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Didn't See It Coming

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Disclaimer: I, by no means, claim to own anything remotely related to the Glee Universe. No copyright infringement intended. All chapter quotations are from Nayyirah Waheed.


Chapter One

Quinn

never trust anyone who says
they do not see colour.
this means, to them,
you are invisible.


There's a moment during his clearly rehearsed speech where I stop listening. He's saying words but I'm not hearing them. I didn't hear anything past I want to break up. It's caught me off guard, and I feel as if I've just been slashed across the chest by an invisible sword. Cold all over. Wet and freezing. I'm shaking. When did I start shaking? His words are like ice, sweet and heartbreaking in their simplicity and complexity.

God, it hurts, and I automatically clutch at my stomach, desperately trying to stem the wave of - of - why does it hurt so much?

I jerk when his hand touches my shoulder, and his eyes widen at my reaction. His face morphs from confusion to concern, and it makes me sick.

"No," I say tensely. "You don't get to - " my voice falters. "Just, don't."

He leans back, waiting. It's surprising; he's never really been the patient type. Evidently. I mean, if this talk is anything to go by, he's been lacking in patience an extremely long time. Two years, five months. It feels like a lifetime to me; to a teenager. It feels like forever. So much time. So much wasted time.

I shiver, even though it isn't even cold. We're at the Lima Bean. It's almost a cliche, isn't it? Sitting here in a booth, in public. He's too much of a coward to do it in private. What does he expect? Does he really think it's going to hurt me less if there are people around to witness him break my heart?

Oh, no.

It's supposed to hurt him less, which is a truth that hurts more than I expect it to. It's selfish of him. Everything about this entire situation is selfish of him. Stupid, selfish, dopey-faced idiot.

I don't even know if anger is what I'm feeling. Is this anger? I always thought anger was supposed to be warmer; just, hot. It shouldn't feel cold. Is there such a thing as cold anger? Cold hatred, yes, but anger? Something is rumbling inside of me, and I don't know what to do with it. It's so out of the blue. It's so surprising; so overwhelming. This isn't what I was expecting when he picked me up almost an hour ago, looking fidgety and nervous. I should have seen it coming. He only gets this way when -

The thing is we've broken up before. Once. In sophomore year, when he decided it was prudent for him to join the Glee Club. It was also just for a day anyway. We got over ourselves pretty quickly when I joined the stupid club as well. I did it with the intention of trying to make him happy - I never expected to like it. And now, this.

He clears his throat, and I glance up, away from the coffee cup on the table in front of me. I've barely had a sip. He didn't exactly give me much time to get settled before he was dropping the bomb that he no longer wants me.

"Say something."

My eyes narrow almost automatically. "What do you want me to say?" I force out, my voice as icy as my heart.

He flinches at my tone. "Something. Anything."

I shift in my seat, levelling my gaze on him. "Fine," I say, sounding much calmer than I feel. "Answer me this: why?"

He frowns slightly, as if it's a question he's not expecting. Did he not think I'd want a proper explanation?

"And I don't want that crap you were just spewing," I add. "Tell me why, Finn. I want the truth. Don't hold back."

He takes a moment to find the words. These aren't rehearsed. "I just, well, I don't - " he pauses. "We just don't work anymore."

I feel the words deep in the pit of my stomach but I push the hurt further down. Now isn't the time for a breakdown. Quinn Fabray will not break down in front of all these people; in front of him. "That's not good enough," I say.

"I don't want to do this anymore," he says, which doesn't hurt any less. "I'm tired of having to try so hard to get through to you. It's exhausting, Quinn. I'm exhausted." He runs a rough hand through his hair, tugging on the strands and looking conflicted. "You're great, and of course I love you. I always have. But it's not enough anymore. We've been together for more than two years, and it still feels as if you're holding me at arm's length. I don't get why you won't just let me all the way into that icy cold heart of yours."

My eyes flare dangerously at the sound of his words, and he leans back.

"Sorry," he says quickly, raising his hands in innocence. "I just - I mean, do you even feel anything?"

My first instinct is to frown, but my expression remains passive. I know I'm keeping it all inside. I know I've put up this wall to stop myself from crying in this stupid coffee shop, but his words strike a barely-healed wound inside of me that feels fatal.

"Quinn?" he presses, risking moving closer to me, as if I'm some caged animal poised to attack any moment.

I blink slowly, my jaw tightening. "How can you ask me that?" I ask, my voice low and trembling. "I love you, Finn."

"Maybe you do," he says, sighing. "And maybe that's enough for someone else, but I can't do this with you anymore, Quinn. In a few months, we'll be out of this place, and I don't want my entire high school experience to be wrapped up in trying to get you to match me for affection."

Well. Okay. Maybe telling him not to hold back was a bad idea.

"What is this really about?" I ask, grinding my teeth. "Do you want to date other people?"

He waits a beat. "Yes, Quinn, I do. I want to have other experiences that aren't just with you. We're both young. You're my first everything: crush, girlfriend, first time. I just, I want more."

More.

He wants more. Than me.

I force down the crushing hurt. If I don't, I know it's going to consume me, and I won't let it. Not in front of him. "I suppose I'm your first breakup as well," I say.

He risks a smile, but the first sight of my tears wipes it clean off his face. He slides closer to me and wraps an arm around my shoulders. "Quinn, no, baby, please don't cry."

All I want to do is fall right into him, bury my face in the crook of his neck and let him take all the pain away. I want his comfort. I want him to tell me it's all some big joke; that he takes it back. It's a mistake. He doesn't mean it.

But he doesn't say any of that. His actual words are worse. "I'm sorry."

I don't want to hear it. I rip away from his touch and get to my feet, viciously wiping at my stray tears. "Just take me home, Finn," I say.

"Quinn?"

"Please."

He stands immediately, almost knocking over our drinks. I don't wait for him as I lead the way out of the Lima Bean, my arms crossed over my chest as if any other position will result in my falling apart. I also don't wait as I climb into his truck, slam the door and look outwards. I don't want to see him. I don't want to talk to him.

I stare resolutely out the window as he gets into the truck, inserts the key and starts the engine. It roars to life and I startle. It brings a small smile to my face for just a moment, before I remember. He doesn't want me. He wants more.

If there's no better way to say 'You're not good enough,' I don't know what is.

We drive in silence through the Lima streets, the rest of the world just going about their day as if my world isn't imploding. Because it is. This feeling, it's endless, and it hurts. I've never known a hurt like this, and I've been through my fair share of heartbreak. I've never been naïve enough to think I've experienced it all and maybe this is the universe just proving it to me.

Finn has been my entire life for so long. All the other things have never mattered as much as him, which is why this is all so much harder to accept. I don't fixture into his life the way he does into mine, and it's not okay. None of this is okay.

I'm not okay.

When he finally pulls up in front of my house, he kills the engine and we wait. I still can't look at him. I don't want to see his face, the one thing he's never truly been able to control. He's an open book in that respect; his emotions easily readable in his handsome features.

"I'm sorry," he says again.

I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I don't know what I'm supposed to say. Does he want me to tell him it's okay? Does he expect me to make him feel better about what he's done to us? Because I won't. I can't.

"Do you believe me when I say that?"

I look at him. "What do you want to hear from me?" I ask, almost viciously. "What do you want, dammit?"

His eyes widen at my tone.

"It's been two years, Finn," I snap. "If you've had such a problem with me, why didn't you tell me sooner?"

He recoils slightly. "I'm telling you now," he says darkly, his voice rising. "I thought I could do it, Quinn. I've tried talking to you, but you're so closed off; so set in your ways. If you won't let me all the way inside, what do you expect from me?"

"So this is my fault then?" I yell.

"Yes!" he screams back at me, and the sound is multiplied in the little cabbie. "If you weren't so damn controlling, I wouldn't be doing this. But no, you're just some emotionless robot and I can't fucking stand it anymore!"

I blink back tears. "Oh."

He seems to catch himself, just realising what he's said. "Quinn," he mumbles, reaching out for me. "God, I'm so sorry. I didn't meant that."

I shrink back, my eyes wide. "Is that really what you think of me?"

"Of course not."

I shake my head. "No, you do," I say. "You think I feel nothing... why? Because I don't kiss you in the school corridors? Because I don't smile enough or laugh enough or what? Because I'm not out of control with jealousy when you blatantly flirt with other girls in front of me? You think I feel nothing?" I let out a growl that surprises us both. "Well, let me tell you something, Finn. I'm feeling a hell of a lot right now. Can't you see? Look at me!"

He looks, but my expression is as passive as ever, despite my unshed tears.

"I'm angry," I say coolly. "I'm so heartbroken, I can feel it in the tips of my toes. I'm also fucking confused, and all I want to do is punch you in the face."

He makes a strangled sound in his throat, and it just makes me angrier. Livid. I didn't know I would be this kind of angry. But then, I also didn't know my loving boyfriend would decide to leave me in the middle of our senior year, as if I mean nothing.

As if I'm less.

My hands are shaking, and I ball them into tight fists to stop him from seeing. My nails are even digging into my palms.

"Quinn, please don't be mad," he says.

I drop my jaw. "Don't be mad?" I ask, incredulously. "Are you fucking delusional?"

He looks stumped and, yes, he is that delusional, apparently. I really want to punch him in the face right now. "Quinn," he whispers. "Please."

I shake my head, feeling my grip on my emotions loosen. It's going to happen. I'm going to break down and I'm still sitting here with him. Without another word, I open the door to get out but he grabs my wrist to stop me.

"Are you going to be okay?" he asks, and his voice is so sincere; a sob escapes from my throat.

I don't respond as I slide out of the cab and plant my feet firmly on the ground. It helps a little; the fresh air and the space. I remove my arm from his large hand and step back. I don't have any more words for him, so I just give him a brief look before I close the door and step further away.

We stare at each other for the longest time before he breaks the spell, sighs, and then reverses out of my driveway. All I can do is watch him drive away, just managing not to go running after him and ask him to stay. To take it all back.

When his truck disappears from sight, I turn to look at the house behind me. It's dark, probably empty, and the suffocating feeling is suddenly back, pressing down on my chest in an ugly way. My shoulders hunch and my breathing is rapid. Oh, God. Why does it hurt like this?

I can't bring myself to go inside. I'll just be alone in the dark, left with my thoughts and my heartbreak, and my feet just won't carry me forward. Before I know it, I'm stepping back, away from the house and onto the sidewalk. I walk away from that cold house, my body aching from suppressed emotions with the light of day disappearing behind the hills. I consider calling someone - maybe Santana or Brittany - but I'm not in the mood for their brand of sympathy. Santana would just insult me, and Brittany would probably try to make me feel better in some truly abstract way.

Any other Cheerios are a no. There's Mercedes. We're close, I guess, but -

I sigh. It's painfully obvious I don't really have the type of friends I can talk to about something like this. I don't think I've ever had those types of friends and, for so long, I've been okay with it. I wasn't missing much. I had Finn. He's always been the one I talk to about things. We've been through so much together. We've - we've conquered.

I walk and I walk, taking in the many houses. I turn down random streets that appeal to me, no clear destination in mind. Subconsciously, I suspect I'll round back to my house at some point, but I'm not ready for that. I think I'll just walk.

Turn right. Willow Street.

Turn right. Dame Avenue.

Turn left. Atholl Road.

Turn left. Jacaranda Avenue.

It's a shame there aren't any Jacaranda trees. Those are pretty, and they make a sea of purple.

I slow my pace at some point, though I'm not sure why, until I spot a house. It's just an ordinary house with white shutters and a red door, but there's just something about it that halts the movement of my legs and turns my body. I stare at it for the longest time, trying to determine why I stopped in front of this particular one. There's something warm about it, I suppose. It feels homey, like it's lived in and full of love. It's nothing like my house; my cold, empty house that apparently matches my cold, empty heart.

There are lights on inside the house, and there's movement. There's sound. I think I catch laughter, but I can't be sure. It's something foreign to me, apparently. I'm so lost in my thoughts that I don't even notice when a figure emerges from the house and walks towards where I'm standing on the sidewalk.

"Quinn?"

I startle, my heart practically jumping out of my chest as I look down at the feet of the owner of the voice. I'd know those Mary Janes anywhere. "Jesus," I mutter, my hand pressed to my chest. "Are you trying to kill me?"

Rachel Berry sidles up to me, her posture mirroring mine as she stands in front of me. "What are you doing out here?" she asks, and the surprise is clear to hear in her voice.

"I should ask you the same question."

She waits a beat before she answers. "Well, I mean, I do live here."

I glance at her, which is a mistake, given the quick gasp that she releases at the sight of me.

"Have you been crying?" she asks suddenly, stepping towards me. The light touch of her hand on my forearm brings a sharp intake of breath out of me, and she ducks her head to get a better look at my face because my gaze is firmly planted on the sidewalk between us. "Quinn," she whispers, and her tone is so caring; so pained, that it happens.

It just happens. I'm powerless to stop it.

The tears I've been so desperate to keep at bay announce their presence, and they practically surge straight out of my body. They blind me, and I reach out for her, just to have something to hold onto as everything Finn said suddenly hits me. Wounds me. It feels like it's killing me.

Rachel gasps in alarm, and I feel her grip on my arm disappear. For a moment, I panic: she's leaving me too; but then her arms are around my neck, drawing me into her embrace, and she just keeps me wrapped in her arms. She holds me close as I sob into her shoulder, my body shaking from the force of my tears. I'm vaguely aware of them soaking her sweater but still she holds me, her arms warm and comforting in a way I'm certain I don't deserve.

It feels like years have past when she eventually pulls back, barely releasing me. My eyes are still closed but I can feel her wiping the salty water off my cheeks with her fingers. It's a futile attempt because the tears haven't stopped.

"Hey," she murmurs, and I force my eyes open. There's a look of understanding on her face, a touch of sympathy and something else I don't recognise. "Do you want to come inside?" she asks quietly, but it's not really a question.

I manage a slight nod, which jerks her into action. She slides an arm around my waist, practically supporting me, and guides me towards the front door. I stumble slightly when we reach the front porch - I can barely see - but her grip on me only tightens. Quietly, she pushes open the front door and we step inside. It's brighter in here and I automatically squint.

"Rachel?" a disembodied voice says from somewhere in the house.

"Everything's okay, Daddy," Rachel says from beside me, and even I can hear the lie in her voice. She's always been a lousy liar. "Come on," she whispers to me, and then we're heading up the stairs to what is her bedroom. I've been in it a few times - Glee Club kids are known snoopers - but it still surprises me. It's not the colours - pink and yellow - or the bedazzlement - there's a lot - but more the fact that it feels like Rachel. Like comfort. Safe. And warm.

She guides me to the edge of her bed and sets me down. Her brow is furrowed in concern as she studies me for a moment, checking for my fight or flight response. "Stay here," she says, unnecessarily, because where am I going to go? "I'll be right back," she murmurs, her right hand tucking a lock of hair behind my ear.

I watch her leave the room in silence. I don't even know what I'm doing here or how I ended up in Rachel Berry's bedroom. Really, if anyone told me this was how I would be spending my evening, I would've been in hysterics. Everything seemed so much simpler this morning. This morning, I still had Finn. And now... now I have nobody. No father, no mother, no sister and no Finn.

When Rachel gets back, she has a bottle of water, a pill bottle, a small tub of ice-cream, a fresh bowl of popcorn, a six-pack of soda and three bars of chocolate with her. She's pouting a little as she manoeuvres through the door with her tray, and I almost smile. Almost.

"I don't know what we're nursing, so I brought everything," she says. "My Daddy's making his famous burgers for dinner, but they won't be ready for a while."

I just stare at her.

Rachel sets the tray down on her desk, grabs the pill bottle and water before moving towards me. She's cautious with her approach, as if I'll bolt if she makes too sudden a movement. Slowly, she moves to sit on the edge of her bed, one leg tucked under her so she can face me comfortably.

"Do you have a headache?" she asks. "I have some Advil if you do."

I do have a headache, but it pales in comparison to whatever is going on in my chest. Will Advil help with that? I shake my head at her, and her shoulders tense.

She sets the bottles aside and gives me her undivided attention. "I don't know what I'm dealing with here, Quinn," she says carefully, keeping her voice even. For a moment, I marvel at how she can sound both light and heavy at the same time. How does she do that? There's such a gravity to her voice, and yet she still sounds painfully upbeat. "Did something happen?"

I jerk a nod. I can't say it out loud.

"Okay," she says. "Was it something bad?" Then: "Scratch that. Obviously, it was bad." She reaches out to take one of my hands, probably just to stop my nervous fidgeting. "Is it your mom?" she asks.

I shake my head.

"Uh, the Cheerios?"

Another shake.

"Finn?"

I whimper, and she squeezes my hand.

"Something happened with Finn," she deduces, turning the idea over in her mind. Then, gasping quietly, she asks: "Quinn? You're not pregnant again, are you?"

An unexpected laugh escapes my lips. "God, no."

"She speaks," Rachel says, squeezing my fingers again, though she does look relieved. "Are you going to tell me what's going on or are you going to make me keep guessing?"

I say nothing.

She huffs in mild annoyance. "Okay, this is clearly to do with Finn. You're definitely emotional." She ponders it. "Is this like sophomore year when the two of you broke up for two seconds?"

I wish. Honestly, that one day had been torturous in the kind of way I've never been able to explain. Say what you want about my relationship with Finn, but that was the moment I figured out that I really loved him.

In the beginning, when we first started out, it was just what was expected: the Quarterback and the Head Cheerleader. We fit. I liked him well enough, but then those dopey smiles and heartwarming idiocy wormed their way into my hard shell of a heart, and I was a goner.

Then the boy decided to join Glee Club and ruin everything.

We fought and broke up the way sixteen-year-olds can, and I realised I didn't want to be without him. Which was why I tried. I tried so hard to make it work by joining Glee with him, and this is how he treats me.

Though, in hindsight, that I-love-you realisation had to be the best and the worst thing to ever happen to me, and to us. Getting pregnant the first time you have sex is a probability that never should have resulted when Finn Hudson and Quinn Fabray finally decided to take the next step - straight to children - in their relationship. Really, it took me months to allow him to touch me properly again, after I pushed out an entire human being from down there.

"Quinn?" Rachel's voice brings me back to the present, and I sigh. "Did you...? Uh, did you two break up?"

I can't answer. Even if I could, the sudden wave of fresh tears stops any coherent words from coming out. I'm crying again, and Rachel's pulling me into her embrace, her arms wrapping around me and holding me together. Her left hand slides up and down my back, soothing me. It's the kind of gentle movement that could bring a person back to life. It's what I need, too, because I feel as if I'm dying. All the life I've lived these past two years and five months has been so tied up in Finn, and my relationship with Finn. I don't even know who I am without him.

Which, I suppose, might give some credit to his argument, but I'm still just too mad to accept that right now.

When my sobs subside, I pull back, embarrassed. "Sorry," I mumble, deftly wiping at my eyes.

Rachel reaches for a box of tissues situated on her nightstand and hands one to me. "Don't be sorry," she tells me. "If you'd seen me after Jesse and I broke up... wow. I think I scared my dads so much, they considered getting my therapist to make a house visit." She falls silent for a beat. "Though, that really could have been because of the trauma of the eggs."

I can't help my smile this time, and my gaze slides up to meet hers. There's such a pure and earnest look in her eyes, and I suddenly feel unworthy to be sitting here, receiving all this comfort and kindness from a girl I'm not even sure I particularly like on the average day. Sure, I've toned down the insults - they come out only when provoked - and we have conversations from time to time, but the two of us have never really been friends.

Just, friendly.

And definitely not friendly enough for this.

"I should go," I suddenly say, even though I don't move.

She ignores me. "Why were you in front of my house?" she asks.

"Easy there, Berry," I say. "I was just walking around. I didn't know this was your house when I stopped." Which is odd, because I've been here before. It looks different in the dark, perhaps. I'll go with that.

She looks thoughtful. "Why were you just walking around?"

"Because I didn't want to be home alone," I answer, almost automatically. And then panic. Why did I say that? "I mean, uh, it's just my mom isn't exactly around right now. She's visiting my sister for the weekend." I frown. "Wow, he really picked the best weekend for this, didn't he?" I can't even say his name out loud, let alone what he did.

She must pick up on something in my words because her eyes widen in the most comical way. "Wait," she says, frowning. "Finn broke up with you?"

All I can do is stare, as I try to keep fresh tears away.

"I don't - " she starts; "I don't understand."

Join the club, Berry.

"I mean, you're you," she adds a moment later. "Did he say why, if you don't mind my asking?"

I blink. "Uh..."

She squeezes my hand. "Sorry," she says, noticing my distress. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to. I didn't mean to pry."

"I do want to tell you," I find myself saying; "just, not now."

"Okay," she says, rather brightly. "Want to watch a brainless comedy and pig out instead?"

I can barely get out a nod before she's up and moving. She's almost a blur, I swear, as she sets up some movie on her television, shifts the tray to the bed and plonks herself down on the other side of me. She doesn't say anything more as she lifts the remote, presses play, grabs the popcorn and moves back to recline against her headboard. I've never been so grateful for her silence in my entire life, and it takes me a moment to consider moving.

After an internal debate, I toe off my shoes and shift as well, moving into a position similar to hers and holding my abdomen. I feel a little like a turtle.

"You look like a turtle," she suddenly says, and my eyes snap towards her in surprise. She looks alarmed. "I don't mean that in a bad way," she hurries to say. "It's just, you know, the green dress, the..." she trails off. "Never mind."

I shake my head, feeling a little uncomfortable with the idea she could have been inside my head. I reach for the (possibly melting) ice-cream. "Is this vegan?" I ask.

"No."

I hum in response. It's Rocky Road, which is particularly ironic following the events of the day. I don't even know how I'm supposed to get through this. I mean, Finn might think I've never let him all the way in, but he's the one who's got the furthest, and now... he's set everything he's been given access to on fire.

Right.

Never making that mistake again.

We watch the movie in silence for a while. I don't even know what movie it is because I'm not really paying attention. I'm not really thinking about him either, which I guess is good. I'm rather thinking about the girl just to my right, who's attention is fixed on her television screen. I can tell she's burning with questions. Her hands twitch as if she's trying to stop herself from comforting me with her touch, and I can't help but find it endearing.

As the movie goes on, I lean forward to get that Advil, and Rachel opens the bottle of water for me.

"Thanks," I murmur, taking it from her and downing the medication. I don't actually know if it will help because the throbbing in my head has been a little welcoming. Something to focus on other than the throbbing in my chest.

I think my movement prompts something because, before I know it, Rachel's reached out to take hold of my right hand, and she holds it in the space between our bodies. It's... comforting. Grounding, in a way. She's still, which is also nice.

Somehow, we end up leaning against each other, shoulder to shoulder, as we let the stupidity of the movie drown out all thoughts. She's warm against me, comforting without even trying. This entire situation is just weird, but so is this whole day.

When the movie comes to an end, she turns to look at me. "Another one?"

I don't respond to the question. "Do you think I'm a horrible person?" I ask, my voice barely audible.

Rachel doesn't answer immediately. "If you'd asked me this question freshman year, I probably would have said yes," she confesses, and I close my eyes at the memory of my younger, bullying self. I did some terrible things that I'm not proud of, but I like to think I've changed and matured; grown into the expectations of Quinn Fabray, Head Cheerleader. "But no, I don't think you're a horrible person, Quinn." She smiles in reassurance. "I actually think you're rather special, even if you choose to show it only to certain people and only at certain times."

"Does that make me a bitch?"

She frowns. "Just because you're not an open book?"

I nod once.

"I'll admit that it can be disconcerting sometimes," she says. "To the outside world, you're one way, and then an entirely different way with your friends, or with, uh, Finn."

Not different enough, apparently.

Rachel's gaze meets mine, and I feel exposed. Like, she's looking straight into me and seeing everything I didn't even know I was trying to hide. I look away. "Is that why?"

"What?"

"Is that why Finn, uh, ended it? Because of the different sides?"

I blink, fighting off a wave of hurt just at the sound of his name. Seriously, how do people do this? "I don't even know," I admit. "He said a lot of things, and I think I've barely registered anything after 'I want to break up with you' and 'your cold icy heart.'"

She gasps loudly, and she looks genuinely scandalised. "He didn't?"

I shrug.

"Well, he's an idiot," she says dismissively. "I barely know you, but even I know that's not true. There isn't ice in your heart, Quinn. Anyone with half a brain can see that. I mean, sure, you've done some questionable things in the past - I have too - but you're definitely not cold." I drop my gaze. "You don't actually believe him, do you?"

Before I can respond, we're interrupted, which I read as a sign from the heavens.

"Rachel," a voice calls from downstairs. "Dinner's ready."

I tense immediately.

She feels it. "Hey," she whispers, and I feel her thumb move over the top of my hand. "We don't have to go downstairs if you don't want to," she offers. "I can bring the food up here, if you'd prefer that."

God, why is the so damn nice? "No, I'm okay," I say, which is such a lie, and we both know it. "It'd be rude," I add. "I mean, I haven't even greeted your parents yet." And I'm nothing if not a polite, well-mannered guest to other houses.

"Are you sure?"

"No."

She laughs lightly, squeezing my hand one last time, before she gets up off the bed. Carefully, she smoothes out her clothing - as much as you can jeans and a sweater - and then moves to switch off the television. "If you'd like to use the bathroom, it's through there," she says, gesturing towards a closed door off her bedroom.

I look at her. "Is that your not-so-subtle way of telling me I look like crap?"

"I don't think there's ever been a day when you've looked like, uh, crap," she says, and her voice is almost a whisper. "Even like this, you're beautiful."

I'll admit, I'm a little stumped. How do I even reply to that?

She shakes her head, as if she's trying to clear it. "We'll be downstairs whenever you're ready," she tells me before she leaves. All I can do is watch her go, fight off my sudden, inexplicable panic, and then get up and go to the bathroom. Despite what she thinks, I must look a sight.

I'm not wrong. My eyes are puffy and red, my cheeks are splotchy and my hair is looking like a bird's nest.

Sighing, I splash my face with cold water and try to tame my hair. After a quick use of the toilet, I smooth out as many wrinkles from my dress as I can, take a deep breath, and then head downstairs.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

Rachel

you ask your heart why it is always hurting.
it says 'this is the only thing you will allow me to say to you.
the only feeling you are willing to feel.'


"Don't be weird."

My Dad lets out a snicker, and I shoot him a pointed look that wipes the humour from his face. "We hear you, Sweetheart," he says quietly, dropping his gaze. I should feel bad, but all I want is for Quinn to feel safe and comfortable here.

"I'm sorry," I say anyway. I don't want my dads to be uncomfortable either. "She's just - she's had a rough day, and she's nervous, and please don't interrogate her or ask questions about her family or her boyfriend or, you know, things."

My Dad stands up straighter, almost puffing out his chest. "You can count on us," he says.

I let out a light laugh, just as I hear a familiar creak on the third last stair. I turn to the kitchen door, fully expecting Quinn to emerge, but she doesn't. I cast a dubious look at my Dad before I leave the kitchen in search of the blonde. I find her on that third step, hovering silently in the dark. She does look nervous, her lower lip between her teeth and her gaze downcast.

I hold out a hand for her to take. "Come on," I say; "we don't bite."

"Speak for yourself," my Dad calls out, and I roll my eyes.

"Ignore him," I tell Quinn; "I normally do."

"I heard that."

Quinn lets out a small chuckle, and she seems to relax just a bit. Well, enough to slip her hand into mine and allow me to lead her into the kitchen. Into the light. I'll admit I'm a little caught off guard by the change in appearance. Her tears had smeared her makeup, but now it's all gone, and a bare Quinn is even more beautiful. It's not even fair, truly.

"Uh, Quinn, this is my Dad, Hiram, and over there by the stove is my Daddy, LeRoy," I say. She's met them in a group setting before, but I reintroduce them anyway. It might ease her into the evening a bit more, which we're all going to need.

Like clockwork, Quinn's smile - I assume it's a forced one - takes residence on her face and she looks at my dads with the kindest eyes I've ever seen. How anyone could think there's ice in there, really, is beyond me. "Good evening, Mr Berry and Mr Berry," she says, and she giggles quietly. It's the softest sound, and a smile blooms on my face. "I'm sorry for arriving unannounced like this."

"Oh, nonsense," my Dad says, waving a hand in dismissal. "Between you and me, I think LeRoy's just glad to have another meat eater around for dinner."

Quinn smiles again, and it seems more genuine. "Are you vegan too, sir?" she asks.

"It's Hiram, Quinn," he says gently. "And, yes, I am. LeRoy claims I've brought Rachel to the dark side."

"You have," the man at the stove comments, flipping the last burger patty. "Sit, sit, everyone," he calls over his shoulder. "We've got to eat them while they're still hot."

It takes us a moment to get seated at the kitchen table. It is designed for six people, but my Daddy has his work on the one end of the table, which makes it a little tight. Quinn ends up sitting right next to me - almost on me, if you ask me - but I don't mind. I think she draws comfort from my proximity, which is just so mind-blowing that my chest swells whenever I think about it. Until this moment, I was convinced she just used to tolerate my existence, but now she's here, conversing with my dads and eating dinner with us.

Even without having warned my dads about the emotional rollercoaster Quinn's been on, it's easy to see she's not quite happy right now. It's obvious she tries, though. She pays attention as best she can but, once the smile slips off her face, it isn't as easily replaceable. My dads cast worried looks my way but I'm about as lost as they are. I mean, I've been with my friends through their breakups before but Quinn Fabray is entirely new territory.

She doesn't eat much, and is quick to apologise for her lack of appetite. "It really is delicious though," she says to my Daddy, and there's sincerity in there. "I'm sorry if it looks as if I'm not enjoying it."

He looks at her for a moment, understanding in his eyes. "Oh, that's all right, Quinn," he says. "I suppose you'll just have to come back another night to get the full Berry experience."

She looks up, blinking. "I - I can come back?"

My dads exchange a look. "Of course," my Daddy says. "You're always welcome here."

Quinn drops her gaze then, her hands fidgeting in her lap as she worries her bottom lip. She looks so much like a lost child right now; it's difficult for me to consolidate her with the fearless - sometimes ruthless - Head Cheerleader she is at school. Oh, Finn... what did you do?

The conversation is a little stilted after that, but nobody presses Quinn to talk. I try to fill the silence as best I can, telling my dads about my uneventful Friday. Really, it was one of the most boring days... until Quinn showed up on my sidewalk, looking at my house with something wistful in her eyes.

When we're done eating - save for Quinn, I guess - we clear up. Quinn insists on helping me with the dishes, and I suspect she just wants something to do. Anything to keep her mind occupied.

When she's dried the last plate and placed it back in its rightful place, the reality of the evening settles back down on us, and I can practically see her body carry the weight of it, her shoulders sagging and her face falling. Before I know what I'm doing, I'm pulling her into another hug. She's not crying. It's the first one we've had when she's not crying uncontrollably, and the stillness of this embrace is both welcoming and overwhelming.

"Do you really think everything is going to be okay?" she asks quietly, her breath tickling my neck.

"I do," I tell her, my voice confident and firm.

She sighs, and I try not to squirm. I'm a ticklish person and I'm convinced it'd be a death sentence if she were to find out just how much.

"Do you want to go back upstairs?" I ask, pulling back so I can look at her. "Maybe watch another horrible movie? Drink the melted ice-cream?"

She smiles for just a moment before she nibbles at her bottom lip, which I'm coming to learn is a sign of her nerves. She's unsure, and I wait, trying not to feel a sudden wave of hurt of my own. "Can I?" she eventually asks, her voice quiet. "I mean, I don't want to intrude on your evening. Maybe you have plans, and I just showed up and now - "

"Hey," I interrupt, reaching for both of her hands. "You're starting to sound like me," I tease. "I wouldn't have offered if I didn't mean it, Quinn. You're also welcome to spend the night if you want."

Her eyebrows rise at the sound of that. "Really?"

I nod.

"Because... I don't really want to go back to an empty house."

"I don't want you to either," I say, squeezing her hands. "Then it's settled. I think I have some sweats that could probably fit you." I lead the way back upstairs, one of her hands still in mine. It feels natural in a way I don't quite understand, and it isn't as if she's protesting. I do let go when we enter my bedroom, and I disappear into my closet to find her something to wear. She's taller than me, but that's the main difference, I guess. My dance and her cheerleading have given us both somewhat athletic builds.

When I find something suitable, I go back into my room to find Quinn seated on the edge of my bed. She's staring into space, clearly lost in her own little world. As heartbreaking as it is, it's also rather fascinating. I've been under no illusion that there's more to Quinn Fabray than she lets the general public see, and I can't help feeling I've bought a ticket to the show.

Apparently, Finn Hudson decided to return his.

"These should fit," I say, interrupting her thoughts.

She startles slightly, and then offers me an embarrassed smile. "Sorry," she murmurs.

"No worries," I assure her, smiling in return.

She stands and takes the clothes from me. "Thanks," she says, and then disappears into my bathroom. I return to my closet and change into my own pyjamas: just sweats and an old band camp t-shirt. Quinn and I are going to match, apparently. Totally unintentional, I swear.

She raises her eyebrows when I step out, and then smiles. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you did this on purpose."

"I don't know what you're talking about," I say, moving towards the television to put in another movie. "Any preference?"

"I'm flexible."

I swallow audibly as I pick another random, mundane comedy and pop it in. I don't even think I looked at the title, which is a moot point in the end because Quinn and I barely watch it. It's odd, really, but my attention can never quite leave her face once we start talking. We're lying side by side, our shoulders leaning against each other and her hand in mine. It mirrors our earlier position but something seems different. I can't say what.

We don't talk about anything particularly profound. In fact, we start off discussing veganism. At first, I think she's just humouring me, but the way she's looking at me as I speak proves she's actually, genuinely interested. Finding people who actually listen to me when I talk is rare.

"Are you thinking of trying it?" I ask.

She lets out a breathy laugh, and I feel it wash over me. "I'm not against trying it," she confesses. "Though, I have to say I'd probably give it up pretty quickly. I'm a little too in love with bacon for that kind of life."

I wrinkle my nose. "Ew."

She smiles, and I feel immensely proud that I put it there. "It amazes me, really, that you can be that happy all the time without having tasted the wonder that is bacon."

Something about her words stills the air in my throat and I look at her. "You know, I'm not happy all the time," I tell her. My voice drops in volume, and her smile slips away. I almost want to kick herself.

"I know," she says sombrely, her hand squeezing mine this time. "I suppose you're just better at hiding it than others." She cocks her head to the side. "Though, you have been known to deliver a perfected diva storm-off."

I laugh. "We have to give the people what they want."

She looks thoughtful. "Look, if you want to talk about anything, you can," she says sincerely. "I know I'm here because..." she trails off. "Just, if you do want to talk - about anything - I'd like to, uh, listen."

"Something tells me you would be good at it," I murmur, and she nods once in agreement. "I'm more worried about you though," I tell her.

Tears spring to her eyes almost immediately, and she's falling into me as another flurry of sobs takes over her body. I slip an arm around her shoulders and draw her closer, trying not to think about how devastating it is to hear her cry; to see her in so much pain that I can't even understand. I mean, I know she's human and of course she feels pain, but she's never shown it. Not to me, at least. She's probably shown it to Santana, Brittany and Finn, but here she is now, crying into my shoulder and still looking pretty.

When she pulls away, she wipes at her eyes and starts to apologise.

"Don't," I say. "It's okay. I'm convinced my shoulder was designed for just such a moment."

She lets out a small laugh, her eyes falling on my face before drifting down to my shoulder where her tears have created a rather large stain on my grey t-shirt. They widen at the sight. "After all my crying today, you'd think I'd run out of tears by now."

Silently, I reach for the bottle of water further down the bed and hand it to her. "You should probably stay hydrated."

She takes it gratefully, and then drinks about half the bottle. I can't help but stare at her throat as she swallows, a weird feeling settling in the pit of my stomach.

We talk about other things then, mostly about movies and music. She mentions, rather casually, that she plays the piano, which shouldn't surprise me but it does. Why hasn't she ever played in Glee Club?

Her shrugged response doesn't deter me. "I think you should," I say.

"You don't even know if I'm any good," she points out.

"I can't imagine you being bad at anything."

"Other than relationships, apparently," she comments darkly, and the mood immediately changes. She sighs, as if she's just realised what she's said. "I didn't think there would come a day when h-he wouldn't want me," she says quietly. "I thought, after everything we've been through, this would be it. He would be it. I didn't have to worry about living a life without him. We were going to be together forever. I mean, how naive is that?"

"It's not naive," I hurry to say.

She shakes her head. "No, Rachel, I know better," she says, and her voice is stern. "I've seen life and love fall apart. I know it doesn't last forever, and I was just too blind and stupid to think it ever would with, uh, him."

I don't know what to say to her.

She runs her free hand through her hair. "I should never have let him get as close as he did. I should never have let him have the power to hurt me like this. I should have been stronger. I should have known better. I'm better than this. I deserve better than this." She looks at me. "Don't I?" She starts speaking again before I can get a word out. "I mean, I know I haven't been the greatest person in the past. I know I've made life choices that are considered questionable. I know I'm not the nicest person, but does that mean I des - " her voice catches, and there are fresh tears in her eyes. It's not the overwhelming type, so I don't draw her close, but my left hand does slide over her upper arm, trying to soothe her.

She wipes away the offending tears with her free hand. "I suppose this isn't helping with my HBIC cred, is it?" she says, mocking herself.

"Not exactly," I tell her; "but it is helping with the Quinn side."

She breathes out. "Do you think I hide myself too much?"

"Yes." It sounds almost desperate, and I panic slightly. "I mean, I know I'd like to get to know the real Quinn Fabray a bit better."

She nods once, twice, before she deflates, leaning into me that bit more. She's so warm and soft and, despite the fact she's in my clothes, she still smells distinctly like Quinn. Maybe it's her shampoo or her perfume, or just her unique smell, but it's settling. As weird as this entire night has been for me, and for her, she's still Quinn.

We talk about Harry Potter next. I don't know how we get there, but we do. We sort each other into Houses - Hufflepuff for me and Gryffindor for her - which just makes her arch a perfect eyebrow and, instead of fearing it, I marvel in it.

"I thought for sure you'd choose Slytherin," she says, eyeing me curiously.

"It's not that I don't think you're cunning, Quinn," I tell her. "In fact, I think you'd probably fit into any of the Houses. It's just, well, I think it's your bravery and courage and your ferocity that shine through the most. And, isn't that what the sorting is about? I'm loyal, and you're fierce. They're our most valued and endearing qualities. Because, by definition, I could be Slytherin too."

"You did send our competition to a crackhouse."

I groan. "It was empty!"

She giggles. Like, actually giggles, and it's probably the greatest sound I've ever hard. Honestly, after all the tears of tonight, I'm just so relieved she can still giggle, loud and proud and without any qualms.

"And it was one time," I add, and am rewarded with a full-on Quinn Fabray laugh that makes a flutter erupt in my stomach. Huh?

Quinn looks at me through her lashes. "You're too much, sometimes," she says gently. It's not meant to be an insult. She hasn't done that in a while, but she says it in a way to make sure I know she wasn't trying to hurt me.

She apologised once. It was just a few weeks after the school found out about the pregnancy; just days after her parents kicked her out. I don't recall how it happened, but we were the only two people in the choir room. I might've been getting extra practice in and she might've just been early. I remember her glowing that day, somehow growing into her pregnancy; embracing it in a way.

To this day, I still can't imagine what it must have been like without her parents or without her home. At least she had Finn.

But now she doesn't.

I'd wanted to talk to her since I found out her parents kicked her out, but I didn't know what to say. What does one say, truly? But, before I could even think to apologise, she was apologising to me. It was so unexpected, I remember just standing there and staring at her (I do a lot of staring at her, apparently.) It was a relatively quick apology. She didn't go into detail; just said she was sorry for how she'd always treated me. Of course, by then, the bullying had stopped, but it was the first time she acknowledged it at all. I didn't get the chance to respond before the room was filling up again.

We've never discussed it again.

"I know," I find myself saying. "I'll never change."

"And I'll never want you to."

We fall silent as we tune in to the last few minutes of the pointless movie. As soon as the credits roll, I carefully extricate myself from around Quinn and change the DVD to a stand-up comedy show. It goes over much better, because I get to hear so much of Quinn's laugh that it feels as if there's a hurricane going on in my stomach. She's practically breathless by the time the final joke is said, and I can only marvel at the rose pink of her cheeks and the tears of laughter in her eyes.

She places a hand over her heart. "Wow. I definitely needed that." She lets out a yawn, and even that is graceful. I mean, seriously?

"Tired?" I ask.

She nods.

I get off the bed and start the preparations for calling it a night. During the comedy show, my dads dropped by to wish us goodnight, only one of them raising eyebrows at how close to each other we were sitting, so it's just Quinn and me. When I've cleared the bed and switched off the television, I go into the bathroom. My nightly routine can be extensive, but I abridge it for tonight. I remove a new toothbrush from the pile under the sink and place it on the counter for Quinn. I use the toilet, brush my teeth, wash my face, and then slip out. She goes in a minute later.

I switch off the main light and flick on my lampshade before I climb into my side of the bed. I absently wonder if I should have offered Quinn the guest bedroom, but I don't want her far in case she devolves into another bout of sobs during the night. I want her close.

I mean, it's one thing to have Quinn Fabray show up on your doorstep - without even meaning to, apparently - but this is something else entirely. Quinn is right here, in my bedroom, in my clothes, about to crawl into my bed. It's unheard of. It's unprecedented.

"Wow."

I look up at her, frowning slightly.

She's smiling. "Do you always think that loudly?"

I blush. I can't help it.

She pads across the carpet towards her side of the bed - her side, really? - with a small, knowing smile on her face. "I've always wondered, you know, do you also think in run-on sentences?"

I gasp. "I resent that, Fabray," I mutter, and am rewarded with such a genuine smile that my breath gets caught in my throat. There's a childish quality to it, the sides of her mouth sliding upwards and the slightest revelation of her perfect pearly-whites. I stare.

Thankfully, she doesn't notice, as she slips under the covers with enough grace to put princesses to shame. She shifts until she's comfortably lying on her back, her eyes on the stars on my ceiling. They brighten when I reach over to turn off the lampshade.

"I didn't plan this well," she says after we've laid in the dark for a full minute. "I didn't plan this at all."

I just listen.

"I'm just relieved your Daddy has contact fluid," she says.

"I didn't even know you wear contacts," I inform her.

Slowly, she turns onto her side to look at me and I look into the most perfect hazel eyes I've ever seen. Admittedly, she looks a little unfocused, but now I know why. I turn over as well and shift closer, so I'm clearer, I guess. "I've worn them since before freshman year," she says quietly, as if she's revealing a deep and dark secret. "The only person who's seen me in my glasses is..." she trails off. Finn. She hasn't said his name out loud and, frankly, I don't blame her. "So, it makes sense you wouldn't know I'm slowly going blind."

"Is it that bad?"

She shrugs. "I guess not. There are cases so bad that they can't even wear contacts."

I nod in understanding.

She closes her eyes and reaches blindly for my hand. I smile as I slip my left into her right, and she sighs. Her breath is warm and minty, and I can't help my smile as I study what I can see of her face in the dark. She's honestly the prettiest girl I've ever seen. I'm willing to admit it, truthful and honest. It's the kind of pretty a person can't even believe, sometimes. Her features, yes, and her eyes. The kind of pretty you could stare at for hours and hours, trying to convince yourself it's actually real. Yes, a human being can look like that.

After a minute, I close my eyes as well.

And, when I fall asleep, I dream of hazel eyes, genuine smiles and content giggling.


Quinn's side of the bed is empty when I wake up. Once glance at my clock tells me it's just gone eight o'clock, which is actually late for me, even on a Saturday. Why didn't I hear my alarm? Did I actually sleep through my alarm? I've never done that before. Well, I did, once, but that was because of the anaesthetic still in my system, I'm sure.

Wait. Where's Quinn?

I sit up suddenly, my ears drawn to the sound of my shower running. Oh. I lie back down, breathing out as memories of the previous night come to mind: finding Quinn standing in front of our house, having her break down in my arms - several times - and sleeping beside her.

Eventually, I roll out of bed and move towards my dresser. I pull a brush through my hair, just to make it look presentable until I can get a chance to shower. It shouldn't be long now, because I hear the shower turn off. I hope she can find the towels under the sink.

It's when Quinn has been in there for another fifteen minutes that I start to worry.

Five minutes later, I get up, move towards the door and knock gently. "Quinn?" I say.

Silence.

"Quinn?" I try again. "Are you okay in there?"

There's no sound for a few seconds, and then I hear it. It's just a whimper, small and significant, but it has me panicked in an instant. My hand moves to the handle and I turn it, unsurprised to find it locked.

"Quinn, open the door," I say, trying to keep my voice calm. "Quinn? Quinn? Open the door. You have to open the door. Open the door!" My panic is seeping out of me now and I can't keep it out of my voice. "Quinn? Quinn? Please, you have to open the door."

There's a beat of silence, and then I hear the click of the lock. I barely wait a second before I'm opening the door, unsure what I'm going to find. I'm both surprised and also not when I see her on the floor by the bathtub, curled up in just her towel, the sobs attacking her body. Her hair is damp from the shower, and her cheeks are wet from her tears.

I move to kneel down beside her, wrapping her in my arms without a qualm to the fact that she's still wet in places and she's practically naked.

"It's okay," I murmur into her wet hair, my hand sliding over it. "It's okay. You're going to be okay. I've got you. You'll be okay." I keep repeating the same sentiments until her trembling stops. I don't let her go. I can't get the image of possibly finding her not okay out of my head and I squeeze my eyes tightly shut, forcing the thoughts away.

"I'm sorry," she cries, burrowing into me a bit more. "I don't mean to be such a basket case. I'm such a mess."

"Hey," I soothe, unable to stop myself from dropping a kiss to the top of her head. "Do you realise to whom you're talking?"

She lets out a small laugh that sounds wet and painful, and I just hold her closer. "I was just," she starts; "I was fine, and then I just wasn't." She sighs. "Also, I think I may or may not have finished all your hot water."

"I don't even care about that," I say. "I was just worried about you."

She burrows into me again and her breath tickles my neck. I try not to squirm, but I must fail because she pulls away quite suddenly, looking embarrassed. "Uh..." she starts, but I reach for her again, inviting her back into my embrace.

"I'm ticklish," I admit. "You didn't do anything wrong."

"Ticklish, huh?" she asks, arching an eyebrow. "Interesting."

I swallow audibly, but she does come back, and I can't help thinking that I never want to let her go. When my body starts to cramp, I initiate the release and we go about the rest of getting ready as if none of it happened. When I'm done with my shower, Quinn isn't in my room. I find her downstairs in the kitchen with my dads, talking to them about her favourite books. It's no secret to anyone who's bothered to look that Quinn Fabray is an avid reader.

She's sitting at the breakfast nook, deftly slicing fruit for breakfast and discussing Shakespeare with my Dad. I can smell pancakes, but I'm too preoccupied with the steady smile on Quinn's face to register the grumbling in my stomach. She's still dressed in my sweatpants and a fresh t-shirt, but there's something so much fresher about her. Her hair is up in a messy bun, and I don't think I've ever seen her look this relaxed in my entire life.

"My favourite is actually Hamlet," Quinn is telling my Dad, and I just stand in the doorway and watch. "I know it's tragic and truly depressing. I also know that Ophelia is probably one of the weakest female characters the Bard portrayed, but there's something to be seen in the intricate way he crafts Hamlet's struggle to accept the truth he's learned."

My Dad is practically salivating.

"I suppose I can relate to that in some way," Quinn continues. "It probably sounds stupid but I like to imagine that things would make more sense if a person could actually make a soliloquy in real life."

"I don't think it's stupid at all," my Dad says. "I, personally, enjoy the pathetic fallacy of it all."

Quinn smiles knowingly, and my breath catches. "To be honest, I expected a tornado to hit Lima yesterday or something equally drastic, given everything that's been going on inside of me."

I watch my Dad nod in understanding, though he says nothing.

My Daddy suddenly declares the pancakes ready, and I startle, even squeaking. It does a good job of alerting them to my presence and I'm met with two chorused Good mornings, and a small smile from Quinn.

"We made pancakes," my Daddy exclaims, waving a spatula.

"We?" I question warily, moving into the kitchen and stopping right beside Quinn.

"Quinn and I," he answers. "She made the non-vegan batter, so you won't even get to taste them. Which I did, and they're delicious."

I pout for just a moment before I glance at Quinn and smile at her blush.

"Can we keep her?" he asks, and I laugh.

"Sure, Daddy," I say; "we can keep her."

Once we get settled at the kitchen table - there's more space this morning, though Quinn is still sitting rather close to me - conversation continues. Quinn is a lot more present this morning, and my dads seem more at ease. I mean, of course they know who Quinn Fabray is. They know of before, and they know of now. They recognise a person's ability to change and, really, Quinn is like a parent's wet dream: all polite, well-mannered, soft-spoken and generally just can-we-swap-our-kid-for-you. If I wasn't so lost in this new dynamic, I'd find it a little annoying.

Quinn and my Dad get back to talking about Shakespeare, and I exchange a look with my Daddy. He rolls his eyes but his smile is genuine.

"Personally, I think Macbeth is my favourite," my Dad says. "I'm not sure what it is, exactly, but I think the message behind the everlasting destruction of blind ambition is important. Lady Macbeth, as awful as she is, is such a powerful character, even if you can find a way to ignore her gender. The lengths she goes to. The brutality. Did you feel the same?"

I pipe up. "We haven't studied Macbeth."

My Dad looks stricken, his eyes on Quinn. "Oh, I just assumed... with all your prior knowledge - "

"Actually," Quinn says, gently interrupting him and placing a hand on my forearm. "I have studied Macbeth, and I do feel the same. Macbeth might have had the ambition to be King, but I do believe his wife was, indeed, the reason he even considered doing something about it. Otherwise, I don't think he would've had it in him to go through with the murder at all."

I just stare at her, dumbfounded. "But... how?"

She ducks her head a little, blushing. "Uh, I may or may not take classes at the local college during the summer," she admits, and I can't bring myself to look away from her.

"That's brilliant," my Dad says. "What other Shakespearean works have you done?"

Quinn lifts her head, her blush still in full force, though her voice sounds anything but shy. "We did A Midsummer's Night Dream and Romeo & Juliet my first year, and then Macbeth and Twelfth Night the next year. This past summer, we did Hamlet and King Lear, which, admittedly, was very heavy for a seventeen-year-old."

I haven't stopped staring. I can't bring myself to do anything other than look at her.

"Wow," my Daddy says.

"I can imagine," my Dad says, looking impressed. "And you do these willingly?"

Quinn nods, perking up slightly. "I love literature," she says. "And, I mean, those works are only from my Shakespeare class. I take other classes as well. The Classics, of course. Straight poetry. Other plays. African Lit. The works."

She looks so animated; it's adorable.

"Is this what you're interested in studying when you graduate?" my Dad asks, and Quinn's face falls.

She presses her lips together and leans back. I can tell she's thinking about Finn, about college and their future that probably won't transpire, and my Dad's question has brought it all back to the forefront of her mind. I shoot him a glare, even though it's not his fault. Though, I did warn him not to ask about things.

I place a hand on Quinn's knee, offering her comfort. "It's still a while to go," I say. "We have time."

"Of course, dear."

We get back to our pancakes after an awkward silence, my Daddy once again complimenting Quinn on her recipe. She's quieter now, but she still blushes and mumbles a quiet Thank you. I realise belatedly that my hand is still on her knee - I don't know how I've managed to eat pancakes with one hand for so long - and take it back, fighting my own blush.

"So, what do you girls have planned for the day?" my Daddy asks, and Quinn looks to me.

"We'll probably hang around here," I say, answering for us both. I don't want her going anywhere. "Are you and Dad still going to the Farmer's Market?"

He nods. "Do you think you'll be all right for lunch?"

I nod. "We'll probably order in," I tell him. "Or, I'll just make Quinn cook."

Quinn laughs beside me, and I throw her an amused look.

After we've eaten, the table is cleared and my Dad and I do the dishes. Quinn and I go back upstairs to my room and watch another movie. It's a thriller this time because I can watch them only in the daytime. She clutches onto me, and I clutch onto her, which would have been weird for both of us before yesterday. It's amazing to think the most physical contact I've had in the last month - besides my dads - is none other than Quinn Fabray.

After our second movie, my stomach starts to grumble.

Quinn looks at me, clearly amused.

"Shut up," I mutter as I get up and saunter downstairs, fully aware that Quinn is following me. I go straight into the kitchen, but she stops at the fish tank between the living room and kitchen, bending to study the various fish.

"Okay," I say, shuffling through the various takeout menus I pick up off the top of the microwave. "Order in or do you feel like going out for lunch?" I ask.

Quinn looks up from the fish tank, her expression adorable in its childish fascination. Who knew goldfish could be so interesting? "I could go for a drive," she says. "Maybe order over the phone, pick it up and come back here? I spied a hell of a lot of One Tree Hill in your room, and I'm down for a marathon."

I grin at her before waving her over. "What tickles your fancy? Pizza? Thai? Indian?"

We have a small little debate over the nutritious value of our choices but ultimately decide that it's Saturday afternoon, she's newly single, and we're going to spoil ourselves. Well, as much as a vegan can, she comments, and I shoot her a scandalised look.

After lazing about for ten minutes, I go upstairs to grab my purse and keys, and put on my shoes and a hoodie. We flipped a coin and, apparently, I'm the one going into the restaurant to get the food. Which is why Quinn intends to climb into the passenger's side of my car with only socks on.

My socks, mind you.

When I get back downstairs, she's standing in the entrance foyer, staring into space. It's a sure sign a breakdown is coming, but the sound of the squeak on the third stair brings her back and she practically snaps to attention.

"You okay?" I ask.

"I have a super power, you know?" she says in response, and I raise my eyebrows to prompt her to continue. "I can look you dead in the face while you're talking and not hear a thing you're saying."

I just stare at her.

When her face breaks out into one of those dazzling smiles, I can't help but return it. Huffing in pretend annoyance, I close the space between us, reach for her hand and tug. We have places to be, and I'm starving.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

Quinn

fall apart.
please just, fall apart.
open your mouth.
and hurt.
hurt the size of everything it is.


Rachel drives in every way that I don't: carefully. She does all her checks, signals for everything and doesn't even get angry when other cars cut us off. In fact, I'm the one who rages at them with choice words and a wave of my hand. She just looks at me with a smile and I duck my head, embarrassed.

"Cars are the only place where the real curses come out," I tell her, absently reaching to turn the knob on the radio, searching for a suitable station. "Outside of cars, nothing. Inside, well, that's an entirely different story."

"I should get you in cars more often then," she says, and then quickly looks away from me.

I frown for a beat before I smile. "Would you find a cussing Quinn Fabray amusing?"

"Among other things, yes."

I fall silent as I keep turning the knob until a song I recognise comes on. It's just a song, a little poppy for my taste, maybe, but the easy beat and pointless words make me feel a little lighter. Rachel starts to hum along first, and then she starts singing. A few seconds later, we're both belting out the lyrics to the chorus, dancing in our seats and giving onlookers quite the eyeful. It's obvious Rachel doesn't care, and I'm surprised by the fact I don't either.

We sing along as she drives, somewhat blissful in our youth. I sing in my car when I'm driving alone, or when I'm with the Unholy Trinity or with Finn. All three times are to decidedly different types of music, but nothing has felt as freeing as it feels to sing utter garbage with Rachel Berry. Huh?

I'm not surprised she knows all the lyrics to all the songs that come on. In fact, I'd be more surprised if she didn't. When she pulls into the parking lot of the restaurant, I lower the volume to help her concentrate. She finds a spot easily enough - the lot is pretty empty - and turns to look at me.

"Are you sure you don't want to come in with me?" she asks, and there's a teasing lilt to her voice.

I arch an eyebrow. "I'm sure."

"Just checking," she murmurs, before she reaches for her purse and starts to get out.

I grab her wrist. "Wait," I say, fumbling for my own purse in the side of the door. "I have money."

She looks at me for the longest time, almost daring me to say something more. When I don't, she smirks. Rachel Berry can smirk, people. "The only way you get to contribute to the purchase of this meal is if you come inside with me."

Well, then, I guess Rachel is paying.

She cocks her head smugly, and then climbs out. I'm left to sit with my arms folded across my chest and a slight pout on my face. She finds it immensely amusing as she disappears into the restaurant. She's gone for about ten minutes before she emerges, a huge smile on her face and an even bigger parcel in her one hand. She waves at me, and I wave back like a kid. I don't know why, but I suddenly do feel like a little kid. Maybe it's the childlike innocence of Rachel Berry or just the way she looks at the world. I don't know, and I don't care.

She pops into the bakery next door for a few minutes, and she's positively beaming when she comes back out with an additional box. My eyes track her movement as she walks back to the car and climbs in. I take the parcels from her and set them down on the floor between my legs.

I want to ask her about the box from the bakery but I apparently have more patience than she does. It's obvious she's waiting for me to ask, but I won't budge. She's going to break first, I just know it. And, frankly, I'm surprised she lasts as long as she does. She's just shifted the car into Reverse, starts to redo her checks before she visibly deflates.

"Aren't you going to ask me what's in the box?" she asks, pouting slightly. I have to stop myself from finding it endearing.

"What box?" I ask, pure innocence.

Her eyes narrow. "Are you messing with me, Fabray?"

"Definitely."

She huffs. "Don't you want to know?"

"Do you want to tell me?"

"Why are you like this?" she whines, and I reach out to bop her nose with my forefinger.

"Come on, let's go home, and you can surprise me," I say, and we both go still at the sound of my words. I just called her house home. Huh? "Um, you know what I mean," I add, belatedly and awkwardly.

She smiles at me before redoing her checks, and then backing out of the spot. We're happily on our way when she speaks again. "I mean, aren't you even a little curious?"

"I'm very curious," I assure her. "I'm also curious as to how much running I'm going to have to do to burn off whatever goodies you're intending to tempt me with. Sylvester's weigh-ins are not a joke, Rachel."

"We're self-soothing."

I raise my eyebrows. "I know I am, but why are you self-soothing?"

"I'm nothing if not a supportive friend, Quinn Fabray," she says with an air of elitism, lifting her nose slightly.

My insides feel warm. "We're friends?" I'm irritated by how small my voice suddenly sounds, and I look away from her face as I wait for her response. I'm not disappointed.

"I've always wanted to be your friend," she says. "I know our relationship has been... interesting, but I've always wanted us to try. Maybe we're not the kind of friends we can be yet, but I do believe we're friends." She glances over at me, smiling gently. "And plus, only my friends get to wear my Coldplay t-shirt."

I look down at the t-shirt I'm wearing. I grabbed it from her closet this morning, and I distinctly remember her eyes widening, though she said nothing. "It's a cool shirt," I tell her. "Do you know I was also at this concert?"

"Oh yeah?"

I hum. "We went, uh, a group of us," I explain. "Me, Santana, Britt, Puck and..." I trail off. She knows whom I've left off the list. "It was nice," I say, recalling the memory. "We got there nice and early for the pre-show partying. Puck managed to get us some drinks, and we sang along to the music and danced until the stars in the sky were shining bright." I get a little lost in the memory and have to catch myself. "We actually took a train to the stadium, which required us to take a train back, but the last one was leaving at eleven o'clock."

I watch her face to see the moment realisation hits. "Oh, that's horrible."

"The show wasn't anywhere near over by then, and we had to leave during Yellow, which is probably my favourite Coldplay song, ever. It was so sad walking out of there with the music blaring. We were yelling at the top of our lungs and people were looking at us as if we'd properly lost it. I guess, maybe, in some way, we had." I sigh. "We barely made it for the train. We had to run, and I remember just making it inside. The doors closed right behind me, even clipping my jacket. It was quite the night."

She's looking at me with the softest expression now, and I'm surprised she holds my gaze for as long as she does. She's driving, after all.

I clear my throat when she looks away. "Who did you go with?" I ask.

"Kurt, Tina and Mercedes," she answers easily. "We all have crazy crushes on Chris Martin."

"Understandable."

"My dads dropped us off and picked us up, so there wasn't any drinking involved," she admits, and I catch sight of her slight blush. "But it was still amazing. I mean, I know Coldplay isn't exactly part of my immediate singing repertoire."

"They're everyone's repertoire, Berry," I comment.

She giggles. "What I mean is that a Coldplay song isn't usually my go-to, but damn if I don't love myself some Fix You."

"Is that your favourite?"

She shakes her head. "It's probably a toss-up between The Scientist and Paradise."

"Are you only saying Paradise because you know you're somewhere in the music video?" I ask, knowingly. I harbour a certain love for the song too because, during the concert, Chris Martin informed us they were filming footage that may or may not go into the music video for the particular song. I'm sure if you look into the crowds depicted in the video and squint your eyes just right; you'd see my face.

She bites her bottom lip. "Maybe."

I just shake my head as I adjust the volume on the radio once more, and we sing all the way back ho - to Rachel's house. We wait in the car until the current song finishes, the decision unspoken but mutual. It's almost comical the way she quickly turns it off as soon as the last bar is done. I get it, I do. If we even heard the first note of the next song; we'd have to sit through the entire thing, and I'm starving.

Once we're inside, we go straight to the kitchen. I get the plates while she unpacks the food. She dishes out while I pour us drinks, and then we descend on the living room. With her fathers out for the afternoon, we have the television to ourselves and she shifts through the channels, trying to find us something suitable to watch. Apparently, One Tree Hill has been postponed for when we're back in her bedroom.

I've been told I'm, once again, spending the night. I don't even bother to put up a fight.

Finally, Rachel settles on a Lifetime movie.

"I'm a complete sucker for these types of movies," she explains, glancing at me nervously. "This one is not a romance," she adds, looking worried.

"It's fine," I assure her, and we settle into a comfortable silence, the only sounds coming from the television and our mouths. Rachel's spring rolls crunch, she hums and my excess soy sauce drips. It tastes so good and it takes a significant look from Rachel to realise I'm actually moaning.

I blush, and she just smiles. How embarrassing is that?

We don't say words to each other until we're both finished eating. I suppose it's one sure way to make sure Rachel Berry doesn't talk: feed her. I smile to myself when I think it, and I get a curious look out of her.

"What?" she asks.

I just shrug as I get to my feet and clear our plates. "Do you want a refill?" I ask, gesturing towards her almost-empty glass.

She beams at me. "Yes, please."

"Such a kid," I tease, shifting both plates to one hand, and lifting her glass to take back to the kitchen. I can't help feeling relaxed right now, warm in a way I've never felt in my own house. It's the reason why I stopped in front of this house, isn't it? I could feel its life and its warmth and its love. It drew me in, and now here I am, enjoying the safety of easy company and genuine interest.

I mean, it's really nothing like my house. Between work and general disregard for the fact she has a daughter, my mother is just never home. She goes out to parties, goes on work trips and visits my sister; all in an effort to stay out of the house, I guess. To stay away from me. Because, apparently, I did something so horrendous that she can barely look at me. She might have let me back into the house, but -

"Quinn?"

I turn sharply, to find Rachel standing in the doorway of the kitchen. "Hmm?"

"Are you okay?" she asks. "You've been gone a while."

I frown. "What?"

"Have you been standing there the whole time?"

I glance down. I've still got the dishes in my hands and I'm standing in the middle of the kitchen, stock-still. "Oh," I sound. "I think I... got lost... in my head."

Her look turns sympathetic and she moves towards me, taking the dishes out of my hands and setting them on the counter. Before I know it, she has her arms around my neck, holding me flush against her. It surprises me for a moment before I relax into her embrace, wrapping my own arms around her waist.

"We haven't hugged enough today," she whispers against my neck, and I can't help my smile.

"No, we haven't," I murmur.

Her grip tightens slightly. "You smell like me."

I laugh. "Well, I did use your shampoo this morning," I point out, and she squirms. Because she's ticklish. I remember this very interesting fact. My hands slide along her back until they're resting at her sides, my fingers twitching, ready.

"Quinn," she says warily, her body tensing as if she knows what's about to happen.

Oh, she definitely doesn't.

I wait a beat before I begin my attack, my fingers pressing down beneath her ribs and eliciting the kind of laughter from her tiny body that could and would put so many to shame. She tries to get away from me but I follow, my own laughter helping to fill the kitchen with sounds. I'm relentless with my attack as she tries to fight me off, and I match her step for step, not giving her a chance to breathe.

This is how her fathers find us, Rachel howling in laughter and me practically crawling into her.

I freeze at the sight of them at the same time Rachel sucks in a breath, quickly kisses my cheek and then disappears from the kitchen, leaving me blushing like a ripened tomato. They both smirk knowingly and then shuffle into the kitchen with their groceries. While I see to the dishes, they start to pack items away and tell me about their trip. It's so easy and comfortable, that I worry if maybe this family is special and not just the norm. Even Finn's home isn't like this. Don't get me wrong, his mom is great and everything, but there's never been this kind of energy in their house. Even after Burt and Kurt Hummel joined their family.

I refill Rachel's glass and take it back into the living room - I'm going to get you back, Fabray - before returning to the kitchen to help stock the fridge with the fresh fruits and vegetables. I kind of just want something to do.

"What's your favourite fruit, Quinn?" Hiram asks me.

"Probably pineapple," I tell him.

"I'm a fan of the berries, myself," he says, which makes me laugh. "No, really, surname aside, I love strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, all the berries."

"Good to know," LeRoy comments, and I throw him an amused look. "What do you want for dinner?" he asks, his eyes on me. "Hiram was thinking about some tomato-based gnocchi, and you and I can go loco with the cheese while they suffer. How does that sound?"

"Sounds perfect," I tell him. "Do you need any help?"

He raises his eyebrows. "Do you actually like cooking, Quinn?"

I chew the inside of my cheek. "I don't not like it," I admit. "My mom isn't that good at it, so I'm generally in charge of my own meals," I explain. "You can pick up a thing or two from almost setting your house on fire a couple of times."

LeRoy smiles in understanding. I think he knows what I'm not saying, and I'm immensely relieved he doesn't push for more information. I cook for myself because nobody else is going to. "Well, Hiram here has actually set fire to our stove before."

"That was one time," Hiram protests, shooting a wounded look at his husband. "And we were in college."

Before LeRoy can respond, Rachel sidles into the room, moving to sit at the breakfast nook next to me. She looks a little sleepy, her eyes droopy and her lower lip jutting out just that little bit. I bump her with my shoulder.

"Is the movie done?" I ask.

She nods, a lazy smile spreading across her face. "They get to be a family."

I meet her gaze. "Do you want to take a nap?"

She nods again. "I don't want to leave you," she mumbles, stifling a yawn. "Bad... host."

"Do you want me to come with you?"

"Only if you want to."

"I want to."

Her face splits into a grin and she slides off the stool. Her hand reaches for mine and, before I can get a word out to her fathers, she's tugging and dragging me out of the kitchen. For someone who looks as sleepy as she does; she sure does have a lot of strength. It's a good thing I let her pull me up the stairs to her bedroom. Once inside, she shuts the door with her foot and practically collapses on her bed, face first. So dramatic, this one.

"At least get under the covers," I tell her.

She groans once before turning her head to look at me. "It's a nap, Quinn. We use throw blankets for naps."

I raise my eyebrows. "Forgive me for not knowing the proper etiquette for napping."

She waves her hand in dismissal. Forgiveness? "Come lie down. Bring the throw from the windowsill."

"You get bossy when you're tired," I quip, but I still do as I'm told. I have a side to Rachel's bed now, and I climb on - above the covers - and lay the throw over both of us. It's a little small, so she moves close enough for me to feel the warmth of her and automatically reaches for one of my hands.

She's asleep within a minute. I stay awake for a while, just listening to her breathing and trying not to think about how screwed up this entire weekend started... and then now. If I allow myself to think about Finn, I know I'm just going to cry. If I think about my mother, I doubt I'll feel much better.

For the first time, I wonder who knows about the - the breakup. I suck in a breath. I mean, from my end, the only person who knows is Rachel. Finn probably told Puck, which kind of means that the entire school will probably know by Monday. I suspect Jacob Ben Israel will post about it on his sinister blog. He'll probably get so much sick satisfaction out of it. My rate of breathing is rapidly increasing and I need to keep a handle on it before I wake Rachel with my panic.

Everyone is going to know, and it's going to be awful.

Sighing tiredly, I close my eyes and drift off to a place where everything is simple and nothing is complicated. It's fitting it exists only in my dreams, and it isn't surprising to me to find out Rachel Berry is there.


I wake to the delicious smell of cooking pasta. Rachel is no longer beside me, her bedroom door is wide open and I can hear voices floating up the stairs. If this entire setup was designed to get me up, it's working. I roll off the bed, stretch my limbs, visit the bathroom and then head downstairs.

Conversation slows when I hit that third stair, but it picks right back up when they realise I'm not some serial killer as I enter the kitchen. Rachel is perched on a stool at the breakfast nook, Hiram across from her as he cleans a pineapple, and LeRoy in his usual spot in front of the stove.

"There she is!" LeRoy exclaims. "What happened to my help, Missy?"

I grin bashfully, ducking my head. "Sorry."

He waves a hand, telling me, unnecessarily, that he's joking.

Rachel pinches the fabric of my t-shirt between her thumb and forefinger, and pulls me to stand closer to her. "How did you sleep?" she asks, her voice low and sincere. "Any dreams?" she asks. "Last night's sleep was a little restless."

I blink. If I wasn't actually having this conversation, I'd find it extremely strange. Rachel Berry is asking me about my sleep, because she knows I had a restless one the night before, because she was in bed with me. Huh?

"Uh, I guess it was fine," I say, massaging the back of my neck with a nervous hand. "I didn't dream about... him."

"That's good,' she says, releasing the fabric of the t-shirt. I feel like I can breathe again, which is just ridiculous because - it just is. I mean, let's be serious for a moment and backtrack to the moment I stopped breathing. When was that? Why didn't I even realise I wasn't breathing? Isn't it supposed to be an involuntary thing?

"Quinn?" I hear someone say.

Then: "She's doing it again."

"Doing what?"

I feel fingers on my forearm, and I snap to attention, my gaze suddenly meeting Rachel's.

"Hi," she says.

"Hi," I breathe back.

"Welcome back," she says sheepishly. "Where did you go?"

"I don't know," I admit. "Somewhere. Nowhere." I just about manage a smile. "I'll take you with me one day."

"I look forward to it," she says, and I can tell she means it. There's a sudden flash of determination in her eyes that catches me off guard but, damn, her eyes are soulful. They're truthful eyes, profound in their chestnut colour and penetrating in their profoundness.

A throat clears, and I immediately look away from Rachel, flushing instantly. Was I just staring at her? And so blatantly? When I do look away, Hiram has his eyes on me, an easy smile on his face.

"Pineapple?" he asks, gesturing to the freshly diced fruit in front of him. "Or is this for dessert?" he questions, looking to LeRoy for an answer.

"It's going to have to be dessert because dinner is ready," LeRoy says.

I don't know why I feel unsettled. I mean, I literally just went to some place in my head while I was in the same room as three other people. That can't be healthy or normal. I step back when Rachel slides off the stool, but she doesn't let me go far. Her arm slips around my waist and she brings me close against her side, resting her head on my shoulder.

"Are you sure you're okay?" she asks quietly.

"I - I don't know," I confess, my voice catching.

"Do you want to talk about it now, or can you get through dinner?"

"Dinner," I assure her.

She squeezes me once, and then we join her fathers at the kitchen table. Admittedly, it takes me a while to get comfortable again but Rachel and her fathers make it easy. They're just so easy going and the kind of self-deprecating that both settles and unsettles you. As the dinner progresses, I feel Rachel's hand drop to my knee a few times, her silent way of comforting me without overwhelming me. Who even knew Rachel Berry had a silent way?

Hiram braves bringing up Shakespeare again, and I relax into my story about King Lear. "The way the class works is that we read it through Act by Act, with the lecturer," I explain. "She'll act like a translator, really, with her PowerPoint explanations. We cover the understanding of the play as we read, but we also tackle the various themes. Before we even started reading this past summer, our lecturer made sure to remind us it would be a tragedy." I can't help my slight smile at the memory. "And that, by the end, pretty much everyone would be dead. She repeated it so many times: everyone was going to die, and we should prepare ourselves." I chuckle. "She wasn't wrong."

Hiram lets out a snort. "No, I don't imagine she was," he says. "The death toll is rather atrocious, bodies just dropping in every scene."

I nod. "I enjoyed it though," I find myself saying. "I mean, the subject did hit a little close to home - father and daughter relationships are still a foreign thing to me - but I do believe I learned a lot from it. It's difficult not knowing who to trust, particularly when you're not sure you can trust yourself."

Hiram opens his mouth to say something but snaps it shut a moment later.

Rachel's hand is still on my knee, so she gives it a gentle squeeze, and I give her a grateful look.

LeRoy steers us back to safer topics - dolphins and leaking taps - and we see out the rest of dinner without incident. It's delicious; far superior to anything I could've conjured up had I been at my house alone.

"What are you two planning for tonight?" LeRoy eventually asks, and I look to Rachel.

She clears her throat. "Just staying in," she says. "We have a One Tree Hill marathon on the agenda; possibly a deep meaningful conversation, probably some crying and definitely the consumption of copious amounts of junk food."

Her fathers just stare at her.

LeRoy recovers first. "Well, okay then."

I just smile at him. It seems he's well-versed in the topics he should and shouldn't dive deeper into when it comes to Rachel Berry. Years of experience and all that. By the time dinner is over, we're back to dolphins. Hiram and I clear the table while Rachel and LeRoy continue their discussion over coffee. I worry about giving Rachel coffee so late in the evening, but we do have a marathon coming up.

Hiram and I fall into a simple rhythm as we do the dishes, and I feel the urge to tell him something, even though the words seem to be failing me. I'm drying, so I have to concentrate considerably less on what I'm doing than he does.

"Say, Hiram?"

He doesn't look at me, which I appreciate. "Hmm?"

"I want to say thank you," I start, wiping a plate clean. "For, essentially, letting me live with you for two days. For being so kind to me, even though you have every right to have your reservations about me. I know I wouldn't know how to handle this situation if I were you, and I know I don't deserve it but thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt." I take a breath. "That being said, I do want to be Rachel's friend, if she'll let me. I still have things to apologise for, and even more to make up for but I'm willing. I truly am.

"I've never really had a real friend before. Not like I could with Rachel, and not one who didn't become my friend because we were forced together or because they wanted something from me. I realise it sounds selfish of me, but she's made it clear to me on numerous occasions that she wants to be my friend too. I don't know if I'll be all that good at it but I'd like to try. She's willing to let me, and I want to assure you I'm going to do what I can to make sure I don't let her down."

He glances at me. "Why are you telling me this?"

I blink. "Because, despite LeRoy's intimidating size and hard eyes, it's you I'm more afraid of."

"Why is that?" he asks, and he sounds genuinely curious.

"I think it's the eyes," I confess. "Despite the fact they're the same size and shape as Rachel's, they also seem to carry the same pain I've carelessly inflicted on her in years past."

He shifts to face me, abandoning his task. "It's something you recognise?"

I nod.

"Because you see it in the mirror." It isn't a question, so I don't respond. It's answer enough for him anyway. "LeRoy and I meant what we said, Quinn," he says. "You are always welcome here."

"Thank you."

We finish the dishes in silence. I'm aware of LeRoy coming in at some point, and then Rachel. I feel a presence behind me and then hands on my hips. There's a puff of breath against my neck.

"Are you almost done?" Rachel asks, peering over my shoulder, and I fumble with the dish in my hand.

"Almost," I manage to say.

LeRoy seems to take pity on me. "Why don't you two head on up? Hiram and I can finish up here."

I almost want to scream no. Why, though, beats me. Still, I step away from the kitchen sink and smile at him. "Thank you, LeRoy."

"Sure thing, Quinn."

Rachel suddenly grabs my hand and drags me out of the kitchen. She likes to womanhandle me, apparently, but I'm honestly not complaining. I have to get used to Rachel in this way, the same way she has to get used to me and my ways. We have things to learn about each other, it seems, and I meant all I said to Hiram. I'm ready and willing.

"Okay," she says once we get to her room; "game plan?"

I smile at her. "Set up episode one of OTH, climb into bed and try not to break down when you remember who Lucas ends up with in the end."

"It is a travesty, isn't it?"

I nod.

"Sounds like a good plan. Let's get to it."

It takes us a few minutes for us to get settled. We leave the junk food for now because we've just eaten dinner and get under the covers to watch one of the greatest shows ever made. I mean, of course there's the age-old debate of The OC versus One Tree Hill, but I personally love them both, even if I'm seemingly more invested in the teenagers of Tree Hill.

I get through two and half episodes before I lose it. I don't know why - maybe it's Nathan's aggressive bullying or his attempt to manipulate Haley, or maybe it's Lucas pining for Peyton and Brooke starting to like Lucas - but something hits a little too close to home and I suddenly get really emotional, and the floodgates open.

I fall apart. There's no other way to say it.

Rachel immediately pauses the show and draws me into her arms. She's practically holding me together as I feel whatever's inside of me break free. I cry and I cry, my body shaking and my breathing unsteady. My nose runs and my face hurts. I must look a sight, but I keep my face hidden away.

Her hands are on my back, rubbing soothing circles over my t-shirt. She's saying words into my hair, and I just clutch onto her tighter, unwilling to let go. Too scared of what will happen if I do.

"He said he doesn't want me," I cry, my words barely making sense to my own ears. "He doesn't want me, Rachel. He wants something different. He wants more."

I don't know how she understands me - maybe girls just universally understand other girls' cry-talk - but she responds. "He's an idiot, Quinn."

"But what if he's not?" I ask. "What if he's right? What if I'm just some cold-hearted bitch who's never going to find love and die alone?"

"He's an idiot," she repeats in a steely tone. "And he's definitely not right, Quinn. You aren't cold-hearted - I thought the curses stayed in the car - and you're not going to die alone."

"The room is spinning; I got confused."

She breathes into my hair. "I don't know what's going through Finn's mind right now," she says. "I don't even truly know if what he said and what you understood are the same things. But, what I do know is that only an idiot of epic proportions would ever decide he could do any better that you." I start to protest but she quiets me. "No, the Berry is talking now."

I have to smile at that.

"If he can choose to hurt you like this, then he doesn't deserve you, Quinn," she says. "I'll admit that I've never truly been in love the way you have, and I've never been through the things you and Finn have, but I do know there are things that are not okay, and one of those things is hurting you. If he had a problem, he should have spoken to you first, and I think he's being selfish."

I suck in a breath.

"He's my friend," she says. "Of course, I care about him, but, yeah, he's being selfish. Which isn't a surprising characteristic of his, as we both know." She's alluding to a certain picnic date in the auditorium the two of them went on when he was still my boyfriend. I assume there are other things as well. "The two of you have spent years building something, and it's not okay with me that he's just decided to throw it away because he's convinced he can find something better. Because he can't. It's impossible. There is nobody as talented and beautiful and amazing as you, and that's all the certainty I could muster up in just these two days."

And now I have the hiccups. "Rachel," I squeak.

"I'm not just saying these things to make you feel better, Quinn - though, it's a bonus if they do - I'm merely telling you what I believe to be the truth. So, you're going to cry yourself out tonight, take an Advil and then face tomorrow as the strong, independent woman you've always been in my eyes, okay?"

I sniffle.

"Quinn? Okay?"

I ball the fabric of her t-shirt in my fists. "Okay."

"Good."

Her hands are moving again, and I cry again for all her words, all my thoughts and all the feelings Finn doesn't think I have. When I really am cried out, I'm exhausted and my yawn alerts us both to that fact. She pulls back to look at my face, and stops me from trying to hide it.

"Hey," she soothes, pushing some hair off my face. "What did I say? You're beautiful, Quinn Fabray, puffy eyes and all. It's actually not fair at all."

"Sorry," I murmur, and I'm saying it for so many things.

"I told you not to do that," she says, pretending to chastise me. "Now, do you want to get some sleep?"

I nod dumbly. She places a gentle kiss on my forehead, and then climbs out of bed. I watch her disappear into the bathroom before I survey my own emotional and physical state. I feel so painfully raw that, if I were pushed any further, I do believe I'd break. Which is saying a lot, because Quinn Fabray is not a girl who breaks easily. Despite whatever I feel about my father, he did raise a daughter who doesn't crumble easily.

And yet, here we are.

I slowly sit up, fight off a wave of dizziness, and drink more than half a bottle of water. I'm exhausted beyond belief, really. I feel as if I've just suffered through a ten-hour Cheerios practice. We had one of those during cheer camp the summer before junior year. I threw up twice and passed out once during that torture festival, and I feel a little like that right now. Though, admittedly, nothing can compare to giving birth.

When Rachel finally comes back out, she moves to stand in front of me and studies me, as if she's checking for chinks in my armour. I'm just surprised it's still standing. I'm surprised I am.

Rachel runs a hand through my hair, smoothing it down. "Bathroom's all yours," she says. "I'm going to run down to say goodnight to my dads. Do you need anything?"

I blink. "Include me in your goodnight?"

"That's a given."

I stand. "Can I get a hug?"

"Always."

When she goes downstairs, I go into the bathroom and oh God, I'm a troll. My eyes, my hair. Is Rachel blind or something? Maybe she's the one who needs glasses. Jesus. I make quick work of getting ready, using the toilet, brushing my teeth and taking out my contacts. Tonight has been quite the night, hasn't it?

Rachel is back in bed when I emerge, and I have absolutely no qualms crawling in beside her and shifting close enough so I can see her clearly. We're both lying on our sides, and I can see her studying my face. Maybe she's amused by my unfocused eyes.

"Do you think you'll be able to drop me off at my house early tomorrow?" I ask softly, just waiting.

Admittedly, she looks a little distracted by something. "How early are we talking?"

"Before seven?"

She raises her eyebrows in question.

"I have to get ready for church," I explain. "It starts at eight."

Her gaze meets mine in the dim of the room. "Okay," she says, a small frown on her face.

"What's wrong?" I find myself asking, my fingers sliding against hers as I interlace them in the space between us.

"It's nothing," she says, but my silence prompts more words from her. "I don't know. I guess, I mean, I suppose I don't actually want you to go yet," she finally explains. "I thought, maybe, I'd have more time or something equally ridiculous."

"It's not ridiculous," I assure her. "I'm just going to church, Berry. I'll be able to grab a change of clothes, get my homework, and then I'll probably, definitely, be back here to annoy you with my numerous breakdowns and space-outs."

"You don't annoy me, Quinn," she says.

"Really?" I ask, and it's a genuine question. "Because I would think you'd be sick of me by now. I've done nothing but be in your space all weekend."

"Really," she assures me. "Believe me, if I had a problem with it, you would've been the first to know. And I like having you in my space. I know I talk a good game, but it can get lonely here, and you're not half-bad."

I let out a breathy laugh. "Well, thank you."

"You're very welcome."

I shift closer, burying my face between her shoulder and her pillow. "Thank you," I say again, but it comes out muffled by the pillow. I feel a tentative hand on my upper arm, which slides over my shoulder to my back, and she pulls me even closer until I'm practically enveloped in her warm embrace. I shift until I'm breathing into her neck, my own free hand moving to her hip, and then around her waist.

"You're very welcome, Quinn," she says again.

They're the last words I hear before sleep claims me.

Chapter Text

Chapter Four

Rachel

can we speak in flowers.
it will be easier for me to understand.


It's strange having Quinn gone, and I think my dads feel it as well. I mean, it isn't as if she's noisy or constantly reminding you she's there when she is. It's more to do with the quiet of her presence and the silence of her words. It's a little disconcerting missing a person's essence, if you ask me.

It isn't the same as knowing she's just asleep upstairs, because she's actually gone now. Left the house. Outside somewhere, probably saying the Lord's Prayer and being the type of good Christian girl who still goes to one of God's houses despite the emotional ringer she's just been through. I suppose, I admire that about her. Well, I apparently admire a lot of things about her but I'm refusing to acknowledge that.

When I dropped her off at her house this morning, she was back in her green dress, looking all kinds of perfect for seven o'clock in the morning and I'm still a little irritated about it. Why do turtles have to be so cute? She was quiet, a little guarded and it was surprisingly unsettling as we drove the short distance from my house to hers. She had a restless sleep. I know, because I woke up several times to painful whimpers and flailing hands as she struggled through accepting that her once-lovely boyfriend decided he didn't want her anymore.

I suppose the obvious reason for whatever I'm feeling is that I miss her. And I'm also a little worried. Maybe Quinn just isn't a morning person or something. It's just, well, I haven't heard from her since she disappeared into her cold and dark house, and I've barely been able to concentrate on anything else. I've tried, believe me. I did vocal exercises, worked on my World Geography and Spanish homework and even painted my nails. Nothing's worked to stop me from obsessing over my very silent and empty message inbox.

It's almost lunch time and I've been hiding in my room for the past three hours, trying and failing to distract myself from thinking about Quinn and her possible breakdowns or space-outs. I mean, of course she'll probably handle herself in a different way when she's in public. I offered to go to church with her, which made her smile but she politely declined. She said she'd be fine and I believed her.

So why hasn't she texted me back?

I'm about to send out a search party when my Dad shouts from downstairs. "Rachel! Lunch is ready!"

I sigh dramatically, absently glancing at my decidedly quiet phone. "Coming," I shout back, and then heave myself up out of my desk chair. I run a hand through my hair and then stomp my way down the stairs like the insolent child I am. I have a complaint about Quinn's absence on the tip of my tongue as I enter the kitchen but I stop dead in my tracks when I spy none other than Quinn Fabray sitting at the breakfast nook, a picture of calm perfection.

My mouth drops open.

"Hello, Rachel," she says, smiling at me, and I all I can really do is stare at her. She's wearing a pale pink dress now, with a grey cardigan casually draped over her shoulders. Her hair is hanging loose, none of her curls out of place and her gentle eyes are on me.

"Quinn," I breathe, stepping forward. "You're here?"

"I am."

"Are you okay? How was church? Did anything happen? What are you doing here? Why didn't you respond to my texts? I was worried. I thought we discussed this, Fabray; you're supposed to - "

"Rachel," my Daddy interrupts my rant. "Let the poor girl speak."

My attention hasn't even drifted away from Quinn's face. She looks a little bemused but her eyes are kind. "Hi," I say.

She slides off the stool and stands up straight. After a beat, she arches an eyebrow, and I immediately step into her embrace. We definitely haven't hugged enough today. I relax into the hug, absently breathing her in. She smells like Quinn again, which is kind of a relief, I suppose. Though, I have to admit I was enjoying the fact she was wearing my clothes and smelling like me, which is an entirely loaded thought that I don't wish to unpack at this time.

She pulls away first, and cups my cheeks with her hands, her gaze meeting mine. "Let's see," she starts, visibly thinking and stealing the breath from my lungs. "I do believe I'm okay. Church was good, somewhat enlightening. Nothing of true significance happened. I'm here for lunch and homework and you. I didn't reply because I wanted to give you some space. In hindsight, your reaction to my silence has proven that was not my smartest decision."

I grumble my agreement with her last assessment. Then: "Some of those answers are terribly vague, Fabray," I point out.

Her eyes shift to the left, where my dads are pretending not to gawk at our exchange, and I understand that we'll talk about it later. I sigh, receive another hug for my troubles, and then we sit down to eat. Quinn talks to my dads mostly. I don't think she's actually ignoring me or anything drastic like that, but she looks my way a total of seven times during the entire meal. I count; sue me.

"And what to you two have planned for today?" my Daddy asks.

Quinn doesn't look at me before she responds to him, which is different but not entirely unwanted. "I'd like to take Rachel somewhere," she says before she looks at me. "If that's okay with you, of course."

I just nod.

Quinn looks at my dads. "We won't be long. I promise I'll have her back before sunset, and we'll do all our homework."

My Daddy laughs, even as my Dad grins.

"You two have a lovely afternoon."

After we've eaten our fill, Quinn and I clear the table and do the dishes. I sometimes get the feeling she enjoys doing them, though I'll never mention that to her. I'll wait for her to tell me her thoughts on the topic. She looks like she has things to talk about.

Once we're done, Quinn follows me upstairs so I can change into something a little bit more presentable.

"Where are we going?" I ask, as I walk into my closet and she settles on the edge of my bed.

"I can't tell you that," she says.

I bite the inside of my cheek to stop myself from asking my burning questions. "Okay, answer me this then: what should I wear?"

"Anything you want, Rachel."

I stick my head out the door to look at her. "Please can you give me some direction? I don't do vague very well, and I might have an anxiety attack if you keep up with this mystery. I mean, I like surprises as much as the next person but all of this is kind of - "

"Rachel," she interrupts as she stands and walks towards me. "Breathe. Just breathe. There we go." She steps into my closet with me and places her hands on my shoulders. "The last thing I want is for you to be anxious over this. I just want to take you to a place I go to when I need to think. It's really nothing special, but I just wanted to do something with you that didn't involve watching TV or crying."

"Or both," I add.

She smiles. "Exactly." Her eyes drift past my face. "Maybe just jeans and a top," she offers. "Maybe a sweater. We'll be outside."

I nod.

"I'll leave you to it then," she says, and then walks out of the closet. Five minutes later, I walk out as well and find Quinn sitting at my desk. For a moment, I panic at the sight of her on my laptop - oh no, what is she doing? - but she smiles at me. "Sorry," she says. "I was just looking up this YouTube link Britt sent me last night. It's some complicated dance move she wants to incorporate into our routine for the Cheerios."

I just nod, irritated with myself for my irrational fear that the other shoe is bound to drop. Quinn just seems so off today, and I don't know what to make of it.

She sighs. "Have you been on Facebook at all?" she asks.

"No, why?"

She fiddles with her hands in her lap, and I already know I'm not going to like whatever she's about to say. "I pretty much ignored my phone the entire time I was here," she says. "I didn't want to face the world and, this morning, I kind of had to. I mean, I ran into Sam at church and, after I'd listened to the sermon and managed to come to an understanding within myself enough to get me through the day, the boy asked me if it was true."

I step towards her.

"I'll admit, for a moment, I honestly forgot. I forgot, Rachel, and it was heartbreaking all over again to be reminded of it." She drops her gaze. "Once again, I'm going to be the talk of the school, and of this stupid town. I mean, he's done that to us; he's done that to me. I asked Sam what he was talking about because I honestly forgot. I was just in church. I don't think about that stuff when I'm in there, and then he reminded me and I - " her voice catches, and I drop to my knees in front of her, placing my hands on the tops of her thighs. "He said, 'You and F-Finn, did you break up?'" I don't miss the way her voice catches over his name. "But he sounded so sure, and I asked him who told him that. Apparently, it's all over Facebook, because he couldn't even wait five seconds to change his - and also, inadvertently, my - relationship status to Single."

If my hands weren't splayed out on her thighs, I'd probably ball them into fists.

"Everyone knows, Rachel," she says, and I can hear the tears in her voice. "It wasn't enough that he broke up with me, but he didn't even give me the dignity of deciding to change my status. It's been the talk of the weekend, apparently. And, when I turned on my phone, it practically blew up in my hand. People have so much to say about the end of this Fuinn era, apparently. I'm so mad, and I'm so hurt, and all I want is for him to make it better. He's supposed to make it better, Rachel. He's always been the one to make it better; take the pain away. Where is he? Why isn't he here?"

I reach up and wrap my arms around her but she doesn't move.

"Why doesn't he want me? Why doesn't he love me? Why would he do this? I don't - I don't understand what I did. What did I do, Rachel? I mean, is there something wrong with me?"

I pull back, and it's my turn to cup her cheeks and make her look at me. "Quinn Fabray, you stop this right now," I say, stern and confident. "Do you know who you are?"

She frowns at me, clearly confused.

"Do you know who you are?" I repeat.

Her frown slowly subsides, and she nods ever so slightly.

"Who are you?" She blinks slowly. "Go on," I encourage. "Open your mouth. Tell me who you are."

And when she does, all I can really do it listen. She thinks Finn has broken her, but he hasn't even landed a blow. Life has afforded Quinn Fabray the kind of armour people only dream about. Truly, I've never felt so uncomfortably comfortable kneeling there, resting my hands on her skin and giving her whatever courage and assurance she needs to get through this moment right here.

She's Quinn Fabray. Yes, you are.

She's Head Cheerio. Yes, you are.

She has a 4.0 GPA. Wait, you do?

She has killer friends (most of the time.) Indeed you do. You have me.

She's popular and respected and totally hot. Yes, yes and, uh, sure.

She's strong and confident, and she takes no prisoners. Yes, yes and I'm not entirely sure that's a good thing.

She's getting out of Lima with or without him. Of course, you are.

It doesn't matter that her parents don't love her. Uh, Quinn?

She's Beth's mother. Yes, you are.

"She has to be proud of me, Rachel," Quinn says, and her voice is so quiet; I barely hear her. "I have to make sure, if she comes looking for me, she'll be proud of who I am."

"She will be," I assure her. "She doesn't even know it yet, but she's already proud of you. And so am I."

Quinn places her hands over mine and leans forward. "I'm not crying."

"No, you're not."

"I'm done crying over him," she says, her gaze meeting mine. "He's not worth my tears."

But, even as she says the words, I wipe a few stray tears from her cheek, surprising her. She sighs, annoyed and disappointed. "Hey," I say. "Washington Irving once said, 'There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness but of power. They are messengers of overwhelming grief and unspeakable love.'"

She breathes out. "Now, you're just confusing me," she says, risking a smile. "Should I or should I not be crying?"

"You're beautiful either way, so I don't really care," I say with a shrug, and I'm rewarded with a full-blown smile that makes my breath catch.

"You're adorable," she says, and I try not to take offence.

I take my hands back, faking indignation. "I say something nice, and that's how you thank me?"

She grabs for my hands and laughs. "I'm just telling the truth, Berry," she says, pulling my hands up to her lips and pressing a kiss against my skin. Sweet Jesus. "You say adorable things, and you do adorable things, and you have such a cute, adorable face."

"Fabray, you're not helping yourself here," I mutter, ignoring the flutter in my stomach, which turns into a freaking tornado when she drops my hands into her lap, tugs me forward and kisses the tip of my nose.

"Still mad?" she asks, and there's a playful look in her eye that definitely isn't helping.

"I was never mad," I manage to say.

"Good," she murmurs. "Now, we should probably get going."

I take her cue, and use her as leverage to get to my feet. She groans for good measure, and then stands as well.

"Get your shoes on," she says. "I'll see you downstairs."

I give her one more hug, and then watch her leave my room. It takes a full minute for my racing heart to slow to a normal rate, which, admittedly, freaks me out just a little bit. Not a lot. Just a little. I take my time finishing getting ready, sliding on my boots and putting on a thin layer of makeup before I head downstairs.

In the living room, Quinn and my Dad are having what sounds like another conversation about Shakespeare and, as much as I don't want to interrupt it; I want to see Quinn. I pop into the living room and they both look up at me with knowing smiles.

Quinn immediately stands. "Ready to go?"

I nod. "What do I need?"

"Just your pretty face."

I duck my head to hide my blush.

Quinn moves towards me and holds out her hand. It's the first time I notice she's got a bag of sorts slung over her shoulder. I take her hand without hesitation and she leads the way out to her car after a quick goodbye to my dads. I've seen her car many times before but I never imagined I would ever get to ride in it.

"Rachel, meet Daisy," Quinn says as she unlocks the car and puts the bag in the backseat. "Daisy, this is my friend, Rachel."

I raise my eyebrows. "Daisy?"

"Shut up and get in the car, Berry."

"Oh, I see," I say, as I skip around the car. "As soon as we're out of Chez Berry, the HBIC comes out, huh?"

She throws me a smirk and my heart skips a beat. What is happening right now? Once we're inside, Quinn starts the car and it practically purrs. Who knew a little red, Volkswagen Beetle could purr? I certainly didn't. I try not to pay too much attention to the way she drives - I'll work myself into a panic if I do - and rather just focus on the route we're taking to wherever we're going.

A park, apparently.

As much as I want to ask questions, I don't. I just let her lead - it's difficult, I have to admit - and we walk into the park together. She takes hold of my hand, pulls me close and we stroll. She doesn't say anything, and I'm kind of glad for it. She just guides the way through some trees, and then through some more trees, and more trees until we reach a secluded and small creek. Or a meadow, with a big little pond. Whatever it is, it's beautiful. And so is she.

"I come here sometimes," Quinn says, and her voice is barely a whisper. "I've made some truly profound decisions here." We come to a stop on a piece of flat land and she releases my hand. From her special little bag, she pulls out a picnic blanket and I try not to panic. I've always assumed picnics were just a no-go with Quinn, given my history with Finn and picnics.

I almost scoff at the graceful way she lowers herself to the ground. Honestly, it's not even fair.

Once I'm settled, we sit for a while, just watching the sky and the trees and the water. I'm not one for the quiet and the still, but I can appreciate this place. I can understand why a person would come here to think.

Quinn clears her throat. "I came here before I decided to date him," she says, and I turn my head to look at her. "He asked me a few times before I finally gave in. I knew it was what my parents wanted of me, to find a good, handsome boy and be a good, wholesome girl." She laughs humourlessly. "So, I said yes to him. I mean, I did like him but, even then, I do think I was a rebel at heart... only to, ultimately, conform." She leans back, resting on her hands. "I fell in love with him slowly. I didn't even realise I was until he decided to join the Glee Club."

I drop my gaze.

"As you already know, we broke up for a day, talked it over, and then made up. I wanted to make it work because I loved him. I joined the Glee Club because I wanted to support him. I did those things for him. I spent a lot of time this morning thinking about all the things I've done for him, changed who I am, and been bent out of shape for him, and I - I hate that he did that to me; that my love for him made me do that to myself. And it's worse because I didn't even know it was happening until now; that I was constantly changing myself to fit him. And now that he's dissatisfied with all the changes I've made, I'm - I'm free of it."

I cover her hand with mine.

"This has probably been the worst and the best weekend of my life," she says, smiling at me. "I started it as a complete wreck, and you've been so kind and attentive and so comforting. You've let me cry all over you for hours - it must be hours - and you've let me complain and fed me and made me feel welcome in your home and, honestly, I don't know what to say to you other than thank you." She takes a deep breath. "I'm not good at this friendship thing, Rachel. Santana and Britt and I have the strangest relationships, and I literally wouldn't even know where to begin to explain them, but this is different with you, isn't it?"

I nod.

She smiles brilliantly. "I really am so glad we're friends," she says.

"Me too."

She sighs, her head rolling back and she looks to the sky. "This morning, there was a moment when I felt relieved," she says. "It was kind of an epiphany. After all my panic about having people know, and trying to stem my impending freakout; I felt relieved. It was just for a moment, yes, but I felt it nonetheless and I think I can work back to the feeling. In time, and all that." She looks at my face, her eyes meeting mine. "I feel as if I've talked so much today."

"You have."

She laughs lightly. "Can we set aside all the heavy stuff and just enjoy our picnic?"

"I'd like that."

Her smile dazzles me and I have to look away before the girl blinds me. She sits up straight and fishes in her bag for whatever items she's brought with us. I'm not surprised when she pulls out a thermos and two cups, but my eyes do widen at the sight of a certain box. "We never did get around to eating our baked goodies."

"I completely forgot about them."

"I did too," she says, shaking her head. "I just hope they're still okay. Your Dad put them in the fridge last night but I don't even know what they are."

"And you never did ask, so I never did tell you."

"This is true," she murmurs, deftly pouring coffee into the two cups for us. I trust it's some variation of vegan milk when she hands one to me. "Would you like to do the honours, Miss Berry?"

I reach for the box immediately and open it without preamble. I want to show her what I bought.

"Is that what I think it is?" she suddenly asks, peering into the box with wide, eager eyes. She looks so childlike and happy, and I mentally pat myself on the back. "Rachel Berry, how did you know my favourite, favourite thing in the world is a red velvet cupcake?"

I pluck said baked good out of the box and hand it to her. "I think you'll find there are many things I know about you, Quinn Fabray."

"That doesn't sound creepy at all," she quips, but takes the cupcake from me with a smile. Then: "Is it vegan?"

"Not that particular one," I assure her. "I'm fully aware my vegan lifestyle isn't for everyone, and I wouldn't deign to misrepresent your most prized baked good to you."

"Ever?"

"I'll bake some for you one day."

She actually bounces at the sound of that, and I wonder if Quinn Fabray has always been this Quinn Fabray. Is this how she's always been behind closed doors; with Santana and Brittany, and with Finn? Everything I think I know about her - the great, the good, the bad and the ugly - all seem like pieces of different people all forced into this one human being, who now seems very different to the idea I built up in my head. It amazes me that she's so much better than I imagined.

We nibble on our snacks and sip at our coffee as we talk about the weirdest things. Apparently, with Quinn, no topic of conversation is off limits - expect, well, the obvious ones: politics, religion, sex and babies. But we talk about cannibalism. I don't even know how it comes up but we talk about it. At length.

"And would you eat someone if you were stranded on an island?" I ask.

There isn't even hesitation. "Yes, I would."

I realise I'm starting to see her differently when she tells me she always wanted to be a plant scientist when she was younger. Yes, she calls it a plant scientist, and it is literally the cutest thing I've ever seen and heard.

"In the fifth grade, I did an entire presentation about it," she explains, blushing. "I researched all the famous botanists in history and collected all these leaves and flowers. It was honestly so lame, but I was so sure."

"And now?"

She licks her lips. "Now, I suppose, I'm not so sure of anything. I haven't been sure for quite some time, Rachel. I didn't even realise how much of my time and my life existed around his; around making sure his dreams came true while suppressing my own. I don't even think I have dreams of my own."

"There's still time, Quinn," I say. "You'll figure it out. I know you will. My dads and I, we'll help you any way we can, okay?"

"Thank you," she says, her blush still on her cheeks. "It'd be nice to know what I wanted, since I was three years old." She winks at me and, okay, she has a pretty wink and all that.

"I think all of Lima knows about my ambitions," I say. "It's never been a secret I want to star on Broadway."

"Did you ever consider doing something else?"

"Once," I reply. "It wasn't because there was something else that drew my attention. Of course, every kid has small, passing fantasies of being a doctor or an astronaut when they're little, but my consideration of another vocation was quite recent, actually."

She frowns. "Oh?"

"I've never been shy about my talent," I explain. "I know I'm talented, and I work very hard to perfect it. I train and I train because I know it will amount to something some day, just like athletes, you know. I will be on Broadway. There isn't even a doubt in my mind. But." I pause, recalling. "It was a perfectly normal day, actually. We were sitting in Glee Club and Mr Schue was trying to teach us something important, I suppose, but nobody was paying attention."

"So, yes, perfectly normal," she echoes, and I just about manage a smile.

"I was paying attention, of course, because I'm nothing if not a diligent student in all my academic and extramural endeavours. But, you know, it's like a flip that gets switched whenever I open my mouth because then everyone starts paying attention. As soon as I start showing interest and start planning whatever song I'm going to sing; a great big fight breaks out. Kurt and Mercedes were being especially prissy that day; Santana was being particularly snarky, and nobody was up to defend me. And, as I stood there and took their jabs and tried to hold my own; I considered for the first time if constantly having to defend myself and my talent was worth it." I look to a spot ahead of us and sigh. "I thought about it long and hard afterwards. I was just so exhausted at having to defend myself constantly, you know?"

I don't know if she does know, but she says nothing.

"I considered what I would do if I didn't have this dream of Broadway. Would I have been different? More accepted? Or would I have been picked on just the same, without my talent to fall back on? Admittedly, I was halfway towards an existential crisis with all my thoughts, but it was the first time I considered just giving it all up and doing something less stressful and less soul-crushing. Because, as much criticism that I face in the Glee Club, it's really nothing compared to what's waiting for me out there, is it?"

"People can be cruel," she says solemnly. "I should know. I've been one of those people." She drops her gaze. "I still am, sometimes."

I don't know how to respond to that.

"What changed your mind?" she asks, moving us along. "Brought you back?"

I take a breath. "You did."

She frowns in confusion.

"I was just standing there in my little - massive - crisis, and then you asked me to quit wasting time and just sing."

Her brow is so furrowed that I think she's the adorable one now. "I can't remember."

"I don't expect you to," I tell her. "The circumstances are unimportant to me; just that you asked me to sing, and it was a significant moment for me, Quinn. Because I don't know who to be but a performer. It's not every day you can find the one thing about yourself you want to pursue with every fibre of your being, which is why I'm going to help you find whatever your passion is. Because, however unknowingly, you helped keep mine on track."

She looks a little sheepish, her cheeks a rosy pink. "I think I asked you to sing because I just love the sound of your voice," she says, and now I'm the one who's blushing. "Beth loved your voice more though," she tells me. "Even on her most restless days, she used to calm whenever you opened your mouth. It was magical, really. Your voice is truly something special, Rachel."

"Thank you, Quinn," I manage to say, and we fall into silence once more. I suspect there are many things she wants to tell me - I have so many things to tell her as well - but we both recognise today isn't the day for everything, even though I'd like it to be. I want every day to be like this: filled with Quinn. This perfect, broken girl who's just learning who she is again, unattached and independent.

"What time does your mom get back?" I ask, breaking our silence.

Quinn looks away from me. "I'm not sure," she says. "Does it matter?"

"I just want to know for how long I get to keep you today."

"As long as you want, Rachel," she says, smiling as she looks back at me. "I do have homework to do though. Think we can get that done before we do something else all friend-like?"

"Of course, Miss Four-Point-Oh GPA."

She laughs. "Why do I get the feeling you're never going to let that one go?"

"Because I'm not."

"Good." She lets out a content sigh before she shifts to lie down on her back. All that grace, really. And with her eyes closed as well. I watch her for a long moment, trying and failing to curb my fascination at just what is happening right now. I'm Quinn Fabray's friend. I am friends with the most popular girl in school.

Wait a minute.

"What happens tomorrow?" I suddenly ask her, and her eyes snap open. "At school, what happens?"

She frowns. "What do you mean?"

"Well," I say, somewhat nervously; "we don't exactly move in the same circles, Quinn."

"No, we don't," she agrees. "But you're my friend, Rachel. That means something to me."

"I just want to know, you know, what the rules are?"

Her frown deepens as she sits back up and levels her gaze on me. "Rules?"

"Do I get to say hello to you in the corridors?"

"You already do that."

"Do we get to talk in public?"

Her features soften. "We're not secret friends, okay? I won't hide you, if that's what you're worried about. I wouldn't ever try to keep you from shining, little star."

I have to force myself to ignore her sentiments. "I still don't - "

"Rachel," she interrupts, reaching for my hand. "If you're worried about how I'll react to how the school will react to the fact we're now friends; I'm afraid I'm going to have to tell you I'm more worried about the backlash to the fact that I am no longer in a relationship."

I blink. "Oh."

She smiles gently. "It's easy to forget, isn't it?" She visibly deflates. "I've already been asked out a handful of times, and I'm pretty sure people are going to stare at me all day. Also, I really don't want to see him at all."

"Has he tried to contact you?" I find myself asking, unsure what I want her answer to be.

"He sent a text early this morning," she tells me; "asking how I was doing." Her rolling eyes must match mine. "I confess I had a bit of a freakout when I saw his name pop up, but I managed to keep it together enough to tell him to - "

"Fuck off?" I offer helpfully.

She giggles. "No," she says, pretending to be scandalised. "Rachel Berry. I never."

I just shrug.

"Let nobody tell you that you're not special," she says. "Now, come lie with me. Tell me, does that cloud look like Principal Figgins?"

It takes us a moment to settle, each of us on our backs with the lengths of our arms touching and our fingers linked. "It doesn't look like Principal Figgins, no, but it does resemble a horse," I say.

"Is there a difference?" she asks, and I cackle and cough and oh my. She throws me one of those playful looks again and my throat goes dry. She's a menace, this one, and it's an entirely different experience being next to her, rather than opposite her. I can't stop myself from wondering what it would be like to see her actually try to flirt. Honestly, I think anyone on the receiving end would probably short-circuit or something equally drastic.

"That one looks like a jellyfish," she says after a moment.

I squeeze her fingers. "If you're worried about tomorrow, don't be."

She squeezes back. "Why? Are you going to protect me from all the staring and lewd comments?" she asks.

Even though I can hear the teasing in her voice, I answer her seriously. "As best I can, yes."

"Hey," she breathes, and I look at her. "You know you don't have to do that. I can take care of myself."

"I know," I say, bashfully. "But you shouldn't have to."

She rolls towards me, kisses my cheek, and then rolls away. "Rachel Berry, my hero."


The whole 'hero' is a role I fully intend to uphold but, as Quinn said, she really can take care of herself. I'll admit I didn't get much sleep last night. I stayed up, my mind restlessly dissecting everything that happened over the weekend. Of course, all of it involved Quinn, which is still a notion that makes me breathless.

But so does the sight of Quinn Fabray, apparently.

I'm standing by my locker when I hear it. Or, don't hear it, I suppose. The corridor falls to a hush and the hairs on the back of my neck prickle. She's here. I can feel it. Which, in hindsight, is alarming. I turn away from my locker to look. I can't help it.

There she is. Quinn Fabray, flanked by Santana Lopez and Brittany Pierce, practically gliding down the corridor, looking as if she doesn't have a single care in the world. She's in her Cheerios uniform, sporting a passive expression that threatens to turn into her patented glare, with her binder and notebook tucked against her chest. There's nothing different about this picture except for the fact that Quinn Fabray is looking at me.

Okay.

Just breathe, Rachel.

"Stop staring, Berry," Santana says as the trio come to a stop right in front of me. "Isn't the point to make sure people don't stare?"

I clear my throat, my eyes flicking to Quinn's face, which is now smiling softly. "If you're intending for people not to stare, stopping and talking to me isn't the way to do that," I point out.

"But you're our friend now," Brittany says. "Our real friend, right, Q?"

Quinn nods, smiling at Brittany. "Indeed, B," she says sweetly, before her eyes return to me. "Hey," she says.

"Hi."

Then: "Do I get a hug now?"

I'm rooted to the spot for a beat too long because Quinn arches one of those perfectly sculptured eyebrows, and I practically lurch forward and wrap my arms around her neck. Really, why am I such a spazz?

I feel her chuckle near my ear. "It's not a big deal," she whispers. "Just breathe, all right? We're both going to be perfectly fine today."

It's what I need to hear, and I'm smiling a little more freely when we separate. Before I know what's happening, I'm buried in another blonde hug, Brittany squeezing the air right out of my lungs. Quinn giggles and Santana looks borderline murderous. It's so worth it, though. When Brittany pulls away, I don't even look at Santana.

"That's right, Midget. Never going to happen."

Quinn rolls her eyes before they settle on me again. "Have a good day, all right?" she says. "I'll see you in Spanish."

And, just like that, the three of them are gone as if they were apparitions. But no, they weren't, because people are staring at me now. Well, if school drama is what the people want; who's Rachel Berry not to give it to them? I finish up with my locker, collecting the books I need for my first lessons and then head to class. I have Calculus first period, which is uneventful. Spanish isn't any better, and I feel supremely uncomfortable with the way people stare at Quinn. I hide in the library for my free period.

It's when I get to World Geography that things get interesting, so to say, because I sit next to possibly the biggest gossip this school has ever seen: Kurt Hummel.

"So... did you hear?" Kurt starts, as soon as he's taken his seat beside me.

I stamp down on my irritation. "Hear what?"

"About Finn and Quinn?"

I glance at him, wondering if he has any idea just how ridiculous he sounds saying those names together like that. "What about them?"

"Didn't you hear they broke up?" he asks, scandalised. "What have you been doing all weekend? It's the talk of social media."

"I was busy," I defend.

"Uh huh," he sounds. "I bet you're jumping for joy that Finn is officially back on the market."

Despite myself, I grimace. There is no way I would even consider entertaining the very idea of dating Finn now, or ever. Quinn is my friend now - so is Finn, which I will have to reevaluate - and he hurt her. That's a lot to work through, and I'm definitely not willing to. In this breakup, I get Quinn - or, she gets me; however that works - and everyone's going to have to deal with it. Somehow, I suspect Quinn and I have lit a fire under the school system, however inadvertently, but I'm not worried.

"I'm working on getting all the details," Kurt says. "Don't worry. I'll keep you in the loop."

If he only knew.

Chapter Text

Chapter Five

Quinn

a lie is simply a lie.
it draws its strength from belief.
stop believing in what hurts you.


Okay.

It's exhausting ruling a school with a supposed iron fist. Even letting Santana handle things takes too much energy sometimes, and all I want is for this day to be over. I'm tired of people staring at me and whispering behind their hands about me. It isn't as if they're even saying nice things. Do they really think I don't see them? Do they really think I can't hear them? People speculate, sure, but they also seem that, because I'm now single, I'm back on the market. Which I'm not.

"That guy is about as subtle as an elephant in a china shop," Santana comments darkly, and I look to my right. She's smiling sardonically. "I mean, if he wasn't hot, I'd punch him for trying to check you out. It's literally open season on Quinn Fabray."

I lean back in my chair. "I almost forgot how bad it can be," I tell her.

"Guys are dogs," she agrees; "which is why I'm a lady-lover."

"You might be on to something with that," I say and, thankfully, before she can latch onto that particular statement, the teacher walks in and immediately starts the class. What am I even saying? Seriously?

Being in class has been fine, for the most part. I take a number of AP courses, which keeps me away from him, and majority of the students in these classes are academic-minded, which is nice. I can handle a few stares here and there when I'm in class, but it's the corridors between periods that are making me internally rage. I imagine that, if Santana weren't constantly sneering at my side, a countless number of people would have already approached me looking for a hookup or a date. I even found a mountain of letters in my locker.

It makes me feel like Jennifer Love Hewitt's character in Can't Hardly Wait, and I suspect I'm bound to snap at some point as well.

Lunch is next, though, which has heightened my senses. It's the one hour I'm sure to see him. The jocks and the Cheerios sit together, spread over several joined tables and, until this weekend, Finn's seat was always beside mine. I let out a heavy sigh, and Santana casts a worried look my way. It's cute how concerned she is, even though her words would never give that away. When I finally returned her texts and calls, and explained what happened; she threatened to beat him up for me. As satisfying as that would probably be, I politely declined her offer.

It's still on the table, apparently. She can be rather violent, and I shudder to think about how she could go off the rails if Brittany wasn't around to soothe her. When the bell sounds, indicating the end of the period, I don't move. Santana doesn't either. She's waiting on me, and I don't think I'm ready.

"What if he tries to talk to me?" I ask, my voice barely above a whisper as the rest of the class clears out.

"Then you talk to him," she says, glancing at the door. She's clearly worried about Brittany.

I swallow audibly and cover her hand with mine. "Go," I say. "I have to stop by the bathroom anyway. I'll just meet you in the cafeteria."

"Are you sure?"

"Are you going to make me turn it into an HBIC order?"

She narrows her eyes at me, but there's an understanding smile on her face. "Don't hide from the cafeteria," she says as she stands. "Face it today, and it'll get better. We both know that."

I nod and watch her leave with a reassuring smile, even though I feel defeated. Why should I have to be the strong one? It takes me another minute to leave the classroom and make my way to my locker to deposit my books. The corridors are quieter now, which is better, though the empty spaces allow me to see the people looking at me much clearer. Still, I keep my expression as passive as ever. If it's one thing being a Fabray has taught me; feelings are easily hidden behind the perfect mask.

"There you are."

I whip around so fast, I almost clip my head on the door to my locker door. "Rachel," I squeak. "You've really got to stop scaring me."

"Sorry," she says, but she sounds anything but. Her knowing smile is also a dead giveaway. "Why aren't you in the cafeteria?" she asks.

"Why aren't you?" I counter, arching an eyebrow.

"If you must know, Fabray, I was in the cafeteria, but then you weren't and I started to worry," she admits, and I reach out to touch her arm. "I might have sent a text but we both know how useless you are with those."

I laugh. "I suppose I deserved that one."

"Yes, you did," she says, her smile genuine. "Are you okay, though? We didn't really get a chance to talk in Spanish. How's the day going?"

I sigh as I quietly close my locker. "Walk with me?"

We easily fall into step beside each other. Her shoes squeak on the polished floor, and I try to focus on that as my thoughts threaten to overwhelm me. I don't even know how to answer her questions. I mean, she knows I'm not okay, but it sounds as if she's asking me something else entirely.

"I think, given what I was expecting, the day itself has been average," I finally say. "I am exhausted though. I didn't get much sleep." I feel her step closer to me as we walk, her arm brushing mine. "It was the nightmares, yes, but - "

"Quinn?" she breathes.

"My mom and I kind of had a fight over him," I explain. "She thinks it's my fault that I wasn't able to hold onto him. That I did this, and... what if she's right?"

There's something to be said about Rachel Berry's angry face; the way it scrunches up and she goes a shade of red I didn't know she could. She stops walking and her hands ball into tight, tiny fists. "Tell me you're joking," she says. "Your mom did not say that."

I drop my gaze. "She got back quite late last night," I tell her. "I assume she hit the liquor pretty hard on the flight or something because, when I told her we'd broken up, she laughed, cried, yelled at me and then laughed again. In that order. Apparently, it's shameful not to be with the father of your children, which I recognise must have something do with her own feelings towards the divorce."

Rachel just stares at me in disbelief. "Why are you so calm about this?" she asks.

"What would you rather have me do?" I ask, a slight edge to my voice as it rises in volume. "I already did my crying, Berry. And I generally make it a rule not to listen to what my alcoholic mother says. She's just a bitter, old woman who blames me for the fact her marriage imploded because I deigned to get pregnant by a boy who doesn't think I'm good enough for him anymore!"

For a surprised moment, we just stare at each other. When she breaks the spell, her eyes cast a look around the, thankfully, empty corridor. It's enough for her to wrap me in another hug that lasts far too long but not long enough.

"We'll talk about this later," she tells me when she pulls back. "Now, we should probably get something to eat. Quinn Fabray has to remain fed and hydrated, as per the Berrymen's instructions."

I smile as we resume our walk. "Your dads asked after me?"

"Of course."

Of course. It's so easy, isn't it? Of course, they worried about me enough to ask, but my own mother was out of State for an entire weekend and didn't even bother to call and make sure I hadn't slipped on a wet tile in the bathroom and broken my neck.

"Well, we don't want to disappoint them," I say. "My salad awaits."

"When is your weigh-in?"

I let out a small laugh. "Thursday," I tell her. "And, since there was no practice on Saturday because Coach was visiting - " I stop suddenly.

"What?"

"He really did pick this weekend well, didn't he?" I stop walking, my lower lip trembling. "Which really means he's been planning this for a while."

Rachel touches my forearm, slowing my thoughts. "Hey," she soothes. "His motivations are his own. You're here and you're strong, and we can worry about all the why and how later, okay? Today is about you. It's about how you're going to walk in there with your head held high, taking shit from nobody, and sit yourself straight across from him and not even see him. Okay?"

I blink.

"Okay?"

I nod. "Okay."

She beams at me. "Come on, you're Quinn Fabray, Head Cheerio with a four-point-oh GPA... you can do anything."

I laugh because what else can I do? Rachel Berry just seems to be one of those people who remembers things. All kinds of things. It's a little unnerving, because I've been surrounded by people who forget my entire life. Birthdays, piano recitals, cheerleading exhibitions, fetching me from school... all the usual things.

We start walking again, and I automatically slow our pace the closer we get to the cafeteria. "Look, Rachel, I just want to say thank you again," I start. "I know right now it probably feels like a one-sided friendship - I probably need you more than you need me right now - but I'm going to make it up to you when I have a handle on everything, okay?"

"Quinn, you do know that's not how friendships work, right?" I must look confused because she just continues. "There's no score card, okay? Not with me, at least. I want to help you, and I like spending time with you, regardless of whatever you have to get a handle on, okay?"

"Okay."

"Now, go in there and own it."

I glance at her. "You're not coming in with me?"

"Not today," she says. "Today is all about you. Make sure they know it."

I blink. "You're the best friend I've ever had, you know that?"

Her smile lights up her entire face and she hugs me so tightly, I think she actually bruises one of my ribs. "Now, I do," she whispers, and then releases me. "No, go! Work it!"

And I do. I open the doors to that cafeteria and walk in with my head high and my face giving away nothing. Honestly, to the untrained eye, I probably look bored, but my heart is beating double-time and the sudden hush of the cafeteria definitely isn't helping with my composure. Do they want to make it any more obvious?

I saunter up to the food line that doesn't really exist anymore - it's been lunch for a while - and pick up a salad. I haven't glanced at our table yet, and I look at it only when I'm headed in that direction. There's an empty seat next to Santana, which I know she reserved for me. Bless her.

Conversation stops when I slide into my seat and throw a grateful smile at Santana. I feel my body grow tense before my eyes drift over the occupants of this particular table. Finn isn't sitting at this one; he's at the one just over. I can hear him but I won't bring myself to look at him.

"What?" I ask, my tone even and daring. The smart ones back off.

And then there's Noah Puckerman.

I feel his hand slide over my shoulder before I feel his breath against my cheek. "So..." he drawls. "Princess Perfect is finally single."

I shrug his hand off, and he just laughs, getting the Cheerio sitting on my other side to move. She does so too quickly, and I make a mental note to have her run extra laps at practice. What happened to solidarity?

Puck sits down next to me, his body angled my way. "I have been waiting for this day for years," he says. "When do you want to do it?"

My eyes are focused on my salad as I pierce an unsuspecting piece of cucumber with my fork. "Do what?"

"The nasty."

Slowly, I turn my neck to look at him. He looks eager, determined. "No," I say.

"Oh, come on," he says. "We all know you put out. Finn talks about it all the time."

My fingers clench around my fork, my knuckles turning white. I know he's just baiting me. I know Finn wouldn't do that. I'm convinced he did participate in 'locker room talk' but there are boundaries, and I set them. There are just things you do and don't talk about.

"So, what do you say?" Puck presses.

"No," I say again.

"She said no, asshole," Santana pipes up next to me, but she really just looks bored by this entire exchange. I am too, if I'm being honest.

"But, Quinn, the Puckasaurus has been waiting for you."

"And he'll wait a lifetime, Puck," I say. "Seriously? Did you really think this would work? I mean, why would you even want me? Isn't he your best friend?"

"I don't care about that," he says. "You're fucking hot, and it's not my fault he's such a fucking mess over this whole thing."

I frown. "What?"

"Oh, don't do that," he scoffs. "You may be the sexiest chick in this hellhole, but you're still the HBIC, which means you are a bitch, and you definitely proved it."

I turn my glare on him, hearing something in his words I definitely don't like." "Excuse me?"

"Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about," he says smugly, and I feel something nasty crawl up the back of my back. I feel uneasy, and one glance back at Santana proves I'm right to be wary. She looks about as taut as I feel.

"What are you talking about, Puck?"

He laughs. "Oh wow. I know you're blonde and all, but you're really playing into the 'dumb' stereotype a little too much right now."

My jaw clenches. I'll make sure he pays for that later. "Why are you being so mean about this?" I ask, because I'm actually curious. "Like it's my fault? I'm not the one who broke up with him."

"Well, you didn't really give him much of a choice, did you?"

I feel as if I've been slapped. "Excuse me?"

"What did you think was going to happen when he found out, huh?" he sneers. "I thought you were many things, but even this is below you."

Now I'm just confused. I narrow my eyes. "And what exactly did our dear quarterback say he 'found out?'" I ask, keeping as calm as I can be, when all I want to do is punch Puck in the face and break his smug, stupid smile.

"That you cheated on him."

I get to my feet so fast, my chair topples over and gets me the attention I already have. Surprise and shock are my first emotions, and then anger. Blind, enraging fury. "He said what?" I scream at Puck, and he finally has the smarts to back away. I grab hold of the front of his shirt in my right first and bend right into his stupid face. "Noah Puckerman, so help me God, if you don't tell me exactly what he said, I will cut off your Puckasaurus and send it through a meat grinder!"

He grimaces, and there's a collective and uncomfortable shifting of several boys in their seats.

"Now," I growl.

Puck pulls back as much as he can but I don't let him go. "It was after practice on Saturday," he starts to explain, rushing his words. "In the locker rooms. You know how the guys are. We were teasing him or whatever because he usually rushes out of there to meet up with you but he was acting different that day. Doing things slowly and looking all mopey. When Freddie asked what was up, he said you two broke up." He swallows nervously. "The guys laughed, I guess, because he managed to lose the single hottest girl in this place and when he said he's the one who ended things with you, nobody believed him. I mean, who in their right mind would leave you? He's fucking insane."

A sentiment I agree with, but I need to keep us on track.

"We dogged him about it until he blurted out that he had to do it because you'd cheated on him with some guy from Carmel, and it was still so fresh, and to just leave him alone and to... not tell anyone, I guess. Oops."

My heart is beating, I'm sure of it. I'm also breathing, I must be. Those are both involuntary bodily functions, so I'm not worried. But, really, in this moment, I feel nothing. Absolutely nothing. No pain, no rage, not even that flutter of relief I was so sure I wanted. I'm frozen. I'm numb.

And then Puck smirks, which breaks into my haze. "Not so perfect, are you?" he quips and, before I know it, I've slapped him across the face so hard I think my hand is broken.

Now the cafeteria is completely silent.

I back away in surprise, and then shock, and then rage. "You're a fucking asshole," I say to Puck before I round on Finn, my gaze sparking with electricity. His own eyes widen at the sight, and I've never ever felt so much contempt for a single person in my entire life. This boy, who I was convinced I would marry one day, build a life with, have more children with. I was all in, and this - this hurts more than I could ever think possible.

"How could you?" I scream at him, definitely losing my cool. Did I ever even have it? "How could you tell them I cheated on you? How could you make up such lies about me?"

Finn just stares at me, mouth agape.

"Why?" I yell. "Why would you do that? To make yourself to look like less of an asshole? To look better to your stupid teammates? Why would you do that to me? After everything... after everything we've been through. After Beth." Oh, God, it hurts. I shrink back, my body folding into itself. "I thought you were better," I say, holding on as best I can in this public place. "And you wonder why I keep people at an arm's length... To avoid this! Fuck you, Finn Hudson! Fuck you!"

And then I turn, somewhat blindly, because there are tears in my eyes. Santana is suddenly there with Brittany. She has a hand on my elbow, guiding me away. I don't even know what's happening, but the world slows to a stop when I feel a warm hand slip into my left, and another on the small of my back.

"Rachel," I whisper.

"Berry, what the fuck are you doing?" Santana asks, her tone biting and harsh.

"No," I manage to say. "I want Rachel."

That shuts up all protests, and I'm led out of the cafeteria towards the Cheerios' locker room. It's not empty but one glare from Santana and they all scatter. I drop down onto a beanbag like a sack of potatoes - so much for my patented grace - and Rachel sits down next to me, immediately wrapping her arms around me. I burrow into her, hiding my face and breathing her in.

"The fuck - " Santana breathes, but I don't care. I clutch onto Rachel's sweater like it's a lifeline, my sobs turning me into a shaking fool. I hate this. I hate all of this. I was doing so well. I was getting through this day relatively fine, and then this. I don't even know what to make of any this.

Rachel's hands slide over my back and I focus on that rather than the spectacle I created of myself not five minutes ago.

"I hate him," I murmur, my mouth pressed against her neck. "I hate him so much right now."

"I know," she says. "I know. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry you're hurting like this, Quinn."

I fall silent, and I hear voices talking around me but I'm not paying attention to anything they're actually saying. A few minutes later, I feel another, warmer, hand run over my hair.

"We're going to kill the bastard," Santana says.

Before I can protest, Rachel's hold on me tightens. "She's kidding," she says. Then: "You are kidding."

"Whatever, Midget."

There's a soft press of lips to my temple. "Feel better, Q," Brittany whispers. "I'll keep an eye on San; make sure she doesn't do anything crazy."

I just hum in response, and Rachel squirms. I almost smile.

When we're alone again, Rachel's body seems to relax, but her hold on me tightens. "I don't even know how you're breathing," she says. "Are you sure you're getting enough air down there?"

Okay, so, I do smile this time. I pull back so I can look at her face. "Thank you for being here."

"There's nowhere else I would rather be."

We sit in silence for another few minutes, before I suck in a breath and meet her gaze. "Have you eaten?"

"Have you?"

"I think I'd be sick if I were to eat something right now," I confess. "We should get you something to eat. Right now."

She raises her eyebrows. "I know what you're suggesting, Fabray, and, no, we are not bunking class."

I huff.

"We'll go back to class and then we'll go to Glee, and you will get through this day. And then we'll go to my house and we'll have a pity party and plan out ways to make Finn's life a living hell."

"I don't know if I'll be good company, Rachel," I say. "I'm feeling very bitter and homicidal right now."

She presses her forehead against mine. "Bitter and homicidal are my middle names."

I let out an unexpected laugh, and then sigh heavily. "I'm such a mess."

"Yes, you are," she whispers. "But you're a beautiful mess."

"I don't know how I feel about that," I say, blinking. "But thank you for saying I'm beautiful. I've already been called perfect, hot and sexy today, but none of them mean remotely as much to me. So, thank you."

She smiles warmly, and then glances at the clock on the wall. "We should get you cleaned up," she says. "I have some Advil in my locker."

"Now I'm turning into a pill-pusher," I groan, rolling out of her embrace and wiping my eyes.

"I'm keeping a very close eye on you, Fabray," she says, carefully rising to her feet. "I'll be right back, okay? Wash your face. You have Biology after lunch."

I look up at her, curious. "Is that one of those things you just know about me?"

She nods.

"Creeper," I quip, smiling at her.

She holds out her hands and pulls me up. "Feeling steady?" she asks, her hands still in mine.

I nod.

"Give me a minute," she says, and then ducks out of the locker room. Once she's gone, I move towards the sinks and splash my face, trying to bring back feeling. My makeup is a complete mess, and I'm busy fixing it when Rachel gets back with a bottle of water, one pill and a granola bar.

"Let's see," she says, making me turn towards her. "See? Nobody can even tell."

"That I just cried out my body weight?"

She shakes her head.

I reach for some paper towels and wipe at my tears on her neck, drying her skin. "Sorry," I murmur.

"Comes with the territory," she says.

"As my best friend."

She squeaks in surprise, and I smile warmly at her.

"Just don't tell Santana that," I say, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "Is that for me?" I ask, eyeing the granola bar.

She nods. "I found it in my locker. I think it's a... week old."

"I really don't care," I say, and watch as she opens the bar for me and hands it to me. "Have you eaten?" I ask, taking a small bite. She bites her bottom lip, which is answer enough for me. "We'll share," I say, and hand the bar back. Her eyes meet mine for a moment before she takes her own bite.

We trade the bar back and forth and it's honestly the most charged moment I've ever experienced, and I don't even know why. It's emotional and... sexual, which should make me uncomfortable but it really doesn't.

"All done," she says, throwing away the wrapper. "Feel better?"

"I think so. Thank you."

"So, Biology?"

I nod. "Biology."

"See you in Glee?"

I hesitate.

"I know he's going to be there, but Santana and I have discussed this, and we will hurt him if he tries to talk to you, let alone looks in your direction," she says. "But I want you in Glee, and I think you'll be mad at yourself if you let him dictate something else. I know you only joined Glee for him, but I know you like it now, so stay for yourself; don't do anything else for him."

I take a deep breath. "Can I let you know how I feel after class?"

"I won't force you to do anything you don't want to, Quinn."

"I know you won't," I say. "But, if you don't push me, I doubt I'll do anything I do want to do."

She looks at the clock again. "Be good, okay?"

"I'll try."

And then, after a quick press of lips to my cheek, she links her arm with mine and we walk out. There are still a few minutes before the bell rings so we're able to visit both of our lockers. She drops me off at my classroom, tells me not to kill anyone, and then she leaves.

I'm successful in the not-killing-anyone part... physically, at least, because my glares are icy enough to pierce through flesh. Nobody says a word to me, which is something that changes when I finally get out of English and the day is over. Glee starts in a few minutes and I haven't yet decided if I'm going or not. I stand at my locker, staring into it in silence as I contemplate whether or not I can handle seeing Finn again today. Or Puck. Or anybody else, for that matter.

Brittany doesn't allow me to skip it, and I just know Santana and Rachel conspired to get her to fetch me because they know I'll never be able to say no to her pretty face. And I can't, which is how I end up seated between Rachel and Santana in the corner of the last row of the risers in the choir room. I'm not looking at anyone but I can feel so many eyes on me. I want to hide. God, I just want to disappear.

Rachel closes one of her hands around my twitching fingers in my lap, hidden by my crossed legs. It's painful, all of it is painful. The entire lesson is tense and, as much as Mr Schuester wants to address the elephant in the room, he doesn't. I really do think I would punch his face if he tried to.

By the time it's over, I'm exhausted and my hands are clammy but Rachel hasn't let go of them once. Even when Mr Schuester asks her if she has anything prepared for the given topic that I don't even remember registering. We wait while everyone leaves, and I'm vaguely made aware of Finn hanging back, clearly wanting to talk to me but Santana says words and he's gone. Not today. I can't handle anymore today.

Everything that happens afterwards is a blur, and I feel like I can properly breathe only after I've changed out of my Cheerios uniform into Rachel's sweats and am lying on her bed with my eyes closed. I can feel her looking at me where she's sitting at the end of her bed, crossed-legged and thoughtful.

"Wow, you really do think very loudly," I mutter, rubbing my temple with my forefinger and middle finger.

"Sorry," she mumbles.

I open my eyes and look at her. "Come here."

She does, and lies on her side next to me, her eyes on my face. "What are you thinking about?" she asks.

"That I never want to move."

"Does that mean I should get you a catheter?"

I pull a face. "Gross, Berry."

She giggles.

"Thank you for today," I say, yawning. "Thank you for taking care of me."

Her fingers brush my cheek. "Of course, Quinn," she says. "Why don't you try to catch a nap? You've had quite an emotional day."

I sigh in relief. "Will you stay until I fall asleep?"

"Of course."


It's almost deja vu when I wake up: door open, pasta smell wafting in and quiet voices floating up the stairs. I think, years from now, this is how I'll remember the Berry home. Gingerly, I roll out of bed, visit the bathroom to make myself look presentable and then head downstairs to find Rachel doing homework at the kitchen table with LeRoy and Hiram bustling about the kitchen. There's soft music playing and all three of them are quietly singing to themselves.

Hiram spots me first and beams at the sight of me. He moves towards me, takes hold of my hand and pulls me into the kitchen. We shimmy left and shimmy right and I laugh when he dips me, enjoying this impromptu dance.

"Good morning," he says with a laugh after one last spin. He kisses my forehead, hugs me once, and then sends me towards the kitchen table.

Rachel is looking at me with a look that's equal parts concerned and just happy to see me. I flush slightly as I take my seat next to her and rest my chin on her shoulder to look at the work she's doing. It's Calculus, and she really doesn't look to be enjoying it.

"How did you sleep?" she asks, keeping her eyes on her notebook.

"I slept," I murmur. "Did you sleep?"

"A little," she says.

I clench my jaw, and she looks at me. "Was it me?"

"I'm worried about you," she admits, her breath brushing my cheek. "And now I have this stupid Calculus to contend with. Honestly, my vocation is the Arts. I'm very talented in those subjects. This is all just seems like a waste of time."

I raise my eyebrows. "You do know that Math and music are very closely linked, right?"

"Doesn't mean I have to like it."

I smile at her petulance. "Do you need help?"

"Because you're Miss Four-Point-Oh GPA?"

"Might as well put me to use," I say, shrugging. "Calculus is actually one of my favourite subjects."

"Then you must help me."

I lean back, sit up straight and the two of us work on her homework until LeRoy declares that dinner is ready. I don't quite notice that the three of them keep glancing at me until I reach for my water and catch them all looking at me at the same time.

I blink. "Uh, is something wrong?" I ask. "Do I have something in my teeth?"

"No," LeRoy says, recovering first. "Nothing's wrong, Quinn."

"Oh." I swallow. "Then why are you all looking at me?"

Rachel clears her throat. "I think we're all just a bit surprised," she says.

"Okay...?"

She puts a hand on mine. "It's nothing bad, Quinn," she assures me. "It's just, well, you're really good at that."

"At what?"

"Tutoring," she says. "I've been struggling with that section for two weeks now and your explanation and your patience helped me understand it. You're very good at it, Quinn. Have you ever tutored before?"

I blink, blushing. "Umm, not officially," I say. "I help Britt a lot. There are a few things she struggles with. I also work with the Cheerios sometimes because Sylvester expects a certain GPA to be maintained, in order to stay on the squad."

"Have you considered becoming a student tutor?" Rachel asks. "Like, with the Tutor Centre at school?"

"Um, no, I've never really thought about it," I say. "I'm pretty busy with everything else."

Rachel just nods, dropping the subject. For now, at least. I'm under no illusion that she'll bring it up again, and I'm just left to wonder why it's even a topic to be discussed. I mean, I do like to help the cheerleaders with their work even though I grumble about it when I'm with them. It's all about that moment when they finally get it; when the thing you've been trying to explain to them for however long finally makes sense to them and their eyes light up. It's my favourite part.

After we've eaten, cleared the table and done the dishes; I know I should go home. If I get too comfortable, I know I won't be able to leave, and I've already spent too much time invading their space. Plus, it's a school night.

I don't bother to change back into my uniform - Rachel gives me her blessing to take her clothes with me - pack up my things and get the longest hug imaginable from Rachel. And then from Hiram and from LeRoy.

"Come back anytime," LeRoy says. "We mean it, really, Quinn. We love having you here."

I choke back a response and he kisses my forehead.

Rachel walks me to my car, her eyes downcast. She's quiet, which is slightly unsettling but I can understand why she is. I chuck my bag in the backseat and turn to look at her, smiling at her chewed bottom lip and big, beautiful eyes.

"I know we haven't actually talked about what happened today," she says. "We haven't even discussed tomorrow."

I step towards her. "We can talk about it tomorrow, after Cheerios' practice?"

Her gaze meets mine. "Come over?"

I nod. "I might be exhausted."

"When aren't you?"

I fake a laugh. "Physically, this time."

"I have ice and heat packs."

I shake my head and bop her nose with my forefinger. "Thank you, little star."

Another hug and a kissed cheek later, I'm in my car and on my way to my house. I don't really know what I'm feeling but I'm content to ignore it for now. Finn is just a thing I'm ignoring. And, apparently, so is my mother.

She's not home when I arrive, and I rush straight up to my bedroom. I distract myself with homework and loud music, singing at the top of my lungs and drowning out the thoughts in my head and the feelings in my heart.

When I eventually call it a night, it's just before midnight and I'm not tired. I know I should be, but I'm decidedly not. Which is the only reason I bother to look at my phone. It's just a hot mess, really. Texts and emails and missed phone calls and endless notifications and now I'm exhausted.

I delete messages without reading them. I'm already a heartless bitch so I don't care what Finn texts or what Puck wants to say to me after the crap he pulled today. I also don't care about the numbers I don't recognise. On Facebook, I get rid of the notifications without checking any of the comments or personal messages. I'm so tempted to delete my profile but decide against it. It would be a Finn-related decision and I'm trying not to make those.

I do have a new text from Rachel.

Berry: I know you're a Calculus whizz and all that, but does your four-point-oh GPA brain know anything about precipitates? Chemistry sucks!

I laugh to myself.

Quinn: Sure, Berry. We'll work on it tomorrow. X

I quickly set my alarm and then set my phone down on the nightstand. It takes me another fifteen minutes to fall asleep and, when I do wake up to the sound of Maroon 5, I still don't feel any better or any worse. I'll take it, I will.

I take my time getting ready and then head downstairs. I actually do a double take when I enter the kitchen to find my mother leaning against the kitchen island and sipping at a cup of coffee. She looks hungover, which is really just her normal look.

"Morning," I murmur as I head to the fridge.

She startles and coughs. "Oh, hello."

I roll my eyes as I search the fridge for something to eat. A quick glance at my watch tells me I probably have time for a fruit bowl, but I don't like being in any room with my mother for an extended amount of time. Especially not after our latest conversation. So, with a sigh, I just grab a pre-made smoothie and leave without saying goodbye.

It's not lost on me that she doesn't say a farewell either.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six

Rachel

and i said to my body. softly.
'i want to be your friend.'
it took a long breath.
and replied 'i have been waiting my whole life for this.'


"Hey, Berry?"

I startle and spin on my heel to spy Santana and Brittany looking at me, one decidedly amused and the other sincere. It seems the Unholy Trinity is going to make a habit of stopping at my locker in the mornings. "Good morning," I force out.

"Have you seen our mutual blonde bitch?" Santana asks.

I blink. "No, I haven't seen Quinn yet. Is something the matter?"

Santana shrugs.

"Her car is here," Brittany says. "But we can't find her."

I nod in understanding. "Do you want me to help you look?"

"We don't want you to do anything," Santana says, her tone taking on a harsh quality. "I don't know what you and Quinn have going on, but she's our friend."

"And I definitely don't dispute that, Santana," I inform her, refusing to shy away from her heated gaze. "But Quinn is my friend too. She's going through a tough time right now. Can we please set aside whatever grievances you have towards me for another time and just help her?"

Santana's eyes narrow, but she says nothing.

"Have you tried calling her?" I ask, addressing Brittany.

"She hasn't been so good with the phone lately," she replies. "She's sad and angry. I don't like seeing Q so sad."

Santana puts a hand around her shoulders. "I know, baby," she whispers. "She'll get happy again, you'll see."

"But she was never happy," Brittany points out and, for some reason, the three of us just know it's a true assessment. Maybe Quinn could have been happy, but she's never truly allowed herself to be. As penance, maybe. Self-punishment.

"Then it's up to us to make sure she is," Santana says.

Brittany looks at me. "Will you help us make her happy?"

"Of course," I say without hesitation.

"Good."

We spend a few minutes discussing logistics. We can't leave her alone, even for a second, because Santana's heard that Finn wants to talk to her; to explain himself, and we can't have that. I know she doesn't want that; not today, at least. Maybe when she's a little calmer and has the chance to talk it out with someone, she'll be more receptive to whatever he wants to say. But not today.

Once everything is settled, they're off, and I'm left feeling a little winded.

I quickly close my locker, take out my phone to fire off a quick text to Quinn and then make my way to homeroom. I have it with Tina, Mike and Artie, which always makes for an interesting morning whenever they have relationship issues to iron out. I've just sat down at the desk beside Tina's when my phone buzzes in my pocket, and I automatically smile at the name.

Quinn: Sorry. I arrived early so I was catching a nap in the library. And yes, I promise not to kill anyone today. It'll be a struggle.

Quinn: Also, do I have permission to skip History and come chill with you during your Free?

Quinn: See, I know things about you too ;)

Honestly, I don't think it's possible for my smile to grow any wider. She winked at me.

Berry: The library is not meant for sleeping, just so you know. It's now been established that preventing you from becoming a murderer is my number one priority. And of course not. You have to go to class. Permission denied, Fabray.

Berry: Hmm... so I'm not the only creeper in this friendship then ;)

"Rachel?"

I look up towards Tina. "Hmm?"

"Are you okay?"

I frown. "Of course. Why wouldn't I be?"

She looks thoughtful, as if she's trying to find the right words to phrase whatever she wants to say. "It's just, well, Kurt, Mercedes and I were talking," she starts; "and we're a little worried about the attention the Cheerios are paying to you."

I frown, not following.

"Now that Finn and Quinn have broken up, we're worried that Quinn is going to blame you like she sort of did the last time they broke up, and we're - well, we're worried about you. We don't want you to get hurt."

I blink in surprise before I let out a laugh. "Are you being serious?" I ask, because this has to be some joke.

Tina looks uncomfortable. "Yes."

"I appreciate your concern, Tina," I say; "but I'm pretty sure the only person Quinn blames is Finn."

She looks skeptical. "And you're not worried about Santana?"

"I'm always worried about Santana," I admit. "But this has nothing to do with me. It's about Quinn." At her confused look, I continue. "We're friends now," I tell her. "Well, we're trying to be. Obviously, it's a work in progress."

Tina just nods. Maybe I've broken her. "Just, be careful," she eventually says and then turns away to say something to the boys. She's probably relaying my news that Quinn and I are now friends. We'll see how they handle it before the great big school is forced to.

I turn my attention back to my phone when it buzzes again, signalling a text from Quinn.

Quinn: You'll come around, Berry. I'll be spending your Free with you in next to no time. We'll be creepers together!

I can't help feeling a pleasant warmth spread through my chest. It's excitement, yes, but something else as well. I have this new friend who's actually being an active friend to me. It doesn't even seem as if Quinn is having to tolerate me. It feels genuine and, yes, I'm a little wary of it, but I've decided to enjoy it.

Berry: I can assure you I'll never condone bunking, Quinn.

Berry: How are you feeling today?

I get a reply when I get to Calculus and I just manage to read it before the period starts.

Quinn: Just you wait, Berry :) I suppose I'm okay. Still a little numb, to be honest. See you in Spanish. X

I'm not sure I like the idea of Quinn feeling numb, but then it's probably better than blinding rage, especially right now. The entire school has been buzzing about the incident in the cafeteria, and even I know I'll snap at anyone who asks me what it was all about. I mean, I don't even know what it was really about. Quinn and I didn't really do much talking yesterday. Between the tears, her exhaustion and our homework, there wasn't much time. Even though she says we'll talk tonight, I doubt we'll have much time either. Her Cheerios practice is bound to run late.

The day itself is slow. Spanish is interesting in the fact that Quinn makes a point of stopping at my desk - bringing the entire room to a hush - and telling me that she's reconsidered skipping class and that I should learn from her and stay in school. I rolled my eyes, she pat my shoulder and all was well with the world.

Until World Geography with Kurt, that is.

I've barely managed to sit down before I'm being interrogated as if I know the answers to all the hard-hitting questions of life. "Okay, what do you know?" he asks, gripping my arm.

I frown, leaning back. "Uh, about what?"

"The breakup? The fight? Well, the yelling, or whatever that was yesterday? And why did you run off with Quinn like that?"

I suddenly have a headache. "Good morning to you too, Kurt," I say helpfully.

"Okay, yeah, whatever," he says with a lazy wave of his hand. "Care to tell me why you're suddenly on the in with the most popular girls in school?"

"Well, Quinn and I have decided to be friends," I state, still a little in awe at the very idea of it.

Kurt looks confused. "That's it?" he asks. "Just like that?"

"Umm, yes," I say. "What were you expecting?"

He scratches his forehead. "Honestly, I don't even know what I was expecting," he confesses. "So, if you're now, uh, friends; does that mean you know all the juicy details about the breakup? I mean, I can only piece together the things I hear, but you have the story directly from the source. So... tell me why my stepbrother looks like a wounded puppy right now."

I shake my head, bristling slightly. "Kurt, I love you, but you know I'm not going to do that," I say. "Even if I did know anything, which I don't really, I wouldn't betray Quinn's trust like that."

He frowns. "You do know who we're talking about here, right? Quinn Fabray, Head-Bitch-In-Charge, bully to all Lima losers, right?"

Suddenly, I'm relieved that I asked Quinn to tell me who she is because she's so much more than Kurt's snarky assessment of her. I'm under no illusion that other people see her a certain way; in a way that she probably wants them to, in order to hide who she truly is, so she doesn't get hurt. She lets people in slowly, through a thorough vetting process, and only the worthy ones get to stay. Only the worthy ones know to fight to stay as long as possible.

Finn is not worthy.

"Quinn's and my past doesn't factor into my decision not to divulge her secrets, Kurt," I say, my tone surprisingly cold. "We're trying to forge a friendship here. She's willing to try and so am I. Please don't ask me to tell you anything about her she's not willing to tell you herself."

"Damn," Kurt breathes. And that's all he says about it.

I'm exhausted by the time lunch rolls around. I didn't know school could feel like running a marathon but it does, and I have places to be. I drop my books off at my locker and then head straight to Quinn's. She's alone, sporting her patented don't-come-near-me expression and I find it a little amusing. I move to stand behind her and tap her shoulder. She spins around so fast, she almost clips her locker door. Her mouth opens to get the insult out but it dies on her lips at the sight of me. She falters completely, her shoulders jerking and the devastation clouding her features.

I wrap my arms around her before anyone can see her borderline breakdown, hiding her from curious eyes.

"I've got you," I murmur into her hair. "It's going to be okay. You're going to be okay."

She squeezes me tightly, and then releases me with a steady smile on her face. "Hello," she says softly, running her hands over her face.

"Hi," I breathe. "Rough day?"

She lets out what looks like an unexpected laugh, and score one for Berry. "You could say that, yes," she says, shaking her head. "Everyone thinks they know what happened, but I keep getting asked all sorts of inappropriate questions. Santana also says he's been trying to talk to me, but I'm never alone. I swear her and B were here moments before you showed up."

I drop my gaze.

"Which, I now know, was by design."

I smile innocently. "I know not of what you speak, Miss Fabray."

"Sure, you don't."

I hold out my arm. "I'm to escort you to the cafeteria and deposit you at your seat next to Santana without incident, otherwise I'm sure she'll find a truly creative way to bring about the end of my days."

"She won't hurt you," she says, closing her locker and slipping her arm through mine as we start on our way.

"I have irrational fears when it come to Santana Lopez," I confess.

"Do you have any when it comes to me?" she asks, her tone more serious than earlier. "Because I'd imagine you have fears, regardless of their rationality. I've been warned not to hurt you enough to realise that our sudden friendship hasn't gone unnoticed."

I frown. "Warned? By who?"

"Well, Britt for one," she says. "And Mercedes and Tina. Even Mr Schue."

"Wow."

She shrugs. "It's not unfounded, Rachel," she informs me. "You and I don't exactly have the best track record. Before Glee, I was a raging bitch to you, and I like to think I toned it down after I joined, and after Beth, but I don't remember being particularly nice. I'm sorry about that. I think I'm just, intrinsically, not a nice person, but I'm trying now. I really appreciate your giving me a chance." She takes a breath. "I realise we still have much to discuss, but I'm really enjoying the fact that we can and we will be able to talk about these things."

I blink.

She chuckles. "Say something."

"I don't know what to say."

"Oh my, I've broken Rachel Berry," she says, laughing lightly and looking genuinely amused.

I'm quickly coming to learn that Quinn has several different smiles. So far, I've discovered six of them. The first and, probably the scariest one, is when she's in full-on HBIC mode and the next words to leave her mouth are probably going to cut you. The second is the knowing smirk - it's not sinister, but still dangerous. The third is the one she reserves for Brittany. I didn't even know such a smile existed until I watched the two blondes interact. The fourth is the forced one; the one she slides onto her face when she's uncomfortable or in a new place. Then there's the playful, almost bashful smile that she pulls out when she's trying to be cute and flirty; and I'm convinced a full-blown one can kill a person. And then there's this one: this genuine, happy smile that makes her eyes shine bright and makes the world seem less frightening.

I stare at her.

She pulls us to a stop. "Wait. Did I actually break you?" she asks. "Rachel? Are you okay?"

I breathe out. "I'm fine," I finally say, forcing the words out. "You're just a little overwhelming."

Her eyes widen and she steps back. "Oh, I'm sorry," she says, trying to take her arm away, but I hold onto it. "I don't mean to - "

"No," I interrupt. "It's not in a bad way," I assure her. "I think it's just that I haven't quite had a friend like this before. It's new territory for me too, you know? Mercedes and Tina are great and all but I've never truly been able to talk to them. Kurt's an entirely different story. They all like their gossip, really, so I've never felt safe enough to discuss things. But, with you, it's not like that. I know it's all still new and all, but I trust you, Quinn. Somehow, for some reason, I just trust you, and that's what's overwhelming. But I like it. I really do." I tug on her arm and she steps back into my space. "I think, as long as we keep talking about things, this will turn into a very beautiful friendship."

She smiles at me, a little relieved. "Promise you'll tell me if it ever becomes too much, okay?"

"I promise."

And then we're on our way again. I can't help but think about how Quinn listens to me. I've been known for being rather verbose sometimes. I can ramble and rant and get lost in my words until people interrupt me, talk over me or just tell me to shut up. Quinn listens. I mean, sure, she's been known to interrupt, but it's different now. It's not done to hurt or diminish, and that makes all the difference.

When we get to the cafeteria, she doesn't even hesitate before pushing open the doors and walking through, her arm still linked with mine. People turn and stare but I try to pay them no attention. Quinn's expression is unreadable as she leads us to the food line, which isn't that long. She releases my arm to get trays for us, and looks at me, her back facing the front of the line.

"Question," she says; "how exactly does school food help with your vegan lifestyle?"

"It doesn't," I tell her, keeping my focus on only her. "I like salad though, so I make do. Sometimes I pack leftovers but I was in a bit of a rush this morning."

"Why?"

"Overslept."

She gives me a guilty look.

"Hey," I say. "It's up to me how late I stay up, all right?"

She nods.

I look past her shoulder. "We're up."

Quinn gathers a small Greek salad, a bottle of water and an apple. I get the same. While we're paying, she gives me her olives and I give her my feta cheese. She throws me one of those sixth, genuine smiles, and then we go to our separate tables. I know I'll have to field questions when I get to my friends, but I don't care.

I sit in an empty seat, ignore the pointed looks and take out my phone, sending off a quick text.

Berry: Tag. You're it.

The reply arrives seconds later.

Santana: You are so weird. But thanks, Midget.

I shake my head and finally look up, to find eyes on me from everywhere. "Something wrong?" I ask innocently, lifting my fork and starting on my salad. I chance a quick look Quinn's way to see her sitting comfortably between Santana and Brittany, protected on both sides.

Artie recovers first. "No," he says. "It's just, well, we know you said you and Quinn and friends now, but..." he trails off.

"But what?"

"We didn't expect that," Tina finishes for him.

"Expect what?"

Kurt grumbles. "Seriously, Rach," he says; "does none of this seem weird to you? The whole school is confused. First, Finn and Quinn break up - still don't know the full story there - and now you and the Ice Queen are best buddies. Doesn't that raise red flags for you?"

"Not really."

He laughs. "Who are you and what have you done with Rachel Berry?"

I set my fork down purposefully. A quick glance at Quinn tells me she's locked in conversation with Brittany, her third smile in full swing. It's actually quite adorable the way their faces get so close to each other, as if they're telling each other secrets. "I've been trying to determine just where all this concern is coming from," I begin. "Is it really so inconceivable that Quinn Fabray might actually want to be friends with me? I fully acknowledge that I'm tolerated by most of you on my good days, so I imagine it must be weird to see another person - regardless of their social hierarchy - want to be my friend, right? That must be it, because I wouldn't imagine there would be any jealousy involved, would there?"

Their shocked expressions are priceless. I know I should feel bad about the 'double-slap' but I honestly don't. I worry if maybe that's Quinn rubbing off on me, but I accept the truth it isn't. This is all me. I need them to stop questioning my friendship with Quinn. If I get hurt by it, that's on me, and I will happily take each and every I told you so.

I resume eating in silence. It takes them a bit longer to recover. After a few minutes of pointless conversation, I turn to Kurt.

"Did you want to partner up for the project for World Geography?"

Kurt, not being one to decline an olive branch, takes it, and all is well once more. For a few minutes, at least. This has been the most tiring day, and I know it's only going to get worse when I spot Finn striding purposefully towards Quinn. I snatch up my phone and dial Santana.

The cheerleader looks confused before looking over at me. I point towards Finn, and her facial expression morphs into something dangerous when she spots him. She's out of her seat a beat later, intercepting the large quarterback and saying words to him I can't hear.

I look at Quinn, who's expression has changed to one of - I don't even recognise it. I'm typing before I even know what I'm doing.

Berry: You're okay.

I look up to see her reaching for her phone. She smiles, and then looks at me, her gaze meeting mine across the cafeteria. She holds it for the longest time. I'm vaguely aware of Finn storming off, and then Santana's breaking into our spell. They talk for a moment, glance my way a few times, and then I get two separate texts.

Santana: Nice save, Hobbit.

Quinn: Rachel Berry, my hero. X


When I predicted Cheerios practice would run late, I wasn't wrong. I've done all my homework - save for the precipitates - started on Kurt's and my project for World Geography and learned a new song by the time Quinn practically falls through my bedroom door and collapses on the carpet in a heap of legs and duffel bags.

I can't help my laugh as I swivel in my desk chair and look at her. "Hello, you."

She groans, her eyes closed and eyebrows furrowed. "Too sore to talk," she mumbles, and I slide off my chair to kneel at the side of her head.

"That bad, huh?" I ask, running a hand over her hair. It's damp with sweat, but I don't really care. "Want some ice?"

"Hug first."

"But you're all sweaty," I point out.

She opens one eye. "Hug me, Berry."

I let out a laugh as I drape my upper body over hers and practically press her into the carpet. She's burning hot and I feel it through our clothes. We stay in that position for such a long time that the heat of her is starting to make me sleepy. When my eyes droop closed, I reluctantly release her and sit up.

"Are you sleeping?" I ask her serene expression. When I get no response, I lean forward and press a kiss to her temple. I stand, fetch a throw and drape it over her still form before returning to my desk. Even as I work, I sneak glances at Quinn every few minutes, quietly marvelling at the oddity of this moment right here. Quinn Fabray - Quinn Fabray - is asleep on my floor right now. Who would have thought?

Half an hour later, Quinn wakes with a start, her head whipping to the side and knocking the post of my bed. She just seems like the type to injure herself constantly. "Oh, God," she groans.

I swallow my laugh and move towards her, dropping to my knees. Gosh, she's so cute like this; like a toddler just emerging from a nap. She's rubbing her head with her left hand, as she uses her right to push herself onto her knees, and then lifts her torso so she's kneeling in front of me.

"Are you okay?" I ask.

"If you suggest an Advil, I think I'm going to scream," she says grumpily, and I bite my bottom lip to stop my giggle. "Just laugh, Berry. We both know you want to."

"But I can't," I say. "You're hurt."

Her gaze meets mine, and her smile is genuine. "Hello."

"Hi," I breathe. "How bad is it?"

"It's detracting from the rest of my body," she says, giving her head one last rub before retracting her hand. "I fell asleep."

"You did."

"You were on top of me."

"I was."

"You're very comfortable."

"I am."

We stare at each other for the longest moment, and then we both burst out laughing. I double over, clutching at my stomach as I try to get control of myself. It's a futile attempt. We just laugh and laugh until my Daddy comes to check on us, his eyebrows up to his hairline at the absurdity he's witnessing.

"Dinner's ready, by the way," he finally says, realising we've probably lost our minds, and then leaves.

Every time one of us recovers, it starts up again. I swear we laugh for close to ten minutes. My cheeks hurt and I think I'm crying. When we do finally get ourselves under control, Quinn shuffles towards me and wipes my cheeks with the pads of her thumbs.

"Do you have any idea how pretty you are when you laugh?" she asks, her eyes on my face.

"Even the ugly laugh?" I joke to try to lessen this moment.

"Even then," she assures me, and then stands up and goes into the bathroom.

I get up too, check my face in the mirror in my closet, and then go downstairs. My dads are already seated, casually picking at food as they wait for us. "Sorry," I say. "We were - " I stop. "I don't even know what we were doing, to be honest."

"Acting like teenagers," my Daddy offers.

"Hooligans," my Dad quips.

They laugh.

"I'm just glad to hear some laughter instead of tears," my Daddy says, and I have to agree with him. These past few days have been the kind of emotional that burns the insides of your eyelids just thinking about it. "Is Quinn coming down?"

"I'm coming!" we hear from the stairs, then the squeak, and we're presented with a fresh looking Quinn Fabray. She's wearing smile number six and it makes my heart skip a beat. If I wasn't paying attention, I'm sure this girl would give me whiplash.

"There you are," my Dad says. "Come. Sit. I need to talk to you about something."

Quinn's face falls. "Oh."

From her reaction, my Dad immediately backtracks. "Oh, Sweetie, it's nothing bad," he assures her. "Don't look so nervous. Quinn. Just come sit."

Quinn's eyes meet mine, but I'm as lost as she is. She moves to sit down next to me, her hand immediately reaching for mine under the table and she rests them both on the top of her thigh. "Nothing bad, right? You're not kicking me out or something?"

"Of course not," my Daddy says, looking alarmed. "We would never do that, Quinn."

She looks so small right now, and I just want to bury her in a hug. "Never?" she asks, her voice barely a whisper.

My dads exchange a look.

My Dad leans forward. "Hey, look, I'm sorry I'm making you worry," he says. "You're not going anywhere, okay? You're one of ours now. We've claimed you. You have no choice in the matter. You stay."

She just nods, her hand squeezing mine.

My Daddy starts us eating, and the moment dissipates into the air as we talk about school and Glee. My Daddy also asks Quinn about Cheerios practice and, after a little laugh, she surprises us all.

"I'd say it went well," she says. "Only one girl threw up. Nobody passed out. There was one cat fight - Sylvester likes to provoke them to ween out the weak ones - and I didn't lose my voice from shouting at them as much as I usually have to." She looks so calm, almost resigned to what she's just said that it probably doesn't sound that absurd to her.

"Wow," my Daddy says.

I stare at her. I mean, I sort of always knew the Cheerios practices were intense but this just sounds like torture. Voluntary torture. She wants to be a Cheerio. She even looks like she enjoys it.

"So, how often do you practice?" my Dad ventures to ask.

"It really depends on how close we are to competitions," she answers easily. "Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, Wednesday and Friday mornings, and then Saturday as well. That practice can go on for up to six hours if Sylvester sees something she doesn't like, which she usually does."

My Dad just stares at her for a moment, and then he leans forward and pokes Quinn's bicep. She giggles. "And you do Glee?"

She nods. "Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays," she says, popping a cube of butternut into her mouth.

"You're definitely a busy girl," my Daddy says.

"And she's student class president," I add. "With a four-point-oh GPA."

"Rachel," she hisses, her cheeks aflame.

"She's been Head Cheerleader since she was a sophomore," I continue anyway. "And she's practically a shoe-in for Valedictorian."

Quinn buries her face in her hands. "This is so embarrassing."

"Don't be embarrassed," my Daddy says. "You should be proud of yourself, Quinn. Be proud of your accomplishments. We are."

She drops her hands and sits up straight. "Thank you, LeRoy," she says. "I try to tell myself it doesn't matter that my family doesn't acknowledge all the good I've done, but it does. Late at night, I wonder if they'll ever see past the fact that I ended up sixteen and pregnant, and homeless." She falls silent. "So, thank you, truly. It means a lot to me."

I want to bury her in a hug but I don't think I would be able to let go.

My Dad clears his throat. "So, that thing I wanted to talk to you about," he starts and Quinn looks at him, more sure of herself. "I know you have a crazy schedule but I have this student over at the college who has a brilliant mind and work ethic. She always participates in verbal discussions and has all these opinions that really just awe me sometimes. Unfortunately, the largest component of her mark is dependent on her written work, which, admittedly, is poor. She's an immigrant."

Quinn and I just nod, showing him we're still listening and following.

"She's smart," he continues. "I think she just needs some guidance. I offered her help but I think she's uncomfortable being alone with an older man, regardless of my profession. I was wondering if you would consider meeting with her, maybe try to evaluate if you can help her. It doesn't have to be anything time-consuming or permanent; just to see if - "

"Sure," Quinn says, interrupting with a smile. "How's about this Saturday, in the afternoon? Does that sound okay?"

My Dad sputters. "Oh, okay, that's wonderful," he says, clearly not expecting her to agree so easily. "I'll set it up. Thank you."

I glance at him, and he shoots me a knowing smile. Gosh, could he be any less subtle? After dinner, Quinn and I go up to my room. I fiddle with her iPod while she does her homework. It's just easy and comfortable and, when she's done, she beckons me to the bed and we lie down facing each other. We're going to talk.

"Thank you for today," she starts, her fingers trailing over the skin of my forearm between us. "I don't think I can ever say thank you enough for all you've done and are still continuing to do. If I'm a mess when I'm with you; imagine what I would be like without you."

"I have imagined it," I tell her, and she waits for me to elaborate. "I think, honestly, you would be fine," I tell her. "At least, on the outside. You would build up those walls and just face the days without allowing yourself to grieve the end of your relationship." She drops her gaze. "It would eat at your insides. You might have lashed out in some way, dyed your hair, gotten a tattoo or a piercing, who knows?"

She swallows. "I hate that he has so much power over me."

"That's what happens when you choose to love someone, Quinn," I say. "Admittedly, I don't know much about long-term relationships, but it's the risk you take to find the person you're going to be with forever. I think there's something beautiful about it, you know? This risk you take, putting yourself out there, allowing someone to know you, on this quest to be happy. Sure, you'll probably get burned a few times, but your strength is in the fact that you keep going; you keep searching, and that person is out there. I just know it."

She breathes out. "I think I've sworn off boys for a while," she says.

"Understandable."

She traps her bottom lip between her teeth for a moment. "We should have a girls' night," she says. "A sleepover, on Saturday. What do you think?"

I drop my gaze.

"Hey," she says, touching my cheek. "What's wrong?"

I don't even know what words to use.

"We can also not have one," she offers slowly. "I just thought, you know, it might be nice. Britt has been asking about you nonstop; I think my ears are bleeding."

I laugh. "Are you sure you'd be okay with that? And Santana?"

She nods. "We can even have it at Santana's house, which she'll just love," she says cheekily. "I mean, I'm sure you can invite Tina and Mercedes, even Kurt, if you want to," she offers.

I grimace.

"Okay... what's that face for?"

I clear my throat. "Um, so, I may or may not have been severely passive aggressive with them at lunch today," I say, and she waits. I sigh and tell her what I said when they kept asking me about our new friendship. Let's just say I don't expect her laughter.

"That's brilliant," she says, wheezing slightly. "Oh, you beautiful, wonderful human being."

I blush.

"I'm sorry our friendship has caused you so much stress."

"I wouldn't change a thing."

"Good."

I hum against the feel of her hand on my cheek.

"He told his teammates he broke up with me because I cheated on him."

My eyes fly open, and I practically leap off the bed. "He did what?" I screech. "Oh, that miserable, horrible, excuse of a - "

"Rachel," she interrupts, sitting up and looking at me curiously. "Easy there, superstar."

I shake me head. "I don't - I don't even know what to think or say right now." I sigh. "How are you, really?"

"I don't think I can quite make sense of it all," she confesses. "There's the boy I know and love, and then there's this. I guess I'm not ready for the moment the two boys become one in my mind."

That makes sense.

"Now, come back here," she says, her playful smile in full effect. "We have to plan our girls' night."


Wednesday is the kind of day that shouldn't exist. Things between Finn and Quinn are still tense, which makes Glee something awful. Finn tries to talk to Quinn all day, and Santana and I are pretty much ready to wring his neck by the time Mr Schuester dismisses us.

Quinn follows me home in her car. We're all performing a group piece on Friday, but I have a Solo I've been preparing. I haven't told Quinn about it, mainly because it's for her. I don't know if she'll like it, or appreciate it. Still, I've prepared it.

Despite the tense day, she seems better. Not as tired, a lot more present. She even has a conversation with my Daddy about Blues music while my Dad and I do the dishes after dinner. I can hear them talking but not what they're saying. I'm just enjoying the sound of their voices, the teasing and the laughter. I don't know how having Quinn here can make it feel more like home.

"What has you smiling like that?" my Dad asks, handing me a wet plate to dry.

"I don't even know," I admit. "Don't you just feel... happy?"

He lets out a laugh. "Sure, Sweetie, I feel... happy."

I roll my eyes before I turn to look at him, all serious. "So, I need to talk to you about something."

His face falls, his brow furrowing.

I raise my own eyebrows. "See, it's not very nice, is it?"

It takes him a moment, and then he breathes out. "No, it's really not," he says. "I shall refrain from doing that in the future. Particularly to Quinn."

"Thank you."

He worries his bottom lip. "Have you spoken to her about what she revealed yesterday about her family?"

"Not exactly," I say, and it's the truth. "There are a few more pressing issues at the moment."

"Like ex-boyfriends and sleepovers?"

I nod. "Exactly."


Quinn doesn't come over on Thursday. Her Cheerios practice runs late and it doesn't make sense for her to come to my house just to go to hers within the hour - my dads set a curfew for her, unless she's staying the night. They don't want her out and about too late at night. She almost teared up when they sat her down and explained the decision to her.

I suppose it's foreign to her having people care about her this way.

I'm not prepared for how it feels not having her around in the evening. She may be quiet and understated, but her presence is mammoth. She's already seeped into the foundation of our house, and dinner is a quiet affair even if I chatter on and on about the new choreography I'm learning in my dance class. It just isn't the same and we all know it. It's as if we adopted this person, and now they've just left us.

"She's coming back," I assure my dads, and we all share a laugh.

When I get back to my room, I just have to make sure. I feel a little uneasy. Like, maybe the bubble has burst and she's just now realised that she's made a mistake agreeing to be friends with me.

Berry: Daddy asked if you are, in fact, coming back. I said yes. Did I lie?

The text goes unanswered until just after ten o'clock, and I've worked myself into quite the panic.

Quinn: Pick up the phone.

And then she's calling.

"Hello," I answer, a little hesitant.

"Hey," she breathes, and it's Quinn. She's on the phone. I'm talking to her, and she sounds so... normal. "Sorry I didn't reply. Sylvester had us working on new choreography until late and I didn't check my phone until now. I just got home."

My eyes widen as I check the time. "What?"

She laughs.

"Have you eaten?"

"Uh, no," she says.

"Do you want me to bring you something?"

"I'm pretty sure it's almost past our curfew, Berry," she teases. "But no, I'm fine, thank you. There should be something in the fridge. I can make a sandwich or scramble some eggs."

I close my eyes, hating this. "Where's your mom?"

"I don't know," she confesses with a huff. "She could be somewhere in the house, for all I know."

"Are you sure you're okay?"

"I am," she assures me. "Just a little tired. I think I'm going to get something to eat, have a nice long shower and then crawl into bed. I just wanted to respond to your text and say, yes, I'm definitely coming back. I belong to your guys now, remember? I'm yours, Berry. Can't get rid of me that easily."

My heart rate rises dangerously. She's ours.

"So, let me go," she says. "I'll text you later, okay?"

"Okay."

"Night, Rachel."

"Goodnight, Quinn."

When she hangs up, my heartbeat hasn't settled. It's amazing what she can do without actually being in the room. I wait up for her text, which arrives at half past eleven. I'm lying in bed, staring at my stars and waiting. When my phone buzzes, I immediately reach for it.

Quinn: All is well, little star. I'm fed and clean and tucked in bed WITH my homework done. You can rest easy.

I huff out a breath as I type out a reply.

Berry: Why do I even bother?

Quinn: Because you're secretly in love with me ;)

My breath hitches.

Quinn: Rachel Berry, my hero :)

Quinn: Goodnight. X

I swallow audibly.

Berry: Goodnight, Quinn, dream sweetly :)

I set my phone aside, roll over and try not to think about girls with hazel eyes and the word 'love.'


Friday's lunch finds me switching out with Santana and Brittany at Quinn's locker. We've fallen into a little rhythm now, which is why it's always so amusing whenever Quinn is surprised by my arrival at her locker. Every. Time.

"So," I say, startling her. It's actually one of my favourite things to do, though I'll never admit that to her. "Daddy sent lunch for you."

She turns around so quickly, she almost knocks her locker door with her forehead. Seriously, one of these days, she's really going to hurt herself. "He did?"

I nod.

"What is it?" she asks, eager for the information. It's so cute. "He mentioned he was going to try making that chilli-paste stir-fry the other day. Did he? Tell me he did."

I grin at her. "He did."

She actually jumps in her excitement, and I honestly don't think I've seen her so... animated. Over food, no less. "I know this is sad, but it's literally the most excited I've been since - " she stops suddenly, glancing at a spot over my shoulder. "Oh."

"What?" I ask, turning around to spot Finn headed towards us. No, no, no. "I'll get rid of him," I say, but she puts a hand on my forearm.

"No, Rachel," she says quietly. "He's not going to give it up, and you and San can't keep doing this for the rest of the year. Let me just hear whatever he wants to say and then we can all just relax, okay?"

I want to protest. Santana would want me to protest, but the look in Quinn's eyes stops me. She looks so sure, determined even, and prepared. This is the reason Santana, Brittany and I have been working so hard to keep Finn away from her: it's to get her to this point. A point where she's ready.

Which is why she steps away from me, straightens her spine and addresses Finn before he can get a word out.

"We should probably talk."

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven

Quinn

but this was never a relationship.
i have no idea who you are.


My fingers are twitching at my sides. I can barely look at him without my stomach churning in a nasty way. We go into an empty classroom, and I position myself to be able to see out the door where Rachel is standing and peering in, making sure I'm okay.

Honestly, I'm the furthest thing from okay right now.

"What do you want to talk about?" I ask tensely, keeping my gaze locked on his chest. "It's been seven days. I can't imagine there's anything more you want to say to me, because I honestly think you've said more than enough. To various parties."

He sighs. "Don't be like that."

"Be like what?" I ask, my voice still light, though there's an edge to it. "Truthful? I mean, what did you expect? I don't want to talk to you but you don't seem to be getting the hint. Can we please just get this over with so I can get some lunch?"

He runs a hand through his hair, and I acknowledge that just seven days ago, I probably would have swooned or something equally ridiculous like that. "Look, I just - " he stops. "I'm sorry."

I deflate.

He presses his lips together, because I'm looking at his mouth now. I'm not ready for the eyes. "I'm sorry, Quinn," he says again, and he sounds so sincere, it almost untethers me. "I did it all wrong, okay? I panicked. Everyone was laughing and I wanted them to stop. They don't understand. Sometimes, even I don't understand. I just wanted them to back off and I said something stupid that I never should have said, and I'm sorry."

I swallow audibly before I finally meet his gaze. It's a bit of a shock, really, because he looks like he's sorry.

"I wasn't thinking," he continues. "Or, I was just thinking about myself. I tried to get them to shut up about it, but Puck is an asshole and he never should have said those things to you. We've had words about it."

"Punches, you mean."

He gives me a small, lopsided smile, and I remember why we can be good together. "Something like that."

"Did you clear everything up then?"

When he hesitates, the bottom drops out of my stomach and I feel as if I've been sucker-punched. My facial expression must change because he hurries to explain. "You know how it is, Quinn. Once it's out there, there's no stopping it."

I take a breath, one, two, and then level him with the type of glare that makes him cower. "You listen to me, Finn Hudson," I say, my voice gritty. "If you don't fix this mess you've made, I will do it for you, and I will make you look worse than you've ever made me look. Do I make myself clear?"

He nods dumbly.

I retract my claws. "Now, if we're done here, Rachel's waiting for - "

"Wait," he says, interrupting me.

All I want to do is get out of here so I can deal with the fact he was prepared to allow his teammates to keep thinking I was a cheater without him seeing; possibly with Rachel. He isn't allowed to see how this all affects me. I won't let him.

"What?" I bark.

His eyes narrow. "Stay away from Rachel."

I raise my eyebrows in surprise. Okay, I was not expecting that. "Excuse me?"

"I said, stay away from Rachel," he repeats. "She doesn't deserve whatever sick, twisted thing you have planned for her just because you and I can't seem to get along."

Now, I've been shocked by many things that have left his mouth before, but this one is definitely in the top five. I square my shoulders and face him. "I'm afraid you're going to have to unpack that one for me," I say in a monotone. "Exactly what are you trying to say to me? And I would tread carefully, because I am severely pissed off right now, and I won't be held accountable for your injuries."

"Just stay away from her," he repeats. "She doesn't deserve your bullshit. Nobody does."

I stare at him for the longest time, suddenly seeing a stranger. "What happened to you?" I ask.

He shakes his head. "You have no fucking clue, do you?"

"Obviously not."

"You did, Quinn," he says tiredly. "You happened to me." And then he walks out, leaving me to wonder what unforgivable thing I did to him that would result in this. He's acting as if I single-handedly ruined his life, which is preposterous because I'm pretty sure I single-handedly built his high school life. The ungrateful bastard.

I turn to the door when I hear raised voices, and then rush out when I realise it's Finn and Rachel. They're yelling at each other, about me.

"Don't, Rachel," Finn says. "She's just going to hurt you, and we all know it. She's just using you."

I don't even know what I did to make him hate me so much. He looks very different to the boy who was just apologising for telling people I cheated on him. Is he having some kind of pre-life crisis or something?

"Get out while you still can," Finn continues. "She's good at this part, but she starts to dictate everything, and then she'll just consume you. Don't do it, Rachel. Save yourself."

"Quinn," Rachel says, looking at me.

I don't know what to say to her. I'm just as stunned as she is.

Sensing my distress, Rachel steps back from Finn, eyeing him with all the HBIC she has - which, admittedly, isn't much - and Finn stops speaking. "Obviously," she starts, "you're out to poison Quinn's name, and I have no idea why. Clearly, she doesn't either, so whatever grievances you've made up in your head are invalid here. Quinn is my friend. Right now, with the way you're acting, you are making it very difficult to remain mine. Get a grip of yourself, Finn, because you're just making a damn fool of yourself." And then she's walking towards me and holding out her arm. "I believe we have lunch waiting for us."

I'm stunned for a beat, and then I slip my arm through hers. She leads the way down the corridor, and I let out the breath I've been holding only when we turn the corner. She pulls us to a stop and studies my face intently.

"Are you okay?" she asks, reaching out to touch my cheek.

"Are you?" I counter.

"He said some things," she says.

"Yes, he did."

"He's an idiot if he thinks I'm bowing out of this friendship now," she says, seriously. "Didn't you hear? You're mine now."

I can't stop my smile. "I'm sorry he said those things to you, Rachel," I say.

"He said some things to you too, didn't he?"

I nod. "First he apologised for telling people I cheated on him, which was sincere, but then he hesitated on the taking-it-back part." I shake my head. "He just seems so angry, and I don't know why. I keep thinking I must have done something, because it seems like all he wants to do is hurt me."

"Maybe something's going on that he doesn't want you to know about," she offers.

"I was thinking that maybe he's so fixated on the whole cheating thing because he's actually the one who cheated on me," I say, my voice so soft, I'm surprised she hears me. "And he's so angry with himself for doing it, which is why he's blaming me, as if my actions or lack of actions made him do it. So he broke up with me to spare me, but he can't quite get over the fact that he still believes I made him do something that immoral."

She looks thoughtful. "Your theory has merit," she eventually says. "How would you feel if it were true?"

"I don't know," I say because I really don't know. I haven't spent nearly enough time thinking about it, given everything else going on. I feel full of emotions that just aren't being resolved. "I really don't know."

"Well," she sounds, smiling gently. "We can discuss it over lunch."

I beam, remembering. "Can we go to the choir room? I don't really feel like dealing with the cafeteria right now."

"Of course," she says; "let me just text Santana."

I can't help my laugh as we start on our way again and she takes out her phone. "I really don't know how I feel about all this Quinn-management going on between the two of you."

She glances at me, mid-text. "Oh, would you rather the two of us not get along, and just bicker around you while you try to get a handle on things by yourself?"

I roll my eyes. "Dramatic much?"

She giggles, but says nothing as we stop by her locker and then make our way to the choir room. Thankfully, it's empty, and the two of us move to the corner you can't see when you walk past the door. After the week we've had, some privacy is nice. I wait patiently as she sorts out the food, separating and adding the sauce. My smile is practically splitting my face when she hands me a bowl.

"I love LeRoy," I say, taking it from her and breathing in deep. "It smells so good. He put in extra ginger, didn't he?"

"How would I know?" Her eyes are smiling. "Do you want some chopsticks?"

"Any other day, yes," I say; "but I'm too hungry and not skilled enough for chopsticks right now."

She hands me a fork, which prompts me to say a quick prayer, cross my chest and start eating.

"Whoa," she suddenly says. "Chew your food, Fabray; don't inhale it."

I let out a laugh, but ultimately do slow down. I should savour it, shouldn't I? "I'm sorry, it just tastes so good."

"It's like you've never had food before," she teases.

I don't tell her about my abysmal dinner the previous night. She'll just feel bad, or get mad, which are both things I don't want to happen. I like seeing her smile, more so when that megawatt smile is aimed at me; because of me. "Give me your phone," I suddenly say.

She hesitates for only a moment before she's handing it to me. "What are you going to do?" she asks.

"Just want to send your fathers' contacts to my phone," I tell her. "I want to be able to tell them thank you without the middle man."

She smiles at me; it's dimmer, more content, and it settles deep in my heart. I put that smile there. When I'm done, I give her phone back and resume eating. I've never been afraid of silence with Rachel. For so long, I imagined she was a non-stop talker, needing to fill the quiet constantly, but she's not like that at all. Does she talk a lot? Yes. Is it constant? Sometimes. Does it matter to me? Not anymore.

"So, plans for tonight?" she says after a while.

I spend a moment thinking about it. "I'll go home after Glee," I tell her. "I'll pack some clothes for the weekend, come back to cheer at the game and then I'll be with you until Sunday morning. Is that okay?"

"Perfect." Then: "Maybe we can go to your spot after you're done with church?"

"I'd like that."

When lunch is over and I'm beyond satisfied, we stop by our lockers and she walks me to Biology. I have to remind her Finn isn't actively seeking me out anymore and she reminds me that Finn isn't the reason she's my friend. Even as she says the words, we both know they're not true. However inadvertently, my breakup with Finn has led to this friendship with Rachel.

I don't know how I feel about that.

"See you in Glee," she says, refusing to comment on what we're both thinking.

It's something to think about though, isn't it? I head into class feeling a lot of things. I can't seem to make sense of them but I've always been content enough to ignore them. I'll unpack them on Sunday, I decide. First, I need to get through the rest of this day without further incident.

And, for the most part, that does happen. Despite Finn's earlier freakout, I'm not worried about Glee practice. I actually find I'm looking forward to it... because I'm going to hear Rachel sing. First, though, we do our group number, which goes quite well, considering all the tension in the air. Mercedes and Kurt sing a duet. Artie sings a piece that fills the room and gets people up and dancing. Even Mr Schuester blesses us with a few bars.

And then there's Rachel.

She raises her hand from her position beside me. "I'd like to perform a song, Mr Schue," she says, and she's trying not to look at me. It's cute how hard it seems to be.

Mr Schuester beams at her. "Of course, Rachel," he says. "The floor's yours. Whenever you're ready."

As she stands, she pats my leg, and then makes her way to the front of the choir room. She hands the music to Brad, the pianist, who hands the various sheets to the other musicians. Rachel looks to be in her element, discussing a few things with them before turning to face us again.

"I'm not entirely sure how this song fits into the assignment for this week," she begins; "but I do think it's fitting for the events of this week." Her eyes meet mine and I raise my eyebrows in question. She just smiles, and then starts to sing No Doubt's Don't Speak. What a special kid.

"You and me, we used to be together. Everyday, together, always," she starts, and she's still looking at me. "I really feel that I'm losing my best friend. I can't believe this could be the end. It looks as though you're letting go, and, if it's real, well, I don't want to know." She winks once, and then looks away: Finn's way. Such a diva. "Don't speak. I know just what you're saying, so please stop explaining. Don't tell me 'cause it hurts. Don't speak, I know what you're thinking. I don't need your reasons. Don't tell me 'cause it hurts.

"Our memories, they can be inviting, but some are altogether mighty frightening. As we die, both you and I, with my head in my hands, I sit and cry. Don't speak. I know just what you're saying, so please stop explaining. Don't tell me 'cause it hurts."

Mercedes and Kurt join in, harmonising seamlessly. "No, no, no."

"Don't speak, I know what you're thinking. I don't need your reasons. Don't tell me 'cause it hurts." Rachel takes a breath. "It's all ending. We gotta stop pretending who we are. You and me, I can see us dying. Are we?"

Now, all three of them sing the chorus. "Don't speak. I know just what you're saying, so please stop explaining. Don't tell me 'cause it hurts."

Santana and Brittany join in now. "No, no, no."

"Don't speak, I know what you're thinking. I don't need your reasons. Don't tell me 'cause it hurts. Don't tell me 'cause it hurts!" Rachel's eyes are on me again, and they're shining with something I can't quite decipher. "I know what you're saying, so please stop explaining. Don't speak, don't speak, don't speak, oh. I know what you're thinking, and I don't need your reasons. I know you're good, I know you're good, I know you're real good, oh."

All of Glee has joined in now - save for me, Finn and Mr Schuester - and it's beautiful, poignant and perfect. "La, la, la, la, la, la. La, la, la, la, la, la. Don't, don't, uh-huh. Hush, hush darlin'. Hush, hush darlin'. Hush, hush. Don't tell me 'cause it hurts. Hush, hush darlin'. Hush, hush darlin'. Hush, hush. Don't tell me 'cause it hurts." Rachel ends the song with another wink my way, and I'm standing and clapping in the next beat.

Mr Schuester is whooping, with a fist in the air and I really don't care about Finn right now. He can scowl all he wants. My eyes are on Rachel.

"That was amazing," I say, stepping down off the risers.

"It was for you," she says, suddenly shy, which is amazing given the attitude she was just displaying.

"Why, thank you, Miss Berry."

She pulls me into a hug, squeezing tightly, and then releases me, her eyes meeting mine. "You're very welcome, Miss Fabray."


When Rachel's alarm first goes off, one of us groans. It's probably me.

I feel her press a finger into my ribs. "Up you get," she murmurs, her voice thick with sleep. "Get up, Quinn. Shower, breakfast, practice. Go."

I bury my face in my pillow, unmoving. "I don't want to," I say, which just comes out as: "Idowana." How she understands me, I'll never know.

"You have to," she says. "You're the Captain, and Coach Sylvester will skin you alive if you're late."

"But you're so warm."

"I will kick you out of this bed if you don't get your butt moving, Fabray," she threatens, but it sounds more cute than anything. It's like a kitten threatening you, really. As a reward for my thoughts, I get another, much harder, poke to my ribs, and I squirm. Well well well, it seems our little kitten has claws.

"Okay," I say with a sigh as I roll out of bed and trudge to the bathroom. I'm exhausted - I feel like my life is one long complaint about exhaustion - because Rachel and I stayed up late talking. Just talking, in her bed, when we were supposed to be sleeping. Honestly, I don't even know how we get to the topics we eventually discuss, but I wouldn't change it for the world. It's just really nice being able to talk to somebody.

She's still in bed when I emerge, dressed in a tank top and my McKinley sweatpants. I pad across the carpet towards her, intent on a tickle attack, but her eyes fly open when she hears me coming and she immediately scrambles away.

"Quinn Fabray," she warns, getting up off the bed. "If you tickle me, I am not responsible for your injuries."

I arch an eyebrow. "And what if I just wanted to hug you goodbye?" I ask, as innocently as ever.

Her mouth opens and closes before her eyes narrow. "Don't try to be cute with me," she says. "I know exactly what you were trying to do."

I just smile at her. "Are you having breakfast with me, or are you staying in bed?"

"That depends... are you going to try to tickle me?"

"I'm definitely going to try to hug you."

"Then I'm coming downstairs. Just let me pop into the bathroom."

I'm left to marvel at just how easy this all is. There's no awkwardness and no attempts at feeling each other out. Somehow, things seem to fit together. We fit together. I head downstairs to an empty kitchen and start preparing two fruit bowls. Rachel prefers kiwis, and I'm more the fan of mangoes and I throw in all the other good stuff - except bananas; nobody needs that. I've just set the bowls out when Rachel comes into the kitchen, dressed in her own workout clothes.

"Elliptical?" I question, taking out two cups from the cabinet for coffee.

"I think I might go for a run," she says, taking the milk and yoghurt out of the fridge for me. "To the park and back."

I pour our coffee. "When was the last time you ran?"

She bites her bottom lip, visibly thinking. "Um, that one time we had to run the cross country course for gym," she says.

"Wasn't that last year?"

"So?"

I shake my head. "Nothing."

Breakfast is quiet. Rachel can be mellow in the morning when she chooses to be, and I suppose it helps that her mouth is occupied with fruit pieces. When I have to leave, I get walked to my car, a kiss on my cheek and then sent off with a packed snack and three bottles of water. I have a feeling Coach Sylvester is in for us today, given the debacle that was the weigh-in on Thursday. Six cheerleaders went up. Four stayed exactly the same, and everyone else managed to lose only an ounce of weight. Let's just say Coach Sylvester was mad.

And it seems her mood has carried over to the weekend, because the woman is already barking orders through her megaphone at two freshman Cheerios who deigned to arrive at practice first. Serves them right.

Coach Sylvester seems to perk up when she sees me, which is equal parts terrifying and a relief. She talks at me about what we have to get through today, which is mainly to teach the other cheerleaders what she, Brittany and I worked out for the additional choreography on Thursday. Brittany's ideas are amazing and relatively easy to understand, but some of the other cheerleaders just aren't that good at picking up choreography. Dancing, yes; following steps, no. It's exhausting work helping them get it, but I feel a certain and wonderful sense of self whenever they do.

By noon, the groundwork has been laid, but our first run-through is a complete and utter disaster. Coach Sylvester is so disturbed by it that she makes us run laps until she gets bored. Two girls end up throwing up - poor Lauren and Jessica - and Ashleigh actually passes out. I'm at her side with smelling salts immediately - I've learned to carry them in my duffel now - and then we call it a day. I clear up the equipment while the girls hit the showers. I'm contemplating just showering back at the Berry house.

"Oi, Q!"

I turn towards the voice. Santana and Brittany are approaching me, still in their sweats as well. "What's up, guys?"

"We're going to head to mine," Santana says, her arm draped around Brittany's waist. "Since you and the midget are going to be around tonight, I have to get my mack on right now."

I scrunch up my face. "Thank you for that, Santana."

"You're welcome."

Brittany throws me a happy smile, which I return, and then they're gone. Santana is like a hurricane sometimes, leaving destruction in her path, but I can't help but marvel at how sure she is, about Brittany and about herself. Now that she's out and proud, it would be worth it to consider how that's affected her behaviour in class and in Glee. It's been clear for years to see just how much of an effect Brittany has on Santana and her projected mood. I wonder if I'll be able to get Brittany to keep her Latina from being too snarky to Rachel tonight. They're all my friends now, and I just want them to get along.

LeRoy is in the kitchen when I get back to the Berry home. He's chopping vegetables and looking very much in his element with his 'Kiss the Chef' apron.

"How was practice?" he asks.

"Painful," I grumble.

"I can only imagine."

"I'm going to shower and change, and then I'll come down and help," I tell him.

"Send the other one down in the mean time, will you?"

"Will do."

Rachel is sprawled across her bed when I get upstairs. She's just lying there, somewhat spread-eagled, with a slight grimace on her face. I recognise that kind of grimace and I can't stop my smile if I tried.

"Hello, you," I say, entering the room. "How was your morning?"

She groans unintelligibly.

"That bad, huh?" I ask, moving to stand over her so I can be in her line of sight. "And the run?"

She groans again, lifting an arm to cover her eyes. I laugh out loud. "Why didn't you tell me it was a bad idea?" she questions. "I feel like death. I don't think I could move my legs if I tried." Slowly, she sits up to look at me. "I mean, I like to think I'm relatively fit, Quinn, but running is not a joke. I think I'm going to develop bruises from all the impact injuries I suffered."

"Wow," I breathe. "Dramatic much?"

She huffs. "How was your practice?"

"I definitely have bruises," I reply with a shrug. "I'm going to shower. LeRoy wants you downstairs."

"But I can't move."

I shake my head as I back away. "I did my part; I told you," I say, innocently waving my hands. "See you in a few minutes."

I use the shower to help clear my head and ease the tension in my tight muscles. My shoulders are almost screaming at me and the balls of my feet are aching. Truthfully, I feel like an old lady, only with the inability to pull off a purple pantsuit. Instead, I wear a baby yellow sundress, matched with my dark blue blazer and white wedges. I think I look okay, but I'm still a little nervous about making first impressions when I meet Hiram's student, Florence.

All three occupants of the house are downstairs when I finally emerge, and I get soft smiles out of all of them.

"Well, don't you look lovely?" Hiram says, twirling me.

I blush, mumble a thank you and then sit next to Rachel at the breakfast nook. "How're the legs?" I ask her.

She ignores my question. "You look very pretty, Quinn," she says. "Like sunshine."

"Thank you." My blush doesn't let up even once during lunch. I don't know what it is about today, but the three of them are unafraid to hand out compliments as if they're just having a normal conversation with one another, which, I realise rather belatedly, is exactly what they're doing.

Hiram and I set out about an hour later. I'm meeting Florence in his office today, and then we'll make other plans if we think we can work together. I'll admit to being a little nervous about it, but I still sit up straight, clutch my small notebook and pen in my hands and try not to let it show. She's already there when we arrive and Hiram makes the introductions before he leaves us to it.

I invite her to sit with me at the little round table in Hiram's office. She looks almost as nervous as I feel, but she grows into the conversation as I ask her questions unrelated to her schoolwork or family. It doesn't take me long to realise Hiram was right about her - verbally, her expression is amazing, maybe just lacking vocabulary. She reminds me of Brittany in a way; incredibly intelligent, just misunderstood.

I worry about our age difference. She's five years older than me, but she doesn't seem to mind that. I don't really know what she might want from me, so I just ask her. She has a list. I'm a fan of lists, and I just know we're going to get along.

Florence and I are in the middle of one of those lists when Hiram returns to his office. "How's everything going?"

We exchange a brief look. "I think it's going well," I say. "We're coming up with things we'd like to address. I have some books at home we could use, and then we're going to decide on a time to meet."

"Does this time work for you?" Hiram asks.

I think about it. This is a time when I'm free, but I don't know if I want to spend every Saturday afternoon here. Now that I don't have to factor Finn into my schedule and my life, there are so many things I can do now, and want to do. Also, Cheerios practice is unpredictable. I sigh. "For now, I think it's the best time for both of us," I say.

He smiles at me. "That's great," he says, moving further into the office. "I just need to grab a few things and I'll get out of your hair. Just text me when you're ready to go."

Florence and I iron out the details of our partnership, exchange numbers, and then I text Hiram. He notices quite early on in the trip home that I'm quieter than normal. I don't really know why I'm quiet, but I'm not used to people noticing. These things generally went unnoticed, except to Brittany, who would then bring it up to Santana, who would then try to get me to talk about it.

"Something on your mind?" he asks, glancing at me as we drive through Lima.

I look at him. "Why did you do this?" I ask, more curious than anything.

"Why do you think?"

"I suspect you think I'll be good at this," I say. "That I might even enjoy it. But there's something else, isn't there?"

He remains silent.

"It's about trying to find what I want to do with the rest of my life, isn't it? Because, as much as I've been preparing for life after Lima, I still don't know what I want to do. It's just been getting there, as opposed to what happens when I do. I've been so focused on - " I stop. "I was so focused on making sure F-Finn and I ended up some place together, which was limiting, but now... Now I can do anything I want to, and I'm terrified."

"It's okay to be scared," he says quietly. "A lot has changed in your life just in the past week, let alone all you've been through these past years, Quinn. It's difficult for anyone, and I want you to know that Rachel, LeRoy and I really do want to help. I know what it's like to be a little lost when it comes to the future. I didn't decide on my major until I started filling in my registration forms."

"How did you finally decide?"

"I sat myself down, looked at all my options, and decided on the things I knew I couldn't not do, you know?" he says, smiling at me. "Finding and accepting the things you love can be a difficult thing, especially when there are all these expectations surrounding you."

I frown, a little confused.

"As a Jewish man from a very Jewish family, it's almost expected I become a doctor, or an engineer or even an accountant," he explains. "I had already disappointed them enough by being gay, so I wanted to make them proud by fulfilling some of their dreams. I was conflicted all summer and, when I started to fill in those forms, I decided that I didn't want to get trapped by their expectations. And, when I did that, it was even more difficult allowing myself to want what I want. But then, I remembered the strength that comes from being yourself, and it was very freeing."

I sigh. "I admit I've done a lot of things because they're expected of me," I tell him. "I joined the Cheerios for my mother, and I joined Glee for Finn. I work so hard on my Academics for my parents. I'm as reserved as I am for God. I've tried so hard to be a better person for Beth. Everything I've done has been for other people, Hiram, and I don't know..." I trail off. "I just don't know."

He looks thoughtful. "I assume you've applied to schools?"

I nod. "To every one, really," I tell him. "Realistically, the number of schools Finn and I could get into together was limited. His grades aren't that good and he's an average athlete. Good singer, terrible dancer, decent actor."

"What about you?" he asks. "You don't have to worry about Finn anymore."

I drop my gaze. "I don't know how to switch it off," I say. "He's been my number one priority for so long and, even after all the crap he's put me through this past week, I can't just stop caring about him."

"Nobody says you have to stop caring," he says. "But it is time to make yourself your number priority. Somebody has to."

I smile faintly. "I'm trying."

"And that's all I ask."

Rachel meets us at the door when we get back and I get wrapped in a tight hug that settles the anxiety that's been building inside of me all afternoon. It's amazing how one touch from Rachel Berry can feel so grounding.

"How was it?" she asks, taking my hand and leading me up the stairs to her bedroom. There's a duffel bag on the end of her bed and a pile of clothes on the floor.

"It was enlightening," I say, eyeing the mess. "What's going on here?"

She huffs. "I don't know what to pack for a sleepover," she admits, pouting. "With Santana and Brittany and you."

I raise my eyebrows. "With me?" I ask. "If I recall correctly, we've already had plenty of sleepovers."

She blushes. "That's not the point, Quinn," she says. "Help me."

I let out a small laugh, slide out of my shoes and help. As we shuffle through her clothes, I tell her about my meeting with Florence and my subsequent talk with her Dad. She listens with little comment, humming in response from time to time.

"He's right, by the way," she eventually says. "You should be your number one priority right now, Quinn."

"I'm trying," I tell her, as I did Hiram.

"I know," she says lightly, kindly, and then her face morphs into something playful. It's adorable, really. "But what you're not trying, is trying to help me. Help me, Fabray. What am I supposed to wear?"


"Sup, bitches!" Santana's disembodied voice yells. "We're in the kitchen!"

Rachel is practically vibrating beside me as we enter the house. I've stopped ringing the doorbell, so we go straight in, which makes Rachel uncomfortable until Santana makes her forget all about that.

"Dump your shit in the lounge and get in here," she says; "Britt and I are making smoothies."

I glance at Rachel. "Are you okay?"

"Can we just take a moment?"

"Of course," I say, setting my bag down next to the couch. I slip hers off her shoulder and set it down beside mine before turning to look at her, reaching for her hands. "Hey," I whisper. "Look at me."

Slowly, her gaze meets mine.

"I know we're a certain way at school," I tell her. "I know San can be brass and rude and opinionated, but you're my friend now, and I've talked to her. If she says things that make you uncomfortable, just say so, okay? If you ever want to leave, we'll leave. Just tell me, okay?"

She nods.

"Are you lovebirds coming?" Santana yells from the kitchen, and I blush, dropping Rachel's hands.

"Come on," I say, and lead the way to the kitchen. It's brighter than the lounge, and so messy. Brittany is sitting in the centre of the kitchen island with an endless number of fruit and vegetables around her, and Santana is practically dancing around the kitchen. There's soft music playing from speakers on a counter and the blender is currently being stocked with strawberries and raspberries.

"There you are!" Santana says when she spots us. Her eyes meet mine for a moment. "Everything all right?"

I nod once, and turn to Brittany. "Hey, B."

She scrambles off the island, dropping fruit to the floor, and practically launches herself at me, almost knocking me over. "Quinn!"

I laugh out loud as I hug her back, and then she's moving on to Rachel. I spare them a look to make sure Brittany hasn't killed her, and then move towards Santana. We bump hips once and she smiles at me; one of those knowing, caring smiles that are usually reserved for Brittany.

"Who's this for?" I ask, eyeing the diced mango she's dropping into the blender.

"Britt," she says. "Want me to make yours next? Or Berry's?"

"Rachel's," I say. "She's a little nervous."

She glances over my shoulder at where Brittany and Rachel are still wrapped around each other, talking in hushed and hurried tones. They're clearly excited about something, and I'm relieved to see the tension in Rachel's shoulders has dissipated somewhat.

"Hey, Hobbit!" Santana says, and Rachel's gaze snaps towards us.

And the tension is back.

"Want a smoothie?" she asks.

Rachel's eyes meet mine for a beat before she nods. "Sure, Santana. Thank you."

"Come pick your poison," she says, and Rachel's eyes widen for a moment.

I can't help my giggle. "What fruit do you want, Rachel?" I ask, translating somewhat. I look at Santana. "She'll have kiwis," I say; "bananas and blueberries. Honey and almond extract. Crushed ice. Do you have vegan yoghurt?"

"That's a thing?"

"I brought some," I say. "Well, we brought some."

Santana raises her eyebrows. "Aren't you two just adorable?"

I don't respond, as I leave the kitchen and head to my bag. LeRoy packed a vegan-friendly cooler for us, just in case. He's really a genius, that man. When I get back to the kitchen, both Rachel and Brittany are sitting on the edge of the kitchen island, swinging their legs and laughing. For a moment, I marvel at the sound before moving back to Santana's side. She's just finished with Brittany's smoothie, and is moving on to Rachel's after a quick rinse.

We spend nearly two hours in the kitchen, making and drinking smoothies, dancing and singing around the kitchen, until we get hungry and start on dinner. Santana and I do the cooking while Rachel and Brittany start on a batch of cookies - the vegan variety. Apparently, Brittany is curious and eager to taste them. Rachel is more than willing to educate.

"What is this shit?" Santana asks, staring into the pot. "I like meat, Q. This looks fucking awful."

"Give it a chance," I tell her. "If you don't like it, I'll fry some bacon for you."

"I knew there was a reason I kept you around."

I just laugh as I turn towards Rachel and Brittany. They're peering into the mixing bowl, foreheads touching, and I wouldn't be able to drop my smile if I tried. It's almost as if Rachel realises I'm looking because she lifts her head and meets my gaze. She frowns for a beat before her face splits into a wide smile.

"You have flour on your nose," I say, pushing off the counter and walking towards her.

She turns to face me as I approach. "I do?"

I nod once, coming to stop in front of her, my eyes never straying from hers. I lift my hand and wipe the flour away with the backs of my fingers. "There you go," I say. "Good as new."

"Quinn Fabray, my hero."

I'm vaguely aware of Santana making a gagging sound in the background, but I don't hear her. It seems, neither does Rachel.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight

Rachel

i am your friend.
a soul for your soul.
a place for your life.
home. know this.
sun or water.
here or away.
we are a lighthouse.
we leave and we stay.


Quinn is warm beside me, the side of her body pressed against mine. We're sitting on the couch together, buried under a blanket and watching a movie. There was a bit of a debate when deciding, Santana wanted sci-fi, Brittany wanted animation, Quinn didn't want romance and I didn't mind.

Which is how I ended up picking, and I went with Lilo & Stitch. It's action and animation and aliens, and no real romance. Really, it's about friendship. Santana and Brittany are wrapped around each other on the loveseat, whispering to each other as the movie goes on. I'm surprised by how comfortable I feel. Quinn helps with her small smiles and gentle touches.

Right now, her hand is in mine, hidden under the blanket and she occasionally squeezes it when she's laughing at something in the movie. I love the sound of it. I know she's had the longest, toughest week and the lightness in her eyes and the softness in her features makes me feel relieved and warm. I know it's only been one week - eight days technically, so a French week - but I hate seeing her sad.

She leans into me at some point. "Have you ever had a pet?" she asks, whispering. Her breath is warm against my cheek, and I suppress a shiver. "Besides the fish, of course."

"Daddy's allergic to dogs and Dad's allergic to cats," I tell her.

"Wow."

"I had ferrets when I was little," I say. "Their names were Frank Sinatra and Patti LuPone."

"Cute," she murmurs, and then turns back to the movie. I watch her profile for a beat, and then turn back as well.

After the movie, we watch the thriller, Prom Night, which seemed like a good idea at the time. Brittany is literally crawling inside of Santana, and Quinn is hiding half her face with the blanket. I can barely watch, and I keep blushing whenever Santana comments about how hot Brittany Snow is.

"What is she doing?" Quinn suddenly asks, startling me. "Come on. Turn around. Hide."

Santana laughs. "Q, babe, you do know she can't hear you, right?"

"She should know better," Quinn huffs, and she's so cute right now, I can't stop myself from putting my arm around her shoulders. "Do they all die?" she asks quietly.

I frown. "I don't know," I say. "I've never watched this movie."

Quinn looks at me in the darkness and there's something different in her eyes; something vulnerable and sad. "I don't want her to lose any more people," she whispers. "She already lost her entire family."

Oh. Oh.

I just hold her closer, my fingers trailing over her skin to distract her. By the end of the movie, when the boyfriend dies, I know this was probably the worst movie any of us could have picked. A blonde cheerleader losing her family and her boyfriend all in one movie. Definitely a bad choice.

Quinn excuses herself when Brittany is putting in a new movie. We're already fifteen minutes into it and Quinn hasn't come back. Santana glances at me for a moment, cocks her head, and then I stand up and go looking for my blonde cheerleader. I find her sitting at the piano in what must be the house's library. Her fingers are resting on the keys but she isn't playing anything. I don't want to disturb her, but she looks so lost, and I can't help myself.

I step into the room and she looks up at me. She smiles faintly. "Hi," she breathes.

"Hey."

She shifts to the side, inviting me to sit with her on the bench. "I was going to play something," she says once I'm settled.

"Why haven't you?"

"I don't know what to play."

"Might I suggest something?"

She looks at me. "Are you going to sing?"

"Do you want me to?"

She takes her fingers off the keys and takes hold of my hands, intent on switching topics. "Do you know where my mom is right now?"

I shake my head, my eyes focused on our clasped fingers.

"She's in Atlantic City with her housewife friends," she tells me. "She left yesterday, telling me in a text that she'll be back Monday afternoon. I'm surprised I even got that much. It's two weekends in a row, and then there's Thanksgiving. I'm sure she's going to visit my sister again." She sighs. "It's as if all she wants is to be gone from here all the time; to be gone from me."

"Oh, Quinn," I whisper.

"I get it," she says. "This entire stupid town reminds her of before, and of my father. Just like I do."

I squeeze her fingers, unsure what to say to her. What do I say to make it all better? Her mother is supposed to comfort her, not leave her. "Should I play for you?" I ask.

"Please."

We shift slightly, and I start to play Yiruma's River Flows In You two octaves higher than the original. I get a few bars in before she starts to play it as well, just two octave lower, allowing space for my left hand to wander. It sounds a little odd, but it's a strange cacophony of sounds that actually blend amazingly. It's a sad, emotional song. Beautiful and nostalgic in its own way, and there are tears in her eyes when she presses the last note and lifts her foot off the pedal.

She looks at me, and I look at her. The air is charged, sizzling with the echoes of our chords and the words we're not saying. I run a hand through her hair, and she closes her eyes at my touch. I want to reassure her; just make it better, but I don't know how.

We sit for so long, the world shrinking down to this one moment... that she eventually breaks.

"We should probably head back," she says. "If we leave them alone for too long, they'll end up doing it, and probably not stop."

I pull a face.

"I guess that's one good thing about being a Cheerio," she says, turning playful; "a lot of stamina."

I laugh out loud as I rise to my feet and hold out my hand. She takes it, and I pull her up to her feet, burying her in a hug. It's a quick one because then we're going, leaving the room, passing through the kitchen for some snacks and going back to the lounge. Neither Santana or Brittany say anything about our absence, but Brittany does squeal when Quinn hands her the gummy bears and Santana nods in approval when she gets her fiery nachos. It's so stereotypical of who they are that it's rather adorable.

Quinn and I settle back down on the couch, much closer, with our legs tangled. Her skin is soft and warm and smooth and I'm trying not to think about it as we finish watching E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. Brittany's choice. I don't mind it. It's an adorable movie, which touches on the power of friendship again. It's better than death and romance. Anything is better than Quinn's earlier facial expression.

When the credits roll, Santana switches everything off, letting us all know it's time for bed. "Sort yourselves out," she says to Quinn and me, her hand reaching for Brittany's. "I'm horny and the night is still young." When they're out of sight, Quinn lets out a laugh and I join in a beat later. Once she's recovered, she gets to her feet and pulls me to mine. Without saying a word, she lifts both our bags and leads me further into the house.

It's a beautiful house, really. I asked where Santana's parents were - at a doctor's convention in New Hampshire - but I did meet her older brother, who's the supposed adult who's looking after us tonight. He is considerably older than Santana, and he's currently waiting on his wife to get back from her tour in Afghanistan to spend Thanksgiving with their family. It's sweet and sad, and -

"Quinn?"

She glances over her shoulder at me as we climb the stairs. "Hmm?"

"You should spend Thanksgiving with us," I tell her.

She hesitates. "I couldn't, Rachel," she says. "That's time you should spend with your family. I wouldn't want to impose on you guys like that."

I reach for the back of her t-shirt to stop her, close the distance between us and look up into her eyes. "You could and you should," I say. "I will be spending time with my family, and you wouldn't be imposing at all and you know it."

She just looks at me.

"I won't force you to come if you don't want to," I assure her. "Just know that you're always welcome, and I would love to have you. So would my dads."

She breathes out. "Can I let you know?"

"Of course."

She leads the way to one of the guest rooms, pointing out the bathroom on the way. I have to cut my nighttime regimen short because I couldn't bring all the necessary products, but I still take longer than Quinn to get settled. She's already half-asleep when I crawl into bed next to her - there's another guest room down the hall but we haven't even considered that - and she looks so peaceful.

"Plans for tomorrow?" I whisper, rolling onto my side to look at her.

"Church in the morning," she says, her voice thick with sleep. She doesn't even open her eyes. "You have three options: stay here until I get back, come with me, or I can drop you off at home."

I think about it for a moment. "Can I see how I feel in the morning?"

She hums in agreement, her breathing changes and I know she's asleep. I watch her for a moment, hoping and praying she gets good sleep tonight with no nightmares and no tears. It's all I'm thinking about when I finally drift off to sleep, and it's what I'm thinking about when I wake up to the feel of a hand in my hair.

"Hey."

I open my eyes to a blonde blur.

"Stay and sleep," Quinn whispers, and she sounds so close to me. "I'll pick you up later." Her soft lips press to my forehead, and then she's gone. I roll over with a smile, and promptly fall back asleep.

The next time I wake up is when another blonde pounces on me, making me shriek in alarm and making Santana die of laughter. When my heart rate has subsided, Santana tells me breakfast is ready and then she and Brittany leave me to get ready. I don't rush but I also don't take my time. I pack my duffel bag for departure, and make sure Quinn's things are also packed away. She's really quite forgetful sometimes - my room is starting to accumulate her things.

I find Santana and Brittany in the kitchen when I finally get downstairs. Santana is sipping at her coffee while Brittany is drinking orange juice.

"Hey, Berry," Santana says. "Coffee?"

"Yes, please."

"Grab a cup in the cabinet behind you," she says, which I do, and she pours some for me. "Britt and I are having eggs and bacon, but Quinn made you a fruit bowl before she left. What the fuck is a fruit bowl, by the way?"

Brittany is the one to answer. "It's a bowl of fruit, S."

Santana laughs. "Uh, sure thing, B." She looks at me. "I don't understand why they call it a thing. Can't it just be fruit?"

I shrug.

"It's in the fridge."

Quinn made my breakfast, and I can't help my stupid smile as the three of us settle down in the lounge to watch stupid morning television and eat our breakfast. It's easy and simple, and I don't feel at all nervous even without Quinn as my buffer. Brittany laughs hysterically when Santana decides on Spongebob. This entire weekend has made the Unholy Trinity seem so much more normal to me. There have been times when they've looked truly untouchable, out-of-wordly, but they're all just regular girls who are popular.

Quinn gets back just after ten-thirty, looking as pretty as ever in her Sunday best and we spend the rest of the morning just chatting to one another with the television on in the background. I learn that Santana teases Quinn to show her affection, and Quinn rolls her eyes and teases her back about how whipped she is for Brittany. Said blonde is just a happy and innocent bundle of energy and joy, and it's clear to see that Santana and Quinn both love her - in their different ways - and do all they can to protect her. Their entire dynamic is fascinating to me and I'm so grateful they're allowing me to get a glimpse of it.

It's around lunch time that Quinn suggests we get going. She, apparently, has plans for us, which result in a quick stop to Breadsticks for a takeaway pickup - I don't recall her even making a call to order - and a drive to Quinn's park. We're having a picnic lunch, apparently. I've just been told what's going to happen and I'm just rolling with it. I have no intention to contradict Quinn and her plans. I'm just along for the ride, really.

We spend hours under the sun, just talking, eating and laughing. She seems relaxed today, and I wonder if she worked through a few things at church. I'm tempted to ask but her religion and the practice of it seems much more personal now than it used to. She just seems so much more centred, not to sound cliched. Settled, in a way.

When it starts getting late, Quinn packs up our things and I roll up the picnic blanket. We walk back to the car in silence, fingers linked. The drive home isn't as quiet, as we belt out the lyrics to the songs on the radio. I've always loved singing in the car - especially when I'm by myself - but singing with Quinn just makes me irrationally happy. I can't explain it and I'm not going to try to.

When she pulls up in front of my house, she doesn't move.

"You're not coming in?" I ask, irritated with how small my voice sounds.

"I think I've monopolised enough of your time for one weekend."

"Nonsense," I say. "You told me your mother wasn't even home. Even if that weren't the case, I want you to come inside. I have homework you can still help me with."

"Oh, I see how it is."

I wink at her. "I'm glad you do."


"Want to hang out after Glee?"

I look up from the sheet music in my hands at Kurt. "Hmm?"

"After Glee," he says. "Maybe get a coffee at the Lima Bean? There's this new boutique shop I want to check out. I feel like I haven't seen you in forever."

My mind automatically jumps to Quinn. "Uh, I can't today," I tell him, internally cringing. Does this make me a terrible person? "What about tomorrow? I can meet you at the Lima Bean after my dance class."

He looks at me for a moment, trying to determine whether or not he should question me further, but ultimately decides against it. "Sure," he says, smiling at me. "Just text me the time."

I feel guilty about it for exactly three minutes, because then Quinn is walking into the choir room, a small smile on her face and a certain air about her. Sure, she's still conflicted about several things when it comes to Finn, but I do think talking to him helped. I did get an earful from Santana for allowing it to happen but, really, you try to stop Quinn Fabray when she sets her mind to something.

Quinn smiles widely at me as she makes her way to the free seat on my left, and Brittany and Santana take their spots to her left side. She leans towards me, dropping the volume of her voice. "So, I found this vegan recipe for this balsamic glazed roasted cauliflower. Do you think LeRoy would let me make it for Thursday?"

I beam at her. "Of course."

"And I found a recipe for vegan roasted garlic and herb dinner rolls," she says, and I automatically lick my lips. She notices, her eyes staying on my mouth for a beat too long. "They sound delicious," she says, blinking a few times.

"They do," I agree. "Anything else?"

"I assume we're having tofurkey."

"It's not terrible, you know?"

"I don't know, no, but I suspect I'm about to learn," she says with a tilt of her head. "What about pumpkin sage risotto?"

I practically purr. "My my, Miss Fabray, you really know the way to a vegan girl's heart."

She laughs out loud, her head tilting back, and I just catch sight of Finn looking at us, his facial expression a mix of a scowl and obvious confusion. My attention is back on Quinn when she speaks again. "LeRoy and I did manage to decide on a maple pecan pie. How does that sound?"

"We're going to have to work out all weekend," I tell her.

"Sure, we'll go on one of your famous runs," she says with a wink, and my admonishment is cut off by Mr Schuester's arrival. She's got her playful smile on and it's making me feel warm. I have to force my eyes away from her and focus my attention on Mr Schuester.

"Right, guys, because this week is a short one, I thought we could spend today discussing songs to sing to show how thankful we are for one another, for our families and for our lives in general. I know it doesn't give us much time but I'd like to see some performances on Wednesday."

I sit back in my chair and try to think about what I'm thankful for while Mr Schuester prattles on. I normally pay attention, but this is important. My dads, obviously. My singing voice. My general health. My able limbs. A roof over my head and food on the table. My goldfish. The prospect of a future beyond Lima. My extended family. My Glee family. My friends. Quinn.

I'm thankful for Quinn.


Kurt looks like he wants to ask me something, but he's actively trying to stop himself. It was cute for the first hour but, now that we're in the boutique and the coffee is wearing off, it's starting to irritate me. It seems I've developed a low threshold for these things because I heave a sigh and level a glare at him.

"What?" I ask. "You obviously want to ask me something, so just out with it."

He presses his lips together, clearly affronted, but he won't pass up the opportunity. "What's it like being friends with the Unholy Trinity?"

I want to roll my eyes but I just manage to stop myself. "They are regular people, you know?"

He gasps. "Don't say such a thing," he says. "Have you seen Quinn's skin? She probably has a rather impressive regimen, doesn't she? It can't be natural. Nobody can be that flawless."

I wonder if telling him Quinn's a wash, wear and go girl will break him. It almost broke me. I use an endless number of products to keep my skin clear, and Quinn just breathes and she looks perfect. I shake my head. "They're normal," I reiterate.

I absently think they're probably a little like superheroes with secret identities. Well, Quinn and Santana are. Brittany's always going to be Brittany, but Santana and Quinn are different behind the hard exteriors they present at school. Santana is mellow and surprisingly caring, and Quinn is... She's so many things; I wouldn't even know where to begin. She's playful and teasing, self-deprecating and deeply emotional, excitable and a total foodie. She's Quinn.

I suddenly can't wait to see her. She hasn't texted me this afternoon, but I'm trying not to think about it. She's got Cheerios practice and, chances are, I won't see her until tomorrow if it runs as late as it can. Which is why I'm wholly surprised to find a certain cheerleader sprawled across my bed when I get back from the boutique. She's doing her homework, looking freshly showered and relaxed. She's been here a while then.

"Hey," I say, getting her attention. "I'm sorry. I didn't know you were here. I would have come - "

"Rachel," she interrupts, getting up off the bed. "Hi."

"Have you been waiting long?"

She shrugs.

"Sorry."

"Why are you sorry?" she asks, coming to stand right in front of me. "I'm well aware I'm not your only friend, Berry, and I definitely don't want you to ignore your other friends because of me. I'm a big girl, and you're here now. I can be selfish now." She pulls me into a hug.

"Are you mad?"

She releases me. "Why on earth would I be mad?"

"I don't know."

"Oh, Rachel Berry," she murmurs, hugging me again. "I'm definitely not mad. I'm just happy to see you. LeRoy and I made these herb biscuits that I just know you're going to love."

I frown. "For how long have you been here?"

"Just over an hour."

"Why didn't you text me?"

"You were out with Kurt," she says. "I don't want to overwhelm you, Rachel. I can be a lot."

I laugh. "Have you met me?"

She smiles faintly - I think this is the seventh smile - and then presses a gentle kiss to my cheek. "Yes, I do believe I just have."


There's a bout of applause when Brittany finishes her song. It's polite, at best, because I think a lot of us are still caught off guard by how bizarre it was. I mean, it's not surprising Brittany sang about cats... it's just that it still is surprising.

Mr Schuester looks suitably perplexed - not that I blame him - as he moves to the centre again. "Okay, who's next?"

I know Quinn hasn't prepared anything. I tried to convince her, but she isn't feeling very 'thankful' at the moment and I wasn't going to push. Either way, I hope she appreciates the song I picked. I raise my hand, and Mr Schuester looks at me.

"Oh, Rachel," he says. "Come on up. The floor's all yours."

It doesn't take long to get everything set up, and I take a deep breath to settle myself. I'm not one to get nervous about performances. I know my talent and how far it can go. It's the other things that worry me. Of course, I live for applause and all that, but I'm still wary of many things that are usually a struggle to ignore.

I open mouth and start to sing. My super smart Glee family catch onto Joe Cocker's A Little Help From My Friends pretty quickly, and I can already feel them wanting to join in.

"What would you think if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me? Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song, and I'll try not to sing out of key." I wonder if I look as dramatic as I feel. The music builds. "Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends. Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends. Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends." I take a breath. "What do I do when my love is away?"

Mercedes and Tina follow, and the three of us start to trade lines, theirs rolling into and out of mine. "Does it worry you to be alone?"

"How do I feel by the end of the day?"

"Are you sad because you're on your own?"

"No, I get by with a little help from my friends. Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends. Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends."

Santana, Brittany and Quinn join them, harmonising seamlessly. They've always been so good at that, really. "Do you need anybody?"

"I need somebody to love."

"Could it be anybody?"

"I want somebody to love."

Kurt and Blaine add in their voices, their own special blend adding something more to the song. "Would you believe in a love at first sight?"

I'm grinning madly, my eyes drifting over each of their faces. "Yes, I'm certain that it happens all the time."

"What do you see when you turn out the light?"

"I can't tell you, but I know it's mine. Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends. Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends. Oh, I'm gonna try with a little help from my friends."

By now, practically the entire club has joined in and they're standing and dancing and just enjoying it. "Do you need anybody?"

"I need somebody to love."

"Could it be anybody?"

For the briefest moment, I glance Quinn's way and her smiling face is almost blinding. "I want somebody to love." I set myself for the last few lines. "Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends. Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends. Oh, I get high with a little help from my friends. Yes, I get by with a little help from my friends." I'm beaming now. "With a little help from my friends."

There's great applause, and I revel in it. I get claps on the back and a few hugs before everyone settles down again, leaving me standing in front of them. I have a quick something to say before I resume my own seat.

"In case you missed it, I just wanted to let you know I'm thankful for all of you," I say. "I know we don't always get along but I really do love everyone in this band of misfits, and I am immensely proud to be able to call you my friends... even if it is just in this room."

There's a small and collective chuckle from the room. Santana calls me a suck-up, and Kurt says it's sweet. Quinn's mouth doesn't say anything, but her eyes have always been a lot more expressive anyway.

At least, to me.


"Correct me if I'm wrong, but we don't actually have to cook a tofurkey all day like we would a normal turkey, right?"

My Daddy bursts out laughing, his eyes on Quinn. "I'm so glad we get to keep you," he says, and she blushes. "And, in answer to your question - I think it's a question - no, it doesn't require normal cooking methods."

Quinn glances at me, playful smile worn proudly. "And there I thought we'd be slaving away for hours." Really, she looks... gorgeous. She's flushed from the heat of the kitchen and my Daddy's praises, her hair is in a tight bun and away from her face, and the apron she's wearing - 'Kiss the Little Chef,' a gift from my Daddy - is making me feel a little confused and I'm not really sure why.

"We can't have that," my Daddy says. "Hiram expects us to play at least one round of Scrabble before we eat dinner."

"Oh."

"It can turn into war in this house," he explains. "Those two can be very competitive when it comes to this particular word game," he tells her, pointing at me and my invisible dad, who's in the living room probably setting up the game as we speak. "Do you know how Monopoly has actually resulted in murder? In this house, Scrabble has lasted in one week of the silent treatment."

"Wow," Quinn says, and then suddenly looks mischievous. "That must have been lovely for you, LeRoy."

My Daddy howls in laughter and I just gasp.

"Quinn Fabray," I admonish, and she slides towards me.

"You called."

"That wasn't very nice."

Her smile is sheepish at best, even as my Daddy tries to compose himself. "No, I don't suppose it was," she says. "What are you going to do about it?"

Even as she asks the question, all I can really think about is 'Kiss the Little Chef,' which keeps me silent during my confusion.

She frowns, stepping closer to me. "I was kidding, you know?" she says, sounding worried, and it snaps me out of whatever my brain is trying to tell me without actually telling me.

"I know," I say. "But I'll make you pay for it."

She quirks an eyebrow. "Oh, yeah?"

"How's about a wager?"

She leans forward, resting her elbows on the breakfast nook, so her face is inches from mine. My brain stops working for vital seconds. "I'm listening," she says.

"If I get the higher score between us in Scrabble, you have to sing a duet with me in Glee," I manage to say.

"And if I get the higher score?"

"As if that'll happen," I scoff, and her eyebrows rise. "What do you want then?"

Her eyes slide down to my mouth for a moment before they snap back up. "You have to sing a song I choose for you," she says.

"Okay."

"That was easy," she points out.

"There's no way you'll get a higher score than I do," I say.

She eyes me. "For all you know, I might even win."

"Never going to happen."

I suppose the good thing about Quinn Fabray is she doesn't gloat. She has every right to, of course, because she literally wiped the floor with me and my Dad. And we were trying. Honestly, I came up with words I didn't even know could exist, but Quinn best us all and my Daddy enjoyed every second of it.

"Stop pouting," Quinn says, as she crawls into bed, a steady smirk on her face. "Did someone tell you you looked cute when you did that?"

"As a matter of fact, someone did," I say, pouting that bit more.

She just smiles at me as she settles, lying on her side. "Rachel?"

"Hmm?"

"I'm happy," she says softly.

"Because you won?" I huff, trying to ignore the explosion of butterflies in my stomach at the sound of her words.

She shakes her head, her hand absently reaching for mine under the covers. "Because of you and your family," she whispers. "Because my tummy is smiling." Such a foodie. "Because I'm warm and I'm not alone."

I reach out to touch the skin of her cheek, just wanting to feel her, and her eyes slowly open.

"Because I finally belong," she says, and I surge forward to wrap her in an awkward hug that makes us both giggle before we sigh. She's quiet for a moment before she says, "and because I won."

And I laugh and laugh.


Quinn and I spend Friday morning nursing our food hangovers and nibbling on leftovers. We watch movies and have an in-depth discussion about whether or not Harry Potter really should have been Sorted into Gryffindor or Slytherin. I'm starting to learn that Quinn Fabray is really a closeted nerd behind her pretty face and Cheerio persona. She's adorable.

In the afternoon, Quinn goes over to Santana's house to spend some time with the Latina and Brittany, and I head out to meet Mercedes, Tina and Kurt for a coffee at the Lima Bean. We're all friends, sure, but I'm glad Quinn recognises how fluid that term can be. I do, however, count the seconds until I get to see her again, which is another one of those things that is confusing. I've missed people before, but never like this. It's unsettling and it makes me feel a little uncomfortable, but then I just see her and everything is better.

After coffee, the four of us window shop. I'm not actually looking for anything, but Tina is considering splurging for a good pair of boots. With the snow, we're going to have to be ready. I text Quinn between two separate shoe stores, and don't get a response. Tina decides on black leather, with a zip. I vote against the zip, but Mercedes and Kurt believe they know better. It's Tina's decision, and she goes with the majority.

Quinn texts a picture of the Unholy Trinity posing for a selfie with their tongues sticking out and the caption: 'Missing our R.' I giggle to myself, and then help Mercedes pick out a new pair of sunglasses. The day goes quickly and, when I get home, my dads and I watch a movie together. It's one of those thought-provoking ones that I leave them to debate as I steal away to my bedroom, so I can miss Quinn in silence.

It's late when she gets home, but not quite past the curfew my dads set. The second I see her, I know something is wrong. It's in her eyes, they're clouded by something. It takes one hug from her to smell the alcohol and cigarette smoke on her breath. She's not drunk, not by a long shot, but there's a part of me that knows she wants to be. To feel numb. I'm already wording my text to Santana for letting this happen in my head when Quinn's head drops heavily onto my shoulder and she sucks in a pained breath.

"Do you think my mom loves me?" she asks, and I honestly don't have an answer for her.


While Quinn is at Cheerios practice on Saturday, my dads and I drive into Columbus to visit my Daddy's aunt, who lives in a nursing home. Aunt Marianne is a lovely, boisterous lady, who just seems to be getting louder and louder with age. My Daddy's family weren't particularly receptive to his coming out. In fact, when he was fourteen, they carted him off to live with Aunt Marianne, who vowed never to treat him any differently.

But she's getting old now and every time we visit could be our last one. I know it makes my Daddy sad but he's not the type to talk about it. Not with me, at least. I suspect he'll talk about it with someone. Aunt Marianne asks me about school and Glee and boys, but all I can really bring myself to talk about is Quinn. Quinn this and Quinn that, and I don't even realise I'm doing it until she asks if Quinn is my girlfriend.

I laugh because, I mean, come on.

"No," I tell her, and just about manage to ignore the overwhelming part of me that feels as if it's a lie. "She's just a friend. My best friend, actually."

"I'll have to meet her sometime."

"Yes, you will."


Quinn's Sunday starts almost as early as her Saturday. It makes me sad to think she doesn't really get to sleep in, ever. I know I have an abundance of energy but where she finds the will power to keep going after the gruelling torture of practice the day before, I'll never know. She spends most of the morning at church. She always seems much calmer, somewhat subdued, when she returns, as if the conversation she's had with God has helped her make sense of a tumultuous week.

We go to the park after we have lunch with my dads. Her fingers are warm and her smile is steady. She's in a blue dress this time, her hair perfectly curled and makeup beautifully understated. It's a normal, easy day that ends with Quinn dropping me off at home and telling me that her mother's arrived from visiting her sister, so she should probably go. I pout, which makes her laugh.

"Plans for this week?" I ask.

"Simple," she says, smiling at me. "Try not to break down, space-out or straight up murder someone, but still look hot doing it."

"Should be easy."

She winks at me. "See you tomorrow, Berry," she says. "Thank you for allowing me to spend Thanksgiving with you and your family."

"You're very welcome, Quinn, though you know your thanks is unnecessary."

"Doesn't mean I still shouldn't say it."

I reach across the console and kiss her cheek. "My dads are going to be sad they missed you."

"I'll see them tomorrow," she says.

"Promise?" I hesitate at the vulnerability in my own voice.

"I promise."


After Thanksgiving weekend, we fall into a rhythm, Quinn and I. Well, Quinn, my dads and I. Sometimes, when we're making plans, Quinn just texts one of my dads, merely bypassing me. Any other person, I'd find it weird, but it's Quinn. I'm convinced my dads like her more than they do me sometimes. They love me, sure, but they like Quinn, and it makes me irrationally happy sometimes. I love that they've accepted her; that they've taken up the mantle to help me help her.

Quinn comes over almost every night of the following week, save for Thursday again. She just drops by for a late dinner and a chat with my Dad about Florence on Tuesday. We spend Wednesday working on my Chemistry project. Quinn isn't even taking Chemistry this semester, but she makes time for me even though I know she has an Economics test on Friday. Which goes well, by the way. She's not one for commenting on her assessments but she has tells. A slight quirk of her eyebrow means she nailed it, a slight crinkling of her nose means she's not sure, and a minimal downturn of her lips means she thinks it went terribly but she probably still aced it.

Every day, I learn more and more about Quinn Fabray, and I find I'm losing bits and pieces of myself in her. I take a step back to determine if that's a good or a bad thing but, ultimately, ignore it because I think she's losing pieces of herself in me as well. My addled and dramatic brain thinks that maybe we're using our own pieces to fill in the missing ones in the other person. It sounds profound when I put it that way, and I'm not entirely sure what to make of it.

We go through wonderful days of normal - well, as normal as one's life can get when its biggest fixture is Quinn Fabray - before said girl decides it's time to switch things up and put unnecessary stress on my heart. It's a Tuesday, and I'm expecting her in a few. My dads are out on a date and I texted her asking what takeout she wanted.

I get a call in response.

"Hello."

"Hey, Berry?"

I keep my eyes on the takeout menu in my hand, my lips pressed together. "Hmm?" I hum into the phone.

"Do you want to come over to my house?"

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine

Quinn

my mother was my first country,
the first place I ever lived.


In my seventeen - almost eighteen - years on Earth, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've truly been nervous. My audition to join the Cheerios. Approaching Finn after our first breakup. Telling my parents I was pregnant. And this.

Rachel Berry is in my house.

The tour is quick. It's a house that resembles Santana's in design, but is a little bigger. Russell Fabray is nothing if not a proud man. Everything has to be bigger and better, which is sometimes a character trait that seeps into my subconscious. I'm learning to control the parts of me Russell's influence has trained, but it's slow going. Church helps a lot. The peace of it; the words and explanations. I like to talk things through with my Reverend, and we've had quite a bit to talk about lately. About Finn. About the future. And about... Rachel.

"Want to see my room?" I ask, and she nods. I lead the way up the stairs, fully aware of her wandering eyes. There are picture frames on the walls, showcasing a once complete family with two perfect parents and two perfect, untouched daughters. None of them exists anymore.

I hear Rachel gasp behind me and I turn to look at her, stopping expectantly. "I'm sorry," she says; "it's just, you were so stinking cute."

I laugh. "I can't say I've ever heard myself described that way."

"Well, you were," she says, resuming her ascent. "Sometimes, you still are."

To disguise the sudden fluttering in my stomach, I joke. "Only sometimes, huh?"

She just laughs as we reach my room, the door closed. There's what resembles a child's painting on the door with my name in block letters and a yellow sun, blue sky and green grass. I see her raise her eyebrows in question, and I smile. "Brittany," is all I say, and she seems to understand. I open the door to walk into a room that's always felt temporary, for some reason, and suddenly feel nervous.

Rachel walks in behind me and stops right at my side, quietly taking it all in. If I were to look at my own bedroom through new eyes, I would find it... boring, at best. The walls are white, except for the furthest one from the door - the one housing the window - which is painted an almost turquoise blue. The furniture is dark wood, and my bedding is white with a blue flower pattern stitched into it. My desk is relatively clean, organised chaos and all that. I have a bookshelf that's bursting at the seams with the number of books I've accumulated over the years. Really, it's just a place in which I sleep, do my homework and read. It's functional, not comfortable.

Rachel steps further into the room, her eyes darting about as she tries to take it all in. It isn't even much. I mean, I used to have posters on the wall and endless pictures posted on my board, but I took them down when I was kicked out - it's amazing what you can accomplish in half an hour - and I've never put them back up. I don't think I ever will. Not in this room, at least. Maybe somewhere else; somewhere new.

I watch as she moves towards the bookshelf and studies my volumes. I've got all the classics, obviously, and I imagine she's trying to find ones we have in common. I suppose one can only talk about Harry Potter for so long - which is ridiculous, really, because Harry Potter is a topic of conversation to go on for ages. When she moves away from the bookshelf, she studies my desk, her fingers running over the top of my closed laptop.

"So, is this where all the magic happens?" she asks, gesturing towards my desk.

I swallow audibly. "Magic?"

"You don't become Miss Four-Point-Oh GPA without hard work, Quinn."

"Oh," I breathe. "Umm, yeah."

She eyes me for a moment before she continues her exploration. "Are these what I think they are?" she asks, walking towards my nightstand and picking up my glasses' case. "Oh my, they really are." She turns to me, her expression resembling one of a kid in a candy store. "Can you put them on? I want to see."

I chuckle because she really is a special kid. "Hand them over then," I say, waving my hand.

She practically skips towards me. "This is probably the best day of my life."

"You are so weird," I say with a head-shake and a smile, taking the glasses from her and slipping them on without preamble. I look up. She's a little blurry, but I can't mistake the way her jaw drops. Oh. I step forward. "Are they as dorky as I think?"

She doesn't respond; just stares at me with wide eyes. She eventually closes her mouth, only to trap her bottom lip between her teeth.

I take them off. "Uh, Rachel," I say with raised eyebrows. "Tell me, did I just give you endless ammunition to tease me with?"

She reaches out to take the glasses and their case from me. "We should put these away," she says tensely, and then mumbles something under her breath that sounds a little like 'dangerous' and 'not fair.' She walks straight back to me and hugs me tight, her body flush against mine. She's warm and soft in my arms, and I reason my glasses will probably get me these kind of hugs, so I should definitely wear them more often. She eventually breathes out, releases me and smiles innocently.

"Everything okay?" I ask.

She nods, and then bounces off towards my closet. I follow her into it, and watch as she marvels over my dresses and my near thousand Cheerio uniforms. Her eyes linger on my shoes for the longest time and she thumbs through my various jackets and coats. Really, she looks so engrossed, I worry I'm going to have to drag her out of the closet.

I blush and I don't even know why.

"Are these actually fishnet stockings?" she asks, looking at me in surprise.

I laugh. "They are, yes," I say, moving closer to her. "Are you in disbelief?"

"I am."

"Why?"

She eyes me. "On second thought, no, I'm not," she says. "Something about you just screams kinky."

I laugh out loud, almost doubling over. "And fishnet stockings tell you that?"

She nods.

"What am I ever going to do with you?" I ask.

She turns to face me. "Well, for starters, you could feed me."

"Hungry?" I ask.

"Starving."

"I was thinking of making portobello mushroom burgers," I tell her. "I still have some leftover rolls from last night."

Her hands reach out for me, cupping my cheeks. "I take it back," she says.

"What?"

"It's not 'sometimes.' You're stinking cute all the time."

I blush a deep red, my hands covering hers. "As long as you know."

"Believe me, I know."

I remove her hands from my face and lead the way out of the closet and downstairs to the kitchen. She wants to help, so I get her preparing the sliced vegetables for the burgers while I spread the sweet potato fries onto a tray, spice them with rosemary and salt, and then drizzle olive oil on them before popping the tray in the oven. When I look at Rachel, she's very carefully slicing an onion, and it's adorable. She's adorable.

She notices me watching. "Is this too thick?"

"It's perfect," I assure her, and then get started on the mushrooms. It's easy, this time spent with her. We're already in a rhythm outside of the kitchen that it's easy to find it in here. I find I like having her in my house, in my space, with me.

I flip the mushrooms in the pan and feel Rachel come up behind me.

"I have an idea," she says, standing much closer than I initially think. "We should take a picture of this."

I glance over my shoulder at her. "We should?"

"It's our first time cooking in your kitchen. I want to remember this moment." She breathes out, and I feel it everywhere. "And plus, I don't have many pictures of just the two of us, and I'd like some."

"Just you and me?" I ask to clarify, even though her words are still ringing in my head.

"Just you and me." She takes out her phone, opens her camera and slips her arm around my waist, drawing me into her side. "I'm not good at this," she says, holding the phone out in front of us.

"Clearly," I say, taking the phone from her. "I have longer arms, and I don't want our supper to burn while you try to figure out how to take a selfie." She laughs. "Smile." I click several pictures and realise belatedly that Rachel is looking at me. "What?" I ask, turning my own head towards her.

"Nothing."

I click one last picture of the two of us looking at each other, and then hand her back the phone and return my attention to the mushrooms. I'm able to take them off the burner, but I turn when I hear her let out a small gasp. "What?"

She's looking at the pictures. "It's actually disgusting how photogenic you are," she says, looking equal parts irritated and amused. "I think this is my favourite one," she says, turning the phone's screen towards me. It's the last one, I know, and it's my favourite one too. I watch as she stares at it for another moment, a small smile on her lips, before putting her phone away and giving me her full attention. Together, we construct our burgers to our liking. I don't like pickles in mine and she skips the lettuce today.

When I take out the sweet potato fries and set the tray on the counter, Rachel automatically steals a small one and pops it in her mouth.

"Hey," I say.

She lets out the cutest giggle and I just want to reach out and touch her. Sometimes, I feel as if she isn't quite real and I just need to be sure. She catches the movement of my hands and raises her eyebrows. "I swear, if you tickle me, I will break your bones."

I laugh out loud as I step towards her and she steps back, prey versus predator. We round the kitchen island once, twice, before I lunge and Rachel backs into the counter trying to get away. She screams before I even touch her, and then she freezes.

I stop dead. "What?" I ask. "Are you hurt?"

She glances over my shoulder, her eyes wide, and I turn to look. My mother is standing in the doorway, an unreadable expression on her face, staring at us as if she's just seen a pair of ghosts. I straighten immediately, the smile slipping from my face and being replaced with something passive.

"Mom," I say. "I didn't expect you back so early."

"Evidently," she says, stepping into the room. "I assume you would have let me know we were expecting company, otherwise."

My shoulders tense, and Rachel shifts behind me, sensing my unease.

"Who's your friend?" my mother asks.

Before I can get a word out, Rachel steps out from behind me, strides forward and holds out her hand. "Mrs Fabray, I'm Rachel Berry, Quinn's friend from school."

My mother blinks in surprise at Rachel's forwardness, but eventually shakes her hand. "Rachel Berry," she echoes. "From Glee?"

"Yes, ma'am."

My mother's smile is so forced; I'm sure even Rachel can tell. She looks past her towards me. "What are you two doing here? I thought you would be out."

"We're making dinner," I say.

"Oh."

Silence.

She takes a step back. "Well, I guess I'll leave you to it then," she says. "It was nice to meet you, Rachel Berry."

Rachel says nothing, and my mother walks out, leaving the atmosphere awkward and dirty; like she's soiled it somehow with her presence. I don't like it. I hate it, and I want nothing more than to take Rachel and get as far away from this place as possible. Maybe she notices my shaking hands because hers are suddenly in mine, squeezing my fingers and making me look at her.

"I'm sorry," I say, automatically.

"Why are you sorry?"

"I didn't want you to have to meet her like that," I say. "It was supposed to be better. I was supposed to introduce you properly and explain to her just what you mean to me. It was supposed to - "

She silences me with a hug and I can feel her heart beating against my chest. "It's okay," she whispers, warm breath against the skin of my neck. "Just breathe, Quinn. It's okay. You're okay." She's holding me, squeezing me, reassuring me.

"Do you want to go?" I eventually ask, when she pulls back to look at my face.

"Do you?" she asks.

I shake my head because this is my house and I want Rachel to feel comfortable here, even if I sometimes don't. "Maybe we can just finish making dinner and then hide in my bedroom?"

She frowns, clearly not liking the word 'hide.'

"I'm sorry," I say again.

She kisses my cheek. "Come on, let's go."

It takes us a few minutes to gather our food and drinks, and then we make our way upstairs. We situate ourselves on my bed, soft music playing in the background and just eat and talk and manage to forget that my mother is somewhere in this house, probably reeling at the fact that LeRoy and Hiram Berry's daughter is in my bedroom right now. I wonder, if my pregnancy drove my parents apart, would Rachel Berry's presence in my life bring them back together?

When we're done eating, we lie sprawled out on my bed. Rachel is busy with sheet music and I'm lying on my stomach, reading. It still amazes me that we don't even have to be talking and still be able to enjoy each other's company. It's easy, this friendship with Rachel, and I can't believe how much time I wasted rebuffing her offers of friendship all these years.

"Can I ask you about something?" she asks after a while, her back resting against my pillows, looking decidedly relaxed. "And you don't have to answer if you don't want to. I'm just... curious. And feel free not to read too much into that either."

"Berry," I say, looking up from my book; "ask your question."

She worries her bottom lip for a moment before her gaze meets mine. "Well, I was wondering, um, about sex."

I cough suddenly, caught off guard. Okay, I was not expecting that. "Uh..."

Rachel looks undisturbed. "I'm almost eighteen, and I'm very much still a virgin. I'm aware that I'm missing out on something but I've never quite understood the appeal." Then, she adds, "At least, with another person."

Sweet Jesus. My heart is suddenly beating really fast and I can barely look at her. Did she just - did she just say that she -

"Sorry," she says. "If this is weird to talk about, just tell me."

I clear my throat. "No, it's okay," I say, sitting up so I can look at her properly. "I'm not really sure what you're trying to ask me, Rachel."

"I'm not really sure either," she admits.

I lick my lips, visibly thinking. "Well, obviously I've done it before," I say, smiling slightly.

"Do you wish you'd waited?"

"If I'd known I would get pregnant the first time I had sex, then, definitely, I wish we'd waited," I tell her. "But, Beth aside, it seemed inevitable that Finn and I would get to the point where we took it to the next level, so to speak. I loved him. I wanted to be with him that way, but - "

"But what?"

"Don't get me wrong, I enjoy sex as much as the next person, but it never quite felt like fireworks. I don't know if that makes sense." I run a hand through my hair. "I once talked to Santana about it; about how it feels, and her description was very different to mine, which I think means that the person you're with is very important."

She nods thoughtfully. "Do you think you'll start looking for that person anytime soon?" she asks. "I know boys have been asking you out left, right, and centre, but you don't seem to be giving any of them the light of day."

"I swore off boys, remember?" I remind her, and she blushes for some reason. "And, no, I don't think I'm ready for any of that yet. I mean, it's been just over a month since Finn and I ended, and it just seems too soon, you know? I lost so much of myself in him, and I don't want to feel that vulnerable again. I want to be certain, and I want to be sure when I do start again. Of myself, and of the other person. I won't enter another relationship without my life and heart settled, and I'm not one for empty dates or casual hookups."

I don't know what it is but she looks... relieved. Huh?

We settle down again, and I'm just able to ignore the bizarreness of that conversation. What on earth was that all about? At some point, Rachel stands up and moves towards my dock station. I watch her from the corner of my eye, her small frame relaxed as she searches through the songs on my iPod for something she likes. She bounces slightly when she decides on a song, and she increases the volume.

When she starts to sway her hips, my throat goes dry. The music fills the room and, just before Pink's voice starts, Rachel turns to me and crooks a finger. I just stare at her as her mouth starts to form the words to Just Like a Pill. I'm frozen, mesmerised, until she loses patience with me and comes to fetch me, practically plucking me from my position on the bed.

I recover enough to join her during the bridge, and then we're belting out the chorus and jumping up and down, and let it be known there's never a dull moment with Rachel Berry. She grabs for my hairbrush on my dresser and uses it as a microphone, even jumping up onto the bed and putting on quite the show. We're both a little breathless when the song ends, but the next song offers us no rest. Kelly Clarkson's Since U Been Gone demands our attention, and we give it. There's a scissor jump off the bed, wild head swinging and lyrics screamed at the top of our lungs.

We're both exhausted when the songs ends, and we collapse on my bed in a heap, laughing uncontrollably. She looks at me and I look at her, and this moment is important. I'm able to acknowledge it for what it is, and I feel surprisingly calm about the truth that settles over my heart. I'm a little proud of myself, if I'm being honest.

Rachel breathes out, smiling at me. "I think I should have sung that one instead of Don't Speak," she says. "Finn definitely wouldn't have liked that."

I hum in agreement, my eyes staying on her. I take in the flush of her cheeks, the happy smile on her face and the rapid rise and fall of her chest. It's all so much and not enough at the same time. It's overwhelming and also not. But then she reaches for my hand and it's warm in mine, and what was I even worrying about again? My mother who?


"Hey, Quinn."

I look up from the notebook in my lap to see Sam moving towards me, wearing one of his wide smiles that is endearing to most. I can see a quiet desperation in his eyes, but I've never bothered to find out why it's there. "Hi, Sam," I say, dropping my gaze back to the Calculus problem I'm trying to work through before the choir room fills up for Glee. I'm very aware of the fact that he sits down next to me, and I can feel his eyes on me. Inwardly, I sigh, and look at him. "Something I can help you with, Sam?"

His eyes lift from where they've been trained on my chest area, and it takes everything I have not to hurl my notebook at his head. "Oh, umm," he starts, trying to compose himself. "I know it hasn't been that long since you and Finn broke up, and I'm pretty sure you get this a lot, but I was just wondering if you would like to go out some time? I mean, if you're not ready, I definitely understand. Just, you know, if you could keep me in mind, that'd be great. So, what do you say?"

I blink, and then frown. "Sam, you're right, I'm not ready," I say; "but thank you for the offer."

He looks disappointed for a beat, before he sits up straight. "But you'll keep me in mind for when you are?"

I look at him, noticing the eagerness in his eyes and innocence in his face. If he knew what was good for him, he would stay as far away from me as possible. "Sure," I say anyway, and he flashes me a wide smile before practically bouncing away. I stare at him for a moment, shake my head and return to the problem. He's right when he says I do get that a lot. Guys coming up to me and asking me out when they know next to nothing about me. At least Sam and I have actually interacted before. Not that I want to date him or anything like that.

I have other things and other people on my mind. And one of those is walking in right now.

Rachel is chatting to Kurt as they enter the room and my eyes watch her closely. She's talking with her hands, which means she's very passionate about whatever the two divas are discussing. He's smiling at her, so it's not an argument. They stop in the middle of the floor, hovering as they finish their discussion. Then, with a hand on Kurt's forearm, Rachel says goodbye to him and makes her way to her seat. Next to me.

"I saw you looking," she says, digging in her bag for something. "Did you really think I would sit with anyone other than you?"

I smile, though I keep my eyes on the page in my lap. "You're not obligated to sit there, Berry," I say.

"Good," she says. "Regardless, I want to."

I glance at her. "I want you to, too."

She giggles. Then: "What are you doing?"

"Calculus."

"The AP version, you mean?"

I nod. "Integration isn't my favourite."

"Now you're just saying words to make me feel stupid," she quips, and I close my notebook to look at her properly. "What?" she asks when I haven't looked away once. "Quinn, what?"

"So, I've made a decision."

She blinks. "Okay... about what?"

I just smile.

"I'm not going to like it, am I?"

"Probably not," I tell her. "Definitely not."


Rachel keeps shooting me dirty looks, which just makes me smirk that bit more. Honestly, this is probably the best day of my life, and I can't wait. The lesson is almost over, and I pinch Rachel's leg to get her moving. She sends one last glare at me before she clears her throat, sits up straight and raises her hand.

Mr Schuester looks at her. "Do you have a song prepared?" he asks.

She huffs, and I let out a laugh. I can't keep it in. "One could say that, yes," Rachel says as she gets to her feet. Her nose is high in the air and it's so funny. I can't stop laughing, and Santana is looking at me as if I've lost my mind. I might have, for all we know.

"The floor's all yours," Mr Schuester says.

Rachel moves towards Brad and hands over the necessary music. At his raised eyebrows, I burst out laughing, and Rachel sends me another glare. She looks suitably unimpressed right now, and she's so cute with her little pout and wrinkled brows. "Before I begin," she says; "I would just like to point out that I'm singing this song under extreme duress."

Puck frowns. "Duress?"

"She doesn't want to, dumbass," Santana says.

"Santana," Mr Schuester admonishes.

She just shrugs, and our attention is back on Rachel, who's still glaring at me. I arch an eyebrow, questioning her honour. A deal is a deal. I won that wager fair and square, and now she has to sing a song of my choice.

"See," Rachel says; "I lost a bet to Miss Quinn Fabray over there, and she was allowed to choose a song for me to sing. This is, undoubtedly, her idea of a joke, and a way to humiliate me."

I suddenly blink, the smile slipping from my face. I immediately launch myself out of my seat and move to stand in front of Rachel, shielding her from everyone's curious eyes.

"What are you doing?" she asks, clearly confused.

"I didn't even think," I rush in a whisper. "Gosh, Rachel, if you don't want to do this, you really don't have to. I don't want to humiliate you. It's just supposed to be funny, but if you're - "

"Quinn," she cuts me off, her hand moving to cover my mouth. "Shut up. I'm singing - if one can even call it that. I never back out of a wager."

There's steel in her eyes, so I don't question her further. I just kind of kiss her fingers and she retracts her hand so fast, her wrist clicks. I wink at her, and then back away and return to my seat, ignoring all the looks I receive. It's difficult to ignore Finn's though. He hasn't stopped looking at me all day, and it's throwing me slightly. I've been fine. I mean, today is Friday, and I've survived yet another week without him. Why is he looking at me now?

Rachel clears her throat. "As disturbed as I was by this song choice, I intend to give it my all," she says, a familiar air of superiority about her. "I should apologise in advance. Just, prepare yourselves." She looks a little sheepish now, and her eyes meet mine for another moment, though there's no heat in her gaze. It's long enough for the music to start, and then Rachel Berry - Rachel Berry - is singing Smack That by Akon featuring Eminem.

Santana looks at me, horrified, but I can't contain myself. My smile has taken hostage of my face, and this is amazing.

Rachel looks determined. "I feel you creeping, I can see it from my shadow. Wanna jump up in my Lamborghini Gallardo. Maybe go to my place and just kick it like TaeBo, and possibly bend you over look back and watch me." She tosses her head to the side, and I can't take my eyes off her. "Smack that, all on the floor. Smack that, give me some more. Smack that, 'til you get sore. Smack that, oh-oh! Smack that, all on the floor. Smack that, give me some more. Smack that, 'til you get sore. Smack that, oh-oh!"

Everyone looks like they're in shock, but I'm just so mesmerised.

"Upfront style ready to attack now. Pull in the parking lot slow with the lac down. Convicts got the whole thing packed now. Step in the club now and wardrobe intact now! I feel it down and cracked now (ooh). I see it dull and backed now. I'm gonna call her, than I pull the mack down. Money no problem, pocket full of that now!" She's dancing now, hips swaying, and Santana groans beside me. "I feel you creeping, I can see it from my shadow. Wanna jump up in my Lamborghini Gallardo. Maybe go to my place and just kick it like TaeBo, and possibly bend you over look back and watch me."

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Puck and Lauren join in with the chorus. Puck is even smacking an imaginary ass. "Smack that, all on the floor. Smack that, give me some more. Smack that, 'til you get sore. Smack that, oh-oh! Smack that, all on the floor. Smack that, give me some more. Smack that, 'til you get sore. Smack that, oh-oh!"

Eminem's rap is coming up and Santana turns to me. "Please tell me she's not - "

She is, apparently, and she totally blows me away.

"Ooh... Looks like another club banger. They better hang on when they throw this thing on. Get a little drink on. They gonna flip for this Akon shit, you can bank on it! Pedicure, manicure, kitty-cat claws. The way she climbs up and down them poles, looking like one of them putty-cat dolls, trying to hold my woodie back through my draws. Steps upstage didn't think I saw, creeps up behind me and she's like 'You're!' I'm like ya I know lets cut to the chase. No time to waste back to my place. Plus, from the club to the crib it's like a mile away, or more like a palace, shall I say. Plus I got pal if your gal is game. In fact he's the one singing the song that's playing. 'Akon!'"

Rachel sucks in a breath, the rap having robbed her of breath. Mike and Brittany are up dancing, and Puck and Lauren are still singing along. This is amazing. This is honestly just totally amazing.

"I feel you creeping, I can see it from my shadow. Wanna jump up in my Lamborghini Gallardo. Maybe go to my place and just kick it like TaeBo, and possibly bend you over look back and watch me. Smack that, all on the floor. Smack that, give me some more. Smack that, 'til you get sore. Smack that, oh-oh!" She takes a breath, ready for another rap: Akon's this time. "Eminem is rollin', d and em rollin' bo, and all marvelous them rolling. Women just holding big booty rolling."

"She just said 'booty,'" Santana complains. "I'm scarred for life. I can't unhear that."

"Soon I'll be on Eminem throwing 'D!' Hitting no less than 'Three!' Block wheel style like 'Whee!' Girl, I can tell you want me 'cause lately I feel you creeping, I can see it from my shadow. Wanna jump up in my Lamborghini Gallardo. Maybe go to my place and just kick it like TaeBo, and possibly bend you over look back and watch me."

Puck lets out a loud whoop when the song ends, and there are people who look decidedly uncomfortable, but damn. Rachel. Berry.

"Okay, okay," Mr Schuester suddenly says, and I'm crying; I'm laughing so hard. Santana isn't faring much better. "I think that's enough," he says, and Rachel just smiles innocently at him. He's also a little flushed, and this is the best day ever. Honestly, it is. "Thank you for that, Rachel."

She beams at him, does a small curtsy, and then walks back to her seat beside me.

"Damn, Berry, I didn't know you had it in you," Santana says, practically leering at her.

"We all know what she really wants in her," Puck says, and I shoot him such a glare that he practically falls off his chair. I think he remembers a certain threat I made about his jewels and a certain meat grinder. I will follow through.

"Ew," Mercedes says.

Rachel is blushing madly when she finally sits down and turns to look at me. "I hope you're happy," she says, her smile infectious.

I lean towards her, dropping the volume of my voice. Really, it comes out in a husk, and her eyes widen at the sound. "Oh, Rachel Berry," I murmur; "you have no idea how happy you make me."


I notice the moment Hiram notices the dark bruise on my upper leg. His breath hitches, his grip on the steering wheel tightens and his eyes narrow. I wait patiently, counting in my head how long it will take him to bring it up. It's Saturday, so we're on our way to meet Florence, and I've just survived a gruelling Cheerios practice, a visit to the Emergency Room, the third degree by Rachel Berry, and now I'm waiting. I'm also a little groggy from the painkillers.

"What happened?" he eventually asks, his tone of voice tense. I don't blame him. The bruise is huge and a dark purple, extending from the side of my thigh and over my knee. It's an eyesore and I definitely should have worn jeans to hide it, but I only have dresses and sweatpants with me at the Berry home.

"Cheerios accident," I tell him. "I'm a flyer, and there was a mishap with my bases and spotters, which ended up with Quinn Fabray falling through and hitting the floor," I explain, trying to ease his mind. "Sylvester sorted them out though, and it's doubtful there will be a mishap ever again in their lives."

He doesn't look happy about anything I've just said. "Does it hurt?"

Like hell. "Not really," I lie.

He glances at me, notices my pinched eyes and sighs. "If you're in pain, you should say so, Quinn," he says, his voice gentle. "It's okay not to be so strong and put together all the time. Physically, emotionally, it's okay. There's no reason to hide it from any of us. We won't think any less of you, I can assure you."

I blink, but remain silent. He has no idea what my threshold for physical pain is.

"Did you at least get it checked out?"

I nod. "Santana and Britt took me to the ER per Sylvester's orders," I tell him. I'm kind of a regular visitor to the Emergency Room. Santana reckons it's my second home... if I actually had a first. "It's why I'm a little late. Nothing's torn or broken. No internal bleeding. Just the mother of all bruises and a slight limp."

"Did LeRoy have a look at it?"

I swallow nervously. People aren't supposed to care. They've never cared before. "It's nothing, Hiram."

"If that's nothing, then I - " he stops, eyeing me. "I suppose it doesn't hurt nearly as much as childbirth."

"We'll say that, yeah."

He sighs. "I still don't like it."

"That makes many of us," I say. "Rachel gave me a lecture about safety and how important it is to be aware at all times. She didn't appreciate it when I mentioned that there's very little you can do to prevent an injury when you're hurtling back towards the ground and your support's arms aren't linked properly."

He manages a smile. "I can only imagine," he says. "She worries about you. We all do."

I lean my head back against the headrest and sigh. "I'm not used to having people care about me this way," I tell him. "I've been doing things a certain for so long, Hiram. I've been alone for so long, making my own decisions and living my life the way I have. Before, all I had to contend with was Finn, who's always been simple, and Santana and Brittany, who have their own lives together." I look out the window. "I didn't even realise what I was missing. I've never known a family like yours. I didn't even know they existed, because Finn's isn't like this. Sure, his parents are caring, but I was always just their son's girlfriend. Santana's family is large enough, and Britt is their adopted daughter, really, and I've never been close to Britt's family." I fall silent.

"But you're ours now," he says.

I look at him. "I am, yes."

"Regardless of what happens in your life, Quinn, you'll always have a place with us. Please, never forget that."

I blink back tears. "Why are you so nice to me?"

"We're generally just nice people," he says, and I can hear the smile in his voice. "It has nothing to do with you."

I let out a laugh. "That makes me feel much better, thank you."

"You're very welcome."

The rest of the drive is made in silence, and I try not to focus on my throbbing leg or the overwhelming feeling of being cared about by people who were practically strangers a little under two months ago. It's a bit of a relief to get to Hiram's office and see Florence. She looks happy to see me, which is also a bit odd to me. Hiram leaves us to work, but first I hear about her week and I tell her a bit about mine. She has questions about my bruise, and I tell her the same thing I told Hiram. Cheerleading accident. It's the truth.

We go through her work from the past week, noting the mistakes and improvements to be made, before we start planning for her upcoming assignments. She has her lists, and I like the distraction of work, and I enjoy how committed she is to what we're trying to do. It's our longest meeting yet and we get a lot done, given that her exams are coming up, and then we go on Christmas Break. As a result, I'm exhausted by the time Hiram and I are on our way home. I once mentioned to him that I wouldn't mind driving myself and possibly meeting Florence somewhere else, but he just shook his head and I haven't brought it up again.

I must fall asleep because, the next thing I know, Hiram is shaking me awake. I come to slowly, and try to smile away my embarrassment.

"Let's get you up to bed," he says gently.

I let him lead him me into the house and pass me to Rachel, who slips an arm around my waist. "Did she take her meds?" Rachel asks Hiram.

"I don't know."

Rachel looks at me, her free hand cupping my cheek. "Maybe you should eat something, take your meds, and then we can get you to sleep."

I just nod, and let her lead me to the kitchen where I proceed to try to wake myself up. I shake my head, wring my fingers together and scrub my face with my hands. Rachel smiles at me, clearly amused by my grogginess. "Stop it," I groan.

"I'm sorry," she says with a giggle, wrapping an arm around my shoulders and pressing a kiss to my temple. "It's just that you're so cute right now; I can barely handle it."

I grumble. "I fell asleep with my contacts in," I say, still somewhat sleepily. "Please remind me to take them out before you take me to bed."

Her body tenses for a beat, her arm slides off me and she goes to the fridge to take out some leftover food. LeRoy isn't home, but I think Rachel can handle it. I just sit at the breakfast nook and watch her, my eyes tracking her movements. She places a plate of pasta in front of me and forces me to eat. I don't manage much but she deems it enough for me to take my meds, and then we go upstairs. I change in the bathroom, take out my contacts, and use the toilet before I crawl into her bed and sigh. Rachel is lying on the covers because she's catching a nap, apparently. It's still too early for sleep.

"You're always taking care of me," I say.

"Somebody has to," she says.

"Thank you."

"I'll always take care of you, Quinn."

I sigh contently, relaxing into the mattress.

"Plans for tomorrow?" she asks, her eyes trying to meet my unfocused ones, even as they slide closed.

I reach blindly for her hand between us and link our fingers. "Try to recover as best I can, go to church and try to make you smile all day."

She lets out a breath and it washes over me. "I think you're off to a good start," she whispers.

I open one eye. "Oh yeah?"

"Mmhmm," she hums.

"Why's that?" I ask as I shift closer, burying my face in the space between between her shoulder and her pillow. I feel her free hand slide around my back, pulling me closer and wrapping me in her warmth.

"Because I'm smiling."

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten

Rachel

there are feelings
you haven't felt yet.
give them time.
they are almost there.


If, one day, someone asks me how it all started; I'll have to say it was a granola bar that finally did me in. I was pretty much a goner from the moment Quinn Fabray bit into my granola bar, and then handed it back to me. It sounds stupid and simple but it's a moment that changes something, though I'm still not sure what.

The confusion starts a few weeks after that day Quinn found out about Finn's lie to his teammates, but I'm able to pinpoint the moment the idea sparks. Or something else clichéd like that, because I kind of go a little crazy.

It's a Saturday. I think it's important to mention that this specific Saturday is bucketloads more significant to me than our Sectionals' win at the time. Which should have been enough of a red flag for me. I should have paid closer attention to how waking up without Quinn beside me is more of a blip on my radar than entirely crushing the competition with our superb singing skills and decent dance moves.

It's Quinn. It's always going to be about Quinn, I suppose.

I wake up to an empty bed, which would be normal if my alarm isn't set for six o'clock, and Quinn's practice is only at seven o'clock. I sit up slowly, blinking a few times to adjust to the sliver of light coming in through my curtains. Quinn isn't gone. Her duffel bag is still on the floor and I spy her car keys perched on my desk. So, where is she?

After a quick pitstop to the bathroom, I go looking. To be honest, I'm not sure what I'm expecting to find. She's a bit of an enigma, this Quinn Fabray; constantly surprising me with how complex and simple she can be without even having to try. I find her in the living room, her body spread out on the three-seater couch, as she scribbles something down on a small notepad. She's wearing her glasses, which is honestly the greatest thing I've ever seen in my entire life. It's illegal for a human being to look that good, seriously.

"Quinn?"

She sits up suddenly, hiding the notepad from sight. "Berry?" she questions, her eyes glancing at the clock on the far wall. "What are you doing up?"

"I could ask you the same question," I say, moving further into the room. "Couldn't you sleep?"

She shakes her head. "I've got a bit on my mind."

"Is that why you're making a list?"

She looks at me for the longest time. "If you must know, Rachel, I'm actually brainstorming ideas for your birthday present," she informs me. "I want it to be special."

I frown. "Oh, Quinn, you know you don't have to get me anything," I tell her. "Just your friendship is enough."

She shakes her head. "No, I have to get you something. This is your eighteenth birthday. It's important and it's special."

"Okay, fine," I relent. "Just, don't go overboard or anything," I say, before I backtrack. "Actually, don't even buy anything."

Her bow furrows. "Don't buy anything?"

I nod, not even sure what I'm talking about right now.

"Uh, okay," she says hesitantly, but doesn't question me further. I just get a quick hug - during which I'm assaulted by the smell of Quinn and left slightly breathless - and then she's going back upstairs to get ready for her practice. I linger a while, trying to make sense of my reaction to Quinn's hug. It's not the first time I've felt breathless around her but it is increasing in frequency and I don't know why. Am I suddenly allergic to the way she smells? That'll be hilarious to tell her. Maybe she's using a new perfume.

When I do finally recover, I go to the kitchen to make some breakfast for her. With the day she's about to face, she'll need the protein so, as much as it hurts, I put two eggs on the boil for her. Those poor baby chickens.

The things I do for Quinn Fabray.

Fifteen minutes later, Quinn breezes into the kitchen, dressed and ready for the nearly six hours she's going to have to run, jump and flip. I've been to one of her practices before and I don't think I could handle another one. Seeing her thrown into the air like a sack of potatoes almost put me in the hospital, and nobody wants that. Her hair is pulled into a tight ponytail, not a single strand out of place, and her form-fitting McKinley t-shirt doesn't really leave much to the imagination. Thankfully, I catch myself staring before she does.

"Are these mine?" she asks, unnecessarily.

"No, I've decided not to be vegan for a day," I deadpan, and she rolls her eyes.

"Tone down the sarcasm, Berry," she murmurs; "It's way too early."

It's my turn to roll my eyes.

She grins at me. "Thank you, though."

I hum in acknowledgement and pour some coffee for her. Her smile widens when she takes the cup from me.

"We're like an old, married couple," she comments, her tone light. I don't know what about the simple words make me feel... uncomfortable. Is that the word? Just, something off, that I probably wouldn't be able to explain if anyone asked.

After she's done eating, she quickly washes her dishes, grabs her things, kisses my cheek, and then leaves with a quick goodbye over her shoulder. I feel a little winded by it all, and it gives me something to focus on as I go through my morning routine. I'd go for a run but the snow's arrived, and I'm not ready to face it. I spend an hour on my elliptical, using the monotonous movement to sort through how strange I feel this particular morning.

It isn't a feeling that goes away, though. After she's done tutoring Florence, Quinn spends Saturday evening with Santana and Brittany. Sunday is church and then the park with me. She goes home straight after, and I have a growing feeling that she's hiding something from me. It grows and grows when, on Tuesday, she doesn't come over and I find out from Brittany on Wednesday that she was with Quinn when I was told she was home alone. She's lying, and we don't lie to each other.

She's absent from the Berry house on Wednesday and Thursday night, and it annoys me how unworried my dads seem to be. Quinn isn't here and she's obviously hiding something from me. From all of us? Why aren't they more concerned? Quinn isn't here.

And, by Friday, I learn why. The entire week, I've been convinced I did something wrong, and it's all reached a head. Quinn is smiling secretively at me though, even as she sits beside me in Glee. It's cute and unsettling, and I can't help thinking this is it. Her little experiment with me is over, and she's about to humiliate me in front of all my friends. I try to prepare myself. I try, desperately, not to feel overwhelmed by the crushing hurt that's threatening to overwhelm me. Because I'm feeling very overwhelmed right now.

Which only escalates when Quinn raises her hand and asks Mr Schuester if she can sing something. She practically jumps up when he gives her the floor, and I hold my breath. She has this childlike enthusiasm about her today of all days, and it's making it really difficult for me to breathe.

"So," she starts; "as I'm sure all of you already know, it's Rachel's birthday on Sunday."

Oh.

Oh.

She waits, her eyes studying each of our faces for recognition or surprise. She obviously doesn't like what she sees because her eyes narrow enough for some of my 'friends' to shift in their seats. Quinn Fabray, my hero, people. I feel a little silly having worried so much all week. "Well, anyway," she continues. "Britt, San and I have decided to sing a little something to her." She flashes me a smile and my heart thunders against my ribcage. "It's a little homage to right now, and to the future we all know you're going to accomplish. Happy birthday, Rachel Berry." She blows me a kiss, which renders me stupid.

Santana and Brittany stand and move to flank Quinn. They have a small discussion before they each grab a stool and Santana picks up a guitar. I glance nervously at Puck - our resident guitarist - and he does look equal parts shocked, annoyed and put-out. It's a strange expression on his face.

Quinn clears her throat, getting my attention, and then she starts to sing Taylor Swift's Never Grow Up, albeit with a few altered lyrics to accommodate my dads. Her voice is soft, gentle, and it draws me into her eyes and into her very soul. She's telling me something important; I just know it. I'm just not ready for it.

"Your little hands wrapped around my finger, and it's so quiet in the world tonight. Your little eyelids flutter cause you're dreaming. So, I tuck you in and turn on your favourite nightlight. To you, everything's funny. You got nothing to regret. I'd give all I have honey. If you could stay like that." She smiles faintly - lucky number seven - and then Brittany and Santana join in.

"Oh, darling, don't you ever grow up, don't you ever grow up. Just stay this little. Oh, darling, don't you ever grow up, don't you ever grow up. It could stay this simple. I won't let nobody hurt you; won't let no one break your heart. No one will desert you. Just try to never grow up. Never grow up."

It's just Quinn again, her gaze meeting mine, and I feel a bit dizzy. "You're in the car on the way to the movies, and you're mortified your dad's dropping you off. At fourteen, there's just so much you can't do, and you can't wait to move out someday and call your own shots. But don't make him drop you off around the block. Remember that he's getting older too, and don't lose the way that you dance around in your p.j.s getting ready for school."

The Unholy Trinity are back singing together but I can't take my eyes off Quinn even if I tried. "Oh, darling, don't you ever grow up, don't you ever grow up. Just stay this little. Oh, darling, don't you ever grow up, don't you ever grow up. It could stay this simple, and no one's ever burned you. Nothing's ever left you scarred, and even though you want to. Just try to never grow up."

I have this sinking feeling in my stomach as Quinn's voice invades my every senses. "Take pictures in your mind of your childhood room. Memorise what it sounded like when your dad gets home. Remember the footsteps, remember the words said, and all your best friend's favourite songs. I just realised everything I have is someday gonna be gone." She smiles again, but her eyes are shining. "So, here I am in my new apartment. In a big city, they just dropped me off. It's so much colder than I thought it would be. So, I tuck myself in and turn my nightlight on."

Quinn, Santana and Brittany start up again, their voices rolling in and out of one another; the various lines criss-crossing and overlapping in perfect harmony. "Wish I'd never grown up. I wish I'd never grown up. Oh, I don't wanna grow up. Wish I'd never grown up, could still be little. Oh, I don't wanna grow up. Wish I'd never grown up. It could still be simple." All three of them are looking at me now, and that overwhelming, all-consuming feeling is back. It's threatening. "Oh, darling, don't you ever grow up, don't you ever grow up. Just stay this little. Oh, darling, don't you ever grow up, don't you ever grow up. It could stay this simple. I won't let nobody hurt you; won't let no one break your heart. And, even though you want to, please try to never grow up. Don't you ever grow up. Just never grow up."

With a last strum of Santana's guitar, the room erupts in noise, and I just manage to be present enough to register what's happening around me. I'm aware of the fact I say words in response, smile and clap, but there's something happening inside of me and only Quinn seems to notice. She resumes her seat next to me as the excitement dies down, and I can see her nervously biting her bottom lip. I feel horrible.

When Mr Schuester finally dismisses us, neither Quinn nor I moves at all. I get a few well wishes as the others leave, and then it's just the two of us. I stand first, and she follows. I don't want to be sitting for this; whatever this is.

"Rachel," she starts, trying to get my attention. It's the moment I realise I'm actually pacing.

I stop and turn to look at her. She looks confused, and my own confusion doesn't help. It makes me angry and irrationally so.

"Talk to me," she says, stepping towards me and moving to wrap her arms around me. I react in a way I've never reacted before, and it surprises us both.

"Back off," I suddenly say, and she steps back, surprised by the tone of my voice. "Please, just back off."

She takes another step back. "Rachel," she starts, her voice calm; "is something wrong?"

I swivel to face her, some unknown feeling taking lodging in the pit of my stomach. "Why did you do this?" I ask.

She risks a smile. "I wanted to do something nice for you," she explains. "I know you said you didn't want anything special, so I kind of made it more Rachel Berry friendly. It's, uh, it's technically homemade, you see, so I wasn't really breaking the rules. San and Britt really helped with the arrangement, though San probably won't ever admit it." She falls silent, clearly studying my face. I haven't actually reacted to anything she's said. "Did you not like it?" she asks, her voice quivering. "Rachel, did I do something wrong?"

Whatever has lodged itself in my stomach is growing and rising. "I told you I didn't want anything," I tell her through gritted teeth.

"I thought - "

I interrupt. "You thought wrong," I say coldly. "Why didn't you just listen to me?"

Quinn looks legitimately confused by my reaction and, frankly, I am too. "I didn't buy anything," she defends, thinking that's the part that has me so uncomfortable. "I heard everything you said, Rachel, and I found a little loophole. I thought you'd like it. I thought you'd appreciate it."

And the thing is, I did. I liked it. Hell, I loved it. And, of course I appreciated it. It's just - it all feels like so much and the overwhelming feeling is overriding everything good I want to be feeling in this moment. Which is the only reason I say what I say.

"You shouldn't have done this."

Quinn looks at me for the longest moment as if she can somehow read what's going on with me, and it just makes me feel angrier.

"Stop looking at me like that!" I snap, and she flinches.

"Like what?"

"Like you know what's going on."

She blinks in confusion. "Okay," she says, dropping her gaze. "I won't look at you."

"No!" I snap again. What the hell is wrong with me? "Why are you being so nice to me? Why do you keep doing nice things? When is the other shoe going to drop, Quinn? Stop messing with my feelings like this! I can't take it anymore! I can't stand it!"

"Rachel!" Quinn returns, her eyes widening. "Stop it," she warns. "I do nice things because you're my friend and I care about you. Stop thinking there's some ulterior motive because there isn't. I genuinely like spending time with you. I like you."

And that's the moment the string inside of me - the one holding whatever I'm feeling about all of this together - snaps, and everything just kind of immediately goes to shit. I don't even know what's happening, but it is and I'm so out of control that Quinn steps back, right out of my space as if she's worried I'll actually lash out with anything other than my words.

"I didn't ask for this!" I scream. "I didn't ask for any of this! I didn't ask for you and everything that comes with you. All the fucking confusion that comes with your pretty smiles and innocent touches. I didn't ask to feel like this!"

She continues to stare at me, her mouth hanging open in the most adorable way. The sight of it just makes me angrier.

"Why did you do this?" I yell. "Why did you do this to me? I was fine. I had my friends, I was comfortable. And then you came along with you perfect hair and perfect teeth and amazing eyes and your wonderful laugh and urgh." I scream. Like, scream scream, tugging at my hair like a crazy person. "We weren't even friends. We were better as enemies because then I didn't know what this was like. Why, Quinn, why? Why did you let me feel what it's like to have your attention? To have you look at me and not scowl? To have you smile at me? To hug you?" I'm crying now, sobbing uncontrollably. "Why did you do this to me?"

She steps towards me again, her arms lifting as if she thinks a hug is going to make this any better. Whatever the fuck this is.

"No!" I screech, and she stops dead. "Stay away from me! Stay away! God, what is happening?"

"Rachel," she pleads.

"No," I say again, shaking my head. "You did this to me. This is all your fault! You made me feel all these things. Was this part of your plan all along? Is this what you wanted?"

Now she just looks even more confused - she wears it well - but my brain doesn't register it.

I keep going. "It's the only thing that makes sense," I say. "You did it on purpose. You came into my life, made me feel these things, all so you can laugh about it later! Why, Quinn? What did I ever do to you? I don't want this! This isn't - "

"I don't know what you're talking about," she says. "Please, just stop."

"No!" I back away. "Why did you do it? Do you think this is funny? None of this is funny!"

"I'm not laughing, Rachel."

"You should," I snap. "Your plan worked."

"What plan?"

"THIS!" I yell. "Look at me! I'm a fucking mess, and it's all because of you! Did you show up in front of my house on purpose? That's a lot of work for a fucking ruse, Quinn. Is Finn in on it? Santana? Britt? I mean, I have to give you props; it's diabolical, but even this is beneath you. But, then again, I can't say I'm surprised. You've done some hateful, hurtful things in the past. Why would Rachel Berry be any different?"

She blinks, forcing away tears.

"I was so stupid to think we could ever be friends," I say, and now she's crying fully. "You set out to do this from the very beginning, didn't you? I don't - I don't want this. Why do you want to hurt me? Why can't you be better? Why, Quinn?" I don't even know what question I'm asking her. Or, myself. "Why would you do this to me? What did I ever do to you? Why do you want to hurt me like this?"

She's at a loss for words and I turn on her, practically snarling.

"But it's you, isn't it? It has nothing to do with me and everything to do with how sick and twisted you really are. You pretend to be nice, but you're really just a cold-hearted bitch who doesn't know love and kindness." Her tears are flowing freely but I barely see them. I'm just so angry, and it makes me even angrier not knowing why. "It's no wonder your family wants nothing to do with you!" I hiss. "I never could understand why Finn decided he didn't want you anymore, but now I do!"

Quinn's face morphs into one of utter devastation, and I have the wherewithal to register that single, pained look before she's opening her mouth to speak, but nothing comes out. Nothing. Her eyes meet mine for the briefest moment, and I see the deep hurt in them before she's spinning on her heel and rushing away, leaving me feeling empty, spent, confused and sick to stomach.

When she's out of sight, I drop to my knees and sob. I cry and I cry and ohmygod, what is happening?

When I've cried myself out, I manage to pull myself together enough to leave the choir room. I stop by my locker, pack my books for the weekend, and then go home. The drive is slow and made in silence. I don't need music and whatever emotions it'll evoke right now. I don't deserve music.

I pull into the driveway, unsurprised to find Quinn's car nowhere in sight.

What did I do?

Oh, Quinn, what did I do?

I sit in my car for fifteen minutes before I get out. My movements are laboured and tired, and I feel horrible, right to the very marrow of my bones. I also feel dirty, like I've soiled everything that Quinn and I have built, in just one afternoon of total and utter panic.

When I enter the house, I half expect Quinn to pop out of somewhere, but I'm not that lucky. There is someone in the house though. It's a good thing too, because I think I'm going to go crazy if I'm left alone.

"Daddy," I say, getting his attention as I move into the living room.

"Hi, Sweetheart," my Daddy says, glancing up from the newspaper he's reading. His eyes automatically look behind me, expecting to see Quinn. He frowns slightly when he realises it's just me, and then smiles when I notice. He's so transparent sometimes - he loves Quinn. Everyone does.

"Quinn's not coming," I say dejectedly, and even I hear the sadness in my voice. His gaze meets mine and he asks the question silently. "We kind of had a fight."

He pats the couch beside him and I shuffle towards him, dropping my bag on the floor and collapsing on the leather. I feel his arm wrap around me and he draws me into a much-needed and undeserved hug. "Tell Daddy what's wrong," he says.

I sigh against him. "It was a stupid fight," I say. "A hurtful one, though."

"Oh, Sweetheart, what did she say to you?"

"It wasn't her," I confess quietly. "It was me."

He tenses. "Oh."

"I feel terrible about all of it, and I don't even know how or why it started," I continue. "I'm convinced I started the fight on purpose, just to - "

"To what?" he questions.

To hurt her. I close my eyes. "I think I'm mad at her or something," I tell him.

"Did she do something?"

"It's not any one thing, Daddy," I say. "This week has been horrible. She was hiding something from me, and I was terrified it was over, and she did something so nice and I just..." I trail off. I sound like such a crazy person. "She's just - she's everywhere, and I can't stop thinking about her and I can't escape her. I mean, I dream about her, and I get all mopey when she's not around. I plan my life around her and I - " I stop suddenly. "I don't even know why that all makes me mad, but it does. What is wrong with me?"

He's quiet for a long moment. "There's nothing wrong with you, Rachel."

"But I just picked a fight with her for nothing, and I said such hurtful, hateful things to her, and I don't even know why," I say, tears springing to my eyes. "You didn't see her face... I just feel so horrible about it, and confused, and why is this happening? She's - she's my best friend and I'm supposed to protect her; not hurt her. Why did I do that? Why would I do that? It felt awful. I feel awful." He doesn't say anything. "Daddy?" The word sounds strangled as it leaves my throat

He tightens his grip on me, and his left hand covers the side of my head, forcing me to rest my head against him. "I don't know what to tell you, Sweetheart," he says. "Best friends fight sometimes. They say things they don't mean. Give her some space and then apologise. I'm sure she'll forgive you if you're sincere." His words just make me feel more miserable. "Come now," he soothes. "It's going to be okay. Just give it some time. Take a moment, try to work through what you're feeling, and then talk to Quinn. It's going to be okay."

He lets me cry until my tears dry up, and then I go upstairs to my bedroom, not feeling any better but not feeling any worse. There are so many items in my room that remind me of Quinn; that belong to her. Her notebooks are piled with mine on my desk, her pens and pencils thrown around its top. Her novels are on the nightstand on her side of my bed, and she leaves her spare set of glasses in the drawer. She has pyjamas and underwear in my closet and toiletries in my bathroom.

And I said those things to her.

I'm an awful person, I am. I wanted to hurt her because I was mad at her for making me feel things. All sorts of things that I don't understand, which is why I crawl onto my bed, grab for my dream journal and start writing down what I may or may not be feeling when it comes to Quinn Fabray like my Daddy suggested.

1. I feel OVERWHELMED.

2. I feel suffocated.

3. I feel uncomfortable.

4. I feel irritated.

5. I feel flustered.

Wait. Flustered? What does that even mean? Coming up empty, I take a deep breath and keep going.

6. I feel angry.

7. I feel guilty.

8. I feel confused.

9. I feel irrational.

10. I feel exposed.

Okay. This isn't really helping me understand anything. It's almost as if I have a thesaurus in my head.

11. I feel vulnerable.

12. I feel safe.

Okay, those two are totally conflicting ideas. Oh, wait.

13. I feel conflicted.

14. I feel excited.

I search my brain for why that could be and come up with the fact I've never had a friend like her. I've never really had a friend like anyone, so this is entirely new territory for me, and for her. I get excited to see her in the mornings, and it's torture having to wait for her to be done with Cheerios practice even though I keep myself occupied with vocal lessons and hours in the dance studio.

15. I feel jealous.

I know I've felt it before when it comes to her, like when she gives attention to other people. I acknowledge my tendency to react by hugging her a little longer and reminding her she's my best friend. She's - she's mine. I've said it on more than one occasion.

16. I feel warm.

17. I feel noticed.

18. I feel cared for.

My chest starts to tighten when I remember the completely pained look on Quinn's face as my careless words cut through her. I don't want her to think I don't care about her. I know I'm going to have to apologise but I need to have a clear head when I do that. We both deserve that much before I make it any worse. What else do I feel when it comes to Quinn?

19. I feel seen.

20. I feel adored.

21. I feel nervous.

22. I feel strong.

23. I feel trusted.

I stop to go over my list, and I realise I have to repeat a feeling.

24. I feel overwhelmed x 20000000000.

25. I feel heard.

26. I feel understood.

27. I feel appreciated.

28. I feel special.

She really does make me feel special. It's the smallest things possible; like opening doors for me and bringing me single flowers whenever she comes over from Brittany's house. Even just a single look from her during Glee makes me feel as if I've accomplished something tremendous, and her acknowledgement is heavenly.

29. I feel grounded. (Stable.)

30. I feel encouraged.

31. I feel accepted.

32. I feel happy.

Before this afternoon and before all the confusion, I was actually happy. And now...

I realise there are a lot of conflicting feelings written down but I do feel all of them. At any one time, sure, but also all at once. It's... overwhelming. I press my pen to the paper and convince myself to write the last feeling. The one I can no longer deny or put off any longer.

33. I feel loved.

With Quinn, I feel loved. It's in the way her eyes always meet mine, regardless of the situation we're in. She always looks to me, heat and understanding in her expression. It's in the gentle touches, for assurance and for comfort. It's in the way Quinn smiles at me, knowingly and contently. It's in the smoulder of her heated gaze, hazel claiming me and not releasing. It's in the -

When it hits me, it hits me hard, and I sit bolt upright as if I've been electrocuted. Before I know it, I'm throwing the journal aside and racing out of my room in an instant, practically flying down the stairs and into the living room like a bat out of hell. My Dad's jaw drops at the sight of me, but my eyes are on my Daddy.

"Rachel," he says, sitting up straight and giving me his full attention.

"I figured it out," I say, breathlessly. My heart is pounding and my entire body feels like it's burning up. "You know, don't you?"

He nods slowly.

"Was it important I work it out on my own?"

He nods again, his eyes so kind and full of love and understanding.

I take a deep breath and settle myself. Everything is buzzing around me, but I feel so calm. I feel relieved, to be able to understand what's been happening inside of me. I feel lighter somehow.

My Dad looks at me, slightly confused. "Rachel?"

I lick my lips and smile. "I figured it out," I say.

"What did you figure out, Sweetheart?"

"I like her," I say, feeling this weight lift off my chest at my confession. "There it is," I continue. "I like my best friend. I like like her, and - " I stop, the blood suddenly draining from my face when the reality of the words I've just said out loud hit me.

My Daddy stands, worried. "Sweetheart?"

I shake my head, fighting off my panic. "I like Quinn."

And then, well, like the complete drama queen I am, I pass out.


I wake in my bed. My head is throbbing and my mouth feels gritty, as if I've just eaten sawdust. It takes me a moment to get my bearings and, when I force myself to sit up, I feel like I might throw up. The feeling becomes worse as my mind catches up and I remember all that's happened today: the present, the fight with Quinn and the realisation that -

I bury my face in my hands. I can't believe I passed out. Quinn would probably call me dramatic for such a thing... if she were talking to me. What if she never talks to me again? Oh, my gosh. I've ruined it all!

Before I can devolve into a pity party, I roll out of bed, visit the bathroom and then go downstairs. I can hear quiet voices coming from the living room, and I steel myself for the conversation that's sure to come.

"There she is," my Daddy says when I move into view. "How are you feeling, Sweetheart?"

I rub a hand over my face. "Pretty stupid," I say. "And embarrassed."

"There's nothing to be embarrassed about," he assures me. "Come, sit with us." He waves his hand and I shuffle into the room. I feel so off-kilter, top heavy in a way. Unbalanced. I was so sure before, and now I'm just filled with dread. He pulls me down onto the couch beside him, and my Dad quickly comes to sit on my other side, making me the jam in a Berrymen sandwich.

My Dad rubs my back. "We should probably tell you that Quinn called my phone," he says, and I look at him with wide eyes. "She said that something happened between you two at school and she was worried. She thought, maybe, it was best we were both home early for you because you seemed, how did she put it, emotional and a little out of control."

I blink. "Is she mad at me?"

"I don't know," he says. "She sounded sad, but she didn't really allow me to ask her questions. I think the fact she called to warn us means there might be a day she isn't mad, if she even is. Give her some space for now."

"Oh, I don't plan on talking to her anytime soon."

My Daddy clears his throat. "Why is that, Sweetheart?"

"What am I supposed to say to her?" I ask, rhetorically. "I'm sorry I flew off the handle with you; I actually really like you; do you want to go on a date with me?" I laugh humourlessly. "She'll run so fast, we'll both get whiplash."

"Rachel," he breathes. "She's your best friend. I suspect she'll expect some kind of explanation."

"Then I'll tell her I was off my meds."

"But you're not on any meds, which is something Quinn knows, by the way."

I look at him. "Do you want me to tell her? Because she'll never come back here, ever."

My Dad rubs my back again, getting my attention. "What I think your father is trying to say is that you probably shouldn't make decisions based on other people's reactions. The question is: do you want to tell her?"

I sigh, visibly deflating. "Until earlier today, I thought I was very in tune with my sexuality, Dad," I say. "I prided myself on knowing, being so sure, that I wanted an adoring, leading man in my life. In my future. I was content to wait for him. I mean, the chances of finding him in Lima were low anyway, and I set the dream aside. Quinn was never part of the plan." I shake my head. "I know the heart wants what the heart wants and all that, but this really seems to have come out of nowhere and I really didn't see it coming."

"Uh..."

I snap my head towards my Daddy. "What?"

"I don't know if it's as out of the blue as you think, Sweetheart," he says, his tone gentle. "Even before she showed up on our doorstep, Quinn was a fixture in our house, the good and the bad."

"I talked about her?"

He nods. "And then you became friends."

"And you never shut up about that," my Dad says, and my Daddy sends him a pointed look. "All I'm saying is that your father and I have been here to watch you two dance around each other these past few weeks, trying to figure out how to be friends when you've clearly been feeling something more from the very beginning."

"Am I that transparent?"

"No, of course not," he hurries to say. "But we're your fathers, Rachel."

"Do you think Quinn knows?" I ask, horrified.

My Daddy answers. "She might have an idea," he confesses. "If she didn't before, I think your outburst this afternoon might have clued her into it."

I drop my head, defeated. "I was so mean to her," I say. "I couldn't even stop myself. It all just came pouring out and she just stood there and took it. And now you tell me she called... after all of that... it makes me feel worse."

"She cares about you," he says. "And she'll want to help you come to terms with this, even if it's not in the way you want."

"What if I'm not strong enough for that?"

"I think we both know you're stronger than you think, Sweetheart."

I burrow into his side, and I just let them hold me. I have this, but Quinn's probably alone at her house, worried over all that's happened... alone. It makes me feel worse, and I didn't think it was even possible. At some point, I excuse myself and go upstairs to my room. I take my phone out of my bag and pull up Quinn's contact. I have to say this. Tonight. If I can't manage anything else, I have to say this.

Berry: I'm sorry.

I don't know what else I can say in a text message. We should talk, definitely, but not today. Or tomorrow.

Berry: I'm sorry for what I said and how I reacted today. I want to explain it all to you, but do you think we can take the weekend? I'm still a little confused about a few things and I imagine you're still mad at me. Can we please talk about all of this on Monday at school?

I don't expect a reply. At all. So, imagine my surprise when my phone actually buzzes when I crawl into bed a mere hour later.

Quinn: Okay, Berry. Feel better.

Quinn: And happy birthday for Sunday. I'm sorry I won't get to see you, but I hope you have a wonderful day, little star. X

Gah.

She's so stinking cute.

Granola bars and flour on noses... okay, so, maybe it started well before then, after all.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven

Quinn

if we must both be right.
we will lose each other.


"Quinn?"

Even though I should expect it, I still startle at the sound of her voice, and I whip around so fast, I actually catch my eyebrow on the lock of my locker. "Oh, damn," I hiss, the heel of my palm flying to the trauma site. I've lost my bearings but I know the feel of Rachel's hands and they're on me now. One is on my forearm and the other on my hip, as if she's trying to steady me, but I feel her everywhere.

I step away, my back hitting the lockers. Gosh, it hurts. I pull my hand away from my eyebrow, only for her to scream at me to keep it there, which I hasten to do.

"It's bleeding," she rushes. "There's so much blood. Why is there so much blood?"

Blood? What on earth?

Ignoring her, I pull my hand away again and inspect it. Yip. That's definitely blood. I get dizzy immediately, queasy, as I feel the blood drip down the side of my face and down onto my uniform. It's going everywhere so I close my eyes and try desperately not to smell or taste it.

Rachel waits a beat before the hand originally stemming the flow of blood is replaced by the sleeve of her sweater. "So much blood," she mumbles in disbelief. "We should get you to the nurse."

I want to tell her to leave me alone. I want to tell her to go away, but the words won't come. I can barely think, really. I mean, one would assume I would be accustomed to nearly everything, seeing as I've pushed a literal human being out of my body, but no. This is different anyway. There is actual blood in my mouth. If that isn't enough to make a person freak out, I don't know what is.

"Let's go," she says, her free arm sliding around my waist and supporting me. I grip her sweater in a tight fist and we walk, slow and steady... wins the race. She doesn't say anything other than giving me directions and repeating how much blood there is.

Nurse Davis practically jumps out of her seat when we enter the sick bay, her eyes wide. "What on earth happened?" she asks.

"Quinn had a disagreement with a locker," Rachel answers and, on another day, I would probably laugh.

"Come through," Nurse Davis says, "sit her down on the bed."

I'm guided to a bed and I practically collapse on it, my legs giving way. I sit up straight, my eyes closed and try not to think about all the circumstances that led to me being right here, in this position, right now. I don't know whether I would laugh or cry.

"Remove your sleeve, Miss Berry," the Nurse says, and Rachel does. This time, the pressure is replaced with a cotton swab. "Wow," she says; "that looks nasty."

"That's not helpful," Rachel mutters.

"Sorry," she mutters. Then, to me, she says, "Tilt your head to the left. Let me wipe your face so you can open your eyes. I don't want to mess your uniform any further."

I do as she says and I feel a wet swab work its way down the side of my face, over my eye, cheek, nose, lips, chin, jaw, neck, collarbone, down to my -

I squirm.

"I'm a healthcare professional, Miss Fabray," Nurse Davis says. "I've seen it all, I can assure you."

It's not her I'm worried about.

"I'll just wait outside," Rachel says, and I hear shuffling feet.

Nurse Davis spends the next minute cleaning both my face and the wound and, when I open my eyes, the brightness makes me frown. Which hurts my wound. I gargle my mouth, trying to ignore the tinny taste of the blood. I've never particularly been fond of the taste of it. "We're going to have to go to the ER," she says. "You need stitches."

I groan.

"I know," she says sympathetically. "It shouldn't take long though. I'll have you back as quickly as possible." She takes my hand and places it over the cotton swab currently hiding the extent of my injury. Coach Sylvester is going to kill me. My face is her money-maker, as she tells me. I would be Head Cheerleader because I'm talented and ruthless, but my face definitely helps. She's a strange woman.

"Give me a few minutes to lock up here, and then we'll go," she says, and then she leaves me sitting on the bed.

Rachel comes in a moment later, her face guilty and sorrowful. "I'm sorry," she says. "I always thought this would happen one day."

"Because startling me at my locker is one of your favourite things to do," I deadpan.

She drags her bottom lip between her teeth and I watch the movement with hooded eyes. "It is, yes," she confesses, blushing slightly. "Nurse Davis says she has to take you to the hospital?"

I nod. "I need stitches, apparently." She covers her mouth with her hand, and I spot my blood on her sleeve for the first time. "You should probably change that," I say, gesturing to her sleeve with my free hand. "Do you have a spare?"

"I should," she says; "from the slushy days."

I drop my gaze. "If you don't; just grab something from my duffel if you need to. It's in my Cheerios' locker." I take a breath. "Sorry for bleeding all over you."

"I didn't really give you much of a choice."

I shrug.

Nurse Davis comes back in, with her coat on, and her keys and purse in her hands. "Ready to go?"

I glance at Rachel, who looks like she wants to say something.

Nurse Davis takes it away from her. "Miss Berry, you should probably get to class," she says. "Miss Fabray will be fine. Maybe some bruising and a bit of a headache, but nothing she hasn't faced as a Cheerio." That's true. In hindsight, this is nothing - I've experienced a lot worse. It's just... it's my face. I can't exactly hide that.

Rachel looks at me, asking the silent question. "I'm fine," I tell her. "We'll, uh, we can talk later, okay?"

She just nods, and then ducks out of the room, leaving me to the mercy of Nurse Davis. I'm not too sure about this woman, really. The calibre of teachers at McKinley is already suspect enough - really, Mr Schuester is probably the worst Spanish teacher in existence - so I imagine their support staff isn't any better. She drives us in her little blue car. My legs are too long for it and it's decidedly uncomfortable.

The wait in the Emergency Room doesn't help my mood either. I'm grumpy and, yes, I have a headache. Nurse Davis keeps chattering away next to me, trying to distract me with stories about her kids and The Chronicles of Narnia, but all I can really think about is Rachel's guilty look; those big, beautiful brown eyes with all the sorrow and understanding. We're supposed to talk, and now this.

When we're finally seen to, it's by a young doctor who looks like he's still in diapers. His hands, however, are steady, which is the only reason I let him anywhere near my face with a needle and thread. He stitches quickly and neatly, and I give them a thorough inspection in the mirror before I deem them suitable. Nurse Davis deals with the paperwork while he dresses the wound and instructs me on proper cleaning. I'm only half-listening to him. I've been here before.

It's already the start of third period when we get back to school. Nurse Davis writes me a note, tells me to come back if I'm feeling dizzy or nauseous, and then sends me on my way. I don't bother going to U.S. History. Instead, I go to the library to find Rachel or, if she's not there, catch a nap. But she is. She's sitting at her usual desk, scribbling something down on a notepad and looking decidedly distracted. She's nibbling at her bottom lip and her right leg is bouncing. It's cute.

She practically jumps out of her seat when she spots me, and rounds the table in a rush. "Oh, Quinn," she breathes, her eyes wide. It's probably the extent of the bruising that's caught her up. Who knew a locker could be so dangerous? "How are you feeling? Does it hurt? I'm so sorry."

I manage a smile. "I'm fine," I say. "It hurts a little, but I suspect you have an Advil for me."

She lets out a small laugh. "Do you actually want some?"

"I'm good for now, thank you," I say. "Nurse D hooked me up."

She looks at me for the longest time, trying to decipher how okay I truly am. I'm unable to hide anything from her anymore; I don't even want to. "The rumour mill is running wild," she says, turning and moving to sit back down.

"Oh yeah?" I question, sitting down in the chair opposite her. There are two desks between us, which I'm thankful for, but also hate. "The whole disagreement with a locker story not going down well?"

She shakes her head. "Rumour has it, you and I got into a scuffle," she says. "Santana cornered me before Spanish, which was frightening, but I was able to set things straight. She's making sure the school knows you weren't taken down by a midget."

I smile. "Santana Lopez, defending my honour."

"She's a girl on a mission."

"I can imagine."

We fall silent and the reality of what we're trying to avoid crashes down on us. My breathing quickens and I fidget with my hands, just waiting. I need her to start. I need to know where her head is first before I reveal my cards.

"Quinn," she starts, and I look up. "I am so sorry for Friday," she says, and I can hear the anguish in her voice. "I really didn't mean anything I said. I don't think any of those things. Really, I don't, Quinn, you have to believe that. I think you are wonderful, and you know how much contempt I have for your family, and Finn is a complete idiot. I don't think any of those things. Please, just, know that. I'm so sorry I hurt you, because I know I did. And, at the time, I kind of knew I was doing it... I just - I was going through my own crisis, and I never should have taken it out on you that way, or in any way at all. It's just, well, I had myself convinced you were the source of my anger, and I just couldn't contain it."

"I still don't understand, Rachel," I say, careful and hesitant. "Was it to do with the song?"

"No," she answers quickly. "I loved the song, and I love that you do all these lovely, adorable things for me. I just wasn't ready for it. I wasn't ready for you."

I frown. "I'm still not following."

She leans forward slightly, discreetly looking around us to make sure nobody is within earshot. "For want of a better term, I'd say I suffered an emotional break on Friday. I pretty much lost it in front of you. I - I was feeling a lot of things already and then the song just tipped me over and I couldn't handle it because I didn't understand. But I understand perfectly now, which is why I can now explain it to you."

There are things I expect her to say. I mean, I've also spent the weekend evaluating things and talking with my Reverend, so there are things I expect to hear. However, the words still surprise me, freezing the air all around me.

"I like you."

I blink.

She takes a breath, steeling herself. "I thought, maybe, feeling all these things because we're new friends, and neither of us has ever had a friend like this, but then I looked at it objectively. I went through all our interactions and my responses to those interactions. This weekend, not seeing you, not being able to talk to you, was torture. It physically hurt and, when I saw you this morning, I felt this rush of excitement, and I can't deny it. I can't, Quinn, and I think I'd be doing us both a disservice if I were to try to. I like you, in the not friendly way. I like you in the big way, and I'm sorry I hurt you in the process of figuring it out.

"I don't know if I'm actually gay," she continues. "I - I still find boys attractive. I just - it's you, and I wouldn't be fair to either of us if I didn't accept and acknowledge it. So, I'm sorry I'm ruining our friendship like this. I didn't mean for it to happen, believe me. It just - it just did, and I had to tell you. I considered not telling you, but we've always told each other the truth, and I don't think I would be true to either of us if you didn't know. Which is why you now know. What happens now is up to you." She sits back again, and just waits.

I just stare at her, my head spinning. I'm dizzy and a little nauseous, but not because of the injury. Rachel likes me. She sounds so sure. How can she be so sure?

"Are you sure you - like - me?" I force out.

She nods once. "Very."

I take a deep breath, trying to gather my thoughts. "Rachel, I'm not - "

"Gay, I know," she interrupts.

"Rachel," I say. "It's my turn to talk."

"Sorry."

I try again. "Look, I won't lie and say that Friday didn't hurt me, because it did. A lot. I thought I did this nice thing for you, and you threw it right back in my face by saying things that you know I struggle with, and I didn't know why. I can excuse many things, and I suppose I might have deserved all you said, given all the torture I put you through in the past." She looks like she wants to argue with me, but I just keep talking. "It's just what I feel sometimes, but I've spent the weekend considering everything. I just, well, I'm sorry that what I did led to your, uh, emotional break. It didn't look all that fun."

"It wasn't."

I arch an eyebrow.

"Sorry," she murmurs. "You're talking. Keep going."

I lean forward. "I've spent the weekend thinking about things as well," I tell her. "It was torture not talking to you. I had to restrain myself a few times. I even locked my phone and car keys in my bathroom to stop myself from doing anything crazy, which brought me to my own conclusion..." I trail off. This is monumental, isn't it? This - this changes everything. "You and I, we've never really just been friends, have we?"

She waits a beat. "Can I talk now?"

I cover my eyes with my hand. "Fine, yes."

"No, we haven't," she says. "I think, on some subconscious level, we've always been more, Quinn."

I nod. "I have to admit that I've also been feeling some, uh, feelings," I admit, and her eyebrows rise up in surprise. She definitely wasn't expecting to hear that and, frankly, neither was I. "I don't really know what that all means, to be honest, because - " I stop. "What I was going to say before you first interrupted me is that I'm not ready. Whether or not I'm, uh, gay seems moot at this point because I'm not ready for anything or anyone, regardless of gender."

She's frowning now.

"What?" I ask.

"You're not disgusted? You're not planning my intervention or telling me it's a sin?"

I frown. "Rachel Berry, I'm going to chalk those questions up to part of your break because do you forget who my two best friends are?" I say, meeting her gaze with a steely look of my own. "I made peace between my religion and homosexuality a long time ago. I'm neither disgusted by it, nor do I believe it is a sin. I believe in love. It's my belief. I've even spoken with my Reverend at great lengths about it."

"You have?"

"I have."

"Why?"

"I've always harboured the idea that, as life evolves, so too should everything else," I tell her. "Ideology and theology always have room for growth and adaptation. Reconciling my beliefs with my feelings has been both enlightening and frightening." I take a breath, unsure if I want to reveal that I've discussed her and our relationship with my Reverend. "I also spoke to LeRoy about it."

"You did? When?"

"Yesterday."

She breathes out, clearly trying to process what I've told her. She looks to be failing. "Okay, now it's my turn not to understand. What exactly are you trying to tell me right now?"

"Are we still friends?" I ask.

"Of course."

"Do you want more than that with me?"

She hesitates.

"It's okay, Rachel; you can tell me," I assure her. "Do you?"

She nods slowly, her eyes darting about as if she's worried I'll take off at the sound of her admission.

"I want us to be friends," I tell her. "Best friends."

She waits.

"I'm - I'm not ready for anything more," I tell her. "After Finn, and with all this stuff going on with my family, I'm not ready."

Still, she waits.

"But, if I were, when I am; I think we can address the topic of more again," I tell her. "If you'll still be open to that, I mean."

She stares at me, her mouth hanging open slightly. It's a cute look, and I have to stop myself from telling her so. "Is this really happening?" she asks.

I nod. "It's really happening."

She breathes out, eyes wide. "What happens now?"

"Well, I think you should tell me what you're comfortable with, because the things I do clearly make you a little unhinged and, as much fun as it is to be chewed out, I'd rather not go through it again."

She ducks her head and blushes. "Can we maybe, uh, try to go back to how things were, and I can just feel out how comfortable I am with things? I can tell you as we go along, and we can establish a new normal?"

I nod. "I think that makes the most sense," I agree, and we fall into silence. It has the potential to turn awkward, so I clear my throat and sit up straight. "So, how was your birthday?"

She suddenly looks miserable. "Awful. Just awful." She rubs her face with her hands. "I was in no mood to celebrate and my dads were walking on eggshells around me all day. Even the calls and texts I received did nothing to lift my spirits. I pretty much studied all day."

I grimace. "So, as far as birthdays go, it was terrible?"

"I've definitely had better."

I take a deep breath, turning the idea over in my head. "Can I come over after Glee?" I ask, somewhat warily. "We can maybe try to celebrate. I can even bake a cake. I know it won't be like - "

She interrupts me. "I'd really like that, Quinn."

I smile, relieved, before I glance at the clock on the wall. Fourth period is about to start. "I should go," I say, starting to stand. "See you at lunch?"

She nods. "I'll give you fair warning before I get to your locker, so we don't have a repeat performance of this morning," she says, referring to my injured eyebrow.

"No, we don't want that," I agree as I straighten my back and push in my chair.

She regards me for a moment before she also gets to her feet and comes to stand in front of me. "I don't want things to be awkward," she says. "So, I'm going to hug you now, okay?"

I swallow nervously. "Okay."

She hesitates for only a moment before she snakes her arms around my neck and pulls me close. She's so warm and soft, and I've missed her so much. I immediately wrap my arms around her waist, squeeze tight, and relax into the familiar embrace. For just friends, we hug for an obscene amount of time, and we're both blushing when we finally pull apart. "See you at lunch," she says, ducking her head, and I have to hightail it out of there before I say or do something stupid.

Santana has questions a plenty when I get to class, and she can't stop staring at the bruise. "A locker did that?"

"I was moving very fast," I confess with an embarrassed nod.

"Jesus Christ," she murmurs. "Remind me never to piss off a locker."

I let out a laugh, and then quieten when people look my way. Normally, I would arch a deadly HBIC eyebrow, but it hurts and my eyebrows are staying as still as possible until at least the throbbing subsides. "I wouldn't recommend it, no."

"So, did you and the midget kiss and make up?"

I breathe out, forcing away my blush. "She said you cornered her earlier?" I ask, dodging the question.

"If you'd heard the shit this school was spewing, you would've thought the baby Jew stabbed you with a fucking stake."

I shake my head, unnerved. "Have you sorted it out?" I ask.

"I've done what I can for now," she says. "We'll have to do more during lunch. Maybe you can use some concealer to cover up some of that. It's making me feel sick just looking at it."

"How you expect to become a doctor like your father, I'll never know."

She scowls at me, but it's quickly replaced by a smirk. "If I didn't know the real story; I'd think you looked rather badass."

Of course. I turn my attention to the front of the class and try to pay attention when the teacher starts speaking. I'm going to have to catch up on the revision work from my last three classes, and I'm already making plans on how to do that because my last three exams are going to kill me. I'll need lists. I'm writing two on Wednesday and one on Thursday, and just the idea of them is giving me anxiety. I also still have to go Christmas shopping, which, admittedly, I'm looking forward to. I'm staying away from songs from now on.

When the bell rings, Santana gets up. "I'm meeting Britt for a quickie," she murmurs, all smug. "See you at the table." And then she's going.

"Stay safe," I call out, and she flips me the bird. I'm still smiling when a figure looms over my desk, casting a shadow. I look up to see Finn squinting at me, as if he's confused about something. I know he's not in my class - it's AP - which means he was clearly waiting to talk to me. When Santana's gone. When I'm alone.

I want to arch an eyebrow, but end up cursing my stupid locker.

"Hello, Finn," I say carefully, as I close my notebook and zip away my pens. "What brings you by?" I ask as I rise to my feet, perfectly poised.

"What really happened to your forehead?"

"Didn't you hear?" I toss at him. "Berry and I got into a little fight. The little dynamite really packs a punch."

"Quinn," he says, clearly unimpressed. "What happened? It looks painful."

I'll admit I'm a little caught off guard by the care in his voice. "Uh, I just sort of collided with my locker door," I explain. "It is painful."

"I'm sorry," he says quietly before he clears his throat. "Well, I just wanted to check on you," he says, his fingers twitching. He's nervous and I don't know why. "Make sure you're okay."

"I'm fine, thank you, Finn."

"Sure," he says, rocking on his heels. "Do you - uh, can I walk you to your locker?" he asks. "I could maybe have a stern talk with it to make sure it doesn't do it again."

Despite myself, I laugh out loud, and his eyebrows shoot up in surprise. I don't know how to feel about that, but I still let him walk me to my locker. He doesn't say much, which I appreciate. I giggle when he does berate my locker for trying to hurt me, and he smiles at me. Once upon a time, I would have been weak at the knees to get that smile from him, but not today. Not with him.

"I'll see you at the tables?" he asks, hope in his voice.

I nod. "I'll be there shortly," I say; "just got to take care of this bruised face." My bruised ego, I can deal with later.

"Awesome," he says, and then he takes off. I watch him until he disappears, trying to understand just what happened. Finn was sweet. I haven't seen that side of him since before, and it's thrown me a little. Does he really still care - about me?

I'm still staring at the place where Finn last was when Rachel moves into sight, and my heart rate immediately rises. She looks a little confused by the fact I'm just standing there, staring into space.

"Hey, you," she says.

I shake myself out of my reverie. "Hi," I breathe, smiling at her.

"Are you okay?"

I nod. "Just been a strange day."

"Oh?"

"Good strange, though," I assure her; "but still strange."

"Are there any take-backs?"

"It's been only an hour, Rachel," I remind her.

"It was a nervous hour."

My features soften and I change the subject. "LeRoy mentioned he was sending me a little something," I say.

She laughs. "He did, yes," she says. "I think he did it to make sure I didn't chicken out of talking to you today. I wouldn't be able to handle his wounded puppy look if he knew I didn't feed you."

"I'm starving."

"Put your things away, we'll grab it from my locker and... go to the choir room?"

I think of Santana, and then of Finn, but then Rachel. The answer's simple. "Sure." I do text Santana when we get to the choir room, just letting her know where I am. I should be in the cafeteria to help her do damage control, which is what she tells me.

San: Bitch, don't leave me to do this shit alone!

I laugh.

Head Bitch: Sorry, but I'm not sorry.

San: I hate you.

Head Bitch: I love you, too.

Head Bitch: Please.

San: Fine. Whatever. I'll sort it out. Enjoy lunch with your girl ;*

I swallow nervously, pocket my phone and give Rachel my undivided attention. There are moments that are awkward, of course. We're moving into this new phase where we're very aware of each other. I question each touch now, and she hesitates before reaching out. I'm sure it'll get better with time, so I'm not too worried about it. I have this somewhat irrational idea that we're always going to be okay, no matter what happens.

The rest of the day goes well, given the circumstances. I'm forced to say a few choice words to Puck when he makes a lewd comment in the corridor between Chemistry and Psych, which people overhear and should set things straight. Glee is actually fun. Mr Schuester's assignment is Christmas songs, which is expected, and Mercedes already has a song prepared. It's lovely and poignant, and it really gets us into the mood for Christmas.

When we're dismissed, Rachel is prattling away about what songs she wants to sing on Wednesday - Friday is already a holiday - and her excitement is contagious. I feel it in my chest, and right in my bones. I'm finally... excited... for Christmas; for life.

I follow Rachel to her house, and I feel a little nervous as we pull up in her driveway, my car behind hers. I remain where I am until she comes to get me, tapping on my window and smiling sheepishly. When I get out, she takes hold of both of my hands.

"Are you nervous?" she asks, reading my face.

"A little," I admit. "What are we telling your dads?"

"What do you want to tell them?"

I squeeze her fingers. "I suspect we'll need their help to figure this all out," I say. "It's - it's a lot."

I feel her right hand slide up my arm, over my bicep and onto my shoulder. I shiver, and it's not from the cold, which it is. It's very cold. "Then we'll tell them," she says. "We'll tell them. Whatever it is we have to tell them."

"I'll tell them."

She breathes out a sigh of relief. "Thank you."

I smile warmly, and then fetch my bag from the backseat of my car. She takes hold of my hand when I'm ready, and we head into the house. Only LeRoy is home, and he looks up in surprise and understanding when he spots us. When his eyes drift to my forehead, his eyes widen in concern, and he practically jumps up, displacing the papers in his lap.

"What happened?" he asks.

Rachel lets out an embarrassed laugh as she releases my hand and walks towards LeRoy. "Easy there, Daddy," she says, setting down her bag. "We just had a bit of a disagreement."

His eyes widen. "With... each other?"

Rachel nods.

"You did that?"

Rachel looks over her shoulder at me, a smirk on her face, and my breath hitches. Oh, Rachel Berry.

"Quinn?" LeRoy asks, his voice strangled. "What really happened?"

I school my features. "Well, you see, I was just standing at my locker, innocently getting my books when Rachel came out of nowhere and basically attacked me."

LeRoy looks scandalised, and I can't handle it anymore. Rachel and I burst out laughing at the same time, and it feels so good to laugh with her again. I step further into the living room and LeRoy's face morphs into real concern, despite the fact he's realised we were just messing with him.

He moves towards me, his hands lifting to inspect my face. "Oh, Honey, what really happened?"

The care in his voice is so touching; my smile slips off my face and my bottom lip trembles as tears spring to my eyes. "I, uh - "

Rachel explains everything that happened, rambling slightly, but she gets it out, and LeRoy's shoulders seems to sag in relief when he learns I saw a fellow medical professional. Even though he's now heavily involved in hospital administration, he's still a practicing physician. It wasn't a decision he came to easily, but prejudices and the promise of regular hours ultimately tipped the scales for him.

"I'll take a look at it later," he says before leaning forward and kissing my hairline. "Now, tell me, are you two okay?"

Rachel glances at me, and I straighten. "We're okay," I say. "We're friends. Best friends."

He nods thoughtfully, his eyes flicking nervously at Rachel. "Okay."

I look at Rachel. "Do you think you could give us a moment?" I ask, and she looks nervously between us before she lifts her bag, tells us to play nice, and then heads upstairs to her bedroom. I wait for her door to close before I let out the breath I didn't even know I was holding. I look at LeRoy. "She told me - " I start; "she told me she likes me."

"Are you surprised?"

I take a moment to think about it. "Not about that, if I'm being honest," I say. "It's that she sounds so sure."

"But you're not?"

I take in a jagged breath. "I'm not - I'm not ready." I drop my gaze. "I don't want to start anything with anyone. I just got out of a relationship that consumed me, and my mom is being - " I stop. "She's being weird, and I won't put Rachel through all my crap when I'm not as sure as she is." I wait. "Yet."

LeRoy regards me for a moment. "You really do like her, don't you?"

I don't respond to that. "So, I was thinking of baking her a vegan birthday cake," I say instead, which, in hindsight, is answer enough for him. I can't help my blush. "She said yesterday wasn't all that celebratory."

"No, it really wasn't," he says. "We tried, but she just wasn't feeling up for anything."

"Do you think we can try again tonight?" I ask.

Before I know what's happening, he's pulling me into a tight hug. "We missed you," he whispers into my hair. Then, composing himself, he pulls back and says, "So, about this belated birthday, what exactly did you have in mind?"


Rachel is wearing one of her Argyle sweaters today, the one with the owl, and she looks happy. I know I shouldn't think it but there's a part of me that acknowledges I might have a little something to do with it.

"God, that sweater!" Santana exclaims as she, Brittany and I glide down the corridor. "Please, Q, when you tap that; fix that."

I blush through my indignation, but say nothing. "I'm going to say hi to her," I say. "See you in class?"

Santana rolls her eyes but, thankfully, makes no comment, and I'm able to veer off to the right, smiling at the fact that Rachel is already looking at me. She rocks on her heels, keeping herself in place.

"Hug," I say, and she launches herself at me. I stumble slightly, but I can't help my laugh as I hug her back. It doesn't last as long as either of us want, but we're in public, so I let go and she steps back. "Hi," I say.

"Hello."

"So."

"What?"

"My mom wants to have dinner with me tonight," I tell her, which makes her eyes widen. "That's exactly how I reacted."

"Do you know why?"

I shrug. "It might be to do with the holidays," I offer. "Or, maybe she's catching a conscience for being so distant."

"I hope it's nothing bad."

"I'm sure it's nothing."

I'm wrong.


When I tell Rachel what my mother discussed with me during lunch on Wednesday, she looks livid. She's pacing in front of me, quietly fuming, and I find it so adorable. My little protector. My hero, everyone, looking all kinds of cute as she mutters to herself, probably planning ways to make my mother's life as miserable as the woman's trying to make mine.

"But," she sputters; "but how can she do this?"

"Well, technically, I'm still a minor, so she can do whatever she wants," I tell her. "I mean, it's not the worst thing to happen to me."

"But I don't want you to go with her," she huffs, pouting.

"I don't want to go with her either," I say. "And, believe me, the last person I want to spend Christmas with is my sister, but my mom is going to Sacramento, and she won't leave me behind. She made herself perfectly clear on that front. I will be leaving with her on Friday, and I have no say in the matter."

Rachel still looks put-out, as if I've just told her I kicked her puppy. I stand and move to where she's still pacing on the choir room floor. I reach for her and she comes to a stop in front of me. I place my hands on her hips and bring her close.

"What's wrong?" I ask her.

"Nothing," she says petulantly, crossing her arms over her chest like a child.

I sigh. "Talk to me."

"I don't like it," she says. "I don't want you to be subjected to a Christmas where you'll be judged and you'll be uncomfortable. I want you to have a Christmas with people who aren't afraid to show how much they love you; people who want to spend all their time with you." She meets my gaze. "You're supposed to be spending it with me."

I'm sure she's saying a lot right now, but I get lost in the earnestness in her eyes. "I wish I was spending it with you as well."

She wraps her arms around my neck and holds me to her, as if she can somehow protect me from a full week of Judy Fabray, and Frannie and her husband, Doug Engelbrecht. Despite her motives, the hug definitely helps, and I feel a little more grounded when she pulls away and studies my face. "I just wish it wasn't so far away," she says. "At least, if they were coming here, you could escape to my house if it becomes too much. Where do you even go in Sacramento?"

"We'll have to do research," I say cutely, and she swats my arm.

"Why are you so okay with this?" she asks. "I don't know if you know this, Fabray, but you and I haven't been apart for more than two days since this whole thing started."

My gaze meets hers. "Rachel Berry?"

"Hmm?"

"It's okay to say you're going to miss me," I tease her. "Because I'm going to miss you too," I whisper.

She reaches up and kisses my cheek. She doesn't say anything, and I prefer it that way. We don't bring it up as the day goes on. Glee passes with little incident, which is a relief. Kurt and Blaine sing a lovely duet of Baby, It's Cold Outside, which has me grinning uncontrollably. Rachel reaches for my hand and interlaces our fingers. I like the fact that my hesitance for more hasn't stopped her from reaching out for me. We're almost to our new normal now, and I can feel myself giving in to everything.

For the first time in a while, Rachel doesn't offer to sing. "Don't tell me you didn't prepare something," I whisper to her.

"I'm not feeling very Christmassy," she admits, giving me a significant look that makes me swallow audibly. She clearly doesn't like the idea of my going with my mother to Sacramento. I've accepted it, and she's going to have to.

When Mr Schuester finally dismisses us, wishing us 'Merry Christmas,' and then sending us on our way, Rachel and I leave together. We have a plan. We're going to her house first, I'll change, and then we'll take her car to the mall, so we can do our Christmas shopping. I already ordered Rachel's present online, and paid the extra fee for it to arrive on Christmas Day. As far as she knows, I'm adhering to her Hanukkah wishes and getting her nothing, even though my gift could count as one of her eight gifts. I'm allowed to be nice now, because we're - we're whatever we are.

As terrifying and uncertain as it all is, one look at Rachel Berry and it's definitely worth it.


"How exhausted are you?"

I open one eye and peek at Santana, who's standing over me with her hands on her hips. I'm lying on my back on a blue mat after a gruelling practice. My one leg is bent at the knee, with the other one crossed over, with my arms spread out above me as I try to catch my breath. "I feel like I'm dying."

"Nobody told you to get sideswiped by a fucking locker," she says, dropping down next to my head and crossing her legs Indian style. "We both knew Coach was going to have something to say about your shiner, and of course it had to manifest in a hundred billion suicides."

I laugh breathily. "Do I still look badass?"

"You've never looked badass."

I roll my eyes before I close them and sigh. "Where's Britt?" I ask.

"Helping Adrienne," she says. "I'm not good with tears, as you know."

"I know."

She pinches my bicep. "How are you feeling about tomorrow?"

I open my eyes and look at her. "I feel as if everyone else is more worried than I am."

She raises her eyebrows. "Everyone?"

I know I'm blushing, but I don't look away. "I feel... happy, Santana."

"Imagine how you could feel when you finally get your shit together and kiss the girl," she says, smiling slightly.

"I'm working on it," I say, sitting up and mirroring her position. "I know I want this. I just - I guess I'm just scared."

"Of what?"

"Everything," I breathe.

Santana's features soften. "Whatever you're worried about, Q, I think you should just talk to her about it. Because you know as well as I do how much the midget loves to talk."

I just shake my head, smiling faintly. "I haven't said thank you," I say. "For all your help since... Finn. For being understanding about Rachel, and for giving me another home when the house I live in starts to overwhelm me with its emptiness."

"Whoa whoa, Fabray," she says, holding her hands up. "I'm not fucking ready for all your emotional shit. Stop that right now."

I laugh because Santana Lopez is my favourite person right now. I lift myself up and crawl towards her.

"No," she says, shaking her head. "Don't come at me like that! Don't you dare fucking hug me! Q! Q! You're all sweaty and nasty, and don't you touch me, Quinn Fabray!"

I ignore her as I wrap my arms around her. She falls over and I collapse on her, even as she fights me. "I love you, Santana," I say. "Accept my love. Accept it!"

"Never," she fights, but she's giggling, laughing.

I kiss her cheek and she squirms. "Say it back," I sing. "You know you want to!"

She's laughing so hard, and I'm laughing too, and I feel light and happy and good. And then heavy. I groan, and Santana sucks in a breath.

"Britt!" Santana huffs, clearly winded by the both of us lying on top of her. "Get off! I can't breathe!"

"Say it, San," Brittany says, laughing as well.

"No!"

"Say it," I sing. "Say what you want to say!"

"Okay, okay," she finally gives in, squirming beneath us. "Okay! I love you too! I love you too!"

I grin madly, kissing her one cheek, and Brittany kisses the other. When we roll off her and she breathes out, I feel as if my life is filling up with so much good for the first time in my life. I don't even feel anxious about how I've performed in my exams or about the fact that I'll be seeing Frannie for the first time in practically a year.

Santana pokes me in the ribs and laughs when I squeal. "Gosh, I hate you both," she murmurs, but her happy smile gives her away.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve

Rachel

be easy.
take your time.
you are coming home.
to yourself.


"I don't like it."

My Daddy glances over his shoulder at me, a sympathetic smile on his face. "I don't like it, either, Sweetheart, but it's what's happening and we're going to have to come to accept it somehow. Quinn is in Sacramento and there's nothing any of us can do about it."

I huff, sinking further into the backseat of the car as we continue on our way to Columbus to see Aunt Marianne for a Christmas Eve lunch. Quinn left yesterday and, even though I probably wouldn't be with her right now anyway, I can still feel her absence and it's put me in a foul mood. She's good with responding to texts, so that helps, but I miss her quite terribly.

I look at my phone when it buzzes in my hand.

Quinn: So. Guess who just schooled another family at Scrabble? I am the champion of the world!

I chuckle to myself, absently glancing out the window as the world passes by. I feel stuck in this moment; one where I'm with Quinn but I'm not. Somehow, it feels more profound that we're existing together, but in completely different states. I'm smiling when I reply.

Berry: And to think I didn't think you knew how to gloat. But, I suppose congratulations are in order, my Scrabble Stud! :P

Quinn: I'm not sure how I feel about the word 'Stud' :O

Berry: Even if I call you a beautiful stud?

Quinn: I'm pretty sure that's an oxymoron.

Berry: Well, okay, Miss Four-Point-Oh GPA, we're on HOLIDAY ;) I left my brain at school.

Quinn: What brain?

I gasp, and my Dad looks at me through the rearview mirror. I roll my eyes and say, "Quinn." He seems to understand though, which just makes me smile.

Berry: I'm going to ignore that because I miss you. Otherwise, how are things?

Quinn: They're not really talking to me all that much, which doesn't really bother me. I've got my Kindle and my books, and I have to prepare for when I get back with Flo. I also have choreography to work on, and I have this super amazing and talented best friend whom I have to impress with my singing chops when I get back.

I swallow, unsure how I feel about the fact her family is essentially ignoring her. She won't tell me explicitly, but I know better. I've learned to read between the lines when it comes to Quinn Fabray.

Quinn: Also, I'm thinking of getting a tattoo.

My mouth drops open. Wait. What?

Berry: Quinn? Are you serious?

Quinn: As a heart attack.

Berry: Why? Do you know where (on your body and possible registered and clean parlours)? Do you know what you want to get?

Quinn: I have this feeling. A kind of happiness I've never felt before. I've been thinking about it for a while, but it's never truly fit with the Fabray image; the image that's been stamped on me from long before the divorce. For the first time in my life, I'm enjoying it. I feel free, and I feel brave enough to do it.

I blink. She's said so much in that one text that I want to fly straight through the phone and wrap her in a hug.

Quinn: Do you hate the idea?

Berry: No!

Berry: Sorry, I'm just processing.

Quinn: It's okay if you're against it, Rachel. I want to know what you're really thinking.

I take a breath to gather my thoughts. What do I really think about the idea of my perfect Quinn marking her perfect body, permanently? It takes me a while to compose my message.

Berry: As much as I love that you value my opinion, this decision is entirely yours. Having said that, it's not that I'm against the idea. I just worry about its permanence, and about the kind of commitment it requires to choose something to have on your body forever. I think about your future, if the tattoo might affect job opportunities or make it difficult for you to be seen a certain way. I realise you've thought about this a lot, and I won't attempt to sway your decision any which way. I want you to be happy, Quinn. If this is what you want, I fully support you.

I have to physically restrain myself from telling her I love her. I'm not sure in which capacity I would be saying it, so I stop myself. It shouldn't be said via text anyway. I wait the longest time for a reply, even dozing off as the car rumbles on towards our destination.

Quinn: Your opinion is one of the only ones that matters to me, and I appreciate your honesty. Thank you.

Quinn: I'll keep you posted on what I decide.

We revert back to talking about simpler things. She keeps me occupied until we pull up to the nursing home, and I shoot off a quick text, letting her know I'll message her later. I pocket my phone and climb out of the car behind my dads. We've brought presents and a casserole for Aunt Marianne. She misses home-cooked food, and we're always more than willing to oblige. It is non-vegan, though.

Even though she's getting old, Aunt Marianne tries to jump up when she sees us. It doesn't matter that she has bad knees and a bad heart. She once sat me down and explained all her health problems - the woman takes about a billion different pills - which was the moment I realised that this amazing woman probably isn't going to live forever.

We meet her in the Games' Room, and move into a corner where we laugh and joke and tease and cry. It's lost on none of us that this is probably our last Christmas together. She asks me questions about school and Glee and about Quinn. I blush immediately, which makes her reach for my hand.

"Is she your girlfriend now?" she asks.

I duck my head. "I'm working on it."

"Please do," she says. "I really want to meet her. She sounds like a lovely young lady." Her words start my dads on and on about Quinn until I'm missing her something fierce, and I'm forced to excuse myself to the bathroom to text my favourite blonde. I love that my dads adore her so much, because they've always been wary of my past romantic entanglements. I mean, Jesse.

Berry: My Aunt Marianne hasn't even met you, but she already loves you. My dads are literally gushing about you as I text you.

Her reply is instant.

Quinn: I hope good things. Give her my regards, will you? :)

Berry: I will :) Only good things - is there anything else?

Quinn: I know you're busy with your family and this isn't the right time, but I always wonder what you see when you look at me. I haven't always been good to you, Rachel, and I always worry that you forget that.

I take a breath. I'm not surprised she's brought it up because I've sometimes got the feeling she worries about this most of all. Especially after my blowup after the song she sang for my birthday. I really wish I could go back to that day and slap myself silly before I even started to attack her insecurities about our friendship.

Berry: Don't take this the wrong way, Quinn, but I am under no illusions you're perfect. I'm not either. We're both works in progress and that takes time. I haven't forgotten. There are things you do that remind me of that time but I recognise your efforts to be better. I think the happier you are, the less you use your past to keep you from it. Does that make sense?

Quinn: What are you talking about? I'm perfect! Just kidding.

Quinn: I don't want you to forget. I need you to hold me accountable, because I never want to go back to a point in my life when I hurt people - especially you - for sport. I don't want to be so out of touch with myself again. I want to stay better, and I'm going to need you, so please don't forget. And, yes, it makes sense. I've been thinking about it a lot. I've spent too much time dwelling on my past mistakes to allow myself to BE happy, but I'm getting there. I'm almost ready for it.

Quinn: I'm almost ready for you.

And now I've died and gone to heaven. Just what is this girl trying to do to me?

Quinn: Still there?

Berry: I need a minute. I died a little.

Quinn: Sorry.

Berry: Can I call you when I get home and we can talk?

Quinn: Sure. Enjoy your day and drive safely. X

I can barely focus on anything else as I return to my dads and Aunt Marianne. Quinn is almost ready. Does she have any idea what that means? Does she understand? We're definitely going to have to have a long talk about this to make sure we're both on the same page about what more entails. Because, frankly, not even I know.

After we have lunch, the nursing home invites us to play a game with them, which just makes me fall even more in love with old people. We each get given a foam baton and are told to find a seat at the long conference table. Well, my dads sit out but Aunt Marianne drags me with her and we settle in chairs right next to each other.

"What's going on?" I ask.

She just shushes me.

One of the nurses comes into the conference room with three blow-up balloons, and I frown. What on earth is happening right now? I just listen as the nurse explains the rules, which is basically just 'keep the balloons over the table with the foam batons.' It sounds ridiculous at first but then we get started and... old people are so competitive. It's good fun though, and Aunt Marianne is kind of a beast with that foam baton. I didn't realise how much aggression she was holding inside. I'm vaguely aware of my Dad filming the carnage but I'm a little too lost in the fun to care.

Though, I do care when I learn he sent the video to Quinn when we're on the way home. And, really, my blonde friend is relentless, which is why I'm ignoring her.

Quinn: Easy there, superstar. Don't want to strain a muscle.

Quinn: The red balloon. It's coming for you.

Quinn: That guy in the red sweater vest looked like real competition. Good thing you took him out.

Quinn: Wow. You really know how to work that foam baton. How does a person get in on that action?

It goes on and on the entire trip home, and I can't even stay mad at my Dad. Or Quinn, for that matter, because I burst out laughing more often than not. She merely cements her position as my favourite person (who isn't family) in the world. Objectively and rationally, I acknowledge how crazy all of this is. It's barely been a week since I freaked out about liking her, and now I'm convinced there is nobody else for me.

Believe me, it's as crazy as it sounds.

I've had two relationships in my high school career - not that I think I'm in a relationship with Quinn right now - and neither ended well. First, well, officially, there was Jesse, who wasn't who he claimed to be. It's fine. The years past have softened the blow of his deception, and my occasional call from Shelby isn't the worst thing in the world. I still get a little angry thinking about the eggs, but I've been able to acknowledge the pressures of show choir and of high school. He's been forgiven, but definitely not forgotten. He can be a real asshole sometimes, and he's tried to get back together with me several times. I considered it once, but then no. It didn't help my case when I took him to prom my junior year.

And then there was Noah Puckerman. Obviously, that was ill-timed and ill-fated. It came about just after Finn and Quinn broke up the first time, and then got back together a day later. Honestly, and after extensive soul-searching, I can't find a true explanation for the way I went off the rails the way I did. True, it lasted only a week. I let him kiss me, even horizontal, but he lost interest when he realised he wasn't going to get further than touching my breasts. High school boys have short attention spans, apparently.

Since then, it's been casual dates. Single dates, really. Only once did it become two, but then he proved to be a douchebag, and I threw my water in his face. As a person who's convinced I wear my heart on my sleeve, I do keep my cards close to my chest, waiting and watching for when my one true love is going to enter my life.

I never imagined she would come in bawling her eyes out over someone else.

Okay, so I've known Quinn for a while. Since we were freshmen. Though, I wouldn't go as far as to say I knew her back then. Quinn was, for all intents and purposes, a supreme bitch back then. I recognise the pressure she placed on herself trying to fit into the mould she believed was required to survive and make her parents happy. I also recognise the way that person she was has grown into this person whose very name just lighting up on my phone threatens to send me into full cardiac arrest. Which is why this is all a very big deal.

It's quite late when we get home, and my fingers are itching. I haven't texted Quinn back. I told her I would call, and that's what I'm going to do. We have things to talk about and I know, if I start texting her back, I'll probably lose my thunder. So, I go about the evening trying to formulate the words I'm going to say to Quinn. When I do finally call it a night, I've come up with nothing.

Still, I just want to hear her voice.

"Hello?" she says after three rings, and I automatically smile. It's always a different kind of experience talking to Quinn on the phone. Being in her presence can be overwhelming, and I like the idea that Quinn sounds like a completely normal person on the phone - with a melodic, almost velvet voice, and a gentle, heart-stopping laugh. So, completely normal.

"Hey, you," I return, breathing out.

"Did you get home all right?"

"We did," I assure her. "I'm just crawling into my bed, which is cold and empty without you."

"Use your imagination."

I sigh, just thinking about the slight smirk on her face. Smile number two, I think. "What are you doing?"

"We just had dinner, so I'm now reading in the den," she says. "Did you know there are actual ways not to bring up your kid sister's baby that was given up for adoption, and my sister doesn't know any of them?"

"Oh, no," I say. "What did she do?"

"Blatantly asked about Beth."

"Why would she do that?"

"Apparently, she and her husband, Doug, are thinking of starting a family."

"Oh."

She hums.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine."

I wait patiently.

"Okay, so I'm not fine," she finally says. "It gets to me during the holiday season mostly, and around her birthday. I always ask myself if I did the right thing. Finn usually assures me that we made the best decision for her and for us, but - " she stops. "It's hard, sometimes."

I take a breath. "I know you don't actually need reassurance, Quinn. Deep in your heart, you know you did what was best, and you don't need to hear the words from anyone other than yourself. The decision you made will forever be a profound one and, of course, you're going to question it every chance you get, but you know your own truth far better than Finn or I ever could."

She's quiet for a long moment, and all I hear is her steady breathing. "Rachel?"

"Hmm?"

"Thank you," she says. "I shudder to think what I'd do without in my life."

I close my eyes and enjoy the way those words make me feel. "So, you said a few things," I start.

"I said a lot of things - you'll have to be more specific."

"Quinn?"

"Are we talking about the tattoo?" she asks, and she sounds genuinely curious.

"No, we're talking about the fact that you believe you're almost ready," I say pointedly, and her breath hitches. Seriously, did she really think I'd want to discuss anything else when that topic was now on the table?

"Oh." Then: "Should I start?"

"Please."

"I should warn you now, Rachel, that I'm scheduled for a complete freakout," she says, and she sounds very calm. "As much as I want this, and I do, I know there's a part of me that's going to try to sabotage it. It's just who I am and I'm powerless to stop it. So, when it happens, I may say and do things that contradict everything I want to say and do, but I assure you I will come to my senses. I'll run, Rachel, but I'll come back. You're a girl you come back for."

I don't even know what to say to that.

"I'm apologising beforehand, and asking you to be patient with me."

When she's silent for a beat too long, I realise she expects me to respond. "I'll try," I say.

"That's all I can ask for," she says. "Now, what I really want to say while I'm thinking clearly and not panicking at the last hurdle of my readiness is that you are very important to me, Rachel. Your friendship is important, and it's the most important part here, regardless of what happens. I want this to work, but I'm under no illusions it's going to be easy. I'm a difficult person to deal with already and, as you might know, I tend to lose myself a little in relationships, but I want this. It's what my heart wants, and I have to get my head to catch up."

She's saying everything and nothing at the same time.

"I want to be able to go out on a date with you," she says, and I gasp softly. "I want to be able to hold your hand whenever I want to; to be able to look at you unabashedly because I'm allowed to, and you're just so beautiful, really. I want to be able to touch you, kiss you, hold you, breathe you in."

And now I've forgotten how to breathe.

"These are all things I want, and I'm asking you if you would want them too?" A pause. "When I'm ready?"

"Yes," I breathe.

"Yes?"

"I want all of it too, Quinn. This, and you."

She lets out a sigh of relief. "I want to say you won't regret it, but you probably will at some point."

I laugh out loud. "I try to live a life without regrets, Fabray."

"And how is that working out for you?"

"Well, it's this close to getting me you, so I think it's working out quite well," I tell her, and am met with such a long silence, I think the call has dropped. "Quinn?"

"I'm here," she rushes. "Just died a little."

I yawn.

"Long day, huh?"

"Mmhmm."

She breathes out. "You should probably get some sleep."

I hum in acknowledgement as I reach out to switch off my lampshade and roll over onto my side to stare at the empty side of my bed: Quinn's side. "Will you stay on the line?" I whisper.

"As if you even have to ask."


As far are Christmases go, this one is very low-key. Even though my Daddy was raised in a Christian home - he and Quinn have had a few conversations about it - he doesn't actively practice anymore. That said, he doesn't truly practice Judaism either. He does, however, enjoy his gospel music, which is definitely understandable. Gospel music has the potential to be amazing when done well. I once went with Mercedes to her church, and their choir knocked my socks right off. I think it's the emotion of the music that truly makes it special.

So, truly, it's a normal Sunday. I imagine Quinn is at church. She mentioned something about Midnight Mass, which I'll admit I found a little horrifying, but hey. My (future) girl is religious and I'm going to respect that. So, it's a normal day until it isn't. When the doorbell rings, my dads exchange a look. We're not expecting anyone.

My Daddy is the one to get the door, and he returns to the living room with a rather large cardboard box... for me. I don't know why but I immediately know it's from Quinn and I bristle slightly. The last present she gave me resulted in the almost-end of our friendship.

"Are you going to open it?" my Daddy asks me and, admittedly, I'm tempted not to. I want Quinn to be here. I want her sitting right next to me.

My Dad grins widely at me, scooting forward on the couch so he has a better view. "Oh, please do. I want to see."

My phone is upstairs, which is a good thing because the temptation to talk to her is already too much. When I shift towards the box on the coffee table, my Daddy hands me his keys so I can cut the sellotape. I feel jittery, for some reason. Quinn planned this, and I feel myself falling deeper and deeper. I'm practically sinking, powerless to stop it. I make quick work of the tape, only to reveal another box. There's a small note attached to it. It's printed.

Rachel Berry,

Even though it IS Christmas today, HAPPY HANUKKAH!
And, seeing as my previous present turned into such a disaster, I thought I'd try again.
I blatantly ignored your rules. I bought this with my hard-earned money (from the allowance Russell is required to give me.)
I hope you like it almost as much as I like you.
I miss you.

- Q

Okay, so, maybe I swoon a little. A lot. I clutch the note to my chest and close my eyes. I'll admit I'm not looking forward to Quinn's predicted freakout, but I'm definitely eager for the after. If this is anything to go by, Quinn will be good at this part.

"What is it?" my Dad asks.

At the sound of that, I open the second box to reveal a third one. Only, it's clear to see exactly what this third one is, and I gasp at the sight. It's a vinyl record player. A top of the line vinyl record player, and it practically blinds me. I blink, unsure if I'm seeing correctly.

My Daddy peers in the box, and then lets out a long, appreciative whistle.

I pull out the box and, below it, I find a pile of records. Sweet Jesus. I don't even know what to say right now, and I'm frozen in place as I eye the soundtracks to various broadway musicals. I almost burst out crying when my fingers find the original cast performance of Wicked. Okay.

Okay.

I'm okay. Everything is okay.

I sit back slowly, trying to keep a handle on my emotions. "Dads," I say calmly, letting out a breath in the process. I will not pass out. "I believe it is highly probable that I am, in fact, in love with Quinn Fabray."


When I spot Quinn, I practically fling myself at her, wrapping my arms around her neck and squeezing her tight. I have this almost unstoppable urge to kiss her but I just manage to reign it in and bury my face in her wonderfully-smelling neck and just breathe her in. I feel her arms wrap around my waist. I'm so glad she's back, and I'm unafraid to tell her. She's smiling widely when she releases me, and I get a lingering kiss to my cheek that makes me flush immediately.

"I'm glad I'm back too," she says.

I drag her up to my bedroom and hug her again. Of course, I've gushed and cried over the present over the phone, but she's here now and she's going to listen to me. Which she does. She lies on my bed, fingers casually threaded behind her head as she watches me with an amused smile on her face. She's tracking my movements with her eyes and I'm heating up as I speak. When I'm done with my rant, I go into my closet to fetch her present.

"It's nothing as special as yours," I tell her as I pad towards where she's now sitting up on my bed.

"It's from you," she says; "it's special enough."

I sit down next to her, much closer than normal. "Merry Christmas, Quinn Fabray," I whisper.

She takes the present from me, her gaze on mine. "Thank you, Rachel Berry."

I wait patiently as she peels away the wrapper and reveals the plaque. I watch the moment her eyes take it all in and widen. The plaque consists of two things: a framed print of our mutual favourite picture from our first night in her kitchen, and a best friend contract. She glances at me for a moment before her gaze drops again, to read.

 

REALISTIC BEST FRIEND CONTRACT

1. I promise we will make crazy, fun, stupid, potentially dangerous and wonderful memories together.

2. I promise not only to KNOW all your best stories, but to be there to LIVE them with you.

3. I promise to laugh through all my days with you - and AT you.

4. I promise that if you'll do it, I will too.

5. I promise to pretend not to know you, only sometimes, particularly when you get all crazy.

6. I promise to sing a duet with you at least once a month. (Fine, it can be behind closed doors.)

7. I promise to help you hide the body if - when - you do commit murder. (It's only a matter of time, let's be serious.)

8. I promise to take care of you when you're sad, injured or feeling lonely.

9. I promise to feed you when the foodie in you comes out to play.

10. I promise not to make you rap for Glee ever again.

11. I promise to give you a hug whenever you want one.

12. I promise to have discussions about Harry Potter, DAILY.

13. I promise to tell you the truth, always.

14. I promise, no matter what happens, we will always be best friends.

 

I hereby agree to these conditions.

Rachel Berry: ..............    Quinn Fabray: ...............

 

I take a breath when it's obvious she's reached the end. "Do you like it?" I ask stupidly, nervously.

She looks at me for a beat before she grabs hold of the front of my sweater and pulls me onto - into - her. I collapse on her, probably winding her. "I love it," she murmurs.

"We have to sign it," I tell her, sounding breathless. We're pressed together in so many places and it's making me feel a little dizzy. I don't even know where to put my hands.

"And we will," she says; "but I have to tell you something first. Because we tell the truth and all that."

I swallow. "What is it?"

Her gaze meet mine. "I got the tattoo."

I think I react the right way. I mean, I do gasp, and then I scramble back as if I can figure out where the tattoo is just by looking at her. "Where is it? Can I see? What is it?"

She raises an eyebrow, and then smiles mischievously. That's number eight. "I could tell you," she says coyly, and my heart is about to pump right out of my chest. "But, really, you wait a little while and I'll show you."

Good God.


Quinn and I spend practically every day of the rest of the Break together. All day. She stays over some nights - not all - and I'm finally able to witness a proper Quinn Fabray sleep-in. She's always been an early-riser, so the first day she stays asleep past eleven o'clock is kind of a big deal for me. She's so cute when she sleeps, all childlike and innocent. She also looks perfect in slumber, which isn't fair at all. It would help if she drooled or something equally drastic, but no.

When she visits Santana and Brittany; I see Kurt, and Mercedes and Tina. We exchange gifts and family horror stories. They, thankfully, don't ask me much about Quinn and I try my best not to talk about her as much as I desperately want to. I want to gush but I don't want people to get the wrong idea about us... when it would be the right idea. Nobody is ready for that. Not even me.

Quinn seems present, yes, but I can tell she's different. It's her mother; her family, and I don't know how to approach the topic without her closing up. I know it's bothering her because I can smell the alcohol and cigarette smoke on her breath whenever she gets back from Santana's house. She hasn't asked me the question again about whether her mother loves her, and I still don't have an answer to that.

There's one night she gets back, her eyes unfocused and bleary, that I take her up to my room, wrap her in my arms and let her cry. I don't even know how she knows this is the moment to let go and let me into this part of her life she's trying to hide, but she does.

"I think we have to add an amendment to our best friend contract," I whisper into her hair, my hands sliding over her back. "Number fifteen: I promise not to hide anything from you."

She says nothing.

"Quinn?"

Her face is buried in the crook of my neck and she breathes out. "I'm terrified of sharks," she says.

I frown. "Oh?"

"I've never seen one in real life, but I'm so scared of them."

I'm so confused.

"When I was little, I had this truly irrational fear that they were living in the deep end of our pool. I never liked to swim because of it, but my sister used to coax me into the water with her, assuring me that I would be safe. She used to tell me she would protect me from them; she would fight them off because she was my big sister and that's what big sisters do."

I don't know what to say, but oh.

"I can't imagine Frannie doing anything that would make me disown her the way she's done with me," she says against me skin, and I squirm. "She's so much of Russell's daughter, and I don't know how we're ever supposed to recover. Fuck, Rachel, I don't even know if I want to fix our relationship."

I kiss her hair repeatedly, trying and failing to make her feel better. Quinn just holds onto me, and I vow to say and do what I can to get her through this - whatever this is.


In all intents and purposes, Quinn recovers from her breakdown rather quickly. The next morning, she's as good as new: present and guarded in a way. She has breakfast with me and my dads, and then she goes home. We're supposed to be going to Puck's New Year's Eve party tonight and I just think she wants to spend some time alone. I give it to her; the space and the silence. It's hard because all I want to do is go to her and just hold her.

Quinn's text arrives after lunch. I imagine she's had a nap and a shower, and possibly something to eat. When my phone buzzes and I spy her name, I excuse myself and go up to my bedroom to deal with this. I put on some music, lie down on my bed and give Quinn my undivided attention.

Quinn: I'm sorry about last night, Rachel. It won't happen again.

I sigh. I don't know if I would consider this part of her impending freakout because it doesn't have all that much to do with me. Regardless, she is still my best friend, and I vowed to help, whatever she needs.

Berry: What won't happen again, Quinn?

Quinn: I don't know. All of it.

Quinn: Aren't you just tired of having to deal with my fucked up life?

Quinn: Because I am.

My thumbs hover over my keypad.

Berry: I'm your best friend. It comes with the territory. I'll carry the burden if you need to take a breather.

Quinn: STOP BEING SO DAMN NICE!

Quinn: I don't know what I'm supposed to do! How do I make it better? I don't want to feel so fucking lost and confused anymore.

Tears spring to my eyes and I can just imagine her sitting alone in her house, going through all of this and thinking she's undeserving of the care my family gives her. It amazes me that her own flesh and blood can't recognise how stupidly amazing she is.

Berry: I don't know how else to be, Quinn. 'Nice' is my default setting, so please don't yell at me. I'm just trying to help. Let me help.

Quinn: I'm sorry. You're right. I'm so sorry.

My heart is aching.

Berry: Can I come to you? I want to see you. I want to hold you.

The wait is torturous. And then -

Quinn: Door's open.

I fly up so quickly, I almost trip over myself. I rush to my closet, throw on some decent clothes, grab my keys and purse and then practically sprint out of the house, shouting something over my shoulder to my dads. I'm in my car before I know it, and on my way to the Fabray house with one thing on my mind: seeing Quinn.

As she said, the door is open and I go straight up to her bedroom. I don't bother to knock as I push open the door to find Quinn sitting on the floor, her back pressed against her bookshelf. Her head is tilted back, eyes closed and cheeks wet. Her knees are bent upwards, her arms resting on them and her phone in one hand. It's a heartbreaking sight and I rush to kneel in front of her. Well, I spread her legs a little and shift closer, my hands on her thighs.

I love you.

I want to tell her, but I can't. Not today. Not like this.

When Quinn opens her eyes, they're bloodshot and heavy with the pain she's holding deep inside. "You're here," she whispers.

"I'll always be here, Quinn," I assure her.

"I'm a mess."

"You're a beautiful mess," I tell her. "And you're mine."


After a quick nap, Quinn starts to get ready while I search through her closet for clothes for her - maybe me too - to wear. It's cold out, so I pick out the tightest jeans I've ever seen. They're dark and just the sight of them makes my breathing hitch. I heat up quite quickly and have to go downstairs to get some iced water. Her house is supposed to be empty, so I practically yelp when I encounter Quinn's mother on the landing. I suspect she can hear Quinn's shower running, and see my flushed appearance. Well.

"Rachel," she says.

"Evening, Mrs Fabray," I say.

And then she's gone, headed down the passage, and disappears into a room. I don't know what she's thinking right now, but I'm too exhausted to worry about that. Quinn and I have a party to attend, and I just want her to have a good night. I want her to enjoy herself; to forget. And, for the time being, I can't do that for her.

When Quinn is ready and looking, well, dangerous; we go to my house so I can get ready. My Daddy lets out a wolf whistle at the sight of her, and my Dad hits him over the head. Inappropriate, LeRoy. Quinn blushes, but, really, she looks so amazing, it's not even fair. Is it always going to be like this?

Probably. Definitely.

Quinn spends some time downloading new music for me while I shower and get dressed. I can feel her eyes on me from time to time but she says nothing. She helps me with my makeup. It's smoky, which somehow matches her understated colours. I don't know how and I don't know why, but I get the feeling it's done on purpose. Because, she might be mine, and I'm definitely hers.

I think I've belonged to her since I discovered her on my sidewalk. I haven't belonged to myself since.

When we get to the party - she's unafraid for us to arrive together - Quinn's forced smile slips onto her face as she does the rounds. I find Kurt and Mercedes and try not to freak out whenever I lose sight of my blonde. We chat and we drink and we dance, and I forget as much as I think I can.

Quinn is moving from room to room, smiling and laughing. Her smile has morphed into something more genuine, which is a relief, and I'm not the only one who's watching and taking note. She laughs freely with Santana and constantly hugs Brittany. She's lighter somehow, and it's different to how people normally see her. It makes me fall in love with her just that little bit more.

And then, well, there's Finn, who keeps looking at Quinn with such sad, somewhat surprised eyes that it's even starting to irritate me. I have a high threshold for these things but apparently spending all this time with the Unholy Trinity has made me less patient when it comes to people and the things they do. I suppose the good thing is that, if Quinn notices, she doesn't show it. She's just here to hang out with her friends, drink a little, play party games and... constantly glance my way and make me heat up. It's actually quite rude of her.

She's almost ready. She's almost ready. She's almost ready.

It's honestly all I can think about.

So, really, contending with Finn is fine. But, the thing is that Quinn Fabray is on the market and nearly every boy is looking, fishing, and hoping to hook the gorgeous Head Cheerleader. To her credit, she's aloof at best, barely giving any of them the time of day. Santana is having a field day watching Quinn rebuff every approach. It seems the boys are braver tonight - perhaps because they believe enough time has passed since the breakup or the alcohol consumed has given them liquid courage. And still, Finn watches. It's surprising any other boys even decide to approach her when Finn's eyes are on them the entire time.

At some point, Quinn comes over to me and sits down on the armrest just to my left. She hands me a drink, which I take from her without hesitation and take a tentative sip. It tastes a little sweet, and I tell her. She leans in nice and close and I can smell that same sweetness in her breath. "Don't you like it?" she asks huskily, and I squirm in my seat. Does she know? Does she know just what she's doing to me?

I don't even know what to respond to her, as distracted as I am by how close her lips are to mine. "I like you," I finally manage to say.

She tips forward and her lips brush against the shell of my ear. "I want you."

I shiver. This is going to be a long night.

She pulls back with a grin and I almost lose the battle and kiss her. I don't, though. Not here. Not like this. Maybe she notices because her eyes flick down to my lips for a moment. I recognise the motion and I realise, belatedly, that Quinn's wanted to kiss me for a lot longer than I've known I wanted to kiss her. My mouth drops open in surprise, and I'm about say something when a sudden voice startles us both.

"Q!" Santana shouts, and all eyes turn to her. "We're taking on Mike and Artie next round. The fuckers are going down!"

Quinn just smiles at me as she slips off the armrest and stands. "See you at midnight?" she asks.

I nod.

"Are you ready?" she asks.

"Are you?"

Her eyes glaze over for a moment. "I don't know." And then she walks away.

I need her to be ready before any of this starts. She has to be sure before my lips go anywhere near hers, because there's no going back from that. Once it happens, it happens, and we'll have to deal with it.

Which is why, when midnight does roll around, I stay in the kitchen and watch the fireworks go off through the wide window. I can see Quinn standing outside, boys hovering around her as if they expect her to turn, grab for one of them and kiss them senseless. She doesn't. Instead, she's sandwiched between Santana and Brittany. They each kiss Quinn's cheek at midnight, before they kiss each other.

Quinn glances over her shoulder at me, as if she knows exactly where I've been the entire time. She winks at me.

I die a little, raise my cup in greeting, and wink back.

Welcome to the new year, people.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen

Quinn

in our own ways we all break.
it is okay to hold your heart outside of your body for days.
months. years. at a time.


When I was little, my favourite hymn was Amazing Grace. There was just something so spirited about it; the kind of song in which you can lose yourself. At church, people used to get really into it, feeling it, and it always fascinated me how a song could make a person feel so much life and emotion and love. It helped me believe; helped me keep my faith.

Which I lost for a little while. In my anger, I lost my way. Anger at myself for getting pregnant at fifteen. Anger at Finn for getting me pregnant at fifteen. Anger at my parents for kicking me out of my house. Anger at my sister for agreeing with my parents. And anger at the growing child inside of me.

It's the one thing I'm most ashamed of. This poor, innocent life that my body is supposed to protect, and I hated it so much. I hated her. In the beginning, sometimes during, and then again at the end. Because, by the time the end did come, I loved her so much that giving her away nearly broke me. Finn was there. He was there for all of it, holding me and loving me despite my loss of faith; my loss of myself.

And then I built myself up again, both inside and out. It was hard work, losing the baby fat and reclaiming my spot at the top of the Cheerios' pyramid. It was even harder coming to terms with my feelings towards Beth, towards her adoptive parents in Cleveland, and towards myself. Where Finn fit into all of that, I didn't yet know. It took me months to come to terms with my decision in a spiritual way. My Reverend assured me that accepting my decision to put Beth's love, life and happiness above my own is one of the truest signs of a return of faith.

My return to church was monumental for me, and for others, I suppose. Churchgoers can be catty. Housewives who just have too much time on their hands. They shunned me, along with my parents, for giving birth to a beautiful baby girl when they've probably hidden far worse secrets behind their closed doors. It took me three weeks after my return to realise that Amazing Grace was no longer my favourite hymn.

Today, it's How Great Thou Art. I think it's more to do with the musicality of it. There's a version of it sung by Carrie Underwood that stills my soul and makes me hope and believe. It's the calmness of what's inside of me that allows me to ignore the looks as I sit in my pew and listen and absorb. It's that same settled emotion that allows me to ignore the whispers that haven't subsided in all this time.

It's also this same calm that makes me terrified of what happens if and when all these supposed God-fearing people learn that the last person I think about when I go to bed at night is Rachel Berry. That I imagine what it feels like to hold her hand as we walk down the streets. That I think about being able to kiss her and touch her and love her. That I want nothing more than to make her as happy as she makes me without even trying.

I think about these things and, of course, I worry about them. The Fabray in me won't allow me not to at least think about appearances. I'm tempted to wait. I want to wait; to hide and pretend this isn't happening. We can leave Lima, Rachel and I. We can go somewhere far away from this place, where people don't know us and won't judge us. But I'm impatient. So. Very. Impatient.

I want her. I want everything about her, and I'm terrified of it. I've been in a position similar to this one... with Finn. I can feel myself losing myself in Rachel. I can feel all my walls as they crumble and allow her to see what's behind them. I feel it all and it's terrifying. She terrifies me.

The new year brings with it a certain clarity. Rachel is so patient with me, which makes me feel even guiltier for taking so long to be ready. We talk a lot. She doesn't allow me to shy away from what I'm feeling, about her and about my family. She makes me talk to her about my sister, which is easier to talk about than it is to talk about my mother. I call her my roommate, sometimes. We just live in the same house, going days without talking or even seeing each other.

Until that Thursday.

We're back at school, which means I'm just getting home from Cheerios' practice when the freakout I predicted begins. I mean, even if I know it's happening, I just can't stop it. I don't know how and I don't know if I can. It's late. Coach Sylvester kept me and Brittany well after practice to work on choreography for our routine for Regionals. I'm exhausted, which is what I'm telling Rachel over the phone as I walk through the front door. I have my phone perched between my ear and shoulder as I balance my bags and struggle to get my key back out of the front door.

"I'll be fine, Rachel," I say, slightly distracted. "I have food... somewhere."

"I don't like it."

I let out a tired breath, my back clicking. "There's leftover pasta from last night," I tell her as I deposit my bags at the bottom of the stairs. "LeRoy sent me home with some, remember?"

"Do you want me to come over?"

"I always want you to come over," I say; "but it's late now and I'm exhausted and I doubt I'll be good company."

"But you're always good company, even if you're grumpy and irritable," she says, giggling softly.

"Thank you?" I question, moving towards the kitchen to fix myself something to eat. There are leftovers but I had some for breakfast, which means it won't be a very filling dinner. And, after all the calories I just burned running endless laps for Coach Sylvester, I'm going to have to replenish them somehow. I start with a Vitamin Water.

"You're very welcome, Miss Fabray."

I sip at my drink as I search the fridge. "So, how was your afternoon?" I ask.

"Long," she answers. "Dance class and vocal lessons. You'll also be proud to know that I've finished my homework."

"I am so proud," I deadpan, taking out LeRoy's food container and a cucumber. I suddenly feel like eating some cucumber sticks, which, realistically, doesn't give me that many calories but I'll worry about that later.

"As you should be," she says. "I worked really hard today."

I laugh lightly, feeling the tension in my body begin to dissipate.

"Which was mainly because I wanted to give you my undivided attention when you got here."

"Ooh, passive aggressive much?"

"It's not my fault you're so easy to miss, Quinn."

I smile. "Well, if it makes you feel better, I miss you too," I tell her. "Even though I saw you literally six hours ago."

"It feels like forever."

I startle at the sound of footsteps, and almost drop my phone. Jesus. I clutch at my heart and bring the phone back to my ear, just as my mother walks into the kitchen. She looks determined... to talk to me. I sigh.

"Hey, Rach?" I say into the phone.

"Hmm?"

"I've got to run," I say. "Text you later?"

"I'll be waiting."

"Bye, you," I say, a little breathless, and then I hang up and look to my mother, expectantly. "Hello," I say tensely.

"Hello," she returns, arching an eyebrow at the state of my dinner. Whatever. Why isn't she making sure I'm eating properly? She's the parent here. It shouldn't matter that I'm just under a month away from turning eighteen. "You're home," she says.

I wait a beat. "I am, yes. Is that a problem?" I don't know why I add the question. Maybe I'm just desperate to have her engage with me. I just, I want her to talk to me; acknowledge that I exist in this house; in this life in which she's determined to sweep my disappointments under the rug.

"No," she says, moving to lean against the kitchen island and crossing her arms over her chest. "I'm just surprised, that's all."

I want to frown but I don't. "Why?"

"Aren't you always over at the Berry house?"

Again, I choose not to react. "I didn't think you cared."

Her jaw clenches.

"Or noticed," I add, somewhat petulantly.

Her eyes narrow. "I do notice," she says; "and of course I care. Somebody in this house has to."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

She steps forward. "What do you think this all looks like?" she asks, menacingly. "My daughter, parading around this damn town with the daughter of those sinners!" she spits. "You don't think they see you with her? You don't think they talk about you? What would God think?"

I remain silent. Those things don't bother me. Not anymore.

And then. "What would your father think?"

I growl. "Like I care what he thinks!" I hiss.

She moves closer. "Oh, I think you do," she says. "I think you care about what everyone thinks, and they're talking. Every day, they're talking about you and that Jewish girlfriend of yours."

"We're just friends," I find myself saying.

"Does it matter?" she snaps back, and I flinch. "People talk! They don't care about semantics! Haven't you done enough to disgrace this family?"

I feel as if I've been slapped. Beth is not a disgrace! "This family? Don't even pretend that this farce is a family! Just admit it, you can't stand me! You can't stand the idea that I've found actual people who actually care about me, regardless of their sexual orientation. I can't even believe you."

"No, I can't believe you!" she yells, and it's the most emotion I've seen out of her since I told her about the breakup with Finn. "You think you're all high and mighty because you attend church every Sunday! You think God forgives you? When you're parading around this town with that girl like you're some kind of - "

"Some kind of what?" I shout. "What? Use your words, Mrs Fabray," I taunt. "You've clearly wanted to say this for a while, so, go ahead. Let's have at it. Tell me how much of a fucking disappointment I've been! I'm all ears!"

"Watch your language, young lady," she says tensely. "You're just a child. You know nothing."

"I'm considerably older than that time you kicked a child out of your house," I hiss back.

"Then you'll know that you're never too young for it," she says, smiling harshly. "Keep this up, and you'll lose everything. Believe me. I know what it feels like to have nothing."

The floor is ripped right out from under me, and my face falls.

She looks pleased for some reason, and then she spins on her heel and disappears from the kitchen. Mission accomplished then.

I feel hollow.

I'm also no longer hungry.

I switch to autopilot as I return the food to the fridge and head upstairs. I take a long, hot shower in an attempt to numb my body as much as my brain. I don't quite know what I'm feeling, even as the words we exchanged ping around in my head, just messing with all my progress. It's amazing, really, how much Judy Fabray can affect me. She said she has nothing. Nothing.

Not even me.

I suddenly reach for my phone and compose a message to Rachel. If I can't say the words out loud, maybe I can type them.

Quinn: I hate her. I hate her so much.

Her reply is instant.

Berry: What happened?

Quinn: I'll tell you tomorrow, R. I'm going to bed. Goodnight. X

Berry: Try not to let her get to you, okay? Goodnight, Quinn :*


My mood is considerably worse in the morning. I'm just a whirlwind of emotions I don't understand, and I just know this entire day is going to be complete and utter shit. Every second that goes past makes me angrier and more confused. I don't want my mother to have this kind of effect on me but she does. She does, and I'm powerless. She knows how to get to me. She knows which buttons to push and exactly how to get under my skin.

It's the first time my full-blown HBIC glare is worn when I get to school for a while. I'm late enough that I can avoid having to go to Rachel's locker, which is a good thing, because I don't know what I'll end up saying to her if I do see her. People literally part for me as I walk through the corridor, some of them surprised and others slightly terrified. I haven't felt this out of sorts since -

Just, since.

I sit quietly in the corner during homeroom. Nobody dares to approach me. In AP Stats, Santana can feel the tornado just waiting to be unleashed, which means that, beyond a simple greeting, she says nothing else to me. I'm aware of my phone buzzing - probably, definitely Rachel - but I ignore it and her. I can't handle this today. I can't handle the way my mother spoke about her or our relationship. It's not wrong, and I shouldn't care what she thinks, but I do. In some irrational, painful way that I haven't been able to come to terms with; I still want to please her. I don't want to disappoint her. I just want her acceptance; her love.

Dating a girl will probably go beyond disappointment. Being with her, loving her, choosing her. Because that's it, isn't it? Even though my mother wasn't explicit about the threat of it, if I do pursue this thing with Rachel, I lose my family... again. And there's no coming back from this. Nine months won't change anything this time. I won't be able to just get rid of the evidence of my indiscretion and return home as if nothing happened. Rachel won't ever be a thing that gets swept under the rug.

Rachel or My Family.

That's the truth, and I turn it over and over in my head as I get through my lessons in complete silence. Even my teachers don't try to engage me in conversation. My facial expression is enough to let them know I'm in no mood for talking. The thoughts plague me. Rachel or My Family. It should be easy, I know. It should be simple. Except, I already know what it's like to be homeless. I know what it's like to have nothing and nobody and, as horrible as my living conditions currently are, I don't want to have nothing again.

But Rachel.

Rachel or My Family.

By lunch, my shoulders are so tense, they're starting to ache. My entire body is taut, and I'm ready to lash out. Somebody's going to get it, and I'm making a list of people I wouldn't feel guilty handing it out to. Maybe I need to punch something. Or someone.

When the bell signalling lunch rings, I don't move. Santana is slow with her movements as she packs up her things. Maybe I should talk to her about this. I know I should. It will help. I mean, I can't talk to Rachel about this, can I? Just the fact that it's Rachel or My Family means that she's too involved in all of it. I know myself well enough that it's best if I stay as far away from her until I can sort out whatever is going on inside, because I don't want to hurt her. And I will, I know. I'll say things in defence to the questions she's surely to ask.

"What do you need from me?" Santana asks.

I take a breath. "Keep Rachel away from me."

She looks like she has questions but she doesn't ask them. It's what I love about her, really. "Okay."

I nod. "Thank you."

She gets to her feet and leaves me with my demons. I hate this. I hate all of this. I hate that it affects me this way, and I hate that there's nothing I can do to stop it. I'm better than this. I've built better protection. I won't let my mother inside my armour. I won't let her break me. When my phone buzzes again, I take it out to see I have thirteen unread messages, seven of which are from Rachel.

I ignore them all.

I don't move. I can't and I won't. I just need to get through lunch and the rest of my lessons without killing anyone and then I can spend the weekend figuring out just how I'm going to live this life of total and utter -

Everything.

I consider skipping Glee. Happy people are annoying me today, and that room is just full of them.

I go anyway. I haven't seen Rachel since Spanish, so I know I'm going just to see her face, even if she's probably angry at me or disappointed. I don't know what Santana told her, and I can only hope it wasn't too bad and is actually believable. I arrive at the choir room early enough to be the only person in it for a good five minutes. I sit in my usual seat and internally panic over whether Rachel will sit next to me today. I wouldn't blame her if she didn't, and I'm irritated with myself at how much I want her to. This isn't how it's supposed to be.

My life was simple and easy before all of this. Before Rachel. Everything made sense when I was with Finn; a good-looking, all-American boy, and nobody bat an eye. Sure, I managed to get pregnant by said boy - which wouldn't have happened with a girl, mind you - but I was doing what was expected back then.

And I can feel myself starting to do what's expected right now.

"Hi, Quinn."

I look up at Sam's smiling face, and my first instinct is to frown. I don't. In fact, I smile at him, and he looks momentarily taken aback. "Hi, Sam," I say. "How are you doing?"

He blinks. "Oh, I'm good," he says. "How are you?"

I don't want the small talk. I just - I don't know what I want. "I'm fine," I say, somewhat curtly, and then wince. "Look, remember when I told you I would keep you in mind when I thought I was ready?"

His eyes widen.

"Maybe we could go for coffee after church on Sunday," I offer, feeling bile rise in my gut. Good God, what am I doing? Quinn Fabray, stop this; you stop this right now. "If you're free." I'm losing it. I'm definitely losing it.

Sam looks shellshocked, and it'd be cute if I was actually into that kind of thing. "Of course," he says. "Definitely. Wow. Okay. Sunday, you said? After church. Okay." He's smiling widely now, and I have to look away. I am such a bitch.

When the choir room starts filling up, Sam moves away, knowing the seats on either side of me are reserved for some very important people. I don't look up when Rachel walks in. I haven't said a word to her all day and I doubt I'm going to start now. I don't know what I'm doing. All I want to do is sink into everything about her, but I can't bring myself to do it.

Glee, itself, is torturous in that Rachel's angelic voice permeates my brain and suffocates me. We perform a group number that drains the life right out of me and I'm back to my foul mood by the time we're back in the choir room and Mr Schuester is saying words I don't register. Rachel is sitting next to me as she usually does but there hasn't been any time to talk.

Until now.

Mr Schuester has just dismissed us, and I sense her turn her body to face me. "Santana says you're having a Cheerio intensive day," she starts, and my heart hurts. It hurts. "Is that really why you're ignoring me?"

My jaw clenches and my nostrils flare. "No," I say.

"Do I want to know the real reason why?"

"No."

She opens her mouth to say something else but - good Lord - Sam picks that exact moment to come up to me, that same, stupidly goofy smile on his face and that pained desperation still in his eyes.

"So, do you want to meet somewhere or am I picking you up?" he asks, a little too loudly, and I do my best to ignore the quiet gasp beside me.

I glance up at him and school my features from murderous to passive. "The former," I force out.

"Awesome," he says after a moment. "I can't wait."

I don't respond and he, mercifully, bounces away. My jaw muscles are starting to hurt; I'm clenching them so hard.

"The fuck, Q?" Santana asks on my left side. "You're going out with Trouty Mouth?"

"It's just coffee," I say through gritted teeth.

"But what about Be - "

"San," Brittany interrupts, putting a hand on the Latina's forearm and stopping her. "Leave it."

I suddenly stand, as if I've been electrocuted. This is too much. I can't be here, sitting next to Rachel while I know I'm hurting her. I can't handle this right now. I can't handle anything. So, I start to walk, needing to get away as fast as possible. I tell myself I won't look back. I tell myself I shouldn't, but I do anyway, and I definitely shouldn't have.

Rachel's eyes are on me, clear devastation on her face, and Brittany's arm is around her. Well, fuck.

No.

Rachel or My Family.

I have to decide, and I have to stick with it.


Sam is smiling again, his mouth wide and his eyes practically closed. If I were any other person, I would find him cute. There definitely is something appealing about him, and I feel a little sick when I realise the only thing appealing about him - to me, at least - is that my mother would approve of him. He talks a lot - maybe he's nervous - and I'm pretending to listen. I've spaced out a few times, but he hasn't noticed. The idiot picked the Lima Bean, which is a place I haven't been back to since Finn broke up with me. Granted, there aren't many places to go for a 'coffee date' in Lima.

It doesn't take me long to start thinking about Rachel. Technically, I haven't stopped, but she moves to the forefront of my mind without my consent. And, when I start imagining her sitting across from me instead of Sam, all sorts of bad things roll through my head and down to my chest. Guilt, mainly.

I panic. "I can't do this."

He stops speaking abruptly, his face morphing into confusion. "What?"

I shake my head. "I can't do this," I repeat. "I thought - I thought I could, but I..." I get to my feet, stumbling slightly. I have to get out of here. Right now. "I'm sorry, Sam," I say as calmly as I can, even though my heart is thundering against my ribcage. "I thought I was ready, but I'm obviously not. Sorry. I'm so sorry." And then I leave. I spin on my heel and walk out of that shop, aware that he's saying my name. I don't look back. I can't.

I drive to the park. I just - I need to be able to clear my head; sort through my feelings. I need a safe place to think because this entire weekend has been torture. Everything about it. I mean, not only have I been plagued by that look on Rachel's face but the fact that I haven't been able to talk to her all weekend has made me disgustingly miserable. I don't even know what to say to her. I don't know what to tell anyone. Santana sent me a message saying Brittany was mad at me, though she still understood what I was doing, which just made me feel worse. And, really, if Brittany seems to understand all of this, why doesn't she explain it to me?

I spend all afternoon in the park, just thinking. I think of Rachel mostly, and then of my family - which is a term I think I'm going to have to start using loosely - and eventually my future. What makes me happy? Who makes me happy? Without any external factors, what would I do? With nothing to worry about, the answer is simple. My mother can go to hell, for all I care.

But.

Reaching no conclusions, I return to church. I do most of my profound thinking when I'm surrounded by the peace I want to feel in my heart. Perhaps, to some, it may be sacrilegious to be contemplating my sexual orientation in a church, but where else am I supposed to do that? The church is supposed to welcome the sinners too, isn't it? I suppose it helps that I no longer view what I feel for Rachel as a sin.

I slip into the thirteenth pew, sit up straight, rest my hands in my lap and listen. The theme to Reverend Jimmy's evening sermon is similar to that of this morning's, but there's an obvious difference in the tone. The morning sermon was lighter, more inspiring, and this one is darker in a way, truthful in its simplicity. In other words, life generally sucks, and you just have to keep going regardless, because there are good times.

I'm just so tired. I wish someone could give me the answers I need. Maybe I need some divine intervention... which arrives in the form of my favourite hymn, and serves to cloud my thoughts in something greater than I am. If only for a moment.

Oh Lord my God
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds
Thy hands have made
I see the stars
I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout
The universe displayed

Then sings my soul
My Savior, God, to Thee
How great thou art
How great thou art
Then sings my soul
My Savior, God, to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art

And when I think of God,
His son not sparing,
Sent Him to die,
I scarce can take it in;
That on the cross, my burden
gladly bearing He bled and died
to take away my sin

Then sings my soul
My Savior, God, to Thee
How great thou art
How great thou art
Then sings my soul
My Savior, God, to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art

When Christ shall come
With shout of acclamation
And take me home
What joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow
With humble adoration
And then proclaim My God
How great Thou art

Then sings my soul
My Savior, God, to Thee
How great thou art
How great thou art
Then sings my soul
My Savior, God, to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art

How great Thou art
How great Thou art

The music continues to ring in my head as Reverend Jimmy finishes the service with a prayer, before he dismisses us. I stay seated as the congregation begins to shuffle out of the church. I can't really bring myself to move. My heart feels heavy and my head feels even heavier. I feel weighed down by everything going on inside of me and I just want clarity. I wish it all just made sense. I need it to make sense.

When the church is emptied of people except for me, I drop my head and close my eyes. I try to pray but my brain is just filled with images of everything Rachel. Her smile, her pout, her laugh, her smell, the feel of her hand in mine, the way she hugs me without hesitation. I miss her in a way I didn't think was humanly possible. I've never really felt this way about anyone before. I never missed Finn like this, which means something I'm not willing to accept.

I open my eyes when I feel a presence to my right. Reverend Jimmy is standing perfectly still, his blue eyes watching me with poorly-concealed concern. He's a man of few words, so he says nothing as he sits down at the very end of the pew, crossing one leg over the other and waiting. Clearly, I will have to be the one to begin this conversation. I've asked him an endless number of questions about life and love and religion, but I can't bring myself to speak to him yet. Something is obviously troubling me but, still, he waits patiently.

"I think I'm considering coming to the evening services instead," I eventually say.

He looks at me. "Oh?"

"It's less crowded," I elaborate. "Less eyes."

"Is that truly what worries you?"

I sigh. "Honestly... no."

He waits again, and I resist the urge to roll my eyes.

"Strangers aren't what worry me," I confess. "It's my family. They'll make me choose."

"Haven't you already?"

I sit back, wringing my fingers in my lap. There's just all this pressure and expectation and, yes, I've made a decision that may or may not break me. Life without Rachel is already unbearable. I don't want to suffer through another day without seeing her, talking to her, touching her... just, being with her.

He clears his throat, and I look at him. "The question, I believe, you should be asking yourself is, who, in your life, is worth it?"

I gulp. "When put that way, the answer is simple," I tell him, and his ocean eyes are unwavering. I feel a calmness settle over me as I accept the truth of my simple and easy answer. There is only one person who is worth it in this scenario, and it sure as hell isn't me.

"Accept the answer to that question, and you will find the peace you search for in both your head and your heart." It's the last thing he says before he rises to his feet and leaves me with my thoughts. My current path won't give me peace. That much is obvious. But, do I deserve peace? Do I deserve her?

I want her. But, is it enough? Am I enough?

Eventually, I leave and go for a drive. I just - I can't be at my house right now. Regardless of whether my mother is there, I just can't. She's caused all of this and I don't trust myself enough not to reveal everything in a fit of rage.

Accept the answer to that question, and you will find the peace you search for in both your head and your heart. It's what I want.

I want peace.

And I want Rachel. She is worth it.

The moment I answer the question in my head, I say it out loud to solidify it. My heart beats a little faster but I, once again, feel calm. Until I feel panicked and desperate. Which has me turning my car around and driving straight to the Berry house with exactly one thing on my mind. I don't drive carefully, my sudden determination overwhelming. I'm not really thinking clearly. All I know is I have to see Rachel right now. I'll die if I don't.

I don't even know what time it is as I pull into the driveway, practically run out and bang on the front door, hard enough to hurt my hand but I don't stop. I have to see her right now, and I need this door to open, and I don't even know where my key is. It's late, I know, but it can't wait. It can't. When the door does finally open, I'm met with a bleary-eyed LeRoy.

"Quinn?" he asks, clearly confused. "Honey, what are you doing here? What's wrong?"

"Where's Rachel?" I ask, bouncing slightly.

"In her room," he answers, rubbing his eyes of sleep. "She's been up there all weekend. Did something happen?"

"Yes," I say, stepping into the house. "I made a mistake, and I'm here to fix it."

He looks like he wants to ask me more questions, but he just waves his hand in defeat, and I race up the stairs to Rachel's bedroom. I barely give myself time to calm my breathing before I'm knocking and pushing the door open. Her lampshade is on, and she's just climbed out of bed, clearly woken by the ruckus I've just caused.

Her eyes widen at the sight of me. "Quinn?"

Everything stops for me. The world, my breathing, my heart. Even as she stands there in her matching pyjamas, hair mussed from sleep and a dazed look on her face; she is honestly the most beautiful person I have ever seen. I take a step towards her, shutting the door with my foot and breathing out. I'm calm. I've never felt more at ease in my entire life.

"Quinn?" she questions again, looking unsure.

I close my eyes for a moment. "Hi," I say.

Her brow furrows. "Hi."

"I'm sorry," I tell her. "God, I am so sorry, Rachel. I got scared. I got so scared." My hands are shaking but I push through. I have to get this out. "I'm sorry I freaked out and I'm sorry I let my mom get in my head. I'm sorry I made you doubt me and I'm so sorry I hurt you, Rachel. We have a thing. We've always had a thing, and it scares me. I'm always terrified of it, and it's not because you're a girl." I pause to figure out how true those words are, and I'm both surprised and relieved that they feel true. Right now, at least. "I really don't care about that. It's you, and the way you make me feel, and I run when I get scared. But I'm all in now. I figured it out. It took me a while, but my head's finally caught up to my heart and I want nothing more than to be with you. In every way.

"I'm ready, Berry. I'm ready for this; for you; for us, if you'll still have me."

She just stares at me for the longest time, and I feel myself losing my thunder. Oh, God. What was I thinking, just barging in here like this? I take a small step back, poised to make my escape, but then I feel her hands on my cheeks and her eyes meet mine. Maybe she reads my panic or she sees something else because, before I know what's happening, she's pressing her lips to mine and ohmygod. It's a hesitant kiss at first, tentative because we're both a little unsure. She pulls away first, dropping her hands, and I go chasing her lips with my own, stepping forward into her space.

This kiss is different. This kiss is more, and I know to appreciate this moment. It's probably the last time I'll own my heart.

At the return of my kiss, I find myself sinking and allowing her to take control. It should be an unpleasant feeling but it isn't. I'm sinking, being pulled down; then forward, into her. My heart feels as if it's about to burst out of my chest. I can't breathe, I can't even think, as Rachel's mouth slants under mine. The kiss itself is slow and steady, even innocent in a way, and I can feel her right hand cup around my hip. There's steady pressure there, and I can't mistake the gentle tug.

Rachel steps closer, and the pressure against my mouth increases. Maybe she makes the decision - I certainly don't - but I feel a puff of breath as her lips part and then there's her tongue. Slowly, almost cautiously, she slides it across the seam of my mouth, seeking entrance, and my gasp of surprise grants it to her. Her grip on my hip tightens infinitesimally and her other hand moves to cup the side of my face, her thumb brushing back and forth over the skin of my cheek.

The sensations are distracting, and my chest is already on fire, which just gets worse at the first touch of our tongues. She makes a strangled, mewling sound, pulling me closer, and she exhales through her nose, warm air floating across my upper lip. Which is now being teased by a tongue that I now know is particularly skilful. She's sure in her strokes, leaning in and leading the kiss in a way that sends that fire down from my chest to the pit of my stomach.

It burns. Everything burns.

Rachel makes a humming sound - maybe it's a moan - before she pulls away with the intention of catching her breath. Her lips have barely left mine when I'm bringing her back. Forget about our blazing lungs; I want this. I can feel her smile, her mouth curving against my own, which just makes me smile as well.

My right hand curls around the nape of her neck and my thumb brushes against her jaw. She leans into my touch almost instinctively, her head tilting to one side. The feel and the taste of her are too intoxicating for coherent thought. My teeth scrape her bottom lip, and she sighs into my mouth. I feel the warmth spread outwards from the centre of my body, which makes me want to hold on tighter, bring her closer, lose myself further in her.

There's a knock on the door and we practically jump apart, breathless. She looks slightly disheveled, lips swollen and eyes shining. I'm certain I don't look much better, which is probably why LeRoy has that look on his face when he finally opens the door.

"Not that I don't love midnight wakeup calls," he says, eyeing me; "but what's going on here?"

I don't know what to say to him, but Rachel clearly does and she steps forward. "We had a misunderstanding," she says. "Quinn was just eager to sort it out before school tomorrow. We didn't want it to be awkward."

He looks skeptical, his eyes darting between us. "So, everything is sorted out then?"

"We're working on it, yes," she says.

"Okay," LeRoy concedes. "Don't stay up too late." He looks at me. "And you're staying. We've already talked about this, and I won't have you driving around so late."

I nod once.

"Goodnight, girls," he says, and we echo his sentiment. Satisfied, he closes the door and we hear him pad down the corridor until he closes himself away in his and Hiram's bedroom. When we're relatively safe, Rachel turns to me, her facial expression unreadable.

I suddenly feel uncertain.

A beat later, her face morphs into something almost... predatory, and I take a small step back, alarmed. "Seriously," she says, exasperation seeping into her tone; "what took you so damn long?"

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen

Rachel

i knew you before i met you.
i've known you my whole life.


When I wake, there's a warm body wrapped around mine from behind. Quinn fits in every space I'm not occupying and my smile is stupid silly when I take stock of just where her hands are. One is pressed against the bare skin of my abdomen under my pyjama top and the other is seeking warmth between my thighs. I feel her everywhere; all over me and inside of me.

My memory of the previous night is fresh in my mind, which makes my smile widen and my breath quicken. This is real. This is happening. I feel her shift behind me, her fingers trailing over my skin as she pulls me closer. Her nose nuzzles against the back of my neck and I feel a soft press of lips against my covered shoulder. She hums deep in her chest, and then settles again. I've honestly never felt so... I don't even know what I'm feeling. Warm. Safe. Content. Happy.

I am so in love; it's actually pathetic.

Quinn shifts again, clearly awake now. "I should get up now, shouldn't I?" she murmurs, hot breath against my skin, and I shiver.

"Probably," I say, my own voice thick with sleep. Neither of us makes a move. I can't help my smile. "How do you feel?" I ask.

"Honestly?" she breathes, and I squirm. "I am so comfortable right now; I don't think I can move."

I giggle softly, my fingers brushing over the skin of her forearm. "We have to go to school, Quinn," I tell her.

"Do we; do we really?"

I shift, rolling onto my back so I can see her properly and gosh. She even looks perfect this morning, after I pretty much destroyed her hair with my hands and attacked her mouth with my own right into the early morning. We kissed, a lot. We talked a bit too, but we mostly kissed. She truly is a phenomenal kisser, which I told her repeatedly as I tried and failed to get over the fact that Quinn Fabray's tongue was in my mouth. I still can't believe it.

"Hi," she says, looking at me.

"Hi," I echo. "Time for school."

She lets out a groan, closing her eyes, and I just look at her face because I can. I don't have to avert my eyes anymore. I can openly stare at her and try to wrap my head around just how beautiful she actually is. She's one of those out-of-this-world beauties, carrying it with her in everything she says and does. It's in her very being, gentle and understated. Just, perfect.

"Quinn?"

She opens her eyes and meets my gaze. "Good morning, beautiful," she whispers.

I blush, and her face spreads into a perfect smile. "Is this real life?" I ask, burying my face in my hands.

She chuckles lightly, her hand moving my two out of the way so she can see my eyes. "No, it's not," she says when I'm finally looking at her. "It's better."

I suck in a breath before I burst out laughing. "Oh my gosh, you are so cute," I tell her, my one hand cupping her cheek. "Why are you so stinking cute?"

She looks slightly affronted, which makes her look even cuter. Quickly, and before I even know what's happening, she's rolling onto me, her face buried in my hair as she presses warm, open-mouthed kisses against my throat. Okay, I could definitely get used to waking up to this. The weight of her body presses me down into the mattress and I can't breathe because it feels so good. My hands slip into her hair, my fingers scraping along her scalp, and she moans. Her hands are on my sides, running up and down and making me squirm, and not because I'm ticklish.

Her teeth bite down on the sensitive skin of my neck and I let out a breathless gasp, clutching her closer. Her hands slide around my back, and I feel her lick over the bite, in an attempt to soothe it. I'm probably going to bruise, but I really don't care. It feels so good.

"Quinn," I breathe, because I want her mouth on mine but she's carefully avoiding that.

When my alarm goes off again, she pulls back and looks at me through her lashes. Her sigh matches mine, and she rolls off me and sits up. I watch as she runs her hands through her hair and stands. She stretches her arms up in the air and I catch sight of a sliver of skin between her sweatpants and t-shirt. Without thinking about it too much, I rise up onto my knees and shuffle across the bed. I tug on her t-shirt and she turns to look at me, her eyes unfocused. I move to the very edge of the bed and she steps towards me, her hands automatically moving to rest on my hips. I slip my arms around her neck and thread my fingers through her hair. I can't get enough of the feel of her hair. It's just so soft.

"Kiss me," I say.

She raises her eyebrows. "Are you tired?" she asks. "Because you get bossy only when you're tired."

"I just want to kiss you."

She shakes her head. "But my breath, Rachel," she whines.

"Closed mouth, then."

She smiles faintly before she leans forward and presses her lips to mine for just a moment. I breathe out through my nose, and she pulls away, stepping back and away from me. Her eyes meet mine for a moment before she ducks her head and then disappears into my bathroom. I spend a moment having to remind myself that this is, in fact, real life. I flop down on my bed, shake out my body with a stupid smile on my face and then relax into my mattress, content. I close my eyes and breathe. I can feel her everywhere.

Quinn Fabray. My girlfriend.

I giggle. I can't stop myself. I feel so... giddy. I feel it in my very bones; swimming through my veins and filling my lungs. I just lie there with my eyes closed until Quinn comes back out, dressed in her clothes from the previous night. She'll have to hurry home if she's going to get ready in time not to be late for school. I don't move as she walks towards me, a steady smile on her face. Slowly, she runs a hand over my hair, bends to kiss the corner of my mouth, and then she's gone, leaving me breathless.

It takes me an obscenely long time to drag myself out of bed and get ready. I don't want to shower because there are parts of me that smell like Quinn, but then I remember I'll be able to smell like her again and I smile like a complete and utter fool. My cheeks are even starting to hurt.

Before I head downstairs for breakfast, I pack my bag and move to pocket my phone, only for it to buzz in my hand. If it's even possible, my smile widens at the sight of Quinn's name. Today has already been amazing.

Quinn: So, I might have spaced out a little this morning because I was distracted by the fact that I now get to kiss you.

I breathe in, and then out.

Berry: Is it always going to be like this?

Quinn: God, I hope so.

Berry: Me, too.

Quinn: See you in a little bit. X

I suddenly can't wait. Which is why I hurry downstairs, practically wolf down my breakfast while ignoring my dads' wide eyes, and then leave for school. Quinn's car isn't in the parking lot - it's still a little early - and I use the time to try to settle myself. I take deep breaths as I make my way into the school and towards my locker, suddenly worried that I'm literally projecting. I'm vibrating, and I'm sure people will be able to tell. Quinn and I didn't discuss this part. How am I supposed to act normal now that I know how warm the inside of her mouth is?

Whoo.

I grip the door of my locker and try to steady myself. I mean, we discussed keeping our relationship - oh my God, we're in a relationship - quiet, but I never really thought about how or even if I could do that. Oh, my God. How am I supposed to do that? What if I fail? What if I give us away?

I feel the moment Quinn arrives in the corridor and, as much control as I think I have, I fail at not turning to look at her. I think, like everyone, my jaw drops at the sight of her. She's not wearing anything different - still in her Cheerios' uniform - but the air around her is different. It's obvious something is different; she's practically glowing, her hips swaying and the faint smile on her face drawing me in.

Okay. Just breathe.

Quinn's smile widens when she spots me and she alters her course, making a beeline straight for me. I suddenly feel as if every eye is on me and, as she moves towards me with purpose, I'm hit by a wave of nerves. In my mind, she's going to kiss me, but she just comes to a stop in front of me, her attention solely on me.

"Good morning," she says, smiling shyly for only a moment, before she seems to recover and her facial expression morphs into something mischievous. "I see you've got some concealer on your neck there. Hiding something?" She asks it so innocently; I immediately blush.

"Hi," I manage to say. "And no, I don't know what you're talking about."

"Oh really?"

I nod slowly, trying and failing not to let her hazel gaze consume me.

"How are you this morning?"

"Oh, you know," I say with a non-committal wave of my hand. "Same old, same old. Can't complain."

She's grinning unabashedly now, and I wonder when is the right time to tell her I'm in love with her. Would she run? I mean, I don't think this is just a fling to her. If she wanted a fling, she could have picked anyone. She's with me for a reason. She asked me to be her girlfriend. Just the memory of her breathless and almost desperate question makes my skin tingle. We just look at each other in silence. All of this is just surreal.

Quinn takes in a deep breath and releases it slowly. "I should go," she says.

I nod. "Yes, you should."

"But, first, you have to hug me."

I wait.

"And then you have to be the one to release me, because I doubt I'll be able to."

I practically launch myself at her, wrapping my arms around her neck and breathing her in. I feel her chuckle against me as she squeezes my waist, her arms strong and steady. I close my eyes, count to ten and then forcibly remove myself from this embrace. My hands linger on her shoulders for a beat too long, and she smiles knowingly.

"Later?" I ask.

"I'll text you."

"Just be PC about it, would you?" I warn her. "I have no control over my responses, and I would much rather not embarrass myself in public."

She breathes out, her eyes shining in a way I've never seen. It's sobering, being able to see the depth of her affection in her features and her gaze. "There are so many things I want to say and do right now," she confesses quietly. "I've never - I've never felt anything like this before."

I swallow nervously. "Scary?"

"A little," she admits. "But all the positives greatly outweigh any lingering doubts, Rachel. I am in this. Wholeheartedly."

I blink. "Okay."

"One day," she whispers, taking a small step towards me. "One day, I'm going to kiss you in this corridor without a care in the world."

I shake my head in disbelief. "What are you trying to do to me right now?" I ask, breathless. Really, I don't think I've been able to catch my breath since she stormed into my room with that determined look on her face.

And her smirk is now in full-swing. "I don't know what you're talking about," she says innocently. Then, with a turn and a small flick of her hair, she says, "Later, Berry." And then she's gone, like a whirlwind, leaving me with only minutes to recover.

I make it to homeroom without incidence. Tina, Mike and Artie are having one of their love triangle spats, which allows me to go relatively unnoticed as I try to reconcile all the variations of Quinn Fabray I've been privileged enough to meet in my head. I was sure she would give me whiplash one day and, truly, I'm not ready for the full force of a playful, flirty Quinn. I don't think anyone would be. No wonder Finn always looked confused and flustered around her. Being hit by that megawatt smile is enough to cause anyone to lose the ability to speak.

When I get to Trigonometry, I have a text message from Quinn.

Quinn: So, now that I get to kiss you and all the good stuff, it's literally all I can think about, which really means only one thing: there goes my 4.0 GPA.

Jesus. Okay.

Berry: What part of 'PC' didn't you understand?

Quinn: I'm a little slow on the uptake today. Sorry. My head is full of happiness.

Where has this person been all my life? Seriously.

Berry: And your heart?

Quinn: We're currently having a very serious conversation (I'm not crazy). I'll keep you posted on how our communication improves.

I giggle, ducking my head.

Berry: You are so weird.

Quinn: You like it.

Berry: I do. I really do.

I can barely concentrate when class starts but I make sure to take down the notes even if I'm not registering them. I should be more concerned by my inattention, but I do have my own personal tutor. Who has warm, soft hands and an expert mouth. Hmm, we're probably not going to get any work done. I find it rather unsettling, and I get more uncomfortable as the seconds tick by.

I get to Spanish before Quinn, which is no feat. I was forced to run. I wanted to be here first, just so I can be safe in my seat when she walks in. Which is a good thing too, because she seems to skip a step when she sees me, and I can't help my smile. She arches an eyebrow, lifts her head slightly and keeps walking, brushing past me in a way that sets not only my arm on fire, but my whole body. The entire lesson, I feel her eyes on me, boring into my back. Even if Mr Schuester was making sense, I wouldn't understand a word. It's... overwhelming, and I'm not sure I like it. I mean, I do, but it feels like too much. I can't even concentrate.

When the bell rings, I escape from the classroom to try to get an uncharged moment. Just a breather.

I go straight to the library, fully aware that my phone is buzzing in my pocket. It's definitely Quinn, but I wait until I'm seated at my desk in the library to look at what she's said. If she means to antagonise me further - by just being her normal and perfect and overwhelming herself - I think I might snap. I'm not mad, not really. Well, not at her; just at the fact this entire thing seems to be doing things to my mind and body without my control.

Quinn: I did something wrong?

Quinn: I'll turn it down. Sorry. I don't want to make you uncomfortable.

Quinn: See you at lunch? X

I'm not sure what to say to her at first. First, I'm amazed she noticed something was off at all... until I'm just not surprised by it. Quinn obviously pays attention. Second, I'm taken aback by the fact she addressed it at all.

Berry: You did nothing wrong, Quinn. It's just a little overwhelming at the moment.

Berry: Of course. I'll be the one startling you at your locker :)

She doesn't reply, which might be her way of telling me she's allowing me a breather. I am overwhelmed, but I love everything that's happening. I love having her attention and basking in it. I love knowing she's thinking about me almost as much as I'm thinking about her. I also love that she wants to kiss me in the corridor, and then a little heartbroken that she didn't - she can't. Which is confusing. Which is something I'm both fine with and also not. I've never had to hide my feelings. It's not part of who I am. I wear it all on my sleeve and on my face. I'm definitely not as good at it as Quinn is and I don't think I ever want to be.

It's when I'm in English with Kurt - and Mercedes and Joe and Lauren and Finn - that my day gets strange. I sit next to Kurt because Mrs Lang separated Kurt and Mercedes on the first day, citing that their incessant whispering was going to drive her to drink. I don't blame her. They can be relentless. Which is why I'm not surprised when Kurt turns to me as soon as I sit down. But, what is surprising, is the question he asks me.

"Why is Quinn Fabray so happy today?"

I raise my eyebrows in surprise, just managing not to squeak. "What?"

"Is it because she went on a supposed coffee date with Sam yesterday, because said boy looks positively miserable today?"

I force down a wave of guilt over the male blond and try not to reveal anything to the surprisingly perceptive Kurt Hummel. I wouldn't even know what to say on a normal day, let alone today.

"Which is really a match-up I've never understood," Kurt continues, unaware of my struggles. "I mean, they're both blond and pretty, but no. Just, no."

I'm inclined to agree with him, but I still say nothing.

"So, what is it?" he asks. "I mean, to the untrained eye, there isn't much difference, but I've definitely noticed, and I'm not the only one."

I frown. "The only one?"

He jerks his head to a spot behind us and I turn to look. Finn's eyes are on us and he doesn't even bother to look away when I catch him staring.

I turn back to look at Kurt. "I'm not really sure what's happening right now," I say, because I'm not. "Why is Finn looking at me?"

"Because you and Quinn are BFFs now, aren't you?" he asks, giving me a pointed look. "Where else is everyone supposed to go for the information we so crave about the Head Cheerio? Santana? Brittany? I don't think so. You're our best bet."

I frown. "We discussed this, Kurt," I say seriously. "I won't betray Quinn's trust and, really, speculation about her happiness is a little juvenile, don't you think? Isn't she allowed to feel whatever emotion she wants to feel without everyone suddenly thinking it's their damn business to know why?"

He leans back. "Jeez, okay, Rachel, don't get your panties in a twist," he says. "I just thought I'd ask."

"Sorry," I immediately say, feeling bad.

He sighs. "I know you're just trying to protect her," he placates, patting my hand softly. "I'm sorry I asked. Just, you know, Finn isn't me."

I frown in confusion.

"He's less likely to back off than I am."

Oh.

Well, now that I'm aware of another set of eyes on me, it's all I can feel as the lesson goes on. I can't help wishing for the blissful ignorance I felt this morning, wrapped in Quinn's warmth. I had an idea today would be an adjustment, but this is something else entirely. It's a little draining, really, and all I want is to see Quinn. I don't know; just for the assurance.

So, when the bell rings, I'm out of my seat and rushing out of the classroom before Kurt - or Finn - can even register I've moved. I go straight to my locker, deposit my books and then go find Quinn. Surprisingly, she isn't by her locker but I wait regardless. I wait a while, actually. The corridor fills up and empties before Quinn emerges from around the corner. With Sam.

My heart drops. They seem to be having a very serious conversation, and she hasn't noticed me yet. I watch her though, noting the lack of emotion on her face and her closed-off body language. She's clutching her binder and notebook close to her chest, nodding absently to whatever Sam is saying.

Quinn eventually looks up, her passive expression faltering at the sight of me. It drops down, worry in her brow, and I'm not sure what I'm supposed to feel. When Quinn and Sam get to her locker, Sam greets me and, yes, he does look a little miserable, but there's something more now. It takes me another moment to recognise it as understanding.

"I'll see you guys in Glee," he says, stepping back. "Thanks for the talk, Quinn."

She smiles at him for the first time, and we both watch him disappear before we turn our attention to each other. There's apprehension in her gaze for a beat before she tilts her head to the side. "Excuse me, Berry," she says carefully. "You're blocking my locker."

Silently, I step to the side and watch her profile as she opens her locker and deposits her books. Her fingers make deliberate movements, eventually closing around her lock and closing the door again. It all takes barely a minute, and then she's turning to face me.

"Shall we go to the cafeteria?" she offers.

At my nod, she spins on her heel and offers me her arm. I don't hesitate to slip mine through hers, and then we're on our way. We're walking slowly, in no rush at all, and it helps settle the unpleasant churning in my stomach.

"Sam had questions about yesterday," she says after a while, not looking at me. "I owed him more of an explanation for practically running out of there the way I did. I wasn't - I wasn't very fair to him, and I needed to apologise to him, and again to you. I needed him to know that yesterday had nothing to do with him, and everything to do with me. In a perfect, uncomplicated and unhappy world, yesterday would have been the be all and end all for me. He's my mom's wet dream, really, and I thought, maybe, I could do this one thing.

"I thought I could make myself want to be with him because I've already been this complete disappointment in so many other aspects of my life. But, I was sitting there across from him, and I just couldn't. I remembered a conversation I had with Hiram, and I just couldn't. He said he decided that he didn't want to get trapped by his family's expectations. And, when he did that, it was even more difficult allowing himself to want what he wants. So, I know my strength comes from being myself, and it's very freeing. I just - I know I would never be ready for him, when I've been ready for you since before I even knew there was something to be getting ready for."

I feel her turn her gaze on me, and I automatically look into her eyes.

"I've been waiting for you a long time, Rachel Berry," she whispers. "This entire thing is scary and it's new and the last thing I want is to screw it up like I did with - " she stops suddenly.

Like she did with Finn. Still, to this day, she's convinced she did something wrong. That boy is such an idiot.

She clears her throat. "So, what I need from you is to tell me if it's too much or if it's too little. Kind of like you did today, I guess. I know you don't like the idea of hiding but I can't. We can't. I thought - I thought we discussed this last night."

"We did," I find myself saying. "But, you should be aware that my brain function diminishes quite significantly when you're kissing me."

She manages a smile.

"And it's not that, actually," I tell her. "I just feel a little odd. I can't explain it. This is the adjustment period, and it's going to require adjustment." I sigh. "I was so happy this morning, and then the world decided to make itself known, and now I feel as if I'm being split in two."

Sensing the severity of what I'm saying - or not saying - Quinn slows our walk and pulls me into a bathroom. She checks that it's empty, locks the door and gives me her full attention. "Split in two?" she prompts.

I wring my fingers together, uncertain. I wouldn't even know how to explain whatever I'm feeling.

Quinn steps back and I see her panic. "Do you - God - do you not want to do this?" she asks, her voice so small, and it tugs on my heartstrings.

I snap to, immediately. "What? No! Nothing like that," I hasten to say. "I want this! I want this so much, Quinn."

"Then, what's wrong?" she asks, clearly confused.

I falter. "I don't know."

She takes a long, deep breath before she straightens up. "Okay," she says. "Let's talk it out, okay? What are you feeling?"

I look at her in surprise. Is Quinn Fabray literally about to become my human dream journal? Yes, yes she is. "I feel... overwhelmed."

She nods once. "Okay, what else?"

"I feel... confused."

She blinks, her eyes darkening as my words settle over her. "About?"

"Not about you," I assure her. "Not you, Quinn. I want this, I do. I want you." She waits. "What I'm confused about is how to be your school friend, your best friend, your secret girlfriend, the person people seem to want to approach when you're suddenly displaying emotion or - "

"Wait, what?"

I take a deep breath. "Kurt asked me if Sam was the reason you were so happy today," I tell her. "And Finn was giving off vibes that he wanted to ask me about it as well. And, frankly, I don't know how to deflect and lie, when all I know is that the sudden spring in your step and lightness in your eyes is because of..." I trial off.

"You," she finishes for me. "Of course, it's because of you."

"And that makes me feel wonderful, Quinn. It makes me feel happy and excited and everything good. But - "

"But what?"

"I really don't know."

She's blinking rapidly as understanding dawns on her. "Oh."

I just stare at her, unsure what to say.

"You're not sure," she says, sounding much calmer than I feel. "I don't understand why - why did you agree to - if you're not - " she pauses, shaking her head at her own thoughts. "This whole time, we were both concerned about my being ready when we should have been more worried about you, apparently."

She looks so defeated, and all I want is to make sense of it for her but I can't. I can't even make sense of it for myself. She probably recognises my stance because she doesn't push any further. She rather moves towards me and places a gentle kiss against my cheek. She opens her mouth to say something, but decides against it and snaps it shut. And then, just like that, she unlocks the door and is gone.

I feel awful and I'm not really sure why. Or I am. What is happening right now? I don't understand. I was fine. We were fine. This is the first hurdle - it's not even a hurdle - and I'm already faltering. Taking a breath, I relock the door, take out my phone and dial my Dad. He answers on the fifth ring.

"Hello, Sweetheart."

"Hi, Dad," I say, moving towards the sinks and slipping onto the counter. "Do you have time to talk?"

"I always have time to talk to you," he says. "Is something wrong?"

"I don't know."

He takes a breath. "Okay...?"

"I'm about to tell you something very important. I haven't told you before because I was convinced I could handle it on my own, which, looking back at my total breakdown when I was coming to terms with my feelings for Quinn, was a stupid idea." He remains silent. "As you know, I've been waiting for Quinn to be ready. I wanted her to be sure about what she wants, with regards to me, at least, and - "

"And what?"

"And, now that she is, I don't know if I'm ready for just how sure she is."

"I'm not sure I'm following."

I sigh. "Quinn and I have - we've - " I pause. "She's my girlfriend." I feel breathless just saying it. "And I am definitely, helplessly and unequivocally in love with her."

He breathes out. "And, how long has this been going on?"

I check my watch. "About thirteen hours," I tell him. "And I'm already screwing it up."

"How so?"

"I don't know how to do this," I say. "I mean, I've never really been in a relationship where I care more about the other person than I do myself, and I don't know how I'm supposed to act, or what I'm supposed to do, and I don't know how I'm supposed to learn all of that by doing because it's all behind closed doors. It's all just so new and Quinn just seems to have it all figured out and I'm just - "

"Sweetheart," he interrupts gently. "Don't you think this is all so new to Quinn too?" he asks.

"But she's - "

"Seemingly handling it better? Successfully hiding her fears from you? Terrified you're having second thoughts? Worried that she's finally put herself out there since her breakup with Finn and is now possibly facing rejection? Confused as to why the one person she's s - "

"Okay," I suddenly say, needing him to stop. "I get it."

He sighs. "I don't think Quinn has it all figured out, and I'm sure you don't think that either. It's new to both of you and I wish the two of you had sat down with us to talk it through."

"It was late last night," I defend. "And we had school this morning."

"Well, we should schedule a time to discuss it then."

"If she ever talks to me again."

"She will," he says. "You're Rachel Berry; of course she will."

"I'm Rachel Berry," I echo. "I'm Rachel Berry."

"Uh..."

"I have to go," I say. "Thanks, Dad." I hang up, hop off the counter and leave the bathroom. I head straight to the library, sit down at a computer and search for what I need. I print out the required sheets and then go to the choir room to practice. I'm Rachel Berry. Singing is what I do.

I can barely sit still through my last periods of the day. My leg is bouncing and my eyes are shifty. I have to endure words I'm not hearing, and then I have to wait for Glee to start. I sit in my chair and worry that Quinn won't sit next to me when she arrives.

She does, just after giving me a small smile. I'm fully aware that she doesn't look at me as Mr Schuester explains this week's assignment and invites us to discuss song choices and plan our dance numbers.

I wait mere minutes before I raise my hand. "Mr Schue?"

He looks my way. "Yes, Rachel?"

"I'd like to perform a song, if that's all right?" I ask, and try to ignore the way Quinn stiffens in her seat.

He smiles warmly. "Sure. The floor's yours."

I take a deep breath before I rise to my feet and move towards the piano. I hand over the sheet music I printed during lunch and then step back and compose myself. When I turn to look at the club, my heart beats a little fast. I can feel Quinn's eyes on me and I chance a look at her - hazel eyes penetrate mine in the most demanding way - which is both a mistake and all the encouragement I need to open my mouth and start singing Fun.'s We Are Young.

"Give me a second I, I need to get my story straight. My friends are in the bathroom getting higher than the Empire State. My lover she's waiting for me just across the bar. My seat's been taken by some sunglasses asking 'bout a scar, and I know I gave it to you months ago. I know you're trying to forget but between the drinks and subtle things. The holes in my apologies, you know. I'm trying hard to take it back. So, if by the time the bar closes, and you feel like falling down. I'll carry you home..." I take a breath, wondering if Quinn recognises this as an apology. I reason I should've made it clearer. "Toni-ight. We are young. So, let's set the world on fire. We can burn brighter than the sun. Toni-ight. We are young. So, let's set the world on fire. We can burn brighter than the sun."

Brittany gets to her feet and starts waving her hands in the air. It prompts Kurt, Blaine and Mercedes to do the same, and I go into the second verse with another quick look at Quinn, who is gripping Santana's hand tightly, both girls with their eyes on me.

"Now I know that I'm not all that you got. I guess that I, I just thought maybe we could find new ways to fall apart, but our friends are back. So, let's raise a toast 'cause I found someone to carry me home." Several voices join me when I get to the chorus. "Toni-ight. We are young. So, let's set the world on fire. We can burn brighter than the sun. Toni-ight. We are young. So, let's set the world on fire. We can burn brighter than the sun."

Kurt and Blaine lead the underlying harmony as I sing the words, slowly being joined in by practically everyone.

"Carry me home tonight (Nananananana). Just carry me home tonight (Nananananana). Carry me home tonight (Nananananana). Just carry me home tonight. (Nananananana)." I grin when I spy Quinn smiling. She's actually smiling. "The moon is on my side (Nananananana). I have no reason to run (Nananananana). So, will someone come and carry me home tonight (Nananananana). The angels never arrived (Nananananana). But I can hear the choir (Nananananana). So, will someone come and carry me home (Nananananana)."

The music drops to just a drum beat, and my heart is thundering right along with it. "Toni-ight. We are young. So, let's set the world on fire. We can burn brighter than the sun. Toni-ight. We are young. So, let's set the world on fire. We can burn brighter than the sun." I lower my voice, the room falling to silence save for Brad's piano notes. I don't even shy away from the fact I'm looking at Quinn when I sing the last few lines. She needs to know this song is for her. "So, if by the time the bar closes, and you feel like falling down... I'll carry you home tonight."

The room erupts in applause and I get a clap on the back from Mr Schuester before heading back to my seat. Quinn gives me one of those faint smiles as I sit down, but she says nothing. I don't know what I expect, but what I don't anticipate is Quinn standing up and leaving without a word when Mr Schuester finally dismisses us. I just stay seated, unsure how I feel.

When a shadow looms over me, I hesitantly look up to see Brittany looking worriedly at me. "We have a Cheerios meeting," she says, as if it's all the explanation I need. And I suppose it is.

"Did she tell you?" I ask.

She shakes her head. "Q doesn't tell me anything. Her face does."

I just nod because Brittany has this way of just knowing, and I've stop wondering.

"Make her some bacon," she says. "It always makes her happy."

I just nod again, and then watch as she bounces out of the choir room, leaving me to my thoughts. This has been the longest day, and I have a feeling it's going to get longer. When I finally convince myself to stand, I head to my locker to gather my things and then go home. I drive in silence. I feel as if I'm in mourning.

My Dad is in the living room when I enter the house and I'm so relieved to see him. I drop my bag to the floor with a thud and move towards him, collapsing onto the couch beside him and letting out a long-suffering sigh. This day has had so many highs and lows, and I'm exhausted.

"So," he finally says, looking at me; "how was school?"

I burst out into wild laughter, which turns into tears rather quickly. He wraps an arm around me and I tuck into his side, trying and failing not to feel sorry for myself. He just lets me cry until I've exhausted all my tears. "What do I do?" I eventually ask him.

"I would say catch a nap," he offers and I glare at him. He smiles innocently. "It's okay to be scared, Sweetheart," he says. "It's okay to be unsure as well. Everything you're feeling; you're entitled to feel it. In fact, it would be weirder if you weren't feeling all these things." He takes a breath. "What isn't okay, however, is forgetting that you're not the only one dealing with this now."

My nostrils flare in irritation with myself. "She hasn't said a word to me all afternoon," I tell him. "I think we're over before we've even begun."

"Oh, I think you need to give yourselves more credit. I'm sure you two will work it out," he says, and he sounds so certain that I frown at him. Oh. Oh.

"She called you, didn't she?"

He nods. "It's the reason I came home to meet you. She mentioned that you might need someone to talk to when you get home."

I bury my face in my hands and groan. "I was so... weird... today... why is she so nice?"

"She cares about you, Sweetheart," he says. "She cares about you a lot."

I drop my gaze.

"Sweetie, is that the part that scares you?"

I sigh. "Everything feels intense," I tell him. "It feels like we're deciding on forever. Isn't that - I mean - " I stop, shaking my head. "Is it weird that I think this is it? She is it. And, I mean, I'm only eighteen, right? I shouldn't be feeling this, right? Aren't I too young to know?"

He blinks. "I wouldn't know," he says. "But I wasn't much older than you when I met your father."

"And did you know then?"

"No," he answers. "But, when I did figure it out, I didn't run from it."

I instantly deflate. Well. Apparently, it's my turn to do the running. Why do we keep running from each other? "Thank you, Dad."

He kisses my forehead. "I don't know if I helped with anything, but I do have to get back to my office. I have a faculty meeting." He regards me for a moment. "Will you be all right for dinner?"

I nod numbly, nibbling at my bottom lip. I get another hug, and then he gets up, grabs his briefcase and keys and then leaves. I wait only a minute before I'm reaching for my phone.

Berry: It's not that I'm not sure. I AM sure. That's the part that scares me. I'm sorry I made you doubt me. Please can we talk? Text me when you're free.

I set my phone down and try not to look at it every five seconds. I go to my room to try to work on my homework, but I give up on that pretty quickly and go to the kitchen to get a snack. Or just get started on dinner. Maybe I'll order in. Anything to keep myself distracted.

For now, I'll settle for some toast. I drop two slices of bread into the toaster and wait. I think it's a good thing my dads aren't home because I'm in a terrible mood, equal parts sulky and snappy. When the toast pops out, I immediately reach for it, burning my fingers in the process.

"Ouch!" I hiss, snatching my hand away and biting my bottom lip to stop myself from cursing. "Ouch. Ouch."

The sound of the front door opening and closing immediately silences me and puts me on edge. My dads aren't scheduled to be home for a while, and I'm sure I heard my Dad lock the door when he left. I'm about to grab for a knife - not sure what I'll do with it - when the culprit moves into view and my breath catches in my throat.

Quinn Fabray is standing in the kitchen doorway, having changed into jeans, a white top and a yellow peacoat.

Neither of us says a word.

I breathe out.

A beat later, her gaze meets mine, and the great big world disappears all around us. She closes the space between us in four long strides, backs me up against the kitchen counter and kisses me. It's unlike anything I've ever experienced. I've been kissed before. Hell, I've been kissed by Quinn before, but it's never felt like this. It's like an assault to the senses: her lips, tongue and teeth, just bombarding my everything. Her body presses hard against mine, and I feel her everywhere.

Desperately needing some respite, I pull back and look at her face. She's flushed and her lips are pink and swollen. "What are you doing here?" I ask breathlessly, clutching onto her arms as if I'll fall to the ground if I don't.

"Would you rather I leave?" she asks, arching an eyebrow.

I slip my hand around the nape of her neck and pull her back into another bruising kiss. "God, no."

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen

Quinn

and i heard her say,
'you are afraid of love.
but love is not afraid of you.'


"We should go to my room."

I don't think I've heard a better set of words strung together in my entire life. Somehow, I manage to step back and suck in air that doesn't smell like her - it rather smells like toast, really. My head is swimming and I feel a little dizzy. Drunk. I feel drunk on Rachel Berry.

Rachel takes hold of my hand and leads the way out of the kitchen, abandoning her toast. I imagine I taste better. When we get to her room, she stands awkwardly, her eyes darting about. Today has been a rollercoaster of a day and I don't even know what I'm supposed to say to her. We should talk; I know we should.

But.

I glance at her, take note of the way she's trapped her bottom lip between her teeth, and -

My lips are on hers a beat later, my left hand finding its way into her silky hair. It's a steady kiss, a little hesitant... until it just isn't anymore. My tongue flicks against her lower lip, her mouth opening at the action, and I slip inside. She lets out what can be described as a whimper when my tongue slides against hers. My brain is swarming with everything, and it's making it difficult to concentrate on anything other than her.

With my hand in her hair, I guide the kiss, changing the angle with a slight tilt of my head. She sighs into my mouth, her breathing laboured and intense. My other hand drifts to her hip, fingers curling around the fabric there and tugging her closer, right into me. Everything about this kiss is just more and, given her reaction to the kiss in the kitchen, I'm convinced this one might actually break her.

My hand at her hip trails up her side and around to her collarbone. My lips leave hers for a moment - I desperately suck in a breath - and then they're back. The same hand slides back down to her hip, around and then up her back, bringing her impossibly closer and claiming her.

I can't even breathe. I think I would be content to die like this, truly. Her hands, casually resting at my waist, are moving now. It seems she wants to touch as well. I feel them move upwards, one grasping at my shoulder and the other threading into my hair. I let out a groan that she echoes, right into my mouth. She grips my shoulder tighter, the fabric of my coat balling in her fist when I tease her bottom lip with my teeth, even softly biting down.

It's too much. All of it. My ears are pounding; my heart is beating a mile a minute. It's too overwhelming, and I never want it to stop.

But it does.

She pulls away suddenly, her gaze meeting mine. "We should talk."

I take a breath. "Are you tired?" I ask. "You're being awfully bossy."

"We both know I'd much rather be kissing you, but we really should talk," she says seriously. "There are a few things I have to tell you."

I step back. "Okay," I say, nodding in agreement before moving to sit in her desk chair and taking off my coat. Somehow, I just know sitting on her bed with her won't result in a very productive conversation.

Rachel moves to sit down on her bed, crosses her legs and gives me her full attention. "First, I'm so happy you're here," she says, smiling warmly. "Second, I am so sorry about the way I acted today. Everything was so good, and then I got a little lost in my own head. I think - I think this was my freakout, and I'm sorry I wasn't able to warn you about it beforehand." She presses her lips together for a moment. "I like you, Quinn. I really like you, and it terrifies me just how much. I don't know if we're worried about the same things, but we're both scared of something."

I merely nod.

"I want to be with you, Quinn. In every way. As your school friend, your best friend, your secret girlfriend, your - your lover, your protecter, your - "

"Rachel," I say, squirming in my seat. "If you're trying to keep me in this seat, you're going to have to censor your words there."

She blushes. "Right, sorry," she says. "Uh... where was I?"

"You want to be with me. In every way."

She nods. "I've never been in a serious relationship before," she says conversationally. "I mean, this is a serious relationship, right?"

"As a heart attack."

"Good," she says. "Just so we're on the same page about it."

"We definitely are," I assure her.

"Good, because I'm not with you for fun," she says. "I'm not with you to waste time, Quinn. This is a big deal for me, and I know it's not going to be easy. We're both girls in Lima, Ohio, and we're keeping it secret because we know what it can be like to be openly gay. We're not Santana and Brittany. The scrutiny will be more because of our respective families, and, as much as I'd like to be out and proud and be able to get kissed by you in the school corridors, I think we'll have to wait until we're out of this place." She pauses. "I assume we'll still be together at the end of the year."

"We will."

Her blush is back. "I want to build something with you. I want to learn with you and grow with you. We're working towards something, right? I'm not the only one who thinks that, right?"

I take in a deep breath and then release it slowly. "You're not the only one, Rachel," I tell her.

"And I know we're only in high school," she continues. "We're young and we're just starting out, but it's different with us."

"Because we're girls?"

"Because we're girls, yes," she says; "and because I love you, Quinn."

My mouth drops open, shocked.

"I'm in love with you."

I just stare at her.

She stares back.

A few seconds of silence pass, and then I'm launching myself at her. My body collides with hers, knocking her onto her back as I crawl over her, practically straddling her. She just manages to breathe out, before I'm kissing the next words right out of her mouth. I think I just need her to stop talking right now and the only way I can think to do that - besides feeding her food - is kissing her. Because now I can. So, I do. I kiss her for all she's worth, my tongue learning the shape of her mouth. It's a hard, passionate kiss and Rachel is moaning and sighing and squirming beneath me within seconds.

And that's exactly how LeRoy finds us.


"Okay."

I don't dare look at Rachel, even though her hand is in mine and resting on the top of my thigh under the kitchen table. Her fingers occasionally squeeze mine in encouragement, but I'm distinctly aware of the fact that I'm still blushing. It's been at least ninety minutes since LeRoy knocked on Rachel's door - during which we've prepared dinner and done homework at the kitchen table - and opened it to find me practically mauling his daughter. He was very calm about it, but it was clear he was surprised from his raised eyebrows.

I practically flew across the room to get away from Rachel, and the brunette just giggled and greeted LeRoy with her flushed cheeks and swollen lips as if nothing was wrong. She was so calm. In fact, she still is. Apparently, Hiram called LeRoy to inform him that he would need to check on Rachel as soon as he got home, which is the reason he came looking. He was expecting his daughter to be feeling down, not being pinned down.

"So, you're together?" LeRoy prompts, even as he shuffles a forkful of food into his mouth.

Rachel nods.

"For how long has this been going on?"

Rachel checks her wristwatch. "We're coming on twenty hours," she informs him.

LeRoy looks at me. "So, when you arrived last night, frantic and determined...?"

All I can do is nod.

"And you're together together?"

I'm the one to nod this time. "We're dating." I falter. "Um, well, we haven't gone on an official date yet but, yes, we're together together." I look at Rachel, leaning into her slightly and whispering, "We should go on a date."

She beams at me and then leans forward to kiss the corner of my mouth. "Definitely."

If I weren't already blushing, I would be now. She just kissed me in front of her fathers. What is she trying to do? Why is she so at ease? I can't look at any of them as I sit back and try not to panic. After a minute, I hear laughter, and I have to look up. All three members of the Berry family are looking at me, clearly amused.

"I think it's a record," Hiram says. "For how long have you been blushing, Quinn?"

I frown. "Are you seriously laughing at me right now? All of you? LeRoy? Hiram? Why?"

Rachel giggles. "Isn't she just so cute?"

"She truly is," Hiram agrees.

If it were possible, I blush more and my heart rate rises. I don't understand. Why aren't they saying things? What am I doing still sitting here, just casually having dinner with them as if nothing is amiss? "Are you really both okay with this?" I ask quietly. "You're - you're not mad?"

The laughter stops abruptly. "Oh, Honey," Hiram says. "Of course we're okay with this. We're definitely not mad."

"Though, we may have to discuss an open door policy now that you're no longer just friends," LeRoy says, attempting a joke that doesn't quite hit home with me. This is all just so foreign to me. I was just friends with Rachel, and my mother was ready to have me castrated. And here I am, just after being caught making out with Rachel, and they all seem fine.

If I'm being honest, I was expecting to be kicked out. Maybe they can read it on my face, because now the smiles are gone as well. I nibble at my bottom lip until Rachel's fingers gently pry it loose and she looks at me.

"Hey," she soothes. "Don't be nervous, okay? You and I, we're safe here."

Hiram nods. "We're a very progressive household, Quinn," he says. "I already told you, whatever happens, whoever you turn out to be, you're ours. You will always be welcome here. And, truly, the fact that you can make my daughter smile like that is a bonus."

I look at Rachel and, indeed, she is smiling one of her gold star smiles. It's dazzling and blinding and I definitely want to kiss her right now. "Is this real life?" I whisper.

"Oh, baby," she breathes, her fingers squeezing mine again. "It's better."

Because it is. It's so much better.

LeRoy clears his throat and we snap to attention. He smiles gently, knowingly. "We do need to talk about this though," he says. "What are your plans?"

"Plans?" Rachel asks, confused.

"Do you intend to... come out?"

I let out a breath. "No," I answer for both of us. "We're not going to do that."

LeRoy nods. "And that's a decision you've both made?"

Rachel answers this time. "We have, yes," she says. "As proud as I am, we've seen what it's like to be out in this town. We've seen Kurt struggle in school, and it's only now that Blaine is around that things have settled. We've seen you two deal with all the prejudice and vandalism. I mean, Daddy, you even had to switch more to administrative work at the hospital because people complained about your treating them." She shakes her head. "I am proud of you both, of course, but I don't think we're ready for that. Without even considering the backlash from Quinn's church, we are the Head Cheerleader and a Theatre Geek, which will probably turn our school upside down and inside out. The fact that we're friends has already caused enough of a stir.

"Quinn is also, definitely, the most sought after girl in school, for obvious reasons," she adds, casually waving her free hand in my general direction, and my blush grows. "We want to wait. It's better and easier if we wait. For how long, I'm not sure, but I'm perfectly fine with keeping the extent of our relationship under wraps." She looks at me. "That is what we decided, right?"

I nod. "It is."

Hiram's eyes are on me. "How are you feeling, Quinn?"

"It's definitely been an emotional few days," I tell him. I've decided the truth is the way to go. "My mother had a few things to say to me on Thursday night, which caused me to..." I trail off. "I freaked out, I guess, and I did things I'm not proud of. I definitely still have to make up for them. I just - uh, she was saying things about how the church was already disapproving of my friendship with Rachel and how I should be careful. She mentioned my father, which she knows is a sure way to get me to go off the railings, and - " I stop.

"And what?" he presses.

I gulp, gripping Rachel's hand tighter. "She may have alluded to possibly kicking me out again if I were to continue down this path with Rachel," I say, practically whispering; "before she told me that I, essentially, meant nothing to her." If my words weren't so heartbreaking, I think I would find their collective reactions particularly amusing. Rachel gasps, Hiram's hand goes to his chest and LeRoy's mouth drops open in shock.

Before I know what's happening, Rachel's arms are around me, and then Hiram's and LeRoy's, and I'm buried in a Berry hug that breaks me. I cry for the indifference of my biological family and I cry for the love of this new family. My body shakes from my sobs, my tears streaming down my cheeks, and Rachel's arms tighten around me, her lips pressed to my ear as she repeatedly tells me she loves me. Over and over again, like a mantra. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.

And it's enough. It's more than enough. Before, I had only Finn, but now I have an entire family, and I love them. I love them all. Eventually, the hug ends and LeRoy and Hiram return to their seats. Rachel holds on that bit longer, and I love her too. I do. I'm just -

Rachel's fingers wipe at my tears and she smiles through her own.

"I feel like I'm always crying when I'm with you," I whisper.

She just kisses my cheek and pulls back. Somehow, we settle into our dinner again and Rachel fills the silence with a story about how she's convinced her Trigonometry teacher hates her. I laugh, feeling the tension in my shoulders lessen. It helps that Rachel's hand finds its way to my knee on occasion, gently squeezing and giving me silent support.

It's near the end, when there's little food left on everyone's plates, that LeRoy addresses my confession for the first time. He sits up straight, steeples his fingers against his chin and meets my gaze with all the kindness and understanding in the world. "Quinn, Honey, do I need to remind you that you'll always have a place here with us?"

I shake my head.

"This is a home to you," he continues. "Please, please never forget."

I wipe at my eyes.

"The truth is that not everyone is accepting of the life we lead," he says. "We've faced prejudice, yes, and people have their assumptions and opinions about us. Finding acceptance in a place like Lima is difficult and, if I'm being honest, I don't want either of you to have to go through even half of what we've had to endure just in our choice to love whomever we want openly. Hiram and I have chosen to live here, but you two are meant for so much more, aren't you?"

I glance at Rachel. She definitely is. I'm not so sure about myself.

"The good thing is that you both have time," he says. "I know this all seems like the entire world, but you have time to figure things out and enjoy each other and this time together. We're here for both of you whatever you need. I know it doesn't look it, but we have been where you are. We were once teenagers, believe it or not."

Rachel lets out a small laugh, which eases some of the heaviness of the conversation.

"We know that every little thing that happens can feel like the end of the world. We know how overwhelming feelings can be. We have experience, and we can help."

Rachel just nods.

"Quinn?"

My eyes snap up to look at him. "Hmm?"

"You do not mean nothing," he says, strongly and clearly. "You are not nothing. Do you hear me?"

I nod numbly.

"I don't know your mother and, for obvious reasons, I think it's best that I never meet her. Sometimes, people say things. I don't know what her intention was telling you all these things, but I need you to believe me - us - that you do not mean nothing."

I swallow audibly.

"In fact, I would hazard a guess that you mean a hell of a lot to many people, including me."

"And me," Hiram says.

"Definitely me," Rachel adds barely a beat later, and I can't resist a faint smile. "And Santana and Brittany and all of Glee. Mr Schue, the Cheerios, even Sue Sylvester, I'm sure."

I giggle despite myself.

"I'm sure there are many I haven't even mentioned," Rachel says, and her hand drops to my knee again, squeezing lightly.

The lightness is back now, and dinner finishes with little more incident. Rachel and I go into the kitchen to do the dishes, she's washing and I'm drying. It doesn't take her long to get soap everywhere. On her clothes, and then on mine. She actually takes suds and touches my cheek. I kiss her because I can. I'm allowed to. In this house, I can be open with my touches and my happiness, and there's a part of me that never wants to leave.

But I have to. After Rachel and I work on her homework - which is really just a glorified make-out session - I have to go home and do mine. I didn't come to her house with anything other than the goal of letting her fix us. I have to go to my house, and she pouts adorably when I bring it up. She climbs on top of me, pinning me to her bed to stop me from leaving.

"Plans for tomorrow?" she asks, her breath washing over me.

Even if she wasn't winding me slightly, I'm sure I would still be breathless. I pretend to give it some thought. "Try to survive the day without bursting into tears, kiss you whenever I can and figure out a way to ask you out on a date in a decidedly more romantic way than I did at the dinner table." When I finish, I'm awarded with a firm kiss and a bite to my bottom lip before she finally rolls off me and gets off the bed.

It takes me a moment to get my bearings, and then she walks me out to my car, her hand in mine. She's so beautiful in the moonlight and I can't look away from her face even if I try. I don't want to, though, and I love that I don't have to.

We come to a stop at my driver's door and she slips her other hand into mine. I've always wondered what she sees when she looks at me. There's so much affection in her gaze that my heart hurts a little, and then a lot. It's so much. It makes me feel so much. I love her. I truly do.

I open my mouth to tell her. "I - " I hesitate. "I should go," I say, internally cringing.

Her smile dims for a moment, maybe from confusion, but she still nods, rocks forward and places a chaste kiss to my lips. "Drive safely," she says. "Text me when you get home."

I don't say another word as I get into my car and turn the key. I know if I open my mouth again tonight while in her presence, I'll say those three words I don't think I'm ready to say. Regardless of whether or not I feel them, I won't say them. They'd given her too much power, and I'm not yet ready to give in yet.

She's still standing there when I pull out of the driveway, and I watch her still form in the rearview mirror as I drive away.

I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.


Tuesday, thankfully, is less stressful. Well, when it comes to Rachel, that is. I think our talk helped because she seems more settled. Happy, sure, but settled as well. Despite the fact we're expected to play certain roles at school, I think we're doing well. I refrain from bombarding her phone with my non-PC texts - or any texts for that matter besides the one letting her know I arrived at my house in one piece. I've left that part in her hands. If she wants to open up that form of communication again, I'm all for it.

Santana's teasing is surprisingly mild. I expected a dog and pony show after Rachel and I barely survived our first day as official girlfriends. Maybe she's sympathetic to 'gay panic,' as she refers to it. It's an adjustment, as Rachel says, and it's going to take some time for us to make the transition from friends to more.

"Do you think we'll get out of practice before six o'clock?" Santana asks, as we pack up our things at the end of the period before lunch. "Dad is receiving some award from the hospital tonight and I'd really like to be able to see it."

"I don't actually know," I tell her in sympathy. "I'll try to make it happen, okay? And, if push comes to shove, you could fake an injury, have Britt take you to the ER and then possibly run extra suicides on Thursday."

She grimaces.

"I know," I murmur. "I'm sorry."

She shrugs. "I'm sure it'll be worth it. This is a big deal for him."

"Will you tell him congratulations from me?"

"Of course, Q," she says with the kind of proud smile that I don't think would ever exist on my face when it comes to my parents. It's foreign to me and, yes, I feel a flash of envy, but it dissipates quite quickly. I'm proud of Dr Lopez too. I mean, I may not have the perfect life, but at least I have people who care about me. And, as soon as Santana leaves me to find her girlfriend; another one of those people moves into view and I automatically smile at the sight of my girlfriend.

Which slips from my face the moment I notice the person talking to her. Finn. I'm tempted to walk straight towards them and demand to know what's going on but the determined look on Rachel's face stops me. She's standing at her own locker, Finn's form towering over her, but she's never looked taller; never looked brighter. She's the epitome of wonderful, really, and I count my lucky stars she's chosen me.

Realising that Rachel Berry is extremely capable of holding her own, I go to my locker to drop off my books. I've just set down my World History textbook when I feel a presence at my side. I don't even have to look to know it's her - she's avoided startling me since the locker incident - and I turn my head to find her smiling at me. She looks a bit thoughtful, which must be to do with whatever she and Finn were talking about.

"Hi," I breathe, closing my locker and turning my body to face her fully.

"Hello," she says brightly.

"Cafeteria?"

She slips her arm through my offered one, and we make our way to our destination in relative silence, our steps slow and steady. "So," she says after a while; "I have to tell you something."

I glance at her. "I'm listening."

"Well, I got a C on my Trigonometry quiz."

I raise my eyebrows. "What?" I ask, clearly not expecting that. "Wait. What?"

"I know," she says, looking distraught. "I don't even know what happened. It was just that we had a lot going on that week and I - "

"Rachel," I interrupt. "It's just one quiz," I try to soothe. "We'll work on it tonight, okay? I'm sure you'll be able to make it up by the end of the semester."

She perks up. "Tonight?"

I want to facepalm. "I actually don't know," I admit. "Sylvester's in a bit of a mood this week, and I may or may not have to pull some stunts to get Santana out of practice before six tonight. So, it's either we all get out, or I end up with extra laps to run if she ever finds out."

She huffs. "I think the anxiety of being a Cheerio would kill me," she admits. "I don't know how you do it."

"I know it sounds insane, but I really do enjoy it," I confess, laughing lightly at the horrified look she gives me. "I mean, if you can forget about the sadistic nature of our coach, the dangerous competition for places and the general tendency to be worked so hard you pass out; I like the fact it gives me purpose. Before, I was a cheerleader for reasons I'm not proud of, but now I do it because I enjoy it. I like the challenge, being pushed to be better. I also, I guess, like the control. And lack of control. There's something incredibly freeing about being thrown into the air and just being."

She looks scandalised. "I can't even watch when you're flying," she says, rubbing her nose against my shoulder for a moment. "It gives me heart palpitations."

I glance at her. "You worry about me."

"I do worry about you," she says. "I don't know if you've noticed but you are prone to injuring yourself."

"Hey," I say, poking her in the ribs. "Not everything is my fault."

She squirms. "Regardless, I worry about you, Fabray."

"Because somebody has to," I say, winking.

She stops suddenly, forcing me to halt as well. "Quinn Fabray," she says quietly. "There are lots of people who worry about you."

"That may be so, but you're the most important."

"Indeed, I am."

I want to kiss her so badly, which is the reason I pull her into an empty classroom, drag her into a corner and press my lips to hers. It's a quick one, just to get us both through the rest of the day, but it still leaves us both breathless. I can't stop touching her so I keep my body pressed against hers even when I end the kiss.

"I have to tell you something else," she says, the fingers of her right hand trailing fire over the back of my neck. I kiss her cheek in response, prompting her to keep going. "It's about Finn." I tense automatically, but I still kiss her other cheek. "I think - I think he suspects something."

I blink, stepping back. "What?"

"Not between us, no," she clarifies. "But, you. It's become increasingly apparent to me that he's been keeping a close eye on you, for whatever reason. And, because he knows you as well as he does, he can tell that something's different, and he wasn't afraid to ask me if there was somebody new in your life."

"Why would he care?"

"I asked him that," she tells me. "He claims he doesn't. He just doesn't want you to end up with a loser."

I raise my eyebrows, reading the expression on her face. "Rachel Berry, please don't even be thinking what I think you're thinking," I say, strongly. "You are not a loser at all. You're perfect, kind, smart and funny, and Finn is just trying to - shit, I don't even know what he's trying to do."

This time, she kisses me, and we spend a few minutes trying to outdo each other. Her tongue is relentless, and she wins this battle. I'll get her next time. After a quick check to our appearances, we finally go to the cafeteria, join the food line that doesn't quite exist anymore, and then separate to go to our different tables. I absently wonder if there will be a day when we sit together in this stupid school.

Not today.

I slide into my seat next to Santana, set my tray down and do my best to ignore the eyes I now know are on me. Finn's, yes. But Sam's too. Puck's as well, though I don't know why. Quite a few football players, if I'm being honest, and it's putting me on edge. Have they always looked at me like this and I'm just now noticing it? Or is this a new development, based on the assumption I'm still single? Or dating someone? Or, for all I know, this could be the manifestation of Finn's lies to his teammates. It could even be that, now that I said yes to Sam, they all think they stand a legitimate chance.

Before I give myself a headache, I sit back in my chair, ignoring my lunch and turn to look at Santana. "San?"

She pries her eyes away from Brittany and gives me her attention. "What's up?"

My brow furrows. "Is something happening?" I ask.

Her expression matches mine. "What do you mean?"

"Have you been hearing anything around the football team?"

"No," she says, turning her body towards me. "Why? What have you heard?"

"I think I'm being paranoid or something," I say, glancing Finn's way. He's talking to Sam and, after a beat, they both look up at me. Finn looks wounded and Sam just looks curious. What the hell? "I just - I have a feeling."

Santana's eyebrows rise, a smirk on her face. "A feeling?"

I gently punch her arm. "I'm just saying maybe if you can keep your ear to the ground, that would be great."

"Did something happen?"

"I thought I was doing a good thing trying to explain why I had to run out of our date to Sam, but I think he's reading too much into it now," I tell her. "And the fact that he's probably discussing me with Finn right now isn't helping."

Santana's features twist into something predatory; her protective instinct kicking in. "Q? What happened?"

"I don't want them asking Rachel about me," I say. "She's uncomfortable with the attention she's receiving from people because I happened to smile too widely or laugh too loudly." I sigh. "I don't understand why they're so worried about the fact that I'm happy."

And now her features soften. "Are you?"

I automatically blush. "I'm trying to be," I whisper. "There are aspects of my life that still need working on but, yeah, I'm happy."

Without warning, she wraps an arm around my shoulders and pulls me into a hug. It's a little odd. Santana isn't known for her affection for people other than Brittany, let alone in public. We're kind of the same that way, I suppose, which is why I try to duck out of it, squirming, but she just squeezes me tighter.

"You guys are so cute," Brittany says, which prompts my release.

Santana shrugs, her eyes on me. "I'll find out what I can, okay?"

"Thanks, S," I murmur, and take out my phone to text Rachel. I just want to talk to her, Politically Correct and all. This silent texting ban is coming to an end right now.

Quinn: Help! Santana just assaulted me!

Her reply is instant, and I can practically feel her gaze on me.

Berry: Shall I call 911?

Quinn: Save me, Berry.

Berry: I'm eating.

I smile to myself, suddenly wary of displaying the fact that there's someone in my life who makes me happier than I ever knew possible.

Quinn: So much for being my hero.

And I swear I can hear her cackle all the way from over here.


When I get to the choir room during lunch on Wednesday, Rachel is already practicing at the piano and I'm forced to pause in the doorway. Just the sight of her takes my breath away, and I wonder how it is I got so lucky. To think that, a little under three months ago, my life was so different. I've thought it a few times, but this is the first time I'm certain that Finn did me the biggest favour when he decided he no longer wanted me.

Because Rachel Berry does, and she isn't afraid for me to know it.

She notices me then, absently glancing over her shoulder and beaming at me. "Hi," she says. "What are you doing in here? I thought you had a meeting with Sylvester."

"Hey," I say, smiling faintly. "I lied about the meeting," I inform her, walking towards her. "I just needed some time to prepare."

She frowns. "Prepare for what?" she asks. "Ooh, are you going to sing in Glee?"

"No," I tell her. "I'm not going to be doing that for a while, given my last experience."

She blushes, ducking her head. "Sorry."

I shrug as I slide onto the piano bench beside her, sitting close to her. "Are you practicing for Mr Schue's proposal?" I ask.

She's smiling again, nodding her head. "Isn't it wonderful?" she asks. "I just love love. And it's amazing that he wants to involve us, isn't it?"

I find myself nodding, my eyes on her face. She's so pretty when she's happy and open and present, and she's mine. It still amazes me when I think about it. I almost missed out on her, and I just know I have a lot still to make up for, but she's going to let me, and that means all the world to me.

I lift my fingers to the keys but don't play anything. "So, I lied again," I say. "Five seconds ago."

"Oh?"

"I did prepare something," I confess; "but not for Glee. It's for you, and only you."

"Oh?"

I swallow nervously. "Can you scoot a little to the left there?" I ask. "There's something I want to ask you." Without hesitation, she shifts down the bench and waits patiently. I feel smaller under her gaze but I'm ready. I just know she'll appreciate this, because she's ready and she's sure now. As am I.

Slowly, I start to play a slowed piano version of Tegan and Sara's Closer, my voice joining the music after a few bars. "All I want to get is a little bit closer. All I want to know is, can you come a little closer?" I hear her breath hitch. "Here comes the breath before we get a little bit closer. Here comes the rush before we touch, come a little closer. The doors are open, the wind is really blowing. The night sky is changing overhead."

I'm not sure why, but my heart starts to beat a little faster. "It's not just all physical. I'm the type who won't get oh so critical. So, let's make things physical. I won't treat you like you're oh so typical. I won't treat you like you're oh so typical." I can't help my smile. "All you think of lately is getting underneath me. All I dream of lately is how to get you underneath me. Here comes the heat before we meet a little bit closer. Here comes the spark before the dark, come a little closer. The lights are off and the sun is finally setting. The night sky is changing overhead."

I chuckle lightly, starting to enjoy myself a little. "It's not just all physical. I'm the type who won't get oh so critical. So, let's make things physical. I won't treat you like you're oh so typical." I bump her shoulder with my own. "I want you close, I want you. I won't treat you like you're typical. I want you close, I want you. I won't treat you like you're typical. Here come the dreams of you and me. Here come the dreams. Here come the dreams of you and me. Here come the dreams."

I laugh happily. "It's not just all physical. I'm the type who won't get oh so critical. So, let's make things physical. I won't treat you like you're oh so typical. I want you close, I want you. I won't treat you like you're typical. I want you close, I want you. I won't treat you like you're typical. I won't treat you like you're typical. I won't treat you like you're typical." I slow my fingers to an aching pace, turn my eyes on Rachel's teary eyes and breathe the last two lines. "All I want to get is a little bit closer. All I want to know is, can you come a little closer?"

When I lift my foot off the pedal, Rachel slides back towards me - coming closer - and slips her arm around my waist. "Oh, Quinn," she whispers. "That was beautiful."

I blush. "Thank you," I murmur before I clear my throat and meet her gaze, losing myself in the chestnut colour of her eyes. "Will you go out on a date with me this Friday evening?" I ask, heat rising up my neck. We're not cheering at a game, and I've never been more relieved.

"I will," she answers immediately, and I let out the breath I didn't even know I was holding. Then, she says, "Wait, you aren't actually thinking of getting physical with me, are you? Because I won't go past second base on the first date."

Despite myself, I laugh out loud, dipping my head and kissing the corner of her mouth. "We're going on a date."

Her smile lights up my world. "Yes, baby, we are."

I grin at her. "I like that, by the way."

"What?"

"When you call me 'baby.'"

Her hand slides onto my leg and and she squeezes my thigh. "I like calling you that," she says, her voice oddly husky.

I raise my eyebrows. "Miss Berry, are you actually turned on right now?" I ask, sounding oddly breathless.

She blushes madly. "Hey, it's not my fault I'm a sucker for people singing to me," she confesses. "I find it very attractive, and you're already very pretty. It's actually not even fair."

I don't even know what to say, and her hand on my thigh definitely isn't helping.

She continues speaking, saving me from a response by, essentially, setting off an explosion in my chest. "And, in answer to your question: yes, I am turned on."

I suck in a sharp breath, practically jump to my feet and drag her up with me. "We still have twenty minutes left of our lunch break," I say, somewhat tensely. "I want you in a locked room right now."

And, really, she doesn't even protest.

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen

Rachel

the truth is
you were born for you.
you were wanted by you.
you came for you.
you are here for you.
your existence is yours.
yes.


We end up leaving Lima for our date. Quinn suggests it late Thursday while we're on the phone, and I agree because I know we'll be freer and more comfortable away from this place. We'll have our date, and walk hand-in-hand without worrying about looking over our shoulders. Without having to keep up appearances.

So, after Glee on Friday and after Mr Schuester successfully proposes to Miss Pillsbury, Quinn goes straight to her house and I go straight home to get ready. I've planned out my outfit already so I just hop in the shower, get dressed and do my makeup. It's been forty-five minutes since I saw her and I'm literally buzzing with anticipation. My dads are using the night to have their own romantic evening, and I'm more than happy to give it to them. I'm going to be having my own romantic adventure anyway.

When I hear the doorbell ring - Quinn insisted on ringing it, even though she has her own key to the house - I jump up and practically fly down the stairs in my excitement. I stop just before the door, take a moment to compose myself, and then open the door.

To nothing.

I frown, stepping forward. "Quinn?" I call out. Still nothing. Not even her car in the driveway. I stick my head out the door and peer left and right. Then down. Oh. There's an envelope on the welcome mat, with the words 'little star' written in my gorgeous girlfriend's handwriting. I jump slightly before bending to pick it up. Within, I find a card with a note written in her perfect script.

Rachel Berry,

Today, we're testing your Geography skills (otherwise known as your Google skills.)
Tell me, exactly how far is Abalone House (the restaurant) from your front door. In miles and in minutes.
Text me when you have an answer.
I can't wait to see you.

- Q

I read the note again before I shut the door and run back upstairs. So much cardio today. When I get to my bedroom, I drop down into my desk chair and open a Google tab, type in what I need, and wait. It doesn't take me long to find the information I need and I quickly shoot it off to Quinn in a text.

A minute later, the doorbell rings again and I make my way back downstairs, slower this time but still eager to see Quinn. Only, when I pull open the door, I'm met with nothing once again. Not even an envelope.

"Quinn?" I call out, getting a little annoyed. I even stomp my foot for good measure. "Quinn Fabray!" I'm fully about to close the door again when I feel two arms slide around my waist from behind and my body immediately relaxes.

Quinn. I practically breathe a sigh of relief as she chuckles near my ear, warm breath against my cheek. "Do you have any idea how cute you are when you rage and pout and just breathe?" she murmurs, and I spin in her arms to kiss her. Hard. She even steps back to accommodate the force, and her back hits the wall. She smiles against my mouth and this is turning out to be a great day. She's the one to pull away - or, rather, push me away. "Rachel," she says through a breathy laugh.

"Hi," I whisper back.

She laughs a real laugh, and I marvel at the sound. Gosh, everything about her is just perfect. I'm convinced tonight is the night she reveals to me that she's not a human being, and I'm going on a date with God's gift to mankind. I would believe her, too. I mean, even as I step back and take in her form and her outfit, I would believe her in a heartbeat. I use this time to take in what I can about the creature before me. At school, I don't get to look at her like this - like I want to - but now I do. I can stare at her face and her body for as long as I want and I'm definitely not going to pass up the opportunity.

Kurt was right. Her skin is flawless. It's perfect and pale and it's soft to touch. Her features are sharp and gentle at the same time, and it's moments like these when I think about Quinn's parents. As horrible as they are, they managed to make this glorious person in front of me, who's looking at me curiously now. I love her expressions. They just seem very deliberate, even the ones she's not conscious of. Her nose is - what more can I even say about that nose? She's honestly the prettiest girl I've ever seen, and the more I get to know her; the prettier she gets. It's blinding.

She clears her throat, growing uncomfortable under my scrutiny. "Are you ready to go?" she asks. "We have a bit of a drive ahead of us."

I beam, bouncing slightly. "And I know exactly how long it's going to take."

She laughs. "Yes, you do," she says, pushing herself off the wall. I get a quick kiss before she ushers me out of the house and locks the front door behind us. Can't be too careful in Lima, Ohio. We've been robbed before. Okay, it wasn't exactly a robbery. It was more or less homophobes entering our house with their own prejudices, only to learn that we're so boringly normal. We're even more normal than they are, really. Breaking and entering is a crime. Being gay isn't.

Quinn leads me towards a car that isn't hers and opens the passenger door for me. I have questions - so many questions - but I hold my tongue and just enjoy it. We're barely a few minutes into this date and it's already the best one I've ever been on. It takes me another minute to realise it's solely because this date is with Quinn.

Once she's in the driver's seat, she starts the car - a brand new black Range Rover; it still has the new car smell - and fiddles with the music. It's obvious she's nervous, even as she slips a CD into the music player that she's obviously burned with specific songs.

"So, I made a CD for you," she says, turning her body to face me. "I timed it exactly, so we'll arrive right in front of the restaurant by the time the last note sounds... provided I follow all the road rules. Which I'm going to do."

"Quinn?"

Her gaze barely manages to meet mine. "Hmm?"

"Are you nervous?"

"Deathly."

"Don't be," I tell her. "I'm already yours, remember? And this is already the best date ever."

She breathes out but makes no comment on what I've said. Instead, she reaches into the console and removes a piece of paper with a list of songs. "This is for you," she says, handing it to me. "You can look at the songlist if you want, or you can just sit there and listen and enjoy it."

"I think I'll do the latter."

She smiles at me in a way that makes me know I made the right decision. "Okay," she says. "Are you ready to go?"

"Definitely."

She presses play on the music and sound fills the car. My face literally splits in half when Colbie Caillat's Fallin' for You comes on and I reach for her hand for a moment. She sends me a small smile, shifts the car into gear, and then we're going. Every time a new song comes on, she glances at me and I return her look with a smile. The fact that she's so worried is adorable, though I don't say so. I'm not sure how she'll react to it right now; she's too nervous. The songs are great. It's clear that she put a lot of thought into this.

We don't talk all that much as she drives, but we do sing along to a few of the songs, and I swear I fall more and more in love with her with every word out of her mouth. Even though I know where we're going, I barely pay attention to anything other than the blonde sitting beside me and the way the songs are making me feel. I feel happy and free and lazy and calm and I am so in love.

"Oh, no," she suddenly says.

"What?"

"This is the last song," she says dejectedly; "and we still have eight minutes to go until we reach our destination." She pouts slightly, her brow furrowed, and she's honestly the cutest person I've ever seen. "Was I driving too slowly? No, I did the calculations." She looks borderline distraught. "I should have added a seventeenth song, just in case."

"It's okay," I assure her. "I like this song. We can listen to it twice." Her pout hasn't disappeared, which prompts me to sing the lyrics of Boys Like Girls' Thunder back to her. "... Your voice was the soundtrack of my summer. Do you know you're unlike any other? You'll always be my thunder, and I said. Your eyes are the brightest of all the colours. I don't wanna ever love another. You'll always be my thunder. So, bring on the rain."

She grins at me, and then we sing together. "Yeah, I'm walking on a tightrope. I'm wrapped up in vines. I think we'll make it out, but you just gotta give me time. Strike me down with lightning. Let me feel you in my veins. I wanna let you know how much I feel your pain."

I reach out and run a hand over her hair, and she leans into my touch. "Today is a winding road that's taking me to places that I didn't want to go... Whoa..." My heart skips a beat when she turns her head and kisses my palm. "Your voice was the soundtrack of my summer. Do you know you're unlike any other? You'll always be my thunder, and I said. Your eyes are the brightest of all the colors. I don't wanna ever love another. You'll always be my thunder."

And it's true, isn't it? I don't want to love anyone else.

When the song restarts and we near the restaurant, I finally look at the songlist in my hands.

Faberry's First Date (The Drive To)

1. Fallin' for You - Colbie Caillat

2. All I Want - Kodaline

3. Still Into You - Paramore

4. Just the Way You Are - Bruno Mars

5. Girlfriend - Avril Lavigne

6. Crush - David Archuleta

7. Teenage Dream - Katy Perry

8. Animal - Neon Trees

9. You Belong With Me - Taylor Swift

10. We Belong Together - Randy Newman

11. It's Gonna Be Love - Mandy Moore

12. Yellow - Coldplay

13. Into You - Ariana Grande

14. Bless the Broken Road - Rascal Flatts

15. A Thousand Miles - Vanessa Carlton

16. Thunder - Boys Like Girls

I look at Quinn when she pulls into the parking lot, curious. "Faberry?"

She laughs lightly, with a roll of her eyes. "That's Britt's nickname for us," she tells me. "Fabray and Berry. Faberry. She and Santana are apparently Brittana, and I didn't bother to ask why we get surnames and they get first names."

I mull it over. "We would be... Quinchel?"

She giggles. "I think I prefer Faberry." She finds a spot to park, and pulls in. She turns off the engine, smiles at me and then gets out. I wait because she'd want me to, and her beaming smile when she arrives at my door and opens it is definitely worth it. She offers me her hand, which I take, and I practically hop out of the SUV, stumbling into her. It prompts her to wrap her arms around me and press a kiss to my forehead. "For such a dance aficionado, you're awfully clumsy."

I step back. "I'm not clumsy, Quinn. I'm just shorter than most."

She laughs out loud, closing the door behind me.

"And this car is so high," I complain. "Whose is it, by the way?"

She raises her eyebrows. "It's mine."

"Wait. What? Since when?"

"Since my mother decided that Daisy wasn't projecting the correct Fabray image," she says, all casual when I'm totally horrified. "Also, she might have mentioned that this is incentive to, once again, alter my path when it comes to my relationship with you."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"It's not a big deal," she says, slipping her hand into mine and attempting to lead the way to the restaurant.

I don't move. "It's not a big deal?" I ask, incredulously. "Quinn. Stop trying to walk away. Talk to me." I notice her jaw clench. "Tell me what happened."

She turns to look at me, and everything about her is tense, closed off. She waits, and I wait. I won't break. She'll tell me; I know she will. "The car was in the driveway when I got home," she eventually says, deflating right in front of me. "I didn't really get much time to figure out what was happening when a man was taking Daisy's keys and substituting them with these new ones." She grinds her teeth. "I went into the house to find out what was happening and why. We fought. She said things. I listened and, when I went back outside, Daisy was gone and all my stuff was on the front lawn."

She releases my hand and grips the fabric of her lapels of her coat in both her fists. "I know I should have told you, but I don't want to ruin tonight, okay? What's done is done, Rachel, and there's nothing I can say or do about it. If I don't drive this car, then I have no way to get around. She owns me, and she knows it." She steps back and shakes her head. "Can we talk about this another time? I don't want her to ruin our night. I want to forget that there's this whole entire world that I have to deal with. I just - I just want to be with you without worrying about any of that. It's why we drove all the way out here. Please?"

The look in her eyes makes me give in and I wrap my arms around her, pressing my face into the crook of her neck and breathing in deeply. I would tell her I love her but I haven't said the words again since that first night. Monday night. It feels like a lifetime ago, really, but it's been five days of no returned sentiments from her. It's not that I expect her to say it back. I'm aware that people feel and express love in different ways, which is why I've decided not to overwhelm her with just how often I feel enough to tell her I love her. It's often, and it's a lot.

Abalone House is as close to perfect as Quinn is. It's... quaint. I love the mismatched furniture, dim lighting and quiet Indie music playing in the background. We sit at a table in the back, close enough to each other that I could just lean forward a few inches and we would be sharing air. Our server, Jen, smiles knowingly at us and hands over our menus. Quinn ducks her head immediately, and I just smile at Jen. If I thought Quinn was embarrassed, the fact that she kisses my cheek as soon as Jen is gone changes that.

"They have a vegan section," she says, her eyes scanning the menu. "And an exclusively bacon section."

I shake my head. "I should let you know that I won't let your mouth anywhere near any part of my body if you eat bacon."

She looks scandalised. "Seriously?"

I nod.

She leans forward. "Any part of your body?"

I gulp. "Well, you do have something of an obsession with my neck," I tell her. "I'm going to have to stock up on concealer, given the way your teeth gravitate to this general area." I gesture vaguely to the side of my neck.

"It's because you taste delicious."

I squirm in my seat. Jesus. I drop my gaze to read through the menu, looking at the specials and trying my best not to look at Quinn and her truly dangerous - and second -smirk. She's halfway to the - fifth - playful and the - eighth - mischievous smiles. So, it takes me a moment to calm again, and then we absently discuss what we're going to order. Jen comes back to take our drink order, and then our food order moments later.

Quinn levels her gaze on me, leans forward, and I don't think she looks away from me all evening. We talk about nonsensical things, like the weirdest way to open a cereal box: via guillotine or with a weed whacker; or what's the best way to deal with Thanksgiving dinner leftovers: turkey tacos, Thanksgiving pizza with a cream cheese base sauce and donuts made of stuffing with gravy icing. Quinn is rather creative, apparently. We talk right through Jen's return with our food and through the actual eating. After the initial comments on our meals, I don't even notice what I'm eating. It's just Quinn. Everything is Quinn.

We decide to share a dessert; vegan red velvet cheesecake. It tastes as good as it sounds, truly, and the sounds coming from Quinn make me shift in my seat, desperate to crawl into her skin. I want to get closer to her, but then I know I shouldn't. It should be illegal for a person who looks like Quinn, who has a mouth like Quinn's, to use a spoon. Really. Who invented spoons? Is this girl even human?

"This is the greatest thing I've ever eaten," she says, licking her spoon. "We have to get the recipe. LeRoy is going to go crazy for it." She goes in for another bite and wraps her mouth around the spoon, her teeth scraping along the metal before her tongue cleans its curve. When she licks her lips and lets out a low moan, I can't take it anymore and grab the spoon right out of her hand. "What the - " She looks adorably confused.

"You have a weigh-in on Thursday," I say, but it comes out in a husk, and she catches on immediately.

Confusion turns into a mixture of flirty and mischievous, and I just know I'm in for it. "Rachel, give me back my spoon," she says calmly.

"No."

"I will leave you here."

"You wouldn't."

She raises her eyebrows. "If you don't give me back my spoon, I will use my fingers instead," she says, and gives me a significant look. Oh. Oh.

I give her back her spoon immediately, and she smiles smugly. "I hate you."

"You love me."

I breathe out. "I do. I really do."

Her movements still for a beat, and then she leans forward and presses a chaste kiss to my lips. It's bold, and I know it's a deflection. She kissed me the last time I alluded to the depth of my feelings. It's why I told myself I wouldn't bring it up. And yet... I just can't help it. Granted, she helped.

Quinn pulls back, nervously looks around, seems satisfied and then continues with dessert. I just let it go because she kissed me in public. We'll have to talk about this at some point but tonight is not the night. Tonight, I'm just going to bask in the fact that she kissed me in public. This is amazing. Quinn is amazing.

When the check arrives, I don't put up a fight. It's her date. When we're leaving, Jen wishes us well, tells us we're a cute couple and that she can't wait to tell her girlfriend she met the most adorable 'baby gays.' I watch for Quinn's reaction, which is just to smile and say a polite Thank you, and then I give Jen a grateful smile before we exit the restaurant.

"Want to take a walk?" she offers, and I nod.

Quinn's hand is warm in mine, our fingers interlaced in the best way imaginable. Sure, our hands are hidden by her coat as we walk but this still feels amazing. I'm not worried, and that's the best thing for us. This date is important, and it's been spectacular. It was supposed to go this way because it merely reaffirms that this is what I want, wholeheartedly. My dads sat us both down on Wednesday night and explained to us that we should be prepared for curious and angry looks, bigoted slurs and hurtful words to our faces, regardless of where we are. We should also be aware of our public displays of affection, which is heartbreaking but also necessary.

But Quinn kissed me in public. It's all I can think about as we walk down the street, discussing the hottest peppers in the world in hushed voices, and then walk back down the opposite side, talking about how they actually make almond milk. My girlfriend knows the strangest things, I tell you. I mean, who even knows anything about Carolina Reapers and Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Peppers? Quinn Fabray, apparently.

At some point, Quinn glances at her watch. "I have to get you home," she says. "I promised LeRoy we wouldn't be too late."

I just nod as I let her lead us to the car - I still can't see it as her car - and she opens the door for me again. I almost expect a kiss but she doesn't give me one. I rather just get a happy smile, and then she runs around to the driver's side. I don't even know what time it is but, if she says it's time to go, then it must be late. Where did all that time go?

"Are you okay?" she asks as she starts the car.

"I'm great."

"So, I made another CD," she tells me, switching out the CDs in the front loader. "It's a little different."

"Oh?"

She blushes, her hand reaching into the console again and pulling out another songlist. "Read it or listen?"

"Listen."

Gosh, that grin is going to be the end of me.

Once we're on our way with the music playing, it takes me a moment to figure out that the theme to the CD is different. It starts with Frank Ocean's Thinkin' Bout You, which makes me feel warm both inside and outside. Then Beast of Burden by The Rolling Stones. But it's when Shut Up and Kiss Me by Angel Olsen comes on that I look across at her and watch her profile. She's stunning.

"Quinn Fabray," I say, and she glances at me. "Are you trying to seduce me?"

She laughs gloriously. "If I were, would it be working?"

"It's not not working," I tell her.

"I thought you said you didn't go past second base on first dates," she points out.

"So, what is this then?" I ask, just as How Do I Tell a Girl I Want to Kiss Her? by BTFL comes on. I smile automatically.

"Let it not be said that I'm not a good closer, Berry," she says, a picture of calm as her eyes stay on the road.

"I was already going to kiss you goodnight, Quinn," I tell her because she needs to know. "I'm pretty sure I kissed you before we even left on this amazing date."

"Amazing, huh?"

"Out of this world." Even in the dark, I can see her blushing. "I'm definitely going to kiss you," I go on. "I mean, if you forewent bacon to be able to kiss me, I have to award you somehow."

"Award me, huh?"

I reach out to touch her upper arm, squeeze gently, and then let her concentrate on the road as we listen to music, chat occasionally and sing along to the lyrics we know. I love that we can just do this; just enjoy a drive together and not find it necessary to fill our silence with words.

When we're getting close to Lima, Quinn slows her speed, clearly wanting to drag out the last few minutes. I don't blame her. I want it too.

"This is the last song," she says when we get to my suburb. "It seems this CD is timed much better."

I acknowledge that, and finally read through the songlist, even though my body's already humming from the music I've just heard. She's a closer, all right.

Faberry's First Date (The Drive Back)

1. Thinkin' Bout You - Frank Ocean

2. Beast of Burden - The Rolling Stones

3. Shut Up and Kiss Me - Angel Olsen

4. Here In Your Arms - Leon Bridges

5. How Do I Tell a Girl I Want to Kiss Her? - BTFL

6. Try A Little Tenderness - Otis Redding

7. Baby - The Roots

8. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? - Amy Whinehouse

9. Hold On - Tom Waits

10. Love Letter - Clairy Browne and The Bangin' Rachettes

11. Waves - Miguel (feat. Kacey Musgraves)

12. Really Love - D'Angelo

13. No One Else - Weezer

14. Hold On, We're Going Home - Drake (feat. Majid Jordan)

15. Because The Rain - Patti Smith

16. The Man Who Lives Forever - Lord Huron

"Damn," I say under my breath, but she still hears me.

"What?"

I take a breath. "You are trying to seduce me, aren't you?"

She blushes. "Why? Is it working?"

"Gosh, yes," I breathe, squirming in my seat. "Are you coming inside?"

She glances at me. "I don't think that's a good idea," she says, her voice low. "You said nothing past second base, and I'm feeling rather handsy tonight." She shakes her head, laughing at herself.

"You're feeling handsy?" I say, huffing slightly. "Did you see yourself working that damn spoon? It should be illegal."

"So, you would rather I used my fingers."

I let out a squeak. "Why are you like this?"

"Would you rather I wasn't?"

I have no response to that. What am I supposed to say? She wins. The CD restarts as we pull into my driveway and she brings the car to a stop, shifts into Park, takes out the CD and finally switches off the engine.

"Are you really not coming inside?" I find myself asking.

"I'm not coming inside," she says. "I am going to walk you to the door and I'm going to kiss you goodnight, and then I'm going to go back to my house and gush to my best friend about how great my girlfriend is."

I frown. "Santana?"

"No," she says. "Rachel Berry. Maybe you've heard of her."

I grin. "I haven't, actually."

"That's a travesty. She's pretty great, I think you'd get along." She leans back, squinting slightly. "Actually, you know, you do look a little like her."

"Imagine that."

We share a laugh at how ridiculous we're being before she puts the two CDs from this evening into a dual sleeve and hands them to me. I get a quick kiss to my cheek before she climbs out of the car and comes around to my side. I don't even know why but I suddenly feel nervous. We walk to the front door, acknowledging that the porch-light is turned off. I think my dads did it on purpose to give us the privacy for this moment. We do have neighbours, even though I sometimes like to forget when I walk Quinn to her car in the dead of night.

Quinn brings us to a stop and turns to face me. It's dark enough that I can't actually see the hazel in her eyes. It's a good thing too, because my hands are trembling and my breathing is laboured. Her hands move to my hips and she pulls me close.

"I had fun tonight," I say, my hands sliding over her shoulders.

"We should do it again sometime."

"How about tomorrow?"

She grins at me. "I'd like that."

"Good."

After a beat of silence, she speaks. "I can't feel my lips," she says. "Could you test them for me?"

I can't help my giggle. She's so corny. "With my fingers?"

"Or your lips. It's your choice."

My hand slips around the back of her neck to pull her down. "You're so stinking cute," I murmur, and then I kiss her slowly, steadily and with purpose. I'm trying to tell her I love her without having to say the words. I hope she hears them.

Quinn is the one to pull away first, her forehead resting against mine. "I'll see you tomorrow," she says.

"Tomorrow," I echo.

She presses a quick kiss to the corner of my mouth. "Goodnight, Rachel."

"Goodnight, Quinn."

She releases me slowly, steps back, and then turns on her heel and heads to the car. I stay standing on the porch and watch her go. I only go through the front door when her taillights have disappeared, and find my dads cuddling in the living room.

"Hey, Sweetheart," my Daddy says. "How was it?"

I breathe out a sigh, a grin taking over my face.

"That good, huh?"

I nod. "So much better."


My weekend consists of a second date, and a third. My plan for Saturday includes us sneaking our dinner into the cinema and eating it without getting caught. Quinn opts for sushi - imagine trying to eat that in the dark - and I have vegan pizza.

I can't even remember what film we watched. It was just background noise to the Rachel and Quinn show.

Sunday, when she gets back from church, she changes out of her Sunday best and lies on my bed to do her homework. She has two tests coming up and I accept that the day is shot until she drags me to my feet at around four o'clock and tells me to put on something decent.

I look down at my sweatpants and t-shirt. "What's wrong with this?"

"Nothing," she says, eyeing me. "Just put on shoes then."

I go into my closet and change into jeans and a green blouse. I slip on my boots and emerge from my closet to find an empty bedroom. There's a note resting on my phone on my desk, clearly from Quinn.

Rachel Berry,

Today, we're testing your Language skills (Otherwise known as your Google skills.)
Tell me, what is the plural of moose, goose and mongoose.
Come downstairs when you have your answers.
I'm waiting patiently.

- Q

I drop down into my desk chair with a smile. I'm sure I know all the plurals, but I still check Google to be sure. I don't want to embarrass myself in front of my genius girlfriend. When I'm sure I have it down, I go downstairs and find Quinn in the kitchen, talking to my Daddy. I fling my arms around her neck and whisper into her ear. "Moose, geese and mongooses."

She laughs right into my ear, her arms circling my waist. "So, you're ready to go then?"

I release her. "Where are we going?"

"Where we always go."

I bounce in excitement and my Daddy just laughs. "Will you two be gone long?" he asks. "Is dinner at seven okay?"

I look at Quinn. This is her date. Wait. Is it a date?

"Seven sounds good," she says. "We should be back with enough time to help." She turns to me. "Ready to go?"

I slip my hand into hers and allow her to lead the way. We drive in the new car. I'm not used to it - I miss Daisy - but it is growing on me. Somehow, it suits Quinn, in an I'm-desperately-untouchable way. It makes her seem grown up, older than she is, and I wonder if that was always the point. Quinn's mother wants to turn Quinn into another Mrs Fabray, but the woman clearly doesn't know her daughter.

I'm still learning.

When we get to the park, Quinn takes her bag out of the backseat and wraps an arm around my shoulders as we make our way to our spot. I've adopted it, so sue me.

She sets up the blanket and sinks down in all her grace. I settle down beside her, closer than usual, and she slides an arm around my waist and rests her chin on my shoulder. It's quiet here. There aren't ever usually people in this area and, if they were, I get the feeling there's a part of Quinn that no longer cares.

"Why are you so beautiful?" she asks in a whisper, her eyes on my face.

I let out a light laugh. "It's my genes."

"No, it's not," she says. "It's more than that. You can be the most attractive person on the outside, but it's the inside that makes you beautiful, and you're probably the most beautiful person I've ever seen."

I grip her hand tightly and rest my head against hers. "Sometimes, I don't believe you're real."

She squeezes my fingers. "I'm real, and I'm trying."

"You're very good at this."

"Oh yeah?"

"Amazing."

"Amazing, huh?"

"Out of this world."

She laughs. "I enjoy making you feel special," she tells me, somewhat seriously. "Sometimes, I feel as if it's all I live for."

I frown. "Quinn?"

"I'm sorry," she says, starting to pull back, but I hold her close. "I don't know why I said that."

"Yes, you do," I say. "Tell me what's going on in that pretty blonde head of yours."

She says nothing.

"Baby?"

She sighs. "I know it's not healthy, but there's a part of me that exists solely for you," she tells me. "And then I wonder if the part that doesn't exist for you actually exists."

"Oh, baby," I say, turning my torso and taking her head in my hands. "Please, don't say that. There's so much more to you than just me." I close my eyes to try not to see just how lost she looks. "Do you know who you are?" I ask. "Do you know who you are?"

She nods slowly.

"You're Quinn Fabray, Head Cheerio, Miss Four-Point-Oh GPA. You have killer friends, and you're popular, respected and totally hot." I wrap her in a hug. "You're strong and confident, and you take no prisoners. You're getting out of Lima. Your parents don't matter."

Her body shudders.

"You're Beth's mother."

She squeezes my waist.

"You are so loved, Quinn Fabray. You are so loved."

I feel her press kisses along my throat, which is a sign that the word 'love' has caused a physical response.

"Tell me, do you know who you are?" I ask again.

She nods against me, but I don't know if I've achieved anything.


We get home just after six o'clock, and go straight to the kitchen. Well, Quinn does, and I go upstairs to my bedroom to lie down on my bed with music playing in the background. I love her, I truly do. It's all-consuming and overwhelming, and Quinn isn't helping me deal with any of that by being her amazing, perfect self.

My body is buzzing. My heart, too.

I don't know how long I lie there but I eventually hear my bedroom door open and soft footsteps across my carpet. I know it's Quinn without having to open my eyes. I feel a hand on my cheek and lips on my forehead before she speaks.

"Did you know that music makes things sexier?" she whispers, and my eyes fly open.

"What?"

"Music," she repeats, smiling at me. "It makes things sexier." She blinks. "It makes you sexier."

I don't even know what to say to her, so I just stare at her face, surprised.

She gives me a wink before she straightens. "Dinner's almost ready," she says. "I was sent to fetch you. Let's go." Before I can say anything, she turns and heads into the bathroom.

Gingerly and sufficiently heated, I roll off the bed and stretch. I move towards the bedroom door just as Quinn emerges from the bathroom and struts towards my desk to check her phone that she asked me to put on charge. She looks perfectly tousled, cheeks a little flushed from the heat of the kitchen and she just told me she finds me sexy.

When she sets her phone back down and looks up at me, I waste no time in launching myself at her, throwing my arms around her neck and pressing my lips against hers. It's the kind of kiss that would be overwhelming for anyone else, but Quinn immediately sinks into it, wrapping her own arms around my waist.

She steps back and drops into my desk chair, taking me with her. I don't have to be told twice as I shift my position and straddle her, our lips never parting. It's a miracle, really. Or, we're just very talented.

My mouth opens on a sigh, and her tongue immediately slips inside, earning herself a significant moan from deep in my chest. This is the easy part. Our tongues slide over each other and she reduces me to a mess of a girl in her arms. My chest tightens as her head tilts, changing the angle of the kiss; deepening it in a way that elicits sounds from me that I would have found embarrassing before Quinn.

It becomes too much sometimes, the sensations of her. When her hands and mouth are moving together, in a rhythm that's maddening; when her mouth slants just right and she squeezes my flesh just so, all the world falls away.

I feel her smile, which makes me pull back, curious. "What?" I ask, breathless.

She shakes her head. "Nothing," she murmurs; "just, what are you thinking about?"

I frown, taking her head in my hands. "What makes you think I'm thinking about anything?"

Her eyes drop to my lips significantly. "I can practically feel you thinking, Rachel. Something on your mind?"

"Just the usual," I tell her.

"So, just me, then?"

I giggle, the sound soft and unassuming, and it translates from my body into hers. "All the time," I say, my nails scraping along her scalp and getting a pleasurable hiss out of her. "It's actually a problem."

"Can't concentrate, can you?"

"I daydream about you, Quinn," I purr, my face dropping into the crook of her neck and my breath warming her skin. "All the time," I repeat.

She playfully nips at my ear, getting another giggle out of me. "Are you complaining?" she asks.

"Definitely not," I reply quickly, sucking on her skin.

She shifts underneath me - practically squirms - and I smile in satisfaction.

I keep up with my ministrations, my lips, tongue and teeth laying claim to her neck and jaw and - down, down, down. I shift her shirt out of the way with my shaking fingers and drag my lips down to her collarbone.

"Rachel," she breathes, her fingers moving possessively over the skin of my back under my blouse. She's panting in my ear, and it's the best sound in all existence. Just, everything about her. There's always something to learn.

I lick my way back up her throat and kiss her mouth, her moans ringing in my ears, pinging around my head and making me feel dizzy with want. It feels so good. She feels so g -

"Quinn! Rachel! Dinner!"

We separate as if someone just doused us in cold water and I stumble back, right off of her. We're both breathing heavily, looking disheveled. Gosh, she looks incredible when she's just been throughly kissed.

"We should go," I say.

She just nods, slowly rising to her feet.

I run a hand through my hair, trying to smooth it down. "At least he shouted from downstairs this time," I say. "That could have given him a heart attack."

She smiles faintly. "I think I almost had a heart attack," she murmurs, as she moves past me to the door and opens it, leading the way.

And, as I follow her out of my bedroom, I can't shake the feeling that I would follow her into the dark in a heartbeat.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen

Quinn

i am a soft revolution.
the one whose hair is bleeding.


"Are you coming over tonight?"

I look up at Santana as she slides into the seat next to me. It's Friday morning and our early Cheerios' practice has my legs aching and my fingers trembling. I may or may not be a little dehydrated because I'm a little dizzy, but it's nothing I haven't experienced before. Though, I do suddenly regret leaving my vitamin water on the counter in the kitchen in my rush to get out of the house this morning. Truthfully, I've been having a rather forgetful week, blissful in my budding relationship with Rachel and stressed out about my upcoming tests and assignments.

"Uh, I am?" I mumble.

Santana sighs as she takes out her notebook for our AP Stats class. "I told you Britt wants to get started on planning your eighteenth."

I frown, despite myself. "I'm having a party?"

She huffs in annoyance, though there's a slight upturn at the side of her mouth. "I know you're all deliriously happy now and all that but we discussed this literally on Monday."

Now, I'm smiling, but I still don't recall the conversation. Regardless, she doesn't need to know that. "I'm sorry," I say. "I remember now. Do you have any water?"

"Sure," she says, digging in her bag for a bottle of water and handing it to me. "Do you really remember or are you just saying that to appease me?"

I shrug. "So, we're throwing me a party... at my house?"

Santana gives me a pointed look. "We shouldn't do that, should we?"

"I think it's best if nobody gets anywhere near my house."

"Except Rachel, huh?"

And now I'm blushing. "Except Rachel," I echo. "We try to plan it that she comes over only when my mom isn't home though. That woman puts us both on edge and we've learned to plan it better."

"She puts me on edge. I still don't know how you live in that house."

I sigh, because I really don't want to get into that right now. I mean, I ask myself that question a lot, but I don't know where else I would go? The Berrymen talk a good game, but I couldn't just go and live with my girlfriend... we're just starting out, anyway. There's Santana, of course, but nothing is a long-term solution, and I already know what it's like not to be living in my house. I don't want to go through that again.

And, she's my mom.

"I guess a venue is something we can discuss tonight," I say. "I'm bringing Rachel, by the way."

She laughs. "Was it too much to expect you to ask?"

"Definitely." I shoot her a smirk before I down practically half the bottle of water. "There are only a few places where the two of us can just be, and one of those places is at your house."

Santana bumps me with her shoulder. "I hear you, kid," she says. "Welcome to our world."

"Why didn't you tell me it was so great on this side?"

"I've been trying to tell you for years, Q," she says, eyeing me curiously when I take another long drag from the bottle. "Are you okay?"

"Hmm?"

"Thirsty?"

I pull the bottle away. "Uh, yeah," I say. "It's the great red flood this week."

She grimaces at the mention of our mutual monthly friend. "And I bet this morning's practice didn't help?"

"I suppose the good thing is the ache in my legs is detracting from my crying ovaries," I say, polishing off the water before getting to my feet and walking to drop the bottle into the recycling bin near the door. The world spins a little but I put one foot in front of the other, determined. Rachel helps with that; she keeps me motivated.

As soon as I drop the bottle into the bin, someone opens the classroom door and I flinch and stumble, tripping over a ghost. I reach out for something, anything, but I'm flailing... and then I'm falling.

And nothing.


When I come to, my head is throbbing, and every other part of my body is aching in that dull way that doesn't exactly hurt but is still deathly annoying. It takes me a moment to figure out where I am and I groan at the realisation that I'm lying on a bed in the sick bay. Everything hurts. I try to sit up but immediately give up when the world starts to spin on its axis and I lie back down to still it.

There's a glass of orange juice sitting on the table next to the bed and I drink it all. I'm thirsty, yes, and I'm feeling some other level of exhausted that even my toes are complaining. I don't even know how I got here. The last thing I remember is those three curved arrows, encouraging me to recycle, reduce and reuse. And then nothing.

"Miss Fabray?"

I look up at Nurse Davis and offer her a small smile. "Hi, Nurse D," I manage to say.

She walks towards me, moving to the side of my bed and looking over me critically. "How are you feeling?" she asks, seemingly satisfied that I've managed to drink all the juice she probably set out earlier. It's one step to proving I'm good to go.

"Pretty awful, if I'm being honest."

"That's expected," she says, sitting in the chair next to the bed. "Your iron was extremely low, and so was your blood pressure."

"Oh?"

She nods. "When you're feeling up to it, we can go to the hospital for a proper checkup. I have iron tablets for you to take, but you might need to get a proper prescription if you are anaemic."

I blink. "Uh, how long have I been out?"

"A little over an hour," she tells me. "It's almost third period."

I let out a breath, forcing away a wave of absolute panic. "What exactly happened?"

"You fainted in AP Stats, and a few of your friends brought you here," she says, and I groan. "You also managed to knock your arm on a desk on your way down, and it's already starting to bruise."

It's the first time I notice the secondary throbbing in my forearm. Really, can this day get any worse? I bury my face in my hands. "This is so embarrassing."

"It happens."

"Not to me," I mutter, just thinking about the rumours spreading through the school. I'm the Head Cheerio. I'm supposed to be indestructible. And I fainted? How pansy is that? I start to move again. "And I definitely don't need to go to the hospital. My best friend's father is a doctor, and I'll see him this evening. I have to get back to class anyway. I have a Chemistry test after lunch."

She shakes her head, putting a hand out to still my movements. "You need rest," she says. "At least another half an hour, and then we can consider the possibility of your going back to class, okay?"

I sigh. "Fine."

"That's the spirit."

I try not to roll my eyes, settle back down on the bed and promptly fall asleep.


There's a soft pressure in my hand when I come to for the second time. I groan at the ache in my muscles, and the pressure in my hand shifts. A beat later, I feel fingers in my hair and then lips on my forehead, once, twice. There's a soft sigh, and then a perfect voice.

"Why do you keep insisting on injuring yourself?"

My eyes open and hazel meets chestnut brown. "Hi," I breathe.

Rachel settles back down into her chair and levels me with a glare. "Don't just 'hi' me," she practically hisses at me. "Do you know what it's like to be sitting in the middle of Trig. and get a text from Santana telling me that Q's just passed out and she's at the Nurse's, and not be able to do anything about it? I had to wait until my free period to come and see you."

I raise my eyebrows. "So, no hall pass then?"

She slaps my - uninjured - forearm. She may be mad, but she still has the foresight not to hurt me further. "This isn't funny. I was terrified."

I shift into a sitting position and fight off the wave of dizziness. God, can my stupid bro just fix its;f or something? "I'm sorry," I say. "It was just low iron. I'm fine."

Her eyes narrow, and I know immediately I've said the wrong thing. "Listen to me, Quinn Fabray: I love you, so, when you're not fine, tell me. Please don't keep saying 'I'm fine,' because you're obviously not, and it's not cool. Seriously."

"Rachel," I breathe, sensing the severity of this moment owing to her adoption of colloquial language. "Please don't be mad."

"I'm not mad, Quinn," she says. "I'm just worried, okay? I worry, and I - "

I reach for her hand and squeeze her fingers. "I'm sorry," I say, trying to find the words. If she wants me to tell her, then I'm going to. "Physically, now, I'm fine. It was low iron, which is easily fixable with proper rest and a few tablets. I'm stressed out about the Cheerios and school, I haven't been drinking enough water and I'm literally bleeding from my uterus. I'm exhausted, Rachel. I just - I want to sleep. And now Britt wants to plan a birthday party for me, and the football boys are all acting so damn weird, and I'm tired. I'm just so fucking tired."

Rachel says nothing. She just gets to her feet - forcing me into a panic that she's going to leave me - and then settles on the bed beside me. I shift to the left and she moves closer, wrapping her arms around me and hugging me to her body. I don't even bother with a glance toward the door. I suddenly don't care if anyone sees us. She presses her lips to my temple and I relax into her, settling into her familiar embrace.

"I'm sorry," I whisper.

"I don't want you to be sorry," she murmurs. "I just want you to let me help you."

"I don't want you to have to give so much, Rachel," I tell her. "I don't know how to balance the scales."

She kisses my forehead. "There are no scales, Quinn. There's nothing to be balanced. This is how it works. When you need me, I'm there. When I need you, you're there. I know it's been only one week since our first date, and it's been great, but you have to remember we are friends first, okay? We don't hide things from each other. I added it to the best friend contract and we re-signed it, remember?"

I burrow my face into the crook of her neck, feeling guilty and embarrassed.

"I just hate to see you hurting," she says, her lips ghosting over my skin. "It hurts me when you hurt."

I tighten my grip on her sweater. "I'm a mess."

"Maybe you are," she agrees, and I feel her smile against me. "But you're a beautiful mess, and you're mine. Please, just let me take care of you. I want to."

I close my eyes really tightly and focus on her beating heart, her words penetrating and comforting. It's all that really matters, isn't it? I'm hers, and nothing else matters in this moment. Her presence is warm and soothing and, before I know it, I'm drifting back to sleep from exhaustion, my heart happy and my body calm.

With Rachel Berry, is there any other way?


The next time I wake, it's almost time for lunch. I'm definitely hungry, and my waking groan is borderline more uncomfortable than my growling stomach. This day is a complete and utter fail and I don't even know how I'm supposed to write my Chemistry test when I haven't managed to do any revision. Despite Rachel's beliefs about my academic prowess, AP Chemistry really is the subject I struggle with the most, and I already know this specific test is shot to hell.

As soon as the bell signalling lunch sounds, I straighten. Surely, I can leave now. I feel sufficiently grounded or whatever Nurse Davis requires of me to be able to get out of here. I need to get some food, study a bit, and find out from Santana just how damaging my little foray into the land of the fainted has been. I shift to the edge of the bed and drop my legs to the floor, stretching my back and trying to evaluate the damage to my body. I'm in pain, yes, but I can't quite pinpoint what hurts. Or, really, what doesn't hurt.

I stand slowly, pleased that the world remains steady, and move towards the sink in the corner of the room. I splash my face with cold water, trying to get feeling back. I loosen my ponytail, rake my fingers through my hair, and then redo it, making sure that not a single strand is out of place. I have a feeling I'm going to be meeting with Coach Sylvester at some point, which I'm definitely not looking forward to. I wouldn't even know what to say to her. For all she knows, I'm not even a human being. All this stupid day has proven to me is that I'm not indestructible, physically, and that truth hurts me more than it will ever hurt her. I'm supposed to be able to take a beating. I'm supposed to be stronger.

I breathe out a sigh and square my shoulders. I can do this. It's just a day I have to get through. I start making a mental list of all the things still required of this day. Eat. Study. Try not to fail my test. Get the work I missed from various people. Speak with Coach Sylvester. Sit through Glee. Go over to Santana's. Kiss Rachel. Kiss Rachel again. Try not to -

"Quinn?"

I turn sharply towards the source of the voice, a confused frown on my face. "Finn?" I blink. "What are you doing here?"

Finn is impossibly tall as he stands in the doorway, looking all kinds of awkward as he carefully avoids my gaze. "Well, I heard about what happened, and I, uh, I wanted to check if you were okay."

I frown. "Oh."

"Are you... okay?"

I sigh. "I'm fine, Finn," I say, and I don't feel nearly as guilty about saying it to him as I did to Rachel. He's proved he doesn't really care about me - there's a list of reasons, but I'm too tired and emotional to think about them right now - so what is he really doing here?

He takes a step towards me, his face giving away something that I don't recognise. It irritates me beyond belief, and I want nothing more than to tell him to leave. This entire week, he's been acting weird, and his football teammates haven't been much better. Obviously, he doesn't read the tension in my shoulders or the narrowing of my eyes because he takes another step towards me. His steps are large, and he's practically in front of me by my next breath.

"Finn," I say, annoyance seeping into my tone.

"I'm worried about you," he says.

My fists clench. "Why?"

"Because I care about you, and you just fainted, Quinn," he says as if it's the most obvious thing in the world. "Of course, I would worry about you."

"Stop it," I hiss, trying not to be taken back to months ago when this very boy broke me. Where was all this 'care' then? "Just stop, Finn. Jesus. What are you even doing here?"

"Quinn - "

"It's not your job to worry about me!" I snap. "You handed in your resignation months ago, or have you conveniently forgotten all about that?"

His face falls, and I look away.

"Why now?" I ask, my blood boiling. "Why now? I don't need you to worry about me, so just stop with whatever the hell you think this is. You don't have to feel guilty anymore. You don't owe me anything. I'm fine."

"Quinn," he says, stepping towards me again. "This isn't about guilt. Am I really not allowed to worry about you? I know we aren't together anymore, but - "

"Stop!" I suddenly yell, just needing him to quit speaking "You don't get to worry about me now! Where were you when I was crying myself to sleep when you left me? Where was all your stupid worrying when you told me you wanted more than me? That I wasn't good enough for you? That I didn't feel anything? That I ruined you? Where were you then, Finn? Where were you, huh? I didn't need you then, and I sure as hell don't need you now!"

He just stares at me, clearly stumped by my outburst.

Finn and I are still standing in awkwardly charged silence when Rachel, Santana and Brittany finally arrive, saving me from all this confusion - and anger. I'm breathing heavily, my fists clenched, and it's immediately obvious to all three of them that something is wrong. It takes them a moment to take in the situation in front of them, and then Rachel moves straight towards me, and I hear rather than see Santana sneer at Finn. She yells something at him, but Rachel is suddenly in my arms and the warmth of her embrace helps stop my body from shaking. I close my eyes to the comfort and hate that all the progress I seem to have made with regards to Finn has amounted to nothing.

Rachel's hands slide down my back, bringing me out of what must be a space-out. I breathe out slowly and pull back so I can look at her face. She's looking at me with worried eyes and her mouth is set in a thin line. She's clearly not happy with this situation, but she's silent about it. Bless her, my little hero.

"Q?"

I look past Rachel at Santana standing near the door.

"Are you okay?" she asks, her tone giving away the concern she's clearly trying to hide. We're such proud people sometimes; it's sickening. "Do you want me to beat him up?"

I just offer her a small smile as I shake my head.

"Maybe you should lie back down," Rachel suggests, her tone low and gentle, as if she doesn't want to spook me. "We can get you something to eat, and then we can reevaluate how you feel after that. How does that sound?"

I resist the urge to kiss her as I nod my head. I visit the bathroom first, and then climb back onto the bed. It takes the four of us a few minutes to get settled, and then another minute to get comfortable. Rachel busies herself with preparing my salad, taking out the olives, adding extra pieces of chicken and sprinkling a little too much salt - she probably Googled fainting - before she hands it to me. I notice the smile on Brittany's face and the roll of Santana's eyes. I ignore them in favour of my salad, because I know Rachel won't start eating until I do.

They speak to me and I try to reply, but they're mostly talking to one another. I assume they talk about me at some point, probably making plans on how to exact their collective and particular brand of Quinn-management, but I'm not listening. I eat as much as I can - which isn't much - while Rachel's soft hand pats my leg in a steady rhythm, which eventually lulls me back to sleep.


Santana drives me straight to her house after she gets out of Glee, and Brittany drives my car behind us. It's part of the Quinn-management plan for today, so I don't put up a fight. I'm a little too tired for arguing anyway. I just want to crawl into a bed and sleep for years and years, so I'll let my three favourite people handle whatever needs to be handled, and then deal with the aftermath when I'm not feeling so drained.

Santana doesn't give me options when we get to her house. It's almost as if she's channeling Rachel when she sends me upstairs to the guest room in which I usually sleep. She tells me to change into the sweats that were already in my bag because I was meant to be going to Rachel's. Which really means that I always have extra clothes because I'm always going to Rachel's.

She makes me hydrate with water and orange juice, take the necessary pills and then climb into bed. I don't put up a fight. After the day I've had, I'm ready to let them take care of me. When Santana leaves the room, Brittany gets into bed with me and wraps me in her arms. She feels different to Rachel but my body accepts the comfort and I slowly relax.

When Santana comes back, she's not alone. Her father is with her, looking equally calm and concerned. He has his doctor's bag, and I sigh. Brittany and Santana leave us alone and I get asked all the normal questions. Dr Lopez is kind and gentle as he first checks my blood pressure, which has managed to normalise since Nurse Davis last checked it, though it's still on the low side. Next, he pricks my finger to retest my iron - it's still low, but not as low as it was earlier - before he draws three vials of blood to run a few tests at the hospital. Just to make sure, he says.

I get queasy at the sight of the blood, which makes him smile. He has a warm smile and a soft tone, and I can't help thinking about my own father. He was always so cold and hard, even before the pregnancy. He was suffocating and controlling from such a young age, and I shudder to think about the kind of person I would be without Beth, without the homelessness, without the divorce... just, before.

Before Rachel.

I can't help thinking that staying in that house with him would have killed me, slowly and quickly, suffocating and slicing.

Dr Lopez gives me some more tablets to take, tells me to get some rest, kisses my forehead, and then leaves the room. Santana and Brittany return a minute later and take up positions on either side of me. There isn't a television in here, but Brittany just hums a song I don't recognise in my ear.

Santana reaches for my hand at some point. "I know I act all tough and all that, but I would really appreciate it if you didn't do what you did this morning ever again," she says, her tone serious and emotional.

I'm hit by so much guilt that I close my eyes and squeeze her fingers. "I'm sorry," I whisper.

"San was sad," Brittany tells me, and then resumes her humming.

I turn my head and look at Santana's profile. "Hi," I murmur.

She turns to look at me as well, our noses practically touching. "We're the Unholy Trinity, plus Berry, and take care of one another, Q," she says. "We fight for one another, even when we sometimes fight with each other. I know you and the midget are happily in love and all that, but we worry about you too."

I just nod to indicate that I've heard and acknowledged her, absently resting my head on her shoulder. "So, what happened today?" I ask.

"Besides the fact that I almost had a fucking heart attack when my best friend collapsed?" she says, reverting back to the Santana I know and love. "Generally, people didn't have much to say because it was pretty obvious what happened."

"No pregnancy rumours?"

"It's not the first time a Cheerio has passed out," she tells me. "It was just different having it happen in class. And you haven't passed out since the summer before junior year."

I groan. "I was doing so well, wasn't I?"

She laughs lightly. "The streak is over, Fabray."

"Is it because I'm getting old?" I ask. "Is this what being an adult is about?"

"Dude, being an adult is basically just whispering 'what the fuck' under your breath something like two hundred times a day."

I laugh out loud for a solid minute, before I sigh contently, relaxing further into the pillows and mattress. I feel Brittany's arms tighten around me and she moves to whisper in my ear, as if she knows the words I need to hear. "It's okay, Q," she assures me. "Go to sleep. Rachel will be here when you wake up."

I didn't even know I needed to hear about Rachel, but it feels as if a fist around my heart unclenches and I can breathe again.

"There we go," she says, soothingly. "It's okay. Sleep. Everything will be better when you wake up."

I believe her.


I wake up alone, the smell of bacon wafting into the room through the open door and I'm instantly alert. Wait, bacon? I sit up to survey my surroundings and it takes me a beat to recall the day as a whole, which makes me groan. I shift to the edge of the bed and run hands over my hair to smooth it down as my feet touch down on the wooden floors. I don't think I do much good but my aching body definitely doesn't care. My hair is the least of my problems.

I spy a glass of water and some Advil, which brings a smile to my face. I love how my girlfriend takes care of me; how she loves me, despite all I put her through. I reach over and take two tablets, hoping they'll work immediately, even though I know they'll take at least twenty minutes to move through my digestive system and take effect. I think I'll probably need something much stronger at some point. Things hurt. I know this kind of physical pain, I do, but there's this odd emotional pain sitting heavily on my chest. I know I'll have to take the time to sit down and unpack that, but there's bacon in the air and I can't think straight.

"Quinn?"

I look up to see Rachel walking into the room, a steady smile on her face. "Hi," I breathe, managing a smile. I'm just so happy to see her. I've missed her today.

"How are you feeling?" she asks, coming to a stop in front of me and cupping my cheeks with her hands. "You look better."

I lift a shoulder, and then drop it. "Is that bacon I smell?" I ask.

She laughs lightly, stepping forward and sitting sideways on my lap, her arms slipping around my neck. "That is bacon you smell."

"Why do I smell bacon?" I ask, my arms wrapping around her waist. She's warm and soft, and just having her in my arms is enough to ease the building tension in my muscles.

"Britt says that bacon makes you happy, so she and Santana have spent the last hour coming up with the ultimate bacon experience for you," she tells me. "As disturbing as it is to witness or even think about, they are very creative."

I smile because I imagine they are going overboard with their creation. The three of us have been known to go a little crazy in the kitchen. "I'm sorry I left you to deal with all that bacon."

She sighs dramatically. "I suppose it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make, because I just want you to be happy," she says, her fingers sliding into my hair.

My eyes close at her touch. "Bacon isn't what makes me happy, Rachel," I say, my tone serious and unassuming. She has to know. This is important. "You are."

She kisses my cheek, her lips lingering on my skin.

"As I was falling, all I was thinking about was you," I tell her, alluding to the events of this morning. "I knew that, if I could just see you, everything would be okay. I would be okay."

Her lips trail down my jaw and she hums. "And you are okay."

I nod. "Santana's father had a look at me," I tell her. "I'm physically okay."

She pulls back to look into my eyes, searching for something. "And not physically?"

"I'm not yet sure," I confess. "I have to have a proper sit down with myself and discuss it."

Despite herself, she giggles, which allows for levity to return.

"How do you really feel about the bacon?" I ask her, my left hand sliding up her back and drawing her closer.

She sighs into my neck. "I told you I want you to be happy and, if Britt is convinced that bacon will help, I'm willing to accept it for what it is."

I raise my eyebrows, feeling myself return to myself, and I just go for it. "I don't want to eat bacon if it means I don't get to eat you."

Her first reaction is to gasp, before she blushes and ducks her head to try to hide it from me. She fails, and I smirk. "I have a solution for that, Quinn," she eventually says, hands closing around strands of my loose hair and tugging gently. "So, you know, eat all the bacon you want, please. Be happy."

I frown. "But, if I recall correctly, you told me my mouth wouldn't be going anywhere near any part of your body if I ate bacon, and that's not okay with me. At all."

She laughs gloriously, throwing her head back, and happiness settles in my chest, overpowering that weird emotional pain from earlier. Everything unnecessary dulls when I'm with her. "That condition still applies, unfortunately," she says seriously. "But that doesn't mean my mouth can't go near yours."

I suck in a sharp breath, the ache in my limbs completely forgotten as I reach forward to kiss her. I haven't kissed her all day, and it's been too long. My arms tighten around her the moment she slides her tongue into my mouth, and she's missed me too, hasn't she? I miss her, even when she's right here with me.

We kiss slow and fast, shallow and deep, and the simple act of just kissing her - lips, tongues and teeth - is both settling and exhilarating. Just her presence grounds me, settles me and comforts me. I don't know what I would do without her.

Rachel is the one to pull away first, her breath jagged and her eyes wide. "We should probably head downstairs," she says; "before one of them comes up here to get us."

"Brittany rather than Santana, definitely," I say, grinning at her.

She smiles gently, pecking me once more before standing up and holding out her hand. I force myself to take a deep, calming breath and then stand and slip my hand into hers. She squeezes my fingers, and then leads the way out of the room and down to the kitchen after I make a quick stop to the bathroom. I'm fully aware of the fact my smile is growing wider the closer we get to the bacon. Its delicious smell is assaulting my senses. She giggles when she glances over her shoulder at me.

"You're so cute," she says, and I don't even try to deny it. She can say whatever she wants to say right now because I'm about to have bacon.

I just never quite imagined it would be that much bacon. Rachel wasn't kidding when she said Brittany and Santana got creative, and I can practically feel my arteries clogging up just looking at it. Brittany is smiling so widely, and Santana is just waiting for my reaction, prepared to jump down my throat if any bit of Brittany's smile dims as a result of anything I say or do.

"Wow," I say, glancing nervously at Rachel, and I feel her hand on the small of my back. "B, what exactly is it?"

She jumps on the spot and excitedly pushes the plate towards me. It smells so good. "Well, it's a bacon bacon bacon bacon burger," she says, beaming at me. "It's got two bacon-wrapped buns, two bacon-wrapped patties, the patties are made of bacon, lettuce, pickles, tomato and onions, bacon cheese, and bacon spread."

"We didn't put pickles, B," Santana says calmly. "Q doesn't like pickles, remember?"

"Oh, yeah," Brittany says, her eyes back on me. "Do you want to taste it?"

I don't need Santana's glare to tell me what I'm going to say. I wouldn't want to hurt Brittany's feelings either. And, I mean, it's bacon. "Of course, B. It looks amazing."

She nods her head vigorously.

"Can we cut it up?" I ask carefully. "So we can share?"

Brittany nods again, reaching for a knife that Santana quickly takes from her before she can properly yield it. Santana slices the burger in half and my eyes widen at all the juices that pour out of it. She shoots me a grin and I roll my eyes. Our next weigh-in is going to be very interesting. Brittany shifts my half to another plate and places it right in front of me. Santana cuts the other half into half again, and both she and Brittany get a quarter. Rachel steps closer to the kitchen island to inspect my heart-attack-just-waiting-to-happen.

"I assume it must taste good," she murmurs, her hand sliding up my back. "Even if it does look a little suspect."

"I don't even know if will fit in my mouth," I say.

"Try it," Brittany says before Santana can say something dirty.

I, somewhat nervously, move my hands and attempt to lift my half of the burger. It smells really good, and I'm sure it tastes really good too. I'm trying desperately not to think of the calories. I glance at Rachel. "If I die, just know that I died happy." And then I bite into the burger... and I swear I do die. I automatically moan in contentment, my eyes closing, and I feel Rachel's hand close into a fist around the fabric of my t-shirt.

"Whoa, Q," Santana says, whistling. "If I wasn't totally in love with Britt, I would do you in a heartbeat... Berry, your girlfriend is fucking hot."

"I know," Rachel breathes, and I blush around my smile as I chew and swallow heaven, my eyes opening.

Brittany looks so excited. "You're happy, aren't you?" she asks me.

I nod in her direction. "Oh, yeah, B," I say. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, Q."

I just grin. I am happy right now, and my next bite makes me even happier. But, if I'm being entirely honest, nothing on this earth will make me nearly as happy as the girl currently scraping her nails along my back.


Rachel suggests calling it a night after the first film. My eyes are already drooping and the warmth of her arms is making it difficult to stay awake, which is why I give in without a fight. Rachel stands first and pulls me to my feet, keeping her hands in mine. We bid Brittany and Santana goodnight - they're going to watch another film and possibly do some other things - and then Rachel takes me to bed. She visits the bathroom in the corridor first, and I slip into Santana's room to use hers. I haven't cared at all about what I look like all day, so I practically yelp at the sight of myself in the mirror.

Well.

I use the toilet, brush my teeth thoroughly - trying to rid my mouth of the evidence of bacon - wash my face and take out my contacts. I think I've used the 'extended wear' stipulation on their packaging to its maximum today, and my eyes just need the rest. Much like the rest of my body.

Surprisingly, Rachel is already in bed, sitting up against the headboard in its centre. I frown at the odd position as I enter the room and close the door. She notices my expression, smiles gently, spreads her legs and pats the space between them. I just stare, sure that my eyes must resemble saucers.

She waves a hand. "Come here," she says. "I want to cuddle."

I pad over to the bed, slip under the covers and move into her arms. I settle with my back against her front, her legs bent up either side of me and her arms around me, one over my shoulder and the other around my waist. She's so warm and secure and bacon has no foothold on this heaven.

I sigh contently, lacing my fingers with hers. "Are you still mad about today?" I ask, almost in a whisper.

She presses a kiss to my hairline. "I was never mad, baby."

I close my eyes. "Not even a little bit?"

"Not at you," she assures me. "Maybe at other things, because it's unlikely not to feel all sorts of feelings in one day, but the overwhelming feeling has been worry for you." She runs her free hand over my hair. "It's a full-time job, really."

"Sorry," I murmur.

She kisses the side of my head. "I applied for it, so please never apologise again," she says. "And, I mean, I am paid more than enough, so I have no complaints."

"And just how much are you earning?"

Her lips are on my cheek now, one, two, three, and she sighs. "I get to kiss you," she says. "I get to hold you and touch you and know you're mine... which is honestly one of the greatest ways to be paid that isn't a sexual favour."

I choke on the air in my throat, and she bursts out laughing. "Rachel," I breathe. "What am I ever going to do with you?"

"I could think of a few things," she murmurs, and now she's kissing my neck, sucking on my skin in the most delightful way. I squirm in her grasp, and I feel her smile against me before she pulls back. "Are you excited for your birthday?"

"Am I excited about finally turning eighteen and being out of the stranglehold of my parents, yes, but I'm not that keen on the entire 'birthday' part," I admit. "I fully accept society's pressures to celebrate and I imagine I'll warm up to the idea eventually, but I won't lie and say I probably would have preferred something more low key. Just a dinner with friends or something like that."

She sighs. "We don't have to have the party, Quinn."

"And break Britt's heart? No, thank you." I squeeze her fingers. "It's okay. I do like the idea of a party; I'm just not sure how I feel about all the attention I'm going to receive... and all the questions I'll get asked when the party won't even be held at my house."

"It's no secret why that would be a bad idea," she says. "As horrible as it is to say, it's still a universal truth of Lima that your family is all kinds of crazy."

I laugh, and her grip on me tightens.

"If anything, I think people will be more disappointed than curious," she says. "I suspect people will do just about anything to see where Quinn Fabray sleeps, poops and eats."

I groan. "Gosh, you're so lucky you're so adorable when you say words, because, seriously, there are just words you shouldn't say."

She giggles, her mouth descending on my neck again. She traps a sliver of flesh between her teeth and I moan. "How tired are you?" she asks a moment later. "Because, I'm pretty sure I said something about my mouth and your body."

I breathe out. "That's weird," I murmur. "I find I'm suddenly wide awake."

She laughs lightly, blows cool air on the skin she's planning to mark, and then proceeds to make me lose track of the time, the day and myself.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen

Rachel

 

 

the rain in this room is low and thick
and undressing my heart through the air.


Despite Dr Lopez's express instructions to stay home and rest, Quinn goes to Cheerios' practice early Saturday morning with Santana and Brittany. They don't seem too happy about it either, so that's at least comforting. They'll keep an eye on her and make sure she doesn't do anything she shouldn't. I actually ask her to sit it out, just attend the practice, but she rolls her eyes playfully as if she thinks I'm joking. I just get a quick kiss, and then she's gone.

And, as I watch her drive away, I accept for the first time that my heart is no longer living inside my chest.

It's a sobering thought that stays with me all morning. I distract myself by going to the dance studio and burning off my worry with complicated steps and loud, pumping music. I dance until my feet hurt and my heart is warm. I'll be the first to admit my schedule has emptied somewhat. I quit many of my various clubs to focus on Glee and my voice and my dance... and now my Quinn. Ever since she entered my life in a way that seems endlessly consuming, I haven't felt the need for many other things. I used to fill my life up with so many unnecessary and empty things, but now I just live the life.

With Quinn.

She's brought so much excitement and calmness into my life. I mean, even one of those smiles from her is enough to set my entire body on fire and my heart aflame, while still having the power to still the blood in my veins. She's helped me focus on the important things; helped me ground myself and helped me understand myself in a way I thought I always did until I actually did. I don't know how much of it actually has to do with my sexuality, but I feel settled in my skin. There are, of course, aspects of my life that are stressful, but I feel capable of anything and everything now. Quinn does that for me. I can do it all because she's with me.

I'm under no illusion that whatever I'm feeling could be an obsessive part of my personality. Quinn is everywhere, yes, but I appreciate the fact that we still lead separate lives. We have separate interests - her books and my music - and we respect that. She respects me - now, at least - which is something that's surprisingly foreign to me. Jesse was different. Many aspects of our relationship felt like a competition, as if he was constantly trying to undermine me to make himself feel better. He was dreamy, yes, with really good hair and handsome features, but I know I never loved him. I could never have loved him in that big way, because I was always destined for that something more with Quinn Fabray.

There was no emotional connection with Noah, at all. To this day, I don't know what I was thinking. It was almost a knee-jerk reaction - for both of us, I assume - to Finn and Quinn getting back together after their one-day breakup in sophomore year. A reaction to having both our hopes dashed so suddenly. I had a crush on Finn, and I've always been convinced that Noah holds a candle for Quinn. If I'm being honest, I don't think it's ever gone out. Not that I blame him or anything. Regardless of what happens between me and Quinn in the future, I don't see myself ever not loving her in some way. She makes it difficult to let go, which is why I can be marginally sympathetic to Finn. He made the biggest mistake of his life, and now he has to live with it.

After the dance studio, I visit the music store to look through sheet music. I'm feeling slightly stuck when it comes to my music choices these days. I'm searching for something - I can feel it - and I wonder if I'll find it in this particular store; in this particular town... at all. In the end, I purchase some Celine Dion sheet music. Maybe I can serenade Quinn when she gets back from practice. She'll probably just grin stupidly when I sit her down and start singing. She's mesmerising when she's watching me sing. I have a plan for when I get home. I intend to shower, have a snack and practice my song until Quinn gets back.

So, I really don't expect to find a certain SUV in the driveway, or a certain blonde in my bed. She's asleep now, but it's obvious she was working on her homework. The diligent student in her probably stressed endlessly about the work she missed yesterday and the Chemistry test she'll have to make up on Monday. It's a good thing Santana's in all of her AP classes because I don't think Quinn would trust anyone else's notes. Right now, she looks calm and peaceful, her face relaxed and her body curled around a pillow. I want nothing more than to crawl in beside her but... shower first. I think she'd appreciate that.

I disappear into my closet, pick out a relaxed outfit, and then go into my bathroom. I smile at the sight of Quinn's things. Generally, as an only child, I like my own space and I like my own things, so it's been a bit of an adjustment getting used to another person, but I wouldn't change a thing. I can't even remember what my life was like before, as if it was grainy black and white before, and now it's vibrant and bright and full of colour. It's grossly cliché, I know, but I can't help it.

When I get back out, clean and fresh, Quinn is still asleep and I let out a sigh of relief. She definitely needs her rest. Her blood tests didn't raise any alarm bells, but she's supposed to take it easy this weekend, and she seems to be listening, finally. I pad across the carpet, shift her books to my desk and then crawl into bed, replacing the pillow in her arms with my body. Even in sleep, she knows I'm there and her arms shift and tighten around me. I sigh contently, relaxing into her embrace and closing my eyes.

This moment is important. All these moments amount to this life the two of us are building. We haven't really spoken about the future but we're headed in that direction. It's February now, which is the time early acceptance offers are made and, as much as I want to ask Quinn about her plans for after graduation, I don't know how to do it without alluding to the very truth that her initial plans were made with someone else in mind. Where do I fit into all of it? Do I even fit into any of it now?

She shifts next to me, quietly letting out a puff of air that washes over me. The future is coming, sure, but nothing beats the feeling of right now. Quinn helps me with my priorities and, yes, reaching my ultimate dream of Broadway stardom is important to me, but now... so is she.


Quinn is with me when my life changes for the second time in recent months. The first time, she was there as well, only she was bawling her eyes out. This time, though, I'm the one who's crying uncontrollably. My hands are shaking from disbelief and excitement, and Quinn has to take the letter from my hands because I'm incoherent and hyperventilating. We're standing in the entrance hall, just back from school and the rest of the mail is spread out at our feet. I could barely contain myself, dropping everything when I spotted the name and the return address and the stamp.

Quinn looks surprised at first, and then horrified when I rip open the letter like a crazy person and start dying. I honestly can't seem to catch my breath and she's forced to take the letter from me because I can't tell her what's happening without air in my lungs. Her eyes widen as she reads the words, and then her face spreads out in the most glorious smile that I temporarily forget why I'm so happy. But then I remember. Oh, my God.

"Rachel," she breathes, looking at me with all the wonder in the world. "This says you have an audition for the, uh, New York Academy of the Dramatic Arts."

I nod. "It does."

She beams at me. "You have an audition for the New York Academy of the Dramatic Arts."

"I have an audition for the New York Academy of the Dramatic Arts," I echo, and ohmygod. Before I can even get another word out, Quinn is on me, her arms tight around me and her mouth devouring mine. She backs me up against the front door, her hands sliding under my top immediately. I was barely prepared for the assault but, holy shit, it feels good, her fingers trailing fire over my skin.

Quinn's mouth drops down to my jaw and she licks her way across my throat. "This is the greatest news I've ever heard," she murmurs, her fingers skirting along the underside of my breasts over my bra. Good God. "I am so proud of you."

I can't even breathe. "It's just... an... audition," I manage to say.

"Which is just a formality," she says, and her chest vibrates against mine, sending a shiver straight through my body. She sounds so sure, and I don't even care what she's saying, but it's probably the sexiest thing I've ever heard. She is the sexiest thing I've ever heard. Or seen. She's relentless, practically squashing me between her form and the oak door.

"Quinn," I pant.

She hums along my skin for the longest moment before she pulls back and looks at my face. "I don't even know what the New York Academy of the Dramatic Arts is," she says. "Pray, please do elaborate."

I can't think clearly with her hands doing things. She must realise that because she eases up and I don't feel as if every breath I manage to take is going straight towards keeping me standing upright. She's still pressed against me in the most delicious way and I resist the urge to just kiss her and forget about this conversation completely. "NYADA is the premium school for musical theatre in the country," I tell her. "It's a sure way to get my foot in the door when it comes to Broadway. Kurt and I - " I stop suddenly. "Kurt! Oh my gosh, do you think he's received his letter?"

Before she can even respond, I'm gently pushing her away and moving towards my bag to retrieve my phone. I hear her chuckle behind me, light hands on my hips, a gentle kiss to my temple, and then she's moving away. I'm vaguely aware of her walking into the kitchen as I pull up Kurt's contact and text him, asking if he's received anything from NYADA. I'm typing a text to my Dad when I walk into the kitchen and see Quinn typing something on her own phone. She looks slightly mischievous but, before I can ask about it, my phone buzzes.

Kurt: OHMYGOD! Did you get an audition? I mean, obviously you did... but just confirm it for me. I'm not home yet, but I'm definitely checking the mail as soon as I am!

Rachel: I did, and I think I'm dreaming. YES! Check it as soon as you get home and then call me! Crossing fingers!

When I look up, Quinn is no longer in the kitchen. I frown. Where did she go? I head upstairs and go into my empty bedroom. I can hear water running in my bathroom, which eases me somewhat. When she comes out, we settle down to do our homework. She seems a little distracted, constantly checking her phone... almost as much as I check mine, just waiting for Kurt to text me.

He doesn't. He calls instead, with the most amazing news. I squeal into the phone, jumping out of my chair and practically dancing around the room in excitement. This is one of the best days. I mean, what are the chances of two show choir kids from Lima, Ohio getting auditions to NYADA? It's insane. Quinn shows just the right amount of enthusiasm, but there's something slightly dim in her eyes.

As soon as I'm off the phone with Kurt - promising to celebrate as soon as possible - Quinn is back to fiddling with her phone. I don't question her because it's impossible to assume she'd be on all the time. The only thing that truly bothers me is that it's today, and after I received the letter. I mean, we haven't spoken about the future at all. She knows about my desire to go to New York - everyone does - but we've never discussed it. What does it mean for us, now that we're together?

At some point, Quinn goes into the bathroom with her bag. When she emerges, she's wearing my favourite jeans, a blue blouse and her black boots. My heart rate speeds up at the sight of her, and the confusion must show on my face. Is she going somewhere?

"Rachel," she says, smiling at me. "Can you put on some decent clothes please?"

I frown. "What?"

"Clothes," she says. "Decent ones. We're going out."

"We are?"

She nods. "Half an hour. I'm starving." And then she walks out of my bedroom, acting all kinds of weird. We're going out? It's Wednesday. Since when? Did we have a date planned that I forgot about in all my excitement? Maybe that's why she's acting off. Did I forget?

I roll off my bed and go into my closet in search of decent clothes. I'm assuming she means nothing made of Argyle. I'm ready with five minutes to spare and head downstairs in search of Quinn, finding only a note on the kitchen counter addressed to me. She can't be that mad, can she? If she even is mad.

Rachel Berry,

Tonight, we're testing your ability to remain patient.
I'm not answering any questions you clearly want to ask.
I'm waiting in the car, by the way.
Once again, I am SO proud of you, my little star.

- Q

I smile widely. This girl is special; she truly is. I grab my purse, phone and keys and then head outside to find Quinn, indeed, sitting in the car. Even she still calls it the car. Something about it feels temporary to both of us, and I suspect it's to do with the looming threat her mother has placed over her when it comes to her relationship with me. There's residual guilt sitting on my shoulders but Quinn has assured me that time and time again that this decision is hers and she wants me.

The car is already running when I get in, and she's listening to music I don't recognise. She has an alternative side and she's a fan of indie, singer/songwriter music when she's not listening to pop. The second selection of songs from our first date is evidence of that. After a quick glance at me to check I'm settled and secure, she shifts the car into gear.

"What is this?" I ask, gesturing at the general centre console, clearly referring to the music.

She doesn't respond.

I frown.

Oh. Oh.

"Are you also not answering any general questions?"

Silence.

I shake my head. "Well, if you're not going to answer any of my questions, I'm just going to tell you things and feel free to respond whenever you feel like it," I say, angling my body to face her. I intend to shock her. "I've spent years waiting for today. As you know, Broadway has been my ultimate dream. It's been everything I've been working towards since I even knew what Broadway was. I have a plan, you see? I've had it for years, and nothing - nothing - has ever given me even the slightest hesitation on what that plan is, or made me doubt any of the milestones I set on my very detailed timeline. Nothing, Quinn." I take a breath. "Until you."

Her grip on the steering wheel tightens and I hear her gasp quietly. Good. She's listening.

"I don't for a second entertain the idea that you'll ever let me alter my course for you, but there are things that are wavering. Like, say... I intend to have sex with you before I turn twenty-five." The car swerves a little, and I smile to myself. Well well well.

"Jesus," she says under her breath, and I grin evilly.

"I had a plan, and you were never a part of it. I almost gave up on finding my person in Lima. I was fully prepared to see out the rest of my senior year as a single, driven person, with the sole intention of getting out of this place without completely losing my marbles. My plans were beyond here, and I wasn't expecting to find you here. Because, you see, I didn't see it coming. I didn't see you coming, and it's changed everything." Okay, so this one-sided conversation is turning a lot more serious than I intended. "You have changed everything. There are things I would do for you if you asked. Maybe I'm naïve, and maybe I'm just a hopeless romantic, but - " I falter.

She glances at me.

"Is this what happens?" I ask, losing all my thunder. I'm definitely shocking her now. "I remember you mentioned the way you bent yourself out of shape for Finn; that your entire life was so wrapped up in him that you forgot who you were. Is that - " I falter again.

Quinn places a hand on my leg. "Rachel," she says gently, breaking her vow of silence. "What happened between Finn and me isn't happening with you and me," she says, and she sounds so sure. "Because, you know exactly who you are. Rachel Berry is Rachel Berry without Quinn Fabray. You just choose to be who you are with me now, and you have no idea how happy that makes me. I will never ask you to change. I won't let you, because I wouldn't want to be with anyone other than the real you."

"I love you." It slips out and she removes her hand from my leg.

"Rachel, I - " she starts, but she's interrupted by the sound of the ringing of her phone filling the car. I can see it's my Dad calling her from the small navigation screen. She sighs heavily but, ultimately, ignores the call. We drive in silence the rest of the way. We're going to a restaurant, apparently. Right here, in Lima, for everyone to see, and I internally panic as she finds us a parking spot. Silently, she turns off the car and gets out. She surprises me by opening my door, but she doesn't come anywhere near me after that. This is just so weird.

I want to reach for her hand, but she strikes preemptively and places her hand on the small of my back, guiding me to the restaurant. "Quinn, what is - "

"Ssh," she says, and my indignation spikes. She did not just tell me to ssh. But, before I can even show her my sudden irritation, we're entering the restaurant and it all makes sense. My dads emerge from somewhere, and I'm wrapped in a congratulatory Berrymen hug that settles the confusion Quinn built up with the way she was acting this afternoon. When my dads release me, I want to reach for Quinn but there's another person in my arms and oh.

It's Kurt. Kurt is here. And Finn. And Burt and Carole Hummel-Hudson. And Blaine. It's a celebratory dinner for both of us, apparently, and involves both families. Because Quinn is family. And, apparently, she's also responsible for organising this little dinner, as I find out from my Daddy when we move to our reserved table and take our seats. I sit between Quinn and Kurt at the round table, Blaine next to Kurt, and Finn next to him. My dads are next to Quinn, and then Burt and Carole rounding off our little circle.

Quinn is a little tense at first, and I reason it's because of Finn. Even though we haven't explicitly spoken about what happened between them in the sick bay last Friday, I have a good idea. They haven't spoken since, and I can't say I'm too sad about that. I love her even more for putting herself in this position, just to celebrate one of my achievements. She's uncomfortable for a few minutes, but I notice the moment she relaxes. She sits back, sighs, and then removes her coat. Kurt and I gush about New York instead of reading our menus, which prompts Quinn to order for me. She'll know what I want better than I will anyway. I'm habitually terrible at making food decisions.

Slowly, conversation starts to flow around the table. Carole asks questions of Quinn - they once lived together, after all - and she answers easily. She grows into the evening, abandoning the guardedness and enjoying the company. My Dad discusses William Butler Yeats with her, and Burt offers in his two cents that - I'm ashamed to say - I didn't think he had. Finn is unusually quiet, though that's understood. He does look at Quinn a few too many times and I subconsciously place a hand on her leg. She glances at me with raised eyebrows, but I pretend not to see. I'm possessive; sue me. I don't like him looking at what's mine.

What I do find comical is the way Kurt looks fascinated by this Quinn. His mouth drops open and his eyes widen from time to time. Quinn is literally blowing his mind with her candidness and, when she turns to look at him directly and congratulates him, the boy literally sputters. It doesn't help that she's wearing one of those happy, genuine smiles, which seems to be blowing his mind. When she returns her attention back to my Dad, Kurt tugs on my arm.

"I'm going to say this once and only once," he whispers to me; "Quinn Fabray is the only girl I will ever consider going straight for."

I laugh out loud because I can't help it. Seriously. I lean in close and whisper back. "Believe me, I get it," I say. "Quinn Fabray is the only girl I ever consider going gay for."

He looks surprised by my candid words, but I just wink, and then Burt laughs at something and his attention drifts.

I look at Quinn and she's happily discussing something with my dads. My fingers squeeze her leg, and she looks at me, our eyes meeting for just a moment. Our discussion in the car seems so far away, and I know we'll get back to it at some point, but this moment is important.

We'll always be okay.

Yes, we well.


In honour of Kurt's and my auditions, Noah decides to throw a party. Really, I don't think the boy needs any excuse to have a party, but I have to admit I'm rather flattered. It's put together quickly, on a Friday night after the basketball game that McKinley loses, and it's supposed to be mostly just the Glee kids, which is what I prefer. I'm more comfortable with the people I know, anyway.

Quinn and I get ready at our respective houses, and then she picks me up. It's not a date, she makes sure I know, but she wants to arrive with me... because I'm her girlfriend and she just wants to. It makes me feel warm and wanted and I love her. I love everything about her.

It's just after ten o'clock when we arrive at Noah's house, and the house is already vibrating with music and people. Quinn holds my hand when we walk in, gives it a gentle squeeze in the entrance hall and then drops it. I miss it immediately, but I'm not naive about what this is. We do the rounds separately, getting all the appropriate greetings from all the appropriate people. It's more than just Glee, I learn, but less than the usual Puckerman crowd. It doesn't take me long to figure out that majority are jocks who are obviously here for Quinn, and then there are the Cheerios and some other people I don't recognise.

Late into the evening, I find Kurt in the kitchen and we have another obscenely long, somewhat embarrassing, squealing session. We clasp hands and jump up and down like the little fangirls we are. This is an exciting time in our lives. In my life. I've fallen in love and my future is spread out in front of me. This - this is a good life.

"We're doing the One Chip Challenge!"

Kurt and I both snap our heads towards the kitchen door when Mike sticks his head in and grins at us. "What's going on?" Kurt asks.

"Puck got his hands on a bunch of those hot chips," he says. "He's trying to find people to join him in the challenge? Are you guys keen?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," I say.

Mike waves a hand. "Just, come on," he says, and both Kurt and I go into the living room. People are gathering around really quickly. Kurt leaves my side to find Blaine and one look around the room tells me there's nowhere to sit.

A beat later, my eyes settle on Quinn, and she's already looking at me. She arches an eyebrow and I move straight towards her, unsure what I'm doing or what she wants, but I just know those two are the same thing. Without thinking about it too much, I slip onto Quinn's lap, just as she sits back to accommodate me. We both face forward but I do lean back against her a little too much for just friends. I risk a quick glance around but nobody seems to find it out of the ordinary. It's well established that Quinn and I are friends now. People are even coming to accept it.

I feel a hand on my hip and breath on my neck. I like this. I love this. I lean back just a bit more, feeling her breasts press against my back. It's all the more exhilarating because we're in public and I am literally sitting on my girlfriend's lap. In Lima, Ohio, no less.

Noah sets a red box on the coffee table in the centre of the room and commands all our attention. The rules are relatively simple and he explains them in the most complicated way. Basically, this is probably the spiciest tortilla chip in all of existence, wrapped individually, and the aim is to see if you can withstand the extreme heat from the pepper flavour. At the mention of the Carolina Reaper, I look at Quinn because she's proven to be particularly informed in this particular topic. She just purses her lips and says nothing, clearly already uncomfortable with this idea.

"I've got ten here," Noah says. "Which of you fuckers is brave enough to give it a go?"

One look around the room tells me more people are apprehensive about this than are excited. I don't blame them. I imagine the idea of eating something that has the potential to burn your face right off doesn't hold that much appeal to most people, as drunk as they might be. But, you know, I've never been one to back down from a challenge.

"I'm in," I say, and Noah looks at me with a wide grin.

"Awesome, Berry," he says. "We're going to use all our Jewness to slay this thing."

I just nod before turning my head to look at Quinn. "Do it with me?"

She sucks in a breath, the double-meaning of my words not lost on either of us. "No," she says.

"Please."

She shakes her head. "Rachel, no."

"I'll make it worth your while," I offer.

She waits a beat. "I'm listening."

"We'll bet on it."

"Oh?"

"Between the two of us, if you win, you can have anything you want... But, if I win, you have to sing a duet with me," I say, and her eyes narrow at me. I just smile as innocently as I can, just waiting for her to reply.

"I don't like this," she says. "We both know you're going to win."

I grin evilly. "I deserve to win something."

She raises her eyebrows. "Are you trying to tell me you're dissatisfied?" she asks, her voice low and husky and that's not fair.

"Are you taking the bet or not, Fabray?" I manage to ask, forcing myself not to squirm in her lap.

"Do I even have a choice?"

"Baby, you always have a choice," I murmur.

Her grip on my hip tightens and I smile to myself as I face forward again. She breathes out before she shifts. "Puck," she calls out. "I'll give it a go."

Noah looks much too excited by that, and I turn a glare on him that he doesn't notice. "Fuck yeah, Fabray!"

In the end, the challengers, besides me, are Quinn, Noah, Finn, Mike, Santana, Lauren and two other people I don't particularly care for. As soon as that chip packet is in my hand, I start to regret my decision. Why are we doing this?

"Okay," Noah says. "We'll just eat the chip - all of it, Hudson - and see what happens. There's milk if anyone wants it. The first to cave and go for the dairy is a fucking pussy." He says it so coyly, and I just imagine he'll be the first one diving into a pool of cold milk.

Quinn sits up. "I doubt it's vegan," she says to me, gesturing to the glasses of milk. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Are you backing out?"

"No," she says; "but my mind and body are telling me I should."

"What's stopping you?"

"My pride."

I giggle, and turn my attention back to Noah.

"Ten minutes," he says. "Get through ten minutes with no form of relief, and then you've completed the challenge. Everyone ready?"

"Fuck yeah," Santana whoops.

Quinn grumbles something behind me and I just smile that bit wider. Her bitterness is adorable.

"Okay," Noah says, ripping open his packet and removing a red, perfectly-shaped tortilla chip. He pinches is between his thumb and forefinger and waits for the rest of us to do the same. "On three."

"Why are we doing this?" Quinn asks, and I fight off another giggle.

What happens next is probably the best and worst thing to ever happen. Kurt films it all, which is why I can say that. But, seriously, as soon as that chip enters my mouth, I'm certain that hell erupts in my digestive system. I chew it bravely and manage to swallow, even when one of those non-Glee kids immediately spits it out and gives up.

It burns. It burns. I lean forward, bracing my hands on my knees as I pant. Breathing isn't helping, and not breathing just builds up the pressure in my mouth. Quinn's grip on my hip actually hurts, and she's growling. I want to turn and look but my brain is too focused on the fire raging in my mouth, down my oesophagus and into my stomach.

Finn is practically bouncing off the walls, kicking chairs and pulling at his hair. He even punches the wall a few times. Noah is curled up on the floor, crying. Santana looks so unaffected that it irritates me, and Lauren is visibly trying to remain as stoic about this whole thing as possible. It's Mike who caves first, practically launching himself at a glass of milk within two minutes.

Noah caves next, begging for relief. I'm willing to look past my veganism just to get the sting out of my body. Quinn is quietly seething behind me, muttering obscenities under her breath. At five minutes, Lauren drinks two glasses of milk and Finn growls so loudly, I actually startle.

At seven minutes, Quinn is vocal. "I hate you right now," she says to nobody in particular, hiccupping. She has the hiccups. "Why isn't it letting up? Why? Just, why?"

I have enough sense to register just how cute she is, but then I double over again. I want to drop to the ground and just cry because why did I think this was a good idea? The other non-Glee kid gives in next, and then there are four: me, Quinn, Finn and Santana.

I sit up and stretch my back, trying to ease something. I look at Quinn. "Give in," I say.

She glares at me. "I hate you right now."

"Go on," I taunt, leaning in a little too close; "give in."

The hand on my hip adjusts, shifting lower and then higher, under the hem of my shirt and onto my burning skin. Okay. Okay. Her fingers brush over my skin and it distracts us both enough that the sound of Noah's alarm going off surprises us both.

Finn dives for a glass of milk and Santana casually shrugs.

"Do you want some milk?" I ask Quinn.

"If I drink that milk, does that mean you win?" she asks, her face pinched into a painful grimace.

"Yes."

"Then, no."

I sigh. "What if we drank water at the same time?" I offer. "That way we both win. Or lose."

She waits a beat. "Fine."

I stand immediately and go to the kitchen, aware that Quinn is following close behind me. I get two bottles of water from the fridge and hand one to her, looking at her face for the first time. Her pale skin is red in colour and her pupils are blown. She still looks great. How is that even possible?

"Drink up," she says. We bump bottles, and then drink. There's absolutely no relief. I'd even go so far to say it makes it worse. But, what is a relief is when Quinn pulls me into the bathroom, pushes me up against the door and uses her tongue to soothe every inch of my hot mouth. We aren't in there very long - people would notice - and then we return to the living room where Noah is recounting his near death experience. And they say I'm a drama queen.

I resettle on the couch without Quinn. People have dispersed now, and the fact that Quinn can handle the heat has just made her that much hotter. It's almost as if there are more people now, and Quinn is their target, because she just proved how much of a badass she is by surviving the challenge. I can feel myself beginning to brood, which just makes me think about the moment in the car; the moment I told her I loved her and she hesitated. And now, as she sips at her drinks and does the rounds, it's as if the entire conversation didn't happen.

Needing some fresh air, I stand and head out back. I walk right into the middle of the yard and settle down on the damp grass. It's cold enough to distract me from the lingering heat in my mouth that Quinn wasn't able to soothe, but the brooding still remains.

I look up when I hear quiet footsteps approaching. "Hi, Brittany," I say, smiling lazily at her.

She moves to sit down beside me, linking our arms. "Having fun?"

I can't bring myself to nod, so I just look up at the sky. What can I say, anyway? My girlfriend, who is gorgeous beyond comprehension, is literally every boy's dream and, because nobody knows Quinn is even in a relationship, she has to field all their attempts to date her; bed her. It's annoying to see all these boys hit on her, and it's even more annoying when she decides to mess with some of them. It's getting worse the more she drinks and I really don't need to see it.

"Maybe you need another drink," Brittany offers after my silence goes on a beat too long. "I can get Q to make you one," she says.

"No, it's okay," I automatically return. "She's busy, anyway." I don't mean for it to come out as bitter as it does, but Brittany picks up on it and her eyebrows shoot up. "Wouldn't want to drag her away from her adoring public."

Brittany's mouth opens and closes twice before she speaks. "Do you even know what she's saying to all those people?" she asks. "She's gushing about you. She's telling them all about how wonderful and talented and amazing her best friend is. If anything, it'll be you beating away your adoring public by the time the evening is over."

I sigh, feeling melancholy settle in. It's the only reason I can think of for asking the question I end up asking. "Do you ever think it'd just be easier if we weren't together?"

"Probably," she tells me truthfully. "But I know you don't mean that. Rachel, you love Quinn." She says it so surely; so confidently. "I know it might be difficult sometimes, but it takes someone special to love a person who's broken, and that's you. You are someone who's willing to look past all of Quinn's cracks and fault lines to see the person inside. You have patience and a gentle spirit... you realise that she only appears sharp and hostile, but she's actually fragile and needs to be treated with care. Which is what you do. She's lucky to have you, and she knows it."

"Then why won't she just tell me?"

"Why do you want words?" she asks seriously. "Quinn is so much more than just her words."

I'm not entirely certain I know what that means, but it sounds important. Maybe it's the alcohol in my system or the hot pepper eating at my brain, but I force myself to take note of Brittany's words. Quinn is so much more than just her words. Quinn is so much more.

We eventually go back inside and I spy Quinn talking to Kurt. They look to be discussing something very animatedly and, as much as I want to, I don't interrupt. Instead, I go to the kitchen to get another drink and chat to Tina and Mercedes when I find them laughing at something imaginary. Let it not be said that Glee kids don't know how to handle their liquor, people.

The three of us go back out to the living room, and now Quinn is chatting to Brittany. There are boys around, and they approach Quinn from time to time. I sit on the couch with Mercedes and Tina either side of me and just watch. Right now, Quinn looks annoyed with the attention, and I note the fact that both blondes cast nervous looks my way one too many times.

It's really the last straw for me when the boy stalking towards her is Finn. Quinn doesn't see him at first, and her face literally falls when she does. The boy just keeps moving towards her, and I wonder what it is about the facial expression Quinn is currently projecting that says 'keep going on this path of yours' to him. It's obviously saying 'I am not responsible for your injuries if you come anywhere near me and say something stupid.' Doesn't he know her at all?

I growl deep in my throat as I get to my feet. I'm sick of people ogling her, and I sure as hell don't want Finn Hudson anywhere near her. So, before Finn can reach her, I move into Quinn's line of sight, and she beams at me. Is she trying to give me a heart attack? I watch her abandon her position beside Brittany and move towards me, leaving a confused Finn in her wake. Neither of us seem to care, because we have eyes only for each other. Quinn's smile is steady, almost bashful.

"Quinn?" Finn says, but she ignores him in favour of me.

When she stumbles towards me, her arms slide around my neck and, for a terrifying moment, I think she's going to kiss me. Thankfully, she doesn't. "Hello, Gold Star," she says loudly, her clouded gaze attempting to meet mine. "Do you have any idea how proud I am of you?"

I brave placing my hands on her hips. "I have an idea, yes."

She pulls me into a hug, her body flush against mine. It's one of those long embraces that might appear a little too intimate if you look too closely. But, then again, people are drunk and, even if they are looking, Quinn doesn't seem to care and so I don't either. "I want you to know something," she whispers in my ear. "There is nobody - nobody - I would rather be with than you. Nobody. Not in Lima. Not in this world. Not even in this lifetime."

I feel my body relax and my worries subside as I practically melt at the sound of her words. Which is the reason I ask the question I do. "Do you want to go home?"

"Definitely."

Her lack of hesitation reverberates through me, and I swear I fall more and more in love with this human being who probably has no idea what she means to me. I want to tell her. I want nothing more than to explain to her how my entire existence feels wrapped all around her, and how this accomplishment of mine means nothing without being able to share it with her. It's too much, surely. We're young and we're so new.

Okay, so not that new. We've been in each other's orbits for so long, and I think that if and when we did finally find our way to each other in this way - I believe in fate and destiny - it would always be for forever. We've been talking about forever from the very beginning.

Quinn releases me first, her eyes meeting mine for a charged moment, and then she's backing away. We say our farewells - we're leaving together, apparently, which makes sense because we arrived together - and then we go home. I drive because I'm less inebriated than she is. It's slow and Quinn's hands are distracting, but we make it home without fatally injuring ourselves or getting arrested. I think I could pass for just under the limit but every minute counts, right?

It's late when we pull in. I'm sure my dads are already asleep, and I have to repeatedly tell Quinn to keep quiet as she giggles her way into the house. I drag her to the kitchen, have us both take pre-emptive Advil and down a full glass of water. Or two. It's amazing to see the way her eyes get clearer with every sip. Which turns to something akin to arousal when she turns those focused eyes on me with one of those mischievous smiles. Well. Okay.

Quinn sets her glass in the sink and then stalks towards me. "I didn't take my bag out of the car," she says; "I'm borrowing clothes." Then: "Please."

Doesn't she know I'll give her anything? At my nod, she grins happily, grabbing my hand and leading me upstairs.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen

Quinn

sometimes i want to say it.
and there is nothing in english.
that will say it.


The world has finally stopped spinning, and my heart feels full: of pride and of love. Of happiness. There's no other way to describe it. I'm happy. Sure, there's all this other stuff going on in my life that I still have to face but, in this moment right here, I'm happy. With my amazing girlfriend.

"Okay," Rachel says, getting my attention; "I'm just going to say it."

I look at her quizzically, my eyebrows rising as I adjust the position of the sweatpants around my waist.

She lets out a jagged breath, watching me intently from her position on her bed. "Just, you know, the fact that you're wearing my clothes right now… I find it very sexy."

I feel a blush creeping up my neck at the sound of that.

"I mean," she continues; "I know it's kind of stupid and so not important right now, but I can't help it. There's just something about the fact that my clothes are touching your body that - " she stops, letting out a shaky breath.

I arch an eyebrow. "Well, Berry, you should know that there are other things you can use to touch my body."

It's almost comical the way she scrambles off the bed and moves towards me with purpose. She's never been shy of manhandling me, but it's the first time it's been like this. She grabs onto the front of my - her - t-shirt, drags me towards her bed and, essentially, throws me down onto my back. I let her, of course, but she is surprisingly strong when she's determined. I don't think she even knows her own strength.

I let out a breath, which I suck right back in when she climbs onto me and straddles my hips. Okay, Rachel Berry. I watch her run a hand through her hair, shifting it away from her face. She's perfectly still as she sits on me, looking down and studying my face in a way that makes my heart race. She's going to break me, and she knows it. I give in so quickly, it's sad, because I start to move before she does, my fingers eager to touch.

My hands trail along her sides, ghost over her stomach and back, and occasionally dip under the hem of her t-shirt, the skin-to-skin contact almost unbearable. Okay, so we've touched before, but this feels different and I can't be certain why. My right hand slips under the fabric, my fingers dancing across the skin of her abdomen. Her muscles tense under my ministrations and, really, I don't think I could ever tire of this exploration.

I can feel her watching my face intently, enjoying every minute of it. In the end, she gives in too, falling forward and capturing my lips in a deep kiss, her loose hair curtaining around us. Just the action of kissing her is enough to get my mind and body firing on all cylinders. I can't help my smile, which just makes her kiss me harder, her tongue sliding into my mouth with ease as her hands glide over my shoulders towards my hair. I mumble something against her lips, and she pulls back slightly, her eyes still closed.

"Hmm?"

I let out a breath. I'm just so happy.

Before she can question me further; I have us both flipped, her back now pressed against the pillows and my body looming over hers. "Hi," she breathes once she's regained her bearings, her hands automatically reaching up to touch my face.

"Hi," I whisper back, smiling faintly. I'm a little dizzy but it settles quickly enough.

"You are so beautiful."

I don't waste another moment as I settle more of my weight on her, half-supporting myself on one elbow at her right side. My one leg slides between both of hers and, when I look into her eyes, I hear her breath catch in her throat. I wait - it feels so good - and she's the one to pull me down for another bruising kiss. My right hand drifts down to her hip, my thumb brushing over the tight skin beneath her t-shirt. That, coupled with the feel of my tongue stroking against hers, has her purring beneath me.

Purrs slowly turn into moans as I work her body with my hands, and ohmygod.

My right hand slips fully under her t-shirt, my fingers spreading across her abdomen before I trail them down to her side. With such care - I don't know how I manage it with the way she's kissing me - my hand makes its way behind her, coming to rest at the small of her back, holding her against me.

It's like an assault on my senses, and I want to do something to ease it but I also don't want it to let up at all. Not wanting to be outdone, I suppose, her hands leave my hair and trail down my chest - oh, God - and my stomach, her nails dragging over the fabric of my t-shirt. I let out a hiss and she shivers beneath me. When she lets out a long moan, it hits me right there, and my mouth loses its steady rhythm against hers.

As a result, I drag my lips across the line of her jaw, down the length of her neck towards her collarbone. She's breathing heavily and it's doing things to me it probably shouldn't. My brain isn't working. It usually doesn't when Rachel Berry is in such close proximity. Her hands move around to my back, easily slipping under the fabric. I feel warm under her fingers, like I'm on fire.

"Oh," she involuntarily says when my teeth scrape over her skin, nibbling gently. It's pretty clear what I want to do; what I always want to do.

The sound draws me back, and I look at her face. "No?" I ask, shaking my head as if I'm trying to get my brain to focus. The residual alcohol on my system definitely isn't helping.

"Lower," she says breathlessly. "I don't want to have to wear concealer."

My head spins with lower. What does that even mean? Just, all the sensations of her are so overwhelming and -

"Quinn," she pants.

My mouth descends on her skin immediately. Lower. Just, lower. It's all I'm thinking about as I use my fingers to move her t-shirt down, stretching the collar. I bite at her skin, the force of my teeth making her gasp. Her nails dig into the skin of my back, and she arches into me. The sound she makes scrambles my brain, and I'm desperate to taste her skin. I abandon her collar - I might rip it if I don't - and drop further. I reach for the hem of her t-shirt and lift, bunching it up just below her breasts and revealing the tanned skin of her smooth stomach.

I stare, dazed for a moment, before I attack her flesh like the crazed person I am. She tastes salty sweet and my world is, once again, spinning. I lick, suckle, nibble and bite, leaving marks on the skin over her hip bones and making her squirm in pain and pleasure. Her hands are in my hair, tugging my head this way and that, and she hisses loudly when I bite down particularly hard.

I pull back to inspect my handiwork - mouthwork - and grin in triumph. I meet her gaze. "You are mine," I say.

Her eyes widen a fraction before she's pulling me back up and kissing me into oblivion.


The plans for my birthday are... extreme. Rachel assures me they aren't, but I wouldn't really know, would I? The last time I properly celebrated a birthday, I was turning fourteen; joining the adult world, as it were. That party was a social event for my parents. They invited all their friends, showed off their perfect house and perfect family, and I was still making the transition from Lucy to Quinn, desperately trying to become the poster child my parents would love and adore. I don't even remember if I had any friends at the party, but it doesn't matter now because that life doesn't exist and those people definitely don't matter.

We moved to Lima the summer after that, and I started at McKinley an entirely new person.

And I intend to end at McKinley a completely different person to that.

So, as far as birthday etiquette goes, what I know and expect means nothing. Rachel intends to spoil me and I have no choice but to accept it. She has vigorous plans, which include a full week of celebrations. I'm not even kidding. She even hands me a schedule the Saturday after Noah's party, which details all the things we'll be be doing in the upcoming week. Admittedly, I'm still a little hungover from the night before, and I'm certain my stomach is complaining after I fed it a firechip, but I have enough sense to take the offered sheet of paper from her and study it. I'm wearing my glasses because my contacts were feeling a little uncomfortable after Hiram and I got back from seeing Florence, and Rachel's looking at me as if I'm good enough to eat.

I clear my throat and return my attention to the schedule for the ultimate birthday week.

Sunday involves going to church and thanking God for the blessings in my life and the opportunity to be on this planet for another year, followed by an extended picnic lunch at the park, just Rachel and me.

Monday comprises of an afternoon of service. She has us volunteering at various places and visiting a soup kitchen and a homeless shelter.

Tuesday is family game night with Rachel and her dads. I'm surprised she's willing to risk it again. She must really want to sing that duet with me, and it's obviously driving her a little insane that she can't seem to get me to agree. I love it.

Wednesday, all of Glee is skipping Glee Club - with Mr Schuester's express permission, apparently - and going to Six Flags to act like the crazy teenagers we like to think we are.

Thursday is a night at the movies. Rachel and I will go out to the cinema, sneak in our dinner and decidedly ignore whatever is playing on the big screen in favour of whispering to each other and being obvious distractions with hands and, possibly, lips if it's empty enough for us not to be noticed.

Friday afternoon belongs to Santana and Brittany for something, and the evening is just for Rachel and me. It's my actual birthday, and all that's written from Rachel is that it's a surprise and I should just sit back, relax and look pretty. Also, you are telling me where that tattoo is, Fabray. Or, rather, showing me.

Saturday will be breakfast in bed, a hopefully-easy Cheerios practice, followed by a relaxing, pyjama day, and then my party at Santana's house.

Truly, I'm exhausted just reading it over and, when I look up at Rachel, she's practically bouncing in her seat in her excitement. I smile widely. I can't deny her anything, and she knows it.

"Let the celebrations begin," I say, and it all starts with a lingering kiss.


Sunday is a great day. It's slow and lazy, and I get to spend most of it with my favourite person in the entire world. I do spend a lot of my time in church being thankful for the year past. I know I complain a lot about my life, but I fully acknowledge the aspects of it that are great. I have a roof over my head, I have food to eat, running water and a flushing toilet. I might not have all the love I want, but I have Rachel and damn if that doesn't make up for everything.

After church, we do homework. I have two essays due, a Chemistry problem set to complete and I have to get started on my Statistics project if I'm ever going to be able to enjoy this week of time-consuming fluff without devolving into a stress monster. Around lunch time, Rachel gets restless, which is deathly amusing to me. She really is very cute when she's trying to be subtle. She abandons her homework before I do and then heads downstairs. An hour later, she returns, and it's time to go, apparently. I haven't changed clothes since church so I'm good to go as is. She drives us to the park, and it feels different. I'm usually the one making this particular drive.

Rachel leads the way to our spot. It's our spot now. It's been ours since that first time we came together. To this day, I don't know why I brought her here the way I did. It's always been a private place to me - Finn doesn't even know it exists - but I still decided to share it with her... on that first Sunday. I suppose it should have been a sign of things to come even then. What Rachel and I have has always been special, sacred in a way that I never quite understood until I just did.

I do.

I stand back while she sets up our picnic, just letting her lead and dictate this clearly thoroughly-thought-out day. She looks excited and nervous and she's so adorable; I just want to wrap her in a hug and never let go.

"Come sit with me," she says, and we settle down side-by-side. For the longest time, we just look forward and take in the silence of this moment. Slowly, her hand finds its way to mine, and I interlace our fingers, pale and tan skin weaving together in the most intimate way. This moment is important for a reason I'm unable to grasp at this time, but it is.

I squeeze her fingers. "Can I tell you something?"

She hums in response, her eyes finding mine.

I swallow nervously. "When I was little, I once asked Santa to ask my parents to tell me they loved me," I say quietly. "I didn't realise how they never did that until I started school and saw how my friends interacted with their own parents. My parents were never like that. They were never huggers or smilers or - " I pause. "I'm not - I'm not used to affection the way you are, Rachel, but I'm working on it. It's different with you, and I - "

She squeezes my fingers this time.

I want to tell her I love her. I feel it; of course I do, but I can't. It's more than just laying myself on the line. It's more than giving her the power to hurt me; having her point a gun at my heart and trusting her not to pull the trigger. I - I can't do it. Everyone I've ever loved has left me: my parents, my sister, Finn... even Beth. They've abandoned me, and I won't lose her. My love drives them away, and I won't survive without her.

I know it's different with her. I can easily tell Santana and Brittany I love them because it's nothing like this. Rachel is it. She truly is, and I won't lose her. I won't. I can't.

Rachel reaches over and kisses my cheek, which is the equivalent of words she doesn't say. You're okay. We're okay. I'm ready when you are.

I love you.


Monday takes me by surprise because I'm not sure what to expect. After Glee, Rachel and I go straight to the animal shelter. I mean, it sounds like a great idea, doesn't it? We get changed into clothes that can and will get dirty, and they explain a few things to us: how to feed the animals and how to bath them and all that. It's all going well, and I'm fascinated by the collection of animals - some a little creepy, I won't lie - but nothing prepares me for this.

Because, then, they introduce us to the puppies, and I'm certain I've died and gone to heaven. Honestly, it's a miracle we don't leave having adopted every single one of them. Really, Rachel has to pry them out of my hands and promise me we'll come back before I burst into tears. She's actually deathly amused by my brooding as we go to our next stop on our journey of good deeds. We dish out food at the soup kitchen, and we meet some of the most colourful characters I've ever encountered. Who knew Lima housed this many drama queens?

But it's our visit to the homeless shelter that truly affects me. Mothers and children, struggling fathers and even veterans... all of them with no place to go. I mean, I know what it's like to have no home, but I was taken in by Finn and his mother, which I'll forever be grateful for. But this, seeing all of this, it's heartbreaking and sobering, and it merely reiterates the conclusions I came to in church the previous day. I don't know if that was always the purpose of Rachel bringing me here, but I feel a certain peacefulness settle over my heart. I'm luckier than most in that sense, but -

It's obvious that, despite not having their own homes and limited possessions, these people have so much love. It's almost overwhelming the way they talk and laugh and tease and generally don't complain and are just so thankful. Even the little kids we play with to give their parents a little breather have all this positivity and enthusiasm in abundance, and it's almost a slap to the face. It's a lot.

So, when we get home, I pull Rachel into my arms and just hold her. I hold her for endless minutes, just soaking up everything about her; basking in everything she represents: home. I hope she can feel what I'm trying to say without having to say the words. I hope she knows.

I love you.


I almost die on Tuesday. Besides Coach Sylvester running us right into the ground, I come frighteningly close to losing to Rachel at Scrabble. I blame my tired limbs and my near concussion from performing a backflip and slipping on my landing for the obvious miscalculation during the game, but she takes it as a sure sign of progress on her part. She's going to get me to perform that duet with her, come hell or high water.

We pay Pictionary next, which Rachel and I are dismal at, and Hiram and LeRoy are truly some of the worst winners I've ever encountered. We round off the evening with Monopoly, which LeRoy and I own. Rachel pouts and Hiram pleads, and LeRoy and I can be suckers sometimes, but there are no loyalties when it comes to business. I've heard this game has been responsible for murder.

The moment I first yawn, Rachel calls an end to the night and we count our money. LeRoy bests me by only one hundred Monopoly monies, and I just know he won't allow me to forget. He couldn't even let me win because it's my birthday week - how rude is that. We clean up, I get hugs and forehead kisses before Rachel takes me upstairs. I'm staying, apparently. We get ready for bed in turns - we're in a rhythm now - and then crawl under her covers and move so close to each other, we practically occupy the same space. I wrap my arms around her and she presses a kiss to my throat.

"Thank you for today," I whisper into her hair. "Thank you for every day."

I love you.


Six Flags is relatively empty on a Wednesday afternoon. Of course, there are people a plenty but it's nothing like the crowd of a weekend. I prefer it, really. The lines are shorter and there's more space to walk and... run. We're actually just kids at heart, all of us, and those little children come out like a force to be reckoned with when we see flashing lights and rollercoasters.

Rachel has a plan. It's the only way she believes we'll be able to do everything. I can sense people getting ready to say something in protest, so I take care of it, stealing the detailed agenda from my girlfriend's hands, folding it and placing it in my breast pocket. I smile sweetly at her. "Let's just play it by ear," I suggest. "Just enjoy it. It's my birthday."

She grumbles cutely, pouting slightly as she leans in close. "You're lucky you're so stinking cute."

"Yes, yes I am," I murmur, and then we head inside. It's as if we've just been unleashed. We go this way and that way, playing childish games, eating the worst kind of food and generally acting crazy. The boys each attempt to win me some kind of stuffed animal, which makes Rachel pout slightly, but I think it's cute. Even Kurt tries his luck at shooting down some stacked bowling pins to hilarious results. Finn and Puck compete for the biggest stuffed animal imaginable, with Puck coming out on top and presenting me with an extremely large stuffed giraffe. Sometimes, I get the feeling he's genuine in his affection, despite his attitude and the fact he called me a bitch to my face. Can never be too sure with this one.

"It's almost as big as you are," he says to Rachel, and we laugh. I laugh without a care in the world, absently putting an arm around her shoulders to ease the indignant frown on her face.

After we put everything in the cars, we hit the rollercoasters. There's a wooden one, a floor-less one - that makes me hyperventilate - and an inverted impulse one that we ride enough times for Mercedes and Blaine to throw up. It's really just the perfect day, and there's no obvious awkwardness between Finn and me, which is a relief. Whatever the hell is going on with him seems to be put on hold for today, and I definitely appreciate it.

We have pizza for dinner, finding benches near the carousel and claiming them as our own. I'm sandwiched between Santana and Blaine, with Rachel sitting on another bench with Kurt, Tina and Mike. I don't mind. This way, I can see her. While Santana is occupied with Brittany, Blaine is telling me a story about Friday night's impromptu party at Puck's house. As he speaks, I get the feeling he wants to tell me something very specific, and I give him my full attention.

"Kurt's video of the chip challenge," he finally says, and I tense for whatever reason. "Don't tell him, but I deleted it on purpose. He thinks it was an accident but it wasn't."

I swallow nervously. "Why would you do that?"

"He caught something in that video that I suspect you and Rachel aren't ready to have people know," he says, his tone calm yet serious. "And, as much as I love him, he's not ready to know yet either."

I'm frozen in place.

His smile is gentle. "I won't tell anyone, Quinn," he says, and I breathe out slowly. "This journey is different and difficult in its own way for everyone. I know you probably have Rachel's dads and there's Santana and Britt, but if you guys ever want someone to talk to, I'm here, all right? I won't say I've had a similar experience, but I have had an experience, and I think that counts for something."

I wait a beat before I slide an arm around his shoulders and hug him, surprising us both. He settles with a small laugh. "Thank you, Blaine," I say quietly.

He pats my hand. "Anytime," he returns.

When I release him, we're both blushing, and I catch sight of Finn looking at me. At me, not Blaine. He looks perplexed, and it takes me a moment to realise he's confused by the fact that I was openly affectionate in public. Maybe that's what's tripped him up so much, since one of the bases for our breakup was that I didn't match him for affection. Well. It turns out I'm capable of many things when I'm with the right person.

When it's late enough for the excitement of the day to start catching up with us, Rachel calls it a night and we all head home after spending an obscene amount of time goofing off in the parking lot. I drop her off at home, get a long, lingering kiss for my troubles, and then go to my house. I crawl into bed, exhausted and content and happy and totally in love.


On Thursday, with Rachel tucked into my side as we ignore the film in favour of being particularly handsy, I mention to her that Blaine knows about us. She gasps loudly, and the only other person in the theatre sends us a curious look from her seat in the very front. It's dark enough for us to go unnoticed, and Rachel turns terrified, wide eyes on me.

"What?"

"He's not going to tell anyone," I assure her immediately. "Apparently Kurt caught something on his video of the chip challenge, which Blaine deleted, by the way, and now he knows."

"What exactly does he know?" she asks, a slight frown on her face.

"I'm not sure," I admit. "He did offer us someone to talk to, if we need it, which is really nice of him."

She nods in agreement. "I suppose, if anyone was going to know, I'm glad it was him and not Kurt or Mercedes."

All I can do is agree as I reach out and touch her leg. "Maybe we should have coffee with him," I say, my fingers trailing up over the denim. "It might be nice having another person in our corner."

She gasps softly when I reach the waistband of her jeans, my hand hidden under the hem of her shirt. "That sounds like a good idea," she manages to say, her eyes flicking towards the large screen for a moment. She does a quick survey of our surroundings - empty - and then pulls me in for a kiss as she slides down, hiding us between the rows of seats. It's deathly uncomfortable but she tastes like popcorn and pasta and I can't stop myself from licking the roof of her mouth. I have this sudden, unstoppable urge to crawl into her and just live there.

Maybe she has the same thought, because she pulls me closer, her fists closing around the lapels of my coat and propelling me forward.

"Why don't they have love seats?" she mutters into my mouth, and I just smile even though I know what she means. The armrest must be digging into her back and the other one is pressing against my thigh.

"It's probably to discourage this type of behaviour," I reply, my mouth moving to her neck and sucking gently.

"It's a futile attempt." She accentuates those words by palming my breast over my shirt and I hiss out a breath. Rachel Berry.

My mouth returns to hers. "It is, indeed."


Friday morning, I wake up to too many messages and notifications on my phone. I'm exhausted before I've even started to go through them. I wish there was some kind of application that could weed out all the disingenuous ones. I feel really hypocritical, even as I think it, because I used to be a person who cared about all of this. I used to worry about whether people liked me and how many notifications I got.

I'll admit that I sometimes still do, but my experience with Beth and the subsequent fall from grace really put things into perspective for me. All those people who write on your wall and like your posts don't care about you at all. I learned who truly cared when the world fell out from under me, and they were there to - not catch me - offer me a hand to keep myself holding on.

I ignore my phone for the time being and go through my morning routine. I go downstairs once I'm ready and head into the kitchen for some breakfast. This is the last time I'll be in this house until late Sunday. My bag is packed and I'm ready to spend this weekend with my friends and my second family. As apprehensive as I am, I'm looking forward to it.

But.

I almost forget.

I forget I have a first family.

My mother walks into the kitchen while I'm sipping at my coffee. She gives me a look, says good morning, and then moves to get herself a cup in the cabinet. I made enough coffee for her as well, but she says nothing about it.

She says nothing.

I drain my coffee, wash my cup and then head to practice. I don't want to be in a bad mood, but I am, and it shows through the way I act during practice. My fellow cheerleaders wish me happy birthday and I force a smile on my face... until I get to my locker and Rachel is waiting for me. I want nothing more than to fall into her arms and just be, but I resist the urge.

"Hello, you," she says, smiling gently and putting out her hand. Then: "Come with me."

I go willingly, and she takes me to the auditorium and into the back. I've been in here once before but Rachel seems to know her way around, given her roles in every school production we've ever had. We go into what must be the green room and she closes and locks the door before pushing me down onto the couch and straddling my legs.

"So," she says, cupping my cheeks. "Santana says you're in a mood."

I sigh. "This Quinn-management is starting to annoy me."

She kisses the tip of my nose. "You love it."

I don't respond.

"What's wrong, baby?"

I clench my jaw, my hands sliding over her bare thighs and under her skirt. "It's stupid."

"Tell me anyway," she says quietly, her voice faltering under the movement of my hands. "I want to know."

I blink. "I think my mom forgot it's my birthday today," I tell her.

Her face pinches into something unreadable and, for a moment, I think she might say something to make me feel better. Like, maybe my mother has something planned for me or she's just buying time or something equally ridiculous, because we both know it'd be a lie. So, instead, Rachel says nothing. She rather kisses me, slow and tender, and I find myself forgetting all about my mother and the lack of birthday wish.

Rachel calls an end to proceedings quickly because we have class to get to. I drop her off at her locker and, when I get back to mine, Santana and Brittany are waiting for me.

"Is it safe to approach?" Santana asks, and I roll my eyes.

At my nod, Brittany launches herself at me, peppering my face with kisses and shouting 'Happy Birthday' right into my ear. I squirm for a moment before I just accept it. I'll take all the good this day has to offer.

Santana punches my shoulder when Brittany releases me. "Happy birthday, Q," she says.

"Thank you," I say, offering her a knowing smile. She doesn't do the whole hugging thing when it's not really necessary. I turn to my locker, put in the combination and open it to a fountain of letters and birthday cards that come pouring out and litter the floor. "Oh."

Brittany squeals in excitement and Santana groans. "Seriously?"

I'm as surprised as the next person.

Santana bends first to retrieve one without an envelope. "'Dear Quinn,'" she reads. "'You are very pretty. Happy birthday. Hope you have a great day! Love from your Secret Admirer.'" She pretends to gag. "Something tells me you're going to have a lot of 'Secret Admirers' today."

"Is there a sign on my forehead that tells people I want to be secretly admired?"

"There isn't one," Santana says, just as Brittany says, "Yes, Q. You're so pretty."

I smile at them both, and then the three of us bend to retrieve the cards. I don't have time for them right now, and I wonder if I ever will. Not today. Today is already filled with enough. I have to fend off people a plenty as I move through my day, forcing smiles and ignoring pleading looks. Most of them are going to be at the party tomorrow anyway.

Rachel steals me away for lunch and we go back to that green room. I want to say we spend most of our time eating and talking, but we mainly just make-out, which is apparently allowed because it's my birthday. I get to touch breasts and thighs because it's my birthday. I get to grind my hips against hers because it's my birthday and oh God, we can't be doing this at school. I'm a hot mess when I get back to class, decidedly uncomfortable in my clothing but I push through because then it's Glee, and Rachel is wearing one of her extremely unsubtle, secretive smiles.

Mr Schuester wishes me a happy birthday, and then starts the lesson. We perform an upbeat group number and Lauren sings a heavy metal song that hurts my ears more than I'd care to admit before Rachel mentions to Mr Schuester that she, Santana, Brittany, Mercedes, Tina, Kurt and Blaine prepared something else. Of course, he offers them the floor.

"So, seeing as it's Quinn's birthday today, a few of us have decided to sing her a little something," Rachel says, and my smile is so wide, my cheeks hurt. "Brittany picked the song, Blaine and I worked on the arrangement." She looks at me. "I hope you enjoy it, ba - " she stops suddenly, and coughs violently. "Uh, happy birthday," she says, recovering and stepping back into position. I smile widely, Santana snickers and Blaine places a knowing and sympathetic hand on her shoulder. That's one sure way to give us away; just calling me 'baby' in public.

Rachel takes a moment to centre herself, and then the music starts. Santana starts singing Kelly Clarkson's Miss Independent first, her tone so full of sass. "Miss independent, Miss self-sufficient, Miss keep-your-distance, Miss unafraid, Miss out-of-my-way, Miss don't-let-a-man-interfere, no."

Blaine picks it up, adding some grit. "Miss on-her-own, Miss almost-grown. Miss never-let-a-man-help-her-off-her-throne. So, by keeping her heart protected, she'd never ever feel rejected. Little miss apprehensive. Said ooh, she fell in love."

She did, yes.

Tina and Mercedes break out into the chorus, and my heart jumps. "What is the feelin' takin' over? Thinkin' no one could open my door. Surprise, it's time to feel what's real. What happened to Miss Independent? No more the need to be defensive. Goodbye, old you, when love is true."

Brittany is next, her hips swaying to the beat. "Miss guarded-heart, Miss play-it-smart, Miss if-you-want-to-use-that-line-you-better-not-start, no. But she miscalculated. She didn't want to end up jaded, and this miss decided not to miss out on true love."

Tina slides in just as Brittany finishes off the last note. "So, by changing her misconceptions, she went in a new direction and found inside she felt a connection. She fell in love."

Mercedes and Rachel take over, belting out the words in a way that makes the hairs rise on my arms. "What is the feelin' takin' over? Thinkin' no one could open my door. Surprise, it's time to feel what's real. What happened to Miss Independent? No more the need to be defensive. Goodbye, old you, when love is true."

The music slows and all their voices drop to silence. My heart is pounding in my chest. After a moment, there's a slow drum beat, and then Kurt starts singing softly. "When Miss Independence walked away, no time for love that came her way. She looked in the mirror and thought today, what happened to miss no longer afraid?" Blaine joins him and their voices have always gone so perfectly together. "It took some time for her to see how beautiful love could truly be. No more talk of why can't that be me. I'm so glad I finally see."

All of them sing the last chorus together, jumping about and getting into the song. "What is the feelin' takin' over? Thinkin' no one could open my door. Surprise, it's time to feel what's real. What happened to Miss Independent? No more the need to be defensive. Goodbye, old you - " everything stops, including my heart.

Rachel looks at me, and speaks the last line. "When love is true."

There's a lot of applause, and I'm freaking out a little, because she fell in love. I did, and I have, and Rachel is making it very difficult for me not to rush to her and kiss the air right out of her lungs. I give them all hugs, squeezing tight and lingering on some more than others. Glee should be over, but it's obviously not when Finn, Puck, Sam, Artie and Mike all move forward, and send us all back to our seats.

"We also have a birthday song for Quinn," Finn says and smiles at me in a way that I haven't seen since... forever. I can't help smiling back. It's almost automatic, and it just makes him perk up that bit more. All of them seem to relax under my reaction, as if they were worried how their sweet present would be received.

The five boys move into position, Puck grabbing his guitar, and then they start to sing Faith Hill's She's a Wild One. Puck strums loudly and Finn starts singing. "They said change your clothes, she said no I won't. They said comb your hair, she said some kids don't, and her parents dreams went up in smoke."

Artie picks up the next lines and I start to sway in my seat. "They said you can't leave, she said yes I will. They said don't see him, she said his name is Bill. She's on a road and its all uphill."

All of them sing the chorus together, and their voice harmonise surprisingly well. "She's a wild one, with an angel's face. She's a woman-child in a state of grace. When she was three years old on her daddy's knee, he said you can be anything you want to be. She's a wild one, runnin' free."

Sam sings the next lines, his eyes on me and a happy smile on his face. "She loves rock and roll, they said it's Satan's tongue. She thinks they're too old, they think she's too young, and the battle lines are clearly drawn."

They're all singing together again. "She's a wild one, with an angel's face. She's a woman-child in a state of grace. When she was three years old on her daddy's knee, he said you can be anything you want to be. She's a wild one, runnin' free."

Puck strums loudly, chancing a leer my way as he sings, and I roll my eyes in response. "She has future plans, and dreams at night. They tell her life is hard, she says that's all right, yeah."

The final lines are surprisingly poignant, and this entire Glee club is so lovely. They truly are. I'm oddly emotional, and I rest my head on Rachel's shoulder, breathing out a sigh. "She's a wild one, with an angel's face. She's a woman-child in a state of grace. When she was three years old on her daddy's knee, he said you can be anything you want to be. She's a wild one, with an angel's face. She's a woman-child in a state of grace. When she was three years old on her daddy's knee, he said you can be anything you want to be. She's a wild one, runnin' free."

When the song ends, I thank them - without hugs, I'm not ready for that - and look at Rachel. "Today has been a great day," I whisper to her.

She tilts her head to the side and drops the volume of her voice. "Oh, baby, the day is so far from over."

I snap my mouth shut.

When Mr Schuester dismisses us, Santana and Brittany steal me away and we go for a mani-pedi and Santana tries to convince me to get a haircut, which would probably break Coach Sylvester enough to break me. The woman likes a certain length. Brittany decides on rainbow colours for her nails, Santana gets a hot pink - as per Brittany's request - and I settle for black.

"Like your heart," Santana quips, and I throw a foam thing at her head.

We get smoothies before we go to Santana's house. It's where I'm supposedly getting ready for whatever surprise my amazing girlfriend has in store for me. I admit I'm slightly nervous, and my brain is taking me places it probably shouldn't. Santana and Brittany pick out my outfit - it's downright sinful when I'm not wearing my coat, which they advise me to keep on while in the Berry home. I'll probably give one of Rachel's dads a heart attack, apparently.

When I do get to the Berry home, LeRoy invites me into the kitchen where he, Hiram and Rachel are ready and waiting with coffee and a red velvet cake. I get buried in three separate hugs before there's a family hug around me, and I have to wipe away tears before I ruin my makeup.

They sing for me, each of them trying to outdo one another. They really could start their own Berry Band if they felt so inclined. When it's time for Rachel and me to leave, I get another round of hugs before we're on our way, with Rachel driving us to our secret destination.

"Tonight is a test of your patience, Quinn," she says, but she knows it's not the same. I can handle being patient when she's clearly expecting me to question her the way she would have. It's so much more fun this way.

Our destination is, to my surprise, the park. Our spot, to be specific. Well, our altered spot, because it's been transformed into something magical.

She's set up the most glorious picnic I've ever seen, with throw pillows and fairy lights. Fairy lights, people. She's even set up a projector and a large blowup screen, like our own private outdoor theatre. She squeezes my hand as we move closer, and I see a picnic basket and a cooler perched in the corner, and a selection of books in another corner. There are extra throw blankets folded next to the cooler, and I don't think there could be anything more perfect than this.

"Rachel," I breathe, unable to find the words. "This is - this is amazing. God, I think I'm going to cry. Thank you. Thank you." I tug her into a tight hug and kiss her hair repeatedly.

Dinner is great, consisting of my favourite chilli-paste stir-fry, and the film is wonderful - Just Like Heaven is one of my favourites - but it's the girl who makes it amazing. It's always going to be. It's almost cliched, the chocolate-covered strawberries, but it offers me the opportunity to nibble at her fingers when she feeds me.

When the movie ends, she switches to music, snuggles into my side under a throw blanket and asks me to read some poetry to her. I get through two pages of Walt Whitman before I abandon that, chuck the book over my head, roll onto her and kiss her with enough force to have her squirming immediately. My hands go wondering, slipping into her coat and sliding over the form of her dress.

Her tongue slides into my mouth at the same time her hands unbutton my coat, and she gasps when she realises what I'm wearing. It's probably the shortest, tightest dress I've ever worn, courtesy of Santana Lopez's closet. Rachel just stares for the longest time, before she's touching. Everywhere. She has access to the bare skin of my thighs and it takes me an embarrassingly long time to remember that I do too. I can't decide what to touch or where to kiss. I want everything. All of it. All of her.

In a surprisingly lucid moment, she reaches into her own coat pocket and pulls out a small black box. She moves it into my eye-line and my lust-filled brain does a double-take. "Berry, that better not be a ring," I manage to say.

She just laughs through a breath. "Happy birthday, Quinn," she says, shifting her arms when I lift myself up enough for her to hold the box between us.

"Open it for me," I tell her.

She doesn't argue and fiddles with the box for a moment, eventually revealing a silver Nomination bracelet, which several links already installed. "Give me your wrist."

I shift my weight, and present her with my right wrist. After a few tries, she's able to clasp it in place, and I grin at her. "Thank you," I whisper, feeling overwhelmed.

"You're welcome."

I clear my throat. "What are the links?" I ask.

She pulls my hand close to her face. "Well, this is a music note because I think we wouldn't be where we are without Glee."

"Where? With me on top of you?"

"Exactly," she says with a giggle before moving onto the next link. "This one is a house, because you'll always have a home with me, Quinn. With us."

I kiss her cheek.

"This one is a gold star... for obvious reasons," she says, blushing slightly.

"My little star," I murmur, kissing her other cheek.

"There's also these little pompoms. I saw them, and I just couldn't resist." She smiles at me. "This one is a book, because I think books are where we're going to find your passion. Whether you're reading them or writing them."

I blink once, twice, before kissing the tip of her nose. She said we're, and I'm so happy.

"And, this last one here is a heart," she says, nibbling at her bottom lip; "because I love you."

I wait only a beat of my heart before I'm kissing her lips softly, and then not so softly. She moans from deep in her chest, and I let my hands and mouth say the words I'm too terrified to voice.

I love you.


Saturday is hell in so many ways.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty

Rachel

make sure they have fallen in love with your spirit. first.
your body. second.


If I'm being honest, I can't tell if Quinn is having a good time or not. I mean, it's obvious she's not enjoying the attention because it's a lot. Only, it looks as if there's something else playing on her mind, and I have half a mind to drag her away and find out what's bothering her. But, alas, she's in the middle of a Cheerio crowd and I am not willingly entering that. She glances at me a few times, but her eyes aren't that playful they usually are in these situations. She's not even bothering to fake it that well, though it does improve the evening goes on.

Quietly, I continue to sip at my drink on the couch, while Kurt and Blaine have a heated conversation about something or the other just to my right. I use the time to go through the day as a whole, and maybe I can figure out just from where Quinn's mood stems. I mean, to the untrained eye, there's nothing off about her at all, but I know her forced smile better than I know my own. Which, in my own concern, I'm wearing right now.

We were fine this morning. Really fine, if I recall. It's not as if we actually did anything last night. Sure, there was a lot of bare thigh on offer, but the rest of the body was covered. Tightly, but still covered, and I touched all the best parts. Even now, I can still hear her gasping in my ear and I can feel her heart beating against mine - our bodies pressed together so closely, our ribs were practically interlocked. It was a great night, and Santana and Brittany even handled the cleanup for me, so I could keep up the magic of the evening for Quinn. We returned home to a quiet house, crawled into bed and talked right into the morning. We discussed her fears about now being eighteen, and what that all means for her and her parents. She's going to make an appointment at her bank to discuss her options now that she's a legal adult.

This morning, we had breakfast in bed. It wasn't anything fancy, just some pancakes, sliced fruit and orange juice. She grumbled about my keeping bacon from her, but I received a lingering kiss for my efforts. She went to practice in a good mood, which I didn't expect to last through the torture Coach Sylvester surely put them through - given the upcoming Regional competition - but she did come back a bit dimmer. Not like this, though. She's almost despondent, trying way too hard to participate and it's worrying me. We had lunch as normal, and then she and my Dad went to see Florence. I suppose that could be when things started to turn. While they were out, I did some important vocal work and practiced potential audition songs. I have a long list that I need to filter through, and I intend to get Quinn's input at some point. She's always been unafraid to tell me what I need to hear.

She was exhausted when she got back, and she caught a nap while I worked on my Trigonometry homework. We were expected at Santana's at eight o'clock to help her and Brittany get ready for the party. It was all new territory for me because I've never actually thrown this kind of party before. Quinn was fine while we were getting ready, if maybe a little sleepy, but she grew into the evening when it was just the four of us bustling about the house, setting up the alcohol and the chips. Puck brought the keg over and the Glee Club arrived early enough to shower Quinn in hugs and well wishes. She was fine through all of that, present and genuine.

It takes me a moment to realise the genuine smile slipped off her face and was replaced by the forced one the more people she didn't quite know started to arrive. She fell into her Head Cheerio persona, and that's the person I'm seeing right now, even if it's falling short. I just haven't seen her in a while. I almost forgot. It's just... she isn't being her playful self. There's no spark and, because I'm looking as closely as I am, I notice. I also notice when she excuses herself and goes to the kitchen to get another drink. I follow immediately, downing my drink in one gulp. She's looking over the various bottles set out on the kitchen island when I find her. We're not exactly alone in the kitchen - there's a drunk couple making out against a counter - but I still move to stand right beside her, close enough for her to feel my presence.

True to form, Quinn Fabray startles slightly, and then smiles when she sees it's me. Her head leans in automatically, as if she's going to kiss me, but then she catches herself and shakes her head. There's a look in her eye that worries me, and I know I'm going to have to be the one to resolve it. Right here. Right now. I grab her hand and tug. She follows with no argument, and we leave the kitchen to head further into the house and away from people's prying eyes. I have this sudden urge to sit next to her at the piano like that first time we were here together. Once we enter the room, we don't even make it to the piano before she's dropping my hand and looking at me expectantly.

"What is it, Berry?" she asks, and there's a hint of irritation in her voice.

Okay. "What's wrong, Quinn?" I ask.

She looks away. "What makes you think there's something wrong?" she murmurs.

"Call it fluke," I comment, even though we both know I know her well enough to notice when there's something bothering her. "But I know it's true. So, what's wrong?"

Quinn nibbles on her bottom lip, and I have to ignore how cute she looks in favour of trying to get to the bottom of this particular Quinn mystery.

I step towards her and reach out to cup her cheek with my right hand. "Baby, talk to me."

She places a hand over mine and sighs, leaning into my touch. "Nothing is wrong," she says. "I'm - I'm having a great time. I promise I am. I just - " she stops. "I feel a little lost," she admits. "I don't know who to be right now. With you, it's easy and simple. I'm just me. I'm trying with the Glee Club, but I'm not sure I'm being myself when I'm out there, and then I forget which parts are really me." She shakes her head. "It's stupid."

"It's not stupid."

"I know I shouldn't be worrying about this right now but I can't help it," she continues. "I want to get better at being me but, the more I settle into this person I like to think I am, the worse it is... people still stare and Finn and Puck and Sam are just... I don't even know what they are right now. You saw how Kurt reacted at the dinner... Is everyone going to be like that just because I deigned to show that I actually have a personality beyond being a heartless bitch?"

Her exasperation is a little amusing, but she looks too forlorn for me to react to that. I rather just wrap my arms around her and hold her close to my body. Telling her to be herself right now won't do any good, so I just offer her this small comfort and hope she'll deem herself a little found when we step out again.

It sort of works, I think. She's still somewhat guarded when she returns to the party. I watch her get settled into conversation with Santana and Brittany before I get myself another drink. I dance with Blaine for a while - Kurt is locked in what must be a gossip session with Mercedes - and I mention to him that Quinn and I would like to take him for coffee, if he feels so inclined. We make plans, and we dance close. If I weren't so sure both of us were gay - I'm pretty certain I'm gay, though I'm still trying to determine if there's any fluidity in my resolve - our dancing would be downright sinful. As it is, though, we're both just very good at dancing.

"I think someone can't take her eyes off of you," Blaine suddenly says, his mouth very close to my ear.

I stumble a bit in my drunken haze. "What?"

"Miss Fabray is staring," he says; "one of those stares that says she wants to eat you."

I know that stare and, once I acknowledge it's probably, definitely, meant for me, I feel it. I turn Blaine, so I can look for myself, and he lets me. My eyes rise to meet Quinn's, and she doesn't even bother to look away. In fact, her face transforms into something dark and her eyes scream across the room, filling the space with her obvious... arousal. I flush instantly, my heart rate rising to a dangerous level, and all I want to do is touch her; touch every part of her. Maybe it's the alcohol in my system, I don't know, but something makes me stop dancing.

"I have to go," I say to Blaine, and he just grins knowingly.

"Of course, you do," he teases. "I don't know how you can possibly still be standing here when there's someone looking at you like that."

I agree with him, kiss his cheek, give Quinn a significant look and then leave the room with a destination in mind. It takes me a few seconds before I'm aware of Quinn following behind me, and just the idea of it is already making my blood boil. I lead the way into what we've commandeered as our room in Santana's house, and, as soon as the door closes behind us, Quinn's hands are everywhere. Even if they aren't, they feel as if they are. She has me pushed up against the door, and I swear every part of my body is on fire. Inside and outside. I'm burning. She's burning me.

"Quinn," I gasp, when her mouth moves down to my neck and she sucks. Hard. "Oh, wow."

She lets out a growl, and drags her teeth along my collarbone. My hands fly to her hair in an attempt to alleviate the pressure, but she just presses closer and I can barely breathe. It's suffocating in the best way because nothing feels close enough. I use my grip on her hair to guide her head back up because I want to kiss her; I just want to taste her.

As soon as our lips touch again, I groan loudly, feeling my tongue get drawn into her warm mouth. There's teasing and nibbling, and the type of light suction that sets my entire body on fire. She's amazing at this, and it's driving me crazy. Hands on my hips, she pulls me closer, her right thigh moving into the space between my legs. My response is automatic, the pressure of my mouth increasing as I grab hold of the front of her shirt and press down on her thigh. I let out a deep, guttural moan, and Quinn's grip on me tightens in response.

Deciding I want her horizontal, I start backing her towards the bed. Lips staying attached, somehow, we manage to maneuver into position, me on my back and Quinn hovering over me. Her own excitement is clearly evident in the way she's looking at me - pupils dilated - filling me with a type of warmth that makes me numb. I love moments like this. Don't get me wrong, I love kissing her, but there's something deeply profound about the moments before. And, I suppose, the moments after as well.

This moment is special, though I'm unable to put a finger on why. Maybe it's the way our bodies already fit so perfectly together, or the way she's looking at me as if I'm the only person in this great big world.

"Like what you see?" I find myself asking, and her face splits into a wide grin. Her eyes are so dark, they're almost a forest colour.

"I do," she whispers, using her right hand to brush a few strands of hair off my forehead, and the gentleness of the action is in such stark contrast to what she was just doing just moments before. "I truly do."

Something about her words feels heavy, and my chest tightens. I just - I love her so much. I used to be able to keep it in, suppress it. It used to be a slow burn, but now it feels like an inferno, just waiting to consume me. I love her the most when she's talking about the things she's passionate about. Admittedly, I know she hasn't really been allowed the opportunity to find and explore her passions properly, but she talks Literature and life in a way that makes me squirm with both desire and delight. Her eyes light up. They come to life, dancing in the light, burning bright, as if she can see the great big world in a way that's different to everyone in the world.

And when she looks at me the same way…. well, that part doesn't scare me at all. It's that part that scares me: the fact that it doesn't scare me scares me. Seriously. I'm that dramatic. It's too easy to lose myself in everything she is, which is frightening and also not. I want everything she is, and I wonder if she wants the same.

Rachel, I scold myself, you're drunk and horny and there's a beautiful girl lying on top of you... Stop thinking.

Breathing a sigh, I pull her head down to kiss her, but it's really more to escape her gaze. Her hands go exploring immediately, snaking under my shirt with purpose and leaving my skin scolding in their wake.

I like to think I have good control. In the general sense of the word, I definitely do, but not when it comes to Quinn Fabray. Her fingers are trailing fire over my skin, burning me; marking me. They move over my stomach muscles, making them twitch, around to my back and upwards. They occasionally brush the undersides of my breasts, but it's her mouth that gets much closer.

Quinn uses one hand to open the top buttons of my shirt, pulling it apart so she can pepper kisses against my skin. Down and down she goes, and my hands fly to her hair, my back involuntarily arching into her mouth.

It's a miracle she doesn't stop what she's doing, because I'm convinced I might kill her if she even considers it. The hand that isn't burning my back continues with the buttons of my shirt until they're completely undone, and the fabric is sufficiently moved out of the way. She kisses the flesh bulging out of the top of my bra once, twice, before she pulls away, looking more sober than she has all night.

Right. Of course, this is the moment she decides to stop. When I'm needy and wanting and squirming beneath her. I try not to look petulant when she looks at my face. She's even retracted her hands. What is she trying to do to me right now? She stares at my chest, looking mesmerised by the up and down movement of my trying - and failing - to catch my breath. The look on her face definitely isn't helping. Then: "Can I?" she questions, her hands hovering, itching to touch as they await express permission.

All I can really do is nod, my own brain hazy.

Slowly, she snakes her right hand behind me, her fingers searching for the clasp of my bra.

"You might need both hands," I find myself telling her, and she lets out a breathy chuckle. I don't figure out why until she has the clasp undone. With one hand.

My mouth pops open in surprise - even I can't do it with one hand when I'm sober - which is invitation enough for her to plunge her tongue into it. It's a rough kiss that slows to something deeply sensual. It's distracting enough that I don't notice that she's shifted my bra downwards and there's a hand cupping my bare breast.

Oh.

I let out a gasp that she swallows, and then she's moving away. Her lips leave mine, and she pulls back to look at my face. It's distractingly slow, the rate her eyes drop lower, past my lips, chin, neck, sternum, and finally down to my chest. Her eyes are glazed, but they look very focused right now. I feel bare, on display, and my heart is hammering in my ribcage. I know I'm not as blessed in the chest area as some other girls, but it'd be heartbreaking if she's even slightly disappointed.

She's not. Not even a little bit.

I watch her eyes widen, her tongue automatically poking out to lick her lips. I stare as she stares, both of us breathing heavily. And then the hand she's already put in place squeezes. It's gentle at first, even a little hesitant, but oh God. I swear, my responding moan can be heard in Columbus. Thank goodness for the thumping music.

"Jesus Christ," she breathes.

I'm in a tangle of fabric and wire, and my clasp is poking me behind my shoulder blade.

"Quinn," I murmur.

She pulls back in alarm.

"It's okay," I'm quick to say. "I just - I want to take it off." Whatever it is. Dutifully, she rolls to the side and I immediately sit up to rid myself of the offending garments. In a few quick, jagged moves, I'm naked from the torso up and lying back down. I barely get a breath out before she's rolling back onto me and kissing me senseless. And her hands. God, her hands. Before I know what's happening, I'm tugging on her shirt too. I want to touch her skin. I want to feel it against my own. I struggle with her buttons, and she offers no assistance.

Instead, her mouth drops to pepper kisses over the swells of my breasts. Lower still. When her mouth closes around the tip of my right breast, her tongue swirling around my nipple, I arch upwards and lose all mental faculties. Why have we never done this before? I swear I almost lift right off the bed when she rolls my left nipple between her thumb and finger and ohmygod. I abandon her shirt buttons and slide my fingers into her hair, keeping her head in place, increasing the pressure. She swaps her attentions and I gasp loudly, desperately gripping at her shoulders and digging my nails into her flesh.

"Quinn!"

Quinn moves lower still, her mouth moving over my stomach, nibbling and suckling until she reaches the waistband of my jeans. Her tongue slips under the denim, wetting my hidden skin before licking her way back up my torso until she's kissing my mouth again. It's the moment everything changes. The air sparks and everything starts moving much too fast. The lust, the desire, the want take over my body and I have the sudden urge to rip Quinn right out of her clothes. I grab at her and we kiss so hard, I'm certain we're both going to bruise. Her hips are grinding, and I shift my thigh until it's in the perfect position between her legs. I can feel her heat and it shoots right up my body, and then straight back down.

We move together, hands exploring and sliding and squeezing and it's all too much. We're chasing something, and the world is spinning even if we're not. My hands slide right down her back and cup her ass and squeeze. She groans something unintelligible and the increased pressure almost sends me into oblivion. I hiss out a breath, breathe her name, and then her hands are dropping lower, as if I've given her express permission. Maybe I have, because now she's fumbling with the button and zipper of my jeans and this is happening.

"Yes," I pant. "God, yes."

I feel rather than hear the zipper slide down, and my body is on fire. The rhythm of our hips falters as her hand starts to dip inside my jeans, hesitant and unsure but desperate. It's obvious she wants to touch, but she isn't sure how. Her fingers trail over the edge of my panties and the room is starved of air, I swear it is.

"Please," I breathe, and now she's kissing me again, hard and fast and messily. Her hand is still poised, waiting, and I grab for her wrist with the intent of guiding it just where I wa -

There's a banging on the door, and we both freeze, panting and extremely aroused. Santana's voice comes through the door, and it's as if she's pouring cold water over the both of us, violently bringing us out of our lust-induced haze.

"Oi, you ungrateful bitches! There's a party going on out here! Have sex in your own house!"

And the mood is effectively killed. Quinn doesn't even look at me as she lifts herself up and rises off the bed, stumbling slightly. She keeps her back to me as she fixes her clothes and attempts to smooth down her hair. When she does turn to look at me, her face is red, her lips are swollen and her eyes are fully dilated. It's obvious what she's just been doing, and the way she's trapped her bottom lip between her teeth or the way her eyes are staring at my bare chest isn't helping me.

"We should go back downstairs," she says, and then turns around again. I half expect her to disappear right away - this is suddenly so awkward - but she waits while I get redressed. This moment right here is sobering, because we both know what would have happened if Santana hadn't interrupted. It was going to happen. I definitely wanted it to.

Once I'm convinced I look somewhat presentable, I move towards her and reach out. She flinches at my touch and spins hurriedly, giving me the once-over. Silently, she fixes things I didn't: straightening this and smoothing that. When she deems me presentable, she steps forward and kisses my forehead.

"I'm sorry," she murmurs and, before I can question her further, she's left the room - and me, reeling. What? Why is she sorry? I feel as if I have whiplash right now. Not ten minutes ago, I was hot and bothered and writhing beneath her, and now I'm cold and alone and confused. It takes me an obscenely long time to get it together and go downstairs, unsure what I'm going to find.

Everything looks normal, exactly the same as I left it... however many minutes ago. I feel odd. Nothing about this entire night has changed, but I have. Quinn and I were just upstairs doing things, and now the world is just going on as if it never happened. As if it wasn't important. I look for Quinn, just because I need to see her. I want to know if she's feeling what I'm feeling. I want reassurance that... I don't even know what. I just need my girlfriend to say something more than I'm sorry. What does that even mean? Why would she say that? Is she regretting whatever we were doing? I need Quinn to tell me she isn't.

Except, I can't find her. She's nowhere, and I realise belatedly that it's by design. She's hiding, from me, and I can't make it too obvious I'm looking. Because Quinn is just my friend in this public place, and I suddenly understand what we were discussing earlier. It's difficult being yourself when you have to hide who you are. And I already know who I am. Quinn doesn't, even though I'm convinced I do.

But maybe I don't.

Kurt and Blaine keep me company and I drink a little too much in an effort to keep my mind from panicking about my hiding girlfriend. I consider texting her, but I decide against it. If she's adamant about staying away from me, I won't force her to... communicate.

Blaine leans into me, dropping the volume of his voice. "Something wrong?"

I blink. "Isn't there always?"

He shifts in his seat. "Want to talk about it?"

I sigh. "I don't know what's wrong, though," I admit. "Do you ever get the feeling you're in way over your head?" I ask. "But there's nothing you can do about it? As if you're just in too deep and it's overwhelming? And you have everything you weren't even sure you wanted until you did, and it's just so much?"

He blinks, clearly trying to find the words to respond. I don't think I'm making any sense to him - or myself, really. "Sounds... complicated," he finally says.

I laugh humourlessly, and he casts a worried look at me.

"What can I do?" he asks, and he says it so kindly, I might start crying.

I meet his gaze. "Do you think you can please find Quinn in a discreet way? I just - I need to know where she is, and that she's okay."

He pats my knee once, twice, and then stands and goes looking. I sit perfectly still. Well, I try to, but my leg is bouncing uncontrollably and I'm picking at the skin around my right thumb. To distract myself, I sing a song in my head, slowly moulding it to the beat that's already playing all around me. I'm already on to my fourth song when Blaine returns, looking grim and confused.

I resist the urge to jump up when I see him, but he squeezes in beside me and turns his eyes on me. "Did you find her?" I ask.

He nods. "Out by the pool, with Brittany and Santana." Oh. "And Finn and Sam and Puck." Oh. "And some others, as well.'

I blink. "How did she seem?"

"Quiet," he says. "She and Britt are lying together on a pool chair."

"What's wrong?" I ask, because he still looks confused.

"Does Britt know?" he asks. "About you two?"

"She does, yes," I say. "Why?"

He wrings his hands together. "She said something odd when I approached." At my raised eyebrows, he lets out a light laugh. "Well, odder than usual."

"What did she say?"

"She said 'I know what it's like to be afraid of your own mind.'"

I frown. "What?"

"Exactly."

What the hell? I mull it over for the rest of the night, people moving around me and saying and doing things I barely register. When people start passing out or leaving, I want to call it a night and go upstairs. I intend to lock the door, which means that I have to tell Quinn. So, breathing a sigh, I take out my phone and text her.

Berry: I'm going to bed. Do you want to come get the room key?

Her reply takes a minute.

Quinn: I'm coming.

As soon as I get it, I start saying goodnight to the people who are still lucid enough to register it. I don't even bother to go outside - I don't want to see whatever's going on out there - just visit the kitchen for some water and then go upstairs. I start getting ready for bed, going through the motions without having to focus on the missing presence of one Quinn Fabray.

I spend an obscene amount of time in the bathroom, just turning over Brittany's words in my head as I stare at myself in the mirror. I know what it's like to be afraid of your own mind. What does that even mean? Maybe I'm too inebriated to figure it out, or Brittany's too drunk and the words aren't supposed to make sense. Quinn doesn't make sense right now. Nothing does. Not even what I'm feeling.

When I get back to the bedroom, there is a blonde human being already in bed, her eyes closed and her breathing even. Quinn shifts when I close and lock the door, and switch off the overhead light. We have to talk about it, sure, but I'm too tired for that right now. So, setting aside all that apprehension and confusion, I slide into bed and right into Quinn's space. Quietly, almost automatically, she slips her arms around me, breathes out and promptly (re-)falls asleep.

"I love you," I whisper and, a beat later, I'm also asleep.


I wake to an empty bed. I feel particularly cold and needy, which is a feeling that doesn't dissipate when I learn from Santana that Quinn decided to attend the morning service at church instead of the evening one she initially decided on, after all. Which, even in my hungover state, I know means that she didn't want to see me this morning, for whatever reason. Embarrassment, maybe. Guilt. Regret. Gosh, I'd be crushed if she regretted any of it because I certainly don't.

Because we stopped. It'd be an entirely different story if we hadn't, and I give Santana an unexpected hug for it. She squirms and fights me off, but she has to know that all of this mess with Quinn right now would be so much worse if she hadn't banged on that door and brought an abrupt end to proceedings.

Santana, Brittany and I have a late breakfast, and I try my best not to let the fact that Quinn left me here to get to me. It's sitting heavily on my brain, and I'm worried. Santana and Brittany are occupied enough with each other and we're all sporting headaches, so they don't notice. I'm exhausted as well, and I decide to go home earlier than anticipated. Santana lets me go with one of those looks that shows me she probably understands Quinn better than I do. And, I suppose, the thing that makes me feel even worse is that she probably does. I clearly don't know why Quinn is avoiding me, but Santana does. Maybe Quinn told her, but I doubt that.

As soon as I get home, I throw my clothes in the laundry and then crawl into bed with a bottle of water and Advil. I need it on standby for this apparent shitshow of a day I'm about to have. I don't even know if I should contact Quinn first or not. Text or call, I don't know. I grab for my phone anyway, pull up her contact and begin typing. I draft two different texts before Quinn is the one to message me.

Quinn: Britt baked some vegan oatmeal cookies for you because they are your bacon, apparently. She thinks they'll make you happy, which is Britt-speak for 'I fucked up somehow and I have to fix it.' So... I'm coming over. We should probably talk.

Quinn: If you're napping, I'll just wait. Though, I make no promises that the cookies will survive the wait.

Despite how off-kilter I feel, I smile. It's so difficult not to when Quinn is involved. I don't even know if I'm mad, or if I was. Is mad what I'm feeling? Disappointed? Confused? All of the above. Hurt.

Berry: I'm awake. Barely.

Berry: I will hurt you if you touch even one of my cookies. And I will know, Fabray.

Berry: We should probably talk, yes.

Quinn: I'm leaving San's now. Just have to stop and pick up something on the way. X

I blink. Pick up something? Quieting my mind, I set down my phone, roll over and hug a pillow that smells like Quinn. It should be Quinn. I try not to focus on the throbbing in my head or the pounding in my chest. I suspect she's scared - I am too - and she's probably worried. I just - she's not supposed to run. I thought we were past all of this.

I hear Quinn arrive. There's a spike in noise downstairs, footsteps on the stairs and a knock on my door. I grumble something unintelligible, and I hear my door open. I roll onto my back and sit up, my face automatically smiling, even if my eyes aren't really in it.

"Hi," she breathes, holding out a container and a bouquet of flowers. I spy tulips, carnations and hyacinths, which even I know represent an apology. "I come in peace."

"We're not fighting, Quinn," I say, shifting until I'm leaning against my headboard.

"It feels like we are."

"Well, if you hadn't run off this morning, we could have cleared it all up," I deadpan.

Her gaze drops for a moment. "Well, I suppose I deserved that," she mumbles, and then approaches slowly, as if I might pounce on her if she makes too sudden a movement.

I sigh, deflating slightly. "Sit down, Quinn," I say. "Let's talk."

As gracefully as she can, she perches on the end of my bed and watches me carefully. I think it's probably a good idea that we're sitting as far away from each other as possible right now. Quinn looks almost as nervous as I feel, and it amazes me that I'm the one who's taking charge of this situation.

"So," I begin, wringing my fingers in my lap. I'm nervous, but also not. This conversation is inevitable; we may as well get it over with. "We should probably talk about what happened last night."

She sits quietly, letting me lead.

My breathing is shaky but I'm determined to push through. We have to talk about this. "I won't sugarcoat it, Quinn," I say. "We were going to have sex."

At the sound of the word, her eyes snap towards me, widening slightly.

"And - " I hesitate; "and I wanted to." That particular confession is enough to still my movements completely and one glance at Quinn lets me know she's frozen in place as well. "I mean, of course I wanted to. We were in the moment; we were a little drunk, and - " I let out a breath. "You're intoxicating. I don't think it's unfathomable that I would want it to happen."

She swallows audibly, and I keep my eyes on her throat.

"Did you?" I venture to ask, feeling vulnerable all of a sudden.

"Of course," she says, the words falling out of her mouth with ease. Something settles in my chest, and I risk a smile at her. "I was worried," she admits. "I've been worried, and - " she pauses. "I thought I might have gone too far."

"You didn't," I assure her. I should have told her this last night, and we could have avoided all of this. "We both got a little carried away, and I'm relieved we were able to stop before…" I trail off, absently waving a hand between us. I don't miss the disappointed look on her face, which brightens the moment I say my next words. "I'd want to be in more control of myself when it does happen." I take a breath, steeling myself. "And I - I do want it to happen, Quinn. We've been leading up to this, I know we have, and I know I want you to be my first."

She just stares at me, and I notice her hands just itching to reach out and touch me in some way. I want her to. I just want to feel her; make sure she's really there. All of her.

"I want to be with you this way because I love you."

Her nostrils flare for a moment, and I brace myself for my next words.

"As sure as I am about the who, I'm not as sure about the when," I tell her. "I don't think I'm ready, if I'm being honest. I want to. I desperately want to, as you probably know from last night, but I think we should wait... until we're both ready for this very important step in our relationship."

She stays silent.

"Is that okay with you?" I ask, needing to know. "I mean, is that what you want? I want to know what you want."

"Anything you want," she says, her tone serious and her eyes darkening. "I just want you, Rachel. Anything you want to give, I want. Anything you want to take, I'll willingly give. It's as simple as that."

All I want is for her to tell me she loves me, and I don't know how to say that without actually saying it. Can I just say it? Can those words just come out and the two of us can just deal with them as they are? Could it be that easy? It should be.

One look at Quinn's hazel eyes and I falter. Even if I could talk to her about this, it won't be today. We've discussed enough today and, really, I kind of just want to go back to kissing her but I don't know how to do that.

She clears her throat, signalling she has more to say. "I'm sorry," she says. "About this morning, and about the way I acted last night. I don't want us to be drunk and out of control - okay, I kind of want us to be a little out of control - but I want to make it special for you."

"What about you?"

"For us, then," she says, rolling her eyes. "I just mean that your first time should be special, Rachel, and I want to do that for you." She pauses. "To you."

I blush, and then giggle.

She raises her eyebrows at my reaction. "Well, that just proves you're definitely not ready."

I gasp. "Quinn!"

She laughs out loud, her eyes closing for a beat. It's taken her a while to relax, and I'm just glad we can move on from the serious stuff. I just want her to move closer. I want to touch her. "So," she says, levelling her gaze on me. "I want to say thank you, Rachel. This entire week has been amazing, and it's all because of you. I've never - nobody's ever - " she stops. She takes a deep breath. "I know how lucky I am to have you and I know I don't say and show it enough, but I - I appreciate you and all you do for me. Particularly when I don't deserve it."

My eyes snap towards her. "Don't say that," I say. God, is that what this is all about? She thinks she doesn't deserve it. I think of Brittany's words and frown. Wait. What?

She ducks her head.

"Quinn," I say; "come here."

She looks up.

"Come here," I repeat; "and bring me those flowers and cookies."

She hesitates for just a moment before she comes here, setting the container and bouquet down to my right side. I open my arms and she falls into me, her head coming to rest on my chest. I run a hand over her hair, practically cradling her like the broken person she sometimes has to remind me she is. She makes it easy to forget. We've had good days, and we have bad ones. I was hoping the good ones were outnumbering the bad ones.

"We have a decision to make," she says, sounding less serious even though her words are. "Tuesday is Valentine's Day, and Wednesday is our one monthiversary. Which one do you want?"

"Which one what?" I ask, frowning.

"Well, I want at least one of them," she says. "I know they're both school days, but I still want to do something special with you." She lifts her head to look at me, her eyes glassy and shining. "Or... I could take both, if you're so inclined."

"No," I suddenly say. "I want one. Okay. Uh..."

"Which one?"

"I don't know," I say. "Which one do you want?"

She licks her lips, visibly thinking. "I have an idea," she says, reaching past me for my purse on the nightstand. Without explaining, she unzips it and takes out a dime. "We'll flip for it." She sits up and straightens her back. Gosh, she has such perfect posture. "Heads, I'm Tuesday and you're Wednesday. Tails, the other way around."

I nod my understanding.

"Ready?" she asks.

Another nod.

She grins at me, leans forward to steal a chaste kiss, and then she flips the coin.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-One

Quinn

i have seven different words for love.
you have only one.
that makes a lot of sense.


Valentine's Day is mine, and our one-month is Rachel's.

Despite our talk on Sunday, I'm certain whatever disjoint we're suffering has been only averted and not resolved. She clearly wants something from me that I'm unwilling and unable to give her, though I'm still unsure as to what exactly that is. I mean, of course, I have an idea... but I'm not a mindreader. And, even if I was, I doubt I would be able to make sense of whatever is probably going on in Rachel's mind.

I spend majority of my Monday planning for Valentine's Day and executing all I need to, in order to ensure it all goes off without a hitch. My mother is suspiciously going to be out, and I'm not going to question her about it. I'm going to put the fact that I'll have the house to myself to good use. I suspect she has a date she won't tell me about. I mean, I have a date I won't tell her about. We make quite the pair, don't we?

This year, McKinley is doing a lot for Valentine's Day compared to last year, when they did absolutely nothing. Admittedly, part of my job as student class president was to delegate and put together committees to handle the two initiatives. The first, which I'm rather proud of, allows a person to purchase a heart-shaped Valentine for whomever they want, choosing the sender and receiver's name and including a short note. The heart won't be delivered to the respective party. Instead, all the hearts are going to be strung up in the corridors of the school and, if you find one dedicated to you, you can take it down and return it to your sender... and live happily ever after.

The second initiative involves Glee. Sam came up with the idea of having 'singing telegrams.' Essentially, senders can purchase a song to be dedicated and sung to whomever they want and three separate groups of Glee kids will go around during lunch to deliver them. There's only a set amount we can do, of course, but I liked the idea so much I made sure it happened. Mr Schuester also believes it will help raise awareness about the club as a whole. Captain Rachel Berry was especially grateful, and she told me plenty of times.

With her mouth. Right into my own.

I contemplate which initiative to go for when it comes to Rachel. A singing telegram seems the best way, seeing as she loves music and she's a sucker for songs sung for - and to - her. It has to be anonymous - well, as anonymous as it can get - and I have to slip the request in without anyone noticing. I'm part of a subgroup for the telegrams and I make sure we're the ones who sing to Rachel. I just hope I can get through the song without completely giving myself away because she's a much better actress than I am. Still, I'm willing to risk it. I can't resist the temptation.

I've literally never been this excited about Valentine's Day in my life. I never used to put in effort with Finn, and his idea of romance involved coupons and breadsticks. He was always sweet about it, buying me a card and getting me flowers and chocolates. I don't know if it's different when there are two girls in the relationship or if I'm just different when I'm with Rachel, but I just know I'm trying this time. Maybe it's because it's our first one. I just want nothing more than to keep her smiling all day. It's exciting.

And, when I wake up on Tuesday morning, I'm literally buzzing. Before I get out of bed, I reach for my phone and immediately start to text Rachel, and then stop. No. This isn't part of my plan, and I vowed to stick to my plan. But I want to text her. I can't. I set down my phone, take a calming breath and then roll out of bed. I get ready quickly because I'm expected at school early to oversee the committees as they continue with the setup. I practically race out of the house, grabbing an apple on my way.

As soon as I get to school, I go straight to Rachel's locker. She doesn't know I know her combination, but I do. I glance around, making sure I'm alone, and then I get to work. It takes an obscene amount of time, but I'm done well before I have to meet with my committee so we can finish up stringing up all the hearts. We've managed to raise quite a bit of money, which we're planning on donating to the orphanage on Grayston Road.

It's a little embarrassing how many hearts are addressed to Quinn Fabray and a freshman boy, Murray Laing, laughs every time he picks one out of the bucket. I can only roll my eyes. What else am I supposed to do? I can only imagine what the other teams are thinking as they string up all the Quinn Fabrays.

"Do you find it weird?" Murray asks. "Or are you just used to it by now?"

I glance at him over my shoulder. He's young and unafraid, with a baby face. He's brave, I'll give him that. Not everyone is willing to ask me a question, whatever it is. "I don't think anyone can get used to it," I say to him, deciding to be candid. "It'd be different if they were interested in me for me, but they see only my appearance."

He nods thoughtfully, as he hands me another heart. "People can be superficial sometimes," he agrees. "But even you have to admit you are pretty."

I frown at how simple the words sound when he says them. It's a compliment, but he's saying it as if it's just a truth. A fact. Like, he isn't at all interested and, instead of being relieved, it makes me turn to look at him. "Is that your objective opinion?"

"It is," he says simply.

I meet his gaze. "This isn't your trying to ask me out, is it," I say. It's not a question.

"Definitely not," he answers anyway.

I hear what he's not saying. I'm not his type, in the sense that my body parts don't interest him. "Well, that's refreshing," I say.

"It is?"

I nod. "Do you have anything planned for Valentine's Day?" I ask, switching topics.

"My friends and I are enjoying an evening of 'I Hate Valentine's Day,' and wallowing in our respective bitterness because none of us have - " he stops suddenly. Girlfriends. Boyfriends.

"Significant others," I finish for him.

He looks panicked for a moment but he eventually nods, and then he relaxes when I offer him an understanding smile. "Nobody really knows," he says.

"But you know," I return, which is half of the battle, really.

"And my family, and my best friend. He's also..." he trails off, frowning slightly.

"My best friends are also gay," I say, unafraid of using the word. I don't want him to shy away from the word, even if I probably would.

"I know," he says. "Everyone knows. It - it helps."

"I'm glad," I tell him, wondering where the guilt I suddenly feel is coming from. Santana and Brittany are just so proud of their love and their relationship that they're unafraid to hide it in the corridors. People see and, regardless of what those people say, they just live their lives for themselves. It helps kids like Murray; makes it okay to try to be open; shows them that coming out in this place isn't the be all and end all. I can only wonder what I would be able to accomplish if I were brave enough.

"Even if Santana scares the shit out of me," he comments, drawing my attention.

I laugh out loud. "You're not alone there, Murray," I say. "She scares me too."

He also laughs, and it's a happy sound, young and carefree. He hands me another few hearts, and I start putting them up. "Wait," I say. "If you hate Valentine's Day so much, why did you sign up for this committee?"

He looks guilty. "I don't hate Valentine's Day," he confesses; "but he does."

I raise my eyebrows. "A crush?"

He nods.

I grin. "Ooh."

He blushes beet red. "He doesn't know."

"Any plans to tell him?"

He shakes his head vigorously. "No ways!"

"Think about it?"

"Maybe."

I smile encouragingly.

"Do you have plans for Valentine's Day?"

I smile at him, playful. "Oh, Murray, you have no idea."


I'm waiting for Rachel at her locker when she finally arrives, unable to contain my smile. Honestly, just the sight of her is making me giddy and I'm not even ashamed to admit it... to her, only. She's dressed in a sinfully short skirt, knee-high socks and a pretty pink pea coat, with a red ribbon in her hair. She's fully embracing this day. "Hi," I breathe, resisting the urge to pull her into my arms and never let go.

"Hello, you," she says, giving me the biggest smile I've ever seen. It's blinding.

I hug her. Just to save my eyes.

"Baby, you're going to have to let me go," she whispers in my ear, and I force myself to release her and step back.

I drop my hands to my sides and take in everything I can about her. She's beautiful, really, in that way that catches you off guard. She doesn't believe she's a conventional beauty - she's probably right - but, to me, she's the most stunning person I've ever seen. Inside and out.

"Why are you smiling at me like that?" she asks, and it takes considerable effort for me to school my features as she turns to face her locker. "Quinn?"

"I'm just really looking forward to tonight," I tell her.

She blushes, as if on command, and lifts her hand to input her combination. "Oh?"

I nod. "I have so much planned for us," I say, and her eyes close for a beat.

"Do I get any clues?"

"Of course not."

She huffs, and then sighs as she turns the lock. So. Damn. Slowly. "I know today is your day, but does that mean I can't do something for you too?"

"I'm not against it, if that's what you're asking," I say, suddenly nervous.

"Good," she says, grinning at me and pausing in her locker-opening. Jesus, woman, just open the damn locker. "So, you know, look out for one of those hearts."

My eyes widen. "Rachel, you didn't?"

"I did."

"Seriously?"

She nods. "I realise there are many addressed to Quinn Fabray, but I promise to make it very worth your while if you can find mine."

I suck in a breath. "Rachel."

She winks at me, and then swings open her locker door. She gasps out loud, her eyes widening and her mouth dropping open in surprise. I just watch her face, waiting for her to recover. "Oh, my God," she squeaks, her head turning but her eyes staying. "Quinn Fabray."

"Yes, dear."

She lets out a breath. "Did you seriously just pimp out my locker?"

I laugh. "I would have used the term 'bedazzled,' but, okay, we'll go with that."

Her eyes meet mine. "Quinn, this is amazing," she breathes. "Thank you."

"Happy Valentine's Day, Rachel Berry," I whisper, and our eyes stay locked for the longest time.

It takes a shout from somewhere down the corridor to break the spell, which makes me move to stand behind her, uncomfortably close, and peer into the locker with her. It's a lot. She already had a mirror and several pictures in her door, but I definitely spiced it up. I kind of went crazy with the bedazzle gun this morning, putting on borders within borders. I added pictures as well, including our favourite kitchen picture. It's a small print because it's a risk having it there if anyone decides to look too closely. Even though we were still just friends back then, it's a very intimate picture. I get butterflies in my stomach whenever I see the way we looked at each other even then.

There are also battery-operated fairy lights hanging from the roof of the locker, with a plethora of gold stars lining the sides and back, and a curtain of beads pulled to the sides across the front.

"It really is amazing, Quinn," she says, turning around to look at me. We're standing way too close, but I can't bring myself to take that step back that I really need to. "I never thought there would be a day I would actually be excited to visit my locker."

I raise my eyebrows. "Oh?"

"Thank you," she says again. "I love it."

I bite my bottom lip. "I was worried," I admit.

"Why?"

"I don't know."

She touches my forearm - all she'll allow herself. "I love it, Quinn," she repeats. "I love you."

I hug her again because I can't kiss her in this corridor, as much as I want to. I, once again, tell myself I'll do it one day. Before we leave this place, I'll meet her at her locker and I'll kiss her, and everyone will know she's mine. Everyone will know I'm happy and in love with this little human being who makes me feel as large as the great big world.


The entire Glee Club meets in the choir room as soon as lunch starts. I organised for coffee and sandwiches, which I make them all wolf down before sending them off in their little groups. I'm singing with Mercedes, Artie, Joe and Sam in the first group. Rachel, Kurt, Blaine, Mike and Tina make up the second group; and Finn, Brittany, Santana, Puck, Lauren and Sugar are in the third. They already know what they're singing, and they'll learn to whom as they move through the lists I compiled. I'm just hoping the school doesn't hate us any more than they already do by the end of this.

It's starts off well. Each song takes roughly six to eight minutes to execute, which includes finding the receiver, explaining what we're doing there, setting up and then actually singing. Joes yields his guitar, and we get through Stereo Hearts by Gym Class Heroes featuring Adam Levine, At Last by Etta James and That's The Way Love Goes by Janet Jackson before I excuse myself to check on how the other groups are doing. I catch sight of Rachel's group just finishing off All You Need Is Love by the Beatles, and I can't help smiling to myself.

I'm standing, arms folded, in the middle of the tables of the outdoor area of the cafeteria, watching as people enjoy the sunshine even though there's a chill in the air, when I hear someone say my name.

"Quinn?"

I recognise the voice as Finn's, and I flinch. I really don't need this right now but I still turn around to look at him. "What's up, Finn?"

He clears his throat, and looks over his shoulder at his Glee subgroup. "Well, we have a singing telegram from you," he says, and I resist the urge to roll my eyes.

I shake my head. "But I was sure to remove all the ones for me," I say, because they would have spent the entire lunch hour singing to me if I hadn't.

He shrugs helplessly. "I suppose this one snuck through," he says, smiling dopily.

I frown. "Do you know who it's from?"

"No idea," he says, a little too quickly, and I wonder if Rachel managed to sneak a song into the set. "We hope you enjoy it." He winks - Finn Hudson actually winks - and then steps back into position. I look helplessly at Santana and she just shakes her head. She clearly doesn't know from where the song came either.

But, really, from the first line Finn sings, we both suddenly just know. Everyone does. "I've made up my mind, to live in memory of the lonesome times," he sings the first lines of Ray Charles' I Can't Stop Loving You, and please tell me this is not happening right now. I want to tell them to stop, but I don't even know what I'd say. This is so embarrassing, and everyone is looking. Including Rachel.

"(I can't stop wanting you)," Santana, Brittany and Sugar sing.

"It's useless to say, so I'll just live my life in dreams of yesterday."

"(Dreams of yesterday)."

And, now Puck is singing but it's clear the words are coming from someone else. "Those happy hours that we once knew. Tho' long ago, they still make me blue. They say that time heals a broken heart, but time has stood still since we've been apart."

Lauren picks it up, and I force myself not to hide my face. I must be bright red. "I've made up my mind to live in memories of the lonesome times."

"(I can't stop wanting you)."

"It's useless to say, so I'll just live my life in dreams of yesterday."

Finn grins at me, and this time I do roll my eyes. What is wrong with him? "Those happy hours..."

"(That we once knew)," the rest of the group overlaps.

"...That we once knew."

"(Tho' long ago)."

"Tho' long ago..."

"(Still make me blue)."

"...Still ma-a-a-ake me blue."

"(They say that time)."

"They say that time..."

"(Heals a broken heart)."

"...Heals a broken heart."

"(But time has stood still)."

"Time has stood still."

"(Since we've been apart)."

"...Since we've been apart." He cocks his head to the side. Jesus. "I said I made up my mind to live in memory of the lonesome times. It's useless to say, so I'll just live my life of dreams of yesterday."

"(Of yesterday)."

When the song ends, I'm lost for words, and Finn looks at me with hopeful eyes. "Uh..." I struggle. "Wow." Because, wow.

"I know, right?" Santana comments, and I'm grateful for the interruption. "Come on, losers, we have like a thousand more songs to do." Finn hesitates, clearly wanting to talk to me about something - maybe find out my thoughts on the song - but Santana practically growls. "Hudson! Let's move it!" He casts me one last look, before backing away and disappearing through the outside tables.

"Well," Mercedes says, coming to stand beside me. "That was uncomfortable."

I groan. "I thought I hid it better," I mutter.

"You did," she says. "I was just uncomfortable for you."

I let out a small laugh, just as my phone vibrates in my coat pocket. I fish it out immediately and check the newest message.

Berry: You are MINE.

I smile widely, and glance over at where Rachel is currently sitting, resting.

Quinn: And I'm about to prove it.

I watch for the moment her eyes widen and her head snaps towards me. I take it as my cue, and turn towards my group. "Are you guys ready for the next one?"

Mercedes nods her head, and checks the clipboard. "The next one is for... Rachel."

I smile internally, a picture of poise on the outside. "Oh?"

Mercedes frowns slightly. "Apparently."

"Hmm," I hum.

"Hmm, indeed."

I want to laugh, but I hold it together just enough to start moving towards where Rachel's group looks prepared to start on another song. We don't have much time to catch them, but Mercedes saves me by calling out for them to stop.

"Rachel," Mercedes says, smiling through her previous confusion. "We have a singing telegram for you."

Rachel's eyes widen and they decidedly do not look my way. "You - you do?"

"We do," Mercedes clarifies, checking the clipboard again. "It's from, uh - " she looks at me " - does that say four?"

I drop my eyes to the clipboard. "Four-point-oh, yes," I say, and Mercedes frowns.

"Weird," she comments, before turning to Rachel. "It's from, uh, four-point-oh, which literally means nothing."

It means everything.

"Anyway, please, sit down and enjoy."

Rachel glances nervously at me, but she does eventually sit down on a tabletop. Blaine sits down beside her and grins knowingly at me. I don't know if I communicate to him that he needs to keep Rachel from flinging herself at me at any point before, during and after the song, but hey.

Joe strums his guitar, and I take a deep breath. I'm leading this one, and I smile when the first words to Secret Love Song by Little Mix featuring Jason Derulo leave my mouth.

"When you hold me in the street and you kiss me on the dance floor, I wish that it could be like that. Why can't it be like that? 'Cause I'm yours." I can feel my heart rate rising, even if the first few lines are slow and meaningful. "We keep behind closed doors. Every time I see you, I die a little more. Stolen moments that we steal as the curtain falls. It'll never be enough."

Mercedes picks it up, and I step back reluctantly. "It's obvious you're meant for me. Every piece of you, it just fits perfectly. Every second, every thought, I'm in so deep, but I'll never show it on my face."

"But we know this. We got a love that is homeless," Joe sings.

Sam sings next, and I cringe. Not because of his voice, but because he's singing to my girlfriend. "Why can't you hold me in the street? Why can't I kiss you on the dance floor? I wish that it could be like that. Why can't we be like that? 'Cause I'm yours."

Next is Artie, and his voice is silky smooth, taking care of Jason Derulo's first part with practiced ease. "When you're with him, do you call his name like you do when you're with me? Does it feel the same? Would you leave if I was ready to settle down, or would you play it safe and stay? Girl, you know this. We got a love that is hopeless."

I sing the next lines, making sure I'm looking right into Rachel's eyes. "Why can't you hold me in the street? Why can't I kiss you on the dance floor? I wish that it could be like that. Why can't we be like that? 'Cause I'm yours."

Joe joins in, a certain grit to his voice, as he trades lines with Mercedes. "And nobody knows I'm in love with someone's baby."

"I don't wanna hide us away."

"Tell the world about the love we're making."

"I'm living for that day."

And they sing the next line together, giving me shivers. "Someday."

I sing slow and low, controlled in the simplicity of the words. "Why can't you hold me in the street? Why can't I kiss you on the dance floor? I wish that it could be like that. Why can't we be like that? 'Cause I'm yours." She needs to know I'm hers; nobody else's.

Mercedes goes for the big note, and completely crushes it. Rachel even looks at her in awe, and I'm a little jealous. "I'm yoouurs."

The rest of the song goes on in overlapping lines among all five of us, with Artie and Mercedes leading the runs, and Sam and Joe enjoying the raised tempo. Sam even spins me as we sing, but my eyes are decidedly on a certain wide-eyed brunette. "Oh, why can't you hold me in the street? Why can't I kiss you on the dance floor? I wish that it could be like that. Why can't we be like that? 'Cause I'm yours. Why can't I say that I'm in love? I wanna shout it from the rooftop. I wish that it could be like that. Why can't we be like that? 'Cause I'm yours."

And, finally, when the music dies down, I finish the song just as I started it, my heart thundering in my chest. "Why can't we be like that? Wish we could be like that."

Rachel is beaming at me and, before I know it, she's launched herself at me and I stumble slightly. The hug is quick - she risks pressing a kiss to the side of my neck - and then she releases me, her face giving away so much love and affection. Catching herself, she hugs Sam, Joe and Artie, thanking them for their lovely voices.

Mercedes then pulls Rachel into a warm hug, and immediately releases her, hands on her shoulders. "Girl, I have so many questions."

And Rachel's unbridled affection she had for me moments earlier morphs into an unadulterated glower in my direction.

All I can do is laugh and laugh.


"I hate you."

I can't help my laugh, even as I feel Rachel slip her arms around my waist and press her front against my back. She's warm as she nuzzles her nose against the back of my shoulder, breathing me in.

"Why would you do that to me?" she complains, her hands sliding along my stomach and making my abdominal muscles dance. "I've had to field questions about my secret lover all day."

I casually stir the risotto in the pan one last time and turn the burner off, so I can turn and give her my full attention. "And what did you tell them?"

"What could I tell them?" she asks, exasperated, and I slip my arms around her neck, kissing her forehead. "I had no idea where the song came from and I was definitely flattered... And then I had to field questions about why I wasn't more interested in finding out who the song came from."

"Sounds like you had quite the day," I murmur, pressing a kiss to the corner of her perfect mouth.

She huffs. "Why would you do that to me?"

"It was all part of my plan," I confess.

She raises her eyebrows. "What plan?"

I pull her into a tight hug. "Nope," I say. "You're not getting anything out me."

"I could try."

I breathe out at the obvious meaning in her tone, and release her. "Go to the living room," I say. "Dinner's almost ready."

"And now you're sending me away?" She sighs. "Without even kissing me first, no less. Honestly, you're being a questionable girlfriend right now."

I arch an eyebrow. "If you keep up this sulking, I'm not going to feed you," I warn. "And I slaved away over those cashew and spinach stuffed shells and this farro risotto with butternut squash and kale all afternoon." I'm exaggerating, of course, because I did most of my prep last night, but she doesn't need to know that.

Her eyes flutter. "I knew there was a reason I kept you around."

"Go," I say, and she goes. It takes me a few minutes to dish out all the food I've prepared onto the necessary plates and lay them all out on a tray. I'm nervous, yes, because today is Valentine's Day and we're alone in my house and I have a plan. I'm respecting her decision to wait - I think it's the right one - but that doesn't mean I'm not going to woo her as much as I can.

I find Rachel sitting in the middle of the carpet where I set out a light blanket and pillows for our own indoor picnic dinner. There's soft music already playing. It's a playlist I made last night, putting on all the most romantic songs I could find, old and new. She's absently singing along to Lana Del Rey's Love when I walk in, and I can't stop my smile if I tried.

She gushes just the appropriate amount when I set the tray down in the centre of the blanket before she proceeds to torture me with content moans and her mouth working her cutlery. I know she's teasing me, and she knows it's working. Little minx.

"Thank you for dinner," she says, all innocence when I'm hot and bothered. "It was delectable." There's emphasis on the last word as she flicks her tongue, and it takes an obscene amount of control not to launch myself at her. That is not part of the plan.

"I'm glad you enjoyed it," I force out.

Her gaze meets mine. "I did. Very much."

I swallow nervously, and start to clear the dishes. I think she's mad that I haven't kissed her yet, and I'm not going to until I have her exactly where I want her. So, I make a few trips to the kitchen, cleaning up, and then bring out some vegan ice-cream for dessert. She squeals in surprise, and tortures me some more. It's amazing what Rachel Berry can do with a spoon, really. I can barely take my eyes off her.

When Tattooed Heart by Ariana Grande plays on the music system, Rachel turns to me and gasps, abandoning her ice cream. "Quinn!"

I let out a small laugh. "Yes, dear."

She grins at the term of endearment, and then leans into me, her face a mere inch from mine. "I still don't know where your tattoo is."

I steal a kiss because I can't help it. My plan is failing. She's just so close. "It seems you don't, yes," I tell her, reading her surprise at the fact I kissed her. "I have to say you're being very good about not pestering me about it."

"I'm respecting your decision to keep it private," she says.

"But it's eating away at you, isn't it?"

"God, yes," she breathes.

I laugh, stealing another kiss. She's just too kissable, and she's so close, and her hand is on my thigh now and why does she smell so good? We kiss once, twice and, when I start to pull away - trying to get back on track - she follows, keeping our lips attached. This isn't part of the plan but I suddenly won't say no to this kind of deviation.

Eventually, I have to pull away because we can't have too late a night. We do have school in the morning.

"I have something for you," I tell her, ignoring her pout. "I think you'll like it."

"What is it?"

"First, you have to get off me," I tell her, and she begrudgingly does. I stand, take hold of her hand and lead her to what was once my father's study. It's empty of his things now, but it still houses the baby grand piano I first started taking lessons on when I was four years old. All Fabrays had to have numerous talents, and the ability to play the piano was chosen as one of mine. My sister's was the violin. Somehow, I'm sure I got the better deal, though mine is decidedly more difficult to carry around.

Rachel's eyes widen at the sight of it because it truly is impressive. Nothing but the best for Russell Fabray, remember? "Are you going to play for me?" she asks, her excited eyes turning to look at me.

"I might even do you one better," I tease, and she dutifully takes her seat at the piano bench. I let out an amused chuckle as I sit down on her left side and lift the cover, revealing the perfect ivory. "I realise the first time I sang you a song, you had a bit of a freakout."

She scoffs. "A bit."

I smile gently. "So, I've decided to sing all my next ones in private, in case something goes wrong."

She just hums, her eyes shining with deep affection.

Before I let it overwhelm me, I take a breath and move my hands into position. I practiced a few times, but it feels very different now that Rachel is sitting right beside me; exactly where I want her. Despite my sudden nerves, I begin to play Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol, in an attempt to tell her something without actually telling her.

"We'll do it all, everything, on our own," I sing, and she rests her head on my shoulder, her hand sliding onto my thigh. "We don't need anything, or anyone. If I lay here, if I just lay here; would you lie with me and just forget the world?" I adjust my position slightly, in order to make it easier to cross my left arm over my right to play the higher note. "I don't quite know how to say how I feel. Those three words are said too much; they're not enough."

Her hand tightens on my thigh at the sound of those lines, and I suddenly wish I were a mindreader.

"If I lay here, if I just lay here; would you lie with me and just forget the world? Forget what we're told, before we get too old, show me a garden that's bursting into life. Let's waste time, chasing cars, around our heads. I need your grace to remind me; to find my own."

She starts to hum along with my singing. "If I lay here, if I just lay here; would you lie with me and just forget the world? Forget what we're told, before we get too old, show me a garden that's bursting into life." I stop to take a breath, my fingers moving over the keys at a slower pace. "All that I am, all that I ever was, is here in your perfect eyes, they're all I can see. I don't know where, confused about how as well, just know that these things will never change for us at all."

Now, my fingers are barely pressing the keys down, but there's still sound. I can hear our breathing. "If I lay here, if I just lay here; would you lie with me and just forget the world?" As soon as I've played the last note, Rachel sighs contently and places a hand over my right one on the keys.

"I would," she says seriously. "I would lie with you forever, Quinn."

I know this is the moment. This is the moment I'm supposed to tell her that I love her, but the words won't come out. I'm just so afraid of them, and they won't leave my mouth, even if I want them to. So, instead, I kiss her, slowly and deeply. I turn my hand and interlace our fingers, palm to palm. I never want to stop touching her. I just - I want her closer.

I pull away slowly, lips lingering. "So," I say. "I have something else planned."

She looks a little dazed. "Oh?"

I nod. "But you're going to have to get changed."

She frowns in confusion. "Into what?"

I take a deep breath. "A bikini."

Her frown deepens. "Baby, you do know it's February in Ohio, right?"

"Can you please just put on your bikini?" I say. "I promise it'll be worth it."

"Oh?"

"Do you or do you not want to know where my tattoo is?"

At the sound of that, she practically leaps off the piano bench. "Oh, my God! Okay, I'm going to change right now." She starts to go, but then backtracks. "Uh, I didn't bring a bikini."

"I brought it for you," I inform her. "I laid it out on my bed. Meet you back here in a few minutes?"

"You thought of everything, didn't you?"

"I did."

She squeaks again, and then races off. I wait a beat before I stand and go out onto the back porch to set up the next part of my Valentine's plan. I'm both nervous and excited about this part but I'm looking forward to it. Well, I look forward to everything to do with her. Deeming the outside ready, I go back inside to change into my bikini and slip on a t-shirt over it. My feet are bare as I pad back to the library, sit on the piano bench and wait.

Rachel arrives five minutes later, clad in her own t-shirt with a towel in her hands. My eyes drop to her legs immediately and they widen. Did she always have those? "Uh, Quinn," she says, and my gaze snaps up. "My eyes are up here, baby."

I flush instantly. "Well, I don't want to touch your eyes."

Now, it's her turn to blush. "What are we doing?"

I rise to my feet slowly, a thin scarf in my hand. "Well, first, you're going to have to put this on."

She raises her eyebrows. "Are you being serious?"

"As a heart attack."

She sighs dramatically. "You're lucky I trust you."

"I am, yes," I say as I move towards her. As gently as I can, I blindfold her, tying a loose knot behind her head. I can't resist kissing her and, after her initial surprise, she kisses me back, attempting to slide her tongue into my mouth. I pull back. "Na ah," I murmur, desperately trying to ignore her pout. "Not yet." I place my hands on her shoulders and turn her slowly. Carefully, I guide her towards the back of the house and out the glass sliding doors onto the wooden porch. I bring us to a stop. "Don't move," I tell her, reluctantly removing my hands.

I make quick work of increasing the volume on the music and retrieving the heart Valentine I painstakingly searched for after Cheerios practice. Really, I scoured every corridor of that school - there are many, by the way - until I found it. It didn't help that it wasn't even addressed to Quinn Fabray. My girlfriend is too smart for her own good, and I smile as I reread it for what must be the hundredth time.

Dearest Miss Four-Point-Oh GPA

You're SO stinking cute, and you make me VERY happy.

I love you.

- your little star

"Quinn," Rachel complains, and I snap to attention.

I chuckle. "Almost ready." I move back to stand behind her, hold the Valentine in front of her face and take a calming breath. "Okay... you can remove your blindfold now."

She lifts the scarf so quickly, I have to laugh, even when she knocks my arm in her haste. She gasps at the sight of the Valentine and immediately grabs for it. "Oh, my God, you found it!" She spins to look at me, ignoring everything else. "I can't believe you actually found it."

"It wasn't easy," I inform her. "But, thank you."

She still looks mystified that I found the Valentine, and I get a long, lingering kiss as a reward. "I mean every word, you know? You are stinking cute. You do make me happy, and I do love you."

I lick my lips. "Honestly, I'm not going for cute right now," I say.

"Oh? What are you going for then?"

I spin her around so she can take in the back porch and she immediately steps back into me. She's never really been out here before, so she doesn't know we have a hot tub. Well, she does now. The lighting is dim out here - I set up fairy lights earlier - but I can still see the flush rising up her neck and cheeks. There's champagne and roses and chocolate-covered strawberries, and now my nervousness is back.

"Quinn," she breathes.

I hum.

"Are you trying to seduce me?"

I don't respond as I move around her and step up close to the hot tub. I can feel her eyes on me as I lift a leg over the edge and step into the water. It's warm, but I still shiver. Once both legs are inside, I move to stand in the centre and turn to look at Rachel. The hem of my t-shirt is getting wet, so I lift my arms. "Are you coming in or not?" I ask.

She jerks into motion immediately and practically skips forward. She also keeps her t-shirt on when she first gets into the water, and more of hers gets wet than mine does. Oh, to be shorter. She's just too cute.

"Hi," I say.

She smiles up at me. "Hi," she breathes. Then: "Are you going to show me your tattoo now?"

I laugh. "I could," I say. "Or you could find it for yourself."

"Oh?" she sounds, cocking her head to the side.

I swallow audibly, and just about manage a nod. Why is she looking at me like that? "Unless... you don't want to," I offer, backtracking nervously. "I mean, I don't want to assume anything. We really could just sit and talk. There's champagne and we can toast and - "

She interrupts me with her mouth, practically launching herself at me. I stumble backwards and my legs give out, forcing me into the water. I drop onto the bench, pulling her with me and our teeth knock together. I can't even acknowledge the pain because her tongue is in my mouth, sliding over mine in the most distracting way. She straddles my legs, pressing close, and I'm suddenly very aware there are only two flimsy pieces of fabric between us down there. Her fingers are in my hair, and now she's kissing my throat. Where are my hands? What am I doing with my hands?

I let out an unintelligible moan when Rachel sucks my earlobe into her mouth, and my hands move to her hips. Her skin is soft and smooth and so warm. My fingers dig into her flesh as her mouth returns to mine. She's kissing me as if we have all the time in the world and, right now, I believe we do. There is nobody in this world I would rather be with, and there's no place on earth I'd rather be. I want to tell her. I want to tell her so many things, but my mouth is currently occupied.

Rachel pulls away eventually and studies my face. There is so much affection in her gaze that I have to look away. She lets out a small sigh as she leans to the right and lifts a chute of champagne. She downs it in one go, surprising us both, and returns her attention to me. "Now," she says. "Let's get to work." Before I can even ask her what she's talking about, her mouth is on mine again, and her hands go exploring, touching my upper body in such intimate ways. It's when she starts rocking her hips against mine that I start to lose all sense of time and day.

Her fingers dance across my ribcage, tracing the individual ribs as her hands rise higher, skirting towards their ultimate destination. I gasp when she cups my breasts, and I feel a rush of heat settle between my legs. Oh. Oh. Her thumbs flick over my strained nipples, and I can't breathe. She presses hot, open-mouthed kisses against my neck.

"Rachel," I pant.

She growls, and it's the sexiest thing I've ever heard. "We have to take this off." She's very in control right now, and I'm at her mercy. It doesn't take her long to have me squirming, her hands roaming to all the right places. All too quickly, she wants to touch my skin, and it's the biggest struggle to get my t-shirt off. And then hers goes, and we fling them onto the floor without a care in the world.

Rachel is on me again, hands claiming me as she rocks her hips against mine, displacing water and water-logging the strawberries. The fact that she doesn't care turns me on just that bit more, and I kiss her harder, my fingers digging into the flesh of her back. She seems to have forgotten about the tattoo, and I'm not complaining. She would have to remove more clothing to see it, and I'm already down to my purple and strapless bikini top and bottoms.

It's when she starts to shift my top downwards that I tilt my head back, trying to catch my breath. I'm failing miserably because she's sucking on my pulse point and good God, why is she so good at that? It's an assault to the senses, and I'm panting and moaning and saying her name... but I still hear it. A sound. A foreign one.

"Did you hear that?" I suddenly ask, my heart rate peaking.

She hums, lips remaining against my neck.

"Rachel," I say, pulling back. "Did you hear that?"

"Quinn," she whines.

"Just wait," I murmur, using my hands to push her away. "Tell me, can you hear that?"

She's breathing heavily as she pulls away completely, looking thoroughly put out. She's flushed and red and swollen in all the delicious ways. I want nothing more than to continue kissing her, but I hear that sound again. Rachel must hear it too because her head whips around and we look towards the open sliding door. It sounds like... giggling.

We panic at the same time. Rachel moves completely off me so quickly, I'm worried she'll get whiplash, and she practically leaps out of the hot tub.

"Oh, fuck," I say, scrambling for my t-shirt as I lean over the side of the tub. "Fuck fuck fuck." It's still wet, and I don't know if I'll be able to put it on, but I try anyway. I feel vulnerable and exposed and so damn needy.

"Get out of the water," Rachel hisses at me. "We have to hide."

I abandon my attempt to put on my t-shirt and just hold it over my chest, protecting my modesty. God, this is so embarrassing. Rachel is doing the same thing, grabbing for her shoes and the towel and scrambling inside to... hide, I guess. I don't have the heart to tell her we're probably better off staying outside. I hesitate too long because Rachel comes back out, grabs my hand and tugs me forward and into the house. I stumble, the t-shirt almost slipping.

We rush through the sliding doors, take a few steps, only for my eyes to catch sight of my mother in the entrance hall... giggling. She's got her face buried in a man's neck as his hands roam over her dress-clad body. They're so lost in each other that they don't notice me, but I notice them. I see them.

And I freeze.

Rachel tugs on my hand, trying to get me to keep moving. I know we should be hiding. I know I shouldn't be standing where I am, in the dimly lit hallway with a wet t-shirt over my practically naked body, with my girlfriend's hand in mine; but I can't help it. Honestly, I can't.

I just stare. Because -

"Quinn?" Rachel pleads, pulling on my hand again.

I don't move. There's more giggling and the sound of 'Ssh,' as if my mother actually cares that I live here.

"Quinn, please," Rachel says.

It's when the newly-arrived couple starts for the stairs that I realise I'm holding my breath. I just watch as they disappear into the dark upstairs, their mouths meeting from time to time as they try and fail to keep their hands off each other. It makes me feel sick. Deep in the pit of my stomach, I feel all the dread and the panic and hatred and please tell me this isn't happening.

When Rachel sees them move out of sight as well, she huffs in annoyance and drops my hand. "What the hell, Fabray?" she asks, running a hand over her damp hair as her breathing slowly steadies.

I blink, turning my head to look at her. "Rachel," I force out.

She looks at me, confused at my facial expression or the tone of my voice. Both. "What?"

"That man," I murmur.

"That man what?"

"That man - he - he was my father."

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Two

Rachel

you are a story.
do not become a word.
one word.
because you want to be loved.
love does not ask you to be nothing for something.


The thing is.

Well.

You see.

Quinn laying eyes on Russell Fabray - in her house, kissing her mother - effectively kills the mood. Obviously. It isn't as if I blame her for that or anything ridiculous like that. It wouldn't do to get back into the hot tub and keep going when there are other people in the house. Also, just the idea of any parents - let alone Quinn's - having sex is enough of a turn-off for anyone. Suspension of belief is definitely needed and, as gorgeous as my girlfriend is, there are just some things you can't overcome.

The thing is that I don't want to leave her in that house with them. It's the last thing I want to do, but she insists. She looks almost catatonic, frozen and in a panic, and I know I shouldn't leave, but Quinn practically shoves me out of the house, desperate to get me away. I barely have time to get dressed, which should make me angry, but the fear that takes over her face makes me keep my mouth shut.

"Quinn," I whisper, confused and worried.

"Please, just go," she rushes, eyes wide. "I'm sorry, Rachel. I'm so sorry." And then she shuts the door in my face.

Now, I fully understand Quinn's fears. I do. I understand that being caught groping her girlfriend in a hot tub can put anyone in a panic, regardless of bigoted, divorced parents, who are apparently seeing each other again.

But.

The thing is.

Everything about the situation makes me irrationally angry. And the fact that she blatantly ignores my texts and calls after I get home just pisses me off. It's masking the worry I feel, pushing aside the haunting image of Quinn's fearful face. It's practically burned into my brain, and I can't shake the feeling that seeing her father has derailed Quinn's progress. So, I carry my rage with me as I fall into a fitful sleep and wake up feeling worse. The fact that my phone is free of Quinn's response also doesn't help, and I'm ticked off right through breakfast and the drive to school.

To the outside world, I probably resemble a fuming toddler. I huff and I stomp my foot from time to time, even as I glare resolutely into my open locker and try to stare daggers into the famous picture of Quinn and me. I'm irritated with her, sure, but I still do understand, intrinsically at least. I never want to see that fear in her eyes again. Last night, I could see everything in them: fear of her parents finding out about me, fear of her parents kicking her out, fear of her parents in general, fear of her father, fear of having to choose; just, fear, and I don't want her to be afraid. Not in that way. Not in any way.

But I'm still pissed, and my subsequent huff is cut off by the only voice I know I want to hear.

"I'm sorry."

I let out a long-suffering sigh, and turn around to lay eyes at a remorseful Quinn Fabray. She looks positively miserable, eyes bloodshot and puffy with her mouth pressed into a thin line. She can barely meet my gaze, which brings my worry to the forefront of my mind and suppresses my annoyance. There's something wrong; something more than just last night. It's something more, and it's right there for me to see, but I'm missing it.

"Rachel, I am so sorry for last night," she says, her voice low and pained. "I had it all planned, you see. It was supposed to be perfect. I wanted it to be special, and then everything was just ruined. And I panicked and I got scared and I just wanted to get you out before he had the chance to see you because I have to keep you safe from him. I have to protect you from him, Rachel, and I don't know how to do that when he's in - "

"Quinn," I interrupt, a sick feeling settling in the pit of my stomach. Also, just, rambling is so much cuter on her than it is on me and I'm getting distracted watching her mouth move... because now I know what that mouth is capable of. "It's okay."

"No, it's not," she presses, and there's something manic in her eyes now. It catches me off guard and I frown in response. "It's not supposed to be like this. It's supposed to be better. She promised me. She told me he wasn't coming back, and now she brought him back into our house." She sucks in a harsh breath. "I have to keep you safe, Rachel."

I blink. "Quinn?"

She shakes her head, looking equal parts forlorn and determined. It scares me; it deeply terrifies me. "I'm going to make it better, Rachel," she says resolutely. "I'm going to make it right."

"Quinn?" I question.

"I'm sorry, again, for last night," she says. "I'm going to make it up to you." And then she's walking away, but I grab for her wrist, stopping her, and even I can't mistake her sudden flinch at the contact. What the hell?

"Quinn?" I ask, stepping towards her and dropping the volume of my voice. "Baby, talk to me. What is happening right now? What are you thinking?"

She doesn't answer my questions; just looks at me with the strangest expression. She looks... lost, on both the inside and outside. I squeeze her wrist, offering her an anchor that she doesn't latch onto. Instead, she removes my fingers from her skin with slow, delicate movements. "I'm going to make it right, Rachel," she says, and she sounds hollow. "You'll see."

When she moves to leave again, I let her. I can only watch her go, internally panicking at the almost comatose look in her eyes. Okay. Okay. What was that? What just happened? Realising I'm probably not going to get any answers from Quinn, I take out my phone immediately, search my contacts and dial Santana. A healthy dose of Quinn-management is definitely needed right now. ASAP.

"Berry?" she answers, sounding confused.

"Where are you?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?"

"Santana," I say, my tone serious and unassuming. "Where are you? I need to talk to you about something."

She sobers immediately, and I can practically feel her spine straighten at the sound of my words. "What's wrong?"

"It's Quinn," I tell her immediately. "Something's wrong with Quinn."

"What?" I can hear the tension in her voice. "Why? What happened?"

"I'm not sure," I say, slamming my locker shut. "Are you in the Cheerios' locker room? Can I come there? I'm coming anyway."

"Uh, yeah, Britt and I are here," she says, before she murmurs something unintelligible to someone who isn't me. When she's back, her voice is clearer. "What's wrong with Quinn? We just saw her at practice. She was acting a little extra bitchy than usual, but I assumed it was to do with how bad you are in bed."

"Santana," I say, keeping myself calm. "I'm trying to be serious here. We saw Quinn's father yesterday."

She gasps, like in one of those comedic, exaggerated ways that is unexpected and real. "What did you just say?"

"Quinn's father," I repeat. "He - he was at the house last night."

"Shit," she hisses. "Oh, fuck, Berry, why didn't you tell me?" she snaps, and there are more muffled sounds. It's almost as if she shifting into protect-Quinn mode, somewhat of a default setting on the Latina. I've never understood their friendship, and I imagine I never will. They were almost forced together and, as many times as they seem to clash - strong personalities tend to do that - they're fierce protectors of each other.

"I'm telling you now."

"You don't understand - "

"Obviously."

"Hey, don't get pissy with me," she says, sounding irritated. "You don't understand, and that's not your fault. You weren't there for the Russell Fabray saga." She sighs. "Where is she?"

"I - I don't know," I admit. "She was just at my locker, rambling about how sorry she is for making me leave so quickly last night and about how she has to keep me safe and protect me from him and how - " I stop suddenly, that sick feeling in my stomach exploding. "Santana?"

"Yes, Berry?"

"Why would Quinn have to protect me from her father?"

She ignores my question. "Are you almost here?"

I stop walking right in the middle of the corridor, my heart rate rising dangerously. "Santana?"

"Berry."

"Santana, no?"

"Berry."

Tears pool in my eyes. "Please?"

Santana sighs. "Just come here. Please."

I suck in a deep breath, steady myself, and continue walking. I keep the phone pressed to my ear even though neither of us is speaking. I can just hear her breathing, and it's the only thing keeping my feet moving towards a destination I'm suddenly unaware of. I end up walking straight past the door to the locker room, and Santana screams in my ear.

"Berry! You just walked past the fucking door!"

I stop, and backtrack. Santana opens the door for me, and I step inside. It's empty save for the two of us. "Where's Britt?" I immediately ask.

"With Quinn."

"Oh?"

"Britt knew she was in the library, apparently."

"Oh."

She eyes me, just waiting.

"Santana?"

"It's not what you're thinking," she says.

"How can you possibly know what I'm thinking?" I ask. "I don't even know what I'm thinking."

She sighs, her eyes shifting from side to side. "Okay... so, it might be what you're thinking."

"What am I thinking, Santana?"

"I don't know, Berry," she says. "What are you thinking?"

"Just, tell me," I say.

"I don't know what to tell you," she admits, tightening her ponytail in a nervous tick that I've never seen before. "I don't know what I can tell you. Quinn is... complicated, and she has to be the one to tell you."

"Tell me what?"

"Tell you what we both know you're already thinking."

I let out a breath, suddenly overwhelmed, and she must see it in my eyes because her entire demeanour changes. It's suddenly guarded, defensive, and I step back in mild alarm. Santana the protector is scary.

"Listen, Berry, Quinn is a lot of things - broken and beautiful and so messed up, it's fucking heartbreaking - but she is worth it," she says. "Everything about her is worth it, and I know you know that. But she's terrified. She's fucking terrified that you'll learn it all and then leave her, because the last person she attempted to let all the way inside did." She takes a breath, clearly stopping herself from saying too much. "Be sure, Rachel," she says. "Because, if she does do this; if she does decide to drop the armour and let you all the way inside; you don't get to take it back. Once you're in, that's it. And, believe me, it's where you want to be, because she is worth it.

"So, please, if you want her, then have her, because you can. But, please, be sure... Be sure you're ready for all she is, because there's a lot. And, when it does happen and you learn all she is, you don't get to run. She's my best friend and I love her so much, so I'm warning you now, Berry, because I protect my own, and I care about you, and I will deny that until the day I die." She risks the smallest smile. "Be sure," she says again. "If you suspect, even for a second, that you can't handle it, leave now, because she won't survive it. She won't get through having you know all of her, and then have you leave." She swallows. "She barely survived Finn, but we both know she will never survive you."

And this is the moment I first realise that, as much as I claim to love Quinn Fabray, I really don't know her at all.


Berry: You're not in Spanish. Why aren't you in Spanish?

Berry: So, you weren't at your locker for lunch. I waited. Santana said you took off after first period. I remember strongly discussing my thoughts on bunking with you, Fabray.

Berry: Are you coming to Glee?

Berry: Quinn?

Berry: Baby, please don't do this. We're supposed to be celebrating today, remember?

And, the thing is, she does know. I'm certain she remembers. She's the one who made us flip a coin.

Berry: I hope you know you can talk to me. I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere.

Berry: So, no to Glee then? Santana said you said you have something to sort out, and I hope it's all working out. Gosh, I have no idea what to say right now. I suppose I just miss you.

Berry: Are you coming over tonight? We can postpone our date for the weekend. I just want to see you, and I think you won't react well to my coming to your house.

Berry: I will, though. Don't think I won't.

Finally - finally - she responds. I haven't even walked through my front door when my phone buzzes and I spy her name. I'm both relieved and angry. Without Santana assuring me that Quinn wasn't going off the rails or something, I think I would strangle the blonde when I next see her.

Which is apparently now.

Quinn: Are you home?

I growl in annoyance. That's it? That's all I get?

Berry: Yes.

I sigh, and go upstairs to my bedroom. I try not to think about where Quinn is or if she asked me if I was home with the intention of coming to see me. I try, and I fail. I have vocal work to do, and I have homework and I have a test on Friday that I'm ignoring. I still try, though. I do research for World Geography and start drafting my essay for English and I'm elbow deep in running through scales when my Dad gets home. He comes up to my room to greet me and raises his eyebrows at the fact that Quinn isn't here but, thankfully, says nothing. He's really a very tactile man, or Quinn might have called him. Who knows?

When Quinn does arrive, it's late; late enough that I'm actually beyond anger. I just pull her into my arms, ignoring the container of cookies in her hands or the obvious smell of alcohol and smoke on her clothes and in her breath. It's not healthy. All of this, it isn't healthy. At my sniff, she pulls back, her eyes widening as if she's just realised I can smell her. She blinks once, twice before she steps back, looking guilty.

"Britt sent these for you," she murmurs, handing me the container of cookies. As soon as I take it, she turns and goes into my closet. I can only watch in silence as she picks out some clothes, and then goes into the bathroom. A minute later, I hear the shower turn on, and I sigh. This is not what I was expecting of our one monthiversary - furthest from it, actually - but at least she's here.

I move to sit down at the end of my bed and wait for only a minute before I reach for my phone and send a text to Santana.

Berry: What happened tonight?

I don't have to wait long for a reply.

Santana: So she did come to you then?

Berry: She just got here and now she's in the shower.

Santana: Okay.

Santana: You're mad about the booze and the smokes, aren't you?

I take a moment to contemplate if I am mad. I just - I don't understand, and that irritates me more.

Berry: Should I be?

Santana: Honestly, I don't think you should be. When she tells you what she has to, you'll understand why (hopefully. you're a weird one sometimes, Berry.) Just, you know, she's safe here with us when she does it, I hope you know that. It's not as if we're at some dodgy bar getting hopelessly drunk... So, no, don't be mad. She's coping and, really, that's all I can ask of her right now.

Berry: Okay.

Berry: Thank you for taking care of her, Santana.

Santana. Whatever, Berry.

Santana: Tag. You're it.

I smile at my phone for a beat, and then put it aside and wait for the conversation Quinn and I are bound to have to happen. I almost fall asleep, but then the bathroom door opens and Quinn steps out, prompting me to sit up. She's dressed in her own sweatpants and my Coldplay t-shirt. She looks fresh and relaxed and young. And, well, she's in my clothes - sort of - and I lick my lips without preamble.

She notices and raises her eyebrows but says nothing as she moves to sit at the head of my bed. It takes her a moment to settle, and then her gaze is on me, and those hazel eyes are saying so much even though her mouth isn't moving. Yet.

"I'm sorry." She says it so reverently, and so painfully. It hurts to hear it, and I don't want her to be sorry.

"Where did you go today?" I ask.

She clears her throat. "I went to the bank," she says. "And I met with a lawyer."

I blink. "Do you want to talk about it?" I ask.

She hesitates. "'Want' is a strong word," she says; "but I definitely need to."

"Do you want to talk to me about it?"

"There's nobody else, Rachel," she whispers. "I know I've been weird today, but it's just you. Only you."

I watch as she seems to make a decision, shifting until she's resting against my headboard. She waves her hand for me to go to her, and I move towards her immediately. I settle between her legs, my back to her front. I get the feeling she doesn't want me to look at her when she tells me whatever she wants to tell me. Her arms slide around my waist and she pulls me closer, burying her face in my loose hair. She breathes steadily, and I can feel the tension slowly leaving her body. Her hands have stopped trembling and I relax into her.

It takes her another few minutes to start speaking, and I realise this is an important moment for us. We're having a lot of these moments as we grow closer and closer and, as terrifying as they are, I relish them. "I have scars, Rachel," she says softly. "Everywhere." My hands cover hers. "Inside of me," she murmurs. "Outside of me. Everywhere. I'm damaged and I'm broken and I have scars." She sighs tiredly. "From my father. From when I was younger. He was - he always wanted everything and everyone to be perfect, and I wasn't always - "

She swallows audibly and, God, my heart hurts, but I stay perfectly still and listen as she breathes the words she wishes to say.

"He has a temper, and he - he would hit me sometimes." Her hands are shaking again but I hold them in mine, trying to give her whatever she needs from me: strength and an anchor. "It wasn't always bad," she says. "Just spanking at first. I mean, parents spanked their kids all the time, right?" I make no comment because I can't recall my dads ever spanking me. There were threats to spank, obviously, but they were just used to make sure I complied. Which I did. Excitable as I was, I was extremely well-behaved, eager for acceptance and applause. "But it got worse as I got older," she continues. "His drinking got worse, the more he became dissatisfied with his life and his family, and he took it out on me... and my sister."

The addition of her sister, almost as an afterthought, is alarming. It's as if she isn't sure, or she's trying to make it seem as less of an attack on her specifically.

"Actually," she backtracks. "I don't know much about my father and sister's relationship. She's much older than me, and she probably escaped before it got bad; before he graduated to his belt and - " she stops, her breath hitching. "He was very careful, almost calculating, and he made sure not to use his bare hands. I don't know if it hurt him when he did, or if he convinced himself he was doing nothing wrong if the skin of his hands never made contact with me.

"Though, he did slap me once. The night they kicked me out. Finn was waiting in the car and, after that half hour, his anger hadn't dissipated and he'd had something to drink, and he slapped me right in that entrance hall, with my mother standing right there, saying and doing nothing." She swallows. "It was so... surprising; because he'd been better since we moved here, which was a direct result of the changes I made to myself." I frown, but don't say anything. What does that mean? "I never really hated him before that day. There was just so much hatred and disappointment in his eyes, and he hit me with his bare hands... and I sometimes still feel my cheek vibrating from the force of his utter resentment.

"I hate him now. I hate him so much, and I hate that he holds all this power over me. I was - I was a little crazy this morning, and I'm sorry I scared you and didn't explain right away. I'm sorry I... ran. I know I keep apologising for doing just that, but I'm trying." She sounds so tired; so defeated, and all I want to do is wrap her in my arms and keep her safe. "I didn't want him to see you. I don't want him to know anything about you, and that's not because I'm ashamed of you or don't want to scream from the rooftops that you're the one I want... It's because he - he ruins whatever he touches, Rachel. And I have to protect you from him."

I squeeze her fingers. "As long as I get to protect you too," I whisper.

"Oh, Rach," she breathes; "you have no idea what you do for me. Every day."

"I just want to make you happy."

She kisses my hair. "You do. Even when I don't show it, you make me so happy."

I close my eyes and try to formulate the right words to say. In all my years, I never thought I would be in a position such as this one, and I don't intend to mess it up.

"I'm so sorry," I whisper, and her arms tighten around me but she stays silent. "I hate that he hurt you," I say softly. "No parent should ever hurt his or her child, in any way, and I am so, so sorry, Quinn." I hear her sniffle behind me, and I shift so I can take her in my arms and hold her against the front of my body. She's crying, but she's not. There are tears and she's emotional, but she's not falling apart. So, maybe not all is lost. "You are so strong," I whisper into her hair. "You are a perfect story, worthy and relevant. You are everything, Quinn. You are everything."

We're silent for the longest time before she starts to move. Her left hand trails up my side and comes to rest on my back as her lips press gentle kisses along my collarbone. I sigh contently, and she moves her mouth further north. I feel her suck gently on my pulse point, and then the tip of her tongue pokes out and she licks the column of my throat, making me moan.

"Quinn," I breathe.

She lifts her head and her perfect, dark eyes meet mine for the first time since her revelation. I want to tell her so many things. I want to tell her that I'm not running. She can run if she wants to, but I'll always be here for her when she comes back. Because that's what she does. She may run, but she always comes back. I just wonder if she would be as understanding if I ever had a freakout about the intensity of all of this - well, another one. I don't intend to, but it's something I worry about.

My hands move to hold the sides of her face, and I smile gently. "I love you," I say, my voice soft and sure. "I love you, okay? This changes nothing for me. I'm right here, and you are everything. Everything."

And then her mouth descends on mine, her body shifting until she's lying on top of me, the weight of her comforting and perfect. My hands slide into her hair, guiding our kiss because I don't want to stop kissing her. I just - I want her close. After today, I don't want her anywhere else but here with me. All we do is kiss, tongues and lips and teeth, and it feels as if it means that bit more than what we were doing yesterday in the hot tub. God, was that only yesterday?

I pull away suddenly. "Baby?"

She hums against my neck.

"I still haven't seen your tattoo."

Her breath is warm as she chuckles against my skin. "That's because you weren't looking."

"I was touching."

She growls, the vibrations translating to my chest.

"Tell me."

"You have to find it."

"When?"

She sighs, and lifts her head to look at my face. "I know I ruined your plans for tonight," she says. "I promise to make it up to you."

"I told you I could shift things to the weekend," I remind her. "So, you and me, your sexy body and your tattoo and my hands and my eyes... on Saturday."

She shakes her head, blushing. "Did you just call my body sexy?"

"I did," I say, seriously. "Have you seen it?"

She blinks. "You clearly haven't."

I wait.

"It's scarred," she whispers.

I bite the inside of my cheek as I try to find the right words. "Personally, I think scars are beautiful," I say, slowly and purposefully. I need her to know the truth of my words. "They represent so much, Quinn. They show your strength and they show how you have survived; how you have overcome."

She takes in a shaky breath, looking wonderstruck. I lick my lips. She may not say the words but the look in her eyes is telling, and I'm trying to hold onto that. I don't expect her to say anything, so I'm surprised when she does, first hugging me close to her.

"I don't need you to light up my world," she whispers, her mouth pressed to the shell of my ear. "Just lie here with me in the dark until the sun rises."

It takes me a moment to acknowledge it, but this is how she tells me she loves me.

And, later, when she's fallen asleep, I crawl out of bed, tiptoe downstairs, settle on the couch, and I cry and cry.


Friday is a much better day, in the sense that Quinn doesn't look haunted. Or tense. Or decidedly unQuinn-like. It's both a relief and whatever is the opposite of relief. We haven't really discussed much since Wednesday night because her practice yesterday went on and on until she was too exhausted for anything other than crawling into my bed, wrapping her arms around me and falling asleep.

And she was gone when I woke up this morning, leaving me a note telling me about her early Cheerios practice and that she thinks I'm lovely. We still haven't really talked about the bank or the lawyer or so many other things, and I think she senses my unease about it because she's being very generous with her touches and affection in public.

Like, right now.

We're sitting in Glee and her hand is resting on my leg, all innocent, as her focus is elsewhere. There's nothing untoward about it, except for the fact that I know what it feels like to have that same hand trailing up the skin of that same thigh. She squeezes every few moments, and I realise she needs the contact almost as much as I do. I try to focus on the words Mr Schuester is saying but I'm failing. This is the end of Valentine's week, which really means that everyone's going to be singing about love.

Including me.

I temper myself and restrain from lifting my hand first. Quinn tosses me an amused smile when she realises, and I blush. She leans into me, close enough to feel her breath against the skin of my cheek.

"Planning on singing to anyone in particular?" she asks in a murmur, and my hand slides onto hers on my leg. My fingers fit into the spaces of hers, and this is such a dangerous game we're playing. Anyone could see and read it the wrong way... or the right way, I suppose.

"No," I manage to say, refusing to look at her. If I do, I think I'll be too tempted to kiss her or something equally drastic.

"Oh, really?"

I don't respond as Mr Schuester opens the floor to the club, and Quinn and I turn our attention to Mike and Tina, who sing - I use that term loosely when it comes to Mike - L-O-V-E by Nat King Cole. It's a happy number, getting us to rise up and dance along, and I'm all too aware of how close to me Quinn stands. I can feel the heat from her proximity and it's doing wonders to my own body temperature.

During the song, I cast a nervous look at Artie, but he doesn't look put out by the display of Mike and Tina's obvious love. Maybe the love triangle has finally settled their vertices. I hope so, because I've dealt with enough tension in homeroom to last me a lifetime.

Next, Puck dedicates a truly inappropriate song to all the ladies. He raises his eyebrows suggestively, makes a point of winking at Quinn and then starts singing. I don't pay close attention, but I note the horrified looks on everyone's faces. Even Lauren's, and particularly Quinn's. Even her disgusted face is cute. Seriously, how is that her particular brand of DNA can even exist?

Finn and Artie sing a duet - Let Me Love You by Mario - and Quinn looks decidedly uncomfortable every time Finn's eyes land on her. I can't tell if I'm angry or jealous - or both. Just what is he trying to do? If I was on the fence about singing my song, I'm definitely not anymore.

As soon as they're done, I raise my hand, and Mr Schuester offers me the floor. I squeeze Quinn's fingers for a beat before I rise and move to the front to pass on my sheet music to Brad and the rest of the band.

I don't know why but my heart is suddenly beating double-time. Singing a song about love probably won't curb the Glee Club's curiosity over the singing telegram I was sent. Obviously, Quinn and I are stirring up something, but I can't bring myself to care. I'll field all the questions in the world if it means I get to sing to Quinn in this moment; in this moment when I know, without a doubt, that I love her more than I thought was humanly capable.

"I love love," I say, because I'm not about to dedicate this to anyone in front of all of them. Quinn knows, and that's all that matters. When the music starts, I take a controlled breath in and start singing Kelly Clarkson's A Moment Like This, my gaze meeting Quinn's for just a moment.

"What if I told you, it was all meant to be? Would you believe me, would you agree? It's almost that feelin' that we've met before. So, tell me that you don't think I'm crazy when I tell you love has come here and now..."

It's a rather delicate song, and I keep my voice soft and controlled. Almost breathy. "A moment like this, some people wait a lifetime, for a moment like this. Some people search forever, for that one special kiss. Oh, I can't believe it's happening to me. Some people wait a lifetime, for a moment like this.

"Everything changes, but beauty remains. Something so tender, I can't explain. Well I maybe dreamin', but 'till I awake. Can we make this dream last forever, and I'll cherish all the love we share?" The tempo picks up and my voice gets louder. "A moment like this, some people wait a lifetime, for a moment like this. Some people search forever, for that one special kiss. Oh, I can't believe it's happening to me. Some people wait a lifetime, for a moment like this. Could this be the greatest love of all? I wanna know that you will catch me when I fall. So, let me tell you this...

"Some people wait a lifetime, for a moment like this. Some people wait a lifetime, for a moment like this." Kurt, Mercedes, Tina and Blaine join in, shadowing my runs and providing a steady chorus. "Some people search forever, for that one special kiss. Oh, I can't believe it's happening to me. Some people wait a lifetime, for a moment like this. Oh, like this oh, I can't believe it's happening to me." My voice drops to a whisper, the music falling away, and I sing the last lines. "Some people wait a lifetime, for a moment like this. Oh, like this."

There's applause, of course, and Quinn is on her feet, tears pooled in her eyes. Santana lets out a whoop, and then makes a comment to ease the raging emotion threatening to bubble right out of my body.

"Jeez, Berry, save that song for when you win your first Tony," she comments, and I can't help but beam at her. Bless her.

"So, you think I'm going to win a Tony then?" I ask, bouncing back to my seat, only to find that Quinn is still standing. "You first heard it here, people. Santana thinks I'm going to be a star!"

"Don't let it get to your head," Santana teases with a roll of her eyes, and she's also still standing.

I frown. "What's going on?" I ask, my eyes on Quinn.

She gives me a truly significant look, and it takes my breath away. "Oh, Santana's singing for Britt, and I'm accompanying her."

"Oh." Then: "Oh."

She smiles faintly and squeezes my forearm. "You were amazing, by the way. I love that song."

"I know."

Her smile widens. "I think you're going to like this one."

Before I can question her further, Santana is tugging on her arm, and the two of them move to the front. I immediately take my seat and watch. Santana pulls up a stool, finds a guitar and gets into position. Quinn - Quinn takes a seat at the piano. Oh. Okay. I don't think I'm ready for this.

Santana clears her throat. "So, this is a little something for my Britt - I love you - and dearest Quinn has generously offered to accompany me," she says, though I don't miss the moment her eyes flick my way. It's for me too, then. Brittany moves to sit next to me and takes one of my hands in hers, squeezing gently. We have amazing girlfriends, don't we?

Santana strums the guitar, and it sounds perfect even to my ears. "One, two, three, four," she says, and Quinn starts singing the first lines of Kiss Me by Ed Sheeran. It's slow and pretty, and it's for Brittany, but it's really for me as well. I can tell from the brief look Quinn gives me as the first notes fill the room.

"Settle down with me. Cover me up. Cuddle me in. Lie down with me, and hold me in your arms."

Santana picks up the next lyrics, her tone just beautiful and soft. "And your heart's against my chest, your lips pressed to my neck. I'm falling for your eyes, but they don't know me yet. And with a feeling I'll forget, I'm in love now." She smiles at Brittany, before she and Quinn sing together, their voices blending in perfect harmony.

"Kiss me like you wanna be loved. You wanna be loved. You wanna be loved. This feels like falling in love, falling in love. We're falling in love."

I'm smiling so wide, and I love her. I truly do.

Quinn sings solo again. "Settle down with me, and I'll be your safety. You'll be my lady." She lets out a breathy laugh, and Santana playfully rolls her eyes. "I was made to keep your body warm, but I'm cold as the wind blows, so hold me in your arms."

Santana takes over. "Oh no, my heart's against your chest, your lips pressed to my neck. I'm falling for your eyes, but they don't know me yet, and with this feeling I'll forget, I'm in love now."

Again, they sing together and, honestly, their voices sound so good that I have to wonder why they don't sing together more often. They harmonise effortlessly, and I make a mental note to revisit this combination at a later date. "Kiss me like you wanna be loved. You wanna be loved. You wanna be loved. This feels like falling in love, falling in love. We're falling in love."

There's a break in singing here, and Quinn uses the moment to grace us with a perfect piano solo that slides its way straight into my soul and lodges itself there. There's this serene look on her face as the music passes through her body and out into the world via the movement of her fingers. I'm in love now.

Quinn eventually returns to singing: "Yeah, I've been feeling everything."

Santana goes next, and they alternate lines, adding grit to their voices I didn't even know they were capable of: "From hate to love."

"From love to lust."

"From lust to truth."

"I guess that's how I know you, so I hold you close to help you give it up."

They sing the last few lines together, and my heart has melted into a puddle. I hear Brittany sniffle beside me. "So, kiss me like you wanna be loved. You wanna be loved. You wanna be loved. This feels like falling in love, falling in love. We're falling in love. Kiss me like you wanna be loved. You wanna be loved. You wanna be loved. This feels like falling in love, falling in love. We're falling in love."

When the last note is pressed and plucked, Brittany leaps up and bounds towards Santana, eliciting a few laughs from the club. There's serious applause, and Quinn gets questioned about her solo, which I learn was impromptu and, essentially, made up on-the-spot, even though it fit so well with the song. My girlfriend is one talented girl. Their song is apparently the last, and we all hang around when Mr Schuester dismisses us.

"Berry," Santana says as she sidles up to me, a soft smile on her face. "I know I said the song was for Britt, but we were singing to you too."

I smile back at her, my gaze softening. "I know, Santana."

"Be patient," she offers kindly. "She's getting there."

Without prompting, we look at Quinn, who's standing with her arms around Brittany's waist, their faces mere inches apart. She's wearing her third smile - the Brittany one - and I love her. I love her in a whole, all-consuming, painful way that I just know is going to burn me.

As yet, I don't know if it's going to be in a good or bad way.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Three

Quinn

the wounds have changed me.
i am so soft with scars my skin breathes and beats stars.


 

"Baby, we really don't have to do anything tonight."

And there they are: the magical words I want to hear from her perfect lips, even though I'm convinced I don't deserve them.

At first, I feel relief enough to make me want to collapse on her bedroom floor right this instant, and then I feel extreme guilt. Honestly, I want nothing more than to crawl into bed with her and just sleep for the next millennia, but I promised to make it up to her. And, after the complete disaster that was every moment after I laid eyes on my father for the first time in what feels like forever, I think I owe Rachel a night of epic proportions. I want to take her out somewhere, sweep her off her feet and kiss her under the stars until we're both breathless.

The only thing is... I'm exhausted. We had a ten-hour Cheerios practice today because Coach Sylvester is a maniac - and our Regional competition is this coming Thursday, but it's mainly because the woman is certifiably insane. And then the Glee Club's Regionals are on Saturday and, yes, I am completely and utterly spent. Santana even asked me if I'm still taking my iron tablets because I feel like the walking dead. I must look like it too, and my girlfriend is just too polite to say anything about it.

And now here we are, and she's being so kind and understanding, and I feel even more horrible because of it. We're supposed to be going out or doing something - even her fathers are out on the town right now - but now Rachel is offering me the chance to do nothing, and I guiltily want to take it.

"But I told you that - " I start to protest, but Rachel interrupts me with a firm press of her lips to my own, essentially shutting me up.

"Look," she says, pulling back and smiling at my bemused expression. "I know you think I want to go out, but I really don't. I'm perfectly content to stay home, with you. I know you're exhausted. I can see it and I can hear it, and it's not necessary for you to try to make it up to me right now, Quinn. I just want to spend time with you. I've missed you."

My stomach flutters at the sound of her words, but I'm still apprehensive. "Are you sure?" I ask quietly, feeling awful.

She nods. "I'm certain, yes," she says. "And, really, after this week, I'm rather tired too."

I sigh. Well, that doesn't help at all.

She smiles warmly, reaching out to cup my cheeks with both of her hands. Her skin is warmer than mine, even though I'm the one who just had a hot shower that was supposed to ease the tension in my muscles - and failed. "Do you know how cute you are when you're sleepy?"

"Rachel," I whine.

"I want to stay home," she says strongly. "Is it so inconceivable that all I want to do is sit here and talk to you?"

I say nothing. It is somewhat inconceivable, but I don't think she'll appreciate my telling her that. Finn wasn't much of a talker. He didn't ask questions. Nobody has really been this interested in getting to know me this way. Not even my own blood relations.

"I want to learn all there is to learn about you," she says, her voice low and serious. "I want all the way in, Quinn Fabray. This entire experience has been eye-opening and enlightening, and I want all of it. I want all of you."

I let out a shaky breath. And she says I'm the overwhelming one.

"So, come here," she says. "Come sit with me. I want to cuddle."

I wait, even as she climbs into her bed and leans against the headboard. "Are you sure this is what you want?" I ask, and I know it's a loaded question. "There are bad things, Rachel. Bad, terrible things, that I'm ashamed of. There are good things too. Sad things. Ugly things. Once you know, you can't unknow."

"Quinn."

I sigh. "Yes, dear."

She manages a smile. "Please just come here."

I go. She doesn't have to tell me twice, or however many times she's invited me into her bed. I slip under the covers and we settle into our cuddle position with me between her legs, my back against her front and her arms around my stomach and shoulders. I feel a bit like a baby bear, safe and protected by the ferocity that is Rachel Berry.

We lie in silence for the longest time, and my body relaxes into hers until I'm sure we're occupying the same space. She's warm and soft and strong and here. She's here, and she wants to know me. As terrifying as it is, I find myself sinking into the comfort of it. She wants to know me.

"My sister has always been really into astrology," I say, the volume of my voice barely more than a whisper. "When I was little, she did my chart. I don't know how, because I didn't really care. She used my day and time of birth to tell me things about myself." I pause to remember. "There were a lot of generic things. I would be successful and happy and I would find love in a tall, dark and handsome man. I'd have pretty children, possibly be a housewife and be kind and generous. To a kid, it sounded like magic. I wanted what my mother had, at the time. Everybody did. We were the perfect family on the outside, and I believed we were perfect on the inside until I just didn't. I started big school and I learned that parents hug and kiss their children and tell them they love them. I learned that parents held hands and laughed, and I learned that fathers were gentle beings, smiling and loving in ways mine has never been."

Her lips brush against my temple.

"I was a shy child," I say. "Painfully shy, actually. Quiet and soft spoken. I think my Catholic upbringing should have formed a modest, level-headed, giving and outgoing child like what my parents wanted, but that's not what they got. Not with me, at least. Frannie was better at it than I ever was. So, they were obviously disappointed. I mean, I do think I'm sort of those things now, but I haven't always been. There was a burden placed on my shoulders to emulate Frannie and continue with this perfectness my father so desperately wanted, and I ended up with the weight of his disappointment as well, and it crushed me. It - it was the catalyst for a lot of things."

I swallow nervously and she squeezes my waist in support. "I started to gain weight," I tell her. "I don't know if kids can be depressed, but I do believe I ate my feelings. The more I ate, the worse I felt, but I didn't care. It's really something, standing in front of a mirror and hating every single thing about yourself. My hair. My face. My nose, my body, my skin. Just, everything. I hated it. And so did my family. I no longer fit the Fabray mould - no longer physically, at least, because I doubt I would ever fit it - which I now think I must have subconsciously tried to do, and Russell Fabray did not like that at all.

"I told you I'd been hit before, but it's around that time the - uh - beatings, I guess, really started to pick up in brutality, I guess. They were few and far between at first, coinciding with social events during which I failed to live up to expectations. I was an embarrassment, and they would have left me at home if it weren't known that I existed. Questions would be asked, and they had to keep up appearances. But... they had me convinced they wished I didn't exist, and - " I stop. "I started to wish it too."

Rachel sniffs behind me.

"I felt that as a child, and I sometimes feel it now."

Her arms tighten until they hurt, and the masochist inside of me enjoys the pain. The feeling.

"Rachel?"

She hums, lips against my skin.

"I am so sorry."

"For what, baby?"

I shift, so I can look at her perfect face. I have to be looking in her eyes for this part. "I'm sorry I hurt you with my awful words and actions and my unexplainable dislike. I'm sorry for every hand I played in all the discourse and bullying you've ever suffered. I'm sorry for taking my pain out on you."

Her eyes are gentle, understanding.

"I've never hated you," I stay, standing by that. How could I hate someone I didn't even know? "I think I hated what you represented. Someone bigger and better than me in every way, because I've hated myself so intensely in my life that I actually start to feel numb. So, I'm sorry. I am so sorry. It was - it was never what I wanted. I've never wanted someone to go through any of that because..." I trail off, steeling myself. "Because I know what it feels like."

Her eyes widen slightly.

"I was fat and ugly and just - they hated me. They hated me for what I looked like and who I was, and nobody cared. I was shy and an easy target and they were merciless. They were cruel and unrelenting and I know, Rachel. I know, and I am so sorry. I am so sorry."

Her arms release me and my heart drops, but then her hands are on my face, wiping my tears and comforting me. "Oh, Quinn," she breathes. "I'm sorry too, and I forgive you. I forgave you a long time ago. Please stop apologising to me."

"I should never stop," I press stubbornly. "Because of what I experienced, everything I've done to you... it just makes it so much worse. I knew. I've always known. I know how it can break a person, and yet I couldn't - I couldn't protect anyone from who I forced myself to turn into to try to make my parents love me."

She frowns in confusion.

I sit up and turn, so I can look at her face properly. "I'm going to tell you something, Rachel," I say, almost a whisper. If I'm being honest, I never thought I would ever tell her this part. I mean, if we're going to be together for as long as I believe we are - forever - then she's bound to find out eventually, right? It is on my birth certificate after all. If she wants all of me, then she's going to get it, I suppose. "Quinn isn't my first name," I say, and the 'o' of her mouth is rather comical. I would smile if my heart wasn't thundering in my chest.

She blinks. "It's not?"

I shake my head no. "I was born, uh, Lucy Quinn Fabray," I confess.

"Lucy?"

I let out a nervous breath. "It really suits me, doesn't it?"

She says nothing.

I swallow audibly. "Before Lima, I was Lucy, and I associate her with a person who was weak and bent under the pressure of a very idealistic family. I associate her with a time when I was nothing more than the dirt under the shoes of my tormentors. She's from a life when my father took his anger out on me in ways that eventually stopped hurting because you can get used to pain. She was... the past, and I left her behind when I decided to become Quinn." I can't bring myself to look at Rachel anymore, so I drop my gaze to my hands in my lap and take a breath. "It happened just after my father announced he would be transferring at the end of the school year, and it sparked the idea that this was my opportunity for a fresh, new start. I wouldn't have to be 'Lucy Caboosey' anymore - that's one of the names they called me - and I could rebuild as someone new; the someone my family so desperately wanted me to be.

"I had a plan, Rachel. I worked hard to lose the weight, and I still work hard to keep it off. I ditched my glasses and got contacts. My diet helped with my skin, and the products I used cleared it up, and I don't worry too much about it now because I know it's been worse. My teeth are now straight and whitened and, when I stepped into William McKinley High School, Lucy was gone and Quinn took her place. I just - I wanted people to like me. I didn't want them to pick on me anymore, and I wanted my parents to be proud of me. I didn't want to be a disappointment and, for a while, it worked.

"But then I got caught up in being Quinn. I'd never considered myself anything to look at before. In fact, I'd spent years trying to hide from people's gazes and then, suddenly, all eyes were on me because of my appearance, and it was a lot to get used to. I turned into this person who was fuelled by hatred of herself and her family, and I took it out on innocent people. It helped me build myself up, sure, but the Lucy inside of me has hated every second of it. I've struggled with the balance, and I've embraced my bitchiness for so long; sometimes I don't know how to turn Quinn off."

I scrub my face with my hands, hating my younger self; hating all my selfs. "My father was always going to be dissatisfied with me, so it was the little things that set him off when we got here. Like, a skew piece of silverware on the table I set, or even maintaining eye contact for a beat too long. He - he wanted silent, obedient children and, as much as I tried, nothing seemed to please him. My mother's expectations were easier, I suppose: join the Cheerios, date a nice boy and don't embarrass the family. I tried to do all those things for them... until I found out I was pregnant and ended up failing at all three of them, because what kind of 'nice boy' gets his teenage girlfriend pregnant? It was the first time I truly allowed Lucy and Quinn to meet.

"As you can imagine, they really didn't like each other. At all. I mean, I'd spent so long trying to be perfect and, like Lucy, Quinn failed as well. She failed at being the daughter my parents wanted, even after all I'd done to change, and she failed... so, I just decided that maybe being both wasn't such a bad thing." I don't know if I'm making any sense, but Rachel's eyes are on me, and I'm still talking. Honestly, I don't think I've ever said so many words at any one time to a single person. It's exhausting. "Quinn was mean and cruel and she hurt people because she was tired of being hurt herself. Lucy just wanted her parents to love her... and I just - I don't even know anymore." I sigh. "All I do know is that there is no place in this world I would rather be than in this bed, and there is nobody I would rather be with than you."

I've never spoken to anyone about this, and I tell Rachel that. Nobody in this world knows all of this, besides her, and she has to know how important this moment is for me. For us. Right now, it's all I can give her, and I just hope it's enough. I hope I'm enough.

"I still feel as if I'm trying to figure out who I am but, for the first time in my life, I'm not living my life to please my parents or anyone else. I'm living it for myself, and that makes a world of difference, Rachel, and I have to thank you for helping me with that. You and your fathers have helped me so much, and this Lucy-Quinn hybrid I'm trying to make sense of is the one person I know I can be proud of." I think I'm done. I want to be, because I'm beyond exhausted now. Talking is tiring, and I don't see how Rachel isn't completely out of it all day with the amount of words she can say in a single sitting.

We sit in silence for the longest time, and I can just see the cogwheels turning in her pretty little head. I'm nervous and fidgety and my mother would probably scold me. But, then again, I'm sitting on my girlfriend's bed and telling said girlfriend everything, so I surely don't give a shit about her right now.

Eventually, Rachel clears her throat and meets my gaze. "Firstly, I love you, okay?" she says. "None of this changes that for me. I just - I have questions. Can I ask questions?"

I nod, even though my fidgeting hasn't stopped - it's probably picked up, for all I know.

"I - " she starts, and then stops. "You said you were bullied?"

I nod. "I did say that, and I was, yes."

She reaches out for me, and closes her hand around my left wrist. "I'm so sorry," she says, and she means it.

"Rachel," I whisper. "Don't - "

"No," she says, shaking her head. "I am sorry, because nobody deserves that. Least of all you."

I drop my gaze, my shoulders sagging. "Or you."

"Or me," she echoes with a nod. "Nobody."

"I'm sorry."

"I thought we discussed this, Quinn," she whines, before she makes a face quite suddenly.

"What?"

"Quinn," she repeats.

I raise my eyebrows. "It's still my name, you know?"

"I don't see you as a Lucy," she says.

"Good."

"Does anyone still call you that?"

"My sister does sometimes," I tell her. "She was already in college when I made the transition, and she wasn't really around for most of it." I shrug. "Really, she probably does it just to irritate me. It's moot, because all she has to do is breathe for that to happen."

Rachel smiles at me for the first time since I started my complicated tale. "You've always been Quinn to me, and you'll always be," she says. "Does Lucy bring up bad memories for you?"

All I can do is nod. This girl knows me; she really knows me.

"So, I shall have to refrain from teasing you then," she says brightly, which helps the atmosphere tremendously.

I roll my eyes.

"I can't believe your name is Lucy," she comments, sitting back and smiling fondly.

I return her smile. "It's one of the reasons I spent as long as I did agonising over what to name Beth," I tell her, offering up another piece of me to her. "Do you know how I ended up naming her?"

She takes a moment to think about it. "Is it to do with the song Finn and Noah sang?"

"Uh, no," I say. "It's from Little Women, actually."

She raises her eyebrows. "Oh?"

I nod.

"Is it one of your favourite books because of the name Beth, or is the name Beth because it's your favourite book?"

I frown. "I tried to follow that, but, uh... yes?"

She laughs lightly, her fingers squeezing my wrist gently. "And you're supposed to be Miss Four-Point-Oh GPA," she teases, and I grab hold of her hand, linking our fingers. She giggles softly, her eyes meeting mine. "So, why Beth then?"

"Well, anything would be better than what Finn wanted to name her," I say. "I swear, my baby hormones and general disposition almost castrated him when he suggested the name 'Drizzle.'"

She waits a beat before she bursts out laughing, hysterically. "Drizzle?" she questions, her face turning red from her laughter. "Please tell me you're kidding."

"I wish."

"Wow."

"Tell me about it."

She lets out a breath, her laughter stopping but her amused expression remaining. "So, why Beth?" she asks again.

"When I first read Little Women, I really identified with her character," I confess. "Can I read you her initial description?"

"Sure," she says, and I get up off the bed and move towards her desk. My original copy of Louisa May Alcott's masterpiece is on Rachel's desk, among her things that are really ours now. I find it easily, and then return to my position on the bed, sitting close enough for our knees to touch.

"There was always something about her," I tell Rachel as I finger through the book for the correct page. "I don't, for a second, think naming my daughter Beth will have her end up this way, but I wanted to give her a name to be proud of; something with meaning to both of us, because this book helped me through sophomore year. It helped me come to terms with all the difficulties I was facing, through reading it to myself, and out loud to my baby bump."

She nods in understanding, a small smile on her face.

When I find the page, I start to read out loud. "'Elizabeth - or Beth, as everyone called her - was a rosy, smooth-haired, bright-eyed girl of thirteen, with a shy manner, a timid voice, and a peaceful expression, which was seldom disturbed. Her father called her 'Little Tranquility', and the name suited her excellently; for she seemed to live in a happy world of her own, only venturing out to see the few whom she trusted and loved.'" I look up at Rachel, and she now has a beaming smile on her face that makes me feel both lightheaded and slightly embarrassed. "What?" I ask.

"Sorry, it's just that we both know how much I love it when you read to me," she says, and I feel heat rise up my neck. Then: "And she sounds like you. Beth, I mean. The character. At least, the way you describe your old self, because I didn't know Lucy, but I think I would have loved her. We definitely would have been friends."

"Do you really think so?" I ask, my voice a little more than a whisper.

"I do."

"She definitely would have been a better friend than Quinn," I tell her.

"That may be so," she says, shrugging slightly; "but this you that you are right now is the best girlfriend I could ever ask for."

"And, did you ask for me?" I ask, raising my eyebrows in curiosity.

She nods. "Without even knowing it, I'm certain I wished for you."

"Oh?"

"And yet I still didn't see it coming," she says. "I didn't see you coming, but I don't regret a single thing. I want all of you: Lucy, Quinn, the hybrid; the great, the good, the bad and the ugly. I want to know you. I - I don't want another week like this one."

"Neither do I," I echo. Then, backtracking, I say, "Except the earlier parts of Tuesday. I could probably do with some more of that."

She raises her eyebrows. "I thought you said you were exhausted."

"Actually, you're the one who said that."

"Hmm."

"Rachel."

"Baby."

I launch myself at her in the next beat, and she squeals in surprise. My mouth is on hers before she can protest, and all fight dies when I slip my tongue past her lips and caress her own. She lets out a moan that makes my heart rate rise dangerously. I feel so out of control when I'm with her. Her hands move into my hair, fingers sliding through the strands as we shift into a more comfortable position. Rachel settles on her back and I support myself over her as she slides down. Once she's comfortable, I rest my weight on her, my one thigh sliding between her legs and making her gasp. I've wanted to try this for a while, because it's becoming increasingly evident that we definitely turn each other on. Which I am, right now. I can feel it, and I imagine she can too.

She immediately grabs for me and we're kissing again, hard and fast and passionately. She's tugging painfully on my hair, keeping my head in place as our mouths move together in a heated kiss that has the potential to become something more. It does, and it does quickly. It's almost desperate the way she's tugging on my t-shirt, eager for skin. I oblige with little hesitation and the offending garment is discarded within a minute.

"Are you seriously wearing a tank top right now?" she asks, sounding breathless and annoyed, with her pout in full effect.

I laugh, dropping my mouth to her neck and murmuring against her skin. "I had to, because I'm not wearing a bra."

Her hands slide under my tank top, as if she's decided to feel for herself if I'm telling the truth. I let out an audible hiss when her hands cup my breasts and she squeezes the soft flesh. She's gentle at first, but she grows into it, and I'm starting to squirm and pant and my hips press against her, just looking for more. Friction, yes, but relief as well. It's as if we've made a mutual decision silently, because I grind against the strong muscles of her leg just as she moves against mine, and we fall into a steady and satisfying rhythm that's making it increasingly difficult to breathe properly.

"Quinn," she practically pants, and the sound of my name from her lips tonight means so much more. Her arms are now around my neck and she's hugging me to her, forcing me closer and deeper and it's building and -

Good God, what is this girl doing to me? My chest is aching with want, and I want her closer. I want her inside of me. No, I want inside of her.

"That's - don't - I'm - " she struggles, gasping in my ear, her nails digging into my skin. "I'm - Quinn!"

"Incoherence is so sexy," I mumble against her neck, my hands moving under her t-shirt and trailing fire across her skin.

"Quinn," she says again, and I've never heard her voice sound like that before... because we've never been in a position such as this one. When I realise it's because she's close, something foreign takes over my body, and I can only describe it as my going a little crazy. I fist the fabric of her t-shirt in my hands, shove it upwards and immediately take a nipple in my mouth. I suck once, twice, and then bite down.

Rachel stiffens immediately, her body arching. I swirl my tongue, and she shudders as she climaxes. It's fascinating. I just watch her face as she comes undone beneath me, even as my mouth continues to work and my hips continue to move, sliding my centre along her thigh. I can hear her saying my name over and over again as I draw out her orgasm in search of my own. Rachel helps by dragging her nails down my back and cupping my ass. My hips buck once, twice, and then white hot lava fills me from the inside out. I shut my eyes tightly against the white spots in my vision, and focus on just how good this feels; how wonderful she feels.

I'm tempted to collapse on her, but I have enough brain function not to, and I roll to the side, my breathing heavy and unsteady. I feel uncomfortable in my sweats, but there's a content smile on my face. And, one glance Rachel's way proves she's faring no better than I am. Her eyes are closed, cheeks flushed and her t-shirt is still bunched up, revealing her very appealing upper body to my eyes. I'm tempted to touch and taste again, but her eyes are suddenly on me, and I smile guiltily.

Rachel reaches for my hand and brings it up to her lips, gently kissing my knuckles. "Baby, why have we never done that before?" she asks, her voice hoarse.

"We weren't ready," I whisper, rolling onto my side and sliding my hand down from her lips. I bring the t-shirt down and cover her up because I can't quite concentrate on the words she's saying. And I'm exhausted. I shift closer.

"But we're getting there, aren't we?"

I slip an arm around her and pull her into my body, her side against my front. "We are," I assure her, as I settle and close my eyes. I nuzzle her cheek, and I feel her smile.

"Quinn?"

I hum in response, keeping my eyes closed.

"My heart is yours," she says, and she sounds so sure. After everything I've just told her, she still sounds certain, and I love her. We're young and we're 'new,' but this is for forever. I just know it.

"I think you've had mine since the night you first took me in your arms and held me together," I murmur, pressing a kiss to her throat. "It's been in your hands since, and you've kept it safe, helping it heal and taking care of it. Taking care of me."

"Do you know what you do for me?"

"I know what I hope to do for you, one day," I say, injecting some innuendo into my voice, and she giggles.

"I'm trying to be serious here."

I clear my throat. "Sorry," I murmur. "I'm listening."

She sighs contently. "I just want you to know that you give me a purpose beyond myself and beyond my dreams of stardom," she says, her tone serious. "You make me so happy, and getting to know you this way has been the greatest part of my senior year. My high school career. Just, my entire life, really."

I laugh breathily.

"I mean it," she presses. "You are the best thing to happen to me."

I press a kiss to the skin of her cheek, and she hums, satisfied. There's one more thing to say, apparently.

"Maybe, when we're both not as exhausted, we can do that again," she says, and my heart swells.

"I'd like that very much."


My Sunday morning is spent in church, trying my best not to fixate on just what Rachel and I did last night, and rather focus on what it means for us. We were both right when we agreed we're not ready for 'all the way,' but we're getting there, which is terrifying and exhilarating and I realise that I wouldn't even know what to do. I mean, this is all so new to both of us, and neither of us has truly acknowledged our sexuality. Is it too easy to say I'm attracted to only Rachel Berry and then boys? But am I even still attracted to boys? I mean, what would that make me then? Bisexual? Straight, but gay for Rachel? I don't want to label it, but I think it will help with our readiness. Well, with mine.

It's something we should probably talk about but, when I get back to the Berry house, Rachel and I decidedly don't talk, though our mouths do plenty of work. She's a girl on a mission as she strips me of my dress, leaving me in only my bra and panties, a matching set that's blue in colour. It's the most exposed I've been since that night in the hot tub, but it's different this time. This time, she's looking, her eyes roaming over every inch of my body, as if she's searching for something.

My tattoo, I realise, belatedly.

She steps back, pouting. "Quinn Fabray, where is it?" she whines.

I blink a few times, trying not to falter under the heat of her gaze. Body image has been a thing I've struggled with in the past, but there's a certain hunger in Rachel's eyes that tells me she likes what she sees. I've worked very hard to maintain my body, and seeing her response to it makes it all the more worth it. There's that worry, yes, but then there's also the scars to fuss over. From my father, yes, but also from cheering and clumsiness and... myself. And I have lingering stretch marks from Beth that have, thankfully, attempted to blend into my pale skin. But, the scars. Some are more noticeable than others and, if she sees them, she makes no comment. I suspect we'll have another conversation about them at some point, but now we're both a little drunk with want.

"I'm still wearing too many clothes," I tell her, practically purring.

She closes the gap between us in an instant, and I step back, my body hitting the door with a thud. Her lips are on mine in the next beat and I hear her turn the lock on the door. It isn't as if her fathers are home right now, but they do have a tendency of showing up when they really shouldn't, and I'd much rather not have LeRoy or Hiram know just what we get up to. I'm struggling enough with God knowing.

I just - I don't see how this could be wrong.

I moan into her mouth when her hands massage my breasts, fingers rolling my nipples and turning me to putty. My hands are under her top, touching the smooth skin of her back and tugging her closer. I lose patience quickly, pulling her top off her in one move, our lips separating for only a few seconds before they're fused again. We're not nearly at the same level of undress, and my fingers slide down to unzip her jeans, my mind flashing with memories about the last time I did this. She lets me, as her mouth moves down to my throat. When she hums against my pulse point, I moan again, my fingers fumbling. God, why is it so difficult to concentrate?

She has to help and, once her jeans are off, she presses against me again, and we just kiss and touch. Hands move, down and up and over and under and it's building and building. Eventually, Rachel grabs for my hands and pulls us towards her bed. "We're not having sex," she says, sounding breathless and needy. "We're just going to - "

I cut her off by pushing her down onto the bed and crawling over her, pinning her down with my body. The skin to skin contact is nearly enough to send me over the edge, but I hold on as I resume our kissing, and my hands start on their exploration once more. Having her beneath me is buckets better than having her pressed up against me... not that I'd complain, really. Just being able to touch her is amazing.

"God, Quinn," she purrs when my thigh shifts between her legs, and I feel her. She's slick and wet and ohmygod. Whoa, whoa. I can feel her heat; her throbbing. Maybe it's just that, or the panting in my ear, or the way her thigh is just perfectly positioned, but I come undone within minutes, and I jerk and shudder and bury my face in the crook of her neck to muffle the sound of my quiet, satisfied moan. I barely have time to recover before Rachel is letting go beneath me, her body tensing and then trembling.

We lie perfectly still as we come back down from the high, and then I roll to her right side, a mirror image of the previous night. Only, today, we're substantially undressed, and the evidence of arousal is much clearer. It's even in the air; it's practically burned on our skin.

"Remind me again why we've waited so long to do that," Rachel murmurs, and I can't help my smile. "We should do that every day."

I run a hand through my hair, shifting my bra upwards. "Oh boy, I've created a monster."

"What's that?"

I look at her. "What's what?"

She rolls onto her side and props herself up on an elbow. "There," she says, pointing at my side and preventing me from dropping my arm. Without preamble, she undoes the front clasp of my bra, and shifts it out of the way. Her eyes stay on my breasts for a moment before she schools herself and her eyes settle on the side of my left breast where my usually-hidden tattoo is fully visible. I picked the spot specifically to be able to hide it with my bra strap. It's referred to as side boob, practically under my arm, which should be funny if it didn't hurt like crazy when the needle was attacking my skin. I'm a Cheerio, and who's really going to see me this undressed other than Rachel Berry? It's small, four letters long, and holds enough meaning to last me a lifetime.

Beth

Rachel trails her fingers over the letters embedded in my skin, her eyes watching her own movements. "Beth," she whispers, almost in awe. "Will you tell me about her one day?"

I nod automatically. I'm just so relieved she's not asking for us to talk about my daughter right now, because I'd like to be sufficiently dressed when that happens.

"It's beautiful," she says, returning to lie on her back. "Like you."

I can't help my blush as I reach for her hand and lift it to my lips the same way she did with mine last night. This has been a weekend of firsts and we're just getting started. She's crawling her way into me, and I'm welcoming her with open arms.

"Quinn?"

I roll my neck to look at her, my smile lazy and content. "Hmm?"

Slowly, a naughty smile spreads across her face. "We're doing that again," she says, and then she's moving.


After quick, separate showers, we head downstairs for lunch. Unsurprisingly, I'm starving, and Rachel is keen on ordering some takeout. I don't argue with her. I just tell her what I want and go into the living room to find us something to watch. I'm still flicking through the channels when Rachel enters the room and settles herself in my lap, her arms snaking around my neck. I can feel her eyes on me, even as I keep mine focused on the television.

"Quinn," she whines.

I still don't look at her.

"Quinn?"

"No."

"But, Quinn," she says, leaning in close enough for her sweet breath to wash over me. "Please."

I suck in a breath at her tone of voice. "Rachel, we can't," I say, forcing the words out.

"But I want to."

"I don't care."

She pouts, knowing full well I can't resist her when she does that. "Pretty please."

I sigh, hating that I'm giving in so easily. "Fine," I huff, and she squeals in excitement, bouncing off me and going in search of whatever she's suckered me into. I've just settled on a music channel when she waltzes back into the room, carrying the Scrabble box. Oh, boy.

"The usual wager," she says, starting to set up the game. "I win, you sing a duet with me. You win, you get whatever you want."

I raise my eyebrows. "Whatever I want, huh?"

She nods. "I have to give you a reason to keep playing with me, even if I keep losing."

I shake my head. "Rach, why do you want to sing a duet with me so badly?" I ask, because it's turning into a bit of an obsession now. There has to be some reason she's so adamant about the two of us singing together.

"I think our voices compliment each other quite well," she says, but it's not all of it, so I just wait. Eventually, she sighs, and comes to sit right next to me. She looks at my face as her hands take hold of both of mine and bring them into her lap. "Music is a language to me, Quinn. It's a way in which I express myself and, as much as I already share that with you, I still want to share it with you. There's just something magical about singing with the one person in the world who makes your stomach do a flipflop just by looking at you or who makes the great big world completely fall away whenever you kiss. So, yes, I want to sing with you, and I'm willing to wager every single time."

I lean towards her and kiss her forehead. "Rachel Berry, if it means that much to you; all you have to do is ask," I tell her because, in all this time, I can't recall a time she's actually just asked.

She bristles slightly, a smile on her face. "Now, where's the fun in that?"

I laugh lightly. "Okay then, I suppose I'll have to make you work for it."

"I wouldn't have it any other way," she says brightly. "We'll keep playing until I win."

"I have plans for us this afternoon," I tell her, shaking my head. "I have an entire week to make up for."

"I think you've more than made up for our disaster of our one monthiversary," she says suggestively, her breath warm against my neck as she leans in to kiss the underside of my jaw.

"Oh?"

"Definitely."

I blush furiously, which is completely ridiculous, given the way I was unashamedly rubbing myself off on her just an hour ago.

"Why are you so stinking cute?" she asks, kissing my cheek.

"I work very hard at it," I say with a smirk.

"Is that your day job?"

I nod.

"Don't quit it."

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Four

Rachel

eyes that commit.
that is what I am looking for.


What Quinn has planned to make it up to me involves my getting dressed into decent clothes and being forced to wait in my bedroom while she does whatever she's doing to prepare somewhere downstairs. I'm impatient and irritated with the fact she won't answer any of my questions, but I sit obediently at my desk and try to work on my homework while I wait. It feels like hours, which is probably more along the lines of twenty minutes, before there's a note being shoved under my door. I catch sight of it, jump up from my seat and bend to retrieve it from the floor.

Rachel Berry

Today, we're testing your Astrology knowledge.
Based on our Zodiac signs, tell me, are we compatible?
Text me when you figure it out.
I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

- Q

I can't help my grin because this is so like Quinn. I return to my desk, abandon my homework, and Google Zodiac signs. Based on our birthdays, Quinn is Aquarius and I'm Sagittarius, and we're... compatible. I find myself smiling at the words I read, my eyes scanning through several different sights.

 

"Sagittarius and Aquarius are a great match! The Sagittarius' inquisitiveness and enthusiasm works perfectly with Aquarius' vision and forward thinking, while overall you have a very similar approach to life."

"When Sagittarius and Aquarius join together in a love match, Aquarian ideals and Sagittarian knowledge combine to make them a creative and unique couple."

"Underneath any romantic overtone, there exists a great friendship."

"As long as they communicate their happiness about the relationship, they will overcome any bumps in the road, major or minor."

"Although there's a strong idealistic chemistry that flows between you, translating that to the physical realm can be somewhat awkward."

"Their formidable combination makes theirs a relationship of outward motion as well as inward depth."

 

There are surprising elements that I read. Truthful things, about how Quinn and I started out as just friends - trying and failing to remain platonic - and about how great we can be, provided we continue to communicate properly... which, admittedly, we haven't always been very good at. What does bother me is that our physical relationship is supposed to be difficult, which it isn't. Not really. I mean, we're moving at a steady pace, growing into that aspect of our relationship. I want Quinn to be ready, emotionally and mentally. And I can't be ready until she is, because I won't lose my virginity to someone who isn't certain they're in love with me.

It isn't as if I can't tell the feelings are there. I can see it in the way she looks at me and feel it in the way she touches me, but the words have never come, and I don't know why I'm so fixated on this. Intrinsically, I know how she feels about me, but there's an irrational part of me that needs the confirmation; the affirmed commitment. I need her to say the words out loud, for whatever reason, and I don't know how to bring it up to her.

I sigh, and then reach for my phone to text Quinn. A minute later, there's a knock on my door, and my excitement is back, sending me out of my chair. As soon as I've opened the door, I'm flinging my arms around her, burying my face in the crook of her neck and just breathing. This girl is special. Everything she is and everything she isn't. I love love her.

"So?" she asks, her voice barely a murmur. "Are we?"

I pull back. "Are we what?"

"Compatible?"

I press a firm kiss to her lips. "Something tells me you already know the answer to that question."

She's smiling now. "I want to hear you say it."

"We're compatible, Quinn Fabray," I whisper, and she kisses me. It's slow and tender, a kiss that's purely a kiss, and I love her. I love her. When we pull apart, I release her to grab my phone and my purse, the standard items for a date with my cryptic and secretive girlfriend. At least, I think we're going on a date.

"Just so you know," she says, eyeing my belongings; "we're making an extended pitstop in the kitchen."

"Oh?"

"Mmhmm."

We stare at each other for the longest moment before I break the silence. "So, you had me put on decent clothes to cook?"

She chuckles. "No, Rachel," she says carefully. "I made you get dressed to watch me cook."

"Naked?"

Now, she lets out a full-body laugh, and my heart dances at the sound. I made that happen. "I suppose I could be persuaded to strip a few layers, if the incentive is worth it." There's a bit of heat in her voice, and my body involuntarily reacts, making me squirm.

That horoscope is so wrong.

I frown slightly, needing her to know. "They're wrong, you know?"

She raises her eyebrows. "Oh?"

I nod. "Our physical relationship is perfectly fine."

She grins at me, immediately knowing to what I'm referring. "It is, isn't it?"

"No awkwardness at all."

"Don't jinx us now," she teases, reaching for my hand. "Are you ready?"

I just nod, and allow her to lead me downstairs into the kitchen. She makes me sit down on a stool at the breakfast nook, kisses my forehead, and then glides away from me. It always fascinates me how at home she is in the kitchen. In my kitchen. It's... sexy, and I really am content to sit here and watch her. She puts on her 'Kiss the Little Chef' apron and gets to work, moving around with practiced ease. She slices vegetables, occasionally popping pieces into her mouth... and mine. We kiss a lot - it's the apron, really - and the food almost burns several times. It's easy to get carried away, really. Anyone would understand if they had the privilege of kissing Quinn Fabray.

As much as I want to ask questions about why she's cooking when we've just had lunch, I hold my tongue. Quinn cooks and dances and sings and kisses me whenever she picks up something from the fridge. This is easy, and it's lovely, and I can't help wondering about what our future could be like. In New York, maybe. Quinn and I haven't really spoken about it, and I don't know how to bring it up without forcing her to talk about feelings.

This all just feels very domestic, and I can't stop myself from imagining Quinn and me in our own kitchen, in our own house. Years from now, when we're both successful in our respectful careers, living happy and full lives... together. I wonder if we'll be married or have children or just be blissful with each other. I wonder if she wonders about it too.

"Quinn?"

"Hmm?"

"Can I ask you something?"

She nods, even though she's a little distracted by the pan on the stove. "What's up?"

I suck in a deep breath before I ask my question. "Would you ever want to marry me?"

Her hands cease all movement, and she looks at me, her eyes meeting mine. "Rachel?"

"It's just a question, Quinn," I say, as if I haven't just said words that could possibly change things. "I'm just curious, you know, with all this wedding stuff going on with Mr Schue and Miss Pillsbury, what your thoughts are on the matter." I blink. "Okay, maybe I'm asking the wrong question... would you ever want to get married?"

The rephrasing doesn't seem to help with her facial expression. In fact, it just pinches that bit more, but I'm unable to look away. "Rachel," she starts. "You do know I haven't got the best example of a marriage to look to, right?"

"I know," I say.

She sighs, absently turning off the burners on the stove and moving to stand just beside me. "For so long, this was what was expected of me," she says. "Find a boy, and marry him. Have the perfect, all-American wedding, and eventual life. Have the two-point-five children and be the perfect wife and mother. It was all expected, but then everything just kind of fell apart. It started with Beth, I suppose. Even though she's not in my life, she's the best thing that's ever happened to me, because she's brought me so much good in my life.

"I learned more about myself, and discovered the person I've been trying to be. I learned more about Finn, whom, I've come to realise, probably isn't worth my time anymore. He'll always be Beth's father, and we'll be linked in that way for the rest of our lives, but he's never been part of the good. His breaking up with me was the good. I've learned that my family is severely fucked up, and I'm still trying to come to terms with where I fit into the clusterfuck that is the Fabray clan." She closes her eyes. "I've learned that maybe marriage isn't for everyone. My parents definitely weren't built for it. I mean, besides the keeping up appearances; I don't think they were ever truly in love. And then my father had an affair, and she kicked him out. I suppose my family is consistent in that regard. Do something bad and end up homeless." She sounds bitter, and her face twists into something I don't recognise, before she sighs again and continues.

"I've learned there's more for me out there. I don't have to do what's expected. I can be who I am, and I can do what I wish to without risking disappointing people who clearly don't give a shit about me." She smiles faintly. "And then there's you. I learned more about you, and I discovered this wonderful, glorious person, whom I can't even imagine living my life without. I don't know if I would want to get married, Rachel, because I'm not sure I would be good at it." I want to argue that point, but she just continues speaking. "But I would try," she says. "If the person was right, I would try my level hardest to be the best wife I could."

Just thinking of Quinn as a wife makes my heart skip a beat.

"I assume you want to get married?" she says.

I blink, bringing myself back. "I've had it all planned for a very long time," I remind her.

She raises her eyebrows. "You do know not everything goes to plan, right?"

I laugh and reach for her closest hand. "I do know, actually," I say. "I mean, look at us. Tell me this was part of your plan?"

"I definitely didn't see this coming," she confesses, and I'm inclined to agree. "Which, I suppose, just goes to show how much control we actually don't have. We can plan and plan; we can say we're not sure about marriage, but how can we really know until it's time?"

"Is this about faith?" I find myself asking.

She looks caught off guard.

I backtrack. "I mean, it isn't as if we would be able to get married in a church, and I assume that's always been important to you."

Quinn looks bewildered, as if she doesn't know how we got so off track. "Uh..."

"Sorry," I murmur. "I don't meant to put you on the spot like this. I'm just curious."

She runs a shaky hand over her hair. "To be honest, I haven't really given it much thought," she admits. "There's already so much to think about right now, and that far in the future is already daunting enough."

I nod in understanding.

"But, I will tell you this, Rach," she starts; "whatever is meant to happen in my life... I believe it will find a way of happening. That's my faith. Whatever is meant to be, will. If it means I do get married, then I shall. If it means I marry a woman - you - then I will. It's part of a plan I've conceded to, and I'm trusting in the Universe and God that whatever has to happen in my life will happen."

I wait a beat. "You - you would be open to marrying me?"

"Is that all you took away from what I just said?"

I blush. "Yes?"

She chuckles, her hands moving to cup my cheeks. "Then, yes, I would," she says, leaning in to kiss me slowly, deeply. I pull her closer, turning my body until she's standing between my legs and my arms are wrapped around her waist, holding her firmly. It's a relatively innocent kiss, given all we've been doing this weekend but, somehow, this feels like so much more. It feels like a promise of sorts; a promise of a future.

Together.

Eventually, she pulls away and resumes her cooking. I just watch in silence, trying to reconcile the idea that she could admit to potentially marrying me when she can't even tell me she loves me. I try to tell myself they're just words, but the thought sits on my brain, just waiting. Quinn finishes up and packs everything away in containers and then into a cooler.

We are going out, apparently. I let Quinn lead me out of the house, lock the door, and dictate the afternoon. I know we're going to the park - it's our Sunday routine by now - so I'm not surprised when we pull up to the parking lot and she climbs out. She grabs the cooler before she opens my door, and I resist the urge to kiss her as I slide out of the SUV.

Quinn slips her hand into mine as we walk, and I step closer to her... to hide our hands between us. It's automatic by now, and I'm not sure I like the reasons behind it, but I do like snuggling into her side. She's warm and present, and it's moments like these that make me love her so much more. They're easy and simple, and I want a lifetime of these moments. Does that mean I want a lifetime with Quinn? Yes, yes it does. I've known the truth of it for a while and, as scary as I should find making such proclamations at such a young age, I'm strangely calm about it all.

Quinn leads the way through the trees to our spot, and I stand back while she sets up the picnic blanket and settles down in all her graceful glory. She pats the space beside her and I jerk into motion, dropping down in a heap and sighing. "Hi," she says.

"Hello," I breathe, kissing her quickly.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm perfect," I assure her. "I'm... happy."

"You are?"

"I'm always happy when I'm with you."

"Are you high right now?"

"On you?"

She chuckles. "My goodness, what am I ever going to do with you?"

"Whatever you want."

She leans forward and kisses my cheek. "Whatever I want, huh?"

"You did beat me at Scrabble, Quinn," I remind her. "You get whatever you want."

Her eyes drop down to look at my lips, but she doesn't make a move. Well, not forward, at least. She leans back slightly and digs in the cooler for a bottle of water. To cool off, maybe. I just watch as she downs half the bottle, my eyes fixated on the column of her throat as she swallows.

"Do you know what I want?" she eventually asks.

"What?"

"I know we have more things to talk about, but can I please have a rain-check for after Regionals?" she whispers. "It's just draining, emotionally, and I'm going to need all the energy I can to get through this week. So are you."

"Particularly because we don't even have our setlist sorted out," I grumble, and this time she does kiss me, quick and then slow. And then even slower, until she's stopped entirely.

"We're going to be fine," she assures me.

"We are," I agree. "It's part of who we are. Whatever happens to us, we always find a way to pull it together in the end."

"It's like magic."

"You're like magic."

She just shakes her head, and then kisses me again. I fall back against the blanket, and she leans over me, her lips on my skin and my fingers in her hair. We're supposed to talk, but I can see the merit in postponing that particular activity. We have a busy week ahead of us, and how could I ever say no to Quinn Fabray, really?

When the sun starts to set, Quinn takes out the food and we enjoy a light dinner, chatting lightly and laughing freely. She packs up afterwards and, instead of heading home, we go shopping for sheet music. I'm surprised the store is still open or that Quinn even knows it is.

"Anything you want," she says. "It's on me."

I giggle. "Do you know how dangerous it is to say that to me?"

"I've budgeted for it," she murmurs, smiling knowingly as she sets me free to browse.

I'm still looking for that elusive song, and I reason the chances of finding it have increased dramatically because Quinn is with me, but she isn't even looking with me. She's standing in the aisle opposite me, sifting through the music slowly and decidedly not paying attention to me. Which gives me the opportunity to bring up the one thing I've been putting off, in an attempt not to add to the tumultuous week we've already had.

"So, we want to visit NYADA's campus over Spring Break," I say, idly sifting through the sheet music in front of me. Quinn doesn't respond; just arches an eyebrow to acknowledge the words I've said. "I haven't been to New York with my dads in a few years, and I really want to spend some time getting reacquainted with my potential future home city." I grin at her. "With you."

Her movements still, and she turns to face me properly. "What?"

"I want you to come to New York with us," I say, being clear and direct. I'm not even asking her. She should know by now that she doesn't have much of a choice. Or, any at all. She's coming with us, no matter what. Because, truly, I wouldn't want to leave her here, and I want her with me, always. I would miss her too much, and I want to experience New York with her. The Big Apple. Just the thought of getting to be with Quinn in New York excites me.

"Rachel," she breathes, and I just know what's coming.

"Don't," I say, keeping my eyes on her. "I wouldn't ask you to come with us if my dads and I hadn't already talked about it and made the decision together."

She arches an eyebrow. "But you're not actually asking, are you?"

I shake my head. "I want you with me," I say; "don't you want to come with us?"

"Don't do that," she says, rolling her eyes. "We both know it's not that. I just - shouldn't this be about you and your fathers? I don't want to impose, Berry, and I'm pretty certain you're bound to get sick of having me around so much."

"Quinn Fabray," I snap. "Don't you dare say such a thing!"

She presses her lips together, sufficiently chastised.

I move around the sheet music to where she's standing and position myself close enough to be suspicious. I suddenly don't care. "Baby, look at me," I whisper, and she does, her eyes shining. "What's bothering you?"

Her eyes drift over my face. "How long have you been planning this trip to New York?" she asks.

I falter. "Uh... Since I applied to NYADA."

"Which was before we started this whole thing, right?"

I nod.

"Which means that you're changing your plans for me, and that... makes me uncomfortable," she confesses. "I feel as if I've monopolised enough of your life, and I - "

I slip my hand into hers. "What if I told you the only thing that would change about our trip if you came is that we'll probably have to buy bacon?"

She raises her eyebrows in question.

"I'm getting my own room anyway, so you'll just sleep with me," I tell her, ignoring just what those words could mean. "We're driving, so it's not as if you're an extra plane ticket or anything. We want your company, Quinn, and I like the idea of your seeing where I'll potentially live. It's important to me, so I'm asking now. Will you please come with us, so I can kiss you in Times Square and hold your hand on Broadway and dance with you in the streets, shouting out to people who don't care that I am so hopelessly and unconditionally in love with you?"

Her breath hitches.

"Say yes."

"Yes."

I beam at her, just managing to resist the urge to rise up and kiss her soundly. She notices, and a grin takes over her face. I sigh. "I really want to kiss you right now," I tell her, somewhat unnecessarily.

She doesn't look away. "We should go home," she says.

"We should."

Quinn is calmer than I am as she pays for the sheet music, and as we make our way to her car. She opens the door for me, and I can't resist brushing my body against her as I climb in. She exhales slowly, shoots me a heated look, and then closes the door. I watch her take a calming breath before she walks around the car and gets into the driver's side. It's moot, though, because, as soon as she's settled, I start to touch. Unashamedly. I run my hands along her thighs, over her abdomen, and try not to distract her too much. She is driving, after all. I just - I can't resist. She halfheartedly tries to swat my hands away, but the darkening of her hazel eyes tells me she's definitely not serious about it.

When she pulls into my driveway, we're orderly and steady as we make our way to the house. I unlock the front door, my mind already wandering to the very idea of Quinn and her hands and her mouth and her body pressed against mine. I get flushed just thinking about it, and I'm literally buzzing. I want nothing more than to take her up to my bedroom and -

"Rachel, Sweetheart, is that you?"

I groan audibly, and Quinn and I exchange a look. She looks equal parts annoyed and amused, but I'm just annoyed. Quinn just kisses my cheek, chuckles lightly, and then walks into the living room to greet my dads. I spend a moment schooling my features, so I don't look irritated at the fact my dads are home to throw a spanner into Quinn's and my impromptu plans to make out and... do other things.

When I enter the living room, I paste a smile on my face and move to sit right beside Quinn, tucking myself into her side as I greet my dads with such false cheer that makes Quinn actually laugh at me. My dads look a little perplexed, but Quinn appeases them with questions about their day at the farmer's market, and their subsequent afternoon date. My Daddy starts to tell Quinn about the student art gallery they visited, while my Dad just complains about the deterioration of art through all these modern influences. My girlfriend listens intently, even as she takes my hand in both of hers and plays with my fingers. She traces the lines of my palms, her fingertips gentle and purposeful as they slide through the ridges, and it does wonders to ease my irritation with her for engaging my dads instead of trying to make an escape.

"No, really," my Dad continues. "Modern art... some of it scares me."

Quinn frowns. "Why?"

"I don't know what it is, but there were some pieces that were just... disturbing."

"In what sense?"

I growl deep in my throat, and Quinn gives me a curious look. Why is she still engaging when we could be upstairs doing lots of other things? I sigh. "What do you mean, Dad?" I ask, trying not to get distracted by the movement of Quinn's fingers.

He seems to consider this. "I don't know if it's just because I'm part of the older generation or if the younger one just has no boundaries these days, but a lot of the art pieces were graphic," he explains. "About women, about sex, and about violence."

I sit up straight when I note the severity in my Dad's tone. "Dad?"

He takes a breath. "It was eye-opening," he says quietly. "And frightening."

Quinn glances at me before she turns back to him. "Hiram, what's wrong?"

"We just worry," he says. "The way this world views women and girls... it's not... good. And, as fathers, it's worrying." He leans back in his seat. "Of course, this worry is nothing new for us, but it's manifesting right now because you two are about to leave home and face the real world and I just... worry."

"We both do," my Daddy adds.

Quinn's hands grow still and her body tenses.

"We hear stories about college these days," my Dad continues. "We know about the difficulties of peer pressure and the experiences of college parties, but we are boys, and it's different. It shouldn't be - we're trying to be a part of the feminist movement - but the reality is that boys and girls are very different. And now you're... two girls... and you have to take care of each other, and..." he trails off, his voice catching.

I look at my Daddy, asking him the silent question.

"We had an encounter at the gallery," he explains. "It's brought up some of his - our - fears... for the two of you, out there, in the big, bad, scary world."

Quinn's fingers squeeze mine.

"There are dangers in this world that you are protected from when you're here with us," my Dad says. "You're safe here, and I suppose I've just been feeling a little helpless thinking about the two of you having to face the world without us around when you graduate." He wipes at his eyes. "The world can be ugly, and I worry we haven't prepared you enough for what's coming."

I swallow audibly, and Quinn's grip tightens. I don't even think she's realised she's done it.

"There are cruel people in this world," he says. "Whether from ignorance or deep-seeded hate, and today I realised I won't always be able to protect you from it."

Quinn shifts uncomfortably, and I can tell she's remembering our talk from last night. She knows unexplainable hatred and cruelty. I want nothing more than to wrap my arms around her and hold her until all of the world finds peace. I'd be holding her forever.

"People will look at your bodies, and they will look at your choices and try to undermine you," my Dad says. "They'll try to tell you who you are, which is why it's important that you already know. People will try to tear you down because you're both beautiful, strong and independent women, and it's important you hold onto your strengths and your beliefs. They will try to break you, through hateful words and actions, through violence and degradation, but you just have to remain true to yourselves and who you are. Every day, you remain true, and this world won't touch you."

Quinn is trembling beside me. I want to tell my Dad to stop talking, but I have no explanation. Quinn and I didn't discuss it explicitly, but I'm assuming that everything we discussed about her father is to remain between us. Just telling my dads now would upset everyone, and what can we possibly do now anyway? Russell Fabray, hopefully, will remain out of Quinn's life while she finishes up with school, and then we'll look at what happens next.

"Don't let them break you," my Dad finally says, and I reason this has more to do with him than to do with me.

My Daddy slides an arm around his shoulders, and looks at us with kind eyes. "We brought home some cheesecake," he says quietly. "It's in the kitchen."

We take it as our cue to give them a moment, and we both rise to our feet and make our way out of the room. When we're in the kitchen, Quinn wraps her arms around me and we just hold each other, tight enough to hurt. I just - I don't want to have to think about these things. We shouldn't have to. It should be safe for women. It should be simple to be able to love whomever you want. It should be better.

Quinn kisses the top of my head, releasing me. "So, cheesecake, huh?"

We eat in silence, sitting huddled together at the breakfast nook. Her hand rests on my thigh, her fingers drawing idle patterns as she pretends to enjoy the slice of lemon cheesecake we're sharing. I can tell my Dad's words are sitting on her brain - I'm faring no better - but I don't want it to put a dampener on our wonderful weekend. I mean, today was great... which just makes me wonder. While we were hidden in the park, we really weren't paying attention. We kissed freely, but anyone could have stumbled upon us, and who knows what could have happened then?

When we've forced down our dessert, Quinn gets up to do the few dishes, and I follow to help. I know she uses the simple act as a form of therapy - I've never understood it - so it's a bit of relief to see the tension leave her shoulders with every plate she soaps.

"So, I had an idea," Quinn says after a few minutes, and I give her my undivided attention. "All that talk about our physical relationship and this stuff about femininity in general has me thinking about how many times I actually compliment you about your appearance."

I frown in confusion.

She smiles faintly - my smile. "Don't get me wrong, Berry; I love the way you look. I just - I don't want you to think it's the only reason I'm with you, or the only thing I see."

"I don't think that, Quinn."

"And I'd like to keep it that way," she says. "Which is why I've decided to pay you compliments that have nothing to do with your physical appearance."

I blink. "Oh?"

She nods. "Starting right now."

I lean forward in anticipation, just waiting.

"Rachel Berry, you are so empowering," she whispers, and my heart smiles. She meets me halfway and we share the softest of kisses, fully aware that my dads are just in the living room. I'm not against public displays of affection in my own house, but Quinn has always been a little hesitant whenever my dads are in the same room, or even the next one over. It took her a while to be comfortable enough to hold my hand and cuddle with me in front of them. I reason it's to do with her upbringing - as in, she's conservative and not openly affectionate around adults - but she's growing into it.

Like, well, right now.

I pull back from the kiss, only for her to follow, keeping our lips attached. I automatically smile, and she breathes into my mouth, her breath sweet and slightly tangy from our dinner and its subsequent dessert.

"And you are so strong," she says against my mouth, and I kiss her harder. "Everything you are, and everything you're not... you just inspire me to be a better person."

I slip my arms around her neck and slowly draw her tongue into my mouth, feeling bold about stepping this kiss up a notch. I mean, she can't expect to say all those wonderful things to me and not have me react. This way, in particular. When I do let out a moan - she bites my bottom lip, sue me - we're forced to pull apart, and I'm breathless, my heart hammering against my ribcage. Honestly, it's as if I forget the world exists whenever I'm in her arms. Which, in hindsight, might not always be such a good thing but, right now, I'm not complaining.

Even though we're not kissing, I stay in her arms for a while, just breathing her breath and smiling foolishly. This weekend has been monumental for us, and I don't want it to end. I don't want her to leave tonight and have us return to school as if nothing's changed. Because so much has. I can't pinpoint what exactly - besides the obvious physical aspect - but I'm just going to enjoy it. I want to.

Eventually, Quinn returns to the dishes and, once she's done, she heads upstairs to my bedroom and starts gathering her things as if she's about to leave.

"Uh, what are you doing?" I ask.

She looks at me, a little confused. "I'm going to my house," she says. "Why?"

I frown. "I thought - " I start. "I thought we were going to, you know?"

She raises her eyebrows. "I... don't know, actually," she says.

"Quinn."

"Rachel."

I move to stand right in front of her. "If you expect to leave this house without my having my dirty way with you, then you are severely mistaken."

She lets out an unexpected laugh. "Is that right, huh?"

"It is, yes."

"With your fathers right there?"

"They're downstairs."

"Think you can be quiet?"

"I'll try."

She shakes her head. "Rachel?"

"Baby?"

"As much as I want to, I don't think I can," she confesses, dropping her gaze and fidgeting nervously. "If we were alone, and if - " she stops. "Look, I just don't think I can... I'm sorry."

"Don't be," I immediately say, reaching for one of her fidgeting hands. "Please. You don't have to explain yourself to me. If you're not comfortable, then you're not comfortable, and I won't push you to do anything you don't want to do. I hope you know that."

"I do," she says, quickly and without hesitation. Then, she smiles faintly and says, "Is this what our horoscopes were talking about?"

I return her smile, shaking my head. "It's not awkward, baby. We just have to keep communicating."

She steps into my space. "We do," she echoes. "And we have to look after each other."

I lift my hands and fiddle with the buttons of her white shirt, nibbling at my bottom lip. "Does what they said worry you?"

"It does," she admits with a nod. "I like to think I can take care of myself, but this is all new to me. I've never had to protect myself against people's prejudices against my sexuality and, if your fathers are as worried as they are, then I think we should be too. We should be careful, and we should be vigilant. Out there, it isn't just that we're girls; it's also that we like girls."

I blink. "Do you?"

"Do I what?"

"Like girls?"

She frowns. "I thought that was obvious."

"No, Quinn," I say. "I'm asking: do you like girls only, or is it just me, or..." I trail off, unsure what more to ask.

"Are you asking me if I'm gay, or bisexual or whatever it is I am?"

I drop my gaze, but nod anyway.

"Gay," she says, seriously and strongly. "Definitely, gay."

My gaze meets hers. "Aren't you going to ask me?"

"If you want to tell me, you can," she says; "but no, I'm not going to ask."

"Don't you want to know?"

"It doesn't matter to me," she says, her hands on my hips. "As long as it's me you want, it doesn't matter to me. The way I see it, if you are bisexual, it just means more to me that you've chosen to be with me, because there's just so much more for you to choose from, and it's amazing that, out of both sexes, I'm the one person you - "

"Okay," I interrupt. "Easy there, ego maniac." I give her a chaste kiss. "I'm gay."

"Oh?"

I nod. "Definitely."

She chuckles softly, leaning in and brushing her lips over mine. "I'm glad we've cleared that up."

"Me, too."

"We'll face everything as it comes," she assures me. "We'll take it one day at a time."

"Quinn?"

"Little Star."

"I love you."

And, right on cue, she kisses me. Hard. It's practically bruising, and I melt into her body, accepting whatever it is she's comfortable enough to give me. Her hands slide down from my hips, cup my ass and pull me close enough that every bit of my body is pressing against her. My fingers move into her hair, almost automatically, and she deepens the kiss, changing the angle and drawing a deep moan from my chest. She really is very talented, and I have to tell her.

"You really are very good at this," I murmur.

She hums against my neck, her teeth nibbling at the sensitive skin. "You make it easy."

"Are you calling me easy?" I tease, and she pulls back enough to look into my eyes.

"I've never had to work so hard for anybody in my entire life," she says, her hazel eyes dark and serious. "But, every struggle has been worth it, Rachel Berry. Every single one."

Before I can question her at all, she's kissing me again. It's all we do. We just stand in the middle of my carpeted floor, wrapped up in each other's arms and kiss. Truthfully, I could probably kiss her for all of eternity. If I didn't have to eat and sleep and go to school and sing and perform; this is what I would be doing with my life, really.

Eventually, we do pull apart and Quinn resumes gathering her belongings. She doesn't take everything - she never does - just the necessary things, and then I'm walking her downstairs. She says goodnight to my dads, and then we head out to her car together. It's dark outside - the moon's hiding, apparently - which is probably why we're as bold with our goodbye as we are.

She leans against the back door after putting her duffel bag away, her eyes meeting mine. "I know this week wasn't all you wanted, but - "

"It was better," I interrupt.

"It was?"

I nod. "All I've ever wanted was for you to let me all the way in," I confess. "I know it isn't easy for you, so I appreciate everything about this week. Our two-month celebration can be fancy and all that. I'm just glad to have you here with me, talking to me, being with me."

She draws me into a hug, and I lean against her, our bodies pressed together. Our neighbours could see, but I reason Quinn's not thinking about that when she leans down and captures my lips in a slow, steady kiss that makes me want to drag her upstairs to my bedroom. Or... I could just open her backdoor and -

Quinn smiles against my mouth. "Rachel Berry," she murmurs.

"Quinn Fabray," I return, nibbling at her bottom lip.

She sighs contently. "I am so happy you exist."

I peck her lips once, twice, and then pull back to look at her. There's fascination in her eyes, wonder, deep affection and... love.

Quinn's hands tighten at my waist, and she smiles lazily. This must be smile number nine now. She just looks... happy, content, and I know I put it there. "I hope we know each other for forever."

There's no hesitation in my voice when I respond. "We will, Quinn," I say. "This is for forever. I just know it."

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Five

Quinn

be insecure in peace.
allow yourself lowness.
know that it is only a country on the way to who you are.


"I bet, if Britney Spears knew you, 2008 would have definitely gone very differently for her."

Rachel lets out a belly laugh as she turns away from her locker to face me, a bright smile on her face. "Wow," she says, playfully poking me in the ribs. "How long did it take you to come up with that one?"

"Normal people just say thank you when they've been complimented," I grumble.

"Well, I think it's been widely established that I'm decidedly not normal," she says, shrugging slightly. Her smile is so wide, it's blinding. "Honestly, I don't know why you're choosing to date me. I'm neurotic on my best days. What does that say about you?"

I just shake my head. "Good morning to you too, Berry."

She bounces once, and then I get a hug without warning. I automatically wrap my arms around her waist, and we hold each other for a beat too long. She releases me first, and we stare at each other for another one of those beats. "Quinn?"

"Hmm?"

"We have to stop looking at each other like this," she says.

"We really do."

"Someone's going to figure it out if we don't."

I nod in agreement, unable to look away. "They probably will."

"And then what?"

"Who knows?" I say with a shrug.

"You are dangerous."

"And you are the epitome of everything I want in this world."

She gasps at the sound of my words, which is rich coming from the girl who was talking about marriage just yesterday. I did mean what I said. I think I've learned what not to do in a marriage, even though I'm still apprehensive about the entire thing. And plus, aren't the rates of divorce lower in same-sex marriages?

I raise my eyebrows. "Something wrong?"

"No."

"Good."

Her fingers twitch at her sides, and I grin mischievously. "What are you trying to do to me?"

"Nothing," I say, all innocence.

"Why are you like this?"

My smile widens. "I haven't stopped with my compliments, Berry," I tell her. "Really, I'm just getting started."

"It's going to be a long day, isn't it?"

I take a baby step towards her. "One day, I'm going to kiss you in this corridor," I tell her, as if she doesn't already know. I have a bit of a fantasy about it; just sidling up to her, teasing her and making her laugh as we stand at her locker. She'd give me a look, almost daring me, and I would return the look, accepting. I'd slide my hand over the skin of her cheek until it comes to rest at the back of neck. We'd breathe each other in. I'd lean in, uncaring and happy, and we'd kiss. Right here. For everyone to see. They'd all know that Rachel Berry was mine, and I was hers. For forever.

"I'd like to see that happen," she taunts, a steady smile on her face.

"Just you wait."

She swallows audibly, and my eyes are drawn to her throat. "You should go to homeroom now."

"I should," I agree, but I don't move.

"Quinn."

"Rachel."

"I love you."

And that gets me moving. I practically scramble away, darting down the corridor without looking back at her, absently wondering what her facial expression must be. I suspect she's irritated with my avoidance of the words, and I'm trying to do all I can to make sure she knows how I feel about her without actually having to say the words. There's - there's just this mental block associated with those three words leaving my mouth. They're too dangerous, and I will never survive having her leave me after I've given them to her.


During a lull in English Lit., I take out my phone and send a secret text to Rachel from under the desk, knowing she's probably holed up in the library enjoying her free period. One of these days, I'll bunk this lesson just to be able to kiss her between the Stacks. It's another little fantasy of mine, you see.

Quinn: I just texted to let you know that I, Quinn Fabray, would trust you with my passwords.

She replies almost immediately.

Berry: Pay attention.

Berry: And I would trust you with mine. Why are you so stinking cute?

I want to start an entire conversation with her but I resist the temptation. She'll probably just scold me or something, and I'm supposed to be a diligent student. I definitely should be paying attention.

At lunch, we have an impromptu Cheerios practice, during which Brittany, Santana and I run through the final Regional routine with each one of the cheerleaders in painful detail, forward and in reverse. We can't afford to make any mistakes - mainly because we don't want to be murdered by Coach Sylvester, but also because we want to win. And, well, things have to be perfect. We'll be missing school on Thursday to drive out to the middle of nowhere, where the Regional competition is going to be held, and hopefully return to Lima as a Nationals-bound cheer squad.

Rachel wants to come and support us - me, really - and I do want her to... I just don't know how we're supposed to spin that. Unless. I mean, she has plans to recruit other Glee Club members to join her, but I'm not holding my breath. I love her enthusiasm though. Just, her. The practice itself goes well, but I haven't eaten lunch and being asked the origin of 'jazz hands' twelve times has put me in a relatively foul mood.

By the time we're supposed to be meeting for Glee, my head is swimming. I'm a little bit exhausted, really, and I'm sporting a pretty nasty headache. The pop quiz that was sprung on us in Chemistry definitely didn't help either. But then, walking into the choir room, there Rachel is, and I just about manage to forget the great big world.

"Hello, you," she says as soon as she spots me. She's standing at the piano, absently shuffling through sheet music, and it's how I've always seen her: perfect and happy with her music. She's simple in that regard, really, which is something I desperately love about her.

"Hi," I say, walking towards her. "What are you doing?"

She shrugs slightly. "I put together three separate, potential setlists," she says; "all of which will probably get shot down by Kurt, Mercedes or Mr Schue. Or all of them."

I smile in sympathy. "They might surprise you."

She rolls her eyes.

"I'm serious," I press, standing unnaturally close to her. "Your ideas matter."

She looks at me as if she's never seen me before. "Quinn," she breathes.

"And, we all know you have great taste in - " I continue, but she interrupts me.

"Girls."

I grin stupidly. "That too, yes, but I meant to say music. I'm sure there's something to be found in those setlists and I, for one, can't wait to get started."

"At least someone is on board with my urgency," she mutters. "I mean, we're performing on Saturday, Quinn. Saturday. Why is nobody else freaking out about this? As Captain - "

"Co-Captain," I remind her.

"Oh, please," she says with a wave of her hand. "Finn is an opportunist. I am a builder, specialist and innovator."

Really, she makes it so difficult not to kiss her after every sentence she says. "Indeed, you are the very backbone of this here establishment," I tell her.

"As long as you know," she says with an air of finality. "But, seriously, Finn and I haven't really been seeing eye-to-eye lately."

I blink. "Oh?"

"Ever since we found you two in the sick bay after you fainted," she confesses. "It's not as if we're actually fighting. We're just not talking. I don't know what it is, or even how to explain it."

I take a breath. "Maybe he knows what's going on between us, without actually knowing," I offer. "Like, in the very back of his mind, he knows - "

"He's been replaced by me," she finishes.

"No," I immediately say. "There are no replacements here, okay? Finn will always be important to me," I tell her. "I mean, he's Beth's father, but his and my relationship was nothing like ours is."

"Because I'm a girl?"

"On the surface, no," I say. "But, deep down, maybe it does make all the difference, because I've never felt this way about anyone before. I've never been so open and true and real, and I've never felt so safe and taken care of. All of that is to do with you, Rachel, and who you are."

She regards me for a moment. "Why do you keep saying things that make me want to kiss you?"

"Because I like being kissed," I offer, smiling mischievously and taking a much-needed step back. She's dangerously intoxicating up close. "So, I have something for you," I start, removing a strip of paper from the inside pocket of my Cheerios skirt. "At first, I actually considered writing you something, but then decided against it."

"Why?" she asks, pouting. "I love reading your words."

"I didn't want to embarrass myself," I confess, which is partly a lie. I could probably write something she would appreciate.

"We both know I would have loved it regardless," she assures me, and I smile knowingly.

"But I found something for you," I say. "It's a poem called the guest by Robert Berold, and I found it when Flo and I were going through her poetry book on Saturday." I don't know why, but I feel a little embarrassed as I slide the piece of paper towards her. I rewrote it, because she's a sucker for my handwriting, I've learnt.

 

the guest

Robert Berold (1948 - )

I invited you to my house
you came in and you opened
a door into a room I never knew
you were a perfect guest
bringing only - your self
leaving only - your radiance
now I awake in bird dawn
bright with dew and spiderwebs
to write to you

 

Rachel is smiling widely when she looks at me again, her eyes shining. "Baby, this is wonderful," she says. "Am I to assume the house is a metaphor for your heart?"

I nod. "Yes, you are."

"Well, you know how much I love metaphors." She kisses me gently, after a quick look around to make sure nobody is approaching the still-empty choir room. "Thank you."

I notice the way she traps her bottom lip between her teeth. "What?" I ask. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong," she says. "I just... well, would you?"

"Would I what?"

"Write something for me."

I blink, frowning slightly. "Like, a poem?"

"Anything."

"Wait. You want me to write something for you?"

She nods.

I suppose, this is my moment. Rachel says she wants to know me - all of me - and this is my opportunity to let her. I nervously run a hand over my hair, smoothing it down unnecessarily. There isn't a single strand out of place. "Do you think you can come over to my house tonight?"

She looks surprised by my request. "Okay...?"

"I just - I have something I'd like to show you."

"A surprise?"

I swallow nervously. "Uh, yeah, you could say that."

She frowns. "Quinn?"

"Are you sure you want to know all of me?" I ask, needing us both to be sure, because this'll be one Pandora's Box we won't be able to close once it's opened.

"I'm in this," she assures me. "Two feet and whole-body. I want all of you."

"And I want to give it to you."

"This is turning sexual."

"That, too."

She rises up as if to kiss me again, but the choir room door suddenly opens and Puck rolls Artie into the room, followed by everybody else. I take a step back from Rachel. It'd draw too much attention to spring apart or even look guilty about how close we were standing. Santana does throw us a knowing look when she sees us, though, and I roll my eyes as Rachel blushes.

"Does she know?" Rachel whispers to me.

"Hmm?"

"Santana? Does she know that we..." she trails off.

I drop the volume of my voice to barely a whisper. "Brought each other to orgasm. Four times."

Her face is flaming red now. "Quinn!"

I laugh because I can't help it. "And, no, she doesn't know," I assure her. "Though, she does think we're already having sex, so it probably doesn't matter what I do and don't tell her." I tilt my head to the side. "If there are things you don't want me to tell her; just let me know, okay? This is our relationship, and I'll respect your body just as I expect you to respect mine."

She blinks. "There you go again, saying things that make me what to kiss you," she mutters under her breath.

I shake my head, absently wondering how I ended up this lucky in life and love. Just a few months ago, everything felt hopeless, but now the world is brighter, and I have so much to look forward to. "I wish there was some way for me to explain to you just how happy you make me."

"Well, you could sing a duet with me," she grumbles, and I poke her in the ribs. She squeaks and shoots me a playfully indignant look. "Why are you so mean to me?"

"I told you all you have to do is ask," I remind her. "But you're almost as stubborn as I am, which means you're going to have to find a way to beat me at Scrabble, or we're going to graduate from this hellhole without our voices having beautifully meshed together for all to see."

She sighs. "Sometimes, you know, you catch me off guard with the number of words you actually can say."

"And rather choose not to," I add. "You could learn a thing or two from me."

This time, she pokes me in the ribs, and I shrink back. "Go and sit down," she says, indignant. "Timeout for Quinn Fabray."

I wink at her but, ultimately, do move to sit down in my usual seat, leaving Rachel's open. Santana and Brittany are engrossed in each other as we all sit and wait for Mr Schuester to grace us with his presence. He's habitually late and, if Rachel wasn't so cute when she quietly fumes, I'd be more irritated by it. But, alas, my girlfriend is stupidly adorable as she huffs and stomps her foot while glancing at the clock on the wall every few minutes.

Mr Schuester arrives twenty minutes after the scheduled time and immediately apologises. I don't hear his excuse, because my eyes are on Rachel. It looks as if it physically hurts her to show restraint and refrain from breaking into Mr Schuester's unnecessary monologue about the theme for Regionals. We've known it's Inspiration for weeks now.

I'd probably just sing songs about Rachel Berry. Ha.

"So, any ideas, guys?" Mr Schuester asks, and one two three: commence with the bloodshed.

I'm fully aware of Rachel's ability to defend herself and her ideas, but I always think about the time she told me she considered giving up on her dream of New York and Broadway... in this very room. She stands by her convictions, and I've always admired the fight in her. But, I suppose, it can be tiring - even to watch.

Santana leans towards me. "Hey, girlfriend-of-the-year, are you planning on doing something to end this fucking bloodbath?"

I swallow, contemplating what I can do. The point is Rachel's song choices work. Each setlist is sonically cohesive, and the arrangements work well to show off the strongest voices in our little club. What is the problem, apparently, is that the club believes her arrangement is solely to show off her voice, which, admittedly, it probably is. I mean, she has the best voice - it'd be stupid not to show it off. Even as Kurt, Mercedes and Tina shoot arguments at Rachel, Mr Schuester says nothing. I glance at Finn, who looks apathetic at best.

So, well, I suppose I have to do something... if nobody else will. "Okay," I say, rising to my feet. I slip some commanding HBIC into my tone, and they all fall silent. "Let's just take a moment," I say, refusing to look at Rachel. "In exactly five days, we have to get on a stage and perform three songs. Three songs. A solo. An accompanied duet, and a group number. Taking the initiative, Rachel found us doable songs and, while arrangements might be questionable right now, can we at least decide on the songs? Who sings what can be discussed when we know what we're singing because, really, this is all a little ridiculous. Five days, people. As Cheerios, we've known our routine for Regionals for weeks now."

Every eye is on me, but I don't shrink away from them. By now, I'm used to being stared at for whatever reason.

"I agree with Quinn," Finn suddenly says, and I bristle at the nerve of him.

"Way to take the initiative, Finnept," Santana comments. "Where were you five minutes ago?"

Finn just scowls at her.

I clear my throat. "Can we do that?" I ask, but it sure as hell isn't a question. "Let's first decide on songs, and then we can fight it out for parts." I look at Rachel. "Or maybe our teacher might decide to be a little authoritarian, instead of allowing teenagers to make such big decisions based on their egos and raging hormones?" It's a jab at Mr Schuester, enough to jerk him into motion.

"Let's pick songs then," he says, and I resume my seat.

Santana looks at me. "Just when I thought you were growing soft."

"Shut up," I murmur, but I can't help the slight upturn of the sides of my mouth. When I look at Rachel, she's got a look on her face that I've never seen before. It makes me a little uneasy, but there's nothing I can say or do about it right now.

Somehow, by some miracle, we manage to decide on two songs. Rachel is singing the solo - as if it were ever in question - and she does her best not to do a happy dance in front of everyone. We're still looking for a a group number that will showcase everyone's talents, but the accompanied duet has been altered to shine a spotlight on the other females in the group. Santana lets out a finally, and Mercedes just huffs. I really don't understand what her problem is. Nobody sees me complaining.

By the time Mr Schuester dismisses us, we have the necessary sheet music, and a lot to think about. Santana, Brittany and I have another Cheerios practice, but I hang back to talk to Rachel, mainly to address that unrecognisable look I saw in her eyes just after I sat down from my little monologue in her disguised honour. Truthfully, I'm a little nervous about it. I mean, I don't think I did a bad thing, but what if she didn't want me to stand up for her? Even though, technically, to everyone else, I didn't. Only three other people even know that I would.

So, yes, I'm nervous as I approach her at the piano, her back to me. The choir room is empty of the two of us, and the great big world has shrunk down to this moment right here. "Rachel," I breathe.

She doesn't turn to look at me. "Quinn," she says, and she sounds serious and unassuming. "As much as I appreciate what you did today, I don't need you to defend me," she says, and I hold my breath. "I need you to understand that I don't need it."

"Okay," I murmur.

She turns to face me, and we're standing much too close to each other. "I don't need it, but, God, thank you. Thank you for believing in me enough and choosing to say something because - " she stops, sounding defeated. "It's exhausting."

"It is," I agree.

"So, Quinn Fabray, my hero, thank you."

I smile at her, relieved. "You're very welcome."

Her gaze meets mine, blazing. "And, you know, your standing up for me that way... it's really fucking sexy."

My eyes widen. "Rachel!"

"Yes, baby?"

I shake my head, and then she's kissing me and I'm kissing her and this is so dangerous. But her tongue is in my mouth, sliding over mine, and her hands are on my thighs, and I'm stepping forward to push her against the piano. Jesus. She's clutching at me. This kiss is desperate and raw, full of unbridled lust and, if I don't pull away now, we're going to end up doing things we really shouldn't be doing at school. She lets out a cute whimper when I manage to extricate myself from her grasp - those fingers were really digging into my skin.

I take an overly large step away from her. "And you say I'm the dangerous one," I mutter good-naturedly as I straighten out my uniform. She's managed to do quite some damage to my Head Cheerio perfection. My hair must be a mess, and I immediately start to fix it. I'm aware of Rachel stepping towards me, and I take another step back. "No," I say. "I have somewhere to be right now."

"But, baby," she pouts.

Jesus. She knows I can't resist her pout. "Later, okay?"

"In your house?"

I grin at her. "We'll definitely give my mother something to think about," I say.

She reaches for my hand and squeezes my fingers. "Later, then," she says. "Just text me when you're done with practice, and I'll come over, okay?"

I just nod, kiss her cheek, and then leave. I feel a little flustered, and Santana's leering when I do finally make it to the gym doesn't help with the heat that's taken permanent residence in my body. Whatever. We have a routine to run through. The first time we perform, after proper stretching and a little pow wow, there are two stumbles. Adrienne trips over her feet and Marissa misses a cue, but it isn't a train smash. To us, at least. Coach Sylvester makes us watch it back twice, noting all the lazy moments. We have to be crisp and sharp and in perfect synchrony. We have to be perfect.

Coach Sylvester makes us to it until it is perfect. We have today, tomorrow and a light training session and final run-throughs on Wednesday before the main event and, admittedly, I'm a little nervous. We've made it to Nationals every year I've been a Cheerio - my sophomore year is the only year they didn't win, and Coach Sylvester knows it's because I was growing a human being - and I sure as hell don't want to graduate as the Head Cheerleader who failed to bring it home. That would just be heartbreaking and I don't think I'd ever live it down.

Well, way to put all that extra pressure on yourself, Quinn Fabray.

I'm tired, but not desperately exhausted, by the time I head to my house. I text Rachel as I pull into the driveway, and she returns that she's just finishing up with her homework, so she'll see me when I'm done with my shower. And she's bringing me dinner. Gosh, she's just so lovely.

I go up to my bedroom as soon as I enter the house, strip and step into the shower. I would have showered at school but I generally just hurry up the rest of the squad and clean up and pack away the equipment. It's better this way. There are - there are scars people aren't supposed to see, and I'd like to keep it that way. I'm just lucky Rachel's mind was clouded with lust the last time I was stripped down to my panties to notice how deep and protruding some of the marks on my back actually are.

When I get out, Rachel still hasn't arrived, which gives me the opportunity to get dressed and prepare for what I have to tell her. It's not that I'm nervous - I doubt she'll be angry or mad or anything - but I am feeling some sense of anxiety. I haven't shown these to anyone, and I sure as hell haven't let anyone in far enough to interact with them. It's a big step for me. I spread them out on my desk, and then go downstairs.

I'm in the kitchen, nibbling on a cucumber stick, when Rachel Berry arrives. She doesn't even pause as she walks straight into my arms, wraps her own around my waist and presses her lips against my neck. She's warm and soft and solid and I don't know how my life ever had any meaning when she wasn't my number one. Well, number two, because I'm apparently my number one. Sure, I am.

"I missed you," Rachel breathes against my skin.

"I saw you a few hours ago," I point out.

"I still missed you."

I kiss her hair. "What did you bring for me?"

She chuckles, pulling away from me. "Oh, I see how it is. All you want is food."

I nod. "Food first, and then I'll eat you."

Her eyes widen, and I grin in mischief. Gosh, she's so easy sometimes. "Can I just say that licking the length of your body is all I've been thinking about all day?"

I swallow. "Oh?"

"Oh, Fabray."

"Well, we'd better feed me, so we can use our mouths for other things."

"I think that's the smartest thing you've said all day."

I shrug, and she busies herself with removing the food containers that LeRoy sent with her from a cooler. My mouth is already watering in anticipation, the smells filling my senses. I retrieve a plate from one of the kitchen cupboards and Rachel dishes out a generous amount for me. We sit in the living room while I eat, her side pressed to mine on the couch, and her hands doing all she can to distract me from the wonder that is LeRoy's vegetable lasagna and roasted peppers.

"Remember that thing I mentioned earlier," I say when I've swallowed my last bite of heaven.

She nods, her eyes darting about. "Is it something I should be worried about?"

"No," I assure her. "It's just something about me that not many people know."

"Who does?"

"Santana. Sort of," I tell her; "and some strangers I've never really met face-to-face." At her frown, I elaborate: "Online."

"Oh."

"It's good to get feedback sometimes."

She frowns in confusion.

"It'll all make sense in a little while," I tell her as I rise to my feet and go to the kitchen. I wash my few dishes and put them away before putting the now-cooled food into the fridge. I'll take some to school to eat at lunch. I might even have some for breakfast... though, Coach Sylvester would probably burst an aneurysm if she ever knew how much pasta I've just consumed.

Rachel is sitting perfectly still when I return to the living room. I lift the TV remote, press the power button and plunge us into silence. I take hold of her hand, pull her up and lead the way to my bedroom. She doesn't look as if she's going to be spending the night, so I figure we have only so much time to get through what I have to tell her, as well as the later. Though, for all I know, she could run out of here in the next few minutes, but hey.

My hands are shaking when we enter my bedroom. "So, I want to show you something," I say, leading the way across my carpet to my desk. On its top, I've laid out the piles of notebooks I've accumulated over the years. They're usually hidden and locked away in a small chest I have at the bottom of my closet. It's too dangerous to have them out in the open with my mother around. And now, with my father doing whatever he's doing with my mother; this house is less safe. For my belongings, and for my being.

Rachel grows quiet when she sees them, sticking out like a sore thumb in my otherwise pristine room.

"Quinn?" she whispers, suddenly unsure.

"Hmm?"

"What are these?" she asks.

I step closer to her, my hands still trembling. "They're notebooks, Rachel," I explain. "I - write." I place a hand on the small of her back. "I started writing limericks when I was in sixth grade, just because I was bored, and all that Brangelina stuff was going on. I will forever be Team Aniston, by the way."

She looks at me with the smallest of smiles.

"But, well, it kind of grew from there," I explain. "Limericks became poems, which turned into essays and then short stories. I started writing my first fictional story when I was fourteen, and it took forever. I was convinced I would never finish it."

She blinks. "But you did?"

"Barely," I say, smiling at the memory. "I more or less took what I'd already written and injected it into an entirely new story, which I did eventually finish the summer after I turned fifteen. It was... before Beth. It's the last thing I truly wrote that wasn't, well, mature."

"What do you mean?"

"I suppose, with the loss of my faith, I started to write about darker things. Pain and hurt and loss and death. It might have been a manifestation of what happened with my father, but then I started to feel hopeless and lost and it translated into my words. The romance of life was gone and, it turns out, people can relate to pain. It's a sad truth of our world."

"It is," she agrees.

"I write to help myself deal with... life. A lot of words have gone into dealing with Beth and the homelessness. I used it to help me come to terms with the end of my relationship with Finn, and the start of my relationship with you. It's seen me through the hefty realisation that I am, in fact, gay and that I will probably end up with a woman. With... you." I swallow. "Lately, I've written a lot about you and how I feel about you, and how the world suddenly makes so much more sense to me, now that you're the brightest shining star in mine." I don't know what more to say, and she looks stumped as well.

"Why have you never told me this before?" she asks, and she's more curious than anything.

I expected this question. "It's - it's such a personal thing to me," I confess. "These are my deepest and darkest thoughts, Rachel, and I've always kept them locked up and hidden, afraid that, if people knew, they would look at me differently. They would - they'd see the real me." I lick my lips. "But I want you to know me. I want you to be the one person in this world who gets to see me, and I realise how fucking terrifying that must sound for you, but this is my way of letting you into all of me the only way I know how."

She regards me for a moment, before she takes a step towards my desk. "Can I?"

I nod, even though all I want to do is grab all my notebooks and hide them away again. It's a struggle to see her reach out, her fingers hesitant as she runs them over the hardbacks. They're numbered and dated. I've kept every one and, knowing her, she'll want to start at the very beginning. I suppose that gives me some time before she gets to the Rachel-oriented ones. I've written a lot about the strength of her arms and her character, and the kindness of her hands and her soul. I've written about her physical beauty and the allure of her heart. I've scribbled lines and lines about the endlessness of her chestnut browns and the eternity of her dazzling smile. I have dedicated pages to the wit of her tongue and the purpose of her fingers. I have loved her on paper for much longer than I have acknowledged there is love.

She'll read it all, and then she'll know. I love her. I am so desperately in love with her that the very essence of myself doesn't exist without her. It's frightening and enlightening, and she does make me want to be better. Every day, without even having to say or do anything, she makes me strive to be better, and I love her even more for it.

Rachel picks up the notebook marked '1' in my little girl handwriting. I was still Lucy back then, a girl with dreams beyond the suffocating pain of my childhood home. Back then, I wrote to escape it all, in search of anything and everything, because it had to be better than a belt-buckle-yielding father and an uncaring, alcoholic mother. I watch her open to the first page, read a few lines, and then close it. She turns to me.

"I want to read them all," she says. "Just, not with you standing right there, watching me. I think we'll both be a little unnerved with the whole process."

I'm inclined to agree with her. "Would you like to take them home?" I offer.

"Maybe just a few at a time," she says with a nod. "I assume you're anxious just having them out in the open like this, so I can only imagine what it'll be like to have your precious words out of sight and out of mind."

I breathe out. "Thank you."

"No, Quinn, thank you," she murmurs, and pecks my cheek. "I didn't even know. I mean, you're obviously talented academically, but this is an entirely different side to you, and I find myself more in awe of you every single day."

"Rachel, you don't even know if I'm good at it or not."

"It barely matters to me," she dismisses. "They're your words, and that means the world to me. The fact that you're trusting me enough to share them with me is just amazing, and I promise to treasure them and look after them, and look after you in them."

I move to stand in front of her, suddenly overwhelmed with her kindness and affection. "I know I've been hesitant, and I know it's been like trying to get water out of a rock for you, but I'm ready and willing now. The biggest lesson I've learned this year is that no one is really your friend or truly loves you until they've seen every dark shadow inside of you and stayed," I say, and her eyes bore into me. "There's more to me - stuff I don't even know how to say - but you still choose me. Why?"

"Because I love you, Quinn," she says, and I drop my gaze. "No, look at me," she says, and I do. "Listen to me. I choose you, every single day, with all your perfections and all your flaws, because I can't imagine a life without you. Even when we were just tentative friends, and then best friends, just, a life without you already frightened me, and it's even worse now, because we are together, and I want all of you. I told you I want to build something with you. Build a life, of which to be proud and with which to be happy. I mean, choosing you right now, I'm choosing a parenting partner, my eating and travel companion, my primary leisure time and retirement friend, my career therapist, and someone whose day I'll always want to hear about."

I blink. "That sounds intense."

"It is, and I am," she says. "What I feel for you and our future, it is intense and, yes, I'm terrified of it, but I'm right here. I'm right here, and I want to know it all. I want you to be those things for me as much as I want to be those things for you."

We stare at each other for the longest moment, the weight of this moment settling in the air between us, before we're kissing. It's slower than earlier in the choir room. This kiss is deep and meaningful, and it feels as if she's reaching further and further into the depths of my soul with every stroke of her truly talented tongue. Her fingers trace the back of my neck, gentle and possessive, and my hands slide under her top to caress the smooth skin of her back. It's a kiss of promise; a kiss of a mutual future, and a kiss of forever.

Until it just isn't.

Maybe it's the moan she lets out, but a switch flips and we're suddenly - and ineffectively - grabbing for each other. We tug at clothes, and then scrape at skin. Somehow, by some miracle, we manage not to injure ourselves as we move to my bed and I get her underneath me. Her hands are doing things. All sorts of things, touching skin and unclasping my bra. She kisses my collarbone, and then trails her lips further down until they're on my breasts, forcing sounds out of me that I didn't even know I could make. God, I hope my mother isn't home. Did I even lock my bedroom door?

My mouth attacks her neck, and I'm marking her today. I don't even care. I want my teeth on and around her skin, sucking it into my mouth and making sure she knows she's mine. All of her is mine. When we're both sufficiently stripped to just our panties, my thigh slides into position between her legs and she gasps at the contact. I let out a guttural moan at the slick heat of her that coats my leg as we slide together in search of total oblivion. My muscles tense, and then her leg is there too, and I wonder how I've gone as long as I have without sex. No, we're waiting. We are waiting.

This helps, and it feels so good.

I tell her, breathing the words against her neck, and she rocks her hips harder, driving into me with each and every thrust. Harder and faster and harder and faster. There are strangled moans deep in her throat, and my tongue goes searching for them. It feels as if it's all happening at once, and my heart is pounding in my chest. It's like she's everywhere; her hands on my hips, in my hair, on my breasts, on my back, thighs and ass. Just, everywhere.

It's when she slides her hands into my panties and squeezes my ass in encouragement that I start to see stars. "God, yes," I hiss, and Rachel presses even harder against me. I'm scrambling to hold on... to something, anything. Everything is out of focus, save for Rachel Berry and her hands and her body moving beneath mine, meeting mine in a panicked rhythm. It's everything. She's everything.

"Oh, Quinn," she breathes into my ear, and I can feel myself losing it. There's just so much heat and so much wet and so many words and sounds and breaths and my mind is screaming at me to let go. I push harder because I want her with me when I fall over the edge. I want her with me always.

Rachel goes first, and she carries me with her, our bodies tensing and arching and shuddering as we fall apart all around each other. It's everything and nothing and I'm trembling, my muscles protesting. I just manage not to collapse on her, as I roll to the side and just breathe.

It's when my breathing has settled and she's drawing simple patterns on my stomach that I realise what this moment is. It's so much bigger than me, and so much bigger than her. Hell, it's bigger than us. She's just accepted everything I've ever told her. Still, after everything, she wants me. Still.

"What are you thinking about?" she asks, her voice a whisper in the dark.

I breathe out, spent and so happy. But. "Sometimes, I just go to dark places," I tell her, just as quietly. "It happens, and I'm powerless to it at times. But, I just want to say that I appreciate how you don't try to change me. I appreciate how you just sit beside me, and hold my hand in the dark."

"Waiting for the sun to rise."

I turn my head to look at her perfect face, still flushed, with her hair fanned out over one of my pillows. She's so beautiful; it actually hurts my eyes sometimes. "Because that's an absolute, isn't it?"

She hums.

"It doesn't matter what happens in our lives, or the lives of our friends and family... the sun will rise, with or without us."

She presses a kiss to my bare shoulder. "All I know is my world will be eternally dark if I'm ever without you," she murmurs, and my heart jolts in both excitement and fear.

I swallow nervously, anticipating her next words. Which is why, before she can speak, I roll onto her and swallow the words right from her mouth.

This is how I tell her I love her.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Six

Rachel

be softer with you.
you are a breathing thing.
a memory to someone.
a home to a life.


When Quinn falls asleep, I stay for a while. I love watching her sleep, all gentle features and peaceful lines. There's no tension in her body when she sleeps like this, pure and trusting in my presence. I don't even know if she locked the bedroom door, but I fantasise about her trusting me enough to protect her. Still, I know I should go, but just looking at her is making that difficult. This moment, whatever it is, is important for us... in our relationship, but also in our lives. She loves me. I know it, but I can't shake the need for her to tell me.

I duck my head and kiss the corner of her mouth, unable to resist. I kiss her cheek and then her eyelid, and I trail my lips over her sculpted eyebrow. She doesn't stir, and she's perfect. Everything about her is perfect, even the things that aren't. I run a hand over her mussed hair, loving how smooth it feels under my fingers.

"Quinn," I whisper, but she says nothing. She's asleep. She's definitely asleep. "I love you. I love you so much. Please, just, love me back."

I slide out of bed, search for my clothes and get dressed. I find a Post-It and scribble a short note to her, telling her I've taken the first eight notebooks, she's distractingly beautiful and I love her. I place it on the pillow I just vacated, collect said notebooks, and then leave her bedroom. I hear sounds coming from further down the corridor. Voices. A man's and a woman's. I tense immediately, and panic, rushing back into Quinn's bedroom to shake her awake.

"Baby, you have to get up and lock the door," I tell her, and she grumbles. "Quinn, get up and lock the door." It takes me a few tries but she eventually rolls out of bed and groggily follows me to her bedroom door.

"Don't leave," she whispers, her hands reaching out for me.

"I have to," I whisper back, thwarting her attempts to grab hold of me. "It's getting late. My dads will send a search party."

She nods in agreement with my assessment, kisses my cheek and then lets me leave. I move quickly and quietly through the house, intent on getting out without bumping into either of the Fabray parents. If they happened to arrive after me, then they must know I'm here because of my car. Though, at this point, I'm just assuming the man with Quinn's mother is her father. It could be anyone, for all I know. Still, I'd sleep far better knowing Quinn was safely locked away in her bedroom. I contemplate just taking her with me, but she's half-naked and half-asleep.

When I get home, my dads are still in the living room, one watching TV and the other doing paperwork. I greet them with quick kisses to their cheeks and, if they notice how disheveled I look, they say nothing. I get the feeling they would know if I was having sex, so I don't feel too embarrassed about the idea I was doing something with my girlfriend, alone, in her bedroom. They really give me too much freedom.

Once I'm in my room, I contemplate what to do. After my tryst with Quinn, I think a nice, long shower is in order but I'm hesitant to wash her off me. I still want to smell like her and feel her on my skin. In my veins. I sigh at how absurd that sounds. I go for a shower anyway, just to feel fresh and clean. To surround myself in Quinn's smell, I pull on one of her t-shirts - my closet is her closet, really - and breathe it in. Breathe her in. I brush my teeth and complete my nighttime routine as quickly and calmly as I can. The entire time, I am distinctly aware of certain notebooks perched on my nightstand, just waiting for me.

Admittedly, I feel rather nervous. Quinn and I, we're serious. I mean, we're talking in forevers here and, as frightening as it should be, the fact that I've already accepted it is a little more terrifying. It's just what it is. It's not even profound. It's just a truth that has been spoken, and it scares me far less than whatever I'm about to read in Quinn's notebooks. I'm about to lay eyes on my gorgeous, wonderful, talented girlfriend's words. I take my time getting settled in bed with my lampshade on and my heart pounding. My hands are trembling as I reach for the first notebook and open to the first page.

Quinn's handwriting is different. I mean, of course it's evolved from when she was eleven or twelve, but I can barely recognise it. This is Lucy's handwriting, and it's as if she's an entirely different person. I believed it when Quinn told me about the two people she's been in her life, but this is a strange kind of proof that makes me slightly uncomfortable. An entire other person existed before Quinn.

The notebook, predictably, starts with limericks. Short ones about the strangest things. Toasters and clouds, and puppies and candy floss. The words are... innocent. Fantasy almost, and I recognise a child's attempt to find happiness and positivity in the little things. As innocent as her words are, I can feel the pain of them; the hurt of young Lucy: a girl subjected to the weight of collective and perceived expectations... and eventual disappointments. I just want to reach into the pages and put my arms around her, protect her and love her. Somebody had to.

The limericks eventually give way to childish poems about rain and ice hockey. There's still Lucy in the words, strung together in a way that showed immense talent but still required growth. When that all stops, there's a single page of black, vicious lines, haphazardly drawn all over the previously-white canvas. There's no pattern to it and it makes no sense. They're random, and it feels as if they signify the moment Lucy decided to become Quinn. To accept Quinn. Because, the words that follow are equal parts breathtaking and heartbreaking.

Quinn writes about pain in a way that makes me feel it. Even then, so young and raw in her talent, I can feel it. I read her first foray into more mature poetry and I bear witness to how she improves; how practice makes her learn. She explores words and rhyme and colours and rhythm. She attempts to write a sonnet - we're approaching Finn territory, I believe - and I can't help my smile when she declares it a futile endeavour. The structure is too confining, and she likes the freedom to write what's in her heart.

I go through the notebooks at a dangerous speed, reading through her words in an attempt to learn all I can about the girl I've fallen in love with in such a deep and profound way. I cry when I read her thoughts about her pregnancy; about how alone she felt. The tears fall, blinding me slightly, and I'm tempted to get back into my car, drive back to her house and crawl right back into bed with her. Just to hold her. I reckon I need it more than she does at this point in time. I should have seen it. I should have tried to help.

Her words about her loss of faith resonate something deep within me. Even though I consider myself half-Jewish - it's a banner to wear, whether you practice the religion or not - I haven't always been particularly religious. I've been curious, yes, and I've learned about several religions in their entireties, possibly in search of what works for me, but I've never carried any sort of faith. Higher powers and all that are something foreign to me, but I do still believe - in something. It's difficult not to, because I'm convinced that someone like Quinn Fabray can't be an accident. Her perfection is a masterpiece, and I'm convinced that God - or whoever - spent just a little extra time making her.

Being privy to her eventual acceptance of the life growing inside of her is eye-opening and enlightening, and it amazes me that a single person - a teenager - could go through so much and not spontaneously combust. I reason the writing must have helped, acting as a way for her to work through all her emotions and feelings, like some form of catharsis. And what's worse is that nobody even knew any of this was happening. She was suffering in a profound way, in complete silence. Always alone.

My heart is aching by the time I read the last word of the eighth notebook. It's already past three o'clock in the morning and I'm still crying. I reach for my phone, knowing Quinn is asleep, and still send a message.

Berry: My heart, Quinn. You are my very heart, and it aches for you. You are so strong and you are so talented, and thank you for sharing yourself with me. Thank you for sharing these parts of you, and allowing me inside. Thank you for trusting me... Will you bring more notebooks for me? I find that I crave more. Of you, and of your words. I love you. I love you. I love you.

I sigh tiredly, close my eyes and dream of a broken girl with tears in her perfect hazel eyes.


My yawn catches me off guard, and I almost dislocate my jaw. I hear a small giggle behind me, and I whip around to look at the object of my affection and person constantly on my mind.

"Tired?" Quinn asks, arching an eyebrow. "You probably shouldn't stay up so late on a school night."

I rub my right eye of sleep. "Shut up."

She smiles faintly, and I feel my misplaced ire melt into I'm so happy to see you right now. "I didn't think you would get through them as quickly as you have," she says.

"Me either," I confess. "But I couldn't stop. And, if I'd taken more than the first eight, I'm pretty sure I would be sleeping against my locker right now."

"When we both know you'd much rather be sleeping against me."

"Exactly."

There's a faint blush on her cheeks, and I step forward to hug her hello, I love you. "So, I've got the next few in my locker," she tells me as we release each other. "I can give them to you now, if you'd like, because I doubt I'm going to see you until tomorrow."

"Oh?" I ask, pouting slightly.

She looks sorry about it. "We're running through the routine at lunch, and then practice after school is probably going to go on for hours... until Sylvester is happy with it, at least... which will probably never happen, so we'll all just end up dying of exhaustion."

I shake my head. "Sounds lovely."

"Just bear with me, today, tomorrow and Thursday, and then you and Glee will have my full attention."

"Don't burn yourself out," I tell her. "Make sure to consume all your calories and stay hydrated."

"I get hourly texts from LeRoy," she informs me, and I can't help my laugh.

"He worries about you."

"And I love him for it."

I blink. Did she just say she loves my Daddy? Out loud?

Quinn reaches behind me to close my locker, and then she links her arm with mine, intent on leading me to her locker to retrieve the next set of notebooks. There are ten of them this time, and I feel a little exhilarated just at the sight of them. I'll have reading material to tide me over while I wait for my cheerleader girlfriend to perfect her already perfect cheer routine.

That I'm going to watch.

I still haven't revealed to her just what I have planned for Thursday, mainly because there's a strong chance all my plans are going to fall through. I intend to bring it up during Glee tomorrow anyway. We should be supporting each other. I mean, we (sometimes) support the boys when they play football or basketball. And, I mean, the cheerleaders support them all the time, so they should be willing to support them back, right?

I spend the day itching to read Quinn's words, but I refrain from doing so at school. I just keep the notebooks securely locked away in my locker, and patiently wait for the final bell to ring, so I can tuck into the soft core of Quinn Fabray. I head straight home, set the notebooks on my nightstand, and then go for my vocal lesson and my dance classes: ballet and modern. I let the music distract me from other thoughts and worries, and instead focus on the rhythm of my steps and the count of the beats. I end up staying later than usual, and get home just as my Daddy is finishing with cooking dinner. I kiss his cheek and rush upstairs to shower, change and check my phone.

Quinn: I sincerely hope you're having a far superior afternoon than I am. We've done this routine fourteen times today, and I think I'll be asleep later and my limbs will still be doing the steps.

Quinn: I think I'm seeing sounds, Berry. Something's wrong with me.

Quinn: B says to tell you she misses you. S is rolling her eyes, and I'd just like to let you know that all our lives are better because of you and everything you are.

Quinn: Also, Q misses you too ;) X

I smile like the idiot I am.

Berry: I hope you're all drinking enough water. I miss B, too! And Santana, sometimes, really. Quinn, baby, I love you and I miss you and I'll call you when you get home. Try not to pass out, PLEASE! You're too pretty to be unconscious.

I set my phone down and hurry downstairs to eat. I tell my dads about my day and about Quinn and I absently discuss the trip to New York. Even though Quinn hasn't explicitly said 'yes' to coming with us, it's widely accepted that she is, whether she feels she's imposing or not. Which she isn't. I'm excited about it, because I really want to be able to hold her hand in the street and walk around without looking over my shoulder or tempering my reactions to the fact she's alive and right beside me. Spring break can't get here fast enough, really.

By the time I make it to bed, it's both early and late, and there's no reply from Quinn. Based on my limited sleep from the previous night, I should be tired, but all I want to do is read, which is what I do. I tell myself I can finish my homework in the morning or during my free period. Right now, I'm sitting in Quinn's brain and feeling the way she dealt with learning to love Beth, and then choosing to give her to someone else to take care of. There are tear stains on the pages, which just makes me cry. It can't have been easy for her to decide, particularly with the prospect of Finn's support and the support of his family but, ultimately, she made the correct decision for all of them at the time.

She's written the words almost a hundred times: I did the right thing. I imagine she carries regrets, but the adoption was open and she gets pictures and phone calls on occasion. Quinn and Finn will always be involved in Beth's life, which means that Finn will always be in Quinn's life, which means that he will always be in mine, because I will always be in Quinn's. Jesus. Isn't that a match made in heaven?

There's a poem, entitled miss you that I know is about Beth, and I read it twice because I wonder where Quinn has hidden all of this emotion; all of this feeling. All that time, I remember her being nothing but completely stoic, terribly put together and painfully passive. It's so difficult to think that she was holding this all inside; that she thought she had to. She's alluded to thinking nobody would understand; that nobody truly cared, and it breaks my heart every time because I did. I just didn't show it.

 

miss you

in my free time, i do the unthinkable.
i do what I know i shouldn't.
it's just too easy, and yet it still hurts
yes, it hurts to miss you.

i think about the gentleness of your presence,
and the ease with which you make life worth it.
for you; i am living to be better.
i miss that feeling of being home, with you.

i remember your stillness and your movement.
your eyes glinted with quiet joy and happiness -
all of which will, now and forever, have
nothing to do with me.

i feel the need to right myself in your eyes,
again, I'm at a loss for words to say to you.
i've made mistakes and wrong choices, but
i am comforted by your pure heart.

they say a very small degree of hope is
sufficient to cause the birth of love. i still wonder
about it. All this hope in my heart – everything i've known.
it's all self-inflicted; all the pain of your forgetting.

even if you're gone now, pushed away for your own
protection; i still know we've always got tomorrow.
now, all i can do is the unthinkable; what i shouldn't:
it still hurts to miss you.

 

Quinn misses Beth in a way that makes me think about my own mother. Sure, we talk at least once a month, but I've never really spoken to Quinn about it, the same way she's never truly discussed Beth with me. It's just never come up for me because Shelby doesn't sit on my brain the same way Beth sits on Quinn's. It makes me wonder what Shelby went through in the beginning; how she dealt with my adoption. I wonder if she struggled as much as Quinn continually does, with guilt and sorrow and regret. I wonder if she questions her decisions as much as Quinn does.

Quinn makes it seem as if she would jump at the opportunity to know Beth, which is something Shelby clearly and vehemently resisted. For years. And to my face. I imagine she has valid reasons and, though I don't understand them, I accept that there are reasons... which is also something I've learned from Quinn. She just carries this faith and this worldly understanding with her that almost makes it seem impossible not to believe in something. In her, mostly, but she'd probably just blush and call me ridiculous if I were ever to tell her that she inspires me.

There's an endless number of pieces about Beth and about trying to get back to her old life... and then realising she doesn't want it anymore. There are poems about her parents and the end of their marriage. There are paragraphs and paragraphs about rediscovering herself after her fall from grace. It's what she calls it at first, before she accepts that the person she was before Beth had no grace. And she called herself a good Christian. Good Christians didn't hurt other people... which was how she returned to her faith and found a sense of peace that encapsulates her every Sunday, to carry with her through the entire week.

There are words, and then there are words. These are Quinn's words. Her soul is damaged but so pure, and I love everything about her. I won't ever stop. When I finally fall asleep, I dream of Quinn. I dream of her gentleness and her cruelty, and I dream of pained sobs and shining eyes.

I dream of a girl who has stars in her eyes, but seems to be lost in space, searching for the light in the darkness.


"Come here."

Quinn crosses the living room in slow motion, her facial expression twisted into a grimace that tells me her body is hurting. She was all types of tense in Glee today, and she looks even more tense now. Her shower clearly didn't help that much, though she does look and smell fresh and clean and good enough to taste.

"How many times did you run through the routine today?" I ask.

"Twelve," she grumbles, as she collapses on the couch beside me, cringing at the impact on her sore muscles. I immediately crawl towards her, push her onto her back and lie on top of her, revelling in the sound of her measured groan. She's so warm and soft, and I just want to be near her. Or, on top of her.

"Only twelve?" I ask, grinning at her.

"Shut up."

"Do you want me to give you a massage?"

Her eyebrows rise. "Would you?" I start to move my hands, but she stills them. "And, I mean, an actual massage, Berry," she says. "Don't get frisky."

I pout. "Can I at least get a kiss?"

"Little star, you know you can kiss me whenever you want," she murmurs, so I do. Kiss her, I mean. I settle properly on top of her, feeling her body relax into the couch cushions, and kiss her slowly, purposefully. She has to know what her written words have done to me; what she has done to me. My hands absently massage her biceps, and then her tight shoulders, hearing her moan with every stroke of my tongue and knead of my hands. I feel as if I haven't spent time with her in forever.

Time passes slowly, and we lose each other in touches and sounds, which is probably why we barely hear the front door open. It's the voices that alert us, and we spring apart, and then come back together to sit side-by-side to make it look like we haven't been doing anything worth taking note of. I spot my Dad first, and he looks solemn.

"Dad?" I question, sitting up in concern.

"Hi, Sweetheart," he says quietly. "Look who we found loitering outside."

I blink in confusion, and then spy my Daddy walking in with Kurt. Kurt, who looks -

"Kurt?" I suddenly ask, taking in the devastation on his face. "What's wrong? Oh, my God. What happened?" At the sound of my questions, he bursts out crying, and I automatically spring to my feet and move towards him. "Kurt?" I question, wrapping my arms around him. "What's wrong? Is it Blaine? Your father? Gosh, what happened?"

Kurt blubbers in my arms, and I look over my shoulder at Quinn. She looks as lost as I feel, and I'm sufficiently unnerved. I mean, he didn't even raise his eyebrows at the fact that Quinn and I were practically cuddling on my couch.

"Kurt?" I try again. "Honey, what's wrong?"

He pulls back slightly, and I wipe at his cheeks, meeting his gaze. "It's - it's Dave," he whispers, and I frown. Quinn's expression matches mine. Who is Dave?

"Dave?" I question, prompting him to elaborate.

"Karofsky," he clarifies through his tears, and I haven't heard that name in months. I'm pretty sure he left the school. I mean, he stopped the slushy facials around the time Quinn returned to Head Cheerio after Beth, and enacted her tremendous power. But -

"What about Karofsky?" I ask, suddenly wary of what he's about to tell us.

Kurt sniffs. "He - he tried to kill himself."

I gasp, and Quinn's eyes widen. "Oh, my God," I say. "Is he okay? What? What happened? Why? I don't - "

Kurt shakes his head. "They found out," he says.

I'm so confused. "What?"

"At his new school," he says; "they found out."

"They found out what? Kurt, what did they find out?"

Kurt blinks, his eyes pooling with more tears. "That he's gay."


Quinn makes us tea, and my dads go upstairs to their bedroom. I realise Quinn needs to do something to stop her mind from focusing on what Kurt's just told us, and I'm certain this entire situation doesn't help with my dads' worries about Quinn and me out there in the real world. People can be cruel and, in this world, they are determined to break you. I've seen enough of that regarding my dads and my talent, and goodness only knows what Quinn has seen. Through her words, I'm still learning.

Kurt and I settle on the couch, and Quinn sits in an armchair, her body tense. All my hard work to soothe her, just gone. The two of us are listening to Kurt say words, telling us about the true reasons behind Karofsky's bullying of him. He tells us about the first time Karofsky kissed him, and how he's been keeping the secret of his tormenter for months. Quinn and I share a significant look at the sound of that, but neither of us says anything. Kurt tells us that Karofsky decided to move schools, in the hope that he could reinvent himself as someone who wasn't so full of hate. For himself, and for others.

Quinn shifts in her seat, and I want nothing more than to wrap my arms around her.

Kurt explains how Karofsky contacted him, asking for advice and attempting to befriend him. "It didn't take very long for me to realise he wanted to be more than my friend," he says, shaking his head. "It's my fault they found out. I - I rejected him, and - " his voice catches in a sob, and I wrap my arms around him instead, trying to console him.

"It's not your fault," I tell him. "You know it. I know it. And Karofsky knows it."

"But, if I'd been more discreet, maybe none of this would have happened," he presses.

"No," I say. "Kurt, what happens is always meant to happen." I say this and look at Quinn, channelling her in a way that makes me feel closer to her and her faith. I think she's where I find my strength and, if that isn't profound, then I don't know what is. "Karofsky will get through this. All of us, we're going to help him and support him, okay? We'll go visit him tomorrow, if that's allowed, and we'll make sure he knows he's not alone, okay?"

He just nods against me, and my arms tighten around him. I look at Quinn over his shoulder, and her eyes are on my face. They're telling me something: her fears and her hopes. This - all of this - is important, in our lives right now, and in our futures. Just, why does it have to be this hard? I feel as if we haven't had a blissful and easy day in forever, and all I want to do is sit quietly in a corner, Quinn in my arms, and just be.

"Rachel?"

I blink once, tearing my eyes away from Quinn. "Yes, Kurt?"

He takes a calming breath. "I know you spent a lot of time working on the setlist for Regionals, but I was wondering if we could possibly sing something related to..." he trails off. "No, it's stupid."

"It's not stupid," Quinn says, surprising us both by speaking. She's been silent this entire time. "Kurt, you're right. We should sing songs in support of Karofsky, and any other kids struggling with similar thoughts or problems."

"Being gay is not a problem!" he suddenly snaps, harshly, and Quinn barely recoils, having probably expected some kind of reaction. I assume she's dealt with worse.

"No, it's not," she says, as calm as ever, even though I'm bristling at how he's speaking to her. "But, struggling with it is."

"And how would you know?" he shoots back and, for a terrifying moment, I think she's going to give us away. I don't think I would be against it, but I think it's something we should probably discuss first. Hell, we're still waiting on having that coffee with Blaine to talk... about... things.

Quinn leans forward, her eyes narrowing slightly. "I see it," she says. "I've watching you struggle, and I've seen it take its toll on Santana in a way she'll never admit to. But you are all so strong, and you've all survived, with the help of your friends and family. Not everyone has that kind of support, and I think it's a good idea to remind those who are struggling that they're not alone and they will emerge stronger than before, because being true to who you are is always going to be worth it."

I look at Quinn. She's saying too many words, and my heart is thundering in my chest. Does she - is this her way of telling me that -

Kurt sighs heavily. "I'm sorry, Quinn," he says lowly. "I didn't mean to - "

She interrupts him. "It's okay," she says, shaking her head. "Today has been emotional, and I won't begrudge you the way you react to it. This could have been any one of us, and I hate the idea of anyone thinking themselves so alone that they actually resort to - " she stops suddenly, and presses her lips into a thin line. Her eyes meet mine in mild panic, and I hear what she's not saying.

This thing that Karofsky attempted; Quinn has thought about it. Or, Lucy has.

But it's a sin.

I swallow bile. Is the only reason my girlfriend is currently sitting here, alive and breathing, because she's too scared of ending up in Hell, to take her own life? My breathing changes quite dramatically - increasing exponentially - and Kurt looks at me curiously. Quinn. Oh, Quinn. I want to be near her. I need to touch her and feel the solidity of her. I need to feel that she's still here, with me.

"Rachel, are you okay?" Kurt asks, his bloodshot eyes widening slightly.

I can't look away from Quinn, but she doesn't move. She's frozen in place, and the longest moment passes between us and around us. She knows I know, and I don't even know what to say or do. "Quinn," I say, and my voice sounds strangled in my throat.

Kurt looks between us. "What's wrong? What's going on?"

Quinn takes a measured breath and clears her throat, somehow managing to recover. "Kurt, do you have any ideas for songs we could possibly sing?" she asks. "I'd suggest you get them out now because it looks like Rachel's already coming up with a setlist right now. Including choreography."

Kurt glances between us again. "Is that what's happening right now?"

I manage to pull it together enough to nod my head and drop my gaze. Maybe if I'm not looking at Quinn, we can get through Kurt's visit without my totally giving us away, because I just realised that my girlfriend might be broken beyond repair; that I'll never be able to fix her.

Quinn handles the conversation then, keeping Kurt distracted while I try to wrap my head around what I think I've always known about her, but never allowed myself to acknowledge properly. I'm convinced that majority of the world's population has thought about suicide; maybe muttered it under his or her breath or entertained the idea in order to get out of having to do something they didn't want to, but this is serious. Quinn considered it; I'm certain of it. I absently wonder if she's written about it at all, or if it's all laced into every word of pain she's ever written.

Really, our lives were so much simpler before Valentine's Day. How do we get back to that? How do I get back to worrying over whether or not Quinn is going to find my stupid little heart Valentine? I almost scoff at the fact I though life was difficult before.

Slowly, I come back to myself, and the three of us decide on three songs to show solidarity and strength through adversity. Quinn works up most of the choreography, quietly consulting with Brittany over the phone a few times. Kurt and I do the vocal arrangements, seamlessly assigning singers to the various parts. He doesn't even fight me, which I really appreciate. I don't think I have much fight in me anyway, and it looks as if he doesn't either.

When we're semi-satisfied, I send emails to the entire Glee Club and Mr Schuester. There's no grumbling and nobody complains. It doesn't matter that David Karofsky has humiliated every single one of us at one point; this isn't wished on anybody, and we're nothing if not all-inclusive and supportive of our fellow students in need. We have new songs to learn, and I worry about the strain this puts on Quinn, Santana and Brittany, but Quinn assures me it'll be fine. They'll just sleep for days after we win on Saturday, apparently.

When Kurt leaves, he's much calmer. I think we've managed to convince him none of this is his fault, but I text Blaine anyway, just letting him know he should be wary of Kurt's emotional state. I try not to read too much into the fact that Kurt ended up here and not at Blaine's in the first place because, well, I have my own significant other to take care of now. Quinn remains in her armchair as I lock up and switch off the downstairs lights in preparation for turning in for the night. Quinn is staying. I don't even care if it's a Wednesday night. She's staying, with me, in my arms.

I assume my dads are asleep when I lead Quinn up the stairs and into my bedroom. We're quiet as we both perform our nightly routines, taking turns in the bathroom and preparing for the following day. Quinn is leaving from McKinley at eight o'clock, and the preliminary rounds start at ten o'clock. If they make it to the second and final round, they should perform again in the afternoon, probably around three o'clock, which is a time I could possibly make if I skipped my last lesson - or last two lessons. She'd probably keel over if she knew I was considering bunking for her.

We crawl into bed at the same time, settling in beside each other, our arms seeking contact as if it's a default setting. I close my eyes and breathe her in, trying and failing to get my heart rate to slow or the trembling in my fingers to stop. Quinn's arms tighten around me, and I burrow into her that bit more. I've always harboured this fantasy that we could occupy the same space, but even I know physics won't allow it. A girl can dream, though.

"Rachel," she whispers, her lips pressed to my hairline.

I hum in response.

"They can never know," she says.

I breathe out. I don't want to agree with her. I want us to be able to make decisions about our lives without having to consider anyone else. But this is Lima, Ohio, and we're not in control here. The narrative will never be our own. She's Quinn Fabray, daughter of two socialites and upstanding members of the church and community, and I'm Rachel Berry, the daughter of two gay men. It doesn't matter what those men have accomplished. Society can't look past the person they've both chosen to love. Quinn and I, we're not safe here, which is why I say what I do.

"They can never know," I echo.

"I'm sorry," she says, and she sounds as if she desperately means it. "I am so sorry, Rachel."

"Me, too."

It isn't until she falls asleep that I feel the weight of her apology fall onto my chest, making it difficult to breathe. Why is she apologising? Why am I apologising? We shouldn't have to apologise for the person we're choosing to be with; choosing to love. We shouldn't, and I hate that this is what we've been forced into: apologising for being together and keeping our relationship hidden in the shadows. It makes me so angry, and I feel so defeated at the fact that it's all necessary. We have to hide because the consequences of our relationship are too high, for all parties involved.

It doesn't make me hate it any less.

I realise rather quickly that I can't get to sleep, so I slowly remove myself from her embrace, press a kiss to her forehead, and get out of bed. I move to sit down at my desk and lean back in my chair. We haven't talked about anything. We've barely discussed Karofsky or his suicide attempt or her thoughts on the matter. She's just always seemed so strong and put together, and I wonder just what that family of hers has to have done to break her this way. We haven't talked about the effect seeing her father has had on her, and we haven't even come close to discussing the bank or the lawyer.

After.

We'll talk about it after Regionals. I reach for a random notebook, just because I want to read her words. I want to learn and understand more about her. Just, anything. It's a random passage, marked as a 'failed experiment?' in the top corner. I read it anyway.

 

thief

Time waits for nobody. I am purely independent.

Despite the complaints, curses and prayers, I exist only for myself. Even though I am used and abused, I continue to endure for those of flesh, who are forever ungrateful. Time has complete control. I am not afraid to use it. I have survived the prodding, the begging and the whining for so long. And yet I continue to venture on as if I am needed; as if I am liked or valued; as if I have an influence on how people live, and as if I have control over what is perceived as more important.

Time pauses for nothing. I am limitless.

"Time is a thief with a loaded gun; the sky runs by while the days are gone; the night falls prey to another sun." I have been called the servant of death for, when the 'time' comes, life reaches its pitiful end. Human beings question my work as if they could understand its complexity. Time is unpredictable. I am the ruler of growth. I allow for blooms to bear witness to the day and allow lovers the cover of night. Time governs all. I am the conductor of the circling seasons, bringing forth the chills of Fall; the freeze of Winter; the blaze of Summer and the buds of glorious Spring.

Time is the initiator. I am ageless.

"In reality, killing time is only the name of another of the multifarious ways by which Time kills us." I am apostrophised. I am addressed as if I am human, in order to be condemned. Again, I am compared to death. As insulting as the malicious remark could be; I realise that earth-inhabitants strive upon contradictions. Time is responsible for death. I am not God. If I were God, I would not be addressed in such a way. I would be respected, honoured, even admired, and definitely not worshipped or idolized. Time is, rather, the devil's companion. I am not dedicated. I do not exist for the purpose of opposing the Heavenly Being who has placed me in my responsibility.

Time is a mastermind. I am perennial.

"Time is what prevents everything from happening at once." I have been criticised since I came into existence: the very beginning. I have been told I am the cause of unnecessary stress, for there is never enough of me in supply. Conversely, during those treacherous lessons and meetings; I am called upon to accelerate. Time works alone. I am used as a manmade constraint. I have yet to be defined. Oh, how these beings have tried and tried? I have never understood how their minds function, and I do not foresee that ever occurring. We are the same. For, like them, I too am seeking a truth.

Time is not human. I am everlasting.

"Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life." I find it awfully putrid that I am believed to be governed by an object. I am responsible for my own righteousness. Time exists to serve. I am a cliché. I can be 'set aside.' Or, my favourite: 'time flies when you're having fun.' As if I am known. As if I can be understood. As if I am feasible or definite. It is as if I am tangible. I am not seen, invisible to the naked eye.

Time is undefined. I am eternal.

Time waits for nobody. I am purely independent. The light and the darkness bow at my command. The winds and rays bend at my every peril. I exist with the grace of fulfilling the work bestowed upon me. I am inherent to the masterfully majestic happenings of the world unknown.

Time is not to be slayed.

I am immortal.

 

"Rachel?"

I look up to spy Quinn sitting up in bed and looking at me with bleary eyes. Her hair is a blonde mess, and she looks all kinds of cute as she rubs her right eyes of sleep. "Hey," I breathe, unable to stop myself from smiling at her in the dim light.

"What are you doing?" she asks, her voice thick with sleep.

"Nothing," I say, setting the notebook down and trying not to look guilty about choosing to read over being wrapped in the comfort of her arms.

She shifts to lie back down. "Come back to bed," she murmurs sleepily.

Without preamble, I rise to my feet and pad across the carpet, slip into the safety of her arms and do my best not to cry.

I fail.


"Let's go, McKinley!" I scream, bouncing up and down in the bleachers. "Whoo! Come on, McKinley!"

Blaine laughs at my antics, but he's also on his feet, clapping his hands and whistling. We're the only two from Glee who decided to come watch the cheerleading squad. I really laid into the football players because, really, how could they not come and support the cheerleaders who support them during all their losses? I was especially disappointed in Finn, but he just cited that they all had new songs to learn. 'Maybe another time.' I wanted to strangle him.

Kurt declined in favour of... wallowing about Karofsky, which is something Blaine and I have actively not discussed. I can feel a bit of tension about the subject, and I'm choosing not to get involved. Though, we are scheduled to visit Karofsky when Blaine, the Cheerios and I return to Lima.

"Isn't it just weird to cheer for cheerleaders?" Blaine asks, and I let out a laugh as my eyes settle on Quinn. Of course, the Cheerios progressed to the second round of the competition, and now they're performing again. This one is for the win. They're just moving into position on the blue mats in front of us, and my heart is beating wildly in my chest in anticipation of what's to come.

"I should warn you, Blaine," I say; "I may dig my nails into your skin when Quinn is in the air."

"That's okay," he assures me. "It can't be easy watching her do all these dangerous tricks. Even I get a little queasy watching them assemble the pyramid, and she isn't even my girlfriend."

I shake my head. "And she has this nasty little habit of injuring herself," I add. "Honestly, it's as if she likes being in pain, the little menace that - " I stop suddenly, my voice catching. Because, well, there it is, isn't it? I replay the words in my head, blink a few times, and then look at Quinn. Jesus. I am so not ready for everything that comes with Quinn Fabray.

"They're starting," Blaine says, his hand gripping my forearm. We sit back down as the Cheerios grow still and the crowd falls silent. There's a beat of absolute quiet, and then the music is blaring. I don't recognise the song, but that's to be expected when it comes to Quinn, who was responsible for choosing the accompanying setlist. There's music in that head of hers I couldn't even dream up. It's jammy, though, and then they're dancing and moving and flipping and swinging legs and arms and -

And then they're flying, and my nails dig into Blaine's arm. He grimaces, but says nothing. Quinn's smile is mega-watt, and my heart is beating in my throat. I mean, the routine is flawless; it's electric and so synchronised that I'm actually jealous of how they all move together. Glee could never be like this. We're not all coordinated enough, and people generally don't care enough.

"They're amazing," Blaine murmurs when Quinn does a split in the air. A sky split, as she calls it. Oh. I didn't know she was that flexible. I flush at the thought, and then gasp when she does a turn in the pike position. Just what is she trying to do to me?

Thankfully, there's no pyramid involved in this routine, but there is a complicated stunt involving Quinn, Santana, Brittany and another cheerleader that makes me stop breathing, because they're doing backflips, forward flips, double flips, sliding under each other and flying through arms and