February 28th, 2010
Rachel Berry was dead on her feet. Working with Finn on his singing was killing her soul and her patience. And drastically reducing her overall tolerance for the gargantuan boy. She'd wanted to practice on her own at home this weekend, and maybe even relax a little, but his inability to sing anything other than classic rock and a few hip hop songs was stilting the club's progress so she, selflessly, forfeited her free time and began necessary steps of training him. Thankfully, he seemed more confident to try singing different genres, even if his voice wasn't perfectly ready. However, now her weekend was over. It was late Sunday night and tomorrow began another Monday of school, slushies, and preparing for Regionals. Winning Regionals was the only thing she cared about at this point. Well, not the only thing, but it definitely held second priority in her busy life. With an exhausted roll of her shoulders, she unlocked the front door. As she crossed the threshold, hiccuping sobs burned in her ears.
Priority Number One was crying.
"Quinn?" The living room was dark save for the eerie glow of the muted television. Oh no. "What's wrong? Were you watching TLC again?"
Rachel shook her head, rolling her eyes, and turned on a lamp. The cable company would be hearing from her tomorrow. Certain channels were blocked for a reason and it was imperative they stayed that way. She looked at the crying pregnant woman curled up on the white suede couch. Thankfully, these didn't seem to be sad tears, unlike the time she caught Quinn absolutely bawling at an AutoZone commercial. There really was no explanation for that one, just blubbering about how wonderful the storyline was: a teenage boy reaching his summer goal of repairing an abandoned muscle car with the help of the fine employees of the automotive hardware store. According to Quinn, that's what perseverance and pride was all about. Rachel had just brought her tissues then walked away because, really, she didn't have the slightest clue how to handle such ridiculousness, especially from an irrational pregnant woman.
Tiredly, she sat next to Quinn and reached for the remote.
A pale claw shot out and snatched the device away. Rachel jumped. Deciding she rather liked having both hands, she instead retreated, took off her bulky winter coat and sat back carefully on the couch to observe the raging mess of hormones next to her. She cleared her throat, which really wasn't good for her weary vocal cords, but it got Quinn's attention. "I'm sorry." Her tone was gentle without sounding condescending, hopefully. "Can you tell me why you're crying?" It didn't really matter, though. There was never a logical explanation these days.
"Canada took our Gold!"
Rachel was absolutely lost. She hadn't heard anything about their neighbors to the North facing such severe economic challenges, but surely they wouldn't sink to thievery. That couldn't be the case: Canada was better than that. Suppressing a sigh, the brunette chose to tread lightly. As the Cheerio captain, Quinn Fabray had a reputation for being intimidating; but a sobbing, pregnant Quinn Fabray was just terrifying. Her voice retained its even monotone. "And, you're… angry?"
"Yes! No! I'm just — I don't know!"
Indecisiveness was not what Rachel needed right now. She needed sleep, and so did the crazed young woman beside her. However, there could be no blissful bedtime until this problem — whatever it may be — was solved.
"I'm ecstatic for Canada, okay? Like, really, they're such nice people. I'm glad they won the Gold at home. It was their very own Miracle on Ice, you know?"
"Of course," Rachel lied. Nodding in false understanding, she gingerly sank farther into the soft cushioning of the couch. Quinn took a deep breath and mimicked her, but Rachel knew better than to drop her guard. Lately the blonde had been switching between Jekyll and Hyde, and the entire month of February had Rachel and her fathers walking on eggshells for fear of facing second trimester rage, particularly if they interfered with Quinn's television schedule.
Quinn sniffled and wiped her red rimmed eyes. Rachel melted just a little; she was truly upset about this… thing.
A tiny smile was reward for those two small words and Rachel suddenly felt like she could move a mountain. Or lift a car. Then again, with the proper adrenaline rush, a lot of people could do that. But not everyone could make Quinn Fabray smile, and in true diva fashion, Rachel Berry prided herself on being someone who could do what no else could. If she were totally honest with herself, making the former cheerleader smile was a daily goal. With the pregnancy hormones brewing inside her, Quinn wavered from manic and animated to melancholic and downright morose. And since the depression seemed to be winning, Rachel, for reasons she wasn't quite ready to admit, wanted nothing more than to brighten up the blonde's world anyway she could.
"…so of course, I thought all hope was lost, but then like a good American, Parise slid in and tied the score! Just twenty-four seconds left in regulation and he sneaks one in and ties the game — it was beautiful!" Quinn tossed the remote control to the floor and dramatically flung her head against the back of the couch. "Until overtime."
Obviously living with Rachel had given Quinn a certain élan. The singer smirked until she realized that the bother she sometimes felt at Quinn's tantrums was probably the same annoyance their fellow glee members felt whenever she threw a fit. She made another mental note to tone down her rants, but really, there were days when Schuester had no idea what he was talking about, and she refused to let the team suffer because of that man's ineptitude. Maybe it was time to seriously approach him with her newly revised list of appropriate song choices for the upcoming competition. They never stayed with a complete set list for too long anyway, sometimes only a week.
"…of all people, why'd it have to be him?"
Quinn turned big, teary hazel eyes on Rachel, and the brunette froze. She hadn't been listening. Sure, she was busy thinking up ideas for Regionals that didn't involve Schue masquerading as Fab 5 Freddy, but this was quite possibly the one time in her life where that didn't, and couldn't, matter.
"I don't know," she began, tentatively. "Was it so bad? That it was him?" Having no clue whom "him" was, she braced herself for some sort of tongue lashing from Quinn, and not a fun one. Rachel paused to purge the notion of a fun tongue lashing from her mind. The urge to kiss her former bully and new friend was far from new, but when the blonde reluctantly joined the Berry household after being evicted from the Hudson residence Rachel's craving for Quinn's pink lips against her own (among other places) became harder and harder to curb.
"Have you not been listening? It was Sidney Crosby! That bastard scored the winning point and I just can't forgive that!" Quinn wiggled a bit and pushed herself up off the couch. It was a struggle, Rachel noted, but not impossible. At almost seven months along, she managed decently enough and began pacing the floor between the coffee table and the TV.
Rachel stared, only now realizing Quinn was wearing a sports jersey. It was large and red, and its long sleeves each had a single white strip around the upper arm that matched the white emblem on the front. A wing and a car tire? She wracked her brain for what sport that was. As Quinn marched — waddled — the length of the living room, Rachel caught the name on the back of the oversized shirt but didn't even try to pronounce it in her mind. "Yzerman" whoever that was. Still, she had to admit that be it a cheerleading uniform or an athletic jersey, red and white suited Quinn very, very well. The loose blonde locks framing her angry flushed cheeks really brought out the fire in her eyes, too. Rachel's gaze roamed over the tall girl wearing a hole in the living room carpet and all she could do was picture Quinn in nothing but the jersey, forgetting the black sweatpants she wore. The idea of sliding her hands up smooth pale thighs and underneath the bright red fabric was a little too much for the brunette to handle right now. She shivered and focused on her housemate.
"…all because of that damned little Penguin! First the jerkface has to take our cup out of Detroit and now he's all MVP with both the Stanley Cup and a gold medal!" Quinn huffed and plopped down on the couch as best as any heavily pregnant woman could. "And who the hell wants to be a puck-hogging Penguin, anyway?" She pouted, staring at Rachel expectantly. Apparently this question was not rhetorical, as any sane person would have thought.
Rachel wondered what Noah Puckerman had to do with Canada and penguins, or why Quinn was claiming loyalty to the Motor City (maybe it had something to do with her love of Motown?) but she knew this was not the time to ask. And just how the venting session morphed into a discussion about aquatic fowl, she wasn't sure. Instead she sat up, her hands folding primly in her lap, and answered the question. "No one wants to be a penguin. They're abominable little creatures." She reminded herself to hide His Highness Guin-Guin, Prince of Penguins. There was no risking a kidnapping or worse should Quinn wander into her room randomly, as the taller girl was wont to do.
As a perfect blonde eyebrow quirked and Quinn bit her lip, Rachel continued, searching for anything to prove she'd been listening instead of mentally questing for secure localities wherein she could protect the treasured stuffed animal she'd had since childhood.
"Well, they're useless, really. They're birds that can't fly. Their wings are absolutely vestigial because they failed to evolve. After forty million years, one would think that they would have caught on and adapted to an airborne lifestyle, but obviously they think they're too good for that." Okay, so perhaps she wasn't being so factual or scientific, but she very much doubted it mattered right now.
Quinn's lips curved up into a smile and Rachel's stomach fluttered. She did her best to clip those rapid wings within her belly and pressed on. "Who wants to be a creature that is so completely at odds with nature and evolution that it can't perform the basic functions of other species within the same kingdom classification? Furthermore, they seem rather priggish."
"Did you just say "priggish"? Quinn smirked and tilted her head.
"Absolutely," she deadpanned, trying her very best not to smile. "Who do they think they are? Summers in South Africa, diets of expensive fresh crab and shrimp – even squid. Now I ask you, what kind of lazy animal should be allowed calamari on a daily basis?"
Quinn chuckled and both girls relaxed into the soft comfort of the couch, the taller girl scooting closer to Rachel who was doing her best to ignore the sudden sizzle zipping up her spine at the nearness.
"Snobs — the lot of them." She nodded stoically and reined her nerves in, even as Quinn stifled more giggles by biting her lip again. It was very distracting. "They spend their entire lives in tuxedos, too." Unable to help it, she leaned in further and nudged against the blonde, choosing to focus on her words and not the warmth coming off of the other woman who now rested her head on Rachel's shoulder. "And calling themselves "Emperor" or "King" as though they're better than all other birds everywhere. They're supercilious to nature, quite frankly, and I certainly can't imagine ever being one."
Quinn finally let go of peels of laughter, burying her face in Rachel's neck. She tensed at first, but gradually laid her head to rest on top of Quinn's as she'd often seen Brittany and Santana do in glee. Now she understood why. It was warm and soft; she felt like she was protecting Quinn while finding her own safety. They sat in a comfortable silence for a few, blissful moments.
Quinn's head tipped back just enough for those hazel eyes to lock with Rachel's. "I meant the hockey team. The Pittsburgh Penguins."
Blushing, she pressed her lips together in a thin line and tried not to look like the dork she was. Sadly, failure was inevitable in this case and embarrassed brown eyes dropped from Quinn's. Somewhere along the way this conversation had gone from cheering Quinn up, to showcasing her inner Animal Planet geek and being so off topic she should have been in Antarctica.
"But thank you." Quinn grinned widely. "Your knowledge of penguins and their haughty little herds is kind of cute."
Rachel sighed, resigning to the fact that she was about to be seen as even more of a loser. "A colony of penguins isn't a herd, it's a rookery."
The former cheerleader gradually sat upright, and Rachel couldn't help but miss her warmth. Quinn shook her head and tucked a strand of dark hair behind Rachel's ear. Her eyes closed without any permission whatsoever, therefore it was only natural for the rest of her body to misbehave as well: the shudder couldn't be stopped. Especially not when Quinn's lips, her very soft lips, pressed against Rachel's forehead.
"You're kinda amazing, you know that?"
Rachel shook her head, a little bit dazed.
"So much information in that pretty head of yours and you don't know how remarkable you are." Quinn's cheeks reddened and she rearranged herself on the couch, sitting as close to Rachel as her round belly allowed. "Why do you know so much about penguins anyway?"
Bashfully, Rachel folded her arms across her chest. "My obsession began with Mr. Popper's Penguins. It was my favorite book when I was little."
She spared a glace at Quinn who looked bemused with her elbow propped on the back of the couch, resting her hand against her head.
"Really? You weren't avidly reading Streisand's many biographies or the tabloid tragedies of Liza?"
Rachel squirmed under that hazel gaze. "No. I even tried to make my own Popper Penguin habitat in the basement one winter, but the snow kept melting. My parents weren't too happy with the water damage." She frowned, remembering the unique shade of purple Daddy turned. She still had yet to see that particular color again, anywhere.
Quinn guffawed, making Rachel giggle at herself a little bit, too. A small amount of what may have been bravery sneaked forward. "What about you? What was your favorite book?"
The fair skinned beauty bit her lip in that still entirely too distracting manner, but this time it was to hide what looked to be a genuine smile. Repressed though it was, it was breathtaking. The warmth of it filled her belly better than a cup of vegan friendly hot chocolate, and Rachel was very glad she wasn't the only one who failed at schooling her features.
"While not my favorite books, I'll admit that within the genre of krill-eating creatures the Tacky the Penguin series wins."
Rachel beamed. "I have those upstairs."
Quinn eyes lit up and Rachel was sure she'd never seen anything so magnificent. She doubted the glow of her future Tony awards would come anywhere near to Quinn's sparkling smile. "Really?"
A smooth hand that no longer resembled a crazed hockey fan's talon absently slid over Quinn's belly as hazel eyes fell. "All my old books are…" It wasn't even a sentence, but Rachel understood. Like many of the girl's possessions, books had to be left behind the night her parents disowned her.
"You can use mine," she offered quietly. "You could read those to her."
Quinn now looked incredibly small in the jersey. "I don't know if I'm keeping her." Rachel swore she saw Quinn's tears before they'd fully formed.
"But you can still read to her." She placed her hand on the girl's knee, ignoring the heat beneath her palm even through the soft cotton pants. "Her — a baby's ears have developed enough to hear and sometimes recognize specific sounds by the seventh month. In fact, studies show that reading to a child while in the womb greatly improves — "
"Okay." A slender finger on her lips quickly shut her up. Quinn's skin was so damn silky, a surprising feat during late February in Ohio. "I get it, Berry."
Rachel nodded dumbly and decided it was time for bed.
They turned off the TV and lights and trudged upstairs to their respective rooms. Just as Rachel was about to say goodnight, Quinn spoke up.
"Do you think… could I borrow some books? For her?"
Rachel smiled and pushed open her bedroom door, walking directly to her bookcase and retrieving the series, as well as a number of other personal favorites, from the bottom shelf. Not realizing that Quinn had followed her into her room and was tortuously close to her, Rachel stood and came nose to nose with the pregnant young woman. Well, more like belly to belly, that was about as close as they could get at the moment. Still, Rachel couldn't say she minded in the least.
"Umm... These aren't all penguin-centric stories, but there is a fair amount of…" she trailed off, offering the books to Quinn who glanced at the titles.
"What's this one?" Quinn took the stack from Rachel's grasp and sat back on the bed, reading over the cover of the book on top. "And Tango Makes Three? I never heard of this one."
Sitting, she shrugged as nonchalantly as one possibly could in such close proximity to the achingly gorgeous Quinn Fabray who handed her the glossy paperback in question. "It's about two penguins and their baby." Rachel flipped the book over and pretended to read the blurb on the back of the jacket as she felt hazel eyes boring into her. The scent of the blonde's vanilla shampoo was making her lightheaded.
"Why is that book-worthy?"
Rachel smiled and opened the book. "It's based on a true story from the New York Zoo. Roy and Silo are males who'd been together for six years and raised a baby girl."
"They're gay? Penguins can be gay?"
The brunette laughed. "While not scientifically proven, I'd say it's clearly possible. Nothing's one hundred percent." Her breath caught at the way Quinn stared at her. It was a little too intense for her.
Rachel coughed and handed the book back, careful not to touch the other girl. "It was a gift for my eleventh birthday, but it was a little young for me by that time. I think my parents just wanted to show me that I wasn't the only one who had two daddies."
Quinn sat flipping through the polished pages, running tapered fingers over the illustrations. "They were really a couple, huh? Like, gay-married-baby-raising-penguin-mates?"
The phrasing stretched her smile wider over her face. "Yes, really."
Quinn was very quiet and Rachel wondered if the exhaustion of the day had caught up with her. As she leaned over to pick up the books and help carry them to Quinn's room, the blonde's face whipped sharply to Rachel's. She assumed the gasp came from her, but from the dilated pupils and heavy breathing, it very well could have been Quinn's, too.
"Penguins mate for life."
Rachel swallowed and nodded, too close to Quinn's mouth to really think of any real response. It seemed her voice wasn't available, anyway.
"So, if…" Quinn was incredibly quiet for someone so close. Someone who was now edging even closer. The two of them were practically on top of each other and Rachel still had to strain to hear her. "If two boy penguins did it, then, in theory, two girl penguins could, too, right? As mates and stuff?"
"Theoretically, yes." Rachel answered warily, grateful her voice decided to check back in. "As mates."
"Rachel?" Quinn leaned in and brushed her nose against Rachel's.
She held back a whimper, and in no time at all she was dizzy and a tiny bit brain dead because Quinn kept stealing her oxygen. She somehow answered anyway. "Yes, Quinn?" Rachel's gaze locked on the dark green, half-lidded eyes so very close to her own and she unconsciously angled her head slightly to the left, waiting.
"I think I want to be a penguin."
Their mouths met and not even the kiss could stop the diva's smile. That moment, Rachel's list of priorities shifted, and winning Regionals slipped even lower, under being Quinn's penguin and making Quinn hers.
"Just so we're clear," the blonde pulled away only far enough to mumble against Rachel's lips. "I still hate Sidney Crosby."
Confused and uncaring, she shook her head. "I still don't know who that is."
Gentle fingers wove through her dark hair, freeing the whimper she'd restrained earlier. "Perfect."
A wide smile melted against her mouth as the other girl sealed their lips together. Rachel decided right then to send Canada a congratulatory-slash-thank you note and wondered if winning an Olympic Gold Medal felt as good as kissing Quinn Fabray.