Disclaimer: I, by no means, claim to own anything remotely related to the Glee Universe. No copyright infringement intended.
AN: I know very little about Law Enforcement Agencies (beyond Bones and Criminal Minds, really). Just putting it out there.
Behind Those Hazel Eyes
It's only her third official case as Lead.
As far as Special Agent Elley Fletcher can tell, it's turning into a rather horrible one. In general, she thinks she would rather deal with… concrete crime. The confirmed type. All this unknown has always been a little too much for her to handle, and she hates that she doesn't have the answers to all the questions.
Though, mercifully, right now, there are no more questions.
No, now, there are just a lot of tears, which, okay, is probably worse.
The entire room is crying, save for two people. Despite herself, Elley is taking note of all of the students' reactions to the news that their teammate, Rachel Berry, left the hotel last night, and has not returned.
For whatever reason, the man with them - she glances down at the notepad in her left hand for his name: William Schuester - decided it was prudent to inform the entire group of teenagers about the recent developments when she expressly told him not to. Predictably, that foresight has resulted in... chaos.
And, now, she has to deal with distraught, hormonal pre-adults, and she already has a stinging headache from too little sleep working on a case that they just can't crack.
Quietly surveying the room, Elley wonders about the… dynamics of such a group. She remembers high school. Not particularly fondly, but she remembers it, and it was a trying time for them all. From the looks of things, this group is full of diverse backgrounds, popularities and ethnicities. She suspects there's been a lot of clashing in the past, because teenagers tend to live on the dramatic side of life.
Still, she imagines that trauma and tragedy such as what they might be facing in this moment changes things.
Girls are crying.
Other things don't matter when a tiny girl goes missing in New York City.
Elley is still learning all she can about Rachel Berry. She and her partner, Special Agent Ryan Dean, were called in this morning when it was discovered that none of Rachel's teammates knew where she was, and nobody could get through to her phone. The hotel manager was up in arms when the agents arrived, and the National Show Choir officials put up a fuss to make this a priority. They can't just have girls disappearing from the streets when they're in the city for them.
So far, Ryan has spoken to a hard-looking boy with an unfortunate mohawk, who he claims projects such softness whenever he speaks of Rachel. There's also a boy in a wheelchair, who, while kind and somber, doesn't seem to know all that much about the missing girl.
Ryan is currently speaking to a tall blonde girl, whose frame is shaking with sobs. There's a Latina girl sitting beside her, her own arm draped over strong shoulders.
The Latina is one of the two students who isn't crying. She looks too calm; too stoic, as if she's holding it deep inside. Elley realises, belatedly, that she's forcing herself to remain strong for the girl in her arms, and there's a certain beauty to be found in that.
The other student not crying is the other blonde girl. Elley is trying not to look in her direction too often, but she can't help it. There's just something about her that's drawing the agent in, and she feels powerless to stop it. It isn't even as if the girl is doing anything. She's just sitting in the corner, a pensive look on her face and a storm raging in her deep hazel eyes.
If Elley hadn't already witnessed many atrocities in her line of work, she's convinced she would be terrified of what she sees there. Which is the number one reason Elley knows she has to learn all she can about the girl before she actually talks to her.
Scanning the room, her eyes settle on a well-dressed boy, whose own tears are slow and silent. He's seated beside an African-American girl, who's gently rubbing his back in soothing circles. Elley catches some absent mumbling about 'breakfast at Tiffany's' and 'dreams of New York.'
This entire situation, it's just sad.
From Elley's own interviews, she's been able to piece together bits about Rachel's last known whereabouts. From the tall boy - Finn Hudson, according to her notes - she knows that Rachel left the hotel willingly, though in apparent secret.
Typical teenage girl, sneaking off to meet a boy.
Finn broke down in tears the second he said the words and I just left her. Elley knows he's probably going to have to deal with a lot of guilt, regardless of how this all goes. As a woman, she feels an irritational rage towards him because, yes, he shouldn't have left her.
This is New York City.
Anything could have happened.
And, apparently, anything did.
Sighing internally, Elley crosses the room towards the pair of students from whom she's convinced she'll get the most information.
And, frankly, she's not wrong.
Once she gets Kurt Hummel and Mercedes Jones talking; they don't seem to want to stop. It's almost as if talking about their teammates is a soothing balm to their out-of-control emotions. Elley gets all the details about nearly everyone, but she steers them closer and closer to Finn, Rachel and the blonde girl in the corner.
"Oh, that's Quinn."
Elley makes a note of it, absently glancing Quinn's way. The girl still hasn't moved a muscle. She's sitting perfectly straight, those emotions continually swirling in her eyes in such a dangerous way that Elley's convinced she's going to have to remove her from the room at some point. She can almost see the explosion waiting to go off.
"Are she and Rachel friendly?" Elley casually asks, and she's momentarily thrown by the indelicate snort she receives in response.
"They definitely aren't friends," Kurt says, and then proceeds to explain the love triangle, or is it a square? Pentagon? He mentions things about slushies and fall-from-graces and cheating-with-best-friends and bullying and shouting matches and just a plain antagonistic relationship.
"I'm pretty sure Quinn hates Rachel," Mercedes comments. Then, almost offhandedly, she says, "She's probably happy Rachel's gone, so she can have Finn again."
Kurt gasps, and swats at the girl's arm. Hard. "Don't say things like that!" he reprimands hotly, and the heat of it is telling. "They might not be friends, but Quinn would never wish for this, and you know it!"
Elley can't quite place the vehemence in his voice, but she takes note of it. It's almost as if he knows something more about the situation, but he's decided it's not his place to say. Which, given all he's already revealed, means something. Elley asks a few more questions, and then decides to move on.
She questions the Asian girl next, Tina Cohen-Chang, but she doesn't get much.
Elley attempts to exhaust questioning everyone she can until she has no choice but to address the blonde girl.
Said girl lifts her gaze when Elley approaches, and then slowly rises to her feet.
"Walk with me," Elley says immediately, and it's as if Quinn already knows because she just starts to move.
Silently, the two blondes leave the room, ignoring the looks of those behind them. Somehow, Elley knows this is going to be an important, very private conversation, and it never quite dawns on her how this very meeting is going to shape the rest of her own life.
They've walked almost a hundred metres when Elley spots a vending machine and steers them in that direction. She's wishing for something sweet after her restless night and, when she offers to get the girl something, she declines with a slow shake of her head. Elley imagines the last thing on her mind is food, anyway.
It isn't until they're seated on a couch in one of the empty corridors that Quinn actually speaks, and the sound of her voice is unwittingly embedded in Elley's mind. "It's bad, isn't it?" she asks quietly.
Elley remains silent.
"It has to be, if the FBI is here," Quinn continues. "Something bad happened to her."
Elley shifts slightly. "What do you think?"
"Honestly, I don't even know," she says, almost to herself. "I - I knew she was going to meet him," she confesses. "I was so… angry. Mad. Livid. I just - it wasn't… fair. Why did - why did she get to - " she stops, and breathes out in a huff. "I mean, I'm Quinn Fabray, and she's Rachel Berry. We don't - I'm not - " she stops again.
Elley waits, patient and confused.
"I had big plans, you know," Quinn says. "I had it all planned out, and I was finally going to - "
Quinn laughs, this sad, broken sound that's empty and painfully hollow. "It's so stupid," she mutters. "She went to meet him."
Elley's sure she's missing something very important.
"I was going to tell Mr Schue, you know," she says. "I thought, if they got in trouble, then I wouldn't have to feel like this all the time. But he wasn't even here. Maybe if I'd tried harder to find him or inform an adult they were gone; none of this would have happened. She would have come back."
Elley doesn't visibly react, but she does make a mental note to question the teacher again. He wasn't here? Where was he?
"Stupid Finn," she suddenly says. "How could he just leave her? What kind of moron just does that?"
While Elley hears the accusation in Quinn's words, it's almost as if even she doesn't believe herself. Elley imagines there's going to be a lot of guilt to go around already, and she wishes that none of this was happening. She makes a quiet vow to herself that she has to find this girl, who seems to be the very thing holding all these mismatched people together.
Quinn's shoulders sag slightly. "I didn't understand it," she says, her voice soft and raspy. "I didn't see it, until I just did."
Elley frowns now, because she's really not following.
Quinn doesn't bother to explain. Instead, she says, "I waited up." She shakes her head. "Well, I tried to, anyway. I fell asleep at around three-fifteen. I don't know if I wanted to call her out for going out with my ex-boyfriend, or if I just wanted to make sure she got back because we kind of need her voice to win." She blinks slowly. "My subconscious would probably say it's something else entirely, but we're trying not to listen to that ridiculous voice." She almost rolls her eyes at her self, and Elley sees the human being behind everything.
Elley's confusion hasn't dissipated.
"It's bad, isn't it?" Quinn asks again.
Elley waits a beat, and then nods. "It is."
"What happens now?"
Elley audibly swallows, something about those eyes haunting her. "We look for her."
Nobody realises what 'bad' truly means until it's three days later and they find Rachel Berry's yellow pea coat in a dumpster fifteen blocks from her last known whereabouts.
It's definitely hers, her father, LeRoy confirms before he wraps strong arms around his husband. They sob in each other's arms, and Elley has to look away, feeling… everything. She hates this part the most; when they're finding bits and pieces that start painting a grim picture of something still unknown.
Elley's eyes land on Quinn and Kurt, who are sitting in the corner of the conference room, hands clasped. It might have been an odd combination on any other day, but Elley gets the feeling the two of them seem to understand each other on some deeper level.
There are considerably less students at the New York field office today - some are still at the hotel, and a lot of the others have already returned to Ohio. Elley prefers it that way, and she also much prefers dealing with the two teenagers in front of her. The others are less helpful and slightly too emotional.
She doesn't blame them, of course, but Quinn and Kurt carry themselves with something she can't quite recognise. She doesn't know if it's a good or bad thing that she's never seen it before. There's a part of her that hopes she never has to see it again.
Quinn lifts her gaze when Elley approaches, and the storm in her eyes has turned into a hurricane. "It's her coat," she says, confirming what they all already know. "It's probably the only decent thing she owns."
Kurt wipes at his left eye and shakes his head in forced amusement. "That's because I bought it for her."
Quinn leans into him slightly, offering comfort the only way she knows how, while her eyes remain on Elley. "It's worse now, isn't it?"
"It is," she confirms morosely.
"What happens now?"
"We keep looking," Elley says. "The coat could mean anything."
Quinn glances past Elley towards the woman's partner, Ryan, who is trying and failing to comfort the Berry couple. She scowls slightly. "Does this mean your idiot partner is going to stop trying to convince us all that Rachel simply ran away?" Her voice is cold and harsh, and Elley can understand why students would be afraid of her.
There's something about this Quinn Fabray that commands.
"I told you we had to cover all possibilities," Elley weakly defends.
"And I told you she would never do something like that."
Elley burns with the desire to demand for the reasons why, but it's unimportant now. This girl may always remain an enigma to her, and that's… okay.
It's not, but she's forcing it to be.
It's hours later, with the Berry couple, Quinn and Kurt still waiting (im)patiently in the conference room that Elley receives chilling news from Forensics. What Elley failed to mention to any of the people awaiting her is that they found… blood on Rachel's coat.
A lot of blood.
That's just now been confirmed as a match for Rachel.
It's a revelation that shouldn't change anything, but it does. In her line of work, things like this shift the outlook of the case too many degrees to calculate properly. Until this moment, they could pretend she was lost or… taken, but now they have to deal with the very real truth that she's hurt.
Almost expectedly, Rachel's fathers break down at the news.
Kurt's tears are still silent, and he drops his head into his hands, his body trembling.
Quinn's jaw tenses and her fists clench, but that's all that's immediately apparent.
But then her eyes flash dangerously, and the fury startles Elley in that it's directed towards her.
"This entire time," Quinn says, her voice cold and calculated. "You knew this whole time."
Elley doesn't have a response and, for some reason, she feels as if she's failed this girl. "I'm sorry," is all she can think to say. "I'm sorry."
Quinn ignores the apology, because it obviously means nothing to her. "What happens now?" she asks instead.
"We keep looking."
She really does.
There's just… nothing.
It's a week after they find Rachel's coat that Quinn walks into her office with that same fire in her eyes. The girl looks perfectly put together, every little thing in place, but it's obvious she's not okay.
Elley rises to her feet at the sight of her, but says nothing.
"I have to go back to Ohio," Quinn says, and she almost snarls when she says the words. "I have to go back to school and return to my life, as if - as if it even means anything anymore. How can they even expect us to try to 'get back to normal' when Rachel is missing? Are they so stupid that they expect us to be able to put it all behind us and just forget?"
This is the closest to emotional Elley has ever seen her, and the older woman is unsure what to do.
Quinn squares her shoulders, recovering from her almost-breakdown, and looks Elley right in the eye. She's practically pinning her in place; forcing her to listen and pay attention. Elley has never felt this with anyone - not even her superiors - and the truth of that makes her palms sweat.
"You are not allowed to forget her," Quinn says clearly. "You can never forget about Rachel. You and me, we're never ever going to forget. You're going to keep looking. I don't care what people say; I don't care how long it takes; you're going to keep looking, and you're going to find her."
Elley knows she should make sure the girl understands how the probability of that drops with every minute that passes. Particularly when they have no leads, and they have probable evidence for thinking that Rachel might not even be alive.
But Quinn's words sound like an instruction.
No, a command.
Elley is almost disgusted with herself at the fact that she already feels herself following the order.
"Promise me," Quinn finally says. "I have to get on a plane today, and just leave her here, and I have to know that somebody is going to keep looking at her. She deserves to be found and, if it's not going to be me, it has to be you, so you are not allowed to stop until you do. Promise me."
Elley audibly swallows, and then says the most dangerous words of her entire career. "I promise."
Rachel plagues Elley's nights, but Quinn haunts her days.
The weeks drag on, but Elley's no closer to finding anything relating to Rachel's (lack of) case. Things like this happen. With nothing to go on in the very beginning - no witnesses, no camera footage, nothing - she's grasping at straws.
And, soon, she's bombarded with other active, pressing cases and other immediate crises that Rachel Berry starts to slip from her mind.
Until she receives an email from one lucyquinnfabray.
The sight of that name in her inbox is jarring, and Elley feels guilt rip through her in the worst way. She hasn't forgotten - how can she? - but she has relegated it to a distant part of her mind, and that's not okay.
The email, itself, isn't anything special. It's really just an attached video clip with a short caption.
This is the Rachel I remember. This is why we can never forget.
Elley plays the video immediately, which is of none other than Rachel Berry standing alone on a dark stage and singing her heart out. Elley doesn't actually recognise the song, but she cries anyway.
She cries for this girl who is lost, and she cries for the girl who's entrusted Elley to find her.
When the weeks start turning into months, Elley learns how to 'set aside.' It's not the same as forgetting, she reasons, because Quinn won't allow her to. Since the first email, Elley receives one every single month, like clockwork. It's usually a picture, sometimes a video, but it keeps Rachel Berry alive in Elley's eyes, and she reasons that's Quinn's intention.
Sometimes, Elley writes back. She asks after Quinn and the rest of the students, genuinely curious to know how they're doing; how they're handling all of this… unknown. Elley is offered the luxury of not actually having known Rachel, so she can only imagine their pain and guilt because even she feels Rachel's loss so very acutely.
Quinn doesn't reply to any of Elley's emails until it's been one year since Rachel's disappearance, and they still haven't found… anything.
Rachel Berry disappeared into thin air, and the case has been cold for longer than Elley will willingly admit.
Quinn's email is long. It details everything about everyone. She hears about how Finn doesn't seem to have recovered, and has been in anger management classes since he punched one of their teachers. Noah dropped out. Brittany doesn't believe in unicorns anymore. Santana can't remember how to smile. Kurt spends his days designing pea coats.
Glee was disbanded.
It just wasn't the same without their token diva.
The glue that held them all together disappeared.
Their lynchpin was taken.
Everyone else is unimportant.
Only the last few sentences are about Quinn. Apparently, she's graduating as Valedictorian, and on her way to study at Yale.
It's what Rachel would have wanted for me, I think, and I'm determined to live a better life for her. She always believed in me, even when I couldn't see past my high school self. I want her to be proud of what I've managed to accomplish when we see each other again.
Elley hasn't finished reading a single one of Quinn's emails without tears in her eyes, and this time is no different.
How can any of them stop believing when Quinn has so much of it?
Once again, Quinn returns to not replying, though her monthly email reminders continue. Sometimes, there are no pictures or videos at all, just little snippets of memories the blonde has of her missing… friend. They start off as a few sentences, but then bits and pieces of Quinn seep into the words as she writes about a girl she was supposed to hate, and Elley sees things clearly for the first time since she met the puzzling blonde.
Elley kicks herself when she figures it out because, honestly, she's paid money to see these things.
All that confusion during their first meeting all starts to make sense when Quinn casually mentions how much she actually misses Rachel's cute, though annoying, giggle and startlingly clear gaze. For so long, Elley imagined guilt and hope and some form of search for penance was fuelling Quinn's desire not to forget.
It takes Elley far too long to realise it's actually love.
There's still guilt, sure, but the everlasting will to make sure Rachel Berry is never forgotten is powered by affection and adoration in a way that makes everything about Quinn suddenly make sense.
What that truth reveals for Elley is even more unsettling. Her own guilt takes on a new form, and her heart starts to beat a little differently whenever Quinn's name pops up in her inbox, but the reasons for that are filed away in a box that her subconscious refuses to open.
Quinn still replies to Elley's questions only on the anniversary of Rachel's disappearance, and Elley knows the date will permanently be embedded in her brain. She was always unlikely to forget, but now it's seared into the folds of her cerebral cortex.
This year, Quinn tells her the Berry couple are now divorced. Finn joined the Army. Noah is in jail. Brittany didn't actually end up graduating, and she's now working at a dance studio in Lima. Santana is cheerleading in Louisiana, and Kurt is at NYU's Fashion Institute and living with his Tisch-attending boyfriend.
Quinn is still at Yale, working hard to be the best person she can be. She offers no information on her degree or her personal life, and Elley isn't going to ask. The girl would tell her if she felt so inclined, and Elley understands why she wouldn't.
It isn't as if Elley has offered her anything of herself either.
And, frankly, it's doubtful she ever will.
"There's no way she can keep this up," Ryan declares, looking over Elley's shoulder at yet another of Quinn's reminders on Elley's computer screen.
Every month, to the day, like clockwork, and they're well into their fourth - or is it fifth? - year of this… routine.
In the beginning, Elley didn't tell Ryan about the emails. They seemed personal, a shared something between only her and Quinn, but then the years started passing by and, frankly, Elley has lost all hope for Rachel Berry.
It's been too long.
These are all words Ryan has been encouraging her to send to Quinn since he found out about the correspondence, but there's a part of Elley that doesn't want the emails to stop. It's odd, she thinks, that these reminders that haunt her life offer her some sort of comfort as well.
Even years later, Quinn loves this tiny diva so much that she won't let herself stop.
Elley wishes for something like that, and maybe it's the selfish part of her that holds on.
If Quinn can hope, then why can't Elley?
The case is a dead end - it's always been, Ryan says - but Elley made a promise to a seventeen-year-old Quinn and she's never intended on breaking it.
"You could block her, you know," Ryan says, straightening and moving away. "It's borderline harassment. The girl is clearly obsessed."
Elley's ire spikes, and she has every intention of defending Quinn, but Ryan keeps speaking.
"You have to be real with her, E," he says, somewhat tiredly as he walks around her desk and flops down into a chair. "You have to tell her the case is… over. There's nothing. It's filed away in some box and nobody's going to touch it until some hotshot group of agents come in and overhaul all our cold cases. It's over. The girl is gone. Give this one the reality check to start living her life. You owe her that much."
Elley bristles at that. "Because I couldn't find Rachel?"
"No," Ryan says calmly. "Because you managed to fall for her."
Elley's eyes widen, and she sputters. "What?" she forces out. "That's - that's ridiculous!"
"Is it?" Ryan questions gently. "Tell me, why did it take getting you plastered drunk for you even to tell me about these emails?"
Elley doesn't have an answer for him, and she hates herself for it.
She should be able to have an explanation.
She should be denying everything.
Only, she can't.
Ryan's eyes turn sympathetic, and she hates him for it. He doesn't understand. She's Quinn. She's Quinn.
"You have to let her go," Ryan says. "You have to let them both go."
So, it's with a heavy, burdened heart that sees Elley Fletcher type out the truth about the status of the case to Quinn Fabray, who is supposed to be graduating from Yale in a few days, top of her class. Elley feels a part of her break at how much she's going to end up missing, but she convinces herself that Ryan is right.
This isn't healthy, and it definitely isn't fair.
Elley needs to let Quinn go, and set her free to live the life she knows Rachel would want for her.
And, as she hits that 'Send' button for the last time, she can only hope that Quinn will listen.
Quinn does not reply, but Elley expects nothing else.
The monthly reminders stop, and the next year's anniversary is silent, though it haunts Elley in the worst ways. She takes the day off and spends it at home, drowning in a bottle of Whiskey that burns her insides until she can barely feel them.
Elley tries to move on with her life, as she so intended for both herself and Quinn.
She truly does.
She finds love, and she loses it.
She finds love again, and manages to hold on as tightly as physically possible.
Quinn is in the past, something and someone she forces herself not to think about. It's easy, really, because she has a life that she now lives. A family. She has a job she loves, and she goes through her days imagining that Quinn would be proud if ever they were to see each other again.
Which, in truth, happens in the least likely way Elley ever imagined.
Out of every scenario she's ever managed to think up, this has never been one of them.
"Where is it?"
Elley practically gapes, shock rendering her mute. It's impossible. There is absolutely no way she's currently faced with Quinn Fabray, standing in her office, hand on her hip and a barely-there scowl on her very pretty face.
"Where is it?" Quinn asks again, and she doesn't look at all amused. "Seeing as it's technically still your case, I need you to hand it over and sign the form for the takeover."
Elley blinks repeatedly.
"Agent Fletcher," Quinn says impatiently. "When you're done with your gawking, would you please be so kind as to get me what I've requested?"
Even though Elley has been on the job for a good few years now, the inexplicable command in Quinn's tone gets her moving. It's undeniable and, even all these years later, she's still powerless to it.
As quickly as she can, Elley places the necessary call, and then looks at Quinn again, still convinced her eyes are deceiving her. "It should be here in a few minutes," she says, finding her voice.
Quinn relaxes slightly, but she says nothing.
Elley audibly swallows. "You're - you're an agent?"
Quinn merely nods.
"How did I not know?" she asks, which is entirely the wrong thing to say, because Quinn's gaze turns hard right before her eyes, and that storm still rages in those irises. Elley imagines it's never quite calmed. "Stupid question," she mutters to herself, dropping her gaze.
The silence is tense.
Elley has a million questions, but she can't bring herself to ask them.
A knock at the door catches Elley's attention, and she waves in the Junior Agent, who's carrying a cardboard box with the words 'Rachel Berry 2012 - Ongoing (COLD)' written in black sharpie.
Quinn sucks in a breath at the sight of it.
Elley thanks the deliverer, signs a few forms, and then pushes the box towards Quinn without giving it a second thought. She's not even a little perturbed that Quinn technically didn't even ask.
It doesn't matter that Elley wouldn't ever dream of saying no.
The two of them stand in silence for another full minute, before Quinn breaks it.
"You promised me you wouldn't forget," Quinn accuses softly, and the tone of her voice is Elley's undoing. "You promised me you wouldn't stop, and I believed you." Quinn looks away, composing herself. "You lied to me."
Elley has no response for her, but Quinn doesn't seem to be expecting one.
Quinn straightens her spine, standing taller. "But, that's okay, Agent Fletcher," she says casually. "I've been lied to before. You're nothing special." She lifts the box off Elley's desk. "I really just needed you to hold down the fort until I could get here, but even you failed at that." She sighs. "Failed at so many things." Quinn meet's Elley's gaze, the storm flaring to life and blazing. "I thought - " she starts, and then stops. "It doesn't even matter."
And then she's gone.
"Uh," Ryan says, looking momentarily confused as he enters Elley's office mere minutes later; "correct me if I'm wrong, but that woman looked suspiciously like a certain high school blonde."
"Shut up, Ryan," Elley snaps, her eyes remaining on her computer screen where she's just pulled up Quinn's work profile.
Ryan bristles slightly, and then rounds the desk to look at whatever has Elley in such a mood.
Special Agent Quinn Fabray.
"Holy shit," Ryan says, his eyes widening as he reads beside his partner. "Figures she would graduate top of her class," he mutters after a moment, and Elley resists the urge to slap him. "Behavioural Science in D.C., huh? Not bad, Fabray."
This time, she does smack him. Hard.
Ryan huffs out an unimpressed breath as he moves away, absently rubbing at his arm. "What's that for?"
"You did this," she accuses, pointing at the screen where Quinn's stoic face is staring back at her with eyes that now look empty. "We did this."
Ryan frowns. "What are you talking about?"
"Do you really think she would have joined the FBI if we'd found Rachel?" she asks, and she's aware she's shouting a little too late. She has no desire to calm herself, though.
Ryan stares at her incredulously. "Jesus, E, how far in your head is she?" he asks.
"You don't get it," she says.
"Clearly," he scoffs.
She shakes her head. "Rachel Berry might be the girl who went missing that night, but more than one girl was lost to this world, and you and I both know that," she says hotly, angrily. "You can't stand there and tell me Quinn would still have followed this path if we managed to do our jobs and find Rachel."
"There was nothing to find!" he yells back at her. "She's dead! The girl is dead. We both know it, and now Quinn is going to know the truth of it."
Elley's jaw clenches. "You've never wanted to believe anything else, so I don't even see the point in arguing with you," she says. "I could have - "
"You could have what?" he asks harshly. "You could have spent your days obsessing over two girls? You could have missed out on life? Missed out on Abby and Shane?"
Elley sucks in a sharp breath, and her fingers twitch with how much she wants to lash out at him. It's almost irrepressible, the urge to slap him. But, instead, she very calmly says, "Get out."
"Get out," she repeats. "You can stand there and justify giving up on her every which way to Sunday, but you know it was wrong, and I can barely look at you right now. So, get the hell out of my office."
Ryan growls something low in his chest, and then he storms out.
Elley stares after him for a moment, and then collapses back in her chair. Her eyes drift back to the picture of Quinn, and her heart breaks all over again.
"Oh, Quinn," she whispers to herself. "Sweetheart, what did you do?"
Elley doesn't hear from Quinn.
It isn't as if she expects to or anything ridiculous like that, but she can't help wondering. If Quinn has looked at the box - which, let's face it, she definitely has - is it possible that she's seen something that Elley and Ryan might have missed?
It's unlikely, but Quinn's return to Elley's life - briefly - proves that hope is catching.
Elley also hasn't spoken to Ryan in three weeks.
Well, beyond passing out instructions and conversing over and about dead bodies, they don't say much to each other. It's awful and she hates it, but she won't accept that he believes trading hope for finding Rachel and affection for Quinn, for a life with her wife and son is even a thing.
How dare he?
It's months later when Elley hears any news. It isn't anything about Rachel at first, but she learns of a group of agents out of Washington D.C. who… stumbled onto a trafficking ring operating out of New York City.
It's a big operation, she learns, when her superiors brief them on the incoming storm.
Every hand on deck as the Task Force is put together.
Washington D.C. is descending on her city.
Which, essentially, means Quinn's storm is coming.
Elley isn't sure how she's supposed to handle herself around the younger blonde. While Elley is an older agent, there's a certain superiority about Quinn. It fits her like a glove, following every word she says and every breath she takes. Whether it's in her position in the leading team of agents or just her; Elley can't tell.
It's just… there.
Elley's, at least, not the only one who feels a little out of sorts around the unsuspecting blonde. Quinn isn't the Unit Chief, not by a long mile, but her entire team look to her for… something, and it doesn't take long for Elley to realise it's because Quinn is the one who… stumbled on this great, big trafficking ring.
Little by little, Elley learns that Quinn was looking at a cold case that seemed eerily similar to a few others she discovered in New York. Young women and girls going missing from the streets, vanishing into thin air, only for a single item of clothing to be found elsewhere, covered in blood.
As a result, Quinn dug a little deeper, connecting dots and drawing lines that were both straight and curved, and now this.
It's because of Rachel.
The girl's smiling face is stuck up on one of the whiteboards in the Command Centre of their offices, and Elley finds herself staring at it more often than not. Elley knows Quinn is the one who put it there. It's in the highest corner, placed with such care, and Quinn's undying love for a girl she convinced the world she hated still manages to astound Elley all these years later.
"I think a verbal dressing down would probably hurt less than the glaring."
Elley looks up from the cup of coffee in her hand towards Ryan, who's looking a little flushed. "What?"
"Quinn," he says lowly. "She hasn't said a word to me, but my skin feels raw under her stare. She's never liked me, huh?"
"Hated your guts from the very beginning," Elley confirms.
Ryan sighs. "What did we miss?" he asks the empty air in front of them.
Elley could probably explain that the connections started only after Rachel's disappearance, but that won't make either of them feel better. Because, frankly, if they'd kept looking the way Elley initially promised to, they might have found the similarities themselves.
"I'm sorry," Ryan says, almost whispering. "I'm sorry."
Elley glances at him to find his eyes on the picture of Rachel, and she wonders to whom the apology is directed.
It haunts them both, she realises.
But, one look at Quinn; she knows the brunette girl haunts them all.
When she hears the news about the upcoming undercover operation, Elley shoots out of her seat and immediately goes in search of Quinn. She doesn't think she's hiding her panic at all, but she needs to lay eyes on Quinn before she does something stupid.
"Have you seen Special Agent Fabray?" Elley asks the first person she recognises from Quinn's team. She's seen him with Quinn a handful of times, and she imagines he might be her partner, or at least close enough to know where to find her.
The man, whose grey eyes are surprisingly kind, regards her for a moment, and then nods. "She just stepped out to take a call," he explains as he gestures somewhere to his left, and Elley is already moving.
It doesn't take her long to find Quinn. There are very few places to find some quiet in this building, and the corridor leading to the bathrooms being renovated is one of them. Elley finds Quinn on the phone, the woman's shoulders tense as she paces the width of the corridor.
"It's going to be fine," Quinn is saying to whoever is on the other end of the line. "It's just a little operation, Kurt. It could lead to answers. I have to do this, okay? I'm going to be fine. I promise I'll come home." She shakes her head. "Okay, okay. I won't make such promises. I take it back. Jesus." She lets out a soft chuckle. "Can you please put Henry on the phone?"
Elley watches in fascination as everything about Quinn's demeanour just shifts, and she grows infinitely softer.
"Hi, baby," Quinn practically coos, and Elley's heart lurches in her chest. "I know. I miss you, too. No, Mommy's still at work."
Elley's breath audibly catches, and Quinn spins around to look at her, eyes hardening immediately. Elley waves awkwardly, but makes no move to approach or retreat.
Quinn turns back around. "Sweetheart, I have to go back to work now," she says, her tone still soft, though it holds an edge to it now. "You're going to stay with Uncle Kurt and Uncle Blaine until we get back, okay? I know, baby, but I'll see you soon. Be a good boy for them, okay? No tantrums." She chuckles softly. "Okay, only if you want to watch The Lion King. I love you, Henry. Mommy loves you so so much."
Elley still doesn't move when Quinn speaks to Kurt a bit more, and then hangs up. The two of them just stand in silence, the truth of what has been revealed meaning very little when they both know why Elley is standing in this corridor with her.
"Don't," Quinn says before Elley can even think to open her mouth. "I know what you're going to say, and too many people have already tried to talk me out of doing this for you to dream of success."
Elley audibly swallows. "I wasn't going to try," she admits softly, risking taking steps towards the younger woman. "I understand why you feel as if you have to do this."
"You understand nothing," Quinn says, though her tone lacks any bite.
"I understand that you love her," Elley says, voicing what has been her assumption for years.
Quinn doesn't bother to deny it. It would just be an insult to them both.
"I understand that this could finally be the chance to get the answers you've been looking for," Elley continues. "I understand that need, Quinn; the way it can lead you to dark places and take over your entire life. It's what I tried to protect you from."
"I know," Elley says, now standing close enough to see the hurricane in Quinn's eyes. "I failed at many things, apparently."
"I hated you," Quinn says.
"I loved you."
Quinn is quiet for the longest time. "It's always been her."
"Ryan mentioned you're married?"
Elley nods. "I am," she says. "We have a son. His name is Shane."
"I'm happy for you."
Quinn smiles at her for the first time in… well, ever. "I am," she says, and she looks like she means it. "I think this whole mess has made enough people miserable without tacking on you as well."
Elley sighs. "That's a grim outlook."
"I'm not a very optimistic person."
Elley reaches out to touch Quinn's forearm, and it's the first time they've ever touched. "You don't have to do this, you know."
Elley swallows. "Be careful, okay?"
"Don't make promises," Elley scolds lightly.
Quinn rolls her eyes. "It's just a little undercover work," she says. "I can handle myself. Honestly, I don't know why everyone's so worried."
The debriefing happens quickly, and Elley doesn't want Quinn out of her sight for too long. She can't stop herself from imagining the worst scenarios possible, and her heart rate constantly spikes whenever she thinks about what Quinn is about to do.
Before her scheduled departure, Quinn stops by Elley's office. She's already dressed and ready to go, sporting a yellow baby doll dress, a white cardigan and Oxford Wedges. She looks so strikingly like the teenage Quinn that Elley remembers, and that truth throws them both for a full minute.
"Don't do anything stupid," Elley warns her, and she's being semi-serious.
"I know the drill," Quinn says with a casual wave of her hand. She's portraying nonchalance, but her eyes have always given her away, and Elley sees the fear and excitement and hope and terror. "Don't be a hero and all that."
Elley rises to her feet. "Even if - " she starts, and then stops. "Even if we don't learn anything about Rachel with all of this; she'll still be the reason we take down this ring, and that means something."
"I know," Quinn murmurs; "but I can't help but hope." She smoothes down her dress, smiling sadly. "I used to have this dream," she says. "I would be sitting in this dark room, surrounded by other silent girls, and I remember being… terrified. I used to think it was what Rachel went through, but then I would hear this voice. In the darkness and crippling fear and uncertainty, I would hear this melodic singing voice, like an angel from the sky, coming to lead me home."
Quinn laughs to herself, shaking her head at how absurd it sounds even to her own ears.
Elley reaches for one of her twitching hands. "Make sure you come back," she says. "Follow the voice home."
Quinn snorts, and it's amazing that it's still a delicate thing. "You are actually so weird," she says; "why did I never know this?"
A 'little undercover work' turns into a full week of sleepless nights for Elley and very angsty waking hours where she does her best not to snap at anyone who deigns to smile in her presence.
She's a little comforted by the fact that she's not the only one who's tense. Just the idea of Quinn out there, pretending to be a helpless girl, baiting the abductors, makes Elley's insides churn in the ugliest ways.
Ryan sits with her in silence.
He knows, but he also doesn't.
For so many years, Quinn was a part of her life, and then she just wasn't.
Elley made peace with that.
But now she's back, and Elley thinks they can be… people to each other. Even friends, maybe. Which really means that Quinn has to return in one piece and, with the fact that the undercover operation is dark, they can do nothing but wait for Quinn's signal.
They have literally no idea where she is.
Elley has to go to the gym to blow off steam when they find Quinn's bloodied cardigan. She runs and runs and runs until she's beyond exhausted. And then she runs some more.
That night, she crawls into bed with her wife, and asks to be held.
As she holds her own son close to her chest, she thinks about Quinn's son, and wonders if Quinn's obsession with finding Rachel has potentially created a motherless child.
It's on Day Six after Quinn goes missing that Elley sees Kurt for the first time in eleven years. The man is as perfectly dressed as always, looking more refined and sure of himself than he did when he was younger. He stops by the offices to deliver a bag to the man that Elley knows is part of Quinn's team, and she can't stop her frown as she tries to recall his name.
It's the same man with the kind grey eyes, who directed her to Quinn, and she wonders why she's never asked for his name before. He seems important to Quinn.
Elley sees Kurt before he sees her and, when he does, he freezes.
Elley can't bring herself to move either, but then he unfreezes and makes his way across the bustling room. His eyes never leave her face, and Elley has the irrational desire for the ground to open up and swallow her whole. God, she's a seasoned FBI Agent, and she can't bring herself to face this man.
"I didn't believe it," Kurt says when he's near enough for her to hear him. "When Quinn told me."
Elley sighs internally. "Hello, Kurt."
He shakes his head, his eyes narrowing slightly. "I'm surprised you remember my name," he says. "For all I know, you forgot about the whole lot of us."
"I didn't," she says. She's never been able to forget.
"You know, you're the reason she's so touchy about promises," he says. "She can freely hand them out because she would rather die than break them." He pauses. "Which, yes, is an unfortunate choice of words in this moment." He clears his throat. "But, you dare make a promise to her… just don't."
Elley wants to apologise, but there's too much to sift through. And, before she can even think to say anything, the agent from earlier is suddenly at Kurt's side.
"Kurt," he murmurs to the slightly taller man. "Leave the poor woman alone. We're all worried about Quinn here."
Elley glances between the two of them, clearly confused.
Kurt takes pity on her. "Riley Oliver," he says, indicating the man beside him, before gesturing towards her. "Elley Fletcher. You've both, at some point in your lives, been cursed to love Quinn Fabray in ways she's been unable to return."
Elley shifts uncomfortably, and Riley stares at her for a moment.
Then he smiles entirely too knowingly. "No shit? Is this the 'Agent?'"
Kurt rolls his eyes. "I'm not getting into this with you right now," he says, turning to face Riley fully. "Henry was asking for you both last night. What am I supposed to tell him when Mommy and Daddy both aren't tucking him in? Excuses only work so far with an almost-three-year-old, you know?"
Elley blinks in surprise.
Riley is Henry's father.
But, they work together.
Elley has so many questions, but she'll never voice them.
To either of these men, at least.
Or, maybe not.
She suspects that Quinn's personal life is off limits, always has been, and always will be.
Day Nine is when it happens.
Elley isn't sure what it is, but she's getting herself a cup of awful, disgusting coffee when everyone is suddenly moving. Some are running, some are walking briskly, others are barking out orders.
And then a lot of them are leaving.
Ryan stays, and he encourages her to go. They've all been briefed already, so she knows what is protocol. She's just worried she might break down if they walk into something she hasn't allowed herself to prepare for.
Still, she goes.
She'll never forgive herself otherwise.
The warehouse at the docks is almost typical, and Elley almost rolls her eyes at how cliche it all is. It's late enough in the night to be early, and Elley arrives moments after they've stormed the facility.
There are people everywhere, officials trying to get a handle on everything and everyone coming back out.
There are suspects a plenty being led out, all of them handcuffed and yelling obscenities.
And then there are girls. An endless stream of them, it seems, and Elley feels sick.
All of this was going on in her city, and they didn't even know.
Pushing those thoughts aside, Elley searches the crowds for a blonde head. She needs to lay eyes on Quinn to be able to function properly and actually help the others. For a moment, she considers what that truly means, but then she files it away for another time.
"Fletcher," a voice says, and she spins around to see Riley standing in front of her. "She's in an ambulance back there," he tells her. "She's - she's okay."
Elley registers only mild relief, offers him a tight smile, and then takes off towards said ambulance. Riley's assurance is one thing, but she needs to see that Quinn is okay with her own eyes.
The relief that floods her when she sees Quinn struggling with a paramedic is staggering, and she practically stumbles into Quinn's line of sight.
"Oh, thank God," Quinn mutters when she sees Elley. "Can you please tell this man I'm fine? They're superficial abrasions. Superficial."
"Ma'am, you have a concussion," the paramedic immediately counters, pointedly ignoring Quinn. "That gash on your forehead needs stitches, and your shoulder is definitely dislocated. We're going to have to take you to the hospital."
"No," Quinn shouts, surprising them all. "I can't leave."
Elley approaches slowly. "Quinn, you have to take care of yourself," she says. "Please."
Quinn shakes her head. "You don't understand."
"Tell me, then."
Quinn's bottom lip trembles. "I was supposed to find her," she whispers. "I thought, maybe, stupidly, she would still be here. I thought I would find her, and she would still be the teenage Rachel from my memories, but - " her voice catches, and the storm that's been raging in her eyes since Elley met her suddenly just... hits. "She's not here," Quinn sobs, her body crumpling, folding into itself as reality and truth finally - finally - sink in. "She's not here. She's - she's gone. Rachel's gone. I can't - I was - I don't - "
The paramedic looks at Elley, silently begging her to do something.
Giving it little thought, Elley climbs into the ambulance beside Quinn and wraps her in strong arms. Quinn resists for a moment, and then she collapses against Elley and cries.
She cries for now, and for then.
She cries for the loss that's been hitting her slowly, and then all at once.
She cries for her perceived failure.
She cries for Rachel Berry, an ideal teenage girl who no longer exists.
Quinn cries the entire way to the hospital.
It's so much more than a concussion and a gash and a dislocated shoulder, and Elley will probably tease Quinn about her understanding of the word 'superficial' when she gets discharged.
"Don't leave me," Quinn tells her, even as they're tending to her immediate wounds.
"I won't," Elley assures her, resisting the urge to use the word 'promise.' She does, however, have to give the doctors room to work, so she steps out of the room… just in time to get a phone call from Ryan.
"Fletcher," she automatically answers, her heart continually thumping against her ribcage.
"You're going to want to see this."
Elley waits until Quinn is blissfully hopped up on meds and borderline unconscious to leave her side. She makes sure there are agents on standby to call her with any news, and then she makes her way back to the office, her body vibrating with apprehension and anticipation. Ryan didn't give her any information over the phone, but there was something in his voice.
It's chaos when she arrives, and it takes her almost ten minutes to find Ryan in the mass of bodies. The first thing he does is drag her into a surprising hug.
Next, he apologises shakily, and then slips his hand into hers and says, "Come with me."
Elley follows dutifully, listening as he starts speaking.
"We started interviewing a few of the more coherent girls," he explains. "We wanted to get their statements as soon as possible, while it's all still fresh in their minds. The Courts are already processing warrants on the suspects we rounded up. Anyway, a lot of the girls were taken to the hospital, and all of them will have to be checked out eventually." He pauses, absently pressing his lips together. "Some are pretty high on something, delirious from starvation even, so I thought they were making it up at first, but then the stories started to correlate."
Elley frowns. "What are you talking about?"
"The girls started talking about this… nightingale or angel who would visit them some nights and sing for them," he says, leading her through many, many bodies, but she's barely paying attention to where they're going. "I thought maybe it was some kind of dream state, but all of them started saying it. Some of the ones who had been there the longest explained that they never ever saw anyone, but, on some nights, they would hear a voice singing to them, and it's that voice that got them through the unknown."
"A voice?" Elley asks, daring to believe.
Quinn's dream cannot be true.
The probability of such a thing is just -
Ryan tugs on her hand, and it's only then that she realises he's actually led her to her office.
Her office that isn't empty.
Because, sitting perfectly still, draped in a blanket and clutching a cup of some hot beverage in her tiny hands, is Rachel Berry.
Elley would know her anywhere.
Elley can't even breathe.
She can't blink.
She can't do anything.
Ryan moves to stand behind her, and gently shoves her forward. "Go and talk to your girl," he whispers. "Whatever we did or didn't do; she's home now, and that's the part that matters."
Elley forces away her tears as she takes shaky steps towards her office. Through the glass, she can see one of the Junior Agents sitting in the armchair beside Rachel, but they aren't talking. Elley doesn't say a word as she enters the room, but the other agent knows to leave immediately and silently.
Elley takes the vacated seat, and feels as if she can actually exhale for the first time since she met Quinn Fabray.
"Rachel," Elley says in wonder, and her voice sounds foreign to her own ears. "God, Rachel, it is so good to meet you."
The girl - woman, now - lifts her gaze to look at her. Her eyes - which are really startling - are clouded in confusion, but she says nothing. Waiting. Expecting.
"My name is Elley Fletcher," Elley says, practically whispering. "I've been looking for you for a very long time."
Rachel blinks. "You have?" she asks, and it comes out as a croak.
Elley smiles sadly. "Quinn made me promise I wouldn't stop."
There's a flicker of recognition in her eyes, and her brow furrows at the sound of the name. "Q-Quinn?"
Elley nods. "Quinn," she confirms. "She's going to be so happy to see you."
Rachel's eyes pool with tears. "Quinn was looking for me?"
"Quinn's the one who found you."
Rachel starts to shake then, her entire body suddenly wracked with sobs. Elley immediately takes the cup from her before she burns herself with the hot liquid. She's just managed to set it down on her desk when Rachel is suddenly tumbling into her arms.
It's surreal, really, and Elley is unsure what to do for a moment. Just hours ago, she was comforting Quinn, and now this. It's amazing and, as she wraps arms around the trembling woman, Elley can barely believe it.
But, it's happening.
She can feel the solidity of it happening.
Rachel Berry is literally in her arms.
Rachel cries into Elley's shirt until she's spent, and then she whispers words so quietly that Elley has to strain to hear them.
"I thought, if I sang loud enough, someone would."
"I was more valuable to them being kept at the Compound," Rachel explains, and Elley watches through the two-way mirror with tense shoulders and a heavy frown. Rachel's not exactly in an interrogation room - she's actually in the room they use for interviewing children - but it still feels accusatory and unnecessary to Elley.
Quinn is, mercifully, still at the hospital and none the wiser to the current situation. It would do them all a great deal of good to get this part over with before Special Agent Quinn Fabray descends on this field office demanding to see Rachel.
But, Kurt is here.
Riley called him, apparently, knowing he's the closest familiar face for Rachel, but the two haven't yet been able to see each other. Elley called Rachel's parents late last night, and they're both getting on the first flight from their… separate homes.
The two agents in the room are both women, both from Quinn's team, which Elley is immensely relieved about. Riley insisted, and she finds herself warming up to him more and more. It makes sense, though, because Quinn wouldn't choose to love - even not romantically - someone not worthy of it.
Rachel shifts slightly, uncomfortable in her seat. Based on pictures from the Compound and what she's learned in the brief time she's spent with Rachel, Elley knows it's because she's not particularly used to chairs.
"When I first arrived at the Compound, a lot of the other girls were younger than me," Rachel starts to explain. "They were scared and panicking, and the men would - they would... hit them to keep them quiet."
Rachel drops her gaze, and wrings her fingers together.
"When I was younger, my father would sing to me when I was scared, so that's what I did for them. And, myself, I suppose. I just started singing one day, and then they didn't want me to stop." Her eyes fill with tears, and Elley wonders if she's drinking enough water to keep up with the expenditure. "I thought - I thought that, if I could make them less scared, give them something while they were facing the scariest time of their entire lives, then I had to." She shakes her head. "I tried demanding that I would stop singing if they - they - " her voice catches. "You learn pretty quickly that you don't demand things of sociopathic men with guns."
Elley's eyes close tightly, imagining the worst.
The women ask more questions, and Rachel answers as best she can. They want to know everything she learned about the operation; how many girls passed through; if there were other leaders. But Rachel doesn't know much. From her answers alone, it's obvious they kept her in the dark.
"I didn't really interact with anyone," Rachel admits quietly. "When they moved me out of the other… cages, I became their property. Not for sale. Off limits. Special. I was fed and let out to sing." She looks to the side. "I used to pretend I was… saving them. I used to pretend I was saving us all. My voice is all I had, and I thought I could use it to do something good."
"And, you did," one of the women says, reaching across the table and laying a gentle hand on Rachel's twitching fingers. "You did, Rachel."
When the interview is over, the two women leave as Elley goes into the room, and Rachel visibly relaxes at the sight of her.
"I don't know if I was much help," Rachel admits quietly. "I wish I knew more. I should have paid more attention. I should have - "
"Rachel," Elley gently interrupts, and she moves to sit beside her. "You can torture yourself with thoughts like that endlessly, but it's going to change nothing. You survived. You're alive and relatively unhurt. Despite the endless therapy you're going to need, do you realise how much of a miracle this is?"
Rachel meets her gaze. "And that miracle's name is Quinn," she says, frowning slightly. "Some of the agents were filling me in on how this… all… came about."
Elley sighs softly. "I'm sure they have their versions," she says. "How would you like to hear the truth?"
"I would love nothing more."
Elley shifts slightly, getting comfortable. "I was the Lead on your case when you first went missing," she explains. "My partner, Agent Dean, and I were called to the hotel, and we met your lovely Glee teammates. Teenagers are quite something, aren't they?"
Rachel nods. "They are, indeed."
"It's the day I met Quinn," she says. "She was… unexpected."
"I've never quite understood her, you know?"
Rachel shakes her head, looking slightly amused. "Join the club, Agent Fletcher."
Elley proceeds to explain the story of Quinn Fabray and Elley Fletcher, leaving very little out. She makes sure to reiterate Quinn's determination and neverending hope, because it's that that's brought Rachel to the very seat in front of her.
Elley reluctantly and painfully confesses to giving up, and Rachel's features turn pensive. Elley explains her line of work, and how things usually play out. Finding abducted girls eleven years later is just something that doesn't happen.
"But Quinn's never given up," Elley says. "She marched into my office when she had sufficient authority, and demanded I hand over your case. Which I did." Elley then explains the entire operation simply, unsure how much detail she can go into when the Courts are involved. "And, now here we are," she finally finishes.
Rachel regards her carefully, her head slightly tilted to the side. When she speaks, she asks a question Elley definitely doesn't expect. "At when exactly did you know you loved her?"
Elley stares, wide-eyed, and then coughs indelicately. "Honestly, I have no idea," she eventually confesses. "Ryan, Agent Dean, had to point it out to me. It just… kind of happened."
Rachel blinks. "Yeah," she murmurs. "Quinn'll do that to you."
The two of them sit in silence for the longest time, each of them lost in her own thoughts until Rachel speaks.
"What happens now?"
Elley looks at her for the longest time, recalling all the times Quinn asked her that exact question. "Whatever you want, Rachel Berry."
Rachel breathes out slowly. "I think I'd just like to go home," she says. "I'm not sure I want to be in New York."
"That's perfectly understandable," Elley says. "You can do whatever you want."
She waits a beat. "Quinn doesn't live in New York, does she?"
If Elley's surprised by the question, she doesn't show it. "She lives in Washington D.C.," she answers.
Rachel merely nods, and then asks, "They said you called my parents?"
"I did," she says. "They're on their way."
"I imagine they've got quite old," she says, frowning slightly.
"We all have, dear."
"I don't even know how long I've been gone."
"A little over eleven years," she answers with a slight wince.
Rachel presses her lips together. "So, I'm twenty-eight?"
Rachel lets out an amused breath. "I had this entire plan, you know," she says. "I was going to win a Tony by the time I was twenty-five, and be a star on Broadway. I was going to be married, maybe, to my leading man, and possibly thinking about having children. I - I had it all planned out… and then, nothing."
Elley gently touches her arm. "You're still young," she says. "You have time for all of that."
"They took so much from me."
"They took time," Elley says strongly. "That's all they've taken, Rachel. Just, time."
Elley can't stop her own tears when Rachel and Kurt see each other for the first time in more than eleven years. There have been an endless number reunions over the last two days, but this one hits Elley hard in the chest, and she has to sit before she falls over from the weight of it all.
Ryan settles beside her, and they watch the scene unfold with teary eyes and sad, content smiles.
"Have you told Quinn?"
Elley shakes her head no. "Riley is picking her up from the hospital as we speak," she says. "We thought it best we not tell her until she arrives."
Ryan nods, seemingly agreeing with that decision.
The wait isn't long.
Rachel and Kurt are lost in their own little world when Riley texts, and Elley rises to go and meet him and Quinn at the elevators. The blonde looks defeated, broken both physically and mentally, and Elley has to resist the urge to draw her into a hug.
"Hey," Quinn says, blinking behind her glasses. She wears glasses, apparently.
"How are you feeling?" Elley asks, eyeing the arm in a sling.
"Fine," Quinn grumbles.
Elley glances at Riley, who merely nods. It's an action that Quinn doesn't miss, and her eyes snap towards Elley.
"Fletcher, what's going on?" she asks, and her voice trembles, as if she's expecting terrible news. Elley imagines she is. It makes sense that they would learn something about Rachel from the girls, maybe hear stories about the ones of the past.
Rachel is long gone, right?
"Quinn," Elley starts.
"What?" Quinn asks. "Elley, what?"
It's the first time she's ever called Elley by her first name, and it momentarily throws the older woman. She clears her throat to centre herself, and then starts speaking. "We found her," she says.
Quinn just stares at her, and Elley's left to wonder why she isn't… reacting. "You… found her?" Quinn questions, almost whispering. "Her - her body?"
Riley flinches at the same time Elley's eyes widen. "No!" Elley almost shouts. "God, Quinn, Rachel's not dead."
Quinn frowns, and Riley shoots Elley a nasty look. She's messing this up so badly, and it must show on her face because Quinn almost jerks forward.
"Then what?" Quinn almost yells. "What are you saying? What are you trying to tell me? What do you mean you found her?"
Before Elley can say anything, there's another voice, and all the air in Quinn's lungs seems to leave her body at the sound.
Quinn spins around so quickly, her neck clicks.
Elley steps back, quietly observing as Quinn Fabray lays eyes on Rachel Berry for the first time in eleven years.
Really, whatever reaction Elley expects… laughter is not it.
Riley, Kurt, even Rachel all look shocked and slightly disturbed at the display, but then Quinn's laughter turns into uncontrollable sobs and, yeah, okay, that's a bit more normal.
Rachel moves first, crossing the space between the two women. She hesitates just before she reaches the blonde, unsure whether Quinn will be receptive to physical contact from her. At the last second, Quinn is the one to reach out for her, and the hug they share is… everything.
It's just everything.
Elley can barely keep looking at them, and she turns away at the same moment Riley does. The two of them exchange a meaningful look. Elley knows her experience with Quinn is different than his, of course, but there's something shared between them.
They've both sacrificed her to give her this exact moment.
"Jesus, Berry," Quinn murmurs brokenly after a full three minutes, her voice muffled by Rachel's hair. "I know you're a diva and everything, but this is taking 'fashionably late' to a whole other level. You cost us Nationals."
Rachel lets out a soft giggle, this simple, sweet sound, and Elley knows now why Quinn could never let her go.
"That's what I was saying," Kurt chips in as he approaches the embracing women. "Also, you know, can I be part of this mini-Glee reunion? I'm feeling a little left out."
Both women extend an arm, and Elley feels something warm settle in the very depths of her soul.
Elley doesn't want to go home the first night Quinn and Rachel are 'reunited.' She thinks that word with slight trepidation, because it isn't as if Rachel even knows Quinn has loved her for so many years.
But then, Elley will catch the soft look in Rachel's eyes whenever she looks at Quinn, and she really doesn't know what's real and what's not.
"I'll keep an eye on them," Ryan assures, sidling up to Elley. "I promise I won't let anything happen to either of them."
Elley glances at him. All isn't forgiven, but he's her partner, and she sometimes loves him. "You'll call me if…" she trails off. "Just, call me."
Elley bids him goodnight, and then makes her way over to where Quinn, Kurt and Rachel are all sitting together on the couch in the Break Room. They're sitting so close together that they may as well be sitting on one another. Quinn's probably even forgotten about her injuries.
Quinn glances up when Elley approaches. "Time to go?"
"I'm headed home," Elley answers; "but I think the three of you are all a little too wired for any sleep."
Kurt nods. "I feel like a kid in a candy store," he confesses, almost dreamily. "This is like the greatest day of my life."
"Mine too," Rachel echoes.
Quinn grins. "Definitely top three," she says cheekily. "Top five at most."
Rachel laughs softly, resting her head against Quinn's shoulder.
Elley wonders if it's any human contact she's seeking, or if it's Quinn.
Who is she kidding?
It's definitely Quinn.
Kurt looks at the two women with tender eyes. "I think Fletcher's onto something, though," he says. "The boys are probably waiting for us, and your fathers can meet us at our house when they arrive."
Rachel lifts her head and, for a moment, Elley panics that Rachel doesn't yet know. "I would really like to meet Henry," she says softly, her gaze on Quinn's face. "And, I suppose, Riley too, even though I've sort of seen him already." She pauses. "And I'll get to see Blaine. Wow, Kurt, you're married."
Elley just smiles, her gaze meeting Quinn's over the top of Rachel's head.
They remain locked for a solid thirty seconds before Quinn's features soften considerably, and all the tension seems to bleed right out of her.
Eleven years have led up to this very moment and Elley has to look away first because, God, she can barely recognise Quinn like this. It's as if she's looking at an entirely new person, and she doesn't even know what to do with herself.
Because, truly, she's never known what Quinn looks like without the raging storm burning behind those hazel eyes.