but she dismisses it, and runs her hands under the sink and presses them against her face. That's when she notices the bruising on her wrists, and God, her make-up team are going to kill her-but it's so worth it. Every time she'll look at her own hands for the next week and a half or so, she'll remember this, and...

She brushes her teeth, and only when the panic bubbles over into a spike in her heart rate and—God, she's not in public, or in an open space, and so this really can't be happening but it feels like it is. And she doesn't want it to happen, right now.

She doesn't. She's relaxed and happy, her face tells her she's happy and cared for and her brain, this stupid fucking condition, it can't just take this away from her. It's taken so much already and—

Her hand is already around one of the spare bottles in the medicine cabinet when a quiet knock sounds on the bathroom door, and she forces herself to take a few quick breathes for slamming the cabinet shut and opening up.

"I … got some ice cream, thought maybe we could watch a movie or something," Quinn says, a little hesitantly. "Are you okay? You're not... hurt, are you?"

"No. I'm fine," Rachel says, and feels her heart start to slow, when it becomes clear that Quinn means it. She's not going to leave, just yet. They're going to watch a movie, and maybe, if she plays her cards right, she can eat Quinn out while they're on the couch, because—

Well, shit, who needs a reason for wanting to do that? Look at her.

When Quinn gives her a small, nervous smile, after a second, Rachel puts on her best game face and says, "I hope that ice cream's vegan, or I might just have to spank you."

Quinn chortles a little, but can't actually manage a response, and then just gives her an are you kidding me type look.

"I know, I wouldn't dream of it," Rachel murmurs, flicking off the bathroom light and following Quinn back into the living room.

It's not a lie. The things she does dream about are a lot more life-changing and complicated than taking Quinn over her knee.

This bet they're running, spreading chips between a life of friendship and a life of play, … it's not going to cut it anymore; not after what she now realizes they could have, if they just went all in.

Watching as Quinn scoops up some ice cream with one of the plastic spoons she's brought—and Rachel smiles momentarily when she sees it is vegan, and then smiles wider when she realizes Quinn got a pint of vanilla—and then brightens at a Sandra Bullock marathon on Lifetime—

No, it's not enough. But she's not naive enough to think that Quinn staying, right now, just this once, is a sign of anything more, or that if she pushes, she won't fuck up everything they do have right now.

"Want some?" Quinn asks, after a moment, with wide eyes and a lick at the end of the spoon.

Some doesn't even begin to cover it.

Chapter Text

The steady pressure at the back of her head makes it almost possible for to be as perfectly still as Quinn wants her to be.

The white rug—some sort of near-bearskin thing that she wouldn't in a million years put up in her own house—is making the position more or less bearable, even though she can't help shake a little at the chill of the night air.

It's close to eleven, and she momentarily wonders why nobody warned her that Vegas cools down at night the way it does; her nipples are uncomfortably hard against the rough cotton of her t-shirt, but really, none of that matters when Quinn's hips are finally starting to work up against her mouth with a little more purpose.

This is... God. She's not sure if it's a reward or a further test; to be able to taste but not touch, really, while Quinn finally deals with whatever their earlier activities inspired in her.

The hand at the back of her skull tightens, and then her hair is being pulled on almost painfully hard, but she loves it. Loves the way the tendons in Quinn's forearm stand out, like Rachel's mouth is literally the only thing anchoring her right now—and then, when Rachel's almost at a point where she feels like she might faint if she can't start lapping at Quinn soon, Quinn's breath catches and—

She watches, silently and still, as requested, and soaks in what's happening; Quinn's head snaps back against the sofa with a strangled moan, as her entire body bows upwards and—oh, God, the rush of liquid in her mouth is what finally has Rachel reaching for Quinn's thighs, just for something to hold on to. That appears to be okay, though, because Quinn half-ruffles her hair after a few moments and then says, "C'mere", in a barely-there voice that has Rachel scampering up the sofa and into Quinn's lap.

They trade lazy kisses—nothing to do with play, really—and Quinn licks her own wetness off Rachel's lips, which—no, God, she's too tired and too emotionally raw to even begin to consider more sex right now. The way Quinn's hand flattens against the base of her spine and just holds her in place is exactly right, as a conclusion to everything that's come before.

She can't really bring herself to think of it as a conclusion, though, and when Quinn blearily opens her eyes again and says, "Thanks", she—

She buries her face in Quinn's neck and laughs, and says, "You're so ridiculous sometimes."

"I was raised to be polite," Quinn sort of murmurs, before slumping into the couch cushions even more bonelessly; she then twirls a strand of Rachel's hair around her finger and adds, "Plus, we finally found out what that big mouth of yours is good for—"

Rachel prods at her ribs and Quinn chuckles tiredly.

The moment lingers, as does the comfort inherent to it, and Rachel lifts up her head after a second and says, "Please just stay. I promise I won't read anything into it, but it's late and we're both exhausted and—"

Quinn's eyes slip shut again, and then she just about nods. "Okay."

It takes them at least another five minutes before they both feel like they can move—even though it's been several hours since she last came, Rachel's legs are jelly-like just from watching Quinn finally come down, and she doesn't trust that she can make it to the bedroom in one go without hanging on to something.

When she reaches for Quinn's hand, Quinn dips down and fishes her panties and jeans off the floor and then looks at them both with a grimace. "Commando it is."

"I sleep in the nude," Rachel says, after a moment, glancing over her shoulder at where Quinn is awkwardly following; awkward because her back pops, and her legs also aren't exactly steady, and...

Some part of her, ridiculously, wants to call Santana and brag about, whatever, how hard she just made Quinn come, or how hard Quinn made her come, because after years of feeling like the ugly stepchild next to the perpetual fuck-fest that was Brittany and Santana's marriage, it's hard not to feel a little jubilant.

But then Quinn just sort of raises an eyebrow, and says, "I think I can live with that."

The impulse to kiss and tell vanishes completely, because this is all she has, of Quinn, and she's not going to share this one goddamned thing that is just theirs.

When they reach the bedroom, Rachel blinks and looks at the black duffel bag that's next to her dresser. She stares at it a moment too long for Quinn not to notice what she's looking at, and after a slight hesitation Quinn says, "Bring it to bed with us. We'll go through it."

"You didn't use much of what was in there, did you," Rachel asks.

Quinn shakes her head and then scratches her hair. "Do you have a spare toothbrush by any chance?"

She has like, five, but only because Puck stocks her travel bag with a shitton of spares because she's usually too distracted when packing up to remember to check the bathroom. That's unnecessary information, and so she just nods and says, "Medicine cabinet."

It only hits her after Quinn has already headed into the ensuite that the medicine cabinet is also a laundry list of her various issues, but rather than feeling the pressing shame she normally feels when she thinks of … well, her life, she just figures that it's nothing Quinn doesn't already know.

And Quinn still wants her.

Gingerly sitting down on the mattress, she pulls the surprisingly heavy bag onto the bed with her and then leans back against the headboard. There are at least five things in her life that will never have the same meaning again, and when the tap runs and she hears Quinn softly singing The Hills Are Alive, around a toothbrush, she realizes that The Sound of Music is unfortunately now one of them.

In that, really, one of her childhood staples is now going to be associated with kinky sex forever, and... she snorts laughter and watches as Quinn's head peeks around the door.

"Just... experiencing a sudden moment of relief that I didn't pick Barbra as my safe word, or I'd have some serious issues advancing my career."

Quinn grins around the toothbrush and—God, this is the stuff that dreams are made of, isn't it? It's unreal, that she can still be so attractive with a mouth full of minty foam, half-naked in a button down shirt that barely even reaches the tops of her thighs, and...

How is it that they can be this comfortable around each other, but that they still can't get closer?

It would be so easy to blame Quinn, but it's not just Quinn. Every morning, she wakes up and reaches for the other side of the bed—like there's ever been anyone there—and castigates herself for it. That kind of dependency is what turned her life into the shitheap it is these days, and it snuck up on her blindly.

Quinn isn't sneaking up on her. She can see her coming, and she has to brace herself, for the inevitable impact.

With another weekend under their belt, it's now just four weeks until she's done at the Palace, and it looks like all she's going to have to show for it back in New York is one less toothbrush and the faint memory of how much her ass hurt that one weekend in July.

Her smile falters, and she aimlessly plays with the zipper on the bag. When Quinn's done spitting and rinsing, she steps out of the bathroom and tugs her shirt off and then sits, Indian style, across from Rachel on the mattress before nodding at the bag.

"Go ahead."

Rachel hesitates for a second and then says, "No, I mean. Together, please. This is a little—"

"Okay," Quinn says, easily enough, and unzips the bag in one smooth motion.

Rachel stares at what she can see of what's in it and then just looks at Quinn with wide eyes.

"I have a lot of money," Quinn says, with a slight hint of awkwardness that is somehow the absolutely most inappropriately cute thing that could be happening right now. "And... about ten years of fantasies to act out in a very short time."

"Good lord, you make it sound like there's an exam at the end," Rachel says, before looking at the bag again.

Quinn doesn't say anything to that for a long moment, but then finally asks, "I passed, today, didn't I?"

Rachel looks at her in shock. "Are you serious?"

"I …" Quinn starts to say, before sighing, and... yeah. Now they're in the bedroom, but she's definitely with Shy Quinn, and after a second Rachel prods the thigh nearest her with a toe.

"I don't know how you can ask me that. I … I don't know. Do we talk about our feelings, in this? Or, because we're not in a relationship, is that off limits?"

Quinn's face blanks out for a second, and then she carefully says, "I … don't know."

"We're flying blind here, obviously, so … you tell me, Quinn. I'm happy to talk about whatever."

The fact that she's saying the words while fishing a pair of nipple clamps out of a duffel bag probably dull their significance somewhat, and after a moment Quinn just sighs. "Okay. Yeah. We probably should. It's … part of the sex, regardless of our non-sexual relationship."

Rachel looks at the clamps for a second and then says, "Um, this is the yes pile, for what it's worth."

Quinn's eyes darken for a second, and then watches as Rachel lets the clamps dangle from their chain before dropping them on the bed.

"You … I'm starting to realize I have conflicting desires," Rachel says, after a long pause. The next item—and for God's sake, she feels kind of like the world's naughtiest child, finding out what Santa left in her stocking, except that she's Jewish and an adult and any Santa who gave these items to children should be arrested post-haste—she pulls out is a riding crop and she stares at it blankly for a moment.

"No?" Quinn prompts.

"Well. Rumor has it you can use these without actually uh, … you know," Rachel says, twisting the thing in her hand. "Treating me like I have horse flesh?"

Quinn says nothing for a few moments, then blushes a dark red, and finally says, in a strangled tone of voice, "According to … the internet, if used appropriately, I could probably actually use it a wide variety of places, including … on your... um..."

Rachel almost starts laughing when Quinn finally just points, because the urge to lean forward and hug her is one that she has to suppress at all costs. Neither Quinn would appreciate either kind of move, right now, and so finally she just smiles and says, "You know, before I'm letting you slap my pussy with anything, you're going to have to sound a little more confident about your ability to actually hit target."

The look on Quinn's face is absolutely priceless, as is the thick way in which she asks, "So—is that a yes or a no?"

"How's your aim?" Rachel asks, before gently letting sliding the length of the crop through her hands.

"I'll... work on it," Quinn says, after a moment.

"What, with like, other women?" Rachel asks, raising her eyebrows.

Quinn gapes for a second and then just clears her throat. "No—with like, a … I don't know. A pinata or something."

"A pinata," Rachel repeats, dryly. "What, am I hanging from the ceiling in this scenario?"

It takes another second and then Quinn is covering her face with her hands and muttering, "I really hate you sometimes" while Rachel tips onto her back and laughs.

When her laughter trails off, Quinn is looking at her with an unexpectedly soft look, and then says, "How did it make you feel?"

"Is that clinical curiosity or—"

"Or," Quinn says, almost immediately, and then leans forward a little to listen intently. It's the little things; the way Quinn listens, with almost her entire body poised, that Rachel knows will stay with her forever—and she can't look away, even though she's had easier conversations.

Given that they shared the experience, though... maybe Quinn's earned a little flashing.

"It... at first, I honestly didn't know if we would be able to pull this off. I mean, I know it's you, obviously, and that you have zero intention of actually torturing me these days," Rachel says, smiling when Quinn glances down quickly at those words, "and so... I expected that I'd feel a certain level of comfort that wouldn't get me to the brink, but... by the time you … spanked me..."

The slight 'hmm' in Quinn's throat makes her heart jolt, and she takes a deep breath before saying, "I … you know, we had dinner like an hour before that and … none of that was there anymore. I couldn't think of you as like, that girl I went to high school with, or the girl who cooked me dinner. You were just Quinn, and... God, I wanted to touch you so badly but you made me earn it. And... I really felt like I had, when we were done. You... yeah. Everything you did was timed... perfectly. You pushed me just far enough, and … I mean, couldn't you tell?"

Quinn licks at her lips—again, and Rachel's hand snakes across the duvet almost automatically, but stops short of touching her, and finally Quinn just says, "I hoped that it would make you feel like … I'd take care of you, if you just trusted me."

"You did. And I did," Rachel says, softly.

Quinn smiles faintly at that. "What did you mean when you said your desires are conflicting?"

Rachel takes a deep breath and says, "Well, there's this—part of me, which … needs desperately to be good enough, I guess. And then there's the part of me that likes being told that I'm not good enough. Dirty whore Rachel, if you will. They're almost entirely separate."

"Don't call yourself that," Quinn says, firmly, and it's so unexpectedly sweet in the middle of this extra-bizarre conversation that Rachel almost sighs.

"I don't... you know what I mean."

"Still. If anyone needs to call you a whore, it'll be me, and I'll do it during, but only because you... you want to be made to feel like what you're doing is inappropriate or bad, somehow. Is that the appeal?"

Rachel nods. "I've been... you know, the quintessential good girl all of my life. But not in my fantasies. And the idea of being caught out at that, by someone who can fulfill them..."

Quinn smiles beautifully; like she's been given a purpose. "Well," she then says, and... that's a promise for more, later.

Rachel knows she flushes a little, just at that one reminder that Quinn is starting to really, really understand what makes her tick, and it's a lot, to put on someone that is still quite distant from her. But is there really distance, in conversations like this one?

Her hand closes around what's obviously a dildo of some kind, and she lifts it from the bag and immediately tosses it over into the 'yes' pile.

Quinn smirks at the addition. "I'm guessing that... Dirty You Know What Rachel has some feelings about those?"

"A few," Rachel says, as blandly as she can, because—no. She absolutely cannot go again tonight, and the way that Quinn is looking at her...

Next item. She blinks at it, turns it in her hand, and then just raises her eyebrows at Quinn.

"Ball gag."

There's a moment of hesitation where Rachel just says, "I don't know", and looks at Quinn's face for some sort of guidance.

"In what sense?"

"In that—it's hard for me, to stay silent, so as a method of um, punishment, it could work—but surely part of the appeal for you is to have that up-herself little bitch you hated in high school begging you to get her off?"

Quinn's eyes widen at that short-hand description and then she just sort of laughs and says, "Rachel, that's really not what this is about. I mean, I won't lie and say that it wasn't... originally, at least a little, about putting you in your place, but..."

"So what is it about?" Rachel asks, and bites her lip as Quinn visibly struggles to come up with an answer. "It's not just control, is it? Because... God, Quinn, look at you. You could control anyone if you wanted to. There isn't a girl in the city who wouldn't let you top them, with the way you look and how good you are at it."

Quinn's eyes focus on her after a long moment, and then she says, "I'm not interested in … look, if this was just about topping people, I'd continue leaving a string of one-directional one-night-stands all over the Strip, and the rest of what I need I'd get out of dancing, at least emotionally."

It's an unexpected reveal, and after a moment, Rachel carefully asks, "So why don't you?"

"Because... this is more than that. What I get out of this is the knowledge that... you need me. You don't just need sex, you don't just need... a good hard fuck from someone willing to dominate you. You need me to read you, and figure out your desires, and fulfill them. Even the ones you can't verbalize, and the ones that you're too embarrassed to admit to out loud. And you trust me with..." The sentence trails off with a gesture that seems to mean 'everything', and after a second Rachel swallows thickly, because—how is that something you say to a friend?

How?

"And your desperate need to please me is a turn-on on a scale I can't even describe. I have no idea how to make it clear to you just how hard it was earlier tonight to not just … mount you, and fuck your face, just to let both of us have what we wanted—but..."

Rachel feels her mouth dry out at the way Quinn finally just shrugs, and then quietly finishes with, "Playtime is for both of us, obviously, but tonight was about you."

There is nothing she can say in response to Quinn's words that isn't I love you, and so instead she slips her hand inside of the bag again and pulls out a pair of shiny silver handcuffs.

"Why the variety?" she asks, after a second.

"Different levels of comfort, positional control, … aesthetics," Quinn says, still quietly. When Rachel studies her for a moment, she looks like she's reeling at the things that just came out of her own mouth, and...

They need a distraction, before one of them says something that will make the other leave, or … curl up in a ball and cry.

The next thing out of the bag just about provides it. "Um. This is... very," she says, staring at it quizzically before suddenly, the coin drops. "… oh."

"According to the internet..." Quinn starts to say, before chuckling at herself and running a hand through her hair. "According to the internet, while not inherently pleasurable for … women, the act of allowing, um, play back there can really be a big emotional kicker in terms of control issues and … feeling naughty."

Rachel pokes her tongue at the inside of her cheek for a moment and then just sighs. "I'm starting to actually feel slutty at this point, but hey. I'm not inherently opposed to anal anything either, so..."

The small dildo drops onto the little pile of things they have there, and … well, there isn't even a place for the no pile, because she's rejected exactly nothing so far.

With a deep breath, she grapples around the bag again and finds... a bunch of rope and...

"For spread-eagling, among other things," Quinn says, almost sounding like she's narrating a wildlife documentary at this point.

Why not, right? Rachel just shakes her head and drops it into the yes pile.

Along with set of spherical objects on some sort of string—"um... normally also for... the back entrance, but they can be used either way, apparently"—a wide variety of temperature play objects—"that's... cold. That's one's hot. Um, the candles are for melting... but wax only stings, it doesn't hurt, and then you obviously have some input about where it's... you know. Dripped..."—and a harness and a few dildos that, well, whatever. Some are going to make her feel like she can't possibly take them, and others are going to be so small so as to be torturous inside of her, which—there's some appeal on both of those levels, and the when and why, she'll leave up to Quinn.

It's not until she reaches the cat o' nine tails that a second pile is formed, and that thing is joined fairly quickly with a set of needles—to which Quinn says, "Um, they were heavily discounted and upgraded me to free shipping at one particular store", before adding a sheepish, "Just … thought I'd give you the option, but … thank God"—and a more run of the mill flogger.

Quinn's lips quirk up. "No to … lashing, then?"

"Flogging—yeah, no. I... I'm okay with the riding crop, weirdly, but that's because it won't sting. Not in the same way. This is getting too close to pain, even if I'm sure you'd use it deftly," Rachel says, placing it on the bed gently.

"Okay," Quinn says, easily enough.

The bag is basically empty after that—a few more varieties of things for pinching and tying and... to her great amusement, an ice cube tray—and she puts everything in the yes pile back into it before, after a look, leaning over the side of the bed and shoving the bag under it.

When she sits back up, Quinn jokingly says, "Pleasure doing business with you, ma'am."

Rachel rolls her eyes and tosses the flogger in Quinn's general direction; Quinn snatches it from the air with a smile, and only then does Rachel really look at her again.

It's unreal, that she actually forgot, but Quinn has been naked throughout this entire conversation. Just sitting there and talking about sex toys for a good thirty minutes, which… God, how is anyone that comfortable with their body?

Oh, right.

The stripping.

The parts of Quinn that are private are not visible. Because of the stripping.

She tries not to sigh, at any of that, and then finally just says, "C'mon. We should get some sleep."

Quinn pulls back her side of the covers and then slips under, and stares at the ceiling for a long time. Her obvious tenseness makes it hard for Rachel to relax enough to fall asleep, even though she's exhausted, and after a while she flips onto her back as well and tilts her head until she can look at Quinn.

"What's going on in your massive cerebral cortex?" she asks, softly.

Quinn blinks at her in surprise, and then just gives her a sort of … is it a sad smile? She can't really tell. It's a facial gesture that's really reminiscent of high school Quinn, somehow, who had always seemed like she was too pretty to be as sad as she'd been.

Things are different now, and while this is intimacy on a scale that might set Quinn running, she reaches across the mattress anyway, just leaving her hand there to bridge the gap between them.

Quinn stares at her hand for a long moment, and then says, "This … lunch, with Puck and Kurt. Where would we go?"

It's not at all what Rachel is expecting, but it results in a soft, sleepy conversation about her two best friends, and how they're doing, and how they can do lunch wherever Quinn wants, as long as it fits the parameters of Rachel's conditions.

Quinn's eyes start to droop after Rachel recounts the Kurt/Blaine break-up of 2014, and she just keeps talking quietly and evenly; Quinn's lips curve into a smile from time to time, but by the time she's moved on to Puck's fling with her understudy from three years ago, Quinn's breathing is so steady that Rachel falls still and just watches for a long time.

It's a sight she'll never get enough of, and maybe, when she reaches over in the morning, Quinn will actually be there for a change.

It'll feel a little less pathetic, in other words.

If she didn't know better, she'd think Quinn was trying to woo her a little.

Friends? Friends don't really make breakfast in the morning—especially not something as complicated as vegan waffles when, Quinn even admits out loud, she's never attempted cooking a damn thing without eggs or butter. But, she pulls it off, and tops off the waffles with some more ice cream.

"Your sweet tooth nauseates me," Rachel notes, eating a few bites and slowly getting used to the idea that Quinn now knows how to work her coffee maker, and knows where she keeps the garbage bags.

That's all a whole lot of something, except it's not really, because Quinn just smirks and says, "Really, Rachel. You should be glad I like sweet things as much as I do."

With a comment like that, it's really no wonder that she ends up shoved against the wall in the shower while Quinn goes down on her and brings her to a hard and fast orgasm, before straddling Rachel's thigh and—with barely even eight thrusts—following suit, digging her teeth into Rachel's collarbone.

Maybe that's not how courtship traditionally works, but—Rachel's discovering she's not the traditional girl she's always pretended to be.

There is no point in hurrying out of the bathroom after that, and so Rachel towels off while Quinn brushes her teeth—and God, she does this dorky smile-check in the mirror that makes Rachel chuckle unexpectedly, and that laughter earns her a slap on the ass which—yeah. Really smarts, now.

She fucking loves it.

She won't be able to sit without thinking of Quinn for days. It's a gift, when it's anyone's guess when they'll next see each other.

The morning ends almost too soon, but then there's that awkward kiss on the lips again when Quinn takes a few flogging instruments and her sunglasses back to her car, and the "I'll call you" this time feels distinctly less like a brush-off than it has in the past.

She's learning to trust that Quinn will come back. It's not entirely clear if that's incredibly naive on her part, or if things are just changing.

Then, on Tuesday morning, Quinn calls and says, "Can the three of you do lunch at Sushi Roku at around 1.30? We should be all right without a reservation."

Rachel almost drops her phone and then carefully says, "Are you sure?"

She's pretty sure Quinn is rolling her eyes when she responds. "No, I'm accidentally calling to arrange for a lunch meeting with two people who haven't seen me since I was still losing baby weight, for God's sake."

Wow. That's an unexpected level of self-loathing, and after a second Quinn sighs and amends herself to, "Yes, I'm sure, but I'm also... not entirely thrilled about this. Okay? I don't like getting into situations where I'm not sure what to expect, and after running into Kurt on Saturday..."

"I'll keep them both in line," Rachel says, quickly. "Honest."

"Okay," Quinn says, exhaling slowly, and then clucks her tongue. "Business casual is fine; see you there, then."

It feels more like a pre-audition lunch meeting with her management and some investors or directors or whatever else than … well. It shouldn't feel like she's having her best friends meet her girlfriend, because that's not what this is about.

Maybe if she says it out loud like ten million times before she leaves the house, that message will actually sink in.

Thank God for Noah Puckerman.

He spots Quinn first, already at a table, and says, "Wow—hotter than ever"—which almost makes Rachel kick him in the shin, but he means exactly nothing by it.

When they reach the table, he puts a hand on Quinn's shoulder and says, "Shit, Quinn. How are you?"

Puck is smart enough to not try to hug her, and after a second of squeezing her shoulder just moves to the other side of the table. Rachel sits down next to Quinn before she can be forced to sit next to her 'boyfriend' by Kurt, kissing her on the cheek quickly, and then watches as Kurt slowly eases down into the remaining chair.

"Sake okay for everyone?" Quinn asks, blithely.

"Uh, no thanks; I'll have a beer," Puck says, wincing at the idea of any kind of wine, and after a second Quinn visibly relaxes.

"Still the cheapest lager in stock, or has your taste improved now that you can afford better?"

He winks at her and says, "I save my money for my golf clubs these days, so—yep. Cheap as ever."

Quinn smiles a little and then looks at Kurt. "What about you?"

"I don't drink in public, just in case my clients do," Kurt says, primly, and starts flipping through the menu as soon as it's slid in front of him.

Rachel could murder him, because it's not as if everyone at the table isn't aware of her issues, so he's just being a prick by bringing them up the way he is. She's not alone in her discontent; after a second Puck elbows him in the side. "Dude, come on. Just spit out whatever's bothering you, and we can all move on."

Kurt makes a face, but then finally folds his hands together and stares at Rachel. "I don't appreciate being ambushed."

"Kurt, as soon as... we'd figured out … oh, for God's sake. I'm sorry, but no. I'm an adult, and until there's a point where I know I'm in a relationship that is going to get media attention, I don't need to spill to you. And stop taking whatever your current problem with your boss is out on our guest," Rachel says, sharply.

Quinn faintly raises her eyebrows, but otherwise doesn't comment.

Kurt acquiesces a second later, and then says, "You're right. Quinn, I apologize. You look spectacularly good for someone exposed to this desert air all the time."

Quinn sort of snorts and says, "Thank you. It's mostly Clinique, but I do what I can to stay out of the sun."

Well, if anything is going to win Kurt over, it's a discussion of beauty products, and off they go; Rachel watches as Quinn relaxes more and more into her chair, and then watches as Puck watches them, and she sort of blushes before saying, "So—what's good here?"

Quinn glances at the menu. "To save us some time, I'm happy to order—everyone but Rachel eats meat, right?"

"You've eaten here before?" Kurt asks, raising his eyebrows. "I didn't think this type of thing was doable on a student budget."

Quinn smiles, but doesn't respond, and then flags down their waitress to place an order. In Japanese.

The fucking Grand Canyon is too small for the myriad of things they don't know about each other, Rachel thinks, and takes another careful sip of water just to reminder herself that, okay, this is a first real outing, as … friends, and there are bound to be a few stumbles along the way.

That's fine. It's normal.

It's probably more normal than either of them can handle, unfortunately.

...

"So, Kurt tells me you like, check out corpses and stuff to track down serial killers," Puck says, when their appetizers have been delivered.

"Not yet," Quinn says, swallowing quickly. "I'm still finishing up my specialism, and... honestly, I'm not sure I want to go into practice. I'd rather teach this stuff than be called out of bed at five in the morning because some woman has been brutally murdered and raped and they'd like an expert opinion on whether or not there is an element of sexual sadism involved."

Kurt nearly chokes on a roll and then says, "My God, you've become even more charming a conversationalist with age, haven't you?"

Quinn sort of shrugs. "He asked."

"I think it sounds awesome, either way. You're like that chick from Silence of the Lambs," Puck notes, taking a sip of beer and then gesturing between Quinn and Rachel with the bottle. "So, like, as a friend, and the stand-in boyfriend. What's the deal with you two?"

Rachel looks at Quinn briefly, who is picking at her salad, and then says, "We're getting reacquainted."

"You know, the traditional way of getting reacquainted is less horizontal," Kurt says, dryly.

"Oh, leave them alone; whatever. Shit's complicated, I get that," Puck says, and then laughs abruptly. "I mean, and that's normal shit. With you two, and what you were like in high school..."

"What, a closeted, bitchy cheerleader with a chip on her shoulder, and an overbearing and cripplingly insecure loudmouth who—hated each other?" Quinn says, smiling to take the sting out of her words.

Puck chuckles. "Your words, not mine, babe."

"It's oddly reminiscent of the start of Cinderella, if Cinderella had concluded with the evil stepsisters finding that they didn't give a damn about the prince and would rather tango together," Kurt says, taking a sip of his wine. His eyes smile, and for the first time all day, Rachel relaxes. She'll never actually be comfortable in a public setting like this again, but she relaxes, and it's … it's the biggest relief. "Perhaps we can pitch it as a musical."

"Yeah, or maybe not," Rachel murmurs, as Quinn laughs softly and brushes a hand past Rachel's thigh.

It's friendly; or maybe it's not entirely friendly, but... they're being honest with each other about a lot of stuff, so she opts to just take it at face value, before deciding that her salad—while exquisite in composition—could use some more salt.

It's innocuous, really, the way she briefly smiles at Quinn before reaching for the salt & pepper shaker on the table. It's incredibly innocuous, and she doesn't even think that her sleeve might ride up if she reaches that far, but then suddenly the entire table falls silent.

"Dude," Puck exhales, before reaching for her hand and twisting it until it's palm-upwards, and her wrist is showing.

"What…" Kurt says, before stopping himself and leveling a look at Quinn that—well, it might make a milk maid cry. But not Quinn. "Did you do this to her?"

Rachel feels her breath catch, and pulls her hand away before tugging the sleeve back down, which… she belatedly realizes that makes her look ashamed, which is really not the vibe she's going for here, so then she pulls both of her sleeves up to her elbows, but—they're in public, and this is oh so private and—

She stops moving altogether when Quinn puts a hand on her thigh, squeezing lightly, before carefully folding up her napkin and putting it next to her plate and then staring across the table.

"Did I do what to her, Kurt?" she finally asks.

Rachel tenses at her tone, but—well. Nobody else at the table is familiar with the extent to which Quinn draws back, these days. It's just her, and she's not in a position to say anything right now. Not in the sense that it's not her place. She just is completely at a loss for words.

Kurt looks at Quinn with a pinched expression for a moment, before finally turning to Rachel and saying, "Is she hurting you?"

The idea is so absurd that Rachel almost laughs, which is of course entirely the wrong reaction; she's seen enough Lifetime movies about domestic violence to realize that it's the way victims react. Except: it is ridiculous.

Quinn's hand drops away from her thigh, and then she sits up straighter and looks across the table. "You know, I'm not in the habit of treating my adult friends like children, but as the going rate for interaction with Rachel appears to be excluding her from any and all discussions about the state of her life and where it needs to go, I'm willing to … adjust."

Rachel cringes involuntarily and—would it be incredibly inappropriate for her to just get up and go to the bathroom so that she doesn't have to witness Quinn decimating her oldest friends and co-workers? Would it, even if... her chest is starting to get tight?

"I beg your pardon? I'm not the one who is bruising her—" Kurt says, his eyes flashing with anger and concern, and while this is all totally misplaced, it's what has Rachel looking at Quinn and pulling on the side of her sweater. They at best exchange a look, but Quinn takes a deep breath and then just says, "That's enough. You have no idea what you're talking about."

That shuts Kurt up, and after a second Puck just glances between them.

"What… the fuck are you two doing?" he asks, but with a lot more willingness to hear an explanation than Kurt had.

Rachel clears her throat and says, "It's consensual. I—know that you don't understand, and honestly, these look worse than they are, but I promise that she's not doing anything to me that I don't want her to."

Kurt's eyebrows almost shoot off his forehead. "Rachel, I know that your … crush on her has reached ridiculous proportions in the last few years of pining, and that you've in general seen better days—"

"Oh, my God," Quinn says, before laughing wryly and locking eyes with Rachel. "Please tell him to shut his fucking mouth before I cram a serviette down it."

"Quinn," Rachel says, softly, because that isn't helping anyone, but Quinn shakes her head and leans back in her chair, until the back legs are tipping a little.

"You have some nerve. Digging up her problems as some sort of justification for how you're prying into her personal life right now. Where the hell was your concern when you talked her out of going to rehab at the start of the summer, Kurt? Or really, are you her friend first and foremost only when she's not your primary cash cow?"

Kurt's cheeks flame, and his voice takes on a pitch that Rachel has rarely heard in recent years. "You have no right—"

"No, you have no right," Quinn snaps. "From a professional perspective, what you are encouraging and enabling her to do, as either her manager or her friend, is so inappropriate that if I had any intention of treating Rachel like a child, the way you two seem to want to, I would probably use her feelings for me to convince her that she needs to fire you. Which, for the record, would still make me a better friend than you have been."

"I can't make her—"

"Oh, please. You and I both know that manipulation is much more effective than brute force when it comes down to it, and I'm sure you promised her something she had a hard time saying no to—job satisfaction again, at long last? The ability to be out, if she just made a few more bucks before she went for it?" Quinn says, before turning her eyes to Puck, who at least is smart enough swallow hard at the expression on her face. "As for you…"

Puck holds up his hands in apology. "You had me at consensual, babe. Honest. I'm a little surprised because—well, Jesus, I mean, I made out with both of you in high school—like a lot, and—"

"Noah," Rachel says, softly, and he falls silent after a moment before looking at Kurt, who is staring at the table with a look on his face that signals an impending explosion of some kind. She takes a deep breath and hopes she can cut it off at the quick. "For the record, Quinn is not my mouthpiece, and I take full responsibility for my career decisions as well as the ones that I make in my personal life, and nobody is responsible for how I am or am not doing other than—"

"No," Kurt says, and then looks up, guilty. "She's right. You've been going under, and I've been hoping that work will pull you out of it, but … a real friend would've encouraged you to get help now, no matter what the professional risks. I've become your manager first and your friend second, and …"

"You don't owe me an apology."

Kurt clams his lips together for a moment, and then straightens. "I'll look into an appropriately secluded facility for you tomorrow and send over the paperwork, and we'll shorten your commitment—"

"No," Rachel blurts out, and feels more than sees Quinn tense next to her.

"Rach, babe—"

"No," she repeats, more calmly, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. "I can handle it. It's only another four weeks, and I'm finally starting to get the show right and earn some professional respect back. I know … I know I need help. I want help, but please just let me ride this out."

Kurt glances at Quinn briefly, who is unmoving, and then says, "Okay. You're the boss."

Her heart won't stop hammering.

It's a clear warning. She knows how to read those, after all this time. This is where her limit kicks in; the limit of what Rachel Berry, Professional Agoraphobe can handle. It's where—she can't pretend she's not in public anymore, and where even the small crowd in the restaurant becomes overwhelming.

After a second of praying futilely that it'll just go away, she dabs at her lips with the napkin and gets up with a quick, "Excuse me."

The pills jangle in her purse on the walk over, and once in the bathroom, she lays out two Xanax on the palm of her hand before staring at herself in the mirror. The girl who blooms for Quinn is a long way off; instead, this is the Rachel she recognizes from New York, and the one that is going to be getting help soon.

But not soon enough, and so she throws the pills back, and leans heavily on the bathroom counter, waiting for her headache and the dull sensation of being totally fucked to fade.

The recovery period is about being alone. She knows, from experience, that she gets borderline hysterical if anyone tries to approach her during, and so when the bathroom door opens a moment later and Quinn shows up, her breathing hitches.

Quinn keeps her distance, but looks at her with obvious concern.

"I'm—it's..." she says, before shaking her head. "I can't."

This isn't like Saturday, when I can't had meant yes, more, please, anything. This is actually her limit, and after a moment of observing her, Quinn moves to stand at her side and starts washing her hands, slowly and steadily.

"What are you doing?" Rachel asks, when it slightly feels less like her lungs are threatening to leave her body. But only slightly.

"Giving you something to focus on," Quinn says, and dispenses some more soap, running it between her fingers.

Rachel stares at Quinn's hands, and it's not until a good five minutes later that she blinks and feels like herself again—but she does, and then exhales shakily before looking at Quinn.

Quinn turns off the faucet with wrinkled hands and then runs them under the air dryer, but stays quiet a little longer—and Rachel just closes her eyes and gives in to what she wants. It's one giant step, but then she's pressing into Quinn's back and hugging her from behind, and even though Quinn stiffens—almost like a horse, ready to throw her off—she doesnt... tell her to leave.

"I'm sorry about what happened out there..." Rachel starts to say, quietly.

"No. Don't. It's not your fault that people won't understand this," Quinn says, sharply, before turning around and gently forcing Rachel to take a step back. "This is about us, not their ignorance. And I'm sorry that I … Did I humiliate you?"

Rachel exhales slowly. "My life is humiliating. It's nothing new."

"That's not an answer, Rachel."

Rachel hesitates for a second and then says, "Yes. A little. But I don't blame you one bit, because they were attacking both of us, and for the life of me, I don't know how to stand up to them anymore. It's easier to just run in here and..."

"Take a few pills," Quinn says, in a tone of voice Rachel can't read at all.

She pegs it as disappointment, and lowers her eyes to the floor. "I'm sorry. But you heard Kurt. I'm going to..."

"Rachel," Quinn says, softly, cutting her off. She waits, after that, until Rachel looks back up and makes eye contact with her. "If this was my life, I'd be an alcoholic with absolutely no interest in recovery. And that's if I didn't also have to cope with a massive, incurable anxiety disorder."

"It's not so bad," Rachel says, after a second. "I mean, it's not always. Just..."

The bathroom door opens behind them, and a middle-aged woman walks in, talking on a cell phone, before falling silent. Then, her jaw drops, and Rachel takes a deep breath, bracing herself for the world's least desirable fan encounter, but then—Quinn puts a hand at the small of her back and says, "Hi."

"You're—" the woman says, pointing at Rachel.

The saving grace is that she hadn't had time to start hyperventilating, which usually leads to tears, and so her make-up is mostly intact.

"Yes," she says, quietly. It's this kind of thing that makes her look rude. But what is she supposed to do? Scream at the woman that she doesn't do strangers?

"Are you a fan?" Quinn asks, gracefully. After a second, she adds a bright, "Because I work with her, but I have to tell you, I'm a fan. I mean, her voice—"

"You're an amazing singer," the woman says, and then grapples around her purse for—well, what she ends up producing is a napkin from the casino, and a pen that is handed over with trembling fingers. "Can you... dedicate it to Ruth?"

"Of course," Rachel says, and turns to sign on the counter next to the sink. Quinn continues making small talk about how Rachel is hopefully going back to Broadway after this, but might be taking a vacation first.

"Her voice has to rest at some point," she says, and it's so charming and casual that Ruth looks like she's forgotten Rachel is in the room, even.

"Thank you for your kind words," Rachel says, only a little stiltedly, before handing the napkin back, as well as the pen, and offering her best smile.

"No, thank you. For everything," Ruth says, still looking totally shell-shocked.

"Bye," Quinn says, easily, before steering Rachel out of the bathroom, and into the small annex that leads to the private staff area next to it, before tipping Rachel's chin up. "You okay?"

"I need to go home," Rachel admits, after a moment. "I know it's pathetic but—"

Her wrist is gently encircled, Quinn's fingers pressing down on the light discoloration there, and just like that, she stops. She stops apologizing, because Quinn gets it. Quinn gets it and is looking at her exactly she same as she did ten minutes ago, or ten days ago, and Rachel slowly exhales.

"I'll give our apologies to … your friends, and then I'll drive you, okay?" Quinn says.

"Will you stay?" Rachel asks, before she can stop herself.

This is what she doesn't need, and what she should be putting a stop to. Reaching across mattresses, and making requests like this inside of busy restaurants on the Strip, because Quinn's expression falters, and then she says, "I can't. I'm... I work tonight."

Rachel can't even muster the energy for an okay, and just says nothing, watching as Quinn ultimately heads back to the table and exchanges a few pointed words with Kurt before picking up their purses.

How can someone so willing to jump to her defense still be so reluctant to actually just... fucking be with her?

The pills kick in, almost before she can start wondering about an answer to that question, and then she's just back in that place where she always seems to end up.

Before Quinn, that endless emptiness in her head used to be comforting. Now, it's just...

It's just empty.

Chapter Text

She's been listening to the original recording of Chess in the dark for the last three or so hours, when the doorbell rings and she drags herself off the bed and blearily opens the door.

Puck gives her a small smile. "Just wanted to see if you were okay."

She shrugs, and lets him into the house because he's a fixture. He might as well be a chair that she sometimes sits in. That's a terrible thing to think, probably, but she doesn't really have the energy to do much else.

She's America. Quinn is Russia.

"So," Puck says, gently sitting down in the comfortable chair in front of the never-on fireplace. "That was a fucking disaster, right?"

She looks at him for a long moment and then starts laughing.

He mimes wiping some sweat off his forehead. "There we go. Better."

"Oh, my God," she exhales slowly and then rubs at her face. "The last thing I needed was to have an episode after my manager and my... fuck buddy duke out which one of them is screwing up my life more."

"Quinn won that round hands down," Puck says, leaning back a little and stretching out his legs. "Which—you know. I've fucked a lot of buddies, but I wouldn't say any of them ever leapt into the fire for me like that."

She gives him a look, but he's not prying; he's just saying, and then glances out the window for a moment.

"You think it'd be okay if I like—talked to her about Beth, some time?" he finally asks.

Her not-really-sister is a topic of non-discussion.

Relevant NDAs have been signed by Shelby, her fathers, and anyone else who knows and who they could find, including Jesse—currently starring in a revival of Aida, as far as she's aware—and Mr. Schuester. Who probably is Will to her now. Or he would be, if she had any intention of ever taking him up on his repeat Facebook invites to come and show a Glee club how it's really done.

"With Valium and zero enthusiasm, kids!" isn't really the pitch he's going for, and so her decline is considerate, not dismissive.

She doesn't think about Shelby, much. Losing the mother she never have barely even blips in relative comparison to the things that have faded from her life that she did once have. That baby is literally nothing to her, even though she's seen pictures from time to time, when Puck flips open his wallet to pay for gas or a bag of vegan crisps before she can slip him money.

Although, calling her that baby—she's close to being nine years old now, if she's not nine already.

Quinn has a nine year old.

She forces herself to stop dwelling, because Puck is waiting for an answer, and finally just sighs. "I don't know."

"But—would it be okay with you if I asked her? I mean. I'm guessing I'll see her again, sometime," Puck says, tentatively.

She clamps her lips shut and finally just says, "I don't know. I'll try to find out. If and when she calls."

Puck doesn't do anything but look at her for a long time, and then reaches forward for the remote and says, "The Browns are playing."

"I hate baseball, Noah, you know that," Rachel says, tiredly.

Puck laughs and moves around the coffee table to sit down next to her. "That's fine. Ohio's best football team probably won't care if you don't give a shit about baseball."

She hates football too, actually, but that's not really the point.

What she doesn't hate is Puck's legs up on her coffee table, explaining the rules to her for the ten millionth time, and after the first ten minutes of playing time (which in reality take almost forty minutes to pass) she half-heartedly calls out, "Go Browns!" when some … running guy … runs.

"Dude—he's running away from goal. We just lost ten yards," Puck tells her, with a hilarious look that just says girl, please, before shaking his head. "I can't believe people actually believe for real that we're dating sometimes, you know that?"

She chuckles and leans into his side, and then says, "Seriously, though—go Browns, right?"

"Go Browns," he agrees, and kisses the top of her head.

She's drifted off, at some point during the evening, and when the doorbell rings she has no idea what time it is; there's a note on the table from Puck that suggests he left a while ago, but he covered her with a blanket and it's nice, the sense of routine that comes from that.

This is what they tend to do, in New York, when they're just hanging out. Puck is really the closest thing to family she has left, and so she yawns and ambles over to the door, fully expecting him to say he forgot his wallet or his keys.

"I'm going to buy you a chain," she says, when she opens the door, before straightening abruptly.

"Hi," Quinn says, wringing her hands together.

Rachel has absolutely not even the barest inkling of how she's meant to react to this. She glances at Quinn's watch, noting it's after midnight, and then looks at what she's wearing; sweat pants, a hoodie, and her hair is still damp.

It's nice, that Quinn showered after... work. It's probably not a courtesy to Rachel at all, but it makes it a little easier to not slam the door shut in an unexpected urge to ... to what?

To protect herself?

The thought is laughable.

"Why are you here?" she asks, quietly; she sort of braces herself against the door in a way that means it's definitely not open right now. She can't explain why. She's just so... tired.

But then Quinn hasn't done anything wrong. She just hasn't done everything, and...

She hates herself, sometimes. Those histrionic, overly dramatic little girl reactions she still has, whenever she gets pulled out of her comfort zone... Her fathers thought she'd grow out of them.

They really did set their hopes too high.

She hangs her head after a moment, and then steps aside. "Come in, I guess."

Quinn follows her, for a change, into the living room, and then lingers awkwardly before sitting down in the chair Puck also chose earlier that night.

Rachel sits on the edge of the sofa and studies her—in all her awkward glory—for a moment, before asking the obvious question again. "What are you doing here?"

"Checking up on you," Quinn admits, after a moment.

"And that's something you'd do for all your … friends?" Rachel asks, a little pointedly.

Quinn's self-assuredness, already at an all time low, seems to disappear completely at that question, and she takes a few deep breaths before pressing back up to her feet. "I should have called first. This was a mistake, I'm sorry—"

"Don't you dare," Rachel says, also shooting to her feet; the tears in her eyes are instantaneous.

"Rachel—"

"No, Quinn, I can't do this right now. You want us to be just be friends who fuck? Fine. You made it perfectly clear that I slot into your life when and how you need me to, and I accepted those terms. But you can't just waltz in here and start blurring all the lines because you're having some crisis of conscience about leaving your poor little drug-addicted friend Rachel alone after she had a melt-down over sashimi."

She doesn't even know how angry she is until the words slip from her mouth, and then watches as Quinn shuts down. Completely. And then coolly says, "It was the responsible thing to do."

"Oh yeah? Is that what they teach you over at psychology school, Dr. Fabray? Because to the best of my understanding, the responsible thing to do here is probably to not get involved at all."

Quinn's jaw muscles twitch violently, and for one terrible moment, Rachel thinks she might get slapped in the face. Which, well, talk about history repeating itself. But then—

Something changes. Something changes, because Quinn's lip quivers for just a flash, and then she turns away and says, "You're right. I should go."

Rachel deflates. The anger—that kind of passion is so hard for her to hold onto these days. She knows it's a sign that she's actually seriously depressed, the fact that she can't even manage fury when she should, but for now it's probably for the best. She runs a hand through her hair, and pulls it up into a tie, and then sits down on the sofa again.

"No, please, I'm sorry. I've... Let's start over. I don't want to fight with you right now. ... hello, Quinn. How was work?"

Quinn's back straightens and then she turns around again and says, "Yeah, how about we don't talk about that when we're both already—"

"No," Rachel says, simply and then stares at Quinn until Quinn sinks down into the chair again and stares right back at her. "I don't think so. Because—you're here. And yeah, a friend would probably check up on me. Puck was here earlier. But you're not Puck, and we're not friends."

Quinn actually looks a little hurt at that assessment. "I thought we were—"

"Getting along?" Rachel asks, and then has to take a deep breath before shaking her head. "Yeah, Quinn. We are getting along. You're charming, and funny when you want to be. You're fascinating. I want to know anything and everything there is about you, and the fact that you're so reticent with any information about yourself only makes me crave it more. If this was high school, I'd be making you a matching calendar set so you could tick off the days when you're busy and circle the days when you have time to swoop into my life and screw me into submission. It's gotten to the point where I miss you when go to the bathroom, but then you start singing songs from The Sound of Music and—"

The look on Quinn's face is abruptly terrifying, because she looks so terrorized. Like she's about a heartbeat away from running off. It's almost a relief when she just tersely says, "What are you saying?"

Rachel doesn't look away. "I'm saying we're not friends. We can't be friends, because I'm in love with you."

Quinn actually flinches, and God, it hurts. It hurts even though she could see it coming from miles away.

"You don't even really know me, Rachel. All you know is—"

Rachel shakes her head. "Don't you dare diminish this just because you're aware, in some abstract way, that I had a thing for you back in high school. I barely knew myself back then, let alone what I wanted from other people. You were—an ideal. You were just a face that I could pin my clumsy, adolescent desires on to. This is not that."

Quinn doesn't say anything in response to that, and Rachel watches as her nails dig into her thighs. It's impossible to interpret that in a good way, and so she sighs and lowers her face to her hands.

"And that's why—I mean, what do you think you're doing? Are you actually going to pretend you didn't know?"

"No," Quinn says, after a long pause. "I knew. I just also know that... it's not as simple as that. For either of us."

"It'd be a lot simpler if we could just talk about—"

"You're avoiding dealing with your addiction because it means a few more weeks with me," Quinn says, quietly, and Rachel lifts her head—and oh, those words sting, because they cut right through everything else. "If I suffered from serious self-esteem problems, I would probably conclude that I'm the new Xanax. And that isn't about love, Rachel."

She opens her mouth to deny it, but then closes it again, because the only thing—the only real thing—they have between them is unconditional honesty, so far.

And Quinn isn't wrong.

When she can find words again, they deliberately switch gears. "I know what I'm doing. I know that..." She pauses, and then looks at Quinn sharply. "What I don't understand is why you're letting me do it. Because, let's face it, Quinn; the one thing that's been consistent about you all these years is that you excel at running from problems, and I think we just agreed that I am one."

The breath that escapes Quinn sounds like it's killing her. Like it actually hurts for her to sit here and breathe through it, and Rachel wishes that they had the kind of relationship where she could offer some sort of comfort. But comfort? Comfort seems to scare Quinn more than anything else, and so she has to sit and wait.

"I care about you," she finally says.

It's not romantic, and for once, Rachel doesn't swoon, because the way Quinn says it... it's like the mere idea of caring about anyone exhausts her.

"As a friend," Rachel says, flatly.

Quinn swallows visibly, rubs at her mouth for a moment, and then shrugs. "In a roundabout way, we probably were friends in Lima. I wasn't close to you, but after sophomore year, I wasn't close to anyone. So I can either conclude that I was alone, or that I had friends and that it's not their fault that I kept them at a distance."

Rachel blinks and then watches as Quinn stares off into space.

"... when I first saw you here, I had absolutely no intention of doing anything but scaring you off. I don't do history. Nobody in Vegas knows the first thing about my past, because it's behind me and I have no desire to dwell on it." Quinn pauses. "And then you came back, and you just kept coming back, and... you're not who you were back then. And neither am I."

"Well, obviously," Rachel says, quietly.

Quinn glances down at her lap and then says, "Back in high school, Brittany used to occasionally insinuate that I was obsessed with you because I just wanted to be close to you. I thought she was insane, because every single one of my thoughts about you mostly just involved cramming a sock in your mouth and stealing my boyfriends back."

It's not really funny, but it kind of is, and after a moment Quinn sighs.

"And then—in Vegas, I finally got the freedom I needed to consider what I wanted. Not what my family wanted, or what my church wanted, or what... I needed to do to prove my worth. I could think about me," she says, slowly, and then turns to glance at Rachel. "And that me? I still wanted to stuff a sock in your mouth, but only because the wide-eyed and panicked look on your face that I thought that would inspire got me spectacularly wet."

Rachel smiles unwillingly. "Sorry to disappoint."

Quinn shrugs and then balls her hands, briefly. "I forced myself to stop thinking about you after that, because there was no point. I was here. You were wherever, and straight as a doorpost. And then... I obviously went through a number of changes to try and make something of my life that I could live with."

"Like the stripping," Rachel says, quietly.

Quinn's eyes flash, and then she roughly asks, "Do you have any idea what it's like to feel like … your own body doesn't belong to you?"

Rachel hesitates, because she does—there's something about being manipulated like a doll throughout various runs of choreography and photo shoots that brings about similar feelings—but no, she doesn't actually know. Not in the sense that Quinn is implying.

Quinn takes a deep breath. "I was Lucy. For a long time. Then I was Quinn. Then Quinn became pregnant. By the time I was seventeen, I looked in the mirror and saw nothing I recognized anymore. And the idea of other people wanting to... to touch me, it was almost unbearable. That body wasn't me. It was..."

Rachel squeezes her lips together to not voice any sympathy; it doesn't quite work, because a small whimper escapes, and when Quinn looks over, it's with some reproach.

"Don't. I found a way to get comfortable, and while I accept it's not the norm, it's... dancing was what I could handle. And now, it's a way for me to ensure that I stay comfortable, and that I'll never be dependent on anyone else financially or otherwise again."

"I don't pity you," Rachel says, carefully, when Quinn's eyes drill into hers for another moment. "I think you are one of the strongest people I've ever met, but your strength has come at an incredible cost."

Quinn looks away at that, and then repeats, "I care about you. And I don't mean because I've known you for years, or because we were in Glee club together. I care about you in the sense where, the person you are now is someone worth protecting. There are parts of you that are uniquely special, and you're throwing them all away."

"Things aren't that bad—"

"Yes, they are," Quinn says, quietly but firmly, and then sighs deeply. "And for the first time in years, I find that I want to get involved. I don't... want to take my distance, and force you to stand on your own two feet, which is what my friends and I agree would be the clinically appropriate stance to take with someone with your... difficulties."

"You talk about me to your friends?" Rachel blurts out, before she can stop herself.

Quinn smiles faintly. "Even I can't internalize everything, Rachel."

"Yes, but—a therapist, surely, would be … more helpful than—"

"Rachel... most of my friends are therapists."

Rachel sighs. "Yeah. Or exotic dancers, I guess, right?"

"Sometimes both," Quinn says, before glancing at the floor. "You're right. I probably should be in actual therapy, but then again, you should be checking yourself into rehab right now, and I guess we're both just doing the best we can."

Those words stretch out between them, and suddenly the living room feels uncomfortably small, even though it's a fairly open space. If it's getting to Rachel, she can't even imagine how Quinn is feeling right now.

"So what does all of this mean?" she finally asks.

Quinn rubs at her forehead, suddenly looking very young, before saying, "This thing between us... it can't end well."

"No," Rachel agrees, even though it feels like she's cutting her own skin open, flaying it before Quinn's eyes. "It probably can't."

Quinn looks over with an unreadable expression a moment later. "Can I ask you something, and can you be honest with me?"

She nods, because—what's the point in lying now?

"Do you have anything at all to live for that isn't me, right now?"

It's the most egotistical thing anyone has ever asked her, but the way Quinn sounds and looks when she says it—so pained, and so uncomfortable—somehow negates that aspect of the question altogether.

A normal person would be offended as all get at being asked something like that, Rachel knows, but after a long moment, she realizes that she's... God, she has to actually think about the answer.

"What the hell kind of question is that?" she still asks, more for posterity than anything else.

Quinn sighs. "An important one. I can't... be everything to you. And I mean that both in the should not and cannot sense."

"Well, what am I to you, then?" Rachel asks, because this is mortifying; it's like she's completely transparent and Quinn is just digging up her biggest flaws, laying them all out there for both of them to just prod at some more. "I mean, what else do you have to live for? Dead bodies? Friends you don't let into your life? Stripping?"

Quinn shoots her a look that has her sinking back into the couch and taking a few deep breaths; God, she could really use a pill right now, which in a weird way is almost comforting, because Quinn is right there and absolutely not helping. In her list of unhealthy dependencies, there thankfully is a divide, still, and that finally lets air settle into her lungs.

"The Rachel I knew back in Lima lived for performance," Quinn finally says, ignoring her altogether.

"It's cute that you think that I don't anymore, given that my whole fucking life is a performance. The only time I'm not performing..." Rachel starts to say, and then stops, because this is going too far.

"Yeah," Quinn says, rubbing at her cheeks. "I was afraid you'd say that."

A car alarm goes off further down the street, and they both jump a little, and—they're so on edge. This isn't a conversation normal people, in love or otherwise, should be having with each other. This is ruining everything they do have, and it'll be a miracle if they'll ever be comfortable around each other again, after this.

"Are you ending this?" Rachel finally asks, thickly.

Quinn looks over sharply, and then slowly says, "I probably should. But … I won't."

"Because you're worried it'll drive me right over the edge?"

Quinn takes a deep breath. "I don't know what I've ever done to make you think of me as that selfless."

When those words sink in, Rachel relaxes—which is worrying, because it demonstrates exactly just how much she is relying on Quinn, already, but...

She bites her lip after a moment and then says, "Can you... give me some advice on what kind of treatment I should be seeking? Because the agoraphobia is probably what led to the depression, and the depression is what led to the drug dependency, and … I don't even know where to start on untangling any of it, at this point. Am I an addict, or just..."

Quinn rubs at her thighs, dislodging the fabric of her sweats, and then says, "I don't... it's really not my area. But my friend Nicole—"

"Stripper Nicole?" Rachel asks, before she can stop herself.

Quinn's lips twitch. "She prefers just Nicole—but yes. She says she's met you."

Rachel laughs awkwardly, before covering her eyes with her hand. "Oh, geez, that's not mortifying at all. Is she... is her middle name Tracy?"

"Yeah," Quinn says, after a second. "She's in the middle of a PhD-level research project on possible psychological connections between substance abuse and sexual self-acceptance right now and—" She falls silent, and then just squints and adds, "We have a standing lunch on Friday afternoons. If you want to, you could join us. I think she might have ideas on how you should proceed. I know you don't suffer from internalized homophobia so much as shitty management—"

Rachel laughs unexpectedly. "Kurt is going to really love you, isn't he."

Quinn almost smiles, but then repeats, "Like I said, I think she might have some ideas. And … she's said she'd like to meet you, because you're apparently the first person in almost five years that I've mentioned more than once, over lunch."

That's … Rachel doesn't know where to stick that, and while she's absolutely reaching the brink of what she can handle in one night, there's just one more thing she has to know.

"Am I attending this lunch as your friend, or what?"

Quinn hesitates, and then looks at her tentatively. "How about you just attend as... Rachel?"

It's been a very long time since she's attended anything as 'just Rachel', but … she thinks she might be able to do it, given where the invitation came from.

They're both exhausted.

Quinn's body language basically screams 'don't touch me' at this point, and so Rachel sidelines Puck's request for the time being and instead just says, "The guest bedroom is further down the hall from mine. Sheets are clean."

Quinn nods, and gets up gingerly before saying, "Do you have a t-shirt I could borrow?"

"Sure," Rachel says, before adding, "Your toothbrush is still—"

Quinn cuts her off with a half-hearted smile, and then wanders off towards the en-suite, closing the door behind her.

Rachel sits down on the edge of the bed, and makes a mental tally of how many pills she's taken in the last week. Aside from the ones she should be taking, it's been … four Xanax, in seven days.

When she checks the iPhone app where she keeps note of these things, as almost a salute to her previous anal-retentive life-managing, she realizes it's the fewest she's taken since March. And March was different, because she'd taken a weekend off and had gone home to spend time with her parents, where … guilt and a pressing fear of failure meant that even during moments of shaking so badly she could barely pick up a glass, she hadn't gone for the pills.

It's hard to dredge up hope from just one incident but she forces herself to at least take it as a sign. Maybe, she can get past this, and be someone better again.

Quinn reappears as soon as she'd closed the app and checked her email, and there's a smudge of toothpaste on her mouth that Rachel aches to brush off with her thumb—or her mouth—but... it's not her place, right now, to get into Quinn's space.

Quinn has to get into hers, if she wants to, and looks like she's struggling with that decision—until finally her feet inch forward, and then she gingerly settles next to Rachel, as far away as she can at the foot of the bed.

"What is it?" Rachel asks, quietly.

"I need you to understand something," Quinn says, after a second. Her throat works, and then she glances over. "I'm... this … thing we're doing. I need it to stay private. I'm not embarrassed about what I do for a living, on either front, nor am I in any way embarrassed about seeing you, but I have... my family to think of, and Beth, and my future career…"

"You're worried that if we get media attention, your work at Rapture will be exposed," Rachel says, and after a second Quinn nods. Rachel hesitates, and then carefully says, "I'm... not a big deal in Vegas, Quinn. Short of going down on me in the middle of a casino, nothing we do will be of interest to the press, here."

Quinn bites down on her lip for a second, pulling skin between her teeth, and then says, "If there's a hint of this becoming public knowledge—"

"You're gone," Rachel says, because she knows it's the truth.

Quinn nods.

Rachel takes a deep breath, and then says, "If there's a need—I'll make a public statement that you and I are old high school friends who are just socializing while I'm in town, and that Puck and I are very happy. Kurt's been saying for ages now that we might as well announce an engagement—"

"Jesus," Quinn sort of sighs, and then rubs at her forehead. "That's great."

"It serves a purpose," Rachel says. "More than one, in this case."

They're quiet for a moment, and then Rachel picks at the duvet.

"You could also just … stop stripping," she finally says. It's a quiet thought, and one that she knows is completely out of line, but this honesty policy they have—it's non-negotiable. Quinn has the right to know that this is on her mind, at least.

Quinn straightens and sucks in a deep breath. "Let me guess—you have enough money to take care of both of us?"

The word are sharp, and Rachel cringes. "Well, no, I just meant—"

"I'm not for sale, Rachel. Not even—" Quinn says, and then just shakes her head. "You didn't mean it like that. I know. But... the summer is going to end. And then what?"

Rachel has no answer to that, and finally just sighs a little. "It's funny. If I'd had any idea how relationships worked in the real world, I probably would've never been so enamored with stage productions hinting at true love as a teenager."

"What do you mean?"

"Regardless of what you want to call it, I know I feel something for you. Something real," Rachel says, after a moment; it's a more sincere, and a less manipulative or desperate confession this time around than it was last time, and Quinn's eyes shift from disbelief to something very, very innocent and soft after a moment. "I think that... you could be everything I've ever wanted in another person. But I'm not a silly seventeen year old with cat calendars anymore, and we both have lives. Lives that are going to split back apart in a few weeks from now. I'm not staying here for you, and you're not coming to New York for me."

Quinn's lips part, just barely, and she breathes slowly. "So—"

"So, Rachel Berry is in a committed relationship with Noah Puckerman and Quinn Fabray is an old friend from high school that she's getting reacquainted with. Nobody will think to dig deeper than that, because Rachel Berry isn't gay. Kurt has made sure of that."

Quinn doesn't move for a long moment, and then in one smooth motion, grabs for Rachel's side and pulls her into a careful, light kiss that means—well, something.

She's done thinking, for now, because they're both so much better at connecting like this, and the way Quinn slowly sucks on her bottom lip after a few seconds of just touching—yeah, she has no issues reading that. They trade more kisses like that, deep and slow, and soft and tender, for a long moment, until Quinn pulls back, cupping her cheek and staring into her eyes for a moment.

Whatever it is she wants, she seems to find, and then she looks away and says, "See you tomorrow morning."

In Quinn Fabray terms... well, Rachel will take it.

She wakes up to the smell of something delicious, and then wanders into the kitchen to find Quinn frying up some latkes there, of all things.

"Won't you go to hell for consorting with the … enemy food?" she asks, after a second; her voice is still sleep-warm and rough, and Quinn responds with a small smile.

"I think that on the list of things I'm going to hell for, an awareness of Jewish cuisine is fairly close to the bottom," she then says, flipping a pancake and nodding towards the counter. "There's coffee and orange juice. I wasn't sure—"

"Coffee first, because it … Kurt is such a bastard, but I agree with him on this one; I actually have a standing contractual condition that nobody can call me until I've had at least one cup because I'm not mentally capable of decent decision-making beforehand," Rachel says.

Quinn laughs. "No."

"Yep. So, coffee first, and then juice," Rachel says, pouring herself a mug.

"I'll try to remember that," Quinn says, carefully, after a pause that isn't actually awkward.

Rachel smiles faintly, and watches Quinn putter around the kitchen, humming from time to time, while drinking the rest of the coffee. When she's done, she says, "Tell me something about yourself."

"Didn't I do enough of that last night?" Quinn asks, and it's slightly playful, but—Rachel feels a stab of guilt at just how much it must've taken for Quinn to admit any of it out loud.

"That was all serious and shit. I just want to know if you prefer cats or dogs right now, that kind of thing," she says, as lightly as she can.

Quinn pats the latkes down with a paper towel and then says, "Cats. I have a cat, actually."

"Is it black? Like your soul?" Rachel asks, grinning around the edge of the mug.

Quinn rolls her eyes and says, "Maybe I should establish a standing contractual condition that you can't talk to me, full stop."

Rachel switches her coffee for juice, and then smiles when Quinn looks over, eyebrow arched. "Seriously, though. You, and pets? I thought... you didn't... well. How can I put this without making you sound like a robot?"

Quinn shoots her a look that thankfully shuts her up. "I have intimacy issues with people. A cat isn't likely to throw me out of my house, or—"

"Of course," Rachel says, quickly, watching as Quinn transfers the latkes to the breakfast bar. "I wasn't... I mostly just meant. Oh hell, I don't know what I meant."

Watching Quinn cook is—it's really rather entrancing, and she's almost done with her juice when it occurs to her they're technically mid-conversation. "… what's the cat's name?"

"Carl Jung," Quinn says, before nudging half the latkes onto a plate with the edge of a fork. "I thought about naming him Jesus, but Jesus wasn't in the habit of carrying around dead birds as trophies."

"And what, Jung was?" Rachel asks, raising her eyebrows.

They look at each other for a long moment, and then Rachel starts laughing slowly; Quinn grins a second later, and Rachel feels her entire body warm up with something she vaguely remembers as happiness.

That feeling right there is why doing the intelligent thing isn't going to happen for either of them.

An hour later, Quinn shoves her hands into her hoodie's pockets and says, "Okay—so, this lunch on Friday..."

"You don't have to—"

"No," Quinn says, and then shakily sighs. "I know some of your friends. You can know some of mine. I mean, I ... I see what you were saying last night, but I'd still like to think that we can keep in touch..."

"When I leave," Rachel says, after a moment, forcing a small smile. "You want me to start poking you on Facebook."

Quinn rolls her eyes, but says, "Something like that, yeah."

It's awkward, because this feels like the start of goodbye, even though it's really more of a hello. The game has changed, now, and... hell, Rachel doesn't really know what to do with her money anymore. Toss it all onto the table, and hope for a lucky roll of the dice? Pocket it all again, because they're done before they can even get started?

She's not ready to be done, and neither is Quinn, and so she postpones a final decision and invests just a little bit more.

"What about after lunch, on Friday?" she asks, and shifts when Quinn raises her eyebrows; such a deadly weapon, those eyebrows. "Are you... free?"

"I teach," Quin says, after a moment, but then licks her lips slowly. "But... I've cleared all of my weekends for the rest of the month."

"Okay," Rachel says, as casually as she can; thoughts of being on the verge of orgasm for almost forty-eight straight hours run through her head almost immediately, though, and the way Quinn's eyes are focusing on her mouth...

She's not alone in this, anymore, if she ever was, and that makes her push her luck just a little bit further.

"Much as I'd like to find out if le petit mort can turn into just... mort," she says, and Quinn's lips quirk, so that's French and Japanese as languages, "... I'm only here for another four weeks, and I've seen nothing of the city, or the areas surrounding it. Do you think..."

"Are you asking for sightseeing recommendations?" Quinn asks, hesitantly.

"Not per se. I mean, most of Vegas is too densely populated during both day and night for me to explore it... but... if you want to, maybe show me the parts of the city that have kept you here for almost seven years..."

Quinn stares at her for a second, and Rachel sighs with a small smile. "Relax. I'm not asking to see your most private spaces, Quinn. I'm just asking to see a little more of the city that's made you."

Quinn's tongue snakes out again, wetting her lips briefly, and then she nods. "I'll think of something."

"If you can't, I guess we can just you know, roll around in bed all weekend," Rachel says, because—leaving on a hopeful note seems like a good idea. Not just now, but...

Quinn trails two fingers slowly down her arm, before tracing a circle on her palm, and then leans in closer, until her lips are almost touching Rachel's ear. "I think you'll find it's hard to roll around when you're on your stomach, pressed into the mattress, with your hands tied behind your back, and I'm on top of you, fucking you until you're begging to come, like the eager little slut that you are."

A wheezy whimper slips from Rachel's lips, and then she just sort of swoons against the side of her house, before looking at Quinn—no longer touching her anywhere, in some grand act of anticipatory cruelty—with some surprise she can't hide.

"You remember. That was almost verbatim; every word I said that night, in the club."

Quinn smiles faintly. "You're hard to forget, Rachel. As are your fantasies."

Rachel almost rolls her eyes at just how quickly her insides liquefy at those words, but then Quinn's lips press against her cheek and she says, "Take care of yourself, okay?"

From anyone else, it would be a casual, almost perfunctory goodbye, but from Quinn?

"You too," she says, quietly, because they're not quite at a point where they're taking care of each other—

—but, God, it's starting to feel like it's not impossible that one day, they might be.

Chapter Text

She and Kurt finally agree to switch a few songs around, but only because her fiftieth performance is on Thursday night.

"You need to close the night with a bang," Kurt says, and she doesn't really disagree. Special occasions have become very commonplace in her life, so as to be less special almost by definition, but she can muster up a little bit of enthusiasm for Vegas just because...

Well, it doesn't matter.

A fiftieth show is a big deal, and so they cycle through a few diva-style big belt favorites until Rachel thinks about what will actually make the night happen for her. There has to be something she can sing that will actually make her feel like this isn't just any other night.

They're both staring at opposite walls in her dressing room, which is decorated in some really gauche flowery print that has been giving her a migraine for almost two full months now, when the idea hits her.

She looks at Kurt and says, "I want to do I Feel Pretty."

Kurt glances up from his Blackberry and frowns at her lightly. "... why? Not that it's not a good song, but—what's the connection to this event?"

Of course. He wasn't there when she considered getting a nose job, back in junior year. He wasn't around for any of that, and Puck isn't a part of these kinds of decisions as a general rule, so … she might actually be able to get this approved without any asking if she's lost her mind or if she actually thinks that an inside joke directed at someone who won't even watch the fiftieth performance is an appropriate celebration of the occurrence.

She smiles, suddenly feeling inspired, and says, "Call it a self-perpetuating prophecy. Perhaps if I just sing—"

"Okay, but you're definitely going with bright, not gay, okay?" he says, and she sighs before she can stop it.

"Kurt, singing a thematic song from one of the highest grossing musical movies of all times in its day time form is hardly going to suddenly suggest to the world that I'm a lesbian."

"No, I know, but—"

"What's really going on?" she asks, when he looks uncomfortable anyway.

Kurt looks at her briefly, then carefully puts his phone down, and looks at her again, "May I speak frankly?"

"I didn't realize you had a non-frank setting," she says, pulling her legs up to her chest and leaning back in her swivel chair. "Go ahead."

"I've... looked into Quinn, as I'm sure you expected me to, and while on the surface everything checks out perfectly fine, there is a problem when you start digging," he says, hesitantly.

Rachel does her best impression of... well, Quinn; except her face has always been devastatingly expressive, so she's sure some of her shock—which really masking gut-clenching fear—is showing. "That being?"

Her heart starts to pound at the mere idea that he'll say something like, she thrives on taking off her clothes for cash. And he might. Quinn had mentioned something, when they'd eaten in that diner together, about the club's express focus on both client and employee privacy, and she suspects that Quinn doesn't work there under her own name—but this is Kurt, and Kurt knows how to expose other people's laundry in ways that the average person would never bother.

Kurt's mouth opens and closes a few times, and then he cringes and says, "Rachel, she's kind of a player in the gay scene."

Oh.

"I don't know how to say this without making her sound slutty, but—she gets around. After a few phone calls, I already had a list of three girls willing to say a few choice things about her; mind you, it was mostly complimentary, but still …"

"Please stop," Rachel says, quietly, because—if this is even something she has to know (and she doesn't, just as Quinn doesn't need to know about how she passes the time back in New York), she wants to find out from Quinn.

Not the nosy jerk she hired to keep her in work and out of trouble.

God, she hates what his job has done to their friendship, which has never not been complicated—competition is healthy, but not between confidantes—but has become incredibly one-sided in the years since she broke through, and he finally gave up on making it on his own and opted to focus on making her big instead.

And now, he's basically sitting here and saying that Quinn—

He glances at her, embarrassed—and it figures, that he's still a huge prude after all this time of apparently covering up her few and discreet flings with girls also in the industry, who know how to keep a secret—and then says, "I'm not attempting to start a conversation about this because I think this is my business as your friend. You made it... perfectly clear that your relationship with her is none of my business. I'm raising this as your manager. And no, I Feel Pretty isn't going to out you as a lesbian, but extensive public socializing with Quinn Fabray—"

"You're completely overreacting," she tells him, and after a moment of him looking at her, he picks his phone back up and hits a few buttons on it, before shoving it across the table.

She stares at him disapprovingly but then picks it up anyway, already wary, before scrolling down what looks like a forum on some fan site.

She doesn't visit fan sites. She used to, once, when it had felt exciting to get this kind of appreciation, from everyone and their dog. It got tired fast, though, and never does compensate for the way her terrible reputation with most NY-based reporters makes her feel when she thinks about it.

Her fans mostly just look far too forgiving, given how she gets slaughtered in the mainstream press, and this—

"What am I looking at?" she asks him, frowning after a second.

"Halfway down the page."

And—oh. There's... a casual shot of her and Quinn. Walking out of Sushi Roku, and Christ, she looks awful. The walls had been closing in, obviously, and Quinn didn't looked much more comfortable at the idea of having to take her home, but—

Well, that's not even really the point.

who's that? not one of the usual entourage.

idk but she's hot LOL

it's def. not brittany lopez, she's taller than that. new girl?

holy shit you guys — I live in Vegas and I know that girl! She's a legend in the gay scene here. she's slept with a lot of my friends actually. total player — but no complaints from what i hear...

omg LOL where is the Puckerbeard

That comment is followed by another picture: Kurt and Puck heading out of the restaurant a moment later.

with his boyfriend hahaha — no seriously though way to go rachel! she's hot.

no kidding if she's not going to sleep with ME she could do a lot worse :)

She knows she's gaping when she reaches the bottom of the page and then mutely puts the phone back on the table. "What the hell was that?"

"It's nothing, really."

"Well, it's not—nothing, obviously. They have a picture and—"

"Oh, my word, Rachel, if you being in a picture with someone is a sign you're sleeping with them, you'd be too busy having sex with half of New York City to ever perform again," Kurt says, rolling his eyes, but then gives her a serious look. "Trust me. This is nothing, compared to some of the things I've had to suppress. It's baseless speculation, and I'm only showing you to prove to you that I'm not making this ... information about Quinn up."

She takes a deep breath, because, baseless or not—if Quinn knew this was happening...

"Can you make this go away?"

"Not without drawing further attention to you and her," Kurt tells her, and then leans forward, like her personal gay conspirator. "This is one to let go, for now, and for the foreseeable future. You're a friend of the gays, and your charity work shows it, not to mention that, as a general point, you work on Broadway, for God's sake. You're allowed to have gay friends, Rachel."

"Yes. My friends can all sleep with whoever they want. Lucky them," she says, pushing off the chair and wandering over to the window. It looks out over... well, an alley. But it's something to look at that's not that website, or Kurt.

"I just wanted you to be aware. Okay? You don't want to share whatever it is you two have with the public, so... be aware, that even in Vegas, casual photography does make it to your fans," he says, softly; a moment later, a hand is pressed between her shoulders, and she sighs.

"Did you look into treatment facilities, like I asked you to?"

"Yes," he says, simply, and then nods over at his briefcase. "There's a folder in my file. If you make any decisions, please do so through me. We can get you in and out without any real attention, under an assumed name, but you have to trust me with this. Okay?"

She nods, after a moment, because—who else is she going to trust with this?

That thought is still ringing through her mind on Thursday, when she does in fact close the show to I Feel Pretty to a standing ovation, and comes back to her dressing room to a text from Quinn with an address for lunch the next day.

It's not an address for a restaurant, she realizes after a quick Google Maps check, and then slumps against her dresser in relief, because—the idea of getting more pictures taken... no.

Not within so short a time.

Only when she gets home and takes a shower before going to bed does she realize that this non-public address means she's probably going to lunch at Nicole's house. Stripper Nicole, or Waitress Nicole—she's not even entirely sure, and it feels impudent to ask, but then... Stripper or Waitress Nicole thinks of her as Rachel Who Likes Lap Dances and Xanax, so this has the potential of being incredibly awkward either way.

It says a lot about what her life in New York is like that she barely even blinks at the idea of walking into what most people would think of as an ambush. Her life is war. She can't really go for a coffee without expecting at least some fan interaction, and those encounters are so uneven it's almost impossible to explain to other people how strange they make her feel.

That? That's meeting a complete stranger who thinks they know everything about her.

This, at least, is meeting a complete stranger who actually does know a thing or two about her. That makes it almost pleasant, in relevant comparison.

Not to mention that there's a silly part of her that will take anything, at this point. This is Quinn's friend. This lunch is Quinn giving her an opening, to at least make something of a mark on her life. To be someone who gets brought up, from time to time—"And how is Rachel? How is her career going?"—by Quinn's friends, which stops her from fading into nothingness in no time.

She's already in a bed that vaguely smells of Quinn's shampoo when it occurs to her that she's being overly hard, on both of them. Quinn had barely forgotten her in seven years. If they do in fact manage to salvage a friendship, at the end of this…

Staring at the ceiling, she can't picture it at all, but rolls over and wraps herself around a pillow that isn't the one she normally sleeps on, while she still can.

Nicole, much like Quinn, lives in what Rachel automatically assumes to be a nice part of town; her house is Spanish-style, the external brickwork painted a soft yellow that seems inviting and homey.

Not words one normally associates with someone who also carries around vodka tonics topless, but...

Right. That's not Nicole, and she doesn't eat babies for breakfast.

She takes a deep breath, and tugs on her sweater and runs her palms over the front of her linen slacks before ringing the doorbell. A "coming!" sounds and a moment later, two small pugs appear in front of the window next to the door, and Rachel bends down on instinct to press her hand against the glass; they squish their noses towards it, and she smiles instinctively.

Nicole opens the door and—only when Rachel straightens again, and looks at her, does she realize that she hadn't actually registered anything about Nicole as a person. As it turns out, Nicole is quite attractive; a tall redhead with warm, brown eyes.

The look on her face must be something, because Nicole smiles a little wryly and says, "I know—different with the shirt on, right?" and then sticks out her hand.

Rachel shakes it, feeling like an ass immediately, and then says, "Well—I'm a little different sober and not trying to get a lap dance from your … friend myself, so I guess we're in the same boat."

Nicole sort of grins at that, and then straightens, as if to say they can just start over—just like that. She ushers Rachel into the house and then formally says, "Hi—I'm Nicole. Quinn has told me... very little about you, but I assure you that's—"

"She's not even in the house yet, Nic; how about you wait to start bad-mouthing me until we're sitting down?" Quinn says, appearing behind Nicole in the doorway; the pugs yelp and assault her legs almost immediately, and Rachel knows she's staring rather obviously, but she can't help it.

Quinn has on one of those vintage dresses she used to wear as a teenager, but with a pair of worn-down Chucks and messy hair, and—oh, it's like all of her mental images are colliding at once, and blending.

She smiles, slowly, and then says, "The day Quinn has a lot to say on a given subject, I'll eat red meat."

"Oh, are you a vegetarian?" Nicole asks, turning to shoot Quinn a look. "Thanks for warning me."

Quinn rolls her eyes. "She's vegan, actually, and don't worry—I catered to her."

Rachel watches them interact and feels... it's hard to put into words. She feels like she's seeing Quinn with someone she both likes and trusts for possibly the first time ever. Sam Evans had come close, to being a confidant, but with their awkward dating history—and secrets Quinn had obviously been in denial about at the time—it still hadn't quite looked or felt like this.

Instinctively, she knows she's going to be as quiet over lunch as possible, so as to absorb as much of this Quinn as she can—because it's like being shown a trailer to a movie that she won't be around to see released.

That's a depressing thought, and after a second, Rachel nods towards the dogs. "Fans of yours?"

"Hardly; they can smell Carl Jung on me," Quinn says, bending down and scratching them both under the chin for a moment.

"Are you a dog person, Rachel?" Nicole asks, after a second of watching them, and Rachel looks back at her; she's smiling faintly, like they're being incredibly obvious even though they're not doing anything.

But then, she has a question to answer, and sighs. "No. I have three cats."

"You do?" Quinn asks, looking up in surprise. "How come I don't know about that?"

Rachel shrugs and says, "Just hasn't come up."

They stare at each other for a moment, until Quinn smiles and says, "Barbra, Patti and Liza?"

"That's stereotyping to a degree that's actually insulting, Fabray," Rachel says, as one of the pugs darts back over to her, and sniffs at her feet.

The thing is ugly as sin, but its enthusiasm charms her anyway, and after a second she leans down and pets him gently; he pants, in response, and just like that she's made a friend.

If only Quinn were this easy to manage, she thinks, and then straightens again when Nicole closes the door behind her.

"Well, I suggest we take this to the back porch, so we can enjoy the relative cool of the afternoon and … get to know each other a little," she says, with a smile, before heading back the way Quinn had come.

It's only when Quinn picks up one of the pugs and then grimaces when it laps at her face that Rachel remembers that, right. She's here to ask for semi-professional advice, among other things. She's not just Quinn's friend, or God forbid, girlfriend. She's a problem that needs solving.

But... then Quinn sticks out her spare hand and says, "C'mon. This house is like a maze; I swear Nic had it built with an incomprehensible lay-out specifically to freak guests out, sometimes."

Rachel takes her hand, and gets dragged through a house that's Quinn jokingly describes to her as "the hacienda", and finally gets deposited in a chair out on the porch, with a pug on her lap.

It's only marginally less weird than being deposited in a sleek black chair and getting a Quinn on her lap, but then Nicole sits down next to her and gives her the perfect opener: "So—what was Quinn like in high school?"

"Oh, for God's sake," Quinn complains, kicking at Nicole's chair, who just laughs and looks at Rachel.

"No, seriously—the most she's ever said is that she has no desire to ever go back to Ohio, but, like I wasn't going to take advantage of this opportunity to get some actual dirt on the departmental wunderkind."

Rachel looks at Quinn, who has her own pug, and grins after a second. "A straight, abstinent, WASP-y, head cheerleader. Kind of a bitch, actually."

Quinn kind of groans and then mumbles, "They're out to get me, buddy" at the pug.

Nicole looks at her for a long moment and then slowly smiles. "That's amazing."

"She's improved, with time," Rachel adds, after a moment, and then bends over for a glass of water. "But then, I think it's safe to say we all have. I was exceptionally irritating in high school."

"Oh yeah?" Nicole asks, portioning up some potato salad after Quinn says, "It's vegan, go ahead" and handing her a plate a moment later.

"Oh, yeah," Rachel says, with a small smile. "I acted like I'd won the Tony before I'd ever even seen a real stage. It didn't endear me to my peers much."

"Well, that, and they were all spectacularly jealous of how obvious it was that you were going to be making it bigger than they ever would," Quinn says, blandly.

"So—I'm taking it you two weren't friends, back then," Nicole concludes, looking between them.

Rachel locks eyes with Quinn for a second and then they both start laughing.

"We had our moments, but—not really, no," she finally says, taking her first bite.

"Must be cool, to get a second chance after all this time," Nicole says, with a look at Quinn, who—and Rachel falls so unexpectedly hard at this one moment that it's unreal—sticks out her tongue and then says, "What can I say? Sometimes, fortune lands in your lap. Or, wait—sometimes you land in fortune's lap?"

"I'm... pretty sure that's not an expression either way," Rachel says, blushing furiously.

Nicole laughs and pats her on the arm a second later. "Don't worry. You're in good company here. We've all... landed in a few laps."

Quinn winks at her from across the table and then says, "So, according to the internet—"

Rachel chokes on her salad and Nicole furiously pats her on the back, as Quinn mildly goes on to talk about the fiftieth show and how apparently she made a very good Maria indeed.

"Wait—are you Google tracking my name?" Rachel asks, when she's recovered.

Quinn stills, opens her mouth, and then says nothing.

"She totally is," Nicole says, askance, and then says, "... and she follows your tumblr."

"Ah. My infernal promotional machine. I hate to ruin the moment, but my tumblr is actually updated by one of Kurt's interns back in New York," Rachel says, after a moment, and gives Quinn an apologetic look. "Sorry?"

"That's cool; it's actually funnier in some ways, knowing it's an imitation of you. Whoever does it is hilarious," Quinn says, shrugging and then frowning at her. "Twitter is you, though, right?"

Rachel grins and spears another chunk of potato. "You know, in some worlds, what you're doing could be considered stalking."

"Says the girl who showed up at Rapture—"

"Okay, okay," Rachel says, quickly, holding up her hands to get Quinn to stop talking.

When Quinn smirks triumphantly, Rachel looks at Nicole and sighs. "Is she always like this?"

Nicole hesitates for a moment, and then says, "... no, actually. She's never like this."

One of the pugs barks, and then lunges for the table, and their desperate scramble for the dogs stops Quinn from saying anything to Nicole, which means that Rachel can take that comment home with her, for keeps.

Conversation over lunch is about basically nothing at all; Nicole expresses some polite interest in Rachel's show and general career, and Rachel expresses some polite interest in Nicole's PhD, which leads to a heated debate about some man named William Glasser—a famous psychologist, according to the Wikipedia article she pulls up on her phone right around the time the first "You're insane" is thrown across the table—between Quinn and Nicole, and then they talk about the pugs and the cats.

After they're done eating, Quinn gets up and says, "I'll do the dishes", with a small look at Nicole, and then disappears inside. Rachel watches her go and then gives Nicole a look.

"She's giving us some privacy," Nicole says, in a more quiet and professional voice than her casual conversation one; she offers Rachel a small smile and says, "Before we talk about your situation, can I just... talk to you as Quinn's friend for a moment?"

Her palms are almost instantly sweaty, but Rachel nods; the pug on her lap is still snoring away gently, and she pets him just to have something to do.

Nicole looks at the table briefly and then says, "She's kept to herself as long as I've known her. For a very long time, I felt like I was her only friend. She has a few of us, now, but … she's picky, about who she lets in, and the key is not to push. Anyone who wants too much of her too quickly—"

"I know," Rachel says, because she does. Not just because Quinn has warned her, to not press, but also because that string of one-night-stands along the Strip... well. She's sure those girls weren't limited to one night by their choice.

Nicole gives her a gentle smile and says, "And then you came along. And—I swear, Fiona and I at first thought you were the ex—you know, the one who had screwed her over so hard that she makes Fort Knox look like a piggy bank."

Rachel snorts at the visual, but sighs. "I'm not. I mean, don't get me wrong, I wish I could have been—"

"She's said, that there's not that kind of history," Nicole cuts her off, mildly, and then leans back in her chair. "I just wanted to say... it might not seem that way, but, Rachel—you're very much in."

The pug shifts, and Rachel glances at it for a moment, and then looks back. "Why are you—"

"Because I'd lose my mind if i had to try to read Quinn, to figure out where I stand," Nicole says, easily, before half-smiling wryly. "Did you know she's cut back her shifts at the club to Tuesday nights only?"

Rachel hesitates, and then takes a deep breath. "I did not. I didn't know how often she worked to begin with—"

"Four nights a week, four hour shifts. Just because she could, and it was a good way for her to wind down after... well, long days in the office."

It's a difficult thing to comment on, and after a moment Rachel just says, "I'm sorry; I have no idea how to react to that without sounding like I'm disparaging your job, somehow—"

"My boyfriend, Dave, took about six months to come to terms with the fact that it doesn't make me unfaithful, or easy, or anything other than very financially secure in a completely controlled or safe environment," Nicole interjects. "By that measure, you're doing pretty well, I'd say."

"I... try not to bring it up. She's pretty defensive about it, and not just because we're not technically in a relationship," Rachel admits.

"Leaving the technical aside—does it bother you?"

She hesitates, because the obvious answer is yes, but ... it bothers her that Quinn needs this level of self-exposure just to come to terms with herself as a person, more than it the actual job description itself bothers her.

And that realization just makes her frown at herself, because—the girl she'd been in high school? She would've pitched a fit at all of this. She would've burst into Rapture and dragged Quinn out screaming, like some sort of moral colonialist out to save the day.

Nicole is studying her when she finally says, "It complicates an already complicated situation. In that sense, yes. I wish ... she did something different. But ... it doesn't affect what I think about her as a person, or... how I feel about her. At all, actually."

"But the fact that she's cutting down her hours—"

"I'm not reading anything into that, unless she tells me to," Rachel says, firmly.

Just like that, she seems to have won Nicole over, because Nicole relaxes and says, "For the record, she does know that I'm talking to you about her, and our work. It's easier, sometimes, for someone else to broach the subject. She did talk to Dave about it, back in the day, and if you have any questions—you're welcome to come to me with them, okay?"

"Okay," Rachel says, letting the air squeeze back out of her lungs. She jolts, when the pug licks at her hand and then, looks at Nicole uncertainly. "So—I guess we talk about me now?"

"Only if you want to. If you'd rather this just stay at a casual lunch between friends, we can talk about something asinine—Quinn's theme song, or whatever else you'd like to know about the practical side of our work," Nicole then says, with a neutral expression that somehow manages to be inviting.

"Wait—she has a theme song?" Rachel asks, and then doesn't know whether to laugh or ... well, laugh. "What, like Eye of the Tiger?"

"We tend to aim for something a little sexier than that," Nicole says, with a grin, before reaching for the pug and stealing him from Rachel's lap. "But I'll be sure to let her know you have a preference."

Rachel flushes, and then looks at the house—at where Quinn is doing the dishes, and probably singing more The Sound of Music, and then takes a deep breath.

"I... no. I want advice, if I can get it. On how I can get... better. How I can become myself again," she finally says, because if Quinn can cut down her hours—

Well, God, the least she can do is try to cut down her problems.

She and Quinn leave at the same time, and after the front door closes behind Nicole, Quinn tips down her sunglasses and says, "She liked you."

"I like her," Rachel says, and then takes a deep breath. "She... gave me some pointers on things to consider, when I seek out help, so thank you for inviting me. I had a nice time and I think I have a better grip on how to... well. How to proceed, now."

"No problem," Quinn says, and then licks at her lips; whatever is coming next is going to be Shy Quinn at her best, Rachel knows, and she waits it out. "... okay, come on, you have to tell me."

"What?"

"Your cats," Quinn exclaims, almost petulantly, before lifting her sunglasses again and giving her the most puppy-dog expression in the world.

"Oh, God, you're worse than Ralph and Tidus," Rachel says, laughing. "Were you studying those pugs all afternoon, or did you naturally come by this face?"

Quinn actually pouts, and then says, "Come on, Rachel. Don't be mean."

"I didn't realize my cat names were that important to you," Rachel says, and—fuck, she almost leans in and hugs Quinn's side, but—even with Nicole, Quinn just isn't touchy-feely.

To quell the urge, she shoves her hands into her pockets and watches as Quinn blows a frustrated breath up at her bangs. It's so fucking cute, Rachel might actually die if she doesn't intervene soon, and so she smiles.

"Tell you what; you tell me why you wore that dress today, and I'll give you cat name."

Quinn makes a face, but then grudgingly says, "I don't know. I thought—maybe you'd like it."

"You know I like you just how you've been the last few weeks, right?" Rachel checks, gently. "I don't need you to be seventeen years old again."

"Well, no, but, I mean..." Quinn sort of says, and then just shrugs. "It was an experiment."

"You've developed some swagger with time. You're not really pulling off ultra-feminine anymore—not to mention, what on earth are those shoes, Quinn?" Rachel says, teasingly, and then bumps her gently in the side. "If I could, I'd take a picture and send it to Santana. She'd destroy you."

Quinn sighs. "I'll wear pants tomorrow, okay?"

Rachel tugs on the sleeve of the dress until Quinn looks at her and says, "Wear whatever makes you comfortable. Don't worry about me. You could wear a paper bag and I'd still think you were the most attractive woman I've ever known."

Quinn flushes lightly at that compliment; then rolls her eyes; and then demands, "Okay; give me my cat name."

Rachel thinks for a second and then says, "Okay. My oldest cat, a tabby five year old, is Orphan Annie."

It takes a second, but then Quinn laughs and says, "Not just Annie?"

"No. Orphan Annie," Rachel says, with a smile. "Not that she listens to me anyway, but if I just call her Annie, she ignores me extra hard."

Quinn's laughter trails off into a smile, and then she says, "If I show you mine, will you show me yours?"

"Are we still talking about cats?" Rachel asks, when warm heat glows in her chest at the way Quinn is now looking at her—silly dress notwithstanding.

Quinn's teeth flash at her for a second, and then she just leans in for another one of those quick not-quite-on-the-mouth kisses and says, "Maybe you can show me your cat after you show me your—"

"Quinn Fabray," Rachel scolds her, and then shoves at her side, until they're both laughing.

After a moment of practically giggling at each other, Quinn flips her sunglasses back down, still smiling. "I'll leave it there until tomorrow. Shall we say … ten?"

Even after years of not bothering with the elliptical, she still wakes up at 6am sharp, so she nod after a second.

Quinn's expression sharpens into a teasing grin; she's already walking over to her car when she calls out, "Don't bother putting on clothes. You won't need them at first."

By the time she can think of a response, Quinn is already behind the wheel, and some loud—really loud—electronica blasts from her speakers as she drives by where Rachel is feeling around for her car keys.

"I hate you," Rachel mouths at her, which earns her a grin.

They both know she could not possibly mean it less. In fact, they're starting to turn into the words she uses when she can't say what she's really thinking, and—

She might reconsider that ball gag, because not saying I love you is becoming harder every time they see each other, and that right there—that's a phrase that will take Quinn from down to one night a week to I can't, I can't, I can't.

It's not entirely clear to her when she started understanding what Quinn works like, but it gives her just a little bit of hope that she won't hopelessly fuck things up before they've ever really gotten a chance to start.

Chapter Text

"Hey—are you—"

"Unlock the front door. I'll be there in about ten minutes. I want you standing at the foot of the bed without anything on, chin to your chest, hands behind your back, knees together."

A gasp. "I—"

"Ten minutes, Rachel."

Click.

It's two in the afternoon when they head out again, and Quinn manipulates a few buttons on the BMW's dash until some music filters out. It's more electronica, of some kind; and Rachel actually feels small-minded, for just the barest of moments, for not being able to narrow it down further than that.

"What is this?" she asks, as they're pulling out of her drive way.

Quinn glances over, and then—with a tap on the steering wheel, this time—turns up the volume just a little. "Ah, I'm trying to find some new stuff for work."

The realization that she doesn't immediately cringe and go, never mind, is an interesting one. Instead, she curls up into the seat a little more—and absently notes that money does in fact make a difference, as her Lexus does not compare in terms of interior fittings—and says, "What's the process there? I mean, how do you pick songs?"

Quinn overtakes a Volkswagen that's going way under the speed limit, and then sighs when they hit traffic as soon as they're out of Rachel's almost cul-de-sac neighborhood. "Shit. Should've left sooner."

"I'm glad we didn't," Rachel says, quietly, and after a second Quinn changes tracks on the album and squints at it for a moment before nodding.

An artist at work, Rachel thinks, absurdly, and then smiles faintly when Quinn tilts her head.

"It's... well, do you remember what it was like picking songs for Nationals?"

Rachel chuckles. "It's kind of hard to forget almost being evicted from a club that was my entire life because I was so gung-ho about not giving up a single solo."

Quinn's lips shift for a second, and then she says, "This isn't that different."

"No, but, I mean—what do you look for?" Rachel hesitates after a moment and then sighs at herself. "Forgive me, but—what makes for a good song for stripping? Is it just bass?"

Quinn sort of tsks at her and says, "Such amateurish notions for such a regular."

It's strangely pleasing, that they can sort of... joke about this, now.

"You didn't use music with me. Except that one time," Rachel notes, twisting in the seat further until she can just... wallow in the ability to study Quin, without Quinn being able to do anything about it.

"I … it's part of the act," she says, after a second, and then smiles. "In a weird way, I think you'd actually make a really good dancer, because a lot of what the job is about is... quick people reading, and gauging what they're there for. An unhappy married man, looking for a one-time diversion? A seventeen year old who has never seen a girl half-naked and is worried he never might? A powerful corporate figure who really just wants someone else to be in charge for a moment? Funnily enough, we rarely attract actual perverts. Sexual sadists don't like needing to pay for what they want, so... it's all basic play-acting."

Rachel smiles back after a second. "And the music goes with the role."

"Yes." Quinn looks out the window, and then adds, "The Garbage song? That was... very deliberate. You'd told me about your crush at that point, and I set out to play with it. All the words you wanted to hear, but you still couldn't touch me."

"Is being pure evil part of the job requirements or a natural forte?" Rachel asks, when Quinn half-grins at her and sort of raises her eyebrow.

"I don't know, what do you think?"

"No, seriously—are you like, the evil stripper?" Rachel asks. "Is that your thing?"

Quinn chuckles and then rolls her eyes. "No. But, okay, I do have a fairly regular customer base, after all this time, and the people who tend to stick around are the ones who find something in me, rather than the outward show, if that makes sense." Quinn bites her lip for a second and then says, "They don't come to me for sympathy, or compassion. They come to me to feel like they're being laughed at by someone they can't have."

Rachel rubs her tongue against her teeth and then says, "Christ. Maybe I should start a support group," as dryly as possible, and Quinn smirks.

"It's not a bad thing. If you were into being cuddled and told you were pretty, we would've never made it past that first dance," she then says, and that's punctuated with such a sweet little smile that Rachel can't quite find it in herself to get offended.

Except. Well. It's not that she's not into being cuddled and told she's pretty, either, and if Quinn honestly thinks...

"Anyway, all of that is just—you know, contained to the club. We all have our own thing. So. As much as I'd love to strip to... I don't know, that insipid 60s girl group stuff I used to listen to as a teenager—"

"Point taken. Please don't ruin The Supremes for me," Rachel says, quickly. "It's bad enough that if I ever have children, I'm going to have to leave the room when they hit a certain age in musical theater education..."

Quinn's expression freezes abruptly. "You … do you think you want kids?"

"Well. No. Not really," Rachel says, looking out the window, and the exit ramp out of the city they've almost, almost reached. "The cats are... about all the responsibility I can handle. I'm selfish. I think the way in which I've become less selfish is mostly focused on an awareness of how selfish I am."

Quinn nods slowly, after a long pause. "Yeah. I know what you mean."

A question lingers in Rachel's mouth when they both fall silent, and after a while of just studying Quinn's face some more, Quinn finally says, "It's okay, you know. If you want to ask about her."

"Are you sure? Because—"

Quinn turns the volume of the music back down and then taps her fingers aimlessly against the steering wheel. "As much as I don't dwell on Lima much, I don't regret her. It's pointless. Nothing that happened is her fault, and …"

"What's she like?" Rachel asks, and then clamps her lips together.

A vaguely claustrophobic expression passes over Quinn's face, but there isn't anywhere she can go right now, and after a second she relaxes. "Doesn't Puck talk about her?"

"Not to me. It's..." Rachel sighs after a moment. "This sounds so ridiculous when I say it out loud, but... she's a reminder that he's been with you, and I haven't. … or well, she … she used to be, obviously."

Quinn shoots her a look, and then carefully says, "I thought the real hang-up here would've been..."

"A mother I never knew, who didn't want me, versus a girl I also didn't really know, and who didn't want me," Rachel says, and then shrugs. "Either way, I think Puck just feels sorry for me."

"Does he write to her?" Quinn asks, after a moment.

"Do you?" Rachel volleys back.

There is a long pause, during which Quinn swallows, and then she says, "Yeah."

Rachel feels air lodge in her lungs, and then licks at her own lips—God, maybe that tic is infectious, or something. She can't help it, though. She has to know.

"Does … anyone other than Shelby know you do?"

Quinn shakes her head, and...

Fuck. There is no right or wrong here, and as always, the dice can tip either way. Before she can overanalyze what she's doing, Rachel reaches across the console, and rubs her fingers against Quinn's, where they're digging into the fabric of her jeans.

"My second cat's name is Chicory, but everyone calls him Red Fish. I didn't nickname him; Tina and Mike's eldest, Bobby, was the first person to see him after I picked him up from the shelter and was going through a Dr. Seuss phase at the time. It's the most ridiculous nickname, and I fought it for a very long time, but … it stuck."

Quinn's hand shifts under hers after a second and then she says, in a slightly heavy voice, "Red Fish is only mildly more absurd a name than Chicory, for the record, and you don't have the excuse of being a small child. Who names a cat after a cabbage?"

"Not after the cabbage; after the plant. We used to grow it in the back yard, back in Lima, and it has these blue flowers. Chick has really beautiful blue eyes; they're almost violet," Rachel says, and then flicks a finger at Quinn's wrist. "At least it's not super pretentious, like Carl Jung."

Quinn almost manages a smile at that, and after a second Rachel fishes out her phone. "Here. Want to see all three of them doing what they do best, which is sitting on my head?"

That gets her a laugh, and—more importantly—some reassurance that she's not going to get thrown out of the car in the next five minutes.

The rope loops—and again, and again, and again. It feels like the most intimate of touches right where her heart beats hardest, on her wrists, and then Quinn is gripping them together, tugging the rope under and finally pulling tight.

"Flex your fingers," she instructs, softly.

Rachel does, and a second later, a kiss is pressed at the base of her neck—burning there, for a long moment, until Quinn grabs her by the hips and literally throws her onto the bed.

She lands with an 'oof', turning her cheek just in time to avoid her nose getting crushed, and then hears, more than sees, Quinn softly laughing behind her.

"What kind of girl are you, Rachel, that you actually let and want people to do this to you?"

It feels like a rhetorical question, and the bed dips when Quinn settles on it—probably on her knees, Rachel thinks, squeezing her eyes shut and then focusing on not squirming. Only dirty girls squirm, and—

God, as soon as the thought hits her, she feels her thighs twitch, and then Quinn's hands are on her ankles, tugging hard, until she's sliding down the mattress a little bit more.

"Look at you," is whispered harshly, right in her ear, a moment later. "Can't even lie there and wait for a second, can you. You're so hard up for it. You've probably been thinking about this for days now, haven't you."

A whimper slips from her mouth, and she bites her lip to not make that noise again, but Quinn applies some pressure to the base of her spine and—oh, God, she really can't get away from her.

"You'd spread your legs for anyone who just promises to treat you like shit, wouldn't you, Rachel," Quinn whispers, and Rachel feels her eyes roll back in her head, even though they're closed. The only point of contact between them is that fist, pressing into her back, and... oh, it's not enough.

She squirms again, and then takes a deep breath and says, "N—no."

The quiver in her voice produces a small, harried intake of breath in Quinn, and then Quinn pulls on her hair. "What do you mean, no. Are you actually going to pretend you don't love being tossed around like you're nothing more than some faceless fuck toy?"

Her entire body floods with heat, because—this is … oh, she had no idea going in just how far Quinn was going to push this idea, and even though she knows—objectively, rationally—that she's an accomplished, independent woman who has nothing to be ashamed of...

Quinn is making her burn with embarrassment, and it's just making her wet. What can that possibly make her, if not filthy?

"No—no, I don't..."

"You want it," Quinn stresses, in a hiss right behind her ear, before biting down on the skin of her neck and tugging on it gently. "You want it, because you're dirty. You'd let anyone just spread you out on a bed and fuck you, but you know what?"

No, she doesn't. She doesn't know anything, except that she can't stop squirming and it's going to get her in trouble; but she can't help it. She can't, because Quinn is right there, and Quinn knows what she's really like.

She shakes her head, the best she can, the mattress pressing into her face hard, and then Quinn shifts again, actually pushing her shoulders into the bed, until the sockets start to feel bruised, and the position her hands are in just pulls on them harder.

"Nobody understands just what a little pervert you are the way I do, Rachel. And nobody is more willing to treat you like the slut you really are. And you know it."

Stars burst into color behind her eyelids, and she moans so loudly that for a second, the words Julie Andrews are at the tip of her tongue, because this isn't normal. She's not normal. Nothing about what she wants from Quinn is normal at all—

—but when Quinn runs her cheek along the top part of Rachel's spine, and bites down on the edge of her shoulder before pulling on her hair again, and says, "And that's all you want, isn't it? To be a slut for me."

Pressure appears between her legs a moment later, and she rocks backwards against it instinctively—

And then Quinn pulls away altogether.

"So easy. Too easy. I'm going to have to teach you some manners before we continue," she says, brushing her fingertips down the back of Rachel's leg, all the way down to her heel, before circling the small star-shaped tattoo she has there and then disappearing off the bed again.

Rachel's eyes snap open at the first sharp slap of leather against skin, and then—

"That's right," Quinn says, slowly. "I've been practicing."

Rachel drowns.

...

Quinn takes them out of the city a few minutes later, mumbling some complaint about traffic and tourists, and then says, "So—I mean. What do you do, when you're not performing?"

It is the single most awkward thing they've ever said to each other, and that's included a long discussion about the merits of anal sex. Awareness of that, really, is what makes her blush. It's just such a first date question. A blind first date, even. She remembers Blaine setting her up with his friend Jacob—already a bad start—in their freshman year at NYU, and Jacob saying almost exactly those words: you're into musical theater, right, but what else?

Musical theater had been her entire life back then.

It's appalling to think that she really hasn't moved on much beyond that. The cover albums she releases from time to time, between auditions for the next big part, don't really feel like they're different. Just more of the same, and … God, she cares so little, about any of it, these days.

The Tony is on a shelf in the bookcase, next to all the sheet music and scripts she collected while at Tisch. It's barely even visible. She never looks at it at all. Who would believe that, given what she used to be like?

Quinn says, "Rachel?" curiously, and Rachel forces a smile.

"Sorry. It's … you didn't ask anything weird, obviously, but it's a tough one for me to answer. Work is my life."

Quinn scratches at the side of her face for a second and then says, "That's not just you. There are days when I basically wake up in the library and don't leave until midnight."

The fact that that is what counts as work is soothing, somehow, and Rachel purses her lips. "I think... when I have time off, other people try to keep me busy. Mike and Tina are on a perpetual mission to find the best Chinese take-away New York has to offer, which means that they normally come over at least once a week. We flip a coin for what to watch, and normally play at least one round of Jenga."

"Sounds nice," Quinn says; Rachel takes it as sarcasm, but then sees a small smile from the corner of her eye.

"It is. They're good friends. They... they steer around my condition in a way that not many people can be bothered to."

"And you hang out with Puck, I'm guessing?" Quinn asks, after a moment.

Rachel nods. "He forces me to watch sports I don't care about, and really bad Syfy movies about … locusts taking over the world, and so on." She hesitates, and then adds, "Kurt sometimes drags me out of the apartment. It's a combination of socialization and friendship, and he seems to have gut instincts about when stores experience a lull so I can go shopping from time to time. It's nice."

Quinn is silent for a long while, and then asks, "Does it ever get tedious that he's so envious of you?"

Rachel looks at her in surprise. "Kurt's not—"

She gets a pointed look in response, and it shuts her up. "... we don't talk about that. He understands that it's luck, and … I suspect he's in a way hoping to make his own connections if he sticks with me long enough."

"I meant more like, don't you ever want to punch him for being jealous of a life that … well. It's come at quite the cost, and it would piss me off to no end if someone who had seen what it did to me still had some schoolboy jealousy about how unfair it all was, that you ended up with everything."

Rachel sighs deeply. "I can't blame him for that. If I was in better shape, I'd literally be shoving my competition in front of traffic if it would get me a role. He's really quite civil in comparison."

Quinn smiles, and then gives her a hesitant look. "Do you really not love any part of it anymore? Because if not, just quit, Rachel. You're not just a voice."

It's the first time anyone's been this brutally honest about the choice she keeps refusing to make, and the first time anyone's made her actually consider if her first love is actually dead to her, or just buried underneath layers of stress and anxiety and politics that have dulled its gleam.

The Vegas landscape streaks by behind her, on the right side of the car, and to the left, the city looms, and it's in that contrast that Rachel bites her lip and says, "It's not that I don't love singing anymore. It's just … I used to have something to sing about, and now.."

Quinn hums something in response, and Rachel glances at her.

"Buffy," Quinn says, with an apologetic little smile. "Sorry."

"No, that's—what did I reference?"

Quinn sucks in a deep breath, "I'm not drawing a parallel here, honest, but … there's a musical episode in which Buffy's friends all think she's doing fine, but she's actually severely depressed, and at some point she sings, give me something to sing about."

She signals for a ramp back into Vegas a moment later, and Rachel stares out the window while she processes that information. Good God, she sounds like a depressed girl who wants to stab things with a stake.

Things are not actually that bad, and after a second she forces herself to straighten.

"I watch old movies on TMC every other night, and … I do the Times' crossword every Sunday, albeit with copious cheating, which I'd never admit to anyone who watches me fill it in. I sometimes wander into book stores in the city because the customers there leave you alone, and then spend an hour reading a cook book with vegan recipes in it only to realize that they're all for two, and then just head back home—but I think that when I go back to New York now, I might just start trying some." She pauses, and then finishes with, "And... I'm moving. I have to move, because my apartment makes me feel like I'm locked in a box, and I want to live somewhere where I can garden."

"You garden?" Quinn asks, letting all the rest of that slide, and Rachel nods gratefully.

"I used to. At the time, I thought of it as a chore, but … there was something nice, about giving something just enough love and care to watch it blossom."

Quinn smiles at that. "The climate here is fairly unforgiving... but I try to keep herbs on my balcony."

"You're... I probably should've told you this before, but you're a great cook."

They're back in the city, in front of a traffic light, when Quinn looks over wryly. "I've had a lot of experience halving recipes. You get used to it, after a while."

And just in that look, Rachel feels something settle; like they've just discovered they're actually not wholly incompatible as people, and like phone calls between them in the future won't be the single most torturous part of her day.

Like she's not just a body for Quinn to mold, and Quinn is not just a fantasy for her to chase.

They both cook for one.

It's nothing, really. But it's something.

...

"Tell me—what is that?"

She can't. Her tongue is heavy, barely capable of wetting her lips, and the way Quinn is forcing her body into the bed and her ass up in the air is—God, it hurts, but it hurts so good.

Quinn's hips still again, and she can't even moan anymore; air just filters from her lungs, in a soft whoosh, and then Quinn's fingers—wet with something—brush against her lips. 

"Clean them," she instructs, impatiently. "I should be able to touch you without ending up with wet fingers, Rachel. You shouldn't even be wet right now, because I'm just using you, but you are, aren't you?"

She nods, and as a consequence, Quinn presses forward again. Her arms ache. She can barely feel the tips of her fingers anymore, but it doesn't matter, because the only part of her body that does matter is—

"What does that make you?" Quinn demands, yanking on her hair until she can barely breathe, the angle her neck is twisted at.

"Dirty," she gasps out, and Quinn lets go again. Her hips slowly start to rock, and with every nudge of the strap-on back inside, Rachel feels herself sink just a little bit deeper.

"Just dirty?" Quinn asks, and fingers a spot on Rachel's hip that got the first few hits of the crop; it's red, and tender, and it sends a shiver through her exhausted body.

"A... dirty slut," she manages, and then Quinn pulls away altogether; she whines, at the loss of contact, and then feels her eyes slip shut; moments later, Quinn is rolling her onto her back and helping her sit upright, and then there's a bottle pressed against her lips.

"Your pulse is—all over the place," Quinn says, in a much more casual tone of voice, rubbing against her wrist with a thumb, squeezing in underneath the ropes. "Deep breaths, and drink a little when you can."

She does, and Quinn strokes her hair for a second, before squeezing on her shoulder and looking at her intently.

"You okay?" she asks, eyes flashing across Rachel's face.

Nothing but unabated love swells in Rachel's chest, even though this is breaking character in a way that would make her furious in a professional setting, but as soon as she takes one last sip and then nods, the moment passes.

The hand stroking her hair tightens, and Quinn arches an eyebrow.

"I'm glad we agree that you're a dirty slut; I think you've probably been one as long as I've known you. Tell me, Rachel—what did you used to think about, when you were sucking Finn off?"

The water and the pause have given her a bit of clarity back, and she feels her eyes widen—and Quinn smirks after a second, in a way that's nothing short of appreciative.

"I never—" Rachel starts to say, and Quinn slaps at her nipple so quickly that she actually chokes on the rest of the sentence.

"Don't lie. A dirty little girl like you? You probably loved getting on your knees for the quarterback. I bet you let him come in your mouth, and you just sat there swallowing away like the obedient, eager-to-please little tramp that you were back then."

It's jarring, because for one second, Rachel actually wants to protest Quinn's words in a serious way; she most definitely has not ever done any of that with Finn Hudson, and even if she had, it's possibly the least erotic thing she can think of under any circumstances.

But then Quinn's hand moves down to her neck, and clasps there, and then she says, "Except it was never him you were secretly dying to show just how bad you were, was it? Who did you actually wish you could be on your knees for, Rachel?"

Oh.

And just like that, she trembles a little, and Quinn just snaps, "On the floor. Now, Rachel. This is a privilege, and God help you if I have to ask you twice."

The words 'look Ma, no hands!' forever divorce themselves from learning how to ride a bike about two minutes later.

...

They're out of the car and Quinn is nodding towards some sort of done-up commercial warehouse in the distance, saying, "That's our destination."

Tourists are milling about them, and Rachel instinctively feels inside of her pocket for the pill she permitted herself to bring, given that they were heading into a part of the city with people in it—but she's okay for now, and they stroll over to the building side by side. Quinn's hands lodge into her pockets, and with her Wayfarers and her loose-fitting capri's and flowing shirt, she looks like she fits right in.

"Where are we?" Rachel asks, after a second.

"Arts district. It's not what it's actually called, but it's what it is." Quinn slides in place next to her and shields her from a crowd of tourists automatically, and then keeps walking with one hand at the small of Rachel's back.

It's like an opiate. She can't really explain it better than that, and while that's probably terrible and awful and really unhelpful … God, it's nice.

She's in public, but she's feeling nice.

A deep slow breath, and then she smiles. "Are you a patron of the arts, Ms. Fabray?"

Quinn shrugs. "I have a lot of money and nobody to spend it on."

It doesn't surprise Rachel as much as it should; there's just something about the girl who spent most of Glee club reading through the Salinger and Fitzgerald catalogue that segues seamlessly into this adult who is steering her towards something called the Arts Factory.

"Do you donate to this place?" she asks, after a second.

Quinn shakes her head. "Nah, but … I'm a regular at some of the galleries. This is place is great. It houses standing exhibitions as well as a bunch of artists in residents, hence the 'factory' aspect of it—but people work live. You can literally go in and talk to someone as they're making art, which is—it's just such a voyeuristic kick, you know? Imagine if you'd been able to stand behind Picasso while he painted."

Rachel stares at her for a second, and Quinn frowns after a second.

"What?"

They're almost at the door, and Rachel hesitates, but then decides to be honest. They've both earned it, after today. "I'm just... sometimes, the way you brim over with enthusiasm about something blows me away. You just really weren't like this, when you were a teenager."

Quinn looks conflicted for a second, and then bites her lip, and says, "No. You were like that I really wasn't."

"Did you steal my mojo?" Rachel asks, trying for levity in what is an unexpectedly serious moment, and Quinn's fingertips dig into the small of her back.

"You still have your mojo, Rachel. You just have to find it again," she then says, softly, and pushes the door open, ushering them both inside.

Her knees are going to give out, but Quinn just won't stop fucking her, even though with every forward thrust she's just barely whimpering a please.

She doesn't know what the hell she's begging for. She just knows that she can't come again. She just can't. She'll die if she does. She was kidding about testing that out, but it's like Quinn doesn't care if she survives or not.

Quinn doesn't care, because she's just some dirty bitch who can't get enough and—she clenches again, as Quinn drags out of her slowly, fingers pressing hard into her hips, leaving marks there.

She's bathed in sweat. It's cold, chilly, it's—

"You're so open now," Quinn says, behind her, sounding breathlessly turned on by her own words. "I think I might need to go up a size, Rachel, because I am just slipping and sliding right out of you, which basically proves my point for me. You're just going to lie there and take whatever I give you, aren't you—"

"Oh, God," she manages, and squeezes her eyes shut. "Please don't, I'll be good, I'll—"

"No, you won't," Quinn exhales. "You don't know how to be good."

"I'll be good for you, though, I will—" Rachel gasps, and Quinn pulls out and slaps her—slaps her—right against her clit with that fake cock, which... it doesn't feel so fake anymore, after how long it's been inside of her and how Quinn uses it and … and the way it's rubbing against her now and—oh—

She can't—

She does.

She slumps forward and Quinn just says, "Jesus, will you look at that. I have actually fucked you until you can't stand anymore, and yet you're lying there, telling me you'll be good. Does that sound like something that good girls let happen to them?"

The sound of buckles being undone vaguely sinks into her her consciousness, and then she just about registers Quinn sliding up against the back of her legs, pressing into her from behind, and running sharp nails up her back. It makes her tremble all over, and Quinn presses something that feels almost like a loving kiss to the top of her ass, but of course it ends up a nibble, and she sighs.

Then, out of nowhere, a hand swipes between her legs and tracks upwards between her ass cheeks, and she gasps. But not in a good way, and not—because—

"I think you'll love this more than anything else I've done to you, because—fuck, Rachel, this is really, really filthy," Quinn murmurs, and Rachel weakly reaches back—her wrist burning, almost immediately, and swats at Quinn's arm.

"Julie Andrews," she sort of wheezes out, and instantaneously, Quinn is pulling her off the bed and into a sitting position that makes it a little easier to breathe.

The concern—if not slight panic—on Quinn's face is … cute isn't the word, but it kind of is, and Rachel blinks rapidly, in the faint hope of keeping her eyes open.

"What did I do? What—I thought we agreed that you were up for—"

Rachel swallows thickly, and then leans in closer and presses a kiss to Quinn's neck. "I am, but—not everything all at once, baby, okay?"

She feels Quinn's arms flex around her back, and only registers what she's said when it's far, far too late to take it back, but Quinn just blows out some air. "Okay. I guess I got a little carried away. You're just so fucking hot when you just … let me take you, and—"

"Hey—" Rachel says, reaching up weakly and sort of patting the side of Quinn's face. "It's fine, I'm fine. Just remember that we have tomorrow, too, right?"

She's too sleepy to dwell on the fact that there isn't a whole lot left after tomorrow, but not so sleepy that she doesn't register the way Quinn sighs deeply, before she shifting until they're both flat on the floor.

The Contemporary Arts Center is doing an exhibition on pointillist comic book art, or as Quinn calls it, Roy Lichtenstein dragged into a new era.

Quinn's enthusiasm proves contagious, and Rachel finds herself actually interested in the paintings, and what they're trying to express with these bright colors, spattered around in staccato.

She used to thrive on things like this; going and experiencing culture—or what passed for it in Lima—and exploring the New York modern art scene with Blaine and Kurt, before that karaoke incident took place and … she hasn't been to MOMA in years now.

This is very small-scale in relative comparison, and Quinn sticks up a hand in greeting at the curator, who is in an office in the back.

"You do come here a lot," Rachel says, after a beat, and then points at a painting down the hall. "That's—"

"My favorite," Quinn says, immediately. "I think I stood in front of it for almost half an hour when I first saw it."

The painting depicts a caped superhero, cradling a child on the ground, and staring up at the sky with an agonized expression; what's really the draw, though, is the crowd of onlookers, whose faces are all blurred dots, and the child itself, which has no face at all.

Rachel gnaws on her lip when they reach it, and then looks at Quinn, also studying it.

"I wrote a paper on the psychology of the super-villain for my senior thesis," she says, after a moment. "This sounds silly, but... after all those months of babysitting for Sam, it was an easy A and …" She shrugs, and then looks at the child's face again, expression pinching a little. "When I first saw this, I immediately thought that I went at it from the wrong angle. The real story to tell is one about the superhero complex, where... the act of saving is more important than who is being saved. It's very impersonal, when you stop to think about it."

Rachel thinks about a girl in a strip club for a long moment, and feels a surge of regret, except; she didn't want to be anyone's hero but Quinn's.

It was still misguided, and she knows it, and so she just smiles and says, "You'll have to forgive me for not contributing to this conversation much. I am but a miserly musical theater graduate."

"Didn't you double-major in script-writing?" Quinn asks, giving her a look.

Rachel laughs after a second. "You know, I used to think that you just didn't ask me questions because you're so private, but now I'm starting to realize it's just because you memorized my Wikipedia profile."

Quinn's cheeks darken abruptly. "Memorizing it is going a bit far."

"Oh, so it's just your first bookmark?" Rachel says, with a grin, and then—and it's another one of those reckless impulses; chalk it up to Vegas—dips into Quinn's pocket and fishes out her phone. "Let's see..."

"Rachel," Quinn says, warningly, and Rachel takes a step backwards, still holding the phone, but not looking at it.

"What number, Quinn?"

"Give me back the phone."

"Give me a number, and I will," Rachel says, only realizing she's backed herself into a corner when Quinn suddenly looms over her, and the phone is carefully extracted from her hand.

"Twelve," Quinn then says, slowly, and almost ominously. "If you must know, my first bookmark is my online banking website."

Somehow, that's hilarious, and after a second Rachel starts laughing.

Quinn scowls at her, but again, it's just comical now. "What?"

"Nothing, just..." Rachel says, and then snorts laughter again, before burying her forehead into Quinn's shirt when an older woman elsewhere in the gallery shushes them loudly.

"God, I can't take you anywhere," Quinn mumbles.

It only sets Rachel off harder, and ten minutes later, they're back outside, with Quinn sighing deeply.

"I can't believe you just got me thrown out of an art gallery by laughing."

"What, is there a better way to be thrown out of an art gallery?"

The look Quinn gives her, before walking back to the car, … yeah, they're going back to bed later today. That's pretty much a given.

When her eyes flutter back open, Quinn is reading something on her phone with a small frown.

"What is it?" Rachel asks, tiredly, and shifts a little, until they're—well, still touching, but she's at least not draped half over Quinn. They're both incredibly sweaty, and will need to shower before they go. Separately, Rachel thinks, and then watches as Quinn blinks at her.

"Ah, email from my... boss. The school one," she says, before smiling slightly. "I got my submission deadline approved, on the basis of the work I completed last week."

"Is that cause for panic or celebration?"

"Little bit of both," Quinn says, after a moment, and then pulls a strand of hair off Rachel's forehead and tucks it behind her ear. "I'm focusing on... the finally being fucking done part of it now, though, so. What do you say to a good dinner tonight?"

"What... you mean, in town?" Rachel asks, after a beat. She's groggy, but—there's a reason why dining together in town isn't a great idea, and—

Quinn tongue swipes past her bottom lip, and then she says, "Actually—I make a really good butternut squash risotto, and I know where we can pick up a bottle of Cristal at reasonable cost—"

Rachel wakes up completely at that, and looks at Quinn seriously for a moment. "What is this?"

"Rachel—"

"Quinn, I mean it," Rachel stresses. "I'm—I know we're not together, and I know that there's a clock above our heads that is just counting down and down and down, but... now you're talking about overpriced champagne and—"

Quinn's face works quietly for a moment, but then she says, "The last time I celebrated anything, I was fifteen. I'd just like to... I don't know. Give myself this one occasion, okay? It's a postgraduate degree, Rachel. And nobody I know, except for you, has any idea how unlikely it was that I'd ever even get to college. So—"

Rachel takes a deep breath and says, "Okay."

Quinn says nothing else for a long moment, and then looks over a little awkwardly. "Can you maybe... drop this to Santana, next time you talk to her?"

"I'm telling Santana about you now?" Rachel asks, unable to hide her surprise.

Quinn fidgets and then sighs. "You should. I mean, you're in my life. Right? You're a part of my life. And I'm a part of your life. I don't want to lie about... things I don't have to lie about. And maybe, when she's done being a bitch about whatever, I could go see them. Or they could come here."

Out of nowhere, it's like being confronted with the girl that was hidden behind all of Quinn's bravado, throughout high school; a girl who acted like she was so much better than everyone to hide the crippling fear that she wasn't. And God, that girl—that girl should've been best friends with one Rachel Berry, covering up her own insecurities with volume.

She rubs her thumb on Quinn's shoulder, and says, "Hey, Q?"

"Hm?"

"I'm going to brag about you so hard that Santana's going to throw up lunch and dinner by the time I'm done."

It earns her the tiniest of grins, and then a darted kiss on the lips, before Quinn gets up and says, "C'mon. Time to show you the finest of Nevada culture."

For one second, Rachel thinks about blurting out that Nevada's finest anything is already with her, but—they should leave the house, and do things together that aren't going to lead to permanent dehydration and premature heart conditions.

There is, still, tomorrow. And nearly three whole weeks after that.

Dinner is delicious.

And this time, she can actually say so without feeling like she's lying, because they're talking about camping, of all fucking things—Rachel's opinion can be summarized with no, thanks, but Quinn has a few feelings in favor, most of which are either about shooting things or sleeping under the night sky—and very slowly working their way through a 1600 dollar bottle of champagne.

Puck calls, around eight, and asks if they want to go out for a drink and—it's the kind of thing she'd say yes to, under different circumstances, but she only has another few weeks and she's selfish. She's so selfish.

Puck will understand.

When she gets back to the table, Quinn is staring into her glass of champagne with an absent look on her face, and Rachel scoots back into her seat before saying, "Puck says hi."

"He wants to talk to me about her, doesn't he?" Quinn asks, after a second, before slowly focusing on Rachel again.

She just nods. It's not a secret.

The liquid in Quinn's glass swirls, and then she just says, "Give me his number. I'll give him a call."

"If you don't want to talk about her—" Rachel starts to say, but Quinn silences her with a small smile, and then pulls out her phone and swipes at the screen a few times.

Then, the phone is placed down, and turned, and pushed towards Rachel.

"She likes rhinoceroses and polar bears, does not like asparagus but does like broccoli, is really good at math and really not interested in English, and is the best first baseman in all of the little league in Canton," Quinn says, softly.

The girl is adorable, and—by the looks of her school picture—not quite hitting that awkward age where tall girls get gangly and awkward just yet. She has a big, happy grin on he face that is hard to associate with Quinn in any capacity, but screams Puck, and Rachel smiles back at it unwillingly. It's hard to explain what a blend of Quinn's (natural?) features and Puck's would look like in the abstract, but she can see it here, and after a second looks back up at Quinn.

"You done good," she then says, surprised at how rough her own voice sounds, but her words are deliberate.

This is a big moment, and yet it has to somehow stay small. She's becoming a bonafide expert in navigating minefields this way, tipping around on her toes just to make sure none of the detonation devices in range actually get nudged by either of them.

What a skill to master.

"You think so, huh," Quinn says, almost expressionlessly, but there's something in her eyes—

"Yeah. I fucking hate asparagus too," Rachel says, with enough force to snap Quinn out of the moment, and then Quinn slowly grins a little before ducking her head.

"Asparagus is kind of disgusting."

"See, and you're almost a doctor, in like another ten years or so, so if you agree, we have the scientific community behind us," Rachel says, before picking up her glass of champagne again and holding it out for Quinn's. "Fuck asparagus. It's official."

"You should write a play," Quinn says, almost sounding like herself again, and Rachel shrugs.

"Maybe I will, during my down time."

"Fuck Asparagus: the Musical," Quinn muses, and her lips quirk in a way that suddenly changes everything from fine to better. "Sounds like a hit."

"Would you come watch it?" Rachel asks, and—fuck, it's the wrong thing to say, because Quinn suddenly looks at her a little seriously. Rachel curses her big mouth, because—there's the joke, and then there's taking it too far, because she might as well be asking if Quinn will come and watch her next big thing.

It's desperate, and wrong, and—so not how she wants to end this otherwise perfect day, and she almost starts apologizing.

But, then Quinn just laughs and says, "As long as you don't cast fucking Celine Dion in the lead, I guess I could make a trip to see America's first anti-vegetable singing extravaganza in the flesh."

It doesn't really even matter if that means something or nothing—it means that she can stay with Quinn, in this moment where everything between them is just right, for just a little bit longer.

"Well, fuck Celine too, in that case," Rachel says, and gently clinks their glasses together.

Chapter Text

Sunlight streams into her eyes the next morning, and they flutter open unexpectedly, before she grimaces and rolls over onto her other side—only to be face to face with Quinn, who is just lying there. And looking at her.

She stills, to the best of her ability, and watches as Quinn's eyes flit from some spot to her left—her hair, maybe? Is it sticking out funny? She reaches on instinct, and then watches as Quinn just pulls the covers up to her chin with her hands, curled into loose fists, and then peers at her from above it—just two eyes and a nose.

Rachel feels her own nose crinkle in response, and then says, "... what are you doing?"

"Pretending I'm under water," Quinn says, muffled by the covers.

That silly, teenage sensation of noticing another person for the first time—really noticing them, in the sense where they make up a body and a personality and a being that could slot in next to her own—washes over her again, and she's not awake enough to really control her response to it.

Thankfully, it's just an urge to do the same thing, and then they're just dumbly staring at each other, hiding grins behind the covers, until Quinn shifts a little again and runs a hand through her ever-messy hair.

"I... was going to wake you up by um, going down on you, but... some people don't like that kind of thing, so I thought I'd ask first."

"Some people being you? Because—by all means, next time the urge strikes you," Rachel says, her lips brushing against the sheets; they're tingly, now, and she knows a kiss would soothe them right quick, but—

One step at a time, and for now, Quinn is in her bed. Talking. About wanting to go down on her.

There are worse ways to wake up.

Quinn hesitates, and then rolls over onto her back and folds her arms under her head. "I think... most people would be in mortal danger if they tried it, honestly, but..."

She trails off completely, and rays of sun play across her face—highlighting the length of her eyelashes, and the perfect tip of her nose, and the way her lips are still rosy and bruised from what they did yesterday.

"God, you're so beautiful," Rachel thinks—only realizing belatedly that she's said it, or sort of sighed it.

Quinn glances at her briefly, before frowning and then stretching out her entire body. "You're biased."

"Well, yes, but even objectively..." Rachel smiles faintly and lowers the covers. "Is it really that hard for you to believe that—"

Quinn shrugs. "No. I spent a lot of money—or well, my parents did, to get me looking this way. Clearly it's satisfying some objective beauty standard."

"Quinn," Rachel says, a little more seriously, shifting in closer just because she can, until her hand is stroking down Quinn's cheek and then cupping her chin lightly.

The skin around Quinn's eyes crinkles momentarily—it's one of very few things that gives away that Rachel is not alone in suddenly getting closer to 30 than to 20—and then relaxes again. "I'm... not saying you're being dishonest, Rachel. I just …"

"What do you see, when you look in the mirror?" Rachel asks softly, brushing her hand down further, until she's drawing a small circle on Quinn's sternum with just the tip of her index finger.

Quinn grips her finger after a moment, and then says, "Ask me something easier."

They reposition almost automatically after that, until their only point of connection is Rachel's knee against Quinn's thigh, and they're looking at each other again.

"What... talk to me about yesterday," Rachel finally says.

Quinn exhales slowly and then laughs a little. "I said easier, Rachel."

"No, I mean—I … I want us to be able to talk about what we do in bed, in bed. Do you understand what I'm saying?" Rachel presses.

After a second, Quinn's expression sobers, and she nods. "Yeah. Okay."

It still leads to a slightly awkward silence, until Quinn admits, "I... thought you would time-out sooner. I really did. You had a look on your face when um, I suggested you—um—"

"Give you head?" Rachel asks, smiling faintly when Quinn blushes and then nods.

"But... when you didn't, I … I don't know. I guess you tapped into the head cheerleader, if that makes sense, and she really likes... well. Winning. And I felt like, I wasn't getting to what you needed, and—"

"No, it wasn't that," Rachel says, shaking her head quietly. There are a lot of thoughts that are relevant, running through her mind concurrently, and finally she just says, "I... don't know. What happened."

"Did you not... stop me sooner because you didn't want to disappoint me, or something?" Quinn asks, tentatively, and Rachel looks at her eyes—God, the level of concern there is something else entirely.

"No. You just... you actually just made me feel like... like you knew more about what I needed than I did. I didn't … there was an automatic end point, last time, when... you know. You knew I was done. I think this time neither of us did, until suddenly it was too much," Rachel says, reaching over and petting the covers somewhere above Quinn's abdomen for a moment. "Quinn, it—it wasn't bad, that I used the word. It means that... we're discovering more about each other."

Quinn pulls her lip between her teeth and then grimaces a little. "I wish I had... more experience with this, sometimes. I feel like I should've known, or felt it coming at least. Maybe I should have changed approach towards the end. Did you even get any real emotional release out of it, or—"

"No, but..." Rachel pauses, and then frowns. "Honestly? I don't think this … particular desire is about that. It's simpler, than... my need to earn your approval. The … the way this works is... it makes me feel guilty, about wanting to come, and that just makes me come harder."

Quinn studies her for a long moment, and then slowly says, "If this is simpler, and less emotionally—you know, exposing... why is it that you still seem a little unsettled?"

"Because I am," Rachel admits, continuing quickly—before that look of concern on Quinn's face can shift into something wholly unnecessary, like guilt or regret. "I wasn't—most of yesterday, but... we weren't in bed, most of yesterday. I didn't realize just how much your words would get me into that head space where... I don't know. What you said was true. I felt really exposed, and ashamed, and—it was kind of a shock, to go that deep."

Quinn sighs softly and stares at the ceiling. "So I did push too hard."

"No, you didn't," Rachel says, and presses her hand down a little harder, until Quinn meets her eyes again. "Q, it's my call, okay? That's why we have the words. You're not a mind-reader. You can't be expected to know what my limits are when I don't even know. But we found out, together, and—"

She takes a deep breath, and then waits for Quinn to glance at her with that same worried look on her face.

"I'm glad it was you. Okay? I'm glad it was you."

Quinn's lips part slightly at that, and her eyebrows contract; sunlight plays through her hair, emphasizing the golden blonde parts of it and hiding the darker roots, and Rachel reaches out on instinct; touches it, and watches as Quinn leans into her hand.

"What about now? What do you need from me now?" Quinn finally asks, swallowing lightly and then closing her eyes.

Rachel scratches at her scalp, and only hesitates for a few seconds before saying, "It's—I need today to not just be about what I need. What do you need?"

Quinn's expression contorts, even with her eyes closed, and her head stills against Rachel's fingers—but then she sighs softly and says, "I want to be with you, but... no games, today. I don't really trust myself right now. Yesterday was … a lot."

"For both of us," Rachel stresses, softly.

Quinn's eyes flutter back open, those endless eyelashes lashing against her cheeks, and then she says, serious in a way that makes Rachel's heart flip all over again, "Can we just—keep it simple, right now?"

The truth is: no, they can't. Not in the global sense, anyway.

But right here, in Rachel's bed, with Quinn looking at her that openly, Rachel finds it deceptively easy to forget that there's a world out there, and that world won't let them have simple.

For now, that world just doesn't exist.

"Yeah. C'mere."

...

It's their most basic connection yet.

Quinn doesn't make eye contact during, instead dropping her cheek to Rachel's, and then resting her forehead on the pillow next to her head, while they slowly explore each other. Part of Rachel craves the look in Quinn's eyes, when they get close, but—the rest of her just craves this closeness they have. It's new. It's thrilling, and terrifying.

It's the kind of thing she won't know how to leave behind.

She comes when Quinn moans, "Come on, Rachel, now", but it feels nothing like it usually does, when Quinn demands an orgasm from her. She sounds less urgent, and more pleading. It has a crash-landing effect, where before Rachel can even process if she's ready, her hips are snapping up and Quinn is holding her breath, listening and feeling her cave in.

Muscles contract around her own fingers moments later, and she curves them gently when Quinn reaches down, captures her wrist, and says, "Stay", in a breathless little voice that makes Rachel wrap her spare arm around Quinn's back and tug her in place, just for a moment.

She has no idea what any of it means, the stay included, but perhaps what matters is that Quinn isn't running off, afterwards, and only eventually rolls over and away—but not before pressing a kiss to the corner of Rachel's mouth, and God help her, she's starting to interpret that as Quinn's own version of I hate you.

If she's deluding herself, it's only for another two and a half weeks anyway.

She can't bring herself to stop. Stopping just isn't, and will never be, her strong suit.

...

She makes coffee.

Quinn makes pancakes.

After breakfast, they play a round of Boggle, which has to be one of the most pointless and frustrating word games of all times, and by mutual agreement, they abandon it halfway through.

Quinn is in borrowed, terminally-short sweats and an old Browns jersey that Rachel stole from Puck years ago, and Rachel desperately tries to focus on the game just so she can't think too much about how right it feels, to wake up together like this.

Easy like Sunday morning, right?

Except after Sunday comes Monday, and—

She blows out some air, frustrated, and then proposes Scrabble again. Quinn perks up at that, and Rachel shouldn't find her aggression towards board games as charming as she does, but it's … yeah. It fits. It suits Quinn. It's a part of the Quinn puzzle that she knows how to place, now, and given how few of those there are...

Her Scrabble reputation is going down the drain, though, because with how much she wants to just absorb Quinn's presence in her life right now, she really can't focus on the game in the slightest—and Quinn teases her gently, before kicking her ass twice, and then just says, "Hey—you can do the Times crossword online, can't you?"

They end up next to each other at the breakfast bar, peering at the puzzle; every time Rachel gets close to cheating, Quinn swats at her hands, before finally forcing her to just sit on them and taking over the clicking and typing.

They're two words short from finishing it, without cheating, and Rachel says, "Maybe these are meant to be a team event."

"Bill Clinton does them by himself."

"I think Bill Clinton is probably a bit smarter than either of us," Rachel notes, and Quinn smiles a little before glaring at their final missing words again.

"Well. I guess we'll try again next weekend," she then says, and hops off the stool and says, "What did you do with my towel from yesterday?"

"Hung it next to mine," Rachel says.

Quinn looks over at that, and something odd happens to her expression, but she finally just says, "Okay. Be right back; I'm getting a little ripe."

"Impossible; you always smell like heaven," Rachel says, suppressing a smile.

Quinn rolls her eyes spectacularly at that and says, "I'm starting to see why you've been single for so long."

Rachel pelts a Scrabble tile in her general direction, and then stares at the crossword again.

She doesn't know why she takes a screen shot, of how close they came.

She just does, and saves it in a folder labeled Q.

It's unexpected, that Quinn stays after the shower.

"No church?" Rachel asks, casually, when Quinn settles into the chair that's starting to become Quinn's chair, the more she lounges in it.

"Not for a long time, now," Quinn says, glancing at the tennis match on TV for a second and then looking back at Rachel. "I find that I'm as capable of judging myself against an impossible standard as other people are, at which point it's just two hours of sitting on an uncomfortable bench."

Rachel looks back at her Kindle—it's on the screen saver, because she has no desire to read, but Quinn can't see that she's just staring at Emily Bronte's face and not text—and then looks back up when Quinn speaks again.

"What about you? Do you still go to temple?"

Rachel shakes her head. "My hours are too irregular, when I'm working, and in any event, my family is very reform. My parents went to temple to get us mixed in with the community, but not out of any religious conviction."

"Did you and Puck go to the same temple, back in Lima?" Quinn then asks, and Rachel puts her kindle down and looks at Quinn across the room, smiling slightly.

"We did. He's legitimately one of my oldest friends, even if for a few years he preferred pretending he didn't know me and showering me with ice cold drinks."

Quinn falls silent at that for a few seconds, and then frowns. "How do you get over something like that?"

"You don't. You just accept that people change, and try not to dwell on it," Rachel says, as unaffected as she can, and then gives Quinn a small smile. "It helps that he apologized profusely, somewhere around the time he joined Glee."

She watches as Quinn looks towards the yard, her expression fading slowly, and then says, "Do you need me to apologize?"

"No," Rachel says, honestly, and Quinn looks at her in surprise. "It's been years, Quinn. I've obviously already accepted that you're not the same person you were back then. I guess the real question is, do you feel like you owe me an apology?"

Quinn stares back at the window, and then lowers her eyes for a second. "In part. You had some flack coming your way for the shameless way you kept going after Finn, mind you—"

Rachel almost smiles. "I know."

Quinn's eyes flicker and then she says, "I was miserable. I took it out on you, because I needed someone to be more miserable than I was. I wanted to break you completely, until you were that miserable little waste of a girl I had been at my old school." She pauses, and then—of course—licks her lips and adds, "... you never did break."

"Oh, I broke, Quinn. But I was smart enough to not let you see that you were getting to me," Rachel says, with a glance at the table that only barely hides her deep sigh. "Because if I gave you that much—"

Quinn's lips tremble in the most minuscule of ways when she looks over. "I'm really glad you didn't. You … it would have been awful."

They fall silent when there isn't much else to say that isn't a flash forward, to how much Rachel is giving now, and how it's still only the barest moments away from turning awful, basically all the time.

Quinn might not be a bully anymore, but she's also hardly going to turn into the kind of girl that Rachel feels comfortable taking home to her parents anytime soon. She can just picture the dinner now: Dad or Daddy, jovially asking Quinn what her intentions are, and Quinn just about launching herself off the table with a sharp, excuse me—and Rachel having to apologize for her, and—

No, Daddy, I swear, she's not uncaring — she's just... she's just complicated. I'm fine, I promise, she's not stringing me along. What we have is just private. She's just... she's just very private, but when we're alone, she's so good to me. I promise. She's good to me.

It's the premise of a Lifetime movie she has no desire to star in. Maybe she doesn't need her fathers' approval for who she's dating anymore, but...

Well. She just wants the same things for herself that they want for her, and so it's actually a relief when her phone rings, and she can excuse herself to the bedroom to take the call.

Quinn is actually watching the tennis, by the time she gets back, and then looks up and says, "Hey—I have work to do, but if I can borrow your laptop I can do it here."

Rachel says, "Okay."

"Do you need to go or—" Quinn asks, and Rachel shakes her head

"Puck's coming over later, but I'm assuming you'll be … well. Going home eventually. Right?"

It's ridiculous, that Quinn looks vaguely affronted at that assumption. For God's sake, she has a cat to feed and a need for underwear, among other things.

"If you need me to go—"

"No, you can stay and do work. You also don't have to leave when Puck gets here. We tend to order in a half meat, half vegan pizza and watch some ridiculous sports event that we missed during the week because of our hours."

Quinn gets up, and fetches the laptop from the breakfast bar, and then settles with it in the arm chair again, before pausing and looking at Rachel. "Dumb question, perhaps, but what does Puck actually do for you?"

"Anything to do with music," Rachel says, with a smile. "He doesn't have an official title. He... basically takes care of most of the behind the scenes orchestral and other live performance needs. And when I'm not touring, because I'm doing a show or something, I tend to try to get him into the band. He's quite musically gifted."

"He always was a talented guitarist," Quinn says, softly, already looking at her screen again.

"Is Beth musical?" Rachel asks, after a second.

Quinn glances up momentarily, and then shakes her head. "Not that I know. Though I don't really see how you can be raised by Shelby and... well. Not end up with some kind of exposure to music."

The conversation peters out, as Quinn's concentration flickers back to the screen, and Rachel gets up after a moment and heads into the bedroom, to a folder that's on her nightstand there, and brings it back to the sofa to flip through it.

It's time to start making choices, whether she likes it or not.

Two and a half weeks, and she's on a plane back to New York—unless she can decide now where to re-route that plane to instead.

Something about the silence between them—the clacking of the keyboard keys and the flipping of pages notwithstanding—is oddly grounding, and Rachel pores over pages of information about different facilities. They're color-coded, because Kurt knows how to get her attention, and some of them have post-its with additional information on it, like that the lead actor in that HBO show about war criminals had successful treatment in this or that facility, or that he recommends she not go to the facility in North Dakota because April Rhodes is a regular there.

On the final page, it also says that it's for the best if she doesn't use any of her normal aliases when checking in—does she have any ideas for a different one?

Picking the facility is not easy, but a fake name—well, that comes to her with just one glance at Quinn, peering at the screen and typing away, one leg folded under her, and somehow making herself look very small.

Cat-like, almost.

Carla Young, she texts at Kurt. It's between Hawaii and Connecticut as far as I'm concerned. What is your preference?

He texts back almost instantly, because—their issues aside, he is an amazing manager.

Hawaii is easier to sell as a long-term vacation. You could claim the ocean is inspiring your song-writing, yadda yadda.

She smiles faintly at that, and then, with one last look at Quinn—who doesn't look up, and is frowning fairly heavily by now—sends back a decision.

Do it. For the Wednesday. As soon as I'm finished here.

Are you sure?

Yeah. I'm sure.

In a strange parallel to lunch at Nicole's, Rachel ends up making a ridiculous fake attempt at doing dishes in her own house.

For one thing, she doesn't even think she owns dish soap.

But for another, they ate pizza straight from the box, and so she carries back two empty beer bottles and just slips out of the kitchen door, settling on the back porch and watching the sun set. It sets very, very late in Nevada, and it's something that's going to add to her depression when she goes back to New York, she's sure.

She doesn't suffer from that seasonal disorder that means that the entire period from October to March is nothing but a mood drain, but she does suffer from acute awareness of how everyone else has something to look forward to in the holiday season, and she's usually alone on Christmas—or with Puck, watching basketball—just because her fathers don't celebrate it, and the days around Christmas are the Broadway party season, so she can't just skip town.

She cried almost every night after she was in the studio, recording a Christmas covers album a few years ago; and that was before things got really bad.

She needs... a change.

Something. Something that is running to, not running from. And Hawaii is going to give her an opportunity to try to figure out what that should be, and … she needs to take it. She absolutely needs to take it and—

The door behind her slides open, and she glances up to see Puck standing behind her.

"Hey. I'm... going to head out. That was kind of... really fucking weird, after all these years, but I mean, thanks, for like—talking to her, about talking to me," he says, softly.

A cricket chirps off in the distance, and Rachel wishes she could talk to him about just picking up all their shit and driving off into the desert, without a destination in mind.

It sounds amazing, right now. Maybe out there, she'll remember who she is—without all that noise cluttering up her head and clouding her judgment. Just the occasional cricket, and a wolf howling—maybe? She has no idea what animals even live in the desert—and sightings of the stars up above.

But he'd just be a placeholder. And he knows it as well as she does.

"Anytime, Noah," she says.

He ruffles her hair quickly, and then steps back inside, and she watches as the sun slowly disappears behind her back walls.

Then, there's the tread of feet on the floor behind her, and the sliding door closing again, and suddenly Quinn is sitting down next to her; not touching, but right there.

The concept of nearly breaking has changed, since she was a teenager. Back then, it involved biting her lip until she was alone, and then staring in the mirror and wondering what was so wrong about her, before pulling her shoulders back and trying even harder to be better than everyone else.

Now, nearly breaking is as simple as just one more gentle crack, slotting in place next to a whole set of bled-through, older cracks.

"I should go soon," Quinn finally says, quietly.

When Rachel glances over, because there isn't any way for her not to, Quinn's eyes are dark, and they hide whatever it is she's thinking.

"Are you all right?"

Quinn briefly shakes her head after a moment, and then says, "With you have come a lot of things I didn't think I'd ever have to deal with again."

Rachel hides a sigh in the palm of her hand, and then just says, "Sorry."

"No, I didn't mean it like that—I just..." Quinn says, and then her shoulder slump a little. "I don't know."

Rachel does. Or she thinks she does, anyway.

She hopes she's wrong, but she's not holding her breath.

"What you mean is that you're barely capable of letting me be a part of your life, and now... other people are knocking on your door. Right?"

Quinn lifts a shaky hand and runs it through her hair. "You make me sound so …"

"Damaged?"

"Dysfunctional, is what I was going to go with," Quinn amends.

Rachel doesn't dispute that, and after a second Quinn drops her forehead to her hands. "God. I don't know how to do any of this. Puck, wanting to talk about Beth, or you, wanting to talk about ..."

She trails off. She might as well have stopped at you, wanting to talk.

It's the same thing as it's been all along. They're always fine, until something real happens. And then, they're just fucking hopeless.

"I figured," Rachel says, not bothering to sigh, because this is not a surprise. "It was stupid of me to take you at face value, when you insinuated you were capable of talking about our past. God forbid we try a conversation about the future, right?"

Quinn makes a helpless little noise at that, and then shakes her head in disbelief. "So what, you've been setting me up to fail? You—are you just waiting for me to freak out and bail on you, or what?"

There is something, here, about how Quinn's word choice has regressed by about ten years, and if Rachel wasn't splintering all over the place, she might've been able to take it as a sign. As a sign that—she's getting so close, now, to somewhere

Might've been. But nobody's perfect, least of all Rachel Berry.

"No. I'm not waiting. I'm leaving the day after my last show, which is on a Tuesday, two weeks from now," Rachel finally just says, in a soft sigh.

After a moment Quinn straightens and looks at the remnants of the sun, just about gone now, before looking back at Rachel with—

Fuck, her eyes. Some part of Rachel bottoms out, and wants to scramble for apologies and words that make it better, like, I won't go if you just ask me to stay, which—Jesus, she absolutely can't. She just can't, but Quinn's eyes. Her eyes.

Rachel feels her lips part, but then whatever terrible, degrading vomit lies in wait is swallowed whole when Quinn licks her lips, lowers her eyes, and then softly says, "I've made an appointment."

Words lodge harshly in her throat, and Rachel blinks rapidly a few times, and then watches as Quinn inhales sharply through her nose.

"For Thursday. I'm... Nic recommended her. I'm..."

The sting in her lip is acute, because her teeth downright slam down on it, and even that doesn't stop her question from spilling out. "Are you—doing this for me?"

Quinn takes a deep breath and then shakes her head. "No."

"Good," Rachel says, roughly, and she has no idea if she means it or not.

Quinn looks over after a moment, and then wipes at her eyes, even though she's not crying. "So now what?"

Rachel feels the walls closing in on her. A one person panic attack, in an enclosed back yard. This is not her condition. This is just—Quinn, and life, and she doesn't know how to keep hanging on by that single thread for much longer.

"What does this mean, Rachel?" Quinn asks, again.

"It means that... I'm going to try to get better. And so are you," Rachel says, before closing her eyes and rubbing at her face for a moment. "I don't know what it means beyond that."

They're silent, for a very long time, and then Quinn says, "What are you doing this week?"

"I'm …" Rachel starts, and gnaws on her lip. "I don't know."

"Don't start deflecting now. Do you need a break?" Quinn asks, a little more sharply, and after a second Rachel laughs weakly.

"I'm pretty sure I'm getting one of those two weeks from now. An indefinite one."

Quinn sighs deeply and then says, "Rachel, I'm fucking trying here. Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to even—"

"Yes, okay? I need space. I need space that you're not in, just for a few days," she admits, the words tearing themselves from her chest—but she stops talking before she splits open altogether.

"I … do you maybe want to go play putt putt together next weekend, then?"

Rachel looks at Quinn in bafflement and then bursts into tears and laughter at the same time, and a second later she sees that Quinn is kind of chuckling but—oh, God, her eyes are shining too.

"What are we doing?" she finally asks, when her throat isn't quite as constricted anymore.

"I don't know," Quinn confesses, tugging the jersey up and running it past her eyes, and then shooting Rachel a look that she knows she's never going to forget.

I hate you, and that corner of mouth kiss, but in Quinn's eyes.

She can't look away for the life of her.

"Putt putt sounds … terrible," she finally says, with a small heave in her chest, but the thread's still holding.

For now.

"I'll make it fun," Quinn says, like it's a promise, and then brushes a hand past her arm just for a second.

And then, she gingerly presses up to her feet, and...

Rachel can't watch her go.

She just can't, but the latch on the sliding door clicks shut anyway, and then it's just her, and the crickets, in the dark.

...

When she finally heads back inside, a half an hour of staring desperately at the night sky later, she finds a jersey on her bed that smells like vanilla and cinnamon.

She forces herself to put it in the laundry, and then changes the sheets.

It helps, but not nearly enough.

Not nearly.

...

On Monday, she gets a preview of what September, October, November, and... God, all the months after that are going to be like.

Nobody calls her over breakfast. She eats cereal from the box without milk or yogurt, and it tastes like cardboard.

She drives herself to work, and doesn't have to navigate traffic and her inbox at the same time. There are no messages.

There is nothing left to rehearse, and so she sits in her dressing room and looks at the schedule of performance, and approves Kurt's recommended changes for the last two weeks of the show without really listening. Cheryl fixes her hair and her make-up, and squeezes her shoulder with an instruction that she try smiling a little.

She tries.

Lunch with Puck is a vegan wrap backstage, while he eats chicken from a bucket, and tries to start a conversation with her three times. Her one word answers are off-putting, and he leaves her with a, "Shit, Rachel, annoying as you were in high school, I liked the version of you that never shut up better than this half-dead mute one."

Kurt pulls her aside during the afternoon sound check and asks if she's high.

Not in so many words, obviously, but she smiles wryly at him and says, "No—are you offering?"

The appalled look he gives her is the first thing she really feels something at all day, until she gets back to her dressing room and Tony is there with a new dress for her to be fitted in, and people pluck at her until her skin literally crawls with disgust.

Her thumb nudges in a I know what you mean, now on her phone before she can stop it, but she doesn't send it, because she needs—she needs to prove to herself that she can do this.

That one day without Quinn won't actually kill her.

And it doesn't.

The show goes off without a hitch; she squeezes in a final glory note on Halo, which they switched in for the Whitney ballad she used to sing as the opening to the second part, and the crowd love her. Everyone fucking loves her. A reporter from the Times is waiting backstage for her, and tells her that that's the purest she's sounded in years.

"What's the difference?"

Kurt's eyes flash in a panic, but it's too late, because she's already given him a small smile and a, "I'm not drunk tonight."

His eyes widen, and then she adds, "Just kidding. I think the Vegas air is just good for me."

She could not care less what he ends up printing, and Kurt's frantic yelling about how she could at least warn him if she was planning on committing hara-kiri so late in the show's schedule barely even registers. All she cares about is her phone, and its zero messages.

Back to normal. Nobody thinks to call her, or text her, during the evening, because she performs.

When Kurt is done raging, Puck drops her off at home and says he'll be back the next day at six for the next show.

She ticks another one off on her iPhone app, and notes that there are twelve shows left, now, and then curls up in front of the TV to watch a movie. Or pretend to, at least. So much for not normally drinking by herself, right? She can't reach the wine glasses.

But it's fine. She can reach the bottles.

By the time she's finished the first one, she's flipping through channels, looking for anything that isn't mindless reality TV. She'll take anything right now, but actually freezes when she hits the old movie channels and Rear Window is on.

It's one of her favorites; not just by Hitchcock, but in general, because Grace Kelly—

Because Grace Kelly has always reminded her of Quinn Fabray, and on screen right now, Grace Kelly is trying to seduce James Stewart with words like, "We have all night... I'm going to stay with you."

Rachel knows what comes next, because she's seen the movie often enough.

I have the whole weekend off.

It's a reflex, really, the way her phone shoots out of her hand, but she knows Kurt won't believe her if she tells him that, and so she just stares at the sizzling hole in the middle of the TV for a few minutes and then slowly starts laughing.

Santana, is who she finally calls—on the cordless house phone, obviously—because Santana knows how to fix problems.

"What the fuck, Rachel, it's after midnight and—"

"I just threw my phone through the TV and would like to replace both before Kurt notices either is broken," she says, calmly. There is about a quarter of the second bottle of wine left. She should have it. Shouldn't she?

She should.

Santana says nothing for a few seconds. Then, "Are you fucking high?"

"You know, people keep asking me that and—"

"Okay, hold up, hold up—what the fuck is actually going on with you?"

Rachel laughs spontaneously, even though it hurts, at the only shorthand explanation that comes to mind. "You know how you and Brittany like... slept together for ages before you sorted your shit out and figured out how to be in a relationship?"

"Um... yeah," Santana says, carefully.

"Okay, well, imagine that, but add in really kinky sex, a stripper, allllll of my drug problems, and Quinn Fabray."

Santana is deadly silent for a very long time and then says, "Are you having coked out kinky sex with a stripper that you're pretending is Quinn?"

Rachel snorts and wipes at her eyes. "No. That would be almost healthy. I'm having... really, really raunchy sex with Quinn. Like, you would not believe what we do together."

"Is this a dream? Am I having the worst nightmare ever?" Santana asks, now almost sounding panicked, and Rachel grins unwillingly.

Take that, Santana.

"Seriously. We're fucking spectacular together. She's amazing, as a lover. Would you believe that? So prude and Christian as a teenager, but now... God. She's so good in bed, but it makes sense, because she's an exotic dancer now."

"Rachel, okay, first of all, I really don't want to hear about this, ever, at all, and second of all—what?"

Rachel laughs and then flops over onto her back, her head almost lolling off the couch. "Pay. Attention, okay. I'm having mind-blowing, kinky sex with Quinn. The rest of the time I'm off my mind on prescription drugs, but it's okay, because I'm starting to replace them with a new addiction. Do you get it? Now I'm just getting high on Quinn! And that's fantastic, because Quinn, Quinn the stripper, she's like—I'm totally in love with her, but she's dysfunctional and I'm me, so clearly we're a match made in heaven right now, right?"

She laughs again, and then sighs, when Santana stays silent. "But you know what? That's okay, because the sex is greatReally great. And she's a good friend, you know. She's—she's really smart, and unexpectedly sweet. She elbowed a tourist in the solar plexus for me the other day. I mean, who even does that? So ... I mean, whatever, right? That she freaks out when I tell her how I feel, or smile at her a little too much, or God forbid, try to hug her? Who cares? Here's what's really going on: I, Rachel Berry, am willing to bet you, Santana Lopez, that I am currently having better sex than you've ever had in your life."

Santana exhales loudly and then covers the phone for a moment, mumbling something. Rachel vaguely hears Brittany say something, in a sleepy tone of voice, and then there's the sound of a kiss and she cringes.

She just cringes, because what wouldn't she give for...

Santana appears back on the line a moment later, and then sighs deeply. "Okay. Well. I can help you with your AppleCare. I don't know where the fuck to start on any of the rest of that, though."

Rachel gasps and says, "We should start a club. People who don't understand Quinn. I think literally the entire world population can join. It'll be like Glee, but with people clamouring to sign up, don't you think?"

Santana makes a small noise and then says, "Okay. Can I just—"

"Yeah, sure. Ask away. Ask anythingI'm not the one who doesn't answer questions," Rachel drawls, closing her eyes.

"You're—not fucking with me. Quinn is actually a stripper, and you're actually banging her."

"No. She's... well. Yeah. But she's also about to finish a master's in forensic psychology and she's ... so incredibly smart, and good at what she does. Schools are vying for her to start a PhD with them, and she's... incredibly good-looking, still, obviously. God, Santana, she's so beautiful, and—"

"Yeah, okay, okay," Santana says, a little gruffly, but it's downright nice by her standards.

Wow.

If Santana is being nice, she's really in deep, isn't she?

She chuckles softly and then says, "I just threw my phone at a TV because she didn't call me all day today, and she didn't call me all day today because I asked her not to."

"That sounds... completely reasonable," Santana says, neutrally.

A moment later, they both laugh.

"Fuck," Rachel finally sighs.

"What are you doing, babe?" Santana asks, in a tone of voice that Rachel's only ever heard her direct at Brittany, and it makes her feel like crying—just like that. "I mean, really. What are you doing? This—Quinn, with this ... job, and whatever. I mean, you know she was my people, so I'm not going to sit here and talk shit about her, but—Rach, being into someone shouldn't be making you feel like throwing shit at your television, okay?"

"I just..." Rachel says, and then feels her entire face crumple. "Everything about this is not the right time. I'm a mess, and she's a mess, and ... we both know this is just for another two weeks. Until my show ends."

"And you think it's a good idea, to keep ... seeing her, for the next two weeks?" Santana asks.

The concern in her voice is so upsetting that Rachel just bites down on her hand for a moment, before spotting the faint bruise left on her wrist and staring up at the ceiling again.

"No. It's going to make it harder to do the right thing."

"So end it now."

"I can't."

"Rachel—"

"What would you do, if this was Brittany?"

Santana takes in a very, very deep breath, and then just says, "That's really fucking unfair. For one thing, I'm not incredibly depressed, and my wife isn't a stripper—"

"Well, she could be—have you seen her legs?" Rachel says, blandly, before weakly adding a, "Sorry."

Santana scoffs a little and then says, "I'll take that as a compliment, you drunken asshole."

"You're welcome, and, oh—right, please don't tell anyone she's a dancer. That's—I mean it, Santana, please?"

She's not making any sense anymore, but whatever. Santana is smart. She'll figure it out.

Santana sighs. "Rach... this isn't high school anymore, okay? Who the fuck would I even tell?"

It's a fair point. They've all left high school a long time ago, except she somehow has ended up back in more or less an identical place anyway: staring at the back of a girl who is constantly walking away from her, and never letting her get close to what she actually wants or needs.

She hangs up, and finishes the rest of the wine, just because she can.

Chapter Text

She's okay.

She gets a new phone, and a new TV, and a new hangover that stops her from thinking at all, because everything hurts.

Everything hurts, but she's okay.

...

She's okay, until Wednesday afternoon.

Then, in the middle of rehearsal—and literally without warning—the urge to vomit is so overwhelming that she rushes off stage, lands on her knees in front of the toilet there, and finally just dry-heaves for long moments.

Puck follows her in, and kneels next to her and puts a hand on her back, and says, "Do you need a pi—"

"No," she snaps at him, and wonders why this won't just rip itself out of her. The sensation that she's fucking it all up, and wasting precious time she could be spending building—she has no idea. A foundation? What the hell kind of foundation would it even be?

It's so much more complicated than that, but also so much more simple. Her bedding doesn't smell like Quinn, and she misses her. Her text message inbox is full of messages that aren't from Quinn, and she misses her. She ate a salad for dinner yesterday, and somehow her order got fucked up and the salad came with egg, and she missed Quinn.

She misses her.

She doesn't know how to make it any simpler than that. She just misses her, and it's not even about the sex, because—the sex isn't the way the left corner of Quinn's mouth lifts first, when she starts to smile, or the way her eyes widen comically when Rachel blurts out something vulgar without hesitating, or the way her lips squeeze together when she's concentrating like a maniac on the seven letters on her board, or the way she compulsively tugs up the sleeves on her sweaters and yet seems fine with dress shirts being buttoned tightly around her wrists.

She misses a person.

There isn't anyway to explain that to Puck, though, and after another moment of resting her head on her forearms, where they're wrapped around the toilet seat, he sinks down onto his ass next to her and sighs deeply.

"You know, back in high school, everyone … you all thought I fucked Quinn just because I could, you know, to prove that I was that big a stud, and she offered and I was just like, whatever. And I guess that was part of it, but... man, there has always been something about her," he finally says, softly.

They are not words she wants to be hearing, and she lifts her head blearily to stare him down. "Why are you—"

"Because... she told me I was an asshole, for letting you sink this deep. She told me I was a fucking asshole, and a useless friend, and like—she didn't even call me an asshole when I talked her into letting me do her without protection, and she had a baby because of that, Rach," Puck says, and then glances over with a small smile. "I know that... that probably doesn't like, change shit, or whatever, but I thought you should know."

She manages to reign it in to just watery eyes, really, and then just sighs and stares at the wall behind the toilet. "It … why did this have to happen to me now, Noah? Why couldn't she... have shown back up in my life three years ago, before … things got this bad? Why now?"

He squeezes her thigh after a second and then says, "You know—you waited around for it to be the right time with Finn for most of high school. And like, no offense, but I never really got why because you were so far out of that dude's league that it's like, y'know, Pluto."

She snorts a little, weakly, and then shifts, until she's curled up into his side, and he can sling an arm around her fully.

It doesn't really cure any of her immediate ailments, but it's nice anyway.

"I waited for Finn because I thought he was worth it. Because I was sixteen, and not at all okay with how badly I wanted Quinn Fabray to throw me down on a lunch table and—"

"Okay, seriously, stop. I've been your friend for way too many years for you to suddenly start starring in my spank bank," Puck says, grimacing, and she swats at his stomach until they both laugh a little.

"I … honestly just thought I was in love with him," she finally says, and it sounds so stupid, even to her, that she has no idea how he manages to not laugh at her.

"Yeah, well. You know better now, right?"

She shrugs a little, but they both know it's a yes.

"Exactly. So... whatever this thing with Quinn is, if it's like, real, you've just got to ride it out, Rachel. And that probably means not just... ignoring her, or whatever. It means just waiting for shit to click into place, and being a friend until it does. I learned that from you."

It's probably wrong, for him to encourage her—but maybe he's giving her the neutral perspective she needs, and for once in her fucking life, the neutral perspective is exactly the same as what she desperately wants to be told.

Maybe, he's just telling her the truth: that there is something here that is worth clinging to. That she needs to let Quinn in, for now, because it's not like she isn't anyway, and depriving herself is just... pointless, when rehab is imminent anyway.

"You know you're basically telling an alcoholic that going on that one final two-week bender until they black out is totally fine, right?" she confirms, out loud.

Puck smiles faintly and says, "Well, I'm an asshole. And a useless friend."

"Noah, you're not—"

"Dude, I don't... care what she thinks of me. I mean, I don't even know if I think she's wrong. But she wasn't here for the last five years, and I think I've..." He falls silent, and then his face contorts for a moment as he bites on his lip. When looks back at her, she feels her heart turn cold. "I think … I've literally seen you smile five times in the last year. Okay? Now ask me how many of those five times were in the last month. So like—fuck what the right thing is. I think you should get really, really drunk, if you know what I'm saying."

She doesn't need this guilt; she doesn't need a sudden awareness of how her life hasn't just been empty to her, but that the fact that she's been walking around like a shell of a person is something that's been eating at Puck—God, it's more than she can handle, and all she can think to do to drive it away is hug him tightly and whisper a thank you in his neck.

He knows her better than anyone. He'll know what she means, even if she has no idea what words to attach to that sentiment.

Maybe it's something they can help her figure out, once she's in treatment.

Puck isn't the only person she owes words to, she's pretty sure.

She's switched from a black to a white iPhone, which seems nice and symbolic except that none of her big life changes will come for another two weeks, and so instead of the phone being some goddamned metaphor about her life, she mostly just keeps forgetting that that phone is hers.

Not so much after the show on Wednesday, though. It's an okay performance. She struggles to keep concentrated through parts of it, but cracks an impromptu joke in the third set and actually seems to be charming the audience once. When Kurt congratulates her on her humor, she doesn't confess that she has no idea what she said.

It's not even the pills, really.

It's that her mind is on that white phone, and what she's now given herself permission to do with it—and how that will be received.

Quinn is a stickler for rules, and the last time they saw each other, they agreed they'd take a break. They said the weekend.

But God, the weekend is so far away. It's too far away.

She can't handle another four days like this when they don't have to be like this. That's not the same, as not being able to handle them at all.

She's proven now that her life will go on, and that's what she needed to do, and now?

Now, she's going to stop fucking thinking about how all of this—all of it, even the ability to look at Quinn across a room—is going to be taking away from her in virtually no time at all.

She doesn't want to think. She just wants Quinn.

Her out loud justification for making the call—the one that ignores the fact that it's more of a pressing need than a choice—lies in Thursday. It lies in Quinn, on the porch on Sunday, stuttering about taking steps, and—yes. The friendly, responsible thing to do, would be to check. And make sure that—any hiccups in their plans have not somehow displaced these.

God, she's starting to be exactly as good at spouting off denial-heavy bullshit as Quinn is, she thinks, and stares at the green button on her phone again.

It's close to eleven thirty, and she's already curled up in bed, with her Kindle and an iPod full of music she doesn't want to hear, and it's as if all the signs are pointing go, simply because they're all pointing at the fact that the only thing she's interested in is Quinn.

It's wrong, but … what isn't?

Her thumb presses down.

"Go for Fabray," Quinn says, a second later.

It's like a physical shift. Rachel feels her entire body relax, just at that one soft, joking murmur, and it doesn't matter that Quinn clearly isn't expecting Rachel on the line, at all. All that matters is that Quinn is there, and fine, and—

"Hey," she says, softly, closing her eyes.

"... Rachel?" Quinn verifies, and then is silent for a moment—probably to pull away and look at the display, with that confused, owlish expression she sometimes gets. Rachel has missed that one, too.

"I'm sorry. I'm breaking—well, the rules, I know, but—"

"No, that's... calling is fine, obviously," Quinn says, slowly. There's a rustle of fabric, and—she'd be picturing Quinn in bed, if she had any idea what to picture. Her mind conjures up black satin sheets, automatically, and she almost slaps her palm against her own forehead because—good lord, they're not living out some sort of S&M cliche together.

"Am I interrupting?" she finally just asks, when Quinn stays silent.

"Not really—sorry, I thought you were Fiona; we're supposed to be making dinner plans for tomorrow, but—"

"I can go, if you need me—"

"No, please, it's okay. She can leave a message. I was just..." Quinn says, and then falls silent.

Literally a hundred disconnected thoughts fire through Rachel's brain at once, most of them centering on, is she with someone else?, which—well, sweet Jesus, of course they've never discussed monogamy, they're not even dating, but that doesn't mean that she doesn't feel that wave of sick that's been playing around in her stomach all day crest again.

"If you—if you have company I can go," she forces out.

Quinn is silent and then laughs, stiltedly. "Wait. You think I'm with someone? No... I'm being hedgy because... I'm currently engrossed in a Pretty Little Liars marathon."

"Wait—the … the ABC Family show? With Lucy Hale?" Rachel asks, blinking a few times. "Aimed at … fifteen year olds?"

"No, the intelligent documentary on climate change," Quinn says, in a tone of voice that drips with sarcasm. "Obviously. Hence why I'm embarrassed that you caught me. Global warming is so infantile."

The heinous awkwardness of the conversation slinks off, just like that, and after a second Rachel laughs. "You know, I know her."

"Shut up, do you really?" Quinn asks, sounding for all the world like one of McKinley High's Cheerios, gossiping about the new boy trying out for the football team.

It's the first time in a long time she's name dropped, because she knows a lot of people and they're all basically just people, but because Quinn didn't even ask, she's a little more willing to go along with this. "Mmhm. It's a small world for those of us who can both sing and act. We run into each other at auditions from time to time."

"Oh my God," Quinn exhales. "That's so cool."

"I also know Justin Bieber," Rachel says, barely managing to keep her laughter in check.

"Oh my God, why are you just telling me this now? I could've—well, I don't know, what do you do with information like this?" Quinn asks, after a moment.

"Sell it to the Enquirer?"

"It needs to be a little more salacious than that if you want me to sell it to the Enquirer," Quinn says; there's a loud crunch on the line a second later, and then a muffled, "Sorry".

"Are you eating a carrot?"

"Maybe," Quinn says, before chuckling. "Shit, if you tell anyone I just got excited about you knowing Justin Bieber, I am going to murder you."

Rachel smiles a little. "I'm surprised you don't have your own list of … well, people who are people, that you know."

"Ah, because of the dancing?" Quinn asks, and then makes a noise. "Yeah, we have a few... prominents, but for obvious reasons I'm just going to dodge this bullet altogether. Also, none of them are Justin Bieber. That's on a whole different level."

Rachel smiles a little, and flips over onto her side, and … there's sort of a natural pause in the conversation after that. For a moment, she considers just … blurting out what's on her mind, but—maybe that's the wrong tack to take.

"Anyway," Quinn says, moments later. "Since you've named me and shamed me, I'm going to find something adult to watch now..."

"I'm not sure Buffy counts as adult, exactly," Rachel says.

"Spoken like someone missing out on the greatest show of all time," Quinn says, with another crunch. "Hey, before I forget. Did you … call for a reason?"

"I just wanted to... show some support," Rachel says, wondering if it's worth lying. It never has been, to date, and so after a second she just sighs. "At the risk of sounding like an egomaniac, I wanted to... encourage you to go to your session tomorrow, no matter what is going on between us."

That leads to a terrible, gut-wrenching pause, until Quinn softly says, "I meant it when I said I'm not doing it for you, Rachel."

"Okay," Rachel says, quickly, because she really, really just can't handle anything else heavy right now. Just for a few days. "That's—okay. Good. I'm glad."

She has no illusions that any deliberate light playfulness can stretch on indefinitely, when there is so much else going on. But just for a few days—God, surely the universe owes her that, after everything the last few years have done to her?

Quinn finishes the carrot, and then says, "How has your week been? Are you..."

There is no ending to that sentence. Better definitely doesn't apply, and after a moment Rachel just sighs softly.

"Ask me something easier," she finally says.

Quinn pauses, just for a few seconds, and then asks, "Do you get FX?"

"I... yeah, probably."

"Okay. Then... consider this the start of an education. Turn on your TV, and get ready to be wowed by the best show on television."

It's unbelievable, how quickly Quinn manages to go from deadly serious to stupidly charming, but Rachel has also missed that.

...

She'd protest watching TV over the phone, really, but it's kind of nice.

The physical space gives them both a much-needed lack of tension and urgency, and Quinn has this hilarious habit of preceding every single joke on the show with "Oh—wait, this is a good one", which...

God, she's stupidly in love if she's not just shushing her; this kind of thing has gotten boyfriends and beards alike sacked from her life, because if she's stuck with people in spite of her own desires, they at least should adhere to the cinema viewing code.

Apparently, that code doesn't apply to Quinn, at all, and... well, the show isn't terrible. Rachel's not entirely sure she gets the appeal after an hour of Buffy yelling at her soldier boyfriend, but Quinn's relentless ardor is a little infectious anyway.

Honestly, she'd start reading manga if Quinn asked nicely enough, and she only knows what manga is because Sam Evans and Finn Hudson once had an hour long discussion in front of her about the relative merits of manga and superhero comics.

That was a very, very long time ago—but clearly, torturous in a memorable way.

When the credits wind down and Quinn hums along to the theme song, Rachel finds just about enough courage to asks the question she's really been meaning to ask all night.

"Are you nervous?"

"About..." Quinn asks, slowly, and then says, "Oh, tomorrow?"

"Yeah."

There's a lull, and then Quinn sort of hisses out some air between her teeth. "Yes and no. Yes because... it's therapy. No because, I know exactly what I'm getting myself into, and it's not like any of the usual psychoanalytical bullshit will be tried with me, because I know the tricks."

"Should know the tricks?" Rachel asks, carefully.

Quinn sounds like she's smiling when she responds with, "No, because you won't be averse to them the way I am. This is like getting my teeth pulled, for me. I think with you it's more like… if you can tolerate the platform you're on, you'll always perform, if that makes sense."

It does, even if it's a little unsettling to hear herself be described that way. She closes her eyes and says, "You say that, but... I'm terrified. Of what happens when I leave here."

"You have a lot of walls that you've constructed and that you're now asking someone to tear down," Quinn says, quietly. "Of course you're scared. Anyone would be."

Rachel bites on her lip for a moment and then asks, "Therapy does actually help, right? It's not just some shit that people made up so that psychology graduates can earn a living listening to people waffle on and on?"

Quinn laughs at that, and then says, "No, it helps. It... if you're going in for the right reasons, and with the right attitude, it helps."

Rachel sighs softly. "Okay. Well. I can't say I'm looking forward to it, but—"

"Do you want to come to dinner tomorrow?" Quinn interjects, sounding a little anxious, but—mostly like this has been the thing on her mind, all night. "Because—it's just the three of us. You've already met Nic. You'd like Fiona. She's probably the only sane person I know."

"Dancer, also?"

"Nah; assistant professor in developmental psychology."

Rachel smiles faintly. "I just can't get away from you people, can I?"

"I imagine that if I ever visit you in New York, I'll be bowled over by singing artistic types, so consider this a premature revenge," Quinn says.

The spark of brightness that lights in Rachel's entire body at the idea of Quinn visiting, dropped so casually, like it's actually going to happen—oh, it's indescribable.

It also abruptly makes her realize that she's completely willing to take the added heartbreak if it means another thirteen days of coasting along like this.

"Actually, you'd probably be seeing Mike, Tina, Kurt and Puck, and … the inside of my apartment," she amends, because it's the truth, and then glances at her alarm clock.

"I don't know if that's better or worse, honestly."

The teasing tone in that statement has Rachel sinking just a little bit deeper, saved only from staying on the phone to a ridiculous hour by the fact that her battery is almost dead, and Quinn has an early appointment.

"Best to get it over with," she says, calmly, as her final word on the subject.

The differences between them bloom starkly, but she's found the ignore button, now; that place in her mind where she shoves everything she doesn't want to deal with.

It's distressingly easy to hit it, with the amount of practice she's had.

Dinner is mostly a blur.

Two people who know each other well tend to focus on their guest, as lunch with Nicole demonstrated, but—get three people who see each other daily in a room, and Rachel automatically ends up as the quiet observer, smiling slightly at the way they rib each other and reference inside jokes—usually about psychology, so even if she was in on the joke she still wouldn't get what was funny about it.

It's not until Fiona gets a phone call from her husband, about their twins, that there's a lull in the conversation and Nicole glances at Rachel briefly before looking at Quinn.

"How'd it go, this morning?"

Quinn nods slowly after a second. "Yeah, it was all right. She's very professional, Sharon, I mean. You—yeah. I think you recommended the right person. She said I was a little aggressive but not hopeless, so..."

Nicole chuckles. "She would call you out on your shit like that."

"Whatever; it …" Quinn says, rolling her eyes and then looking at Rachel, touching her knee for a second. "You knew me back in high school. Would you say I'm aggressive now?"

"I wouldn't have opted to sit next to you at a table that had forks and knives on it back in high school," Rachel says, after a moment, before taking a sip of her wine and winking at Quinn.

Quinn just points and says, "See? So—whatever."

Nicole smiles at her for a moment and then looks at Rachel. "What about you, Rachel? You don't have to answer if you don't want to, obviously, but—did our conversation help at all?"

"Yes, actually," Rachel says, swallowing a bite quickly and then taking a deep breath. "I... took your advice to heart, and opted for a … location that did both group and CBT."

Quinn glances at her plate, and after a second Rachel reaches across the space between them and tugs on Quinn's pocket, just to get her to not feel like this isn't her business.

"Good," Nicole says, topping up their glasses. "I think you'll find, though, that it's a lot harder in general to lie to someone that you haven't already spent years lying to. A change in scenery will help."

Rachel smiles faintly at that, and then looks at Quinn for a second. "Yeah. I think you're probably right."

She means it, too. No matter what the hell else happens, she can never think of these few months in Vegas as a bad thing. It was the change in scenery she needed, if not the kick in the ass to get her life back in order.

Quinn locks eyes with her for a second, and there goes the corner of her mouth, and then that crinkle by her eyes, and then she looks back at Nicole and says, gravely, "Rachel doesn't get the appeal of Buffy."

"The horror," Nicole says, with a comical look at Rachel, who laughs.

"No, but come on. How can you not like Buffy?" Quinn protests.

"I have no idea, Quinn. Good thing she knows a bona fide expert who happens to own all seven seasons on Blu-ray and yet somehow still feels the need to stop on a rerun whenever she sees one on TV," Nicole says, dryly.

"You make it sound like I have a problem. I resent that; I just have good taste," Quinn says, jutting her chin up, and Rachel laughs and covers her eyes with a hand and says, "Oh, my God, no—stop it. Too many flashbacks to the head cheerleader."

Quinn relaxes immediately and then grins. "You know what makes the head cheerleader go away?"

"Well, last weekend, I think I mostly made her go away by—" Rachel starts saying, slowly.

Of course she's not planning on finishing that sentence out loud—she'd die—but her experiment pays off anyway; the way Quinn fumbles literally all of her cutlery at once before lunging and covering Rachel's mouth with her hand is priceless. As is how red her face gets, while she struggles to come up with anything to say.

"I think what Quinn was trying to get at is that maybe you should agree to watch some more Buffy with her," Nicole says, clearly trying not to laugh.

"Oh, well, sure. I'll watch more Buffy with you, Quinn," Rachel says, when Quinn lets her hand fall away and, with a high-quality sulk, pounds back the rest of her wine.

Fiona appears again a few seconds later, while they're both still grinning at Quinn, and sits down before glancing between everyone. "What'd I miss?"

"Assholes," Quinn says, stealing Rachel's wine and finishing that, too. "You missed assholes."

"Oh, okay," Fiona says, blithely, before turning to Rachel. "You must deal with a spectacular amount of them, though, in your career. Does repeat exposure to assholes make them easier to handle?"

Rachel feels a piece of tofu lodge in her throat, even as Nicole starts laughing and Quinn just covers her face with two hands and says, "I'm never having dinner with the three of you again."

When Fiona grins at her a second later, Rachel is fairly confident that both of Quinn's closest friends like her.

Part of just giving in to these last two weeks is not thinking too hard about why that matters.

So she doesn't.

Out in the parking lot, Quinn shoves her hands in her pockets and says, "You weren't actually going to tell them about—"

"Are you serious? How would I even have finished that thought? Last weekend, the head cheerleader fucked me into a coma?""

The tips of Quinn's ears turn pink, but the rest of her just kind of shuffles and then says, "Yeah, okay. I was just checking."

There are a lot of thoughts about decorum and proper behavior flitting through Rachel's brain right now, because they're outside, and—well, she's lived in New York long enough to realize that there is no such thing as out of the public eye, but then Quinn is right there, looking so hesitant and flustered and—

"Come home with me?" she asks.

And, shitit feels like the right thing to ask. It always does.

Quinn hesitates for literally a second before saying, "I'll follow you back."

And no, none of this is just about the sex, but if she's honest—the way Quinn looks at her, when she takes that first step back and then turns towards her car...

God, she's missed that look, too, more than she can verbalize. And it's the one thing that she knows she's going to lose for sure, in two weeks time.

That makes it—well, maybe not okay, to be stupidly selfish.

But it does make it inevitable.

They don't even make it to bed.

Quinn deposits her car keys onto the breakfast bar, and then—with just one glance between them—deposits Rachel onto the breakfast bar, pulls her skirt and panties off, and then eats her with such patience and focus that Rachel afterwards can only think that it's a good thing that she's leaving soon, because she can never in ten million years eat a meal at the breakfast bar again.

By the time she quivers against Quinn's mouth, her toes are almost cramped with pleasure, and she just collapses onto her back—knocking a few pieces of mail off the bar—and watches as Quinn gets back up on her feet, licking at her lips and then quickly wiping at her mouth with a shaky hand.

"Have I told you yet how good you taste?" she says, making absolutely zero move towards either shedding her clothes or heading to the bedroom.

Rachel blushes unexpectedly, and then shakes her head.

"You're—God. Maybe this is all a trick my head is playing on me, but it's like you keep getting sweeter, every time I go down on you," Quinn says, with a cute little half-smile.

Rachel honestly can't think of a single thing to say in return to that, because—how does Quinn get so explicit in these moments, when she can't even allude to sex without blushing like a fourteen year old girl in Sex Ed the rest of the time?

It sends her head spinning, that blunt switch in confidence, and all she can do is swallow hard and watch as Quinn steps in closer, her nails running up Rachel's inner thighs, until her hands fan out to Rachel's ribs and she gently tickles there, for just a second.

Rachel laughs breathlessly, and then Quinn stops abruptly and says, "Random question. How would you feel about... fucking me with a strap-on?"

Rachel snaps out of her pleasant post-orgasmic haze almost immediately, and looks at Quinn questioningly. "... you'd be up for that?"

Quinn hesitates, frowns a little, and then says, "I don't... know."

"Maybe—if you could... um. Ride me?" Rachel asks, after a moment. "You'd be in control, the entire way through."

Something flashes in Quinn's eyes, and she says, "Yeah—yeah, that could work. I think. Would you—this weekend, maybe?"

"I don't know, I'm kind of busy," Rachel says, rolling her eyes.

Quinn chuckles, before giving Rachel a tentative, cautious look. "I'll be honest; this would be experimental. I have no idea if I … can go through with it at all, or if I'd be okay with—well... I've just been wondering about this, but you don't have to let me—"

"Q—hey, it's okay. I … the things we do, together, they're about … trying things. And trusting each other. So—if you trust me, we'll try this, and you can always Jeffrey Dahmer, okay?" Rachel says, as gently as she can, when she's bare-assed on the breakfast bar and Quinn's fingers are still stroking her sides, but inching closer to her breasts.

It's hard to sound like a supportive friend when she's about eight seconds away from starting to hump Quinn's leg, really, but—she's given it her best shot.

Quinn's eyes narrow appreciatively for a few moments, skimming down Rachel's torso, and then lightly fingering a bruise she left over the weekend, right on the swell of Rachel's hip.

"I did that," she says, softly.

"Yes, you did," Rachel agrees, and then watches as Quinn bends down, noses the spot for a second, and then—without warning, really—grazes her teeth past it and sucks, hard.

It's not painless, but God—it's something else, too. The harder Quinn sucks, the more Rachel's vision starts to blur with spots of red, until her back starts to lightly lift off the breakfast bar.

"Oh, my God," she manages, when Quinn places a few soft kisses on the spot, and then finally stands back.

"It's going to darken again, now," Quinn says, almost like a caress, and then slowly tugs her sweater over her head; it sends her hair flying, insofar as hair that short and messy can fly, and all Rachel wants to do is sit up and reach for it—and so she does, smoothing it out with her fingers, tangling in it and pulling Quinn down into the kind of kiss that makes her insides melt like butter.

"Jesus, I have no idea why, but … I love it when you leave evidence," Rachel admits, when they break apart. "When days later, I can still see what you've done to me, and sometimes—"

Quinn nuzzles the side of her face for a few seconds, before tugging on her earlobe with gentle, blunt teeth, and then says, "Good. Because I like marking you."

They stare at each other for a moment, and then Quinn's eyes fall to her lips, and they kiss again. Rachel's not entirely sure they've ever kissed this much, before, but—it's heady. She's so fucking hot, all over again, and can already tell that coming just once more isn't going to get her done, tonight.

Her habit is growing with her, really, and—fuck, she doesn't want to fight it. Detox is imminent anyway.

Quinn breaks the kiss abruptly, and Rachel watches with short breaths as she pushes her jeans off her hips, and—this is Quinn stripping for her. Stripping; but not … as the stripper. As Quinn, stripping for her.

It's—God, the difference is indescribable, because she sort of kicks the jeans off once they're past her knees, and her eyes stay trained on Rachel's throughout, and—there isn't any flash, or glamor to it, and for just one second, Rachel teems with regret at how tawdry their original start is, in comparison.

But then, Quinn cups her chin, and says, "You—you know, yesterday, when you called..."

She looks back, uncomprehending, and blinks a few times when Quinn's eyes soften unexpectedly.

"Come on, Rachel, purely objectively, you have to know enough about me by now to realize that I'm not seeing anyone else," she then says, in barely more than a murmur.

Before she can react to that sentence, Quinn pulls her into another kiss, and then climbs on top of her on the breakfast bar. As soon as she's settled, Rachel feels like she's in over her head; this is going to be fast, no matter how slow and deep that kiss is.

It's going to be stupidly fast, because she wants it so bad, and the way little moans are working their way up from Quinn's throat as her fingers circle Rachel's clit—God, she feels wanted, and even at thinking those words consciously, she feels herself tighten around thin air. She feels so wanted, and even more so when as soon as she's come again, Quinn reaches for her hand and whimpers, "I'm—I need—"

It's at those two words, even though they're leading nowhere, that Rachel ensnares Quinn's hair and pulls her back down hard, kissing her through an orgasm that hits hard enough for Quinn to bite right through her lip.

She whimpers, and then hisses when Quinn pulls back.

She has no idea what she's going to tell Cheryl—"whoops, I fell and punctured my face"?

It's hard not to start laughing, but then Quinn gently thumbs the small cut and mumbles, "Shit; sorry."

"No, I—" Rachel starts to say, and then just lets Quinn kiss her again, until her lip doesn't sting so bad.

Eventually, Quinn leans back—bits of her hair are plastered to her forehead, and her arms visibly straining, but she's not moving away and Rachel just keeps brushing her thumb up and down the same spot at the small of her back, as if to encourage her to stay—and looks at her questioningly for a long moment.

"Do... are you..." she starts to say, tentatively.

"What?" Rachel asks, when there's no follow-up.

"Should... I be worried I'm going to call at the wrong time and—" Quinn finally says, looking way again; her arms give a little, after that, and Rachel waits for her to sink back down answering.

"No. Not even a little. You might call while I'm touching myself, but it's not like you'd even be … distracting me from thoughts of someone else, really," she finally says.

Quinn stills at that information, and then deliberately asks, "How big is this... risk?"

Rachel hides a smile and then says, with a small blush, "I have a lot of fantasy fodder these days."

From what she can see of it, Quinn's expression actually turns stupid for a second, and then she lifts up and focuses on what's in front of her again—staring at Rachel so intently that it makes Rachel hold her breath for a few seconds.

"Show me," Quinn then demands, softly.

Rachel has a late morning anyway, so—why not?

...

The next morning, she wakes up in a panic, and not because she's alone.

It's because she's basically draped around Quinn.

Who is still asleep—unsurprisingly, because when Rachel glances past her at the alarm clock, it's only 5:45 and they didn't go to bed until around two—and...

Somehow tolerating this.

God, that's dangerous. That's—the kind of thing she doesn't need added to the other things she's going to miss, and so she forces herself to roll away, ignoring the virtual stab wound she feels when Quinn murmurs some sort of protest at the rush of cold air that hits her side, and then—

She makes coffee.

Nobody makes pancakes, and she heads out into the back yard to watch the sun creep along the yard.

It's unclear how long she's been out there, but eventually Quinn shuffles out next to her, wearing her robe—and it's ridiculous short and kind of hilarious—and sits down one step lower, tipping her head against Rachel's knee.

"Why the fuck are you awake?" she then grumbles.

"I'm a morning person. Always have been," Rachel says, with a small smile at how Quinn sort of rubs her cheek against Rachel's knee, and then sighs softly and closes her eyes again.

"Do you know anything about putt putt?" Quinn asks, long moments later.

"It's golf. But small," Rachel says, finishing up the rest of her now-cold coffee, and putting it down next to her. "And sometimes there are clowns."

"Are you afraid of clowns?" Quinn asks, tipping her head back a little.

The urge to just pet her is overwhelming, and Rachel shoves her hands under her thighs to just let this be what it is; two friends, hanging out, and talking about mini golf courses.

The future. If she's lucky.

"No. But I'm not a fan, either."

"Is anyone over the age of six?" Quinn asks, and then yawns quietly.

"Are you some sort of putt putt fanatic?" Rachel asks, after a long time, and watches as Quinn shakes her head.

"Nope. Haven't been in years."

"When was the last time?"

Quinn hesitates for a moment, and then says, "Lima. My dad."

Rachel lifts off one of her hands and puts it at the back of Quinn's neck, rubbing there for a second. "We … don't have to do this, you know. I have the hand-eye coordination of a blind seal, so I—"

"Rachel Berry, admitting she's bad at something?" Quinn says; a small smile plays around her lips. "Well, now I have something to tell the Enquirer."

"Hush," Rachel says, flicking at her shoulder.

They're quiet, as the sun picks up a little in heat, and they need the closeness less. Of course, that just makes it feel better, that Quinn doesn't lift up and move again, but just stays put.

A long moment later, Quinn clears her throat. "It was something he and Lucy did together. When she'd been particularly good at something. Usually school, because she didn't excel at other things the way Fran always did."

Rachel bites her lip, wincing desperately when she remembers the cut there—too late—and then squeezes Quinn's shoulder. "Okay, but—and please don't think this is me somehow condoning you separating Lucy from yourself the way you do, but I figure I'll let it slide since you've had exactly one hour of therapy—"

Quinn sort of sighs and chuckles at the same time and then squints at Rachel. "You're too kind."

Rachel takes a deep breath. "What I want to ask is, I appreciate that Lucy might have some fond memories of mini golf, but—what about you?"

She feels, more than hears, Quinn's breath catch, and then waits for a reaction.

"I … don't really have any memories of mini golf, but I thought it might be fun to do something stupid and childish with you before you leave," Quinn says, carefully.

"Can I ask a question that might sound loaded, but really isn't?"

"Sure," Quinn says, rolling her shoulder where Rachel is still kneading it.

"If we were still sixteen, and in Lima, is this the kind of thing we would've done on a date?"

"We would've never gone on a date in Lima," Quinn says, immediately, and Rachel squeezes down a little harder to stop her from bolting; that tone of voice is a warning, if she's ever heard one.

"I know that," Rachel says, unintentionally harshly, and then sighs at herself. "Sorry—"

"No, it's—are you asking if this is a date?" Quinn asks, turning around more fully and frowning spectacularly. "Because I don't see why—"

"No, I know this isn't an actual, real, beginning-of-a-courtship date, Quinn," Rachel says, as reassuringly as she can; it's hard to be reassuring when she's fighting the urge to sigh and knuckle Quinn in the head, though. "I know, okay? I know because we both know the score, here, and I also know because we're not sixteen and it's putt putt. My twenty five year old standards are a little bit higher."

"So then what—" Quinn asks, now almost a little angry, and Rachel pulls her hand away and folds it into her lap.

"I'm asking if... look, not all of the fantasies we can share have to be sexual, okay, and if there's some part of you that always just wishes you could've done something like this back when you were a teenager, then—"

Quinn's expression shifts into panic so quickly that Rachel swallows the rest of her words, and just watches as Quinn stares at the ground for a long moment and then finally exhales very, very slowly; almost like she's meditating.

"I honestly… hadn't thought about it like that," she finally says, her voice so frail that Rachel feels so much guilt that it almost physically hurts.

"Okay."

Quinn turns away, and then brings a hand to her mouth, curls it into a fist, and bites down on the end of it for a moment, and then softly says, "I couldn't have done this in high school. The … the idea of acting like the guy, by not only asking you to go on a date, but also by picking you up and probably paying, it—it would've made me sick to my stomach. I would've panicked long before I could've even gotten the words out. And then I would've probably called on someone to Slushie you, and spent twenty minutes sketching a heinous and inaccurate sketch of you, just to make me stop feeling like—like I didn't just like it when I got to put you in your place. Like..."

"Does it help to know that I would've said yes? Even after the Slushie, and everything else?"

Quinn's shoulders slump after a moment, and then she says, "No. Because why the hell would you … God, Rachel."

This really is not where she expected the morning to go, but after a moment of watching Quinn gnaw on her own hand, she finally reaches over and pulls it away from her mouth, slinking down one more step to sit next to her, and not letting of her hand.

"You know what's great about not being in high school anymore?" she then finally says, and glances at Quinn from the corner of her eye. "It's that—you can ask me to go play putt putt with you, and you can pay if you want to, or not—that's also fine. And I am definitely saying yes, and when we're done playing putt putt, we can go share a milkshake somewhere; a vegan one, of course. And we can catch an early movie, if you want to, because the evening tickets are more expensive and—well, why shell out more than you have to? We can do all of those things, and you can have me home by eleven, and maybe if you're both respectful and charming, I'll let you kiss me goodnight. Maybe, though. I'm not easy."

Quinn doesn't react for a long moment, and then finally sort of snorts and says, "Not easy, my ass."

"A girl has to maintain a certain image," Rachel says, as primly as she can, and after a second Quinn looks over and sort of half-smiles.

"Okay. And what time would you like to be picked up?"

"I'd lie and say a girl likes being surprised, but that would be a lie for both sixteen and twenty five year old Rachel, so—shall we say two?"

"How do you feel about necking in cars before you're dropped off at home?" Quinn asks, after a moment.

"Oh, I'm a method actress, so if we're going on a sixteen year old's fantasy date, we'd have to keep it authentic. Under the shirt, over the bra, and no further," Rachel says, immediately, and watches as Quinn sort of chuckles and rolls her eyes.

"We're not actually sixteen, Rachel. I've taken you in positions that your sixteen year old self's head would've exploded at."

"Yeah, but—it's not teenaged if you actually get to go all the way with me. Sort of loses its charm that way, doesn't it? Come on. Go broke or go home," Rachel says, bumping Quinn gently in the side.

"So—what? This is a historic date, but not a current one?" Quinn finally says, giving her a look as if to say who are we kidding.

Rachel stares back, and then smiles faintly. "We've done a lot for me in the last few weeks, Quinn. Let me do this one thing for you, okay? It doesn't change..."

"Okay," Quinn says, cutting off all further explanation, before stretching her legs out and then rolling her neck. Apparently, this can be that simple. "What do you want for breakfast?"

Rachel smiles, and decides to go broke or go home herself.

It's not the biggest gamble anymore, when she's going home so soon anyway.

"You. Or waffles. But mostly you."

Chapter Text

The delivery gets in just in time.

That does have her scrambling to get ready at around one, rather than twelve, which is what she would've preferred. And no, her hair isn't as perfectly styled as it normally is these days-when Cheryl and Tony get their hands on her, anyway-and her make-up is fairly minimal, but it's all part of what she's going for here, which-

She hasn't been this excited about a role to play since the first night of Les Mis, when she'd been standing backstage, vibrating with tension, wondering if she was ready to take on Eponine at all-if they'd miscast, and should've taken on board someone with more experience, not some green-faced Tisch graduate with the Lima Community Theater as the biggest contributor to her professional background.

The stage had felt like the deck of a ship, wobbling beneath her, until her co-star Ashley had put a hand at the small of her back and said, "You are Eponine. Don't even think about it."

That same sentiment is oddly poignant and relevant now, even if she does feel a little bit ridiculous reminding herself that she is Rachel Berry, and she can definitely do this.

When she's done applying her lipstick, the doorbell rings, and she exhales slowly and-this is almost an automaton gesture-runs her hands down the front of her skirt, until it has exactly the right kind of snap, and then walks. The way she used to, not the way they've taught her to walk in the years since. She basically stalks to the front door, and then-sees Quinn's shadow, more than anything else, and abruptly feels like she's going to pass out.

Quinn Fabray is taking her, Rachel Berry, out on a date.

She's going out on a date with the prettiest girl in school.

That's the kind of stuff that would even make star quality waver, and so she takes a deep breath and then finally opens the door and-

Quinn turns to look at her, and then slowly raises her right hand and extends-

"Holy shit, is that an orchid?" Rachel says, without thinking about what Rachel Berry would have said-because this would've never, ever happened to Rachel Berry.

Quinn sort of smiles and then stage-whispers, "I thought I'd blur the edges a little when it came to budget; I mean, I also no longer own a run-down second-hand Miata, so..."

"It's lovely," Rachel says, biting her lip, and then accepts the flower; it's the same kind of light pink of the dress she wore at junior prom, and … she's going to take that as not a coincidence. God, if it came with a ribbon, she'd almost be ready to wear it as a corsage, and she looks at Quinn a little helplessly. "Does it need water?"

"Ah, yeah," Quinn says, running a hand through her hair for a second; then she glances at what Rachel is wearing, possibly for the first time, and her eyes widen abruptly. "Woah, that skirt is-"

"I thought... I'd go retro. In light of everything else we're doing," Rachel says, glancing down at the semi-hideous plaid skirt she's wearing. Which, to be fair, still does make her legs look like a million bucks. There are worse things to be stuck in for an afternoon.

"You still own skirts like that?" Quinn asks, her eyebrows slowly climbing, but the look in her eyes is weirdly nostalgic and appreciative. "Because I thought-"

"No, I ordered one from Target," Rachel says, with a small smile, before scanning over Quinn's outfit and smiling wider. "What-hm. I don't want to ask what you're wearing like it's a bad thing, but you definitely didn't wear anything like that in high school."

"Well, I had to improvise," Quinn says, shifting a little awkwardly. "I-apparently look silly in dresses and skirts now, but never wore anything like what I wear now as a teenager, so..."

The compromise she's struck is a pair of loose, flowing light gray slacks, and a surprisingly feminine-but not ridiculously so, as the dresses had been—gray striped shirt, that she's topped off with a red Hermes scarf and a white jacket that, God willing, actually looks like it's cut letterman-style.

"Do I look ridiculous?" Quinn finally asks, with a small frown and a look at her shoes-red Converse, and when Rachel spots those, it suddenly all clicks.

This outfit—it's an approximation of the Quinn that would've developed from awkward, chubby tomboy Lucy if the world hadn't intervened as heavily as it had when she was in eighth grade, and got a carte blanche to start over.

"At the risk of sounding like I'm imitating James Bond, you look dashing," Rachel says, because it's true, and Quinn smiles after a second and then nods at the flower.

"Put that away. We have a golf course to get to."

"Right; one second," Rachel says, and slips back inside, leaving Quinn dawdling out on the steps like she is in fact the somewhat shotgun-shy boyfriend that's whisking Rachel away for the evening.

It doesn't surprise her, that with the caliber of acting they both regularly engage in, this date is selling itself more easily with every passing minute.

She wonders what the shelf life of an orchid is, as she sticks it in a vase she finds underneath the kitchen sink, and then heads back outside, to where Quinn is-well, jittering, is probably the best way to describe it.

Until they look at each other again, and Quinn just smiles and says, "You look really nice, actually. I mean, that skirt is godawful, but-you look like her, you know?"

"Yeah," Rachel says, and links their arms together as they walk to the car. "And you look like-a girl I could've really, really fallen for, back then."

It's automatic, really, the way that she waits for Quinn to move in front of her and open the passenger door, albeit a little mockingly, and the way she then half-turns to look at her.

"So-are there rules to putt putt?"

"Only that you can't cheat," Quinn says, emphatically, once she's sitting down; she gives Rachel a look, and then knocks on the car stereo, and Rachel laughs when she hears what has to be the first track on some terrible Top 40s playlist from 2009-Now! number thirty something, probably.

Katy Perry croons about waking up in Vegas, and Rachel laughs unexpectedly and says, "Some part of me really wishes I could explain what I'm doing right now to other people."

Quinn changes the song as she pulls out of the driveway, and Taylor Swift sings an appropriately teenage song about belonging as Quinn says, "Please; do you think anyone would believe us?"

"No," Rachel agrees, and then watches as Quinn's hand inches over the console and then sort of lingers there, and-she might actually die, of anxious, adolescent feelings she hasn't had in close to a decade, if this keeps up.

It takes them nearly five minutes of driving until they're finally touching, and when they do, Quinn exhales with some purpose and says, "How did guys do this?", before chuckling a little and then whistling along to the song.

"Wait-you're a Taylor Swift fan?"

"Not even a little," Quinn says, dryly, as they're idling in front of a traffic light; and then she glances down at Rachel's skirt, and then at Rachel's face, and smiles slightly. "But... maybe I might've been a few years ago."

It's the first time in weeks, really, that Rachel's heard something playing on the radio, and feels a slight inclination to start singing along.

She probably should, as it's the most Rachel Berry thing she can do-never waste an opportunity to sing!-but, even Rachel Berry can't really get her mouth to work for her when Quinn Fabray looks at her like that.

"Can we talk about this whole … no cheating thing some more?" she finally says, wetting her lips when Quinn's eyes drop to them.

The light changes, and Quinn gives her a break, glancing out at the intersection before taking a left. "It's not negotiable, Rachel. There is no cheating in putt putt."

"I'm going to be terrible," Rachel says, with a sigh.

"Probably."

"Quinn!"

Honestly, the way her hand shoots out and slaps at Quinn's arm is not even a little bit staged, and Quinn snorts before looking at her.

"Relax, will you? I'll help you. That's not cheating."

"Oh," Rachel says, and then finds the silliest of grins creeping up on her. "Well, I didn't realize that … that was an option."

"It's a date. What kind of date would I be if I took you to do something that you'd never done before, and might not even like, and then didn't figure out a way to get you involved in it?"

Rachel opens her mouth, closes it again, and then just stares at Quinn for a moment.

Who looks back, grins, and says, "Finn."

"Yeah. Finn."

They both laugh after that, and spend the rest of the ride in a pleasantly nervous silence, smoothed over by Quinn's thumb gently rubbing the back of Rachel's hand.

The Putt Park isn't what she's expecting; no clowns, no windmills. Not much more than some grassy lay-outs with holes in them.

It's weirdly adult for a children's activity, but that hardly matters when Quinn tosses her a pink ball a moment later and-

"Is that a children's size," Rachel asks flatly, holding her hand out for the club.

"... maybe," Quinn says, and then laughs when Rachel whacks her in the ass with it. "What, God, you're not-the tallest."

"I hate you," Rachel says, shaking her head, and returning to the counter, where a lady is filling out a Sudoku and then looks up and gapes at her for a second. "Hi, sorry-my friend thought she was being hilarious by giving me a children's sized club but-"

"Oh, okay, we'll just switch it out then," the lady says, with those wide, star-struck eyes of recognition. She reaches behind for a different club and hands it over. "Here you go."

"Thank you so much," Rachel says, with a kind smile, and then turns back to Quinn, who is still grinning at her. "I'll have you know that if I was actually sixteen you would've been banned from making out for at least two days for that stunt."

Quinn makes as if to clutch at her heart, and Rachel rolls her eyes before heading to the first hole.

Really, though, as a teenager she did have an unhealthy attraction to jackasses.

Apparently, it's not entirely gone.

They bicker and play the first three holes with little problems, but the fourth one has some swerve on it that knocks Rachel's ball into a sand pit on no fewer than three separate attempts.

Quinn hole-in-two'd the course, and is now just standing and watching, and Rachel sighs in frustration, tugs at her skirt, and lines up the ball again.

Then, she stills, because Quinn is suddenly right there behind her, and says, "You're not swinging from your hips."

"I'm sorry?"

"You're-here," Quinn says, and puts a hand on her hip that-oh, lord, it's suddenly around three thousand degrees hotter in the Putt Park, and Rachel feels her body light up like Quinn just pulled off her skirt and bent her over the decorative fountain at hole six. All of that, just from a hand on her hip.

Quinn clears her throat after a second, but doesn't shift away, and Rachel waits for her to say something else. When she does, it's with an unexpectedly low voice.

"When you swing, you have to work your hips through."

Rachel looks over her shoulder at that point and raises her eyebrows. "Really? I have to work my hips through?"

"Constructive criticism is a sign of appreciation, Rachel," Quinn says, with a slightly shit-eating grin, because-yeah, that's definitely a Rachel Berry original being flung back in her face. "Just rotate with the swing, and you'll find that you have a lot more control over where the ball goes."

"I feel like you've bribed the ball to hate me," Rachel says, turning away again and looking at it again; and no, it's really not her fault that her ass pushes into Quinn's hips when she does it.

Quinn makes a noise and then steps away. "Why would I do that? You're much more likely to put out if I let you win."

"Let me win?" Rachel asks, in disbelief.

Okay, so that gets her competitive spirit going; she replants her feet, glares at the ball, and-fine, she fucking works her hips through it.

The ball sails past the sand pit-and into the watery ditch beyond it.

"Better," Quinn says, brightly.

Rachel just sighs and says, "I demand a foot rub at the end of all of this."

"What, in my car?" Quinn says, leaning down on her club and then winking. "Sorry, Rach, but that's a little too R-rated for a first date."

"A foot rub."

"Yeah, all that bare skin, in my lap." Quinn bites her lip and shakes her head, and then says, "C'mon. Get your ball, I'll guide you this time."

As much as she hates this game, and hates Quinn for forcing her to play it, the idea of being guided isn't entirely unappealing, and so she trudges over and collects her ball again.

She's Rachel frigging Berry. She overcomes everything, eventually.

...

Seven holes later, she calls out an abrupt, "Yes" and then points her club at Quinn with a smirk.

Quinn looks incredibly unimpressed.

"Remind me again of how... the point is to have fun, and to not worry about the score?" Rachel says, bending down to pick up her ball, and then straightening again slowly.

Quinn's eyes only lift up to eye level after a very, very long moment.

"I play to win, Berry. You better hope that your game is as good as your talk for the last six."

They brush past each other when they switch places, and Rachel murmurs, "I guess this is what you get for being a really good teacher, Quinn."

Quinn shoots her a look that basically says, stop trying to distract me, and Rachel laughs and watches her miss.

Royally.

"Loser pays for dinner," Rachel says, when they've handed their clubs back and Quinn is sulking about three percent less than she was ten minutes ago, when Rachel birdied the last hole and beat her by three strokes.

Quinn sighs, and mopes for a moment longer, and then shoots Rachel such a dopey look that she almost apologizes for having, well, dominated those last ten holes.

"This loser was going to pay for dinner anyway," Quinn finally says, with a little glance at the ground, before she adds, "She's just going to be less of a braggart during, now."

Rachel bumps her gently in the side and says, "You know I don't like you because you win at things, right?"

"Really? So you'd be here if I wasn't the head cheerleader..." Quinn says, a little pointedly.

The cross-over between now and then is getting confusing, but there's a shared truth in spite of it, and Rachel smiles after a second and says, "I only really liked you when you stopped being the head cheerleader. But you know what? Losing that title didn't rob you of any of any of the qualities I liked in you. Your focus, your drive, your passion-hell, most of that was aimed at my destruction, but I still found it attractive."

Quinn unlocks the car, long before they've reached it, and then sighs dramatically. "I'll be honest with you; I'm kind of a superficial bitch, so you should probably try to stay Glee club co-captain or I don't think that status-wise, this is going to work."

Rachel chuckles softly, and glances down at Quinn's sand-blown red sneakers, and then says, "It's all right. Rumor has it I'm fairly driven myself, so I don't think you have to worry about me giving up my captaincy much."

Quinn takes a deep breath, and then sticks out her hand. "Good game, Berry."

"Thank you. I had excellent instruction and a lot of luck," Rachel says, gravely, and then watches as Quinn grins a little before shoving her hands in her pockets.

"... okay, so we said we'd grab a milkshake, but-I could only find one place that does soy milkshakes in all of Vegas, if you can believe that, and then they don't do any vegan food, so..." Quinn says, when the reach the car; and then she reaches out and pops the trunk.

Inside is a picnic basket, and Rachel actually feels her hand fly to her mouth to cover her shock.

"I kind of... I mean, do you maybe want to drive out into the desert and-I don't mean like, really far, but there's some pretty scenic places about half an hour out of the city and-"

The rambling is beyond endearing, but they're in public and Quinn has to stop being so goddamned cute, before Rachel does something she's going to regret.

"That sounds perfect," she finally just says, and watches as relief washes over Quinn's face, which makes her reach out for just a second, brushing her fingertips past Quinn's wrist. "Really. You-planned a pretty wonderful first sixteen year old date here, Q."

The slightly shy look on Quinn's face is completely worth the awkwardness of the compliment, and after a second Quinn smiles and says, "How do you feel about mid-date necking?"

"Totally inappropriate," Rachel says, shaking her head.

"Ah, well. Worth a shot," Quinn says, before doing her best Charlie Brown impression over to her side of the car; and Rachel laughs and says, "That's terrible. You're so manipulative it should be illegal."

"Is it working? My manipulation, I mean," Quinn asks, not sounding guilty in the slightest and in fact looking slightly hopeful.

"No," Rachel laughs again, and watches as Quinn slinks into the driver's seat with a deep, heavy sigh.

Forty minutes later, they're out on a blanket and staring back out over the city, and Quinn is stacking around different Tupperware containers that are either labeled with a V or nothing at all.

Rachel leans back on her elbows and watches the sun angle off buildings, and then watches the absolute nothingness that stretches out past Vegas, and-suddenly, it's like they're literally all alone in the world.

It's almost that dream vacation, with the yurt, except the thing that was missing from that before is next to her now, shrugging out of her jacket and folding it neatly, and then handing Rachel a thermos of some kind.

"Wait, did you make milkshakes?" Rachel asks, glancing over.

Quinn shrugs. "I can cook. There's no reason not to."

That's so blithe that Rachel scoffs a little, but before she can say anything, Quinn uncaps a second thermos and adds, "Not when I'm cooking for, you know. Someone."

She has no idea if that's a sentiment from sixteen year old Lucy-Quinn or twenty five year old Quinn, but either way, she feels something tighten around her heart before she takes a first sip through the bendy straw Quinn has stuck in the thermos.

The shake is vanilla, and it makes her smile unwillingly, before she looks back at all the food.

"Just try whatever," Quinn says, as an instruction, and then lifts a pair of sunglasses out of the V of her shirt and puts them on.

"How many pairs of those do you own, anyway?" Rachel asks, because it's neither the Wayfarers nor the aviators this time around, and she suspects it's a pair of Ray-Bans.

"They're... sort of my shoes. I mean, with this climate, I rarely leave the house without, and..." Quinn shrugs after a moment. "We all have an accessory of choice. Mine is sunglasses."

"What would you do if you lived in a different climate?"

Quinn sort of smiles. "Probably start buying expensive watches." She pops open a container and digs into what looks like a small pie of some kind, and then wipes some crumbs off her lips. "What about you? What's your accessory vice?"

"Headbands," Rachel says, with a smile.

"Still?"

"I'm... banned from wearing them in public, because Kurt hates me-"

Quinn laughs at that, and says, "What a dick. How dare he not let you walk around looking like a twelve year old Catholic school girl."

Rachel rolls her eyes. "I wear them around the house."

"With sweat pants and comfy old t-shirts?" Quinn asks-and not in a casual way, but like she's trying to picture it.

"Yeah. Puck likes saying I look like the spawn of Amy Winehouse and a cleaning lady."

Quinn chuckles at that and then looks off into the distance, but with a soft smile on her face.

"Can I … ask you some stuff about your career, or would you rather not talk about it?" she asks, after a long pause, during which Rachel examines some of the food; and God, the sheer variety of what Quinn brought-

She must've spent all of yesterday in the kitchen, and that's another totally silly, meaningless, but heart-flipping thought right there.

She nods, without really thinking about it, and then watches as Quinn bites her lip and says, "Your Wiki is pretty thorough but-I mean, I don't know. I guess I'm curious about what it was like, when you got Les Mis. You knew you were going to make it-"

"I really didn't," Rachel says, softly, and then offers a smile when Quinn looks over in surprise. "Tisch was kind of a cold shower. I was incredibly special in Lima, but only marginally better than most of my peers at college. And even then, a lot of auditioning is about luck. You have to have the right vibe for something, or you won't get it. I made it to... the last ten, I think, for the Chicago revival last year-"

"Oh, you would've been great in that," Quinn says, very naturally, and it's legitimately the first compliment Rachel has received in almost a year that she's taken to heart. The last one prior to this moment was her grandmother, telling her that Barbra didn't hold a candle to her, during some birthday dinner she'd flown in to Columbus for.

"Yes, I thought so too," Rachel says, her smile taking the arrogance out of the words. "But-they ended up going with a girl who just... oozed sex, in a way that I didn't. I mean, you've seen the movie, I assume. Catherine Zeta-Jones has sort of warped the expectations of what … a Velma looks like. I'm just not quite it."

Quinn is silent for a moment, and then says, "That's ridiculous."

"What is? It's just the way the business works-"

"No, the idea that you're not sexy," Quinn says, and when Rachel looks up from the fattoush she's poking through, she blinks. "Of course you are. You're probably the most naturally sexy person I've ever met, so if it's not translating, that's a problem with direction, not you."

Rachel flushes slowly, and then says, "... Lovely a sentiment as that is, I tend to respond to my lovers a little bit differently than I do to my directors."

Quinn glances at her from behind those silly square-rimmed sunglasses and just says, "You're sexy, Rachel. Don't take my word for it because I'm sleeping with you. Do it because I'm fully enmeshed in a world of artificial sex appeal, and what you have, money and practice can't buy."

The conversation dips at that, for a long moment, until Quinn slurps up the last of her milkshake through one of the bendy straws she's brought along, and then says, "What's the one thing you really, really want to do, on stage, before you retire?"

It's one of those questions that she gets a lot, simply because it's standard interview fare, but nobody has really asked her in a way where she thinks they actually care about the answer. Until now. And it's stark, suddenly, how this is not just the first date that Quinn never got to have, when she was sixteen.

Finn's idea of supportive had been, "You're going to be awesome at everything, Rachel; because you're awesome." It hadn't involved questions about what made her tick, or what she was pushing herself so hard for, and...

Now, she's having a milkshake with Quinn, who's asking all the right things on a first date no matter what age they're at.

"People expect me to say Funny Girl, or Wicked, but-it's Cabaret," Rachel says, when Quinn looks over questioningly.

"I'm-sorry, musical theater really is not my thing, but-I seem to associate that with something about Hitler?" Quinn asks, after a second.

It breaks through the gravity of the moment, on Rachel's part anyway, and she smiles. "It's set slightly pre-Hitler. I can send you the soundtrack, if you like."

"Okay," Quinn says, and from anyone else, that would've been a dismissal, but here it just seems to be an acceptance of the fact that now is not the time to be bursting into song about the fragile state of 1930s Germany.

"What about you?"

"What musical would I really like to star in?" Quinn asks, with a teasing note in her voice. "It's going to have to be the one with the filthy muppets, I think."

Rachel rolls her eyes and takes another sip of her millkshake. "No, I mean-what... what's the life plan? Where do you see your degrees taking you?"

"That's a pretty heavy question for a first date," Quinn notes, after a moment, but then straightens her back and gazes off towards the city again. "I don't honestly know. I know I'm young, to be having a mid-life crisis, but … I ended up here out of convenience, not purpose, and the master's degree made sense to do here, because I got a discount and some funding, but a PhD is a fresh start."

"You have a lot of offers," Rachel says, because Fiona and Nicole had both mentioned that they were probably going to lose Quinn to something in or close to being an Ivy, if she had any common sense at all, over dinner.

Quinn nods, and then glances down at her shoes for a second and says, "If I'm honest with myself, now isn't the time to be making these kinds of decisions. I think I'm postponing my applications for January and taking some time off."

"But-that's the practical side. The dream is... academia, then? Teaching?"

Quinn smiles after a moment and looks over. "Teaching is completely overrated. The dream would be research. And maybe, eventually … the FBI."

"That's a fairly ambitious goal," Rachel notes. "They'd want you to-what, examine dead bodies and write up reports on them?"

"Nah, that's a forensic pathologist. If I wanted to do that, I'd have to get a medical degree," Quinn says. She rubs at her cheek for a second and then says, "I'm writing my thesis on a pathological subject, but my baseline question has to do with evaluations of the perpetrator at the time the crime is committed. You know, if signs of ritualistic marking should somehow be considered in building an insanity defense in cases of sexual assault. But I'm not interested in-the dead bodies per se."

"So at the FBI-"

"Oh, I'd … they'd want me to be... in charge of evaluation patients; competency to stand trial, sanity at the time of offense, any sign of malingering, risk of re-offending..." Quinn says, and then shrugs a little. "I could become a profiler as well, actually, with some added on-the-job training."

"What, like on Criminal Minds?" Rachel asks.

Quinn pokes her tongue in her cheek and then says, "Yeah, but presumably a little less flashy."

"Still. That's pretty damn..."

"What?"

"Hot," Rachel says, honestly, and then blushes when Quinn laughs at her a little. "What? That's, I mean, I know I'm technically a celebrity, but you have no idea how much social clout I'd get from the whole, my girlfriend is an FBI profiler thing. Although, would that be a secret? Because you wouldn't technically-what?"

Quinn is staring at her in a way that makes her hesitate, and then stop, as she thinks back on what she just said, and-

"Oh," slips from her lips and then she just stares down at the blanket they're sitting on.

This is not a pleasant silence, and after a moment she somewhat frantically adds, "For what it's worth, the anecdote would still be worthwhile if you … if you are just a friend. It's a cool fact, about someone I know. That's all I meant."

"I know," Quinn says, but in an unreadable tone of voice, and just like that, they're really not sixteen anymore; two sixteen year olds would've blushed at each other about that word choice, and then stammered something, and probably would've ended up rolling around on that blanket while not believing their luck, but even today's fantasy only stretches so far.

"Quinn, I'm sorry, I didn't-" Rachel tries again.

Quinn manages a smile and says, "I know, okay? Honest. I know. It just..."

The sentence doesn't get completed, and Rachel takes a deep breath before closing the containers closest to her and stacking them back together.

"We should probably go out and watch that movie now," Rachel says, and pushes up to her feet-possibly flashing the entire city of Vegas in the process, but she doesn't really care-and wonders if...

If she's actually going to burst into tears on what is now suddenly not just some make-believe do-over of her high school years, but in reality, the first date she's ever really been on with another woman.

Leave it to her to fucking-

"Hey," Quinn says, putting a hand on her shoulder. "Don't, okay? I'm sorry if I … I can't help what my face looks like, sometimes, when you say things I'm not expecting you to say."

"I know that, I'm just mad at myself. I got too caught up in-" Rachel says, before scuffing her shoes-a pair of really plain ballet flats that are still her go-to comfort shoes, after years and years-in the sand and sighing. "If I could take it back-"

"No, Rachel-what I mean is..." Quinn says, and licks at her lips, and looks away. "I'm... nobody's called me their girlfriend in years, now. I don't expect to hear those words, especially not from another woman, and..."

Rachel stays silent, and watches as a particularly wounded look flashes through Quinn's eyes, and she slowly deflates.

"It just surprised me, okay?" she finally says, softly, and Rachel feels her eyes well up with tears.

She nods, quietly, and then watches as Quinn bends down for her jacket, picks it up, unfolds it, and then, after the most obvious of pauses, finally holds it out and bites her lip.

"It's... getting a little chilly. Maybe you should-"

Rachel tries not to react at all, and then takes a deep breath, and then says, "No. I'm okay, thank you."

"I'm sorry, I really just—it's getting colder and-" Quinn says, now sounding guilty, and Rachel just shakes her head.

"I know. Okay, time out. I don't want..." She sighs, frustrated with herself for letting this get so out of hand so quickly, and then gives Quinn her best smile. It's not great, right now, but it's something. "Can... can we try something, that I'm pretty sure sixteen year old me would be trying right now, regardless of the consequences?"

"What?" Quinn asks, and all the defences are coming back up at once, but Rachel's starting to realize there isn't really all that much difference between current Rachel and past Rachel.

They both are willing to take the risk.

"Can I... hug you? Maybe?"

Quinn muted look of shock at that statement is almost enough to turn her smile real.

"... c'mon, Quinn, it's a hug—not a death sentence."

She doesn't really get a response, but also doesn't get an obvious no, don't, so she steps in a little bit closer, and then wraps one arm carefully around Quinn's lower back, and the other one around her neck, and mumbles, "Just-relax. I promise this isn't going to hurt."

Quinn makes a noise above her, and then gingerly places one hand on the small of Rachel's back and pulls her in a little bit closer. "You're a liar. We both know this is going to hurt," she says, softly.

Rachel squeezes her eyes shut and shakes her head. "No-"

"Not yet," Quinn agrees, and then finally drops her head just enough for her cheek to brush against the top of Rachel's head.

The way her breathing slowly adjusts, until she actually seems like she's relaxed into the movement, is one of those moments Rachel is never going to forget.

"Friends do this, right?" Quinn eventually asks.

"My friends do. I'm a touchy little motherfucker, according to my dad," Rachel says, anyway.

She feels, more than hears Quinn laugh, and then feels her gently pull away.

"Thanks," Quinn says, a little thickly, before adding a wry, "I think."

"You'll get used to it," Rachel promises.

Quinn gives her a look that she has no difficulty reading.

There isn't enough time for me to get used to it.

It's a thought far too heavy for two sixteen year olds to have, and so after a second Rachel tilts her head and says, "You want to just... go back to mine, and watch a movie there?"

Quinn nods after a second, blowing out some air. "Sure. There isn't really anything playing, anyway. I checked."

It doesn't surprise Rachel at all, that Quinn's not putting up a fight.

The fantasy is definitely slipping away from them both, now.

When she wakes up, the next morning, it's with a heavy heart.

And heavy lungs; Quinn is stretched out on the bed diagonally, and her face is pressed up against Rachel's shoulder, and her arm is slung across Rachel's chest.

That arm is surprisingly heavy, and after a second of trying to gently dislodge it, Rachel realizes she's not going to be able to move it without waking Quinn up. Which just leaves lying there, and staring at the ceiling as an alternative.

She feels like crying, and she doesn't even really know why; but then Quinn's eyes flutter open, and she gives such a relaxed, easy smile that the impulse vanishes again.

For now, anyway.

"Hey," Quinn says, not really shifting away. "Sorry-I apparently hog both covers and mattresses."

"I don't mind," Rachel says, truthfully, and then watches as Quinn rubs at her eyes for a moment, before looking back at Rachel and then glancing down their bodies, to where-

"You are really naked right now," she observes, slowly, before looking back up-brain obviously processing this at a snail's pace. "Oh, right. Because you sleep naked, and you've been sleeping."

Rachel chuckles softly. "There we go. It's that kind of quick thinking that will make you an excellent FBI profiler. Dr. Fabray, analyzing the scene of the crime at a glance."

"No crime being committed here," Quinn says, biting at Rachel's shoulder until she squirms and then smiling. "... yet, anyway."

"What kind of criminal things are you planning?" Rachel asks, running a hand through Quinn's hair, and relishing the way it almost makes Quinn purr. Her scalp is ludicrously sensitive, and Rachel honestly suspects she's the only person on earth who knows it.

That's a thought to get anyone wet, first thing in the morning, and so when Quinn shifts and starts sort of slithering backwards down the bed, in the goofiest way possible, Rachel just rolls her eyes and says, "Whatever that is-"

"The snake. It's a dance move."

"From strip clubs?"

"No, from the 1980s. It's the worm in reverse."

Rachel laughs. "There is no such thing."

By that point, Quinn is already settled between her legs, and just rubs at her face to get all the hair out of it, and-Jesus, it's really not the sexiest she's ever been, but it's very, very comfortable, and after how long it took them last night to get some ease back into their interactions, this morning feels like a well-deserved fresh start.

"There is now," Quinn finally says, and then pokes at the inside of Rachel's knee before squinting up at her with half-asleep eyes. "Open sesame, you judgmental cow."

Her laughter trails off into a moan when Quinn wastes absolutely no time getting to work, and then her moan trails off into more laughter when Quinn murmurs something about breakfast foods, and-

Sex really shouldn't be this ridiculous, Rachel thinks, pressing her fingertips back into Quinn's hair and tugging on it gently-but credit to Quinn for being able to get her off no matter how stupid they're both being.

They shower together, watch an episode of some cooking show on the Food Network that Quinn declares worthwhile just because there's a hot brunette who cooks in bikinis.

That makes Rachel look over at her with a fond little smile.

"What?" Quinn asks, around a mouthful of pancake.

"You are so gay."

Quinn shoots her a look and then says, "Yeah, really, what gave it away?"

"No, but I mean... I don't know. You and me and boys, you know?" Rachel says, before stretching tiredly and flopping on the couch more fully. Quinn sticks out a forkful of pancake and she leans forward until she can snap it off with her teeth, and then turns towards the TV.

"Sometimes I think we dated the same guy over and over again because it was a convenient way to sort of you know, be in each other's orbit," Quinn says, after swallowing most of a pancake in one go. "Like, subconsciously, anyway."

"Arguing with you about Finn always got me super riled up," Rachel admits, winking when Quinn just waggles her eyebrows at her.

"Maybe we should send him a postcard. Thanks for getting out of the way, dickhead."

Rachel chuckles, and then gently kicks at Quinn's thigh. "He'd be happy for us, and you know it."

"God, promise me you'll never tell him; he'd probably sport a boner in-"

"Quinn! Jesus Christ," Rachel laughs.

"Don't use the lord's name in vain, Rachel," Quinn says, solemnly, shaking a fork at her.

Rachel shakes her head and glances back at the TV, and then squirms when Quinn tickles the bottom of her foot for a second.

"What? You are being insanely pesky right now."

"I put like, double the required amount of sugar in these," Quinn mumbles, around her fifth pancake, and then finishes-putting the plate on the coffee table and patting her stomach before slumping down. "Genius idea, even if I do say so myself."

Rachel snorts and says, "God, I don't know why I love you."

"I have a really agile tongue," Quinn says, after just the barest of beats, and then sticks it out at Rachel, who just wills her heart to start beating again. "And um, … giant hands."

"And good instincts," Rachel adds, when Quinn stares at her with just the slightest raise of an eyebrow. Those three words contain all the bravado she has left.

Quinn smiles a little. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. With me, anyway. I'm not sure about your cooking instincts, but-"

Quinn makes a face and then says, "I can't believe I'm consorting with a sugar hater."

"Quinn, everyone loves sugar, but some of us also care about our teeth and our weight and, I don't know, diabetes," Rachel says, trying not to laugh.

"Okay, but, do some of us also care about how much energy I have right now? Because frankly, you're wasting it. You could be naked right now. Again. And I could be doing stuff."

Rachel just stares at her for a second.

Before she can formulate any real response, Quinn grins. "I may have also … doubled the amount of coffee in my coffee."

"If you have a heart attack-"

"I'm sure you know CPR," Quinn says, and then without warning, lunges across the couch and more or less manhandles Rachel into some sort of hold; she ends up wrapping her legs around Quinn's waist just to not hurt herself, and then watches with a little bit of marvel as Quinn actually manages to carry her.

Well, to the living room door, anyway; there, Quinn sort of grunts and lowers her to the floor again.

"You-are … why are you so strong?" Rachel says, gripping a flexed, tight bicep and feeling it contract for a second as Quinn rotates her elbow.

"Have you ever tried hanging upside down from a pole?" Quinn asks, arching an eyebrow.

Rachel blinks at the visual that flashes across her head and then just says, "Um. Wow."

Quinn's small smile widens, and she gently taps Rachel's ass. "C'mon. Tick tock, Rach."

That's clearly meant to be a joke, but it's pretty damn real, given how many days are left after this one.

Quinn's sugar high dips a little after they both come again, from whatever the adult equivalent of dry-humping is, like the endorphin rush literally cancels out the chemicals.

She's a stiller version of Quinn, thereafter; one who just watches Rachel for a long moment, her fingers sweeping up and down a damp torso until she smiles.

"You still up for-"

She doesn't really finish the sentence, but after a second Rachel nods, and then watches as Quinn's eyes track towards her hands, folded together on her stomach.

"Keep those there, during, okay?" Quinn asks, with a nod to the headboard. It's a gentle demand, and Rachel flexes her fingers before curling them around the bars again.

Quinn smiles, a little tremulously, and then hangs her head over the side of the bed, pulling out the bag of toys and resurfacing with a red face and their designated equipment a moment later.

Rachel laughs unwillingly when she sees what size Quinn is-well, prepared to deal with.

"What?" Quinn asks, with a small smile.

"Nothing, just, you know. I'm pretty sure last weekend you determined that one a little too small for me," she says, lowering one hand temporarily to sweep some hair out of her eyes. "I'm starting to feel a little loose."

Quinn scoffs, and then pats her on the thigh. "Put this on; you can-whatever. You know, move."

Rachel slips into the harness and then watches as Quinn looks at the dildo for a moment and then back at Rachel.

"I know it's not … large. But I'm being conscious of the fact that I haven't had anything more than say, three fingers-and those would be your fingers, so small ones-inside of me in... well, God, … since September 2009."

Rachel stills abruptly at that, and looks up from where she's dealing with a buckle, and then reaches for Quinn's shoulder. "Are you-"

"Yeah," Quinn says, forcing a small smile that doesn't quite reach her eyes. "I mean, not to be dramatic about this, but this is technically my second time, you know, with-anything that size."

"And your first time when you are... completely sober," Rachel notes, because suddenly this is a lot less playful than it was five minutes ago.

Quinn nods; her tongue peeks out and licks at her lips once, and then twice, and then a third time.

"Quinn, we really don't-"

"No," Quinn says, shaking her head. "I... it's time. I'm not averse to penetration at all, but there just hasn't been anyone else I've … you know. I …" She laughs after a second and then says, "There isn't any way to phrase what I'm thinking without making it sound like I've been saving myself for you. I'm sorry, that's not-"

"No, I get it," Rachel says, digging her nails into Quinn's shoulder for a second. "It's a trust thing, right?"

Quinn barely nods, and after a second Rachel reaches over for the toy. She's hardly an expert at this, but she's seen Quinn work the setup a few times now, and-it's easier than she expects, to get everything in place. Not any less ridiculous-feeling or looking, but somehow, the importance that they're attaching to this moment is-well.

It makes it feel less like a purple piece of plastic, and more like... an opportunity. For her to do something for Quinn, for a change.

"I think I'm all set," she finally says, and watches as Quinn takes a deep breath and then straightens. "Maybe-you should let me go down on you first, so you're less … tense."

Quinn rolls her neck for a second, and then turns to look at her with a look that says that … well, that part of the plan, she can definitely handle.

It's hard, to stop licking when Quinn tells her to, but with a slight tug on her hair, Rachel tightens her fingers around the bars in the headboard and then squeezes her lips shut as Quinn lifts up a little bit and moves backwards, down her body.

Rachel didn't exactly forget, that she was packing, but … it wasn't much of an issue for the last fifteen minutes, but now it is-because there's an insert, and when Quinn brushes against the external part of the toy, it sends an unexpected run of pleasure up her spine.

"Oh," she gasps, softly, and watches as Quinn's eyes focus on her slowly.

That eye contact doesn't stop, not even when Quinn resettles, pushing up on her knees, and then-takes the toy in her hand, raises it a little, and-

Rachel bites down on her lip hard enough for the small cut there to start bleeding again, and wills her hips down into the mattress but-God, the sight of this. She's not one of those people who waxes poetic about female genitalia as being naturally gorgeous, but this is Quinn-and her thighs are so strong, and her other hand-where it's pressing Rachel back into the bed, right around where her heart is pounding-is so steady, and...

A small hitch in Quinn's breathing lets Rachel know that they're in business, and even though this isn't doing much for her, her eyes slip shut a little, just at the idea that-just at the idea of being inside Quinn. And how good this must feel, because limited experience or not, three fingers on a regular basis means she can take the stretch and-

She takes a deep breath and focuses, watching as Quinn settles for a moment, glancing down at the place where their hips are now meeting, and then lifts up again slowly.

Rachel's hands are pressing into the bars of the headboard hard enough for it to hurt, but she needs that dull ache to remind her to not move-to let Quinn do whatever it is she needs to, and-

The smallest of moans slips from her lips when it's clear that this, too, is an activity where Quinn's dancing makes a difference, because after a few experimental lifts up and down, she arches her back and actually sinks into the movement, and God, it's the fucking hottest thing Rachel has ever seen, in her twenty five years of life.

It's only made hotter by the way Quinn's eyes drift shut and her lips part, because she's just so unbelievably beautiful.

Rachel can barely believe that she's a part of this moment.

But she is-she is what Quinn looks at when her eyes open again, and her hips figure-eight down with a small, experimental swirl, and Rachel knows that it's probably a blessing that there's a toy holding them together right now; if that was actually her cock-

And just with that thought, she's almost desperate to start doing something. She's breathing shakily and watching as Quinn angles away a little further, and-she can see everything. The tremor in Quinn's thighs, the strain in her arm where she's leaning back on it, and then the sheen of the toy where it slips in and out, at whatever pace Quinn likes.

"God," Quinn sort of exhales, after a long moment, and then-

Then, she stops, and sits up fully again-which makes the insert shift, and makes Rachel clench her thighs-and gives Rachel a heart-stopping look.

"Move," she then says, and lifts up a little as if to invite Rachel to do something right away.

"Can I-" Rachel asks, because holding on to the headboard and working her hips is-Jesus, does Quinn think she's some sort of fucking superhuman? She can barely concentrate on breathing, right now, but if she could-

"Hold my waist, if you need to," Quinn permits, and Rachel reaches down and then digs her heels into the mattress, pushing her hips upwards. "God, yes, like that."

She's never felt more validated in her life, and when Quinn climaxes, about five minutes later, she feels like she's finally-finally-managed to give something back of what Quinn has given her, in terms of experiences that have to be shared with another person.

The breathless "thank you" that is mumbled against her neck, moments later, is as good as any orgasm she's going to have later in the day, and she knows it.

She's spent.

So is Quinn, but Quinn makes them some more coffee, and brings two mugs into the bedroom and then collapses next to her, only barely able to lift her neck enough to drink some.

Her arms and legs are exhausted, and there's an added burn in her lower back from-well, thrusting in a way she hasn't ever done before. Quinn left something of a magnificent bruise on her inner thigh, and it's already starting to hurt a little when she brushes past it, but that bruise was worth it, if only for the, "that's it, Rach, that's my girl" that preceded her final orgasm, and the weightless, drifting pleasure she's been feeling ever since then.

"You okay?" she asks, tilting her head towards Quinn, whose eyes are closed and whose cup of coffee is precariously balancing on her chest, leaving an angry, red mark there.

"A little sore," Quinn admits, sheepishly, twisting her hips to indicate just where.

"It'll pass," Rachel says, taking a sip of her own coffee and then putting it on the nightstand, because, frankly-she'd rather sleep, now. "Did you like it? I don't mean in the sense of-I mean, I know you came, but-is that something you'd be interested in doing again?"

Quinn gnaws on her lip for a moment, and then says, "Not... regularly."

Rachel smiles. "I didn't think so."

"It's nothing to do with how-"

"I know," Rachel says, and reaches out to stroke a small birth mark on Quinn's rib cage, equidistant from her hip and her breast.

"I guess I just … I needed to know if I could," Quinn finally says. "Now that I do, I also know that … I'd rather..."

Rachel streaks her hand further down, curling it around Quinn's hip. "I too prefer it when you're the one taking me, okay? Don't worry."

That gets her a small smile, and Quinn finally turns her head to look over. "What-is there … "

"What?" Rachel asks, when the sentence trails off into nothing, and Quinn gets a contemplative and kind of bittersweet look on her face.

"I just... wanted to ask if there was anything... you really wanted to do next weekend," she finally says, in a small and exhausted voice.

A voice that sounds like goodbye, and Rachel closes her eyes and lets the sting of it work through her, until it's just about something she can cope with.

Only then does she consider the question, and she doesn't open her eyes until she's sure that what she's saying is the truth.

"No. All I want to do is to be with you."

Quinn tries for another smile, in response to that, but can't quite make it; her mouth starts to tremble a moment later, and then she abruptly sits up-the coffee in the mug sloshing precariously-and runs a hand through her hair. "I'm-going to go shower."

Rachel almost wonders if shower is now a code for cry, but-she can't. She can't start wondering what this is doing to Quinn, when she can't even begin to process what it's doing to her.

She doesn't have the capacity to go there, and has to focus on something else, as the shower turns on and thankfully masks whatever else is going on in her bathroom right now.

Even the idea that Quinn-Quinn, who hasn't cried about a single fucking thing in almost a decade, if Rachel can read her correctly-is starting to lose it-

No, she just absolutely can't handle that; not without at least two or three Xanax, and half a bottle of alcohol, and so she presses down hard on the bruise on her thigh, and focuses for the swell of hurt and pressure under her skin, until her mind shuts off again.

They have nine more days. That's-

It's more days with Quinn than she ever thought she'd have, and that's what she has to hang on to, for now.

Chapter Text

The call comes, as these things tend to, without warning.

One minute, she's listening to the news on the kitchen radio and buttering some toast while an orange is being pressed in some gadget that Quinn showed her how to work, two weeks ago, and the next, her phone is ringing.

It's pre-coffee, and anyone who knows her would know that, so she lets it go to voicemail and changes the station to something else. 80s classic rock, 2000s R&B, hits from the 70s... she keeps going, until suddenly she's found some motown.

Not a genre she ever got to sing in Glee; it had been Mercedes and Santana, usually, except for those rare moments when Quinn had bothered with a solo-and those had been sparing, but this is a gentle, pleasant reminder of the girl she'd once known.

It's also not music that reminds her of her life, and that's-

The phone rings again, almost as soon as it's quieted down the first time, and she puts down her knife and heads over to it.

"Kurt, what-"

"Rachel, I am going to be as calm about this as possible, okay, so bear with me-"

She pauses, literally stills her entire body, and then says, "Calm about what, Kurt?"

"TMZ. Front page, third article down. I have no idea why this wasn't cleared with us although the official response I just got was that since they blurbed it with Rachel Berry plays miniature golf with a friend, they-"

She lowers the phone, and in a daze flips open her MacBook and opens up Safari. She … what the hell is the TMZ website address, anyway? Is it just a dot com?

These are things she knows, when Kurt isn't saying things like Rachel Berry plays miniature golf with a friend, but it doesn't matter, that she's blanking on them now. Google exists for this reason, and so she types in the three letters, while Kurt is still warbling on about something in the background, hits search, and then clicks the top result.

A few taps of the down arrow later and-

It's not even really a gasp, the noise that escapes her. It's just sort of a brush of air that wobbles out from her lips, at the first picture, which is her pointing a golf club at Quinn, who is laughing at something she's saying. And it's innocent. So that's-

It's containable. And so she clicks on the more, and sees the next picture, and now they're walking side by side towards-the seventh hole? She doesn't know.

And the next picture. Quinn is bending over for her ball and she's grinning at something.

And the next picture. They are looking at each other, and-

She slowly raises the phone to her ear again, and then says, "I... we were just playing miniature golf."

"Rachel, I'm not here to … chastize you, for … okay, no, I'm sorry, I promised myself I wouldn't turn this into an epic match of how the fuck could you do this, because frankly, you're right. You went to play some idiotic children's game together, which isn't on par with attending naked lesbian mud-wrestling or a Tegan and Sara concert, so..." Kurt sighs in frustration and then says, "They should've been pre-cleared. We're exceptionally lucky that the editors actually used common sense in terms of what would invite my eternal wrath and the holiest of all legal smack-downs, because, Rachel, I have the rest of the pictures here and in one of them, I swear to God she's attempting to hump your behind-"

She squeezes her eyes shut and pinches the bridge of her nose. "The lady manning the booth. She recognized me. She...there was a look on her face when I was getting the club, and I should have known. We were in public, and I should have known better."

"I agree, but even so, there is nothing here we can't handle," Kurt tells her, after a pause, and then adds, "We just have to decide on a strategy soon, okay?"

She looks at the pictures again, and... there is a look on Quinn's face that somehow, in print, is clear to her, when in person she's either missed it all the time, or she's just been denying it's there because-they're not ready.

God, they're not ready for that look, just like they're not ready for all of her stupid, blurted out words. The only way they can deal with any of that is by pretending they don't slip up, and …

Well.

They're done pretending, now.

"We can ignore it," Kurt says, tentatively. "I think... there are risks inherent to that, but as Quinn's background check came back clean-"

"No," Rachel says, sitting down weakly on one of the stools and then dropping her face to her hand. "We can't."

Kurt stays silent for a few seconds. "Is there something you're not telling me?"

"Yes," she says, plainly, after a moment of contemplating-what, an escape?

There is no escaping this.

"Are you going to tell me?"

"Not if I can't help it. What is-how do we make it go away, Kurt? I need an option to distance myself from those pictures altogether, and I don't care what it is. She needs to be completely uninteresting to anyone who might start digging deeper. She needs to be-nothing to me."

The words snake around her heart like a vise, squeezing tightly, but she promised. She promised Quinn that she would not let this happen, and God, she needs to keep that promise, or she'll lose Quinn's trust and without Quinn's trust...

Kurt breathes slowly for a moment, and then says, "Okay. Here is my preferred approach. You are welcome to edit it, but our first step is to acknowledge Quinn and then dismiss her as anything other than a friend. I can get Kirsten to write-"

"No. I'll write it myself," Rachel says, rubbing at her throat, because it hurts to say any of this out loud. "A statement about reconnecting with old friends, right? Admitting that we knew each other in high school?"

"Yes," Kurt says, softly. "With as much realism as is possible. We hated each other back then, but she came to see a show in Vegas and we found that we had a lot in common. Don't turn your back on anyone, people. It is never too late to start over."

He punctuates each of those statements with a dramatic upswing, as if to mock the way she uses Twitter-copious exclamation marks, and every tweet starting with dear fans, which has sort of become a trademark now-and she nods silently.

"I'll sell it," she then says, firmly, and then takes a deep breath. "What else?"

"I..." Kurt starts to say, and then shuts up, and then... sighs. "I have... a ring."

"You have a ring," she says, flatly, and then laughs so dryly that it chafes her throat. "Of course you do. And you'd like me to start wearing it, right?"

"It saves us from having to make any public statements about you and Puckerman, but it's-good lord, Rachel, it's the gaudiest piece Tiffany has made in years, and there isn't a single person in Vegas who won't notice it on your finger. In which case, they can come up with an explanation. You won't have to give one. Speculation keeps everyone busy, after all."

She doesn't know whether she wants to thank him or slug him.

"Do you-are you okay with that?" he asks.

It's the first time in years that he hasn't just told her how she's going to be managed, and it's what finally makes her say, "I don't see what other choice we have."

There's another pause on the line, and then Kurt exhales slowly. "This-whatever secret you're keeping for her, Rachel-I will help you if you just-"

"It's not my decision to make. I'll talk to her, and ask her if she'd like you to take steps, okay? That's... Kurt, please. It's the best I can do, for now."

Kurt swallows audibly, and then very softly says, "I'm really sorry, Rachel. I had no compunctions about giving you the pointed and forceful advice to not come out back when it would've made no difference to your personal life anyway, but..."

She says, "It's okay", because it is.

It would be great, if this was just about her own sexual identity and what these pictures may or may not do to her career.

But it's not.

She showers, with rote, perfunctory movements, and towels off with the same, and then looks at her phone. Missed calls from Santana and Brittany, separately and from the house phone, and she...

She can't. She doesn't know what they'll say, but she knows what they're calling about, and she can't handle anyone else's input on it, right now. Kurt was business-like. Without Kurt, this becomes personal.

As she gets dressed, the number of texts and voicemails start climbing, and it's only a question of time until Quinn herself gets a Google Alert to these pictures, and so she sits down heavily on the edge of the bed and stares at her phone and-

It's only six thirty. Quinn won't be getting up for another hour, and that gives her some time. To get ready, or prepare a speech, or...

She doesn't know. She doesn't know what comes next.

When the next call comes, it's from Tina, and she's too tired to not take it.

"Hey," she says, and rubs at her forehead; and her eyes; and her cheeks. She has a tumblr post to be writing, but-not just yet.

"Hey," Tina says, and then falls silent; Rachel can hear one of the boys in the background, laughing at some cartoon. Mike and Bobby are probably at work and in school, and that means Tina is currently behind her laptop, working on some design project while Aaron behaves better than any two year old reasonably should.

They're both silent after that, for a moment, and then finally, Tina says, "You and Quinn Fabray, huh?"

"We're not together," Rachel corrects her, automatically.

Tina just sort of clacks her tongue and then says, "But..."

"But, a lot of things," Rachel admits, and then listens to Tina softly laugh.

"You always did love a challenge. Remember when we attempted to teach Puck how to tap that one summer?" she says.

Rachel smiles on instinct. "We almost got kicked out of the JCC because of him."

"But you didn't give up, and I bet he still knows how to Maxi Ford and pull back now," Tina says, and then follows that up with, "Aaron-the remote is not a chew toy, put it down."

Suddenly, she misses New York.

The predictability of it all, really, where one gray day blends into the next, and she's forever in the same places with the same people, and nothing ever lifts her world upside down.

It sounds really nice, given what the rest of her day is going to be like in Las Vegas.

"If you want to talk about her, I'm here, okay?" Tina finally says.

She, too, has known about Rachel's crush for years, but has never brought it up like this before; Rachel's original coming out party had just been a drunken mess that ended up in a lot of sobbing about Quinn, and that is where nearly everyone in her life except Puck has left it since then.

But now, her feelings for Quinn are... a public commodity. They've become fair game, and honestly, she's tired. Tired of ignoring them, and tired of pushing people away because there aren't enough warning labels in the world to describe the extent of her baggage. Maybe it's not fair, on them, but what about what's fair on her?

And Tina's been there, all along, and is offering.

Rachel closes her eyes, and forces herself to give, just a little, for now. "I will. But … after I get back from rehab."

"Rehab?" Tina asks, sounding a lot more alert, immediately. "Rachel, why are you-"

"Because... I need to get my life back in order," she says, as calmly as she can. "I don't have a substance abuse problem, but I have … unhealthy habits, and dependencies, and … Tina, some days I don't even know why I get out of bed."

The line is silent for a moment, and then Tina confesses, "I... Mike and I talk about you sometimes, and we've both been worried, but-you're not as open, as you used to be. You've kept us shut out, and Mike thought that pushing..."

"Mike is right," Rachel says, and rubs at her lips. "It's-Tee, you're not a bad friend, okay? If anything, am. Because I'm about to ask you if you can watch my cats for another month, after I'm done here, and-"

"Oh, Rachel, I don't care about the cats," Tina says, almost reproachfully. "I'll keep them forever if it means that..."

"Thank you," Rachel says, and rubs at her forehead. "I have to go. I need to-go talk to Quinn. Before this gets to her and..."

"Rachel?"

"What?"

"You two look really good together. Even if you're not."

That simple statement—and she takes it as fact, just because Tina doesn't embellish much of anything-is what finally makes all of this feel real, and she squeezes out a, "Thank you" before hanging up and gripping the phone tight enough for the plastic to squeak.

The drive over to Quinn's takes forever.

She doesn't know how she's missed that Vegas traffic, in the morning, is just as shitty as LA traffic in the morning, but she's also not been out much at this time of day.

She ignores Puck's calls, finally sending back an I'm dealing with it that stops his messages, because he's great like that. He'd never baby her, not even with the state she's currently in, and that's a giant relief with how many other people are calling. Her fathers—God, she just can't.

She hits the gas again, just about running a red, and stares at her phone as she idles just three feet on the other side of the intersection.

Kurt sends her updates, not questions, on his side of things. It's mostly radio silence, so far.

He doesn't mention a thing about what those people on the forums are saying, but she's sure they're abuzz. This wasn't just them leaving a restaurant together. Eating? Yeah, that's something adult friends do together. Putt putt, on the other hand...

The magnitude of the fairytale she has to craft to make this explicable, somehow, is suddenly overwhelming. The script-writing part of her degree has not prepared her for anything like this, and she's suddenly exactly as insecure and hopeless as the seventeen year old girl who had penned My Headband and Only Child.

What had gotten her to write a real song back then—

And there it is, again. She takes a deep breath, parks her car outside of Quinn's complex, and takes five or so additional deep breaths.

They're the last ones she'll be taking here. Maybe ever. She makes them count, and then finally feels steady enough to walk over to the building.

She rings the buzzer to her apartment-once, and then again, and finally she just thumbs down the button until Quinn answers.

The "Hello?" is sleepy and wary, and Rachel leans her head against the side of the building and says, "It's me-let me in, please."

"What are you doing here?" Quinn asks, sounding surprised, but not in the defensive way she would if she'd already seen the pictures, and Rachel squeezes her eyes shut.

"Quinn, it is seven thirty in the morning, do you really think I'd be here if not for the fact that I had something important to tell you?"

The buzzer sounds, a second later, and she pushes through the door and trudges up the steps to the second floor.

Quinn's in sleep shorts and a tank-top, with the door barely open.

She's...

She's everything Rachel has ever wanted, and Rachel stares at the floor instead of at her when they're face to face.

"Can we take this inside, please," she then asks. It comes out weakly. She has never felt like she has less control over her voice than she does in this moment.

It's terrifying.

Quinn's hand tightens around the door, her knuckles whitening, and she says, "What is going on?"

"I need to talk to you, and preferably not somewhere where literally anyone can overhear us, so please let me into-the hallway, at least, and close the door so that-"

It's shaky, the step backwards that Quinn takes, but then they're in the hallway and Quinn nudges on a light there. It's dimmed, the light, and Rachel would normally be scanning the place for decorative tips or just knowing what Quinn's hallway looks like, but she can't. She can't, because it's still mostly dark, and she can't because-

She just can't, and the words that are threatening to burst out from her chest don't have a single fucking thing to do with those pictures, either.

Her phone vibrates in her pocket again, and she fishes it out and silences it, slipping it back inside and then looking at Quinn for a long moment.

"Rachel, you are really starting to freak me out," Quinn says, with a level of patience that is admirable at this point, and that's when she can't hold back any longer—not on her initial emotion, which is grief, and not on any of the other ones either.

The tears are slow, and steady, down her face, and they're not going to stop. Not when the next thing out of her mouth is, "I'm ending this."

The words hang, deadly.

And then they seem to sink in, and Quinn's face-oh, God, she can't look at it. For a girl who is so good at wearing all the masks in the world, Rachel has caught her completely off guard, and it hurts.

It hurts, because for all the levels on which they're not together, she is still breaking them apart.

"What-" Quinn starts to say, and then remembers who she is, at long last, and just clamps her lips together and leans back against the wall behind her.

The foot of space between them is insurmountable, and Rachel wrings her hands together and says, "I-the last... the last few weeks with you have been... They have surpassed any expectation I had of this summer, and of my life. I wasn't looking for anything other than an escape, that first night in Rapture, but... this last weekend, I realized that in one way or another, I have been living out the fantasy I always wanted. Quinn Fabray, paying attention to me. Desiring me."

Quinn shifts against the wallpaper, and the sound is unexpectedly coarse in the silence between them; it's that small sound that has Rachel looking up, and admitting, "But it's not enough."

She doesn't expect Quinn to say to that, and in some ways it is awful, really, that Quinn lets her mouth fall open, and then says, "I never promised you anything-"

"No. You didn't. You offered me scraps, and I took them. And... that is something for me to deal with, but it doesn't change that..." Rachel sighs deeply and then steps back, until she too has a wall for support. "You said, a few weeks ago, that you're glad. That I'm not the kind of girl who needs cuddles, or to be told that I'm beautiful."

"The context for that comment-" Quinn starts to say, a little sharply, and Rachel holds up her hand until she falls silent.

"I have been telling myself, all summer, that you're right. That I'm not that kind of girl, but then we had this weekend, and … it was supposed to be about your fantasy, but it reminded me of mine. Of what it used to be, and what it still is, if I'm being honest with myself. And Quinn, you're a great friend, and you're a fantastic lover, but... I need someone who can be both of those things for me, at the same time."

Quinn closes her eyes and rubs at her face, and then says, "If you don't see that-with every passing day..."

"The lines are blurring, I know," Rachel says, and watches as Quinn's hand falls away and they look at each other again. They've never looked at each other like this; so desperately, but there isn't anything they can say to fix this. "They are. And-it makes me hopeful that, maybe, someday, I can tell you that I love you and you won't play it off as a joke about how good you are in bed, and that you'll actually believe it. But you just... you're not ready to let anyone in, and frankly, if you were to let someone in, it probably shouldn't be me, at this point."

Quinn swallows, heavily, and then says, "Is there any particular reason you couldn't just wait to tell me all of this until your last day in Vegas? Because it's not like we don't have a set end point anyway, Rachel. You're saying things out loud that we've both already known, and-"

"Maybe we do both know, but I'm saying this, because-I want you to understand that..." Rachel says, squeezing her lips together and pausing for just a second, because these words have to be perfect. "I want you in my life. But I want you in a life that's better than the one I currently have. And I want you in it all the way, Quinn. Not just on your terms. Not as a vacation fuck buddy. And if I can't have that..."

Quinn just nods, and then averts her eyes. "Okay."

"I don't mean for that to be an ultimatum. I'm not trying to punish you. I just want... this to end because we're better than this. Not because-our hands are being forced."

Quinn looks back over at that and says, "Forced how?"

Rachel produces her phone again, hits the last bookmark, and hands it over to Quinn. "They broke this morning. Kurt is managing the... the rest of the pictures, and as soon as I'm done talking to you, I'm going to write a long tumblr post about how nice it is to meet up again with people who disappeared from your life a long time ago, only to find out that you have more in common now than you ever thought you did before."

Quinn's expression is unreadable as she scrolls down the page, her thumb swiping the phone every so often, and then she silently hands it back.

"I'm outing us as friends, so that neither of us can be outed as anything more," Rachel says, quietly. "Nobody cares about my friends, so..."

Quinn takes a very slow, deep breath, and then says, "That's fine. It's … it's what we are. Now. ... isn't it?"

Rachel nods, and reaches for the door handle to her left automatically, because she doesn't know how hysteria isn't hitting her all over yet, but it's coming soon; the dense, concentrated pressure in her chest is an indication of what's coming next, and she needs to be-somewhere that isn't this hallway, when it does.

This part, she is going to have to do on her own.

But, before she can turn the door handle, Quinn stops her, with a hand on her wrist, and says, "I can't find you on Facebook. And I don't have your email address, and I … I don't think we should talk on the phone anytime soon, especially not given that you probably won't be allowed to once you reach Hawaii, and-"

"I'll friend you," Rachel says, her hand tightening around the handle a little bit more. "I found a Quinn Fabray with a locked profile, is that-"

"I don't use that one anymore. My real profile's under Lucy," Quinn says, softly, and-somehow, those words are the ones to shatter Rachel completely.

She feels her face crumple, and then Quinn is in her space, holding her, and saying things that she also said in bed, a few weeks ago, but while they might've been exactly what she needed from Quinn then, right now, they are killing her.

Rachel feels her legs give way, and to the chorus of Quinn's, "It's okay, I've got you"s, they sink to the floor together, and Rachel buries her face halfway against the door and halfway against Quinn's shoulder, until Quinn finally stops talking and she can find something inside of herself that makes this fissure hold, for just another few minutes, until she's actually alone again.

"Kurt wants to know if you want any help with containment," she finally says, brokenly, and turns to look at Quinn, whose eyes are red and cheeks are wet, even if she didn't make a single sound during whatever crying spell she's been through. "He can help, or at least take precautions, but you'd have to tell him about Rapture."

"I'll think about it," Quinn says, after a moment, and then looks away. "If I need-"

"I'll text you his number," Rachel says, and then-with legs so heavy they feel like they're not even hers-pulls away and gets to her feet again. "I'm... yeah. I need to go. I have other things to deal with that aren't about..."

"I know," Quinn says, and with a small push, she's also back on her feet-stepping backwards, again, until she's almost gone in the shadows of the hallway; Rachel can just about make out the way she's rubbing at her cheeks, and running a shaky hand through her hair, but she can't see her face, and that is the only thing that makes what comes next possible.

"Take care of yourself," she says, quietly, opening the door and stepping through it.

Quinn's, "You too, Rachel" is almost drowned out by the click of the door behind her.

The tumblr post is a work of art.

She's never written anything that is both so completely true and such a load of shit in her life, and her writing history includes a play about only children who discover a secret ability to read the minds of cats.

This? This is toeing the line, in a way that she doesn't think tight-rope artists even manage; there are vast streams of truth, about how she and Quinn never managed to work through their differences in high school, but how time together as adults has somehow let them find commonalities she never thought they'd find.

There are platitudes, about not giving up on people, and about how time heals most wounds, which is one that makes her roll her eyes so hard it actually hurts, because, time? Time can go fuck itself, as far as she's concerned. She almost replaces the word 'time' with 'wine', and laughs at that a little, but it's not the point.

The point is, the official Rachel Berry tumblr is one full of almost condescending optimism, and she's adding a flavour that's all her own right now.

She steals one of the TMZ pictures-an innocuous one, where they're leaning on their clubs and looking at a pink ball together-and copies it into the post after about five minutes of hopelessly fucking around with the website's various functions, and then decides that she's done.

She's just... done.

Anything else she could say, she can't out loud. Like: how sometimes, within that hard-edged girl who picks on you in high school, there is another girl who just can't believe that anyone could ever really love her. Like: how sometimes, your endless patience is rewarded with a friendship that you could never have imagined yourself in. Like: how sometimes, or maybe always, fucking the onion results in tears.

She doesn't bother reading the entry again, but adds one final paragraph; a quick, Dear fans, I am taking a vacation after Las Vegas but please don't worry if you don't hear from me for a while - I'll be back before you know it!

Kurt might kill her, for that one, or maybe he'll understand why she's doing it.

If she's running the risk of losing everything anyway, at least now it's on her terms.

It's after five, when she finally calls Brittany and Santana back.

She can just about picture them hovering over Santana's iPhone like a set of chipmunks; Santana with a disapproving frown and a set mouth, and Brittany with a soft expression and hopeful eyes.

She can't actually see them, though, and when they answer, she just says, "Yeah. So."

"Miniature golf, Rachel?" Santana asks, and somehow the scathing sarcasm makes her smile; it's such a call-back to high school that … well. It's a distraction. "No, seriously, was there no lesbian cruise for you to go on last weekend? Because I can't think of anything that could've looked gayer than-"

"Oh, hush, they looked fine," Brittany says, and Rachel hears them shift for a moment. "Actually, I'll amend that to super hot. If I was single, or like, not married, I'd totally have a threesome with you both."

Rachel chuckles despite herself. "Thanks, Britt."

"I don't want to be a bitch... okay, no, maybe I do, but what the hell are you both wearing?" Santana asks, after a moment. There's the click of a mouse, and Rachel closes her eyes at the idea of both of them looking at these pictures, over and over again. "I mean, Quinn looks like she's auditioning for the ultra-gay version of West Side Story or something, and Rachel, Rachel, that skirt. I don't even know what to tell you about that skirt, except that if it's still with you next weekend, I am setting it on fire."

"Next weekend?" Rachel asks, when she's able to focus on them a little. Her mind is so-devoid of anything, right now. It's hard to even think of words. "What's happening next weekend?"

"You're coming to LA. Didn't Kurt tell you? He cancelled your last two shows and you're coming up on the weekend and then heading off to Hawaii afterwards."

Rachel rolls her eyes. "I'm fine here. I don't need-"

"No, you do," Brittany interjects, firmly. "Rachel, you've... okay, you're like a turtle on its back right now. You just keep rolling all over the place and because you've always been like, a really amazing turtle, we've been letting you do it, but-sometimes, okay, the turtle just needs someone to pick it up and turn it around."

Rachel sighs, but it's nearly impossible to say no to Brittany, even on a good day. "Okay. The turtle accepts, I guess."

They're quiet for a moment, and then Santana asks, fairly seriously, "Seriously, though-are you okay? Because-"

Rachel sighs even deeper at that question. "I'm completely not okay, but if you're worried I'm going to do something self-destructive, you don't need to be."

"Okay, but … just so we're clear, that TV's warranty doesn't cover you launching a hideous shoe through it," Santana says, gently.

Rachel abruptly feels very lucky, to have them both, and then says, "Noted. Thanks for calling, guys. I'm going to go take a bath now, I think."

She just about hears Brittany ask, "Wait-but if a turtle is on its back, can it swim?" before she hangs up, and smiles tiredly before dragging herself over to the tub.

This is how she used to deal with difficult days: a book, soothing instrumental music, and a really, really hot bath. The book got switched out for alcohol a few years ago, and the music, she's not bothered with for longer than she can remember now, but … maybe it's time to try it again, now.

She's halfway through Chopin's Preludes, and almost asleep, when her phone chimes loudly.

Lucy Q. Fabray has accepted your friend request, her notifications tell her.

She closes her eyes, lowers her phone to the ground, and tries to remind herself that she has no regrets, about anything.

It would be working, if her heart wasn't beating sluggishly inside of her chest. All the preparedness in the world doesn't change the brutally simple message it's broadcasting to her now:

Sorry, sweetheart, but I'm broken anyway.

Chapter Text

The real world doesn't have much patience for her heart.

Tuesday morning starts with a double dose of coffee that makes it wince, and a glass of orange juice that makes it wince, and a shower that makes it wince because of the other towel in her bathroom-and she dumps that spare towel in her hamper, but all she sees there is borrowed clothing that also makes her heart cringe in on itself.

There is a used toothbrush next to hers that makes it wince, and she's out of floss, which is the last in a set of endless pricks that remind her that, no, this is not just any other day.

This is the first day, in a long time, where she will actually be alone.

Even if Puck and Kurt probably won't let her out of their sight.

Her heart feels like a pin-cushion, by the time it's eleven am, but—and this is the part that surprises her—it's not the worst she's felt, lately or otherwise.

Maybe that can be explained by something simple; like that she knows she did the right thing, even if it will hurt for a very long time. Or maybe it's even simpler than that; like the fact that there have been many, many days, on which she's been alone, and what she has now is a Facebook status notification that says Lucy Q. Fabray has accepted your friend request.

It's alone, but less lonely than she's been the last few years, somehow.

...

By the time she's having lunch, her Facebook notifications roll over again.

Quinn's acceptance is joined by a friend request from a Nicole Fowler, and some part of Rachel's heart quietens down at that, because other people being involved, in a project she's now started thinking of as Quinn and Rachel, Volume Three-well, it just makes her feel less like the last two months of her life have been a fever dream.

Not that she really, ever, could feel that way; not with the way her heart pulses softly, like it's figuring out how to work on its own again.

She pops a Xanax before the stage show because her mind is letting go of the lyrics unexpectedly, but all in all, she goes into the performance feeling something, and that's more than she can say for a lot of the performances she's given in the last year.

When she's letting out a stripped-down, acoustic version of I Learned From The Best, she means every third word, almost, and on her next five minute water break, one of the dancers puts a hand on her shoulder and says, "I believed you, just now."

There are tears in the girl's eyes, and she smiles at those, a little.

It figures that she'd finally win-and maybe it's deserve, really-the respect of the people she's working with, in Vegas, exactly at the point where she has nothing left to give.

Wednesday morning brings with it a message from Nicole, and a friend request from Fiona Nguyen, which she also accepts.

The message is straight-forward, as Nicole has been to date:

I know you probably don't want to hear this right now, especially not from an almost-stranger, but someone has to tell you anyway: what you did gave the two of you a future. I hope your time in Hawaii goes well and feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or just want to hear how Q is doing. (The day you'll get a straight answer from her, you'll know she's ready for you.)

Rachel smiles despite herself, a little, and then indulges for a long moment, by clicking on Quinn's profile.

The profile picture Quinn has up is recent; she's at some conference or another, with her square-rimmed glasses perched almost crookedly on her nose, and she's laser-pointering at something in a crisp blue button-down and navy slacks. And—she looks so... smart, and together, and beautiful. She looks like...

She looks like the future.

And no, Rachel is not—naive enough, or misguided enough, to be actually linking the notion of her needing help to doing something for Quinn. But it helps, to think that at the end of a month of humiliatingly splaying herself open, and analyzing every single one of her faults, she has a possibility of actually being in a good enough place to build…. well, something, with the woman in that picture.

Not the teenage girl from Lima; not the stripper—but that woman.

If she still stuck motivational statements on her elliptical, she'd print a copy of that picture out and superglue it in place, because that is what Quinn can be.

It makes her want to strive for her own greatness.

Or, well. It makes her want to figure out what her own greatness would even look like, at this point.

And just like that, she's actually looking forward to Hawaii.

By the time the Thursday show is ready to start, Kurt wraps an arm around her waist and says, "Just two more. How are you feeling?"

She hesitates between the truth and a platitude for a long moment, and then finally looks at him and says, "Like I'm burying a part of myself. And like... something else will be born, from the ashes. If that makes sense."

It might be a little too religious, or philosophical, for Kurt, who has never had much patience for her more esoteric moments, but after a moment he smiles at her faintly. "The idea of marketing you as a phoenix for the next year is not entirely unappealing, you know."

"I'll let you know if I'm willing to be marketed as anything," she tells him, nudging him gently in the side.

He takes a deep breath, and then nods. "Okay."

"I'm... not going to talk to you while I'm in treatment," she adds, a moment later. "I don't want you to take that personally, because what I need a break from is my career, but unfortunately-"

"You don't have to explain," he says, a little shortly.

"No, Kurt, I do—because it's not about your friendship..." she starts saying, but then it's time, and she shoots him a apologetic glance before heading out onto the stage.

She remembers the days when she'd wobble, on those first steps, but these days, it's hard to imagine getting that worked up over-

Well. Her job.

If that's not a starting point for inquiry, next week, she doesn't know what would be.

On Friday, she packs.

There is distressingly little to put away, and to remind her of her time in Vegas; what lingers is the bruise on her inner thigh, but even that is yellowing at the edges.

It's almost like she's never really been here at all-

But then she remembers a bag of toys under the bed, and pulls that out and looks at it for a long moment, a wave of tears slowly climbing up her throat. And, of course, as soon as her eyes start to sting, she realizes she's starting to cry about nipple clamps and strap-ons and handcuffs, and her laughter blocks out the tears just a little bit.

She imagines shipping all of this over to her house, but the problem is that her housekeeper tends to unpack for her, and she really doesn't care to give Irina a heart attack at the stuff that Miss Rachel has brought home from this particular trip. Not to mention, there's a chance that she'll have to declare it all if it gets shipped and-

She has no idea how she's feeling. She can't stop laughing, and can't stop crying, and can't stop thinking that Quinn would probably know what to do. But-

The clean break she forced on them is the only think that's cracked her heart in half neatly enough for it to be able to be glued back together, at some point.

She knows what will happen if they see each other again right now. Her resolve is nothing, compared to what it once was, and that's at the root of her problems. She's become weak; malleable, and open to bad suggestions in a way she hates. And Quinn, dropping by for this bag-oh, Rachel knows she'd cling to her, and throw herself to her knees and beg Quinn to find a way to make things work for them now.

Part of her thinks that Quinn would, regardless, be strong enough to tell her no; but then there is the rest of her, which remembers the wounded look on Quinn's face, in the hallway, and the trembling of Quinn's lip, in the bedroom, and...

After a long moment of collecting herself, the best she can, and wiping off her face with the sleeve of her sweater, she finally goes to Facebook, looks up Nicole's details, and calls her.

"I have a bag of things that belong to Quinn. Do you think you could maybe give it to her?" she says, because there isn't any other way to explain.

"Of course," Nicole says, immediately, and the relief Rachel feels is telling. It's a clear tell, that she's doing the right thing for once. "When do you need me to-"

"Sometime today, if possible. I leave tomorrow," Rachel says, rubbing at her forehead with the tips of her fingers.

It's the truth, obviously, on a technical level. But it's also not really true at all, because as far as her heart is concerned, she left Vegas-a city of waking dreams—several days ago.

...

Nicole promises to get the bag after Rachel finishes her final show, and she sighs when she disconnects the call, before opening the bag slowly and looking at everything in it one last time.

It might not be entirely normal, that she takes out the first pair of restraints Quinn ever deliberately used on her, and packs those in with her socks and her pyjamas.

But, on a scale of one to extremely unhealthy, it's probably only a five, and definitely the best she can do, right now.

She's already in sweats and a sweater, and a headband, by the time Nicole shows up.

They exchange a few muted pleasantries, and then Nicole gives her a slightly more serious look and says, "She's concerned. About contacting you too soon."

"Did she say that?" Rachel asks, after a beat.

Nicole hesitates, and then nods. "Yeah, actually. She was very quiet all day yesterday, and then finally asked if, in my professional opinion, she would be harming you by getting in touch."

"What is your professional opinion?"

"That no two situations are the same," Nicole says, carefully. "And that-you are old and wise enough to tell her to back off if talking to her is too hard at any point. But I could be wrong about that."

Rachel smiles faintly. "Old and wise, maybe. Strong enough? … probably. As long as we're not in the same city."

Nicole smiles back after a moment, and then pulls Rachel into a quick, loose hug. "I'm not saying goodbye, because we'll see each other again."

"Another professional opinion?" Rachel asks, when they break apart; for now, the burn in her lungs is easy enough to ignore.

Nicole shakes her head at that. "No-but I know Quinn, and when she wants to make something happen... well. She'll find a way, to cope with her baggage, and when she does, I'd say you're at the top of the list, Rachel."

Her heart skips a beat at that information, for once without the concurrent pin-prick of pain, and Rachel feels a sudden spurt of energy come over her; it gives her some actual determination to go about this in the right order, so that their timelines can overlap, and by the time Quinn comes knocking, she's actually a whole person again, and not just some …

There are probably clinical terms for what is wrong with her, but the only thing she can think of is that she's a pathetic, needy mess. And that she's sick of being one.

"Can I ask for a second favor?" Rachel says, after a moment.

Nicole raises her eyebrows.

"Quinn thinks she hates being hugged, but she really doesn't. So-"

Nicole laughs after a second. "Oh, I don't know if I'm willing to take the risk of being slugged because you think she might be a secret cuddler, Rachel."

Rachel smiles, faintly, but remembers the thudding of Quinn's heart against her own, out in the desert, and then gives Nicole a slightly more serious look. "It's not just me she needs to work on letting in more, is it?"

Nicole sobers at that, and after a small pause she nods. "I'll take care of her. Do you have people who will take care of you?"

"More than I thought I did," Rachel says, and then picks up the bag and hands it over. "Thank you, for … well. Everything. It's been really nice to meet you."

"You too, Rachel," Nicole says, and then heads back to the Range Rover in the drive way.

When the door clicks shut behind Rachel, the last physical piece of Quinn is officially out of her house, and-

She takes a bath. Debussey and The Unbearable Lightness of Being join her, as does a bottle of Merlot and a single Xanax.

That's all the Rachels that have ever been, blending and mixing, until at the end of the bath, there is just her, and she looks at herself in the mirror and feels-

Ready.

Ready for something new.

She forgets what a fucking nightmare flying to LAX is for someone with her condition, but two Xanax, all the other pills, and a scotch on the rocks later, and she feels just about ready to head out of the terminal.

The paparazzi at the airport normally behave relatively well-they're in the market for candids, not so much forcing confrontations and staged pictures-and she sticks up a hand at them in passing before wandering out of the arrivals hall.

Brittany is easily recognizable, towering over most other people waiting by their cars, and lifts her up into a hug before putting her back down and saying, "San's out shopping for you; we weren't sure what to feed you other than vegetables but she looked some stuff up and is getting it."

Unexpectedly, Rachel feels a little raw all over again; and then just squeezes into Brittany's side a little harder. "Thank you."

"Anytime," Britt says, and then brightly adds, "Oh hey, it's your photographer friends. Can we maybe do a Ninja Turtles pose for them? I've always wanted to."

LA is not Vegas.

For now, that is a good thing.

Brittany's dance classes pay well enough for Santana and her to have moved into a small house on the outskirts of the city, with a pool and enough space to keep a dog.

Cody, the German Shepherd pup they rescued a year ago, basically hates Rachel on sight—like he can smell the cats on her, which is ludicrous of course-but leaves her well enough alone after a stern talking-to from Santana, who mixes all three of them mojitos and then drags them all poolside.

The sun in LA is more muted, and not as thickly hot as it is in Vegas, and Rachel actually finds herself pleasantly drifting after a drink and a half-but of course, Santana then shifts beside her and says, "So. What do you want to talk about first-Quinn, or rehab?"

"Neither," Rachel says, dryly, and adjusts her sunglasses so Santana can definitely not see her eyes.

Brittany is splashing the dog from the pool, and his enthusiastic, playful puppy bark is the first thing all day that's actually made her smile.

"All right," Santana says, and then is silent for a few moments, but Rachel can feel her lying in wait; like a cobra, ready to strike. "Can I have Q's number?"

"To do what with, exactly?"

Santana almost audibly rolls her eyes. "What do you think?"

"Santana, I'm not just giving you her number. I'll see if she wants to get back in touch with you, okay."

"Good fucking Christ, it's like the both of you are in the mafia or something," Santana grumbles, after a moment. "Are you seriously saying that she might not want to get back in touch?"

Rachel hesitates, because-no.

She's not saying that.

She's just saying-

"Quinn isn't..." she starts, and then pauses, before adding, "She's not who you used to know."

"Well, no shit, I mean, no offense to you, but the likelihood of her boning you back in high school is up there with Finn Hudson being able to give anyone an orgasm-"

Rachel chuckles almost despite herself and then swats at Santana's arm. "Stop it."

Santana smirks a little, but then gives Rachel a slightly more serious look anyway. "Are you saying she's like-"

"I'm saying that, a lot of time has passed since Lima, and it hasn't been easy for her."

"What hasn't?"

"Anything," Rachel says, after a moment, and then sighs deeply and rubs at her face, under her sunglasses. "I'd also really rather not talk about this, so-"

"Okay, that's cool," Santana says, softly, and then sits up a little and whistles for the puppy.

Brittany sort of doggy-paddles over a moment later, before flopping onto her back and drifting over to the side of the pool that way, and she watches quietly as Santana first pets the dog, and then kneels at the edge of the pool and kisses her wife.

"Hey," Brittany says, and then tips her head back a little further, and looks at Rachel. "You want to come in? It's super refreshing."

Tempting as it is, to stick her head under water and pretend the world is gone, the scene she's just witnessed has made her realize she's been avoiding something that she really can't afford to for much longer, and she shakes her head.

"No. I'm going to call my dads. It's time to tell them about-well. Everything."

"Oh, are you planning on telling them that you're having mind-blowingly kinky sex with Quinn Fabray as well? Because that's great. They can join my support group for people in dire need of a mind wipe thanks to your drunken bullshit," Santana says, shooting her wry look.

Rachel flushes, even as Brittany pushes up to the side of the pool and loudly whispers, "I think she'll probably skip that part with her dads, baby."

Santana laughs and kisses Brittany wetly on her cheek, and Rachel almost manages a smile at just how uncomplicated happy two of her oldest friends are, together. It's almost another unexpected source of inspiration; something for her to strive for.

But she can't have everything at once, obviously, and seeing what love looks like when it works hurts just a little too much to help, right now.

She doesn't know how to do this.

Her fathers think she's happy, with Puck. They think her career is satisfying to her, because she does her very best acting at home, in bed, when on the phone with them. The exclamation marks just tickle out of her throat, whenever her fathers-proud, happy, so trusting-call her for an update on everything.

She knows they'll have seen pictures of the ring, if not the pictures of Quinn, because JustJared and Perez jumped all over it with requisite Microsoft Paint emphasis and all the speculation in the world.

The thing is hideous. She's been taken it off as soon as she's inside, and would worry about losing it if it wasn't also large enough to take someone's eye out.

So here they are: she's on a bed, single, devastated, with a bottle of Xanax in reach because her life is drowning her, and her parents think she's engaged to the guy of her dreams, if her voice mail messages have been anything to go by.

She doesn't know how to shatter their dreams for her like this.

But then again:

On Monday, she basically shattered her own dreams. That should, in theory at least, make this possible.

Her heart sinks in her chest, and before she can chicken out completely, she dials her fifth speed dial. It's been disappearing further down the list with the years, because she just hasn't needed to call them as often as she needs to call her team. Or maybe because she's been pushing them away, because the idea of them seeing what is really going on with her …

She closes her eyes, and holds the phone up to her ear and waits.

"Hey, superstar!" her dad calls out, after just two rings. "What's the haps? I wasn't expecting to hear from you until Wednesday-last few shows coming up right now, right?"

"Actually… we canceled those," she says, and cringes at the immediate pause on the line.

"Canceled? Are you-H, come over here, I'mma put you on speaker, Rach, okay? … It's our kid, Hiram, the pot pies can wait until-no, our other child-are you serious right now?"

It's hard not to wince, at just how familiar this all is; and the bickering continues while her other dad-who she still thinks of as daddy, even though she's twenty five years old-also makes his way over to the phone, and then finally her dad says, "Okay, so-what's this about your shows being canceled?"

"Canceled?" her daddy asks, urgently. "Rachel, sweetheart-are you sick? Is it-oh, God, is it your voice? Is there something-"

"No, no," she says, as soothingly as she can, but with how much she's starting to shake-it's not good enough, and she has to say more. "My-my voice is fine. Tired, but that's not why the last few shows have been written off."

Her fathers are silent, and then her daddy carefully asks, "Well, then, what is it? Because-we've heard a few rumors about you lately, but I know how you tell us to ignore those so-"

And here it is. The crux of the last few years of her life, being placed in front of her now for comment.

"I'm not engaged to Noah," she says, stiltedly. "I'm-I'm not dating Noah."

There is another awkward pause on the line. Her dad recovers first and says, "I beg your pardon?"

"I'm not dating Noah. I've-never dated Noah. Well, not since that one week in sophomore year of high school, anyway. We've-we have an agreement."

"An agreement," her daddy echoes, and then there's a silence that means her parents are probably looking at each other for an explanation right now.

"He's..." she starts, before taking a deep breath and digging her nails into her thigh. "He's my beard, okay? Noah is-he's been helping for the last three years to keep my sexual orientation out of the press because Kurt and I agreed that it would be damaging for my career if Hollywood knew I was a lesbian."

The longest of silences follows this reveal, and she's ready to start rambling, but she doesn't know where to start. With an apology, or the rest of the story, or-

"Holy shit," her dad says, weakly. "I need to sit down."

"Rachel-"

"I'm gay, daddy," she says, and this time it feels like she's actually coming out to her parents, and the words come out broken and thickly and like they mean the entire world to her. "I'm-I like girls. I've never not liked girls, but I thought there was something wrong with me because-I never liked the right girls, and I hoped I'd grow out of it, and-"

"Oh, baby," her daddy says, and she hears a sniffle on the other side of the line that makes her stomach almost cramp with regret because-her dad does not cry. But he's crying now. "Why wouldn't you have told us?"

"Because it's awful," she admits, for the first time, out loud. "It's awful having to-lie about this. Having to pretend that I'm something I'm not, for work. Always being on the look-out for … for a camera, or someone who overhears me. I'm..."

She hesitates, because can she really deliver this blow on top of all the other ones she's just dealt out?

"Why are you telling us now?" her dad asks, after a few seconds. "And-what's with that ring? Are you-is there someone now?"

She takes a deep breath, feeling her heart flinch all over again, and then sighs. "There is, but... I'm not in the kind of shape where I'm ready to be in a relationship with someone. I'm... the real reason I'm calling, today, is to let you know that I'm checking into a facility for a month."

"A facility?" her daddy says, voice laced with panic, and then she hears a muffled oh my God that makes her feel like the worst daughter on earth all over again.

"I'm... I have a lot of problems. You know about-my fear of crowds, and my fans. It's made my life very … very lonely, in the last few years, and I've … I've been struggling. I'm going to try to get better now, but-"

"Struggling how, Rachel?" her dad asks, a little more calmly, but-she's breaking them, and she knows it. "And why didn't you-"

"Because there isn't anything you could've done. And-struggling with prescription medications. I'm mostly just very depressed and don't know how to… how to get out of this rut. So I'm seeking treatment. The … the ring is a deflection, to stop people from digging." She falls silent, and then squeezes a few last words out past the lump in her throat. "I didn't... want either of you to worry about me. Or to know what... what a disappointment I am."

"Oh, Rachel," her daddy says, and her grip on her emotions slips with that. "How could you ever think that you're letting us down? What you're-"

"We're shocked, baby girl, but-what-why-" her dad starts to say, before finally just adding, a "Fuck", and she sniffs hard, brushing tears off her face.

"I'm-with all the money, and support you've given me, I just …. I didn't know how to say that it wasn't making me happy. To get everything I ever wanted, and I'm so unhappy," she says, swallowing hard. "And it's not your fault. I'm not-"

She takes a shaky breath, and the line stays silent for a very, very long time.

Until finally, her dad sniffles one last time, and then says, "Is it the girl you were playing golf with? The old acquaintance?"

Rachel feels herself flinch at that summary, but her fathers know what Quinn used to do to her, and that's a dimension she really just doesn't need added to everything else that she's confessing to right now. If they haven't figured out who that girl is yet, it's an unexpected blessing. "Yeah."

"Is she waiting for you to-go get cleaned up?" he continues.

"I'm... we're trying to work on ourselves, for now, but... I like to think she'll be there, at the end," Rachel says, and just like that, she's suddenly exhausted. At the end sounds so far away, and this is not the last of these conversations in her future. God, it's only the first. "If I'm lucky, anyway. It's not really about her, though. I mean, she made me see just how … incredibly messed up I am right now, but-I need to do this for me. Because I used to love singing, and... I want to again. I just want to love it again."

Her dads are both quiet, until her daddy finally says, "Do you have plans for when you're done, with your treatment?"

"Not really. I have to go back to New York sooner rather than later, because I can't keep letting Tina and Mike look after my cats-"

"Can we-talk you into spending some time here?" her daddy cuts her off. "I can ship the cats over, if I need to, or-"

The overwhelming longing that hits her, just at the idea of her family home, out of nowhere, nearly sets her off crying all over again-but she doesn't. The nostalgia just squirms heavy in her chest, because the person she'd been back when that had been her only home-

"Yes. Yes, that sounds-that sounds great," she says, after a second.

Another silence, but this is one somehow less grave than the preceding ones, and then her daddy says, "Jesus, Rachel, I don't really know what to do with all of this. I mean, five minutes ago you were happy and probably engaged to that schlemiel that's been coming around here for years now and still can't remember to put up the toilet seat, and now you're a depressed lesbian going into treatment."

She laughs a little, despite herself, and after a moment they chuckle as well.

"Thanks for going about all of this in the least dramatic way possible, by the way," her dad adds, dryly.

She sighs. "I'm sorry; honestly, I'll be okay, I think. I just-wanted you to hear from me, before all the crazy rumors start flying."

"What's her name, Rach?" her daddy asks, when there doesn't seem to be much else to say.

She hesitates for just a moment, and then says, "Lucy. Her name is Lucy."

It feels a lot more honest, not to mention simple, than admitting to Quinn, right now.

...

After dinner, they play a round of Monopoly that Santana-unsurprisingly-kicks ass at, and then the dog needs a walk.

She volunteers for it, because the outside air will make her feel better; and if not, then at least she's getting her daily exercise in, and Brittany will stop looking at her expectantly.

Cody is rambunctious off lead, but somehow behaves perfectly well on, and they stroll around the neighborhood for almost twenty minutes, with Rachel staring at the modest houses and their well-kept yards and the setting sun in alternating moments.

There is an unexpected peace found in being in a place without a single reminder of who she is. She's never lived in LA, because guest roles don't normally come with stand-alone housing, and so this is a tourist location to her. It's also not in the city, and so she doesn't feel any of the lurking tension she normally does any other place she has lived, since Lima.

She's virtually no one here, and Cody has stopped thinking of her as the enemy, and in this one moment, she experiences the kind of clarity that has been missing from her life for so long.

No, she really doesn't have any regrets.

It's just that, for the first time in years, she maybe has something to look forward to, and that's exactly as heavy as having nothing at all to look forward to.

But ultimately, it has to be better.

When she wakes up, on the squeaky mattress in the guest bedroom that she might replace before she leaves just because she has money and wants an incentive to come and visit more often, it's with a flashing light on her phone that signifies some messages.

There is the usual status update from Kurt, which just says 'green' today-their traffic light code for everything being fine-and a message from Puck that just says, heading to NYC to rescue your cats, can keep them however long okay love you, and a message from Kirsten-her publicist-that informs her that Alessandro at Playbill wants to interview her, but the interview can be pushed back until after her 'trip'.

Her trip is apparently what they're calling it. She tries not to roll her eyes at that, but anyway, none of these things require a response, so she looks at the rest of her messages.

After ignoring all the spam from Apple, Amazon and a variety of online fashion stores, she finally thumbs across Facebook, fully expecting that at least three of her socialite friends have invited her to occasion-less parties that she won't RSVP on the pure principle that RSVPing anything on Facebook is just plebian-

And then her heart bounds, out of nowhere, when she sees that the alert didn't go up over invitations, but instead, an honest to God message.

From Lucy Q. Fabray.

A shaky thumb clicks on it, and her eyes scan over it just once or twice, until she bites her lip to hide a smile, and then a weak chuckle, and finally feels her heart beat steady again, for the first time in days.

It won't last, this feeling of being okay, but Quinn has unwittingly given her the best gift she could have: a reminder that there is more to her, and to them, than the hurt she's currently feeling.

Hey, Rach;

It's three am, and I'm awake, because I can't stop thinking about something that we really should have talked about while you were still here…

What is your third cat's name?

Q.

After about a minute of just imagining the careful, deliberate way in which Quinn must have set about writing the message-behind a laptop, clacking away, like she had been that day in the living room, in the chair-she decides that, yes, talking is definitely something she can handle, when she can hide behind the distance between them.

And so she responds, before heading downstairs and working up a batch of pancakes for her hosts, deliberately leaving her phone upstairs.

That first message felt like a reward for good behavior; perhaps she'll get more later, if she just focuses on being a friend, and being herself, for now.

...

Quinn,

I'm sorry, but the third cat's name only unlocks when advanced friendship has been attained. Before we go there, we should probably work on the basics a little. Such as:

Pineapple on pizza: yes or no? [Nb: yes, this is a test!]

Rachel

Chapter Text

Her only real associations with Hawaii are either ridiculous stereotypes, or Lost.

The latter feels marginally more appropriate as a point of reference for the mysterious door she's stepping through, and if not for the fact that Brittany and Santana have been watching her carefully all morning, she'd be high as a kite right now. She has about twelve Xanax left. They'll be taken off her as soon as she enters treatment, she's fairly sure, and so-it's now, or never.

But then, Cody steals a chicken sandwich off the plate Brittany is preparing, and thus commences a forty minute scramble to try to chastize and catch the dog. When they finally do, Santana says, "Oh, shit, we need to drop you off" and her window of opportunity closes, in a rather final way.

She's mostly silent, on the drive over, until Brittany looks over her shoulder and says, "Hawaii really is pretty awesome. Are you going to be allowed outside, or is this kind of like prison but for people who are sad?"

Santana reaches for Brittany's knee and gently squeezes it, which probably means be careful or something in spousal-speak, but Rachel just shrugs. "I don't know. I imagine I'll be asked to stay on the grounds, at least, but-there will probably be outside areas."

"The ocean's pretty amazing," Santana says, after a moment, glancing at Rachel through the rear view mirror. "Maybe you can take up scuba diving or something, while you're there; now that you're all about clam diving anyway..."

Rachel rolls her eyes, and Santana flashes her teeth for a second before looking at the traffic ahead and shaking her head again.

"Going to be close, Rach. Sorry."

"That's all right," Rachel says, with barely a waver, because-if she misses her flight, that's at least another hour or so of... well.

Belaying the inevitable.

But, she makes the flight; Brittany squeezes her into a hug so tight it actually hurts, and Santana presses a kiss to her cheek and says, "Get better. I want be able to make fun of the shit you wear without feeling like I'm kicking a puppy again, okay?"

They are the strangest words of encouragement she's gotten, but it's very much in line with what she herself remembers, hilariously, as the better days-the ones on which most of the insults just slid right off of her.

It would be great to go back there, and that's the thought that carries her through check-in and security, until she's waiting in a lounge for her flight to board.

The quiet, and the alone time, automatically brings her mind back to Quinn; Quinn, who does not like pineapple on pizza but doesn't judge anyone who does, especially not vegans, who are so self-limiting in what they can eat anyway; Quinn, who prefers sweet and sour to barbeque sauce but also hasn't eaten at a McDonald's in close to six years now; and Quinn, who has surprisingly strong feelings about eggplant.

It's my asparagus. Blegh - is her final word on the subject, and Rachel feels indescribably lighter just composing a quick reply to that message.

Red cabbage is my asparagus. I don't think I'll be eating a lot of it in the next month though, unless my expectations of Hawaii are completely off base. What about favorite vegetables? I will do you a favor and answer before you ask: everything but red cabbage and, you've guessed it, asparagus. Though I'm particularly fond of sugar snaps and broccoli.

I'm also about to board, and I'm not entirely sure when I can next respond-haven't been told what the rules are yet-so if you don't hear from me for a while, that's why.

R

She's barely even done when her phone vibrates to notify her to another response, and it's from Quinn-much faster than the previous ones, and it gives her another little boost, almost like liquid courage, to realize she's not the only one surgically attached to her phone these days.

Fly safe - and if you can't access FB but are allowed to email, my address is in my profile.

Fingers crossed you don't hate your therapists. But if you do, ask for someone else, okay? You have the right, with what I'm sure you're paying, and I'm sure they have a rota of staff.

My fav vegetables are red peppers and most types of mushrooms - together we can make a stir fry. ;)

Q

The Xanax stays in her purse for the entirety of the flight, and she's only trembling a little and feeling a little nauseous when they land in Honolulu.

Once there, though, she feels-

She feels so fucked up, out of nowhere, because the fact that Kurt isn't behind her, or hasn't sent one of his assistants to be behind her, to take care of all the random bits of her life that she hasn't had to deal with in two years now-it sends her reeling.

It's just her.

She's all on her own, and she has nothing to fall back on except the pills in her pocket, and even those are going to be stolen from her sooner rather than later.

And all she wants-

She squeezes her eyes shut for a long moment, hard enough for it to hurt, and then stares at the bags sweeping by on the carousel, until she finally spots her own; the small, bedazzled tag is Kurt's way of making sure she never confuses her bag for someone else's.

Five minutes later, she's peering out for a driver with a sign with her name on it, but-of course.

She's not Rachel Berry. She's Carla Young.

There isn't a deep breath enough that she can take to make this okay, somehow, but her phone is in her pocket and the pills are in her bag, and with one step at a time, she's heading towards her driver.

It's a start.

The facility-and she has to think of a better way to conceive of it, somehow, because calling it that is doing to drive her crazy-is actually more like a hotel than anything else. It's only two storeys, she realizes as she's being processed at reception-it's just like a check-in, except that they don't ask to see her driver's license and she gets handed about fifteen forms to fill in once she gets settled.

The receptionist also tells her that she has an intake conversation at 3pm on the ground floor with Dr. Stevenson, and that if she has any other questions, there is a list of phone numbers on the desk to, among others, room service.

Then come the rules.

Two hours of mobile phone time a day, at designated times.

And obviously: no pills, until a treatment plan is set up all over again by Dr. Stevenson and his colleagues.

The introductory speech is concluded with a somewhat expectant look, and after a moment Rachel realizes that they're waiting for her to hand over her stuff.

"Can I just-" she starts to say, pulling out her phone.

The receptionist gives her an almost kind smile, and then says, "Honey; it's going to go away now or in a minute. So how about we just go with now?"

She feels like a five year old, but somehow, that works, because she hands over her phone and watches as it gets put in a safety deposit box.

"What about email? Can I email?" she asks, biting her lip, and the receptionist gives her a sympathetic look.

"They'll talk you through all of that during your first meeting, okay? For now, why don't you just follow Kevin, who will show you to your room-" and she points at a tall, skinny black-haired man who sticks up a hand a little sheepishly, "-and try to relax, until three."

Rachel bristles, and then says, "Would you be able to relax until three?"

The receptionist, whose name tag declares her to be Holly, laughs after a second, and then leans forward and gives her a serious look. "We do a vegan club that is absolutely to die for. I think it'll tide you over. And you're welcome to have as many as you like, okay?"

She scoffs, and almost points out that it's really unlike she'll be able to hold food down, but Holly the receptionist, and Kevin the porter, are just trying to make her feel like a normal person, even though she's basically being stripped of all of her belongings and told to wait in a room until she's further processed.

She really, really wishes, just for a moment, that she'd asked either Quinn or Nicole more questions about the practical side of doing this, because the brochures and the promises of better health hadn't exactly screamed, oh, and you'll lose your mind in trying to regain it.

After five minutes of wandering around her room, and checking the shower pressure and the hot water in the sink, she's officially out of other things to do, and sits down on the edge of the bed.

Twenty minutes later, she's ready to start screaming.

It's one thirty.

She tries to sleep, until two-thirty. And almost does.

The door to her room doesn't get locked, on the outside. So that's something.

When she gets to Dr. Stevenson's office, after some further instructions from Holly, there is a chair outside of it with some magazines that she sits down on. She's expecting a Grazia or a Harper's or something, but this is not the dentist, and instead, she's browsing through a National Geographic about the extinction of the killer whale.

Somehow, the story brings her to the verge of tears, and she's making a mental note to donate to the WWF this year when the door in front of her opens, and a young, ginger-haired guy with a small beard opens up and and says, "Carla?"

She smiles faintly and puts the magazine down, before standing up and shaking his hand. "I'm just going to confess now that I probably will not respond to that."

Dr. Stevenson, or Anthony, as his name tag proclaims him, shakes her hand firmly, holding it for a second, and then in a conspiratorial whisper says, "My wife really, really likes your Christmas album, so I mean, I guess we can call you Santa, if you prefer."

She laughs, unexpectedly, and then he steps back and with a more professional demeanor, opens up the door to his office again.

"So, Santa-we obviously know generally why you're here, but-"

She laughs again, settling gingerly in a chair next to an empty coffee table, and watches as he settles across from her, elbows on his thighs like he's watching a big game of some kind. And, in a way, she guesses she is the big game.

"Please. Call me Rachel."

"Okay. I'm Tony, obviously-and like I was saying, we know why you're generally here, because your registration pack came with some information, but why don't you try putting it in your own words?"

His voice is very steady, and even, throughout, and she mashes her lips together for a moment and then chuckles almost unwillingly. "Gosh, you'd think this would be easier, given that I've already had to tell a number of people."

"We don't have to cover everything at once, okay?" Tony says, setting back a little and tapping his fingers on his thighs, now. It's almost like he's more nervous than she is, and somehow, that relaxes her.

She manages a small smile, and then says, "I guess it all started with... the agoraphobia."

"Crowds, or open spaces? Or both?" Tony asks.

"Crowds," she says, and bites on her lip. "But... they don't even have to be big, anymore. Sometimes it's just the idea that I'm walking towards a crowd, or that I might end up in a crowd. Three fans are enough to... well."

"What happens?" he asks, looking at her sympathetically enough, but not really like she's some sort of zoo exhibit, which is what keeps her going.

"I-it starts being hard for me to breathe; I feel this pressure on my lungs, and then all I can do is take very, very shallow breaths, which almost automatically leads to hyperventilating. Then I start seeing spots, and-I mean, I panic. I basically just panic, and then can't have anyone touch me for about thirty minutes afterwards."

Toby is silent for a long moment, and then gives her a small smile. "Has anyone ever told you that that's fairly normal?"

"What, agoraphobia?" she asks, frowning at him.

He shakes his head. "No. The symptoms of it that you have. Agoraphobia, mind you, also isn't rare. A lot of people have it, to varying extents. But it sounds like it's gotten worse with time, with you. Is that right?"

"I didn't have it all until I was … about twenty," she says, taking a deep breath. "I still remember not having it. I remember-being able to just leave the house, and do what I wanted to."

"And now?"

"And now... now everything needs a plan. A lot of things aren't an option, at all. If I didn't perform on stage myself I don't think I would've been near Broadway in the last three years, at least. And-even then, it's touch and go."

"What do they have you taking for it?" Toby asks.

She hesitates. "Paxil, and Propanolol. I've tried other SSRIs but-"

"What about the Xanax?" Toby interrupts.

"That's..." she says, and then stares at the coffee table for a while. "I started taking that when... my agoraphobia started giving me anxiety, stupid as that sounds."

"Because you stopped being able to leave the house?"

She nods. "I couldn't... I mean. It got to a point where I could barely leave my bed, some days."

"How much are you taking, now?" Toby asks.

It's hard, to get the words out, but she can only get past this if she stops lying, and so she takes another deep breath. "My therapist in New York thinks … I'm taking maybe, a pill on extreme occasions. It's more like, two or three, before I'm ready to perform. Which has been most nights."

"So-per week?"

"Around twelve. Sometimes fifteen," she says. Her voice catches on the words, but Toby just nods again.

"You want to stop taking those?"

She sort of sighs and laughs at the same time, but it's all incredibly weak. "Yeah. I … well, I don't know. I'd like to stop feeling like-it's all in my head. That I need these drugs. Because I do feel like I'm taking them because-I don't know. Because I've gotten used to them being there, and it's easier than... whatever else I can be doing."

Toby hesitates, and then says, "Your agoraphobia is real. You do realize that, right?"

"Yes, but-"

"And it might never go away entirely," he stresses.

She stops at that, and looks at him for a long moment.

"I'm-you know, I'm pretty damn good at my job, but not every condition goes from zero to a hundred. Sometimes, fifty percent of the time is the best you can do, and that's with the right combination of medication and treatment. So-I want you to understand, going in, that we are going to get you to a place where you're better-but you might never be where you started, again. Do you understand what I'm saying, Rachel?"

Fifty percent of the time.

That would leave fifty percent of the time when she can cross Times Square, by herself, or go get a baguette and some crudites for a dinner when her friends want to come over unexpectedly, or where she can go to a movie with them. Fifty percent of the time when she might, in theory, be able to go and see Quinn talk about something with her giant brain, even if she does get recognized. Fifty percent of the time when she can show her parents around the city and go on family vacations again. Fifty percent.

She bursts into tears, without meaning to, and then holds up her hands in apology, raggedly managing, "I'm sorry-yes, I understand."

When she calms down, a long moment later, Toby just smiles at her a little. "All right, there?"

She chuckles at him a little, and then says, "So-is that it? We're going for the best possible result on the agoraphobia and everything else..."

"It's therapy, Rachel. Not a magic wand," he says, and then reaches to the desk behind him and pulls out a chart that isn't filled in with anything just yet, but has Carla Young at the top, and seems to be filling in her days for the rest of her twenty-eight day stay. "What you and I are going to be doing together is try to figure out a way to confront you with your anxiety, and help you cope with it on a day to day basis that will not depend so heavily on your medication. Okay? We're starting here, and I'm going to see you every day, and we're going to talk about things and then try things-like taking you out into the courtyard, as a starting point. And then out into the city, but maybe in the safety of a car. I'm going to expose you to situations that, frankly, are going to scare the shit out of you, just so we can find your limit and then slowly guide it along, until we're actually hitting a wall."

She nods, because Nicole had warned her that CBT would be both rewarding and awful at the same time, if executed well, and he's not trying to sugar coat it. "I hope you have a lot of Kleenex on hand."

He grins at that a little, and then says, "Not to freak you out or anything, but I'll probably be carrying a tranquilizer everywhere, for the first two weeks at least."

"Oh, my God," she says, and then laughs a little despite herself.

"Hopefully I won't have to use it," he says, and then leans over and pulls the chart towards him. "So-that's my part of things. Now, the thing is, we're obviously dealing with a mixture of issues here, because-you have this condition, which is very real and crippling, but it's not your only problem. At least not anymore. Do you think that's fair?"

She nods, and says, "I'm... I'm fairly sure I'm also generally depressed."

"How much of it is because of the fame?" Tony asks, and after a second of hesitation, she says, "I don't know."

"Do you try not to think about it?" he asks, and she nods. "Okay, well, here's some two dollar cent diagnosis for you... the stuff that you really can't think about, that's the stuff that eats at you the most."

She doesn't really have anything to say to that, because honestly, being a face and being terrified of other faces, it all sort of blends together. Except-she remembers that walk, over in Brittany and Santana's neighborhood, and how utterly fucking relaxed she'd felt for those twenty minutes, and then rubs at her forehead.

"Yeah. I see what you mean."

"I bring all of this up," Tony says, already starting to write down a few things, "because you are not our only patient who is dealing with those kinds of life changes, and honestly, Rachel, you're going to struggle to find people to talk to who experience it the way you do in your immediate circle. Even your entourage-"

"God, please don't tell my manager you called it that," she says, with a small smile.

He looks up, and then raises his eyebrows at her briefly before saying, "Even your entourage doesn't know what this is like, and they probably witness it all the time. But it's not their picture that people are clamoring for, nor is it their autograph."

She exhales slowly, suddenly reminded of the first time she set foot in LA-to record a few episodes of The Unbelievable Story of Us, a sleeper hit that the writers of How I Met Your Mother cooked up when they'd finally run out of ways to postpone the reveal of the mother. Kurt had thought the storyline-in which the main character ends up drinking some sort of magical coffee that has him singing all of his conversations for a three episode stretch-had been beyond ridiculous, but the writing was charming and Rachel, as the temporary love interest for the main character, had had a blast filming.

Until she and the regular cast members had wandered off the lot for a late lunch, and they'd suddenly been swarmed by the paparazzi as well as a horde of fans awaiting autographs, and they'd all been forced to disappear inside again.

Michael, the male lead, had told her that she'd get used to it; "after a few years in the city you don't even notice it anymore." She wonders, now, if he'd just been kind, because she always notices, and she definitely hasn't gotten used to it in the slightest.

"No, you're right," she says, quietly. "They don't get it. They think that-it stops at flattering, and I otherwise can ignore... well. The parts that I don't want to deal with, but it's very hard to ignore the fact that people who don't know you see to think they own a part of you."

Tony nods, and then says, "So-that leads me to group. We have a session set up for-well, at the risk of rankling you, celebrities, who find they can't cope with the pressure. Okay? You might not find that you have it as bad as some of our other guests, but it's a shared experience. You can all learn from each other, or at least stop feeling like it's only you that this is happening to. Sound good?"

It doesn't sound great, but it sounds like something that she might need, almost despite herself, and so after a second she nods. "Yes."

Tony's pen flies across the chart, filling in different bits in different places, and then he sits back and looks at her again. "Okay. And then-there's your run of the mill-one on one talking to a therapist. You do this, right?"

"Yeah. I have for years now," she says, and when Tony looks up, she somewhat sheepishly adds, "I was... bullied a lot, in school. My parents took a pro-active approach to making sure it would cause no lasting damage."

"Cool," Tony says, before bending down again and saying, "Okay-well, here's the deal with us; you'll be talking to Joel Fischer, if that's okay with you, and he's a funny one; he's going to try different things with you, to see what you respond to best. So-he might talk to you and tell you what's going on with you, or he might make you try to figure it out yourself-or he might just put you in a room and tell you to paint your feelings for an hour. He'll try it all, and eventually you'll click and work through at least some of your feelings together."

It sounds like a strange combination of storytime with her fathers and kindergarten, and out of everything that's been proposed so far, it's the most familiar and less daunting-so when Tony starts filling up most of the charts with the initials JLF, she leans back in her chair just a little bit more and then waits for him to look at her again.

"That's it," he finally says.

She sighs a little. "That's it? That's-I don't think you understand what it means."

He gives her another friendly smile and says, "Look, twenty eight days is a long time. We keep you focused on your task here, which is to get better. Right? To get to a place where life seems manageable, at least without the Xanax, and maybe with a lot less of the other pills as well. That's the goal. I'm not saying that because it's my goal, but it's your goal. We're just here to keep your focus on that. Which means you're not going to have so much down time that you start going crazy."

"Yeah, about going crazy-" she starts to say, but then hesitates. "I don't want to sound petulant, but the rules about my phone-"

"Haven't been without it for more than a day in the last however many years?" he asks.

She shakes her head.

"Look, Rachel, the way this works-you're going to have to make the first strides on your own, okay. And through doing that, Joel is going to figure out who it is that you're going to need here, as part of your support system, to get yourself ready for a good after-care program. But until you're at a point where you can put into clear terms what is good and what is bad for you, you need a little space from everyone." He hesitates, and then says, "It's not a punishment. It's a precaution, because if you've become a little entrenched in bad habits with your medication, you've probably also become a little too practiced at bad habits with at least some people. Make sense?"

"But I get to keep the two hours a day?" she asks.

He nods. "I see no reason for you not to, at this time."

"Can I swap them for... internet time?" she asks, before adding, "I don't mean-I don't want to look things up, about myself. I mean to … to email people. I'd rather not have to type emails on my phone, and I'm not really at a point where I want to talk to anyone out loud about any of this, so-"

Tony says, "I'll tell you what; we'll figure out a way to get your phone to you at the same time as a laptop, and you can decide if you want to call or type on the spot."

"So all of this is negotiable?" she asks, before nodding at the schedule. "Is that?"

He smiles a little sharply at that. "Sure. In the sense that, while you're here, we'll keep trying different things until they're working-and if you don't like it, you can leave."

A wave of tension washes over her at that, and Tony watches her for a long moment as she tries to get the tremor at the corner of her mouth under control.

"I can help you. As can the other people who work here," he finally says, soft enough for the words to actually sink in a little, and she stops gripping the edge of the sofa with all her might.

Two deep breaths later, and she feels like-

"Is that vegan club really as good as Holly says it is?" she asks, because her stomach is making its presence known, loudly, and after a second Tony grins at her.

"Rachel-it's better. Pardon my French, but that is the best goddamned vegan club you are ever going to eat, I promise you."

He shakes her hand, a moment later, and then says he'll photocopy the schedule for her and get it sent up to her room later.

...

She ends up wandering the halls for a while, looking for the spaces she's meant to be in tomorrow, until she comes across what looks like a rec room of some kind, and some guy in a cowboy hat in the corner over there, strumming a guitar.

Her feet halt automatically, when she realizes she's looking at Adam Wakefield, who raked in the CMA for best single and new artist of the year twelve months ago, and now looks-

God. Is that what she looks like, to other people?

He glances at her, after a moment, through the glass, and for one ludicrous moment she feels like a fan; not that she is, because her awareness of him is more focused on industry buzz than anything else, but-she knows who he is, and sheepishly sticks up a hand in greeting.

He tips his hat to her, after a moment, and she wanders back over to her room in kind of a stupor, because-if that's the kind of caliber of people they're treating in the facility, she suddenly feels incredibly average.

The idea of heading out to a communal dining area is-

It's just not going to happen for her, and so she orders the club sandwich, and picks at it while reading more of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. If not for the fact that technically, she can get visited by anyone at whatever time, she'd probably drag the entire setup into the bath tub, but for now, she has a comfortable chair facing the window and can look out onto the beach.

When the sandwich is finished, she heads out onto the balcony and watches the ocean for a long while. Something about it, almost by default, reminds her of Quinn-which is silly, because Brittany, among all of her friends, is the one most like a mermaid. She swam throughout high school, and she and Santana keep inching closer and closer to the ocean now that they live in California-and it won't surprise her if they eventually relocate to San Diego, just because Santana will get to live in a city and Brittany will get to live right on the beach.

This ocean, though, isn't like Brittany's ocean. It's deceptively calm on the surface, but every once in a while it pushes onto the land with such force that-well.

It's Quinn.

A knock on the door startles her out of her thoughts, and then Kevin shows up with a laptop and her phone.

"Don't make me fight you for them when time is up," he says, a little warningly, but then finishes it up with a dimply smile that makes Rachel just roll her eyes a little.

The laptop takes a moment to boot, and so she checks her messages-only to find that there isn't anything, and of course.

It's her turn to respond, because Quinn is proving to be a stickler about the pattern in their communication, and-she doesn't mind. Whether she likes it or not, her life is going to be more regimented now.

Back when she'd functioned well, she'd done this kind of scheduling to herself; it's possible that an eventual voluntary personalized routine, rather than one that is set up for her, will make her feel a little bit more like the Rachel who wanted to conquer the world.

If not, at least she knows exactly when she's having lunch, from now on.

Her first email is awkward:

Hi Dad (and Daddy);

I just wanted to let you know that I'm all checked in and that I will be using my phone for only two hours a day, so I might not be able to talk to you every day. The facility has Kurt as my emergency contact so if anything happens, he'll be in touch immediately. I've just been told that part of my treatment actually involves talking to the people in my life about my situation, and it's very likely that this means that one way or another, we'll have to do a few sessions together. I hope this isn't too big of an inconvenience work-wise but according to the documentation I have in front of me, we can do it over Skype if traveling here is not an option.

I had a delicious club sandwich for dinner just now, and there really isn't anything else to say - so I'm going to leave it here.

Love you both,

Rachel

Her second email is familiar:

Hi Noah,

Thank you for rescuing the cats, I'm sure Tina was very grateful. I just wanted to remind you of their feeding cycle in case Tina did not - the instructions are in their carriers so if you can check those, please. Other than that, I just wanted to thank you for going along with everything so far and for generally just being the best friend that I think I could ever wish for! [Don't call this sentiment gay. That's inappropriate.]

Love,

Rachel

Her third email is joking:

S&B,

Thank you for four days of heaven before I've checked myself into what is already starting to feel like the sixth circle of hell. They took away my phone! I get it for a maximum of two hours a day, ladies. Britt, if Santana just had a coronary, please call an ambulance. (911.)

(I'm fine, actually; just trying to live up to my reputation of being an insufferable drama queen at this point, because I'm sure this won't actually kill me, but if it does, can one of you please make sure my ashes get scattered over Barbra Streisand's house? Thank you in advance.)

Yours,

Rach

Her fourth email is honest:

Dear Tina and Mike (and Bobby and Aaron),

I'm sorry if my attempts to better my life came as a shock, and I just want to stress again that you have both been wonderful friends - and that I'm very sorry that I haven't made it easy for you to be a part of my life.

I hope that, by the time I leave treatment, I will be ready to make some changes, and one of the things that I hope I'll be able to do again is go to Central Park with the four of you and just spend some time there feeding the ducks. Cross your fingers for me, please?

Love and bear hugs for the boys,

Rachel

Her final email is all of the above, and more:

Q,

re: that stir fry - maybe someday, hm?

I'm going to split this email in two, because I feel like in some ways I myself have split in two, and there is the part of me that wants to get to know everything about you like we've never had a chance to (Friend Rachel, if you will); and then there is the part of me that hasn't been honest with anyone but you, in the last five or so years, and that part of me also needs someone to talk to who isn't being paid to listen. I don't know what to call that part - Rachel Getting Better comes to mind, as a witty throw-back to that 2008 Anne Hathaway movie, Rachel Getting Married. If you don't get why it's funny, rent the movie (but only a day full of laughter, because that movie is depressing as heck).

Friend Rachel has the following to say to you:

What is the best book you've read in the last three years or so? I haven't been able to concentrate on anything lately, really, but am working my way through The Unbearable Lightness of Being and I think I might actually finish it. If you have any recommendations along similar lines, I'd like to hear them. Anything else will also do; my favorite book is Wicked, for nostalgic reasons more than anything, but I'm also quite fond of The Time Traveler's Wife even though its premise is beyond ludicrous and the ending is horrible - which, okay, well, I'm assuming you're aware given that the story is years old by now. If not-sorry for ruining it for you!

I ask because I'm not allowed to do much of anything other than read, paint, or play instruments, and since I don't do the latter two, I think I'm going to be catching up on some (or like five years of) reading. If I make any art, I'll be sure to take pictures so you can laugh at me, don't worry.

Rachel Getting Better has the following message:

Today, I sat in a room with small ginger man with a half-grown out beard, who gently guided me to the realization that I might never be able to go back to where I was before. At the time, a fifty percent improvement sounded almost unbelievably good, but the more I think about it, it's ... it's not a whole lot, is it? You'd think that someone as obsessed with the Oz mythology as I used to be would have clued in to the whole, "you can't go home again" aspect of my condition before now, but it has taken me so long to even admit that I have a problem and I'm not fixing it that... I don't know. I honestly was expecting him to almost solve all of this like a mathematical equation, like he would just piece together the right breathing techniques and the right pills and I'd be ready to take over the world again, like I was back when we took Nationals in senior year. The reality is that life doesn't come with a pair of ruby-red slippers, I guess, and no matter how hard I click my heels together, I might not go home. Now I just keep thinking about it in percentages-can I get five percent better? Can I get ten percent better? And what if I can't?

This stands separate from us, so please don't take it in a way where I'm asking you to respond on behalf of yourself, but - as much as I felt undesirable in high school, purely on the basis that I wasn't living up to a classic beauty ideal, I didn't for one minute think that I wouldn't find someone eventually. But the reality of Prince Charming is that he's willing to fight his way into the castle, you know, for the princess, but he also expects to be able to take her out of it at some point - so they can be together and roam the lands. I don't know a fairytale that ends with Prince Charming saying, "Nope, that's fine, let's just put on a movie and stay inside, like we have all other 364 days of the year." And the idea that even with my best efforts, I can't get past that point where everything about the outside world sends me into a panic attack...

I don't know what I expect you to do about this, and I guess I'll be talking about my actual therapists to it, but I don't know, I don't want to think of you as fulfilling that role. You're just the only person in my life outside of this clinic who actually gets this, and you know me - or maybe you don't, but I'll always be a talker. I can't help that about myself.

So, here's my first two honest cents: I'm terrified that I'm not capable of actually fixing myself, and it really, really sucks.

A downer, I know, so hang on- Friend Rachel has one final note:

Fuck Asparagus: the Musical is probably going to be a rock musical, if that's okay with you. Its primary composer is a little tired of always being cast in the same roles and same genres, and might also have some frustration to work out. That okay with the funders?

FR (and RGB)

About twenty minutes later, when she's already moved away from the laptop and the phone again-it's better to not want too much, is what she's started learning at long last-Kevin knocks on the door again and wishes her a good night.

It's only eight thirty in the evening, but she's ready, for this day to be over, and so she curls up in bed with her Kindle and listens to the ocean outside.

One down.

Twenty seven to go.

Chapter Text

Week 1

The best surprise, and she means this in the most scathing way possible, arrives the next morning.

"You're not serious," she tells Kevin, who knocks on her door at around 9.30 and says that breakfast is downstairs.

She had a good night, with the sound of waves lulling her to sleep, and so the idea of minor communal breakfast is almost bearable. More than that, though, she really just needs her coffee, and-

"Hey, be glad you at least get to use real cutlery," he says, with a small shrug. "Up until a few years ago, it was no implements in places like these, no matter what you were in for."

"I have significantly less attachment to knives than I do to my morning coffee, okay?"

He laughs a little, and then gives her a look. "Did Dr. S give you the rundown of the reward system yet?"

She shakes her head. "Not really. I mean, I know phone and internet-"

"Yeah, that's like the start of it. I mean, we can give you whatever you want; you want a baby grand in here in the next two weeks, that's done, but only if you commit."

"To what?"

He sort of smirks at her. "Everything."

That's a big ask, for someone who's not committed to anything for so long-but at the end of the day she just has more pressing issues right now.

"Please tell me you're joking about the coffee, though."

He laughs and ushers her through to the dining room, which has a few people in it-including Adam Wakefield, and a guy she vaguely recognizes from one of the news channels she doesn't regularly watch-and a buffet-style breakfast bar that-fuck.

"Decaf," she says, flatly.

Kevin puts a hand on her shoulder. "Twenty seven days, Miss. And then you can have all the coffee you want in the world."

He's not wrong, and it's at the idea of Starbucks that she settles down at a table with a bowl of muesli and-God help her-a mug of something that tastes like, but definitely is not coffee, and her Kindle.

People are leaving well enough alone, and that's as pleasant a start as she's going to have to her days here.

...

Day 1

Going to breakfast; scale 1-10 about a 4, worsened by no coffee (you sadists) and presumption of being recognized. Went in anyway, had breakfast, was fine.

Going to CBT with Tony; scale 1-10 about a 5, worsened by idea of being tranqued like I'm an elephant and general unawareness of what is going on. Went in anyway, relaxed after about twenty minutes (approx).

Going to group. Scale 1-10 about a 7. Crowd, judgment, suddenly depressed. Anxiety did not wane. Did not speak, this made it better/worse. Was not ready to speak. Michelle seems nice. Listened to Adam talk about being recognized at airport. Anxiety peaked at this to about a 9 because I can relate. Took five deep breaths. Dug fingernails into hands. Did not help, had to go wash face and be alone.

Down time. Scale 1-10 about a 3. Constantly there because nothing to distract myself with. Could not focus on reading. Thought about internet time, relaxed a little, took a nap. Nap helped. Woke up feeling about 2.

Dinner. Scale 1-10 about a 7, felt exposed after group, did not want anyone to talk to me. Nobody did, ate a vegan ravioli that tasted like cardboard, relaxed a little.

Sleep. Scale 1-10 about a 10. Could not shut mind off. Took a shower, stood outside and watched the ocean. Finally fell asleep around 2am.

She misses the Xanax, but not nearly as much as the coffee.

She also misses at least the presumed ability to say no, but Tony and Joel are both very clear about how the entire therapy process is incredibly quid pro quo, and the more she commits to it, the more they will try to simulate her normal existence for her.

"It's a curve," Joel says, chewing on a celery stick in his office, which is a fucking disaster if she's ever seen one. The idea that someone so disorganized can help her pull her own convoluted thought processes apart is ridiculous, but the fact that his shirt is untucked and his hair is Einstein-levels of wild somehow helps her to relax, in a way she never really does around her own therapist (or anyone else) anymore. "You-play the game, we give you back some of your things."

"Like what?"

Joel offers her some more of the celery and she shakes her head, folding her hands together in her lap, because now, they've turned this into a test. She doesn't like failing, even if it's commonplace these days. Rachel Berry is a gold star. Not something dimmed out in the night sky, like black on black.

"Like-okay, well, here's our starting point for today. You're a singer, right?" he asks.

It's so dismissive that she almost takes affront at the way he says it, but eventually just says, "Musical theater actress, actually."

"Right, so-what role do you think music has in your life?"

He puts it out there lightly, like it's some sort of nondescript question like is blue a nice color, and she stares at him for a long moment, watching as he studies her face with an unreadable expression. It's like meeting Quinn's deranged genius uncle, in some ways, and she laughs after a moment and then says, "Well, if I could answer that for myself these days I wouldn't be here."

"That kind of shit?" Joel says, lightly, before pointing at her with a stick of celery. "Deflecting, playing word games-that is what does not get you back your iPod, Rachel. And that's how this works."

She looks at the table for a moment and then looks back up at him. "Honestly? I'm not even sure I want my iPod right now?"

He tilts his head at her. "Okay. That's better. Why not?"

"Because-there's nothing on it that I haven't heard ten million times already," she says, with a small frown.

"Okay. What's your favorite musical?"

"Funny Girl," she says, automatically.

"How many times have you seen it?"

"God, I have no idea," she admits. "Hundreds, at least."

"Okay, and are you sick of it?"

She hesitates. "Well-"

"When's the last time you saw it?" Joel asks, narrowing his eyes at her a little.

She bites her lip. "About two years ago. Because a friend wanted to watch it."

"And before two years ago, how often did you watch it?"

"At least once a month, until... I graduated college," she says, slowly.

"All right. So would you say you're sick of it?" Joel asks, raising his eyebrows at her.

She looks out the window, and then says, "No. That's not it."

"So then what is it?"

"It's-that-" she starts saying, and then sighs and slumps down in her chair a little. "I don't know. I don't know. I remember-wanting to watch it, and I just don't anymore."

"What was going on with you, when you stopped watching it?" he asks.

She gives him a wry look. "My memory isn't what it used to be. I'm not deflecting, I honestly just couldn't tell you off the top of my head."

"All right, well-ask someone who does. Senior year of college, right? Must've been some blow, to get you to stop wanting to see your favorite musical of all time." He pauses, and then adds, "I have to say, I don't really get Streisand, so I mean, the idea of watching one musical with her several hundred times sounds pretty crazy to me, but if that was what was normal for you-well, what's changed?"

His egg timer goes off, after that, and he winks at her. "Rome wasn't built in a day."

"Neither was my iPod," she responds, and he laughs and says, "See you tomorrow, Rachel."

… completely normal, and I don't think that it's a sign of your progress and/or condition that you are questioning these types of things, but take it from someone who took an elective on sexual attraction once: it's nearly impossible to explain what does and doesn't draw us to people, but who you are as a person isn't changed by what physical limits you experience in your day to day life. I don't know if you're still in touch with Artie Abrams, but if anyone would understand your fears about how your condition defines you, he would. Is he happy? Does he have someone? This isn't as black and white as a list of percentages, Rachel, and I mean that in a general sense that doesn't specifically apply to you.

That aside, the one thing I envied and hated most about you in high school was your indefatigable optimism, and I would assume that even if they can't get your fear of crowds under control, they can help you cope with the depression you're experiencing because of your semi-solitary lifestyle. You used to smile, more than anyone who was being bullied as much as you were had any right to, and your smiles always looked like you meant them. I don't think I smiled sincerely once between say, Christmas of sophomore year and graduation. So-focus on that. It's still in there, somewhere. Dr. Quinn out?

As for Friend Rachel, I had a sudden flashback to doing Living on a Prayer/Start Me Up back in Glee-I've unfortunately been made to talk about Glee a little lately and have been having PTSD flashbacks to some of our worst outfits-and have absolutely zero problems with FA:tM becoming a rock musical. You're not who you were before, and honestly, it makes sense that your music changes with you. This is not to say that you can't regain the essence of who you were, but we all change in ways we can't predict. I used to love acoustic folk music (and feel free to make a lesbian joke) and now cringe when it comes on, and yet find that I love most 80s music now whereas as a teenager it was all way too terrifying and non-wholesome for me. That said, let's discuss what you mean by "rock", because I don't think I can befriend someone who loves Coldplay.

Carl Jung is currently using the side of my head as a scratching post and I'm in the middle of formatting my citations, both of which are as delightful as they sound. I'm having stir fry for dinner today, in honor of your second day being done. Let me know how it's going.

FQ (and the mighty Quinn)

She finds that she's glaring at the decaf, and after a second someone next to her chuckles.

"I'd say it gets easier, but I'd be lying," Adam Wakefield says, with a soft drawl. His speaking voice is nothing like his singing voice, with is this low burr that reminds her of her father singing lullabies; she only knows that because Adam apparently has earned enough reward points to trade them in for a Taylor acoustic guitar.

Her heart pulses precariously for a moment, and she makes a note to diary about it while being very clear that she's experiencing tension, not a teenage reaction to being near a country superstar, but then that moment fades and she reaches for the Splenda, to add insult to injury.

"I have a friend who's addicted to sugar; I think she'd suffer more," she says, when she's sure her voice will sound normal.

Adam winces and says, "Rough. And I say that getting off the horse, so-"

"I'm sorry, is that some Southern expression I'm just not-"

He laughs and says, "Horse. Heroin. Sorry if that's a lot, out of nowhere. It's just that Tony has been encouraging me to be honest with it with people who can keep a secret, and I mean, … who better than someone with one of their own, right?"

She takes in his face, and the way a muscle near his eye kind of twitches and his eye sockets are gaunt and drawn, and then sticks out her hand. "I'm Rachel. I-you probably don't know what I do, but-"

"Nah, I had no idea, but Steven recognized you," Adam says, with a small smile. "Says you've got a real set of pipes on you, for someone so small."

"Thanks," she says, rolling her eyes a little, and Adam chuckles again.

"I'm Adam," he adds, and after a second he grins at her. "You do know who I am, don't you."

"If it helps-it's a vague impression at best," she says, after a moment.

"Cool," he tells her, and for just one second, he reminds her so much of Sam Evans, back in junior year, that she smiles back unwillingly.

In here, maybe the rules are different. He's just Adam, and she's just Rachel, and-

"You want to sit with me and complain some more about how they're ruining our lives?" she offers, before she can change her mind.

He nods, and jokingly adds, "We can make a start, but breakfast doesn't run long enough."

She can't honestly remember the last time she met someone new and didn't immediately feel like she was getting tagged and bagged, like some piece of produce coming up for sale, but Adam, in his low-slung jeans with his tired eyes, is just some guy, trying to have a conversation with some girl about how much they both miss caffeine.

For the first time, in nearly five years, Rachel actually feels almost normal.

Dear Dr. Friend Quinn,

I made a friend today. My CBT diary says that I had anxiety through the roof when he talked to me, but then it actually proved to be okay. I think it helps that he's, and excuse my French, fucking famous in a way that I'll never be, and so we're sort of on the same wavelength in terms of just wanting to be normal people, but it made me realize that I guess aside from having talked to a few of your friends, I really haven't given anyone else a chance to be a friend either.

I'm keeping this short, because I want to email Tina and Santana as well, but-I mean, they're getting a version that doesn't discuss that I'm making some minor progress. I think I am, though. Joel seems happy with how I'm doing in the sessions and this morning we talked a lot about what I feel like when I sing, and it's hard. It's really hard to describe it because good or bad, I just don't think he gets it, but maybe that's not the point. I guess I'm hitting a point where I can at least say that it used to make me happy and it doesn't anymore. A starting point, right?

I do not love Coldplay. What kind of 80s music? I'm guessing not the Bangles, by your description. My favorite wake-up song back in high school was Matthew Wilder's "Break My Stride", and I mean, I suppose you can be grateful that I changed my alarm clock to a more neutral choice years ago. When we were a lot younger, Tina and I used to have sleepovers and sing "Heaven is a Place on Earth" into our hairbrushes with a lot of enthusiasm. I think I might try to talk her into a repeat of one of those, once I make it back to New York.

Thank you for the book recommendations, by the way. I've been assured by Michelle, who runs the group therapy sessions, that Margaret Atwood will make me think, which is great, because it's not like I don't already spend at least eight hours a day twiddling my thumbs and running through my own memories - apparently that's progress, though. But I'll definitely try those books and the Murakami when I'm done with Unbearable Lightness, which-have you read it? Because I'm not sure I agree with the basic premise at all, but then I think about a lap dance in Vegas and get stuck in a black hole where there is truth to the idea that all of life is a coincidence, and yet I still can't commit to that idea.

xx

Friend Rachel, Budding Intellectual (if not just Going Nuts)

Tony reads her diary entries, and then says, "So-doing nothing makes you anxious, is what I'm getting from this."

"Yes."

"But you're not addressing why," he points out, and crosses his legs for a second before giving her a skeptical look. "What are you so nervous about, in stillness?"

She takes a deep breath. "Having to think."

"About?"

"Myself."

"You know, it's been four days now, of you coming in here, and I haven't yet figured out what is so terrible about you, that the mere idea of spending some time by yourself notches you from a four to an eight," he says, mildly.

"Yeah, but-you get outside Rachel. In here, it's-" she says, pointing at her head, and then rubs at her eyes. "I don't know how to describe it. I am constantly afraid of being alone, especially when I am, and then I'm even more afraid of being around people. So basically, I'm not okay anywhere. Ever."

"And that makes you want to-" Tony prompts.

She opens her eyes, and says, "Scream. It makes me want to scream, and believe me, I've tried that a few times, and aside from getting noise complaints from my neighbors and concerned phone calls from my friends, it fixes nothing."

"Does that surprise you?"

She hates him a little, because what the hell does he know about what it's like to be her? "No, but it's hard to come up with alternatives when you-"

"Okay, but you're not screaming now." Tony squints at her. "Give me a one to ten."

"Five. Because you're-making me angry, pretending this is easy or something I can just stop doing if I want it bad enough."

"Is that what I'm doing?" he asks.

She takes a deep breath and he leans forward.

"What are you doing?"

"Taking a deep breath, so I don't tell you you're an asshole and get thrown out of this room."

He smiles. "I am an asshole, though. And nobody gets thrown out. So what are you actually doing?"

"Resisting the urge to blow up," she says, crabbily. "Tantrums are for-teenagers."

"Teenagers?" he asks, with an amused look. "Most people would say children."

"Yes, well, I outgrew them late. I had-kind of a reputation for storming out of rooms, in high school."

"Were you trying to get attention?" Tony asks.

She scoffs. "No. Though I'm sure that's what everyone thought."

"Instead, you left to-"

"To-stop things from getting worse. I don't get angry easily, but there comes a point where I just can't keep a lid on things anymore and my peers disliked me enough without me going off on a massive rant about how they were all lazy, talentless bastards out to ruin my career prospects."

Tony laughs after a second. "Yeah, I can't see why they would've disliked that."

"I haven't-stormed out of a room in ages."

"What do you do when you feel overwhelmed like that now?"

She hesitates, and then says, "... I don't. Feel like that anymore."

"Why?"

"Because I don't let people get to me that way anymore."

Tony's eyes narrow on her for a second, and then he gives her back her journal. "All right. Homework time. Keep thinking about what I just asked you, and be sure to write down how thinking about it makes you feel. And if you come back with something better, tomorrow, we're going on our first field trip."

She reaches for the journal, and then after a second says, "Can I have a pen?"

"Sure."

Tony announces field trip. Anxiety to 19023850938503 out of ten.

She shows him, after a second, and he gives her a warm smile. "Good. What are you doing to stop a panic attack from coming on?"

"I-" she says, and then stares at her journal. "I have no idea. I just-it's not tomorrow yet."

He gets up and opens the door for her, and says, "Well then. Think about it, until tomorrow. Let me know what you come up with."

She glares at him a little. "Joel doesn't give me homework like this, you know."

Tony smirks a little. "Just you wait."

Great.

Hi Hon,

Your father and I just wanted to let you know that we've already stocked the freezer with your favorites, unless those have changed, and that we've managed to clear some of days at the end of September to come out to where you are and talk, if that is what is best for you.

I ran into Mercedes Jones at the CVS a few weeks ago and she was buying a pregnancy test, so-maybe number three is on the way? I have no idea who you have or haven't told about what you are doing so I just told her you were on vacation right now and would be in Lima afterwards. If you don't want to see her, I'm sure she'll understand but I've been reading a little bit about, well, things that I should have read about a long time ago, and it seems that the general therapeutic advice is to surround yourself with people you are familiar with and comfortable around.

We're both thinking of you and have nothing but faith that you will come through this program with flying colors, Rachel, because you've never not excelled at something once you've put your mind to it. (You get that from me, obviously, not your dad.) And we love you and can't wait to spend some quality time together.

Big hugs and kisses,

Daddy

Steven is talking about going Christmas shopping.

"My wife's Jewish," he says, somewhat stiltedly. "So-we do sort of a combined celebration, but either way, there are a lot of presents to be bought. And back-you know, before Hindsight became a primetime draw, we would go out together and buy each other silly little presents on the spot in department stores, and joke about the baby shoes and how we'd give them to the kids, and-"

He falls silent for a moment, and Rachel looks across the circle, to where Adam looks like he's having a rough day. She knows the feeling. She's going stir-crazy, and that's knowing that after group, today, she's heading over to Tony for a session out of the facility, so the anxiousness is literally running her over from all directions. Her journal is full of things she normally does to try to cope, and they all just center on the same thing: empty her mind.

But she can't. It's too full, with too many things, and she blinks when Steven picks up the story again.

"Last year, Miriam and I went to FAO Schwarz to pick up some toys for the kids, and-we got mobbed. It was … well, sorry, but it was fucking awful. Like it was somehow newsworthy that-I mean, I don't even get what they're so interested in. It's like it's mystifying that I eat and sleep and breathe like a normal person. And that I pick up my son Tim some Lego kits for his stocking, and his eight days presents, and that my wife might be pregnant again. I-I almost slugged a fan, that day. Because they just would not let us leave, and all of this led to a whole bunch of speculation about how I'm an alcoholic and-well, guess what. Then I became one."

He laughs after a moment, shakes his head, and emphasizes, "I was just buying some Lego for my kid."

Rachel stares down at the center of the circle, and then takes a deep breath.

Michelle gently says her name, and then raises her eyebrows. "Do you have anything to say?"

She almost backs down again, and then bites her lip, and then says, "These-nothing leaves these walls, right?"

"As a matter of confidentiality, no, and everyone here as signed relevant disclaimers," Michelle says.

Rachel nods, after a moment, and then says, "I'm... the reason I'm here, at the end of the day, is that I was out playing … miniature golf with … with a woman who I hope will one day be my partner, but wasn't yet, and it was one of those rare days where I just got to be myself and-someone took pictures of it, put them on the web, and turned it into … something illicit. Like we were doing something worth commenting on, at all. And maybe-maybe there's something joke-worthy inherent to two adult women playing miniature golf together, but... it wasn't for them. It wasn't for them, and they took it and made it theirs."

She glances up at Adam, when she's done, and he looks back at her without offering a smile, which is good. It's not a good thing. It's not something that gets better just because someone grins at her, or promises her it will go away, or they can bury it. None of those things change the basic truth about her life, which is that it's only partially her own.

"Are you out?" Emily asks. It figures, that the only non-celebrity in the room would ask; it's not her that's famous, it's her father, and she's here because it's tearing her family apart one painkiller at the time.

Rachel shakes her head. "Nope."

Robert, a San Francisco-based civil rights attorney who made a boatload of headlines after his affair with one of the ADAs, takes a deep breath. "You know what? I spend half my time hating them for what they did to us-how they dragged my name through the mud, even though there was nothing unethical going on between myself and Jeremy, because he distanced himself from every case I argued and just happened to work some place-but then... there's the part of me that's just so fucking relieved, that I'm done pretending to be something I'm not."

He gives her a look, and says, "I'm not saying I'd do it all exactly the same way, but-"

That's a reference to his naked ass appearing on the front pages of most newspapers in the last twelve months, and everyone laughs softly, until Michelle clears her throat and says, "Other than angry, Rachel, how did it make you feel?"

She thinks back on that morning, finding those pictures, and realizing that Quinn was going to slip away from her.

"Like there just isn't any way for me to have a normal life anymore. And... like I really have no idea what I want more, anymore. The-career, or..."

"A job's a job," Adam says, softly. "There's a reason people retire from work, but they don't tend to retire from love."

Everyone looks at him for a moment, and then he straightens slowly and says, "Excuse me; I need to go write those potential lyrics down right now, before I forget about them."

They all chuckle at him, a little, but the look he gives Rachel before taking a sip of his coffee-still decaf, and still torturous-is one that she recognizes.

I joke because it hurts too much to do anything else.

She has twenty-seven pictures saved to the Q folder on her laptop that fall under that banner.

RGB & FR,

I don't believe in fate. I think that what happened in Vegas is one of the strangest accumulations of unpredictable events I've ever experienced, but everything beyond that has been our choice. I haven't read Unbearable Lightness in years, but suffice it to say that I like the idea of being in control of my own future, and guiding it towards something, rather than being pulled there against my will. Not sure if that's worse or better, but it's what it is.

I have to be honest, and the idea of you without music is one that I can barely process at all, but-maybe it's just a question of it not being the same music it's always been. When I say 80s, by the way, I don't mean Belinda Carlisle; shortly after moving to Vegas I very much gravitated towards 80s new wave, but the UK stuff. I still listen to a lot of the Smiths and Morrissey-not a sign of depression, more of an appreciation of irony-and, well, you've heard my 'work' music. It's a lot of electronica, but firmly rooted in sort of mid-80s traditions of say, Kraftwerk and even stuff like Bauhaus, which then paved the way for industrial rock like Nine Inch Nails and-

I can't believe I'm now vaguely attempting to educate you about music. I'm going to stop, because it's weirding me out. Nicole says hi, btw, and wanted to know how you're doing. I've told her you're well because I think it's true, but you're welcome to amend as needed. Are you well? It's silly with how much we talk around the Dr. Quinn/RGB issues, we haven't really addressed that yet. Sorry I didn't warn you about the no coffee rule, by the way; it was a deliberate oversight because I know about your contract. ;)

Really though-are you well?

I think Carl Jung might be in heat. This is problematic, as he is definitely a boy cat. Stay tuned for progress...

The Mighty Dr-Friend Quinn

Day 5

Leaving the house with Tony. Scale 1-10 - eight. Want Xanax. Can't have Xanax. Am allowed Paxil. Taken off Propanolol. Asked for coffee as a reward if I made it through. Was told not to be childish. Had a panic attack as soon as parked outside of incredibly busy McDonald's. Didn't even set foot inside, last about ten minutes, finally just stopped. No intervention need so at least I didn't get stabbed in the ass with a dart. Things learned from experience: I fucking hate McDonald's.

Joel stares at her, and she stares back.

"You didn't tell me you were in a relationship," he finally says.

"I'm not."

"Michelle said something about-"

"I'm not," she repeats, and then laughs wryly. "Jesus, Joel, look at me. Would you want to date me? Do I look like I'm ready to date someone?"

"Ah, a philosophical quandary for the ages," Joel says, folding his hands together under his chin. "Are any of us ready to date anyone?"

"I'd say most of us are more ready than I am, given that I spent twenty minutes hyperventilating in a car in a McDonald's parking lot yesterday," she says, pulling her legs up to her chest and resting her chin on them.

He gives her a look that slowly turns skeptical. "Rachel, what the fuckity fuck does that have to do with your ability to be in a relationship?"

She smiles after a second. "Okay, the truth?"

"Preferably."

"I'm hopelessly in love. I'm-every morning when I wake up, she's the first thing I think about, and she's the last thing I think about when I go to bed. I sometimes wander out to the beach at night, and just sit in the sand for a while and think about how she reminds me of the ocean. It's a crush, but it's so much more than that. She's such a-person, you know?"

Joel smiles back at her. "That's a lot of fondness for someone you're not dating. I mean, you'd think this was causing you some pain, the whole-we're not together thing."

"It is. When-God, you people give me way too much down time. I sit around and try to read a book, and can't stop thinking about the day we got caught. What we could've done different, because it would've given me another six days with her." She looks away from him after a moment, and then says, "And that's why I'm not with her. Because I can't talk about her like I'm not-some addict, and she's my latest fix."

"Does the idea of needing someone scare you?" Joel asks.

She hesitates, because the yes is instinctive, but-she's not Quinn. "No. Not inherently. But it does when-there isn't anything else but that need. Where everything else is … basically fucking awful, and then she's there, like some ray of sunshine. I ... things shouldn't be like that."

"So what's the ideal, here?" Joel asks.

She's used to him not giving her clear answers, to anything she warbles about, by now, and so she just looks out the window-distantly seeing hints of blue, there-and then says, "That... I get better. That I get independent enough to be able to need her just because-she supplements my life. Because my life is better with her in it. But without her being my life."

"That's pretty deep," Joel tells her, and she laughs at him before sticking up her middle finger. He chuckles and says, "No, really. I mean, you're completely incapable of delving into your own personal history, and the tipping point there that turned music from … the thing that you lived and dreamed for into something that just pains you, but apparently you're fine talking about her."

Rachel smiles a little and shrugs. "She's a psychologist. It's hard not to-analyse."

"Ah," Joel says, knowingly, and then gives her a probing look. "Let's go back to senior year. Your grades were good."

"Yes. I had my best friend check my transcripts and my lowest mark was an A- in Contemporary American Scriptwriting, which I didn't do well in because it coincided with my first call-back for Les Mis," she says.

"Were you happy?" Joel asks.

"Busy, but-I don't know. I guess I was."

"You guess?"

She sighs and rubs at her face. "How many times are you going to make me-"

"Until you tell me something different. This Funny Girl shit, Rachel, it might seem like it's nothing or like you just outgrew the DVD or whatever-but people don't give up on something that motivates them for years on end without reason. Were you seeing anyone?"

She hesitates. "No. I had a few-dates."

"With men? Women?"

"Both," she says, glancing at him.

"And you were out, at this point, right? To your friends?"

"Some of them knew. I had kind of a hysterical moment two years prior where I told a few of them, at a party."

"Were you out to your parents?"

"No," she says, and then mashes her lips together. "They didn't find out I was gay until about a week ago."

"But this was before the beard came along," Joel says, leaning forward.

"Yes."

"And the women you were seeing-did your friends know about them?"

She shakes her head after a moment. "There wasn't any point."

"Why not?"

"Well, they were hardly going to stick around if I did get Les Mis-" she starts saying, and then stops.

"Because your manager told you to keep your sexuality to yourself?"

She stares out the window, and then feels a wave of sick rise up in her throat, without warning. "No. I didn't-Kurt didn't start managing me until after Les Mis. And my other manager, Louise-she never knew."

"So nobody told you that you couldn't be out, at this point," Joel says, softly. "And yet-you kept your relationships a secret."

"They weren't relationships."

"Right, but you just said that they weren't because there was no point."

She stares at him for a long moment, and then swallows hard. "So what. You're saying I did this to myself?"

"Did what?" Joel asks, placidly.

"Like-I stopped watching Funny Girl because I … I don't know, didn't want people knowing I was gay? How does that even make sense?"

"What's Funny Girl about?"

She stares at him mutely, and he smiles after a moment.

"I'm not saying this is what caused it. I'm just saying, that movie was a big part of your life. And then suddenly, it wasn't anymore. The only thing that seems to have changed is you getting closer and closer to getting Les Mis, and more and more alone because of it."

"Yeah. Not because I was afraid of being out. Because I was afraid of leaving my house."

"What's it about, Rachel? The movie?"

"A failed relationship," she says, tersely. "I see what you're doing, by the way, and this psychoanalytical bullshit won't-"

"Do you relate to Fanny or to Nick?"

She rolls her eyes. "What kind of question is that? Fanny, obviously-she got a career that most people would only dream of and a turbulent, dramatic romance that is worthy of cinematic depiction-"

"-and still ended up alone, somehow," Joel says.

The room is deadly silent for a very long time, and then Joel runs a hand through his hair, wild as ever, and says, "I think you've earned your iPod back."

"I don't-" she starts saying, and he holds up a hand to stop her.

"We've emptied it. And you can access our music cloud when you use your laptop tonight. Try something else. Put something on it that relates to how you feel right now. Not what you would've listened to as a teenager, and not what you would've listened to as a college student, or what you think you should be listening to, right now. You're a singer. Find yourself a new song, okay?"

… like it's that easy.

Like, if I could self-motivate my way into being in love with music again, I wouldn't have done so ages ago.

I hate your profession, right now. I'm sorry if I can't sugar coat it any better than that. And no, I don't believe in fate, either, because I wasn't destined to be this colossal of a fucking mess; nobody saw this in my future in high school, I can tell you that much.

I'm sorry. This email is bitter, and angry, and I promise it's not directed at you, and maybe you should just tell me about your pregnant man-cat some more because honestly, without reminders that there is life outside of these four walls, I don't even know what I'm doing it for anymore. They are trying to just make me feel like shit about everything. I'm too weak to go to McDonald's, and I'm too weak to deal with the fact that I'm famous, and I'm apparently a defeatist coward who concluded years ago that she'd never have it all and basically just stopped trying.

I don't know what you see in me, sometimes. And sometimes, I honestly think that if not for the fact that you're so fucked up as well, you would look at me and just laugh, the way you used to in high school. Move it along, Treasure Trail. Some of us live in the real world, where life sometimes sucks and we can deal with it.

Maybe I need someone to give me that kind of talking to. You think you're still up for it?

Tomorrow, I intend to go to group and proclaim my newly regained empty iPod a metaphor for my entire existence. I think my friend the singer will laugh at me, and maybe offer to co-write a song, or something. Maybe that's the ticket. Just not doing it all on my own anymore.

I don't know.

Tell Nicole I'm well. I don't need her worrying about me, and on a scale of 1-10, today is only a five, if you can believe that, so...

Sorry. I know this is a lot, for a friend, and I'm sorry. But it's this or nothing right now. And we've never not been honest, so I don't see why I'd start now. I hope you're doing better than well, though, and that your submission is almost done and that-I don't know. Are you doing anything fun afterwards? You should. You've earned it.

x

Rachel, Not Feeling Like She's Getting Better + your friend Rachel (in spirit)

Chapter Text

Week 2

Tony looks up from her diary and says, "Okay."

"Okay?"

"Yeah, okay. I mean-this is it. This is at the heart of what we're dealing with here. You're basically telling me that your problem is that you feel like you're destined to fail."

She stares at him, and tries not to think about Quinn and what that means, but-for fuck's sake, it's therapy. She's supposed to be working on making herself better, not denying more things.

"The idea of being-not good enough actually turns me on," she says, after a moment. It's awkward, and Tony raises his eyebrows at her, and then laughs a little sheepishly.

"Rachel, that's very different. I'll-okay, would you prefer to talk to Joel about this?"

She makes a face. "He's old enough to be my father. I'd prefer not to talk about this at all-"

Tony chuckles and rubs at his eyes. "Okay, that's fine. Well, no, not talking about it is not fine, but-sexual gratification and panic are two very distinct feelings, okay? They might present with similar emotional states but my God, the fact that you like-what, working for it in the sack?"

She blushes furiously. "Being... made to work for it."

"Sure. But the overall goal there is-eventually being good enough, right?"

She nods, after a moment. "Yeah. It's-the pay-off."

"Okay, so … this is different, because-in bed, I'm assuming that-your partners guide you to that pay-off. You overcome." Tony hesitates, and then raises her journal again. "I'm not seeing overcoming in your life right now, Rachel. You're stuck in this incredibly pessimistic cycle of-I would leave the house, but I'm going to have an attack, and I could try to have dinner with people but I'm just going to have an attack. I mean, what you wrote here-nothing I ever do is good enough to make this stop anyway-if that is what you wake up with, in your head, your day is done before it even starts."

She feels her eyes water a little and then says, "Yeah, so I've noticed."

"But it doesn't have to be like this. Thoughts are-okay, if you think of them like baseballs, flying at your head. … are you into sports?" he asks, after a second.

She laughs. "No, but … my best friend is. Puck and I watch them all the time. I know what baseball is."

"Okay, well, what you're currently doing is standing there and literally letting your life just sock you in the face, one after another. Like you're up against some pitcher with an arm that never tires and you're basically sitting down and saying, the only thing that's going to make him miss is this bottle of Xanax here."

She stays silent, and Tony glances at her journal again before putting it down on the table and closing it.

"The thing is, Rachel, you can catch those balls before they actually nail you. It's just a question of rerouting them, so if you well, mentally training your arm to swoop upwards and reach for them before they can impact. Okay?"

She sighs after a moment. "Yeah, okay. I mean, you make it all sound like it's just-a question of flicking a switch, or something, but-"

"No, it isn't. But it's... something we're going to untangle, one step at a time. So-let's start with breakfast, this morning. You felt anxious when you went into the room, and said it was because you thought people would be judging you."

She nods.

"Did they actually judge you?"

She shrugs and makes a face. "I don't know, I didn't stand around taking a survey."

He gives her a look, and she mumbles an apology.

"Get outside of your own head for a moment. Think about-what other people perceive you as. You're-a beautiful woman, Rachel. You're talented, you're accomplished-your smile lights up rooms."

She sort of rolls her eyes. "Oh, Tony; you're married, and I'm gay, but otherwise this could be the start of something beautiful."

He says, "That-right there. What did you just do?"

She looks up and shrugs. "I made a joke?"

"Yes, why? Did I say something funny?"

She hesitates. "I don't know, you were-"

"Honest?"

She sighs again. "Yeah, maybe. I don't know. I mean, that's not-"

"Do you really think that's not how people see you? As-someone to look up to?"

"Well, God, I really hope I'm not being used as a role model because-"

"Because what? Because you're here right now, talking through some very understandable problems that are in no way something you're to blame for?"

She falls silent, and Tony just looks at her for a long moment.

"What are people actually thinking when you go into the dining room in the morning?"

She takes a deep breath. "I don't know. Probably-that the coffee tastes like shit and that decaf is terrible, and they're really tired of eating muesli."

"Just like you."

"Yeah," she says, unable to stop from sounding annoyed. "I mean, is that what you want to hear?"

"No. There is nothing here that I want to hear," he says, mildly. "This is about you, and what you need to hear. If you focus on that thought, about shitty coffee and how much you hate muesli, right now-and it's not self-deception, okay? It's a more realistic interpretation of the situation you find yourself in. Because, I mean, especially here, Rachel-you're not anyone. You're just Rachel. People might glance at you for a second, but they're not sitting there, waiting to tear you apart."

"What about out there, though?" she asks, after a second.

He gives her an encouraging smile. "How about you cope with breakfast first, and then we can start thinking about how to handle the vultures, huh?"

Will you hurt me if I tell you that you sound like you're actually making great leaps in terms of your own understanding of your problems, right now?

Things I will happily do for you:

- provide information on the outside world (the weather is godawful right now, it shouldn't be this hot in September)

- distract you in whatever way I can (my cat now thinks it's a pregnant male)

- tell you to not give yourself new, additional issues by wondering if I'm even attracted to you because, hello, Rachel, I can't possibly comment on this in a way that would be either friendly or professional but you DO remember sleeping with me, right? :)

Things I will not do for you:

- pretend that this is all magically going to get better

- tell you that you're a failure somehow (because you aren't, and take it from someone who came very close to failing for a very long time)

- revert to high school Quinn who couldn't cope with her extremely positive feelings for exactly the wrong person, because … I've been dealing with her a lot lately, on Thursdays, and she's exactly as unpleasant and unhappy as I remember her being and she has no business being near you, talking to you, or even existing onward in your mind. I was awful, back then. Awful, lonely, and completely incapable of doing what was good for me, and I can never apologize enough for how much of a price you paid for that, but I will spend the rest of our friendship making up for it, if I can.

On that note, may I have an address that I can send a small gift to? (I mean small. I also mean gift. Don't send anything back to even the score.) I don't mean the facility but when you're released. Part of after-care is having significant things going on that stop you from going back to the negative places you were stuck in before, and given that you struggle to define your hobbies, I'm here to tell you that I'm going to give you a few whether you want them or not. Nothing to do with singing, I promise.

Speaking of singing, I thought about I Feel Pretty/Unpretty the other day. Thank you (again) for not drowning me out completely. I think I understand now why you didn't, in a way I never could have back then-but allow me to say something that I should have said back then, and couldn't for more reasons I can articulate: you really did not need that nose job. Your nose is lovely just the way it is.

Q, Mighty or Otherwise

She spends two hours, and then another two hours, and then another two hours browsing through the iTunes cloud that the facility has set up.

Genre-wise, they cover everything. There is music present she's never heard of, and music she hasn't heard in years, and singles released last month. It's as if part of the insane sum of money she's paying them is being used just for this, but-

It doesn't change that she's wholly uninspired, by all of it.

She takes the empty iPod and wanders out to the beach, and then hears the soft strumming of a guitar coming from about twenty feet to the left.

Adam is sitting underneath a palm tree, his hat slanted on his head, and she sits down next to him after he gives her a small nod. She knows, from her own past, that music is almost a religious experience for people who really connect with it, and there is a lot of trust implicit in the fact that he's letting her sit here while he-well, fiddles. He's not really playing. He's fiddling.

"How come you don't sing?" he finally asks, his fingers still moving along the frets and softly plucking. "I had a look around on iTunes and I found um, the score to that musical you did and like, damn, girl."

She smiles faintly and then shrugs. "I just-haven't felt like it. In a long time."

He nods, and clamps his hand down over the strings and then says, "It took me … almost two weeks, of being here, to finally actually play something real again. Couldn't play my own songs. Couldn't play anyone else's either. Nobody knew what was going on with me, you see. And the songs just didn't fit."

"What changed?" she asks, the waves lapping onto the shore and distracting her from how anxious (seven out of ten) this conversation is making her. There is nobody watching her; she's fine. It's just Adam. It's just the beach.

"Not sure I can say," he says, chewing on the pick he's got in his mouth for a moment. "I guess I just figured if nobody's written the right song yet to suit me, I better write it myself."

She looks out into the distance, and then says, "I don't write my own music. I mean, I'm completely reliant on other people's songs fitting, and-they just don't seem to. Whatever I am now, it's not something I've been before. And I don't know what the right music is."

"What's your best memory of singing?" he asks, after a moment.

When she looks over, he's tracing his fingers over the side of his guitar, and then gives her a small smile. "My best memory of song-writing is-back before I broke through. My girl, Shelly, used to come over to my house and study, and I'd watch her and play the guitar-nothing real, really, but just whatever I wanted to while watching her. She'd be doing-I don't know, whatever architects do, and I'd just be doing what did, if you know what I mean. And sometimes she'd look up, and-yeah. It all just clicked."

Rachel can almost picture it, the way he describes it, and then says, "... Nationals. Glee club Nationals."

Adam smiles faintly. "What'd you sing?"

"It's three songs. There's a solo, which I did with-well, My Man, which is the seminal closing number from my favorite musical. I had to fight for it, but finally persuaded everyone it was the right choice. Then there is a duet, which I sang with... my then ex-boyfriend, and there was a group number. God. We did Paradise by the Dashboard Light, and-"

"There. That, right there," Adam says, pointing at her with the pick. "The look on your face just now."

"What, about my solo?"

"No. The group number," he says. "The Meatloaf song. Was that the winning ticket?"

Rachel laughs after a second. "Oh, Jesus, it was a disaster. We pulled it out of the hat at the very last minute. It was nice, though-there are so many changes in that song that-everyone got a turn to sing, and-"

She finds herself trailing off, at the memory of Tina and Mike singing the bridge at each other and then Mike and Brittany dancing for a moment while Finn and Puck swayed arm in arm at the side of the stage, off into the chorus again-and she remembers Quinn, laughing with Santana about Brittany and Mike's antics before providing the harmonies again. She barely had had two lines of a solo in the song, and had spent most of it being twirled around stage by Kurt, and the entire thing had been manic and insane and-

"They were my family," she says, after a long silence, and then looks at Adam, who just nods.

"Drifted apart since then?"

"No," she says, carefully, and then bites her lip. "We just-don't sing together anymore."

Adam is silent for a moment, and then picks out a quick rhythm on his guitar, before looking at her with a soft smile. "Well, I know I'm not your family or anything, but-I am another voice. You want to see if maybe-we can sing something together?"

She puts the empty iPod down on the sand, next to her, and then says, "I-country isn't really my thing."

"Broadway isn't really my thing. Maybe we can compromise," he says, and then glances at his guitar carefully, before starting to strum softly and then adding in a chorus of soft woah-woahs that-

Yeah.

She knows the song, and feels her diaphragm open to the notes almost as soon as he looks at her and winks.

Hi Noah,

I sang a Kings of Leon song with an incredibly famous country singer today. :)

How are my cats?

Rach

...

Joel laughs at her when she walks in and announces, "I've had a breakthrough."

"Well, great, why I don't I just go home then-"

"No, seriously though," she says, before sitting down and looking at him pointedly. "I don't like singing anymore because it's not something I do with people I love anymore. It's what keeps me from them. When I was... a child, I used to always sing with either my dad or my daddy. I'd compete solo, sure, but-they were there, you know? For the entire process, commenting on it and sometimes helping me with the harmonies-not that I ever needed help, because I have perfect pitch, but still."

"Okay," Joel says, still looking very amused.

"And-then when I got older, I sang with my best friend, Tina, or with my other best friend, Puck, who played the guitar. We'd do stuff together. I started making these silly MySpace recordings for potential talent scouts, but all of those were just a culmination of things we'd done as a group."

She smiles after a second and then says, "And then-okay, you know, I could have had the lead in the school musical, in sophomore year. But I declined it, because I missed being a part of the show choir. I missed-having friends. They weren't really, then, but they were people who maybe could understand me, some day. And by the time we graduated, most of us were friends, even if they still thought I was a spotlight hog and-well, it wasn't always gravy, but-"

Joel holds up his hand after a second, like he's in school and asking a question, and she pauses and looks at him. "What?"

"If singing to you is something you love to do as a group activity, why the hell are you a solo artist?"

She blinks, and then says, "Because I also want to be the best at it. I mean, Tina and Puck are my friends, but they probably wouldn't be if they were more talented."

"So you want to surround yourself with supportive back-up singers. Forgive me for being an idiot, Rachel, but surely you can pay people to do that?" Joel asks.

"Well, it's not the same, because-I don't know my back-up singers. This Vegas thing I just did, they were just three girls. They didn't even audition with me. Back in high school, I performed with my friends. It didn't matter that-well, it did matter that some of them had serious pitch problems, but-the reality of it is that-"

Joel smile sat her after a second. "Can we maybe flip this on its head, and say that you don't sing anymore because you're lonely?"

She looks at him for a long moment. "Isn't that what I said?"

"Nope. You said you weren't singing anymore because you were alone, which is bullshit, because you like being the best. There is no we in diva, Rachel."

She frowns, and then sinks into the chair and stares at him. "Damn it, I really thought-"

"Well, of course that was a breakthrough, but it's not the one you think it is."

She thinks hard, for a moment, and then says, "I don't sing anymore because I'm lonely. Singing just reminds me of the people that I used to let into my life, and now don't."

"There we go," Joel says, and smiles at her. "Good. Now what?"

"What do you mean, now what? You're the therapist."

"Did you find music to put on your iPod?"

She sighs. "No. Not really."

"All right. So we're back to that. And, I mean, I guess it's time to talk about your career and your private life, in a lot more detail, now that we've figured out why you don't sing anymore. I mean, we have to find you a song, and then we have to find a way to let you sing it, right?"

"Oh, well, if that's all," she says, rolling her eyes.

He smiles at her, and says, "How do you feel about painting?"

Q,

I painted a horse today. It was awful. I would've taken a picture but I had already shredded it by the time I got my phone today so, never mind. Let's just say, Artist Rachel will not spring forth from this experience.

Your present - send it to my parents' place? Be sure to address it as being from Lucy something or other. Probably best to not put Fabray on there, either. My fathers are very forgiving, but you probably will need to say something to them if and when, you know, you ever encounter them in any capacity.

I miss my cats, and my bed. This bed is fine, don't get me wrong, but I love my bed at home. I'm not trying to turn this into a dirty conversation for the record, it's just very comfortable.

I'm still trying to figure out what music suits-well, current me. It's not easy. Any time I get to spend alone is still very much full of the jitters, even though-Tony has been slowly helping me come up with some ways to redirect my thoughts. He also thinks I might have adult ADHD, which would probably explain a few things, but as I function fine he doesn't seem to think I need further medication. I'm down to the Paxil, for now. And I'm not actually doing any worse than I was before, so far, so... I don't know. I know I will always be on some medication, and I'm fairly sure that the Propanolol will be given back to me as a 'stage fright' coping mechanism if I decide to ever go on stage again, which... yeah. I really don't know, right now, if I want to or not.

It's funny, that you're thinking so much about Glee these days. So am I. In particular, I remember a particular performance of Go Your Own Way... I might get Famous Rock Star to play that for me later today, because God knows I sang it at the wrong person all those years ago. :)

Before I forget, also, Nicole alluded to a 'theme song' over lunch that one time. Can I perhaps barter that for the third cat name?

R

They all agree that LA is by and far the worst place on earth to be.

At least in New York, the photographers sleep and sometimes have other things to focus on-politics, mostly, and the police, but still.

Steven notes that FAO Schwarz aside, he has it okay. "I live outside of the city and just commute in for daily tapings, and I mean, in my hometown, I'm a completely average Joe. So it's moments, but when they hit, they hit hard, you know?"

Rachel nods. "Yeah. It's no different for me, and frankly, it got worse after my stint on Cardiac Arrest, which-"

"Oh, God, I loved that storyline-when you died of cancer, I was so sad," Emily tells her, with an appropriately sympathetic look. Like Rachel actually died in the world, and not just on primetime TV.

Rachel chuckles and says, "Thanks."

Adam smiles and says, "I think I might move. Leave Nashville; head closer to home again. I mean, I get recognized in most of the Southern states, but I feel like people in Austin would care less than people, you know, in Nash."

Michelle looks around the circle and says, "You do all realize that there is nothing wrong with taking steps to protect yourself, and your private life, right? It's not failure to move out of a city, and try to get some privacy. That's very human."

Emily exhales softly and then says, "I've considered like, shaving my hair off. Or wearing wigs everywhere, or something."

"Sunglasses. Can't leave the house without them," Robert says, with a small smile. "It helps that I live somewhere where it's normal to wear them; I don't know what to say about New York, but-"

"Oh, rain or shine, it's also normal to wear them there," Steven says, with a small wink at Rachel. "That's her people, though, not mine."

"It's true. If Anna Wintour does it, it's fashionable," Rachel says, before crossing her legs and-God help her, the taste of the decaf is actually starting to get vaguely comforting.

"If all of you had to choose right now, between your life or your career, what would you choose?"

"Life," Robert says, immediately.

Steven makes a face, and then just sighs. "Miriam and the boys. Are you kidding? That's no contest."

Adam nods after a moment. "Yeah. I mean, I can play guitar for myself, if I need to. What I can't do is-you know. Also be my own friends, or my own girlfriend. That's-you need other people, you know?"

Emily chews on her gum, loudly, and then says, "I mean, I hate what my dad's career has done to all of us, but he's still my dad. I guess I'd rather you know, shave my head and keep him than-get rid of him altogether."

That leaves them all staring at Rachel, who opens her mouth; closes it; and then opens it again, and says, "Yeah. My life. My-cats, and my friends, and-"

"So, that's unanimous. The fame isn't worth everything to any of you," Michelle says, when she trails off, before she can throw Quinn into that mix, or wonder how her parents fit into it, now that she's an adult. "So what does that tell you?"

"That we fit our jobs around our lives. Not the other way around," Robert says, after a long moment, and relaxes into his seat. "Yeah. That-well. That sounds very obvious, and simple."

"It's probably not that easy," Michelle concedes, as her egg timer goes off. "But it's a starting point for further steps, wouldn't you say?"

Hi Tee,

I'm well, thanks. I wouldn't say that I'm cured or anything, but I'm starting to be able to hear myself think again, which is a really nice change after years of just receiving static.

I'm wondering if you can-maybe start doing some preliminary research for me, on how far out of the city I can live while still being within say, fair commuting distance (taking rush hour into account) into the city.

I'd ask Puck, but he'll tell Kurt and-I'm not ready to deal with Kurt just yet, so-can you maybe just get me some preliminary ideas? I don't know where I'm taking this, honestly. I just want to know what my options are.

x

Rach

She looks up from her lap after a long moment, and watches the queue inside of the McDonald's. It's-twenty people, at each till. This place is insanely busy. There isn't any seating inside, and the car park is nearly full.

Next to her, Tony staring her a little, before looking away and also looking at the McDonald's.

"Thoughts?" he finally asks.

"I can't-do this," she says, haggardly. "I-there are so many people there and-"

"Yes, there are. What are they there for?"

"Junk food."

"Okay. Are they there for you?"

"No," she concedes, and it slows her heart rate for a few seconds, until she sees another car park and it climbs again. "But they're still there. They'll recognize me."

"They might," Tony concedes. "What then?"

"Then-they'll approach me."

"Okay. How does the idea of them approaching you make you feel?"

She actually has to gulp in air at that point, and grabs at the handle on the inside of the car door frantically.

Tony says, "That's okay, Rachel. Remember, we're still in the car; they're not seeing us. They're far away. Come back to here, and just think about it for a moment. Imagine you are in that queue right now, and the person in front of you turns around and says, oh, hi, you're Rachel Berry. What then?"

"I have to leave," she says, the words squirming out of her throat. "I have to leave because-they-"

"What do you think a person wants from you, when they do that?"

The question stops her in her tracks, and she stares at him, even though her lungs are still protesting everything and-she stares at him, and stares at him some more, and then finally feels her chest relax.

"I don't know. An autograph?"

"Okay. Can you sign one of those?"

She sighs and shakes her head. "Here? Now? Sure. But in there-"

"What about if I went and got someone from that queue, and brought them out here? Could you sign something for them, then?"

"Yeah, of course," she says. "I'm afraid of crowds, not signatures."

"Yes, you're right," Tony says, amiably, tapping his fingers against the steering wheel. "You're afraid of-one person, in front of you, with many behind them. What can you do to stop that from becoming an issue?"

She looks at him, frustrated, and says, "Tell everyone else to fuck off and get out of my face?"

"Christ, girl, you are a New Yorker at heart, aren't you," he says, and after a second she chuckles at him.

"Sorry."

"No, that's fine. Because-your anger is a much more natural reaction to all of this than not feeling anything at all. You're right, you know. People will recognize you, and they will get in your space, and you'll probably be frustrated. So what then?"

"I can't just-storm out. I'm not a teenager anymore."

"No. But you know what you can do?" Tony says, raising his eyebrows at her.

"Obviously not, or I wouldn't-"

"I need you to go get me a McFlurry, right now, or I'll die. What do you do, Rachel?"

She scoffs. "Nobody needs a McFlurry that badly."

"do. So will you get me one?"

"No. Because there is a crowd in there and it's-"

"Okay, so you don't want to. But can you?"

She glares at him. "I don't know. I don't-"

"What if you don't get recognized?"

She looks out the window at the McDonald's again, and her heart rate slows a little. "That's-"

"Is it different?"

"Yes," she says, and closes her eyes. "Yes. If I don't get recognized, it's-I don't know. Then it's just a crowd. Not a crowd of people who... want something from me."

"Okay. So let's focus on just the crowd," Tony says, and then reaches behind him and brings up a wig. "I'm still dying here, Rachel, so-are you going to go get me my McFlurry or not?"

She looks at the wig for a long moment, and then sighs and looks at Tony. "I don't get what you're doing. This is-you're telling me to basically act my way through this. Do you have any idea what my stage shows are like? I can obviously handle people in my presence if I'm acting, and on the right amount of medication. How is that going to help me in my day to day life?"

Tony slowly smiles at her. "Think about what you just said."

She looks back at the McDonald's, and then says, "... I thought the whole point of-doing this was for me to get better at coping with my life as it is."

"Yes. And if the idea of you playing a role, if you will-Rachel Berry, the Celebrity... if that's what gets you through a crowd, or at least in a place where you could accidentally end up in one without having a panic attack-how is that not you coping?"

She sighs, and reaches for the wig, and then says, "This is really not my color."

"I know, but that's the point," Tony says, and watches as she takes another three deep breaths and then opens the car door.

Less than a minute later, she's back, and her heart won't stop almost beating out of her chest and she actually almost asks him to just knock her out because it hurts that much to breathe-and he just sits there and says, "How far did you open that door?"

"About three inches," she manages, after about ten minutes.

"How far would you have opened it a month ago?"

She closes her eyes, willing her eyes to stop watering and her chest to stop painfully heaving, and then says, "I take your point. That doesn't make this any more pleasant."

He pats her on the shoulder, grasping it gently, and then says, "We're not dealing with McDonald's here, Rachel. This is Rome, and it wasn't-"

"Yes, I know," she says, putting her hand over her heart and staring back at the McDonald's.

Her arch-nemesis. A fucking fast food chain she wouldn't ever even eat at. Something she can't conquer.

Yet?

It didn't kill her. There's probably some adage here about how it will make her stronger, or something, as soon as she's done feeling like she's going to faint.

Hi Rach,

For RGB, from a fellow patient: Before I forget-yes, I'm doing fine, thank you for asking. It's not... ugh. I don't have to tell you this, but wading through times I'd rather forget is not fun, but according to my therapist, I'm actually doing okay. Anyway, you know how I am with compartmentalization so as long as it's not a Thursday, I do okay at not thinking about it too much, and that makes it bearable.

For FR: Theme song - yes, we all have one. I probably should have explained this myself, but you don't start out back at a place like R. My first job was on the pole, just like everyone else-and once you get that kind of definition you can't let it go without going flabby, hence why I'm still "so unbelievably strong", I think your words were-and as your initiation to the profession, if you will, you pick your own song. At the time when I started dancing, I was in love with this Canadian band called Purity Ring. Has to be heard, not described. If you can't access their stuff on your cloud, let me know and I'll forward you best-of.

I was flipping through the channels last night and saw some Barbra Streisand movie and thought of you. I mean, I didn't watch it, but the thought counts, right?

Anyway, I've discovered what's wrong with Carl Jung - according to the vet, he's lonely. You'd think that being the sole recipient of my petting night after night would satisfy the urge, but apparently cross-species attention is not sufficient, and he's in need of a 'mate', which is why he's been a complete pest lately-sitting everywhere my hands are etc. I'm not sure I want a second cat, because this one destroys enough curtains as it is, but at the same time, I accept that I am a parent and must behave in his best interest. What to do, what to do...

Cat name please!

Q.

The combination of Purity Ring, the band-which, Quinn is quite right, cannot be described, but after about twenty seconds of hearing incredibly layered, swirling, and contradictory music patterns blend together seamlessly, Rachel gets stuck in a loop that is just this is so fucking weird and this is so Quinn-and an email that references Quinn's petting, exclusive to a cat right now-

For the first time in about three weeks, she feels faintly turned on, and it's so much sharper, now. Even without Quinn there, she feels the hair on her arms stand on end like it's alive separate from herself, and it makes her crave-well.

More, but like this. No alcohol, no Xanax, no pretending.

It's the first time in three years she's craved being sober, as opposed to high out of her fucking mind.

Her anxiety level sinks to what she'd call a one, just for a little while, and she sleeps like a child.

Day 13

Breakfast: anxiety at 3, remembered that everyone is just there to eat. Ate with Adam and Rob, had a nice time.

CBT: anxiety at 7, remembered that Tony was not there to judge me when he said he was not there to judge me. Felt dizzy and unwell for ten minutes until he indicated that we would not be going back to McDonald's today. Not sure if this is progress or just retreat. Did not feel like taking a pill, however. Just felt like being silent and alone for a while.

Lunch: anxiety at 5. Ate alone in room. Down to about 2 afterwards.

Group: anxiety at 2 still. Feel like surrounded by group of friends and allies, no longer threatening. Emily and Adam are leaving soon, slightly sad about that but not anxious. Had to talk about doing talk shows and red carpets today and admitted I haven't been on one in three years without having taken x quantity of pills. Considered whether they were a job requirement. Difficult to say.

Down time: anxiety at 4 after group. Listened to iPod, calmed a little. Sang a few Ryan Adams songs with Adam. Anxiety almost entirely gone because just the two of us out on the beach. Considered hermit-like existence. :)

Dinner: anxiety at around 4. Same as breakfast, ate with Emily, Steve and Adam and Kevin. S. brought up interviews, anxiety increased to about 6, then ebbed again.

Down time: anxiety at around 3. Had to respond to Q and not sure what else to expect. Relaxed with iPod after that. Still around 3.

...

Joel stretches out lazily and tosses her a hacky sack. "You find a song yet?"

She catches it and throws it back, and he tosses it in the air a few times before looking at her. "Not for me, but I've finally found some new music I like."

"Thanks to Quinn?" Joel asks, knowingly.

She sort of blushes and rolls her eyes. "I-I don't know, I mean, is that a terrible thing?"

"No. Experiencing feelings is never a terrible thing unless they're overwhelming," Joel says, with a small smile. "Plus, you and Wakefield have been kicking it-you know you guys draw a crowd, right? We all like to stand around about 20 feet away, because c'mon. Two world class artists, jamming together. This is what the people further down Abbey Road probably felt like."

She laughs, even though the compliment feels sincere and she actually doesn't feel any instinctive need to dismiss it. "Who am I in this situation-John or Paul?"

"The pretty one," Joel says, with a small wink.

They toss the hacky sack back and forth a few times, until he snatches it from the air with purpose again and looks at her. "Tell me about your manager."

"Kurt?" she asks, with a frown. "Kurt-well, calling him my manager isn't entirely accurate, I mean, he's also been my best friend since I was seventeen."

"You have a lot of best friends," Joel notes, dryly. "Do they rank, or-"

"Quinn first, then Puck, then Tina, then..." she says, ticking them off one by one on her fingers, pausing when she realizes she's almost out of a hand when she is about to reach Kurt-and then Brittany and Santana do, actually, come before them.

"Interesting," Joel says, tossing her the hacky sack again.

She plays with it between her fingers for a moment, and then says, "Elaborate?"

"Someone you by your own admission haven't spoken to in eight years ranks much higher than someone you see literally every day," Joel says, wiggling his eyebrows.

She smiles faintly. "Ah."

"What's that about?" he responds, holding out his hand for the toy.

"Quinn and I... It's different. I mean, yes, I trust her with things I wouldn't at this point tell Kurt, but it's because-" she says, and then closes her eyes. "Promise you won't dig into this, because I swear it's not an issue?"

"What isn't?"

"We-like our sex a little on the wild side."

Joel's expression remains very placid. "What, in the BDSM sense?"

"Yes," she says, almost managing to not sound like she's being strangled.

"Okay, well, that explains why she's up on the trust chain," he says, easily enough. "But it doesn't explain why your manager is down so low, when he's been your friend for well over eight years. So. What's the deal, Rachel?"

She throws it back at him, and then rubs at her eyes for a moment. "Kurt is-yeah, you're right. He's an old friend, but he's become my very good manager."

"On board with the whole, let's not be gay thing?"

"Very much so. On a strategic level, anyway. Not on a personal one, given that he's gay himself. But... we're both aware that Hollywood is... not Broadway. I suppose I could've come out there, years ago, even though... you're right, I chose not to, but-that was always with the idea in mind that I'd eventually cross over."

"What is that about?" Joel asks, pulling one of his legs onto his lap and then putting the hacky sack down on the table, between them. "I mean-you're going to have to excuse me, right, because I'm from North Dakota and we don't do a whole lot of musical theater over there that isn't so amateurish it makes angels weep-"

She laughs. "What's your question?"

"Why-would someone with your profile want to go to Hollywood? Singing and acting, right? That's the dream. So-surely you're born to be on the stage?"

She blinks at that description of herself, and then carefully says, "Yes, but-"

"Is it money?"

"No, though I won't say that that's not … well, appealing, on its own," she says, shaking her head. "One blockbuster movie would guarantee that I could retire and live as I do now, and on Broadway that's going to take longer. But-that's a bonus, I guess."

"So not the draw?" Joel asks, and when she shakes her head tentatively, he adds, "What is, then?"

It's asked so blandly, like there is an easy answer somehow, and she realizes after almost five minutes of trying to pull her thoughts of her head like they're strings, somehow, that she only really has one.

"Nobody thinks I can do it."

"So, winning," he says, after a moment, offering her a small smile. "Why can't you do it? You have a Tony, for fuck's sake, and what is it-three Emmy nominations?"

"Two, and for guest stars in comedy and drama, so-those don't really count," she clarifies.

"Yeah, I know, they hand those out like candy," Joel says, rolling his eyes.

She smiles. "You remind me so much of Quinn sometimes, it's uncanny. You don't have any relatives from Lima, do you?"

"Not that I know of, no," he says, and then scratches at his head. "Okay, so, you need to prove to the world that you're an actress."

"No," she says. "I know I'm an actress. But-people think I get by on my voice. That that's what I reduce down to, at the end of the day. I'm not-I'm not pretty enough for conventional female leads. Not in film, anyway."

"Says who?" Joel asks.

"Casting directors. My old manager. Um, … industry polls. God, I can keep going, I've heard it everywhere. Rhinoplasty is a frequent recommendation," she says, shrugging after a moment. "It is what it is. I guess I just … I've always wanted to prove that I could do it."

"To nameless strangers?" Joel asks, tilting his head.

"Why not?"

"I don't know, it's just an unusual motivation. It's normally the people close to us who really make us want to-I don't know. Go that extra mile. Prove we're better than they think we are."

She pauses on that, and then says, "I don't know... what to tell you. My parents have always believed in me, and told me to ignore-"

"Ignore who?"

She takes a deep breath. "Okay, I reject this diagnosis; I have not been focused on Hollywood just because the girls I went to school with all called me ugly at various points in time."

"What girls?"

She rolls her eyes. "Not that it matters, but the cheerleaders."

"Where are they now?"

Rachel laughs weakly and then says, "I hate you."

"That's fine, but it doesn't answer my question."

She sighs. "Promise you won't keep me here for another month if I answer this honestly."

He grins. "We can't keep you here if you don't want to stay anyway, Rachel. You know that."

"One of them is... number four on my list of closest friends, and the other one is … my number one," she says, before shaking her head and biting her lip. "Hence why-"

"Sweet Jesus," Joel says, and then leans forward and stares at her with a disbelieving look. "So, hang on a second - the girl you're in love with also probably gave you a massive complex about your worth and attractiveness a decade ago, during your formative years as it were, you seem to think this has absolutely no lasting effects on say, your life goals or your ongoing existence."

She purses her lips, and then rubs at her temples for a second. "Would you believe me if I tell you that … I don't associate her now with … her then, at all? Not even abstractly? We sometimes talk about it but-it's really so far in the past and removed from who she is now-"

"Sure, I'll believe you. If you tell me that you understand that Hollywood doesn't actually matter, unless it's something you want for you. And not to dangle over her head, as the ultimate, see, I'm good enough for you."

She frowns at that. "You're acting like she's making me do this. Quinn could give a shit if I stay in this industry or not. In some ways, it would be easier for her if I wasn't, actually."

"I'll take that, but only because Quinn isn't the problem here. How Quinn made you think of yourself is," Joel says, calmly. "And you're right. That is probably separate from how you interact with her now. She's changed, physically, I'm assuming? Has divorced herself seriously from the girl you used to know, so you can look at her and not see that same vicious kid who used to tear you down?"

She stays silent, and Joel squeezes the hacky sack for a moment, looking at it.

"I'm-yeah. We'll come back to this, because I think you're capable of working this one out on your own, okay? You're smart. There are some flaws in your reasoning. Figure out what they are; paint me a picture if you have to. But-let's go back to your manager. If you tell him tomorrow that you want to come out, what would he do?"

She thinks about it for a long moment, and then sighs deeply. "I think that as soon as he remembered that he's also my friend, and not just my manager, he'd probably stop yelling and ask me if this was best for me."

Joel smiles knowingly. "What about if you... told him you not only wanted to come out, but you also had no desire to … I don't know, audition for anything, for the next however long?"

"Yeah, that... that wouldn't go down well. Unless it was medically necessary, somehow," she admits.

"How does that make you feel?"

On a scale of one to ten: anxious.

Q,

Memo for Dr. Q: Difficult session today - I don't think I'm ready to talk about it. Don't worry, I'm okay, but-it was about you, and I don't know how to process it just now. I think we have things we need to talk about that I thought we didn't need to talk about, but-it's all too tangled, still. Maybe in time. Okay? So-other than that I'm fine. I can't believe it's already been two full weeks, since I came here. It doesn't feel like I've really gone anywhere, but-I don't know. Maybe it's hard to see the whole picture when you're in a vacuum.

FR: Thank you for the Purity Ring recommendation. It's the first new thing I've heard in ages that I've actually been interested in, and it's not necessarily because the recommendation came from you; I like the contrast of the very thick, dense music to the very airy whisper-like vocals, actually. Not sure I could do that with my voice, but sometimes it's nice for me to listen things that don't immediately make me think of covers I need to/could be making. :)

Third cat, since you earned it: Miffy. Yes, after the rabbit. There are stories here about how a young girl in Ohio with two daddies found more to relate to in androgynous rabbit families than say, most children's stories in which kids had a mom and a dad, but mostly I just have good memories about my dad reading me those books, as opposed to everything else, which was read to me by my daddy. I've always been a daddy's girl (that's Hiram) but my dad (Leroy) and I had Miffy together, and Miffy the cat is pure white with button-y little eyes. It was a given, name-wise.

What was your favorite book, growing up? You don't have to answer if you don't want to-idle curiosity, as there are so many hours of the day here when I'm not technically doing anything but reading and sleeping. Speaking of books-The Blind Assassin has to be one of the most complex but rewarding things I've ever attempted, and I'm glad I'm not on much of anything these days aside from the Paxil- though Tony is considering trying a Xanax alternative on a short-term basis to see if he can get me over the hurdle, aka the McDonald's doorway-because I basically need every neuron I have left firing to get through.

It's hard to remember what's real and what's the fiction within the fiction, in that story. I feel that way about Vegas sometimes, like it was nothing but a daydream that I wrapped around myself. Except then-I remember little things, like you playing the word effigy in the middle of an otherwise very atheistic game of Scrabble, and well. It was real, wasn't it?

It's been a long day. Please get Carl Jung a companion-I know what it's like to be lonely, and don't blame him for clinging to you, but it's better for you both if his love for you is not borne of desperation.

x

R

Chapter Text

Week 3

When she wakes up, a letter has been slipped under the door. It's been signed by both Tony and Joel, and it has a list of names on it.

Most of them she's expecting.

One of them, she was hoping they would somehow-

Well, what, forget about?

She sighs, and picks it up and puts it on her desk, and then trudges off to the cafeteria, where nobody is judging her because nobody can actually see what is going on inside of her head.

Three out of of ten is starting to feel like her baseline comfort level.

That's... a lot more than fifty percent.

Santana,

I don't really know how to put this to you, but I'm just going to be straight forward and ask you to react as the adult that you are, now.

My therapy team has concluded that a lot of my hang-ups in fact drag all the way back to high school, and that events there have led to a series of decisions on my part that I otherwise would not have made, and am probably better off undoing in the coming few months. The key here seems to be how hard I have pushed myself to have a career that makes mere mortals quiver, without paying any real attention (until it was too late to do anything about it) to my personal life, and whether or not I was actually happy doing what I was doing.

They suspect that I ended up here, at least in part, because of what the first two years of high school at McKinley were like.

Would you be okay with Joel Fischer calling you? He's my 'normal' therapist, if you like, and I think the idea is to set up some sort of joint counseling session in the next few days. We can do it over Skype so you don't have to come in.

Please don't be incredibly angry about this. I know that you're not who you were back then anymore, and I protested the idea that we had to talk about this at all given that you are now one of my closest friends, but as much as they say that I am in charge of my own recovery, I'm not the one who sets the rules.

Send my love to Britt,

Rachel

The wig goes back on, and she stares at the McDonald's entrance all over again.

"How do you feel?"

"Angry," she says, before taking a deep breath. "I'm-so furious that I'm being defeated by this … this virtual slaughterhouse of bad taste. I don't even want to go inside, but it's pathetic that I can't. I can't believe that this is what my life has come down to-I can't buy a McFlurry, and I'm so angry about it, Tony. I'm just-"

He smiles after a second. "What else?"

"I'm-upset. That these other people, who don't know me from Adam and who I'll never see again, have this kind of control over me."

She glances over at him, and watches as he produces the tranquilizer dart and then pops the glove box, shoving it inside and then looking at her again.

"We won't be needing that again."

"What, I'm cured now?" she asks, rolling her eyes. "Just because I'm-so sick of this?"

He laughs. "Well, no, if you were cured you would be in there getting me a fucking McFlurry, Rachel. But what you are is no longer at risk of losing completely control over your own emotional state."

"While I'm in here, maybe."

Tony tsks at her. "What do we call that?"

"A negative thought spiral," she says, with a deep sigh. "You're right. What matters right now is that I'm here, and I'm fine, and-"

She pauses, because this is producing the weirdest flashback of all; her pep talks to the rest of the Glee club in preparation for the competition season, with everyone looking at her completely bored and disinterested and unconvinced while she rambled on and on about how their chances were okay and they had enough members and their song choices were fine until-

Lord, someone wake me up when she's done yammering on and on about how special she is, will you? I might gag on my own vomit if I keep listening.

"Rachel?" Tony asks, snapping his fingers in front of her face. "Where did you go, just now?"

She looks back at the McDonald's, and then down at her own hands, and then shakes her head. "It doesn't matter."

"I think-we agreed a while ago that I would be the arbiter of all things mattering," Tony says, just about playfully enough for her to take a deep breath.

She sighs. "I was just remembering-a part of my life in which I gave incredibly poorly received motivational speeches on a bi-weekly basis."

Tony rubs at his beard for a second and then says, "What's the connection?"

"I don't know. Maybe-that because nobody else ever believed me when I said that things would get better, or would turn out fine, … I..." She bites her lip and then looks at him. "This is not that simple. I think it was just-a correlation."

Tony smiles. "Would you have been able to make it a few weeks ago?"

Probably not, and so here they are again, shaking outside of a McDonald's, but Rachel is getting better, or so the official verdict goes.

Rachel,

I'm checking shelters for another cat right now; how's your search for hobbies going?

My favorite book as a child was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Believe it or not, I used to be a dreamer. I related heavily to Lucy-probably in large part due to the names-but also to the general idea that if you believed in something hard enough, you could make it real for you. I haven't read those books in years, and I suspect that I'd hate them now because the overly heavy Jesus symbolism doesn't do it for me so much anymore, but back in the day, they were fairly important to me. Miffy is a fantastic cat name, btw. If you have any more pictures-attached is a shot of the venerable Carl Jung.

I know I once said Vegas was a city in which nothing real ever happened, but I've lived here for seven years now and my feet have been firmly on the ground in all that time. Just because there are elements of fantasy/fiction to something doesn't mean they're not globally still, you know. Of this world.

I don't know what to say about-well, your first paragraph. Except that I'm expecting a phone call any day now to request that I join you in a few sessions because, well, Rachel, how could I not? I don't want you to feel added pressure about having to approach me about this. There are at least three levels I can think of in which I'm sure I'm impeding your recovery somehow, and I'm going to put myself out there for a moment: it's not unrealistic that I might need the return favor, at some point. Okay?

Okay, I can't leave this there Have some levity: I'm currently not wearing pants and dancing to the Backstreet Boys' Greatest Hits in the kitchen while occasionally typing a sentence. It's drunk chicken night over in the Fabray suite - and I'm telling you because I'm also contemplating drunk tofu, and I think it'll taste just as good. I think I'll need a tofu expert to really let me know, however, in the long run. Do you know anyone who might fit the bill?

Quinn

Joel stares at her, and his mouth slowly falls open.

She licks at her lips-which, what the hell- and then just sort of stares at him. "I told you it was complicated."

"Yeah, no shit, you should've told me to draw a chart. Okay-run me through it again."

"Quinn-was sort of a friend in high school-"

"After she tormented you for no conceivable reasons for a few years," Joel notes, pointedly.

Rachel sighs tiredly. "Yeah, after that."

"Okay, and with your superhuman powers of forgiveness she moved into the friend zone, but not before giving birth to a baby that-your oldest friend fathered?"

"Yes."

"Which she then gave up for adoption-"

"Yes."

"To your birth mother, who rejected your presence in her life because she felt she'd missed too much of it and, basically, didn't want a teenager."

"... yes."

"Right, and you're surprised that you're here, right now," Joel says, rolling his eyes. "I mean, fuck, Rachel, I've been seeing people for well over twenty five years at this point, and I have never, in my life, heard of anything this unhealthy."

"I had therapy at the time," she says, after a moment.

"About your mother?"

"She's not my mother," Rachel says, flatly. "I mean, I wanted her to be, back in the day, but she's not. Just as Quinn isn't Beth's mother, and Puck isn't Beth's father."

"Do you think that saying those things out loud makes this situation less complicated?"

She smiles half-heartedly. "No. Probably not. But-honestly, Joel, I don't think about Shelby. I don't even think about Shelby when I see Quinn, or when Quinn shows me pictures of Beth."

"And what have we learned about the things we don't think about?" Joel asks, raising his eyebrows.

She stays silent for a moment, and then looks at him. "What part of this is more important? That... Quinn and I started off very poorly, or that she gave up her baby to a woman who rejected me, or that I love her now and we don't talk about any of this, really?"

"I can't answer that for you, Rachel," Joel says. His voice gets quiet and empathetic, and after another moment of thinking, Rachel sighs.

"Do I wish my mother had wanted me? Yes. Of course I do. And when-I think about Beth, all I can think about is-Quinn has pictures of her all over her phone. She walks around with them everywhere, and thinks about her all the time, and writes her hand-written letters in beautiful script, so she doesn't just get words but gets tangible memories. She isn't in Beth's life, any more than Shelby is in mine, but-Beth will never grow up thinking she wasn't wanted."

Joel frowns at her after a moment. "There is no parallel here. You do realize that, right?"

"I-" Rachel says, and then looks back at him, also frowning. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that... Shelby wasn't intending to be a mother. She was an incubator."

Rachel blanches and feels herself curl inwards. "That's-what an awful thing to say."

"It's not awful," Joel says, staring her down. "I'm stating a fact. You have two parents. They desperately wanted you. Biology, God love it, just isn't all that cooperative in allowing a baby to gestate without a female womb, so they found a solution. But-she didn't want to parent you. She just enabled them to parent you."

Rachel swallows hard and says, "Okay. I see what you mean."

"And then she sought you out, perhaps out of curiosity? I mean, why do you think she came looking for you?"

Rachel shrugs after a moment. "I don't know. I guess I would be curious too, I mean, I did-I was with her for nine months."

"It's kind of a shitty move, don't you think?" Joel says, mildly. "I mean, after what, sixteen years of pretending you'd just been … some task, to suddenly decide that pregnancy gave her an interest?"

Rachel scoffs, and then shakes her head. "I'm not-I'm not angry with her."

"Oh, Rachel, don't be ridiculous. Of course you are. She came into your life when it was fine, and offered you a glimpse of say, something that you didn't really want or need-"

"You don't know that," Rachel protests, and then stares out the window. "You have no idea what it was like to grow up in Lima without a mother. I-my dads, they tried, but there was a reason I was always behind on what was fashionable and how to make myself look good, and-"

"Right. So what you wanted was-a beauty coach. Is that accurate?"

"No," she bites out at him, and then bites her lip. "I-"

"You wanted a mother. Someone who you could bring to school and say, hey, guys. I know I've been that weird chick with the gay dads all this time, but now look what I have."

"How can you even say that?" she asks him; she wipes at her eyes harshly and glares at him, but he doesn't look away. "What kind of person would-"

"I don't know, Rachel. What kind of person?"

"It doesn't matter what I did or didn't do; she didn't want me. She wanted a baby. She wanted someone she could watch grow up, and I don't-I have the career she never got to have, do you know that? She failed at making it out on the stage but I'm not even twenty six yet and I have a Tony, and-"

Joel looks at her when she cuts herself off. "Tell me what's going on right now."

"I'm-freaking out because you-I don't think about her. She's nothing to me. I know she's Beth's mother, and-that's something that Quinn and I will have to deal with separately, okay, but that conversation isn't just up to me. This one is. And I'm telling you, I-"

"The girls at school didn't think you'd be good enough, and now that you are, they don't care that you're a star. It's easier to them if you're not. It didn't win you their respect, did it?"

She swallows hard. "They like me as a person now. Believe me, that's a lot more important than whether or not they finally recognize and applaud my talent, because-"

"Because your talent's always been there, and it's never been enough. Your own mother didn't even-she didn't even care to find out just how far it would take you. And it was the best thing about you, wasn't it? It was what should've made any parent proud," Joel says, leaning forward a little. "How does it make you feel, Rachel?"

"I don't-"

"Yes, you do. How does it make you feel?"

She says nothing, for a very long time, and then closes her eyes and says, "Like I did it all for nothing."

"Has Quinn seen your work?" Joel asks, leaning back again.

Rachel almost feels like she can breathe, but it's shallow and painful and she just wants to go and-sleep. She just wants to go lie down and sleep, but they have another fifteen minutes to go.

"Yes," she says, roughly.

"What did she say?"

"That I'm the most talented singer she's ever known."

"Big statement," Joel says.

"It is. She doesn't do hyperbole, or aimless flattery," Rachel says, and rubs at her face.

"Did it help? Finally hearing what you wanted to hear from her all those years ago?"

Rachel bites her lip and then shakes her head, slowly. "No."

"Why not?"

"Because-you can't... she can't undo what she did then just by-" Rachel admits, and then feels her eyes start to water in a real way. "None of them can."

Joel is silent for a while, and then hands her some tissue and puts a hand on her shoulder. "We're talking to Santana first, okay? Because she needs to hear this. You can't understand what it's like on the other side. These kids, the popular crowd-they probably have some lingering shame about how they treated you, but they think that time, and different behavior, makes it all go away."

"I don't think Quinn does," Rachel says, blowing her nose. "I mean, if she did, she'd be able to talk about those years more freely, and she can't. She's-getting there, but she can't."

Joel gives her a small smile. "How does that make you feel?"

She takes a deep, ragged breath, and then looks at the ceiling for a long moment. "I don't know."

"Yes, you do."

"It makes me feel like-" she starts to say, and then remembers Quinn in that chair, defensively asking if Rachel needed an apology-and that image starts to shift, until suddenly it's clear to her that Quinn wasn't unwilling to apologize.

She just hadn't known where to start.

"Like everything that happened then was as awful for her as it was for me," she finally says, and looks at him a little blearily. "You're bringing her in, aren't you?"

Joel gives her a small smile. "Is she expecting to be brought in?"

Rachel nods, after a moment.

"Have some unasked-for opinion. The fact that-someone with as many hang-ups as she has is willing to come and sit here and talk about them in front of someone whose respect and admiration she desperately needs and a total stranger?" He shakes his head after a second, and then pats her on the knee. "You two are going to be okay. Just don't hide behind the now, okay? Deal with the past. And that whole baby-mother situation, because... Christ, Rachel."

She laughs a little, even though it hurts to. "My biography is going to be one hell of a read."

"Yeah, you don't say."

Day 18

Anxious about everything and it's not even 8am yet.

It's like the first day of high school all over again.

She's wringing her hands unwillingly as Tony places the call, and then settles behind Joel's desk, while Joel sits next to her, both feet on the coffee table, and she stares at the screen in front of them with her heart beating out of her throat.

"If-if she's incredibly rude or hostile, it's not you-that's just how she is," Rachel murmurs, after the longest of silences. "I don't-"

"Stop apologizing for her," Joel says, mildly, as the screen flickers to life.

Brittany's there, peering at them and then sticks up a hand in greeting. "Hello, therapy guy - hi Rach. Okay, San is just drinking some water but-wait, do I need to be here for this?"

Rachel shakes her head. "No, but you can stay if you want to."

"Okay, because I think Santana's a little nervous," Brittany sort of whispers at them. "I think this'll go better if I just-hold her hand, you know?"

Joel makes a face that kind of says, really? You let someone who needs hand-holding during a phone call bully you for years? and she sighs. It's hard to explain Santana, who really has to be experienced.

Rachel sort of smiles when she finally appears in sight, because she's wearing her legalese best; a nice suit, collared shirt and-lord, her glasses.

This is so far removed from the high-ponied girl who had scratched her open for sport in high school that she relaxes almost immediately and then says, "Hey, Santana. Thanks for-"

"It's cool," Santana says, a little weakly, and then her eyes track towards Joel. "You're the guy who called me, right?"

He nods. "I gave you some things to think about. Do you want to start with those, or-"

Santana takes a deep breath on screen, and in the background Brittany murmurs, "C'mon, baby, this is important, and it's for Rachel, we love Rachel" and-

Rachel sighs and brings her fist up to her mouth and watches as Santana pulls a sheet of paper out of her pocket and looks at it.

"Okay. Your first question was-how do I feel about Rachel now." She hesitates, and then glances up briefly. "This does not leave this room, and we're never speaking of this again, afterwards."

Rachel smiles involuntarily, as Santana shifts and then reads, "Rachel is-one of the kindest people I'll ever meet. The only person kinder than Rachel, I married, so that should tell you something. She thinks about other people before she thinks about herself, even if she gets kind of wrapped up in her own business a lot of the time. When it comes down to it, though, she'd take a bullet for every single one of us whether we deserve it or not. And then she'd shove us in front of a bus to beat us to an audition, but-you know, we all have things that we really would kill to accomplish." She pauses, glances up and says, "That's a metaphor. I am not planning on killing anyone."

"Noted," Joel says, pressing his fingertips together and watching quietly.

"She's-incredibly talented. I can say this now that I'm in a different field and it's not like, personal anymore, but she could out-sing me with combined tonsilitis and pneumonia and without a backing track. Always has been able to. I don't think that people even know how talented she is because she's been running on empty for ages now, but I sometimes listen to old Glee recordings and..."

Santana looks up for a moment, stares at the heavens, and then sighs. "Defying Gravity made me cry about a month ago, okay? It was the gayest thing on earth and-"

Rachel sort of laughs against her hand, and then just watches as Santana lowers her eyes back to the paper. "... I sometimes listen to old Glee recordings and, I don't know. I get a little nostalgic but like, for what things could have been like."

She pauses there, and then glances to her left briefly, and finally says, "Rachel is one of my closest friends, but I don't know how to actually live up to that anymore, right now. She doesn't let any of us in and I mean, I get why, with me, and I wouldn't trust me with my personal shit either after how I treated her for ages, but-she doesn't let anyone in and I'm really, really worried about her."

Joel lets those words ring for a moment and then nods. "Okay. One more question."

Santana stares at him warily.

"Is she attractive?"

To Rachel's combined amusement and horror, Santana blushes. "I'm-what? I'm married. My wife is right here, and not to mention, Rachel's totally into someone else and-"

"I'm not asking if you want to sleep with her," Joel says, placidly. "I'm asking if she's attractive."

Santana looks at Rachel, who also blushes a little at just how hard she's being stared at, and then Santana looks back at Joel. "Yeah, of course she is. I mean, what kind of question is that?"

"A fair one, given that you used to call her... let's see. The dwarf, the hobbit, destined for a starring role in Willow, the single most annoying person you'd ever met, beak-nosed-"

Santana bristles a little, but doesn't say anything.

"Please stop," Rachel says, after a moment, putting her hand on Joel's arm when he just keeps going and going. There are so many words, here, too. All targeting different things and-

She'd been able to produce two full sides of insults without even thinking about it.

She closes her eyes.

"So she is attractive," Joel says.

Santana makes some sort of noise, but then just says, "Yeah. She's attractive."

"Was she in high school?"

Santana takes a deep breath and then rubs at her face. "Look, high school-I don't know what I can tell you. I wasn't just in the closet. I was in some sort of tunnel that stretched back towards like, the layer of magma under the earth, okay? It didn't matter that I was into Brittany, because she was popular and it was understandable that I'd think she was hot. But Rachel? That was like-fuck, no. There was just no way my rep would've been able to take that, and she wore these ridiculously short skirts that just meant you had to look at her legs and-"

Rachel feels her eyes slowly open, and then stares at a visibly uncomfortable Santana with a dawning realization that-

Santana pauses, and then sighs. "Don't get me wrong. You were annoying as fuck, and I would've probably told you to cram it fifteen different ways no matter what because-everything was always about your solos and your triumph and how you were so much better than the rest of us. It might've been true, but we didn't want to hear it. You had to learn your place somehow, and just act like a fucking person. But-everything else? … shit, Rachel. If I was attracted to Brittany, I had eyes, but if I was attracted to you in any way whatsoever-"

"You were gay," Rachel says, quietly.

"Wasn't any different for Q," Santana says, a little shortly. "I mean, not that that dumb repressed bitch had any idea at the time, but-I watched her tag the bathroom, and she drew those caricatures almost lovingly, Rach. She-was obsessed with you. And the only thing that made either of us feel like-we could survive, and be normal, was tearing you down. Well, and everyone else, I mean, I was also basically just a bitch, but yeah."

The entire room is silent for a long while, and then Brittany leans into the frame.

"For the record, I would've totally slept with you then, and now, if I wasn't married."

Joel chuckles and then looks at Rachel. "Do you have anything you want to ask?"

She thinks about it, long and hard, and then finally just says, "Couldn't you have-made me fit in better? We were all on the same team, and you-the three of you knew so much about styling and make-up and everything else that- "

Santana sort of winces at that, and then says, "Yeah. We could have, but-we all had our own shit going on, Rach. We were a bunch of bratty little kids. I was terrified my family was going to disown me if they ever figured out the truth, and Quinn-I don't know. That's a lot to ask for, and by the time I'd say we were actually friends, you'd figured out your own style. The dresses, with the Mary Janes in senior year? That was-yeah. I mean, you were fine, by then."

Rachel nods quietly, and then shakes her head at Joel when he says, "Anything else?"

Santana hesitates and then says, "I-I mean, I don't know. This feels fucking pointless, but I'm not saying it so that can feel better. I'm saying it because I mean it. I'm-you know. I'm sorry, that we weren't capable of being better back then. And it took me so long to see like, all your good sides, and not just the bad ones."

Rachel takes a deep breath, and then says, "It's okay. I did once tell you the only thing you'd be good for was stripping."

"Which is deliciously ironic now, let's not kid ourselves," Santana says, with a small smile.

Rachel smiles back after a moment, and then says, "Thanks. For-"

"Should have done it a long time ago, okay?" Santana cuts her off, and then bites her lip. "And um, if it's okay with you, please let's never talk about how I might find you slightly attractive ever again because-I'm sorry, but I just-"

Rachel laughs a little and then says, "You're like a sister to me."

"Oh, my God, please stop," Santana says, covering her eyes with her hand, and after a second even Joel chuckles.

"Okay. Let's-leave it there. Rachel and I have some things to talk about now; Santana, thank you for cooperating, you were a tremendous help."

Santana nods, and then says "Bye", a little mutedly; Brittany's hand waves at them for a second, and then Tony kills the connection.

"She thought you were hot," Joel says, after a long moment. "How about them apples, Rachel?"

"Did you miss the part where I just said she's like a sister to me?" Rachel says, raising her eyebrows.

"Now, maybe. But think about-I don't know. March, sophomore year. Santana Lopez wanted to get under your skirt, Rachel. How do you feel?"

She laughs a little and shakes her head. "Weird."

"And?"

"... validated, okay? I feel validated. Girls like that don't notice-"

"Except they do, apparently," Tony says, giving her a half-smile.

She takes a deep breath, and then says, "Let's do McDonald's. If the two hottest girls in school both wanted to tap this, I can damn well buy a McFlurry."

"That's the spirit," Joel says.

Quinn,

Joel and Tony are calling you today.

Miffy and Orphan Annie lounging in the sun attached. I don't know what Red Fish was doing at the time-probably plotting his escape, he's a roamer. Carl Jung is a beauty-those stripes on his chest are remarkable.

I'm going to call my dads and Puck now, because they're spending the entirety of the last week here with me, and I'm drained. It's been a long few days and I feel a lot more now than I did back when I was medicating so heavily and I just, I don't know. We tried McDonald's again today and I almost had the entire door open before feeling the world crash down around me, which I guess is something, but just opening doors isn't really much of anything when you can't step through them, is it.

I don't have the energy to be anything other than your very, very tired friend Rachel right now.

But I look forward to seeing you anyway.

R

Adam clears his throat over breakfast and then says, "Today's my last day."

"Officially cured, huh," Rachel says. The decaf is particularly hot today and burns her tongue, but she'd rather think about that than about how Quinn is inbound, and she can't-she doesn't know what to say about that, to anyone.

"Well-officially at a point where talking to people back home should keep me off the drugs for the time being, but cured? I don't think-I think cured is probably the wrong word," Adam tells her, staring into his mug for a moment and then giving a tentative smile. "But, I mean, I might also be saying that because I'm like two verses into a song called Getting Back on the Horse-"

She laughs. "You're not really."

"Do you have time for one last song together?" he asks, after a moment.

It's strange. She knows she'll probably never talk to him again, after this, but he's someone that she'll think about at random points in time; she'll hope for the rest of her life that she never sees him in the tabloids, and that he might find someone who he can write songs about-studying on a bed, or wherever-sooner rather than later, again.

She'll hope that for him, because she needs him to hope it for her.

"Yeah. I do."

"Any picks?"

She nods, after a moment, because something's been on her mind over the last two days. She'd sung this song years ago, with Puck, but hadn't had a fucking clue what it was actually about-but now, the combination of alcohol and a phone...

Yeah. Lady Antebellum speak to her, in ways they couldn't possibly have before.

Quinn looks-

Rachel averts her eyes, and when she feels like she's a little more in control of just how much she longs for the woman sitting next to her, she looks back at Joel, who looks between them for a moment and then smiles.

"I stalked you a little, to be truthful. You co-wrote a fascinating research paper last year with Fiona Nguyen on the categorization of early on-set developmental disorder in light of later criminal behavior," he says.

Quinn crosses her legs and undoes the button on her jacket, relaxing a little at that introduction, and Rachel goes back to looking out the window. Much as she apparently doesn't understand shit about herself, she's been clear on which Quinn showed up in Hawaii all along, because Dr. Fabray gave her a slightly tight smile out of the room and then said, "Okay. Let's get this over with."

Rachel's uttered similar words right before a root canal.

"To be fair, I mostly served as her research assistant; developmental psych isn't my field. She was just kind enough to credit me," Quinn says, with a small smile.

"Even so-I think we can all agree that you are a highly intelligent and capable woman, right?" Joel says.

Quinn vaguely inclines her head, like she's not going to belabor that particular point, and then Joel stretches in his chair and looks at her a little longer.

"So you know why you're here."

"Yeah," Quinn says, and glances at Rachel for a second. "I mean, I'm curious about your exact clinical diagnosis to an extent but I understand it's inappropriate to ask given that I'm here in a friends and family capacity, not a collegiate one."

"Oh, I don't mind sharing. Do you, Rachel?" Joel asks.

She shakes her head after a moment, and watches as Quinn gets that hawk-like look on her face that she also gets during Scrabble, and when trying to figure out if Rachel can come again or-

She goes back to looking out of the window, as Joel says, "Pathologically low self-esteem after sustained emotional abuse, suffers from key PTSD indicators such as hypervigilance and avoidance, and she's chronically depressed and has a rousing case of alexithymia despite an innate and superb ability to read others."

Quinn takes a deep breath and then says, "Okay."

"Yeah, that's real okay," Rachel says, rolling her eyes. "I-"

"What, Rachel?" Joel asks, placidly.

"Why-I mean, was there not a nicer way of saying that? You make it sound like-like-"

"Like I tormented you. Like I systematically set about to destroy your ability to believe in yourself, which was then compounded by the fact that your mother denied you the unconditional love and acceptance that you craved from her, and then transplanted it onto... a baby I gave birth to," Quinn says, slowly.

It comes out so cold that Rachel instinctively wraps her arms around herself. "What the fuck is alexithymia?"

"You have a hard time identifying and processing your own emotions," Quinn says, before taking a deep breath. "Hence why-you confused your attraction to me for love, and can't distinguish between a natural need to impress those around you and an almost pathological need for someone to approve of you."

Joel watches as Rachel tries to breathe steadily, but how do you breathe through this?

"What are we dealing with right now, Quinn? Your professional assessment?"

Quinn is silent for a moment, and then says, "No. My professional vocabulary, but beyond that, unfortunately Rachel's problems are very similar to my own. We just react to them in very different ways."

"Okay. Can you talk about that?" Joel asks.

Quinn shifts, and then says, "To an extent."

"That's one of the primary differences, then, isn't it. I mean, Rachel here-honestly, give her a topic and she'll keep going forever-"

"Fuck you, Joel," she says, rubbing at her eyes. It keeps the tears at bay, for now.

"It's not a bad thing," he says, emphatically, and then looks at her encouragingly. "It's who you are. When someone indicates they're willing to listen to you, you are willing to spill. You don't mind taking chances with your emotions, primarily because you're conditioned yourself to expect that they're going to be rejected anyway-but I'd say that underneath that fear, you're also just a brave little trooper. You believe in happy endings."

She has nothing to say to that, but then thankfully Joel turns to Quinn. "Which is why seeing you was such a heinous idea on her part, because what's your natural reaction to people directing emotion at you?"

Quinn smiles faintly. "Running."

"Exactly. So-this is like the deaf leading the blind. It's time to open our eyes and ears, ladies, okay? This isn't going to go away in a day, but we need to get our wires uncrossed here." He hesitates, for a while, and then says, "Rachel, what did you want from Quinn in high school?"

It's such a loaded question.

She almost says everything, but it's not true. What she wanted was simpler than that. She just wanted...

"A chance."

Quinn looks at her sharply, and then looks down at her own hands, squeezing her lips together until they whiten.

"To be a friend, right? To be-supportive," Joel presses.

Rachel nods. "I didn't... honestly, I disliked her completely until she became pregnant, and that's when I saw it-the misery that-I don't know. There was just something there that-"

"Try to put it into words."

Rachel takes a deep breath and then closes her eyes. "There was-the outside Quinn, who was for all intents and purposes a terrible person, but inside of her there was someone else, who was just … dying to be noticed, and for someone to reach out and-I don't know. And-"

"And?"

"I … I knew what that was like. Because that was-that was me. Externally fine, but not so great on the inside. I just-I tried not to think about that, much, about myself but I saw it in Quinn," Rachel says, before sighing and pressing her fingers together, hard, just feeling them flex over and over again so she has something to focus on. "And I just kept thinking-we could help each other. If you notice me, I'll notice you."

"Quinn, your cruelty mostly stopped at that point, didn't it?" Joel asks.

Quinn lets some air slip out between her lips, and then nods. "Yes. I … honestly, I just didn't have the energy to ruthlessly claw my way to the top anymore. I'd been there, and I'd fallen so hard that I wasn't sure I'd ever get back up again. … the Glee club was the only thing in my life that didn't... outright turn me away, with everything that was going on."

"And by the Glee club, you mean..." Joel says, slowly.

"Yeah," Quinn says. She lowers her eyes, and then straightens. "Then, the problem went away; I buried it, and went back to life as it had been."

"And by the problem you mean-"

Quinn flinches. "The baby. Sorry, I'm-she's not the problem. What her existence did to my life is."

"But you returned to form-"

"Yes."

"And this time, without picking on Rachel."

"We bickered, about-Finn Hudson, but it hadn't been as... no. We fought as equals from junior year onwards, I would say," Quinn says, tentatively, before looking at Rachel. "That might just be my impression, though. I honestly don't know."

Rachel hesitates, and then shrugs. "I think you're probably right. I don't know. Trying to analyze what I was doing back then is impossible, because I was lying to myself about every part of it. I mean, the mere idea that I actually thought I was in love with Finn Hudson..."

"Okay," Joel says, looking between them again. "So let's go back further. The pregnancy is when things changed. Is that fair to say?"

"It is for me," Quinn says, a little flatly. "Obviously."

Joel smiles at her, and then looks at Rachel, who nods.

"Why didn't you let her help you?" Joel then asks.

Quinn looks at the ceiling for a long moment, swallows visibly, and then says, "Because I didn't think she'd stick around when... she found out what I was actually like."

Rachel stares at her uncomprehendingly. "Quinn, I-I know I told Finn that he wasn't the father but-I followed you, that day. Do you really not understand that I would've stuck by you even if I did think that he deserved to know the truth?"

"Yeah. You think that would've made me feel better?" Quinn asks, shaking her head a little. "I was-I didn't deserve your forgiveness, Rachel. I hadn't even started on apologizing to you, and in fact, I didn't even try to apologize the entire time we went to school together. All I managed was telling you that I didn't hate you, like that had anything to do with-with what you were offering."

"Neither of you realized you were attracted to each other at this point, right?" Joel says, snapping Rachel out of a moment of history that's being rewritten in front of her. Completely. In a way that she doesn't know how to cope with.

Alexithymia is the word for that, apparently.

Rachel shakes her head, forcing herself to move on when Joel stares at her. "No. I felt a lot for her, when she was pregnant, but my realization that I was attracted to her actually didn't come until-I'd started dating her ex-boyfriend in a serious manner and kept thinking about her when making out with him."

"He must've been thrilled," Joel says, dryly.

Quinn laughs unexpectedly and says, "Trust me-he would have been."

"What about you, Quinn?"

Quinn licks at her lips and then shakes her head. "No, I had no idea. I mean, it wasn't even like-I had an inclination and was suppressing it. I know what that feels like. I just had absolutely no idea. I didn't have sexual feelings at that age."

"Were you in therapy during any of this?" Joel asks.

Quinn shakes her head again. "After sixteen years of essentially being told that feelings mattered less than accomplishments, I just wasn't capable of talking about mine."

Joel looks back at Rachel. "Let's bring this back to now. When you see Quinn, what do you see?"

Rachel exhales slowly and says, "That's-I'm not sure I want to answer that, because it's-we're aware that we shouldn't be together, but unless you want me to lie this is going to-"

"It's okay," Quinn says, softly.

The urge to hop over the side of her chair and go sit on Quinn's lap is almost unbearable, and after a second Joel just looks at her and says, "Your anxiety is through the roof right now, isn't it."

"Yes," Rachel admits.

"Do you understand why?"

"This conversation is awkward as hell, Joel; I don't know—I mean, I'm sure Quinn is anxious right now, even," Rachel says, glancing over for a second.

Joel nods. "Sure, that's part of it, and I'm sure she is a little. But the difference between the two of you is that she knows where her anxiety comes from. Correct?"

Quinn nods, but doesn't comment further, and Joel looks back at Rachel.

"Do you?"

She shakes her head after a second, willing her pulse to slow. Doesn't work like that, though.

"This is the core of your problems, Rachel; at the heart of you is this giant ball of tangled fears about failure and rejection. And, I've just asked you to put some of your deepest, most meaningful feelings out there, and when she rejects them, it actually gets to you. Out of all the people who have told you no, over the years, hers is the one no that still matters. So really, the fact that you're not having a massive panic attack right now is pretty damn good, if you ask me."

There's nothing she can say to that, and she watches as a pained look passes over Quinn's face, and her heart rate snaps up even higher while her vision gets a little blurry.

But he's right. It doesn't slip over the edge. She's just hovering on it, for now. Fifty percent, right?

"If you could have... a free choice, right now, between having your mother accept you into her life, fully, or having Quinn accept you into her life, fully, what would you choose?"

She sees Quinn hold her breath, and then looks at Joel and actually hates him for what he's doing.

"Quinn," she says, even though it makes her feel faint.

"That's what I'd call a fair amount of pressure, right there," Joel tells Quinn.

Quinn shoots him a look that loosely translates to I hope you die in a fire, and Rachel almost smiles in reaction to it, except it's not funny. Quinn's walls are shooting up, and she's five seconds away from begging for a pill.

How is this progress?

"So-we did this with Santana Lopez, the other day, and that was actually moderately pleasant," Joel says, almost conversationally. "I mean, Santana admitted that she'd been, to recap, a complete shit throughout high school for reasons nothing to do with Rachel, really, and Rachel got paid an unexpected compliment, and all in all I think there's probably some hugging and crying in the future, but then they'll really and truly be on the road to healing."

"I'm not Santana Lopez," Quinn says, in a low voice that Rachel can't read.

"No. You're a little more important than that, because somehow, in Rachel's mind, you've become-well, the apotheosis of everyone who's ever rejected her. How's that feel?"

Quinn looks away, and then mumbles something that Rachel can't hear.

"What's that?"

"I said, it feels fucking terrible, because I'm going to let her down. Not because I want to, but because no one person should have this much riding on them."

"Agreed," Joel says, and looks back at Rachel. "Thoughts?"

"I—" Rachel starts to say, and then closes her mouth, shaking her head. "I don't know what you expect me to say right now. I don't—"

"You didn't realize you were doing this."

"No, I really didn't," Rachel says, as tears climb up her throat and she wipes at her eyes again. "And when you say it out loud it—fuck, of course I can't—but I don't know how to—"

"Broadway or Quinn?"

"Quinn," Rachel admits feebly, pressing her palms into her eyes.

"All your friends and family, or Quinn?"

"Quinn."

"Your life, or Quinn?"

That stops her in her tracks, and she looks at him in confusion, brushing the last few tears away. "If I'm dead, I don't-I mean, that's not a choice."

"Oh, good, okay. Because honestly, Rachel, if you were actually going to say that Quinn comes before your entire existence, I would at this point ask her to leave and take out a restraining order against you."

That's bleak enough for her to shut up altogether.

Quinn is slumped down so far in her chair that her ass is almost hanging out of it at this point, and Rachel almost apologizes to her, for what she's just said, but then Joel turns back to her and says, "Can you handle this?"

A shrug is all he gets, and then he gently asks, "Your job or Rachel?"

"Rachel," she says, after a moment. "Regardless of which job."

"That's-I'm sorry, but that's a load of bullshit. You-" Rachel says, and then starts laughing a little brokenly. "Are you kidding me right now? You basically told me from day one that you'd rather break up with me than stop stripping. And yet-"

"Woah, slow down," Joel says, holding up a hand. "Quinn, explain to her what you're saying right now."

Quinn presses her lips together tightly, runs a hand through her hair, and then quietly says, "I'm talking about, emotionally, which takes precedence. I'm not commenting on what I … do. Or have done."

"Exactly," Joel says, and looks at Rachel's face when the next question comes. "Your friends, or Rachel?"

"Rachel," Quinn says, tersely.

"Your daughter, or Rachel?" Joel presses.

Quinn inhales sharply at that, and then shakes her head. "I don't know."

"Okay," Joel says, quietly. He then looks back at Rachel and says, "You rank second. To someone she gave birth to. How does that make you feel?"

Rachel feels her throat lock up before she even opens her mouth, and then just shakes her head.

"What do you see, when you look at Quinn?" he asks, repeating an earlier question.

She either has all the words, or none at all.

She goes with all of them-lovely, beautiful, so smart, so talented, so unexpectedly sweet, so closed off, so worth fighting and waiting for-and watches as Quinn cringes through most of them before finally just squeezing her eyes shut tightly, like that will make them go away.

"I don't know why she can't believe me when I tell her these things," Rachel says, thickly, and looks at Joel almost desperately.

"Quinn-what do you see when you look at Rachel?"

Quinn says nothing, until the egg timer goes off, and as Joel shuts it down, clears her throat and then says, "A girl that-" She falls silent, and then shakes her head. "I'm done. I'm sorry."

Joel takes a deep breath and says, "Okay. Well. I think we all have a lot to think about right now. Can I ask that you two keep your interaction outside of this office to a minimum right now, and for the love of God, please don't try to reconnect by having sex, because-I'm sure it'll feel good at the time, but you haven't earned it, okay?"

It's like her father dousing her in a bucket of really, really cold water-not that she was remotely turned on by any of this, but, well. She definitely won't be now.

"I would like to have dinner with her, to get back to neutral ground before we continue," Quinn says, after a long moment. "Is that-"

"Sure," Joel says, almost kindly. "Talk about anything but this. Okay? We'll dive back in tomorrow."

Dear Tina,

Any sort of entertaining anecdote you have about B&A at this point – very much welcome.

Thanks for the housing information – will discuss when back in the city.

Love you,

Rach

Over dinner, Quinn talks about her plans for graduation-which involve a party that Nicole is throwing for her, and she's not really interested in attending-and about how she's been thinking about her plans for next year and has basically decided that she's not staying in Vegas.

"Sometimes, you just have to-start over. Try something new," she says, licking her lips briefly and then looking across the table at Rachel with inquisitive eyes. "Can I say something that's intended to be friendly?"

"Of course."

"You look-so much better than you have, all summer. You look like you're sleeping, and like you're eating, and like you're... you look the way I've had you in my head, all these years, even when I pretended you weren't in it."

Rachel takes a shaky breath and says, "What can I say? It's the lack of coffee."

Quinn glances down for a long moment, and then says, "I know we're not meant to talk about this, but let me tell you this one thing. I think you are incredibly brave, but then you've always been-"

"Maybe on the outside, Quinn. Inside, we're apparently not so different," Rachel says, quietly.

Quinn pokes at her quiche with a fork, and exhales softly, before looking up with a slightly wry smile. "We're going to get yelled at tomorrow, if we keep this up."

"You know how I am with rules," Rachel says, with a small shrug, but then she leans back in her chair anyway and says, "Though I will say, breaking yours is more-well. Rewarding."

Quinn's smile turns a little bit more genuine, at that, and then she says, "So-you liked Purity Ring, huh? Want some further recommendations along those lines?"

Yes. Rachel does, to her own surprise.

Day 20

Anxiety ping-ponging between 3 and 12908530 depending on whether or not I think about today's session with Quinn and the fact that my parents and Puck are flying in the day after tomorrow.

Missed Adam at breakfast today but ate with Steven and Emily and that was fine. 3-1875783 as noted.

Got my Valium delivered by Kevin this morning which means that on top of everything else, Tony is going to push me to get him his ice cream, and all of a sudden this is less of a simulation and feels a lot more like what my real life is like, with people pulling on me on all sides. Anxiety level: Quinn told me to try this band called Xiu Xiu and they do a song called "I Broke Up" where the lead singer randomly screams, "this is the worst vacation ever, I am going to cut open your forehead with a roofing shingle". That. That is how I feel.

What I want to do is curl up on Quinn's lap and let her make everything better, because she can. Probably because I've turned her into the one person whose approval I actually need in this life, but-it's not even close to being a solution to anything.

Even if she believes in me with all of her might, she can't make me believe in myself again.

Chapter Text

Day 21

"So," Joel says, giving them both an encouraging smile. "Did you sleep well last night?"

Quinn snorts, pulls a hand through her hair, and then just rolls her eyes. "Sure."

Rachel shakes her head after a moment, and then takes a deep breath. "Can we talk a little bit more about-about how much I expect from Quinn."

"Sure," Joel says, tilting his head and looking at her curiously.

"I think I actually kind of—let you tell me how I feel a little too much yesterday," she says, tentatively.

Joel looks at her in surprise and then says, "That's totally possible. You know that, right? I don't know everything."

"Okay, well, in that case... I want a rephrase. Because I don't actually... expect anything," Rachel says, trying the words out and then swallowing around them, with some difficulty. "That … would imply that I had any sort of … I mean, it's been almost eight years since we last saw each other, prior to this summer. I didn't-spend years trying to break onto Broadway so she would approve. I didn't think I'd ever see her again. But-her opinion matters to me, more than a lot of other people's. I want-I want to understand at what point that becomes bad, because-and I'm sorry, but I'll just be blunt about it-"

She glances at Quinn for a second, who has her most neutral face plastered on, and then looks back at Joel.

"I'm in love with her. And, leaving that aside, she's also one of the smartest, most accomplished people I know. Of course I care about what she thinks. I just don't know-"

She stops, immediately frustrated at-well, at least she has a fucking name for it now. For all those years of just blurting out everything she thought and said, she never thought this would be her problem: not actually being able to use the right words.

"You raise a valid point," Joel says, after a small pause. "I mean, we all have people that we would like to be impressed by us, right?"

Quinn's tongue runs past her lips for a moment, and then she says, "I'm pretty sure that half of what I do is still to somehow prove to my parents that-they don't own me, and I'm capable of more than they ever thought I was."

Rachel's hand involuntarily reaches across to Quinn's chair, and she glances at Joel with an almost ashamed look until he just stares back at her and says, "It's not my arm, Rachel."

Quinn glances over, and then after a very long, deliberate pause, lifts her own arm and holds Rachel's hand, until their arms are sort of uncomfortably dangling in the space between them. But-

She doesn't know what this is, either.

Joel rubs at his cheeks for a second, then up to his temples, and says, "Say Quinn-hates your next project. What does that do to you?"

Rachel shrugs. "I mean, she hated this one. I really couldn't care less."

"Are you sure?" Joel asks, narrowing his eyes a little.

Rachel hesitates, and then slowly says, "I don't... care if she thinks what I'm working on is bad. I'd care if she thought I was bad in it."

"What are the chances of that?"

"They're slim," Rachel says, and then snorts softly. "I don't know. I don't-Q, we don't talk about my job much, do we?"

"You don't seem to want to," Quinn says, glancing over. "It's not for a lack of interest on my part."

"Why don't you want to talk about it?" Joel asks.

Rachel shrugs. "Because-I don't know. It's just-it's just my job. I mean, it's-it's not even really mine anymore. It's just what I do. Other people have stakes in it."

"How does hearing that make you feel, Quinn?"

Rachel watches as Quinn takes a measured breath, and then says, "Like I personally ruined what was most special about her."

"So-my voice, then," Rachel says, with a small sigh.

"You don't think your voice is special?" Joel asks, before Quinn can say anything else.

Rachel rolls her eyes. "Well, no, but I have spectacular range and excellent control, so-by any objective standard, it's special."

Quinn sits up a little bit more, and there's just the lightest bit of pressure from the hand she's holding; it has Rachel looking over, and Quinn is frowning at her a little.

"Just because your voice is-a stand-out instrument, Rachel, and yes, it is incredibly special, doesn't mean that-it's the only thing about you that people notice." She blushes furiously and then says, "Forgive me for being so crude, but half of my sexual fantasies are about gagging you-how on earth would that do anything for me if I was purely interested in you for your voice?"

Joel looks between them and says, "Your ball, Rachel."

"I don't-I mean-isn't that just about … silencing me?"

Quinn rolls her eyes. "I'm not that literal, Rachel. I'm-I like doing things that drag you out of your comfort zone a little, and not being able to talk, not sing, but talk-it gets you worked up."

Rachel blinks at her furiously a few times, and then says, "Okay, so then-what else is there? I mean, what do you notice?"

"Hold up," Joel says, and they both look at him. "This is good, mind you, but let's go back one step. Rachel, why do you need to hear these things?"

"Because-" she starts to say, and then realizes she has no answers at all.

"Are you worried Quinn doesn't like you?"

She exhales abruptly. "No."

"How do you know she does?"

That makes her stare at both of them for a moment, until she laughs a little sheepishly. "Well, Jesus, who would voluntarily participate in this shit storm unless they did?"

"Rachel-" Joel says, a little reproachfully.

She sighs. "Of course she likes me. We email each other daily, and before that she spent a substantial amount of time with me, and I mean, I've thought many things about Quinn over the years, but not that she's self-sacrificing."

"Okay, but that's-factual. What about you does she like?"

Rachel looks at the table and then says, "I'm sexually very experimental and willing to do just about anything she's interested in."

"Please tell me that-" Quinn starts to say, but then shakes her head.

"What?"

"No, I mean, keep going," Quinn says, a little flatly.

Rachel takes a deep breath. "I make her laugh, sometimes. She doesn't so much enjoy being teased but can take it from me, and I guess she likes that on some level. I'm not good enough to beat her at Scrabble. I'm an opportunity for her to cook things she wouldn't normally cook. I don't know. I mean. I don't know what else you want me to say."

Joel looks at her for a long moment. "What else do you want her to say?"

"I don't know," Rachel repeats, and pulls her hand back, curling it up on her lap, focusing on her breathing for a second. "Okay, I'm-can someone else talk for a moment?"

Joel says nothing, and examines Quinn for a little while, and then says, "You took offense to her starting point."

Rachel can see Quinn pursing her lips from the corner of her eye, but then just looks at her hands again, because-she needs a moment. She just needs a moment.

"I did," Quinn says, slowly. "It-cheapens the extent to which she's a part of my life. And I would really hope that after three months of talking to her more than I've talked to anyone in years, she'd recognize that I like her for more than just sex. That I like the way she processes things, and the way she approaches situations, balls out and without any visible fear even given, you know, what's going on with her. I like her courage, and her determination. She makes me want to be courageous like that, and try new things and just be-I don't know."

"And here she is, saying that you must like her because she's, well, flexible."

Quinn takes a deep breath and then says, "It's good to know that even the one person who's always maintained that I'm more than just a pretty face seems to somehow-"

"Don't," Rachel says, sharply. "You can't turn this around on me. I'm not-the one who doesn't let you know that you're wanted, okay? That's your game."

Quinn makes a frustrated noise and then just turns to look at her fully, abruptly angry; Rachel recoils without meaning to. "How can you still not know that you're wanted? Jesus Christ, Rachel, I cried for two days straight when you left-and then finally went back to work and my colleagues thought my cat had died, because my cat is the only fucking thing in this world that I've ever shown this much feeling for."

She's almost vibrating with-

Rachel has no idea what, but it makes her want to push back. "How can you not see that that's just-"

"Just what?" Quinn asks, in a trembling voice that actually kind of scares her, for a second, because Quinn might-she might just explode. And nobody here is ready for that.

"How do you expect me to-to not constantly crave your approval when-when it takes things like this for you to give it to me? How-how the fuck am I supposed to react to someone who literally told me not to call them unless granted permission, or-Jesus, Quinn, I don't know how to cope with this," she finally says, before bursting into tears. "You both act like there is something wrong with me for just needing her to tell me that she cares. Why does that make me so fucking pathetic, when there is no way for me to tell otherwise?"

Joel takes a deep breath and leans back in his chair unless it tips back a little. "Well. That's a question for the ages."

"You are being distinctly unhelpful right now," Rachel says, in a snitty little voice she can't control at all, wiping at her eyes with her sleeve.

After a second, Quinn chuckles weakly and says, "Are you going to storm out?"

"Fuck off-like you didn't spend half of your time in high school pitching fits and threatening to quit everything under the sun," Rachel snaps back.

Quinn actually looks taken aback, and then out of nowhere, smiles. "Oh, so I guess I wasn't perfect either? Well, imagine that."

They look at each other for another moment, and then Rachel laughs and looks away first. Everything about this is awful, but then on the other hand, it's Quinn. And maybe, that is the whole problem, but she knows what she wants and she's sick and tired of being made to feel bad about it.

"Let's go back to Quinn's earlier comment, about how despite everything, she still on some level craves her parents' approval. Do you let that control your life in reality, Quinn?" Joel asks.

Quinn shakes her head, after a moment. "No. Not consciously. But that doesn't mean that when I'm thinking about PhD programs to apply for, there isn't a small part of me that just wants to send them a hearty fuck you with a copy of my diplomas."

"Right. So it's angry, your determination to win them over," Joel says.

At Quinn's nod, he looks back over to Rachel. "What about your need for Quinn to-appreciate you?"

"It's not angry," Rachel says, with a small sigh. "I just-I want to be good enough for her."

"Who says you aren't?" Quinn and Joel say, almost simultaneously, and then Quinn rolls her eyes and adds, "Psychology jinx."

Rachel chews on her lip for a moment, and then says, "I guess... I do. I guess it's me. It's nothing she's doing, but I … can't imagine someone like her wanting to be with... Rachel who isn't a Broadway star, who isn't.. you know. Capable of leaving the house without being zoned out on a prescribed cocktail of crap."

"Okay, and if she doesn't want to be with say, Rachel with the agoraphobia, and Rachel without the stage and Rachel without the awards-let's take you out of the equation altogether. Say your friend Puck starts dating someone who only loves him because he's friends with you. Verdict?"

"Bitch," she says, without hesitating.

"So you think Quinn is a bitch," Joel says, almost pleasantly.

"I didn't-no, of course not. I mean, she was, and she's capable of it now, but-"

"Right, so, even though anyone else, who would show an interest in someone only over superficial external qualities, you would label as an asshole, you somehow find this tolerable in Quinn."

"Well, no, I'd-" she starts saying, and then tips her head back. "This is all very, very easy when someone else is telling me that I'm being ridiculous, you know. It doesn't change how I feel."

"Of course it doesn't. And yes, it's easy for me to say all of this, because I have the clarity of mind to, you know, see what's actually going on here. But that doesn't change that you need to hear it." He turns to look at Quinn again, and raises his eyebrows. "Quinn, what do you look for in a partner? Or hell, a friend?"

Quinn slowly straightens out her legs, and then says, "Patience. Forgiveness. Acceptance."

"Not love?" Joel asks.

She rolls her eyes at him and says, "What is love, but an extended chemical imbalance?"

"You are a real piece of work, you know that?" Joel says, laughing a little.

"Your real point is, in any event, that I don't require a seven digit paycheck, red carpet events, and a trophy room in my house," Quinn says, before looking at Rachel with a look that starts sharp, and then turns sad unexpectedly. "It actually pains me, not on behalf of myself but on behalf of you, that you think I'm here because you-I don't know, fucking sing a few show tunes exceptionally well."

"Why? You think I'm here because your face was reconstructed exceptionally well," Rachel says, after a beat. "If I'm an idiot, so are you."

Quinn takes a deep breath and then rubs at her face. "Okay. That's fair."

Joel looks between them, and then shakes his head.

"Rachel-five reasons why Quinn should want to be with you," he prompts.

She stares at him, unimpressed. "This is stupid."

"It's only stupid if you can't actually come up with five."

Well. There's a challenge she's not backing down from.

A frustrated breath later, and she holds up her pinky finger. "We have complementary interests; I don't just mean sexually, but I mean things like, she loves cooking and I love eating. We also enjoy playing board games together, and have similar taste in television."

Ring finger. "I'm... pleasantly argumentative, but these days, capable of admitting when I'm wrong, which means that debating things with me is actually fun. So I guess, I'm intellectually stimulating to be around, when I'm not Xanaxed out, anyway."

Middle finger. "I'm … I don't take myself very seriously anymore. I don't mean that in a negative sense, but I guess I've just grown up to the point where I can laugh about my own worst qualities. That makes me easier and more fun to be around."

Index finger. "I'm in great shape. I have great legs. They're very flexible and, okay, maybe that shouldn't matter but-I'm proud of the shape I'm in, okay?"

"That's fine," Joel says, mildly.

Thumb. "And-I will never abandon her. No matter what. That might sound like it's self-destructive right now, but I mean this in the sense where I'm incredibly loyal. She can lean on me, and she should."

Joel looks at her for a long moment and then smiles faintly. "That wasn't so bad."

"I don't hate myself," Rachel says, emphatically. "I just-hate what I've let this condition do to me."

"Which is?"

"It's-yeah, okay, maybe I do need someone like Quinn to now tell me that I'm … a great voice, and more than just a voice. Because with every passing year, the world I can inhibit has become smaller and smaller, and it's hard to feel great about anything when the only … the only audience you have for your great voice, or your great personality, are your three cats, who frankly could give a shit if you're sharp or flat on Ella Fitzgerald." She sighs and then shakes her head. "But it's-you know, you're right, it would hurt a lot. More than I can say, to actually get rejected by Quinn, but you're wrong if you think-if you think that nobody else's opinion matters to me. I'm … terrified of seeing my dads. I'm not even half the girl they thought they'd raised, and I have so many things to tell them. About high school, about college, about now-"

"Okay," Joel says, nodding a little. "Well, you know what?"

"What?" she asks, with a massive sigh, because she's so raw-she honestly doesn't know how much longer she can keep doing this.

"That's really good news. Because your fathers sound like the type of guys who will tell you, out loud, over and over again, that you're not letting them down at all."

Quinn shifts next to her, and then bites down on her lip hard enough for it to leave a mark. "Can we take five?"

"Of course," Joel says, and Rachel watches as Quinn shoots out of the chair and heads out into the hallway, before looking at Joel again.

He hesitates, and then says, "Rachel-she's here. How much more goddamned recognition do you need? Look at that girl."

There isn't much else to say to that, and after a moment, Joel says, "I'm going to call your dads. Do you want to say something to them?"

She's not ready, and so she shakes her head and wanders out into the hallway after Quinn, just leaning against the wall there for a long moment and breathing slowly and steadily until she feels herself hit that three out of ten again.

Of course, then Quinn ducks out of the bathroom opposite Joel's office with slightly wet hair, and hands that she's drying on her slacks more than anything, and locks eyes with her and halts.

"I'm sorry. For making you do this," Rachel finally says, lowering her eyes after a moment. "I know this is-pushing you along further than you want to go-"

"Rachel, it's fine," Quinn says, with a small crack in her voice. "I-owe you this much."

"You don't owe me-"

"No, don't," Quinn says, shaking her head. "This isn't about us now, or even about our future. This is about the past, and I owe you this much. Hell, I owe myself this much."

Rachel stays silent for a long moment, and then feels a brick wall of resolve rumble somewhere inside of her chest. "I really-I wish there were words to make all of this better. I know, I mean, objectively I understand now, at least a little, that you have the exact same problems that I do, and that-I can tell you you're more than beautiful, and that you are beautiful, until my dying days, and you're just-it's not me you can't believe. It's the words, and it's exactly the same for me. Okay? I-I don't know why you'd want to be with me, until I get over at least some of this, and become-"

"Do you need a hug?" Quinn says, roughly.

Rachel stares at her for a long moment, and then balls her fists and says, "Are you going to accuse me of expecting too much of you again if I say yes?"

Quinn shakes her head after a moment, and then awkwardly says, "I don't-I mean-how-"

"Just-open your arms, let me step into them," Rachel says, pushing off the wall and burying her face in Quinn's neck for a long moment.

Joel finds them like that, long moments later, and smiles a little, when Rachel spots him. "This is cute, but it's a shortcut. You guys need to learn to use your words, okay?"

Quinn sighs, so deeply that Rachel can feel it, and then with one lingering hand stroking down her back, steps away again.

"Ready?" she asks.

It sounds less like a root canal, this time, and more like-a six monthly check-up.

"Describe your perfect day."

Rachel sighs and rubs at her eyes. "I wake up next to … someone I love. We have sex, nice and easy, just to wake up and say hey. Then, we make breakfast together; lounge around for a little, with cats draped all over us, and maybe play a game or watch something together. Then..."

She takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, and says, "Perfect, right? Not immediately attainable?"

"Perfect," Joel repeats.

"Then-we'd be able to leave the house. Go somewhere together; maybe head to a public park and read there, or go to MOMA and criticize modern art, or even just grab lunch in town before going to see a matinee showing on off-off that will be more entertaining than good. And-I don't know. After all of that outside time, I'd like to just come back and unwind; eat dinner, something I've not cooked, spend some time in the same room doing things separately, and then... More of what I woke up with."

"That's the perfect day," Joel says, with a small smile.

"Yeah," Rachel says, blinking her eyes open again, and deliberately not looking at Quinn. "It is right now, anyway. That's-I can't imagine wanting anything else."

"Tell me what's missing, from your perfect day," he asks.

She thinks back on what she's said, and shakes her head. "Nothing. Nothing I want or need, hence why it's … you know, a perfect day."

"Quinn?"

Quinn tugs a strand of hair behind her ear and then says, quietly, "You-the only context in which you mentioned Broadway was attending a show. There was nothing there about-your career, at all."

"What would your perfect day have been ten years ago?" Joel asks.

"Opening night, West Side Story," Rachel says, immediately. "With my-leading man waiting for me in the wings, with a giant bouquet of flowers, and-yeah. Then romantically doing me up against my dressing table, but somehow, miraculously, we were always both clothed."

Quinn laughs after a second. "Hot."

"I know, right?" Rachel says, with a small smile.

Joel tilts his head and says, "So. No Broadway."

It feels a little more grave, when it's just left hanging like that, and after a moment she takes a deep breath and pushes through it.

"No, I guess not."

"Scary?" Joel asks, and after a second, all she can think to do is look at Quinn.

Who looks back, mostly steadily, and then says, "I shouldn't have to tell you this, but it doesn't matter to me."

Rachel rubs her tongue against the inside of her cheek and then says, "Yeah. That's really scary. Because it's what I've defined myself by for so long that... I might resent it when other people do, but … it is what I was."

"Was," Joel says.

"I guess it's not anymore, if my perfect day is-incredibly pedestrian, and nothing to do with success at all. It's almost like..." She frowns, and then shakes her head. "It's like getting what I thought I needed flipped the world on its head and showed me what I really wanted."

"A day with someone you love."

She nods, after a moment, and then smiles a little weakly. "Yeah."

"Is that scary?"

She can't not look at Quinn, at that, and then nods. "Yeah. Because I can't-it's not like Broadway, where I was probably going to make it. I had control over... everything in my own auditions, you know. When I was in the right place at the right time it worked. But … this?"

She hesitates, and then lowers her eyes to the floor.

"I can't do this on my own. I need-someone else, to want it with me."

"Do you think someone will?" Joel asks.

The no, and the scoff, both present themselves for duty loud and clear, but after a second she realizes that she's hesitating over them, and then says, "I don't know. I think-not now. But maybe if I keep... keep working at making that walk in the park a reality, some day. Maybe not Central Park, but-a park. Out in the suburbs. Maybe-"

She hears Quinn breathe, shakily, and looks over. "What?"

"No, I just-I'm …" Quinn says, before waving her off. "My own things. Nothing to do with you."

"Your things always have to do with me, Quinn."

Quinn gnaws on her lip for a few long seconds and then shifts, until she can pull one leg under her, and then goes back to staring out the window. "My therapist suggested the other day that I started stripping in large part because I knew it would keep people at bay. That's what I was thinking about. But-"

Rachel stares at her intently, and then watches as Quinn sort of smiles.

"But what?"

"But-as much as I tried to get you to … resent it, or at least find it off-putting, you just... sort of worked around it. And-I listen to you talk about that park, and I'm just like, … Rachel, the right person isn't going to give a shit if it's Central Park or like, two square feet on your balcony. They'll just want to be with you."

Rachel smiles at her slowly, and then says, "Right, but-I don't want Central Park for them. I want Central Park for me. With them."

Joel makes a hmm noise and then says, "Your rebuttal, Miss Fabray?"

"I'd say-" Quinn says, and then gives Rachel such a patiently caring look that she almost starts crying again at it, "-that by any clinical definition, that sounds like a healthy attitude to take."

"So let's go back to the start. Rachel-you want Quinn to approve of you."

"Yes," Rachel says, and then pauses, and says, "No."

"No?" Joel says.

"No," Rachel says, and shakes her head. "I don't-want her approval. I mean, approval of what, even? I-you're right. I don't even want the stage for myself anymore. So I don't care what she thinks of it."

"That's quite a different tune from what you were singing yesterday," Joel says, carefully.

Rachel closes her eyes, and then just sighs. "It's because-I suffer from this thing called alexithymia and I don't always understand what it is that I'm feeling. But no, it's not about-I don't need to feel like I'm good enough for Quinn. I just need to know that-"

"That what?"

"That I'm someone she can love."

"Oh," Joel says, folding his hands together, and smiling at her gently. "Well, then. That's a very different story."

Quinn exhales slowly and says, "I'm-Jesus."

"Not now. I don't mean now," Rachel says, after a moment. "I just need to-I need to know that the potential is there. When the cards line up right, and-when I find something to do that is about me, that isn't singing, or at least not Broadway. I don't want-" She sighs, and pulls her hands through hair and then shifts until she's facing Quinn. "Please don't take this as-something to pressure you, or something that … I need from you."

"How?" Quinn asks, a little thickly, before looking over. "Of course it's something you need from me. I spent years tearing you down. And now..."

The room falls silent, and Quinn shifts until her elbows are on her thighs, and her face is in her hands.

"I mean, I knew this was coming. And of course it's nothing but logical, because once you break something down, if you want to keep it, you're going to have to build it back up again eventually, but God, this is-I'm not good with words, the way you are. Okay? Maybe you're right. Maybe it's normal, for you to want to be told that you're pretty, and that I like you, but-"

Joel leans forward, until he can lock eyes with Quinn. "Hang on a second, right there."

"What?"

"You just assumed something. You-took one of Rachel's base traits and flipped it over to yourself. Think about what you just said."

Quinn expression shifts rapidly, until she shakes her head. "I'm sorry, it's been a very long two days and-"

"You're not good with words," Joel says, slowly.

"Ah," Quinn says, rubbing at her forehead with both hands and then sighing deeply. "Yes, okay. I won't get into a discussion with you about how pedantic hammering on logical fallacies is likely to alienate your patients, but-"

Joel chuckles. "Nice."

Quinn puffs out her cheeks for a moment and then says, "Rachel is literally one of three people on earth I can bear being touched by. So-if your solution to not doing it with words is doing it with gestures, you're also barking up the wrong tree."

Joel is quiet for a long moment, and then looks at Rachel. "Does she ever successfully abate your anxieties about not being interesting or good enough?"

"Yes, all the time," Rachel says, and Quinn looks over with an unreadable look at that point.

"During sex?" Joel asks, lightly.

Rachel feels her cheeks heat up, but then nods. "Yes. It's-the attention she gives me, and the way she focuses it on me-it's impossible to not know that... well. She's right there, with me."

"Just during sex?" he asks, a little more cautiously.

Rachel takes a deep breath, and then shakes her head. "She-watched me make coffee exactly once, and hasn't since then had to ask how I take it. She … when she's done showering, she folds her towel in the same way I do. She remembers that I'm vegan. My-my last boyfriend, on our six month anniversary dinner, cooked me steak. She pauses the channel when she lands on something that she thinks I might want to watch, and-"

Rachel trails off and looks at Quinn, before shrugging lightly.

"Okay. I think that's it, for now," Joel says, after a long pause, which mostly involves them staring at each other with searching expressions. "Because-there are clearly problems here we are not going to fix in a day. Rachel, some part of you will always smart at what Quinn used to do to you, just like some part of Quinn will always feel guilty, and try as hard as she can to make up for it now, okay? That's something you both are going to have to live with."

Rachel nods after a moment. "I know that."

"As do I," Quinn says, sitting back again and looking at Joel with a hesitant look on her face. "Can I ask you for your professional opinion?"

"Sure," he says, looking at her very neutrally.

"Is it-going to be harmful to us to stay in contact, now?"

She sound so worried, and so randomly insecure, that Rachel feels something incredibly unfamiliar wash over her; it's a feeling of recognition, and before she can do anything else with it, her hand is already reaching for Quinn, grasping her knee and squeezing there, gently, until Quinn looks over and the mild worry in her eyes softens.

Joel muses over her question for a long moment, and then says, "No. But if I can be honest-because you both are much more comfortable with say, physical intimacy than emotional intimacy, I would really advise you to take it easy on that front until you've found a comfortable space to be in emotionally, okay?"

Quinn nods. "Okay."

"Can I ask you for a professional opinion?" he asks, with a small smile.

Quinn blinks at him, and then says, "Sure."

"Hypothetically, if I had a patient in here who say, had notorious difficulty talking about themselves and struggled with being emotionally honest to any great extent, but made a significant effort to do so because of how those limitations affected someone very important to them, what should I be telling them, at the end of an incredibly draining session?"

Quinn half-smiles and says, "You're kind of a jerk, do you know that?"

They're out on the beach, together, and after a moment Quinn takes off her heels and sits down on the sand, probably ruining a two thousand dollar suit in the process, but she doesn't look like she cares at all.

"I will … gladly never do that again," Rachel says, after a long moment.

"We're going to have to," Quinn says, neutrally, and then stretches her legs out and stares off into the ocean for a long moment. "And it will get easier, and we'll stop-speaking different languages. And I mean, of course it won't always be like this. Friends or otherwise, … not every day is running over a set of burning coals. It wasn't even for me in middle school."

Rachel looks over after a moment, and smiles at the way Quinn's face is drawn a little tight, but with every lap of waves onto the shore, she seems to relax just a little bit more.

"I think of this ocean as... the you ocean," she finally says, quietly.

Quinn looks over, shifting from the loveliest profile Rachel has ever seen to even more than that, and then smiles a little. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," Rachel says, and digs her hands into the sand.

They're quiet for a very long time, and then Rachel feels it happen-for the first time in God knows how long, but it's the same sensation that she's always had, when it does, and she lets it softly run up her spine, until it's almost bursting in her lungs, and all that's missing is-

But then it hits her, and she clears her throat, and out comes a song she played on repeat endlessly in her sophomore year of college, after seeing Cat Power perform live in a small venue downtown with an almost hypnotic level of loss of self in the music.

Quinn lets her sing, at about one thousand of the decibels she normally has to reach for work, and then reaches over after a long moment, digs her had out of the sand, and tangles their fingers together.

"What was that?" she finally asks.

"A Velvet Underground cover," Rachel says, feeling grains slip between their hands, nestling there and scratching a little. "By Cat Power."

"As in-cats are awesome?"

Rachel laughs abruptly, and says, "No, I mean, well. Maybe? I don't know."

"Can you get... Cat Power to work on Fuck Asparagus: the Musical?" Quinn asks.

Rachel stares out into the waves, and licks at her lips, and then looks at Quinn.

"If I can come to terms with the fact that my life isn't turning out the way I'd planned at all, I'm pretty sure I can actually do anything," she finally says.

Quinn gives her a small smile, and then looks out into the distance again, her perfected nose in sharp relief to the setting sun in the horizon.

Rachel inhales the outside air, looking in the opposite direction, and then tells the most pressing of truths, just because it's that kind of day. "God, I miss coffee so badly."

Quinn laughs, and leans into her side just a little bit more, and Rachel feels herself plateau to a three, after a long day of being at eleven, even before Quinn says, "You know what will help?"

"Double dosing when I'm out of here?"

"Mm."

"Quinn, I like caffeine. Not unbearable bitterness."

"Yeah, but-that's why you also top it off with double the sugar. You can be a radical and throw in some cream, I guess."

"Is that a euphemism?"

"... no. And, just in case you forgot, I hate you a little. Sometimes."

"Quinn?"

"Yeah?"

"Right back at you."

Day 21

I went from 3 to AHHHH to 3.

I also think I formally retired exactly six hours ago, and now have to come up with a way to tell Kurt. And everyone else. Who-honestly, I don't even care what they think. They probably won't understand, but it doesn't matter. I don't understand why on earth Tina and Mike won't move out into Jersey when it'll save them a shitload of money either, and I've left that alone for years. They can extend me the same courtesy, because I'm doing this for me. (3/10!)

I sang I Found a Reason today, because I think I maybe did. And it's not Quinn. It's-the perfect day. She's in it, obviously, but-even without her, I would want that day. With cats and coffee and matinees and stir-fry dinners and-a feeling of complete and utter peace.

Even if it's only for a little while, that's what I want. And as for the rest of my life:

I have no fucking idea, but I guess I have time, to figure it out.

Chapter Text

Day 22

This isn't a part of her disorder.

For the first time in God knows how long, she feels a level of anxiety that is justified, because later today—

She takes a deep breath, and thinks about what Tony would be telling her if she was with him right now. They love you, they care about you, they aren't judging you.

That mantra gets her through breakfast, sludge-like decaf—as if it's honestly lost its only redeeming quality of decent taste with Adam having left—and a bagel, and over to the private gym area for thirty minutes on the elliptical. It also gets her through the rest of her getting-ready routine, and by the time she's applying mascara, her hand is hardly even shaking.

Then, she makes it to the reception, and sees them, and almost throws up on the spot.

Her father—her dad looks like he hasn't slept in three weeks. He looks old. She's never had that thought about him before, but he looks old, and tired, and—he looks so sad, even though he manages a small smile when he sees her, and his usual, "Hey, baby girl", before pulling her into a brittle, frail hug.

And that's the good news.

Her daddy—

He looks like she feels, and the shame of what she's putting them through—by finally being honest, or by never having been honest enough—burns inside of her lungs, as they pull her between them, but it's not as it normally is.

They touch her like she's broken, now. Or like she might break.

She doesn't know how to make it clear to them that that's not helping.

...

The small talk is unbearable. Lima is what it's always been, and her own life—nobody wants to talk about her life, right now.

It's not common ground. It's where the war is going to be fought, and she sips at lukewarm herbal tea and wonders if there is any way to apologize for—

Any of it.

It's an actual relief when Puck shows up, thirty minutes later, and joins them in the rec room. Her dad shakes his hand, and her daddy says, "Hi, Noah", and he sits down gingerly on the couch before putting a hand on Rachel's shoulder.

"I know you guys know that we're not in love or anything, now," he finally says, a little stiltedly, until they both look at him. "I mean, I know that's—probably really messed up, but I want you to know that I really do care about Rachel and—"

"Noah, we know," her dad says, and then glances at her for just a second before sighing and saying, "I don't know where to start on any of this, but you're not what we're worried about, okay?"

"What are you worried about?" Rachel finally asks.

Her dad looks at her, takes a deep breath, and then says, "You. Obviously. We're worried about you, and how—the bright, happy girl that we dropped off in New York for college ended up like this. Because it doesn't make sense that any of this happened at all, but it especially doesn't make any sense that you'd—that you'd lie to us about how you are, for years."

Rachel lowers her eyes and says, "I didn't want to—"

"We know. You've said," her daddy says, quietly. "And we're here, obviously, we want to help you get better but that doesn't change that—"

"Please," she says, helplessly, and forces a smile. "I want—to fix this. I want to be honest now, and I'm sorry it took so long but that's why I'm here. It's because I just couldn't do it by myself. I want—"

Her dad rubs at his forehead, looking even more tired, and her daddy just presses his lips together tightly and then nods.

"I know. We're trying, okay, sweetheart? We're trying, but this isn't easy for any of us. We were happy because you were happy, and now—"

Puck stares at the carpeting on the floor and then clears his throat and says, "I'm going to head out to the beach. Your um, the CBT's at like three, right? So—"

She nods, and watches as he leaves the room again, with stiff shoulders and an awkward hitch in his gait, and she doesn't blame him for leaving.

He's not actually a part of her family. That part has always been a lie, and when she looks at the space he's just vacated, she knows who she actually wishes was sitting there right now.

That would only make things worse, though, and so she cups her tea and takes another sip of it, and waits for it to be eleven, so that Joel can help her talk to two people who mean the world to her, and are now looking at her like she's a stranger.

For the first time, since she started her sessions with Joel, he actually distributes something in the session.

It's a sheet of paper, nearly blank, and at the top it just says, honesty.

Rachel stares at it for a second and then looks at him. "I haven't lied—"

"Not to me," Joel says, resting his head on his hand and then swiveling towards her dads. "But I'm sensing that this isn't going to be smooth sailing for any of you, so I'm going to go against the grain of letting you talk by telling you why we're here. And then you're going to react to it."

Rachel watches as her dad nods, with focus, like this is some legal dispute he can resolve if he just finds the right argument, and as her daddy leans forward, ready to take on anything he has to.

She sees herself in both of them, and finally just looks back at her own piece of paper.

"We're here because Rachel is pathologically afraid of letting you down," Joel says, quietly.

The papers on all of their laps rustle, but nobody says anything beyond that, and after a second Joel smiles.

"There are worse things to be, honestly. Wanting to make parents proud is a very natural inclination, and there are very few of us out there who have good relationships with our parents who don't have concerns about disappointing them. But, in Rachel's case, this need to make you both proud has taken a turn for the extreme, and has led to some difficult decisions on her part—"

Her dad makes a small noise at that, and Joel looks at him curiously.

"On her part?"

Joel leans back and says, "How easy would you find it to lie about your well-being to two people who have loved you unconditionally your entire life?"

Her dad shifts, and then tersely says, "Define unconditional, because what I'm hearing from you suggests that she doesn't think our love for her is unconditional at all."

"That's not true," Rachel cuts in, picking at the edge of the paper. Her dads look at her, and she sighs. "I know you love me. I just—"

"You thought we'd love you less, if..." her daddy prompts, with small, tired eyes.

"No, I just didn't want—" she starts saying, and then stops herself, before she says a whole lot of things that just aren't quite true. In the end, the right words fail her again, and she sighs. "I don't know."

"What do you mean, you don't know?" her dad asks, a little sharper now. "We're here because of how much we've let you down as parents, aren't we?"

"Easy," Joel says, carefully, and after a second her dad relaxes again. "The reason you have the honesty sheets is because—you are all going to have reactions that you are not going to be able to process instantly today, and rather than this turning into a screaming match, I'd like you to write them down, so we can come back to them tomorrow."

Her daddy nods after a second. "Okay. I appreciate that, because there's been quite enough yelling in the last few days."

Rachel looks over, feeling acutely wounded, and then looks out the window. It's their marriage. It's not her concern, unless they want to share it with her, and she's not going to ask.

She can't.

"Are you blaming yourselves for this?" Joel asks, carefully.

Nobody says anything for a long moment, until her dad, in the most defeated tone of voice she's ever heard him use, says, "How could we not?"

"Well, that's what I'm here for; to make sure nobody leaves with any massive misconceptions they've not voiced," Joel says, a little more brightly than the situation warrants, and then tips his chair back. "Okay. Here's our first real perception problem, if you will. Let's go back to where this all started. Leroy and Hiram, how do you think living in Lima was for Rachel?"

They look at each other and then her daddy tentatively says, "Well, she was always bigger than the town. We knew that the first time she sung competitively; she must've been—what, three at the time?"

"Yeah, about," her dad agrees, with a small look in her direction; like he can't believe what's happened to that three year old, and she lowers her eyes instinctively.

"I mean, she's so talented. She always has been. So we both knew that we'd do whatever we could to get her to a place where she could really shine, and when we were nine we took a family vacation to New York, and—that was it. Rachel's first love," her daddy says, a little wistfully.

Joel nods. "Was she happy, though, in Lima?"

Her parents exchange a look, and then her dad says, "Yeah, I guess? She had a few rough years around middle school, where she didn't really fit in—"

"The other kids didn't really know how to cope with someone with her natural star power," her daddy clarifies.

"But—by the time she graduated, she had the same group of friends she has now and yeah—she was happy," her dad says, finishing a little shakily on the last word. He sighs after a second, and then says, "I guess you're here to tell us we're completely wrong, aren't you?"

"No," Joel says, and then turns to Rachel. "That's not my job."

All eyes turn to Rachel, and for the first time in her life, she wishes she wasn't at the center of attention.

It's never felt quite this lonely, or this miserable.

When they break, it's still another four hours (and another session) until she can use her phone, and for the first time in days, that just isn't good enough.

She has no real recourse, though, and heads out on the beach, after watching her parents get directions from Kevin that will take them to the resort they're staying at. They've seemingly tacked a vacation onto their sessions with her, and—

Well, it's unlikely they'll enjoy it.

Puck finds her out by the tree Adam used to sit and play at, and for a second she wishes she had a guitar, so she could thrust it into his hands and not have to talk to him, but she doesn't get granted that reprieve.

"Your CBT guy, Tony," Puck finally says, pulling his knees up to his chest and looking out at the water, as everyone seems to once they're out there. "He sent me an email that like—gave me a bunch of pre-information about what we're going to be doing while we're here, and told me to ask him any questions, but mostly it was just about how to approach someone with your …"

"Just call it a condition, Noah," she says, tiredly. "It is one. And it's not going to go away."

"Yeah, okay," he says, running his hand through his always-short hair, and then sighing a little. "He also said that—like, the reason I'm not being pulled into regular therapy like your dads are is because things generally between us are okay, I just need to like, not baby you so much. Yeah?"

She thinks about it for a moment, and then nods. "You've been a lifeline, but—you know how bad I get. I don't hide it from you. Quinn aside, you're the only person who really sees what this has done to me."

"What about Kurt?"

She breathes in the salty sea air, and lets it settle in her lungs—wondering if it's hurting them, somehow, and then not really caring—and finally turns to him and says, "Kurt's a very good manager. But I don't need a manager right now."

"Is that why he's not here?" Puck asks.

She nods. "He's not—part of the afterwards. Not the way he has been, anyway."

Puck exhales shakily, and then leans forward, rubbing at the back of his head. "Okay, well, I don't want to end up like that, you know. Exiled, because I was too focused on shit that isn't really about our friendship, so—I need to tell you something. You're probably going to be pissed, but please remember I did this because I love you, okay?"

She rubs at her eyes. "Noah, I really don't think I can take—"

"No, please," he says, and because it's the first time he's asked her for anything, in that tone of voice, in years, she shuts up and just looks at him, exhausted and bracing herself for God knows what.

His Adam's apple bobs when he swallows, and then he says, "I've never not known where Quinn was."

She stares at him. "I'm sorry?"

"Rach; she's my kid's mother, okay? And she pulled a fast one, right after high school, and I freaked out about it because what if like, Beth needed her kidney or whatever, so then Shelby told me she'd moved to Vegas but was fine. I've known she was there. All along."

Her mouth falls open, almost gently, but she doesn't have any words for him. Nothing but a small noise escapes her, and he stares at the sand and then sighs.

"So—I knew she was in Vegas. And when I came out here, the month before your gig, to find you a place to live? Yeah, I looked around. She's on like, the UNLV Psych department's website, as LQ Fabray, research student or whatever. And so I went over to the campus, and she was heading out of the building just as I got there and I didn't get to her before she got to her car... I don't know, I was fucking curious, okay? I wanted to see how she was doing. I had every intention of like, flagging her down for a beer, but then—"

"She drove to Rapture," Rachel says, quietly.

"Yeah. She drove to Rapture," he agrees, sounding a little guilty. "I didn't—like, don't get the wrong idea. I didn't go to see her—you know, perform or anything. That shit would've just been—"

He falls silent, and then glances at her.

"How pissed are you, on a scale of one to Finn kissing you at Nationals?"

She chuckles, at that pointless memory, and then just sighs and tilts her head at him. "Why did you do it?"

"Because you were stuck on her, babe. And I knew you'd never—do anything about it if someone didn't push you, and—" He shrugs. "I don't know. I guess I maybe thought you two would laugh about how fucked up things had been in high school, or something, and then work your shit out. I didn't expect you to start banging her."

Rachel can't quite hide a smile. "You have seen her, right?"

"Yeah, but—I mean, remember when I was all like, you're sleeping with a stripper? That's because I really didn't think she was gay, I mean—duh, Beth. So I was worried, but then you asked for her details and—"

"Noah, you're babbling," she tells him, sternly enough for him to stop.

He looks at her again. "You're super pissed, are you."

"No. I'm—I don't really know how I feel, but—you're right. I would've never sought her out without you doing this, and—"

She's not really at a point where she can tell someone who is in her life just how much Quinn means to her, regardless of what is going on between them, but the look on her face must give him some idea, because after a second he mimes wiping off his forehead.

"So we're cool?"

She nods. "I need—all the Quinn supporters I can get, right now. Because my dads are not going to be happy about this, after an entire morning of talking about just how much I got bullied in high school, with Joel dragging out every unpleasant memory until—"

"Shit," Puck says, and flushes lightly. "Rachel, I'm sorry, I—"

"It's not about you, okay?" she tells him, and then bites her lip; ignoring the way her daddy had cried, and the way her dad's jaw had set before he just turned to her and asked a question she still couldn't accurately answer.

Why didn't you tell us?

Because that girl with all the trophies wasn't weak. Because her dads, with all the time and money they spent on giving her opportunities, didn't need to feel bad because school wasn't great for her.

Because she just hadn't been able to.

Puck's wrist watch goes off, and he sighs. "Okay. So—I guess we're up, right?"

She nods, and wonders what the hell kind of day she's having where Tony's torture actually sounds welcoming.

Tony whistles, after the first four minutes.

McDonald's is particularly busy, probably just to punish her a little bit more for how fucking awful they all feel, and she hasn't even gotten to the point yet where she's put the wig on.

Everyone else is crammed in the back seat, with her dad staring out the window, unseeing; her daddy looking at her, nervous, and Puck finally rolling his eyes.

"Dude, I can just go get her—"

"Yeah, okay, good," Tony says, abruptly, before turning around. "That? That right there is how we went from a traumatized twenty year old who had something terrifying happen to her, and developed a phobia because of it—to a twenty three year old who could barely leave her apartment."

Puck's jaw muscles clench. "What, you're saying this is my fault?"

"No," Tony says, firmly. "I'm saying that this needs to not happen anymore. The condition is nobody's fault. How she copes with it, however, is at least partially dependent on how everyone else copes with it."

Puck stares at Tony for a long moment, and then says, "Riddle me this, then. Rach has dry-cleaning. Needs to go get it; can't. There's a show on the next day, or whatever. Maybe she has an important audition, and she calls me to ask me if I can go get her shit. And the responsible, friendly thing to do would be to tell her to go fuck herself?"

"Noah," her daddy says, shooting him a disapproving look.

Puck rolls his eyes. "Whatever; you're not my father in law, and this is bullshit."

"Why is it bullshit?" Tony asks, raising an eyebrow.

"Because—like, come on, would you tell someone in a wheelchair to go jogging?"

Rachel can't quite help the noise that leaves her lungs at that, and then turns and says, "Thanks, Noah. That's not at all offensive on like eight levels."

He mutters an apology and then says, "I just don't get what you're trying to say."

"Do you normally wait for her to ask for help?" Tony asks.

Puck's mouth opens, and then closes again.

"What about you?" Tony continues, turning to her dads.

Her dad still isn't looking at any of them, but shakes his head briefly; her daddy sighs and says, "We—just like having all of her favorites in the house when she gets in any way. What's the point in making her go to the supermarket herself?"

She's never felt smaller, than in this rather pathetic moment in the car, with three grown men explaining out loud that she can't do a damn thing for herself anymore.

"You wait for her to tell you if she can or can't do something," Tony instructs them, with much less patience than she's seen him exhibit in the last three weeks. "You don't assume. You don't push her. You wait for her to give you a sign."

Puck sighs and says, "Yeah, okay. I guess I don't—do that anymore, because—"

"Nobody is blaming you, Puck. Just remember it, from now on," Tony says, before turning back around to Rachel. "How about it, then? Do I get my ice-cream, or am I going to die?"

She almost manages a smile, and the Valium's all right, so far; doesn't knock her on her ass quite the way Xanax did when she first started taking that, but it's fraying the edges a little, and so she tugs on the wig and then looks at the entryway again.

"Can I ask a question?" her daddy asks, before she can reach for the door handle.

"Sure," Tony says.

"Why—set such huge goals? Why inside, and not just—I mean, and I don't mean any disrespect at all, to either of you, but why not set a goal she can attain?"

Rachel sighs. "Really? Now we're talking about McDonald's like it's out of my league?"

"Actually, it's a fair question," Tony says, mildly. "With other patients, I might have gone for the, congratulations, you're out of the car approach, but—Rachel, you're an overachiever. You want things that other people think of as the stars. You've gotten the stars, you know? Plucked them right out of the sky and put them on a shelf in your living room. I didn't want to sell you short."

She looks at him in surprise, and he smiles at her kindly.

"Thanks," she says, after a moment, and then glances at her daddy in the rear view mirror. "And he's right. I need—something bigger to aim for."

It's silent for a long time, and then her dad softly says, "I like sprinkles. If you want to go get me a McFlurry, too."

She takes it as the first sign she's had all day that this might actually get better, instead of just steadily getting worse.

Day 22

Anxiety high most of the day. Root cause: parental visit. Puck being here a little but has been tense all day himself and that's taking its toll.

McDonald's was fucking awful. Dad was just upset; Daddy was dying to help me, and Puck just wanted to take over as he's always done. I made it inside, this time, but then someone turned to ask if I was queuing and I mean, it was one foot, over the threshold, and more because I was desperate to prove people wrong than because I was okay. I think I saw Tony with the tranq dart. Great stuff.

Now, we have to go have a family dinner. Those used to be the highlight of my day when I was younger, because it was the only time of day when anyone actually wanted to hear what I had to say. If either of my dads open their mouths to talk about anything real tonight, though, I'll probably be forced to leave the table.

I know I did this to myself, by lying about things for years, but what I need is for them to be understanding of what happens next, because—tomorrow, we talk about my future, and I don't think that after today they'll be able to accept Quinn as a part of it.

And I want her to be. God, I want her to be so badly that it hurts that the only other two people in this world that I love with all my heart will just never understand what I see in her, and what she brings out in me—all the good, and not just the bad.

I don't know how to fix that. I have no idea how to fix that at all.

8/10, 8/10, 8/10.

...

By the time she's done having dinner with them, in the communal dining area—which is relatively full, but she's okay and tries to ignore that they're all surprised about that—she really can't wait to get some alone time.

It's funny, how much she used to dread being alone; how being in her bedroom, staring at her laptop and how the visitor count on her MySpace never really went anywhere—and if it did it was a source of dread rather than anticipation, because it would mean that sky_splitz was back in action to take her down a few more pegs—used to feel like her worst possible lot in life.

She can't really relate to those feelings at all anymore, because one or two people for company is more than enough, and after a few hours of having them around, she still feels like she can't breathe.

The only exception to that rule appears to be someone who can be so very still so as to basically blend in with the scenery completely. Quinn manages to absorb herself into spaces so completely that it's almost as if she's not there, and there is a similarity there to Miffy the cat, who similarly sneaks up on her unexpectedly after hours of staying primed in the same spot.

It's that difference, or that one trait, that has her concretely looking at her phone for the first time in days.

Her inbox contains an email, with another attached picture of Carl Jung, and a notification of a message from Nicole that she might look at later, but her phone itself—

"Hi," she says, when Quinn answers with her usual, "Go for Fabray", but sounding completely dazed.

"Oh, hey," Quinn drawls, not immediately alert, before yawning and stretching loudly. "Sorry, I was napping; Carl Jung has this way of purring on my lap that just knocks me right out."

Rachel heads out to the balcony and sits on the rail there, her feet dangling and her eyes casting out over the beach she's going to have to say goodbye to, sooner rather than later. "You two are in a very loving relationship, aren't you."

"I'd like to think so," Quinn says, warmly and still with that hint of not-quite-awake that makes Rachel feel drowsy herself. "You okay?"

"It wasn't an easy day," she says, after a moment. "I just wanted to hear—an obviously non-disappointed voice."

"I'm sure nobody's disappointed in you," Quinn says, plainly enough for it not to be placating.

"Yeah, you say that, but—"

"Rachel—if I had to go to Canton tomorrow, because Beth suddenly turned out to just be really unhappy and lonely, I would feel completely out of sorts, but never disappointed. And I hardly even know her. I just know a girl who sends me her hand print every year, and is finally old enough to write back actual letters, but even then, I'm a glorified pen pal."

The line stays ominously silent for a while, and Rachel almost expects Quinn to hang up, but she doesn't, and after a few long beats, Rachel just takes a deep breath.

"My fathers don't really know me, though. I mean, I didn't—I've never let them. I tried so hard to be strong, in high school, that they had no choice but to assume that things were fine. And then by junior year, Kurt and Mercedes were actually my friends, and they thought—I'd grown out of some of my off-putting only child habits, and everyone else had grown up enough to realize that I wasn't so bad. I guess that's not even untrue, but—"

"Take it from someone who is actually never going to speak to her parents again: it really isn't too late for you to remedy this, okay? They're there. They love you, they want you to get better, and they want you to lean on them if you need to. All they really want is to make sure that you're caught, when you fall. And if you don't fall—that's a bonus," Quinn says, in the kind of measured tone that makes Rachel think about...

All the things Shelby declined to know about her—except not really, but still.

And all the things Quinn forced herself to decline to know about Beth.

"You want to talk about her?" Rachel offers, when it's clear they haven't really stopped talking about her.

Quinn says, "No, not really", but it's unconvincing, and after a moment just blows out some air and says, "I don't know, are you up for that, after—"

"You don't have to, but I'm here if you want to," Rachel interjects, gently.

Quinn says nothing for a long moment.

"Q, I mean it—" Rachel prompts. "We can talk about … I don't know, windsurfing or how you feel about tattoos or the weather, or—"

Quinn laughs softly, in a throaty and sleep-warm voice, and then says, "Do you actually have opinions on all of those things?"

"Sure," Rachel says, easily enough. "Have you met me? I have opinions about everything."

Quinn makes another small noise, and then says, "Sometimes, I really—this is beyond selfish, and obviously not something that will ever happen, but sometimes, I wish Beth would grow up to dislike Shelby as much as I dislike my parents, and would come looking for me. We talked about that last week, in therapy—about what I'd do with a chance to integrate into her life further, and—I don't know. Five years ago, I would've run screaming, at the idea of actually bearing some responsibility for her, but—I'm not a child anymore. I'm turning twenty-six tomorrow—"

"Oh, shit, you are," Rachel groans. It's not like she doesn't know the date. Of course she does, but with everything else that's been going on... "Your present will be in the mail as soon as I'm out of here, I swear."

Quinn is silent for a long moment, and then says, "You don't have to get me anything, you know that. Just—get better. Be happy."

Rachel grips the rail a little tighter, and then laughs weakly. "Okay, you smooth talker. Thanks a lot. I just almost swooned off my balcony."

Quinn sounds like she's smiling when she adds, "I meant it, though. There's nothing you could buy me that I couldn't also easily get myself."

"Yeah, but—it's the thought, Quinn."

"Well, what would you get me, then?"

Rachel suddenly, and frightfully, feels like she's caught in the strangest of in-between moments; this is a conversation she could be having with her—and dare she think it?—her wife—someone she's married to—teasing about anniversary presents and how the best ones are always free... but it's also a conversation she's having with a girl she hardly knows, really, when it comes down to it. A kindred spirit, though, and the idea of actually having to pick a present...

"I don't know," she admits. "It's the first time you're even suggesting you might permit me to get you a birthday present."

"Permit you?" Quinn asks.

Rachel chews on her lip. "I got you—this is silly, but senior year, your eighteenth—I got you... a pair of earrings. Star-shaped low grade diamonds. I thought they would look really well with that cross you always wore, but—I never ended up giving them to you, because I thought you'd just—laugh at me."

Quinn is silent for a few seconds, and then says, "Nobody remembered my birthday that year. Not even Santana. She was too busy dealing with her parents finding out about her and Brittany, and—"

"I remembered," Rachel says, quietly. "And—I also always remember March 15th."

She hears a small noise on the other side of the line, and then Quinn says, "It's wrong, isn't it. That I actually fantasize about her childhood being as terrible as mine was, just so she has reasons to get to know me better."

"No, it's not. It's a fantasy, Quinn. It's just—a wish. What matters is that you're not making her do anything; you aren't forcing her to have a close relationship with you, but you're letting her get to know you at her speed, and... Quinn, she's lucky to have someone who cares that much about her comfort. Shelby didn't care about mine, at all, and—well, look at me now."

Quinn hisses an exhale, softly, and then says, "Do you—do anything, with Puck, on March 15th?"

"We get incredibly drunk and watch one of the Alien movies," Rachel says, after a second.

Quinn says nothing, and then snorts laughter. "Really?"

"Mmhmm. I once proposed we watched something more thematically appropriate and he just looked at me and said, do you know what a newborn baby looks like?"

"God, that's—" Quinn says, and then laughs again. "What a fucking asshole."

"He might be an asshole, but he loves her a lot, you know," Rachel says, with a small smile.

"Yeah, I know. He made that perfectly clear, when we talked about her," Quinn says, a little more subdued. Moments later, a soft purr sounds over the speaker, and Rachel smiles unwillingly.

"Is that the magnificent Carl Jung?"

"It is," Quinn says, and makes a soft cooing noise that results in even more purring.

"I really, really miss my cats," Rachel sighs, watching as the tides slowly start to change, and day twenty-two comes to an official close.

Six more, until she's let go—but even then, it's Lima, not New York, and the bigger issue remains, what is home to her, right now? Where does she even belong?

"Yeah, they're probably going to hold a grudge, being abandoned the way they were—"

"Quinn," she protests, and Quinn laughs softly. "That's awful. I'm supposed to be looking on the bright side of things."

"Hmm," Quinn says, and then stretches audibly again; and Rachel presses a hand against her collarbone and tries not to picture her, because the way Quinn unfurls her body in moments like this— "Okay, well, then—they'll remember you. You're kind of memorable, you know. So short, yet so loud—"

"I don't know why I called you. You're about as comforting as a public stoning," Rachel says, turning back around and swinging her legs back over onto her balcony. It's almost time for her to stand on her own two feet again. She knows it, even if this is wonderful, and soothing, and almost—

Quinn will never not have a narcotic effect on her, so the real process must lie in recognizing it and being able to wean herself off, sooner rather than later.

"A stoning? Geez, Rachel. You wound me," Quinn says, with a soft chuckle that has Rachel laughing again as well.

It's not much, that laughter, but it knits a few things that feel really raw inside of her back together.

They drift a little, after that, until Quinn just says, "Did I distract you well enough, just now?"

"Yeah," Rachel says, and then adds a slightly awkward, "Thanks."

"No, that's fine," Quinn says. "So you're okay for tomorrow?"

Rachel rubs at her cheek. "I don't think okay is really the right word. I have to—tell them about—God. All of today was about the kids who bullied me in high school, and tomorrow we're starting on discussing how I'm currently dealing with all of that. You're going to come up, and I honestly just don't know what to do."

Quinn is silent for a moment, and then asks, "Do I need to come back out there? Because I can, it's really not—"

"No, honey, no—they'll—you can't. People will assume we're in a relationship if you do, and you'll get their resentment on blast, and it's not fair. They need to be painted a picture of who you are now, so that they can start forgetting who you used to be," Rachel says, sitting down on the edge of her bed with a sigh. "But I have no idea what to tell them, for now. I mean—"

"People are going to conclude what they want to, Rachel. What matters is that you and I are on the same page," Quinn cuts her off, quietly and deadly seriously. "And we are, aren't we?"

"Are we?"

Quinn exhales slowly and then says, "I don't know. I thought—"

"Sometimes I think we're not even in the same book, and other times it's like we're the same letter," Rachel admits, after a long pause. "And, I'm sorry, but—you know so much about where I stand, that maybe—maybe you just need to tell me where you see us going, just this once."

Quinn is silent, as Carl Jung purrs in the background, and then says, "You know nearly all sides of me, and you're still here. That is something that I am not willing to give up for anything, and I hope that—given enough time, I can open myself up to the idea of—taking that as a starting point, rather than an end point. Okay?"

Rachel feels tired tears well up in her eyes, and then says, "No, that's not okay."

The line is silent for a moment, until: "It's not?"

"No. It's so much more than okay. The word okay doesn't begin to cover that," Rachel says, and listens to Quinn let go of her breath, slowly and steadily.

"You know, I've never thought about this before, but Q and R are right next to each other in the alphabet," Quinn then says, in a much smaller and slightly anxious sounding voice, and Rachel smiles and wipes at her eyes. "You think that's like—well, shit, I don't believe in signs, but that sure is a weird coincidence, isn't it."

"Except you're not really a Q," Rachel says, as gently as she can.

Quinn inhales sharply at that, and says, "Yeahhh. Okay."

"Too much?"

"Oh, in ways you wouldn't believe; I'm about five seconds away from flinging my phone out the window and sitting in the bathtub in the dark for about five hours."

"Seriously," Rachel presses, hiding a smile.

"No, I'm okay," Quinn says, with a soft sigh. "Was that a verbal equivalent of knowing how you take your coffee?"

"And then some. That was a verbal equivalent of knowing how I take my orgasms, I'd say."

"Rachel," Quinn says, actually sounding scandalized, and Rachel laughs.

"I have to go. It's almost time for me to surrender my phone again, but—hey, thank you for this. I feel much better, even if I'm probably still going to stutter like an idiot the minute my fathers ask me if I'm a smitten kitten over that Quinn Fabray."

"Well... you're not really, are you?" Quinn says, a little awkwardly.

"No. Though—if given a redo, I'm pretty sure I'd just give you a fucking hug, in high school. Would've sorted you right out, if you ask me."

"Oh, that's a great idea. After all, it's very unlikely I would've tried to strangle you, in response," Quinn says, with a soft chuckle.

"Well, maybe you would've tried to kill me. I still think it would've been worth the risk, now that I know just how much you needed one."

Quinn makes a small noise, and then says, "Talk to you tomorrow?"

"Yeah," Rachel agrees.

With a soft "Bye", she then heads to the door to her room and surrenders her phone to an already approaching Kevin.

She's a model patient, in many ways, which would be a comforting thought if not for the certainty of what tomorrow is going to be like.

Chapter Text

Day 23

There's a minor tremor in her hand all throughout breakfast, which might be neurological or maybe she's just actually suffering long-term effects of caffeine addiction.

It's strange, really; any sort of conception of rehab she had consisted of endless vomiting, scratching at her own arms, and screaming for drugs, but there's been very little of that and just a hell of a lot of staring into space and crying.

Not too different from the last five years, then.

Of course, the last five years involved switch-flicking for exactly the kind of scenario she's about to walk into today, with her honesty sheet full of scribbled, insecure notes about the things that she wishes her parents had and hadn't done for her.

At the bottom, it just says you should have known I wasn't okay.

It's not one she's planning to voice, out loud, because as soon as she'd written it down she'd felt ridiculous, but—now it's there, staring back at her while she's having juice and a vegan muffin that Kevin drops on her plate with a wink, and—

She can't say she doesn't mean it.

Just because it makes her feel like shit, and will make them feel worse, doesn't mean that she doesn't mean it.

Joel has rearranged the setup of the room, and has pushed his desk back against the wall, and so she finds herself sitting in a much more traditional counseling setup, for the first time since she started seeing him.

It's a surprise when he turns to her dads, and then to Puck, and starts them off with, "What's your favorite Rachel performance?"

Her daddy stares at Joel, not comprehending the point of the question any more than Rachel does, but Joel just placidly stares back, with that guppy-eyed expression he sometimes puts on when he knows Rachel is just being obtuse, and she almost smiles.

Puck clears his throat first and says, "Don't Rain on my Parade. Sectionals, sophomore year. I thought we were screwed and then she just busted out with that and it was like... woah. I mean, we knew you were good, but—that was …" He trails off, and then just shrugs. "I'll never forget it."

"Were you at that performance?" Joel asks, neutrally.

"No," her dad almost sighs. "I was preparing a last minute court briefing and you—"

"State-wide audit; I don't think I was home," her daddy says.

Joel looks at them for a long moment. "Sounds like you missed something big."

"We were there at every single one of her performances if it was possible for us to be," her dad says, tersely. "Our obligation to provide for her didn't always make that happen, but we tried."

"I know that," Rachel says, as quietly as she can.

Joel presses his fingers together and then tilts his head. "What about your favorite performance?"

"I don't know," her daddy says, after another long silence. "There have been so many—sometimes I think that nothing will ever be as special as seeing her sing the national anthem when she was eight, just because—that voice, coming out of so little a body—"

"Yeah," her dad agrees, after a moment, and Rachel watches as they hold each other's hands.

Joel leans back in his seat and looks at all of them for a moment. "So—not the performance that won her a Tony. That's not the one?"

They all look surprised. Like they forget she has one. She does, too, sometimes, because—well.

"What's your favorite performance?" Joel finally asks.

She knows, because she's thought about this a lot recently, and just says, "Meatloaf at Nationals."

"What?" Puck asks, and then laughs. "Rachel, that was a fucking disaster."

"Yeah, but—"

"You didn't even solo on that, for crying out loud," her daddy says, shooting her the same kind of disbelieving look.

"I know," she agrees, and then takes a deep breath. "But I had fun."

The entire room falls silent, and then Joel claps his hands together, just once, splitting the thick, uncomfortable air between them.

"Let's talk about the fact that you're a lesbian."

She swats at Puck almost automatically when he perks up at that, and Joel lets it go because he's looking at her parents. "How do you feel about that?"

Her dad pulls a sheet out of his pocket and unfolds it carefully, and then says, "I obviously don't give a damn if she's gay, but I didn't raise someone who is ashamed of who they are, to the best of my understanding, and if she's ashamed of what she is, then what is she of us?"

Her daddy just sighs and says, "Mine says that I just want her to be happy and I understand that career choices are difficult sometimes, but that I didn't think..."

"Who was the first person she was in love with?" Joel asks.

"Finn Hudson," her fathers say in tandem.

Puck makes a noise and looks out of the window, and then just shakes his head.

"Puck?"

"It's not—dude, I don't want to be the one to bring this up," Puck finally says, and then looks at Rachel a little pleadingly.

And she looks at her own honesty sheet, and how at the top it says I love Quinn Fabray and I will keep on doing so even if you can't stand me or her for this, like it's the inner flap to her Trapper Keeper and this is eighth grade.

In a way, she supposes that it is.

"Rachel?" Joel prompts.

She takes a deep breath, and looks at her dads. "I've been in love, on and off, with Quinn Fabray for close to ten years now."

It would be great if her parents would—blow up at her. She's expecting that, but what she's not expecting is the absolute disbelief. Like it's inconceivable that someone could love Quinn. It rubs her the wrong way—chafes, basically—and so she sits up a little bit more and adds, "And this is why I've never told you then, and why I still don't really want to be telling you now."

"Quinn Fabray," her dad says, finally. It's low and soft, like he's wondering if there are any other Quinn Fabrays in this world that she could be talking to. "As in, Russell Fabray's—"

"Yes, dad," she says. Her voice shakes on that one show of spine, but she needs it.

Her daddy laughs, brokenly. "The girl who—who slandered you relentlessly on your MySpace profile, and who drew—the nastiest pictures of you at school, apparently; who got her boyfriends to actually physically assault you when she could, and who—who blamed you for—for the fact that she ended up pregnant, and didn't become Prom Queen, and God knows how many other ridiculous things—"

"Actually, I'm fairly sure she blames me for being pregnant, unless her bitching about stretch marks wasn't about that," Puck says.

Rachel could kiss him, even though it's probably not going to help matters any.

Her dad turns to look at her and, God, the expression on his face; he looks horrified. "What—what is this? You spend all day yesterday explaining that that girl and her friends made your life a living hell and now—" He stops, turns to Joel, and says, "What is going on right now?"

Joel declines to answer, and instead tilts his head carefully at Rachel.

"Rachel, please—tell us you're joking," her daddy says, turning wide, wounded eyes that she inherited on her, and they burn. They burn so badly, but she doesn't lower her eyes and doesn't shake her head.

"I'm not. I was in love with her as a teenager, even if for years I had no idea that that was what it was—and honestly, I don't think I knew what being in love meant; she was the focus of my obsession, as I was hers, and—"

"Your obsession was with wanting to help herHer obsession was with wanting to ruin your life," her daddy says, in a pinched voice that usually precedes tears.

Rachel swallows weakly and then closes her eyes and says, "I know."

Her father drops his head to his hands and rubs at his face. "I don't know what to do with this."

Her daddy looks at Joel and says, "Is this—is this Stockholm Syndrome?"

"Oh, my God," Rachel says, before she can stop herself, and then shakes her head, bites her lip, and looks at Puck.

"No, it's not," Joel says, in a measured tone of voice that quietens the room to the point where she can hear the hitch in her daddy's breathing. "Stockholm Syndrome implies an unnatural ability to empathize with one's kidnapper, which doesn't apply here in either a descriptive or a literal sense."

"Well, then what is this?" her dad asks, now losing his patience. "Are you actually sitting here and telling me that this is normal?"

Joel makes a face and then shrugs. "What's normal?"

"Normal—I don't know, it's wanting to get the hell away from someone like that. A normal girl would've asked us to transfer schools and would've never even thought about Quinn Fabray again but—"

He stops, and turns to look at Rachel.

"What do you mean, on and off for ten years?"

She takes a deep breath and says, "I'm—she's back in my life."

"Oh, Jesus fucking Christ," her daddy says. He's Jewish. She hasn't heard him say anything like that in her entire life.

"As part of a therapeutic healing program?" her dad asks, with such an undercurrent of hostility that Rachel actually shivers.

"No, though she is helping with that. She's—" Rachel starts to say, and then closes her eyes, because this is the problem. She doesn't have clear words, but if she doesn't produce some, right now, this is going to go irreparably wrong. "She's—fast becoming my best friend, and the person I trust most in this world, and—"

"I'm going to be sick," her daddy says, and then murmurs an excuse me and gets up and leaves the room.

Rachel feels tears burn hotly in her throat, but swallows past them and then says, "She's a part of what comes after this, Dad. She's—a part of my life. And I need you to be okay with that. I need you to give her a chance."

Her dad says nothing, for a very long time, and then just says, "I'm not you, Rachel. I don't have an endless arsenal of chances, and if I ever see that girl, I will throw her through a window just to get her out of my house."

"She's not a girl anymore."

Her dad shakes his head. "Like I give a shit. What's at the heart of people doesn't change, Rachel, and at the heart of that girl lies something rotten. To the core. Anyone who could look at you and not see you for the sweet, wonderful girl you've always been—"

"If what's at the heart of people doesn't change, how the hell did I end up here?" she cuts him off.

When he looks at her, it's like he's been shocked.

"Really? You think that at the heart of me, there was someone who was afraid of being in public? Someone who loathed performing like some trained ape for an audience she can't even interact with? Someone who rushed into a relationship with a man just to preserve career opportunities even if that violated at least seventeen of the principles she spent most of her teen years defending in a shitty, homophobic school environment? Have I always been this screwed up, then, Dad, if what's at the heart of me doesn't change?"

He looks away, and then murmurs, "It's not the same thing, and you know it."

Puck stops staring at the ceiling, when nobody else says anything, and then clears his throat. "As both—the beard, and the guy who knocked Quinn up, I think I have a few things to say about Rachel's sexuality here."

"All right," Joel says, crossing his legs and giving Puck a nod.

"First of all; Quinn is the single most unhappy person I've known in my life and I mean, I spend most of my time with like, the wet rag version of Rachel—"

"Thanks," she says, but after a second he just winks at her and she sort of sighs her way into a smile.

"It seriously doesn't compare. Quinn hates herself. That one time we had sex was like, dude, I don't even know. She asked me to come over to her house; then she got herself like, tipsy enough to stop thinking so hard about God and whatever, and then—she begged me to tell her she wasn't fat at least like twenty times and I swear the sex itself only lasted like five minutes because, I mean—" He blushes, lowers his head, and then says, "She was kind of a fantasy. Head of the abstinence club and whatever? Every guy wanted to tap that and she picked me, you know."

Rachel does what she can to not go green in the face, but unfortunately that's not a reaction she has any control over, and after a second Puck looks at her and mouths, "Sorry."

"That's fine. It's a long time ago," she says, almost convincingly.

Puck rubs at his skull and then says, "My only point is, Quinn has always, always been a mess. She's never known what she wanted, and then when she figured it out, it was the kind of thing that would get her thrown out of her house and sent to a convent or one of those camps where they turn gay kids straight, and—like, that doesn't excuse what a bitch she was, but if you're going to forgive Santana for all of her racist anti-Jewish shit and forgive me for like, coming up with Slushies in the first place—like, I'm not that guy. Quinn is not that girl anymore."

Her dad takes a deep breath, but doesn't say anything, and after a moment, Rachel and Puck both helplessly look at Joel, who just says, "What about the bearding?"

"Yeah, I don't know. I mean, she said it was just for her job. She was single. I didn't think it had a huge effect. Because she lied to me about how unhappy it made her," Puck says, picking at the fabric on the arm rest. "And it's like, we spend all of our time together anyway so it's not like it was hard to pretend. I do love her. I'm just not sleeping with her, and that's more because y'know, she's not into dick than—"

"Noah," she hisses at him, and he laughs and says. "Joke, Rach. Geez."

"I'm glad you both think this is funny," her dad says, when she rolls her eyes and Puck sticks his tongue out at her. His voice is unrecognizable. "I'm glad—that everyone's suddenly so okay with high school, but that doesn't really explain why we were made to feel like shit about what it was like for you for an entire day yesterday. I mean, if this is all fine, how did you end up the way you did?"

Rachel tries not to flinch at his tone, but it's hard; and when she flinches, he flinches, too.

"I made the wrong choices," she finally says. "I thought that what I wanted was my career; to show everyone that I was good enough to make it, and in some cases, better than people ever thought I was. I wanted to earn everyone's respect, and because I focused on that so hard, I didn't realize I was unhappy until it was much too late for me to do anything about it. It wasn't one decision. I can't undo—auditioning for Les Mis, and suddenly make this all okay. Just like Quinn can't take back one comment, or five comments, and suddenly make this better."

The door opens behind her, and her daddy walks back in, with red eyes and a mussed collar, and she stares at him pleadingly as he walks by her and sits down next to her dad again. He takes a deep breath, and then says, "I don't need my honesty sheet for this; I think this is—awful. I think that, even if it's not Stockholm Syndrome, there is something wrong with Rachel if she actually can forget about the worst years of her life, that apparently shaped her in ways that Lee and I never saw, all because—this girl is... God, I don't know."

Joel says, "You assume she's forgetting about them."

"You're right," her daddy says, with a sigh; he clutches at her dad's hand again, and Rachel suddenly misses Quinn so badly that it's like her own hand has gotten cut off, just like that. "She's obviously not, but—why would she then choose to—I don't know. Even associate with someone who just reminds her of those years?"

Rachel clears her throat, "Daddy—everyone reminds me of those years. If whether not people could've treated me better in high school was my determinant for friendship, I wouldn't have any friends."

Puck shifts at that, and says, "Like I said; most of us were jerks back then. Quinn just had a lot more going on than most of us."

"Yes, but she's not claiming to be in love with most of you," her dad says, straightening a little and then slumping again. "Rachel, I'm sorry, okay—I don't know how to be okay with this."

"What is your gut saying?" Joel asks.

Her dad hesitates, and then says, "That I need to take her home with me, and maybe ground her, and keep her safe, because she's so obviously not okay that—"

"I'm not a child anymore either, Dad," she tells him, as gently as she can.

Her dad sighs, and says, "Yeah. You're not, and I can't stop you from—doing whatever you're doing, but I just don't understand it. How can you even look at her, and not just see everything she's done to you?"

"Because when I look at her, most of what I see is how much she suffers because of everything she did to me. And to herself, back then," Rachel says, after a long moment. "I forgave her for everything she did almost as soon as the truth about her pregnancy came out, and it's been ten years and she's still not forgiven herself. It's pointless, for me to hate her for something that she hates herself for. It's pointless when—what I really need for her is to prove to me that she didn't mean any of it, and that her actions back then weren't about me. That's what will help. Resenting her isn't going to make me functional again."

"Maybe not, but it would be understandable," her dad says, rubbing at his eyes. "This is just—"

"Not something that anyone can rationally come to terms with in about five minutes," Joel interjects. "Okay? What's important is that Rachel has told you. Would you have, a few months ago?"

"No," she admits, and her fathers deflate a little bit more. "I would have lied about it indefinitely just to not have to deal with what is happening now."

Her daddy looks at her after a long moment and then just says, "Why don't you trust us to be there for you, Rachel? What have we ever done to make you think that we wouldn't be?"

She gives him her best eyebrow raise, and he shakes his head.

"Don't pin this on the reaction we're having right now—that's shock. We'll—deal with it. This doesn't make you any less our daughter, in my eyes—"

"No, of course not," her dad says, shooting her a look that shuts her up.

"We love you. We love you so much that—this is killing us, and yet the only real feedback we've gotten from you so far is that—you can't let us in, because you think that we won't be there for you. What have we ever done—" her daddy repeats, and then just lowers his eyes and says, "I just don't know how to undo this. I thought—we were good parents. I thought we enabled you to blossom, and I thought we had a good relationship. But this? This isn't—"

"My whole life has been about my voice," she says, softly.

"Because you wanted it to be," her dad says, looking at her uncertainly. "Rachel, I know that—a lot of things are coming up right now that we didn't know about each other, but you loved singing. We gave you as many opportunities to do what you wanted to do, which was shine."

It's not untrue, and after a moment she just says, "Yes. And I did shine. And then—I stopped shining. And I—you never even considered that that could happen, and when it did, I just panicked. I didn't want everything you've done for me to be for nothing. I didn't want—to have to sit here, like we're doing now, and say thank you for all the voice and dance lessons, and all the emotional and financial support, and all the unending faith you have in me, but what I really needed was two parents who would've been okay with someone average."

They exchange a look, and then her dad says, "Rachel—you could never be average. Even if you never sing again, you'll always be incredibly special to us. That's because we're blind, okay, honey? That's—I mean, even Finn's mother seemed to think he was special—"

"Harsh," Puck says, but the comments slices neatly through all the tension and after a moment they all laugh a little awkwardly.

"That's just what it means to be a parent," her dad finishes, quietly, and then gives her the kind of look that she hasn't seen from him in a while; the kind that means that he's thinking about her as a person, and not just that really accomplished kid he was lucky enough to have.

"Do you really mean it, though?" she asks, when Joel nods for her to put it out there. "That—even if I never sing again, you—"

The shift in their body language is there, but so is the way they still both look at her, steadily.

"Are you—retiring?" her daddy finally asks.

It feels so permanent, when the people who have propped her up above crowds since she was a toddler put it out there like that, but she looks at Puck, also clearly surprised, and then nods. "Maybe forever. But I'm at least retiring the way Jay-Z has about five times by now. I need an extended break. Not one where my phone keeps ringing because there are projects and I could be signing on for them. I just want—quiet. I just want to be left alone."

Puck takes a deep breath, and then slowly lets it out, and says, "Well, shit. I guess I better find another job, then."

"Not really the point, son," Joel tells him, mildly, and after a second Puck looks over.

"If you're quitting—are we done, too?"

She bites her lip, and then nods. "Yeah."

"But not because of Q?" he checks.

She shakes her head. "This isn't about her. I really mean that. She has no problems with what we do, as it's part of the job, and in any event has no desire to be in the spotlight herself, so—"

She ignores the way her fathers shift again, uncomfortably this time, and adds, "Not to mention that it's ludicrous to take life-changing decisions on the basis of someone you might one day be in a relationship with."

"You're not in one now?" her daddy asks.

She looks at him steadily and says, "I'm not ready for that, and neither is she. We know we have a lot to work through, okay?" The urge to add, it doesn't mean I don't love her is childish, even if the words hover on the tip of her tongue, but she reigns them in.

They do need time. And they can have it, because it's not as if she and Quinn don't need time.

After a long moment, her daddy nods.

He always has been the more forgiving one; the soft touch she herself inherited. She's always thought that he needed the strong, practical influence that her dad represents in order to not get hopelessly roped into commitments that weren't good for him, and she smiles unwillingly when she realizes that, God, one day, they might sit around the Thanksgiving dinner table and laugh at how Rachel has in fact married the womanly equivalent of her father, albeit the one least like her.

She looks at Joel, not sure how to continue, and Joel says, "All right. We've been honest, now. Okay? We're up to date on how we got to where we are now. And now it's time to start looking forward. We have to talk about the things that make Rachel retreat inwards; how to spot them, and how to pull her back out. There are things you can do to stop her from sinking as low as she has over the last few years, even if ultimately her happiness is within her hands, and not anyone else's."

Everyone seems relieved at the change of subject, and Rachel takes a deep breath. "I plan on—moving out of the city. I think my condition will be easier to manage if I can go from the quiet of my apartment to—some people, but not the crowds I get in the city. I also think I'll do better if I'm just outside of the public eye in a more general sense."

"And then what?" her dad asks, still a little stiffly—but he's trying, and she knows it. Knows better than she used to, really, what trying looks like on people who aren't incredibly forthcoming with emotions they don't like.

"I don't know. I plan on... taking time to think about what I actually want in my life."

Her daddy looks at Joel. "Is it a good idea for her to isolate herself the way she's describing? Because it sounds like … she's almost contemplating a hermit-like existence. She might as well go live in a cabin in the woods."

"Please don't talk about me like I'm not here," Rachel says, before she can stop herself. When everyone turns to her, she takes a deep breath and says, "That's the first thing that has gone wrong. Everyone takes decisions about what's best for me without actually checking what I want, these days. It's like—because I'm afraid of being in public, I'm suddenly not an adult anymore. I know what's good for me, and what isn't. This is the right thing to do. It's the first right thing I've attempted to do in a very long time."

"What about when we take you home? What's—what should we be doing in Lima?" her dad asks.

Rachel glances at Joel, and says, "Treat me the way you always have. Like I'm fine, because I want to be fine."

"Are you going to pretend that you are now, though?" her dad presses. "Because I don't know if I can do this anymore, Rachel. You're the natural actor in the family; that's not us. I don't know if I can just plaster on a smile and pretend I don't know you're—in trouble."

"You don't have to, but I need you to understand that I'm not actually—broken," she finally says, because that's the best way she can put it. "Sometimes I'll be able to go and get oranges from the organic vegetable store, and sometimes I'll be able to fill my own scrips, and other times I won't. Just—let me tell you. Please don't start suffocating me just because you're worried. I don't think I'll cope with that well at all, because feeling trapped just isn't..."

She flashes back, to that horrible karaoke night, and closes her eyes.

"I need you to give me a chance to be okay," she says.

Joel says, "That's a pretty good starting point. Thoughts?"

"It's going to be like, weird—you know, to not just act the way I always have, but I can make it work," Puck says, and after a moment her dad says, "Yeah. Me too."

"What else, Rachel?"

She hesitates, because this isn't why she's in treatment, but God, does it ever relate to her after-care. "I need you to not make me choose between you and Quinn."

Puck just nods, because this is a non-issue for him, and her fathers look at each other with unreadable expressions before her dad takes a deep breath and says, "The best—I can promise you, for now, is that I am willing to just not discuss her."

Daddy adds, "I'm sorry, Rachel, but—we don't know her the way you do, and speaking for myself, I'm not in a place where I'm ready to get to know her."

It's not good enough, but as far as compromises go, it's one she's willing to make. For now.

"Okay," she finally says, and then looks at Joel, who reaches for his desk and pulls out a few folders and starts handing them around.

"Reminders. To all of you. You can start putting this into practice when you go to McDonald's today."

And just like that, she's almost done. She has five more days, but she knows as well as Joel seems to, when he smiles a little as he hands her her binder of what she can only think of as post-operative care notes.

She's going to miss him. He likes Quinn. It matters even if it shouldn't.

Day 23

7 out of 10. Everyone is trying. I have to remind myself that trying is a lot more than not trying and then it slowly becomes okay to be here like this. It's hard not to think of Puck as something to lean on, in all of this, when I know things with him are going to be different on the outside as well.

Humans are so habitual. And now I have to go on to find new habits.

The world has never felt larger, really, but I'm just about ready to step into it again, I think. I feel like I've been in the more curative version of The Cube for three weeks now, but the real test is what I make of myself on the outside, and, I guess we're going to find out soon.

McDonald's now. Two Valium. Ready to lock and load.

Tony says the most surprising thing, when she's there.

"Do you want someone to go in with you?"

She looks at him in surprise. "I—why? Isn't that—failing?"

"I don't know. Is it?" he asks her.

She's reaching her limit of all this pedagogically sound crap, really, and takes a deep breath and counts to five, during which time he smiles at her and says, "Annoyed?"

"Yeah."

"'kay. Channel it. And if you want someone to walk in with you—"

"Dad?" she asks, before she can stop herself.

He looks up, surprised, from the back seat, and then pops the door open without a second of hesitation.

She shoots her daddy an apologetic look, but after a second he smiles and says, "I'd pick him too, in a crisis; it's why I married him, sweetheart."

This isn't really a crisis, but as he's letting himself be let down gently, she ignores that, and grabs today's prop—a baseball cap, rather than a hat, and a pair of sunglasses—and gets out of the car as well.

Her dad shoves his hands in his pockets, and walks next to her, and then says, "Remind me again what I'm supposed to be doing right now?"

"I don't really know, to be honest," she admits, and they both chuckle a little as they start walking towards the store.

He's a presence, steady, and she's reminded of Quinn washing her hands in the bathroom of that sushi place in Vegas—the same motions over and over again, and it snapped her out of a pretty bad moment, back then.

"Maybe I just need you to... be there," she finally says, mashing her lips together.

He nods, and then they're at the door.

"And to distract me," she adds, when her air supply is closing down on her again, just at the sight of the lines inside. "Just—talk to me about stuff. Anything."

This is going to get confusing, down the line, because sometimes she needs people to be quiet, but that's past a certain point, and now—distraction is the key. She might have to start taking her own notes, and distributing them, sort of like a babysitting manual to—God, her lungs. There are people in there. She's hovering. She needs to either go, or not go, but either way—

"I'm thinking about turning your bedroom into a crafts room," her dad says.

"What?" she says, turning to him abruptly.

"Well, you know H is really into card-making and the holiday season is just around the corner, Rachel, and all that crap on the kitchen table—shit, girl, I don't spend three hours cooking a roast just so we can eat it on the couch, you know?"

She gets sort of a neutral shrug, in response, and stares at him.

"But that's my room," is her feeble counter-argument.

"Well, you're twenty five years old now—you'll be twenty six in a few months, actually—and I just figure, sometimes it's time to accept that your children are grown-ups," he says, like this is all totally no big deal.

"I can't believe you're—what about all my posters?" she exclaims. "You can't throw those out."

"We could ship them to you?"

"What would I do with them? I'm almost twenty six!"

He makes a face at her. "I don't know, honey. If they're of emotional significance I guess we can box them—"

"Box them," she repeats, wondering if she looks as annoyed as she is. "And don't even pretend this is about accepting my maturity or whatever. I know you still think of me as a child; you just don't want daddy to accidentally superglue his tie to the table again."

"He squealed like something was killing him," her dad recalls, and then makes a face. "I almost broke my neck running down the stairs, and it seriously just hadn't occurred to him that maybe if he stopped trying to move, he'd stop choking."

Rachel grins. "It makes for a pretty great picture, though, you have to admit."

"He doesn't know this, but sometimes I send a second set of Christmas cards to our college friends with just that picture in them," her dad says, with a smirk.

"That's so mean," she laughs.

"What can I get you?" someone asks, out of nowhere.

Her heart stops. Plain-up stops. It's like it has an off switch and Serena, the McDonald's employee, just whacked it with a mallet.

She opens her mouth, feels the entire room closing in on her, and then watches as her dad says, "Hey, Rachel? You don't really need to keep that signed Wicked program, do you? Because I mean—"

She glares at him, even as he hands her a ten, and yes, her palms are almost soaked with sweat and her breath is kind of rattling in her lungs, but she's here.

"Hello, Serena," she says, as firmly as she can. "I would like two McFlurries. One plain, one with sprinkles."

"Anything else I can get you?" Serena asks, after punching a few buttons.

Her courage, or wind sprint to the finish line, or whatever this is, wobbles for a moment, and she looks at her dad, who just looks back at her until she nods, and then he says, "No, thank you, that'll be all."

They get to stand—not in the crowd. Out to the side, while the order is prepared, and she says, "Keep talking" in a low voice; it's urgent-sounding, and her dad hesitates for a moment, but then says, "You know, this is neither here nor there, but I always thought you and Puckerman would have spectacularly cute babies, so that's kind of a loss here. You think you could hit him up for his genes in the future?"

She doesn't know if she wants to start laughing or hyperventilating and settles somewhere in between, and when he slowly smiles at her, sincerely, this time, she suddenly sees the man she's known and loved for the first time in two days.

"I'm sure he'd be amenable, but I don't think—well," she says, and then stops herself, before this can go awkward. "I'm not sure want children."

He smiles again, as the McFlurries are delivered, and they both pick one up. "You're still young. Things change."

"I thought they didn't," she says, her heart hammering dangerously hard now that they've completed the mission, and are on their way out—and she's getting a little faint, so it's for the best that her dad holds the door open and lets her out first.

She watches, as he opens his mouth to speak, and then closes it again, and finally just says, "How about we just celebrate what you just did, and we can—talk about that later."

"Jeffrey Dahmer," she says, with a small smile.

"I'm sorry?"

"Nevermind," she says, and then heads back to the car, thrusting out the McFlurry at a waiting, and beaming, Tony.

"How's it feel?" he asks her.

She's really not feeling great physically, and must be getting a little grey-faced, because he steps aside and lets her sink against the side of the car, but after a second she looks up and him and says, "Better than winning the Tony."

"The best part is you can probably do this more than, y'know, once a year," he tells her, digging into his ice cream, and she watches as her fathers hug each other, and then thinks—

"I think I've earned some early phone access," she says, quietly enough for her dads to not hear. "Don't you?"

Tony just smiles at her.

Dinner that night is not so bad.

There are topics they are avoiding, to be sure, but at least it's by mutual agreement, now. She can't even begin to explain how different that is, and what a relief it is, and even though she can tell everyone is trying to treat her like a normal person, they're also mostly succeeding.

Puck grimaces at the after-dinner coffee and says, "What is this?"

"The reason I'll be asking you to get me Starbucks as soon as I'm out," she says, smiling at her dads.

"Honey, you know we don't have a Starbucks in Lima," her daddy says.

She sighs. "God. Why is everything so hard?"

Puck chuckles and then says, "Soon as you're back in the city, or like, near the city. Tee and Mike and I will go and scout out some of the places she's talked to you about, okay? I'm guessing a Starbucks is a must?"

"Yes," she says, after a moment. "And a CVS."

"You can drive to pick up your prescriptions," her dad says, half-smiling a little. "That's so not a residential requirement. What you need is some good organic produce near you, and maybe some place that does vegan food."

"Yeah, I agree," her daddy says. "I mean, otherwise you might as well come live in Lima."

She wrinkles her nose, and then says, "Much as I'm looking forward to visiting—"

"We know," her dad says, and finishes the rest of his own decaf.

The conversation lulls, and she feels her phone vibrate in her pocket and glances at it, and—

Her soft chuckle is unmistakable, and after a second she says, "Sorry; just a message."

Her dad looks away, and her daddy just sort of awkwardly smiles at her, and Puck raises his eyebrows. "Did she send you a nude photo or something? Because I mean—"

"Oh my God," Rachel exclaims, before slapping at his wrist. "No. She's much too prude for that, good lord. And also, I don't think that me having a heart attack is going to help my recovery."

"Well, you look like you just—" Puck says, grinning a little.

She rolls her eyes and says, "It wasn't dirty. It was incredibly lame and—kind of sweet."

"Well, what was it?" her daddy finally asks, sounding mostly like he just really wants to be reassured there are no naked pictures being distributed.

She sighs and produces the phone, clicks back to Quinn's email, and then hands it to her daddy.

He's quiet for a long moment, and then says, "That's—pretty clever."

"Yeah," Rachel agrees, before glaring at Puck again. "She made a play on a famous Rodin statue to tell me that she was thinking of me."

For a second, she thinks her dad might also reach for her phone, but—no. It gets hand back, and she glances at the picture one more time—mostly just a mop of Quinn's hair, but that's what sort of makes it, along side the of you, right now; hope you're okay that it's captioned with—and then shoves it back in her pocket.

Her entire future is going to be about one day at a time from now on, according to Joel's outline.

She figures this day is as good as any to start, and then says, "So—we have Scrabble in the rec room—are you guys up for a match?"

She's sitting on the beach, humming that Cat Power song that's been stuck on and off in her head—although, if she's honest, the iPod is now slowly filling with other types of music; she's listened to a little post-punk, lately, at Quinn's suggestion, and something about the explicit rage of the music actually has an unexpected calming effect.

Her entire life has been about music that has meaning, in words, really, but now she's discovering that there's something to be said for music that just makes her want to do something—whether it's throw something at a wall, or scream really loudly, or—think about dancing, somewhere, like nobody's watching.

Except her cats, maybe.

Quinn seems like a private dancer—and she thinks it, and then chuckles to herself and lies down flat on her back, as the sun casts down overhead and the sounds of the ocean rush up around her—and … maybe that's the test. If Rachel can catch her dancing like a complete nerd, in her own apartment, and then keep going when she gets caught—albeit with a cute, sheepish look on her face—that'll be when she knows, that they're ready.

That they're...

The phone in her pocket rings, jolting her, and she smiles when she sees the display. "Hey."

"I thought they'd—I don't know. I thought maybe you'd been bad. You normally get in touch before now," Quinn says, sounding a little concerned, but—it's a bearable amount of concern, for now.

"No, I was good, as always," Rachel says, with a small smile. "It was—oh, I don't want to talk about it. Is that okay? The bottom line is that everyone is going to work hard to not drive me crazier, and—well. That's all you can really ask for."

"You're not crazy; you know that," Quinn says.

Rachel closes her eyes, and thinks about the slightly awkward but slightly better dinner, and the picture Quinn sent her during it, and then just says, "I miss having sex with you."

She doesn't even mean to; it just slips out, and as soon as she realizes it has, she adds, "Shit—sorry. Puck thought you'd maybe sent me some artistic nudes; apparently even seeing your geeky classic jokes make me look like I'm thinking about you naked, or maybe he just can't distinguish between happy and horny."

"I think they might be the same thing, to him," Quinn says, a little wryly.

"Well, he's not entirely alone there," Rachel says, stretching and digging her heels into the sand. "Sorry. I know we agreed that we're—you know, strictly hands off, these days, but I like that I can tell you how I feel about sex. It's not the kind of thing that Rachel Berry is expected to think about, you know, let alone out loud."

Quinn is silent for a moment, and then says, "I miss having sex with you, too. It was—the best ... experience of that type of my life. By some distance."

Objectively, Rachel already knew this, but there's something about hearing this that tips this conversation into a dangerous direction. One that she should, at the very least, table until she's off the phone, and back in her room, with the door locked and the blinds shut.

Although, the idea of Quinn taking her in public somewhere—

"I think that... if and when we're ready to go there again, it'll be ... better, somehow," Quinn adds, a little more stiltedly. "I guess it might be awkward because we will have had so much time apart, but—I feel like I understand you better, now. And if I understand you better, I'll be able to satisfy you—"

"Stop," Rachel says, abruptly, and then presses a sandy hand to her cheek, hoping to cool it. "I mean, don't ever stop with... what you're alluding to, but please don't talk about it unless you're willing to say fuck it to all the rules and just—do me, right now."

"I can't do you right now," Quinn complains; it comes out whiny in a way that's really, really flattering.

"Okay, so—we should stop talking. Not that this isn't the most pleasant distraction of all time, and I know it's completely my fault for just—blurting things out like that, but—"

"I'm making tomato and herb pasta again tonight," Quinn says, abruptly.

Rachel laughs. "That is not a recipe to turning me off, you know that."

"Well, I mean—I might already have been, um, a little keyed up before I called you; I just thought that hearing your voice would, I don't know..."

"Soothe you?" Rachel asks, jokingly.

"Yeah, I don't know what I was thinking," Quinn sort of sighs.

"What goes in your tomato and herb pasta?" Rachel asks, after a very, very loaded pause.

She feels so—

"Um. Tomatoes. And herbs," Quinn says, a little muffled. "It needs more—"

"Try cilantro."

"No, no, oregano," Quinn says.

"Do you really not throw anything else in?"

"Well, no, I'm adding mushrooms, obviously," Quinn says, stressing the obviously in such a way that Rachel smiles a little.

"Obviously."

"But if I think of it as tomato and mushroom pasta—"

"Well, we could have phone sex again some time, and call it that."

Quinn makes a small noise and then says, "If I chop off a finger, I'm blaming you—and might I remind you that you like my fingers?"

"You have two hands, I'm sure you'll figure out a way to compensate," Rachel says, closing her eyes, and yes—this is now explicit, and completely not the plan, but she finds it weirdly soothing, that she's not the only one thinking back on those heady summer evenings and just losing herself in a memory completely.

It's not even really about the sex; it's about Quinn, touching her. And then about Quinn refusing to touch her, and about Quinn refusing to let her touch Quinn, and...

She sighs a little. "Q?"

"What?"

"I'm going to go and rub one out now, okay? Enjoy your dinner."

A loud clattering sound echoes through the phone, and Rachel bites her lip to not start laughing, until Quinn just hisses, "I hate you."

"You didn't actually hurt yourself, did you?"

"No, but dinner's almost ready and I'm so not going to be eating it while it's still hot. I'm going to be having soggy pasta tonight because of you."

"What kind of pasta?"

"Spaghetti," Quinn says, in a low grumble that has Rachel sort of squirming and laughing at the same time.

"You sound very upset about that."

"I'm not upset about the spaghetti, I'm just—what have you done to this conversation? I just wanted to know if you were okay because you hadn't called or emailed. Jesus."

"Can you not tell that I'm fine?" Rachel says, a little more seriously. "Because I don't think I'd be teasing you like this if I wasn't okay. Honest."

"Well, yeah, but—whatever," Quinn mumbles.

Rachel's suddenly overwhelmed with fondness for her—well, for Quinn. It's like—they're playing, but as people, and she rolls over onto her side and draws a Q in the sand, just because she can; and then she rubs it out with her entire fist, and writes an L in its place.

"Are you actually going to—" Quinn asks, after a moment, a little tentatively and very interestedly.

"I probably will, later tonight, but—"

"Yeah. Every day, right?"

Rachel laughs. "It's nice that you pay attention to the important things."

She knows, knows Quinn is an incredibly dark shade of red when she responds with an embarrassed, "Shut up; I listen to everything you say, and you say a lot, okay."

"I know you do," Rachel concedes, with a small smile.

"What are you doing right now?" Quinn asks, a little more sober-sounding.

Rachel glances at her own fingers, still swirling, and then admits, "Writing your full name in the sand."

Quinn is silent for a moment, and then asks, "What's my full name, to you?"

"The whole thing, Q. Lucy is a part of it," she says, a little more carefully. "If I thought it would help you come to terms with—you know, everything, I'd probably start calling you Lucy, actually."

That earns her another silence, and no, she's not as turned on anymore, but she's—warm. Warm, instead of hot, because these little moments are finally starting to tie together into a picture she can almost paint in her mind. And that's—

Warm, she thinks, and listens carefully to what Quinn is doing, over in a different city, but not entirely in a different life anymore.

"Not sure I'd cotton to that," Quinn finally says.

"Well, I lied. My real motivation here is the opportunity to randomly call out Lucy, I'm home!," Rachel jokes.

After a second, Quinn chuckles. "Okay, I might let you get away with that much."

There's a pleasant, dull silence between them, as things hiss and simmer in the background, and Rachel's finger keeps tracking Quinn's name in the sand, and then she rolls over onto her back again and says, "You know what else I miss?"

"Hm?"

"That UNLV hoodie you like wearing on your days off. It's so soft," Rachel says, cringing a little when the words are actually out there. They're strangely intimate, somehow, even though she's just expressing fondness for some fabric.

Quinn blows air onto something, and then samples something with a small, appreciative moan, and then says, "If you want it, I can send it to you."

Rachel watches the sun finally dim a little—and the moon's already visible, which is the strangest thing about Hawaii by some distance—and then says, "Thanks. That's really sweet of you."

A few months ago, Quinn would've laughed and/or run off screaming at this conversation, but now she just says, "It's just a sweater, it's not a big deal. Are you planning on wearing it or—"

"No. I'm going to sleep on it," Rachel admits, after a second, now feeling like a twelve year old and an idiot, more so when Quinn just chuckles.

"Baby, baby, let me sleep on it," she sings, after a second.

Rachel laughs, surprising herself. "You are such a nerd."

"Maybe, or maybe I'm just a Meatloaf fan. Or a fan of dashboard lights."

Rachel laughs. "Mmhmm."

Quinn sings a few more lines of the song, horrendously off key—and Rachel knows, in her gut, that she's just hopelessly stupid for Quinn girl when that doesn't even bother her—and then finally says, "You're thinking about Nationals, aren't you."

"Yeah. I loved that performance. I think it's my favorite one, ever."

"Really? It was a disaster, I figured you'd be—" Quinn starts to say, before laughing softly. "I don't know. When you weren't busy kissing my ex-boyfriend during them, you were kind of an anal retentive nightmare about our performances."

"Ouch. On every level, ouch." Rachel sort of winces through a smile, because it's the truth, and anyway, it's been a long time. She's figured out by now how to turn perfectionism into a bearable quality, rather than an alienating handicap.

"I'm glad you liked it, too, though. I had a lot of fun during that song," Quinn says, a little wistfully.

"I could tell. This is an overdue compliment, but you sounded really good on—"

"The zero parts of that I sang lead on?"

"Yeah, that," Rachel agrees, trying not to laugh. "Excellent blending, Miss Fabray."

"Well, as long as it was excellent," Quinn says, dryly.

A timer goes off, and she hears running water—draining pasta, probably—and then Quinn says, "Okay. I have to go eat now."

"Okay. It was really nice talking to you while you made your tomato and herb pasta. I really enjoyed it," Rachel says, as coyly as she can.

Quinn sighs. "You're totally heading back to your room to—"

Rachel grins. "Bye, Quinn. I hope you and that episode of Buffy that you're replacing me with have a really pleasant night together."

"I hate you," Quinn sort of grumbles, again, and then hangs up before Rachel can respond.

...

By the time she gets back to her room, there's an email in her inbox that just says, Just in case you need a visual stimulus...