Disclaimer: I, by no means, claim to own anything remotely related to the Glee Universe. No copyright infringement intended.
Blame It On The Stars
There's Before, and After, and During.
Typically, Rachel Berry doesn't understand it until it's happening. In fact, she's too deep into the During to realise what's going on, and then she's entirely too powerless to stop it when she does.
The Before is when Rachel Berry convinces herself she has to marry Finn Hudson.
The After occurs when Rachel Berry realises she absolutely cannot marry Finn Hudson.
And, the During is when Rachel Berry falls deeply and unequivocally in love with Quinn Fabray.
It starts, as some things do, with paint.
The Before has been in play for several weeks, and Rachel is about to be hit by the truth of the During in a dangerous way.
It's a normal Wednesday in Glee when Rachel declares her intention to give her bedroom a makeover. Her words are met with silence because, honestly, they're mere months away from graduation, so why would she want to change anything now?
"Why?" Kurt asks what everyone is thinking, his tone rather crisp. Things have been quite tense between him and Rachel since he made his negative feelings about her impending nuptials to his stepbrother public knowledge. They don't see eye-to-eye about it, and neither one is backing down anytime soon.
"I just want a change," Rachel answers sagely. "I'm trying to decide on colours."
"Why don't you just ask Finn?" Santana suggests snarkily. "Shouldn't he have a say where the two of you are invariably going to shack up for the rest of your pathetic lives?"
Rachel bristles in her position on the choir room floor in front of them. "Santana," she says tiredly. "If you have nothing helpful to add, do us both a favour and save your breath."
Santana just rolls her eyes. "Whatever, Midget."
"I think you should paint your room like the rainbow," Brittany suggests, the only one willing to get involved. "It'll be like you, but on your walls."
Rachel frowns. "Like me?"
"You're a rainbow."
Rachel looks nonplussed, but she still makes a note of the suggestion in her little blue Moleskine notebook - one of a set of three she received as a gift from Quinn. "Any other suggestions?"
"Brown," Puck quips. "Like shit."
"Helpful, Noah," Rachel drawls.
"I like purple," Tina offers helpfully. "It could suit you."
"What colour is your room now?" Artie asks.
"It's, umm, yellow," she says.
"Don't forget the pink," Finn points out, making it clear to them all that he's been in Rachel's bedroom before. "I still don't see why you want to paint it all."
"I need something different," she says, for what feels like the hundredth time. Why won't he just hear her? "I don't see why you don't understand that." She looks at the rest of the Club imploringly. "Any other suggestions?" She turns hopeful eyes on Quinn, who's remained silent this entire time.
The blonde is sitting perfectly still, her pale hands resting in her lap and her expression as impassive as ever. She's giving nothing away, and Rachel wants nothing more than to read the girl's mind just to know what she's thinking.
"Quinn?" Rachel questions softly. "Do you have anything to add?"
"Oh, plenty," she says, practically scoffing. "Maybe you should paint it black," she suggests after a moment. "It'll match the colour of the future you're so determined to tie yourself to."
Rachel blinks in surprise, and a few of the other students even gasp at the sound of the words.
Quinn looks unapologetic, and Rachel wonders how their 'kind of' friendship has managed to fizzle out so quickly. She thought they had something special going, but she was clearly wrong.
Blaine clears his throat, cutting into the uncomfortable moment. "Maybe green," he hastily offers. "Green is always good. Or, blue."
"Red," Brittany almost shouts. "Like McKinley."
Rachel forces away her tears as she jots down all the suggestions, reluctantly including black. She doubts she'll go with it, but it feels disingenuous to write down 'rainbow' and not all the other colours. Even Puck's unhelpful 'brown' goes on the list.
With a certain tightness in her expression, Rachel says, "Well, whatever I decide, I'm painting my room this Saturday. My fathers are going to be away, so you're all, of course, welcome to join me, starting at nine o'clock." She beams at them, letting the invitation hang in the air. "There will, of course, be snacks available."
It's the last thing she manages to say before Mr Schuester arrives, and she moves to take her seat beside Finn, her eyes seeking out Quinn's for a moment.
She's not surprised to find the blonde isn't looking at her.
Quinn hasn't looked at her in a while.
Rachel debates endlessly with herself and with her fathers over the colour she's planning on choosing. It's easier to decide on the colours she doesn't want, and she quickly dismisses red and brown and rainbow. She goes through various shades of purple before she decides against it completely. It would be too easy to go with blue, which is why she eventually settles on a shade of green referred to as 'Douglas Fir.' It's bright and happy, and so far on the colour spectrum away from black.
Which doesn't explain why, on Friday afternoon, when she goes to pick up her cans of paint; she buys a few extra, of an entirely different colour.
At fifteen minutes past nine o'clock the next morning, Rachel forces herself to accept that nobody is going to show up to 'help.' Letting out a defeated sigh, she finishes preparing her room for the paint job. Her fathers helped her shift her furniture and cover every surface with protective plastic. One can never be too careful.
Rachel is just preparing to get started when the doorbell rings. Jumping slightly, she presses a hand to her heart, as if the action is enough to slow it down. She glances at the time - nine thirty - and then heads down the stairs.
Maybe Finn finally decided to show up, but she knows he wouldn't be ringing the doorbell. As a show of something, her fathers offered the boy a key to the house. They are getting married after all.
Still, she has her lecture sitting on the tip of her tongue as she rips open the door, only for it to die in her throat at the sight of Quinn Fabray standing there, looking all kinds of uncomfortable as she stands on the Berry porch. She's dressed in an old pair of McKinley sweatpants, an oversized Coldplay t-shirt and worn All Stars. She has a duffel bag slung over her shoulder and a travel mug clasped in her one hand. Her short hair is tucked away in a tiny ponytail, with the loose strands held away from her face by a white headband.
"Quinn," Rachel squeaks, when she finally finds her voice. "What are you doing here?"
Quinn quirks an eyebrow. "I thought we were painting."
Rachel blinks in surprise. "Oh."
"No," she hastily says. "I just - you didn't - " she stops, closing her eyes for a moment as she searches for composure. "You just didn't really give off the vibe that you wanted to help."
Quinn's mouth presses into a thin line. "All I've been trying to do is help," she says flatly. "And plus, I had to come today. God forbid you paint your room something like purple and make yet another mistake." With that said, she pushes past Rachel and enters the house, immediately moving towards the stairs.
Rachel quickly closes the door, and then follows. When she gets to her bedroom, Quinn is standing in the centre with her hands on her hips, surveying Rachel's lack of progress.
Quinn spins around when she hears Rachel's approach on the plastic on the floor. "I thought I was late?" she says, and Rachel forces herself not to find Quinn's furrowed brow adorable. "Where is everyone?"
Rachel drops her gaze. "It's - it's just you."
"It's just me?" Quinn repeats. "As in, nobody else has arrived and they're all on their way?" She pauses. "Or, they're probably not coming?"
Rachel shrugs. "It's probably the latter."
Quinn huffs in annoyance. "What about Finn?"
Rachel can't tell her that she's been trying to contact him all morning and received nothing, so she remains silent.
Quinn sighs, stamping down on her sudden rage. She's been experiencing a lot of that lately, and she's definitely going to have to keep a lid on it. Especially while she's in Rachel's presence. "Well, we better get to work then," she finally declares.
"Quinn, you don't have to stay," Rachel says, giving her an out. "I know this is the last place you want to be, and I definitely won't hold - "
Quinn interrupts her, ignoring her little ramble. "On what colour have you decided?" she asks.
Rachel's mouth snaps closed with an audibly clack. "Uh. Green."
"Figures," Quinn mutters as she moves towards the cans of paint in the corner of the room. "'Douglas Fir,'" she reads. "God, Berry."
"It's a nice colour," Rachel weakly defends.
"You may as well just leave your walls yellow," she says, glancing over her shoulder at Rachel. "I thought, for sure, you would go with blue."
Quinn shrugs, and then studies the paint cans again.
Rachel bites her bottom lip, just waiting.
"Uh, Rachel, what are these?"
"What are what, Quinn?"
Quinn straightens, her eyes searching for Rachel's. "Why do you have cans of paint labeled 'Midnight Black?'"
Rachel ponders her response, and decides that the truth is the way to go. Lying is exhausting. "I might still be considering your suggestion."
"I don't know."
Quinn suspects there's a hell of a lot more to this moment, but she isn't going to push it. Instead, she allows herself to smile. "I knew you would see things my way," she says, and then walks out of the room to fetch some things from the duffel bag she left in the hallway.
"What are you doing?"
"I kind of had an idea, actually," Quinn says, somewhat distractedly as she searches for something. "I was pretty sure I could convince you to go with black, which - "
Quinn looks at her. "What?"
Quinn merely shrugs, and then pulls out a few pieces of paper from her bag. "When you told me your walls were yellow, I kind of had this very specific idea."
"An idea?" Rachel echoes, suddenly feeling a little overwhelmed.
"Well, yeah," Quinn says, handing over a sheet of paper with a sketch on it. It depicts a square room, with two walls on display. Quinn leans in and points. "I figure, whatever colour you were actually going to choose, could be at the bottom here." Her perfectly-manicured nail traces the thin line separating the sketched wall into two sections: top and bottom. "The green will definitely work. We could even add texture to it, make it look like grass." She nods her head at her own idea. "Then, here, at the top, I was thinking we could do a night sky. You already have the yellow, and I bought some star stickers. We could just put those up, paint over everything in black, and then remove them and you have your very own starry night. I thought it would be cool to have stars represented in here. They are your metaphor, after all."
Rachel is pretty much struck dumb. There's really no other explanation for what's happening to her. She can't actually recall a time Quinn has said so many words, let alone to her. It's completely thrown her, and all she can do is stare blankly at the sheet of paper in her hands.
When the silence has gone on too long, Quinn starts to retreat. "You don't like it, do you?" she asks. "I mean, I'm sure you already have your own ideas. It was silly of me to - " she starts to take the piece of paper back, all while shaking her head, but Rachel has enough sense to hold on tightly.
"What are you doing?" Quinn asks.
"Why are you here, Quinn?"
Quinn frowns. "Uh, I thought we were supposed to be painting."
Rachel lifts her gaze to meet Quinn's, chestnut brown holding hazel eyes captive. "No," she says. "Why are you here?"
Quinn looks at her as if she's going crazy. "We're painting, Berry."
"Is that all we're doing?"
Quinn visibly falters. It lasts only a moment, but it's enough for Rachel to see, and then the blonde clears her throat. "Of course," she says somewhat shakily. "What else would we be doing?"
Rachel isn't sure why the blonde asks the question, but she finds herself wanting to answer. Only, everything she can think to say feels like a lie, and she's been doing a lot of that to herself to start lying to Quinn as well.
It takes them a while to get started, Rachel willingly giving into Quinn's idea. It's too amazing to pass up, really, and she wants there to be a part of Quinn in this bedroom, even though she won't admit to herself exactly why.
They spend the first fifteen minutes measuring the height of the division, and then laying out two strips of tape. It's a struggle to make sure everything is straight and aligned, but Quinn pulls out a level from her trusty duffel bag, and Rachel is too shocked to say anything.
"I think we should keep it blank," Quinn says thoughtfully, as she regards the space reserved between the two colours. "I might have another idea for the open space."
Rachel just nods, giving in to Quinn's direction.
Then they start painting. They're doing the green first, and Quinn expertly prepares everything, proving this isn't her first time at the rodeo. Rachel lasts almost four minutes before she asks the question.
"You've done this before, haven't you?"
Quinn pauses before pouring paint into a tray and looks at Rachel. "A few times, yes," she eventually says. "Most recently when my mom let me move back in. We did the entire thing together. She wanted it to be some kind of bonding experience, I guess."
"Did it help?"
Quinn offers her a secret smile. "It definitely did something," she says cryptically, and then returns to pouring the paint. Minutes later, she rises to her feet and retrieves sponges from her duffel bag. "I thought we could test it out on a small chunk of wall and see what you think."
Rachel just nods, stands back and watches as Quinn paints a ruler-sized square on her wall in Douglas Fir, and then uses the sponge to create texture. Watching her work is mesmerising to Rachel, and it's all she can do as Quinn leans back on her heels, dissatisfied, and then does it again on a second block.
Rachel can't take her eyes off Quinn, the muscles in her shoulders tensing, and her brow furrowed in concentration. Quinn is here, in her bedroom, painting.
"We probably need to add paint to the sponge first," Quinn says after a while, more to herself. "I like this second one better. What do you think?"
Rachel has to snap to attention, and she flushes under Quinn's sudden scrutiny. "The second one, yeah."
Quinn frowns. "Are you okay?" she asks, her tone of voice surprisingly sincere, given all the clashing they've been doing lately. "You don't have to agree with me all the time, you know? This is your bedroom." She scowls slightly. "For now, at least." There's a haunting quality to her voice, and Rachel can barely look at her anymore.
"I like the second one," she says, her eyes on the blocks on the wall. "It looks more authentic."
Quinn merely nods, and then shifts, getting closer the wall. "We'll do it in sections," she says. "You paint, and I'll sponge, and we should be done by graduation."
Rachel lets out an unexpected laugh, and Quinn quirks a pleased eyebrow in her direction.
"Let's get to work," Rachel says, and Quinn obliges.
It's quiet between them, their movements in sync as they develop a rhythm of sorts. Rachel keeps glancing at Quinn, as if she's making sure the blonde is actually really here. If Quinn notices, she says nothing.
Quinn suggests they take a break once two walls are done, and Rachel's legs are so relieved, she almost falls over when she straightens them. Quinn's joints pop as she rises, and Rachel can't help her smile.
"This is what happens when I haven't been on the Cheerios for this long," Quinn mumbles, stretching her arms in the air and revealing a sliver of skin at the waistband of her sweatpants.
Rachel's eyes automatically dart downwards, and then she forces herself to look away. What the hell? She clears her throat. "Do you want something to drink?"
Quinn shrugs. "Sure."
Rachel leads the way downstairs, aware that Quinn retrieves her travel mug before following. She's had the blonde in her home - not her bedroom, though - before, but it's never been just the two of them, and there's a certain heaviness in the air that just won't seem to dissipate.
"Water? Coffee? Tea? Juice?" Rachel asks as soon as they enter the kitchen.
"Is it too much to ask for wine?" Quinn asks, a hint of teasing in her tone.
Rachel rolls her eyes. "I'll get right on that."
Quinn's smile is small but present, and Rachel marvels at the sight of it for a moment. The two of them haven't had moments like these in quite some time, and she misses the ease of their 'kind of' friendship.
"I'll just have some tea," Quinn eventually says. "Chai spice?"
"We should have some," Rachel says, getting moving, if only to stop herself from staring at Quinn.
It's become a problem of hers, and she needs to deal with it before people start to notice.
Twenty-five minutes later, they're back to work, the silence a bit more comfortable now. Quinn's always been good with it; not feeling the need to speak unnecessarily and, as much as the quiet bothers Rachel; she kind of likes it with Quinn. She likes that the blonde doesn't expect her to keep her 'occupied' or stop her from getting bored in her presence.
It's different than when she's with -
She's not going there.
By the time they've completed all four walls, Rachel's body is screaming bloody murder at her, and she lets out a relieved breath when Quinn declares 'Phase One' complete. She even shoots Rachel a cheeky grin that's entirely too adorable, and Rachel bites the inside of her cheek to stop herself from making an inappropriate comment.
"Lunch?" Rachel offers.
"It's not something vegan, is it?"
Rachel laughs softly. "What would you do if it was?"
Quinn shrugs. "Suck it up and eat it," she says. "I'm starving, and I'm pretty sure I was promised food."
Rachel just smiles to herself as she leads the way back downstairs. She's almost tempted to produce something vegan, just to see Quinn attempt to eat it, but she's not going to be mean. Quinn is the only one who bothered to show up to help her, and she's going to reward her accordingly.
"Daddy thought people would like hamburgers," Rachel says, removing a tray from the warmer. "Or is it a cheeseburger. I'm not sure."
"Whoa," Quinn says, her eyes widening at the sight of all the food on the tray.
Rachel sighs. "We were expecting more people."
Quinn frowns in annoyance, and then smiles. "More for me, I guess," she says. "Though, without the Cheerios, I've had to pay closer attention to what I put in my body."
"I think you look great."
Quinn raises her eyebrows in question, and Rachel wishes the ground would open up and swallow her whole. Why did she say that? She should not be commenting on Quinn's body. She shouldn't even be looking at Quinn's body.
"I know that," Quinn says, winking at her. "I'd really like to keep it that way, though."
"Is that your way of saying you want only three burgers and not four?" she teases, just recovering.
"If I must."
They dish their food in silence, Rachel trying desperately not to stare. It's difficult because Quinn looks so at ease, dressed so casually with paint flecks on her hands and cheeks. She's almost unrecognisable, and Rachel finds herself wanting to know every part of Quinn Fabray.
She does not need this right now.
Once they're all set, they settle in the living room, and Rachel puts on an old episode of How I Met Your Mother to fill the silence between them. There's really only so much of it she can handle, and she'll take the distraction any day. Between her food at the television, she's just able to keep her eyes away from the blonde sitting just a metre away from her.
"So, yours is just mushroom?" Quinn suddenly asks, drawing Rachel's attention. "Instead of the patty? You're using a portobello mushroom?"
"Oh, uh, yes," Rachel manages to get out. "I also have a cheese substitute. Would you like to try some?"
Quinn considers it for a moment, and then nods. She sets her plate on the coffee table in front of them, and then shifts down the couch to get closer to Rachel. There's a moment of hesitation, and then Quinn leans forward and opens her mouth.
Rachel stares for a beat, and then lifts her burger to Quinn's mouth. It's such a weird, wacky moment, and Rachel can barely look away as Quinn sinks her perfect pearly-whites into the food. Jesus. She's feeding Quinn Fabray.
Quinn's lips follow her teeth, and there's a gentle brush to Rachel's fingers, which is -
It's just -
It's something, because Rachel instantly flushes, and she has to force herself not to rip her hand away or, worse, push forward.
Quinn pulls away, and dabs at the sides of her mouth with her napkin as she chews. She returns to her original position, putting distance between them, and nods thoughtfully. "It's not bad," she finally declares. "It's definitely not as good as a meat patty, but I can see how you could trick your mind into believing it is."
Rachel clears her throat. "So, what you're really telling me is you like it?"
Quinn just grins at her, and it's blinding. "I said no such thing."
"I printed out a picture of the sky," Quinn says, as she stands with her back to Rachel in the brunette's transformed bedroom, a pile of star stickers in her hands. "I thought you might like to put actual constellations up, instead of it being purely random."
Rachel forces herself to stay put, even though her body is screaming at her to close the distance between them. "You've given this a lot of thought, haven't you?"
"I have," Quinn carefully admits.
"I have my reasons."
Quinn shrugs, not turning around. "Ask me again when all this is over."
Rachel is willing to accept it. There's importance in this moment, but she's too scared to touch it. Right now, she's going to let the stars just be stars. "Where do you want to start?"
"Over here," Quinn says, and then starts sticking up stars according to the picture she tapes up on the wall as her guide. It takes much longer when they have to be precise with star placement, but Rachel doesn't mind. They work separately, each of them in charge of two walls, and it's inevitable that Quinn finishes before her.
"Do you need some help?"
Quinn handles the higher stars because, well, she's taller, and they get done quickly.
"Satisfied?" Quinn asks her as they both step back to survey their handiwork.
Oddly enough, in this moment, Rachel is.
It's a miracle they manage to get so much done before the inevitable happens.
They're working together on the last wall when they both bend to retrieve some Midnight Black and bump foreheads, forcing them both to recoil. Rachel's paintbrush slips, and she gets black paint all over Quinn's fingers.
There's a moment.
Just a moment.
It's charged, heavy in its own way, and Quinn's gaze is intense.
"Berry," Quinn says.
"Quinn," she returns, a slight quiver in her voice. "I'm so sor - ahh!" Rachel stares down where Quinn has forced her entire hand into the paint. "Wha - "
Quinn grins at her. "Did you say something?"
Rachel knows she shouldn't escalate this moment. It would be the mature thing to do. All she has to do is retract her hand as calmly as she can, and walk out of the room to wash it. It's all she has to do.
Which, of course, is definitely not what she does.
In her defence, Quinn's smile is just too cocky and, well, downright sexy, and Rachel can't possibly resist. She physically can't, which is why the war starts.
Paint is their weapon.
Rachel smears it along Quinn's forearm, and Quinn flings her paintbrush at her in response. There's a scramble, and they're both shrieking breathlessly in attempts to get away but also to get closer.
"Quinn!" Rachel squeals when Quinn stalks towards her with an entire tray. She ducks, and hobbles backwards, but it's futile. Quinn is on a mission, and Rachel is powerless to her charm. The paint ends up squished between them, hands finding purchase on hips.
"It's freezing!" Rachel complains, and Quinn just laughs. It's a loud, throaty thing, and Rachel is mesmerised… right until Quinn's paint-covered hands land on her cheeks.
"Oh, you're dead!" she declares, and then it's her turn to stalk Quinn. The blonde just laughs, easily evading Rachel right until the moment her foot gets caught in a tray. She stumbles backwards, and Rachel uses the opportunity to tackle her to the ground, and they end up rolling around in all the spilt paint.
Quinn resorts to tickling her, and the laughter that erupts from Rachel's body is something new for both of them. It catches them both off guard because, honestly, Quinn doesn't think she's ever heard Rachel sound so happy.
Quinn's hands freeze at Rachel's sides, and Rachel's laughter dies on her lips.
It's the first time they realise the position they're in, Rachel's body covering Quinn's, her hands either side of the blonde's head. It's… intimate, yet neither of them is making an attempt to move, the warmth of the other entirely too inviting.
"Quinn," Rachel whispers, studying the blonde's face closely.
"Why are you here?" she asks the same question from earlier, her eyes boring into Quinn's. She needs to know. She needs to hear it.
Quinn opens her mouth to say something, but the sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs ceases all conversation, and Rachel immediately scrambles to get up off Quinn, absently elbowing her in the ribs in the process.
"Oof," Quinn mutters, gingerly rubbing at her ribs as she forces herself to sit up, just in time to see Finn Hudson move into view in the open doorway.
The boy takes in the sight before him, both girls covered in paint and the room a complete mess, and frowns.
"Finn," Rachel squeaks, still breathless from the paint fight and her proximity to Quinn. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to help," he says, uneasily, eyeing Quinn suspiciously, who's still on the floor.
Rachel tilts her head to the side. "Do you know what time it is?"
Finn shrugs. "Does it matter? I'm here now."
Rachel clenches her jaw, and Quinn lets out a low growl that only she can hear. Gingerly, she rises to her feet. She's sticky and cold and wet, and she's pretty sure that Rachel bruised something with her tackling and those bony elbows.
"You're covered in paint," Finn says.
Quinn rolls her eyes, and just about manages to stop herself from insulting his observation skills.
"Why don't you guys get cleaned up and I'll finish up here?" Finn suggests, wanting to be useful now that he's here.
Quinn wants to snap at him. This is their project. Where has he been all day? He doesn't just get to come in and finish what they started.
But Rachel is already nodding, holding her arms out to her sides in an attempt to keep the paint away from her body. "Come on, Quinn," she says. "You can use the guest bathroom. I'll get you some clothes."
"I brought a spare set," Quinn says, her tone flat.
"What don't you have in that duffel bag of yours?" Rachel asks, smiling at her.
Quinn can't bring herself to return it.
Quinn does her best to rush her shower, but it's all moot because, as soon as she gets back to Rachel's bedroom, Finn and Rachel are done with the last wall, and they've even started experimentally removing the stickers on the first wall.
"Wow, Rach," Finn says. "This looks amazing."
Quinn just stands in the doorway and watches, unsure how to feel in this moment. It'll always be like this, won't it? Quinn Fabray, on the outside looking in. She almost laughs, which would probably be more acceptable that the tears that are hiding behind her eyes.
Rachel must sense her presence, because the now-clean brunette spins to face her, a bright smile on her face. "Doesn't it look great, Quinn?" she asks, practically bouncing towards Quinn. "They're like real stars."
Quinn nods. "Yeah."
Rachel's smile dims. "Is everything okay?"
Quinn nods again. "Just a little tired," she lies. "And sore. The crouching, and your elbows."
Rachel's eyes widen. "Did I really hurt you?"
"I'm fine, Berry."
Rachel opens her mouth to say something, but Finn's voice cuts into their conversation, and Quinn closes her eyes in an attempt not to shoot daggers at the boy.
"Hey, Rach, we're still on for dinner tonight, right?"
Rachel frowns for a moment, and then sighs as she remembers agreeing to going on an impromptu date with her boyfriend. Well, her fiancé. "Of course," she says. "I should probably start getting ready." She looks at Quinn, and then back at Finn.
Quinn holds her breath, just waiting. Refusing to hope for... anything.
Rachel, predictably, disappoints. "Thank you for all your help today, Quinn," she says diplomatically. "I - I think Finn and I can take it from here."
Quinn counts to ten in her head, and then slips a smile onto her face. "Of course," she says, voice devoid of any and all emotion. It's quite a feat because she's practically burning with rage. She's internally seething. She wants to scream at Rachel; wants to yell and shout and shake her until she sees reason, but even she knows that isn't going to work here.
Rachel believes nobody else can love her, which is why she's settling for Finn.
And Quinn is too much of a coward to use her mouth to prove to her otherwise.
Quinn isn't a stalker.
It's what she tells herself repeatedly as she waits for Finn and Rachel to leave for their evening date. She's parked around the block, just waiting for them to exit the house, so she can go back inside and finish what she started.
Quinn is inherently a still person, but even she starts to fidget as she waits.
It's almost fifty-five minutes later that she sees Finn's truck turn left at the stop street, and she wastes barely a second to hop out of her car, grab her duffel bag, and then head to the house. She tries the door, which is predictably locked. It doesn't take long to pick it, which she does with ease, and then slips inside. She locks it behind her, just to be safe, and then makes her way up the stairs to Rachel's closed bedroom door.
Behind it, the windows are all open as wide as possible to allow the paint smell to dissipate. The stars have been revealed on three of the four black walls, which is understandable, and it really does look amazing. The plastic from the floor has been rolled up and set in the corner of the room, along with all the paint cans and painting equipment. The job is, essentially done.
Well, sort of.
Quinn immediately gets to work. She first removes the stickers from the fourth wall, and then starts stripping all the walls of the separating tape. She suspects this would be considered vandalism, but she thinks Rachel is going to appreciate it. Quinn knows she would.
After she got over the shock of it.
Reaching into her duffel bag, Quinn retrieves her own selection of paints, and sets them up. She takes out her phone and pulls up the Note she's been working on since Wednesday evening.
This is it, she supposes.
Go big or go home, and what not.
Quinn checks the time. She doesn't know how long dates take - it's been a while since she's been on one - but she imagines she doesn't have all that much time. She'll keep an eye on that.
Sucking in a deep, steadying breath, Quinn gets to work.
It's later than Rachel intended to stay out, but Finn was excited about something or the other, and she played the dutiful significant other until her body betrayed her and she yawned during one of his tales about… she can't even recall. Of course, Finn would get annoyed by that when she's the one who slaved away all day painting. It's not her fault she's tired.
The day that started okay, and then got infinitely better, ended rather sourly, but Rachel is too exhausted to worry about that.
Without bothering to assuage Finn's feelings, Rachel heads into her house and goes straight upstairs, pausing when she reaches the landing, because she's quite certain she turned off the light in the hallway on her way out. Something feels different, and her legs automatically carry her to her closed bedroom door instead of the guest room where she'll be spending the night.
Her hand feels heavy as she lifts it, as if her entire body knows the entire world is going to change as soon as she steps inside.
It's not wrong.
The first thing Rachel notices is that the room looks cleaner, somehow. She and Finn tried to make it look as presentable as they could earlier, but something is more refined now. Neater. Purposeful.
The next thing she notices is that all the stars have been revealed, and they are beautiful. She really wanted to experience this moment with Quinn, and she has to shake that thought from her mind.
When her eyes settle on the strip of paint between the black and green, her breath hitches. Written in the most perfect script are an endless number of quotations. Rachel steps further into the room, drawn to the penmanship, her eyes already tearing up at the sight of the words.
Words about love.
"Look at the stars, look how they shine for you and everything you do, like they were all yellow."
— Coldplay (Yellow)
"And I can't help but stare, cause I see truth somewhere in your eyes."
— Justin Timberlake (Mirrors)
"When you need some shelter from the rain, when you need a healer for your pain,
I will be there time and time again."
— Leona Lewis (Here I Am)
"Maybe I don't know that much but I know this much is true,
I was blessed because I was loved by you."
— Celine Dion (Because You Loved Me)
"The heart wants what it wants. There's no logic to these things.
You meet someone and you fall in love and that's that."
— Woody Allen
"Remember those walls I built? Well, baby they're tumbling down
and they didn't even put up a fight, they didn't even make a sound."
— Beyonce (Halo)
"I choose you. And I'll choose you over and over and over.
Without pause, without a doubt, in a heartbeat. I'll keep choosing you."
"And if you want to cry, I am here to dry your eyes and in no time, you'll be fine."
— Sade (By Your Side)
"I hope you don't mind that I put down in words how wonderful life is while you're in the world."
— Elton John (Your Song)
"I look at you and see the rest of my life in front of my eyes."
"I could make you happy, make your dreams come true. Nothing that I wouldn't do.
Go to the ends of the earth for you to make you feel my love."
— Bob Dylan (Make You Feel My Love)
"And remember, as it was written, to love another person is to see the face of God."
— Les Miserables
"And when you're needing your space to do some navigating,
I'll be here patiently waiting to see what you find."
— Jason Mraz (I Won't Give Up)
"I saw that you were perfect, and so I loved you.
Then I saw that you were not perfect and I loved you even more."
— Angelita Lim
"I realised I was thinking of you, and I began to wonder how long you'd been on my mind.
Then it occurred to me: Since I met you, you've never left."
And then, in the corner, almost hidden behind her chest of drawers, in the tiniest script, is something that decidedly isn't a quotation. Rachel steps closer to read it, squinting through her tears to take in the words.
Rachel Berry, you'll have to forgive me for my trespassing, but I didn't know how else to tell you this.
In your presence, my own words have failed me countless times, so I decided to borrow a few.
In case you haven't yet figured it out, what I'm trying to say is I am in love with you. Desperately so.
I am truly and utterly in love with you.
— Lucy Quinn Fabray (2012)
Quinn knows panic. She knows it well because, yes, she was a fifteen-year-old who ended up pregnant after having terrible sex once. So, she knows panic, but nothing can possibly prepare her for the sheer dread she feels at the possibility of seeing Rachel Berry again.
Like the coward she is, she kept her phone switched off the entire weekend. She doesn't actually think Rachel would contact her over the phone, but she wanted to cover all her bases and, now, on Monday morning, she can barely keep still. Santana keeps shooting her odd looks as they sit through homeroom and their first two periods, though the Latina is mercifully stopping herself from asking, and Brittany just keeps grinning at her as if she knows.
For all Quinn knows, Rachel didn't even see what she wrote. She might just think all the quotations are this cute thing Quinn did, and they can all get on with their lives as if nothing happened.
Which is a theory that gets shot to total hell when Kurt Hummel and Mercedes walk into Quinn's World Geography class and start discussing the fact that Rachel called off the wedding the day before.
Quinn almost jumps out of her seat, and Kurt gives her a curious, entirely too knowing, look that makes her feel paranoid and vindicated at the same time. If she's being honest with herself, she's unsure what she actually expected after her written declaration. Rachel calling of the wedding wasn't really a scenario she considered.
If anything, Quinn was expecting to be let down easy. She was (sort) of prepared for that.
But, definitely not this.
Rachel isn't in Glee, which is surprising but also not. Finn is, though, and Quinn sits as far away from him as possible. She feels guilty, but also doesn't. Even if she doesn't end up with Rachel, she can rest assured that Finn isn't going to hold her back from her very bright, starry future.
"What did she say?" Santana asks, pressing Finn for answers.
Quinn pretends not to be listening.
"Just that she didn't want to get married," Finn says, and he sounds dejected and heartbroken. It'll last a while, sure, but Quinn knows he'll get over it.
"Does that mean you're broken up?" Tina asks.
"She said she needed time alone, so I guess that means yes," he says. "I don't even know what I did."
"You asked her to marry you, Finn," Kurt says from behind Quinn. "We're eighteen. What did you think was going to happen when at least one of you came to your senses and called it off?"
Finn glares at his stepbrother. "I hope you're happy," he snaps.
"Immensely," Kurt mutters, and then sobers. "I am sorry you're hurting, but I would rather you go through this now than deal with a divorce by the time you're twenty."
Finn scowls, and then turns away.
Kurt sighs, and then leans forward. Almost tentatively, he places a gentle hand on Quinn's shoulder, and the blonde tenses. "Did you mean it?" he asks softly, so only she can hear.
Quinn's jaw clenches for three beats of her heart, and then she nods. "Every word."
"Good," he says, patting her shoulder. "Thank you."
It's three weeks and four days later that Quinn receives a text from Rachel. They haven't said any words to each other since the day they painted her bedroom, and Quinn hasn't tried. They've passed each other in the school's corridors and decidedly not interacted at all in class or in Glee.
Nothing's really changed, except for the fact that Rachel stares at Quinn and Quinn is content to let her.
So, when Quinn receives the text inviting her over to the Berry home, Quinn forces herself not to drop everything and rush over. Taking a deep breath, she texts that she'll be over as soon as she's done with her tutoring session, and then proceeds to sit through an hour of some kid staring at her breasts instead of the Math problems he needs help with.
The things she goes through, really.
She definitely isn't getting paid enough for this.
Rachel's father, LeRoy, answers the door when Quinn arrives, and she steps back in surprise. It doesn't help that he smiles at her as if he knows her or, worse, doesn't know who she is.
"Come inside, Quinn," he says, waving a hand.
Okay, so he does know her.
Quinn straightens to her full height and enters the house, greeting him politely and complimenting his home the way her mother raised her to do.
He chuckles knowingly, waving off her formality. "I know you've been here before, Quinn."
She just smiles tightly at him.
"You can go on up. Rachel is in her bedroom."
Quinn doesn't waste any time heading up the stairs and going straight to Rachel's bedroom. The door is slightly ajar, and she knocks quickly before poking her head inside. The room is empty of Rachel Berry but full of everything else. All the furniture is back in position, the walls bare of pictures and posters. Her bed spread even matches the new colours, and Quinn finds herself smiling.
She pushes open the door and steps inside, her smile widening at all the little things that are inherently Rachel. There's a laundry basket in the corner, overflowing with clothes, and there are sheets of music spread out on the carpet at the side of her bed.
Smoothing a hand over her hair, Quinn's eyes drift to the words she wrote just a few weeks ago, and she feels herself flush at just how… forward she was. She doesn't even want to think about how she would have reacted to something like this. In hindsight, she might have freaked out, but even she has to acknowledge the romance of it.
Quinn skims over the quotations again, smiling to herself, and comes to a stop in her corner. Her words are still there, but -
But, there's something else as well.
Quinn automatically moves forward, her heart thumping against her ribcage. What is that?
Just under her written words, there are another ten, and the sight of them makes Quinn's breath catch in her throat and render her entirely speechless.
I am deeply and unequivocally in love with you, too.
Before Quinn can even react to what she's read, she feels a pair of warm arms slide around her waist from behind, and she immediately tenses. She looks down at tan skin, and relaxes slightly.
Of course, it's Rachel.
Said brunette hums softly, absently moulding her body to fit against Quinn's.
"Rachel," Quinn squeaks, suddenly unsure of what is happening. "What are you doing?"
"I'm hugging you," she confesses, her chest vibrating against Quinn. "I feel as if we haven't hugged in forever."
Quinn relaxes even further into her embrace. "I'd be remiss to point out that you are hugging me, and we are not hugging."
"Hmm," she sounds. "Maybe you'd like to do something to fix that."
Rachel loosens her grip enough to allow Quinn to turn around and, before they can look at each other, Quinn has her arms wrapped around Rachel's neck and her face buried in soft hair.
The hug lasts several long minutes before Rachel squirms, pulling back to look at Quinn's face. "Why are you here, Quinn?" she asks, the question infamous now.
"You asked me to come."
"Why are you here?" she repeats, ignoring Quinn's response. "Why?"
Quinn sighs, the fingers of her right hand absently playing with the loose strands of perfect brown hair. It takes her a moment to be able to look Rachel in the eye, but she manages it. "I'm here because I love you," she says. "I've always been here because I love you, Rachel."
Rachel's smile is slow as it spreads across her face. "This is the After."
Quinn frowns. "The what?"
Rachel shakes her head. "Never mind," she murmurs. "I love you, too."
Quinn's heart thunders in her chest at the voiced words. Rachel just says them so easily, as if they're the simplest words she'll ever say. "You do?"
Rachel nods. "I do."
"But - but how? Why? What?"
Rachel reaches up and presses the softest of kisses to the corner of Quinn's mouth. "I don't have those answers for you, Quinn," she says, almost reverently. "But, if you're looking for something, I think you're going to have to blame it on the stars."