Quinn kisses Rachel on July 12th at approximately 7:24pm. The sun makes its descent with golden hues shining on a concrete wall, and the yellow flecks in her eyes are brighter than Rachel has ever seen them. She’s always been pretty, even in New York City everyone’s gaze lingered a little longer on her blue patterned sundress, but her glow in this afternoon light is blinding, and Rachel considers staring directly into the sun.
It might hurt less.
Because Quinn looks beautiful right now, but she’s burning. Her lips are a mix of bruised purple and a rushing red and her white skin is dusted with the orange of the sun sending shadows on her deep, dark cheekbones. But it’s still in her eyes, where the yellow bursts are erupting and catching that Rachel can see this isn’t the warmth of a safe haven she’s witnessing. It’s Hell.
“Quinn, wait.” Rachel stops her with a gentle push as she’s backed against the wall. Quinn stops, but her eyes still hold that heat that threatens to light Rachel on fire.
She’s silent, but there’s crackling in her brow as they meet in confusion.
“I just, I can’t--” Rachel swallows because she needs water, and looking at Quinn reminds her of the Summer they’ve been spending together, The nights she’s spent trying to figure out how to make white fire cool to red, but Quinn’s still burning either way so maybe she needs a fire extinguisher.
Maybe she is the fire extinguisher.
“I can’t do this. Not like this, Quinn. I want--you need...” Rachel’s rarely speechless, but this time it’s hurting her to say the words she knows, and Quinn can feel a freezing sensation chill down her spine.
“Quinn, wait! I want to help you, I want to be there for you when you learn how to live with this, and know you’re exactly where you were always meant to be.” Rachel hurries to stop her in her path, but blazes rip through anything in their way, and Rachel no longer seems to be an exception.
“Quinn, I need you to believe me! I want to be here for you until you’re doing so well that everything we both have felt in this past month can come to fruition. So that we can really be together and happy,” Quinn slows down, but continues to walk toward her house away from Rachel. “But I refuse to let you pretend like everything is okay.”
Once more, Rachel blocks her walk, and this time Quinn doesn’t try to move past her. She just stands there, staring straight through the other girl clinging so desperately to this idea of her. One where she might feel whole, or less fractured, or whatever sense of self those not feeling like her inhabit daily. And Quinn can’t help but think that, although Rachel is trying with everything in her to be what Quinn needs, this isn’t what she wants.
Because Quinn doesn’t feel like she’s burning.
She’s drowning, but Rachel just added another 10 thousand gallons.
Quinn shakes her head.
Rachel doesn’t see her until the first day of senior year.
Rachel sees Quinn exit a black and beaten civic and wonders if fire can be naturally pink, because that white, hot anger is blazing all the same, but that perfect blonde hair is chopped and dyed. Rachel wonders what else has died along with it.
She tries to stop Quinn in the parking lot, to get a response, to get anything after the months they’ve spent apart. Instead she’s met with a heavy hand shoving her into the nearest pole.
“Move, bitch.” a skank snarls, as Quinn leads another away, she looks every bit the ruthless leader she’s always been, not sparing Rachel a single glance.
She’s the same, but different.
When Rachel meets with Quinn a week into school she’s not angry, she’s just indifferent, smoking a cigarette and staring into Rachel’s brown eyes with a lacking. She makes the appropriate responses for someone who can’t be bothered, and grants her royal smirks when amused. Rachel flashes back to freshman year when Quinn really didn’t care, but each smoke cloud blown in her direction reminds her this Quinn is different. She’s changed.
“Is this really what you want, Quinn?” Rachel asks when she gets desperate. Those green, green eyes just keep falling closed and the gaunt of her cheekbones look so crisp that Rachel fears she will crumple at any moment. The fire’s going out and it’s leaving nothing but dead foliage behind. “Are you happy now?”
Quinn stares on through and takes another drag, “Rachel, this is pointless. This was inevitable, ever since I got knocked up and my life fell apart, everyone knew I’d go crumbling along with it. Go back to glee. Go sing a song, we’ll both get over it.” Her voice is more gravelly than usual, and Rachel imagines Quinn stomp, stomp, stomping through her dead memories and considering how they’re meant to be disintegrated into dust.
Quinn sees the same scene. She hears the crunch of her past below her bare feet and winces at the cuts they leave, but can’t manage to feel anything in her quickly emptying chest.
It’s not gone quite yet, but her life is falling behind her, buried by soot, black and piling, as she walks on in her forest of destruction. She can’t seem to understand how her drowning has managed to create black. How her forest has flooded over, but left so much ash.
Quinn considers if somehow, maybe, she might be wrong.
“Wait.” Quinn calls out as Rachel begins to walk away.
But it’s the look in her eyes that keeps Quinn silent. Rachel looks hopeful, like she’s wishing still for the trees to turn upright, and the leaves to reappear, and green to return with flowers already blooming in beautiful shades of red and white.
Quinn knows that just isn’t possible here, “Don’t tell anyone about this summer.”
Rachel shrinks into herself and Quinn almost takes it back, but the leaves are still black and the char mixes in with her cut soles.
Rachel’s feet are silent as they walk away.
Quinn steals Rachel’s warmth every time she passes by. Rachel thinks it can’t just be hers, but everyone else pays no mind, so maybe it’s all in her head. Maybe the heat she feels sucked from her skin that Quinn seems to expel with every foggy breathe she releases is all a delusion because she knows the truth.
Quinn without her fire eternally raging is an icy husk taking and taking other’s flames but keeping none for herself.
Her blonde hair is back, her perfect housewife demeanor is here, but the life that seemed to whip everyone’s eyes toward her steps is nowhere to be found. At least not to Rachel. Rachel has never seen a sundress look so out of place.
“Is something wrong, Quinn?” Rachel asks one night in the cold as they wait for the bus to arrive for a competition. The question is blown into the wind and the cloud from her breathe is swept into Quinn’s pearly, smiling face.
“What could be wrong, Rachel?” Quinn averts the question and moves with the warm air swirling around her, but not through her and it almost makes Rachel want to cry. She lightly grabs her wrist instead.
Quinn’s skin is icy cold with the snow around them blowing it’s relentless, frozen will, and even though Rachel’s is no different she feels chills down her spine all the same, “I just feel like you’re missing something.”
A stoic face is frozen onto her features for a moment and Rachel gets that look imprinted in her mind, “Something missing?”
Rachel almost retreats with the fear she’s said something to close to home, but instead grabs on a little tighter because this is when Quinn can fly away. When she can ignore the warmth of someone willing to give it when she’s felt cold and empty for so long now.
“What do you think is missing, Rachel?” Rachel feel the tendons of Quinn’s wrist tense as she balls her fist and knows she’s cracked through the ice.
She’s scared another inferno is blazing right beneath, “I don’t know. I just know you’re not yourself right now.”
“What do you want from me?” Quinn snatches her arm back as she harshly whispers the question out. The others are near, but not close enough to hear the pain in her voice. “I thought you wanted this? Now it’s not good enough for you? Or is it because we’re through? If you wanted to play house all you had to do was ask.”
She touches Rachel’s wrist soft, and it almost seems stuck to her skin, like it will rip if she tries to pull away. Rachel does anyway.
Quinn’s voice isn’t gravelly anymore, it’s harsh and slices through her like gusts ripping through an alleyway and it cuts her deep and quick, “Don’t you dare.” Rachel warns and the pale green of Quinn’s eyes turn warmer as she breathes in a shaky, regretful breath.
She thinks Quinn needed a taste of Rachel’s own fire. Anything to warm the ice of her tundra of a body.
Rachel avoids Quinn for months after. She stays inside and immerses herself in hot tea and warm friends. She watches her favorite movies and clings on to the fuzzy feelings she gets. She still has goosebumps and holds her breath like it might be stolen when she walks by Quinn.
She watches the clouds outside more often than ever before. It feels a lot like waiting out a snowstorm.
Quinn notices Rachel avoiding her after the first two weeks and gets unbearable to be around, every word from her mouth cuts like sleet and soon she’s alone again. For now, she thinks it’s for the best, it gives her time to think.
With her time, Quinn explores her cold, dead forest of a past. She wanders through the swept grounds, now free from the ash and black and stumbles into sights she never felt she’d see again.
Evergreen memories standing tall and strong through the destruction, through the fire and the snow. They’re a miracle as far as she’s concerned, and she doesn't hesitate to climb them and remember why she wanted friends, why she felt connected to others, and why she ever loved someone.
She meets Rachel at the top of each one.
Not for the first time since the last night they spoke, Quinn feels regret. Remembering Rachel, and the summer, and the numerous times she tried to pull Quinn into some sort of stability warms the ice more and more leaving nothing but soggy ground and dirty soles when Quinn climbs back down.
When the ice is all melted and the sleet ceases, Quinn approaches Rachel.
“I’m sorry.” Quinn says one day on the sidewalk by the parking lot after glee.
Rachel noticed she’d been watching more than usual. Those sharp eyes with flecks of gold meeting her brown ones every time she ventured to glance. She does so now and, as she forgets to hold her breath, it’s taken by the look in Quinn’s eyes.
For the first time in a year they’re filled with life and green.
She averts them, “I hurt you, I’ve hurt a lot of people, and I intend to apologize to them too, but I’ve hurt you when all you were trying to do was help me.” Quinn takes in a shaky breath and it’s fairly warm outside so she lets out no life when she releases it. Rachel almost smiles. “I’m stubborn, I know, and I can’t be convinced into a good place when my mind is set on the fact that I’m not in one. But that never means I have an excuse to hurt the people who care for me.”
She’d been avoiding Rachel’s eyes, but she meets them in graceful determination now, “To hurt you.”
Rachel blinks away tears, but Quinn isn’t finished, “So I’m sorry, and thank you, you were exactly what I needed to realize things take time, and I’m where I’m meant to be.”
Rachel smiles here, bright and so luminescent that it’s too brilliant to stare at directly and Quinn turns down. But Rachel lifts her beautiful, green eyes to meet her own. She thinks after all this time they look like they want the shine of her sunlight. Quinn smiles back, grateful and warm.