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Pay It Forward

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Quinn is an excellent student. She gets that education is about learning things and then applying that knowledge. It’s why she’s at the top of her class.

******

Rachel’s invitation is shy and almost painful. She cringes through most of it, as if she’s expecting either a painful rejection or a mocking laugh, but Quinn’s gotten so tired of everything that she lets the other girl ramble. And it’s kind of strange, because it wasn’t that long ago that she was watching Rachel’s deluded little videos on Myspace and doing her level best to crush Rachel’s dreams and self-esteem. Now she’s nodding dumbly, agreeing to Rachel’s offer to, “Maybe hang out some time.” It’s lost in the middle of a rambling speech about how Rachel has realized that glee is like her family, and about how she’s trying to change and integrate and make friends – and she says it just like that, as if she’s written up a script or a to-do list and is checking through the boxes of why this is her newest strategy for crawling up off the bottom of the social heap.

“Okay. Whatever.”

She’s too dazed to laugh at Rachel’s dumbstruck expression. She’s too dazed to even notice it.

******

The planning of it just sort of happens, as Rachel catches her after glee one day with a schedule of options.

“…and I know that on Wednesday, Cheerios practice ends at five. I’m usually here late – it’s the day I reserve strictly for working on dominant scales and arpeggios, so…”

“Wednesday,” Quinn says distractedly, because even though Rachel’s been talking for the last five minutes, this is the first thing she’s managed to absorb with enough depth to be able to offer any sort of response. “Let’s do it then.”

She walks away, leaving Rachel behind to stare at her in confusion. Rachel’s still got her shoulders tensed – there’s a slushie to the face coming, or the dropping of another shoe in her near future. She’s sure of it, because her attempts to engage in social interaction generally end in abject failure, yet this one is proceeding with remarkable ease. And Quinn? Quinn can’t stand her. It makes her think there’s a horrible teen slasher flick future ahead of her, where she’s the unpopular girl who walks straight into a trap. So she pokes around her psyche a bit, looking for any tendency to snap and systematically murder a gaggle of popular kids in violently gruesome yet often creative ways.

She finds nothing but a small, sincere pinprick of hope that, against all odds, she and Quinn might actually become friends.

It’s really miniscule, though, so she considers rewatching ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ as a primer.

******

Rachel looks like a scared little rabbit, complete with angora cardigan. She’s hovering a few feet away, as if Quinn’s somehow kidnapped her and she’s looking for the right moment to make her break. So, when Quinn sees the six pack of wine coolers – her mom’s, and she’ll probably be in trouble when her mom notices they’re missing, but it’s not as if that sort of trouble will be anything in comparison to what happens when they find out what she’s really done – she grabs it.

“Come on. We’ll go to my room.”

Rachel takes the wine cooler as if it’s poisoned and sips from it hesitantly, the liquid only barely touching the tip of her tongue. Quinn’s dispassionate look of apathy drives her to take a larger sip, and it’s not as bad as she’d thought it would be; it’s fruity and sharp and fizzy, and it gives her something to do, so she works her way through half the bottle with quick, nervous sips and hard swallows.

So far, this isn’t going anything like what she’d expected.

“I would join you, but…”

Quinn trails off. Her eyes glaze over as she flashes back to an afternoon just like this, with Puck teasing her and handing her another bottle. She’d wanted a break, because her life was intolerable and she’d only slowly been coming to realize that – Cheerios, Finn, and their little town, and Ms. Pillsbury had been to their classes a few times, standing at the front of the room with her optimistic smile and big, hopeful eyes and talking about things like college prospects, scholarship applications, and how it was time they started planning for the future. And that… that was scary. She wanted out of Lima, maybe out of Ohio entirely. She wanted to live in a college dorm room and be part of a study group that always started out with serious intentions but ended up with everyone laughing so hard they could barely breathe. She wanted to make new friends, and have a part-time job, and carry around tattered copies of the novels they were reading for class so that she could pull one out, under a tree in the park or while riding the train or in the student union, with the indecipherable sounds of the excited student masses acting as a backdrop.

She didn’t want to leave Lima only to be stuck in the same place. Because, she could be honest with herself. She was pretty. She could be vicious. She could be manipulative and ruthless. These things meant that she was popular, and it was a formula she’d tested and perfected. She realized how unflattering it was, to doubt that she could change, but she’d try to picture the things she wanted – her, leaning back against a tree, dappled in sunlight, reading intently – and instead she’d see a pack of three or four girls, following along behind her as she excoriated the less fortunate who were only trying to live out their own silly dreams just because she wanted to keep everyone firmly in their places.

Like Rachel.

And so she’d gotten tipsy. Her skin had gotten flushed and her mind had seemed to detach from the world, so that when Puck slid over to her, moving in slowly, his eyes fastened on her lips, she decided to wait it out and see what happened.

Puck wasn’t like Finn, who spent nearly twice as much time thinking about the mailman as he did about her whenever they kissed. Puck was smooth and sly. He knew what he was doing, and his fingers had a way of sneaking into places before she’d even noticed them. They found their way beneath cloth, against skin, and her breath had caught in her throat.

When he was above her, hovering, pressing into her ever so slowly, her mind snapped back into place, because this was important. This was a momentous occasion, and it wasn’t supposed to be happening now and it wasn’t supposed to be happening with him. But she’d said yes, and she’d kissed him back, and she was the one who hadn’t been thinking, who had gotten lost.

It didn’t matter anyway, because this was the kind of thing that couldn’t be undone.

And look at how much she’d learned – wine coolers, the privacy of a house without parents, and a girl, confused and a little bit desperate. This was how she’d ruined her life.

But it was the girl, this girl… This girl had some sort of connection with Finn, something Quinn could sense but not see. This girl stood in front of the celibacy club and made speeches and was honest, and exposed the unspoken truth, the farce they’d all agreed to uphold. This girl had a voice that could fill an auditorium without assistance, and would make it out of their little town one day and just keep on going.

This girl was going to sit under a tree, dappled with sunlight.

Pay it forward, Quinn thinks, pulling herself back into the present with a bitter smile Rachel doesn’t see.

******

Rachel makes it through two and a half wine coolers before her words start to slur.

“It’s not that I’m above commercial work,” she’s saying. Quinn has already listened to the particulars of Rachel Berry’s five year plan. Now they’ve moved on, past college and into her initial forays on Broadway – something off-Broadway first, and hopefully a little daring and controversial, because she wants to prove that she can do avant garde as well as classical. “I know you have to take work where you can find it, especially in the early years, but absolutely no pharmaceuticals ads. Or tampons. Maybe yogurt, but I’d really prefer something like the New York Times Weekend Edition or a luxury car line. National spots only, of course.”

She looks so excited, like her future is already set, like it’s just waiting for her to catch up so that they can go off and do fabulous and exciting things together. It makes Quinn nauseous. What makes it worse is that it’s probably true. She has less doubt than she should that Rachel is going to systematically work her way through the laboriously detailed plan she’s outlined, up to and including headlining the revival of RENT.

“It will still resonate,” Rachel had assured her seriously.

She’s halfway through her third wine cooler when things get maudlin.

“You’re so lucky to have a boyfriend like Finn,” she says earnestly, leaning forward slightly. “He’s so…”

“Dreamy?” Quinn interrupts sharply, unable to sit quietly and listen to Rachel list the many yet shallow virtues of Finn Hudson. When a look of confusion inches across Rachel’s face, Quinn meets it with a brittle yet sunny smile, and for the first time all afternoon, Rachel falls silent. “Committed?” she adds, unable to resist the urge to twist the knife a little deeper. “I am lucky, aren’t I?”

If Quinn had to categorize the look on Rachel’s face, she’d split evenly between guilty and miserable.

******

It’s when Quinn twists off the top of the fourth wine cooler that Rachel gets a little teary.

“I wish this wasn’t happening to you,” she says, and the next thing Quinn knows, Rachel’s got her arms wrapped around Quinn’s waist. Her cheek is resting on Quinn’s shoulder, and she’s looking up at her with big, dark eyes. Quinn fumbles slightly, because if there’s any time to push forward her evil little plan, it’s this.

“It’s just not fair,” Rachel continues, pausing to sniff delicately. “I know you haven’t always been the nicest person, especially not to me, but you don’t deserve this. And I know you don’t want to hear it, but there are options, Quinn, and you wouldn’t have to make them alone. I’d help you. I’d be there for you. I’d take care of all of the details if that’s what you needed…”

As much as anything else, Quinn kisses her to shut her up.

There’s a surprised, muffled, “Oh.” Rachel freezes, tight and tense as a stone.

Quinn counts the seconds off in her head, getting only to five before pulling away. Rachel looks positively shell-shocked. Her eyes are wide and a little frightened, and she’s pulled her bottom lip between her teeth.

“I’m sorry,” Quinn says roughly. There are several reasons why that’s true, but she doesn’t know which one she’s really feeling. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

There’s a hint of shame in her voice, because it had seemed like a good idea only 20 minutes earlier and now she knows it’s clearly not. She couldn’t ruin Rachel’s life, at least not in the way her own had been ruined, but she could have done a great deal of harm, could have hurt several people with just one small act on one insignificant afternoon. And yes, she’s vicious. She’s manipulative and often mean, but she doesn’t want to be. She wants to be a girl sitting underneath a tree, dappled in sunlight.

“It’s okay.”

She doesn’t realize she’s crying until Rachel is there, almost uncomfortably close, her thumb smearing a tear across Quinn’s cheekbone.

“Hey, really… it’s okay,” she murmurs reassuringly. “I understand.”

Quinn opens her mouth to correct Rachel, because she’s absolutely sure the other girl doesn’t understand at all, but the look on Rachel’s face stops her. It’s the look Rachel gets when she’s working her way up to doing something that doesn’t come naturally, something that involves a risk she doesn’t feel secure in taking.

“It’s okay,” Rachel says again, then kisses her.

******

It was supposed to be the other way around.

She’s tempted to ask which day Rachel devotes strictly to working on kissing, but that would involve stopping their current activities long enough to talk. If they stop long enough to talk, they’ll be stopping long enough to think, too, and thinking is the last thing Quinn wants. She realizes this is the same sort of mindset that got her into trouble in the first place, which means that maybe she’s not as good of a student as she thought, because in this case, the application of knowledge would result in doing everything exactly opposite of the way she had that afternoon with Puck.

Yet here she is again, pressed back against her mattress, not saying no.

Rachel looks so happy to be kissing her – well, it’s more like they’re making out on her bed, which seems like such a total teen cliché that she feels like she should be over it, really, because it’s so 1980s – but that doesn’t seem to capture it. It’s not just that she looks happy. She looks ecstatic.

“You don’t even like me,” she murmurs breathlessly, confused.

Rachel pauses long enough to pop up so that they’re at eye level, and Quinn wants to kick herself because she’s just now had that mental argument about whether or not it would be good to stop long enough to talk, and she thought she’d agreed with herself that it wasn’t. Yet here she is, questioning things, when really she’d been much, much happier seconds before, when she’d been brushing Rachel’s hair back out of her face and thoroughly enjoying how the other girl’s predilection for miniskirts and knee socks meant that there was a fairly sizeable expanse of silky soft skin left uncovered at just the right place. In fact, she’s still got one hand pressed against the back of Rachel’s thigh, slid just under her miniskirt and up far enough so that she can feel the teasing brush of soft cotton panties against the side of her thumb, and now that they’re not kissing, she’s not sure whether it’s more awkward to leave it there or to remove it.

“That’s not true,” Rachel says, but the way she’s looming over her makes it hard for Quinn to focus. She divides her time between Rachel’s lips, which are a little swollen and red and slightly shiny in a way that Quinn finds mesmerizing, and her eyes. It doesn’t much help her concentrate, though, to look at Rachel’s eyes, because they’re dark in a way that’s warm and inviting. It makes her understand how these things can just happen, without rhyme or reason, because every negative thought or logical reason why this is a bad idea just sort of drifts away. “And anyway,” Rachel continues, “if I’m going to have a secret, fantasy relationship, this isn’t a such a bad one. It’ll have to end better than the last one.”

Quinn understands just enough of that to be worried. “The last one?”

Guilt flits across Rachel’s face. “Puck,” she murmurs, ducking her head. “But that’s over.”

Quinn thinks several things at once, but predominant among them is something that makes her heart drop. “You didn’t…”

Rachel is moving closer again. It’s slow, such a tease even though Quinn doubts Rachel is doing it intentionally; she’s both relieved and disappointed that stopping long enough to talk hasn’t seemed to bring either of them to their senses. She certainly doesn’t understand why Rachel seems to be okay with this happening; truthfully, she doesn’t know why she is either.

“Didn’t what?” Rachel asks absently, hair slipping down over her shoulders in a way that completely entrances Quinn, and before Quinn can remember what she was going to ask, Rachel’s kissing her again.

It takes her a long time to remember.

They’ve switched positions, and Quinn is nosing her way down Rachel’s throat, both surprised at and pleased with herself that she’s managed to undo enough of the buttons on Rachel’s cardigan to see flesh both above and below the line of black silk marking the edge of her bra. She’s managed to insinuate herself between Rachel’s legs, and there’s twisted pleated and plaid fabric getting tangled up between them in a way that’s entirely irritating. She pulls it up and out of the way without thinking, and what she’s done only hits her a second later, because there’s damp fabric rubbing against her own bare thigh in the place where a far rougher fabric had just been, and she’s reminded quite suddenly that there are serious implications at play.

“Oh, my god.” She sounds panicked and, in response, Rachel looks confused. Well, dazed more than confused, Quinn corrects mentally, in a glazed over sort of way about which Quinn feels unaccountably proud. But, more to the point, she remembers what it was she was going to ask earlier. “Did you have sex with Puck?”

“Did I have sex with Puck?” Rachel repeats, baffled, like Quinn’s asked her a question to which there is no answer.

“It’s okay if you did.”

Rachel’s eyes widen, as if Quinn’s reassurance is somehow more shocking than the initial question. “But I didn’t.”

“Oh.” Quinn frowns slightly, perturbed by the sense of relief she feels. “What about with…” she pauses, quite sure that saying either the words Finn or my boyfriend would completely kill the mood, before finishing awkwardly, “anyone else.”

Rachel silently shakes her head no.

“So you’re…”

Rachel silently shakes her head yes.

Quinn sighs. “I can’t do this.”

It becomes clear after a moment that Quinn is serious, though apparently incapable of movement. Her thigh is still pressed against the juncture of Rachel’s thighs with a torturous kind of pressure that makes Rachel want to wiggle and squirm, but Quinn isn’t kissing her. She’s looking at her seriously instead, which makes Rachel entirely self-conscious, and she’d move to rebutton her cardigan if Quinn wasn’t still pressing both of her wrists into the bedding.

“Okay,” she says slowly, because Rachel certainly doesn’t want to pressure Quinn, even if it does feel like she’s not in any position to be pressuring anyone into anything.

“You deserve to have a secret fantasy relationship with someone better than me,” Quinn says sadly.

Rachel isn’t at all sure she agrees, but she’s not sure whether she’d be insulting herself or starting a needless argument with Quinn if she said, “No, I don’t.” So, instead, she remains silent.

“I was going to get you drunk and take advantage of you because I’m an awful person,” Quinn admits, but she does so at the same time as she begins a slow rocking rhythm that presses her thigh against Rachel in a way that thoroughly disrupts her ability to think coherently. “I was going to do this horrible thing to you because I thought it might make me feel better.”

Rachel has absolutely no idea how to respond to Quinn’s admission, so she goes with a slightly unsteady, “Okay.”

“But then I realized it wouldn’t make me feel better at all, and that you didn’t deserve that, and I changed my mind.”

Even though she’s distinctly aware that Quinn is trying to tell her something important, Rachel can’t quite concentrate hard enough to figure out what it is. She feels like she could crawl straight out of her skin, because the way Quinn is pressing against her is both maddening and unquantifiably good, and she may not have ever had sex before, but she’s pretty sure where this is heading.

“You’re a good person,” Quinn says seriously, leaning down so that her lips are brushing against the shell of Rachel’s ear. “I just want you to know that everything that happened after you kissed me was completely accidental. It wasn’t part of the plan. You have to believe me.”

“I do,” Rachel assures her, struggling against the grip Quinn has on her wrists. She has an intense desire to dig her nails into Quinn’s shoulders, but Quinn’s got gravity and strength on her side.

In a compromise, Rachel bites down on Quinn’s earlobe.

The whimper Quinn makes in response sends a shiver down her spine.

“I’m vaguely aware that you’re trying to do what you feel is the right thing here,” Rachel says breathlessly, because Quinn pressed down hard against her at the bite and is doing something now that Rachel would probably call grinding if asked to supply an action verb, “but I really think it would actually be worse if you stopped. Even if you did start out with bad intentions, I’m willing to believe you’ve changed.”

When Quinn draws back to look at her questioningly, Rachel adds, “Besides, I think it’s really only going to take about one more minute of this, tops, for me to…”

Quinn kisses her hard, cutting her words short.

“Are you sure?” she asks a moment later. “Because I really want to…”

This time, it’s Rachel’s kiss that interrupts.

And finally, she’s got one hand free, and it does feel exactly as good as she thought it would to sink her nails into the curve of Quinn’s shoulder.

When Quinn’s hand slips beneath the elastic waistband of her panties, Rachel forgets to breathe.

She was actually a little generous with her estimate, she realizes, because she’s not even sure it’s been a minute. In fact, it takes little more than the pressure of Quinn’s fingers against her clit – and she hopes that says something about the extent of their foreplay and not about her, because she doesn’t carry a lot of moral baggage about the word easy, but she also likes to think that she could give a better performance – before she just kind of loses it.

Quinn’s fingers slip inside just as her body starts to contract, which somehow makes things even more intense. She can quite literally feel herself clenching hard around Quinn, and it’s odd and intimate and kind of overwhelming.

For a little while, she can’t really think.

She comes back to herself to find that she’s wrapped up in Quinn’s arms. She feels oddly safe, like she’s being cradled and protected, which is really just as nice as she would have imagined it would be, had she thought about it before.

Quinn, though, doesn’t appear to feel that same sense of calm. Instead of blissfully quiet peace, the other girl is talking; she is, in fact, in the middle of a rushed, slightly panicked sentence.

“…and it’s a false dichotomy, really, anyway. I mean, I don’t see what the difference is, because I was already touching you, but maybe it was too much. Maybe I should have asked first, because if you make a distinction about those sorts of things, then maybe it was important to you and now it’s kind of too late…”

“Quinn,” Rachel says gently, and the other girl’s babbling comes to an abrupt halt. “You’re sort of ruining my afterglow.”

“Sorry,” Quinn murmurs, chagrined. She manages to stay silent for almost 30 seconds, before venturing a hesitant, “So, you’re not upset?”

“It’s a false dichotomy anyway,” Rachel says drowsily, snuggling in closer to Quinn. There’s a beat of silence before she adds, “Do you think we can do this again? I’d like to return the favor, but…” she’s interrupted by a yawn, “I’m really, really sleepy.”

“Oh,” Quinn says, slightly disappointed. “Sure. Okay.”

She spends the next minute trying to calm herself down into something approaching normal. She’s not especially successful, so when she feels Rachel’s hand begin a slow slide down her belly, she can’t hold back a moan.

“I guess it passed,” Rachel explains, grinning as she places a soft kiss against the side of Quinn’s neck.