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you were my last young renegade heartache (how could i let you go?)

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“Rachel,” Kurt hisses. “This is not going according to plan.” Rachel turns, meeting her best friend’s gaze over the rim of her third glass of horribly mediocre champagne.

“Really? I think it’s going wonderfully,” she comments. “Noah Puckerman tried to convince me to dance with him. It was quite satisfying to elegantly yet rudely refuse him.”

“Look over there,” Kurt says. He points to the other side of the gymnasium, where tables covered in various cookies and refreshments are set up. “See that guy Blaine is talking to? The really tall one with the blond crew cut?” Rachel follows Kurt’s arm and sees Blaine laughing, politely yet genuinely, at something the absolute giant standing next to him just said. The blond is at least six foot six, towering over Blaine almost comically.

“You know, I thought you and Blaine overcame the jealousy issue after the Sebastian fiasco,” Rachel says. Kurt rolls his eyes.

“It’s not jealousy,” he corrects. “That guy? That’s Eddie Karofsky.” Rachel frowns.

“I didn’t know that Dave had a brother,” she says. Kurt shakes his head.

“Not his brother,” he snaps. “His husband.”

“…oh.”

“Exactly! After everything he put me through in high school, he came out and now he’s married and well-adjusted!”

“Well,” Rachel says, sipping her cheap champagne. “If it makes you feel any better, he married someone so freakishly tall that one could debate his status as part of the human species.”

“It doesn’t,” Kurt grumbles.

“Also, your husband is way hotter than his.” Kurt smirks at that, looking across the room at Blaine once more. Blaine glances up and grins at them, raising his glass.

“I’ll drink to that,” Kurt laughs, raising his own drink in return before taking a long sip.

“Glad to help,” Rachel quips. “Now, I’m off to flaunt my wealth in the face of my old classmates. Go reclaim your husband from Karofsky’s mutant partner.” With that, she strides away, fully planning to return to the dance floor and seek out Mike Chang (because, although they were never friends in high school, he had been kinder than the majority of his football teammates, and a chance to dance with a man who had toured with Beyonce is not one Rachel is willing to pass up).

However, she’s only pushing past the drinks table when a familiar voice from behind her says, “Rachel?” The woman in question freezes in place, instantly recognizing that lilting tone, with its careful enunciation and that slight rasp that Rachel had always found unfortunately attractive.

Not me, not me, Rachel chants to herself. Some other Rachel.

“Rachel Berry?” the voice clarifies. Yes, me, Rachel reluctantly admits. She turns slowly, suddenly feeling all too small and horribly inadequate in her four inch heels and designer dress.

“Hello, Quinn,” she mutters, barely keeping the half-bitter, half-nervous tremor from her voice.

“How long has it been?” Quinn asks, stepping forward and smiling. She looks so good that it makes Rachel’s chest ache a bit; her hair is as short as it was early in their senior year (although not pink, which Rachel is silently thankful for; she’s not entirely sure she would survive that), and she’s wrapped in a dress that would make her ninth-grade, abrasively Christian self blush (or, more probably, call her a slut; ninth-grade Quinn wasn’t particularly tactful, or kind, for that matter).

“Ten years, according to the banner out front,” Rachel says dryly. Quinn half-smiles, half-winces at that.

“Actually, about a year and a half,” she says. Rachel stares at her blankly. Quinn looks down, uncharacteristically bashful, and the shyness on her face makes the existing dull ache in Rachel’s chest turn to a sharp pain, like her ribs have turned sharp. “I saw you in West Side Story,” Quinn explains, answering the unspoken question on Rachel’s face.

“…oh,” Rachel murmurs.

“Yeah,” Quinn laughs a bit. “I was in New York and I saw your name on the program. You were amazing, Rachel. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Thank you,” Rachel says automatically. She’s on autopilot, her mouth being polite on its own while her mind whirls at a million miles an hour, screaming what is happening and how am I supposed to feel on repeat. “So where did you end up?”

“Connecticut still,” Quinn says. “I graduated from Yale, but…well. Plans changed. I’m in Hartford now. I got my teaching certificate. I teach second grade.”

“Second grade,” Rachel echoes, her mind still spinning. “Wow. I can’t say I ever pictured you as a teacher, let alone second grade.” Quinn shrugs.

“I didn’t either,” she says. “But I felt…I don’t know. Drawn to it, I suppose. As for why…you would know just as well as I do.” Rachel nods, and forces her mind to quiet for a moment, long enough to step forward and place a gentle hand on Quinn’s arm comfortingly. For half a second, it seems like the moment will end. Then Quinn lifts her other hand, gently taking Rachel’s hand from her arm and tangling their fingers together.

“I’m glad you made it, Rachel,” she says, squeezing her hand lightly. “You deserve to watch your dreams come true. More than anyone else here. You’ve earned every minute of it.” Before Rachel can even thank her, she lets their hands drop and walks away.

“Rachel?” It’s Kurt this time, walking up behind her, holding Blaine’s hand. “Was that Quinn?” Rachel turns slowly, still half in shock.

“Yeah,” she murmurs. “Yeah, it was. I, um…” She shakes her head disbelievingly. “I think she was flirting with me.” Blaine and Kurt exchange looks. “What?” Rachel says. Kurt looks away. “What’s going on?”

“Kurt didn’t want to tell you this,” Blaine says, ignoring Kurt’s hissed admonishment. “Quinn came out years ago.”

“…what?” is all Rachel can manage. Kurt sighs and looks away from glaring at Blaine to gaze at Rachel sympathetically.

“Senior year of college,” he says. “She told Brittany Pierce, and Brittany told Santana, and she told Sam Evans, and he told Finn, and–“

“And everyone knew except me,” Rachel interrupts. Kurt nods, shamefaced.

“I’m sorry,” he says, releasing Blaine’s hand to reach out and grip her arms. “ I–I knew it would hurt you to hear it, and I knew you would think you weren’t–“

“I get it,” Rachel says over him, cutting off his next words before her current thoughts come pouring out of his mouth. “I understand why you didn’t tell me. I just…I forgave her a long time ago, for everything she put me through in high school. But…”

“You still haven’t forgiven her for the rest,” Kurt completes. “The summer after senior year.” Rachel nods. “Maybe you should try,” he tells her gently. “We’ve all grown up since then. And aren’t you the one who’s always on about second chances?”

“We both know she reached her second thousandth chance ten years ago,” Rachel mutters. Kurt turns them towards the drinks table, throwing an arm around her shoulders.

“I know,” he agrees. “But last time I checked, for some unfathomable reason, you still thought she was worth it.”

 

XxX

 

“A high school reunion?” Kurt Hummel parrots his best friend’s words back to her with a distinct edge to his voice that may not quite qualify as mocking, but certainly falls on the derisive side of disbelief.

“Yes,” Rachel Berry confirms, crossing her arms stubbornly.

“A high school reunion,” Kurt repeats. “You want to return to Lima, not for a holiday or a birthday or any other reasonable purpose, but to go see all the people who made our lives hell at McKinley, ten years after the fact. Why? Didn’t they mock you enough for singing before you made a career out of it?”

“Kurt–“

“Didn’t they mock me enough for being gay before I became a fashion designer and, I don’t know, married a man!?”

Kurt–“

“Rachel, what possible justification could you have for wanting to go back there?”

“It’ll be satisfying!”

“Satisfying,” Kurt deadpans.

“Yes, satisfying,” Rachel says. “Think about it, Kurt. We pull up in a limo, in clothing you designed, and rub it in every single bully’s face that we made it and they didn’t. We’re living out our dreams, and last I heard, Noah Puckerman cleans pools in L.A. for a living.” Kurt hesitates. Rachel sees her opportunity, and pushes once more, with the words she knows will convince him. “You remember Dave Karofsky?” Kurt nods, jaw tightening at the name. “Think about how utterly priceless his face will be when you walk in with Blaine on your arm.” A small, sly grin begins to form on Kurt’s face.

“Rachel,” he says. “Have I ever told you how delightfully petty you are?” Rachel smiles twice as wide back at him.

“I love you, too,” she chirps. “Now, I’ll pay for lunch. You go call your husband and inform him that we have some long overdue revenge to indulge in.” Kurt begins to stand, but turns and gives Rachel a piercing look.

“And this high school reunion scheme has nothing to do with seeing a certain individual we went to high school with again?” he questions. “And certainly nothing to do with subtly letting said individual know that you’re single?” Rachel frowns at him.

“That’s in the past, Kurt,” she reminds him. “It was lifetimes ago. I’m over it.” Kurt looks at her knowingly.

“And the fact that you’re over it is why not a single relationship of yours since high school has lasted more than six months,” he says. Rachel glares at him.

“It’s not my fault no one can truly appreciate my riveting conversational abilities and wide array of talents,” she says.

“Or the fact that you live with your gay best friend and his husband.”

“Or that,” she agrees. “Really, though, Kurt. I’m over it. I just want to show up, look fabulous, and make all of our old tormentors jealous.” Kurt nods, but he looks at her as if he can see right through her (which he probably can; you can only lie so well after being best friends with someone for twelve years).

 

XxX

 

“Hey!” Kurt ignores the angry-sounding shout. The voice is vaguely familiar, but so is every single other voice in the gymnasium of McKinley High. He assumes, reasonably so, that the shouting isn’t directed at him. “Hey! Lady Hummel!” Kurt stiffens at the nickname.

“Santana,” he drawls, turning. Santana is marching up behind him, Brittany in tow. “Still using petty insults to disguise your own issues and insecurities, I see.” Santana grins wickedly, holding up her and Brittany’s joined hands so that Kurt can see the wedding ring where it glints on her finger.

“Nope,” she says, as close to cheerful as Santana ever gets. “Now I’m just mean because it’s fun.”

“What do you want?” Kurt snaps. “I’m not in the mood to play catch up with the insults, Santana.”

“I think you’ll want to hear this,” Brittany tells him. Kurt glances at her. She does seem slightly more…stable than she ever had in high school, and she had always been far nicer to him than Santana had.

“What is it?” he asks, relenting. Santana smiles again, and perhaps if Kurt was even the slightest bit less gay, he might’ve found it attractive, but as it is, her close resemblance to some sort of predatory cat playing with its prey unnerves him.

“You’re Berry’s best friend,” she says. “She told you about the summer after senior year, right?” He nods. “Did you see her talking to Quinn?” Another nod. “Well, Britt and me want a repeat performance. You in?” Kurt arches an eyebrow at her.

“Did Quinn bother to tell you how that summer ended?” he sneers. Santana rolls her eyes and crosses her arms.

“Repressed lesbian drama, moving across the country, yeah, yeah, yeah,” she says dismissively. “I’ve got a question for you. Have you ever seen Berry as happy as she was that summer? Because I’ve never seen Quinn like that, not before and not since.” Kurt hesitates.

 

XxX

 

“I’ve barely seen you since graduation,” Kurt comments, sipping his iced coffee. Rachel blushes, though for the life of him, Kurt can’t figure out why.

“I know,” she half-says, half-giggles. “I’ve been…busy.”

“Okay, what is going on?” Kurt says, his demanding tone softened by his fond smile at the sight of his best friend so happy. “Seriously. I’ve never seen you like this.” Rachel smiles, and for a moment, Kurt is staggered, leaning back in his chair, at the sheer joy pouring off of her in waves. It’s as if there’s suddenly a sun inside of her, its light streaming through her skin.

“I know,” she murmurs, gazing down at the flower drawn in the foam of her latte. “I’m just…” She makes a vague gesture with her hands.

“Rachel Berry at a loss for words,” Kurt says. “I never thought I would see the day.” She wraps her fingers around her mug, gazing off over his shoulder at the afternoon sun outside the window.

“I don’t really have the words for it,” she begins. “It’s like…I feel like I’ve spent my entire life on the edge of falling asleep, just waiting to finally rest. And now I’m having the most wonderful dream.”

“You’re not making any sense,” Kurt tells her. Rachel laughs again, and Kurt silently marvels at how relaxed his normally uptight, high-strung best friend is. She seems…

“At peace,” Rachel says, finally finding the right words for her emotions. “For the first time in my life. Like my soul has settled. I feel at peace.”

 

XxX

 

“No,” Kurt finally answers Santana. “Never. That summer was different.”

“So you’re in?” Santana demands. He bites his lip. If Rachel ever learns about this, she’ll never forgive you, his conscience whispers.

“No,” he decides. “I can’t do that. They’re grown women. If they’re meant to find their way back to each other, they will.” Santana snorts.

“Because that worked so well during the four years Quinn spent disguising her massive lady boner for Berry with slushies,” she drawls. Kurt rolls his eyes.

“Rachel tore herself apart with Quinn last time,” he says, unsure of why he’s bothering to justify himself to Santana, of all people. “I can’t contribute to that happening again.” Santana shakes her head at him.

“Whatever,” she says dismissively. “But when they get married and make lady babies, you don’t get to take any of the credit.” Kurt snorts.

“As if,” he says with a roll of his eyes.

“More likely than you think,” Santana insists. “Take a look.” She gestures towards the far side of the gym, and Kurt turns just in time to see Rachel and Quinn disappearing out the doors.

“Oh, for–“

“Have fun, Lady Hummel,” Santana practically cackles. “I have feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other. Come on, Brittany, let’s go cockblock Q and the hobbit.” With that, Santana pulls her wife off into the crowd. Brittany waves and smiles at Kurt. He waves back automatically, stunned.

“Hey,” Blaine says, sliding up beside him and slipping an arm around his waist.

“Hi,” Kurt murmurs, still staring blankly ahead of him. Blaine frowns.

“What’s wrong?” he asks. Kurt shakes his head slowly.

“This is either going to turn out wonderfully,” he begins. “Or go horribly, horribly wrong.”

Chapter Text

“Hello.” Rachel looks up at the unfamiliar voice. It’s a pretty blonde in a cheerleading uniform. Rachel, while not the most socially adept individual, is certainly aware that a uniform like that commands unwavering respect; yet, the blonde appears almost hesitant, gesturing at the chair beside Rachel uncertainly. “Can I sit here?”

“Of course,” Rachel agrees immediately. The other girl smiles, taking the seat gratefully.

“I’m Quinn,” she introduces herself, stumbling over her own name slightly. Rachel narrows her eyes, suspicious (she’s never had many friends, and certainly doesn’t now; there’s no reason for a Cheerio to be nice to her unless she’s planning something).

“I’m Rachel,” she responds, her ingrained manners taking over.

“So, are you excited for choir?” Quinn asks. Rachel’s eyes narrow further, and she makes no attempt to hide her apprehension. “What?”

“Why are you being nice to me?” Rachel demands. “What’s the joke?” Quinn looks almost hurt.

“I’m just trying to make friends,” she defends, drawing a bitter laugh from Rachel. “I didn’t go to middle school around here. I don’t know anyone.”

“You’re on the Cheerios,” Rachel points out. “On the second day of school.” Quinn glances down at her uniform.

“Is that bad?” she asks, tugging at the hem of the rather short skirt, seeming self-conscious. “Is cheerleading not cool here?” Rachel shakes her head in amazed disbelief.

“Cheerleading is cool,” she corrects. “I’m not. And neither is choir. You really are new here, aren’t you?” Quinn nods, opening her mouth to respond, but before she can speak, the teacher steps up to the front of the class, clapping for attention.

Rachel spends the rest of the class gazing at Quinn’s regal profile out of the corner of her eye, consumed by curiosity about this new girl and shaken by the novelty of a pretty girl in a Cheerios uniform speaking to her like a human being. It may only be the second day of freshman year, but Rachel has already discovered that her unpleasant reputation from middle school has carried over. This Quinn girl, though, is an oddity, and one that Rachel is thoroughly determined to understand.

 

XxX

 

“Quinn!” The blonde head at the back of the gym turns at the sound of her name being yelled. Rachel pushes her way through the crowd, narrowly avoiding Rick Nelson’s elbow.

“Rachel,” Quinn says.

“You just ran off!” Rachel accuses. “I wanted to talk to you!” Quinn tips her head the slightest bit, expression caught between a genuine smile and a smirk.

“Did you?” she asks. “I couldn’t tell by the running and yelling.” Rachel huffs, crossing her arms and glaring.

“Be nice,” she grumbles. Quinn’s face shifts to a fully realized smile.

“Alright,” she agrees. “Come on, it’s loud in here.” She reaches out, already turning toward the gym doors when her hand closes around Rachel’s wrist. It’s an instinctual movement, Rachel knows, but that knowledge doesn’t stop goosebumps from rising all the way up her arm.

When they walk out into the hallway and the doors close behind them, though, Quinn’s hand slides down into Rachel’s, and Rachel thinks maybe it isn’t instinct after all.

The halls of McKinley are disturbingly familiar. It’s as if not a single thing has changed in the past ten years. Rachel recognizes the choir room on her right, the hallway to the auditorium about twenty feet past that, the Spanish classroom, the bathroom she had spent so much time in with Kurt, washing slushies out of each other’s hair and clothes. It’s like walking through a museum of who Rachel used to be, and she does not find it pleasant.

“This way,” Quinn mutters, tugging her down a side hallway. Rachel glances around.

“Are you taking me to the roof?” she asks with a half-smile. Quinn looks at her briefly and smiles back, almost shyly. Rachel is suddenly struck by how much the expression resembles the look on Quinn’s face when they had first met (and those moments are burned into Rachel’s mind with the kind of permanence she didn’t used to think possible).

“Is that okay?” Quinn asks, snapping Rachel out of the memory. “I figured it would be quiet up there. There’s a good view.”

“I remember,” Rachel murmurs as they reach the door to the stairs. Quinn opens it for Rachel, gazing at her contemplatively, hazel eyes glinting green in the half-lit hallway.

“Do you,” she says, and it doesn’t sound like a question. Suddenly, she notices their hands clasped, and drops Rachel’s as if it burned her. “Sorry,” she mutters. “Old…old habits, I guess.”

“It’s alright,” Rachel assures her. She steps out of her heels and picks them up before stepping onto the stairs, making Quinn smile.

“If memory serves, it’s three flights of stairs,” she informs the suddenly much taller girl primly. “I have no particular desire to torture my feet.” Quinn shakes her head, still smiling widely, and follows Rachel up the stairs.

 

XxX

 

“Hello again,” Rachel says, sliding into the chair next to Quinn. “Which song do you think–“

“Why are you talking to me?”  Quinn interrupts. Rachel blinks, taken aback by the sudden venom in her voice.

“What?” is all she can say in a small voice.

“You heard me,” Quinn snaps. “What makes you think I want to talk to you?” A sudden, awful feeling grows in Rachel’s stomach, like her lungs have dropped into it.

“I thought…” she trails off. “I thought, after yesterday–“

“Think again,” Quinn sneers. “I don’t want to be friends with you, I don’t want to talk to you. Actually, I don’t even want to see you. Get out of my face.” Rachel looks down at her desk. She almost picks up her bag to move seats before she thinks better of it. “You heard me!” Quinn repeats. “Go away!”

“No.” Quinn’s angry, vicious expression slips into shock for half a second.

“You want to repeat that?” she demands, glaring at Rachel. Rachel glares right back, crossing her arms and meeting the other girl’s eyes.

“I said no,” she reiterates. “I don’t know what your problem is, but I’m not moving. You can be mean all you want. I’m used to it. I like this seat and I’m keeping it, and if you have a problem with me, you can move.” Quinn scoffs, but she doesn’t move.

“You’re going to regret this, you know,” she hisses to Rachel as the bell rings. Rachel doesn’t even look at her.

The next day, a slushie is thrown in Rachel’s face for the first time. As she stands, frozen in shock, the boy in the letterman jacket who threw it leans down and growls at her, “That was from Quinn.”

Rachel walks into the choir room later that day to discover that Quinn has dropped the class, and she can’t help but feel that, despite the gym shirt she was forced to change into and the blue sludge encrusted in her hair, that is a small victory.

 

XxX

 

“It’s smaller than I remembered,” Rachel says softly as she and Quinn lean against the fence around the perimeter of the roof (there hadn’t been one when they had gone to McKinley; it appears that whoever replaced that buffoon Figgins as principal was more concerned with safety and less concerned with vampires).

“What, the roof?” Quinn asks, quirking an eyebrow. Rachel rolls her eyes and makes an exasperated face at her companion.

“No, Lima,” she clarifies. “Growing up, it always looked so vast to me at night. So many lights. But now…”

“You’ve lived in New York for ten years, Rachel,” Quinn says. “Lima isn’t your entire universe anymore. It’s just a town.” Rachel nods, absently twisting her fingers through the steel wire fencing.

“Just a town,” she echoes. “A town I spent eighteen years trying to escape from, and the next few years being terrified of ending up back in.”

“Why’d you come back, then?” Quinn asks. She turns to face Rachel and leans against her shoulder against the fence.

“Honestly?” Rachel mirrors Quinn’s position and crosses her arms. “I wanted to rub my success in a lot of people’s faces.” That makes Quinn laugh, light and amused.

“That sounds like the Rachel I remember,” she muses. “Is that the only reason?” Hazel eyes pierce into brown eyes and Rachel forces herself to turn back to the view of the town spread out beneath them.

“I heard you came out,” Rachel deflects. “I suppose congratulations are in order.” Quinn sighs at the avoidance, but lets it go.

“Hardly,” she dismisses. “It was six years ago.”

“And yet I only heard about it tonight,” Rachel says. It sounds almost matter-of-fact, but Quinn catches the bitter undertone.

“Don’t be like that,” she mutters, looking off to the side towards the lights of the town. “It’s not like we’ve been speaking.”

“Even so,” Rachel says. “After everything, I thought…I don’t know, I thought you would care about me enough to tell me something that important. Clearly I was wrong.”

“You know that’s not true,” Quinn snaps, getting angry now. “Don’t make this my fault, Rachel. We both made mistakes. These are the consequences.” Rachel whirls on her, visibly upset.

“I never viewed anything between us as a mistake,” she hisses. “I’m sorry you do.” She storms off, back towards the door to the stairs.

“Rachel!” Quinn calls after her. “That’s not what I…” She sighs in frustration instead of finishing her sentence, easily catching up to Rachel and grabbing her arm. Rachel turns to face her, jaw clenched and angry. “I wasn’t trying to hurt you,” Quinn murmurs. “Can we talk about something else?”

“Why?” Rachel asks snippily. “You were so eager to get away from me earlier.” Quinn pushes a hand through her hair in aggravation.

“That’s not what I was doing,” she insists.

“Then why, exactly, did you practically run away from me the first chance you got?” Rachel demands.

“Because I was afraid of what I might do if I kept standing there holding your hand!” They both freeze at Quinn’s outburst.

“You…were?” Rachel asks almost breathlessly. Quinn drops Rachel’s arm, turning away. “Quinn, wait.” She’s about to say more when the door in the middle of the roof that they had left propped open in order to get back down swings all the way open with a loud crash.

Out stumble Santana Lopez and Brittany Pierce, both quite visibly intoxicated. Rachel notes the affectionate way their arms are wrapped around each other, and wonders if Santana has finally managed to admit to herself what, quite literally, everybody had known in high school.

“There are people,” Brittany whines, pouting at Santana.

“Get out of here, Q,” Santana growls at Quinn. “You too, midget.” Quinn rolls her eyes and moves towards the door, but Rachel huffs and crosses her arms.

“We were here first,” she argues.

“You really don’t want to do that, Rach,” Quinn calls from the doorway. Rachel suppresses a shiver at Quinn’s use of the nickname. “They don’t have any shame, and believe me, you do not want to be up here for whatever they’re here to do.”

Sure enough, Brittany’s hands are already halfway up Santana’s shirt. Santana grins wickedly at Rachel.

“…Fine!” Rachel mutters sulkily, walking around the now intensely making out couple. “I see they finally sorted their mutual repression out,” she comments to Quinn as the door swings shut behind them.

“Oh, that was a long time ago,” Quinn agrees. “Santana figured out that nobody in college actually cared if she was gay. Brittany graduated a year late and ran off to California with Santana. They got married a couple years ago and moved back east, to Hartford, actually. They live a few miles from me.” Rachel shakes her head, smiling.

“That’s good,” she murmurs. “Honestly, though, everyone already knew back in high school that something was going on between them. No two straight girls make out that often for male attention.” She steps back into her heels as they reach the bottom of the stairs. “I’m happy for them. They deserve a happy ending.” Quinn gives her an odd look.

“Why?” she questions. “It’s not like they were ever nice to you in high school.” Rachel shrugs.

“So?” she says. “Neither were you, for most of it. I was self-absorbed, overconfident, and generally rather unbearable.”

“That didn't make what we did to you okay,” Quinn insists. “You could be annoying, sure, but what we put you through was screwed up.” Rachel smiles peacefully.

“It was,” she agrees. “But that doesn’t make Santana, you, or anyone else any less deserving of a happy ending.”

“Didn’t you come here to rub your happiness in everyone’s faces?” Quinn asks, in an effort to lighten the mood. Rachel’s smile turns to a smirk.

“I, of course, get the happiest ending,” she says. “It’s only fitting.” Quinn shakes her head fondly.

“So much for ‘self-absorbed’ being past tense,” she teases.

“It’s only narcissism until it truly is all about you,” Rachel quips. She looks up, and somehow, they’re already back at the gym doors. A soft smile grows on her face; they’ve fallen back into easy, joking banter so effortlessly. It’s…comforting, she decides, that that much, at least, remains the same.

“I think I’m going to leave,” Quinn informs her quietly. “I have a flight in the morning.” Rachel’s smile drops.

“Oh,” she mumbles. Quinn hesitantly reaches out, running her hand down the other girl’s arm in an attempt at comfort.

“The school year ends in two weeks, though,” she says, sounding almost hopeful. “I…I can come visit. If that’s something you would want.” Rachel lights up at the words.

“I’d love that,” comes pouring out of her before she can stop it. Quinn smiles that half-shy, gentle grin again, and suddenly there’s a burning warmth in Rachel’s chest, and her ribcage tightens around her heart, and all she can think about is how much this feels exactly like it had ten years ago, and how much she had missed this feeling.

Oh, no.

Chapter Text

The two and a half weeks between the high school reunion and Quinn’s arrival in New York are the longest of Rachel’s life.

(They seem even longer than those weeks waiting for her NYADA letter, when every single day had felt like an eternity, when her heart had dropped further into her stomach with every passing hour, when she had called Kurt every night before going to bed to listen to him reassure her that she would make it.)

To her credit, Quinn catches the first train out after the end of the school year. She insists on taking a cab from the train station, not wanting to be an inconvenience to Rachel; it makes that long hour between when her train arrives and when she knocks on Blaine, Kurt, and Rachel’s apartment door sheer agony.

But knock on it she does, and Rachel leaps off the chair that she’s been sitting on for twenty minutes, anxiously bouncing a leg. She ignores Kurt’s knowing look as she practically runs to the door to open it.

“Quinn!” she shouts enthusiastically, throwing her arms around the other girl (because they hadn’t hugged at the reunion, Rachel had realized the next morning, and how utterly insane was she to deny herself this?).

“Hi, Rach,” Quinn laughs, letting go of the handle of her rolling suitcase to return the embrace just as tightly.

“You know, Rachel, you could invite our guest in,” Kurt points out from the couch. Rachel reluctantly steps back.

“Sorry,” she says. “Please, come in.” Quinn does, smiling when Rachel insists on taking her bag.

“Hello, Kurt,” she greets politely. Rachel watches the interaction nervously; while Kurt and Quinn hadn’t spoken more than a few words to each other in high school (Kurt was far below Quinn’s notice; not one of her special targets, not like Rachel), Kurt had long held a grudge against her for what he knew of what had happened between the ex-head cheerleader and his best friend after graduation.

“Quinn,” Kurt returns cooly. “This is my husband, Blaine.” Blaine grins his I’m-charming-and-I-know-it smile, standing from the couch and offering his hand.

“Pleased to meet you,” he says, and Rachel lets out a (only just) inaudible sigh of relief. Blaine isn’t usually one to cause a scene (at least not in a setting like this), but when it comes to Kurt’s influence over his husband, she can never be too sure.

“Likewise,” Quinn returns.

“Alright, as wonderful as this has been, Blaine and I are going out,” Kurt announces, standing.

“We are?” Blaine asks.

“Yes, we are,” Kurt says forcefully, grabbing Blaine’s hand and tugging him toward the door.

“But–“

“No buts!” Blaine shakes his head at Kurt’s back as he’s pulled out the front door and into the hallway, but he shuts his mouth. “Rachel, Quinn, we’ll be back after dinner. You two have fun! Ta!” Kurt closes the door after his rushed goodbye, leaving the two girls alone.

“So you live with those two?” Quinn asks after a moment. Rachel nods. “That sounds…interesting.”

“It isn’t bad, truly,” Rachel says. “It can be rather crowded at times, of course, but Kurt and I lived together in a much smaller space all through college. We’ve become quite adept at making it work. It would be strange, now, to not be near each other. I could move out if I wanted to; Broadway pays plenty. I simply don’t want to. It would be lonely, living by myself.”

“It is,” Quinn agrees. “Having Santana and Brittany so close to me is nice. Even though I can’t stand Santana half the time, I’d rather have her near me and annoying me than not there at all.”

“So!” Rachel declares. “Let me show you around.” Before Quinn can respond, Rachel grabs her hand and pulls her off, farther into the apartment. “We were just in the living room, of course, and there’s the kitchen–“ She gestures down a short hallway. “–a half bathroom, the dining room–“ She points at an area conjoined with the living room, where a large table and a number of chairs sit. “–and my bedroom, over there. Now, upstairs–“ She pulls Quinn up a brief flight of stairs. “–is the full bathroom, the guest room, and Kurt and Blaine’s bedroom.” She turns back to Quinn, who looks a bit overwhelmed. “Well? What do you think?”

“Have you considered a career as the world’s most efficient real estate agent?” Rachel pouts at the lighthearted jab, and Quinn (as she always does when Rachel makes that face) relents. “It really is nice, Rach,” she says. “It’s–is that a piano?” Rachel blushes, following Quinn’s gaze through the half-open door of the guest bedroom.

“It was a gift,” she mumbles. “My dads gave it to me when I graduated from NYADA.” Quinn shakes her head.

“Of course they did,” she sighs, stepping into the room to admire the piano. It’s polished and shining, of course; Quinn can’t imagine Rachel allowing an instrument to be anything less than perfectly maintained. She runs her fingertips along the edge of the keyboard cover, the wood smooth as silk. “Play me something?” she asks spontaneously, turning to look at Rachel. Rachel hesitates, indecision all over her face.

“I don’t know,” she says bashfully. Quinn quirks an eyebrow at her.

“Rachel Berry missing a chance to perform?” she questions with a smirk. “Is this a sign of the apocalypse?” Rachel swats her arm.

“Don’t tease,” she scolds. “I’ll play if you will.” Quinn lets her hand drop from the piano, her smile dropping.

“Maybe not, then,” she murmurs. “I haven’t in…a long time.” Rachel gazes at her contemplatively for an extended moment, before gently pushing her out of the way and tugging out the piano bench.

“Sit down,” she grumbles impishly. “I’ll teach you.” Quinn smiles, taking a seat on the (rather small, she’s now noticing, as their shoulders brush) bench next to Rachel.

“I’d rather just hear you play,” she says.

“Oh, no,” Rachel shakes her head firmly. “You are not getting out of this.”

“Play me something first, then?” Rachel considers the soft, open look on the girl beside her’s face and sighs, shaking her head. She lifts the cover, though, despite her seeming irritation, and runs her fingers along the keys before beginning to play.

Quinn recognizes the melody instantly.

 

XxX

 

Rachel doesn’t know who it is, at first.

It’s not as if anyone else is ever in the auditorium, and certainly not ten minutes before school starts. But someone is there today; the grand piano at the back of the stage blocks her view of whoever is there, but she can see light blonde hair and shoulders hunched over the keys.

Just as Rachel is about to march down to the stage and demand to know who this person is and what they’re doing here (which might be overkill, she recognizes, but this is her safe place, the only place in the school where there are no slushies and no bullies and no irritatingly beautiful girls with horribly confusing mood swings and ridiculously gorgeous smiles that make Rachel’s stomach do such wonderfully strange things), the person at the piano begins to play.

Für Elise, she recognizes from the first few notes. Hardly a particularly original or creative selection, but played excellently, she observes. Barely even realizing what she’s doing, she starts to walk down toward the stage. She’s heard the song easily a thousand times, but she walks slowly and she listens.

When the last few notes fade out, she’s at the staircase leading up onto the stage. She starts to clap slowly before she even realizes she’s doing it. The piano player jumps to her feet, eyes widening at her unexpected audience.

It’s Quinn Fabray. Somehow, that doesn’t shock Rachel nearly as much as it should.

“That was beautiful,” Rachel tells her. Quinn is still staring at her, one hand resting on the side of the piano. “Why Für Elise?” Quinn shakes her head, blinking rapidly, as if she’s trying to clear a mental fog.

“I, uh, I used to play it for my dad,” she answers eventually. “What are you doing here?”

“I come here nearly every day,” Rachel says. “Perhaps you should be the one asking yourself that question.”

“I wanted some quiet,” Quinn mutters. “With graduation coming up and everything…I just needed a break.” Rachel nods in understanding.

“You play quite well,” she says truthfully. “I had no idea you were at all musically inclined.” Quinn frowns in confusion.

“Why would you know anything about me?” she asks, and it comes out harsher than Rachel thinks she intended, judging by her wince directly following the question. Rachel just smiles.

“After the way you’ve treated me for the past four years, I would say I’m quite familiar with your insecurities,” she says. Although the words sound like a jab, there’s no venom in her tone. Quinn stares at her with a look of profound bewilderment.

Why do you keep being nice to me?” she asks, voice cracking. “I spent three years trying to tear you down. What possible reason could you have to think I’m worth your time?”

“When Jacob Ben Israel posted that video of Santana and Brittany together, you had the entire football team slushie him for a week until he took it down,” Rachel says. “You reported Karofsky after he threatened Kurt’s life in sophomore year.”

“How do you know about that?” Quinn interrupts. Rachel’s only response is her smile widening.

“You helped Sam Evans when his family was living in a motel,” she continues. “You tutored Noah Puckerman so he could graduate on time, although why is still a mystery to me. You tried to help Brittany Pierce as well.”

“How do you know any of this?” Quinn interrupts again.

“Mostly through Kurt, via Finn,” Rachel explains. “My point being, Quinn, that despite your more unpleasant tendencies, you are a good person. And even if you had done none of those things…” She shrugs. “You came in here just to play piano, without anyone’s knowledge. That’s proof enough for me that you are more than the image you project.”

“You’re…” Quinn shakes her head. She’s looking at Rachel with an odd sort of half-smile on her face, head tilted, like she’s never seen her before. It makes Rachel’s ribcage feel a few inches too small. She’s about to finish her sentence when the bell rings, cutting her off. Quinn takes the opportunity to walk away, down the steps off the stage. Rachel watches her go, wondering why her heartbeat is just a little bit too fast.

“Hey, Berry?” Quinn calls down to her from the auditorium doors, looking down at Rachel, still on the stage. “If you tell anyone about this, I swear to God you won’t have a slushie-free day until graduation.” With that, she turns, marching off down the hall, her Cheerios uniform skirt swishing.

For some inexplicable reason, the entire encounter brings an irrepressible smile to Rachel’s face.

 

XxX

 

“Für Elise? Really?” Quinn asks as the last few notes of the song ring out. Rachel smiles at her, lifting her hands from the keys.

“It’s a classic, Quinn,” she says archly. Quinn shakes her head, her own reminiscent smile tinged bittersweet and fading quickly.

“Rachel, don’t,” she says softly. “Please don’t do stuff like that. I came here because I want to be friends. I’ve missed you. But you can’t…you can’t play that song and joke about it and act like nothing has changed since…” she allows her sentence to hang, unfinished. Rachel looks back down at the keys, hands folded in her lap.

“I know,” she mumbles. “I’m sorry. I got a little carried away.” She looks up at Quinn, brown eyes soft and pleading for something she would never admit to still wanting. “It’s easy to…forget, with you here.”

“Maybe this visit wasn’t such a good idea,” Quinn says, matching Rachel’s blank stare at the piano keyboard.

“No!” The loud exclamation draws Quinn’s gaze back up. “Don’t say that,” Rachel implores. “I want you to be here. I know things are different now. We’re different now. We just have to adjust a little bit, and we can do that.” She reaches out hesitantly, knowing she may be crossing a line, and gently takes Quinn’s hand in hers. “I want you back in my life, Quinn,” she says with as much confidence as she can gather. “I hope you want that, too.” Quinn’s eyes soften.

“Of course I do,” she whispers. The moment stretches, tense, before Rachel abruptly slides off the bench and jumps to her feet.

“So!” she says, making an undisguised attempt to end the electric pressure sparking between them. “How long are you staying for?” Quinn colors slightly, looking sheepish.

“I don’t actually know,” she admits, pushing her hair back nervously. “I haven’t booked a return train yet.”

“Oh?” Rachel asks. “Then you can stay as long as you can put up with me; how does that sound?”

“I wouldn’t make that offer,” Quinn responds teasingly. “I put up with eighteen-year-old Rachel Berry, I’m pretty sure I can take the Rachel Berry of today. I might not ever leave.”

There’s a moment in which they simply look at each other, close enough on the small piano bench that Quinn can see the individual streaks of different shades of brown that radiate out from Rachel’s pupils. She hears the slight hitch in Rachel’s breath before those eyes turn away and Rachel speaks.

“I wouldn’t mind,” she murmurs, and they let the moment fade.

Chapter Text

Rachel wakes up on the fifteenth day of summer vacation to a missed call and a text message.

(The moment she sees the missed call notification, she knows who it is. She doesn’t even need to check the contact name. The only person who calls her instead of texting as a first resort is Quinn.)

Park today? is all the text message says. It makes Rachel smile, shaking her head fondly. It’s just like Quinn to call her for something as brief as an invitation to hang out at the park.

(Rachel ignores the way her skin buzzes excitedly with practiced ease. It’s just Quinn, she reminds herself. It’s Quinn, her mind echoes back.)

She sends a confirmation quickly, humming to herself as she goes about her morning. As much as she’s stubbornly ignoring the reasons why, she can’t deny that a text from Quinn is perhaps the perfect thing to wake up to.

 

XxX

 

“Good morning!” Quinn groans at the enthusiastic voice, rolling over and wrapping herself more tightly in the sheets. “Quinn, really, I had hoped you would have overcome your aversion to mornings at some point in becoming a functioning adult.” Quinn mumbles something entirely incoherent; she’s not even sure what, exactly, she’s attempting to say.

“I’m going to ignore whatever that was meant to be,” Rachel continues, sounding far too put together and energetic for…what time is it anyway? “Now, I made breakfast, and I am showing you around the city today, so please extricate yourself from your…” Through the barely cracked corner of her eye, Quinn sees Rachel gesture vaguely at the sheets wrapped tightly around her. “…cocoon, and come downstairs.”

“You cooked,” Quinn clarifies, rolling onto her back (still in her blanket burrito) and opening her eyes just wide enough to look at Rachel skeptically. The other girl reddens slightly.

“I resent your tone,” she says, miffed, crossing her arms. “I’ll have you know that my culinary abilities have improved exponentially since my rather unfortunate attempts in my teenage years.” Quinn’s expression doesn’t change. “Also, I made eggs and toast. I’m reasonably sure that even my teenage self could scramble eggs without any major disasters.”

“Eggs?” Quinn questions, finally sitting up and rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “Whatever happened to being vegan?”

“Vegan substitutes are hardly cheap,” Rachel explains. “I reincorporated eggs and small amounts of dairy during college, and while I could easily afford to remove them at this juncture, I’ve chosen not to out of convenience. Also, baked goods are really much better when they include actual eggs.” Quinn smiles at the admission, eyelids still drooping.

“Please tell me there’s coffee with breakfast,” she yawns. Rachel smiles, and Quinn writes off the overwhelming affection in the expression as a trick of her tired eyes.

“I hoped you had become more agreeable to the morning,” Rachel reiterates her earlier words. “I didn’t expect you to.”

“You know me too well,” Quinn says as she swings her legs out of bed and stands, noting with moderate interest the way Rachel’s eyes track the movement, sliding down her legs from her barely-there sleep shorts.

“Maybe so,” Rachel mutters, almost wistfully.

 

XxX

 

“I brought coffee,” Rachel announces without preamble. Quinn looks up from her book, twisting around on the bench to smile up at her companion. It’s an overcast day; the sky is an unbroken blanket of grey. Rachel notes absently that it looks as if it may rain later. The park is nearly empty, save for Quinn, herself, and a few people walking their dogs.

“You know me too well,” Quinn says, eagerly taking the proffered cup and letting out a long moan at the smell. Rachel blushes at the sound, hiding it behind her own cup (green tea; Quinn jokingly mocks her for it every time they get coffee together).

“You’re welcome,” Rachel grumbles sarcastically. “What’s that you say? I’m the best friend on the planet? Always thinking of you and going out of my way to be nice?” Quinn shoves her gently.

“Don’t be passive-aggressive,” she says, badly hiding a smile. “You are, though.” Rachel frowns at her, curious as to the source of the sudden seriousness of the moment.

“I am what?” she asks. Quinn pins her down with those hazel eyes (they look so much darker and greener with the sun hidden behind the thick clouds, and Rachel feels a shiver go through her that has nothing to do with the chilly air).

“My best friend,” Quinn explains, and those eyes are accompanied with a half-smirk, and suddenly Rachel isn’t cold at all.

“Oh,” she mumbles, her usually extensive vocabulary suddenly failing her. Quinn’s half-smirk becomes a full smirk, and she turns sideways on the bench, lifting her right leg onto her opposite knee and facing Rachel fully.

“Something wrong?” she asks, and in the back of her mind, Rachel recognizes that Quinn knows exactly what she does to her.

Rachel licks her lips and opens her mouth to respond, utterly clueless as to how, when a raindrop lands with a loud smack on the lid of her cup.

Quinn immediately scoops up her book, tucking it into her jacket protectively. Rachel finds the reaction cute, although she would never admit it, even to herself.

“Maybe we should go,” Quinn says, finally letting her eyes leave Rachel’s and breaking the tension of the moment.

Suddenly, Rachel can breathe again. She’s not sure why she immediately misses the feeling of her lungs pushing against her ribs.

 

XxX

 

“I can’t believe you’re making me eat vegan food,” Quinn grumbles, crossing her arms and glaring across the table at Rachel.

“Don’t be childish,” Rachel quips. “You’re the one who wanted to stop for lunch. I was perfectly happy to continue the tour.”

“Rachel, you do know that I’ve been to New York before?” Quinn asks. Rachel lowers her menu, giving Quinn a piercing look.

“I am well aware,” she confirms. “I am also well aware that you never contacted me on any of those trips. Thus, you are receiving the Rachel Berry tour of the city.” Quinn leans back in her chair, staring at Rachel incredulously.

“Are you–is this your revenge?” she asks in disbelief. Rachel doesn’t respond, but the way her eyes stay firmly fixed on the menu and the corners of her mouth drift up slightly tell Quinn everything. “And you call me childish,” she mutters, shaking her head.

“Takes one to know one,” Rachel comments. They sit in companionable silence for a few minutes as they both look over the menu.

“This is nice,” Quinn says finally, after the waiter takes their orders and menus. Rachel tilts her head at her inquisitively. “Being friends,” she elaborates. “Like…like before. It’s nice.”

“I don’t think we were ever truly friends before, Quinn,” Rachel says softly.

“What do you mean?” Quinn asks, frowning. “Of course we were.” Rachel shakes her head.

“Maybe that’s what it was to you,” she says. “But not to me. It was always going somewhere else, and I think you know that.”

“That doesn’t mean our friendship wasn’t real,” Quinn argues.

“Doesn’t it?” They both awkwardly look anywhere but at each other. Finally, Rachel meets Quinn’s eyes with a sigh. “I’m sorry,” she mutters. “That was unnecessary. We can talk about something else.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t, though,” Quinn muses. Rachel raises an eyebrow. “I really, really want to be friends, Rachel. And I think we can do that. But we should sort through our…history, first. Don’t you think?”

“Perhaps,” Rachel admits. “But…not here. Not now. Okay?” Quinn smiles, reflexively reaching across the table and covering one of Rachel’s hands with her own.

“Okay.”

 

XxX

 

“What’s that?” Quinn asks curiously, pointing at an envelope on Rachel’s desk. The other girl unsubtly shoves it under some sheet music.

“Nothing,” Rachel tells her. Quinn sits up from her position laying back on Rachel’s bed.

“Okay, now you have to tell me,” she says. “That looked official. And important. What’s up?” Rachel sits down at the desk, reluctantly pulling the envelope back out.

“It’s from NYADA,” she mutters. “Just information for freshmen.” Quinn frowns at her.

“Why would you not want to tell me about that?” she questions. Rachel looks up at her with sadness in her eyes, and the look makes Quinn’s heart twinge painfully.

“Because it’s a reminder that we’re going to two hours away from each other in two and a half months,” she states, her forced matter-of-fact tone contrasting sharply with the pain in her eyes. Quinn reaches out, catching Rachel’s hands with her own.

“That’s a long time from now,” she tells her quietly. “Can…can we just enjoy the time we have now, without worrying about the future?” Rachel looks torn, gazing down at their intertwined fingers with a melancholic frown.

“Okay,” she says finally, and shoves the letter back out of sight.

 

XxX

 

“You know, eventually you’re going to have to let me pay,” Quinn comments as Rachel grabs the check for their dinner (she had payed for their lunch as well; it’s bringing back memories Quinn is trying her hardest to bury for both of their sakes).

“I most definitely do not,” Rachel says, setting a few bills on the check and standing. “You’re a guest.” She offers Quinn her hand, and Quinn rolls her eyes as she takes it and stands as well.

“You’re ridiculous.” Rachel ignores the jab, linking their arms together as they leave the restaurant. Quinn leans on her more heavily than she intends to, gratefully taking some weight off of her left leg. Rachel notices immediately.

“Are you all right?” she asks. “You’re limping.” Quinn winces at the inquisitive look on her face. She really hadn’t wanted to get into this.

“Don’t be nosy,” she snaps, taking her arm out of Rachel’s and disguising the immediate, shooting pains from her leg with a glare. Rachel stops, crossing her arms and pinning Quinn in place with a resolute frown.

“Don’t do that,” she says reproachfully. “You only snap at me when you’re hiding something.” Quinn mirrors her posture, crossing her arms. As subtly as she can, she shifts practically all of her weight to her right leg. “Quinn,” Rachel implores. “I have never judged you. Whatever it is, you can tell me.” Quinn breaks eye contact, feigned anger turning to shame.

“You’ll be mad,” she mutters.

“I will not.”

“Yes, you will.” Quinn starts to walk again, limping visibly. She grits her teeth at the twinges that go all the way up her left side every time her foot hits the pavement.

“Quinn!” Rachel grabs her arm again. “If you’re not going to tell me, at least allow me to help you.” Reluctantly, Quinn lets Rachel take her arm and some of her weight.

It’s a long, silent walk back to the apartment; the air so thick with tension you could cut it with a knife. When they finally do get back, Rachel insists that they take the elevator, despite her usual use of the stairs (“it’s healthier, Quinn, don’t be lazy”), and although Quinn still says nothing, she’s silently grateful to be able to lean against a wall instead of dragging herself and her now-aching leg up three flights of stairs.

Kurt and Blaine are in the living room, talking quietly, when they arrive. Kurt immediately notices the look on his best friend’s face, and without Rachel saying anything, he takes his husband’s hand and moves the conversation upstairs. Rachel mouths a “thank you” at him as Quinn all but collapses onto the couch.

“I let you get away with not telling me this far,” Rachel says the moment Kurt and Blaine are out of sight. “Please explain to me what is going on.”

“Can I…?” Quinn makes a vague gesture at the couch. Rachel nods, and Quinn lies down on her right side, facing Rachel. She lets out a loud sigh as she takes the last of her weight off her left. “Alright,” she mutters. “You’re going to be mad about this. Might as well get it over with.” Rachel tries to argue, but Quinn raises a hand, and she subsides. “The year after I graduated from college,” she begins. “I was working in New Haven as a student teacher. I was driving to work one day when I got a text message.” She shakes her head. “I was stupid enough to check it. Next thing I know, I was waking up in a hospital bed.” Rachel stares at her, brow furrowed. “I got t-boned by a semi.”

“You what?” Rachel shakes her head, mouth opening and closing. “Quinn, you–“

“I was stupid,” Quinn interrupts. “I made a stupid mistake and I payed for it. Broken ribs, sprained wrist–“ She gestures at her leg. “And a compressed spine.”

“Quinn…” Rachel stares at her, and the pity in her eyes reminds Quinn why she doesn’t talk about her accident. She hates that look, like she’s sad or broken or pathetic. “Why wouldn’t you tell me? Does anybody even know about all this?”

“I barely told anyone,” Quinn says. “They called Santana. She was my emergency contact, since I wasn’t exactly talking to my parents after I came out. Brittany knows, of course, and the teacher I was working with at the time knows, but…” She shrugs as best she can while lying down. “No one else from high school knows.”

“You’re telling me that Brittany Pierce didn’t tell a secret this big to everyone she knew?” Rachel questions. Quinn tries for a smile.

“She can keep secrets,” she insists. “As long as she thinks they’re important.” Rachel shakes her head with a weak smile. She’s still looking at Quinn with those sad, pitying eyes. “It’s not that bad,” Quinn says, trying to drive that look off of Rachel’s face. “My leg hurts sometimes from the nerve damage, but only if I wear heels too long or walk too–“ She cuts herself off, knowing what Rachel’s reaction to those words will be, but she’s too late.

“When you walk too much,” Rachel completes. Quinn nods. “And you let me make you walk around all day? Quinn, you should have said something!”

“Rachel!” Quinn stops the incoming self-loathing tirade before it can begin. “It’s fine,” she says firmly. “It only started hurting after dinner, and I wasn’t going to tell you anyway. You didn’t do anything wrong. Alright?” Rachel doesn’t meet her eyes. “Alright?”

“Fine,” Rachel finally mutters. “Can I get you anything? Aspirin or something?”

“Rachel,” Quinn repeats, more fondly exasperated than anything. “I’m fine.”

“I just can’t believe you didn’t call me,” Rachel says. “You knew you could rely on me, didn’t you?”

“Of course I knew that,” Quinn says softly. “But we hadn’t spoken in almost five years, Rach. I didn’t want to bother you.” Rachel starts to protest, but Quinn’s next words silence her. “And…I didn’t know if I could deal with seeing you again in the middle of recovering from that.” Rachel looks down, her hair falling like a curtain around her face. “Oh, no. Wait…” Quinn pushes herself up off the couch and walks over to Rachel with a significantly less pronounced limp than earlier. “I didn’t mean it like that.” Rachel doesn’t move. “Rach, please.” Quinn reaches out hesitantly, lifting Rachel’s chin gently with her fingertips. “I wasn’t mad at you,” she says quietly, with as much firmness as she can manage while still sounding gentle. “I just didn’t know if I could deal with all the feelings that would come with seeing you.”

“Feelings?” Rachel repeats. “After five years?” Quinn’s fingers grip her jaw a little more firmly.

“After ten,” she whispers, and Rachel’s suddenly knowing gaze feels like a brand burning into Quinn’s eyes. She lowers her hand, looking away and limping back over to the couch.

“You’re taking my room tonight,” Rachel announces, and Quinn silently thanks a God she stopped believing in years ago that the other girl lets the moment go. “I don’t want you climbing stairs.” Quinn rolls her eyes.

“Rachel, I’m fine,” she complains. “Don’t be ridiculous.” Rachel crosses her arms, refusing to back down, and Quinn recognizes the stubborn look on her face as a clear sign that it would be better to just agree with her. “Whatever,” she mutters. Rachel grins widely, and Quinn decides that humoring her overprotective tendencies might just be worth it, if it gets her to smile like that.

 

XxX

 

“I’ll go get us more snacks,” Rachel announces, peeling herself away from Quinn’s side (it’s nothing, Rachel cuddles with Kurt all the time, it’s just how she shows friendship, Quinn justifies) and standing. Quinn doesn’t say anything, just smiles up at her and watches her leave the room, headed for the kitchen. Quinn absently switches the DVD, shuffling through a flawlessly organized collection of musicals (Rachel will scold her later for moving them out of alphabetical order) and grabbing the first one that she hasn’t seen (with Rachel, of course; she’s not exactly a Broadway nerd) at least six times. Their movie nights are fun, but the entertainment itself has become fairly repetitive. That doesn’t bother Quinn, though; she would watch the same horrid movie a thousand times if it meant spending time with Rachel.

The rain from earlier is pouring now; Quinn can hear it striking the windows. Normally they would close the curtains, but the sky is dark enough with clouds to leave them open, despite it being barely eight o’clock. Quinn leans back into the couch with a sigh, watching the droplets make their way down the glass of the window.

“Good evening, Quinn,” Hiram Berry says as he steps into the room. Quinn smiles politely and nods in greeting.

“Good evening, Mr. Berry,” she returns (Rachel’s fathers have tried to convince her at least twenty times to call them Hiram and Leroy; she has yet to listen).

“Where’s Rachel?” he asks.

“In the kitchen. We ran out of popcorn.” Hiram nods slowly. The scheming look on his face makes Quinn nervous; it bears far too close a resemblance to a similar look that she’s seen on Rachel a number of times.

“Well, you and I have something to discuss,” he announces, confirming, in Quinn’s mind, that she’s right to be nervous.

“We do, sir?” Hiram uncharacteristically doesn’t correct her use of the title.

“Yes, we do,” he repeats, taking a seat on the opposite end of the couch from Quinn. He steeples his fingers, looking at her almost appraisingly. “I respect you, Quinn, so I’m not going to sugarcoat this.” Quinn nods, waiting. “I know my daughter. I know how she acts around her friends. I know how much having friends means to her. I know what you did to her in the past–“

“And I regret it, sir,” Quinn interjects, unable to stop herself from interrupting. “I know that may not mean much, but I do. Every single moment I spent trying to tear her down, every insult. I regret it. And I know I don’t deserve her forgiveness, but I’m trying my best to make sure I earn how kind to me she’s been.” Hiram raises a hand, cutting her off.

“I know you do, Quinn,” he says gently. “Let me finish.” She backs down with a subdued apology. “As I was saying, I know my daughter,” he continues. “And that is why I can say with confidence that the friendship you two have built means everything to her.”

“It means just as much to me,” Quinn says softly. Hiram shakes his head.

“Ah, but I’m not sure it does,” he says. “Quinn, when Rachel is friends with someone, she cherishes them, yes, but she doesn’t let them pick out movies. She doesn’t even let Kurt do that, and their tastes are practically identical. She doesn’t get caught texting them in class. She doesn’t spend twenty minutes getting ready just to meet them in the park. She certainly doesn’t sneak out past her curfew to drive around town with them in the middle of the night.” Quinn reddens.

“You know about that?” she mutters, looking down.

“My point being,” Hiram continues. “Rachel doesn’t see you as just any other friend. You’re special to her. More than you or she knows. You’re more than that to her.” Quinn looks up at him, brow furrowing, wondering if he’s saying what she thinks he is. He looks at her intensely, and Quinn feels a little lightheaded when she realizes that he is clearly saying exactly what she thinks, what she hopes. “Do you understand?”

“Yeah, I do,” she half-whispers.

“Good,” Hiram says, suddenly much less emotionally intense. “Then you’ll also understand that if you let her down, I will dig the old shotgun out of the attic and you will never set foot in this house again.” Quinn isn’t sure if she’s meant to laugh. Hiram looks deadly serious.

“Yeah,” she says, realizing he’s waiting for an answer. “I won’t let her down, sir. I promise.”

In the hall to the kitchen, Rachel slides back around the corner when Hiram stands, heart racing at everything she just overheard.

Chapter Text

“What?” Quinn mumbles without opening her eyes.

“Hmm?” is all Rachel responds with. Quinn sighs, tilting her head to look over at her best friend. Rachel’s eyes are fixed on Quinn’s face with an intensity Quinn has never seen from her before, and suddenly the few inches between them feel much too far and too close all at once.

“You’re staring at me,” Quinn tells her, absently lifting one of her hands from its position under her head and pushing a few strands of Rachel’s hair behind her ear.

“No, I’m not,” Rachel denies, eyes not moving from Quinn’s. Quinn doesn't take the bait, instead turning her face back up to the clear blue sky, eyes closing once more, breathing slowly as a light breeze disturbs the grass around them.

“Rach?” she asks after an indeterminable amount of time.

“Yes?” Quinn rolls onto her side, eyes opening. Rachel is still staring at her.

“Do you…” she trails off, biting her lip nervously.

“What is it, Quinn?” Rachel questions. Quinn lets her eyes drift off somewhere over Rachel’s shoulder, avoiding eye contact. “Quinn?”

“Can I just…show you?” Quinn asks suddenly. “It’ll be easier that way.”

“What will?” Quinn looks at her, deadpan. “Right. Sorry. Of course you can. I trust you.” Quinn licks her lips and stares at Rachel. For a moment, there’s nothing but her own eyes searching dark brown eyes. She isn’t quite sure what she’s looking for.

Whatever it is, though, she knows she’s found it. She lifts herself up on one elbow and leans across the scant inches between them, pressing her lips to Rachel’s.

She doesn’t know what she’s expecting. Shock, maybe. To be pushed away angrily, for Rachel to snap at her, ask her what the hell she thinks she’s doing (she doesn’t know). Maybe a gentle rejection, accompanied by Rachel’s sad eyes and a sadder smile (that would only make Quinn fall even more in love with her).

Quinn knows, however, that she is not expecting to be kissed back. Yet, in typical Rachel Berry fashion, defying all expectations, that is exactly what Rachel does. She inhales sharply at the first contact of their lips, before pushing herself up slightly and forward, one hand wrapping around the back of Quinn’s neck and kissing her with what feels like desperation.

And then, suddenly, it’s over.

Rachel pulls away like she’s touching an electric fence. Her eyes are wide and shocked, flitting over Quinn’s face with frantic confusion. She sits up, and Quinn mirrors the action.

“…sorry,” Quinn murmurs, looking down, shamefaced. “That was…I’m sorry.” She looks back up at Rachel. The other girl is tracing her fingertips over her lips with a stunned, dazed look on her face. “Rach?”

“I…” Rachel shakes her head, still staring at Quinn. “I think…I think I should go home.” Quinn’s stomach twists painfully.

“Yeah,” she says through a tightening throat and lips that are still tingling from Rachel’s. “Yeah, sure.”

“Quinn.” Rachel catches her arm as she turns to walk away. “Listen, Quinn…you didn’t do anything wrong. I just…I need some time. And–and maybe some space.”

“Yeah,” Quinn repeats, because if she says more, she thinks her voice might crack. She pulls her arm from Rachel’s grasp and hurries away, angrily dashing away the tears that are beginning to fall with her sleeve.

Unbeknownst to her, Rachel is watching her go, similar tears falling from her own eyes.

 

XxX

 

“So, I was thinking besties dinner tonight?” Kurt says. He’s leaning against the counter in their kitchen, watching Rachel make breakfast (it’s a habit she’s fallen into over the past two weeks of Quinn’s visit; she makes a simple breakfast every morning before waking Quinn. She enjoys the other girl’s reaction to it, the way her eyes light up at the smell of food in the morning).

“That sounds wonderful, Kurt,” Rachel tells him. “But unfortunately, I will have to decline. Quinn and I are driving upstate a bit to this park I found a few months ago. It will take all day.” Kurt crosses her arms at her, and it takes Rachel barely ten seconds to recognize the passive-aggressive look on her best friend’s face. “What?”

“You realize that, in the two weeks since Quinn got here, you and I have spent no time together?” Kurt points out.

“She’s my guest, Kurt,” Rachel informs him primly. “I’m simply being a good host and a good friend.” Kurt scoffs at that.

“Since when do you make breakfast every single day for your friends?” he asks. “You don’t even like cooking!”

“There’s plenty to share if you want some,” Rachel says. Kurt sighs, running his hands through his as-of-yet unstyled hair.

“That’s not what this is about,” he mutters.

“Then what is your issue, exactly?” Rachel asks, dumping the eggs she’d been cooking on a plate and turning to face him.

“You’re treating her like some sort of–of visiting girlfriend,” Kurt explains. Rachel instantly goes tense, and Kurt winces, realizing his mistake. “I’m sorry,” he adds quickly. “I didn’t mean–“

“You meant it,” Rachel snaps. Kurt looks away.

“I did,” he admits. “And it’s true, Rachel. I mean, look at you. You’re making her breakfast in bed and paying for your not-dates and dragging her to all your favorite places and…I just don’t want to see you get hurt.” Rachel looks down, jaw tight.

“I’m not going to,” she mutters. “Kurt, believe it or not, I am well aware of my own actions and my–my feelings. And I know that those feelings are not going to be returned. I’m not getting my hopes up.” She looks up at him, and there are tears in her eyes now. “I’m having fun,” she says, almost pleadingly. “I’m taking Quinn to all these places and paying for our meals and making her breakfast because I enjoy it. It’s making her happy. I still know her well enough to know when she’s happy. And she’s happy right now.” Rachel harshly wipes her tears away. “And it doesn’t matter that old habits are a bit harder to break than I thought they’d be, because she’s happy, and that means I’m happy, too.” Kurt steps forward, wrapping his arms around her, and Rachel sinks into the hug gratefully, letting her forehead rest against his collarbone. They stand like that, Rachel leaning into Kurt, for a long few moments. Finally, Rachel takes a deep, shuddering breath and steps back, composing herself.

“You’ve got it bad, sweetheart,” Kurt declares when it seems that Rachel is alright. She laughs, shaking her head.

“Believe me, I know it,” she grumbles.

Down the hall, in the living room, Quinn leans against the wall, shaking under everything she just overheard. Carefully, she schools her face into one of sleepy curiosity.

“What’s for breakfast?” she asks as she wanders into the kitchen with a yawn, carefully ignoring the looks that shoot between Kurt and Rachel.

 

XxX

 

“Rachel,” Quinn says quietly into her phone. The other end of the line is silent. “Hi.”

“…hi,” Rachel’s muffled voice echoes. “Quinn, I…” There’s a staticky sigh.

“We don’t have to have this conversation if you aren’t ready to,” Quinn says, as reassuring as she can be when her heart is trying to implode itself.

“I want to,” Rachel says immediately. “I want to talk about this, Quinn. Can you meet me today? That creek in the park?”

“Yeah,” Quinn agrees, despite the voice in the back of her head (the one that sounds suspiciously like Santana) telling her that this is a horrible, horrible idea, that Rachel is only inviting her out to let her down easy, that she is going to get her heart shattered. She could never really say no to Rachel, after all.

 

XxX

 

“I hate the woods,” Quinn grumbles, pushing the low-hanging branches of a willow tree out of her face. “You know that.”

“It’s hardly the woods, Quinn,” Rachel snipes. “We’re in a park.” Quinn mutters a few unintelligible words of further complaint, until suddenly she pushes her way through yet another shrub and finds herself on a rocky beach, looking down at a slow-moving river.

“Whoa,” is all she can say. Rachel smiles at her dumbstruck expression.

“Nice, isn’t it?” she asks. Quinn nods, taking a few steps farther out of the trees. “I found it when I came here with an ex of mine on the way to his hometown a few months ago.” Quinn looks over at her, and Rachel hurries on when she sees the badly disguised hurt on Quinn’s face. “He doesn’t know about it. He took me to the park and went back to the car. We were fighting, so I never got around to telling him about the river.” The hurt expression fades.

“It kind of reminds me of the creek back home,” Quinn comments. Rachel looks at her quizzically.

“How?” she asks, laughing a bit. “The creek barely even qualifies as more than a slow-moving puddle.” Quinn shrugs, laughing as well.

“I don’t know,” she says. “Maybe it’s just that you’re here.” That puts an awkward end to the conversation, Rachel’s smile fading.

“Quinn…” she mumbles.

“Rachel, you agreed that we need to talk about everything eventually,” Quinn argues. “Why not now?” Rachel looks away, scooping up a rock and skipping it across the water. It makes it to the middle of the river before sinking.

“I just want to be here with you,” she says softly. “I want to be here and have fun and not worry about our…history.”

“Our past is part of us now, Rachel,” Quinn insists. “And we have to accept that if we want to move forward.” Rachel skips another rock. This one makes it almost all the way across the river.

“When did you become so smart and well-adjusted?” she grumbles. Quinn smiles, recognizing the acquiescence for what it is.

“I went to Yale, Rachel,” she reminds her, picking up her own rock. It skips only once before plummeting into the river. Rachel smiles at the attempt.

“Clearly they didn’t teach you everything,” she quips. They toss a few more stones in silence before Rachel straightens up and dusts her hands off.

“Come on, then,” she says. “Let’s walk and we can…” She shrugs helplessly. “Talk?” Quinn smiles, stepping forward and offering Rachel her hand.

“My lady,” she says teasingly. Rachel shakes her head fondly and takes her hand.

 

XxX

 

“Hey,” Quinn says. Rachel spins around from staring at the small trickle of water that constitutes the creek running through Lima’s only park.

“Hi,” she responds, sounding somewhat breathless. “I wanted to…I thought that…”

“Rachel,” Quinn interrupts. “Breath.” The other girl looks down sheepishly. “Are you actually ready to talk about this?”

“Not…not really,” Rachel admits. “But I never will be, and we need to discuss it.” Quinn gives her a measuring look, noting the way her hands are twisting together anxiously.

“Okay,” she agrees. “You look like you’ll explode if you don’t.” She reaches out, gently tugging Rachel’s hands apart and tangling her own fingers with the other girl’s. “Let’s sit.” They sit down side by side on the grass. Quinn watches the water of the creek rush over the rocks at the bottom.

“Look, Quinn…” Rachel begins after a moment. “I…”

“Can I…” Quinn interrupts again. “Can I just say something before you break my heart?” Rachel’s face falls, but she waits for Quinn to continue. “You…you’re my best friend. I think you’re the first real friend I ever had. I don’t want to lose that.”

“You could never,” Rachel reassures her immediately. “Nothing is going to take me away from you. I promise.” Quinn ignores the way her heart jumps at those words.

“Okay,” she murmurs. “Go ahead, then.” Rachel nods.

“Quinn, I…” she sighs, shaking her head as if to clear it. “When you kissed me, it scared me.” Her voice is halting and slow. It bothers Quinn, how different it is from her normal overbearing enthusiasm (it bothers her that she is the one that made Rachel sound like this). “It didn’t scare me that you have feelings for me. I already knew that.” Quinn shoots her a look, and Rachel smiles a bit. “You’re hardly subtle.” The amusement fades, and Rachel absently picks a blade of grass, shredding it anxiously with her fingertips. “It scared me because I didn’t want you to stop.” This time, Quinn can’t ignore the way her heart leaps up into her throat.

“You…” Her mouth is dry all of a sudden, and she swallows thickly. “You didn’t?”

“Did it really seem like I wasn’t enjoying it?” Rachel asks, the corner of her mouth quirking up in a smirk. Quinn replays the kiss in her mind; Rachel desperately pulling her closer, Rachel’s face flushed a bright pink when she pulled away.

“I guess not,” Quinn mumbles. “I was thinking more about the part where you got up and ran away.” Rachel winces.

“I’m sorry about that,” she says, tearing another bit of grass apart. “I just…I wasn’t supposed to be gay, Quinn. I was supposed to…to go off to NYADA and meet a hot, talented guy and fall in love and star in musicals together.” Quinn’s mouth tastes like ash.

“And I get in the way of all of that,” she says flatly. Rachel notices the bitterness in her eyes and grabs her hand.

“Not in a bad way,” she says. “You’re just…unexpected.”

“Because I’m a girl?” Quinn shakes her head. “You have two gay dads.”

“And I’ve seen how they’re treated because of that!” Rachel snaps back. The anger in her voice catches Quinn off guard. “I’ve listened to people say things about them behind their backs and I’ve watched people stare and point and make fun of them. Our house gets egged every few months, did you know that?” Quinn leans back slightly in shock at the sudden venom in Rachel’s voice and posture. Rachel notices her surprise and subsides slightly. “Sorry,” she mumbles. “It’s just that…When I first had a crush on a boy, I was so relieved. I was grateful that I wouldn’t have to face what my fathers face every single day. And this…this thing with you changes that.” It’s the closest thing to a confession Quinn has heard so far, and it makes her breath hitch sharply.

“When you say this thing,” she begins. Rachel rolls her eyes and laces her fingers through Quinn’s.

“Yes, Quinn,” she confirms. “I have romantic feelings for you.”

“And–and you’re okay with being with a girl? With all the problems you were talking about?” Quinn asks. Rachel smiles, reaching out with her free hand and running her fingertips over Quinn’s cheek. The featherlight touch makes Quinn shiver.

“I had a plan for the rest of my life,” Rachel says. “And it didn’t include you. But now…I think I can adjust my plans a bit.” Quinn’s heart is pounding against her ribcage now. “You’re worth the risk.”

She kisses Quinn first this time.

 

XxX

 

“Did you ever regret it?” Quinn asks Rachel, kicking at the rocks along the shore. “After–after it ended. Did you ever regret wasting your time on something that didn’t last?”

“No,” Rachel says immediately, the firmness in her voice taking Quinn by surprise. “It wasn’t a waste of time. Every second was worth it.” She reaches out, catching Quinn’s hand. Quinn turns to face her. “Even though it ended the way it did, I could never regret being with you.” She grips Quinn’s hand a little tighter. “You were my entire world for a time, Quinn. The memories of that summer are some of the best I have. I wouldn’t give that up for anything.” Quinn smiles, weakly at first, then wide and filled with unadulterated joy.

“Good,” she says. “Because I couldn’t regret it if I tried.” Rachel smiles just as wide, tugging her hand out of Quinn’s and opening her arms.

As Quinn steps forward, wrapping her arms around her, Rachel thinks that if this is what friendship with Quinn Fabray is like (being held like she’s something precious, face buried in Quinn’s neck, warm hands on her back that she can feel through her shirt), maybe this won’t be so hard after all.

Chapter Text

Rachel’s phone buzzing wakes her up. She scoops it up off the nightstand with clumsy, tired hands, squinting at the glowing screen with blurry eyes.

It’s Quinn. Of course it’s Quinn.

Look out your window, the text says. Rachel rubs at her eyes, making a face caught somewhere between a fond smile and an exasperated eye roll. She already knows exactly where this is going.

She moves to her window anyway, opening the curtains and looking out. Sure enough, Quinn is standing in Rachel’s driveway, leaning against the hood of her car. She grins when she sees Rachel, waving and holding up her keys. Rachel taps her forehead against the cool glass of the window, sighing. Her phone begins to vibrate again, and she pulls it out. Quinn is calling this time.

“It’s twelve-thirty,” she answers in a whisper.

“So?” Quinn asks. Rachel sighs again. She can see Quinn’s grin widen at the sound.

“Fine,” she mutters, pulling the curtains shut. “Give me a minute to change.”

“You don’t have to close the curtains for that,” Quinn jokes. Rachel would glare if she could.

“Don’t push your luck,” she says before hanging up.

Her bedroom is on the ground floor; the window is barely four feet off the ground. Honestly, it’s as if her fathers want her to sneak out. She changes from her sleep shorts into sweats and a hoodie (she stopped caring how she looks around Quinn a long time ago; the girl looks at her with the same heart-stopping-in-love gaze anyway). When she pushes the window open and slides out, Quinn is right there, catching her in her arms and kissing her briefly with a grin.

“Morning,” she whispers, conscious of the still-open window.

“Shut up,” Rachel grumbles. She pushes Quinn towards the car. “I hate you for this, you know that?”

“You love me,” Quinn responds, voice slightly louder now that they’re farther from the window. She tenses slightly as the words leave her mouth, realizing what she said too late to keep it in. There’s an intense moment where she looks at Rachel hesitantly, an apology on her lips, ready to be spoken.

“Yes, I do,” Rachel agrees, shattering the uncomfortable tension in the air. Quinn begins to smile, just a slight upturning of her lips. Rachel pulls open the passenger side car door and slides inside, lowering the window. “Now, since this was your idea, drive.” The smile turns into a grin, and Quinn places a clumsy, brief kiss on Rachel’s lips before running around the other side of the car.

It’s like every other night they’ve done this; Quinn drives them on a gradual, winding path towards the edge of town, while Rachel sings along to the radio, dancing a bit in her seat and pointing at Quinn every time the lyrics are the slightest bit romantic. Quinn bats her hands away each time and shakes her head fondly. Quinn’s comment and Rachel’s confession don’t weigh over them; Quinn’s smiles are a bit wider and Rachel sings love songs a little bit louder, but the words don’t change them at all.

Finally, they reach the only somewhat large hill in the Lima area, about a mile and a half out of town. They climb out of the car and sit on the back as they always do, legs kicking beside each others’, hands tangled together. Quinn is telling Rachel all about the latest book she’s reading, free hand moving expansively, voice fast and excited. Rachel watches her, almost awed.

“What?” Quinn asks when she finally finishes her rant and notices the way Rachel is looking at her. Rachel shakes her head, smiling.

“Nothing,” she dismisses. “You’re just really beautiful when you’re happy.” Quinn blushes slightly at the compliment, a reaction that Rachel finds incredibly endearing and never gets tired of evoking.

“I’m always happy when I’m with you,” she tells Rachel quietly. Rachel just kisses her in response.

It’s nearly four in the morning by the time Quinn takes Rachel home. They sit in the Quinn’s car in the driveway of Rachel’s house, holding hands, not wanting to say goodbye yet, even if it’s only for a few hours.

“Hey Rachel?” Quinn whispers into the silence. Rachel looks over at her. “I…um, I…”

“You don’t have to say it back, Quinn,” Rachel tells her gently. “I know.” Quinn returns her gaze.

“Of course you do,” she mutters, making Rachel laugh at the frustration in her tone. Quinn shifts in her seat so her whole body is facing Rachel. “I love you,” she says. Rachel grins.

“I know,” she repeats. Quinn glares.

“Bitch,” she says, shoving Rachel’s shoulder. “Get out of my car.” Rachel does so, laughing all the while. She walks around the front of the car, coming to Quinn’s lowered window. She leans down, resting her forearms on the door.

“I love you, too,” she says, and the way Quinn’s entire being lights up at the words makes Rachel want to shout them from the rooftops every day for the rest of their lives.

 

XxX

 

“I’m telling you, you haven’t experienced New York until you experience it at night,” Rachel insists. It’s six weeks into Quinn’s visit now, and they’ve yet to venture out past late dinners and wandering home at ten o’clock.

“I’m too old,” Quinn grumbles.

“You’re twenty-eight, Quinn,” Rachel informs her. “People our age still go clubbing. All I am asking is that you accompany me for a nighttime stroll.”

“People our age who peaked in high school go clubbing,” Quinn corrects. “Clearly that doesn’t apply to either of us, Miss Plaid-and-Argyle.” Rachel crosses her arms.

“You loved my high school wardrobe,” she says petulantly. “I would be willing to bet Brittany and Santana still go clubbing.” Quinn opens her mouth to respond before snapping it shut. Rachel grins triumphantly.

“Brittany and Santana aren’t exactly model responsible adults,” Quinn argues. “And we aren’t even arguing about going clubbing! You just want to go for a walk!”

“Exactly,” Rachel agrees. “So that’s a yes, then?”

“That’s not–“ Quinn cuts herself off, glaring at Rachel. “I hate you so much.” Rachel just smiles.

“If that’s the lie you want to tell yourself, who am I to judge?” she chirps. The phrasing takes Quinn a moment to decipher, but she does, and Rachel’s meaning hits her like a sledgehammer to the chest.

You love me. Her own words from so long ago, thrown back in her face in a roundabout, overly verbose, undeniably Rachel way. Rachel catches the expression on her face, and her teasing smile drops.

“Sorry,” she says quickly. “I didn’t…”

“Rach,” Quinn cuts her off. “It’s okay.” Rachel doesn’t look convinced. “Seriously. And fine, I’ll get mugged with you.”

“We won’t get mugged,” Rachel says with an eye roll, taking the escape from the awkward moment the instant it’s offered. “We’ll be perfectly safe.”

“Do you know the murder rate of the city you live in?” Quinn asks with a raised eyebrow. The lighthearted bickering continues, and it scares Quinn a bit, just how much it feels like it used to.

 

XxX

 

“Rachel?” Quinn says quietly. Rachel excuses herself from her excited conversation with Kurt and turns to face the other girl.

“Quinn,” she says, surprised. “I suppose congratulations are in order. Being valedictorian is a highly impressive achievement.” Quinn waves a hand dismissively.

“Doesn’t matter,” she mumbles. “Can…can you come with me for a bit?” Rachel frowns in confusion, but says a quick goodbye to Kurt and Blaine (who is there to congratulate his boyfriend, now that they’re finally back together) and follows Quinn out of the gymnasium.

“Where are we going?” she asks as they stop at a door Rachel has never been through before.

“The roof,” Quinn tells her. Rachel waits, but no further explanation is forthcoming.

“Do I get to know why?” she asks as Quinn opens the door, revealing a staircase.

“Can you just trust me for a few minutes?” Quinn asks. The words are harsh, but her tone is anything but.

“I suppose I can do that,” Rachel relents. She follows Quinn up the stairs. The roof is three stories up, and Rachel quickly regrets the heels she’s wearing.

Wow,” Rachel breathes as she steps out onto the roof. The entirety of Lima is spread out beneath them. She can see the edge in the not-too-far distance, but the town seems much larger than its true size to her.

“Good view, right?” Quinn says, glancing over at Rachel. Rachel nods slowly, eyes still sweeping over the town that has been her entire world for eighteen years. “Listen, Rachel…” Rachel turns, sensing the importance in whatever Quinn is about to say. “I…I want things to be different. Between us, I mean. I know that they’ve already been a bit different this past year, but I want to be friends with you. Real friends.” Rachel smiles.

“You brought me all the way up here just to ask that?” she says lightly. “Quinn, you don’t even have to ask. I would love to be friends with you.”

“Not just that,” Quinn corrects. Rachel tips her head curiously. “I also wanted to thank you. For what you did for me at the start of this year, even after how I’ve treated you. For every time you’ve been nice to me even though I don’t deserve it.”

“We’ve been over this,” Rachel interrupts. “You’re a good person, Quinn, and–“

“Just…” Quinn cuts her off with a word and a raised hand. “Let me finish, okay?” Rachel subsides, and Quinn continues. “You’ve helped me more than you know, Rachel. I’ll never be able to repay what you’ve done for me.”

“You don’t have to repay anything,” Rachel interrupts again, unable to help herself. “You don’t owe me, Quinn. Kindness is free.” That stops Quinn in her tracks. “What?”

“Just…” Quinn shakes her head, awed. “No one has ever been nice to me before without wanting something from me.”

“That’s not true,” Rachel argues. “Brittany and Santana are your best friends, aren’t they?” Quinn snorts.

“Yes,” she agrees. “But Santana only became friends with me because I controlled the Cheerios for three years, and I could get her higher up on the pyramid. Just because we grew on each other eventually doesn’t mean our friendship wasn’t founded on mutual benefit. And Brittany is nice…in her own way, to everybody.”

“Quinn…” Rachel trails off, and Quinn shakes her head adamantly.

“No,” she says. “Don’t pity me, alright? I don’t want anyone’s pity. Just give me a chance to be your friend. Give me a chance to prove you’re right about me. That’s all I want. Come to Puck’s grad party tonight. I’ll prove I’m worth your time and your kindness.”

“Of course,” Rachel agrees, because Quinn is looking at her with determined eyes and Rachel has the unsettling feeling that she’d agree to just about anything with those eyes fixed on her.

 

XxX

 

“Quinn?” Rachel asks quietly. They’re in the elevator after their nighttime excursion, heading back to Rachel’s apartment. Quinn hums in acknowledgement. “It’s going to be different this time, right?”

“What is?”

“You have to go back to Connecticut eventually,” Rachel says. “Is it going to be different this time? Will we actually make this work?” The elevator dings, and they step out.

“I want to,” Quinn says softly, turning to look at Rachel. “I don’t want to be without you again. I can do it, but…life is a lot better with you around.” Rachel smiles slightly and laughs just a bit. “What?” Quinn asks, unable to contain her own smile. Rachel shakes her head.

“Just…you,” she says, smile growing. “I’m just really, really glad you’re here.” Quinn looks down bashfully.

“I am, too,” she murmurs. Rachel doesn’t bother with a verbal response, instead simply reaching out and taking her hand, tugging her down the hallway towards the apartment.

 

XxX

 

“Knock, knock.” Rachel looks up from her desk and smiles hugely when she sees Quinn standing in her doorway.

“Hi,” she says, standing from her desk. Quinn steps into the room and quietly slides the door shut behind her after darting a quick glance down the hallway.

“You know my dads have an open door policy,” Rachel reminds her, amused. Quinn grins, stepping forward and sliding her arms around Rachel’s waist.

“Where’s the fun in that?” she murmurs. Rachel leans up on her toes and kisses her, intending it to be brief and chaste. Quinn, however, has other plans.

You are a very bad influence,” Rachel tells Quinn, somewhat breathlessly, when Quinn finally pulls away.

“Thank you,” Quinn says, grinning wickedly.

“Wasn’t a compliment,” Rachel sighs, running her fingertips across Quinn’s collarbones and savoring the shiver it elicits from her girlfriend. Eventually, she lowers her hands, stepping away. “As much as this spontaneous visit is very much welcome, you look like you’ve been plotting. What’s going on?” Quinn smiles, leaning on the back of Rachel’s desk chair.

“You know me too well,” she quips. She reaches into the pocket of her jacket and pulls out an envelope. “Here.” Rachel looks between the envelope and Quinn with a faux-suspicious half-smile on her face. Quinn pushes the envelope at her. Rachel takes it, shooting Quinn a curious look, and pulls it open.

“What are these?” Rachel asks, confused. She’s holding two identical slips of paper.

“Metro passes,” Quinn explains. “New York to New Haven. And one for me the other way.”  She steps forward, taking the envelope and the passes from Rachel’s hands and setting them on the desk. She bites her lip nervously, turning to Rachel. “We–we’re going to be okay,” she says like it’s a promise. “I know we haven’t talked about the distance, but…we’re going to be okay.” Her eyes search Rachel’s face for any sign of a reaction. “Right?”

“Yes, of course,” Rachel says. “I love you, Quinn. We can do this.”

“I love you, too,” Quinn says with a hopeful smile. She steps forward, wrapping her arms around Rachel and hugging her tightly.

Rachel returns the hug, gripping her tightly to disguise the way her hands are shaking.

 

XxX

 

“Hey Quinn?” Quinn looks up from her latest book to the girl on the other end of the couch. Rachel has set her scripts (which are practically soaked in highlighter) on the coffee table, and she’s looking at Quinn nervously over her knees, which are drawn up against her chest.

“Okay, what’s going on?” Quinn asks, sliding a bookmark into her novel and setting it aside. “You’re doing your look-as-innocent-and-cute-as-possible-so-she-won’t-get-mad thing. What did you do?”

“It’s not that!” Rachel protests. Quinn raises an eyebrow skeptically. “Look, it’s just…” She sighs, looking away. “You leave in two weeks.” Quinn’s joking demeanor disappears instantly.

“Yeah,” she murmurs. “I do. Rachel…” She turns, tucking her legs up underneath her, to fully face the other woman. “I’ve been here for two months. I do have to go back eventually.” Rachel nods.

“I know,” she agrees. “And that’s why I…” She trails off, sliding her legs back onto the ground and digging through the papers on the coffee table. She comes up with two slips of paper, and wordlessly holds one out to Quinn.

“Rachel…” Quinn takes the paper, glancing over it.

“It’s going to be different this time,” Rachel says firmly, setting her own metro pass back on the table and reaching out, taking Quinn’s free hand in both of her own. “We’re going to make it different this time.” Quinn looks at her searchingly. Finally, she nods, pulling Rachel forward and into a hug.

“Yeah,” she mumbles, savoring the feeling of Rachel holding her tight. “Yeah. It’ll be different.”

Chapter Text

“Hi,” Rachel says quietly into the phone. She’s sitting at the coffee shop she found down the street from her new apartment with Kurt, sipping a vegan chai latte and, impossibly, missing Lima.

“Hi back,” Quinn’s voice says from the other end of the line, and maybe missing Lima is just a symptom of missing Quinn, because Lima meant seeing Quinn every single day and Rachel hasn’t seen her outside of a computer screen in a month. “I miss you so fucking much,” she continues, and oh God, now Rachel’s about to cry in a coffee shop, because Quinn’s voice sounds like sheer pain echoing through a tinny speaker.

“I miss you more,” Rachel says, and she isn’t trying to be cute or funny, she just can’t comprehend how anyone could miss anyone as much as she misses Quinn, like she’s missing half of her very being.

“I doubt it,” Quinn replies with a pained laugh, and the line goes quiet. The more time they spend apart, the harder it becomes to reach for their usual teasing banter. Yesterday’s nighttime phone call had been nearly half an hour long, and for most of it, Rachel had just lain in bed and listened to Quinn breathe, silent tears pouring down her face.

“I can’t wait for this weekend,” Rachel says, swallowing back her tears with a sip of her drink. “Two more days.”

“Rach…” Quinn’s voice is apologetic, and it hits Rachel like a death sentence.

“You’re not coming, are you,” she says. It isn’t a question.

“I’m sorry, babe,” Quinn murmurs. It makes Rachel flinch, because she knows Quinn would give anything to be there with her right now, and she wouldn’t be canceling unless she absolutely had to, and that means that there is nothing Rachel can do to change her mind. “There’s this assignment for my literary history class, and I–“

“Quinn,” Rachel interrupts. “It’s okay.” There’s a moment of quiet. Rachel counts Quinn’s breaths.

“It’s not,” Quinn says after four breaths. “It’s not okay, Rachel, I miss you so bad and I–“

“But there’s nothing you can do,” Rachel interrupts again. A briefer silence, this time.

“No,” Quinn whispers. “There’s not.”

“I’ll call you back later,” Rachel says. “I love you.”

“Rach–“

“Quinn.”

“…I love you, too.”

Click. Rachel puts her phone away, picks up her latte, and half-runs out of the shop, trying to make it to her apartment before the tears become unstoppable.

 

XxX

 

“It’s your last day,” Rachel says over breakfast (she stopped cooking for Quinn every morning a month ago; they’re at a cafe down the street). Quinn hums in acknowledgement, mouth full of croissant. “What do you want to do?” Quinn swirls her coffee in her mug contemplatively before answering.

“Whatever you want,” she says.

“Well, that’s entirely unhelpful,” Rachel huffs. Quinn laughs.

“I’m serious, Rachel,” she insists. “What do you want to do? You spent a month and a half cooking me breakfast every morning, the least I can do is do something to make you happy.” Rachel nods slowly.

“Do you…” she trails off shyly. Quinn raises an eyebrow, prompting her. “Would you want to–to sing with me?” Quinn stares at her coffee, eyebrows drawn together, frowning.

“That’s…probably not a good idea,” she mutters. “I’m not any good.”

“I know you don't sing very often, but you really are talented, Quinn, and I–I think it would be a proper goodbye,” Rachel argues. Quinn’s fingers twist together in a nervous gesture that looks almost painful.

“Rachel, that’s…” She shakes her head. “My voice isn’t what it used to be.”

“So you’re a bit rusty,” Rachel dismisses. “I have confidence that you’ll be perfectly–“

Rachel.” The tone of her voice stops the other woman in her tracks. Quinn shakes her head, trying for a smile. It looks more bitter than anything. “Look, I…” She takes a deep breath. “You remember the start of senior year? When I smoked?”

“Yes,” Rachel confirms, confused. “But, Quinn, you smoked for under a month. That wouldn’t damage your voice significantly.”

“It wouldn’t,” Quinn agrees. “Except I picked it back up in college.” She shrugs. “It was dumb. I was dumb. I kicked it by senior year of college, but the damage was done. I haven’t sung in years.”

“You should’ve told me,” Rachel says softly. Quinn looks up at her, meeting her eyes for the first time since singing was brought up. Rachel reaches out, placing her hand in Quinn’s. “I would never judge you, Quinn. You know that.”

“I know,” Quinn says. “It’s just not something I like to talk about. I screwed up, and for all I know it gave me lung cancer.” She laughs bitterly. “So much for being a genius, huh?”

“Everyone makes mistakes,” Rachel says. “Especially in college. You smoked. I unwittingly dated a male prostitute.” Quinn inhales her coffee and starts coughing. It turns into laughter halfway through, until several people are staring at them and Quinn is almost in tears.

“You what?” she asks incredulously. Rachel groans theatrically.

“His name was Brody,” she grumbles. “I don’t like to talk about it.”

“Well, that should’ve been a warning sign right there,” Quinn says. “What non-hooker has a name like that?” Rachel sighs before beginning to explain the story, as if having to recant the experience is nearly as bad as it was to live it. Internally, though, she’s cheering, because Quinn is smiling again.

 

XxX

 

“Hey, babe,” Quinn says, distractedly dodging an older student who nearly runs straight into her in his haste to cross the quad.

“Hi.” Rachel’s voice is staticky and nearly drowned by indistinct background noise.

“Where are you?” Quinn asks, confused. “The connection is terrible.”

“I’m on the subway,” Rachel says.

“And you’re calling me?” Quinn questions, frowning. “What’s up?”

“I got an audition, Quinn,” Rachel bursts out. “A Broadway audition.” The excitement in her voice is infectious, and Quinn smiles so widely she’s sure a few people are staring.

Rachel,” she exclaims. “That’s…” She shakes her head, although Rachel can’t see her. “That’s amazing. When? What for?”

“For Funny Girl,” Rachel tells her, words coming so fast they run into each other. “Can you believe that?”

“Absolutely,” Quinn says immediately. “You’re going to be amazing. You earned this. When’s the audition?”

“This weekend,” Rachel says, then inhales sharply. “Oh. Quinn, I forgot–“

“Rach,” Quinn interrupts. “It’s okay. This is once-in-a-lifetime. There’ll be other weekends. You can visit another time. How many auditions for Funny Girl are you going to get?”

“I know,” Rachel says, the static clearing away as the background noise shifts from screeching metal wheels on rails to cars. “I miss you, though.”

“I miss you, too,” Quinn responds. “But you have to go to that audition.” Rachel doesn’t answer. Quinn stops outside the auditorium that her next lecture is in. “I have to go. I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Quinn ends the call and slides her phone into her pocket, skillfully ignoring the way her heart seems to stop in her chest at the fact that she won’t be seeing Rachel this weekend, that she hasn’t seen Rachel in nearly two months, that an irrational voice in the back of her head is beginning ask if she’ll ever see Rachel again.

 

XxX

 

“I’m glad we came here,” Rachel says quietly, watching Quinn struggle to skip rocks across the river. Quinn glances over her shoulder, making an exaggeratedly confused face. “Instead of singing,” Rachel elaborates. “I’m glad we came here.”

“Me, too,” Quinn says with a smirk. “That’s why I suggested it.” Rachel halfheartedly tosses a pebble at Quinn.

“Don’t be mean,” she grumbles. Quinn just shakes her head with a smile and returns to throwing rocks.

“It felt right,” Quinn says suddenly, after watching a rock skip six times, breaking her previous record.

“Hmm?” Rachel asks, opening one eye. She’s now fully lying down, arms tucked behind her head, enjoying the warmth of the sun.

“Coming back to the river,” Quinn clarifies. “I don’t know, it feels…like an epilogue.” Rachel opens both eyes, propping herself up on her elbows to look at Quinn dubiously. Quinn flushes slightly. “Don’t give me that look,” she mutters. “You know what I mean. Doesn’t this feel like the end of something?”

“I was rather hoping it wouldn’t be,” Rachel mutters. “I don’t want this to end.” Quinn rolls a rock between her hands, seeming transfixed by the repetitive action.

“I don’t want that, either,” she says softly after a while. “But you know that things are going to change after I go home.”

“I know,” Rachel agrees. She sits all the way up, drawing her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. “That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

“Rachel, believe me when I say I would love to stay here forever,” Quinn tells her, sitting down beside her. “But I have a job, and a life back in Connecticut, and you have a life here. We can make this friendship work, but it’s not going to be the way it is right now.” Rachel nods, looking despondent. Quinn reaches out, tugging one of Rachel’s arms away from its tight grip around her legs and tangling their fingers together. “I can’t promise you it’ll be easy,” she says gently when Rachel looks over at her. “I can pretty much guarantee you that it’ll be difficult. But we’re worth it. Aren’t we?”

“Of course,” Rachel agrees, and although her voice is soft, it’s filled with determination. “We always have been.”

“Exactly,” she murmurs. She smiles, bringing their joined hands up and kissing the back of Rachel’s hand softly. Rachel watches with a conflicted look.

“I think that crosses the friendship line,” she says.

“Do you want me to let go?” Quinn asks. Rachel looks down at their joined hands on the rocky beach between them.

“Not at all,” she decides, and her response garners a stunning smile from Quinn. “While we’re crossing lines…” Quinn glances over at her, eyebrow arched. “Would you mind…staying with me tonight? Since you’re leaving tomorrow?”

“I’ve been staying with you all summer,” Quinn says, confused. Rachel flushes and kicks at the rocks awkwardly, eyes glued to the ground. Suddenly, Quinn gets it.

“You mean like with, with,” she realizes. Rachel nods, turning a brighter shade of red. “If you’re sure,” Quinn stipulates. “If you’re sure, of course I will.” Rachel doesn’t look up, but she smiles into her knees and runs her thumb along the back of Quinn’s hand.

 

XxX

 

“This is harder than we thought it would be,” Rachel says quietly. Quinn’s face on the screen moves jerkily, the connection lagging.

“I know,” Quinn says.

“I miss you,” Rachel tells her, hoping the bad connection disguises the way her voice cracks. Judging by the heartbroken look on Quinn’s face, it doesn’t.

“I love you,” Quinn responds. “We’re going to make it. We’re going to wake up together ten years from now and not even remember how much this sucked, because we’ll be too busy being happy. Alright?”

“But that’s ten years from now,” Rachel mumbles. “And right now it hurts.” Quinn runs her hands through her hair with aggravation.

“I know, Rach,” she mutters. “I know, okay? It hurts me, too. But we can do this.” Rachel doesn’t answer. “Rachel.” The silence stretches. “Rachel, say it with me. We can do this.”

“We can do this,” Rachel echoes, but the words are empty.

 

XxX

 

Waking up next to Quinn Fabray is not something Rachel had ever expected to experience again, but she enjoys it all the same.

She’s confused for half a second, when she slides back into consciousness to the sensation of overwhelming warmth. But it fades quickly as she remembers her request, remembers climbing into bed next to Quinn and curling up against her like they’re eighteen again, remembers lying there with the lights off, feeling so incredibly safe.

She allows herself a few minutes of relaxation, enjoying Quinn’s arm wrapped around her middle and her slow, sleeping breathing against the back of her neck. It allows Rachel to push all thoughts of how Quinn will be gone at twelve-thirty today out of her head and simply exist, happy and warm and waking in Quinn’s arms for the first time in ten years.

Eventually, though, she has to get up. Carefully, she extricates herself from Quinn’s grip, sliding out of bed. Quinn groans in protest and opens her eyes.

“Where y’going,” she mumbles sleepily, squinting at Rachel. Rachel can’t hold back her smile; she had forgotten how cute Quinn is in the morning.

“To make breakfast,” she answers. Quinn pouts adorably.

“Come back,” she slurs. “I wanna cuddle.” Rachel shakes her head affectionately.

“Breakfast is essential to a productive day, Quinn,” she says. Quinn sighs, opening her eyes a bit farther.

“You’re the worst,” she informs Rachel. Rachel just smiles and steps out the door…and straight into Kurt, who’s headed down the hallway to the kitchen.

“Good morning,” he says, catching her arms as she stumbles back a step. “And where are you going off to in such a–“ His eyes flick over her shoulder, and he cuts himself off mid-sentence, tugging Rachel down the hall quickly. “Rachel!” he hisses, stopping once they’re safely in the kitchen. “Why is Quinn in your bed!?”

“Um.” Rachel tries for a winning smile. “I…” The smile fades quickly when she realizes that she doesn’t have an excuse.

Rachel!”

“She’s leaving today, Kurt,” Rachel pouts. “She can’t break my heart in the next four hours.”

“She’s Quinn,” Kurt snaps. “She does whatever she wants.”

“And what makes you think she wants to hurt me?” The venom in her tone surprises Kurt, and he’s quiet for a moment. Rachel pounces on the opportunity. “Kurt, I understand that you’re being the protective best friend, and I appreciate how much you care about me. I even appreciate the sentiment behind your frankly overbearing protectiveness. But I don’t need a protector. Quinn and I aren’t hurting each other. We’re both perfectly happy in our friendship.”

“She’s in your bed,” Kurt argues. “What exactly about that spells platonic to you?”

“Nothing happened,” Rachel insists. “We slept. And cuddled a bit, but that’s it, Kurt, and even if it wasn’t, it’s none of your business anyway.” Kurt subsides, the anger fading into concern.

“I’m just worried about you,” he says gently. “She tore you apart last time, Rachel. I don’t want to watch that happen again.”

“It won’t,” Rachel promises. “Things are different this time.” Even as she says the words, she prays that they’re true.

Chapter Text

“Hey!” Rachel says, setting her phone on speaker so she can continue to fold her clothes.

“Hey, back,” Quinn says from the other end, almost flirtatiously. “You’re going back to Lima for Thanksgiving, right?”

“Correct,” Rachel confirms. “Normally my dads come to New York, but Kurt’s father is staying in Lima, and the Hudson-Hummel family is a rather essential part of our Thanksgiving celebrations.”

“It’s still weird that my ex-boyfriend is your best friend’s brother,” Quinn comments. Rachel sets a few flawlessly folded shirts in her suitcase.

“He has been since junior year of college,” she informs her. Quinn, who doesn’t speak to the vast majority of her high school classmates, had been unaware of Burt Hummel and Carole Hudson’s relationship until it had come up in a conversation with Rachel. “I can’t say that I speak to Finn all that much, though,” Rachel continues. “He seems to be a decent person, but it’s not as if we have anything in common outside of Kurt and Burt.”

“Anyway,” Quinn says, moving the conversation away from Rachel’s bizarre pseudo-family and their rhyming names. “Would you want company back home?” Rachel stops mid-fold, taking a seat on her bed and turning her phone off of speaker.

“That depends,” she says. “Are you offering?”

“That was implied,” Quinn laughs. “I…I haven’t been home for Thanksgiving since I came out to my parents. I don’t know if it will go well, but…it won’t get any better if I don’t try.”

“If it doesn’t work out, you could always join in with my dads and Kurt’s family,” Rachel offers. Quinn inhales sharply.

“You…you would do that for me?” she asks.

“Of course I would,” Rachel says immediately.

“Would your dads be okay with that?” Quinn asks after a long silence. “I doubt they’re my biggest fans.” Rachel winces.

“They…do harbor some resentment,” she confirms. “But I’m sure I can convince them that–“

“Rach,” Quinn interrupts. “It’s fine, alright? If it doesn’t work out with my parents, I’ll just hang out with Brittany and Santana.”

“Hardly the best holiday company,” Rachel grumbles, making Quinn laugh.

“They grow on you,” she says. “Seriously, Rachel. Thank you for offering. I was thinking more along the lines of carpooling from the airport and hanging out for coffee.”

“That sounds splendid, Quinn,” Rachel agrees. “Three weeks is too long, really.”

“It is,” Quinn says. “I miss listening to you use words like ‘splendid’ like it’s a word normal people use every day.”

“I’m hanging up now,” Rachel complains over the sound of Quinn laughing at her own joke.

“I’ll see you this weekend, Rach,” she says when she quiets down.

“See you,” Rachel echoes.

Click. Rachel holds the phone against her chest for a moment, trying to calm the racing of her heart. They’ve been using their metro passes once a month or so; it’s not as if Rachel hasn’t seen Quinn since July. Still, the idea of being home (because, for all the time she spent struggling to escape, Lima is still home, really) with her for three days is making Rachel’s heart do an excellent impression of a kick drum.

“Someone’s happy,” a voice says from behind her. Rachel jumps, spinning, and finds a grinning Blaine in her doorway. He leans against the doorjamb, giving her a knowing look. “Kurt’s being stubborn with the details,” he tells her. “But whatever’s going on with you and Quinn, I’m glad it is. You’re…lighter.”

“It’s impolite to comment on a lady’s weight,” she quips at him. Blaine doesn’t take the bait.

“It’s like…the real world can’t touch you anymore,” he elaborates. “New love, I guess.” Despite her reticence, Rachel snorts. As if anything between her and Quinn is new. It’s ten years in the making, fourteen if one counted the years they wasted dancing around each other like their lives depended on it.

“Kurt really hasn’t told you anything, has he?” Blaine frowns at her words. He opens his mouth to question them, but she waves a hand dismissively. “I’ll tell you the whole story sometime. It’s quite long, and not particularly happy.” She smiles. “At least up until the past six months.”

“I’m holding you to that,” Blaine tells her. “You are going to tell me everything eventually.” Rachel just smiles, zipping up her suitcase.

“The story is still being written, I think,” she comments, ignoring the confused look Blaine gives her.

 

XxX

 

“God, I’ve missed you so much,” Rachel murmurs into Quinn’s collarbone. Quinn holds her a bit tighter, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. They’re lying in Rachel’s bed, as close together as they can physically be.

“I’m here,” she whispers back. Rachel’s hands curl into her shirt, and she presses her face into Quinn’s neck.

“Can we never spend this much time apart again?” Rachel asks.

“Life gets in the way sometimes,” Quinn says, almost defensively. Rachel lifts her head, looking up at Quinn.

“I know,” she says. “I wasn’t blaming you. I just never want to miss you like that again.” Quinn tries for a smile, but it comes out forced.

“We’re here now,” she says. “Can we just…be happy?” Rachel kisses her, soft and slow and almost sad.

“Of course,” she agrees, laying her head back down to hide the conflicting emotions written all over her face (because no matter how much time they spend apart, Quinn can read her effortlessly, and she’d rather not talk about the way her heart inexplicably feels like it’s about to fall out of her chest).

 

XxX

 

Quinn practically jumps a foot in the air when someone taps on her shoulder.

She’s standing outside the airport in Columbus, one hand tapping anxious patterns against her leg. She and Rachel had coordinated their flights so they could drive to Lima together, and she isn’t quite sure why she’s nervous (it’s Rachel, Rachel who she’s known for fourteen years, Rachel who she saw less than a month ago, Rachel who she is now going to spend a nearly-one-hundred-mile drive with), but she’s full of pent-up energy and anticipation.

“Morning,” Rachel says with a wide smile when Quinn turns.

“You nearly gave me a heart attack,” are the first words out of Quinn’s mouth. “Are you trying to kill me?” Rachel laughs, stepping up beside her.

“You’re fine,” she says dismissively, holding out her arms for a hug.

“Well, I know that,” Quinn jokes, recovering quickly from her shock and stepping into Rachel’s arms.

“Oh, shut up,” Rachel says with an eye roll as they release each other. “Now, come on.” She grasps Quinn’s hand, seemingly unconsciously, and pulls her off into the parking lot. “Do you want to drive or should I?” she asks over her shoulder.

“You drive,” Quinn says as they stop next to a smallish blue car (Quinn has no idea what it is, as she hasn’t owned a car in years and really can’t be bothered to keep up with companies or models). “I…don’t really drive much anymore.”

“Oh,” Rachel breathes with realization. “I’m sorry, Quinn, I should’ve thought of that.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Quinn says dismissively, climbing into the passenger side. “It’s just a stupid fear. It’s fine as long as someone else is driving.”

“Don’t demean your feelings,” Rachel says vehemently as she settles behind the wheel. Quinn looks up at her, surprised. “You went through something traumatic, Quinn. Don’t belittle that. Especially not to me. You know I’m not going to judge you for anything.”

“I know,” Quinn mutters, chastised. “Sorry.” There’s a comfortable silence in the car for a few minutes as Rachel maneuvers them out of the parking lot and onto the highway. As soon as they’re on the main road, however, Rachel reaches out and turns on the radio. Quinn thinks nothing of it, until Rachel begins to sing.

Quinn hasn’t heard her sing in person in two years, since she saw West Side Story on Broadway, and although she’s made a habit out of watching every bootleg version of every musical Rachel has ever been in four or five times a month, there’s just nothing like hearing her in person. Especially like this, when she’s not performing or projecting or acting; she’s just sitting beside Quinn, hands tapping against the steering wheel, singing quietly along to whatever pop song is on the radio with a soft smile on her face.

In that moment, Quinn falls in love all over again.

 

XxX

 

Quinn isn’t sure why she can’t make herself listen.

They’re sitting in the Lima Bean, and Rachel is talking quickly, excitedly, about her part in some new Broadway original (she hadn’t made it into Funny Girl, but she had completely refused to let that stop her; Rachel Berry will take over Broadway with or without her dream part), and Quinn should be listening. She’s trying to listen. But all she can think about is how Rachel practically glows when she talks about Broadway, when she talks about New York, when she talks about her future, and then she looks at Quinn and her voice falters and her eyes go sad. All Quinn can think about is how she’s holding Rachel down.

“Quinn?” Quinn jerks out of her thoughts at Rachel’s concerned voice. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Quinn assures her. “Sorry, I’m just tired, I guess.” The words feel slimy on her tongue; she hates lying to Rachel.

And she’s never been any good at it, either.

“That’s not it,” Rachel says, eyes searching Quinn’s face. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m fine, Rachel,” she snaps. Rachel looks hurt by her tone, and Quinn sighs, shaking her head. “It’s nothing,” she mutters.

“Quinn,” Rachel says insistently. “You’re terrible at lying to me.”

“Please just let it go,” Quinn says pleadingly. “It’s not important.” Rachel reaches across the table and covers Quinn’s hand with her own.

“You would tell me if something was seriously wrong, right?” she asks. Quinn pulls her hand away, conscious of the fact that they’re in public, in Lima, that there could easily be people they know in the shop with them, people who could see them and start rumors. It’s a small town; when people talk, everyone hears, and Quinn has no wish to be outed to her parents by the Lima rumor mill.

“Of course I would,” she says, chasing the lie with a long sip of coffee. Rachel looks at her for a prolonged moment, those eyes boring straight into hers. Quinn shifts and has to look away.

“Okay,” Rachel says eventually. Quinn’s eyes snap back to Rachel in surprise.

“You’re actually going to let this go?” she questions. Rachel shrugs.

“I trust you,” she says. “I can’t make you talk about whatever is on your mind if you don’t want to, and I trust you to tell me when you’re ready.” Quinn nods, suddenly feeling a little bit nauseous.

She hates lying to Rachel.

 

XxX

 

Quinn knocks on the door of her childhood home with a visibly shaking hand that she immediately stuffs back into her pocket. She’s doing her best not to be nervous. Rachel had spent a good portion of the drive to Lima reassuring her that things would go well, but Quinn can’t shake the feeling that this won’t end happily.

The door opens, and for the first time in six years, Quinn looks directly into the face of her mother.

Judy Fabray, for her part, isn’t sure what she’s expecting on the other side of the door. The mailman, perhaps, or a lost neighbor, or just about anyone except Quinn. When she opens the door, polite smile on her face, ready to greet whoever is knocking on her door, and sees her younger daughter standing there, hands stuffed in her pockets, kicking at the ground nervously, she quite nearly has a heart attack.

Quinn?” she gasps, pressing one hand to her chest in shock. Quinn tries for a smile and hopes desperately that it doesn’t look as terrified as she feels.

“Hi,” she tries to say, but it comes out as a whisper. She coughs awkwardly. “Hi,” she repeats, stronger this time.

“Quinn!” Judy repeats, stepping forward and throwing her arms around her daughter. Quinn returns the embrace just as tightly, squeezing her eyes shut and savoring the moment, knowing that from here, things may go horribly, horribly wrong. “I can’t believe you’re here,” Judy murmurs as she releases Quinn. She touches Quinn’s face hesitantly, as if her daughter is a mirage or an illusion, and she might disappear at her touch. “You grew up so beautiful,” she says. Quinn’s smile is still weak, but it’s more genuine now.

“I, uh, I thought it was about time I visited,” she says quietly in explanation. “It’s been…too long.” Judy hugs her again, briefer this time.

“Come in!” she urges, stepping back and waving her daughter in. Quinn hesitates. “It’s alright, dear,” she reassures. “Please.” The nerves are roiling in Quinn’s stomach again, but she swallows hard and steps across the threshold into her childhood home.

It’s almost creepy, how little has changed. In the kitchen, to the right of the door, Quinn’s high school graduation photos are still stuck to the refrigerator, next to Frannie’s college graduation photos. An awkward family portrait from when Quinn was in eighth grade, back when she was still Lucy, is sitting on the windowsill. The same table with the same chairs is in the dining room; Quinn thinks she even recognizes the tablecloth. The same couch sits across from the same TV. The same bookshelf (filled with Christian-themed classics) is placed next to the TV. The same coffee table sits in the living room.

There are some changes, though. Russell and Judy’s wedding photos are no longer proudly displayed on the bookshelf, and Quinn wonders at what that might mean. There’s a picture on the fridge of Frannie with a blond boy, no more than two or three, that Quinn doesn’t recognize. It hits her like a punch to the stomach that it must be Frannie’s son (Quinn’s nephew); a son that, until now, Quinn didn’t know existed.

Judy follows her line of sight to the fridge, and winces at the photograph.

“I’m sorry, Quinnie,” she murmurs, rubbing Quinn’s shoulder in a way that’s probably meant to be comforting. “Frannie…she didn’t want to speak to you.”

“She didn’t want to speak to me,” Quinn repeats. “Not even to tell me that she had a kid?”

“Quinn,” Judy pleads. “Can we just enjoy the fact that you’re back right now without worrying about Frannie?” Quinn sees the desperation on her mother’s face and swallows her anger.

“Yeah,” she agrees. “Yeah, sorry. Where’s Dad?”

“Out,” Judy says. “He’s doing some last-minute shopping for tomorrow.” Quinn nods, trying not to look happy about her father’s absence. It’s rather difficult; he was the one who watched with cold anger in his eyes as she hurried out the door that awful day back in college. He was the one who pulled his financial support and forced her to take two jobs she didn’t have time for and multiple loans to pay off her final semester.

“I’m so glad you’re back, Quinnie,” Judy says, interrupting Quinn’s increasingly dark musings. “I’ve missed you so much.”

“You did?” Quinn asks, and she doesn’t mean to sound bitter, but it comes out that way anyway. “You have a phone, you know. You didn’t call me, either.” Judy winces.

“Your father didn’t want me to,” she murmurs, and Quinn shakes her head in disgust.

“You’re still letting him order you around like a puppet?” she asks. Judy crosses her arms, leaning against the counter.

“Quinn,” she says warningly.

“Sorry,” Quinn mumbles again. She’s forgotten how to do this, this careful verbal dance she was so adept at as a teenager, walking on eggshells and skirting around topics her mother wouldn’t want to talk about. She’s used to saying what she thinks and being who she is, and she’s forgotten how to act a part the way she used to play all the time.

“Let’s not stand here and apologize to each other,” Judy says. “The past is the past. You’re here now.” Quinn forces the rage that surges inside of her at that comment (she shouldn’t  be apologizing; she was the one kicked out of her house and all but disowned; she is the one who showed up on Judy’s doorstep to rebuild bridges that were burnt six years ago) and forces a smile, nodding in agreement. It’s what she did every day in high school, and she feels a sharp twinge of self-loathing at the fact that she’s allowing Judy to make her do it again. “Thank you,” Judy says with a smile. “So what did you end up doing?”

“Teaching,” Quinn says, smiling automatically at the thought. She loves her job; she truly does.

“Teaching,” Judy repeats, her tone almost confused. “You finished your degree at Yale, didn’t you?”

“I did,” Quinn confirms. “And then I got my teaching certificate and a job in Hartford.” Judy nods slowly.

“You didn’t want to finish your master’s?” she asks. Quinn’s smile falls a bit.

“I wanted to,” she says. “I didn’t have the money for grad school. I went into teaching to save up to go back to school, but…” she shrugs. “I don’t want to. I love my job.”

“So what do you teach?” Judy asks, entirely ignoring Quinn’s mention of her financial situation after Russell cut her off.

“Second grade.” Judy’s eyebrows shoot up, making Quinn laugh. “I know,” she concurs. “It’s weird.” Judy shakes her head, half confused, half smiling.

“It…isn’t what I pictured you as,” she agrees. Her expression turns serious after a moment, and she gives Quinn a measuring look. “Are you happy, Quinn?” she asks.

Quinn doesn’t even need to think about it. She has her job, she has Brittany and Santana, she has Kurt in a sort of friendly-antagonism way, she has Rachel again, even if it’s just as friends. She may not have the people who share her DNA, but she has a family all the same, and it’s a better family than she could ever ask for.

“Yes,” she says immediately. “I am.”

 

XxX

 

“Not right now,” Quinn mutters as Rachel tries to take her hand. Rachel slides her hand back into her pocket, frowning at Quinn.

“What’s wrong?” she asks.

“We’re in Lima,” Quinn says, gesturing around them. They’re walking down the street from the Lima Bean, and while the streets of Lima are never crowded by any means, there are people walking and biking on either side of the street. “Someone will see.”

“It’s just hand-holding, Quinn,” Rachel says dismissively. “Girls do that all the time.” Quinn shakes her head, frustrated.

“Brittany and Santana held hands all the time,” she retorts. “How many people did their ‘friends’ act fool?” Rachel stops, turning to her.

“Okay, what’s this really about?” she questions. “We held hands in public all the time before we left.”

“So the honeymoon phase is over,” Quinn snaps, regretting the venom in the words the moment she speaks them.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Rachel demands, crossing her arms. Quinn sighs, anxiously tugging at her hair and glancing around. No one is staring yet, but they’re getting some strange looks for arguing in the middle of the sidewalk.

“Can we not do this here?” Quinn pleads. Rachel relents, beginning to walk again.

“My dads aren't home,” she offers. “We could go there.” Quinn nods in agreement.

The walk to Rachel’s house is silent. Normally, Quinn and Rachel can coexist in silence happily, easily. Many an afternoon the previous summer had been spent with Quinn sketching or reading as Rachel practiced her piano or watched musicals.

Now, though, the silence is heavy. It presses down on them both, oppressive and uncomfortable. To Quinn, it feels like an anvil is sitting on her chest.

“Are you going to tell me the truth now?” Rachel asks as she sits down on her bed. Quinn stays in the doorway, leaning against the doorjamb. She looks down at her girlfriend and remembers how easily they fit together only a few months before, how they belonged with each other and belonged in Lima.

Now, though, being back makes Quinn feel like there are ants crawling under her skin. And, looking at Rachel, she sees a similar discomfort reflected back at her. Rachel sits on the bed in the room that was hers for eighteen years, but she doesn’t belong. Something about her is so very different than the last time they had been in this room; something that makes her sitting on her bed look like a stranger in a hotel room.

Quinn thinks that maybe that sense of alienation applies to more than just Lima. The Quinn-and-Rachel that they had been was a product of Lima. The Quinn-and-Rachel that had that utterly perfect summer had belonged in Lima.

New Haven Quinn and New York Rachel don’t belong in Lima.

So maybe they don’t belong with each other, either.

Quinn gathers all the stray emotions she’s feeling and opens her mouth to put them into words.

“I think we should break up,” is what comes out.

 

XxX

 

Quinn is at her parents’ house (she no longer thinks of it as her house; it stopped being her house the moment she told her father she was gay) for almost an hour that afternoon. Russell doesn’t return, but by the end of the visit, Quinn practically jumps in her seat at every noise from outside. She isn’t showing it to her mother, but she is thoroughly terrified. Her last image of Russell Fabray isn’t screaming or throwing things, but it’s just as blood-curdling.

Her father hadn’t reacted with anger that afternoon during the winter break of her senior year at Yale. He had sat on the other side of his desk, smiling at his daughter, until her confession came tumbling out. His smile had disappeared, and he had simply looked at her with cold, blank eyes, until finally standing, picking up the photo of her he had on his desk, and, still with that bizarrely calm expression, smashed the glass in the picture frame on the corner of his desk.

She had fled immediately.

Upon returning to Yale, she had learned that the money set aside for her last semester of college had been pulled. She had called her mother in the middle of a panic attack on her dorm room’s bathroom floor, her roommate pounding on the door and begging to be let in, only to be greeted by a preprogrammed voicemail message.

So when Judy picks up her phone off the table between them to read a text message and her smile slips off her face, Quinn instantly stands up.

“That’s Dad?” she asks, hating the way her voice shakes on the second word. Judy nods. “I’m going to go,” Quinn announces as if her intentions aren’t obvious by the way she’s sliding towards the door. “Can–can you not tell him I was here?”

“Quinn, honey…” Judy says hesitantly. “I would really like it if you would come to Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.” Quinn’s stomach twists violently with anxiety at that suggestion.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she mutters. She came here to reconnect with her family, yes, but now that she’s staring at the prospect of doing just that, she isn’t so sure.

“Please?” Judy pleads. “You belong here. You’re a part of this family.” Quinn’s mouth twists involuntarily into a wry smirk.

“You weren’t saying that six years ago,” she reminds her mother. Judy flinches.

“I know, honey,” she murmurs. “I’m sorry.” It’s the first time she’s apologized for forgetting she had a second daughter for six years since Quinn knocked on her door, and Quinn hates with every fiber of her being that the genuine note of regret in her mother’s voice makes her relent.

“I’ll come,” she mutters, standing by the door. “But after I show up…I’m not making any promises.” Before Judy can reply, she pushes her way out of the house, nearly running down the front steps and certainly running down the street.

Her heart is pounding, and it’s not from the running. Her leg is aching just a bit, but it barely even registers, since her mind is fogged with panic. She can’t breathe, and even through the haze, she recognizes the symptoms.

Panic attack.

Almost instinctively, she calls Rachel.

“Hey!” the other girl’s excited voice greets from the phone when Quinn holds it up to her ear. “I was just about to–“

“Rach,” Quinn manages to say through her labored breathing. She hears a sharp inhale, and feels the slightest stab of relief at the fact that Rachel can hear that something is wrong.

“Quinn?” Rachel asks, her tone concerned now. “What’s going on? Do you need me to come get you or call someone or–“

Quinn interrupts her with a wheeze.

“Are you hurt?” Rachel asks, changing tack. Quinn makes a sound she hopes comes across as vaguely negative. Rachel seems to understand. “Quinn, can you tell me what you see?” Quinn glances around quickly. Houses. Grass. Clouds. More houses. A car, coming down the street. “Just one thing, okay? Can you tell me one thing that you see?”

“House,” Quinn gasps.

“Good,” Rachel says. “That’s good. How about something you hear?”

“The car,” Quinn says, breaths coming easier now. “There’s a car, I can hear the engine.”

“Good,” Rachel repeats. “Take a few breaths, okay?” Quinn does. Her heart is still pounding, but her head is clearer now, and her breathing is unhindered.

“Thank you,” Quinn mumbles, leaning against the post of a stop sign. “Where’d you learn to do that, anyway?”

“Kurt used to have anxiety attacks,” Rachel explains. Her voice is soft, gentle. It makes Quinn’s heart begin to slow to a normal pace. “What happened, Quinn?”

“I…” She shakes her head, even though Rachel can’t see her. “I was fine. Mostly. As close to fine as I was going to get, since Dad was out. And then she invited me to Thanksgiving dinner and I just…”

“Quinn, you don’t have to go,” Rachel reassures her. “If you’re not ready for this–“

“I’m never going to be ready for this,” Quinn interjects. “But it’s something I have to do.” Rachel sighs, the breath coming across the phone line as a burst of static.

“You’re always so stubborn,” she laments. Quinn laughs, more fragilely and tentatively than usual, but she laughs all the same. “If you’re sure about this, there isn’t exactly anything I can say to stop you,” Rachel continues. “But…be careful, Quinn. Please.”

“I will be,” Quinn agrees. “Promise.”

“I’ll see you later,” Rachel says, and Quinn returns the sentiment before hanging up the phone. She leans her head back, hitting it gently against the metal of the signpost.

Fuck me,” she mutters, not entirely sure if she’s commenting on her familial situation or her…whatever sort of relationship she has with Rachel. Either way, the words seem apt.

 

XxX

 

Rachel just stares at her, utterly uncomprehending. She shakes her head slowly, looking more confused than anything.

“Quinn,” she says flatly. “What are you talking about?” There’s a warning in her voice, a tone that says “if you take that back, we can forget it”. Quinn, though, for all that her entire being is protesting the very idea of losing Rachel, doesn’t want to take it back.

“I…” she hesitates, unsure how to put the indefinable emotions running through her veins into words. “This doesn’t…feel the same. Anymore.”

“So you want to end it?” Rachel asks, her voice shaky. “Quinn, it’s long distance, we always knew it would be hard–“

“No,” Quinn interrupts. “We didn’t. Because we never talked about it, Rachel! We never even thought about it! We were too scared and too caught up in love to bother figuring out how to make it last!”

“So?” Rachel demands. “Fine! We made some mistakes! But that doesn’t mean we should just b–break up!” She stutters over the last few words, and Quinn spots the beginnings of tears forming over her eyes, making the light from the window shine off the dark brown of Rachel’s eyes. It makes Quinn’s heart practically stop in her chest.

“I think it maybe does,” she admits. Her own eyes are dry, but that awful, cold, numb feeling in her heart is spreading into the rest of her body.

“This is worth fighting for,” Rachel pleads, the tears pouring down her cheeks now. “Don’t you believe in us?” Quinn feels that like a shotgun blast to the stomach.

“Of course I believe in us,” she murmurs, sitting down next to Rachel on the bed and reaching out to wipe her tears away. “I believe that the universe will give us another chance. When we’re ready to take it.”

“I’m ready now,” Rachel says. She’s staring at Quinn with the most utterly shattered expression Quinn has ever seen, like someone had reached into her head and smashed the light behind her eyes into a million tiny splinters.

Quinn realizes that she is the one that put that look on Rachel’s face, and it almost changes her mind.

Almost.

 

XxX

 

Quinn knocks on her parents’ door for the second time in as many days with a steady hand. She isn’t sure if her unexpected confidence comes from Rachel’s reassuring phone call only minutes before, or from her unshakable feeling that this dinner is going to come to an abrupt and unfortunate end.

(It’s less of a feeling and more of a recognition of the inevitable. Quinn hasn’t seen her father since that day six years ago, and she hasn’t spoken to her sister since months before coming out. After that nightmare, she had tried to call her older sister, only to discover that her number had been succinctly and promptly blocked without explanation. Not that Quinn needed one. It hardly took a genius; Russell had told Frannie what Quinn had told him and that had been the end of their already-frayed sisterly bond.)

“Quinn,” Judy says quietly as she opens the door. “Come in. Please.” Quinn steps through the door, already hearing voices from the living room. She hears her father laugh loudly, the sound familiar even after so long without hearing it, and it makes her flinch. The reaction doesn’t go unnoticed by Judy.

“He won’t hurt you,” Judy promises, and Quinn is grateful for the sentiment, but she can’t help the niggling thought that Judy had never been able to stop her husband from hurting his wife, let alone their far-from-perfect daughter.

“Judy?” Russell calls from the living room. “Who’s at the door?” Judy gestures for Quinn to enter first. The youngest Fabray takes a deep breath, closing her eyes. She brings Rachel’s words from earlier to the forefront of her mind: I’m proud of you, she had said. No matter what your parents and your sister say, know that I am proud of you. I am your family, and I am proud to be so, even if those people are too stupid to feel the same. With those words echoing in her mind, Quinn pushes through the door into the living room.

Russell is sitting on the couch, a beer in hand, smiling widely and talking to Frannie, who is sitting on a chair opposite her father with the little boy from the fridge photograph on one knee. A man Quinn has never met before is sitting in the chair beside her, and Quinn realizes that this must be Frannie’s husband. Her brother-in-law.

It’s a strange concept to even think about; she hasn’t thought of the Fabrays as her family in years. Related to her, yes; important to her despite their rejection of everything that she is, yes. But family? Her family for the past six years has been Brittany and Santana, and more recently, it grew to include Rachel once more. Her family consists of her two best friends who have not once (since Santana’s rocky coming out process their freshman year of college, at least) stopped being there for her, and Rachel, who has never needed or fit another label.

Her family does not include the people who, when she was a terrified sixteen-year-old who had made a life-altering mistake, kept her so fearful of the hellfire she could face for what she’d done that she had…but she tries not to think about that. It never ends well.

Lucy?” Frannie says, the first occupant of the room to regain her faculties after Quinn’s entrance to stunned silence. Quinn cringes internally at the use of her first name.

“Hi,” Quinn mumbles. Russell stands from his seat, setting his beer on the coffee table, and Quinn shrinks back instinctively before looking him over.

He’s more hunched than she remembers; his shoulders now slope forwards instead of cutting the imposing figure that they used to. His hair is thinner, wispier; his hairline crawling closer towards the back of his head. There’s more grey in his beard, which is significantly more unkempt than she remembered. He’s gained weight, as well. Despite all of his differences, though, the expression on his face is as ruthless and mean as ever. He looks like an older, more tired version of that cold, blood-chilling man who had thrown her out six years ago.

“Quinn,” he says flatly, and Quinn shivers, because his voice hasn’t changed at all. It’s just as utterly emotionless as it always was when he was angry. “What are you doing in my house?” My house. It’s still his house. Not his family’s. Not Quinn’s; not a single part of it. His.

“You…didn’t tell them?” Quinn breathes, turning to her mother. Judy is standing in the doorway to the living room, shoulders hunched, trying to make herself smaller.

“No,” she confesses, sounding guilty and scared. Despite her tone, she takes a deep breath, squares her shoulders, and turns to her husband and older daughter. “I invited Quinn to Thanksgiving,” she announces.

Once again, silence fills the room.

“You did,” Russell states. His voice makes Quinn’s skin prickle with tension; it’s the tone he used to use before he left dents in the walls with his fists.

“I did,” Judy says, meeting his gaze firmly. Quinn winces in fear. She’s never seen her mother stand up to her husband this way; this can’t possibly end well.

“You should take a seat, then,” Russell says, directing the words at Quinn, who unconsciously pulls her arms closer to her body protectively, to make herself seem smaller, to make her father less likely to lash out.

“…what?” Quinn asks, uncomprehending. Russell gestures towards the dining room.

“We’re about to eat,” he says. “Go sit down.” Quinn obeys on instinct, hurrying through the doorway and taking her seat at the table, the spot she had eaten at for eighteen years. Suspicion is rising in her throat, alarm bells going off inside her skull. She isn’t sure what game her father is playing, but whatever it is, she is sure it won’t end well.

 

XxX

 

“Rachel?” Kurt’s voice echoes back to him without an answer. He frowns, checking his phone and confirming that Rachel had, in fact, texted him an hour ago and asked him to come over. “Misters Berry?” Again, there’s no response. Kurt shakes his head and begins to turn back to the door of the Berry house, confused and a bit worried.

For some reason he doesn’t quite understand himself, though, he stops before he opens the door. It can’t hurt to look.

When he quietly pushes the door to Rachel’s bedroom open, he’s greeted by an unmoving, vaguely human-shaped lump wrapped in sheets lying on her bed.

“Rachel?” he says again, gently this time. The lump twitches, but says nothing. “Hey.” He steps forward and sits down on the edge of the bed. He thinks he sees a few strands of dark hair towards one end of the lump, and he sets his hand on what he hopes is her shoulder. “What happened?” She doesn’t answer, instead just curling up tighter. They sit in silence for a long while before Rachel finally rolls onto her back, transforming from a lump of bedclothes back into a girl. The brokenness on her face, though, in her eyes, looks nothing like the girl Kurt knows.

“I don’t even know what I did wrong.” Rachel’s voice is a tortured whisper, and it makes Kurt’s heart clench unbelievably tight in sympathy for his best friend. He has no idea what or who has reduced Rachel to this, but he makes a silent promise with himself that when he finds out, he will tear them apart.

“Rachel, honey…” he mumbles. She starts to cry silently, and he pulls her into his chest, wrapping his arms around her. She grips his shirt tightly, burying her face against his collarbones. She doesn’t sob or try to speak, and it unnerves Kurt. The silence makes her seem…empty. Hollow.

“Please don’t ask what happened,” she finally says after an interminable time. Kurt’s linen shirt is so wet with tears that it sticks uncomfortably to his skin, but he sets that worry aside. Rachel’s broken state is his only concern at the moment.

“Rachel–“

“Please,” Rachel begs. Kurt subsides with a heavy sigh. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Rachel, I can’t help you if I don’t know how,” he says. Rachel shakes her head, still curled up against Kurt.

“You can’t help me,” she murmurs. Kurt opens his mouth to protest. “Kurt,” she says before he can speak. “Trust me. This is…” She shakes her head. “There’s nothing you can do. And apparently there’s nothing I can do, either.” Her voice cracks on the last few words, and Kurt winces at the pain in her tone. He hates this, hates not knowing what’s wrong, hates not being able to take her pain away.

“Rachel, please,” he implores. Rachel shakes her head again.

“Just hold me,” she mumbles. “That’s all you can do.” Kurt pulls her even closer, feeling fresh tears begin to drip onto his shirt.

He promises himself again that whoever did this to his best friend will pay for it.

 

XxX

 

“You’re pretty, you know,” Quinn mumbles, reaching out her hand clumsily to touch Rachel’s face. Rachel bats her hand away, ignoring the pleasant fluttering in her stomach at the words.

“And you’re drunk,” she returns. Quinn grins, leaning back against the headboard of her hotel bed.

“Yep,” she agrees, and Rachel suppresses a giggle. She doesn’t think she’s ever heard Quinn say yep before. “This place has a minibar. A minibar.” She rolls over, crawling to the edge of the bed and reaching for the small fridge door once again. Rachel hurries to the side of the bed, catching Quinn’s hand before it can reach its destination.

“I think you’ve had enough to drink,” she chides. Quinn pouts, rolling onto her back.

“You’re no fun,” she informs Rachel seriously. “You used to be way more fun than me. Other than senior year. The first bit of senior year.”

“You weren’t fun,” Rachel corrects. “You were indulging in an exceedingly unhealthy coping mechanism.” Quinn frowns.

“It wasn’t a poke– a coke–“ she slurs.

“A coping mechanism?” Rachel questions, mimicking Quinn’s signature raised eyebrow.

“That,” Quinn agrees. “It wasn’t that.” Rachel shakes her head fondly.

“Move over,” she orders, shoving Quinn’s clumsy, drunk form over on the bed. Quinn obliges, scooting over until Rachel can climb onto the mattress beside her, propped up against the headboard in a half-sitting, half-lying position. “Now what happened that made you decide drinking away your savings in a hotel room was a good idea?” It’s the wrong question to ask. Quinn’s happy, tipsy smile crumples in on itself, and she shifts her gaze to the wall on the other side of the bed, away from Rachel. “Quinn,” Rachel murmurs, reaching out to take her hand. The moment their fingers brush, Quinn jerks her hand away.

“Can you just go?” she asks, turning her head back just enough to shoot a glance at Rachel out of the corner of her eye. “’m sorry I took you ‘way from your family Thanksgiving.” Rachel stares at her flatly. Quinn groans and rolls her head back to its former position, staring at the wall of the hotel room.

“Quinn,” Rachel says firmly. Quinn grunts wordlessly in response. “You don’t have to tell me what happened, but I’m not leaving until you do.” Quinn doesn’t say anything for few minutes. Rachel leans back against the headboard, counting the spots on the ceiling (and, really, for a hotel charging the prices Rachel had seen listed on the minibar menu, they really ought to clean more thoroughly; there’s a disturbing number of mysterious stains).

“I hate being back in that house,” Quinn says finally, making Rachel jolt in surprise. Quinn maintains her position facing away from Rachel, mumbling into the pillow, and Rachel strains her ears to catch the slurred, quiet words. “I thought…I thought it would be easier. That’s dumb, isn’t it?” Rachel tries to interrupt to reassure her, but Quinn keeps talking. “Yesterday, before I went back there, I thought it would be easier. I thought since I had been back in Lima already, since I’m back now, and it hasn’t bothered me, I thought it’d be easy.” She laughs bitterly. “It wasn’t.”

“What happened?” Rachel asks quietly, when it becomes clear that Quinn doesn’t plan on continuing.

“Nothing,” Quinn says, laughing again. The sound makes Rachel shiver; she hates that dry, bitter, self-mocking tone. “Nothing happened. It was like nothing had ever happened. Like I had never come out. Like they haven’t been ignoring me for six fucking years.” Rachel goes to take Quinn’s hand again, and this time, Quinn allows it. She grips Rachel’s hand almost painfully tight, like it’s her lifeline. Rachel doesn’t protest.

“I told my dad I’m teaching,” Quinn says abruptly. “He told me he was disappointed in me because I hadn’t gone to grad school.” That not-at-all humorous laugh turns into an angry sob halfway through this time. “Like he has any fucking right to be disappointed. It’s his fault I never went.” Rachel lies all the way down beside Quinn, releasing her hand only to wrap her arm around her shoulders. Quinn rolls over, curling into Rachel’s side and reaching for her free hand. “It was like I was fifteen and scared and closeted all over again,” Quinn mumbles, pulling Rachel’s hand into both of hers and gripping it tight. “I don’t want to be that person again, Rach,” she whispers earnestly, raising her gaze to meet Rachel’s. Their faces are barely inches apart, and under different circumstances (involving less alcohol and fewer tears), the proximity would’ve made Rachel’s heart pound in her chest.

As it is, though, Rachel simply has a front-row seat to the fear and pain and desperation in Quinn’s eyes, and it makes Rachel’s heart ache for an entirely different reason.

“You aren’t,” she reassures as best she can. “You are not that girl anymore, Quinn. You’re brave enough to walk back into that house. Fifteen-year-old Quinn could never have done that.”

“But I wasn’t brave enough to avoid turning back into her,” Quinn argues. “I didn’t say anything. He sat there and–and tore apart my entire fucking life, and I didn’t say anything.”

“Quinn…” Rachel kisses her forehead gently. “You’re allowed to be scared, okay? That doesn’t…you’re not the person you used to be, and being scared doesn’t change that.”

“But what if I haven’t changed like I thought I did?” Quinn whispers. Her voice, while slurred and barely audible, is so tortured that Rachel winces. She pulls Quinn closer, propping her chin on the top of Quinn’s head and gently running her fingertips through short blonde hair.

(Quinn had always liked it when Rachel touched her hair; more than a few days that summer ten years prior had been spent down by the creek, Quinn dozing happily with her head in Rachel’s lap as Rachel sang in a half-whisper.)

“Do you feel different?” Rachel asks, her hand absently playing with the ends of Quinn’s hair. Quinn doesn’t speak, and for a moment, Rachel thinks she’s fallen asleep. She begins to shift, attempting to move Quinn entirely onto the mattress, but Quinn’s fingertips quickly curl into fists in Rachel’s shirt, and she stops.

“I think so,” Quinn mumbles. Rachel smiles and closes her eyes for a moment, allowing herself to take in the moment. As imperfect and messy as it is, what with Quinn drunk and emotional and Rachel missing her Thanksgiving evening with her fathers and the Hudson-Hummel clan, Quinn is still in her arms again, and even with the way that all of Rachel’s dreams have been coming true, she thinks that this might be her favorite dream yet.

Quinn starts to shift beside her, and Rachel’s eyes lazily drift open again.

“Quinn, what–“ She’s cut off by Quinn’s lips pressing against hers.

Rachel had spent much of high school feeling the strange, inexplicable urge to kiss Quinn. When they were together, it had been her favorite ending to their teasing arguments. Many a bickering match had been ended with Quinn pushing her up against the nearest vertical (or horizontal) surface and very thoroughly and successfully distracting her.

So when Quinn kisses her for the first time in ten years, Rachel immediately forgets the situation, the circumstances, the fact that Quinn is drunk and fragile and she should not be allowing this. She goes lightheaded and pleasantly dizzy, and the feeling of Quinn slipping a hand under her shirt, fingertips dancing over her stomach, does nothing to bring her back down.

She’s rather certain that nothing could possibly bring her down, until she tastes the alcohol on Quinn’s lips. The taste burns in her mouth, guilty and accusing.

“Quinn,” Rachel gasps, pulling back. Their foreheads are pressed together. Quinn’s eyes are moving in minuscule jerks, searching Rachel’s dilated pupils as if they hold some kind of answer.

That feels different,” she states. Rachel stares back up at her, utterly transfixed by large black discs surrounded by swirling hazel.

(She’s never been able to look away from Quinn.)

Chapter Text

“Rachel?” Kurt calls from the outside of the curtain that separates Rachel’s “room” from the rest of the apartment. There’s no answer, and Kurt leans against the wall beside the curtain for a minute, running a hand through his hair and utterly ruining the twenty minutes he had spent styling it that morning.

Rachel has been a wreck since Thanksgiving. He found her crying in her bed, held her hand as she stared aimlessly at the seat in front of her on the plane back to New York, and has bought more tissues in the past two weeks than he thinks he ever has in his life.

And she still won’t tell him what started it.

“Rachel, I’m coming in,” he announces, pushing his way through the curtain. Rachel is on top of the sheets for once, which he counts as an improvement. She’s staring blankly at the ceiling, utterly vacant, though, so perhaps not. Kurt walks over to the bed, wincing at the loud squeak it emits when he sits down beside her. They really ought to buy new furniture.

“I think I’m ready to tell you,” Rachel mumbles into her pillow. Kurt’s head snaps around, locking in on his best friend. She hasn’t dropped a single clue as to what, exactly, happened that day in Lima, and he’s been desperate for anything, a person to be mad at, a way to help her.

“Come here,” Kurt orders, opening his arms. “I get the feeling this will require a lot of hugs.” Rachel rolls over and crawls into his embrace, resting her head on his shoulder.

“You really are the best friend, you know that?” she tells him.

“Flattery won’t get you out of this,” he quips, but he’s smiling. Rachel smiles a bit too, but it disappears almost instantly.

“You remember the start of senior year?” she says. “When Quinn was…” She makes a vague gesture with her hands that implies absolutely nothing, but the words Quinn and senior year bring a wealth of images to the forefront of Kurt’s mind.

“Hard to forget,” he snorts. Rachel exhales in what is struggling to become a laugh, but can’t quite make it.

“That was when it started, I think,” she says. “At least the exciting part.” Kurt says nothing, although his mind is racing, generating a hundred questions a second. “I…helped her a bit, I guess. She told me it wouldn’t change anything, but it did.”

“Quinn didn’t make fun of us once that entire year,” Kurt fills in. Rachel’s story has yet to make much sense, but he remembers just how changed Quinn had seemed, as far as her treatment of Rachel and, by extension, Kurt, was concerned.

“Exactly,” Rachel agrees. “There were a lot of little moments. And then, after graduation…” Rachel shakes her head. “She wanted to be friends.”

“She what?” Kurt questions incredulously, and this time, Rachel manages a sad giggle.

“Friends,” she repeats. “That didn’t last very long.”

“Why not?” Kurt asks, unable to stop himself.

“Because I rather quickly realized that she was in love with me,” Rachel reveals, and in Kurt’s mind, everything suddenly falls into place.

The way Quinn had watched Brittany and Santana prance through the hallways in their facade of being “just friends” with burning eyes, a look that Kurt had always thought wasn’t quite anger. Now, it seems clear as day. Jealousy.

The way that, from the very beginning of freshman year, Quinn had serially dated every stupid, easily controlled, mildly attractive jock. Her position as head of the Celibacy Club; a convenient excuse to never let those socially political relationships get too far. The way that, despite her overall bullying tendencies, she had always seemed completely fixated on Rachel. As if Rachel had done something awful to her, something completely unforgivable.

Or, Kurt realizes, as if she was a very, very repressed lesbian with an inconvenient crush.

“Oh,” Kurt breathes, and Rachel swallows hard, tears forming over her eyes.

“Yes,” she says, affirming the increasing understanding on his face. “And from then, it didn’t take me long to fall completely in love with her, too.”

Oh,” Kurt repeats, more surprised by that revelation.

“I know it makes little sense,” Rachel murmurs, her eyes gazing at something far away, something ethereal. “But I suppose that love is hardly meant to.” Kurt pulls her a bit closer, sensing the rawness of her emotions, the open wounds that Quinn had left with whatever happened next.

“Thanksgiving?” Kurt asks when Rachel seems completely lost in her memories. Her wistful gaze turns sharp and broken, the gentle yearning in her eyes becoming pain.

“She…” Rachel shakes her head. “It’s over. She ended it.” Tears begin to drip down her face, and Kurt spares a few brain cells from comforting his friend to mourn the damage being done to yet another shirt. “I don’t even know what I did wrong,” Rachel says. Her voice turns into a sob at the end of the sentence, and Kurt rocks her gently.

You didn’t do anything wrong,” he murmurs softly into her hair. “I promise.”

She squeezes his hand gratefully at the sentiment, but it does nothing to stop the tears pouring down her face.

 

XxX

 

Quinn groans, face tightening in pain, the moment she regains consciousness. Her head feels like it’s splitting in two, and the soft light pushing through her eyelids feels like nails being beaten into her eyes.

“Good morning,” a familiar voice chirps. To anyone else, it would sound normal, happy even, but Quinn has heard Rachel in the morning often enough to know that the chipper lilt to her voice is forced.

“Mmmph,” Quinn replies, pressing her face into the pillow. The bed dips beside her.

“I brought you coffee,” Rachel offers. One of Quinn’s eyes cracks open.

“Coffee?” she repeats. Rachel smiles down at her, holding up a paper cup. Quinn’s other eye joins the first, and she ignores the exacerbation of her headache in favor of sitting up as quickly as she can manage and making grabby motions at the cup. Rachel laughs and shakes her head, handing Quinn the coffee.

Rachel watches her closely as she takes a long sip of the coffee and lets out a moan that borders on obscene. Quinn closes her eyes again, leaning back against the headboard and sighing.

“Do you remember last night?” Rachel asks, and suddenly more than just coffee is burning in Quinn’s stomach.

“I wasn’t that drunk, Rachel,” she says, meeting her eyes with a firm stare.

“You remember,” Rachel states. Quinn places her coffee on the nightstand and sets her hands in her lap, turning her full attention to Rachel.

“I kissed you,” Quinn says. “I wouldn’t forget that, no matter how much I drank.” Rachel nods, switching her gaze to the floor, playing with her fingers nervously. “Are you mad at me?”

“I…” Rachel draws her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. She looks small and scared and it makes Quinn’s cavalier facade crumble. “Quinn, you can’t–you can’t do things like that. I can be friends. I can do that. But…” She shakes her head, looking up at Quinn. “I can’t cross that line.”

“Rach…” Quinn stands, ignoring the unsettled feeling in her stomach and the shakiness of her limbs. She moves in front of Rachel, taking her hands and unwrapping her arms from their tight grip around her legs. “Can I…can I kiss you again? Just to know how it feels sober?”

“Don’t you remember?” Rachel asks, but she doesn’t look away.

“Of course I remember,” Quinn whispers. “But it’s different now.” Rachel stands, but Quinn doesn’t step back, and they’re left pressed together. Quinn can feel Rachel’s every breath. Rachel licks her lips nervously, and the motion captivates Quinn.

“Okay,” Rachel murmurs, and it’s all Quinn needs. She closes the last scant fractions of an inch between them, pressing her lips to Rachel’s, and God, it’s so much better without alcohol clouding her mind and coating her tongue.

Quinn stops thinking, stops feeling anything except Rachel. She thinks maybe her heart stops beating for a moment. Every cell in her body is frozen, utterly transfixed by this girl, this woman, and it’s so, so much better than it was ten years ago, when everything was shadowed by their imminent departures to different cities, different states, different lives. In this moment, there is nothing in the entire universe except the two of them.

And then, all too soon, it’s over.

Quinn…” Rachel breathes as she pulls away. Quinn stares at her with what she’s sure is a comically dumbstruck expression, and the feeling is mirrored on Rachel’s face.

“I told you it’s different,” she murmurs, unable to muster more than a whisper. Rachel closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, and dread wells up in Quinn’s chest.

“We can’t do this,” she says firmly, and the tingling that’s spread from Quinn’s lips to encompass the entirety of her soul turns to a cold numbness.

“Rachel–“

“No,” Rachel cuts her off. “Quinn, I…” She shakes her head. “You still live two hours away. We still have different friends and different lives and…” She inhales deeply again, and Quinn recognizes the tic as an indicator that Rachel is on the verge of tears. “God, I wish you were closer. If you were near me…but you’re not. We can’t do this again. I can’t do this again. I won’t survive it.” Quinn swallows around the lump in her throat.

“We’re older now,” she pleads. “We can make it this time, we can–“

“No,” Rachel repeats.

“But it’s different now!” Quinn argues, her voice rising. “You feel it, it’s so different now!”

“That’s not enough!” Rachel shouts, and the silence that follows her words presses down upon them like the weight of the sky itself.

“I know,” Quinn whispers finally, shoulders slumping. “But I wanted it to be.” Rachel hesitates a moment before stepping forward, pulling Quinn into her arms and burying her face in the taller woman’s neck.

“Don’t let this break us,” she begs when they separate. “I can’t have you as more than a friend, but I can’t take not having you at all.” Quinn tries for a smile. It comes out weak and disheartened.

“It won’t,” she promises. “Sorry I made you spend your Thanksgiving sleeping in a dirty hotel room with your drunk ex-girlfriend.” The dark humor of the statement makes Rachel crack a smile as well.

“There’s no place on Earth I’d rather be,” she says, and while her tone is light and joking, the statement rings true for both of them.

 

XxX

 

“Hello?” The familiar voice on the other end of the line makes Rachel’s whole body ache.

“Quinn,” she breathes. There’s a sharp inhale and a long pause.

“Rachel,” Quinn responds, her voice carefully flat.

“I’m sorry for calling,” Rachel says, rolling onto her side and curling up, gazing at the dark sky and the bright lights of New York through her bedroom window. She keeps her voice low, all too conscious of Kurt’s presence only a few curtains away. He’s a fairly deep sleeper, but after all she had told him the day before, she hardly wants to wake him by calling Quinn. “I can’t sleep without hearing your voice.”

“Rachel…”

“I have one of your voicemails from September,” she continues, the words spilling out of her, out of her control. “It hurts more than it helps sometimes, but it’s all I have now.”

“Rachel, please don’t do this,” Quinn says.  Rachel can almost see her tugging at her hair anxiously. It’s short again now; she’d grown it out all of senior year, but she’d cut it well above her shoulders a few days after arriving at Yale.

“I miss you,” Rachel says with a choked sob. “I miss you so fucking much.”

“Rachel, please,” Quinn nearly begs. Her controlled tone is gone, replaced by a sort of tortured resignation. “You can’t–you can’t call me like this. It’s only going to make this hurt more.”

“Pain is all I have of you now,” Rachel says. “What if I don’t want to let it go?” Quinn’s sigh comes through the phone in a rush of static.

“You have to,” she says, so quietly Rachel can barely hear it. “You have to let me go, Rach. We have to let each other go.”

“I don’t want to,” Rachel argues pathetically, her knees pressed against her chest. Silent tears are flowing sideways down her face, rolling into the pillow beneath her head.

“Rach,” Quinn murmurs. “We both knew this couldn’t last.”

I didn’t,” Rachel insists. “And I don’t think you did, either. You’re just trying to justify it to yourself.”

“The more you call me like this, the longer it will take to get over this,” Quinn says, neatly avoiding responding to Rachel’s words.

“I don’t want to be over you!” Rachel says, and she immediately knows it’s too loud.

“I’m sorry,” Quinn says in her ear, but Rachel is distracted, sitting up and listening for a sign that she woke up Kurt. Sure enough, she hears the sliding of curtain rings, followed by a footstep on that one patch of floor that creaks. “I’m not trying to hurt you, alright?” Quinn continues.

“Yeah, well,” Rachel snaps, furiously scrubbing at a few stray tears left on her face, angry at herself for letting Quinn keep doing this to her. “Try a little harder.”

“Rachel?” Kurt’s voice calls from outside her “room”.

“What do want me to do, Rachel?” Quinn demands on the phone. “I can’t exactly unbreak both of our hearts!”

“Would it kill you to try?” Rachel retorts as Kurt pulls the curtain open. His sleep-dazed eyes widen, and he gestures wildly at the phone in Rachel’s hand.

“Is that Quinn?” he demands. Rachel waves at him dismissively, making a shooing gesture.

“I’m trying right now!” Quinn snaps harshly. “I’m trying to let you go!”

“I don’t want you to!” Rachel nearly yells. The sound is met with silence, from both Kurt and Quinn.

“Rachel…” Quinn sounds like she’s nearly in tears herself. “I’m sorry.”

Click.

The sound of Quinn ending the call breaks something Rachel. Her phone is falling from her fingertips, striking the floor with a disturbing shattering sound, but she can’t bring herself to care; her hands are trembling so badly that she can barely see them, or maybe her impaired vision is from the sudden return of her tears, clouding her eyes and turning the world into an indistinct mess of barely-there colors.

“Rachel, honey,” Kurt whispers, hurrying forwards and wrapping his arms around his best friend. He sits beside her on her bed, pulling her into him. She presses her face against his chest, and he props his chin on the top of her head, rubbing her back as comfortingly as he can. “It’ll be okay,” he mumbles. Even to him, the words sound false. “You’re okay.”

“No,” Rachel chokes out through a sob. “I’m not.”

 

XxX

 

“Nice of you to join us, Rachel,” Kurt drawls from the couch as Rachel slips through the door of the Hummel-Hudson house. Rachel takes one look at the stony expression on her best friend’s face and knows exactly where this is going.

“Finn, I think you should go ask Burt if there are leftovers from breakfast,” Rachel says, barely sparing a glance for the tall man sitting in the armchair across from the TV, heavily occupied by whatever sports match rerun is currently being played.

“I already did,” Finn says, eyes still fastened to the screen. “There aren’t any.”

“Finn,” Rachel says firmly, this time turning her gaze to Kurt’s stepbrother and giving him a look. Finn glances up, catches the look, and swallows visibly, eyes widening.

Oh! Oh,” he realizes, already standing. “Uh, yeah, I’ll, uh…” He trails off, making a vague gesture down the hall to the kitchen. Rachel gives him a terse smile and a nod, and Finn quickly exits the room. Normally, she finds the way Finn is slightly scared of her rather entertaining; now, though, the glare Kurt is directing at her takes precedence over her amusement at his easily-intimidated stepbrother.

“What the hell are you doing, Rachel?” Kurt demands.

“That’s hardly fair–“

“One call from Quinn and you’re gone,” he continues over her. “You go running back to her like an abandoned puppy!”

“She needed me!” Rachel snaps, crossing her arms and returning Kurt’s glare. “She’s my friend!” Kurt snorts.

“I’m your family,” he retorts. “So is everyone else in this house. And yet, the minute Quinn needs you, we might as well not exist at all.”

“That’s not true!” Rachel hisses. “She needed me, and you all didn’t!”

“And what if we had?” Kurt argues. “What if Quinn called but we needed you here?” Rachel begins to respond, but hesitates, and Kurt jumps on the pause with a vengeance. “Exactly!” he says quickly. “You would choose Quinn. You would always choose Quinn.”

“What’s your point?” Rachel asks, sagging against the door. She hates arguing with Kurt. It drains her.

“You’re in love with her again,” he says triumphantly.

“So what?” Rachel yells. “Yes, alright? I love her. She’s the love of my life, Kurt! What do you want me to do about that?”

“I want you to be careful!” Kurt says, leaping up from the couch. “I saw what she did to you last time, Rachel, I don’t want you to get your hopes up and get hurt again! What if she doesn’t feel the same way?”

“Get my hopes up,” Rachel repeats, her anger returning in full force. “Because there’s no way someone could ever love me back, right?”

“That’s not what I meant–“

“Shut up,” Rachel snaps. “Just…shut up, Kurt.”

“Rachel, you know that’s not what I mean,” Kurt insists, ignoring her words. “You deserve to be happy, and I don’t think Quinn can give you that.” Rachel deflates. She sighs heavily and throws herself down on the couch. Kurt retakes his spot beside her.

“You’re probably right,” she admits in a murmur, then laughs bitterly, almost brokenly. “You are probably right. She will most likely never be able to give me everything I need. But you know what, Kurt?” She turns to look directly at her best friend, her eyes plaintive and a pained smile stretching her lips. “I don’t think anyone else will ever even begin to come close.” Kurt looks at her, at the hope and pain and resignation and melancholy in her eyes, and for the first time since he had wondered what was making her so happy that summer, he understands.

“Oh, Rachel,” he murmurs, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and pulling her into his side. Rachel goes willingly, despite their argument; he’s only trying to protect her, and she was never really mad at him in the first place.

Chapter Text

The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is hard, to say the least.

Rachel goes to visit Quinn in the first week of December. She’s between shows at the moment, and by mid-morning on Thursday she finds herself pacing the apartment with nothing to do. So she packs a bag, and late Friday morning, she finds herself on a train to Hartford.

It’s only after the train is over halfway there that it occurs to her that perhaps she should’ve called ahead.

Too late now. Some rational part of her brain recognizes that she could, in fact, text Quinn and tell her that she’s coming to Hartford, instead of spontaneously showing up on a school day without warning. Rachel studiously ignores that part of her brain.

It’s lunchtime when the train pulls into Hartford. Rachel finds a cafe and kills time for nearly two hours before the urge to see Quinn becomes utterly impossible to resist.

They had visited the school Quinn works at during one of their weekends in early October. No one had been there, of course, but Quinn had used her building keys to unlock the doors and show Rachel around. So Rachel hails a taxi, tells the driver the address, and leans her head against the window, watching buildings and streets go by. The ride is over before she knows it, and she finds herself pushing through the doors of the school, unexpected nerves filling her.

“Hi,” the girl behind the desk in the administrative office to Rachel’s right greets her with a smile. “Can I help you?”

“I’m a friend of Quinn Fabray’s,” Rachel says, stepping over to the desk. “I was hoping to see her.”

“Of course,” the girl says, eyes darting to the upper right of her computer screen to check the time. “Class ended a few minutes ago. Do you need help finding her classroom?” Rachel shakes her head, already stepping back out into the hallway. Suddenly her heart is racing, and she wonders when the thought of Quinn became intoxicating to her again, or if it ever stopped feeling like this.

The door to Quinn’s classroom is open. Rachel steps up to it, barely able to stop herself from running. Then she sees what’s inside, and she freezes in the doorway.

Quinn is leaning against one of the desks, back to the door, talking to a boy. He’s clearly one of her students, and just as clearly upset. His head is bowed, arms crossed moodily across his chest, refusing to look at his teacher. Quinn is talking to him in a low voice, and while Rachel can’t hear the words, the murmured tone and the way the boy’s posture slowly relaxes, head rising and mouth twisting into a shy smile. Quinn straightens up, reaching out and setting a reassuring hand on the boy’s shoulder. She says something more, and the boy’s small, hesitant smile breaks out into a full-blown grin. Rachel can’t stop her own smile in response, both at the boy’s abrupt change in mood and the way Quinn had handled the interaction. She’s never really seen Quinn around kids before. Something about the sight makes warmth flood through her chest.

The boy darts away from Quinn without saying goodbye, still grinning as he runs for the door. Rachel steps to the side, leaning into the doorframe to let him by. Quinn turns with a fond shake of her head to watch him go, and her jaw drops when she sees Rachel.

“Hi,” Rachel says nervously into the stunned silence. The boy’s footsteps, echoing from down the hall, slowly fade away before Quinn finally speaks.

Rachel?” she gasps, shaking her head slowly. Rachel tilts her head, unable to read the expression on Quinn’s face.

“Should I…not be here?” she asks, the smile fading from her face.

“No!” Quinn says quickly. She blinks and shakes her head. “I mean yes. I mean, I want you here. I’m just…how are you even here?” Rachel laughs, the anxiety in her throat fading at the assurance.

“I took a train,” she quips. Quinn gives her a flat look, and Rachel smiles wider. “I’m between shows, as you know, and I got bored.”

“So you took a two hour train ride to see me?” Quinn asks. Rachel almost makes a flippant remark about only coming to see the beauty of central Connecticut, but then she sees the look on Quinn’s face; soft smile and soft eyes and pure happiness.

“Of course I did,” Rachel murmurs. The moment is altogether too intimate to be even remotely platonic, but Rachel is beginning to accept that she and Quinn will never be able to be just friends.

“Are you here all weekend?” Quinn asks, breaking the tension. Rachel bites her lip nervously.

“If you want me to be after…” she lets the words hang. Quinn’s eyes flash indecipherably at the reference to the events of Thanksgiving.

“Will you want to be?” she questions. “I want to be your friend, Rach. But I can’t promise you I won’t do things that cross that line.” Rachel half-smiles, gaze falling to the floor shyly.

“That’s okay,” she nearly whispers.

“Okay,” Quinn agrees. She spreads her arms and grins at Rachel. “Come here,” she orders. “Why haven’t you hugged me yet?” Rachel laughs, straightening up from the side of the doorway and walking forward, straight into Quinn’s arms.

 

XxX

 

Rachel lowers an empty glass to the bar in front of her with a sigh. She hadn’t intended to get drunk the day before Christmas Eve, but here she is, several more drinks than she’d be willing to admit in and not feeling particularly inclined to stop.

Mentally, she blames it on being back in Lima. Or at least, she tries to, until Quinn’s voice echoes in her head, saying it’s just a town over and over again.

It’s not Lima. It’s Quinn.

Rachel’s visit earlier that month hadn't been awkward, exactly (Rachel isn’t sure they could be awkward if they tried. Everything flows smoothly between them; banter, laughter, love, heartbreak), but it hadn’t been easy, either. Looks lingered a few moments too long and were broken by abrupt changes of topic. Words were spoken hesitantly, both of them unsure what counted as crossing a line. Touches were brief and stilted, so unlike what they’d had before Thanksgiving.

(Rachel is beginning to think that they had never been friends.)

“Rough night?” the bartender asks kindly, offering Rachel another drink. Rachel almost waves it away before accepting the inevitable and taking it.

“Rough decade,” she mutters, downing half in one gulp. That seems depressing enough to drive the bartender hastily away, off to refill the glass of the large man four seats down.

Rachel finishes the second half of the drink much more slowly. Eventually, though, she pays her bill, pulls on her coat, and steps out into the street. She’s not stumbling, exactly, but she’s far from steady on her feet. She momentarily debates calling a cab, before remembering that all of her cash was left inside the bar to pay for her drinks. Her next thought is to call Kurt, but doing so will result in an interrogation as to what drove her to get this drunk, so she sighs heavily, zips her coat, and resigns herself to a long, cold walk home.

She rounds a street corner where another bar is established, intending to take a shortcut back to her fathers’ house. Instead, she’s greeted by the sight of an achingly familiar figure leaning against a street sign unsteadily.

“Quinn,” she calls, all the reasons she has to skip the shortcut and avoid her ex-girlfriend failing to penetrate her drunken haze. The figure straightens up from the sign, still holding tightly to it with one hand, and looks over at her.

“Rachel,” Quinn calls back. Rachel grins and does her best to hurry over, although her feet seem to have a mind of their own.

“Quinn,” she repeats, stumbling into the other girl. Quinn catches her with one arm, the other hand still gripping the signpost.

“Hi,” Quinn mumbles, and Rachel catches the slight slur to the word.

“You’re drunk,” she informs Quinn, still pressed up against her. Quinn hums thoughtfully.

“Yes,” she agrees.

“So am I,” Rachel says. Quinn nods. Neither of them are particularly inclined to move from their position, Rachel’s arms around Quinn’s waist and one of Quinn’s hands pressed against the small of Rachel’s back. Rachel realizes that Quinn’s other hand’s tight grip on the signpost is to keep her from swaying on her feet. “What’re you doing here?” Rachel asks, brows knitting comically in confusion.

“Christmas,” Quinn says. Rachel shakes her head, no less confused.

“With your family?” she questions. Quinn shrugs.

“I wanna keep trying,” she mumbles. “You said I was brave, so I’m trying to be.” The words combined with the hopeful half-smile on Quinn’s face makes Rachel want to kiss her, and through the alcohol-fueled haze in her brain, she can’t think of a single reason not to.

So she does.

They get a little bit carried away for a public street, Rachel realizes when Quinn pulls away and they’re both gasping for breath.

“Why haven’t we been doing that since May?” Quinn asks, resting her forehead against Rachel’s, eyes a hair’s breadth away from closed.

“Cause I’m an idiot,” Rachel whispers. She’s about to kiss Quinn again when a loud car horn interrupts them. They spring apart, Rachel nearly tumbling over and scrabbling to get her feet back underneath her.

“Right!” Quinn exclaims with a grin as a taxi pulls up to the curb next to them. “I called a cab.”

“You did,” Rachel agrees, swaying on her feet. There’s a moment of silence, during which the cabbie rolls down his windows and yells something at them exasperatedly, but the words don’t reach either of their ears. They’re far too focused on each other.

“You want to come with me?” Quinn asks abruptly. Rachel’s stomach twists violently, a sort of nervous tension flooding her body.

“Come with you?” she echoes. Quinn is gazing at her, mouth twisted into a half-smirk, eyes narrowed. The alcohol is burning in her stomach, and suddenly the world feels painfully sharp, like all the colors and lines are cutting into her eyes.

“I’m staying in a hotel,” she says. “Do you want to come with me?”

Rachel really, really wishes she hadn’t been drinking.

“Yeah,” she agrees. “I’d like that.”

The moment is shattered by the cabbie’s horn.

“Getting in or not?” he yells through the window. Quinn rolls her eyes and pulls the door to the backseat open.

“After you,” she murmurs to Rachel. Rachel climbs into the cab without a moment’s hesitation. Quinn slides in after her and murmurs the address the the cabbie before smiling devilishly at Rachel. Goosebumps rise over Rachel’s arms.

The brief taxi ride to the hotel stretches into an eternity. Rachel pins herself to the side of the cab, gripping the handle above the window tightly and wishing there was more space between them than a scant foot and a half. Quinn watches her, that grin occasionally flickering across her face, and Rachel has never felt so captivated in her life.

They make it through the door of the hotel room before Quinn takes Rachel’s face in her hands and kisses her so thoroughly that Rachel is left breathless.

Quinn doesn’t give her a moment’s respite, walking them across the room, hands sliding from her face to her shoulders and down her back. Rachel breaks the kiss when her knees hit the edge of the bed. She sways, but manages to stay upright.

“We should talk about this,” Rachel says. It seems like the right thing to say, although Rachel can’t find a desire to stop kissing Quinn anywhere in her soul.

“Maybe we should,” Quinn murmurs, hands beginning to tug Rachel’s sweater up (her jacket had been abandoned by the door; she hadn’t even felt Quinn take it off). “But first, let’s make sure we have something to talk about.”

Chapter Text

Rachel hadn’t expected to remember anything when she woke up, but the moment her eyes crack open and squint against the light, she remembers everything.

Rachel reaches out, blindly searching for Quinn beside her, but she doesn’t find her. She steels herself against her pulsing headache and opens her eyes, scanning the room. Quinn isn’t there. The bathroom door is open, the light inside off. Rachel lifts herself up on her forearms, head pounding with pain and confusion.

The sound of the hotel room door’s hinges squeaking loudly sends lances of pain through Rachel’s skull. She looks up, squinting at the source of the sound.

“Morning,” Quinn says, quietly enough to avoid exacerbating Rachel’s headache. She’s holding a styrofoam coffee cup carrier with two white cups in it, and a plastic bag is hanging from her arm. Rachel takes the proffered coffee wordlessly and sips it.

“Coconut milk latte with lavender?” she asks.

“Your favorite,” Quinn says with a hesitant smile. Rachel returns it, briefly and tensely.

“Thank you,” she murmurs. Quinn smiles a bit more confidently and sits down beside her, opening the bag and taking out several clear plastic boxes, each containing a different baked good.

“I wasn’t sure what you would want,” she explains when the bag is empty and no fewer than five different containers are laid out on the bed.

“Quinn…” Rachel murmurs, setting her coffee down on the nightstand. “I think we should talk about this.” Quinn stares at the cinnamon roll in its container on the bed, refusing to meet Rachel’s eyes. Her smile is long gone.

“You can’t tell me this was a mistake,” she says quietly, firmly. “I don’t accept that.”

“I think it was,” Rachel says as gently as she can. Quinn shakes her head doggedly.

“It wasn’t,” she insists.

“We were drunk, Quinn,” Rachel begins.

“That doesn’t matter!” Quinn snaps. “You were there, last night. You felt it too. You can’t just sit here and pretend it didn’t mean anything to you!”

“Of course it meant something to me,” Rachel says softly, making Quinn flinch. “You mean everything to me, Quinn. That’s why it was a mistake.” Quinn jumps up from the bed, pacing angrily, tugging at her hair.

“This won’t go away,” she says abruptly, whirling around to face Rachel. “This thing between us? It’s not going away. It doesn’t matter how much you pretend it isn’t there. It’s always going to be me and you, and you know it, even if you won’t admit it.” Rachel tips her head back, closing her eyes and swallowing hard. When she speaks, her voice is steady, and every note sounds like a gunshot in the oppressive silence of the room.

“This can’t happen again,” she says. “And I think I should go.” She stands from the bed, gathering her clothes from the floor and sliding them on wordlessly. Quinn watches her dress, fists and jaw clenched, eyes flickering between anger and despair. Rachel hesitates by the door, hand hovering over the knob.

“Quinn,” she asks nervously, turning to face her. “Are we…going to be okay?” Quinn looks away.

“I don’t know,” she answers flatly. “I feel like...no matter how long we’re apart or how much distance is between us, I can never quite escape you.” She laughs bitterly. “And right now? That fucking sucks, because all I want is to be with you and you don’t want me.”

“I always want you,” Rachel tells her. Quinn’s shoulders follow her gaze, turning away from Rachel.

“I think you should go,” Quinn says, refusing to look at her. Rachel ducks out the door, closing it gently behind her.

Inside the hotel room, Quinn grabs the desk chair and smashes it to the ground, before sitting down on the floor and leaning against the bed. She bites her lip so hard she can taste blood to keep the sobs in her throat as silent tears force their way down her face.

Outside the hotel room, Rachel leans back against the door and takes a deep, shuddering breath, tears and self-loathing rising in tandem in her throat.

 

XxX

 

There’s a sharp knock at the door. Quinn doesn’t respond, staring blankly at the pages of the open book in her lap.

“Open the damn door, Fabray.” Santana’s irritated tone is muffled by the door between them.

“Go away, Santana,” Quinn says, not looking up.

“Nope,” Santana responds. “Unlock the door. Come on, Q.” Quinn sighs, closing her book and standing up to open the door.

“What?” she asks, opening the door a few inches. Santana shoves her way through. Quinn doesn’t put up much resistance, mumbling a protest and stepping back to get out of her way.

“What is up with you?” Santana demands.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Quinn denies tonelessly. It sounds false even to her. Santana huffs indignantly.

“Don’t even try it,” Santana snaps harshly. “I know when you’re lying.” Quinn doesn’t respond, doesn’t even meet her eyes. Santana closes her eyes, visibly attempting to rein in her frustration. “Q, I came to visit you over spring break because I thought you would be more fun away from your parents. You’ve been reading the same damn book all week. This isn’t fun. So will you just tell me what’s going on with you?”

“Last summer,” Quinn begins before she can lose her nerve. “I was…seeing someone.” Santana inhales sharply. “We tried to go long distance, but it…” She trails off, and Santana slaps her shoulder gently in what is probably intended to be a comforting gesture.

“So you had a recent breakup,” Santana says. “You should be out drinking yourself into early liver failure and sleeping with random strangers!” Quinn laughs and shakes her head.

“We broke up over Thanksgiving,” she corrects. Santana’s eyes widen slightly. She seems to be searching for something to say and coming up empty. Quinn sits down on the edge of her bed, and Santana steps past her to sit on Quinn’s absent roommate’s bed across the narrow dorm room.

“Quinn, that was four months ago,” Santana admonishes. “Why are you still hurting about it? He really meant that much to you?”

“Is Brittany still your phone background?” Quinn asks instead of answering. Santana looks away.

“That’s different,” she mutters. “Brittany’s my best friend. We grew up together. You dated this guy for what, four months?”

“Six, technically,” Quinn corrects. “And you and Brittany were never even official.”

“That doesn’t matter,” Santana says immediately. “Didn’t matter who we were fucking or dating or what. It was always the two of us.”

“And it’s always going to be, right?” Quinn asks. Santana nods. “That’s how it is for me. It doesn’t matter how long we were together. Me and–“ She cuts herself off before Rachel’s name slips out. “What I feel, it’s permanent, even if the relationship wasn’t.” Santana searches her face, much more thoughtful than Quinn is used to seeing her.

“I know what you mean,” Santana agrees. “It’s like…they’re always going to be there, in the back of your mind, no matter how many times you try to move on. Nothing is ever going measure up.” Quinn stares down at her palms, gaze blank, seeing Rachel’s hands in her mind. Quinn had memorized them; every line across her palms is burned into Quinn’s retinas.

“Yeah,” Quinn murmurs. “Nothing is ever going to measure up.”

 

XxX

 

“Tad starts kindergarten next year,” Frannie tells Russell excitedly. “We’ve already picked out a school. He’s going to private school, of course. We don’t trust public school to give him the same foundation—oh, sorry, Quinn. No offense.”

“None taken,” Quinn mumbles, glaring at her plate angrily. All of Christmas Eve dinner has gone this way, the conversation filled with thinly veiled insults.

“You should start thinking about starting a family, Quinn,” Russell comments. “It’s past time.”

“I’m twenty-eight,” Quinn says irritably. “I have plenty of time.”

“All the same,” Russell says, a warning tone in his voice. “You should be looking for a husband. A family is important, Quinn. You should find someone to start one with.” Everything about the comment angers Quinn, from the condescending tone and misogynist undertones to the word husband. Quinn has never been the most rational person when she’s angry, and her next words prove that yet again.

“I’ve only ever thought about having a family with one person,” she snaps. “And that person is Rachel Berry.” The statement isn’t meant with the dramatic silence she was expecting; instead, it’s punctuated with a loud thump, followed by the rattling of plates.

Russell’s fist rests heavily where it has come down hard on the table next to his plate.

“You are a guest in my house,” he intones, veins showing in his neck. “You will not continue to bring your sin into my home.” Quinn stares at him, at the angry tightness to his frown, at the way his fingernails dig into his palm, at the way he looks at her like she’s some sort of demon, and she doesn’t see what she used to. She doesn’t see a monster, or a nightmare, or even a larger-than-life walking horror. She just sees a man.

An angry, homophobic, misogynistic, old man that she is very, very sick of listening to.

Without a word, she sets her knife and fork down and stands from her chair.

“Where are you going?” Russell demands. Quinn looks back at the table, already shrugging her coat on and halfway to the door.

“I can tell where I’m not welcome,” she snaps. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep my sin away from you from now on.”

“Quinn!” Judy calls after her daughter, but Quinn slams the door behind her. She’s down the porch in seconds, keeping her pace to a quick walk, but undeniably fleeing nonetheless.

She pulls out her phone as she’s walking, scrolling through a few names and stopping over Rachel Berry. Her thumb hovers over the name…and stops.

After what had happened a few hours earlier, Quinn isn’t sure she can call Rachel. It’s a bizarre feeling; for nearly eight months now, she’s called Rachel every day, if not several times a day. Even when Rachel was busy, Quinn could expect a call back within a few hours. And now, would she even pick up? Maybe she’s already blocked Quinn’s number.

Quinn stops in the middle of the street, holding her phone tightly against her chest with both hands and staring at nothing with wide, terrified eyes. She doesn’t know who she can call if she can’t call Rachel. Her mind jumps to Santana or Brittany, but her two best friends are in California, not Lima, and she needs more than a few rough but well-meaning words from Santana, or a nonsensical but oddly philosophical statement from Brittany in an attempt to be comforting. Really, she needs Rachel.

But if she even had Rachel at all in the first place, she certainly doesn’t have her anymore.

Quinn puts her phone back in the pocket of her jacket and continues the long walk back to her hotel, welcoming the cold as a distraction from the way her eyes are watering and her throat feels a little too tight.

 

XxX

 

Rachel gets in late.

It wakes Kurt up. She’s loud, slamming the door hard enough for the sound to echo throughout the apartment. He blinks wearily, slowly sitting up and pushing a hand through his sleep-mussed hair. He slides the curtains that divide his room from the rest of the apartment aside. Rachel looks up from where she’s lying on the couch, one arm thrown over her eyes.

“What time is it?” Kurt asks with a yawn, squinting against the light.

“Four-thirty,” Rachel mumbles, returning her arm to its position over her eyes. Kurt groans.

“Where were you?” he demands. Rachel gives a half-shrug.

“Sorry for waking you up,” she says. “Go back to bed.”

“No,” he snaps, marching over to the couch. He picks her legs up, sits down, and sets them back down across his lap. “Rachel, what happened? We have class tomorrow.”

“I’ll skip,” she dismisses. Kurt’s jaw drops.

You’ll skip a class at NYADA,” he echoes. “Who are you and where is the real Rachel Berry?” Rachel laughs weakly at that. She lowers the arm from over her eyes and stares up at the ceiling high above them.

“You know the TA in my dance class?” she asks suddenly.

“The hot, sexually ambiguous one,” Kurt recalls immediately. “Brody or Blake or something equally as jock-ish.” Rachel nods.

“Brody,” she corrects. “I sort of…slept with him.”

Rachel,” Kurt gasps. “Why–I don’t–are you okay?” Rachel rubs at her eyes. They’re dry, and the gesture seems to be one of pure exhaustion.

“I don’t know,” she muses. “I don’t…I don’t really feel much of anything.” Kurt starts rubbing Rachel’s feet absently, directing a worried gaze at her.

“He’s the first person since…” he trails off, not wanting to upset her.

“Since Quinn,” Rachel completes, nodding. “Yes.”

“It didn’t help, did it,” he says softly, not really asking. Rachel shakes her head. “It’s only been two weeks, Rachel,” he murmurs. “It’ll take time.”

“I’m scared,” she admits, her voice small and choked with burgeoning tears. “What if it’s always her? What if I never stop comparing everyone I meet to her? What if this ghost or–or shadow or whatever you want to call it, the traces of what we had, what if they never go away?” Kurt doesn’t respond, instead simply opening his arms and turning his torso towards her. Rachel slides her feet off his lap and sits up, leaning over into his side.

“It’ll get better,” he murmurs, as Rachel’s tears sink into his shirt yet again. “It will.” Rachel trembles in his arms.

“I don’t think I want it to,” she says. The sound is muffled by her tears and his shirt, but the way she speaks as if her words are cutting her throat is clear.

 

XxX

 

By the end of February, Quinn is nearly ready to take a train to New York to force Rachel to talk to her. She’s left message after message on Rachel’s phone, she’s texted her begging for a response, she even called Kurt. Nothing. Radio silence, and it is slowly driving Quinn thoroughly insane.

“Don’t you think it’s time to stop trying?” Santana asks when she catches Quinn texting Rachel desperately while they’re meant to be getting coffee together. Quinn stares at her.

“What do you mean?” she says incredulously. “Just give up? On Rachel?” Santana doesn’t respond for a moment, eyes piercing into Quinn’s.

“Yeah,” she says eventually. “Give up on Rachel.” Quinn laughs. The idea isn’t funny; it’s utterly absurd.

“I could never do that,” she says, shaking her head. Santana frowns at her, the expression more concerned than anything.

“Quinn, when was the last time you went on a date?” Quinn knits her brows quizzically.

“What does that have to do with anything?” she questions. Santana sighs.

“I just think it’s time you got over her and moved on with your life,” she says, spreading her arms defensively and tipping her chair back. “It’s been two months, Q. It’s time to let her go.” Quinn shakes her head emphatically.

“It’s Rachel,” she insists. “That’s never been an option with her.” Santana looks exasperated, rolling her eyes as she sips her coffee.

“How do you know she isn’t moving on from you right now?” she asks, changing tact.

“Because I know her,” Quinn says simply. “No matter what, she doesn’t let go of things she wants.”

 

XxX

 

“Yes,” Rachel says into the phone, leaning against the kitchen counter. Blaine looks up from where he’s watching the timer on the coffee maker tiredly. “No, that’s okay.” The timer beeps. “I understand.” Blaine pours himself a coffee and turns around, sipping it while watching the disappointed look manifest on Rachel’s face. “Thank you for calling. Have a nice day.” She hangs up with a sigh, and Blaine offers her a sympathetic smile.

“Didn’t get this one, either?” he asks gently. Rachel shakes her head.

“I haven’t had a single callback in four months,” she complains. “Not since…” she trails off, absently twisting her phone in her hands.

“Since Quinn,” Blaine completes. Rachel nods. “Kurt, um, kind of told me the whole story.” Rachel’s eyes lift wrathfully at that. “Before Christmas!” Blaine continues hastily, stopping Rachel’s irritation in its tracks. “We both thought you two were getting back together, so he figured it wouldn’t hurt.”

“I thought we were, too,” Rachel mumbles in response to the first part of Blaine’s statement. “But I just…” Blaine sets his coffee on the counter, giving Rachel his full attention. “She’s so far away,” Rachel says, more to herself than to Blaine. “And I still don’t really know why it ended the first time. Everything was fine and then we moved away from each other and it just…imploded. She dumped me and didn’t even give me a real reason.”

“And you’re afraid of that happening again,” Blaine completes. “You’re afraid that if you let her in, she’ll hurt you again.”

“She already hurt me again,” Rachel corrects. “I’m just afraid that she won’t let me in.” Rachel’s phone buzzes in her hands, and Blaine catches a glimpse of the name on the screen before Rachel locks it.

“Seems to me like she’s trying to,” he comments. Rachel slides her phone into her pocket. “She’s still calling you four months later, Rachel. That means something.”

“Maybe she’s just really, really determined to get the chance to break my heart in person,” Rachel suggests. Blaine doesn’t even dignify that with a response beyond two expressively raised eyebrows. Rachel looks away. “If I answer her, I’ll take her back in a heartbeat. I can’t take that risk.”

“You know, Kurt and I were talking about breaking up when I moved here,” Blaine tells her suddenly. Rachel’s gaze snaps back to her face.

“He never told me that,” she says softly. “I…I knew he was jealous that Sebastian was at Dalton with you while he was here, but I didn’t know it was that serious.” Blaine nods.

“We were still technically together,” he explains. “But I was talking about staying in Lima, or maybe moving west to California instead of east, and it was tough on both of us.”

“What changed your mind?” Rachel asks. Blaine shrugs.

“I realized that there was no reason for me to be anywhere except here,” he says simply. “Kurt’s the love of my life, and no matter where I was or how happy I was, I would never be as happy as I could be if he was beside me.”

“It’s different for you two,” Rachel insists. “You’ve been together forever. Quinn and I have been apart for ten years. Even if she’s different now, when things got tough back then, her first instinct was to dump me. What will stop her from doing that again?” Blaine picks up his coffee and fills a second mug for Kurt, giving her a sympathetic half-smile.

“Some risks are worth taking,” he tells her, and leaves the kitchen.

 

XxX

 

The school year ends nearly six months after Quinn sleeps with Rachel in a tiny Lima hotel room, and the memories are still chasing their own tails around her mind. They come up out of nowhere; Quinn is watching a movie or reading a book or driving home from work, and suddenly her brain decides to remind her of the way Rachel’s skin felt beneath her fingertips, or the way Rachel had looked at her through her alcoholic haze, like Quinn was everything she had been waiting for.

Sometimes her mind chooses the way Rachel had looked standing by the door, helpless, nervous, terrified, and plays it on repeat for hours. Those days are the hardest; it was a mistake contrasting against I always want you until Quinn is ready to pull her hair out to give herself something else to think about, something that doesn’t involve analyzing every single word that had been spoken in those few, sober, horrible moments on the morning of Christmas Eve.

Quinn begins to listen when Santana tells her she’s crazy for still calling Rachel every few days (“it’s been six fucking months, Q. Let it go.”). Not that she stops. She still calls Rachel when the need to hear her voice gets too strong; even if it’s just a voicemail (“You’ve reached Rachel Berry. If this is a casting director, call my agent. If this is Kurt, just leave a message on the whiteboard on the fridge. We’ve talked about this. Phone plans aren’t free, as you well know. If this is anyone else, leave a message after the tone!”), Quinn becomes reliant on those twenty seconds of Rachel’s voice. Maybe it’s crazy. It’s certifiably crazy, according to Santana. Quinn can’t help it, though. Rachel has always been her lifeline.

“You still miss her,” Brittany says over brunch the Sunday after the last week of school. Santana is supposedly working, although both Quinn and Brittany are pretending not to know that she’s looking for a good adoption agency before broaching the topic of kids with Brittany (they’ve talked about it before, Quinn knows, but only as a hypothetical, someday sort of thing. Quinn can’t quite wrap her mind around her two best friends becoming mothers, but the day seems to be approaching).

“Of course I do,” Quinn agrees, although Brittany hadn’t phrased it as a question. Brittany nods, content to eat her chocolate chip waffles quietly. “I always will.”

“So stop,” Brittany states. Quinn blinks at her.

“What do you mean?” she asks, when it becomes clear that Brittany has no intention of clarifying her statement. Brittany sighs with an air of great exasperation and sets down her fork.

“Why aren’t you dating her right now?” she asks. Quinn frowns.

“Because she lives a hundred miles away,” she points out. Brittany nods, picking up her fork again.

“So stop,” she repeats, and takes another bite of her waffle. Quinn shakes her head.

“Stop what?” she asks. Normally she’s patient when Brittany talks in circles, but not when it comes to Rachel.

“Stop living so far away,” Brittany says, as if it’s obvious.

“What, just move to New York?” she questions. Brittany shrugs.

“Why not?” she asks.

“Because–“ Quinn stops mid-sentence, racking her brain for a way to finish the phrase. “Because…” she trails off. She can think of a thousand reasons to stay in Hartford, but she can’t think of a single one that holds a candle to being with Rachel.

Brittany pours more syrup over her waffles with a self-satisfied smile, as if this was the conclusion she was trying to get Quinn to reach all along.

 

XxX

 

Kurt and Blaine go on vacation at the end of May, planning to stay in Hawaii for nearly three weeks. This means that, a few days into June, when Rachel hears a knock on the door in the middle of the morning, she is understandably confused. She walks to the door, pushing a few stray strands of hair behind her ears in an attempt to make herself marginally more presentable for whoever happens to be on the other side of the door.

Her appearance slips her mind entirely when she opens the door and sees the familiar face on the other side.

Quinn?” she gasps. Rachel blinks rapidly, as if woman in front of her is some sort of hallucination. Vaguely, she wonders if she’s dreaming.

She isn’t. Quinn is standing in front of her with a hesitant smile, nervously shifting her weight from foot to foot, gazing at her with the most honest expression Rachel has ever seen. Anxiety, hope, yearning, and what Rachel doesn’t dare label love are written all over her face.

“Hi,” Quinn says. Rachel shakes her head slowly.

“What are you doing here?” she asks. Quinn’s hesitant smile fades, and she licks her lips anxiously before speaking.

“I don’t want to be anywhere else,” she says, not really answering. Rachel’s heart, pounding in her chest, spasms with so much emotion that it’s almost painful. “I want to be with you.”

“Quinn, what are you talking about?” she asks, not daring to believe what she’s hearing.

“I love you,” Quinn blurts. “So much, and I–“ She shakes her head, stumbling over her words, speaking so quickly she doesn’t have time to breathe. “I was happy, all those years without you. But not as happy as I could’ve been. Not as happy as I have been with you. So–“ She takes a moment to inhale. “So I’m here. Because I want to be with you.” There’s a brief few seconds of silence that seem to stretch into an eternity. Quinn’s eyes flick over Rachel’s face, searching for some kind of answer. “Please–“ she begins, intending to beg Rachel to respond.

She doesn’t get the chance to finish her sentence. Rachel grabs the front of Quinn’s shirt and pulls her through the doorway, pressing their lips together and doing her best to kiss her fiercely enough to make up for the last six months.

“I love you,” Rachel manages to say between kisses. Quinn kicks the door shut, her hands already sliding up the back of Rachel’s t-shirt. “Please stay.”

Quinn doesn’t answer, but Rachel understands.

Chapter Text

“So,” Rachel murmurs, tracing aimless circles with her fingertips across Quinn’s bare stomach. Quinn kisses the top of her head in response, pulling the blankets on Rachel’s bed farther over them and pulling Rachel closer with the arm that’s around her shoulders.

“So,” Quinn echoes once they’re pressed together and wrapped in blankets.

“You’re here,” Rachel says. Quinn smiles, turning her face into the side of Rachel’s head.

“I’m here,” she agrees.

“How long this time?” Rachel asks, dread in her voice. Quinn pulls back, frowning at Rachel.

“I didn’t make it obvious?” she says. Rachel mirrors her frown.

“Make what obvious?” she asks. Quinn flushes slightly.

“I…this is going to sound completely crazy,” she warns. Rachel waits expectantly. “I, um, I sort of leased an apartment?” Rachel sits up, staring down at Quinn in shock.

“You what?” she demands. Quinn smiles uncertainly.

“Surprise?” she says. Rachel shakes her head slowly, gazing at Quinn with a combination of love and awe. Then she begins to laugh.

“You,” she says once her humor has faded. “Are utterly insane.” Quinn laughs, relieved. “What would you have done if I had moved on?” Quinn’s smile disappears in an instant.

“Did you?” she asks. Rachel’s teasing expression fades. She leans down on one forearm, kissing Quinn long and slow.

“Of course not,” she murmurs, breaking the kiss and resting their foreheads together. “Do you really think I could?” Quinn smiles, sliding one arm around Rachel’s waist and pulling her down on top of her.

“Full disclosure,” Rachel says a few minutes later, when kissing has subsided into cuddling once more. “I did go on a few dates since Christmas, trying to get over you.”

“Didn’t work?” Quinn asks. Rachel raises her eyebrows at her.

“Judging from our current position? Anyone could tell that I’m one hundred percent over you,” she quips. Quinn just smiles. “In all seriousness, though,” Rachel continues. “It was rather hard to get over you when I was reading your texts every single day.”

“You read them?” Quinn asks, touched.

“All of them,” Rachel confesses. “I deleted the voicemails, though. I was scared that if I heard your voice, I would…”

“Do something crazy?” Quinn fills in. Rachel smiles. “Something like quitting your job and moving a hundred miles, crazy?” Rachel kisses her cheek.

“Exactly,” she murmurs.

“Well, personally…” Quinn says. “I think it was about time I did something crazy.” She flips them smoothly and quickly, settling on top of Rachel.

“Agreed,” Rachel says, and then no one says much of anything.

 

XxX

 

“Did you see Quinn Fabray?” Kurt demands, popping out of nowhere and leaning against the locker beside Rachel’s.

“She’s a bit hard to miss,” Rachel comments, slamming her locker. “At least she isn’t slushie-ing anyone.”

“I haven’t been slushied in two years,” Kurt comments offhandedly. “The advantages of private school.” He sighs wistfully. “A private school with so many beautiful, beautiful boys…” Rachel rolls her eyes.

Anyway,” she says, trying to move the conversation away from Kurt’s time at Dalton. “The pink hair is–“ Something over Kurt’s shoulder catches her eye, and she chokes off her words mid-sentence. “Right there,” she hisses. Kurt frowns. Rachel gestures emphatically over his shoulder. Kurt glances down the hall behind him. Immediately, his eyes widen, and he shrinks back against the lockers.

Quinn Fabray is sauntering down the hallway. Several teachers watch her pass, but not one says anything about the lit cigarette in her hand. Rachel can hardly blame them; Quinn is intimidating on a good day, and judging from the vicious sneer on her face, today is not a good day. Messy, pink hair partially obscures her eyes, and for once, she doesn’t spare a glance or an insult for Rachel as she sweeps past.

Someone decided to change their look for senior year,” Kurt mutters. Rachel watches Quinn walk down the hallway, a thoughtful frown on her face. “At least she doesn’t seem to want to murder you anymore,” he continues. “That’s certainly an improvement.”

“Maybe,” Rachel mutters. Kurt stares at her incredulously.

“Maybe?” he echoes. “What, you want to be viciously bullied now?” Rachel finally turns back to Kurt.

“Doesn’t that seem strange to you?” she asks, gesturing down the hall where Quinn has disappeared.

“No, Quinn Fabray regularly shows up to school with a tattoo, a cigarette, and a new hair color,” he deadpans. “Yes, of course it’s strange! But she’s leaving us alone, so it’s not our problem!”

“Not the look change,” Rachel corrects impatiently. “I mean…” she shakes her head. “Nothing touches her,” she attempts to explain. “Everything just bounces off of Quinn. She’s practically invincible. But whatever caused her to do all that didn’t.” She glances down the hallway again. “I want to know why,” she announces, a determined set to her jaw. Kurt groans heavily and smacks the back of his head against the lockers.

“Couldn’t Dad have paid for one more semester at Dalton?”

 

XxX

 

“What do you think?” Quinn asks as Rachel turns in a slow circle in the center of the room.

“It could benefit from the addition of furniture,” Rachel quips, stopping her rotation once she’s facing Quinn.

“Hilarious,” Quinn deadpans. “Be serious for a moment?” Rachel walks over. She reaches out and takes one of Quinn’s hands, lacing their fingers together.

“I love it,” she says honestly. “I don’t know how you managed to find a decent apartment in a nice neighborhood of New York so quickly, but I’m glad you did.” She turns, keeping their hands linked and moving to stand beside Quinn instead of across from her. “I love it,” she repeats, gazing out at the (for the most part) barren space.

All of a sudden, it hits her that all of the last eight hours has been real. Quinn has actually moved to New York. Rachel is actually standing in the living room of Quinn’s new apartment, holding her hand. They are actually back together.

“Rach?” She shakes herself out of her reverie and is instantly aware of the ridiculous smile on her face. “Where’d you go?” Quinn asks curiously. Rachel lifts their joined hands and presses a kiss to the back of Quinn’s.

“Right here,” she murmurs.

 

XxX

 

“Quinn?” Rachel says hesitantly as she steps under the bleachers. The two girls leaning against the support beams five or six feet away from the pink-haired girl Rachel is there to see both eye her with mocking grins. Rachel frowns and shifts uncomfortably. Slowly, Quinn turns to face Rachel, pausing to drop her cigarette and step on it to put it out. Rachel has to bite her tongue to stop herself from admonishing Quinn for littering.

Berry?” Quinn demands when she finally looks at Rachel. “The hell are you doing here?”

“Your friend stinks of soap, Quinn,” one of the other girls jibes. Rachel furrows her brow, genuinely curious as to how that statement could be construed as an insult.

“She’s not my friend,” Quinn snaps at her before turning back to Rachel. “What do you want?”

“For you to drop this bizarre act of rebellion,” Rachel states, deciding to skip beating around the bush altogether. Quinn snorts.

“Okay, Mom,” she mocks. “Fuck off, Berry.” Rachel very nearly turns around and walks away right then. But then she sees the way Quinn’s shoulders are slumped forward, her arms crossed over her chest more protectively than intimidatingly, and she decides that a few harsh words had never stopped her before, and they certainly won’t now.

“I don’t know what happened or why you’re doing this,” she begins.

“No, you fucking don’t,” Quinn snaps. “You don’t know anything about me, so turn around and walk away.”

“But I know that you don’t look happy,” Rachel continues over her. “So whatever you’re trying to fix with all this–“ she gestures up and down, indicating Quinn’s clothes and hair and the fresh cigarette she’s preparing to light. “–clearly it isn’t going away.” Quinn stops, her lighter hovering, unlit, beneath the end of her cigarette.

“What makes you think I’m trying to fix anything?” she argues. “You’re the one always spouting all that bullshit about everyone being themselves.”

“You listen to me?” Rachel asks. Quinn rolls her eyes.

“You’re fucking loud,” she snaps. “And this?” She gestures down at her appearance. “This is me being me.”

“Why are you even talking to her?” one of the girls listening says with an eye roll. “We’re out of here. Come find us when your loser friend takes off.” She saunters away, the other girl following. Quinn watches them go impassively.

“This isn’t you being yourself,” Rachel says, ignoring their departure. “This is you punishing yourself.”

“Will you just leave me alone?” Quinn growls, but it sounds more distressed than angry.

“I just want you to stop hurting yourself,” Rachel says defensively. Quinn turns away, huffing angrily.

“Why are you being so nice to me?” she demands without looking at her. “If I go back to how I was, I’ll go back to bulling you. You’ll just end up getting slushied every day again. This…you trying to help me, it won’t change anything between us.”

“No, it won’t,” Rachel agrees. “I’m just hoping it will change things for you.” Quinn doesn’t answer, doesn’t look at her. Rachel sighs heavily and turns away, walking out from under the bleachers and back towards the school.

She doesn’t see Quinn turning to watch her walk away.

 

XxX

 

“Can I ask something totally crazy?” Quinn asks on the fifteenth day after her arrival at Rachel’s front door, six days before Kurt and Blaine are supposed to return from Hawaii. Rachel glances over her shoulder from where she’s making coffee at the kitchen counter of Quinn’s apartment.

“Well, you didn’t ask before the last crazy thing,” she quips. “So I would consider asking this time an improvement.” Quinn steps forward, placing a kiss on Rachel’s shoulder beside the strap of her camisole and wrapping her arms around her waist. Rachel leans back against her, sighing contentedly.

“You’ve spent every single night for the past two weeks at my apartment,” Quinn states, resting her chin on Rachel’s shoulder and watching the coffee pot begin to fill. Rachel makes a wordless sound of agreement, turning her head and kissing Quinn’s cheek. “Half my closet is your stuff.” Rachel frowns.

“Do you want me to leave?” she asks, drawing away from Quinn and turning around to face her, worry growing in her eyes. “I thought you wanted me around.”

“Would you let me finish before you freak out?” Quinn asks, amused. Rachel frowns at her. Quinn sighs, reaching out and taking her hands. “I was going to ask if you wanted to move in,” she says softly. There’s a moment of absolute silence. Quinn counts Rachel blinking four times before the words sink in.

“You weren’t kidding about the ‘totally crazy’ part,” she murmurs, staring at Quinn. “That’s a little fast, isn’t it?”

“I’ve been waiting ten years,” Quinn responds. “I think that counts as taking it slow.” Rachel doesn’t look any less freaked out. “Just…think about it, would you?”

“Yeah,” Rachel agrees, slowly and thoughtfully. “Yes, I’ll think about it.” Quinn smiles and kisses her forehead quickly.

“Good,” she says. “Now move, I hate mornings and I want coffee.”

 

XxX

 

Rachel has just closed her locker and is turning to walk down the hall when the slushie hits her in the face.

She doesn’t even see who throws it, just a letterman jacket and a wave of purple ice. She slowly opens her eyes as the sludge drips down her face and onto her sweater and lets out a long sigh, already taking out her phone to text Kurt to meet her in the bathroom.

“I thought the age of frozen beverage terrorism was over,” Kurt comments. Rachel glances up from where she’s scrubbing furiously at her sweater.

“Grape,” she bemoans. “I’ll never get the stains out.” Kurt steps forward, giving the sweater an appraising glance over her shoulder.

“No, you won’t,” he agrees. She huffs and turns off the water, setting the sweater over the edge of the next sink over. Kurt pulls up the chair they keep in the corner of the bathroom. “Sit,” he orders. Rachel does so, leaning back so her head is under the faucet. Kurt sets to work, washing the half-melted slushie out of her hair. “I thought Quinn had stopped sending jocks after you,” he comments. “I didn’t realize she had any jocks left to send. I was under the impression she lost all of her power after dying her hair pink and dumping Finn.”

“About that,” Rachel begins. “I…said some things.” Kurt’s hands pause.

“Rachel…” he says warningly. “What did you do?”

“I’m not entirely sure yet,” she says. “I–“

The bathroom door slams open, and the subject of their conversation comes marching in with a determined strut. Her cheerleading skirt swishes around her legs in time with her blonde high ponytail.

“Hummel,” Quinn snaps, stopping a few paces in and glaring at the two occupants of the bathroom. “This is a girls’ bathroom.” Kurt sneers at her.

“Believe me, I wouldn’t be in here if you hadn’t had your thug attack my friend,” he retorts, gesturing at Rachel, whose head is still in the sink. Quinn frowns slightly.

“Berry was slushied?” she asks. “By who?” Kurt shrugs.

“You sent him, didn’t you?” he demands. Quinn frowns deeper.

“Sorry about your sweater,” she directs at Rachel, and walks out of the bathroom. Kurt turns to stare at Rachel, but she looks just as confused as he feels.

“That wasn’t a hallucination, right?” he asks. “You saw Quinn Fabray be nice to us?” Rachel lifts her head out of the sink, staring at the door.

“I saw it,” she agrees. “To be honest, that was far more intimidating than the slushies and demeaning nicknames have ever been.”

“What did you say to her?” he asks, pushing her back into the sink and turning the water back on. She frowns, brow furrowing in thought.

“Nothing I thought would have that big of an impact.”

 

XxX

 

“I thought about it,” Rachel says, three days before Kurt and Blaine’s flight home is scheduled to land. Quinn looks up at her, pausing her rapid chopping of vegetables.

“Thought about what?” she asks with a frown.

“Moving in with you,” Rachel says. Quinn sets her knife down, devoting all of her attention to Rachel.

“And?” she asks. Rachel leans against the counter beside her, arms crossed, gaze warm and honest.

“It’s probably a bad idea,” she says. “And Kurt will definitely yell at me when he gets back. But, Quinn…” She steps forward, taking Quinn’s hands in hers. “I want this. I want you.”

“So that’s a yes?” Quinn asks hesitantly. Rachel smiles, reaching out and taking Quinn’s face in her hands.

“That’s a yes,” she confirms, and kisses her.

 

XxX

 

Azimio Adams is expelled the third week of senior year. Apparently, he had been viciously bullying students for years, and his history is only now coming to light.

“That’s such bullshit,” Kurt complains to Rachel at lunch one day when he hears about it. “Anyone could’ve told them that.”

“Everyone did,” Rachel says. “I complained about him at least three times a week for the entire first semester of freshman year.”

“It took you that long to give up?” Kurt questions. “I stopped bothering two weeks in.”

“They never listened to us,” she continues, not acknowledging that he’s spoken. “The administration has never listened to anyone except Coach Sylvester, the Cheerios, and the football team by association. Why would they start caring now?” Kurt shrugs.

“Maybe Figgins finally got sued?” he suggests. Rachel shakes her head.

“Neither of us have gotten slushied in over a week,” she states. Kurt frowns.

“Where are you going with this?” he questions.

“I think Quinn talked to the administration about Azimio,” she announces, ignoring Kurt’s incredulous snort. “I think she’s the one who called off the slushies. Think about it, Kurt.” He rolls his eyes at her. “I’m serious. Who else would be able to stop the entire football team from going after us? Who else has that much power?”

“Santana?” he suggests. He accepts the flat look Rachel gives him with a wince. “Okay, true, she did empty an entire bottle of Axe into my locker and tell me it might help me man up yesterday. Brittany, maybe?” Rachel shakes her head.

“It was Quinn,” she insists. “It has to be.”

“Why does this mean so much to you, anyway?” Kurt asks. “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and all that. I don’t care why things have changed, I just care about the fact that I don’t have to bring a change of clothes to school every day anymore.”

“I believe there is quite a bit more to Quinn Fabray than she shows the world,” Rachel says enigmatically. “That’s all.”

 

XxX

 

“Rachel?” Kurt calls into the apartment as he turns the light on. He immediately notices the absence of the framed photograph that’s normally on the wall by the door, the one of Rachel standing on stage, accepting her Tony award (she may have grown up, but she’s still Rachel Berry, and Kurt had decided it was better to indulge her desire to passively brag about her achievements to all of their guests than to argue with her).

“In here!” her familiar voice calls from the living room. Kurt walks into the living room, Blaine trailing behind him, and is greeted by the sight of Quinn Fabray on the couch, with an arm around his best friend’s shoulders.

“Quinn,” he says flatly, stopping in the doorway. She tries for a charming smile, but his utter lack of a reaction hinders the effort considerably. “Another summer visit?” The words sound more acidic than he intended them, but he relishes her uncomfortable wince.

“Not exactly,” she mumbles. Rachel glares at him, crossing her arms.

“Quinn has moved here,” she informs him. Kurt blinks.

“What?”

“We’re back together,” Rachel continues, and Quinn visibly winces at her complete lack of tact.

“You’re what?”

“Back together,” Rachel repeats. Kurt rubs at his eyes, jet-lagged and half-wondering if he’s hallucinating.

“Okay,” he mumbles. “Okay. I’ll yell at you in the morning.” Rachel frowns.

“It’s eight o’ clock,” she points out.

In the morning.” Quinn takes the hint and stands up, taking Rachel’s hand and walking them towards the door. “Wait,” Kurt says suddenly, waving his arms. Rachel stops and looks back at him. “Where are you going?” he asks, pointing at Rachel. Rachel and Quinn look at each other meaningfully. “What?” he demands.

“I moved out,” Rachel says.

“Oh thank God,” Kurt exclaims.

“What–“

“Rachel, we’re twenty-eight,” he says. “Blaine and I are married. I love you, but it is so past time you found your own place.”

“You could’ve said something!” Rachel exclaims. “I thought you liked having me here!”

“I did!” Kurt says. “And then you never left!” Quinn grabs Rachel’s arm and begins gently tugging her towards the door.

“But you—“

Rachel, dear,” Quinn interrupts. “Maybe we should save the argument for the morning?”

“But I—“

“The morning, Rach,” Quinn repeats. With a defeated pout and a final we’ll-settle-this-later glance at Kurt, Rachel allows herself to be pulled from the room.

“That was…” Blaine shakes his head, just as jet-lagged and confused as Kurt. Seeing the utterly exhausted look on his husband’s face, Blaine wraps an arm around his waist and leads them both towards their bedroom. “Deal with it in the morning?” he suggests. Kurt nods slowly.

“She’s going to make me go grey,” he grumbles. Blaine laughs and kisses his cheek.

“No more talking or worrying or thinking about Rachel until we’ve both slept for sixteen hours,” he announces.

That, I can get behind,” Kurt mumbles, already half-asleep.

 

XxX

 

Rachel is washing her hands when the door opens. She doesn’t bother looking up. She used to practically flee, chased out by the scathing words of some Cheerio or another. Now, though, she hasn’t been harassed or slushied in nearly two months, so it takes the movement of a red-and-white skirt in the mirror catching her eye for her to turn around.

“Quinn?” she asks. Quinn freezes, glancing over her shoulder as if she hadn’t noticed Rachel.

“Berry,” she responds neutrally.

“Thank you,” Rachel says without preamble. Quinn frowns, turning halfway to face her.

“For what?” she asks. Rachel smiles.

“Whatever you did to stop your Cheerio underlings from harassing me,” she says. Quinn turns all the way around, crossing her arms over her chest.

“What makes you think I did anything?” she asks. Rachel looks down, smiling wider.

“Thank you,” she repeats, and leaves the room.

Quinn steps into the stall and leans against the closed door behind her. She breathes out, long and slow, and wonders why her heart is suddenly racing in her chest.