Disclaimer: I, by no means, claim to own anything remotely related to the Glee Universe. No copyright infringement intended.
The Future's Right In Front of Me
It's the age old question, isn't it?
Career or Love.
At seventeen years old, Rachel Berry never anticipated she would even be considering one or the other.
One over the other.
Ideally, she wants both, which may or may not be completely selfish of her.
When she was younger, wide-eyed and full of dreams, she believed she could accomplish anything, if only she set her mind to it. If she worked hard enough and practiced for long enough, she could achieve anything in the world.
Then, well, reality hit.
And the hits just keep on coming.
This year, itself, has been… awful. Particularly when it comes to matters of the heart. She thought she had a handle on everything, but she just hasn't been able to get it right, and it's telling. The entire year has seen her doing all sorts of questionable things, just to get Finn Hudson's attention.
And, now that she has it... well, she doesn't know what to make of her feelings now.
Finn is selling her a dream, she knows, and she's so tempted to buy into it. It would be so easy. They've worked before, so she believes they can work again, if only they remain honest with each other. He's handsome and popular, and he finally wants her again.
He loves her.
She loves him, too, or she really wouldn't be contemplating what it would mean for her New York prospects if she were to date Finn right now. He's made his intentions clear - he wants to be with her, which he believes is all she wants - and Rachel could easily fall for his charm.
It's just, well, if she chooses love now; does that mean she's giving up on the successful career she's destined for in New York?
She wishes there was a way to know.
Just, some foolproof way to get a glimpse into the future, so she can be settled with the decision she's eventually going to make.
If she says no to Finn now, will she be miserable for the rest of her life? Will she be dooming herself to a life without her true love? And, if she says yes, will they be able to make it work beyond high school? Would he follow her to New York? Would she even want him to?
There are so many questions - so many unknowns - and Rachel just wants a way to get answers.
With that thought in mind, Rachel tilts her head upwards to look at the night sky, silently begging the stars for some answers.
She knows she wants Finn in her life. They're fated for each other, she's sure, and she wonders what will happen if they miss this chance, the way they've been missing all the others. Could this be it?
With a sigh, she continues on her way towards the hotel, her mind in disarray.
The date with Finn was magical, and it's obvious he put a lot of thought into it. That's the thing, though, isn't it? From dating him before, she knows what he can be like when he's actually trying, but she also knows what he's like when he's not.
They're both ends of a very large spectrum.
Rachel would probably just love a relationship that exists in the middle, somewhere. But, what if she never finds that? What if Finn is as good as it gets? Is she willing to risk settling with someone who exists only on the worse end of the spectrum? What happens to her then?
Rachel has to sidestep a group of tourists on the sidewalk, and she offers them all a smile. They look and sound European, and she's so tempted to stop and listen to them speak, just because she finds whatever language they're speaking in fascinating.
Quinn actually pops into her mind, and she's not sure why. All she knows is the blonde would probably be able to recognise the language beyond Rachel's deduction that it's not Spanish, French or Italian. Maybe Portuguese. Greek. She doesn't know.
Rachel finds herself smiling at the thought that Quinn would probably roll her eyes at her, and then call her uncultured and unworldly.
Well, she probably would have, before this entire year happened. At one point, Rachel was convinced they actually could have been friends, but Rachel is coming to accept that the only friend she really has is Kurt, and that's really only because of their shared dreams to reach New York stardom.
Why is it so much simpler to see Kurt in her future, but not Finn? Is it because there's less risk involved when it comes to Kurt?
All of it is starting to give her a headache, and the hotel is still several blocks away. She doesn't even know what she's going to find when she gets back, anyway. She's sure someone is going to stare daggers at her, and there's a part of her that hopes Quinn is already asleep, because it's obvious what Rachel has been up to, just from her appearance.
She went on an amazing date with the girl's ex-boyfriend.
She's considering a future with said ex-boyfriend.
It's a big decision.
Movement to her right catches her attention, and she turns her head to see a pale-looking couple coming out of a dark storefront. A shiver shoots down and then right back up her spine when she peeks inside at the luscious red interior, and she suddenly feels drawn to it.
It's the first reason she stops walking.
The second is, well, because there's a woman now standing in the open doorway, dressed in bright red robes and wearing a thoughtful expression on her face. She's looking straight at Rachel, as if she's making some kind of decision about her.
Rachel is almost compelled, and she finds herself moving forward before she can even have a rational thought about it. It's as if her feet are not her own, and she doesn't actually want to stop herself. All she knows is she needs to get closer.
It's when she's standing right in front of the woman that she seems to come to her senses, but then the woman is speaking, and Rachel's heart leaps into her throat at the raspiness of her voice.
"You seek answers."
"Answers of the future."
Rachel tries really hard not to be freaked out by this, because this kind of gypsy fortune-teller drab is found everywhere. They're good at catching their victims, and then scamming said suckers out of their money.
But, there's just something about this woman.
"I have what you seek," she says, and her eyes are dark - darker than Rachel has ever seen on another person. "Come inside, Rachel. You will find your answers with me."
And, okay, every alarm is going off in Rachel's head, but she can't bring herself to move. This woman has the answers she seeks, and Rachel would be a fool to walk away, now.
The next thing Rachel knows, she's sitting on a plush sofa inside a dark, stuffy room, and the woman is opposite her, silence all around them. Rachel doesn't remember crossing the threshold, but she's here now, and she doesn't want to leave until she gets what she seeks.
"What you learn, you cannot unlearn," the woman says, and Rachel finds herself nodding along. At least this entire thing comes with a warning. "Your future is already set, and what I offer is merely a glimpse."
Rachel's heartbeat rises steadily because, even though she knows she shouldn't believe anything this woman is saying, there's a large part of her that just does. She's always been a bit gullible, but she's certain she's going to get answers to her questions; she just knows it.
"You will be offered the opportunity to see this exact day at this exact time, exactly ten years from now," the woman continues. "Should you choose to accept, I ask only one thing of you in return."
Rachel can't say she's surprised there's actually a catch, but she still nods.
The woman straightens in her chair, her eyes clearing slightly. "The one condition is that you accept it," she says. "Accept your future for what it is, and don't try to alter if. You will get there, inevitably. It will be a much easier life for you if you just accept it for what it is."
Rachel reasons that's an acceptable compromise. If her future is already set, what's the use in fighting against it?
What if she's not with Finn? What if she's not even living in New York? What if she doesn't achieve her dreams?
"Are you ready?" the woman asks after a moment.
For what, Rachel wants to ask, but all she does is nod again.
She's ready to see her future.
It's kind of a haze, this wall of light that passes over her. She blinks repeatedly at the brightness and, when her eyes refocus, she's no longer sitting in a garish room in New York City.
She's somewhere else entirely.
She's also on her feet.
Breathing deeply, she focuses on the room in which she now finds herself. It's obviously a living room in an apartment, and one glance out the window proves she's in New York City.
The look of the apartment, itself, appeals to her in ways that makes her certain this place belongs to her in some capacity. There's a lovely mix between rustic, modern and classic in the decor, and she's incredibly proud of her future self for her design choices.
Rachel steps forward, taking in the leather couches and haphazard piles of books around the room. It looks and feels lived in, and it's kind of what Rachel has always wanted. There's a rather large television mounted on a wall, as well as an impressive stereo system. She can't immediately make out where the music collection is, but she hopes she's accumulated some of the better material over the years.
She's about to inspect the room further - maybe hunt down any Tony Awards - when she hears the sound of keys jingling in a lock. She tenses when what looks like the front door opens and… Rachel walks in.
An older Rachel, of course, and the Rachel watching it all play out is momentarily thrown by what she sees. Older Rachel looks the way Rachel expects in only one way: she's smiling.
Other than that, she's dressed in tight jeans, warm boots and a pea coat that she shrugs out of once she's shut the door and set her keys on the entry table. Rachel watches as the woman, whose hair is hanging low past her shoulders, hangs up the coat, and then shifts further into the room with her bag and a square box in tow.
It's obvious the woman doesn't see Rachel just standing there, gaping at her.
Is that a pizza?
Rachel sucks in a breath.
What on Earth is she doing with a pizza?
Older Rachel takes the pizza box through to the open plan kitchen, absently rummaging in her bag for what is eventually revealed to be her phone. She barely concentrates on anything as she fumbles around the impressive kitchen for a plate, her eyes remaining glued on her screen.
"Dammit," she suddenly says, and Rachel doesn't know what she's supposed to be feeling at this point.
Does she live alone?
That would be sad and unfortunate, particularly at twenty-seven years old. Rachel doesn't think she would survive well on her own. She constantly needs people around.
Where is anyone?
Rachel takes hesitant steps towards the older woman, studying her closely. Her brow is scrunched as she studies the screen of her phone, and Rachel takes in her tanned skin and slight creases at the corners of her eyes with curiosity. There's something so inexplicably different about her, but Rachel can't put her finger on it.
It's something good, is all she knows, and that's at least a relief, even if nothing else about this situation is making sense.
Older Rachel mumbles something else - probably obscene - under her breath as she slides onto a stool at the large breakfast bar, looking utterly perplexed by whatever she's reading. Rachel is tempted to get close enough to look at the screen over her shoulder, just to know what has the woman so worked up.
But, before she can move -
Suddenly, there's the sound of a door opening, but it's obviously not the front door. It's coming from somewhere within the apartment, and Rachel can't help letting out a sigh of relief that there seems to be someone else here.
Her future self doesn't actually live alone.
Rachel watches as Older Rachel turns her head towards the dark corridor as the sound of bare feet can be heard on the wooden floor. The first sign that the person about to emerge isn't Finn is how light the steps are, and Rachel finds herself holding her breath for the big reveal.
She's both surprised and confused when Quinn Fabray steps into the kitchen, looking freshly showered and a little flushed. Her short hair is still damp, and her eyes are hazy behind her glasses. She's wearing grey sweatpants and a white, Yale t-shirt, and Rachel doesn't know what to make of this.
They live together?
Rachel actually lives with Quinn?
Quinn went to Yale?
Also, where did all of Quinn's hair go?
Rachel has so many questions, which only multiply when Quinn pads across the kitchen with ease, her entire demeanour relaxed. The women must get along, which must be a testament to how much time has passed, because Rachel is convinced the girl currently hates her.
Rachel blinks repeatedly, watching this older Quinn with critical eyes. She's definitely still the prettiest girl Rachel has ever seen, but there's also something undeniably different about her, and Rachel doubts she's going to be able to figure this out, either.
It's just that she seems lighter, somehow. Less burdened. Freer.
It's ridiculously stunning on her.
"Hey," Quinn says, smiling a smile Rachel has never seen before. It's easy, even lazy, and it transforms her entire face.
"Hey, yourself," Older Rachel says distractedly, her eyes still on her phone. "I brought pizza."
Quinn does a happy little jump in place, which is all kinds of adorable, and then hops onto the stool opposite Rachel. "Bacon?"
"And feta and avo," Older Rachel says, almost rolling her eyes. "I think I would know what you like after all these years."
Quinn's smile is a little lopsided. "After all these years, huh?"
"I don't even know why I put up with you."
Quinn just hums to herself as she reaches for the box and opens it to reveal a pizza with two distinct halves. "What sorcery is this, Berry?"
"Mine is a cheeseless Margherita, with olives and mushrooms."
Older Rachel laughs. "You're probably going to end up eating it anyway."
"I am kind of starving."
Older Rachel slips off the stool then, and moves towards the fridge. "How was the meeting, by the way?"
Quinn flexes her hands before picking up a slice of her half of the pizza. "I think it went well," she says. "Maxine seemed to like my idea, and the feedback was largely positive. I'll find out on Monday what the verdict is." She takes a small bite of pizza, chews and swallows, before asking, "How was the show?"
Older Rachel beams at that, and Rachel immediately perks up, leaning forward to hear more about this particular topic. A show? She's in a show? Does that mean she's successful? "It was good," Older Rachel says. "Olly missed a cue in the second scene, but it wasn't noticeable and we all managed to recover."
Quinn chuckles. "Sounds just like him."
"I was perfect, as usual."
"And modest," Quinn comments.
"Hey," Older Rachel says, pouting slightly. "Do you want wine or not?"
Quinn offers her most innocent expression, and Rachel really doesn't know what to make of their interactions. It's unsettling just how at ease they are around each other, and it makes her wonder how Finn could ever still be in the picture - for either of them - if she and Quinn end up being roommates in the future.
Older Rachel just laughs, and then proceeds to pour two glasses of some fancy white wine for them.
The silence that follows her retaking her seat is comfortable, and Rachel can only watch as they eat and drink, Older Rachel checking her phone a few times and Quinn picking at her pizza, her gaze focused downwards.
"I thought you said you were hungry," Older Rachel eventually points out, frowning slightly.
Quinn just shrugs, and then moves to start cleaning up. Older Rachel lets her go, but watches her carefully. Quinn very deliberately rinses the single plate and two glasses, setting them in the dishwasher, before depositing the unfinished pizza in the fridge.
Rachel's eyes immediately focus on a particular picture on its door, just as Older Rachel also gets to her feet, closing the distance between the two women.
There are exactly thirty-four seconds between Rachel's eyes landing on a picture of her and Quinn posing in front of the Trevi Fountain in Rome with Quinn's arm around her shoulders and Rachel's fingers linked with the blonde's, and the moment when Rachel suddenly just knows.
She turns back to the pair just in time to see Older Rachel close a hand around the fabric of Quinn's t-shirt, and tug her closer. Quinn goes willingly, her hands automatically sliding around Older Rachel's waist.
Rachel can't bring herself to look away, as if she's about to witness a car wreck about to happen. She knows what's about to happen, but it still catches her off guard.
Quinn leans down at the same time Older Rachel reaches up.
At the sight, Rachel freezes in place.
It's the kind of kiss that speaks volumes of the relationship they must share. Rachel can't - honest to God can't - look away even if she tries, because this is definitely happening, right in front of her.
In the future, she's going to kiss Quinn Fabray… and she's going to like it, if the low moan she hears is any indication.
What happened to Finn?
Is she even gay?
Since when is Quinn into girls?
Rachel is starting to feel a little lightheaded, and both women look it when they eventually break apart. Older Rachel looks a little dazed, and Quinn's smile is lazy and happy. Rachel has never seen that look before, and she stupidly thinks that's what Quinn looks like when she's in love.
How on earth did they even get here?
What happens in the next ten years to see Rachel Berry end up in Quinn Fabray's arms?
Does she not give Finn a chance, or do they just not make it, and then she ends up with the boy's ex-girlfriend?
That must have gone down well.
"What's wrong?" Older Rachel asks softly, her fingers sliding along Quinn's neck and into her hair. Rachel is mesmerised by the way Quinn leans into her touch, her facial features growing softer with every moment that passes.
"Nothing's wrong," Quinn says.
"But, something's on your mind," Older Rachel says knowingly. "Talk to me, Fabray."
Quinn sighs, and Rachel can see the way she tightens her grip on the woman in her arms, as if she's some kind of anchor. "If Maxine says yes, and I get to cover the story in Venezuela, then we're probably going to have to push the wedding up," she says, and Rachel actually gasps. Out loud. Like, she's some kind of animated character.
They're getting married?
Older Rachel doesn't throw a fit, or even break into a rant at the implication that her wedding plans might have to change, which is something Rachel will probably grow out of over the years. Instead, she says, "That might actually work in our favour."
"I just got an email from the venue," she says. "Apparently, we were double-booked, and they're going to need us to switch our dates."
"Fucking idiots," Quinn says with a playful roll of her eyes. "Don't they know they're dealing with the famous Rachel Berry?"
"Soon to be Berry-Fabray," Older Rachel quips, and Rachel thinks she must be dying. Her heart is beating erratically, and there is no way she is looking at Quinn Fabray with any kind of seriousness and talking about double-barrelling their surnames.
This has to be some kind of mistake.
Firstly, she's not gay and secondly, even if she were, she and Quinn can't stand each other.
Rachel loves Finn.
She's doing this whole thing to make sure the two of them get their happily ever after.
She's supposed to be with Finn.
Not Quinn, whose hands have now slid down to cup Older Rachel's ass, and it's positively sinful from where Rachel is standing. She almost covers her eyes at the sight, because now the women are pressed tightly against each other.
And, now, they're kissing again.
This one is different, though: hotter, faster, and definitely the kind of kiss Rachel hasn't yet experienced in her seventeen years.
Quinn makes this almost-primal sound from deep in her chest, and Rachel can't stop herself from wanting to hear it again, which is a thought that terrifies her. In a quick move, Quinn lifts Older Rachel onto the counter and settles between the woman's legs, moaning when ankles lock behind her thighs.
While Rachel expects the kiss to grow more passionate, she's surprised when Quinn slows it, choosing rather to share quick, sweet kisses.
It's until this moment that Rachel thinks it really must be some big joke, but then Quinn pulls away and looks into Older Rachel's eyes with the kind of reverence that makes her look almost child-like.
"I love you," Quinn says, and her voice is so sure, so steady. It's a statement of absolute fact, even though it carries the weight of such heavy, unpredictable emotion. It's her eyes, Rachel thinks, that give her away, and Rachel knows nobody in this world has ever looked at her with such affection and adoration and devotion. There's a part of her that acknowledges this is one end of the spectrum she didn't anticipate. She knows it doesn't get better than this.
Older Rachel smiles softly, absently tucking a lock of hair behind Quinn's ear. "I love you, too," she says, and Rachel has never heard her own voice sound that way before. She didn't even think she was capable of it, but she knows what her tone is saying.
She would be an idiot not to.
This is love.
She suddenly doesn't even care about the career, as long as she gets this.
Rachel watches as Quinn opens her mouth to say something else, but that hazy wall is suddenly back, and she automatically closes her eyes to the brightness that hits her head-on.
When she opens them again, she's back in that dingy room in New York, and the strange woman who's given her this gift is looking at her expectantly.
"Did you find what you seek?"
It's until this moment that Rachel realises the only question she was ever actually concerned with was: will I be happy?
Rachel's not lying when she finally speaks.
All the girls are already asleep by the time Rachel gets back to the room, and she's momentarily relieved. She doesn't even know how she's supposed to act around Quinn now that she knows what she knows.
As quietly as she can, Rachel gets ready for bed by changing into her pink pyjamas and brushing her teeth, and then grabs her notebook and settles on one of the beds beside a sleeping Tina.
The girls are spread out everywhere, some of them looking decidedly uncomfortable in whatever positions they've found themselves, and Rachel can't help but stare across the room at Quinn, who has her lips parted and a slight crease in her forehead.
In exactly ten years, she's going to be in love with, living with and marrying that girl, and this is the first time Rachel can actually see it happening.
The woman told her the one thing expected of her is to accept what she's learned of the future. She imagines there are people who actively fight against what they see, depending on what is revealed to them, but Rachel doesn't anticipate herself doing that.
Maybe, if the glimpse into the future had ended five minutes earlier, she might have.
But, not anymore.
She saw that shared look between them, and she wants it.
So, she'll accept it because, really, as far as her future prospects go, it really could have been a lot worse.
Feeling brave, Rachel gets up off the bed, and heads to where Quinn is curled up in one of the armchairs. She doesn't look all that comfortable, and maybe Rachel is selfish, but she kind of wants to talk to the blonde right now.
She has something she needs to say.
Quinn will thank her later.
Rachel bends in front of her and gently shakes her shoulder, suppressing a happy sigh when Quinn's eyes flutter as she slowly comes to.
For a moment, Quinn smiles that lazy smile, and Rachel flashes back to what she saw just an hour ago. But, then, Quinn frowns in confusion when her mind catches up with what's happening. "Berry," she says, rubbing her eyes of sleep in just the cutest way imaginable. "You're back."
Rachel nods, a ghost of a smile on her lips. "I have a song idea," she says. "Do you want to help me?"
"Me?" she questions with the most adorable yawn.
Quinn glances around the room, takes in the sleeping girls, and then looks back at Rachel with caution in her eyes.
For a second, Rachel panics, thinking Quinn is going to refuse her request.
But, then, a slow smile spreads across Quinn's face, and Rachel doesn't even care what happens between now and ten years from now. They could fight every day or they could break up and make up fifty times over, if only they can get to that point in their lives.
It's what she wants for herself, and it's definitely what she wants for Quinn.
The rest doesn't even matter.
All she knows is that this is the girl she finds happiness with, and she'll be damned if she doesn't start reaching for it right now.
In the morning, after Rachel and Kurt have breakfast at Tiffany's and sing on a Broadway stage, and after Quinn has a bit of a breakdown and gets her haircut; Rachel presents the Club with the song she and Quinn spent nearly all night writing.
The questions are endless, because that's the last pair of songwriters anyone expects.
Quinn and Rachel just exchange a knowing look, and Finn looks more confused than he's ever looked before.
"What's the song called?" Artie asks, recovering quickly enough and returning to the reason why they're in New York at all.
Rachel smiles this easy, relaxed smile, and her eyes meet Quinn's with the kind of ease that's never been evident in their relationship before. "The song," she muses, her focus staying on Quinn; "it's called The Future's Right In Front of Me."