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Please, Listen.

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Quinn.


My fingers slide over slick keys without pause or mercy, I am fervent. Unsettled. It will be forty minutes before lunch finishes and the auditorium is filled with yet another painfully gleeky power ballad montage. Each minute hisses past me much faster than it should; tiny flashes, ticking along, racing in time with my strained and desperate fingers.

I feel.. out of sync with the world.

Playing the piano always helps to clear my mind, to reset my system if anything intrudes on my stalwart equilibrium, but in these scrambled moments my mind is still a mess. I have been irrevocably unbalanced. So much so, that I struggle with my thoughts, what am I even trying to get out of my system?

My eyes, which have been gazing ahead, unseeing, flicker when I see a shadow move through the curtains skirting the edge of the stage and at once I am hit. I am struck. Not with fists or steel but with the intrusive return of what has brought me here today.

Rachel.

My mind is awash but my melody does not falter, my fingers never stumble. I am fervent. Unsettled. But I am brilliant. I close my eyes and allow myself to remember.


It happened one hour and forty five minutes ago in gym, the most awful moment of my life to date. I was just about to finish changing, pulling my gym top over my head when I heard footsteps behind me.

Rachel.

I could tell by the distinct sound those God awful shoes made against the tiles. She was late. She was never late. This threw a spanner in my day because she was always early, and because she was always early I was always late; waiting until the last possible minute in order to avoid a situation like this, a scenario which had haunted my nights and clouded my days for what seemed like forever.

Me, her, us, alone. Not good.

My mind screamed my muscles into gear and I quickly finished changing, spinning around to face her.

"I see you've found something better to do with your time Berry."

I spoke mid-spin, straining in my effort to appear effortless in front of the most confusing compilation of atoms on the planet. I hated this girl, I hated everything about her, but most of all I hated the things she made me think, or, my stomach dropped in shame at the honesty in my bones, the things she made me feel.

She was flustered and jittery, all flailing limbs and desperate tugs of cotton as she tore off her clothing to change. I blanched, but I did not move. I could not move. I felt as though an assault was taking place; my eyes bruised, powerless victims to the strength wielded in that darkly toned skin, in those softly curved shoulders, a gently straining bicep.

I sighed at the ache in my neck my carefully sculpted expression was causing and looked away for a moment. She cleared her throat and the flush in her cheeks warmed mine in turn as she began to tug on her gym shoes.

"Contrary to popular belief Quinn, I am not above running late upon occasion and, forgive me for being so forward, but you've clearly found standing there watching me instead of actually going to class to be a better use of your time because now you're just as late as I am. So I don't think you're in a position to comment on the matter."

My jaw clenched. I hated it when she got verbose, sixty four words expelled from her lips when all it would really take was ten. It was unnecessary and dangerous and so very Rachel. I was immediately frustrated by how much of herself- her thoughts, her feelings, she gave away so freely, so unconsciously.

It made me ache with resentment and.. all my cognitive function stopped with the harsh, frightened gasp that escaped her lips.

She had been hopping on one foot trying to frantically tie up her right gym shoe when she inadvertently jumped on the edge of her school bag, losing her balance and pitching violently to the side. My insides lurched as my body responded without thought, hands snapping out towards her and sinking into soft hips. I felt sick with pleasure at my fingers pressing into her skin, it felt… unknown, impossible, like home, like the end of a circle.

Like sheathing a sword, or driving one into your gut, I couldn't tell which.

This was the sixth time I had ever touched Rachel Berry and I was angry, livid, seething. I should have torn myself away or left the room or let her fall but I didn't do any of those things and that made me even angrier.

I tried to, but this was the first time it had ever been like this; this close, this dangerous, and I was touched.

Literally.

Her fingertips burnt like hot coals into my shoulders. It hurt, it hurt so much. I gripped her harder, a little too hard I thought, though I did not care to loosen my grasp, before roughly placing her back on two feet.

"Quinn.."

And that was when it happened, when my balance shifted, when the careful pool of tranquil indifference I projected to the world began to ripple and churn.

I looked at her, my intentions of backing away and packing the past two minutes into another wonderfully neat box in my mind faltered. She was breathing hard and.. I furrowed my brow.. looking at me?

Rachel was standing, on two feet, nails pressing into my shoulders and looking at me with those stupidly expressive eyes in, what was it? Shock? Bewilderment? Discomfort? I couldn't tell, all of my years of study and my reading and my learning and my knowledge about everything I thought I needed to know in life amounted to nothing because in that one moment Rachel was looking at me with an expression of barely contained something and I did not know what it was.

God, I thought, how I hated this girl.

My fingers retracted all at once and her nails tore at my skin as I pulled away, she was biting her lip desperately but no apology left her mouth for the injury. No apology, no sound, no words. She had no words. She was silent, staring, standing, in a strange kind of repose. It was beautiful.

I walked away from her to go to gym.

I walked away, and I definitely did not look back.


I knew that she was watching; her shoes would always give her away. I had been tearing away at the piano for the better part of thirty minutes and she was watching me.

My eyes slid back open as I shut our sixth touch into a perfectly white box and pushed it into a dark room in my mind to join the other five.

I still felt unsettled, bottled up and bubbling with pressure.

Needing.

My mind rationalized that Rachel did not know that I knew she was there, that this moment would not come again even if I had the will to let it. My mind rationalized and my heart burned, this was my condition, and so my fingers changed their rhythm and I began to play a different tune. Listen. Each note was a plea. Please, listen. I could not even begin to think about what had transpired in the locker room today, could not begin the dissection of fact from fantasy to discern if anything had even happened or if it had just been another painfully damned imagining.

All I could do was play and unravel myself to her the only way I knew how; with all of my walls intact. This is what I could do. Rationalize, and burn. So once again I poured myself into the piano. Listen, I played.

Listen. Please, listen. Because this is how I feel when I touch you. If my fingertips could cry out, if the longing within them could somehow shift into melody, then this is what it would sound like. Sadness, a journey, and so, so much want. Endless want, which quickens my heartbeat until I feel as though my chest will surely sag from the weight of this tragedy I see unfolding.

Because that's how I feel when I touch you.

I feel wanting, wanting for more, endlessly. And I don't think that will ever change, which is why I will not touch you again. When these final notes reach their peak and fade, when these last precious bars thrum into me with life and love and something quite past anything I have ever experienced before, it will end. And it will not happen again. Because there is no room for this in my life, there is no place for you.

Not yet..

I lick my lips in distress; I had not meant to add that part, not even in the safety of my own thoughts. I don't even notice that I'm crying until my finger slides off of the side of a key, it's jarringly flat tone out of place in my story and insulting to my abilities, I am brilliant, and yet, I have faltered.

My pool is still and deathly calm once more, but I am unsettled, deeply, and so, so close to losing myself. I hear shuffled footsteps begin to fade into the distance, the side stage door closing quietly in their wake and I am left wondering if Rachel knows what I have tried to tell her. If she knows that this can be my only goodbye, ridiculous and desperate as it was, through nothing but a piece of improvised music and delivered when we have not even had anything to say goodbye to.

I wipe the last remaining tear from my eyes and stand, fingers brushing over the keys in.. regret?

No.

I do not regret. I rationalize. I go to sit in the audience and wait out the last remaining minutes until the auditorium is once again overrun by laughter and friendships and other things I do not understand.

I rationalize I say to myself.

But my heart still burns, along with my shoulders.

Chapter Text

Rachel.


As things so often do, it all started with chemistry.

A chemistry text book, to be precise, that I had thoughtlessly left in the chemistry lab after lunch. My yearly notes to date, all painstakingly written in color coded sequence, were tucked into the dust jacket and so it was with determined steps that I mapped out the most efficient trajectory to the science building.

The final bell had sounded minutes before and the hallways of McKinley were just beginning to become deserted. I checked my watch as I powered around a corner, I had thirty-five minutes before everything was closed up by the cleaning crew which was more than enough time to collect my book and make it home to practice my runs.

Pushing through the heavy metal door of the classroom, I made a beeline for my assigned seat, sighing in relief as I saw my text book laying idle on the floor. I rolled my eyes at the gum, spit and partial footprints that had already managed to stain the cover in the short two hours since I had seen it last.

Oh well, I sighed, at least my notes appeared to be in one piece.

Just as I was bending down to retrieve it, I heard a jarring crash of something slamming into the metal of the door. My immediate instinct was to crouch down further so I found myself hunched over, balancing precariously on my toes, one hand touching the back wall of the classroom, the other clutching the corner of a nearby laboratory bench. My stomach lurched in fear as millions of outlandish scenarios pervaded my mind.

Bank robbery? Flagrant marauders? Epileptic cleaning crew? My brow furrowed.

Unlikely.

The only option left to me was crazed gunman and so, with bright snippets of my life flashing before my eyes, all I could irrationally think of was how unfortunate it was that I would never get to publish this moment in my memoirs.

Before I could collect myself and approach the situation with anything other than total paralysis, I felt the wind pick up as the heavy door was wrenched open and quickly slammed again. Currently perched in the far corner of the room, I shifted silently and let out a quiet sigh as I saw white trainers and feminine calves come into view. They were definitely not crazed gunman legs. Maybe I could escape this intrusion with my life and faculties intact after all?

My eyes slowly trailed up the figure, the girl, who had instantly slumped against the door and slid to the ground upon entrance. Beautiful ankles led to straining calves and I could just make out the shadows of softly shaking thighs against the cherry red of a cheerios skirt. Straining further forward, I could also see a quivering torso and beautifully delicate hands covering what I guessed to be an equally beautiful face. She wasn't crying per say, not that I could tell anyway, she was shaking, as if something inside her was scratching to break free. It was the one of the most heartbreaking things I had ever seen.

The column of her throat bobbed with a strained swallow and I bit my lip at the effortless grace she held, even in despair. My eyes trailed down searching for more of her to take in but I forced them to halt their descent at her clavicle as gravity finally began to tip me over.

Flushing darkly with guilt, I struggled to regain my previous position, what was I doing?! Ogling an obviously distraught cheerleader while perched creepily in the corner of an empty classroom. This was stalkerish Jacob Ben Israel behavior and had I been told of this situation objectively I probably would have reported myself to the police for lockup and immediate psychiatric evaluation.

It was a little thing really, just a small fleck of light, a slight brightening of the room that brought my entire world crashing down around me. A small ribbon of sunshine crept between the closed blinds and landed squarely on the girl's chest, illuminating her trembling form, in particular, her boldly inscripted chest. She looked even more tragic and beautiful when her small golden crucifix began to glint at me.

All of my fingers immediately strained white against the wall, nails bending with the pressure I forced into the hold.

Cruci- She..

I fought valiantly to control my initial reaction of screaming in terror. This wasn't a stranger. This wasn't a gunman. This was worse.

This was Quinn.

Quinn, and not in any way I had seen her before. I could have wept at the realization, she wasn't HBIC Fabray in that moment, she was just Quinn. But then, she was always just Quinn to me anyway. She was still wearing her usual red and white armor with hair tightly bound but, even then, tendrils were coming free as she continued to shake into those beautiful hands.

My mind could not even begin to unpack what I was seeing, this broken girl before me, I bit my lip, she meant everything to me.

Quinn.

A woman built of contradictions; unforgiving and hard, unfeeling, untouchable and yet, even from my place in the room I could see how soft she actually was, skin to soul. I could make out each gentle rise and fall of her body. I always could, perhaps that's why she hated me so much, and even though our feuding had come to a relative cease fire as of late, mostly due to her refusal to even acknowledge my existence, I could not do this to her.

My limbs raged in anxious discomfort, I had to get out. I had to leave. But I could not escape, where could I go? I was locked, trapped, and I would do anything for her to not show this part of herself to me. Not because I thought any less of her for it, on the contrary, I ached to hold her, to fill her with whispers telling her how wrong she was, how her life could be so much more than this, how her beautiful heart did not deserve the beatings she gave it.

I could not bear to witness her shuddering frame, not because I thought she was weak, but because I knew her. I knew this girl, this mysterious, dark and lonely girl, better than she knew herself, better than I knew myself, better than I knew my craft.

Better than I knew Barbra.

I knew her, and so, I knew that the moment she discovered me watching her everything would change. I would become something different to her, something that she would need to destroy. And although our relationship would never be what I fantasized it to be, my toes curled in despair at the thought of her thinking she would need to hurt me to keep herself safe. I was once again met with the familiar grief brought on by her ignorance, did she not know that I would do anything for her?

But that's the thing with chemistry, it is never one sided. There is always an exchange, a relationship. Such was the balance between us, violent and strained; a yielding collection after a tightly coiled letting go. All unraveled in the instances where we fought or struggled with one another.

In public we were always volatile, ticking time bombs of words and anger and hurt. If only she knew how well I knew her, if only she knew that each slice at me told me everything I needed to know about how much she hated what I brought out in her.

In public we exploded, but in these rare and unexpected private instances, we both seemed to get lost in the depths of whatever it was that had always sat between us, thick, heavy and elusive. Gently broken we would leave these moments, in states of implosion. They were no less destructive, but infinitely more subtle.

Always these things seemed to wrestle within me. Quinn was a wave, cresting and violent and I was caught in the break, rolling, forever tumbling and crashing. When would we stop?

My stomach clenched when a small whimper left her lips and, without warning, my traitorous legs gave way beneath me. I stumbled forward, gracelessly, landing harshly on the ground in front of her with a groan, I was still a few feet away but there was nothing to separate us anymore, nowhere to hide and no reasonable way to excuse my concealed presence.

I felt like my life was ending for the second time that day and I desperately wished for the crazed gunman scenario to return or, well, anything to replace the horror of what was actually happening.

At first I was sure she didn't realize who I was, her tear laden eyes screamed murder at me, lips pursed, obviously mere seconds away from lashing out with deadly force at my intrusion to her grief.

And then her entire frame seemed to stall. As if everything she was made up of was, for a moment, irrefutably undone. She hadn't looked at me since gym class three weeks ago, where she undoubtedly saved me from a sprained ankle and I thanked her with ten angry lines stretched along her shoulder blades.

My cheeks smarted with intense heat both at my mortification for being caught now and my shame for not having the words to thank her then. Despite my flush of humiliation, I found myself unmistakably centered for having her gaze on me once more. Three weeks with not even a glance, not even one. Not even for a second. It was torture. Not that she looked at me very often before then, but still, I found myself not even believing it possible to ache so much from such an absence.

I foolishly hoped that our locker room interlude would bring us closer together, especially after I watched her storm into the auditorium before Glee that same afternoon and, forsaking my better judgment, decided to follow her.

She played with such practiced ease, I felt irrational annoyance fill me at the fact that I did not know she could. Given her upbringing it was quite predictable that she would know an instrument, and yet, what I saw that afternoon told me that she rarely played for people. Another beautiful part of herself hidden away. Always hidden. The marrow in my bones ached to be let in closer. I always wanted to be closer to her.

It seemed fitting that I was always watching her instead.

The melancholy of her final melody was filled with something I had never experienced in my life. The ease with which she plucked my heartstrings as I listened left me completely picked apart, tangled, and I left the wings that afternoon with a feeling of restless unease.

I delayed tracking her down to say thank you until the next morning so I could ensure I had regained as much composure as possible. My hands smoothed over my skirt and I bounced on my feet with nervous energy. I stood by her locker, waiting.

Just when I thought I was going to, once again, be frantically late for a class, I caught her form approaching me casually, eyes scanning through a worn Lewis Carroll in her hands. I waited for her to look up.

"You're in my way."

It was dismissive, harsh, and I found my entire body slumping with the weight of it.

"I.. I wanted to say thank you for your help in the locker room yesterday."

My smile did not reach my eyes. I knew this girl so well. I knew what was happening.

"You can repay me by getting out of my way."

Still her eyes trailed over the lines of the book, disinterest in our conversation dripping from her face.

I moved aside in defeat, reminding myself that the girl that held me tightly in the locker room and made such beautiful music mere hours ago was the same as the one standing in front of me now. She was a mess of contradictions, this I knew. My eyes fell to the novel in her hands as I conceded defeat.

"Of course. Have a pleasant day Quinn, and don't be late, you have a very important date with Mrs. Jenkins' AP History class."

I smiled and slipped away from her just as I saw the grip on her book tighten.

And that was it. For three lonely weeks. Until now.

Now, she was crouched against the door, no longer shaking but instead deathly still, while I flailed helplessly in front of her. Just like the last time her eyes fell on me, before she tore herself away from me to go to gym, I found my lips betraying me. I never had the right words for her. I never had the ability to make her understand what it was I was really trying to say.

Maybe I wasn't brave enough, and the way her eyes, tired and confused, still guarded and infinitely more deadly were burning into me, well, it wasn't helping my condition.

The only thing that managed to stumble from my mouth was a clumsily put together "Please, just listen. Listen, Quinn. Don't hurt me. I didn't-"

To my further despair, I knew right away that it was perhaps the absolute worst thing I could have said. Her face crumbled in an agony I had never seen her display before and then the moment passed and, as if by magic, each troubled line and shadow on her face disappeared. In one quick, efficient, uniform sweep her expression evened out.

I felt the loss in my chest immediately. Acutely.

She was gone.

And then, she really was gone. Wrenching herself up from the ground she swung the door open with force and, without a word, left me.

I closed my eyes and sighed into the dirty floor. Body crashing against coral, caught in a tumbling cylinder of violent motion. Chemistry. But Quinn was a wave, and I was so, so caught. When would we stop?

Chapter Text

Quinn.


Walking through the halls of McKinley I stop for no one, all crowds part for me. Conversations cease, books drop, eyes avert as they always do, because to them I am beautiful and terrible and great.

They know nothing about me beyond these careful lies. I am a phantom, and today, I feel, will be the straw to break the camel's back. I am sure of it.

Each day of my life to date has been a push, an uphill push, and always I feel smothered by that dark force pulling me down.

Yesterday I was caught in a compromising position by the worst person imaginable and today.. today I have to do something about it. My usually calm and rational mind struggles to discern exactly what it is to be.

If it were anyone but Rachel the answer would be obvious; complete and utter destruction. I could do it with ease, to anyone, there isn't a single person in my world that I couldn't break at will, but.. Rachel? My heart stutters. Well, why did it have to be her?

Yesterday had actually been the day from hell. I let out a sigh just thinking about it as I round another corner, closing in on my locker.

I had woken up late after yet another restless night. Head thick with the dreams still under my eyelids I blindly stumbled through the day a wreckage of my usual self. I had gotten my tenses mixed up in Spanish and a B- for my math quiz. One more hour, one more hour had become my mantra as soon as the clock hit 2:30. One more hour and then I could retreat back into my bed and turn everything off. The energy I was putting into ignoring Rachel was immense and I found myself sagging with the effort of it as the days progressed and I tried to keep up with the pace of my busy days. I just needed a moment to recharge.

A shadow fell over my locker and I smothered my gut instinct to glare at whoever was interrupting my musing when I realized I had been staring vacantly at my Lewis Carroll novel for far too long. Shifting my gaze upwards I found Sam smiling at me.

"Hey babe!"

Right. Boyfriend.

I checked my reflection before closing my locker and giving a practiced smile.

"Hey yourself."

I could tell he was nervous as he fiddled with his backpack "So, my parents kind of have a thing to go to and they're staying with my uncle for the night. Did you maybe want to come over and let me cook you dinner?" He smiled impishly, I knew what he was suggesting, soft and respectful as it was. Sam didn't cook. I wasn't surprised, this was the game I played. My eyes fought to close in exhaustion at the prospect of another night away from solitude. At least his hands were soft.

"Pick me up at 6?"

He smiled, rolling on his heels in pleasure at my response before backing away towards the parking lot.

"Awesome! See you then babe."

I turned in the opposite direction without another word, desperate for a moment, just a moment to compose myself. I knew that it would not be forthcoming the second I heard Coach's voice booming across the hallway.

"Q! Track! Now!"


An hour later I was flushed and exhausted, brimming with anger at the grilling I had received. Apparently two lower level cheerios had skipped practice without notice. Being captain they were my responsibility, I couldn't believe I had missed their absence at training and I promised myself that I'd make them suffer for every minute Coach kept me on the track running suicides.

My muscles cried out and tore anew with each ruthless pounding of foot to pavement and I struggled for a moment to keep my tears at bay. I was so, so tired. Finally, Coach relented with a raise of her eyebrow and a sharp "Enough. Now get out of my sight Fabray."

My limbs felt heavy with fatigue, my pulse was racing with the effort I was putting into looking like I wasn't a moment away from unconsciousness. I squared my shoulders and nodded once at her before carefully walking away.

I would not stumble. I would not falter.

Still, sometimes days were just built to be bad, and the past three weeks had me feeling so unbalanced that I couldn't stop myself from slamming into the closest door I could find and just.. hiding behind it. Childish as it seemed, at least I could finally get some solitude.

I would be okay. I only needed a moment, and I honestly believed myself until the nausea hit me thick and fast and I fell to the floor. My eyes swam and I took a deep, desperate breath as I ruefully gave life to a most private set of thoughts.

I hate what I have let myself become.
I hate my life.
I hate this.
I hate me.

hate.

Rachel's loud and shocking intrusion into those thoughts once again spun my world on its axis. How did she even-? Could I not just have one day where she wasn't there?! Pushing through my periphery and demanding my attention.

Just like in our previous encounters, I left as soon as I could. Unraveling in heaps and desperate to keep myself together, I fled. I didn't play that night, I didn't end up seeing Sam either and I definitely didn't end up sleeping. I felt at risk and vulnerable as I writhed the night away, tangled helplessly in my sheets. I hated what she did to me. She was far too dangerous.

Blinking away the memories, I lean against my locker for a moment and make a decision, my current state is unacceptable. There is no room for this type of weakness in my life. This afternoon I will change things again. Pushing off, I formulate my plan as I stroll through the parting sea of bodies.

Once again, I am beautiful and terrible and great.


Leaning against the Spanish room doorframe I wait; patient and still. Rachel will be walking down this corridor at 1:36 on her way to Biology, she will be running six minutes late because I have broken into her locker and moved her textbook to the top shelf. It will take her four minutes to find it, one minute to try and reach it and another one minute to arrive at my waiting point in the hallway, thirty seconds if she power walks. This will ensure we will not be seen.

I hear the fast and strained clicks of her shoes as she comes towards me; power walking. I allow myself a small smirk. Of course. The moment she's about to turn the corner towards me I curl my fingers around her sweater and pull her towards me into the darkened classroom. My body flushes with energy for the first time in three weeks and I feel… filled with something.

Perhaps it's the way she smells, or how soft her sweater is beneath my fingertips but something very small and very deep inside me crumbles the moment we make contact. I do my best to ignore the sensation and slam the door shut behind us instead.

Purposefully not letting my mind linger on the fact that she looks even more tired than I do, I move my grip to Rachel's arm to steady her stumbling form as I turn the light on in the Spanish room. There are no lessons in it for the rest of the day. We have time.

I have to force myself not to let go as soon as my fingers graze her skin, it is difficult to go from smothering each glance and touch I seek to pushing myself into her space and pinning her down with a gaze. It is difficult, but I manage it. Of course I do. I do not falter.

"Quinn! What the hell do you think you're doing?!"

My grip tightens on her arm at the sound of my name leaving her lips. Her eyes are wild, infuriated, she is so beautiful. I struggle not to bite my lip in worry as I realize I have to get this out as soon as possible. There is no time.

"Shut up and listen Berry because I'm only going to say this once, if you so much as breathe a word abou-"

oomph!

I feel the wind being knocked out of me before I actually realize what is happening. Rachel has twisted her arm out of my grasp and is shoving me hard against the wall, her body flush against mine for microseconds before she puts distance between us again. I feel like I've been struck when she all but yells at me.

"You idiot!"

Gripping the wall, I struggle to regain my breath. A shocked frown fills my face as sheer surprise outweighs my anger at her assault.

"W-What did you say?!"

Her eyes are piercing as they take me in, I feel weak and exposed as I struggle in front of her.

"You're actually going to do this aren't you?"

She shakes her head, as if she's lost a bet with herself, before stepping back and facing the window; hands on her hips, trying to calm herself down.

Regaining my senses I push up from the wall, not liking the subtle derision in her tone, regardless of who she is to me I am still Quinn Fabray, beautiful and terrible and great and no one speaks to me like that.

"Berry, what the hell is your problem?! And don't pretend you have a clue as to what I'm doing!"

She spins around to face me and I am immediately taken back by the pain in her expression, there is something else sitting there as well but I have no time to solve the puzzle because Rachel speaks again, wounded frustration evident in every word that leaves her lips.

"Look, I get it Quinn, I do, but after everything we've been through why can't you just trust me?!"

This conversation is not what I'm here for, no good can come of it but still I clench my fists in rage at her presumption. She has no idea.

"Trust?! YOU?! Why the hell would I do that?!"

"Because I know you, you idiot! I get you, I always have! How can you still not see that I'm always on your side?!"

Rachel's eyes look like they're on fire and I actually step back with the anger she projects towards me.

"You're so concerned about me running around and telling everyone what I saw, which was what? What Quinn? What did I even see?! That you had a sit down in a science classroom because you had a bad day?! Because that's what it would have looked like to me, if it were anyone but you. But no, what you're so worried about is that I saw you take off whatever attitude you seem so attached to throwing at me whenever we're in the same building. I saw you take it off and just, be yourself, which, in spite of how obviously upset you were, was still an amazing experience."

My frown is now deep and unsettled. This is not what is meant to be happening right now. I'm genuinely confused.

"Okay, what are you even talking about?"

"Look!"

Rachel sighs and rubs her face with her palms in fast motions.

"I don't know, I'm exhausted, I haven't slept properly in days, you haven't spoken to me in weeks and this needs to stop. We just need to stop. So can we skip this part? Because I know how you work so I know that, after you're done threatening me to within an inch of my life you'll realize that while you're actually upset about the fact that it was me that saw you like that, what I need to do to fix it is to ask you to believe that I would never betray your trust Quinn. That I would never say a word to anyone."

Confusion and indignation struggle within me as I try to keep up with her tired ramblings, what the hell does she think we're stopping?! Who the hell does she think she is?! I ignore the fact that she completely has my number in regards to the threats and cannot help but spit out "You know nothing about me!" Because she doesn't, not really, no one does.

"Actually, I know a lot, about you."

Rachel's eyes are dark and steady, there are hidden meanings in her words that I cannot help but feel immediately uncomfortable with. She's right, this does need to stop.

"No. No. You don't. And don't flatter yourself Berry." Her sigh is small and patient, it only serves to incense me more and just as I'm about to lash out with words that I know will cut and injure her, Rachel surprises me.

She opens her hands towards me in what looks like supplication and softly, almost whispering, implores me.

"Quinn. Please, listen."

She takes a step closer and I am instantly overwhelmed with the last time she said those words to me, was that her intention? What am I doing? Why am I always hurting her? I cannot do this again.

My hand flies up to halt her movements even though we're still quite far apart.

"Rachel. Don't."

She instantly pauses and a touched smile reaches her lips, "R-Rachel?" I take a moment to think on how beautiful her name sounds coming from her own lips before I realize my misstep. God, I hate how much stock she puts in names. It doesn't mean anything. It doesn't change anything.

My eyes are careful and cold. Her eyes are calculating. My fingers rub together in anxious twists. Her hands hang open towards me, I can see each line track across her palms. We are at an impasse; a strategic stalemate.

Slow and cautious, Rachel takes a step closer, we are now a small foot apart. My own feet feel leaden as I push my heels into the floor. What is she doing?

Her voice is soft, she's trying not to scare me. Knowing that fact alone scares me anyway.

"You learned to play the piano from a very young age but you don't like to let people know. It's not that you're shy. You know you're good. But you also know that the more you share yourself with people, the more dangerous they are to you."

I just barely manage to push out a scoff before my voice fails me. Taking a moment to compose myself, I try and push forward a challenge but even I, in my unsettled state, am aware that it comes out as a plea.

"Don't."

Pushing, always pushing, Rachel plows onward, cheeks flushed no doubt with fear of what she knows is about to come tumbling out of her mouth, she is nothing if not brave.

"You..You've spent a lot of time making a strong distinction in your mind between who you are and who you were. Between Quinn and Lucy."

My head snaps up and my glare actually makes Rachel stumble. This is not for public discussion, or private discussion. Or any discussion. This is not allowed. At all. Especially with Rachel.I'm about to tell her as much when she takes a breath and goes again.

"Although you don't want to go back to her, there are times, especially in Glee club, when I can tell that you miss her. You think she's gone, that she's not still a part of you. And you miss her."

It is now my turn to stumble. Because I do.. and this is not something anyone else should be able to tell about me.

I steel my insides and glare again, though I can tell it's not as frightening.

"Stop."

She shakes her head and curls her open hands into fists for a moment before consciously unraveling them again and this time her words are rushed, uncensored and bubbling with emotion.

"You think she's gone Quinn, that she got cut away from you. But I see your Lewis Carroll books, how they're always scuffed and stained, and I notice that you understand Sam's stupid impressions and I hear your goofy laugh when you forget people are listening and I know. I know. She's still in there, she hasn't left you alone Quinn. You've still got her."

I know that the look on my face must be pained.I feel .

"Stop. Now."

Who is this person in front of me? Who is she to presume to know all my secrets? Speaking all these truths that are mine alone?!

Rachel takes moment to catch her breath, "Please, listen, just a moment more. I want you to know."

My teeth are bared in a snarl and my hands itch, I want to hurt her.

"I don't WANT to know!"

I want to hurt her so badly. Yet still, I cannot move.

Another calming breath and her eyes are tracking down my body. This does just enough to distract me into a flushed state. What the hell is going on?! I calm when I realize she's just looking at my crucifix, sitting heavily above my chest, then my eyes narrow. She wouldn't…

But she does.

"Although your faith is sacred to you, you carry hate in your heart for it as well. You wear your cross like a weight, a reminder. I'm not sure of what exactly, but sometimes" She bites her lip and I can't even find it within myself to blink. I am vacant. "Sometimes, I think that the conversations you have with God are very different to the ones your congregation has and this causes you to feel as though there's something very wrong with you. I personally think, that there's something wrong with them and that whatever you two talk about in prayer is probably quite profound and beautiful."

It seems as though Rachel finally senses that she is pushing me too hard and far, far too fast. I am taut. My insides feel violated, how does she know all of this? How can she see? I swallow in dread as I imagine what else she might be able to see, but there is no way. No chance. I am steadfast in my consistent displays of apathy for her. Unfortunately, this very notion ends up being my downfall.

Her hands are clenched in tight fists again. She looks terrified and it is almost enough to pull me out of my own stupor. Almost.

"I know that, excluding everything that's happened since the locker room and chemistry lab debacles, you seem to calculate the amount of time you spend talking to me every day. I noticed it six weeks ago, you say two sentences to me every day. They're statements, never questions and they're closed, never open. You only look at me during these two moments and never outside of them."

My mouth is agape, I feel rolling implosions under my skin. I am volatile but helpless as Rachel watches me and the look on her face.. she is terrified, fearless. She is a beautifuldestructive kind of contradiction and my racing mind runs out of time when she tears my world asunder.

"You also, don't like touching me, you avoid it at all costs, in the hallway, in Glee club, a-and.." her eyes flicker down briefly as she takes a long shuddering breath, hands uncurling from their fists again. "..and Quinn, I know why."

Her gaze meets mine again, she is penetrating, I am struck. I cannot move and all at once- in a moment of blindingly painful clarity, I am sure. There is no doubt. She knows.

She knows.

My eyes widen and I hear a deafening snap take place within my body. I have given too much away. She has backed me into a corner and I have given too much away.

She knows.

My body feels aflame, painfully hot and overwhelmed. It is in no way a pleasant experience, I clutch at my waist as if I can feel the organs within begin to melt. What is happening to me? I.. I, I cannot think. I cannot breathe.

I have never been more ashamed.

Days of having my lunch stolen when I still answered to Lucy, making error after error as I stumbled through my confirmation speech in church, being scolded as my tears smudged the blue lines of marker that mapped out my new face in the hospital room.

Not even in the moments following my nightly prayers in which I envision the reactions of all those I know upon discovering what I actually think about when I say the rosary. Discovering exactly who comes to mind each and every time a whispered 'full of grace' leaves my lips. Nightly I tattoo their faces upon my eyelids so I never forget what comes of these thoughts. Cold eyes, bony jaws, hard words and hot, hot shame.

All this, and never have I felt such humiliation as I do in this burning moment.

I swallow painfully as my eyes slip closed. I cannot bear to look at her now. Not this woman that has stolen all my secrets.

She knows.

The realization is but the work of moments. Yet, in mere moments, so much damage can be done. A stick of dynamite, lit. A bolt of lightning, struck. A cresting wave, broken.

She knows. She knows how I feel, how I feel about her. Her. She knows.

Everything is over and the abject pain that comes with this new certainty leaves me winded.

She knows.

Has she always known? How transparent have my actions seemed? Every small moment between us, every single interaction, no matter how insignificant, suddenly crashes around my mind. All of my beautiful boxes so painstakingly tended to now lay limp and torn, soaked in saltwater.

There has been a break, a vicious shipwreck in my mind.

She knows.

There are no survivors.

She knows.

All souls lost.

She knows.

There is nothing left.

For the first time in my life I cannot rationalize, I can only burn. Rachel has left me unhinged. I have been living in a cage since the moment I met this creature and now, violent and unforgiving, each thick metal bar of my imprisonment has been wrenched away. Piece by piece the rules of my life have changed and there is nothing but terror in this freedom, what will become of me? What will I be fit for after this day? My world is being torn apart at the seams and I have neither the strength nor the will to keep it together anymore. So, with a desperate sob, I fall to my knees and weep at Rachel's feet.

I can do nothing else. How have things come to this? I am drowning, struck of breath. I have faltered.

She knows.

My bones ache with a loss I do not understand..

I am fervent, yet, I have faltered. My chest heaves with the force of my cries.

..and then, there is a voice, accompanied by soft and trembling hands which stop just short of touching my bowed head.

"Oh sweetheart, what have they done to you?"

Chapter Text

Rachel.


Every molecule I am made up of instantly implodes the moment Quinn makes contact with the floor. She is kneeling before me, head bowed low, as if in penance. I can see the gold links of her chain tremble against the back of her neck in time with her cries. My heart aches so profoundly at the sight.

Each keening wail that leaves her throat cuts me and I feel sick with guilt. I have pushed too far and now she is injured beyond imagining. I have been impatient and selfish. I have wanted it too much and now I have torn up the delicate saplings of her self-image by their roots. Her deepest secrets are now exposed and dying, because of me.

I have pushed too far, this is my doing. I know this, and yet, I still feel anger coiling low and dark in my stomach as I think of her family.

Creatures like Quinn don't just happen, carefully composed strands of devastation and loneliness and rage don't just appear out of nowhere.

Watching the shake of her shoulders as she crumbles before me I have to wonder, what has happened in her life to make her so fearful of herself? So resentful of her wants and passions? So angry? How can something so innately beautiful feel so, so ugly? Blinking rapidly, I hold back a sob of my own as my fingertips make their descent.

"Oh sweetheart, what have they done to you?"

My words seem to spark something in Quinn and her cries intensify. I notice, for the first time perhaps, that we are being very loud in a very public place. We are not safe here, and as Quinn continues to break herself down under my hands I feel a deeply rooted need to protect her strike through my veins.

Smoothing my hands down her hair, I step in closer and bend slightly, just enough to be able to reach her hands which, until this moment, have been hanging limply at her sides. I am careful not to move too quickly lest I frighten her and I do my best to control my thrumming heart, which beats in wild and random patterns the moment our fingers touch.

Guiding her arms, I lock them around my waist and pull her closer to me. Once I am sure her hands are steady and she is comfortable my fingers return to her hair, this time curling around her head and pressing her sculpted face to my quivering stomach. I feel heady and weak at our proximity yet deeply distraught at her anguish. Confusion swims through my limbs in thick, upsetting strokes.

I cannot help the way my body responds to her closeness but the devastation I feel at her collapse almost sinks me to my knees as well. I resist this impulse fiercely, I cannot fall apart, I must be strong and present and unyielding. Quinn needs this from me, desperately, and who am I do deny this woman anything?

There is so much I want to say to her, but I know she cannot hear me. I know she is not ready. So instead, I squeeze her firmly, unrelentingly, and wait for her cries to soften again. When they eventually do, I pull an arm back to check my watch; we have seven minutes until class is over. I have no idea how she will respond to any of this but we have to go, we have no time.

Stroking the golden crown of hair atop Quinn's head I pull back slightly, the movement is jarring after so much stillness and Quinn is disoriented and desperate in her attempts to make me stay.

"Shh, it's okay. I'm not going anywhere."

I grab clumsily for Quinn's bag, which has been lying idle on a nearby desk and rustle around in it until sharp metal meets my fingers. Bingo.

Tracing my free hand along a wet cheek, I tilt her face up towards me. Her eyes are still firmly closed and I find this, for some reason, to be a most painful barrier. Her eyes speak such secrets to me that for a moment I am lost without their guidance.

What should I do? How can I make this right? What do you need?

As with most things in my life, I throw caution to the wind and bend down further into her, it's not really a kiss per say, more of a gentle brushing of lips to cheek, but it is deathly bold and it is enough to ignite a jumpstart.

Quinn's eyelids scrunch together harshly as her body goes taut. I wait- one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three… and she comes back to me. Her entire frame slumps heavily, deftly, and perfectly in time with two fluttering eyelids that creak open to reveal bland hazel eyes.

At once I know. She is hiding inside herself, giving nothing away.

There will be no explosive conflict but we have to leave now. She will follow me.

I negotiate both of our bags across a shoulder and gently encircle her wrist with my fingers, pulling her up to stand by me once more.

The trip to her car is quiet and brief, even bordering catatonic Quinn's legs are more than long enough to keep up with my quick strides. It's not until we reach her vehicle that I pull the keys from her bag and slip her prone form into the backseat. She is vacant and shuddering. This worries me but I find time to be grateful, for once, for my fathers' firm opinion that using public transport to get to school is 'character building' and just because I have my license it doesn't mean I'm 'ready' to own a car.

We remain silent as I reverse out of the parking lot and hit the main street. The only sounds to break our stillness are the wheezy breaths Quinn expels after every sniff.

It takes a moment for me to grapple with what direction I should take us in, although, sparing a moment within myself for a grain of deepest truth, I have to confess that even if I actually knew how to get to her house, I would take her home with me anyway.

Any day.

Once we are parked neatly by the curb of my parent's house I take Quinn's wrist in hand again and pull her out of the car, she is vacant and unresisting. It is a strange experience for me to have her be so.. pliable. Compliant. In any other scenario it could almost be pleasant, but this is all very different, very new. We have never spent this much time in each other's presence before. I am always falling and Quinn is always leaving, but this time my feet are steady and her feet are still.

I silently lead us up the path towards my home.

The door closes behind us and at once everything is bathed in the dusky light of emptiness. My fathers will not be back until late tonight. Habit leads me to check the small signals of my family's functioning and so my eyes casually scan from the blinking answering machine to the Tupperware container sitting on the kitchen counter, just visible through the dining room archway.

I know that my dinner is waiting for me in that Tupperware container, topped with a lavender sticky note inscribed neatly with two blue love hearts. That is our relationship- my fathers and I. They love me, but they leave me alone, and, as I climb the stairs towards my room, Quinn's hand cool in mine, it is the first time I respond to this truth with anything other than grief.

Sitting limply on the edge of my bed Quinn looks exhausted, her eyes are bruised red from the force of her tears, hollow bags hang underneath them; deep, dark and quietly telling. She hasn't been sleeping. Neither have I, and I'm sure, were my face as flawless and hauntingly beautiful as Quinn's, it would be like looking into a mirror.

Now that we have stopped moving again, Quinn's senses seem to sharpen slightly as she tracks her eyes over my room in mild panic. I don't think she ever expected to find herself inside of it but, as I stand in front of her once more, I cannot bring myself to feel guilty for sharing the only private space I have ever owned with her.

I desperately want her to look at me but her eyes sink closed again and I am immediately crippled by their loss. My pulse quickens in alarm as adrenaline pumps steadily through my veins. I am full of doubt. Perhaps I have made a mistake in bringing her here? She is pliable and compliant and, consciously or not, she is trusting me. Have I pushed too far again?

It's barely 2:30 and there's still so much of the school day left to miss. My chest heaves anxiously as I cover my face with my hands, I am one moment away from taking us back and praying no important members of faculty have noticed our absence when suddenly I feel pressure, soft and steady, weighing against my torso once more.

Looking down, I see a mess of blonde hair and feel sharp nails pressing into my back and I know, despite my insecurities, despite the Biology lesson I am currently missing, despite the tears that are sinking into my stomach, I have done the right thing. I have not let her down. My knees buckle gently with the beauty of it.

I realize how difficult it must have been for Quinn to reclaim her hold on me and I am not surprised when her cries begin anew. They are sporadic and sharp in their intensity and she is getting very tired.

Her uniform is tight, constricting, and I notice her breathing hitch awkwardly with each deep lungful of air she takes. It never seems to be enough to sate her because each new breath that rips from her chest comes out infinitely more desperate and hoarse. She cannot go on like this. Pursing my lips in determination, I pivot my upper body to the side slightly and tug out a pair of baggy pajamas from my drawers. I can do this. I will not let her down.

Resting my hands on her shoulders once more, I pull back slightly and carefully, cautiously, move to reach for the zipper of her top "Quinn.." my voice is a hesitant whisper.

Her tensing is immediate and further tightens her uneven, suffocated breaths. Not for the first time in my life I curse my awkwardness.

"It's okay, let me help you breathe.. may I?"

Wrinkles of pressure bloom over her eyelids and, once again, I wait for her. It takes longer this time, eleven Mississippi, before she relaxes and moves her arms. I do not mind, I am learning to be patient. My fingers shake as the zipper makes its descent and I slip Quinn's top past her head without preamble.

Her relief at the removal is immediate, made apparent mostly by the deep, smooth breath she inhales as soon as her top hits the ground at my feet. Although I am consciously busying myself with preparing her pajama top, I cannot help but notice her skin strain against the material of her sports bra at the movement. God above, I bite my lip, that skin. My own breath is shaky as I guide arms into sleeves and set about folding buttons into place.

Slowly moving my clumsy fingers down her torso, I find that I am filled with reverent worship for this girl in front of me. She is a story; chaptered intricately with countless scars from nips and tucks and trips and cuts and filled with secrets that reach far deeper than skin.

Swallowing hard at the pangs in my chest I gently fall to my knees in front of her, fingers curling around delicate ankles to slip off a pair of carefully maintained shoes and freshly pressed socks.

Quinn falls back against the sheets the moment my hands leave her skin, I look up at her position and bite my lip in contemplation. She is already almost asleep and we only have one garment left but.. I shouldn't, I really shouldn't.

But I do. Because the moment I am about to move back and put some necessary space between us, Quinn's hips lift, almost imperceptibly.

She waits.

For a moment I can do nothing but feel stricken at the movement. She.. No. I am being ridiculous. I can do this. I will not let her down.

I close my eyes to steel myself before softly grasping the bottom of her pleated skirt and gently tugging it down. It journeys past soft thighs, bruised knees and bare feet before I toss it to lie next to the shoes on the floor.

My mind is awash. I am pathetically tangled within myself. Quinn Fabray. On my bed. White skin, red spanx, green pajama top. My mouth goes dry as my hand mechanically gropes the space next to me in search of the pajama shorts. I hook them back around bare feet, graze past bruised knees and stumble embarrassingly over smooth thighs before my endurance is wrecked and I have to break away to control my breathing.

Flushed with chagrin at my immaturity, I am oddly settled by the shaky groan of weary contentment that leaves Quinn's lips as she turns on her side. I cannot help but smile at the sight.

She is… so many things.

Although I find I am shamefully wanton, the inappropriate feeling is greatly tempered by the sheer affection I have for this dangerous and complicated individual falling asleep in my clothes.

Tugging a blanket over her still form I sigh in anxious reflection. Where will this collision take us? What will happen when she wakes? Have I made things better or infinitely worse?

There are so many things I wish to tell her, I hope that she can listen when she wakes. Please, just, please, let her listen.

I watch her face push into my pillow and smile sadly, her tears are fewer now.. but they are still flowing.

I, once again, find myself coming undone with the overwhelming desire to care for this precious creature. I want so badly to know her.

Closing my eyes a sigh escapes me; deep with unfulfillment. I would do so many things to her..

I would kiss that beautiful, beautiful skin until she couldn't stand, couldn't think, couldn't breathe, couldn't do anything but surrender to my love for her. I would kiss her until she felt bruised with my affections, because I know that's what she would need in order to convince herself it was really happening, to allow herself to believe that she would not wake up alone.

It would be so sweet..

We would fall down together in heaps of heady limbs, hot with want. I would burn through her, pushing higher, always higher, until the atmosphere surrounding us would grow thin and our lungs would ache with everything we had not the breath to say.

It would be so painfully sweet..

Blinking the tears out of my eyes and trying, unsuccessfully, to control the tremble of my fingers, I look around my room for a moment before bending down to take hold of the worn novel peeking out of Quinn's bag.

First things first. I sigh resolutely and sink into my desk chair, rolling myself closer to the edge of the bed.

My fingers tickle over musky pages with shy reverence as I begin to softly read aloud, lowering my voice into gentle harmony with Quinn's deep, rhythmic breaths..

"Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, 'and what is the use of a book,' thought Alice 'without pictures or conversation?"[1]


 

Chapter Text

Quinn.


The moment my head hits the pillow I find myself blissfully swimming in Rachel. Fabric softener reminiscent of lemon sherbet tickles at my nose and I want nothing more than to be content in these small pleasures. I want nothing more than to forget the reason I am here. The rot. My discovery, my undoing, my collapse.

Although my breaths come evenly now, I am still aching with exhaustion. I cannot believe that today has happened. My carefully tended garden of lies has been set ablaze. The ruins burn in heaps of glowing embers at my feet and I have no clue how to rebuild.

If I were alone, I am sure these thoughts would bury me. But in the impossibility of the current moment, it is Rachel's voice, rich and lilting with emotion that is the last thing to touch me before I fall asleep.

And for that, I am so grateful.


I wake to find that I am walking, and have been for quite a while. The ground is littered with gravel that jabs roughly at the soles of my feet. I am tired as I turn off the path to rest in the shade of a large Aspen tree. It has a brilliant kind of strength to it, with leaves of fire red that shimmer golden in the half-light.

A frown tugs at my face at this; I had no idea it was getting so late..

Fear pulls within me as I take in my surroundings. The garden is so beautiful, perfectly cultivated sets of red gardenias stretch out in endless rows before me. I know I'm definitely not supposed to be here. He will have my head for this, but the danger makes it sweeter.

Suddenly it is bright, the sun beats down hot and I notice that one of the gardenias is sweating. It is a curious thing to happen to a flower, I cannot bring myself to look away. Something about it is wrong. I abandon the safety of my tree to get a closer look.

I know I shouldn't, I know that my neck is on the line, but still, I reach out a tentative hand and run my finger along a crimson petal.

Retracting my hand in fright I am shocked at the wetness that I feel. Looking down, I see that the tip of my finger has been stained in deepest red. The image is strangely difficult to look away from but, upon returning my gaze to the flower, I finally understand.

It's not red at all, it's white, gloriously white in fact.

Rapture fills me as my fingers make more gentle strokes, lovingly stripping each delicate petal of the red until nothing but glorious white remains.

It is perfection.

A part of me knows that my hands will be stained with this moment for the rest of my life but it is a mark I am happy to wear. I feel that I would do most anything for the preservation of this most perfect bloom. It stands proud.

Glorious.

I feel joyous at the site and clap my hands in giddy adoration. Perfect.

Suddenly, there is a sound; a thick, viscous splash that seems to echo for miles around and, looking down, I see it immediately.

The drop of red is dark against the white of my pinafore. Tendrils of dread fill my lungs like tar; I've gotten my dress dirty. That is when I notice, my dress is blue... my pinafore white, although now spotted with red. I touch my blonde hair and wonder at its length.

What is this?

Am I Alice? Is that the name of the game?

Where am I?

The sky grows dim again and I feel deeply unsafe. I am not meant to be here. He will have my head.

Leaving my flower behind (for yes, in spite of the danger, I have chosen to stake a claim) I turn back to my path and continue to walk. The gravel hurts less now and I glance down to see that it has been replaced by flowers. They are beautiful and I am loath to crush them but I must continue on my journey. It is the only way.

After a moment I notice that I am passing a small pond. I run towards it and dip my pinafore in before I begin to scrub out the stain. I am there for days it seems and my fingers start to ache with the effort I am putting into my motions. Red has stretched and bled further into the white of my pinafore, it has grown lighter but there is no mistaking its presence. I don't think it's ever coming out.

I'm close to giving up when a strange chortle pricks at my ears teasingly.

"Good luck with that.."

Turning around, my fingers instinctively clench around a rock but, as my eyes scan across the area in methodical patterns, I see no intruder. There is no one here.

"Hello?"

It's a small change at first; a slight shine to the air, but eventually the shine turns into a sheen and the sheen turns into a glimmer and the glimmer turns into a shadow and the shadow turns into, well.. a cat.

A large cat, with fur of deepest brown. I am overcome with the beauty of the hue until it shimmers into russet and finally settles into a plain auburn, carefully matching the bark of the willow tree the cat is sitting in.

"What's new Lucy Q?"

I'm greeted with a broad smile.

"Lucy left."

The strange words leave my lips without thought, but the cat seems to understand, dipping his head in consideration.

"Maybe, maybe only a little."

"No," I shake my head "there's just me I'm afraid."

The cat's eyes are interested now, as if I've stumbled upon a point of intrigue.

"And who, are you?"

"I'm Quinn."

The scoff is gentle, but I still don't like it.

"Harlequin you mean."

My eyes narrow defensively though I don't quite understand the jest.

"I know who I am."

"Do you now?"

Jovial eyes regard me sympathetically. I feel my ire strike through me hot and deadly "Yes. I'm Quinn!" I snap.

"Your dress is dirty you know."

The comment is simple, matter of fact, yet I still immediately feel shy at my appearance.

For a moment, just a moment, I am five years old and heading to church.

"Yes.. it, it won't come out."

"And why would it?" The cat uncoils himself, tail stretching around a nearby branch. His grin unfolds to the very edge of my vision "You're empty now."

Blinking, I am flummoxed "What?"

"Hollowed out" The cat nods solemnly, as if sharing a most secret truth.

"I'm not empty. I just need to know how to get back to where I was."

"The garden? Oh that's long gone. I hope you said goodbye! Anyway, now you're hollowed out you have to think about what you'll put back in."

The world shifts around me and I am climbing a great oak tree, moss pushes thick through my grasping fingers "I think she knows I'm…" my eyes narrow in thought as I struggle with my suddenly cloudy head "she's like a circle."

The cat is climbing with me, ever nimble, ever quick.

"So, she's not the square you paint her out to be then?" He sits just outside my field of vision and I'm not sure if it's because he's so far ahead or if he has simply disappeared.

I come to a stop for a moment, my fingers still ache from the stain.

"I love to paint."

"Well, since you asked for my advice, forget geometry, at the end of the day it's all about simple addition."

I don't know if I did ask for his advice but we are quite high up so I bite my tongue, besides..

"Things have never been simple between us, I'm better off sticking to geometry."

"Well. In that case, you can't fit a round peg in a square hole, no matter how hard you try."

My brow quirks at the idiom "I think it's the other way around."

The cat's eyes are sharp, expectant, as he materializes in front of me once more.

"Is it?"

I feel myself slide down a foot as my hands lose their purchase on the moss.

"Um.."

Suddenly I'm not too sure. It seems as though I've slung an insult, though I'm not sure how, but before I can comment he stretches out before me lazily and the moment passes.

"If that's the way it is, then I can tell you she will always love you."

My forehead is warm against the cool of the moss, I am hugging the tree with all my might, afraid to lose my grip again. I know that I am stained but I have not the time to worry about my state of dress anymore.

"Will she though?"

"Of course. Circles never end you know. But that's not the point is it? It's not about her. It's about you."

"Me? But, I can't even remember what I am, beneath all this. I thought I was sure.." Standing against a branch I pick at my dress, starched cotton scratches my fingertips, I cannot get to the skin underneath.

"Well.. we all have our crosses to bear."

There is a sharp and bitter tang in my mouth at the words.

"Yes, yes we do."

The cat gives me another smile, it is dizzying in its width.

"At least you can take yours off."

I frown, hands digging into soft green again.

"Those aren't the right words."

The cat shrugs with a careless trill before rolling onto his back and stretching.

"Wrong or right they're all I have, all I am, nothing more nothing less. We're not the same that way. Nothing is fixed. You still have time to catch up."

"So?"

I'm breathing hard as I look down from the branch I have climbed atop. The tree is so high, I feel as though I am a giant, but that's the way the story goes isn't it? Alice is too big and then too small and never just the right kind of size. I empathize with her experience intimately.

"So.."

The Cheshire cat laughs and pauses to regard me seriously, it is not unkind but fear still pricks my skin at the expression. "So don't be late." Rubbing up against me, his paw is firm as it kicks the back of my knee. I feel betrayed. I'm not ready to go.

But I am already falling, falling fast, and I know that my landing will be hard. It will hurt.

Suddenly, there is an ache in my fingers and lemon sherbet tickling my nose.

Skin burning, heart thrumming; I wake.

Chapter Text

Rachel.


I am woken from my dreamless sleep by a deep and breathless murmur. It is not a sound I have ever heard in my bedroom before so, uncoiling my arms from around my legs, I lift my ruffled head in search of what has made it.

The chair I've been sleeping in is weighed down by a veritable nest of blankets and has swiveled itself into the corner of my room during the night.

Why am I..?

A second passes, followed by another, before I spin back to face the center of the room and finally remember the events that have occurred in the past twenty four hours.

The light in my room is muted save for the small bedside lamp I have kept on, not wanting to run the risk of Quinn waking in a strange and dark environment.

2:42 am

2:42 am

My clock flashes red in steady, constant is late and Quinn is dreaming.

As I unfold myself and attempt to stretch out the creaks in my muscles I hear a thud echo through the space next to me. Looking down, I see Quinn's worn copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland resting on my floor, I remember now that I had been reading it before slumber had claimed me. My favorite gold star bookmark is peeking out from a corner. I feel rebellious and bold at this action, like I have slipped an anonymous love letter through the grates of Quinn's locker. It is foolish that pleasures like these seem to run my life but I don't care.

Dragging the novel across the floor to the safety of my desk I hear another murmur unfurl from Quinn's drowsy lips. I have been avoiding looking at her because I know that, once I do, I will not be able to stop. My eyes always seem to be powerless when faced with her form.

Typically, she chooses that particular moment to let one long, delicate limb uncurl to stretch straight and at once I sense mutiny. My traitor eyes dart in the direction of the movement and, in spite of my best efforts, Quinn renders me helpless once more.

She is curled into herself; the planes of her face dancing in restful sleep. It has been twelve hours since we first entered my room. More than eleven of those Quinn has spent unconscious. She was so, so tired and I cannot help but feel humbled by the fact that her body has succumbed to a prolonged rest in my presence.

Hugging my knees to my chest again, I take a moment to watch her. The process feels familiar and safe; so many things have changed today. Every carefully measured line in the sand between us has been trampled, scrubbed out, erased.

So many things will never be the same that, for better or worse, I allow my insides the time-honored indulgence of slowly centering themselves with each moment I spend taking in her features.

A smooth cheek has been made creased with sleep, she quirks an occasional furrowed brow and there is a hand loosely resting by her side, fingers gently curling in my sheets. In the dim light and intimate stillness of my room I find her state of repose to be both wonderfully innocent and intensely provocative. A whisper of a thrill makes its way up my spine.

I want so much to feel those hands running through my hair, unraveling all of the intricate messes I have made in my life, none more so than in the past twenty four hours. I could strike myself with the contempt I feel. Years, I have spent years censoring my action towards her, years trying to control the basest desire within me: to push, to push her and, through pushing, know.

The culmination of the past few weeks has apparently rendered me inept at this and, without even meaning to, I have blown our house of cards to the ground. I should never have followed her into the auditorium that day. I should never have listened to her play. Beyond that, I should never have forgotten myself in the locker room.

It was just all so surprising, I knew how little contact she allowed other people, how much it meant for her to reach out, even if only by instinct, and stop my fall. I knew what it meant, so I couldn't, I actually couldn't stop myself from just, watching her as she went through that process. Beautiful and distant. Lucy Quinn Fabray.

Ignoring the fact that I'm doing it now, I lament on how it seems nothing good ever comes from me watching her, except, of course, for the peaceful feeling that curls around my bones. That part is always good.

Breaking my gaze, I push off from my chair and quietly begin to pace the room. I take in my half eaten dinner, balanced precariously on the edge of my desk, I take in the homework I have managed to attempt, sprawled out underneath. I take in Quinn's uniform, neatly folded now and waiting.

It has been twelve hours since we first arrived, Quinn has spent almost eleven of those hours unconscious, I have spent almost nine of them lost to my thoughts.

I know what will happen tomorrow at school, there will be hurt. I have to be ready for it. There will be vengeance and laughter and clever, clever games and I will need to be very careful with all of it. Fear settles over me like dust until I remember that Quinn did not let me fall. I smile just thinking about it. That day in the locker room, at her most unthinking, instinctual state, Quinn seeks to protect me.

Leaning against my desk I sigh at the task ahead. This will be a difficult dance but, if nothing else, I am born for the stage and Quinn is a wonderful dancer, so I will let her take the lead. I will let her choose our steps. At least at first.

I need her to let me in closer, to share rather than to shield. If I am able to do so, then perhaps, only perhaps, all of this will have been for a reason, because either way we cannot continue our relationship as it is. Our give and take, our struggles and our chemistry, Quinn has had them all smothered.

Knowing this, I still find comfort because, faultless as she tries to be, I do not think she even realizes that this is bigger than her fears and my wishes put together, greater than the both of us. We are more than the sum of our parts and whatever it is that sits between us is a force in and of itself. Bubbling and fervent it has rebelled against Quinn's chokehold, resulting in a break.

I am startled from my casually reclining position by a harsh and winded gasp coming from my bed. Quinn's upper body has shot up; she is tense, confused, and, for the moment, very much awake.

"Hey, hey it's okay, you've been sleeping."

Her eyes meet mine and I can see the adrenaline slowly begin to leave them as she, almost shyly, covers a yawn. I find the action ridiculously charming.

"Sorry, I was.. tired.."

She is blinking her eyes heavily and I am sure she's not all there. Scarcely containing my smile, I resolve that barely-awake Quinn is now one of my favorites.

"Anytime, you look a lot better."

I try to keep my voice soft, my gaze casual, but even I notice the affection in my words and the helpless tracking my eyes make to Quinn's face. The hours I have spent deep in thought have led me to forget myself again, I must make a quick retreat.

Breaking away from the awkward intimacy my words have put forward, I avert my gaze and return to my chair, eager to not be standing over Quinn.

Apparently ignoring my words, she instead chooses to lean over to get a better look at my clock. Seeing the panic that floods her eyes I am quick to reassure her as best I can.

"I hope you don't mind, I texted your mother. She thinks you're at Santana's. I was planning on waking you to ask but you were, um, asleep." I furrow my brow at the ridiculousness of my reasoning.

"You texted my mother?!"

The blanket is torn from Quinn's body for around fifteen seconds before it is hastily reapplied. She must realize how much skin my sleeping shorts expose and I am instantly intrigued by this facet of her personality; the innate shyness that radiates from her. It is so at odds with her usually confident demeanor, the contrast is painfully endearing to me.

Looking away for a moment, I am very aware that there is an imbalance of power in our relationship tonight that I must take care to respect. She is delicate on my sheets; armorless; weaponless. Regardless of the revealing nature of her cheerios uniform, I should have taken the time to find her more appropriate sleepwear. So, collecting my thoughts, I resolve to focus on not allowing my eyes to stray far from the appropriate.

"Well, as far as she knows, you texted your mother."

Quinn's nod is small, her eyes momentarily dip closed. The air around her seems heavy with sleep again and I can see she is struggling to gain full purchase on any real state of consciousness. Her voice is tremulous and octaves lower than her usual register but it's not the tone that ends up flustering me so, it's the words themselves.

"Thank you."

My eyes, which have been steadily tracing along the patterns of my wallpaper, snap towards hers in surprise. Nothing short of a jovial 'I love you let's have sex now kay?' would have been more unexpected.

Shaking my head I struggle to find words .

"Uh, you're, you're welcome?"

I can hear that my tone suggests uncertainty so I widen my smile until it is uncensored and genuine. Quinn's sleepy eyes hold mine and, in that moment, I am warm.

I wish my entire life could stay as such forever but, of course, as all moments do, this one passes, slipping away to nothing but memory. It is the way of things, yet still, I grieve the loss.

The sleep is receding from Quinn's eyes and they are more guarded now, nervous and edging on cold.

"Where are my clothes?"

At this, I am quickly jolted out of my despondency. I must be careful.

"Oh of course! I um, here.." I turn to grab her uniform from my desk and place it gently in Quinn's lap.

In contrast to the neat folds, the uniform is creased and stained; an absolute mess. I can think of no stronger metaphor to surmise Quinn's emotional state after what she has experienced today, and I am a firm believer that metaphors are very important.

The change in Quinn's demeanor upon seeing the uniform is both instantaneous and deeply intriguing. She trails her fingers along the alphabetic inscription on the chest, seemingly entranced by the bleeding lines that separate the red and white. My eyes sting from lack of blinking but I do not care. I don't want to miss a thing, I would give so much to know what she is thinking.

Just as her pale index finger finishes tracing the final S she pulls her hand away; abruptly burned.

The eyes that regard me now are different, something has unnerved her. I am once again struck by the many contradictions that Quinn is made up of when her back straightens and she pulls my pajama shirt over her head in a single, fluid motion. She is graceful in zipping up her cheerios top and, too late, I find that I should be looking away. I have no idea how to act in this situation, there is no point of reference to guide me.

The night itself has been an impossibillium of sorts. For all intents and purposes it was never meant to happen, and yet, here it is. Happening. My heart thrums with the effort of keeping myself present to it and not floating away. Whatever happened earlier today and whatever hell awaits me tomorrow, in this moment, Quinn is with me and I am still alive. This series of events must be celebrated and respected.

By the time I turn back around Quinn is standing by my bed, adding the final adjustments to the sit of her skirt. She seems preoccupied, distracted. Her eyes scan across the room listlessly, eventually locating and resting on her phone and keys. She slowly moves to pick them up and I am filled with panic. I don't want her to go. I have no right to ask her to stay, but the thought of having this strange and alien circumstance broken by reality is too much for me to bear.

"Quinn..."

I am aware it comes out edgy, apologetic. I'm not sure what I'm trying to convey.

Her eyes are on the door. She is tracing the insignia on her car key thoughtfully. The clock blinks 3:14 at me in persistent flashes but we have time, I'm sure of it. I still have so much to say. I still have the right words to find. She can't leave yet.

All these thoughts whirling in my mind cause me to almost miss her quiet murmur. The words are softly measured but the swallow that follows them seems painfully dry.

"How long have you known?"

She makes it sound like we're discussing the answer to a riddle. Considering it's Quinn, I suppose we kind of are. How long have I known? I have to sigh. How long is a piece of string?

A woman like Quinn doesn't provide you with a grand gesture in declaration of love. It is gradual, confusing and often times, buried in interpretation. But she is a book that I am learning to read. I am patient and I am learning to understand her subtleties.. strange, strangled, sublime and every kind in between. I love them so.

"I.."

I swallow. I must get this right. That much is imperative.

I think back then, ticking though every moment we have shared. I think of watching Quinn play, an intimate plume of emotion blossoms in my heart. Before then, for sure. I think of Finn, of the tangled mess we made grappling for ownership of him. At that point, a part of me definitely knew, so I push further back.

I have long strings of these recollections in my mind. Some bright with color, some soaring with emotion, some stinging with hurt. I hold each one close to my heart because they are equally meaningful to me. Each one has been a push, a step, that has brought us to this very moment.

And then I think that I remember..

It was the last day of junior high and I had celebratory dinner plans booked with my fathers. They had taken just enough time off of work and we were driving out of town to a trendy new vegan restaurant that had just opened so, in order to keep our reservations, I was forced to wear my dinner outfit to school.

My button down shirt was crisp with newness, each pleat of my skirt was perfectly proportioned; I thought I looked amazing. Because of this, I had spent the entire day hiding in the bathrooms at every possible moment. I knew the risk I was taking, the gamble of daring to wear white. Blue grape would never come out.

The final bell was ringing and I felt genuinely victorious as I strolled towards the doors; outfit intact. I had made it! For once in my life, things were looking good for Rachel Barbra Berry. My triumphant grin fell apart however, the moment I saw a group of footballers standing in front of the exit. They looked so innocent; just a couple of guys enjoying a frozen beverage after school.

My heart still sank.

Maybe, just maybe, they wouldn't notice me?

I only realized I had slowed my walk to a crawl when I felt the edge of a soft arm knock past mine.

"Hands to yourself Berry!"

My view of the footballers was cut off as Quinn's frame filled my vision. She was flushed, as if she had been walking fast, and I realized that she must have been because there was definitely no one in the hallway a second ago when I had rounded the corner.

"S-sorry Quinn."

My smile was small as I took her in, she was wearing her hair slightly lower that day. It looked amazing. I thought she was always kind of amazing though, in a totally straight and jealous way. Okay, my stomach clenched, maybe in all the other ways too.

Not that it even mattered. She wouldn't go near me with a ten foot mic stand.

But the moment the thought blossomed in my mind I had to reflect on how incorrect it was. Because, well, she was definitely near me now, so how on earth had that happened?

"Whatever. Look, every second you spend standing next to me is injuring my reputation so how about you do us both a favor and use the other exit?"

Her expression was stoic, the only movement coming from a slight raise of her eyebrow but it was her eyes that I noticed. They trailed down my frame as she spoke, it was barely discernible and if I hadn't already been fixated on them I would have missed it. But I was, so I didn't. I saw everything.

My eyes tracked to the footballers by the door for a second before landing back on Quinn. I was, well, flabbergasted would be putting it lightly.

Did she just?

My confusion was causing problems for me however because the longer I stood there staring at Quinn the more aggravated she became.

"Hey!"

Her voice was hard, commanding, parts of me were shivering oddly in response to it when she moved closer to me still. I think her intention was to be intimidating but all I could really think of was how improbable my interpretation of the current situation was. There was no way..

"Go. Now."

By standard high school behavior, it would stand to reason that the moment I was unresponsive to her already strange request, Quinn would wash her hands of me and leave. It was normal, expected, and totally not what was happening.

Finally I realized that all of my vacant gaping was probably pushing my luck and Quinn seemed to be the kind of person that didn't respond well to being pushed. It was time to go.

"Right, thank you. I will. Um, have a pleasant day Quinn. Enjoy your summer."

Her response was, well, nonexistent. It appeared as though she had fulfilled whatever agenda she had because she spun around without another word and strolled purposefully towards the chatting footballers, smirking at their low catcalls.

The attention of each one was glued to her thighs as they flashed in snippets with each sway of her hips. Never had a uniform been more dangerous. It took all of about fifteen seconds before the doorway was clear, the mass of bodies hungrily trailing behind Quinn's retreating form.

I blinked, realizing that the coast was clear and I had no need to exit through the other end of the school. Now was my chance, the time was nigh, yet I still could not get my legs to move, or my soggy brain to function. It was empty of all but one lonely thought that was pathetically splashing around, the only kid in the pool.

Oh my..

Clearing my head of the memory I can't help but let a smile paint my lips as I look at Quinn now.

"I think, the.. the last day of junior high? You, you kind of saved my outfit.."

I frown, sensing my phrasing has not even remotely described my recollection of that day. But it seems to be enough. Quinn's eyes have clouded over in strange worry, it stuns me to see her so afraid.

My eyes widen in realization of the problem. She isn't sure, she doesn't know. She actually doesn't know what she means to me.

I am sensitive to overwhelming her, she is already riding on the back of a monstrous day, but I need to test the waters. I need to see how much she knows.

"It's hard for me to tell you, well, to tell you for sure, when I first noticed that you noticed me."

I bite my lip, be brave Berry. Be brave.

"It's not as hard, however, for me to tell you when I first noticed you.."

There is a shift in the air, a subtle charge. I know I have guessed correctly when I see Quinn's eyes begin to blink rapidly. She is besieged with confusion.

"Quinn..?"

My voice is awed, gentle disbelief drips from each burst of sound. There is so much emotion in the word that I can feel its imprint hanging in the air for moments after. My room has been branded.

Quinn has been sitting primly on the edge of my bed since she finished dressing. Her back straightened politely, projecting the image of a courteous guest. I don't think she knows that I know, but the tension in her legs has betrayed her to me. She is smothered by anxiety.

"Do you really not know how much you mean to me?"

In a moment of weakness I cannot help but let the question slip out. Quinn's apprehension is even more obviously pronounced the moment my words settle in the space between us. She is up in less than a second, practically bouncing on her feet with momentum.

I wish I could say that I am shocked, that I am surprised that this is not what she wants to hear. Any other person would be overjoyed that the object of their affections returns the sentiment. But not Quinn, for Quinn, this has made things infinitely more complicated and it has made me even more threatening.

I can feel my eyes dim in preparation of her departure but who am I to stand in her way? Still, I have to let her know..

"You don't have to leave."

She is shaking her head, bag already curled over her shoulder, voice gruff and distant.

"Actually that's exactly what I have to do."

"Quinn.."

My hand closes over the door handle, carefully and quietly turning it open. My fathers are heavy sleepers but alerting them to Quinn's presence is the last thing either of us need tonight.

I open the door a crack, it is enough for her to slip past, body brushing mine upon exit. A breath escapes me at the incidental contact and it's enough to get her to look at me one last time. I swallow the words I really want to say. It will only make things worse.

"Sweet dreams Quinn."

Her eyes are cloudy once more as she regards me with a sharp look. It is not meant to hurt; it is searching, intrusively so, but I don't mind. I will always lay myself open for her. She blinks and the moment melts away, followed swiftly by Quinn's retreating shadow as it descends my stairs.

Her steps are quiet, no one will be woken tonight.

I remain frozen in my position until I hear my front door click closed and the rumble of a car engine, purring in ever quieting revs. Then, there is silence.

My eyes close the moment my forehead makes contact with the door I am still leaning up against. A ragged sigh filters through my chest. Sometimes, the days are just too long and the nights are just too quiet. Turning to look at my bed I feel nothing but annoyance for the tears that well in my eyes.

My blanket is almost warm to the touch as I wrap it around me. It smells like tears and flowers. I fall asleep that night reading Lewis Carroll again, pretending that Quinn's form is still warm, dozing next to mine.

I sleep, and I wait for tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Quinn.


I wake the next morning to the scent of jasmine tickling my nose. It's nice, familiar, but nowhere near as wonderful as lemon sherbet. Stretching out on my back I let my eyes trace the small crack in the ceiling above my bed.

My mind has been engulfed. There is only disorder, only chaos now. I am finding it all deeply unsettling.

Firstly, my dream. For the precious few moments directly after waking I knew that my life had changed. But now, in the hazy gray of day, alone in my bed, sherbet-less, Rachel-less, all I can remember are snippets. Teasing snippets of black, or brown? Of red and.. white, I let out a sigh, glorious white. That part is still perfectly clear, I cherish the warmth of the memory and keep it close to my chest.

I am washed and in the middle dressing now, a crisp and freshly pressed uniform replaces yesterday's creases. I find that the process of putting it on centers me. I like the red and white, I like the boldness and the power, I like that it's too tight and hurts me when I breathe.

I remember circles and sunshine and trees and then falling. I remember falling, and waking. Waking to a reality much stranger than any dream. Waking to Rachel, to Rachel's room and Rachel's smile and all of Rachel's words.

A swallow gets caught in my throat; Rachel's words.

I have spent years so caught up in making sure that no one has noticed that I have noticed her that I haven't noticed her noticing me. Let alone noticed that she has been noticing me noticing her. My head knocks against the frame of my door with a helpless groan. I cannot possibly process all of this. I don't have enough time.

Not that it matters anyway because, regardless of what Rachel thinks her feelings are for me, nothing will ever happen.

On the back of this declaration I allow myself a heartbeat, just a moment really, it lasts not even a second before I shut my mind down. Even entertaining the possibility of any of this is pushing way beyond the boundaries I have set for myself. It is time to close things once again.

But, even so... perhaps. Just perhaps... there could be no retribution today? There could be no pain.. well, no pain for Rachel anyway. Perhaps, I don't have to be the one to wield the knife, perhaps I don't have to hurt?

Reaching the bottom of the stairs I swing into the kitchen, intent on grabbing a granola bar before I leave for school. I'm still thinking about the possibilities today holds when I get to within an itch of crashing into my mother.

"Mom!"

I cannot control my shock, today is country club day, and she's usually gone by up her teetering coffee cup my mother pivots to avoid a spill.

"Quinnie! What are you doing here? Aren't you meant to be at Santana's?"

I consciously lower my eyebrows and roll my shoulders into a more relaxed stance."Oh, yeah, I forgot to bring any spare clothes with me so I got home early to change."

My mother's face is searching, she takes a slow sip of her coffee and I suddenly feel very nervous.

"mmm, I got your text message. You sounded strange."

I scrunch my nose up in feigned confusion, grappling for anything to keep this casual."How can anything sound strange in a text message?"

My mother takes out her phone and, after three quick clicks, begins to read.

"Good evening mother, I'm writing to let you know that I'll be having a sleepover at my friend Santana's house tonight. Love, your daughter – Quinn Fabray."

I can just barely keep myself from rolling my eyes in exasperation. Uhg, verbose. I hated it when she got verbose! For a 'born performer' Rachel Barbra Berry could sure use some lessons on subtly.

Morphing my face into a pleasant grin I desperately try to maintain levity.

"What? Too formal?"

"Quinn.."

Ah, the famous Fabray eyebrow, well played mother.

"Okay, so I may have been slightly distracted when I was writing it, me and San were working on conjugated verbs and-"

I am startled from the rest of my whimsical fabrication by my mother's coffee cup harshly hitting the table in front of us. We stand silent for a moment, locking eyes, before she speaks.

"I received a call from your school yesterday, you were missing for most of the afternoon, including from Glee club. Mr. Schuester was worried. I asked him if anyone else was missing too, guess what he said?"

Damn it, damn it, damn it! I had completely forgotten about Glee club! Rachel and I were both missing from it. This was an extremely unusual occurrence, in fact, to date I don't believe I had ever allowed it to happen before.

The realization hits me deep in my gut and I can almost feel my toes singe from the embers of my fire-ravaged world still glowing at my feet. I can already hear the whispers and this makes me want to close my eyes in resignation. I want to give up, I want to cry, I want to go back to sleep.

Instead, I choke out a desperate "um, Santana?"

"Not quite, a different girl, Berry I think, Rachel Berry?"

My mother's eyes pin me steadily. Her confusion is feigned, we both know she knows the Berry name. Immediately I feel small and bad and very, very caught.

"Anything you care to share with me regarding that strange coincidence?"

Pulling myself together, I know the only way I can escape this is with nonchalance. Rachel is only as important as I make her.

"Okay okay mom, you got me. She was upset about something so I drove her home, I knew you'd freak out about it so I told you I was at Santana's instead."

My mother's sigh is resigned and filled with disappointment as she frowns at me searchingly.

"I don't want you spending time with that girl Quinnie. Her fathers, God forgive me for having to use that word as an actual plural, lead unnatural lives. You don't want to let yourself get any closer to their perverted existence than you have to. I know you have a big heart sweetie, which is wonderful and very Christian of you, but..."

Something in my mother's gaze stills and I know that this will be a warning.

"Don't go back there again Quinn."

Less than five heartbeats pass and the intensity of our conversation recedes, it is replaced with cheery casualness which is just as, if not more, frightening.

"Okay?"

I desperately try to remember the role I'm meant to be playing so my nod is sad and ashamed, although neither of the emotions are particularly forced.

"Okay, I know, I'm so sorry mom, forgive me?"

My mother looks down at her coffee in thought and I can do nothing but watch on as her fingers nervously circle the rim.

"I don't think we should tell your father about this."

My body sags in relief the moment I register the words. My mother is one thing but I cannot even fathom a reality in which my father knew I had stayed at Hiram and Leroy Berry's house, the very thought is enough to cause my palms to itch in anxious fear.

"But really Quinn, it's not me you need to be asking forgiveness from."

I know what my mother is saying and before I can even blink my hand is clasped tightly around the crucifix hanging from my neck and I am reciting the words I've known by heart since I was a five year old girl with a dirty dress.

"Please, Oh God. Forgive me for my sins, be merciful to me. Wipe away my sins. Wash away all my evil and make me clean again. Wipe away my sins. Wash away all my evil and make me clean again. In Jesus' name Amen."

One nod of soft approval from my mother and I spin on my heels, eager to flee the trap I've fallen into, I should have known better than to think it would be that easy.

"Oh, Quinnie? You said the Berry girl was upset?"

My mother's voice is searching and inquisitive. I nod casually even though my insides are screaming, restlessness slowly crawls along my skin.

"Yep."

"And you spent the night with her because?"

I feel as though my mother is being purposefully inflammatory with the way she shapes the question. Spent the night? It sounds like it's meant to be so.. dirty. Even though it's exactly what I did. It didn't feel dirty. Crazy dreams aside, it felt, peaceful.

Regardless, I need to be careful here. I'm searching for a reasonable explanation frantically when suddenly I realize, there is one sure fire way of clearing my name and shifting attention.

"Oh, well we got to talking, about.. boys. I wanted to invite Sam over in the next few days so we could.." My manufactured blush is marvelous, I can feel it tint the tips of my ears unpleasantly. "..get to know each other better. Really talk, you know? I was asking Rachel's advice on what she thought I should wear and what he'd want to talk about and before we knew it, it was really late, so.."

My mother's face is glowing with pleasant surprise. When I furrow my brow and just barely let my bottom lip jut out, I know I'm winning.

"I'm sorry again mom, I'll know better next time."

"Oh of course you will Quinnie, that sounds wonderful! I think your father and I have a dinner function in a couple of days, we'll work it all out! Were you thinking summer dress or skirt? I think those sandals I saw you wearing the other day would be perfect with your new pink dress! Boys love girls in pink you know dear, or yellow!"

I think Rachel likes me in green..

Taking in my mother's dreamy expression I ignore the sinking feeling in my stomach and try to muster up a smile. Game, set, match.


The moment my hands push the doors to McKinley open I know what today will be.

I will be cruel and I will be cold and I will make sure that Rachel never speaks to me again. She is my sacrifice, my lamb; trussed and ready. She is what I need to destroy in order to snuff out any risk of exposure. I think about my mother's hopeful smile and my father's steely absence and I know there can be no other ending to this series of mistakes. There can be no perhaps.

I don't catch sight of Rachel until after second period. She is walking towards her locker and I wait, silently, in dread, a few feet away.

I must force myself to watch.

I must remember this.

The moment her lock disengages and she casually pulls her locker door open, a violent blue wave crashes towards her. I have made the engineering club rig a slushie bomb and it has definitely just exploded.

I watch as all of Rachel's belongings, all of her pictures, all of her books, all of her complex pages of notes, begin to swim and melt in the bright blue mixture. It's gotten watery with time.

I watch as Rachel herself, wearing a plain black t-shirt and casually fitted jeans is also soaked to the skin. I watch as blue drops whisper down her skin in random swirls like fantastic rain.

Even now, she is beautiful.

Her scream is high pitched but it lacks any real surprise and this leads me to realize she has been expecting my attentions. I take in her dark outfit and frown, she must have known I would go for blue, but how did she know I would target her outfit? Thinking back on her words to me last night I am almost shy at her perception before my veins fill with frightened disdain. I did save her outfit that day, but no matter. It won't happen again. I will give nothing more away.

The final tier of the prank is coming into play now, the wonderful by-product, the most damaging part. People are laughing, in large groups, small cliques, on their are pointing and laughing and Rachel is mumbling in embarrassment.

My hands, which have been wrapped around my chest, begin to tighten and soon I am bleeding from the death grip my fingernails have on my biceps. Still, I force myself to keep watch.

This is the path I'm taking.

Rachel gets lucky though, her public ridicule is intense and beginning to escalate but it's cut short when a Freshman walking past slips in the slushie mix and falls down in a messy heap.

Just like that, the torment is over, redirected.

I only turn away when I see Rachel reach inside her locker and pull out a tightly wrapped plastic bag with a change of clothes within it.

This causes me to frown again. I knew it was there, I even tightened it. I cannot stop the disappointment that I feel for myself. A locker full of rotten eggs, cow manure, pig's blood, even with short notice I know I could do better than I have, but something within me is not as it was. There has been a change, and I have no idea where it's come from but it is definitely new so I hate it all the same.

I watch as Rachel quickly runs towards the bathroom with her supplies. If she has seen me watching she has given nothing away.

I frown at my failure and resolve that I need to do better, and I will.


I am running late to Mrs. Jenkins' AP History class. This is partly due to my textbook having disappeared but mostly due to how preoccupied I have been with ensuring Rachel's locker-bomb went off to a satisfactory level.

Just as I am rounding a corner a strong hand closes around the material covering the small of my back and I am thrust into darkness.

Although I am shocked by the jarring shift in my momentum, the moment I hear the door slam behind me, I regain my faculties. Turning around, I am primed and ready to destroy whatever witless individual has dared put me on the receiving end of such an attack.

"Okay, so you have a deat-"

My words find immediate cessation at the steady, brown eyes that instantly lock onto my own. This is unexpected, I don't know what to do with our proximity. For a moment, she unravels me again..

"Rachel.."

The abrupt intrusion of lights being turned on wakes me from my haze, still, I cannot do much but stare as Rachel speaks. She absentmindedly hands me my missing textbook before her hands begin to gesture animatedly with excitement.

"Wow, that was actually exhilarating. I've never been on the instigating side of these types of things before, no wonder it's a personal favorite of yours!" Rachel's ramble fades as the lights settle above us and she is able to regard me fully.

"Quinn.."

Her voice is soft, awed. I try not to notice how similar it is to the greeting I gave her. "Good afternoon.."

It has only been a matter of seconds and I am already reaching my limit. I throw my textbook onto a nearby desk in irritation. Why is she doing this to me?

"You broke into my locker? What do you think you're doing?!"

My sharp change in demeanor appears to shake Rachel from her stupor; where there has been excitement there is now sheepish embarrassment.

"Oh.. well, you're not the only one who knows how to do that, and I just, I wanted to talk to you, to know how you were feeling.."

Ignoring the fact that her chosen method of discerning this is pulling me into an empty classroom, I focus on keeping distance between us. I can't leave just yet, Rachel has stepped in front of the door, as if she knows that alone will keep me from approaching it.

"How the hell do you think I'm feeling Berry?"

Her frown is puzzled as she embarks on a slow, careful trajectory towards eyes close momentarily when I notice that her hair is still slightly damp.

"I.. don't know? That's why I'm asking. You left so quickly last night I never got the chance-"

"Don't."

My response is sharp and I feel as though it cuts us both when Rachel's eyes dip to the floor.

"It was a mistake. All of it, just, don't mention it, don't talk about it, don't even think about it. Ever again. Are we clear?"

The smile that quirks her lip is tauntingly enchanting.

"Or what?"

Oh, how I hate this woman.

want to fall to my knees and say:

Or I won't be able to ignore the fact that you seem to know everything about me. That you actually know that I have far too many feelings for you and that I hate myself for it.

That I am at complete odds with who I am as a human being and the only moments of solace I experience are the moments that I spend with you, however painful they may be.

That it's been nothing more than small hours since I was lying in your bed and dreaming of red. Dreaming and falling and waking. Waking to have you there, right there, in front of me, on the verge of telling me the impossible. Until I stopped you.

That my mother knows, I don't know exactly what she knows, but she knows, and this is more terrifying to me than anything I have ever experienced before in my life.

Basically, or my entire world will fall apart. Again.

Instead, I step menacingly towards her and say:

"Or today will only be the beginning."

I have made this delivery before. It is flawless. My tone of voice is frightening. I compose my face to project only blank indifference to contrast menacingly with the severity of the insinuation. One of my fondest weapons, this delivery has been the cause of many tears throughout my life.

It is for this reason I find myself utterly incensed with the fact that Rachel is able to breeze past it with practiced nonchalance, delivering something that makes me want to be the one to cry instead.

"Quinn, I know that our history is interesting at best. But I hope you know that you never have to be afraid of me."

I only now begin to notice that she has been tracking my movements. We have ended up quite close. I am leaning against a wall in desperate casualness, Rachel has come to a halt in front of me. She is positioned with her hands clasped, innocently, as if standing on a stage mark.

My response is guttural, instinctive.

"I'm not."

"mmm.."

Rachel's smile is small and she is studying me carefully, like she has me cornered and is trying not to make me bolt. I want to feel insulted that she would liken me to a wild animal in such a way but, she is right, I am one moment away from running. Finally, just when my heart rate begins to decrease, she makes the push.

One sunkissed hand reaches towards me and presses into the wall by my shoulder, she is not touching me, but her position has increased our proximity intimately. She is clever.

"You hurt me today."

I blink away the unfortunate shame that floods my body at the blunt statement. Of course I have, Rachel is my target. She knows too much. She is far too dangerous. I try not to think of her damp hair or the blue rain on her skin.

Although her tone is casual, I am pinned stationary by the determination in her eyes. It is a frightening thing, to have Rachel Berry focus on you. It makes you feel.. endangered.

"I say this, because I think it's only fair that you know, that I know, the days you do that, are the ones that you're the closest to kissing me."

The shock on my face lasts only for a moment before it tenses into a sneer and I give her chest a hard shove.

"Back off!"

Too much. She is pushing too much.

I, of course, should have known better. Rachel is nimble and has been expecting the move. Her hands wrap around my wrists softly; it is a most perfect pressure. Not painful, but secure enough to make my heart hesitate over whether or not to pull away.

"Quinn, let me in.."

Rachel punctuates my name with a soft squeeze of my wrists and I can feel my pulse begin to race at the hold. Her words are a knock at my door, but she is asking for access that I cannot grant. Whatever game we are playing she is definitely winning, and that, I cannot allow.

"Don't. This, we're not, it isn't.. natural."

I recall my mother's face and try to speak the recited lines bravely but I stumble at the last hurdle, voice breaking over the final word. I want so much to believe.

My wrists are suddenly cold and Rachel's hands are bold as they push up my neck. The immediacy of the move sends a shock from my throat all the way down to my toes. This feeling is even more pleasantly stretched the moment her fingers move to thread through the loose wisps of hair at the base of my neck.

The action feels like a coming home, a settling. I am terrified by the deliciousness of her closeness. The rest of my speech eludes me. We have never been quite this close.

It is impossible.. dizzying.. and I..

"Quinn.."

I bite my lip as arousal spikes through me, quick and merciless, at the timbre of Rachel's voice, it is instantly overwhelming. I am held together only by the fingers trailing through my hair but even they are moving now; down past the curve of my jaw, following the delicate links of my chain. They draw a strangled gasp from my lips as they graze over my crucifix before eventually coming to rest high on my chest.

"Natural?"

She is pushing. We both know this. It is too much, but just as I am about to pull away and flee her eyes pin me again. They plead for me to stay.

Please..

"Listen, listen to what your body is telling you Quinn. To what your heart does when we're together."

A gentle palm extends a slow push into my chest, I can feel my heart hammering, there is no stutter in its rhythm. It seems to be the only part of me that knows exactly what to do.

"That's as natural as it gets."

Her breath is warm and she is so, so close.

Close enough that, for just a moment, I forget. I forget that she knows too much. I forget that she is my target, my bleating lamb. The sacrifice I must make for my continued survival. I forget.

I forget everything that is not the gasp that leaves her lips the moment they make contact with mine.

Rachel.

The contact is delicate, I am afraid to allow more. Afraid to cut open the tightly controlled vest of restraint I have kept on my passions. Reflecting on these feelings for a moment, I am sure that, if I were to let go, I would surely devour Rachel alive. I would push and work and fight for the blessing of each beautiful sound her trained lungs could produce.

And there would be so, so many.

Caught up in these thoughts I am taken by surprise. I am not expecting the fistfuls of my uniform that crunch in her grasp and I am not ready for the full-body buckle that she experiences. My hands hold firmly to her hips to soften the collapse. She has come undone, our contact has literally knocked Rachel over.

This, knowing this, sends a hot thrill straight to the very core of me.

The pressing of her body to mine is electric and she is so beautiful.

I feel control and power settle deep in my stomach at our position. It is maddening. I am heady with it until I hear the desperate keen that leaves her lips. Suddenly, there is a break within me. A bowstring pulled too taut. My ears are now deaf to all but the clean whoosh of a shooting arrow.

Muscles bloom into spasm throughout my torso, the plea affects me so. My eyes squeeze painfully shut as one, long, shuddering breath escapes me and, at once, I am lost.

I push forward in desperate motions, it takes four steps and I am knocking Rachel onto a desk. The object provides the resistance we need to stop our momentum and gives our lips a chance to crash together again. I am panicked, I have no restraint. But everything I give Rachel she immediately takes and gleefully plays with. My mouth is hot on hers as my hands try to remain steady on her hips. The moment my fingernails sink in a loud moan rips from her mouth and into mine.

I am barely aware that I have chosen this moment to slip my tongue past Rachel's lips. I am reeling. Oblivious to everything but the way she tastes. I would gladly endure a lifetime of contrition to never have to make myself forget this taste. To never know of anything beyond the restless peace that ignites within me every time my fingertips skirt the edges of Rachel's shirt.

She is now sitting on the desk, her thighs have, at some point, parted to allow me closer. The moment I feel them lock around me I am broken again.

We push together closer, always closer, until another frantic whine echoes into my mouth. Every inch of the skin on mine is so hot. Rachel is feverish. I am fervent. Without thinking I cup my hands around her backside to slide us closer, the contact is so profoundly delicious.

Rachel's hand curls around my neck, her fingers find purchase on my chain and grip it tightly, as if tethering us together.

"Quinn, please, Oh God.."

The moment the words billow, like plumes of smoke, from her lips I am stalled. Reality strikes fierce to my gut as I tear myself out of Rachel's grasp. Everything has begun to crumble.

Forgive me for my sins. Be merciful to me.

Our gazes are locked. The space between us is a cavern. My eyes are distraught, Rachel's are bewildered, confused, but only for a moment, before knowing disillusionment fills them to the brim.

Wipe away my sins.

I have disappointed her deeply. This I know. But I can do nothing other than clutch at my crucifix tightly in remorse, the biting pain that flares through my hand is comforting. I am condemned.

I love this woman so much, but there is no room for her in my life. Flashes of wide smiles and white teeth flicker under my eyelids. I am not ready and there is no more time.

Wash away all my evil and make me clean again

"I'm..I'm so sorry."

I am backing up before the stuttered excuse finishes leaving my mouth. I don't know who I'm apologizing to more, Rachel or my mother. Rachel tries to grapple for me as I retreat but her limbs seem heavy and she cannot reach me in time.

Her eyes are bright with tears and I am filled with such self-hatred for having put them there. The notion is ridiculous, after what I have put her through today, but somehow, this seems so much worse.

"Quinn, please, don't do this."

Rachel stumbles towards me but my hand is already fumbling with my textbook and clutching for the doorknob. Just as I begin to turn it, she clumsily body-slams the door in a last ditch effort.

"Wait! Stop, please, just, stop running away from me!"

I breathe a deep sigh, she'll never understand that I just cannot let this happen. I have to convince her to give up on me. I set my jaw tightly and try to ignore the tingle that is still usurping my lips.

"I'm not running away. I'm leaving."

"What?"

Rachel's brow is furrowed and it aches to look at how beautifully bruised her lips are. I did that, my mouth, my lips, me.

"Today, with your locker and everything" I sigh and clear my throat, struggling for resolve. "It won't be like that anymore but please. Please. Don't do this again. You have to leave me alone Rachel. I'm not what you want."

Her hand is hot as it grips the doorknob over mine "Yes, you are! You are what I want."

I swallow at the emotion in the eyes before me. Lies, it's all lies. I'm not, I know I'm not. Rachel deserves the best, she deserves strength and bravery and romance and freedom and I am none of those things.

"Okay fine. Listen very carefully: you're not what I want. Okay?! I don't want you. Now leave me alone Rachel, I'm serious. Never pull this again."

Seeing the hurt in Rachel's eyes I know I have hit my mark. I find I have to look down at our hands in order to regain control of my breathing.

"Now, let me go."

Rachel hand squeezes around mine painfully and, looking back up, I expect to find tears, despondency, or just plain sadness in her eyes. I am not prepared for the affronted brown I am met with.

"Never!"

The word is an oath, a promise, and I know she's a diva but a part of me thinks she might actually mean it. It grieves me all the more; I'm not ready for any of this.

Rachel holds my gaze for a moment, determination never wavering, before slipping her hand from mine and effectively setting me free. The moment she lets me go I feel nothing but confusion; the lack of contact should make me feel better. It should, and yet, as the door clicks shut behind me, I cannot restrain myself from slamming my forehead against the wood.

I miss my boxes, I miss the order. It was painful but predictable. Nothing is predictable now, other than the fact that I have once again left Rachel alone. Something that I know she cannot stand. Something that I know hurts her deeply.

I can still hear her breathing on the other side. I imagine that we are pressed up against each other again, without the door between us. It is a final goodbye. I won't let myself think of this again.

"Quinn.."

Though it is muffled by wood and space, my chest still aches at the pleading dejection in Rachel's tone. I make a box in my mind and tape it shut. It's time to start again.

Turning to leave, I don't look back.

Chapter Text

Rachel.


12:43  pm

My foot jiggles nervously against the carpet as I wait to see Principal Figgins. The chair is wooden and uncomfortable and I find this irritates me beyond all reasoning.

I'm missing English Lit for this, and that just happens to be my favorite class of the day. Granted, it's mostly because I get to listen to Quinn's voice providing lyrical answers to passionate questions about love and hate and war and well, passion.

I've never been very good at articulating my responses to poetry or great literature. But Quinn, she reads a lot of it, and anyone can see that it touches her profoundly. So much so in fact that she usually tones down her HBIC persona for the duration of the lesson and actively answers questions in class. It is a beautiful thing to watch. A beautiful thing I am currently missing.

My eyes track briefly to the clock, ugh, I've been here for fifteen minutes and I still have no idea what I've even done to warrant a meeting with Figgins in the first place.

Finally, the door to his office opens and I shift my gaze to peek in. The view is immediately blocked however by a familiar red and white torso exiting towards me. My eyes burn dryly as they widen beyond belief, my mouth opens and closes ineffectually with no regard for words.

Quinn? Here? What on earth is..?

She stalls in front of me for a moment and I know she is as surprised to see me as I am to see her. Her eyes nervously flash between myself and Principal Figgins before they finally come to rest on me. It is a searching kind of connection that we make then and I feel my entire body come together under the gaze; centered once more.

"Rachel.." Her eyes penetrate in a slow and entreating push "I'm so sorry."

Quinn looks pale and entirely too focused on controlling her breathing, but she has disappeared out the door and down the hall before I can even think to question her strangely intense apology. I feel my stomach bottom out, the centered feeling erased completely.

"Ah Miss Berry, please come in."


10:22 am

My fingers clench tightly around the worn Lewis Carroll cover as I walk down the hall. This all has the potential to go very, very wrong.

Quinn and I crossed so many lines yesterday, in both the best and worst kinds of ways. She had never been quite that cruel to me and I had never cornered her quite so aggressively and we had both definitely never found ourselves locked together in a heated kiss before.

So, that was new; my lips still hum with the memory. Yes, that was deliciously.. wonderfully.. toe-curlingly..

New.

The moment I walked through the school doors yesterday morning I knew what was going to happen. Granted, I wasn't expecting the slushy attack to occur from inside my locker, for that I had to give Quinn props for her inventiveness. It was an interesting experience. The mixture had melted and thus was rendered absent of any icy sting.

After wiping the blue from my eyes the first sight to greet me was my white plastic bag, filled with a spare outfit and tightly double knotted, tucked away in a corner for safety; a position that I had definitely not left it in. After the wave hit I actually found myself waiting for a moment because surely there had to be more, that couldn't be it. But it was. I didn't know what to make of it.

After I had changed into a fresh outfit I knew I had to get Quinn alone, I needed more time with her. Ambushing her in that classroom had certainly not started out as an intended act of seduction. I just needed to see her so I could know what was going on. So her eyes could tell me what her lips didn't know how to voice.

But then she kissed me with those lovely, quiet lips of hers, and my entire world tilted in delicious surprise.

I thought that we had made it, I thought that I had finally pushed my way through. I, of course, had thought wrong.

After I had shored up my overwhelming disappointment at this, I spent the night laying in bed thinking about our kiss, thinking about our journey together thus far. Sometime after the fourth or fifth revision of our recent interactions I realized that we had both gone too far in our respective weaknesses. I was too desperate and Quinn was too destructive. We were muddling ourselves. I didn't like it.

I saw then, that each new push I made from there on out would be to our detriment. I thought about the endgame, the fantasy conclusion: Quinn, me, together, as us. Happy; building a beautiful life together out of our fragmented experiences.

It would be filled with kisses and laughter and losses and triumphs and a living, breathing, growing kind of love. It would be filled to the brim with all of these things.. with more.

Warmth flooded through my chest in reaching waves, it could all be so beautiful. But no matter how badly I wanted it, no matter how hard I pushed, I could not achieve it one-sidedly. I could not do it alone. I wanted Quinn as a partner, not as an accessory. So, perhaps, the biggest push this time would be, in fact, a pulling away.

Not complete, not blind, but purposeful. I could think of it as.. an intermission.

Quinn needed space, and whereas I would usually assume she would use any I gave her to run away and hide from what was happening between us, I felt deeply needing of this change. I did not want to spend my life loving someone who couldn't return my feelings. I did not want a phantom, I did not want a shadow. I wanted sunshine. Bright and blonde and beautiful, sunshine, and I felt as though she needed it too.

So, it is with a quivering heart that I approach Quinn's locker today. Her promise of a ceasefire in return for distance is fresh in my mind. I have no intention of pushing, no intention of breaking this delicate agreement we have made. After this encounter I will give her a wide berth, no matter how much it pains me, I will resist.

I only have one thing I need to give her first.

But, as I finally reach my destination, my train of thought stutters in confusion because Quinn is not where I expect her to be. Her locker is unattended. This surprises me so greatly that I don't actually stop walking until I'm only inches away from bumping into it, as if I could pick up on some clue made invisible by reasonable distance. There is no clue, there is nothing. Quinn is just, not there. I bite my lip, unsure. Because this eventuality was not factored into my plan of approach. Do I hover? Do I wait? Do I come back?

Suddenly a body moves behind me and I am enveloped in soft shadow, I know who it is before I even turn around.

Quinn is silent as she takes me in; eyes guarded and gently questioning. She is wearing her hair lower today, just like that last day of term years ago. I wonder if she's noticed, if it's intentional, or if it's just another random reflection I am able to make from my many detailed observations of her existence.

It doesn't really matter, the change makes her look even more beautiful and I am almost overwhelmed with wonderment over what she would do to me were she to wear her hair down. I recognize quickly that this train of thought is not conducive to maintaining restraint so instead I focus on calming myself and smoothly delivering my rehearsed speech.

"H-Hi.."

Blinking quickly, I am flushed with embarrassment. That was not how I was set to start. I was meant to open with a cheery yet decidedly platonic 'Good morning Quinn!' and go from there, but there is something decidedly different about the Quinn I'm looking at today. All physical appearances indicate that she is centered and waiting for access to her locker, but, there is something.. I cannot quite put my finger on it. Clearing my throat, I try again.

"I've got.. this is for you."

Practically shoving the book in her face, I once again curse my clumsiness. I was meant to be composed, elegant and in control throughout the entirety of this meeting but we're less than a minute into it and already I'm falling apart.

"Oh.."

The sound seems to leap unbidden from Quinn's lips. Her face is calm but there seems to be a terrible discord occurring in her eyes; a massive struggle of opposing forces; a conflict.

My breath catches and I stumble onward.

"You left it, with me. The other.. day, and I know that it's a favorite of yours so I didn't want you to be without it."

My insides cheer, a full sentence, well, kind of. It was awkwardly censored and not at all the linguistic masterpiece that I had prepared to perform, but it has gotten the bulk of my message across.

My strength further rallies around me for a moment when I notice Quinn give something else is subtle, almost subtle enough for me to miss it. Almost, but not quite.

Her eyes have crept downwards during my short rambling, curving around my jaw before trailing back up to my lips. The moment I finish speaking, she exhales a tiny, shallow sigh. I know this sound. I know that it is filled with a very specific kind of wanting and this knowledge causes me to stutter through the constriction that suddenly clenches in my chest; burning and tight.

I know exactly how she is feeling. Intimately so.

Because now that I have tasted those lips, now that I know what happens the moment they touch mine.. I feel awakened; aware. It is a curiously addictive thing, though I do resolve to try my best in smothering my instinctive desire to explore it further. There will be no pushing. Not today.

We stand there for a moment, me holding out Quinn's book and Quinn watching my gaze.

After a moment, her eyes move to take in the tattered novel, it almost looks as if she's seeing it for the first time. I see confusion begin to melt away in the wake of recognition and then one soft lip is being chewed on thoughtfully. Her eyes have tracked down to my gold star bookmark, shyly peeking out from a corner.

Immediately I know that she has seen it, I know that she knows where it has come from and, almost as immediately, I know that she will keep it forever.

This will be the hook, the teaser for her to open the book. To read. To lose herself in Wonderland again. She will try and wait but she loves this story and so, by the end of the day, she will buckle. I can already see it so vividly: Quinn, running her fingers over the cover during Spanish before slowly, carefully splitting the spine with a practiced hand in order to spread the pages wide before her, ready and eager. That is when she will know. That is when she will see it. My letter.

As my bumbling incoherence has proven today, I can never seem to say what I really mean when I'm around Quinn. My words, they make me feel a bit like Alice myself. Messy sounds, tumbling out from my chest. They are usually spoken with the practiced diction of a seasoned performer but in Quinn's presence they are either far too many, far too large, or far, far too few. Never quite what I need. I hope that this new approach will serve me better.

I wrote it last night in bed, leaning against the back of her novel for support. A part of me liked that I could just see a few of my words imprinted on it by the end. I liked that they would be there forever, regardless of what happened between us. I liked that a part of me had been etched through to something that Quinn held and cherished. Actually, I kind of loved it. Folding my letter in precise motions, I shaped it into a five pointed star before slipping it behind my bookmark. It read:

Attention Alice,

I can never find the right words to give you when we're together so I'm writing some down in the hopes that they will be better.

I don't want you to be afraid anymore, so I've decided to call a truce. I think, in the past few weeks, we have both shown the worst of ourselves. Your childish (and frankly, disappointing) prank was humiliating but, wrong or right, I am not completely without blame.

I know I push you and, lately, I have taken delight in this. For that, I am sorry for any injuries I have caused.

I need for you to know that what hurts the most in all of this, isn't the words or pranks or even the distance. It's the look you get on your face whenever we're together, like you're going to burst into flames every time you let yourself come close to me.

I want so much for you to not have that look happen anymore.

I don't know what you want, I don't even know if we're playing the same game, but, this is me, putting the ball in your court.

I hope this letter reaches you and please remember that I will be waiting for you.

I am broken from my musings by Quinn's fingers curling around the novel. She looks at me for a moment before giving a soft tug, pulling the book from my grasp and into hers. I feel the spark between us; clapping overhead like thunder; deep and rumbling with force.

A yielding collection after a tightly coiled letting go.. for a moment, I am breathless before her.

Unsurprisingly, Quinn is far more composed than I, but even she expels a small, shaky breath as our tenuous connection is severed, leaving charged particles, thick and heavy in the air around us, like a distant storm. Beautiful.

"Thank you."

Just when I get my breath back, I lose it again. The look on Quinn's face when she says those words, it means so much. More than I think she even realizes. I have to close my eyes for a moment, there are too many things swimming in them, too many emotions for me to hide. I am brimming with love. Love and a deep and hopeful kind of fear, I want so much for this to work. I will wait as long as she needs. I cannot imagine my life without her in it.

Opening my eyes again I take a step back, readying my retreat, but I cannot resist a final moment in her presence.

"You're welcome Quinn. Have a pleasant day, and don't be late-"

"I have a very important date."

Her smile lasts for only a moment but it is enough to blind my entire world with its radiance.

"I know."


12:57 pm

"SUSPENSION?!"

It comes out as a screech, it is not a flattering sound, certainly not becoming of a future Broadway star and EGOT laureate. I know this. But in that moment, I honestly don't care.

"You can't suspend her!"

My mind is reeling in astonished disbelief. I have spent the past few minutes practically bullying Principal Figgins into not taking this course of action. What the hell does Quinn think she's doing?!

"Miss Rachel Berry, your vocal performances necessitate finely tuned hearing so, for the last time, please understand that my hands are tied. Miss Fabray admitted to instigating an attack on you yesterday!"

"B-But she didn't, it wasn't her!"

I wince at the clumsy lie as Principal Figgins reclines his chair; already weary and drained. I'm fighting a losing battle and he is tiring of my protests.

"Miss Fabray has also provided written statements from each member of the engineering club outlining detailed accounts which support her story."

"But-!"

"Miss Berry. I am not exactly sure what is upsetting you but please understand that this matter is not up for discussion." My eyes blaze fire into his but I manage to hold my tongue. Barely.

"I brought you in here merely to put your mind at ease and let you know that justice was being served with your attacker receiving the standard two week suspension for a first offence."

I feel my face blanch reflexively upon hearing his words. Two weeks?! We are in our Senior year, there is no way a two week suspension will look anything other than awful on Quinn's academic record. She's going to be missing ten days of potential exam prep and not to mention her parents might actually attempt to kill her for this. How will she graduate then?!

"Look, Principal Figgins, Quinn is a model student, surely there is some other way-"

"The matter is closed. Miss Fabray's parents have already been alerted of their daughter's actions and Miss Fabray herself is probably already on her way home. Now unless you have any other questions, you may return to class."

My arms actually flail at his dismissal, this can't be it.

"Principal Figgins!"

"You are excused Miss Berry. Thank you."

I shakily stand to leave and just manage to close the door behind myself before I collapse back into my uncomfortable waiting room chair.

I need a moment. I just.. I have to take a moment.

Quinn confessed to the slushie bomb? I furrow my brow, was this her intention all along today? Did my letter somehow.. had she even read it?

Suddenly realizing I'm wasting valuable time ruminating, I push off from my chair and race towards Quinn's locker. Maybe I can still catch her. I promised her a wide berth but this has never happened before, why would Quinn risk herself like this? Her academic record, her position on the Cheerios, her relationship with her parents..Quinn is methodical, she must have considered this, she must have realized.

Skidding to a halt by her abandoned locker, I groan in despair. Gone. Damn. I'm about to turn around and leave when I see a small slip of green paper sitting out from one of the grates of her locker. I know the shade, it's from one of Quinn's notebooks, I bite my lip for seventeen long heart beats before I make my move. I shouldn't, I really shouldn't..

But I do.

Tugging the note free from her locker, I am filled with giddy relief when I see a star printed on the front of it. A note. From Quinn. To me. In spite of my raging confusion, I actually can't stop myself from executing a gleeful twirl in the empty hallway.

Unfolding the sheet of paper, I stare at the small passage that is printed before me; stretching across the page in Quinn's lyrical, flowing text.

Please don't be mad. I'm sorry for the hurt.

Thanks.

I read over the words countless times, soaking them in, learning, studying, deciphering. It seems as though the two statements are not directly related.

Please don't be mad. I scoff at the likelihood of that happening. Quinn, of course, would know how appalled I would be once I found out she had jeopardized her academic welfare and attendance record. And then, I'm sorry for the hurt. Short words.. simple even, but they almost ruin me right there in the hallway.

Because there has been so much hurt, for the both of us. There will probably be more, but things are changing now. Perhaps they've been changing all along. Perhaps we have always been on this steady course, or perhaps we've derailed from whatever fate has tied us to in order to explore this new and very different happening.

Tracing my fingers over Quinn's carefully drawn star, a deep sigh unfurls from my chest. Suspended. That is definitely a fitting word. My mind tries to wrap itself around the fact that I will not be seeing Quinn for the next fourteen days. This reaction was not something I was expecting when I wrote my letter.

This isn't a Quinn that I can predict, and knowing this, excites me beyond belief. She is right. There has been hurt, so much of it, but who knows what there will be to come?

Hope has always blossomed quite beautifully in my heart and, pushing Quinn's note to my chest, I feel full with the feeling. We are moving. In baby steps of course, but perhaps, perhaps there will be something more waiting for me this time.

Chapter Text

Quinn.


It wasn't quite as difficult as I envisioned it would be, but then again, things like this usually just require the right angle and I have always been proficient in shaping perspective.

I explained to my parents that I had lost my temper and lashed out at Rachel in school, but then, upon prayerful reflection, realized that although she was the product of a sinful environment, it wasn't fair of me to punish her for it. So, the only truly Christian thing to do in the situation was for me to admit my failings and repent for my sins.

In spite of the fact that I had been handed a two week suspension during the most important academic year of my life, I don't think my parents had ever been quite so proud and, knowing that, made parts of myself that I thought long dead, begin to ache anew.

My father put his hand over the back of my neck and squeezed once in affection, the contact made my cheeks flush and my palms tingle. So rarely did I make him proud and so profoundly did it affect me when I did that it was almost enough to convince me that's why I did it.

Of course, none of this stopped my mother from reminding me that I had invited Sam over that night and insisting on spending the next three hours making sure I was adequately prepared for his arrival.

It was a fine line; a sharp sword on which I walked.

Through every new outfit I tried on with my mother I thought of Rachel. I thought of opening her letter in Spanish, I thought of the way my fingers traced over each of the star's five points before they began to unfold the paper until it mirrored my resolve: undone.

I don't think Rachel even realized what it meant to me; what her words would do. How could she, when I didn't even know? It was a first. I would remember it always.

The first time in my life that I had been given control. Neural pathways sparked wildly through my body at the gift I was receiving. Control. I wasn't a stranger to having it, to wielding it, often expertly and with devastating results. But that was very different. This was new. A new chapter, a fresh page, something untouched and virgin.

Control, not seized but given. Not taken but offered, and so freely.

The very notion sent delicious waves of warmth flooding through my veins, it made my fingertips glow with heat, my stomach flutter. It teased the insides of my thighs until they were helplessly trembling with the wonder of this new and remarkable something I was experiencing.

Rachel had put the ball in my court. I could do anything I wanted, no pushing, no looking into mirrors at things I did not know how to see. I could never speak to her again. I could probably manage to never see her again. I was almost volatile in my excitement, but the moment faded with quick intensity when I realized I didn't actually want to do any of those things and although what I did want would never be a possibility, there was one wish that I could fulfill. Terrifying at it was,I felt almost as if I had been granted permission to take a sideways step; to steer off course, if only for a moment. It was exhilarating as long as I didn't allow myself to think on it too closely.

There was something that I had the power to do, something good, something that would be important to Rachel but, even more so, something that would be important to me. I had to tell the truth, if not about everything then at least about something, for once in my life. I didn't really let myself think about it, it just seemed.. right.

It didn't change anything, I would always be my parents daughter. I would be duty and grace at home, beauty and greatness at school, but perhaps, perhaps I could allow myself to not be quite so terrible. To not make others fall and hurt like I did. To not inflict that burning pain.

Thinking on this, I wondered if Rachel had gotten my note. I hoped so deeply that she had; I don't think I could ever be brave enough to write it again.

A deep and resonate rumble of thunder snaps my attention away from the crack in my ceiling and squarely back onto Sam, who is currently hovering above me.

His hand is soft as it trails down my arm. Not soft enough. His lips are smooth against my neck. Not smooth enough. He smells.. wrong. He smells wrong. I tense as panic creeps into my limbs at the turbulence of this train of thought.

The gentle, percussive strike of rain begins to play against my windowpane. It is a wonderfully romantic occurrence that makes me sick to my stomach almost immediately.

I should never have started thinking about Rachel.

Sam gently moves a hand down my side, it brushes the zipper of my cheerios uniform. Unbidden, I think of Rachel's trembling fingers and, at once, everything I have desperately tried to stitch together completely falls apart.

He's not.. it's not right, nothing here is right. My body sags in ache of something I can't even begin to decipher.

I feel as though I'm.. on loan. Rented out? This makes no sense. I am no one's but my own. This has always been the case. But, as I try to keep my twitching limbs in order, I cannot deny that it is as though something has been opened within me; a box unlocked, and all I can think of as I hastily rub a salty tear from my face is how badly I need it to be closed again.

I can't do this. Another tear. I actually can't do this. There has been a change.

"S-Sam…"

Sam looks up at me from his place at my neck. His face is instantly panicked, eyes deep with concern. He removes his hands immediately and pushes back, freeing me of his weight.

"Babe?"

"I'm sorry, it's not, I just.."

Before I can say another word I throw myself off the bed and flee. I can't do this. I can't do this. Why can't I do this? I've done this before. Slamming the bathroom door shut behind me I sink to the floor in shame.

What the fuck?!

One minute, two minutes, six minutes pass and then Sam is at my door; gently knocking.

"Quinn.. babe, are you okay? I'm so sorry. Listen, please.." my heart sinks when I hear the phrase, it's all backwards, it's all wrong.

"Please talk to me."

My eyes push closed at the plea because I can't. I can't say a word.

"Quinn. I'm trying here, I don't know what to do. I'm so sorry if I hurt you. I didn't know.."

Guilt hits my body as I hug my knees tighter to my chest, of course he didn't know. I am the villain here. Sam is the victim. Everything about tonight is wrong. I let out a ragged sigh.

"You didn't hurt me Sam, it's not your fault. None of this is your fault, okay? Please just go."

Resting my head against the tiles, I hate myself for the pathetic 'it's not you, it's me' speech I can feel sitting heavy on my tongue. What the hell has Rachel done to me? I should be lying in bed right now bending my teasing v pleasing rule to make up for my insane behavior.

I should not be letting myself feel sick over the thought of anyone but Rachel touching me. What has happened to me? Why did she have to give me that stupid letter? Why did I have to veer off course? What good did I possibly think would come of any of this?

I hear Sam lean against the door heavily and my heart sinks again. Well that's the answer isn't it? I wasn't thinking. I didn't rationalize, I couldn't. I couldn't think of anything beyond doing something good for her, beyond the precious gift she had given me, beyond her lips and my lips pushing together.

In our most basic forms, her heart being added to mine. I could think of nothing beyond that perfect and brilliant equation. Us. Together. It was glorious.

I cannot help but let out a sob at this realization. I am so, so, undeniably ruined. What has she left me fit for now? What is there left for me to be? I have been picked apart and left in pieces.

Ruined.

Sam seems to make a decision because, after another quiet sob bubbles up from my chest, I hear the door creak open slowly. I curse myself for not having the foresight to lock it. Thoughtless. Again. I am sick with disappointment at myself. Ruined.

A fleeting flash of lightning darts across my vision, leaving me temporarily blinded. When I am able to focus again, I see that his eyes are rimmed in gentle red as he regards me from the doorway. The sight is completely unexpected and my heart trips in surprise at it. I've never seen a man cry before. He is made up of thick bones and hard muscle but he is wrapped in the smoothness of soft skin and, shamefully, for the first time perhaps, I cannot bring myself to hurt him.

My face crumbles in fear of this as I sink into his questioning gaze.

"Sam..I.."

I think of Rachel. I think of strength and bravery and romance and freedom. I think of everything she is that I am not. She is reckless with emotion, she is careless with herself, but she is also courage. She is made of deepest, deepest courage. I am not. This I know, but here I go, further off course. Sink or swim.

"I'm.. I think there's something wrong with me?"

My eyes are closed and I have never been more afraid in my life. This is going against everything I know. But what does that even mean anymore? When everything I know goes against me anyway? I have been a wrecked vessel since the moment Rachel changed my world, sunken since the moment I stole a perfect kiss.

Sam is next to me in seconds, silent and warm he wraps his arms around me. They are careful. He is careful. Platonic. This is not a lover's hold. It is nice to feel so held together, as if I could fall apart and yet still remain intact within this hold. Is this what people mean when they speak of feeling safe?

I don't even realize I'm crying until I feel his hold tighten and, for once, I am not worried about what I should be doing, what is normally acceptable, what any other girl would do. Because nothing about the past hour has been normal anyway, so why should we start now?

"I'll go downstairs and find some cocoa" his smile is hesitant, nervous. Cocoa? He is trying so hard. I think I love him for it. "Take a moment and then come down for some couch time" at this he fumbles with himself and flushes "uh, talking. Talking couch time. Friend couch time."

My eyebrow shoots up questioningly. Friend?

I must have said it out loud because already he is nodding as he moves away "Of course. We'll always be that. No matter what."

I feel lost. Have I missed a conversation? Did it go so awfully wrong that I simply blocked it from my memory? Resting my hand on the warm tiles Sam's body has left behind, I doubt that. He is such a good man and this terrifies me because it will make hurting him that much worse.

I briefly contemplate finding some other way, spinning some other lie to make the cut less deep for him, but the thought leaves my mind almost as soon as it's formed. He may not know his Byron or his bar graphs but Sam's heart is very, very smart and it seems as though he already knows. Not the whole truth of course. But something, he knows something, and it feels so very strange to not be afraid of this.

Well, not entirely afraid anyway. The very fact that he is downstairs waiting for me fills my heart with a very small amount of hope, and with that, I push up off the ground to make my way downstairs. It's just a small amount, but it's enough.


The cocoa is overpowering in its sweetness; I can only manage three tiny sips before my head begins to hurt. Sam has almost finished his. We are sitting together on the couch in my living room, silent, tense, but safe.

I am desperate for a way to avoid the somber gaze Sam is directing at me so I fiddle nervously with my phone instead; filing through and deleting the numerous messages that Brittany and Santana have been leaving since my suspension without conscious thought.

The novelty of the distraction sinks away after only a short moment though, and I'm once again left raising my eyes despite myself.

Sam swallows the last of his drink and sets it on the coffee table before turning to face me again, he has pulled his legs up and is hugging them loosely.I realize then that he must also be afraid, but for very different reasons.

His voice is low and soft, it comes out slightly rough from the milk in the hot chocolate.

"Tell me."

Locking my screen, I squeeze the smooth plastic in my grip with trembling fingers in an effort to control my racing heart. Taking a moment to rationalize, I know that this is the right thing to do. I cannot continue as I am, there has been a change. A shift. Whether it's from the game or player I cannot tell, but the rules of my life are different now and I must either adapt or perish.

In the end, all of this means nothing of course as I cannot seem to get any words to leave my mouth.

"I..I ca…I don…mhn…"

I whimper helplessly and try to use my gaze to communicate my predicament. A part of me is seething with the humiliation of the moment. I am Quinn Fabray, I am beautiful and (yes!) terrible and great and I cannot even find it within myself to speak. I feel pathetic.

Ruined.

Sam picks up on my problem and crosses his legs, running a hand over his mouth. "Okay.. I'll start."

"You.. don't love me?"

My head is bowed, this is going to suck. I shake my head.

"Okay. You, don't even.. like me?"

I can tell he is trying very hard to remain calm so I close my eyes and quickly shake my head.

"Is there.. do you.. like someone else?"

This question trips me up because I do.. but it's not.. the question doesn't seem to fit the circumstance. Sam interprets my silence correctly and speaks again.

"Wow, you love someone else?"

Moments pass. The rain is heavier now; falling outside in fat sounding thumps of adrenaline. Carefully, I gather every shred of resolve I have and bring my eyes back to his. I am shaking from the pressure of all the words I have trapped inside me.

Finally, I feel a small pocket of release.

"I'm.. I'm so sorry for hurting you Sam, believe me when I say I did everything I could to make this go away."

His eyes flicker to the floor for a moment and my heart aches at the hurt sadness that momentarily fills them. He nods slowly and catches my gaze again.

"Who is he?"

My mind stutters for the second time in as many minutes and I take a deep and shaky breath to still myself. This is the moment, isn't it? This is.. tears begin to pool in my eyes as I frantically look at anywhere but Sam. I don't know if I can do this, I don't know what I'll do if he gets angry or violent or screams or cries or..

But all thoughts stop, as a small, surprised sound leaves his lips.

"Oh.."

My eyes burn in defensive confusion. It takes everything within me not to snap. What the hell is that supposed to mean?!

Taking in my posture his eyebrows furrow, it takes a moment but then both shoot up, almost high enough to be comical. Almost.

"Oh!"

My tenuous resolve is instantly broken and my eyes slip closed again.

"Sam.."

"Who..Who is she?"

I am flushed with panic the moment I hear him voice the question "I.. I can't.." and I really, really, can't. He has to understand, this is not something that I've ever talked about. This isn't something that I usually even let myself think about.

"I don't think I can do this."

Sam's eyes are steady against mine. I feel immediate discomfort at how closely I am being studied. But, this is Sam, heart smart, strong and, I'm learning, quite wonderful, so I try my best to smother the alarm in my chest.

"Is it Santana? Because I'm pretty sure Brittany would kick your ass if you tried to tap that, plus she's kind of psychotic.. I'm pretty sure she poisons Mr. Schue's coffee when she doesn't get a solo."

I am so grateful for Sam's light-hearted jest that I don't even try to hold back my graceless snort "Santana? Were you dropped on your head as a child?! Like I'd ever-" He cuts me off this time, and the casual nature of his words slices me to the core.

"It's Rachel isn't it?"

"WHAAT?!"

I am up off the couch and five paces up the stairs before the word even finishes leaving my lips.

Sam turns around, frowning wryly at my movement. His shrug is casual, knowing "I knew it. You guys have been making waves since day one. Is it weird that I'm slightly less hurt because it's her?"

I am dumbstruck as my knees buckle, bringing me down to sit on the sixth step. Waves, w-we.. what?

"Oh, shit."

I feel at sea. My head is in my hands and my body tips violently before the panic sets in; noxious and dizzying in effect. Rachel knew, Sam suspected. I thought I was playing my part perfectly. I thought I was merciless in my execution. Suddenly, my head snaps up.

"You, you can't say anything. Please Sam, I.. No one can know."

His laugh is small but I can still hear the hint of hurt in it as he makes his way over to me. "What do you think I'm going to do Quinn? Out you to the whole school? I'm not a jerk!"

A nauseous wave washes through me at his words. Out me? I'm not.. I sigh, face flushed. I can't believe this is actually happening.

"Does she know?"

For a heartbeat I can feel my knees burn in painful remembrance, suppressing a dark laugh at the understatement, I nod.

"She knows."

She knows far, far too much.

"We kissed.."

My eyes flicker across to Sam's. Again, I find I don't want to lie anymore- though I breeze past this realization without giving it any further examination. Too much. That would be too much to think about.

"We kissed but then I.. I left."

Sam's nod is small, reserved, as he takes this in.

"You ran away."

Narrowing my eyes I am not at all appreciative of the similarities between Rachel and Sam's interpretation of what occurred that day.

"No. I left."

The roll of his eyes is frustrated and knowing, it makes me shuffle in my spot on the stairs.

"No, you ran away because you got scared and that's what you do when you get scared." He flicks his hand at the space between us "Case in point. You run or you get really, really scary which, I'm also guessing by the way, is why you decided to go all psycho slushie tsunami on her locker the other day and get yourself suspended?"

I look down at the pleats of my yellow summer dress but all I can think of is blue.

"Yeah, that was.."

"Awful."

I nod, suddenly overcome with cold from the sound of thunder and rain outside.

"Yeah.."

Sam sighs and looks out one of the nearby windows, frowning at the gushes of wet trails that are beginning to splinter and vein before us.

"I can't believe it's raining so hard."

I trace my gaze over his face in silent contemplation. "I'm sorry" I thought the apology would sound old and overused spilling from my lips. But it doesn't, it sounds genuine and laced with regret. I think Sam feels this and he gives me a smile as he drags his face away from the storm.

"Don't worry about it, it feels weirdly better to know I never had a chance to begin with, plus you're like insanely high maintenance so I kind of dodged a bullet right there."

"Pft, yeah right Evans."

I try to control the happiness that shines through my smirk. I think we'll be okay and I am surprised at how important it is to me that this is the case.

A moment of content flutters between us before Sam swings himself over the couch until he's sitting on an arm rest. His face has darkened slightly, now shaded with muted concern.

"Yikes.. so, Rachel Berry..? After everything.."

"Yeah."

My nod is short, I know where his mind is going because it's where mine has been since the day I met Rachel.

"You kind of don't deserve her."

Another nod. I know this, but this time I remain silent.

"So?" Sam's eyebrows raise in question, but I'm confused..

"So what?"

"So, what are you going to do to change that?"

My eyes are sad and I feel unprepared for the impact of this particular emotion. I think this is the first time I've ever allowed myself to feel anything inside my living room. It is strange, to physically express something occurring within me outside of the privacy of my room.

"I'm not going to do anything. Because nothing is ever going to happen."

Sam's hand waves away the finality of my statement like it's nothing more than an insect.

"Oh please, I get that you're attracted to her and you can't deal with that so you went and pulled a crazy Fabray, but you slushie bombed her locker.. it's not like you stole her voice or insulted Broadway! She'll forgive you."

I feel tightness in my chest at how simple Sam makes our interactions seem. There is so much more at play. Crossing my arms I can't help but spit out a plaintive argument.

"She might, but she shouldn't!"

Sam's expression suggests he's struck gold. His finger is tense and pointing right at me.

"Ah, I get it now, you don't want her to!"

"What? No-"

I admit that I do splutter through this, but I'm sure it's more from shock than any kind of uncertainty. Sam isn't buying it though.

"Don't give me that. You don't, because it's easier. Look, I don't know what the deal is between you two but, if I'm reading your waves right" he ignores my scoff at his terminology and continues on "you love her and she loves you so-"

Now I'm the one that's found gold, he has stumbled. He is wrong. "That's where you're wrong, she doesn't, she may think she does, but I know she doesn't." The victory on my face is muted because of the subject matter, but regardless, I do enjoy winning.

"Oh get over it Quinn of course she does, everyone knows she went nuts at Figgins when he told her you got suspended, he practically had to have her forcibly removed from his office and anyway, it's not your call to make. I don't have to tell you that we don't get to choose who we fall in love with. The fact that she's still pursuing you after all your crazy says something doesn't it?"

Sam's face is incredulous and it makes me feel like, for the first time in any of our interactions, I am the slow one. Still, I recover and meet his parry with a thrust.

"Yeah, it says she's certifiable!"

Sam holds my gaze for a moment before finally holding his hands up in, what looks like, surrender. Sadly, I feel nothing like a victor.

"Look, if you want to spend the rest of your life in a miserable box then that's your deal. But, if you don't, something's gotta give."

Sam's comment hits closer to home than he realizes; my boxes are important to me, they have been the foundation of my existence thus far. I've been thinking that I've been their keeper, but perhaps.. I bite my lip, another perhaps. This is dangerous territory for me to explore, though I cannot help but make the step.

My life to date had been a series of composed decisions, boxed directions that I have chosen; taping rulers over my arms to improve my piano posture, cutting Lucy away, trying out for the Cheerios, following Finn to Glee club.

I take a moment to visualize the rest of this life that I am constructing; it is largely a rehearsed imagining.

I am living in the Lima suburbs, I have a clean house and a husband who is taller than I am in heels. He knows how to close deals and open Champagne. I have two children, both girls, and we have no pets. My parent's faces are worn but smiling, my father's hand is warm around my husband's shoulder. I stay away from music and drink myself to sleep.

This has been my vision, my path. The box that I have made. But suddenly the sound of thunder has lemon sherbet ghosting through my mind and, all at once, I envision a window full of gardenias; cultivated and glorious. They are proud and white and sit in large blue pots that drip with domesticity.

I see shelves full of messy books and hot breakfasts topped with sticky syrup. I feel the soft shag of puppy fur, the wondrous grit of dirt under my nails, and slick, ivory keys beneath my fingertips. I hear music, and laughter, and song. Finally, I taste Rachel on my tongue and I feel the deepest warmth I've ever known begin to whisper through my bones.

My knees buckle on the stairs, it feels cruel. But perhaps, just perhaps, it could all be so different.. Sam's voice is the one to echo through my carefully assembled home.

"Does anyone else know? Your mom? Dad?"

The blue pots on the window tear like paper and then the fantasy is gone from me; a phantom that I do not have the time to grieve.

"My parents?! God, no!"

Again I find I've shot up and jumped a few more stairs. Every inch of me twitches with unspent, anxious energy as I stumble through my panicked ramble.

"What exactly do you think I'll be able to say Sam? You go to our church! You think I'll just be able to sit my mom and dad down and say 'Yeah thanks, school was just fine, and by the way, I kind of kissed that tiny Jewish girl that you've spent my entire life engineering me to hate.' I don't think s-"

"Quinn?"

My father's voice is puzzled and jagged, it immediately disrupts the atmosphere that Sam and I have painstakingly cultivated through the night. He is standing at the kitchen entrance, keys still in hand. Mouth closed, he drops them on a nearby table.

"Quinn.." I echo in a breathy whisper. He's early. He's alone. He's come in through the backdoor. We couldn't have possibly heard him, why.. why would he do that? I frown when I seethe raindrops clinging desperately to his blazer. It's dry clean only.

"Daddy, hi, you're back! Where's mom?"

Lightning flashes above our heads but my face is balanced. I give nothing away.

I breeze down the stairs in careful indifference, intent on kissing his cheek hello. I am caught however, by a hand on my wrist. His look is friendly but his eyes are fierce.

Oh no.

His eyes flicker towards Sam and rest on him for a moment.

"She'll be back soon, but it's late son. I think it's about time you went home."

Sam looks to me, the worry in his eyes out of place when grouped with the casual expressions my father and I are projecting. It's not his fault, he doesn't know how the game is played. Reality only ever hits our family in private. The only indicators that anything could be amiss are my father's fingers slowly constricting around my wrist.

"He's right babe, it's pretty late. I'll call you later okay? Drive safe."

Tapping the phone in my pocket my smile is careful. I am a master of my craft. Even so, Sam is not buying it as he reluctantly slips past us towards the door.

"Right. Well, just so you know, it takes my car a while to warm up so, I'll be outside."

My father and I watch him leave in silence and then, the moment the door clicks closed, I am being spun into the banister. The contact is hard.

"Would you like to explain exactly what it was that I just overheard?"

My fingers clutch the railing in panic. Though I play the part of indignant daughter perfectly.

"Jeez dad, relax,it's nothing, I was just telling Sam a joke!"

"A joke. That is funny Quinn. Because Mrs. Woodrow mentioned tonight that she saw someone who looked very much like you holding hands with the daughter of the Berry perverts or, I'll use your words, that 'tiny Jewish girl', last week."

I furrow my brow in genuine confusion before I am struck with remembrance. Falling down at Rachel's feet, walking into Rachel's house, the soft, guiding tug of her hand in mine. Mom discovered my lie and now there would be no excuse to cover this from my father.

My eyes slip closed in acknowledgment as all breath leaves my lungs. I am winded. I find I cannot even scramble for an alternative explanation. There has been outside interference, time slows.

My game is lost.

"Your mother is still there making nice right now. I, of course, had to make it very clear that she must have been mistaken, because there was no way our Quinn would be caught dead doing anything like that."

Instantly, I am sickened with shame at his steps closer to me and once again encircles my wrist; tethering me to the moment.

"This is why you got suspended? This?! You will not see that..girl again Quinn." My heart thumps painfully in my chest cavity. He can barely even say the word.

"You will join me in nightly prayers. You will join Father McAlister for daily penance. You will cease all extracurricular activities and you will prepare to change schools immediately. And if I ever hear of you being a part of something so perverted again, you will no longer be my daughter. Do you understand me Quinn?"

There is a painful lump in my throat but just as I am readying for collapse I am surprised to find that anger; steaming and serpentine, quickly strikes to overtake my shame. There has been a change. Adapt or perish, my thrashing mind screams, that is the new game.

"No."

"No?"

My father seems to bark at the hilarity of the word and his jolted movements sprinkle stale raindrops onto my cheeks. I don't have the presence of mind to remove them.

"That's right dad, no. No, I don't understand. And I don't appreciate you attempting to threaten me into submission. I like my school and I.. I like my life" I know the lie is there, but it's important that I carry on "and you're being unreasonable if you think I'm going to throw it all away just because Mrs. Woodrow thinks she's Nancy Drew!"

"You're right Quinn. You don't understand. This is not an option. She basically told the entire table that you've been engaging in perverted and sinful behavior more befitting of that whore's 'fathers.' That family has members littered throughout at least seven congregations in this state! I will not ignore this!"

I find myself incredulous at his stance. My father, a self-professed man of God, and what he fears most in this situation is gossip? For a moment I actually can't believe it and then, when I see the stony determination in his eyes, my adrenal system spasms into overdrive. My entire world has been built on the strength of his conviction, on his pious countenance, and he's just..

"Are you serious right now?! And what if I am dad?! What right do you have to judge ANYTHING I do?! What right do you have to be a part of anything I FEEL?! You've ignored most of the past seventeen years of my life!"

"I am your father. I have EVERY right!"

Like clockwork, my head begins to hang at his solid shout, because seventeen years have taught me that he's right. He is my father and everything I am and have is thanks to him.

His voice is gravelly with anger and disgust. I feel my insides bruise at the speed with which my heart sinks.

"Lord, help us Quinn. I knew it. God knows that there's always been something wrong with you."

The words are sharp and sting harder than any slap. They have been seventeen years in the making. Something in me crumbles at finally hearing them but just as I am about to fall apart in disgrace I remember Rachel. I remember control. I remember pushing and a soft, soft sweater. I remember strong arms; wet with my tears but still encased tightly around me. And words. I remember words.

"I personally think, that there's something wrong with them and that whatever you two talk about in prayer is probably quite profound and beautiful."

White gardenias. Blue pots. There's a storm above this house tonight and Rachel is made of deepest courage.

"Maybe.."

Fingernails cut into my palms as I rally everything within me.

"Maybe there is something wrong with me. But it's not Rachel, maybe what's wrong with me is whatever the hell is wrong with you."

My father steps back; we are both reeling. I blink in shock at the look on his face. I've never.. courage.

"You're a hateful, spiteful person dad. You're proud and cold and you're the reason the only things I feel inside me are decay and rot."

My father descends towards me and the grip he puts on my wrist is painful.

"You perverted little harlot, how dare you speak to me that way!"

I try to wrench myself away but he is large and I am flailing, focused on nothing else but emptying myself before him. I feel completely out of control. Nausea sits deep within my stomach and pulses with each word that shoots from my lips.

"It's you! You cut the best parts of me away. The only parts I loved!"

His scoff is cruel, it pulls at my insides painfully.

"Oh enough. You asked for it, you were miserable! We did it for you. Do you think anyone would want to know the old you? Lucy Caboosey? You think you'd have anything without this face?! You wouldn't! I should know, I paid for it!"

The slaps he delivers to the face in question are hard but I do not want to look away from him. I find myself dizzy with feeling each time he strikes my cheeks.

"And now you're just throwing it all away for some perverted fantasy, well not if I can help it, not my daughter!"

I barely notice his fingers curl around my crucifix through the throbbing in my skull, everything swims into sharp focus however the moment I feel the hot bite of metal pushing into my skin.

The snap is small, drowned by my father's harsh breaths but I feel it all the same. I feel the damage. The chain is broken.

Finally, I manage to pull myself away from my father's grasp and stare in shock at the chain in his fist. I touch my neck on instinct; it is empty- in mourning. I watch the man in front of me then; fingers clutching at gold, I see how angry he is at the world. I am in mourning too.

"You know.. you're right, I don't know what I would have been without this face or without you, I'll never know. This isn't all because of you. It's me too. I hate how much I've needed you to love me. My whole life. I've hated it."

His eyes are burning and inches from my own but I am cold and I cannot bring myself to feel anything other than grief.

"But I love you, daddy.. I love you-"

The screech that is ripped from my lungs is high and deafening, even to my own ears, as he grabs me by the hair and pulls me towards the door; already being pounded on from the other side.

It swings open and I am thrust carelessly against Sam's dripping body just as he is readying to grapple with my father.

"You get out of this house right now and you never come back."

I feel as though the thousands of nerve endings that make up my solar plexus all simultaneously burst at once and the experience it is profound in its painful intensity.

I knew how this story would end, but still, I am stricken.

"Daddy.. Please.."

Any danger brought on by my father's advancing figure is halted immediately by the rough shove Sam gives to his chest. My father's fist is sharp as it connects with Sam's face in response, knocking us both back. Rain falls diagonally across my vision but I can still see that his eyes are hard.

"Don't you ever call me that again. I don't want to see you, I don't want to hear you, as far as I'm concerned you do not exist to me anymore Quinn. You're dead."

My eyes close with the slamming of the door and all I can think of is the half finished cocoa I have sitting on the coffee table, the roughness of the wallpaper leading up to my room, my books.. I fold myself clumsily into Sam's arms, hoarsely crying out for my father.

He has been the compass of my life. He has made me what I am, and now, he is 's voice is muffled by the ringing in my ears and the storm against my skin.

"Quinn..I need you to tell me where you want to go. Do you want to go to Rachel's?"

I shake my head into his chest, suddenly feverish with panic.

"No! Not her! I can't.. she can't know Sam. She can't know anything about any of this!"

Rachel already knows too much. I can't handle seeing her right now.I'm not sure if I can handle ever seeing her again. Sam seems to understand the seriousness of my fear because he nods in simple acceptance without another word.

"Okay, where then? Where can we go?"

I am desperately aware that I need to compose myself but every time I try and pull the threads of my mind together everything just unravels again. Where can I go? Nowhere. I have no one. I am alone. Cut away from my family, just like Lucy. I am refuse, no longer beautiful or terrible or great. I am nothing.

My tongue feels thick in my mouth, clumsily I try to think. There is no one. Or.. maybe?

"My.. my sister? I haven't seen her in a while but.. maybe."

Fumbling for the phone that is still sitting in my pocket, I pull up Fran's address. The screen blurs with rain before suddenly being shielded from above, it is only then that I realize Sam is carrying me to his car. Tears begin to fall anew when I take in the swelling on his face.

"Sam.."

"I know, it's okay. Everything's going to be okay."

The moment I am placed in his passenger seat my eyes start to sink closed. Exhaustion is dragging me down. I am drowned. My head is pounding. Before everything begins to fade I grip for his hand, it is shaking and his fingers are cold. There's so much I still have to say, I want to apologize for the hurt, I want to explain, but I settle for the most important words I can grab for the moment. I've been saying them so often lately.

"Thanks."

Chapter Text

Rachel.


I wake Thursday morning thick with sleep when the smell of damp wood hits my nose. Blinking heavily, I focus my gaze on the battered leaves adorning the oak outside my window and sigh. A storm swept through the world last night and its passing has rendered the air oddly chilled. It leaves me dreading going to school even more fiercely than before.

Usually invigorated and alert, I barely make it through my elliptical workout. I am not looking forward to discovering how boring classes are going to be without Quinn.

One hot shower and two bags of apple slices later, I begin my walk to the bus. I'm still out of sorts. I know that I'm being dramatic, it's only two weeks, that's barely anything; a mere blip on the radar of my life.

And yet..

When I pull my locker door open, I catch sight of a blonde Cheerio from the corner of my eye and instinctively sigh. Immediately shifting my gaze towards her, I slouch slightly as she passes by.

Because she's not Quinn, she's not even close.

Fluttering my fingers over my books I sigh again, this time with resolve; two weeks. It's only two weeks, and it helps when I remember why Quinn is absent in the first place. When I remember our kiss and my letter and her note and the delicious buzz of possibility that has been following me around since yesterday afternoon. All of these little things help because it is all of these little moments that are sending us on our way.

Dragging my chemistry textbook out, I find that I have to fight the smile that makes its way to my face at the light blue color the pages have turned. It's really not funny, except for that, to me, it kind of is. I walk at a leisurely pace, there is nothing to delay me today so, for once, I have long strands of time at my disposal.

Turning a corner my ears pick up on the lilt of Sam's famous 'impression voice' sounding faintly in the distance which, amongst certain members of the Glee club, is also kind of affectionately known as 'the voice he uses for all of his impressions regardless of who they actually are'. Raising my eyes I smile at the back of Sam's shaggy head and the barely suppressed laughter evident on Mercedes' face.

"The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about fight club!"

Mercedes' laugh is loud and musical she finishes putting her books away and grins "that one is waay too easy.. Brad Pitt!"

"Nope!" I see Sam hang against his locker, bouncing on the soles of his feet with delight.

Shutting her locker Mercedes frowns. "What? Of course it is!"

I've just about reached them when I hear Sam's reply. "Nope! That one was Edward Norton.. Impression ninja Evans uses one character played by two actors for mind bending results!"

A chuckle bubbles in my chest at the indignant expression that has stamped its way across Mercedes' face. I intend on walking by and saying a simple hello but then Sam turns around to face me and I can't suppress my horrified gasp.

"Oh my God! Sam, what happened to your face?!"

Sam's eyes immediately begin shifting around the hall, almost nervously.

"Oh, hey Rachel."

I take a step towards him on automatic, the area under his right eye is dark purple and raised, obviously from a hard, closed-fisted strike.

"Are you okay? What happened to you?"

Sam looks at Mercedes, who is waiting patiently, and scrambles to organize his books and catch up with her.

"It's nothing, I joined the boxing team. Bye Rachel!"

I feel my eyes narrow as Sam begins to walk away from me, he is nervous and rushing and something just.. isn't right.

"Sam, wait! How's Quinn?"

I don't know why that particular question comes out of my mouth. It's a strange thing to say and I have no reason to be asking but something within me just needs to know.

I'm very glad I do ask though because, as soon as Sam hears it, he stops and turns around, mumbling an 'I'll meet you there' to Mercedes who shrugs and walks away. The look on his face is almost incredulous and that confuses me more than the bruise on his face.

"Why do you care?"

Blinking, I try not to let my face show my hurt at the question.

"I'm sorry?"

Sam's eyes are careful and I feel as though I'm being studied, which is unusual, because I've never really seen Sam study anything.

"She got suspended because she slushie bombed your locker remember? Why do you care if she's okay?"

I chew on my lip for a moment while I think this through. I'm being unreasonable, I know this. But my worry overrides any sense of decorum I may have and so I ask again.

"Look, it's complicated and I just.. how did you hurt your eye? Is she okay?"

I am filled with shock at the look that flashes across Sam's face. It seems almost.. guilty. My eyes narrow again, because there's no way that what I'm thinking happened could have actually happened; Sam is a great guy. But he's in front of me with a bruised eye and looking guilty when I ask about Quinn's well-being. Panic starts to build within me, slow but sure, like a single piano key that crescendos into full orchestraic cacophony.

I step closer again, training my eyes on his.

"Sam. Have you.. did you guys.. did you have a fight?"

I try to keep the accusation out of my tone but the thought of anyone actually hurting Quinn makes something within me grow very, very dark.

"What?!"

Sam must pick up on where I'm going because at once he pushes closer to me as well. For a moment we are very silent, standing almost at a show down. Eventually something in him seems to give and he shakes his head. He almost looks sad.

"She didn't do this Rachel."

Nodding, I experience an odd kind of faith in the truth of Sam's statement and so I try to stave off the embarrassment I feel at my previous assumption.

"Okay, I'm sorry.. so?"

Suddenly, Sam steps back and rushes out an aggrieved sigh.

"God Rachel, would you please just let it go?"

I don't understand the weary tone he uses and I'm even further confused by the way both of his eyes seem brighten a moment later.

"Or, if you're really that curious, just go see her yourself. She lives on Winchester Court, the big white house on the corner. You can't miss it."

His out of place suggestion has me flummoxed, I feel the warm creep of bashfulness smooth up my neck

"Oh! Visit Quinn? I, I don't think.. I don't know if that's such a good idea."

I watch Sam, his shrug is carefully casual, as are his eyes, it's almost as if he's purposefully baiting me to do.. something.

"Whatever, it's a free country, you can do what you want."

What I want? Is he serious?! Of course I want to see Quinn, I want nothing more. I am instantly quite fiercely incensed by his turn of phrase; as if it could ever be that simple.

My musing causes me to stand silent for a while but, to his credit, Sam doesn't seem to mind. Our moment is broken however when, after watching me for a moment longer, he eventually takes a step back, and this time, I do not follow.

"I'll see you in Spanish okay?"

Biting my lip I make my decision, I will plan a very gentle push, no, not even a push; a breezing by, a breathless whisper.

"Okay.. goodbye Sam."

Yes, a breathless whisper. I will make sure Quinn's okay, and then I will leave.


After making it through a decidedly mundane and Quinnless school day, it takes me twenty minutes to reach Winchester Court by bus.

I am pleasantly surprised that I don't get lost as I trace my steps along the damp concrete that borders the pavement; the world is still dewy with the remnants of last night's storm. I try not to look at how lovely the rain has made the houses look, I try not to rake my eyes over the perfect lawns and the shiny fences.

Knowing Quinn, I know what these things can be; chains, locks, diversions, cages or, most often I'd wager, just meaningless.

Scanning my eyes over the street, I am easily able to spot Quinn's house. Sam was right; you really can't miss it. The lawn is immaculately clipped, there is a freshly buffed BMW and a bright red Volkswagen sitting in the drive and the house itself is painted in what is, undoubtedly, some obnoxious variant of white like 'porous eggshell'.

If it weren't for the small pile of cardboard boxes littering the side of the property, it would be perfect.

Slowing my strides just before my feet reach the curb, I find I need to give myself a moment to just.. take it in. To acknowledge where I am. Because, whether I like it or not, this is Quinn's genesis.

This structure has been the stage on which her life has played out. This street, this house, and the people inside of it.. they have been and continue to be her molding; her cutout cast.

I picture Quinn walking down the halls of McKinley, I picture her in flight; mid toss on the Cheerios. She is the top of her pyramid. Always. I picture her driving home alone in the shiny red Volkswagen in front of me.

This place is where she would go to nurse her wounds or hide from her stressors. This place is what she would come home to, but even using that term feels wrong in my mind. Because this is not a home, this is like nothing I have seen before and suddenly I find that I am very, very nervous.

Fixing my jacket and running a hand through my windswept hair I pull myself straight and purposefully make the step onto Quinn's property. The walk to her door is over far too quickly and I have to take another moment to control my breathing before I hesitantly depress the ivory doorbell.

As soon as I hear the metallic ding echo through the other side of the door I am overcome with anxiety. Have I just made a very big mistake? Things are finally starting to change between us, something different is finally beginning to weave its way into our interactions. Am I pushing too much? Am I taking a leap forward or a gigantic step back? Will Quinn be happy to see me? Her car is in the drive so she must be home, maybe she won't want to speak to me. Maybe I should just go.

I take a small step back as indecision rages within me but then make a purposeful stop. No. I wanted to visit Quinn to make sure she was okay and to see if she could shed any light on Sam's strange behavior. This isn't about pushing, this is about me needing to speak to her and, not having her number, a home visit being my only option. That's all.

It is with that thought in mind that the thick door in front of me is pulled open; heavy on its hinges. It is not Quinn that greets me, but a woman who, all at once, looks so much and nothing like her.

I know who this woman is. She is Judy Fabray. I have heard of her community work and I have seen her picture in the Lima Times, standing next to a smiling husband; eyes wide and bright with intent. But the woman in the photograph and the woman standing in front of me now look very different.

Her smile is pleasant and polite, if a little forced. This is not a surprise, what is surprising is that her face is ever so slightly drawn, her eyes are ever so slightly red. At first look they appear to be blank but I find they are so similar to Quinn's that I can immediately see- there is a torrent of emotion churning beneath them. An uncertain kind of fear pricks at my skin. Something has happened here, something is wrong.

Still, Judy's outfit is flawless, her makeup is flawless, the fingernails that have curled around the door are flawless, except, I notice, for a tiny chip on the edge of her ring finger, it is almost invisible but I have seen it. I know it's there.

Moving my eyes from the imperfection I scan them back up to meet Judy's again, she has aimed a graceful greeting my way and is waiting for my response. Straightening my back I try to forget how much this woman hates everything I stand for, how much this woman could hurt me, I try to forget and, after a heartbeat, I am ready. Showtime.

Putting on my best smile, I take a small step forward.

"Good afternoon Mrs. Fabray. My name is Rachel Berry, I'm here to see Quinn."

I am learning that, in life, it only takes a moment for everything to change. In reflection of this, a strange transformation occurs before me.

I see Judy's eyes start to glow with heat and blaze violently for a hissing, steaming moment and then.. there is only ice. I am not prepared for this and mostly miss what is being shown to me. Pain, anger, I'm really not sure, but either way it eventually seems to settle down into a quiet kind of detachment.

Tightening her grip on the door, I am equally unprepared for the bland tone that Judy throws at me when she speaks.

"Get off of my property."

Blinking in alarm, I'm not sure what to do with the abruptness of her threat. I haven't been this confused since I spoke to Sam this morning, do I have a doppelganger? Am I just missing conversations?

Fumbling with myself I try and regain my bearings and cut straight to the chase.

"Uh, Mrs. Fabray, I just want to know.. is Quinn okay?"

Green eyes stare at me for a moment in silence and I find myself taking a step back without really knowing why. Finally, Mrs. Fabray speaks again though, when the words come out of her mouth, I almost wish they wouldn't.

"I have no idea who you're talking about. Now leave, please, and don't ever come back."

There's a moment then, a tiny sliver of time, where I think I can see a tremor snake its way into the jaw of the woman in front of me. It passes before I can do anything with it, hidden by the stain of treated pine. The door is slammed in my face before I can even begin to voice a protest, before I can gather myself enough to object, to question, to do anything other than gape in wide eyed silence.

Entirely too late and without purpose at all I bring my hand to rest on the door, pushing into the wood. It is cold and hard and definitely not open. What the hell is going on? My eyes flash over to Quinn's car in desperation, it's still sitting steady in the driveway so yes, this is definitely Quinn's house and yes, that was definitely Quinn's mother. Those two things are fact, but everything else? My mind races in anxious fear. She's.. she must be inside. What is happening? Have I done something? Has Quinn done something?

Pushing off from the front door I move to her car but nothing looks out of place. It's then that I notice the packing boxes again, and only because my eyes happen to catch sight of a small glimmer of gold awkwardly poking out from the top of one of them.

Zeroing in, I slowly begin my approach. It's.. it looks like it's metal but I just can't seem to place what it could be. Risking a glance back over to the door, I figure that if Quinn's mother is upset enough over me snooping to come speak to me about it, it'll provide us with an opportunity to finish our conversation.

I run a hand over the haphazardly closed box and it pops open without much effort. My eyes squint in confusion by what I'm met with. They're.. trophies..?

Picking one up I scan to the inscribed acknowledgment 'For excellence in spelling Lucy Q. Fabray' I blink and pick up another, a medal this time, bright and proud 'Lima Junction's Excellence in Creative Writing – Junior Division Lucy Q. Fabray'.

Fighting down a panicked swallow, I frantically rifle through more. I find a Lima Orchestral Society's Fresh Talent trophy, a McKinley Cheerio's MVP award and a National Cheerleading Championships honor medal before my shaking hands drop everything back into the box.

These are Quinn, these are all Quinn, and they're sitting in a soggy box at the side of the house. Discarded.

Not even bothering to look back at the house this time, I quickly move the box off the top of the pile and place it on the ground so I can pop the one underneath. More trophies. I open another, and another, and then another. I find clothes, accessories and shoes. I find bedroom nicnacs and bathroom products.

Everything has been soaked by the recent rain. Some things are broken, some things are damp. Everything looks.. ruined. I am close to tears when finally, finally, under all the other boxes, I find books.

Two boxes full, they've obviously been thrown in without regard for their well-being and, although they've been somewhat sheltered from the weather by the other boxes, rain has still crept through the cardboard, filling the pages with damp. My face crumbles at this because I know the sight would break Quinn's heart.

Quinn.

Taking in the heaped boxes in front of me I am at a loss, all the evidence points to the assumption that she has been ejected from the house. Every possession she has is sprawled out right here at my feet. Ruined. I think back to Sam's black eye, I think about his carefulness and his nerves and Mrs. Fabray's bland, distant eyes.

Wrapping my arms around my waist it is hard not to be overwhelmed by the hurt. They've kicked her out, they've actually..

I sigh, my skin is brimming with tight confusion and uncertainty. I have no idea what is going on but, sparing a glance to the darkening sky, I do know that it is definitely going to rain again tonight.

With that in mind, I push my hands through the side holes of Quinn's book boxes and give a hard heave, trying my best to drag them home with me.


I don't wake thick with sleep on Friday morning. On Friday morning, I wake with aching shoulders and surrounded by books. I spent the majority of last night trying not to panic over what I had seen at Quinn's house and, oddly enough, I found Quinn's books to have a most calming effect on my anxious, overheated hands. So I took my hair dryer out of the bathroom and spent the last few hours before I fell asleep sifting through each tome, one by one, blowing away the wet with warm, steady puffs of air.

They're still not perfect, far from; there is creasing, and some stains. But from what I saw of Quinn's Lewis Carroll novel, she kind of likes that in a book. She likes the history. The mess.

As soon as I arrive at school I make it my mission to track Sam down. He is the missing link in this equation; the only one who can tell me what has actually happened.

I find him alone by his locker holding his gym bag. I wince, he's not going to want to be late, I'll have to make this fast.

"Sam.."

I try not to let my voice betray all the emotions that are buzzing around inside of me, but honestly I'm not sure of my level of success when I see Sam's eyes widen as they take me in.

"Hey, are you okay?"

Just like that, my bottom lip is trembling and I'm squaring my shoulders to get this out. I am so, not, okay.

"I went by Quinn's house yesterday, her mother was.. not very accommodating."

Sam's wince echoes mine and he folds his hands over his chest.

"What did she say?"

"Well, first she told me to get off her property and then she tried to convince me that Quinn didn't really exist so-"

The muscles in Sam's arm flex but the force that he puts into hitting his locker is heavily restrained, as though his body has run out of energy before he even makes the hit.

"Man, I hate those assholes."

Letting go of a sigh, I close my eyes for a moment. Sam is not surprised; he is resigned. I haven't misinterpreted anything. They've actually kicked her out. But why, why would they do that? Looking back up to Sam's face I run my gaze over the purple swell of his cheek.

"Is that what happened? To your eye? Sam, what happened? They.. they've boxed up all of her things and just left them on the curb. They just left them, like they were nothing! Everything was in pretty bad shape but.." I blink back the tears that have made their way to my eyes and sigh "I took her books."

Sam nods but doesn't answer. Instead, we stand in silence for a moment before he derails the conversation by picking up everything I know about the world and tossing it in the air.

"I know about you two."

I freeze as flashes of everything flitter down around me, pieces of confetti dancing in the wind.

"W-what?"

He gives me a nod, it is simple, affirming, and matter of fact. I cannot read anything into it.

"I guess we kind of broke up.. she told me, about you guys."

I want to fall to my knees and find joy in this moment because, objectively, I know that it is a huge, huge deal. But, at this point in time, all I can think of is the crucifix around Quinn's neck and the flames in her eyes. Something in my stomach churns in heavy motion.

"Oh my-her parents, did they?"

Sam looks down and the corner of his bruised eye crinkles.

"Her dad..."

I have never met Russell Fabray but I have seen his picture, smiling next to Judy's face and I remember the chip on her nail and the fear in Quinn's eyes when her lips tore away from mine.

I remember all of these things and I forget that we are standing in an almost empty hallway. I choke out a sob as frightened tears begin to pool in my eyes.

"Sam.."

"She's okay, I took her somewhere safe."

My entire life I have prided myself on my ability to perform a number of difficult actions in seamless symmetry with one another. Singing, dancing, talking, listening, but everything leaves me because I find that I am actually not able to process any of the information that Sam is hurling my way.

Sam knows. Quinn told him. Quinn's parents.. Quinn's safe?

"She..." My chest is heaving, the boxes, Sam's face, Judy's eyes, it.. this would not have gone well at all. "Sam..." Suddenly, I am gripping his arm hard, nails digging into the material of his jacket in sharp hits, I feel like I'm tipping over so I start to hold tighter to steady myself.

"Where is she? Please, tell me where she is!"

Sam's hand is warm on mine but I can't tell if he's doing it to comfort, calm, or restrain me.

"Rachel, she's safe."

"Sam, I demand that you disclose her location to me this instant!"

"I can't do that Rachel."

There's a stubborn and all together infuriating shake of his head and my fingers are clenching again.

"Why not?!"

"Because she's not ready okay?"

I know my eyes are wild but I cannot help it. Quinn has just had her worst nightmare come true and is somewhere in Lima and.. and I just.. my mind swims. I can't believe this is happening. Sam squeezes my shoulder and it's just enough to get my eyes to focus back on him.

He looks around for a moment, ensuring that we aren't being overheard, before he focuses back on me.

"Look, the night it happened I asked her if she wanted to see you, she looked at me like I'd just bought her a puppy and stomped on it alright? She's just not ready yet."

The moment I register what Sam is saying my eyes blink in crestfallen alarm. The ache in my heart is acute and sharp. She doesn't want me? I.. I don't know what to do with this..

I think Sam must pick up on the sudden change because he is shaking his head before I can even finish drawing breath.

"Listen to me Rachel, Quinn's entire world has just been turned upside down. You mean so much to her and I don't think she wants to hurt you."

I am silent for a moment before I force myself to take another breath. I purposefully lock away my insecurities and try to listen to what Sam is saying. He's right. This isn't about me, this is about Quinn. This is about perfect lawns and golden trophies and boxes wet with rain. She has lost a family and I know she must be struck with grief.

Finally feeling slightly more steady on my feet I remove my hand from Sam's arm. I need to be able to handle this.

"Do you have my number?"

Sam squints in confusion for a moment before giving me a nod.

"Uh yeah? You gave it to everyone didn't you?"

I nod, once.

"Yes, good. Give it to Quinn and ask her to call me when.. when she can.. okay?"

I prattle off my number anyway, just in case Sam doesn't have it and I don't even think to question my assumption that Quinn had probably already deleted it long ago.

The final bell rings and we are officially late to class. Neither of us move, we stand silent, Sam and I, for a long, long time, both thinking deep within ourselves.

Sam is the first to break the stillness. His face is slightly flushed, and there is a small flame of sadness in his eyes. It, in turn, makes me sad for him, because it is always an awful thing, to have your heart split in two.

"I think.. you mean a lot to Quinn and she's really lucky to have you."

I think Sam must be thinking that we may never have a conversation like this again, and, with graduation approaching and school and life and Glee, he may be right. In any case, I appreciate the honest goodness it brings out of him.

"So, be good to her okay?"

My nod is small, reserved, because right now, with Quinn so very far away, it's difficult for me to picture ever getting the opportunity to.

"And look, I'm not saying this to- don't get me wrong, I'm not ready to like, come to your wedding or anything but.. I'm glad she has you and-"

I am quick to interrupt, I know these lines because I tell them to myself every day, with varying levels of success in their implementation.

"Don't hurt her, believe me, I will try my best."

"Oh well yeah, there's that." Sam's smile is almost sheepish as he continues "But also, don't let her get away with hurting you. We both know how Quinn can be but, I just want you to remember, even if she loves you, that doesn't mean she gets to hurt you. Okay?"

For a moment all I can do is blink, I am still adjusting to the fact that I'm actually having a conversation with Quinn's (ex)boyfriend about the hypothetical possibility of us being together and then he says that.

I focus on remembering the words, on folding them up and keeping them safe in my pocket because I know, I know they are important. I know it like I know Quinn; naturally and frighteningly and wonderfully all at once, and now I know that Sam kind of knows her too. Even if it's in a different way.

I am inexplicably happy with the fact that this doesn't make me feel jealous. No, it makes me feel, grateful. Because Sam does know, and he's right, scared as I am of never getting to love Quinn the way I want to, I have to make sure that she's good to me too.

Words elude me in the moment so I end up nodding, somewhat shakily, before eventually being able to break my silence.

"Okay."

His head is tilted in remembrance, eyes sifting through memory "What's that thing you're always saying? About gold stars?"

"Oh" I find it strange that I'm blushing, because this is a truth that I hold very close to my chest, a truth that I have spent countless nights carving into my mind and under my skin and beneath my eyelids so there is never a possibility of me ever losing sight of it.

"They're a metaphor, for me, because I'm a star."

His nod is deliberate, meaningful.

"Exactly, you are."

It takes a moment, but then my smile is made up of laughter and gratitude and the sunshine of Spring.

"Well, metaphors are important you know."


The rest of the day slips away at its usual pace. Friday night passes too, uneventful.

Saturday, I bake and have family dinner night with my fathers, arguing over acceptable scrabble words and the questionable tactics they employ regarding monopoly trading policies.

Sunday, I go for a long jog and take an even longer bath before dedicating time to practicing my scales and vocal exercises.

Monday, school is predictable and my notes are immaculate and the blue pages of my textbooks stare up at me like wide expanses of sky.

Then, it's Monday night and I am sitting in my room, which is still crammed with Quinn's book collection. I'm listening to music and thinking about how ridiculous it is that a future Broadway star and EGOT laureate should even need to know algebra.

Three minutes pass and then something that has never happened before.. happens.

A short jingle, muffled by the patterned vibration of my phone against wood, drags my attention away from my textbook.

I casually flop over my bed in order to scoop it up when I'm met with an unknown number and three gloriously, mind-numbingly, wondrously beautiful words printed out in front of me.

9:34pm: Hey, it's me.

Chapter Text

Quinn.


I wake Thursday morning thick with sleep when the smell of fried bacon hits my nose. Pushing my aching head further into the pillow, I am already entirely too confused for this time of day. Why do I smell bacon? No one apart from me ever actually cooks breakfast in my house.

Swimming in blissful ignorance at this strange anomaly, it's not until I hear Fran's voice hiss out a curse followed by the rattling of pans that I am violently struck with the remembrance of last night's events.

Sam, my, I feel my heart constrict, my father, my sister..

The last time I saw my sister she was driving away from me to study at Stanford. She was blonde and beautiful and perfect and engaged to a man called Nathan Hillbrook. Our relationship had always been strained- in our house she was so everything and I was just, not.

But, in spite of this, we endured, and it wasn't until the moment I committed to shedding Lucy like she was dead skin by taking Fran's nose and making it mine that something changed between us forever.

She left as soon as the bandages came off and her semester started and I had not seen her since. My parents spoke to her of course, and told me about everything that was happening in her life. She had broken off the engagement with Nathan because he had turned out to be an atheist, giving up on the lie of being a Christian the moment he realized my sister would legitimately not bed him before marriage. I remember my parents had been so proud of her resolve. She had moved back to Lima after graduation and was working from home as an advertising liaison.

Or so I thought.

I hear muted footsteps making their way across carpet and then there is that voice again, my sister's voice, it has been so many years since I have heard it last.

"Heey Lucy Q!"

"Lucy left.."

As I rub the sleep from my eyes, I don't know why I say the words or why they feel familiar on my tongue, but they tumble out anyway.

"Really? Because it looks like she's right in front of me, drooling all over my new bedspread."

My head shoots up as my hand automatically wipes my mouth, finding it dry. I open my eyes, instinctively ready to shoot a childish glare when I'm nearly blinded by a vibrant palette of reds, oranges and yellows shimmering in front of me.

My mouth gapes.

"Fran?"

I don't know what my sister hears or sees, but the moment our eyes lock her face is suddenly very, very sad.

"Hey you.."

I rub my eyes once more for good measure but, opening them again, I'm still met with my sister's striking hairdo. She has cut it short in a daring pixie style and replaced the blonde with a myriad of warm, earthy colors that flawlessly blend and bleed into each other. Sitting on the edge of her bed blinking at me, she looks amazing; a struck match, aflame.

"Your hair is on fire.."

A hiccupped laugh escapes her chest, it sounds weighed down with heavy emotion. She brings a plate up off the floor and holds it before me in offering.

"I made bacon. You still like it, right?"

She is nervously biting her lip and her legs are jiggling. The bacon is burnt but I take a strip and jam it into my mouth anyway.

"Of course, always!"

I am inexplicably comforted by the fact that she still can't cook.

"Fhnks."

I think we both hear our mother's voice saying that speaking with your mouth full is rude and unbecoming and it seems as though that the fact that I do it anyway makes Fran's face split into a grin.

At this point, I am able to start taking stock of my surroundings. Fran's apartment is cramped, old, full of mismatched furniture and practically falling apart. It's not at all what I would have expected from an advertising liaison. Fran herself is far slimmer than I remember her being but she has aged wonderfully, her eyes are bright and her hair is brilliant and with this new look she is even more beautiful than I remember.

She watches my eyes track across her sparse belongings with what looks like guilt before anxiously bringing a hand up to my face. My cheek aches from where her fingers are touching it and I realize now that it must be bruising.

"So, I think we both have some things we need to talk about."

A sharp piece of bacon cuts at the inside of my mouth but I notice nothing beyond the implosion occurring in my chest. With that one sentence, reality encroaches in a ruthless strike and the truth of my life hits me; sudden and dark.

My father has disowned me, I will never see the inside of my house again, I have nothing to call my own, I am dead to them. I have died. I feel my entire frame sag with the weight of my collapse before Fran's arms are around me, surprisingly strong and squeezing tightly.

I don't remember much of coming here last night, I only remember tears. Far too many of them and with not enough breathing in between. I remember crying and screaming and cursing and finally sleeping with a small hand running through my hair.

I don't remember arms like these, enveloping me in a hold that I haven't felt since before I left for hospital. I feel winded by how much I have missed them.

But Fran left me, she ran away, and, without even realizing it, I discover that there is a large part of me that is still very hurt by this. So, with that in mind, I push away from her.

"Why do you even care?"

"Oh Q, just shut up okay?" She fights off my protests and gives me a final squeeze before letting go anyway."Don't give me that crap!"

My feelings are so stung by the exasperation in her voice that I actually can't formulate an answer. It turns out I don't need one anyway because Fran isn't finished.

"You're not the only one with stuff you know?"

I think of the peeling walls that encase us now, of the dusty curtains and the green stain I can see on the floor next to Fran's still jiggling foot. I think of the fact that she has always been too busy to let mom and dad visit, always going away on business. It takes a moment but then I blink.

"You're not an advertising liaison are you?"

"No, no I'm not."

Before I can question Fran about the lie she stands to hover awkwardly between myself and her tiny kitchen.

"Do you want a drink, I have tea, cocoa?"

Although I try very hard to control the blanch of my face, my body still tips with nausea at the mention of cocoa.

"Tea. Definitely tea."

At once, Fran transforms; she is efficiency in motion with short, methodical movements as she makes our drinks. They are however, punctuated with seemingly random hits and pushes to most of her appliances. Two turns of the handle, one hit, three quick pushes and a weak trickle of water runs down from the tap and into an ancient looking kettle.

She moves to the stove, one spark, two spark, a mumbled "damnit" escapes her lips before she grasps for a match and strikes it expertly. A silent whoosh of gas hits my ears before the hob is suddenly aflame. Finally she places the kettle atop of it and bites her lip as it patiently waits to sing.

I feel as though I'm watching a stranger. I have never seen Fran function outside of the privileged coldness of our home before, but now that I have, I cannot look away. I am instantly beset by curiosity; she has undergone metamorphosis in the years that have separated us and I feel so much calmer focusing on this transformation than on any of my.. things.

"Tell me what's going on?"

Her eyes move from the kettle to rest on my own. We are silent for a moment.

"Okay."

Leaning against her fridge, Fran's body stills for the first time this morning. She is tense and I have to admire how brave she is for doing this anyway.

"Just before graduation I had sex with Nathan and I got pregnant."

I actually cannot physically suppress the gasp that jumps from my chest but Fran holds a hand up to silence me.

"When I told Nathan.. he left me. I.. I lost the baby anyway, a few weeks in."

Fran's confession is almost entirelydrowned out as the kettle starts to belt out a note in high soprano and she hurriedly moves to pour our tea. To be honest, I am thankful for the break. My sister was pregnant? She lost her baby? I cannot help but feel sick that I have missed such an important event in her life.

"Fr-"

Again, she cuts me off, but this time it's with a smile.

"Don't, I mean, I'd rather not. I'm okay now, really."

Instead of moving back to sit on the edge of the bed, Fran pulls a tatty chair over and slowly sits across from me. The tea she hands me is in a faded cup with a Christmas scene painted on it, obviously picked up from a garage sale. Immediately I kind of love it and, as I take a long sip, I revel in the warmth the drink spreads through my chest. Fran smiles at my reaction before her face is serious and she begins again.

"I had a moment you know? A moment when I was at lunch with mom and dad and I was leading into telling them when all of a sudden, dad's eyes got really wide and mom got this look on her face and then she started talking about drapes."

I have to work to complete my swallow, the motion is hard and stuck in my throat. I want to feel shock. I want to feel dismay. I want to feel anything other than the lackluster resignation that is sitting on my chest. There is no surprise.

"And I just knew that they knew, and I had just.." although I don't think it's a conscious move, I still notice Fran's arm wraps around her waist as she swirls the tea in her mug. "I had just experienced something, so awful and devastating and.. they didn't want to know. They didn't want to know anything about it. They didn't want to know me at all."

I have to shut my eyes at this and take a sip of tea because her experiences are so intimately close to my own that I feel as though I could be listening to myself.

"So I made a decision. If they didn't want to know me then they wouldn't. I wanted to be strong enough to just tell them to shove it, but.. they're mom and dad.. so I lied. I still managed to graduate but when I did, I decided to move back home, take my savings, rent a place and try to get to know myself. I was pretty messed up and it took a while but.."

Fran's eyes flicker towards mine and I find that I'm leaning in. I want so much to know what has happened to make her this wonderful, messy person with colorful hair and a singing kettle. Unlike my parents, I want so much to know her.

"I want to be a teacher. Early childhood. I'm studying at the University of Lima right now. Student life isn't exactly glamorous without mom and dad's income of course.." we both smile as Fran clinks her chipped blue mug against my Christmas cup "..but I like having things that are mine."

I don't think I have ever been more proud of her in my entire life and I want so much to tell her, I say:

"That's.. so wonderful Fran. Teaching?"

She lets out a breath and I am surprised to see that she's relieved at my reaction. "Well, for the time being yeah, I was thinking vet science or art," Fran grins and points to her head "I even tried hair for a while, but, I couldn't stand all the talking."

I nod in easy acceptance because honestly, that's what I feel. That, and relief. I am so relieved that she's okay, that she has somehow managed to find her way through the tangled messes of our childhoods, the sucking pits of silence and secrets that raged through the walls of our house.

Mostly, I feel relieved that I don't feel so alone anymore. Until she speaks again.

"So, Sam told me you're gay?"

I hiss as I spill hot tea on my hand. From the moment Fran started speaking I had put myself in a bubble; a room with no mirrors, no opportunity for self-reflection, no time for acknowledgement and just like that, with a casual question voiced into a mug, the bubble burst.

"Uh-"

I am grateful that Fran doesn't actually seem to be looking for verbal acknowledgement. "Yeah, sorry about that, I kind of beat it out of him. You were.. really upset."

She looks down into her mug for a moment more before smiling up at me hopefully. "But, I bet it doesn't seem like such a big deal after hearing about all my fucked up stuff huh?"

I wish I could agree. Truly, I wish I could. I think that Frannie notices this because her smile is kind and her hand is soft on my shoulder. "Hey, don't worry Q, you'll get there okay?" and I try to smile back at her for this, but it's still forced, because I'm not sure I ever will.


After we both drain our teas I find myself in the bathroom having a shower; it is cramped and stuffy and the hot water is more of a suggestion than an actual feature but I appreciate the privacy the moment gives me.

Because I think that I'm okay. I think that I'm okay until I wrap a towel around myself and wipe away the steam that has fogged up the mirror. I think that I'm okay until I see my dripping wet hair and my slightly purple cheeks and my lonely, lonely chest and I realize that no, I am definitely not even a little, tiny bit okay. At all.

My fingers trace patterns over my collarbones for long moments as the fog clears. My body is adjusting to no longer being covered in tepid water so I start to feel a deep chill creep in. I don't care. I don't care about any of this. Because it's gone, everything is gone.

My parents have always been the architects of my existence, the builders of my actions, my faith has been the roadmap of my life. Where will I end up if I abandon them all?

The words are on my lips before I have time to think why.

"Please, Oh God. Forgive me for my sins, be merciful to me. Wipe away my sins. Wash away all my evil and make me clean again."

I am almost surprised to see a small red cross glowing beneath my clavicle, carved in by the sharp edge of a fingernail. I hadn't even noticed the pressure.

Forgiveness. Mercy. Purity. A clean slate. Tabula Rasa.

Reaching next to the mirror, I clutch a pair of scissors tightly in my hand. They are sharp, no doubt products of Fran's foray into hairdressing. I experience a rupture then; an all dividing schism.

I feel the need to sit down.


It started as a quiet knock and was followed by a casual question. It has now turned into a loud, panicked pounding.

Fran's fists sound hard against the wood but the door is holding fast. I did not forget to lock it this time. I am sitting in the bathtub and thinking, each thought is punctuated by a twirl of blonde hair in my hand and a sharp, grating snip.

I am Samson.

I know that I am worrying her, I can feel the tub shake with the force she's putting behind her fists. Letting another clump of hair flutter carelessly from my fingers I notice, for the first time, that every sound I'm hearing seems to be muted, as if I'm underwater; lying on the bed of some dark and murky lake. Even so, I can still almost hear Fran's voice yelling at me, or for me, I'm not quite sure which.

With the first snip, my thoughts look like this:

I am alone. I have no one. I am adrift, a mite. Orphaned and Godless. Forsaken.

With the second snip, my thoughts look like this:

Assumption one: I am alone.

Logical error one: I am not alone, my sister is pounding on the door and Sam is making cocoa and Rachel.. well, Rachel just is. Everywhere.

Assumption two: I am orphaned and Godless.

Logical error two: My father has forsaken me, but, has my Father forsaken me? Perhaps God will still hear my prayers, perhaps our conversations do not have to cease.

At the third snip, the scissors happen to graze past my skin and I am, all at once, overcome with the sensation of having metal on my neck again.

I cannot finish the thought however because the bathroom door finally breaks open, knocked down by Fran, and the momentum she has put into her actions causes her to tumble straight into me.

The sudden pressure of her body against mine causes the scissors to sink into my skin just enough to cause a very shallow cut. It is still enough to make me gasp.

Fran's face is very close to mine as she grapples for some kind of purchase on the bathtub to stop herself from falling again. When she finds it, her feet touch the floor and a cool hand closes over the scissors, smoothly pulling them from my neck.

"Quinn.."

Looking up at her I blink, "I was thinking.." because I was.

Fran's eyes are searching and desperate as they bore into mine, I am scaring her and this makes me very sad.

"What were you thinking about?"

Looking past her for a moment, I catch site of a small cot leaning against the edge of the living area wall, now made visible by the lack of bathroom door. Fran has pulled it out for me and already there are some clothes neatly folded on top of it.

Seeing this makes me feel weak with feelings I don't understand and then there is something inside of me that is breaking off and floating away and I am not upset to be free of the weight. I can think of nothing but looking back into her eyes now.

"I was thinking, that maybe, you could give me a haircut?"

Fran has been watching me and she too seems to be struggling with something she doesn't know how to handle. I wonder if this is our condition as Fabrays; as sisters; forever grappling with things we cannot master. But then there is a gentle hand on the back of my neck and it is squeezing with affection and my chest is stuttering with emotion and my forehead is pressing against Fran's and her voice is so, so warm.

"That, is something, I can definitely do."


Fran spends the next two hours cutting and coloring and I spend the next two hours trying to open myself. The scissors work much better in her hands. She is an artist at work; confident and relaxed in her creation, and, as she shapes me, I speak.

I speak about Rachel and about my playing and her pushing and the hurt. I even steel my insides and quietly tell my sister about the kiss, although the version I give is heavily abridged because I am already blushing red at sharing this at all.

I speak about our mother and our father and Our Father and the lies and the hurt and the stormy explosions that occurred the night Sam came over. I speak a bit about Sam. I even speak a little bit about gloriously white gardenias in blue pots.

One thing I don't speak about is Lucy, I keep her locked away for now, but Fran doesn't seem to mind and every so often she stops what she's doing to rest a hand on my shoulder, squeezing gently before starting to cut again.

When she's finished and my tongue is feeling thick and swollen with all the secrets I have told, all the rules I have so magnificently broken, she holds up a small mirror to my face.

And when she does, I don't see my tired eyes or my bruising cheeks or my bare chest, I see what looks like a beautiful stranger staring back at me. My hair is much shorter, falling somewhere around my ears. It is choppy and shaggy and joyously unkempt with shading so complex that I can just barely make out the transitions from sunshine blonde to platinum.

Fran's voice is warm and vibrant with just an edge of nerves. "I thought we'd keep you blonde, seeing as how it suits you so much."

Shocked, I can't do much more than run a trembling hand through my messy locks.

"Fran, it looks.."

Leaning down behind me, she places a kiss on my cheek before smiling at me in the mirror and I realize at that moment that I have never seen our faces together before.

"Beautiful." she says "You look beautiful sis."


I don't wake thick with sleep to the smell of bacon on Friday morning. On Friday morning, I wake in layers.

First, there is a gradual increasing of consciousness: the slow climb out of my dreams and back into the world.

Then, there is the passive reception of external stimuli: the registering of a silky sleeping bag surrounding me, a lumpy cot shifting beneath my frame.

Next, comes extended cognitive awareness: memories float around me and land, like feathers, on my bruised and somewhat chiseled mind.

These feathers bring emotional upheaval: feelings run swiftly through my veins in constant conflict with the thoughts that chase them. Everything I have been up to this point in my life, everything I have done and said and thought and known, has changed.

Finally, there is sensory engagement: opening my eyes I blink at the stained floor that greets me. I hear the rusty pipes groan as Frannie showers before class. I smell the stale tickle of toast in the air and, breathing in, I can feel the steam that fills the room begin to fill my lungs as well, the bathroom still has no door.

I can feel all of these things, and it feels..

Closing my eyes I swallow back the trembling in my limbs.

It feels, so nice.

By that afternoon, I am fumbling with a screwdriver trying to reattach the bathroom door, I am wearing an old charcoal pair of Fran's sweats and a plain white tank top. Although the small pile of clothing Fran was able to provide means that I don't exactly have a lot of wardrobe choices, when I look at myself in the mirror I am surprised to find that I don't hate what I see, which is quite unusual for me.

There is a gentle knock on the front window so I abandon all hope of ever fixing the broken hinge in my hands and go to answer it. As I pull the door open, I am met with Sam smiling nervously through his bruised eye, hands in his pockets.

I am so stunned to actually see him in front of me that, for a moment, I can't do anything but stare at him; wide eyed. In an almost comical mirror image, Sam's eyes also begin to widen as they take me in.

"Woah! Quinn! Your hair looks so boss right now!"

Automatically, my hand goes to my locks as I let out a nervous laugh. "Yeah well, having a stylist in the family sure beats lemon juice.."

Sam rolls his eyes and picks up a toolbox off the floor, swinging it in front of him. "I heard you had door troubles?"

I blink for a moment in complete surprise. I had texted Sam that morning to let him know I was okay in the hopes of taking the edge off any worry or paranoia he may have been experiencing. He did, after all, drop me off at a stranger's house bawling my eyes out. When he asked what the uneducated in society spent their Friday afternoon's doing I casually mentioned I would be tackling a broken door while Fran was in class.

"You-you didn't have to come…"

"I know, I just wanted to make sure you were.. okay?"

A deep sigh leaves his chest as he smiles, no doubt in acknowledgment of the inadequacy of the term.

It is at this moment that a familiar conflict begins to rage within me. I want to shut the door, I want to shut Sam out and never see him again, I want no one to ever know how badly I have been injured by these recent events. I want to build myself a beautiful iron box and sit in it forever, safe and untouched.

Instead, without a word, I step aside and let him in.

I do this because I am learning. I am learning how to do these things. I am learning how to be scared and soft and stupid enough to let people in. Internally, I cringe at the harshness of my thoughts, it is a hard habit to break, going against the Fabray way, but Fran says the best approach is a baptism of fire. Sink or swim.

So, I let Sam in, and walk to the broken door.

"I think it's beyond repair."

Sam smiles at me, shaking his head no doubt at my naivety, and then suddenly, he is all business. There is lots of measuring and humming and cryptic marking that looks more difficult than any algebra I've ever done. He doesn't speak again until we're starting to screw in the new hinge together.

"Rachel asked me what happened to my face yesterday."

Choking on the swallow half lodged in my throat, I drop the screwdriver in my hand and it sinks to the floor with a dull thud. I blink down at it and, immediately, I feel unprepared. I'm not ready for this, I'm not ready for any of th-

"Relax, I didn't really tell her anything, but then she told me today that she went by your house and talked to your mom who.. wasn't very nice."

My heart burns at the thought of Rachel ever having to experience my mother, of ever having to go anywhere near my house, and then I feel my ears prick in alarm at the look on Sam's face. How exactly did Rachel even find out where I lived?

"Sam..?"

Holding his hands up, I can see how conflicted he feels about everything and that makes it almost okay.

Almost.

"I'm sorry! I panicked okay?! I know you're not ready to see her and I wanted to respect your privacy but I had to give her something to go on! She knew something was wrong, it was actually super weird, she can be a scary lady!"

I briefly envision picking Sam up and throwing him through the door we're attempting to repair for even thinking about putting Rachel in such a potentially dangerous situation. Swallowing down my fear, I try my best to push out an even nod anyway.

Because he's trying and this is the first time I've ever had a friend legitimately try to help me. Sam is black and white in his intentions. I think about Santana and her missed calls and her nosy, aggravated messages and I try to remind myself there are no ulterior motives here; no politics; no shades of gray. Just Sam.

Slowly, I attempt to soften my gaze.

"What did you tell her?"

"Um, not much she hadn't already guessed." Sam keeps his shrug casual as he twirls his screwdriver between his fingers, oblivious to my internal struggle. "Only that you told me about you guys and then you had a fight with your dad so he kicked you out BUT you were in a safe place. She really wanted to know where but I wasn't sure what you'd want so I told her you'd talk to her yourself when you were ready."

"SAM!"

Instantly, every kind thought that is tentatively shining in my mind disappears in a cloud of smoke. My screech is sharp but Sam goes on as if he hasn't even heard me. Traitor! How could he?!

"All I said was that you'd talk to her. Which you will.." Sam's eyes are firm as they dig into mine before they soften again and he places a hand on my shoulder "..when you're ready, okay?"

They say the ones that know you the best can hurt you the most. Sam only knows a little and I have opened my door to him. Begrudgingly, I'm discovering that this makes me proud. But Rachel, Rachel knows so much. I try to remember that I'm learning how to sink or swim. I try to remember my baptism of fire. It takes me a moment, but finally, I nod.

"Okay. Okay, what did she say?"

Sam's smile is almost proud before it melts into a look of annoyance. "Well, she's Rachel Berry, what didn't she say?"

I think my eyes must sharpen automatically at this because he is quick to continue. "Relax, she didn't like being left in the dark but it wasn't too bad, she's just really worried. Your parents have boxed up all your stuff and left it on their curb. They were pretty wet so I think Rachel took some of your books."

"M-my books? She has them?"

Instantly my eyes are alight with a fierce and sudden hope. I don't even register the fact that all of my other possessions are ruined. I don't want them. I wouldn't know what to do with any of them. They are anchors to a past I am trying to detach from. But the one possession I have not been able to reconcile myself with losing has been my book collection.

"Yeah, I think so?" Sam's smile is confused, I don't think he really understands what it means to me, and it warms my heart beyond all imagining to know that Rachel does, she really, really, does.

"So, you still have her number right? I know she gave it to everyone in Glee club last year in case of 'emergency' rehearsals."

Sam pokes me playfully with the blunt side of his screwdriver and this annoys me until I realize that it's because I've let an almost goofy smile paint my lips at Rachel's innate thoughtfulness. Straightening out the expression I sigh, oh great, I'm doing that now, perfect.

"Um, yeah, I've still got it."

"Good, I thought you would, so call her.." Sam raises an eyebrow "..when you're ready. But don't wait too long or she may pop a vein."

I nod and we sit in silence for a moment as the heavy topic starts to melt away. Sam shifts his focus back on the door and he has it hanging back on its new hinge within minutes. He grins proudly at me as it swings back and forth and I smile back at him without even thinking about it.

"Thanks Sam."

He is already packing up his tools by the time I catch up with myself and the awful hostess I've been.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, did you want a drink or anything?"

Sam shakes his head and begins to walk to the door so I push up from the floor and follow him. "No thanks, I've actually gotta go, but, don't be a stranger okay?"

There is an awkward moment between us then in which I think Sam wants to hug me. I know that he, above all others, understands that I don't have feelings for him, but we have just broken up and I don't want to confuse him or, worse yet, hurt him. I've never really understood hugs anyway.

So instead, I hang back and give his toolbox a playful tap. "Don't worry, I'll text you. Have a good weekend."

The second I close the door I find myself slumping against it. The days have been so draining lately, I cannot even begin to think of Sam's revelation about Rachel and my mother before the door handle is suddenly turned and I have to step back before it's opened into me.

I am greeted by my sister's frazzled face; she is juggling a messenger bag and several others filled with books. Immediately, I move to take some off her hands as I breathe out a greeting.

"Hey there."

"Oh my God, I totally forgot to tell you before, he is cute!"

My eyebrows furrow before I remember that Sam and my sister have met before, the night he dropped me off. "Sam?" I laugh "Well, I have it on good authority that he's recently single."

My sister is unpacking her hoards of books, I see volumes on sensory processing, developing a play curriculum and active learning for mathematics. Each title pulls a smile from my lips.

"mmm, illegal unfortunately but a girl can most definitely dream."

I cannot help but crinkle my nose at that "okay.. ew.."

Fran is standing in front of me now, she has cleared her throat and is holding a box in her hands.

"So, I got you something."

My eyes track down to the small container in confusion before shifting back up to her. There is a look of serious anticipation on her face as she pulls me down to sit next to her on the squeaky futon.

Pushing the box towards me, Fran waits and I find that I am filled with anxious energy the moment my fingers touch it. I know that she doesn't have a lot of money so I can't help but be curious as to what it is and why she would have thought to buy it for me.

Finally popping the lid, I am greeted with something that I never imagined I would be getting from my sister.

It is a small, polished, wooden cross, dangling from a loose leather choker. I'm not even really sure why, but tears begin to fill my eyes as I drag them back up to my sister's nervous face.

"Fran.."

"It's.. I got you this to remind you of some important things. One: that love, all love, is organic and natural and you shouldn't be afraid of it. Two: I know that we've both spent most of our lives riding the fucked-up train so our idea of family is pretty interesting, but I want you to know that I'll always be here for you and-" suddenly Fran's hand is on my forearm and her eyes are staring intently into mine, they only break the gaze to pinpoint the shallow cut on my neck. "-and three: don't ever scare me like that again okay? Please?"

I have explained this to her. I have explained that I was certainly not attempting anything stupid and I know that she believes me. But there is still a cut on my neck and I think it has reminded both of us how easily things can spiral out of control. So, pulling her hand down my arm, I link our fingers and squeeze them tightly.

"I promise."

I try to hold Fran's eyes for as long as I can but I am eventually overcome with discomfort for how much of myself I have revealed to her and I need to look away. I try to not let this dishearten me, like she would say, it's sink or swim but Rome wasn't built in a day.

So instead of mulling over it, I let my glassy eyes be pulled, like magnets, back to the small cross in front of me. I run the fingers of my free hand over the pendant and smile, it is perfect.

There is no dying savoir adorning it, there is no glory or shine or heavy weight. There is just a cross, and where my old necklace burnt heavy into my skin with the sharpness of sacrifice, this one is cool under my questing fingers, smooth to the touch and softly rounded at the edges. Something pings within my heart when I realize that it feels just like Rachel. It feels like..

Love. I blink. It feels like love.

It takes me three days, but eventually I gather myself enough to take the leap and send Rachel those first three words. It is difficult, to open my door, but I am learning how to do these things.

Chapter Text

Rachel.


It's Monday night and I am sitting in my room, which is still crammed with Quinn's book collection, I'm listening to music and thinking about how ridiculous it is that a future Broadway star and EGOT laureate should even need to know algebra.

Three minutes pass and then something that has never happened before.. happens.

A short jingle, muffled by the patterned vibration of my phone against wood, drags my attention away from my textbook.

I casually flop over my bed in order to scoop it up when I'm met with an unknown number and three gloriously, mind-numbingly, wondrously beautiful words printed out in front of me.

9:34 pm: Hey, it's me.


I blink twice and then promptly lose eighty percent of my upper body motor function. The phone drops, landing with a cushioned thud on my pillow before sliding down its curve and crashing to the floor behind my bed.

"Oh my God, no nonono!"

Frantically scrambling, I reach my arm down through the grates of my bedhead, stretching it out to the absolute maximum. Just as the tendons in my shoulder are starting to crack unpleasantly, I begin to make out the plastic edge of my phone cover. I am grinning triumphantly as I'm about to hook my middle finger around it when another vibration sounds,causing the phone to once again shuffle just out of my reach.

Spluttering out a dismayed groan I feel like I've been dealt a full body blow, life really just cannot be being serious right now!

"Wait! Wait! I'm coming, wait!"

I give up on my current tactic and hastily remove my arm, banging my elbow harshly mid retreat.

"Oh for the love of- ow!"

Sliding down to the floor my movements only stall when I blink at the dusty jungle of mess that is growing underneath my bed. My frown is deep and perturbed and I am instantly sure that this exact moment will be included in the six chapters of my memoirs dedicated to how I found love.

Hidden, messy, and just out of reach. Perfect.

Steeling myself, I make a hard push and slide over the hardwood floor with ease, finally coming into contact with my cursed phone and clutching it in an almost violent grasp.

I have to jump on the spot for a second after dragging myself back out from under the bed just so I don't die from the horror of being covered in so many dust bunnies. I am now faced with a dilemma, check my phone, change my top, check my phone, change my top.

I decide to compromise and just rip off my t-shirt, not bothering to put another one on just yet. Carefully calculating my actions to ensure no further mishaps, I gingerly move to sit on the edge of my bed. My phone is blinking at me. I push out a quick breath. Truth time.

Opening the message, I immediately grin at the two yellow speech bubbles that are smiling up at me.

9:34pm: Hey, it's me.
9:35pm: Um, Quinn.

Trying not to split my face in two at the adorableness of Quinn's uncertainty I settle my nerves and shakily write out a response.

9:37pm: Hello Quinn, I'm so happy to hear from you.

I bite my lip, is that too much? I'm trying not to say too much, I don't want to bombard her. But I don't want her to feel like I don't care. Rolling my eyes at my mania I take a breath and hit send.

One minute, two minutes, by 9:42 I am biting my nails near hysteria.

9:44pm: Thank you for saving my books.

Tracing my fingers over the words on my screen I find that I am suddenly very deeply saddened, by everything, by all of this, by all the hurt. The only thing that stops my tears from falling is the musky smell my room has taken on from Quinn's collection. It is comforting to have them there and to know that they are safe and loved.

9:45pm: You're welcome. Thank you for observing proper spelling and grammar in your text messages. I'm sorry, but everything else was ruined.

I don't even have time to consider if it's appropriate to tell Quinn that all of her belongings are, in fact, gone, when another speech bubble appears.

9:45pm: Good.

I lick my lips in thought at this. It is a very interesting answer. Now that the ice has been broken and my heart rate has calmed down, rational thought returns to me and I remember there is something I am dying to know.

9:46pm: Quinn, where are you?

Tapping my fingers against the side of my phone I wait and check the time every twenty five seconds. Ten o'clock rolls by and I realize I have made a grievous error- too much, too soon. My fingers move at light speed to try and repair the mistake.

10:01pm: I'm sorry.
10:01pm: I won't ask that again.
10:02pm: That's not what I really wanted to know anyway. I'll start again.
10:02pm: Are you safe?

I am now curled against the head of my bed, teeth chewing on my thumbnail in forced patience. I can see my clock blink red out of the corner of my eye for each second that I wait. It is maddening but finally, I am granted reprieve.

10:04pm: Yes, I am.

I release a breath I don't even remember taking and bring my head to rest against the headboard again. It's not something I ever do, but regardless of that fact, I find myself sending a prayer of thanks to my God and Quinn's God and any other that will listen for this wonderful confirmation. My fingers are trembling again, but this time I'm sure that it is from sheer relief.

10:05pm: Good. That's really good.

It feels like that is a closing statement and I am not surprised when Quinn does not reply. I stay in my position for long minutes anyway, slowly regaining purchase of my stunned limbs before I push out of bed and move to find a clean top.

It's not until some time later, seven minutes after I have programmed Quinn's number into my phone, that Betty Who begins to echo through the walls of my room.

"oooo somebody loves you"[1]

I find myself singing along on automatic for a moment before realization hits that the song is actually coming from my phone.

Because it's ringing.

With Quinn's newly appointed ringtone.

Quinn.

Is calling me?

Nonsensically, I look down at my outfit in anxious insecurity. I'm wearing yellow ninja kitten pajama pants and a Wicked t-shirt that still has an insanely stubborn guacamole stain on it.

Suddenly realizing I'm wasting time, I grapple for the vibrating object and swipe my fingers across the screen before shakily bringing it up to my ear.

I am silent for a beat after I answer because I am met with soft breaths, and am instantly unraveled by the fact that they are Quinn's.

"A-Ahoy?"

My eyes slam closed in self-contempt, oh my God, ahoy? What is the matter with me?! I'm pulled out from my turmoil by Quinn's voice; smooth, low and with that wonderfully raspy quality that has always managed to turn my insides into soup.

"…..Ahoy.. really?"

"Well, I don't have to tell you that it's a perfectly acceptable alternative Quinn."

I know that she knows that Alexander Graham Bell originally suggested the term and that it's always been an opinion of mine that when the man credited with inventing the telephone suggests a greeting, you consider it, no matter how nautical it may be.

The knowing smirk on her lips practically screams at me through her reply.

"Right.."

I am completely flustered by her candor; my feathers undisputedly ruffled by this strange and friendly approach. I can barely believe that we're even speaking.

I was content with just knowing that she was safe, I wasn't expecting anything. And now, well, this is all so new.. and as I glance over to my dressing table mirror I almost blush at how wide the smile on my face is. New is good.

Biting my lip, I know that my next comment has the potential to ruin things again, but I can't find it within me to hold the words inside.

"I'm sorry I pushed too hard before, I really just wanted to know you were okay."

"I know, it's okay."

I think about all the questions I want to ask. I think about Quinn's father and Sam's bruise and Judy's eyes and as I think, we slip into silence.

This time, it is Quinn who takes a breath and breaks it.

"Hey Rachel?"

"Yes?"

"I'm reading A.A. Milne."

A small, surprised smile graces my lips. That was definitely not something I was expecting to come out of her mouth during this conversation. I find I have to scramble slightly to keep up.

"Uh, Winnie the Pooh? Which book?"

"The House at Pooh Corner."

"Oh, I like that one," and, in spite of the curiosity bubbling inside of me, I find myself indescribably joyous over this admission, because I do. I really, really do.

"Me too.."

One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Thr-

"Hey Rachel?"

I am becoming more and more dizzy each time my name is whispered from Quinn's lips. She puts such a beautiful inflection on it. It makes me feel alluring and powerful and.. I have to take a calming breath before I respond.

"Yes Quinn?"

"I'm up to chapter eight."

I rack my brain for the name of the title. I knew them all once, a long time ago, when my form was tiny and my imagination big. When words were hard and children were cruel and it was very important for me to be braver than I believed and stronger than I seemed and smarter than I thought.

Well, okay, not that very long ago.

"Um, chapter eight.. in which, Piglet does a grand thing?"

"A very grand thing, yeah.." I hear Quinn expel a breath into my ear and something in me knows that, if requested, I could perfectly map out the smile on her face that I am sure has followed it. Radiant.

Another breath from Quinn, this one is deeper, longer, and the pause that follows it is pregnant with feeling.

"Um, do you, have some time?"

I smile around the shaky lump that is forming in my throat, her question tugs so deliciously at the muscles of my stomach.

Time? For you? Yes Quinn, definitely, I have time, I have forever open for you.

"Yes. Of course. Always."

She clears her throat uncertainly and my nerves immediately jump to echo hers. What are we doing? Where is this going?

I quickly find however that I don't care one bit about answering those questions, or any of the others flying around in my brain, because Quinn takes a breath and begins to read to me in that wonderfully rich, dulcet tone of hers.

"Chapter eight, in which Piglet does a very grand thing. Half-way between Pooh's house and Piglet's house was a 'Thoughtful Spot' where they met sometimes when they had decided to go and see each other, and, as it was warm and out of the wind, they would sit down there for a little and wonder what they would do now that they had seen each other.."[2]

Trying, and failing, to keep myself from completely falling apart, I can do nothing more than snuggle into my blankets and listen. Which, it turns out, is the perfect thing for me to do.


At some point around chapter nine, Quinn slows her reading to fall in time with the deep breaths I am puffing into the speaker. My eyes immediately fly open at the change in tempo.

"I'm, no, I'm not ashleep! You talkn but Tigger!"

The words slur rather embarrassingly but I figure, considering I got to watch Quinn's hair ruffle with sleep and loveliness in my bed mere days ago, it's only fair that she get to know that I sound like a drunken vagabond when I'm tired.

I am rewarded for my temporary aphasia when a small laugh whispers from Quinn's lips, through the phone line and directly into my burning ear. It is possibly the most beautiful sound she has ever made.

"It's okay. Goodnight Rachel."

I don't want to go to sleep. I don't want to move. I don't want to do anything but stay on the phone with Quinn for the rest of my existence but even as I'm thinking it, I know that it's impossible, so instead, I humbly accept the precious gift she has given me tonight and nod against the phone.

"K, g'night Quinn.. sweet dreams."

I listen to her steady breaths, one, two, three and then there is a dial tone. Surprisingly, the severed connection doesn't sadden me. I find I have been so enriched by the magical interlude we have just shared that I don't even spend that night awake, replaying our words, obsessing over their meaning. I don't do any of that.

Instead, I immediately fall asleep with my phone still clutched loosely in my hand.

It is blissful.


This is our relationship for the next five nights. For the next five nights, at exactly 10:31, Betty Who echoes through my walls, and for each of those five nights, Quinn and I listen to each other and learn things.

Tuesday night, we learn about bravery and love and friendship in the hundred acre wood. Quinn listens as I say things like "weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them"[3] and I listen as Quinn reads things like "rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there someday"[4] and throughout everything, I try to remember that Quinn is only reading, but when it's very late and I have almost fallen asleep, Quinn is very brave and whispers "sometimes, the smallest things take up the most room in your heart"[5] before she hangs up.

And as I listen to this, I thank A. A. Milne for the words, but I am sure she isn't reading anymore.

Wednesday night, I learn that Quinn prefers Blyton over Potter so we tuck away Peter Rabbit only a moment after opening and replace him with the Magical Faraway Tree. I learn that Quinn went through a phase as a child where she changed the children's names from Fanny and Dick to Franny and Rick because they made her blush.

Thursday night, when we've finished reading about the land of topsy-turvy, I jokingly ask why Quinn never reads any 'great' contemporary authors like Jeff Kinney or Jane O'Connor when she comments that she has always preferred the classics and her sister is an Early Childhood major who happens to house her book collection next to her bed.

The moment the comment casually slips from Quinn's lips, both of us realize that she has disclosed her location.

My breathing slows, but only for a moment, before I softly roll out "well, the classics are always the best."

Quinn swallows and I wait three and a half Mississippi's before hearing her voice again. It is very quiet but full of a tentative kind of.. something.

"Yes. They really are.."

On these wonderful, wonderful nights some of the things we talk about are:

-the insanity of juxtaposition
-how important good illustrators are
-what books say versus what books mean
-bubbles

Some of the things we don't talk about are:

-how we feel about each other
-our families
-the fact that I still have her books
-the fact that she hasn't asked for them back yet
- the past
- the future

At 10:57 on Friday night, when Quinn finishes reading 'The Land of Dreams' from the Magic Faraway Tree, the lines of this mutually agreed upon list blur and something changes between us again.

I listen to her voice as it fumbles for a moment and she clears her throat to steady it once more.

"This is actually my favorite children's book, even over Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."

Nodding into the phone from my place in bed, I am not at all surprised.

"I can see why, it's beautifully written and wonderfully imaginative."

"My sister Frannie took it with her when she went to college, I used to read this next chapter every night before I went to bed. All the pages are stained.."

There is a nostalgic quality to her voice that I have never heard before and, if I close my eyes very tightly, I can almost see the plethora of tiny little finger smudges that would border the books' pages.

I wonder if there are any crumb stains that have been silhouetted into the paper by time. I wonder if any tears have fallen and left muddled splashes or if her childhood glasses caught them all.

I wonder how Quinn felt the first time her tiny eyes read over the words she was getting ready to share with me now.

"Chapter seven.. The land of Do-as-you-Please."

I can't stop the amused smile that quirks my lips at the novel idea.

"Do as you please?"

"Yeah.. in this land, all the children get to do exactly what they want. They play games together and then they go swimming in the ocean. It's.. really nice."

A crack rockets through my heart at the honest words that are shyly tumbling from Quinn's lips, it is a painful kind of happy. I imagine a tiny Lucy Q, curled up in her covers, tracing over the title before bed. I picture the small lines her fingers would leave and suddenly my mind fills with sandy images of those hands growing and changing and being shaped into what they are today.

Delicate and slender, strong and searching.

Beautiful.

I shimmy slightly in my spot and clear my throat, blinking away the heady warmth in my belly that the thought of those hands has invoked.

"It sounds lovely, tell me about it."

And although only a week ago, I would have never expected her to, Quinn does.


It is 10:43 on Saturday night when our relationship experiences another change, another shift.

I am fidgeting in my bed because my phone still hasn't lit up and, just as I am about to send a text to Quinn asking if everything is okay, Betty Who's familiar voice starts to serenade me.

Picking up, I sigh happily into the phone.

"Ahoy there matey, I was beginning to think you'd stood me up, what are we reading tonight?"

Quinn's chuckle is quiet and I can hear rustling in the background.

"Ahoy yourself, and you could always call me, you know?"

"I.." My breath catches and, for a moment, I am dumb. Because no. No I really didn't know. I didn't know at all.

"Really? I.. didn't want to push."

"Well, I gave you my number for a reason so, go ahead."

Everything about Quinn's voice in that moment is controlled; her words are carefully chosen, her tone is carefully managed, the timbre of her voice is carefully edged away from its natural husk. I know that all of these things mean that Quinn is tense, which means that Quinn is frightened. Which means that, once again, Quinn is being brave.

A hand comes up to softly massage my temple as I try to process this change.

"Okay.."

"Anyway, I'm sorry to keep you waiting, um, I actually don't have a book tonight."

"Oh, okay."

I try to hide my surprise, but I know that the high pitch that decorates my words gives me away.

I hear another loud rustle followed by a crash.

"Ow!"

"Um, Quinn what are you doing?"

There is only silence.

"Hello?"

"I'm here, I.. I don't want to tell you."

There is something strange in Quinn's tone, akin to agitation, but it doesn't appear to be directed at me.

My eyebrows raise of their own volition and my fingers instinctively move to massage there instead.

"I see.."

I hear Quinn puff out a deep breath into the receiver and all of the background noise stills. I am learning to be patient with her so I get into a comfortable position and wait. I don't have anywhere to be.

I can actually hear Quinn chewing on her lip through the phone and I have to smile at how put out she sounds.

Finally, after long minutes, she speaks.

"It's embarrassing."

I know she can't see it but I nod anyway. This conversation has not followed the script of our previous encounters at all, it is new territory again, and it feels like an important moment, a moment worthy of nothing but the deepest truth. So that's what I give, in a softly exhaled wisp of a sentence.

"Quinn, I hope you know that you can tell me anything."

Something crashes again in the background and we are silent again.

I am seven Mississippi in when she finally caves.

"I'm.. building a fort?"

I don't immediately respond to what Quinn is saying because the end of her sentence is lilted up, as if posing a question, as if unsure, as if she cannot even believe that she has said the words out loud.

I am trying very hard not to laugh at the image of Quinn hiding in a blanket fort. I know that this must be incredibly difficult for her to share. So, when I do respond, I make sure to pay close attention to my tone, keeping it level throughout to leave no room for interpretation that this is anything other than a declarative statement.

"I think you mean: I'm building a fort."

"Yes."

She takes a breath and suddenly, a whooshing torrent of words bombard me, laced with anxious uncertainty.

"I'm building a fort because, when I was little, I used to make myself caves out of my covers at night because it always made me feel.. safe."

I can feel my eyes widen even through their sudden wateriness. There is something so wonderfully innocent about the Quinn I've spent the past five nights speaking to. I've been shown another layer, another subtlety to add to her intricate, dynamic personality.

I press a hand to my chest in hopes of stilling my errand heartbeat.

This lovely and playful thing; I love her as I do all the rest. I love them all. I exist in this state of delirium for a moment before my mind is finally able to read into the subtext of Quinn's admission. But not before I return the favor.

"I used to put sheer scarves over my eyes and pretend I was invisible like Harry Potter. It is, in fact, a small miracle that I survived a childhood filled with traversing staircases in this fashion."

I allow myself a moment to chuckle at the memory before I take the plunge.

"Why do you need a fort Quinn?"

There are a few more rustles before I hear her finally begin to settle down. "Rachel.." It comes out like a breath, a fiery exhalation, and it makes the tips of my fingers go numb as she continues.

"I know you have things you want to ask me."

At once, the numbness recedes and my fingers twitch in surprised resurgence, like waking after a storm; nerve endings reignited and sensitive once more. This is unexpected. Quinn has, very deliberately, put me in control.

I can hear the fear in her voice, I can hear how careful she is being not to run away from all of this, from me. I want to tell her how incredibly brave I think she is. I know what she is doing. I can hear it all.

Taking a moment to think on her statement, I'm a little surprised that there isn't really anything I feel like I need to know. This is new for me because usually the stress of not knowing would be pressing on my chest unbearably, but Quinn is safe and she is sharing things with me, so wherever she's staying with her sister, it must be a good place.

"Um, not really actually, I mean of course I'm curious, being inquisitive is one of my most endearing qualities. But really, I'm just happy knowing you're okay."

I hear Quinn sigh in what I can only imagine is relief before she speaks again.

"Okay. Well, if there's nothing you want to ask, then, there are some things I want to tell you. I have three tiers of codes: green, yellow and red."

I blink, baffled.

"You want to talk to me about color coded emergency response codes?"

Quinn's laugh, although nervous, still burns like golden sunshine through my veins.

"Not really, more like, one thing is easy, another thing is difficult and another thing is terrifying."

I have to give myself a moment to smother the words that are pacing restlessly on my tongue. I love this woman so much. I love her. This feeling in my skin, it is infinite.

"I'm here whenever you're ready."

"Okay, so, code green, I got a job."

I blink, "A.. A job?" That was unexpected.

"Yes, yesterday.. at the Java Hut, I'm a junior espresso specialist, which basically means I serve the coffee and refill the sugar packets."

"Quinn that's fantastic!"

"Yeah, it's mostly weekends and after school until the summer but, I could really use the money so I'm happy."

"Well, if anyone can handle a room full of grumpy people who haven't had their morning coffee, it's you."

"Thanks, I hope you're right."

"Luckily, I have it on good authority that I'm always right about everything."

Quinn's playful scoff is loud and clear through the phone line.

"I choose not to comment."

She waits for our chuckles to settle before she begins again.

"So code yellow, I'm.. at the moment I'm living with my sister Fran. She has a little apartment just off of Wilson and Main. It's tiny and decrepit and usually smells like toast but I kind of love it. We're converting her study into a bedroom for me and setting up her desk in the living area. It'llbe just about big enough to fit a bed but I think it's going to work."

I'm just about to jump in and exclaim my excitement over this development when Quinn gasps out an excited breath of her own and stops me.

"-Oh! And a side note that I thought you'd be interested in, I have a running theory that her kettle is actually being inhabited by the soul of a cursed opera singer. I'm putting my money on Joan Sutherland."

My guffaw is embarrassingly graceless but I don't care, Quinn's mind is a hilarious thing and I am so grateful that she is beginning to let me climb inside of it.

"I'm serious! It's like a lyric coloratura soprano, every time I want tea it sings in high D for me."

I am laughing fully now, harmonizing each helpless wheeze that escapes my lungs with Quinn's warmly amused chuckles. It feels absolutely wonderful.

"I think I have to hear this.."

"Well, you can see for yourself sometime, you'll never have room for another kettle in your life ever again, I promise."

The intention woven through the words is so casual, so simply put, that it actually takes me a moment to hear. She.. is Quinn opening her door to me?

Biting my lip, I try to concentrate on tracing out the star shapes that litter my pajama pants just so I don't blurt out something inappropriate.

"I believe you."

Our jovial mood seems to settle then and Quinn sounds almost wistful as she continues on.

"Okay good. Code red."

There is silence.

I try and express just how warm my smile is in my words.

"Quinn..it's okay."

"I know. I know." The first time she says the words, they are definitely aimed at me. The second time, she appears to be telling herself. Both times make me smile despite myself.

"So, red."

"I'm- everything is still very.. messy. I haven't seen my parents since, since I started living with Fran and she's been so awesome about.. well everything. My father told me he never wanted to see me again and, at the time, it hurt me so deeply. It still does but, I don't know, I think that even though the road is really bumpy at least that means I know that I'm moving."

We are both silent for a beat as we absorb Quinn's words.

"I know that was a weird thing to say.. but does it make any sense to you at all?"

It takes me a moment to respond, I have to remove the phone from my cheek to stop any unintentional noises creeping through. It lands against my lips anyway, side on, and involuntarily I find myself pressing kiss to it before bringing my mouth back to the speaker.

"It makes perfect sense Quinn."

This time, I do cry a little bit, albeit silently, because it does.


It's 8:30 on Sunday night when, as I'm trying to memorize my active and passive verb usage for Monday's test, I hear Betty Who again. It takes me a moment to answer my phone because I'm not expecting Quinn's call for another two hours. In fact, tonight, I was going to be brave and call her at 10:20 just to see what would happen. But here she is, calling me.

Picking up, I forgo my usual 'ahoy' and cut right to the chase.

"Quinn, is everything alright?"

I hear a muted rustling followed by what I can only presume is Quinn blowing hair out of her face.

"Do you like riddles?"

Moving towards my desk to pick up my Spanish textbook again, an exasperated laugh escapes me.

"Are you building another fort?"

My eyebrows rise in shock however as a gentle grunt leaves Quinn's lips. Before I even realize what is happening I've sat back down on my bed with a thump.

That.. That is definitely a new sound.

"Pft, I wish" her words are punctuated by another small noise of exertion and I can't help but envision all the wonderful things Quinn could be doing to elicit such a response in herself "but not this time, do you like riddles?"

The competitive part of me is sure that she is somehow doing this on purpose to put me off my game. She's crafty, and if I'm right, well, it's working. I put on my game face regardless.

"Uh.. yes, yes I do."

"Okay, what rhymes with spin, that's out on a limb?"

My lips purse in thought but it's no use, I'm completely flummoxed, I've never heard this riddle before and Quinn's sounds have ensured that the only two remaining synapses pinging around in my brain have devolved to playing a game of pong.

"Damn, okay you win, I don't know. What rhymes with spin that's out on a limb Quin-?"

I stumble noticeably over her name because my heart rate increases exponentially as my mind finally registers the rhyme. My two remaining synapses fizzle away in disbelief. I try to tell myself it's impossible, that there's just no way. But in spite of all of this, my eyes still track helplessly to the large oak outside my window.

Quinn's voice is small but I can now place the small rustles I have been hearing, they aren't blankets at all, they're branches. Limbs.

"You wanna.. come say ahoy?"

In the breath I take before I approach the window, I feel a rumble unfurl from deep within me. There is an ache then, blunt and building. It starts at my toes and curls around to cover every inch of me until I am left a mere shell of my former self. Until I am stricken with the thrumming that echoes in my bones. Until I am hollowed out, concave.

Curling my trembling fingers around the window hatch I pull it up and open myself to the outdoors. I know that these next few heartbeats will be with me forever. This is the overture, the preparation, the calm before the storm.

Cold air hits my cheeks as my eyes begin to scan over the tree outside.

I unravel then, in a messy heap, as they finally land on Quinn. Not because it's been so long, not because of everything that's happened. But because it feels like this is the first time I've ever really seen her.

Quinn.

Quinn: sitting comfortably on a low branch with her ear still pressed tightly against her phone. Quinn: with hair much shaggier and brighter than I remember. Quinn: wearing old jeans and an adorably tatty t-shirt with 'you dim sum you lose sum' written in bold print over the chest. Quinn: looking up at me like she hasn't seen me in years.

Quinn.

Already, I am lost to those wonderfully steady viridescent eyes. She is staring at me, unblinking. I think perhaps it's because this is the first time she has ever really allowed herself to look. I can't help but wonder at what she sees.

Regardless, I know in that moment that she is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen and I greedily fill every porous hole within myself with the exhilarating sight of her. It has been far too long since I have been able to look into those eyes and the secrets they start to whisper to me make me feel weak with knowing.

I press against the window frame in a single heaved out sigh. But it's only for a moment, just a moment. Because then, I feel stronger than I ever have before.

Licking my parched lips I realize, for the first time perhaps, that I have definitely been staring for much longer than is conventionally appropriate, and that Quinn has been letting me. She has been waiting for me.

The smile I finally give her is extremely shaky, but that has more to do with the fact that I'm desperately trying to rein in my emotions than from any kind of unease on my part. Even so, her responding smile is subdued and nervous. She is unsure. But every look she gives me is edged with a wonderful kind of happiness I have never seen from her before.

I find it impossible to stay silent for even a moment longer.

"A-Ahoy.."

She raises one of those enchanting eyebrows in a slow arch and my knees buckle beneath the window with a soft thud.

"Ahoy.. really? I wasn't expecting you to actually say it."

I chuckle through my gentle smirk. This time, I do not feel flustered by her candor. My feathers do not ruffle. I welcome every exchange we make. Each and every give and take.

"It's an appropriate greeting and we both know it. So, you decided to come visit me on a Sunday evening, I have to say, I'm pleasantly surprised."

Blinking at me shyly, I am not expecting any words to actually leave Quinn's mouth. But they do, and they are delicious to my ears.

"Well, I wanted to see you."

Quinn's expression is open and honest, the image of it shoots through my veins like fire. I have to swallow away my anxious energy. I have to somehow smother the impending sense of restlessness that is raging in my veins. If I don't, then I am sure that I will have to have her right now and I don't even know what that really means right now.

So instead, I close my eyes for a second to gather myself and when they open again, Quinn's smile has gotten even larger.

"I love your hair."

I say it because I am drowning at our proximity, because I am joyous at how much this wonderful person can make me feel, and finally because I really, really do.

Ruffling a hand through her messy locks Quinn is quick to grin.

"Thanks. It's taken some getting used to but I think I kind of love it, Fran spent some time learning how to be a stylist so.."

Biting my lip, I can't do much more than nod happily in response. It is an incredibly strange experience, to be so struck for words. Usually I'm reprimanded for having too many, largely by Quinn herself, but in this moment, I just can't seem to hold onto any. Really, I'm just thrilled to not be dreaming right now.

So we sit, for long minutes. Looking at each other.

We don't discuss that I'm not inviting Quinn in or that Quinn isn't asking. We don't discuss that we're both already trembling.

We don't discuss these things at all. Because we both know what would happen the moment we didn't have a wall and several feet of height separating us.

There would be hearts and hands and other limbs dancing with each other in the darkness. There would be heat and contact and rushes of endorphins smothered by wonderfully wet and throbbing skin. There would be hoarse cries and stripped throats and pleading tears of exultation and so many searching, searing touches.

There would be another change to the game, definite, undeniable, and far, far more than we're currently ready for.

So we sit, for long minutes. Looking at each other.

Until Quinn speaks, and the one word that is husked out of her mouth is almost enough to cause me to lose what little resolve I have collected since opening my window.

"Rachel?"

I know I should be embarrassed by the soft sound that escapes my throat but, swallowing hard with my head against the window frame, I'm just not.

"Yes Quinn."

I watch as she chews her bottom lip, blinking as fleshy pink is pressed into different shapes by perfect white. Her eyes have softened from their usual penetrating stare and have taken on a searching quality.

"What color do you think comes after red?"

I don't think that very much could sidetrack me from my focus on her lips, but this question really does.

"Well, orange usually, if we're talking rainbows."

For the first time tonight, Quinn's gaze leaves mine, her eyes move to rest on the tips of her dirty black high tops. I mourn the loss acutely so I follow them there too. They look scuffed, second hand perhaps.

"And if we're talking quirky coding systems for scary disclosures?"

Tearing my eyes away from her shoes, I take a moment to look at the stars in thought. I try to remember the color spectrums and scientific light absorption charts that are printed across my sky blue Chemistry textbook.

"I suppose it could be black?"

Quinn gives a short nod.

"Okay. Code black."

I see it then, the anxiety in her eyes, it actually begins to worry me.

"My first day at work is on Wednesday."

The stone on my chest becomes slightly smaller than it was a moment ago. Because I know this. I can deal with this. I can deal with this type of fear.

"You know you're going to be amazing right?"

Quinn actually snorts at this before she becomes deadly serious again, hands coming up to encircle her knees, pulling them up to her chest. Immediately I envision the moment she sank to the floor in the chemistry lab and my heart strains at the memory.

"Well, I've been practicing refilling sugar packets at home so I'm fairly confident I'll have the skills for the job. But that wasn't the black, that was just the prelude. The black is um.. would you like to, maybe, come visit me? For first day luck?"

I am fairly sure I can actually hear my jaw unhinge on its way down to the floor. I am so completely shocked that I can't even think to edit my tone.

"Are you asking me to have coffee with you?"

Instantly I can hear the hesitancy in Quinn's voice and I want to smack myself for it.

"I.. uh, I'm.. no, no, I'm inviting you to visit me at work, which just happens to be in a coffee shop."

I try to swallow down my disappointment but I know that we've been making great leaps and this fact is highlighted a moment later in perfect, dazzling technicolor when Quinn takes a deep breath and continues speaking.

"But.. if you wanted to, maybe, after.. I finish.. I'll only be working until four, so if you come after school..?"

Something wonderfully soft flutters against my heart as I press my forehead against the edge of my open window. I think back to the beautifully dark and lonely creature that fell to her knees before me weeks ago, I remember how anguished her cries had been and I remember the burning left on my lips after our kiss.

I remember all of this, and then I watch the slightly misted breaths leaving Quinn's nervous lips. I watch her wait patiently for my response to her extended invitation.

I could actually cry.

To stop anything as embarrassing as that happening, I clutch the window sill in my grasp and just barely manage to whisper out a "Yes, of course. Yes."

The smile Quinn shoots me is nothing short of show stopping. It does things to me. She does things to me. With her eyes and her hair and the perfectly sewn together heart she currently has pinned to her sleeve. She makes me feel like I could do anything. She makes me brave. So that's exactly what I am.

"That sounds amazing actually, leave everything up to me okay? You just focus on being the best junior espresso specialist and sugar refiller the Java Hut has ever seen and when your shift is over, I'll surprise you with something."

Quinn balances her chin on her knees and smiles up at me, shaking her head at my suggestion.

"You don't have to go to any trouble Rach, you're already doing me a huge favor by coming out to see me."

The stuttering drumbeat in my ribcage reaches a deafening volume, bright lights dance at the sides of my vision.

Rach.

"I want you.."

The words slip out of my mouth with heady affection. Too late do I realize they're not actually what I meant to say. They're one hundred percent true, but definitely not what I had intended to come out of my mouth.

"Uh, toTo! I meant to. I want to!"

Quinn has moved her legs from being pressed to her chest and is now swinging them over her branch happily. Her laugh is musical and carefree, cheeks brushed gently with a shade of bashfulness that is dangerously charming. Getting to watch this response from her is almost worth the burning embarrassment I'm currently experiencing.

"Okay, well, it's the Java Hut on Tennyson, I get off at four."

I have to pull my lips into my mouth just to temper the gigantic smile on my face.

"I will see you on Wednesday then."

For our date. Our actual, date-like meeting that we will be having. Together. On Wednesday.

Giving up, I let my lips go and they immediately stretch out into a grin that Quinn mirrors with nervous excitement.

"Okay, great."

Shifting my gaze back inside for a moment, I catch sight of my phone. I flung it on my bed the moment I realized Quinn was at my window.

"Quinn.."

When I turn my head back to face outside, I can see that Quinn is eyeing the grass beneath her tree limb, obviously calculating a descent. It is at this moment that I realize how high she has actually climbed, I know I shouldn't be surprised, she's a cheerleader and an athlete but still, I wait for her attention, wary of distracting her.

When her eyes fall on mine again I find that, although I am shy as I say the words, I am not apologetic.

"I'm still going to call you tonight."

Quinn wipes her hands on her jeans and gets a good grip of a medium sized branch above her head. I can't help but track my eyes over the softly defined line her biceps make in this position. I smother a sigh. Yes, she should definitely be getting home now.

"Well, I should hope so, we're about to break open Roald Dahl you know."

In a graceful leap that has me closing my eyes Quinn exits the tree, landing on the grass with a soft thud. Shaking off my panic, I'm just about to ready myself to close the window when her voice drifts up towards me.

"Oh, Rachel?"

"Yes Quinn?"

My answer is somewhat distracted as I'm struggling to wrench my window back down by the hatch. It groans in short bursts of movement before getting stuck and sliding up again.

All movements cease however, the moment I hear her words.

"I um, I really like my ringtone."

My eyes watch helplessly as Quinn smiles before beginning to walk to the curb. My heart drudges through a thick haze to produce staggered, uneven beats. My hands lie useless around the edge of the window hatch. The only part of my entire body that actually seems to be functioning is my mouth, which has broken out into a dazzling smile that follows Quinn's form all the way from the curb to when she slides into a beaten up old Hyundai and drives away.

As the headlights round the corner and disappear, I finally regain most of my motor control. My first order of business is to put my phone back on charge. I have under ninety minutes before I have to call Quinn and I have a feeling that Roald Dahl is going to be taking us very late into the night this evening.

Phone now safely charging, I move back towards my desk and close my Spanish textbook, replacing it with a plain lined notepad. Grabbing a pen, I quickly scrawl the words 'Quinn Fabray: best date ever' at the top and start to list ideas. There's not a lot of time before Wednesday.


 

Chapter Text

Quinn.


Sugar packets soar high up in the air before falling down around me like little sticks of devil-snow. Cursing, I give the chair I have walked into (for the third time) a swift kick before bending down to pick them up.

My job isn't difficult. It really, really isn't. Refill the sugar packets, take the orders, serve the coffee, wipe the machines, keep the tables clear. I could do it in my sleep.

And yet. Here I am. Picking up my seventh spill of the day.

Luckily Franco, my boss, is too busy flirting with the soccer moms that come in for their midafternoon Frappuccino to notice just how much of his produce is ending up on the floor today.

It's not my fault, it's really not. My nerves are frayed, my hands are shaking and my body is only being responsive thirty percent of the time. I know who is to blame for this. I know exactly who is provoking these reactions in me. The same person who always does.

Rachel.

It is 2:43 pm. I have one hour and seventeen minutes left of my shift. Then, at some moment of uncertain specificity, Rachel will be standing in front of me and we will be going.. somewhere. For an outing. A visit. Okay, a date.

I feverishly try to work off some of the anxious energy zipping around inside of me by putting a bit of extra elbow grease into wiping the tables.

It doesn't work.

With every swipe of my hand my thoughts grow louder and louder.

Because there's no denying it. I can try to make myself feel better by calling it whatever I like, but it doesn't change the fact that it's a date.

I'm going on a date.

I'm going on a date with Rachel Berry. Rachel Barbra Berry. The girl that I have spent the past few years of my life tormenting out of a misguided attraction borne of my own religiously induced gay-panic.

None of these factors, not one, should equate to a date, and yet, they do. They have. Or, they will. If she shows up. My frantic wiping motions only slow when I find that I've started to rub the shine out of some of the varnish. Without thinking I strategically place a menu over the mark. Whoops.

Considering our colorful history, by all reasonable accounts, this should not be happening.

And yet, it is..

In just over an hour Rachel will be here and I will be here and then we will be going somewhere.. together.

I bite my lip at the resounding thrill that this knowledge sends through me, but, separating the raw sugar from the white sugar and sweetener packets, I can't deny how split in half my heart feels over everything.

One half is rife with anxious uncertainty over just what it is that I think I'm even doing. This is Rachel, and even ignoring that for a moment, this is a girl. I'm going on a date with a girl. A lady. A woman. The female of the species. A same-sex outing.

For a moment the phantom scent of my father's cologne fills my chest. It is gone almost as soon as it arrives but it is still enough to stall my movements.

I resent these plumes of memory. I know they are important, they tell me where to go by showing me where I've been; all the dark and hurtful places that I never want to see again. But my heart is so sore and I am tired of the bags I carry.

Absentmindedly, my fingers begin to trace over the smooth leather of my new cross; it is cool to the touch and instantly soothes me.

I think of Sam, I think of Fran, most of all I think of Rachel: the wonderful woman I have come to know that seems to understand all of my secrets but will take them to the grave.

There is no more room for this in my life. No more room for doubt. So I try to steel myself, none of this is about my father anymore. It's about me, Rachel and me, which supports the other half of my heart, the half that is undeniably elated at the fact that this afternoon actually seems to be becoming a reality.

Drifting from table to table, I allow a deeply rooted smile to blossom on my face and resolve to make a special dinner for Fran tomorrow. She is deserving of a great deal of thanks on my part. Because whatever is going to happen between me and Rachel today, it's going to be another progression, another step, and I am so grateful for that.

So easily could all of this have never happened. I mean, I never would have even gone to see Rachel if it hadn't been for Fran, I have to smirk just thinking about it.


It was 7:57 on Sunday night and the only two sounds in the living room were coming from the gentle scratch of Fran's pen against her notebook and the mezzo-forte tapping of my foot against the coffee table.

My eyes were trained on the small clock that hung crookedly above me as 7:57 slowly became 7:58.

"Do you think it's too early to call her?"

Fran paused her note taking to let out a patient breath.

"Well, it's around seventeen minutes later than the last time you asked me so, I don't know, what do you think?"

Sighing heavily, I flung myself down on the futon and started to sort through Fran's Roald Dahl boxset, Rachel would like Matilda. We'd start with that tonight.

Opening the novel, I traced my fingers over the worn title with a smile. An incredibly gifted, underappreciated child, her story filled with learning and friendship and magic and empowerment. Rachel would definitely like Matilda. Risking an overly casual glance to the clock again I let another long sigh escape my lips.

The minutes I spent with Rachel had become the center points of my days, the pinnacles, the only moments I ever really felt settled. I was ready, aching for more. But it was barely even eight o'clock.

I had enough time for two more sighs before my sister's breathy voice called out from the small kitchen table she was studying on.

"Oh, sister?"

Quirking an eyebrow, I lifted my head up from my prone position on the futon to at least attempt to look in her direction.

"Yes sister?"

"I love you. But if I hear one more sigh puff itself out of your coward ass I will hit you over the head with this child development journal, and trust me, you will not be waking up for a very long time."

Matilda slammed shut with a snap in my lap as my upper body rose in indignation.

"Um excuse me Francine, but I am not a coward!"

I was expecting a long, drawn out barrage of words contesting that statement but all I received was one well placed eyebrow and a glare that pinned me to my seat. Eventually, I sunk down in shame at Fran's perceptiveness.

"Shut up."

"Q, why don't you ju-"

"Shut up!"

Another sharp snap echoed through the room as Child Development USA journal 26, volumes 4-11 slammed shut.

"No Quinn, I don't want to hear it, just get over whatever the hell is holding you back and call her. You don't have to stick to whatever freaky schedule you've been keeping. If you want to talk to Rachel, you pick up the phone and you call her, it's that simple."

"It is not that simple, I need structure! If I called Rachel every time I wanted to talk to her we'd never get off the phone! If I visited her every time I wanted to see her I'd never leave her alone! If I touched her every time I wanted-" I paused then, suddenly aware that I was sharing far too much with my sister.

Trying to ignore the smirk she was shooting at me, my argument suddenly didn't seem very well thought out.

"Whatever, anyway, it's not that simple."

"So, you wanna ..see her huh?"

I knew she was doing it to get a rise out of me, but all I could do was sigh helplessly.

"Fran.. I want.."

I bit my lip and fell back against the futon again, lost at how to put everything into words. I thought about the day that started this all, the day that caused the change, I thought about my piano piece and the feelings I had tried to share then. I thought about my quickened heartbeat and the sagging in my chest, but most of all, I thought about my endless, endless want.

"..I want way too much."

Closing my eyes through the hard swallow that made its way to my throat, the words still seemed like nowhere near enough.

When I opened my eyes again, Fran had moved from her place at the table to kneel next to me. She took Matilda from my tight grip and rested her hands on mine, untangling my fingers from the death grip they had taken on one another.

"You know, you're allowed to want things Q."

My eyes immediately moved to look at our joined hands; it was such a casual hold, it seemed so easy for Fran to initiate it. I didn't like knowing how difficult such a thing would have been for me, it made me feel like there was something heavy that was sitting inside of me; a suffocating cloud, pushing me down. Forcing the image out of my head,I shook my head at her comment.

"I'm not allowed to want this too much."

Fran tugged at my hands until my eyes moved to rest on hers.

"Why?"

"Because.."

I tried very hard to hold the gaze, but all of this was so difficult, how to go about putting things into words that had only ever existed in the quietest parts of my mind?

"What if.. what if it all goes away? What if it's too much or not enough or just not what she really wants? Rachel is.. I want so much to not ever hurt her again."

I wasn't expecting Fran's eyebrow to rise quite that much and I wondered if this was how people felt when I did it to them.

"Well that's very noble of you sis, but it's not going to happen, you know that right?"

My eyes widened in instant panic "What?! No!" because I was doing everything in my power to ensure that it most certainly would happen.

"Look, eventually you'll squabble, you'll fight, someone will say something hurtful and someone will get bruised. That's just the way these things happen, but you can't keep yourself distanced from her for that, it's part of the fun."

I couldn't quite keep the dismayed exasperation out of my tone.

"Fun? Tell me exactly how that is meant to be fun?!"

"Well okay, not fun, but.. it's part of what makes a relationship, the ups and the downs. They're important and absolutely fine as long as both of you learn from them. You're my sister Q, I know what you're afraid of, but I've seen you this past week, I've been right here. I know how good you two are for each other. I can hear the laughter and the whispers, I can see the change in you, I can feel the love."

"Love..."

I hadn't meant to whisper the word, but I had been listening to the words coming out of Fran's mouth with rapt attention so before I knew it, my mouth had shaped the foreign word and sent it out into the ether.

I wanted so, so much to believe.

But what did I know about love? I thought of my parents; my mother's long nails and my father's starched shirts. I thought of the games I knew how to play; the lies I knew how to tell. There was a disconnect. I didn't know love. I didn't understand.

Fran was watching me and I was irrepressibly aggravated by the smile that was sitting on her face. What the hell did she have to be so happy about? Before I had the chance to shoot her down she squeezed my hand again.

"Tell me, how do you spell 'love'?"

I blinked, spinning between aggravation and confusion in equal measures.

"What?"

"Think Q, how do you spell 'love'?"

"Oh my God Fran really? ...l-o-v-e" HBIC Quinn was slowly becoming a thing of the past, but Fran tended to bring her out of me. I wondered if it was a sister thing.

"Are you sure? Think hard."

I did think hard, and suddenly, it dawned on me.. A.A. Milne. Damn, she really had been paying attention.

"Oh, right.. You don't spell it, you feel it."

Fran's smile softened into genuine warmth at my understanding.

"That's right, it's okay to not know what you're doing. You don't need to understand love to feel it. It doesn't even have to make sense to you, it's not meant to be a puzzle, it's kind of just there."

Listening to her words I felt a thumping start at the base of my skull.

"Frannie.."

I closed my eyes and turned on my side to face her, hugging my knees to my chest. I suddenly felt so exposed, that was the counterbalance of having people close. That was the price. The uncomfortable, burning feeling on my skin: vulnerability.

I was getting used to barging through the paralysis I experienced when my feelings were out in the open. It was difficult, but I was learning that, for now, these things were necessary. The vulnerability was the fire, my feelings- the baptism. I tried my best to swim.

"I.. I think..I love her so much."

The admission was exhausting for me to verbalize and my limbs literally trembled with the aftershocks but the look on Fran's face was a balm for me. A blanket.

"I know you do."

The flames were smothered. We blinked at each other for a moment before her face brightened and she pushed up, letting go of my fingers after a final squeeze.

"So go see her already before you explode."

A pair of keys landed on my chest, their weight thudding through my nervously twitching sternum in a muted echo. My fingers curled around them on instinct but I didn't move from my spot. I couldn't, there was just no way. I wasn't ready for this at all.

"I.. I can't.."

Fran put a hand to her forehead like she had just remembered leaving the oven on. For a second, I thought she looked understanding, it was rather lovely, until she opened that mouth of hers.

"Oh right, I'm so sorry, I thought you said you loved her.."

Tightening my hold on the keys my upper body stiffened and I rose up again, that revelation had been sent out into the world at great emotional expense on my part and there was no way she was taking it away from me.

"Hey, watch it!"

Fran moved towards me and gripped the wrist of the hand that was holding the keys.

"So get out of here and do something terrifying, you can't spend the rest of your life just reading stories to the girl. It started out sweet but now it's just getting kind of lame."

I was being dragged up and towards the door before I even had a chance to find a jacket let alone object.

"Kiss her, buy her flowers, sing a ballad, sheesh, I'd even settle for just talking to her in person!"

Spluttering, I smacked Fran's hands away from me in outrage. Oddly enough, the first thought that came to mind was that I hadn't even done my hair. Rachel couldn't see me like that.

"What? No way, I need to change!"

Fran rolled her eyes and used her hips to nudge me back towards the front door.

"Don't be ridiculous, you're a vision now go go go!"

I caught sight of myself in the cracked mirror standing in the hallway and I had to roll my eyes.

"Right, I'm sure she just loves old jeans and bad pun t-shirts"

A whoosh of cool air hit us with the opening of the door and then suddenly, we came to a stop. Fran surprised me by putting her hands on my shoulders and holding me steadily at arm's length. I wasn't really sure what to do with the look on her face, it was serious and searching but I couldn't help but feel suspicion.

"Lucy Quinn Fabray, hold onto your mismatched socks and get ready for the shock of your life because you're about to get it. For some unknown reason, the universe has decided to do you a solid because Rachel loves you. She loves you. Regardless of your craziness, regardless of your messy hair and most definitely regardless of what you happen to be wearing."

I blinked and stammered ineffectually as Fran continued to manhandle me out the door. I realized too late that she had planned her speech strategically in order to stall any real physical resistance I may have provided in the doorway. It was crafty and I should have seen it coming, she was a Fabray after all.

"I.. she.. well, we don't really know that."

"Pft, trust your sister on these things Q, now go!"

I was completely torn between wanting to say thank you and wanting to smack Fran in the face, a classic and familiar by-product of our dichotomous relationship. Before I could settle on doing either, the door was slammed in my face and a muffled "Be brave!" was shouted through it.

Rolling my eyes again, I slipped my wallet and phone into my pockets and mechanically headed down the stairs to the parking lot. Brave. Right. I could do that.


As it turns out, a date with Rachel Berry is what being brave has gotten me, and now, minutes away from it, I'm still not sure exactly what to do with that.

There's still a part of me that is sure going to see Rachel on Sunday was a very bad idea. Only because now I know exactly what's going to happen when I see her again.

There will be no smoothness, no composure, no control. There will be none of that, I'm sure of it. Instead, there will be chaos and I'll do something ridiculous like fall over or cry or.. biting my lip I try to still my racing heart.

She just.. she looked so, so good.

It took everything within me that night to not lose my balance and fall from my perch; my trembling limbs were no help to me at all. I was almost completely undone by how naturally stunning Rachel was- hair thrown up in a careless ponytail, a plain white t-shirt that highlighted just how sinfully rich her skin tone actually was.

The only thing that saved me from a premature death was the window frame, which luckily hid those dangerous, dangerous legs from my sight.

I think that I'll remember the moment she first came into view for the rest of my life. I felt struck with a deep and resounding kind of shock, the kind that starts at your toes and slowly usurps all of your motor function in a wave of delicious dominance.

It's not like I had never seen her before, Rachel had been a part of my world, after one fashion or another, for the better part of my teenage years. But something had definitely changed between us, or perhaps more appropriately, within me.

It was wonderful but very, very worrying. Because seeing Rachel now was.. debilitating.

Although, despite my reservations, I have to acknowledge that there's an even larger part of me that would gladly degenerate into a puddle of helplessness any day of the week if it meant I got to spend time with Rachel, and that is an even more alarming truth.

Casually lifting up a tray of sugar, I wipe over another table in a large arch, collecting all the stray granules of sugar, coffee and bagel crust I can reach. I am so lost in my methodical motions that I don't notice I'm being approached until I feel a strange wall of heat envelope the atmosphere surrounding my back.

My body spasms at the change, knocking the sugar packets off the table and sending them to the floor.

Letting a small, frustrated growl rumble in my throat, my initial reaction is to be incensed beyond belief that I have managed yet another spill and to recover the sugar before Franco notices, but, as soon as my knees hit the floor, all motion stops. Because I see shoes.

Well, boots really. Rich, brown boots that ride the line between stylish and no-nonsense practicality.

I experience an entirely new level of mortification when I realize just who they belong to.

"Oh my, Quinn I'm so sorry!"

Rachel is bending down to help before I can even blink. For a moment, I almost don't believe she's actually really there, until she reaches down around my legs to grab at some sugar packets and we are suddenly very, very close.

I am still having a hard time recognizing that she is, in fact, standing right in front of me and no longer existing only as a phantom in my thoughts, but the closeness her movement ignites between us sends all of my thoughts to tumbling freefall before snapping back into sharp focus.

I sense that Rachel has acted purely out of instinct, and so, is also, only now, realizing the intimate position we have landed ourselves in. If I wasn't a breath away from doing something inappropriate I would probably find the blush that warms her cheeks wonderfully endearing.

It is an important moment we find ourselves in then.

This is so, because it is the closest we have been to each other since we kissed. Since Rachel's legs were wrapping themselves around my hips and squeezing us together, since the tip of her tongue was brushing the back of my contracting throat.

Almost as if she can hear my thoughts, Rachel's hands still in their movements. They have been frenzied and agile, snapping up as many errand sugar packets as she can reach. My hands have been frozen, along with the rest of me. My eyes have been keeping a careful catalogue of each and every inch of Rachel's face. They flutter involuntarily when she finally looks up at me.

"Hey.."

"Hi.."

Both words seem to puff from our lungs like great plumes of smoke; dripping with effort and density. I am just barely managing to keep my balance on the tiled floor when I am suddenly struck with the full force of a very new Rachel Berry smile. It is glorious and wraps around my surprised lungs with the embrace of a lover.

Desperately, I try to catch my breath.

I have never been on the receiving end of such an expression, such sheer happiness at my mere existence, my mere presence in her day. For a moment, I don't know what to do with it. I don't want to disappoint, I don't want to hurt. I don't want to do anything to crack this wonderful and delicate thing that seems to be blossoming between us.

The way she smiles at me. I ache to capture it. I itch to pull out my phone and take a photo to freeze all of her features forever, to filter them into black and white and make a headshot.

Because just as I know that one plus one is two, I know that that smile cannot be refused. I know that that smile will take the world by storm.

My ankle buckles slightly and I waver in my position on the floor. Luckily, there is a table nearby that I can lean on to steady myself so the whole movement doesn't seem quite so uncontrolled but Rachel, of course, notices anyway.

"Hey, are you okay?"

That is the danger with Rachel. She legitimately doesn't know. She honestly has no idea what she does to me, what just being in the same space as her, can do to me.

She hits so close to the core of me. It used to turn me into lightning and I would strike with fierce contempt at my shameful reactions. But now, I think the clouds are parting and I'm more akin to the breeze. Unsteady, intangible, but a stalwartly consistent presence. I'm trying to be more. So, slowly releasing a quiet stream of air from my lungs, I give a shaky smile.

"I'm okay."

If it comes out sounding hopeful, that's because it is, because I'm honestly trying to be.

Another tremor inducing smile from Rachel and we both move to stand, Rachel straightening out her outfit and me pouring whatever sugar packets she's handed me back into their containers. I can't see exactly what she is wearing underneath her casual blue jacket but the only item of her outfit that looks to be leaning towards dressy or date-like seems to be the distractingly fitted pair of jeans that currently encase her legs.

Curling my fingers into purposefully loose fists, I have to bite my lip.

A year, a month, even a week ago, this action would have occurred in enraged dismay, but today, standing at the Java Hut in my stained apron with dusty knees and a cool cross laid out against my chest, it is in a wonderfully strange kind of anticipation.

She is so beautiful, and I know that I am the very definition of inexperienced when it comes to things physical but I cannot ignore the realization that everything inside of me just wants to touch her. Everywhere.

We smile at each other in silent contemplation for a moment before my mind finally catches up to me and I worriedly check my watch.

"Oh! Hey! You're early, it's only three o'clock, what about school?"

I see a telltale flare of panic spark in Rachel's eyes before she coolly clears them, shrugging in careful nonchalance.

"Oh, you know, I'm only missing English Lit, it's no big deal."

I am desperate to control my response, but, against my will, my teasing smile drifts dangerously close to becoming a flirtatious smirk. Rachel is one second away from having a panic attack over missing class and we both know it. I am also oddly tickled by the fact that she's trying her hand at impressing me by feigning disinterest. It all seems so.. fun and I wonder for a moment if this is what Fran was talking about.

"Right.. no big deal.."

I nod understandingly and we last about seven more seconds before Rachel's frame sags and her eyes bore into mine with anxious intensity.

"God, you don't think it'll go on my permanent record do you? I just.. I really wanted to see you and English Lit is awful without you anyway. Last lesson we spent twenty minutes trying to decipher what 'a dream within a dream' was meant to be about. It was absolute torture Quinn, and that's coming from me. Rachel Berry is all about dreams!"

I really wanted to see you.

I am sure that there is an unreasonable amount of emotion swimming in my eyes so I cast them down to trace over the wooden tables.

Poe..

My lips flicker into a brief smile at the poem, it used to be one of my favorites. When my insides burned and my heart could only be soothed by the melancholy of others, Poe was an almost constant companion of mine.

"Well, when you split the poem in half it tells you two different stories. The first is a kind of abstract goodbye and then the second is a literal figure clutching sand on a beach, watching the grains slip away. There's a lot to think about in terms of the futility of life, letting go of things and how much control we have over what happens in our worlds. It's quite beautiful really, in a sad kind of way."

We are silent again and my eyes only move back to Rachel's when I register the profound amount of thickness that has attached itself to her tone.

"Y-Yeah.."

She is looking at me intently, and I swallow when I see that shiny tongue slowly move to swipe over a plump, fleshy lip. In a strange moment of physical abandon, the back of my throat contracts.

A heady pang of want strikes fierce in my gut and I find I have to flee from the unexpected eroticism of the sight, but, snapping my gaze up higher, I almost immediately wish that I hadn't.

Rachel's eyes have glazed over with a noticeable sheen and, as she blinks at me innocently, I notice that her pupils are definitely far larger than they were a moment ago. I feel irrepressibly drawn to their darkness. I know this look, I have seen it before.

She wants me.

The fervent beating in my chest stutters at the revelation.

She really wants me.

"Rachel.."

I blink in alarm when I realize that I have taken a step closer without meaning to. I shouldn't be surprised. I knew that this would happen. Swallowing down the razor that has lodged itself in my throat I try and steady myself but all I can do is draw my eyes helplessly back to Rachel's mouth.

I know those lips, I have had intimate conversations with them about literature, I have had heated arguments with them about identity and I have shared one wondrously searing, branding, life-altering kiss with them. It is with that remembrance in particular that I am sure.

I want her too.

Closing my eyes for a moment, the thought settles in my mind like pixie dust.

I want her so badly.

I have never allowed myself to think these kinds of things without immediate reprimand. But in this moment, there is no punishment, there is no prayer. No penance. Only pixie dust, and the feeling of flying.

We are very close now, the fabric of Rachel's jacket is a mere whisper away from touching my skin. Tearing my gaze away from her face it lands low in the space between our hands.

My fingers twitch involuntarily and slowly begin to inch their way towards Rachel's, since the first day I saw her I have wondered at this. I have wondered at how it would feel to take her fingers between mine, to fill in all the cracks and just squeeze.

Inhaling a heady mix of coffee and warmth, I am instantly short of breath; winded at what I am finally about to do. I exhale a long, shaky breath in the hopes of finding some kind of center.

The edge of my pinkie finger burns with delicious sensation as it grazes over Rachel's delicate knuckle before everything is suddenly ripped away in a loud, masculine shout.

"Hey Fabray!"

I am stumbling over and leaning against a table in shock before I even finish the breath. Blinking rapidly, my heart rate slowly returns to normal when I register it's just Franco, with his hands on his hips staring at me and Rachel.

"You schmoose I lose, you know what I'm saying? I don't pay you to flirt, get back on register!"

Straightening myself up from the table, I am tempted to just sprint to the register and stumble out an embarrassed apology. But I don't. Instead, I pause in my retreat and give Rachel, who is awkwardly looking down at her feet, my full attention.

"Tall soy hazelnut latte right? Don't skimp on the syrup?"

She lifts her eyes and searches mine, sifting through my barriers with expert ease. Steeling my insides I try my best to hold the gaze. This is made easier by the fact that, for once, I honestly just don't want to look away. For once, I don't care what she sees in my eyes.

Because this time, I have nothing to hide, only things that I don't quite know how to share yet.

She seems to come to a decision because, eventually, her expression brightens. I know that I have surprised her with the fact that I know her coffee order and this fills me with waves of warmth and satisfaction. Rachel isn't the only one that knows things, she isn't the only one that has spent time watching and learning.

I can't help but morph my steady expression into a smile as Rachel continues to stare at me; she has such beautifully emotive eyes. They're richer than the darkest chocolate but littered with dustings of caramel. I lick my lips automatically at the thought. She really is quite delicious.

She spares a glance to Franco, who is tapping his foot impatiently. I know that he is all bluster, but Rachel doesn't, and she is getting nervous. She looks back to me, nodding.

"Yes, please."

Her cheeks flush with something that makes my hands start to shake so I take another step back through my soft nod and gesture towards the best table in the shop.

"Then please take a seat miss, I'll be right back."

Rachel expels a harsh breath and this time I don't even try to smother my smirk. She is blushing furiously and every new hue of crimson she turns stokes something inside of me. I am about to cheer victorious at my mastery of the art of flirting when she straightens herself and adopts a playfully hard expression that makes my skin hum.

"Good, and don't even think about keeping me waiting Fabray."

She spins and takes a seat without so much as a glance and as I take another shaky step back to the register I find myself precious millimeters away from knocking the sugar again, not that I even really notice.


I spend the rest of my shift sneaking glances at Rachel and trying my hardest to not look like an incompetent klutz. I achieve this with varying degrees of success in that no more sugar packets hit the floor but Franco does give me a grilling about not keeping the coffee machine clean enough just before I clock off.

I try not to take offense to the abruptness of his tone, I know it's not personal. The man could be discussing knitting techniques with his own mother over tea and still sound as though he was berating a losing cage fighter in an underground arena of death.

Rachel, however, does not know this about Franco, and I have to hide my smile at how tightly she grips the table she's sitting at through his long winded rant about the incompetence of youth.

Although I'm sure I'll never tell him, I am very grateful to Franco for interrupting our moment. The distance he demanded has given me room to think and time to organize my emotions. It takes the better part of an hour but, when Rachel and I finally step outside of the Java Hut together, I am no longer lost in the haze our proximity puts on my senses.

Instead, I am present.

I am soaking in every look, smile, laugh and word that Rachel chooses to share with me, and I feel it is the most precious experience of my life. Focused on mapping out the details of a freckle on her neck, I almost miss the harshly belted out sentence that escapes her lips the moment we enter the parking lot.

"Well, I don't know what his problem is but it's obvious that you need to find new employment!"

I try to temper my chuckle at the outrage written plainly on her face.

"Rach..."

"The man is an animal! He shouted at you Quinn! He shouted! I wonder if there's a union.. Did he make you sign any contracts bec-"

Rachel's words stop abruptly and it is as though all the energy that has been coiling up inside of her evaporates as soon as my hand curls around her arm.

I try not to freeze, it is difficult though because I have not meant to make this move. It wasn't consciously thought out or intended at all. But, blinking at our contact and the intense amount of sensation it causes to spark through my hand, I know I cannot pull away now.

"Rachel, it's okay. He's just like that."

I know she has not been anticipating the touch so I am expecting Rachel to look at me. I am sorely disappointed when she doesn't. Instead, her eyes hit the floor and she looks so dejectedly sad that I throw caution to the wind and squeeze the arm in my grasp comfortingly.

I dip down slightly to bring my eyes back level with Rachel's and I am awash with dismay to find that the beginnings of tears are pooling in them.

"Heey..."

Rachel takes a steadying breath and then she does look at me. This is the first time that I notice how profoundly it settles me when she does. It is an entirely new experience for me, to want to be looked at. To want to be searched and scanned and known, and Rachel's eyes are knowing. Knowing, and tinted with something I can't quite comprehend. Not until she speaks anyway.

"You.. You don't deserve to be hurt Quinn, not by him, or anyone."

At once I understand and I am instantly ashamed that I have never considered Rachel's experience of what happened between me and my father. I have never thought about what Rachel had imagined when she saw Sam's face, when she spoke with my mother. When she waited days for me to contact her..

Rasping out a breath, I am filled with remorse. The fingers of my hand contract around Rachel's arm before loosening again, but it is only for a moment, because then both of Rachel's hands are there too, holding me to her tightly.

It would be an awkward thing to look at, two girls standing entangled in the middle of a parking lot- so many hands in such a small space. Rachel has had to bend her elbow to be able to grasp my hand and the only limb of ours that isn't involved in the odd tangle is my left hand, which is handing limp and useless at my side.

I don't know how Rachel feels, but to me, this hold is the equivalent of a searing embrace. The most intimate thing I've experienced in my life. It is a drowning kind of knowledge, the realization that everything I have been living Rachel has been living too. Although I'm sure a part of her already knows, because Rachel always seems to know, I need to tell her how far I've come.

"I'm so sorry for everything I put you through. I want you to know that I get it. I believe that now."

My body shakes as I make the hushed disclosure and our contact is suddenly too much for me. It starts to burn my fingers and so I give a final squeeze before gently pulling away. Rachel doesn't put up a fight but I don't want to lose the intimacy we've built between us so instead, I come to stand in front of her, far closer than necessary. I don't care if it looks strange, I want to feel the heat her body so naturally emits, and I need her to know I am not running away.

"But Franco's a harmless puppy beneath all the gruff okay? Though, next time it happens, I promise I'll give as good as I get. The little poodle won't know what's hit him."

When I finish speaking, I am filled with an emotion that I honestly cannot name at the pride that practically bursts from Rachel's eyes. I want her to look at me that way for the rest of my life. I never want to be without this feeling and I am so completely filled with it that I'm sure the intensity of the smile I flash is out of place when attached to our somber conversation, but I don't care. Not one bit.

And neither does Rachel apparently, because she echoes my expression perfectly before spinning away, putting some much needed distance between us again.

"Good. So, before we go any further, I have a surprise for you!"

I am still riding a giddy high so I can't help but giggle. "Rachel this entire ..outing is a surprise!"

I roll my eyes at my cowardice. Date, date, I should have just said date!

Rachel doesn't seem to notice, she is rifling through her bag with the practiced ease of someone who always has too many things weighing it down. Risking a peek, I see a hoard of movie stubs, mints, lip balm, a microphone pen, and an autograph book with a shimmering gold star on it.

Smiling contently at the wonderful creature standing across from me, we come to a natural stop while she continues to search, mumbling her words into the side pocket she's inspecting closely.

"I know I know, but this is another one, it's not a present or anything, well not for you. Not that you can't use it, because of course you can, if you like. It's something surprising that I received because of something even more surprising. Or not surprising, depending on who you speak to.."

Usually, I pride myself on being able to track Rachel's thought trajectories but for the moment, I can't do much more than blink.

"Um, I.. have spent the entire day picking up sugar and wiping tables so I'm going to say they're to blame for the fact that I have no idea what has just come out of your mouth."

Finally she seems to find what she's looking for and grins up at me with barely contained excitement; eyes, cheeks and lips all glowing with childlike glee. The expression is contagious and, after a moment, I too am grinning like a fool.

"That's okay, I'll show you!"

I hear the click of a button followed by two high pitched beeps. Spinning around, I see the lights of the car we have stopped in front of begin to flash in time. It's a small purple bubble of a car with adorably mismatched red doors. Shifting my gaze from it to Rachel a few times, the penny finally drops.

"Oh my God! You got a car! And it's a berry, Berry!"

I don't even try to hide the impressed shock from my voice and, impossibly, Rachel's grin widens as she jumps from foot to foot in front of me.

Looking at the action, I want to wrap my arms around her waist and squeeze until there is not even a single molecule separating our bodies. Instead, I blink and continue to track her bouncing frame.

"I know, right?! A berry for a Berry! My dads got her for me on Monday! Her name is Cherry and she's a Sagittarius."

I don't even bother questioning the fact that Rachel has already constructed a personality for her car, (no doubt complete with dramatic back log and history, because 'what's the point of having a car if it doesn't have a story to tell right?') and instead opt to focus on the obvious logical flaw in her reasoning.

"But, cherries aren't berries.."

She blinks at me for a moment, clearly not prepared for a contesting opinion before she straightens herself out, all of a sudden the embodiment of no-nonsense, Glee co-captain Rachel.

"Well no but, Cherry rhymes with berry Quinn and rhyme is very important you know."

Grinning, I nod my head and lean against the car, the sun has made it pleasantly warm beneath my frame.

"mmm.. well, I'm disappointed but I'll reserve further judgment until I come up with a better alternative."

Rachel rolls her eyes and snorts but doesn't try to dim the oddly pleased smile on her face.

"Oh jeez, thanks!"

I look at the nervous way she is fiddling with her keys and am about to probe further when I remember that there is a very important question that I have neglected to ask.

"So, what's the occasion?"

Rachel seems to flush with energy for a moment, her entire face lights up with dazzling color and vibrancy before settling back down again. It is a beautiful thing to watch and I find that, without realizing it, I have pulled myself away from the car to stand close to her again.

"Well, I got a letter in the mail on Monday."

Her eyes are scanning mine keenly, searching. I know this because I am doing the exact same thing. I find excitement there, housed deep in chestnut brown, but there is also fear and the beginnings of something very, very big.

Quickly doing the calculations in my head, a stunned breath leaves my chest as I gape, eyes wide, blinking at Rachel's waiting face.

"Oh my God.. Rachel...NYADA?"

Rachel takes a breath, loaded with anticipation, before the acronym practically bursts from somewhere deep within her.

"NYADA."

Her voice is reverent and humble; face radiating with impassioned veneration. I try to process the emotions racing through my body. It's not that I'm surprised, I have always known it's where Rachel would go, but being given official confirmation that she's bound for New York is incredible and jarring. She's made it, she's leaving Lima behind, she's on her way.

"I..I am so, so happy for you Rachel. You're going to take New York by storm."

While I try and catch my breath, I notice that Rachel is thinking deep thoughts, there is a line creasing down her forehead and the softly whispered "Thanks" she gives me only serves to increase my worry.

I don't know what to say, I don't know what to ask, so instead I laugh disbelievingly, desperate to defuse the strange tension that has mounted between us.

"So your dads got you a car huh?!"

There's a nod from Rachel at my question. She smiles but I can see that it is not all happy.

I can see this because I have always understood Rachel's situation, in some ways, it has been quite similar to my own. I have seen her lack of sewing skills, her familiarity with independence, her sometimes dangerous and destructive need to succeed above all others.

I have seen these markers. I have seen the loneliness. I understand the hurt. The hurt that exists not from any absence of pride on her fathers' part, but from their lack of understanding that a new car is not a replacement for a tight hold or a warm hand.

There has been distance and isolation in Rachel's childhood, grown from busy parents and imaginary siblings. All these things have left their mark and that is why she functions so: bravely stamping out any mention of disinterest in those around her, pursuing, always pursuing, holding her heart up to the plate for beating after beating. I think deeply about these awful truths.

Even when Finn was good to her, he was never good enough, but she took it, because she had no idea how much of a star she really was. Even I am testament to that.. she has chased me out of rooms more times than I can count. She has experienced so much hurt.

Suddenly, I can no longer take the silence. I can no longer handle smothering my real opinion. She needs to know, this amazing creature needs to know how.. how much she is.

I take a step closer and bite my lip, I can feel my body trembling with what I am about to do and I know that Rachel sees it as well, because she is already moving towards me with concerned eyes. I halt her progress with a hand and wait until her eyes meet mine again.

"Rachel. This is definitely a code black situation for me but you need to listen to this. You're going to lead an amazing life. You're going to get out of here, you're going to leave this place in the dust and never look back. You're going to let go of all the hurt and embrace the world of happy that's waiting for you."

Rachel's arms wrap around her waist in a slow hold, she exhales a sigh and lasts a few more seconds before she can no longer meet my gaze.

Dipping down, I don't let her flee, I make sure she is looking right back at me.

"You're going to shine so brightly that every sad and angry soul that has ever tried to hurt you will be blinded by it. Myself included, and I'll do it happily because your light is the only thing that's gotten me through the darkest moments of my life."

Rachel's brow furrows for a moment and I know she is having trouble. Biting my lip, I take a chance and graze a finger over that beautiful brow, molding out the creases in soft, patient motions. When I finish, Rachel's eyes are no longer worried, under my touch she has transformed, now bright with feeling and intensity. I am so relieved I could cry. Her expression is open, ready, and perfectly Rachel Berry.

"Never forget what you are Rachel, you're not just better, you're the best."

The look on her face when I finish speaking splits me wide open. I want to weep, as if wounded. I want to spend my life breathing and living and loving this woman and I know that I am young and anyone over the age of twenty would immediately assume that we would never last, that we'd be nothing more than a short burst of passion followed by yards and yards of hurt.

But I read a story once, about a couple married for sixty years, childhood sweethearts and young newlyweds. They finished each other's sentences and squabbled about the volume on the television and I can suddenly envision nothing quite as clearly as Rachel's face, worn with time and love, smiling next to mine.

I am choosing to ignore the flares of panic under my skin that these thoughts ignite, I am choosing to ignore the question marks over my own future, and the heavy boxes of emotion crashing around my mind. Instead, I am choosing to allow myself to recognize how incredibly proud I am of Rachel and just how much this achievement means and, while I am focusing on choosing to do all these things, I choose to do something else very, very new.

My entire life, I have never understood hugs. They have always seemed so awkward, intrusive, and bruising to me. The feeling of having someone's arms around me, trapping me in, well, the very thought is usually enough to make my heart race with anxious disdain. It is for this, and many other reasons, that I am staggered to find that my arms are around Rachel's body and I am pulling her into my space.

I don't know why I've done it, I just know that I feel like this is one of the most important moments of Rachel's life. This is the genesis of Broadway Rachel, of Rachel the Star. This is what she will talk about when reporters ask her how she got into show business and the fact that I have been able to watch it happen makes me want to burst. Makes me want to rip myself open wide, gather every inch of the moment and just, squeeze. So that's exactly what I do.

I haven't held someone smaller than me before so I'm pleasantly surprised when my arms naturally curl around Rachel's waist without thought. I don't even gasp when our chests crush together, already too focused on the foreign sensation of holding that I'm currently experiencing.

Slowly, methodically, I squeeze, and I think the sheer deliciousness of this action is what finally causes me to return to myself and realize what I'm doing.

I stiffen immediately, suddenly unprepared for how close Rachel is to me, but before I can panic and pull back, stuttering out a no doubt ridiculous apology, I feel strong arms wrap around me and begin to squeeze back.

It is, for the first time in my life then, that each contraction feels like a release and each release feels like a contraction. I know as soon as it happens that Rachel is turning my world upside down again, she is making everything topsy-turvy, and I love every passionate and perplexing moment of it.

We stand there for a minute, in tangled limbo, before Rachel gives a final squeeze and pulls away. She puffs out a deep breath, effectively blowing away the heaviness our conversation has brought and replacing it with carefree ease. I am intensely grateful for the action.

"Well, while I would love to spend all day doing this, we're going to be late for a very important date."

Her breath is a warm wave against my cool cheek and the contrast makes me shiver. Taking a step back I swallow down the lustful energy that is blooming through my veins and extend a small, nervous smile. This is the first time either of us has said it.

"A date?"

There is a pause from Rachel then, her eyes happily drinking me in before she gives a tiny, almost imperceptible nod.

"Come on Fabray, you're riding shotgun."


We leave the deep and challenging atmosphere of the Java Hut behind the moment Rachel pulls into drive. She waits until we get a red light before attacking her iPod and selecting a playlist called 'impossibilium'. I have to smile at the name before quirking an eyebrow at the fact that is has just over a hundred songs on it.

"Over six hours of music Rachel, really? Just where exactly are you taking me?"

I'm expecting to be chastised or laughed at but Rachel's face actually looks nervous.

"Um, you don't mind long drives do you?"

The thrill of the unexpected rockets through me and it does just about enough to smother the sense of alarm I feel from not being in control.

"Well, not as a rule, no. How long?"

Rachel grins over at me in relief.

"Good. We'll be just over an hour, an hour and a half maybe."

I can't stop the touched smile that overtakes my face.

"We're getting out of Lima?"

To be honest, I was expecting dinner or a movie or something equally predictable. I realize then that that was my mistake; nothing Rachel Berry endeavors to do could ever be described as predictable, and the endearingly smug expression on her face reflects this perfectly.

"Oh we most definitely are!"

Without realizing it, I find that my legs are bouncing lightly in excitement. I can't remember the last time I was taken on a surprise trip. I don't even think to question that Rachel will get us there safely, that everything will be okay. Because watching her hands grip the steering wheel in confident certainty, I feel sure that they will be.

That, of course, doesn't do anything to temper my curiosity.

"So, where are we going?"

"So, how was your first day at work?"

Rolling my eyes I don't even bother pushing the issue. Rachel is quite possibly the most stubborn person I have ever met and I am sure that the only way I could hope to get any useful information out of her would be by enacting nefarious deeds, which, considering she is in control of a moving vehicle, would be wildly inappropriate.

So instead, I lean back in my seat and get comfortable. Already thoroughly enjoying the gentle rocking the road beneath is causing to occur in the car. It feels like a cocoon, a cocoon of Rachel, and the air freshener smells like a lemon tree, all woody limbs and branches and fresh crispness on my palate. It makes me think of sunshine and beaches; two things that never fail to fill my soul with lightness.

"Oh, it went okay, I can't think why but I've been distracted all day."

Rachel laughs, blushing as Betty Who comes on, singing softly at us in the background. I can't help but laugh too at how much of an elephant in the room the song is. When our giggles die down, Rachel speaks again, flicking her eyes between her mirrors as she turns off towards the highway.

"Hey, I've been curious about something.."

Tracing my fingers over the dried raindrops on the window, I turn slightly to sit in Rachel's direction.

"mmm?"

Rachel pauses, waiting until she has finished merging into the outer lane before continuing. "Right, how are you going to keep up your shifts when you get back to school and have Cheerios practice to deal with?"

My legs, which have been casually crossed beneath me, suddenly move to straighten out. I try to keep the edge out of my tone.

"Oh, I don't have to worry about that."

Rachel's eyes flicker down at my movement and her brow furrows momentarily, confused.

"Why?"

I take a breath and look out the window, of course Rachel would choose a situation that I literally cannot escape from to ask me about this. I curse how slightly psychic she is before seizing a firm grip of the passenger side door and taking the plunge.

"Because I'm not a Cheerio anymore."

To her credit, the stall in driving is tiny, a barely adjusted foot on the accelerator, completely lacking in any kind of drama. But the indignantly shocked screech that sounds throughout the car is more than enough to compensate for that.

"What?! They kicked you off the team?!"

I put a hand up to my ear to try and rub away the ringing. For someone with flawless voice control Rachel can sure lose sight of how loudly she can belt things out.

"Well, technically no, Sue Sylvester doesn't take kindly to her captains getting themselves suspended, especially in the manor that I did. But, even so, I quit before they could make it official. "

"You..what? Why?"

Rachel begins to indicate, intent on pulling over, but I wave my hand over hers to stop the action, gesturing to continue on. I feel much more settled when we are in motion, it reminds me that things are always moving, that there is always change.

"Rachel, picture my uniform, what do you see?"

The knuckles that are currently encasing the steering wheel next to me whiten slightly, it is a gentle increase in pressure, but I can see it, and the contrast it provides to Rachel's warmly tinted cheeks makes me smile for a moment despite the conversation topic.

There is something so wonderfully innocent about Rachel's brand of seduction and it makes me wonder what she's thinking. I don't think I'll ever know though, because all she chooses to share with me, after a long moment, is.. "Red.. and white, and black".

I nod, and bring my knees up to my chest, hugging them loosely.

"You wanna know what I see?"

Rachel's eyes flicker towards me for a moment before she nods as well, silent.

"Sadness, I see sadness, and I don't want to make room for that in my life anymore. There's plenty enough of it in other places. When I think of my uniform.. I just, I don't like the kind of person I was when I wore it."

Again, we drift into silence. It is not uncomfortable, it is steady and organic and I am losing myself in it when Rachel speaks again, voice filled with affectionately composed casualness.

"Well, I've always liked you better in green anyway."

My head, which has been resting on my knees, turns to look at her. I see freckles and beauty marks and dimples and a wonderfully inviting crease at the base of Rachel's neck. I think of my red uniform and my yellow dresses and the green t-shirt I'm wearing now. I think of all these things before I smile.

"Me too."

My eyes drift close and I swim in restful repose before I realize that I miss the sound of Rachel's voice. Opening them again, I see that Rachel is also wearing a small, contented smile.

"Tell me a story.."

The request is out of my mouth without me even realizing it and before I can think of retracting it in embarrassment Rachel breaks out into a grin and clears her throat, instantly adopting a rich and vibrant stage persona. When she begins speaking, I know this is the best lapse in judgment I have ever had.

"Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess named Quinn."


I wake, having fallen asleep during part two of the Princess Quinn Diaries, when Rachel's car comes to a gentle stop. My eyes immediately widen when I see that we've parked right in front of a sandy beach. My geography has never been excellent so I can't even take a guess at where we are, it seems like a world away.

"Rachel, where are we?!"

Reaching behind us Rachel pulls out a picnic basket, her grin is bright and happy, I can see she is feeling smug at my excitement but she has every right to be. This is wonderful. This is all so, so wonderful.

"Lake Erie, it's no ocean but it'll have to do."

Not even picking up on the strangeness of the comment I look at the trees swaying in the breeze, I look at the sun slowly inching downwards, I look at the waves curling and cresting before us. I'm about to lunge out of the car when Rachel's laugh stops me.

"Hang on a second, we've got some things to carry."

Setting the picnic basket on my lap she reaches into the back and pulls out a pile of boxes, there is travel Boggle, a chess board, travel Yahtzee and a deck of Uno cards.

"We're going to play Boggle on the beach?"

I raise my eyebrow in delight at the novelty of the idea. This is definitely not a movie dinner deal. I have no idea what is going on but I already absolutely love it.

Rachel bites her lip and looks at me for a moment, she is nervous again and that makes me grip onto the basket in my lap in barely restrained curiosity.

"Well, yes, we are. Well, if you like, I mean, today.. Quinn, we're going to do-as-you-please."

My eyes widen at the turn of phrase and suddenly I scan the beach with new purpose. My eyes snap to the board games, the picnic basket, the waves lapping gently against the shore.

"Rachel.."

My heart begins to hammer violently in my chest. Rachel is recreating my favorite chapter of The Magic Faraway Tree, she is literally giving me my most sought after childhood fantasy.

The moment I look at her everything comes together in stunning clarity.

I love this woman. This amazing, wonderful woman. The tears come before I have the strength to stop them but Rachel doesn't appear to mind, she continues to smile at me silently. Patient and steady as always.

I am never reckless with myself but I find that I am abruptly overcome with the sudden need to touch. I am stricken at the distance between us, so I push through every awful inch of it until the board games tumble and the picnic basket tips and our lips are finally, triumphantly, fused together.

There is a moment of panic, a searing flash of red beneath my eyes, and then Rachel's throaty moan curls itself around my gut and there is nothing but the delicious simplicity of flesh on flesh.

This is not our first kiss, I am not shocked, but that doesn't mean there isn't electricity. Because there is. There really, really is, crawling under my skin in hot, searching want. Each movement is a spark.

Losing myself, I curl my hand to thread through Rachel's hair and push us closer together, already unraveled by the firm resilience of her flesh under my teeth. When she snakes a hand up my arm to come to rest behind my neck, the squeeze Rachel gives causes an unexpected and unwanted echo of panic to flash through me.

For a moment, I am a photo negative, a snapshot of hesitation. It is small and I smother it violently, but it is there and Rachel has felt it.

I whimper against her and feel so ashamed at my mess, I want to be perfect and golden and untouched but I know that's never going to happen. I am expecting a backlash, a disappointment, but, to her credit and my surprise, Rachel does not pull away.

Instead, she waits patiently for me to settle, gently kneading the tight muscles of my neck into wonderful submission.

I am sure she knows, because she always seems to know everything about me, frustrating and terrifying as that may be. She knows that I am learning. She knows there is a struggle.

So she waits, and just knowing that she is doing this, causes all the ripples and churns within me to still, blissfully so.

"Rachel.."

I can't help but rasp it out against her, more reverent than any prayer that has ever left my lips.

The atmosphere within the car is dripping with longing. There is a yearning song sounding between us, full of sighs and gasps, of give and take. And when I take Rachel's lip between my teeth and tug, explosions occur, each small centimeter of space crackling with delicious drive and possibility.

We are both trembling now, and it's not from the cold. I think about the waves lapping against the shore. I think about the travel edition of Boggle sitting by Rachel's feet. I think about the perfect moment she wants to give me.

I think about love.

Pulling back my breath spills hot against Rachel's bruising lips "I.." The words are there, I know they are. They're in my mouth, sitting on my tongue, they're in my brain, running through my thoughts, they're in my heart, soaring through my veins.

They are everywhere around me, above me, below me, inside me, all the way through me.

I love you.

I love you.

I – me, myself, this person here that has come to know, want, trust, you.

Love – a feeling, emotion, an action, an attraction, want, deep affection.

You – beautiful, wonderful, clumsy, intense, dazzling, driven, perfect, you.

They are everywhere.

My throat hitches and suddenly there is a digit covering my mouth and hazy eyes pinning me down, powerful and needing. Three slow blinks and they settle back down to more subdued affection and warmth.

Rachel runs a shaking finger over my lips before she traces the line above my chin, each movement sends a wonderful ache through the chambers of my heart. Her voice is a mere whisper, carefully spoken to preserve the charged particles buzzing between us.

"Boggle or Yahtzee?"

Swallowing down my tears, I smile as Rachel's finger finally meanders away from my face, coming to rest casually on my lap. I keep my voice a whisper too.

"Which do you prefer?"

Suddenly, I feel a hard poke on my thigh and rasp out a hearty laugh at the exasperation on Rachel's face.

"We're doing as-you-please Quinn."

I nod and look down, reaching down the endless miles Rachel's legs seem to span before curling my hands around a box.

"Okay.."

Bringing it up to sit between us Rachel grins, clearly happy with my game of choice.

"Okay."

She grabs the box and opens her door, jumping out with graceful ease. Grabbing a blanket from the backseat she gives me a final look before slamming her door shut and beginning to walk towards the sand, eyes trained on my smiling face. I can just barely make out what she is saying, the waves and wind and glass drowning most of the sound out. But I am very familiar with the shapes that Rachel's lips take and there is no mistaking her challenge.

"Let's play Fabray."

Narrowing my eyes, I grip the basket in my lap and open my door, feet sinking into the shallow sand.

"Bring it on Berry."

Chapter Text

Rachel.


Quinn and I have been sitting in awkward silence on the beach for the past seven minutes.

I don't care.

I am not speaking to her ever again.

"Rach-"

"I don't want to hear it!"

I really thought we could have had something, something amazing, something life changing, but, I guess I thought wrong. I am appalled, and most of the color drains from my face when she actually has the audacity to laugh at me for it.

"Come on, it's only a game."

I expect the murderous look I share to shock Quinn into submission, to cause her to admit her indiscretion and fall down before me in profuse apology, preferably in song or with flowers.

I do not expect the murderous look I share to elicit such a happy sigh or to make Quinn's eyes begin to sparkle distractingly.

I don't like it. Not one bit. It's.. off putting to my plight.

"It's not just a game Quinn. It's cheating! Axiomatic is not a real word!"

"Well, it is actually.."

Our game of Boggle lies abandoned next to a mountain of jackets, shoes and socks that we've discarded since arriving. My papers are neatly scrawled with perfectly respectable scores and Quinn's are graffitied messily with an inordinate amount of 'words' that only ever really exist within dictionaries, whatever that's worth.

One perfectly sculpted lip begins to curl good naturedly in front of me and I immediately want to.. kiss it? Oh dear.. I should really focus on using my words.

"Uh, no, no it's not."

I shake my head lightly to try and clear my suddenly foggy thoughts.

"Sure, except, it totally is.."

Long, delicate fingers move to trace shapes in the sand between us. Quinn is drawing a solar system of planets and stars all around a large circle with the letter 'R' stamped on it. Damn it. Damn her. Spluttering, I try to keep on point.

"It doesn't exist Quinn."

"mmm, totally, except it kind of does.."

She smiles up at me from her reclined position on the sand, lips ineffably at ease with the shape they are taking; as if she has spent her entire life smiling at me in such a manner. Her face is full of a wonderfully new kind of grace and innocence, I can see the toes of her bare feet pushing into the sand in gentle rhythms.

I know that, at some point, long seconds ago, there was a very important battle occurring in my mind. I also know that I have, without a doubt, lost it, and she isn't even trying. She's just.. being Quinn. Steeling myself, I resolve to make one final push.

"Just admit it, you made it up!"

Her smile morphs into a light, exasperated laugh. Gentle lines crease the sides of her cheeks and I want nothing more than to turn her over, push her into the sand and run my tongue along them until the tide comes in and carries us both soon as the thought enters my mind however, I remember that lakes don't have tides, which means that we could, theoretically, stay positioned thus forever.

A sigh squeezes through my clenching jaw as I drown in the very possibility of the notion.

Quinn moves her weight more fully on her elbows; torso pitching up from the sandy dunes we have come to rest on. She is still for a moment as she fixes her gaze on me, searching my eyes, before her restless toes begin to play with the sand again.

"Do I need to get out my phone and Google this for you? It's no big deal Rach, I know a lot of cool words. It's part of my charm."

Hearing her candor, my heart stutters in time with the rapid blinking of my eyes. I swallow reflexively.

"Is it?"

Quinn grins and I wonder if she even realizes that she has taken to calling me Rach. I wonder if she even knows what it means to me. She moves a hand between us and playfully flicks a small hill of sand in my direction.

"Totally."

Rolling my eyes, I scoff at how easily I am giving in; it is so against my nature. Quinn is right though; she can be downright wicked in her word choices, but damn if she isn't charming.

Moving to mirror her position, I let the incident go and roll on my stomach, swinging my legs up in careless kicks. My hands push down to sink into the soft sand and I smile at how cool it is beneath the surface.

"Tell me some more?"

She shuffles in slightly closer and adopts a thoughtful expression. Someone who didn't know her would assume she was thinking hard to come up with another word, but I do know her, so I know that she isn't doing that at all. She's cataloging; sifting through the hoards of words swimming around in her mind to come up with the perfect one to share with me. Because, for better or worse, Quinn is nothing if not perfectionistic and, knowing this, causes the tips of my fingers to push harder into the sand in anticipation.

"Okay.. how about abyssopelagic?"

I blink and give an almost embarrassed laugh, not having a clue what it could possibly mean.

"Um.. can I buy a vowel?"

Quinn smiles, her eyes are sparkling again. I feel as though I'm being flirted with in a different language, it is thrilling and challenging all at once. I love it.

"Standard definitions relate it to 'pertaining to the depths of the ocean'. So, for example, 'I watched as she sat before me, drowning in the abyssopelagic swirls that rose and bloomed in her irises'."

Quinn's eyes are burning steadily into mine as she speaks and I have to dip my head down to cover up the fact that I am flabbergasted and blushing, reduced to a giggling mess by that crafty, ingenious Fabray brain.

My chuckles die down as I continue to grin into the sand, willing my traitorous cheeks to calm themselves down.

"Very smooth.."

There is a beat of silence.

"..Thanks"

Although Quinn's voice is warm, it is small and tinted with a hue of nervousness that causes me to look up. She is blinking at me steadily but her teeth are worrying the flesh of her bottom lip with stalwart consistency.

She is nervous.

Blinking, I realize that, beneath the confidence and charm she is projecting, Quinn is still very unsure of the rules that govern our interactions. The imprints of her lips are still fresh and plump against my own and she has been so bold and flirtatious since our feet touched the sand that I have forgotten this.

I don't want Quinn to feel as though she is going too far, I don't want to discourage anything she is being brave enough to do today. So, throwing caution to the wind, I pitch up on my wrists for a moment and deliver a swift, chaste kiss to her cheek.

The edge of my lip just barely grazes a wonderful crease and it is almost enough to cause me to forget my manners but, grasping for resolve, I breathe out a sigh and push to land back on my stomach with a thump.

Before either of us has any time to think about what I've done, my feet cross together behind my back and I compose what is, hopefully, an ultra flirtatious smile.

"So, what word comes to mind when you think about me?"

I know it is a loaded question, I know there are many directions it could go in. I am expecting Quinn to make a long, drawn out show of listing hoards of words relating to aggravation, exasperation and the like.

But, she surprises me, because barely a heartbeat goes by before "alexithymia.." is whispered from her lips in a soft, restless tumble.

I am unfamiliar with not understanding things, especially about myself, and I feel instant frustration bubble up at the fact that Quinn is using a word that I do not know. It seems as though the teasing atmosphere between us has dissipated however, because she quickly follows up the declaration with a definition.

"Alexithymia: the inability to describe emotions in a verbal manner."

Breathing eludes me for a moment, as does the majority of higher cognitive function, at the look on Quinn's face. Her eyes are wide and filled with energy, her lips pursed in a tight line. Her entire frame is jiggling in constant movement. I honestly can't tell if she's about to bolt, she looks so afraid.

A hand twists in anxious knots around the front of her green Java Hut t-shirt, latching onto an object beneath it for a moment before letting go. It appears that the brief contact has settled her.

Smiling, I take a moment to look up at the sky and try my hand at shaping the word on my tongue. In spite of my frazzled state, my years of diction pay off and I make no error.

"Alexithymia?"

My eyes follow the trajectory of a slow moving cloud. It is a beautiful, lyrical word and unravels from my mouth in soft ribbons of sound.

When my gaze drifts back down to earth, Quinn's hand has moved to trace a soft strap of leather around her neck, fingers gently brushing over a throbbing pulse point in steady motions. I blink at the strange strap of material as realization hits that I have not seen it before. Usually, sharp gold glints back at me when I look at Quinn's neck and, taking a moment, I actually can't remember the last time I saw it there.

I have no more time to think on this however because Quinn drops her hand and purposefully stills her body. Her smile is even, if not slightly nervous, but her face glows in dulcet tones.

"Yes, that's how I feel.. when I think about you. Like, I couldn't possibly ever find the right words.. like I could never.."

I can see the truth in her words, it is.. axiomatic (my teeth grind together in disdain at my use of the word. Okay, so I kind of knew it existed. Whatever.) It is made evident by the frustrated flush that currently paints Quinn's cheeks as she fumbles for coherent sentences and, for some reason, this wonderful paradox warms me to the soul.

Because it's okay, because although I cherish each and every one of them, I don't need Quinn's words. Words can be tricky things, they can get in the way and confuse otherwise simple things.

I prefer the things that exist beneath the words. They are what I need.

Exhaling a shaky breath, I trace my fingers over the slightly mussed letter 'R' still recognizably sitting in the center circle of Quinn's universe and smile.

"Well, that's saying a lot, considering how many cool words you know."

Quinn's eyes are watching my fingers, she is smiling too. A warm, throbbing wave of affection washes over me as I see this.

"Yes, it is."

I bite my lip and grin, happy in the knowledge that I don't think Quinn will ever run out of words to share with me.

"One more?"

Quinn nods in thought for a moment and scans her eyes over our abandoned game of Boggle, I raise an eyebrow at the wicked grin that creeps onto her face.

"Okay.. how about, 'chimerical' defined as 'created by or as if by a wildly fanciful imagination'. So, to use an example purely plucked out of randomness, it is chimerical for you to think you're ever going to beat me at Boggle."

Rolling my eyes, I push out a groan and flick a heap of sand back in Quinn's direction. Yes. I am sure. I love this woman. So much.

"I hate you."

Immediately I tense as the playful words leave my mouth, considering our history I don't want Quinn to take them the wrong way. But she doesn't. Instead, her beautiful face is split with a wide, resounding, knowing, grin.

"I know you do."


After a few moments of easy silence, a cloud creeps over the sun, shifting the beach into a slightly cooler hue. It's a small change, but it's enough to remind me that our time here is not endless and that there are some very important things awaiting consumption in the basket next to us.

Flashing my eyes to Quinn, who is lounging on her stomach, resting her chin in the crook of her elbow, I bite my lip. Stage two of the date is coming into play.

"Are you hungry?"

Smiling into her forearm, Quinn's eyes glance up to regard me shyly.

"I'm kind of always hungry."

Pulling myself up to sit, I cross my legs in front of me expectantly. "If you could have anything to eat right now, what would it be?"

Quinn rolls on her back for a moment to look up at the sky. I have to smother a laugh at the level of serious contemplation she is giving the question.

"Hmm, if I could have anything to eat right now, I would choose.. a BLT, on white, no, no, on wheat, heavy on the B and light on the LT."

Trying to control my grin, I adopt a carefully neutral tone.

"Close your eyes."

And to my never-ending shock, without a word, Quinn does.

This very nearly causes me to knock over the picnic basket I am tugging towards me but, at the last moment, I manage to right it again. Blinking my gaze away from Quinn's still closed eyes, I click open the basket and begin to rummage inside.

Carefully arranging the sandwich on a plate I bring it to rest on Quinn's stomach and pick up a couple of bottles of soda before shuffling back.

"Okay, open!"

The moment Quinn sees the sandwich her upper body rears her up into a sitting position, hands clumsily attempting to not spill the precious item all over herself and the sand.

"Oh my God Rachel! How did you do that?"

Quinn's voice is full of awe and she is looking at my picnic basket suspiciously, as if she expects a secret compartment to burst open and a miniature chef to come prancing out.

"It's do-as-you-please Quinn - magic!"

I choose not to tell her about the four other rolls I have tucked away in there, just in case.

She laughs and easily accepts the soda I pass her, already gripping a hand around a crusty roll and licking her lips in anticipation. Perhaps realizing she is only a moment away from prematurely devouring her meal, Quinn moves the plate down again and blinks up at me in wonder.

"How did you know?"

Sorting through the other contents of the basket, I begin to pull out an assortment of fruit and vegetables to accompany our sandwiches. I can't quite bite down my scoff at the innocence of Quinn's question though.

"Are you kidding me? After the fist fight you practically had with Lauren Isis in the cafeteria last year I'm pretty sure the entire school knows about your affinity for bacon."

Quinn's mouth has been inching closer to her sandwich throughout our conversation but, upon hearing me, her face flushes red with consternation.

"Hey! She was out of line!"

I roll my eyes as I begin to unwrap my own sandwich, sighing in disbelief.

"She took the last BLT, it was hardly a criminal offense."

Quinn grumbles into her sandwich before gripping it tightly and taking a massive bite from a corner. I expect to find watching her devour an animal product off-putting, but the moment a long, euphoric groan hisses out from her chest, my eyes widen in conflicted alarm. Oblivious, Quinn's eyes land on my sandwich and, as she chews, she inspects it closely.

"What have you got?"

Licking my lips, I tighten my hold on my sandwich and bring it up to my mouth, desperate for a distraction.

"Um, a most delicious ALT on rye."

Quinn swallows and grabs her bottle of soda, pushing it against the picnic basket and pulling down, popping the lid off in a single, seamless movement. She passes that bottle to me before taking the one in my hand and repeating the action, bringing that one to her lips for a drink.

"ALT?"

I can't answer, I'm too distracted by the carbonated drink that's sitting in my hand. Lost, I blink between it and Quinn for a moment.

Because she's so..capable. I can't believe I had not noticed it sooner. That, tucked away beneath all of the dresses and cardigans and celibacy club meetings, Quinn is a very practically minded person and I doubt that there are many things in this world she couldn't achieve if she focused hard enough on them.

The train of thought quickly leads me perilously close to straying from the appropriate so, instead of dwelling, I take a quick swig of my soda and focus on the conversation at hand.

"Yes, it's exactly the same as a BLT but instead of salted pig carcass you have avocado."

Quinn coughs into her bottle of soda for a second before pressing the back of her hand to her lips, clearing her throat in heavy rasps. She shoots me what is obviously meant to be a hard look at my bad timing, but there is no escaping the obvious amount of affection laced within it.

"Wow, just lovely Rach."

And I can't do much more than grin back, because yes, she is.


"So, the circles are safe zones but everywhere else is lava?" I nervously bounce from foot to foot behind the horizontal line Quinn has drawn in the sand. She is also hopping foot to foot, looking every bit the stretching athlete before a big race.

"Yup."

Sparing a glance at the complicated course etched in the sand ahead of us, I try to take note of all of the subtle shapes and codes Quinn has woven into it.

"..and the little piles of pebbles are booby trapped chasms?"

Gripping my shoulder, Quinn lazily stretches out a hamstring as she corrects me "..of death."

I nod, also moving to stretch out a hamstring, not quite sure why other than that because it seems to be the thing to do.

"Right, booby trapped chasms of death."

"Yup. Hey be careful, that's hot!"

Quinn tugs me away from where I have stepped over the line, obviously already falling into her role. Being an only child and stalwart 'indoor girl', I honestly have no idea what I'm doing, but being a future NYADA student and EGOT laureate, I believe it would be an insult to approach this situation with anything less than fully committed professionalism.

Keeping that in mind, I grab my foot and start to howl in outrageous panic, as if I have severely burned it.

"Ow! Ow! I'm already injured! I don't think I can do this.."

Quinn grins, eyes shining bright with happiness, before she looks behind us and gasps, as if seeing something terrifying. Suddenly, she is grabbing my arm and tugging me along.

"The time for thinking has passed Berry, go gogogo!"

I giggle breathlessly as I try to keep up before realizing that would not be the appropriate reaction to this situation and amending it to a more frightened wail.

"Why are we going so fast?!"

Quinn actually has the gall to look at me like I'm the weird one as she jumps over a large booby trapped chasm of death.

"Because! There's a gigantic boulder coming our way!"

I nod, jumping in hysterically clumsy movements to keep pace now that I know what the actual danger is.

"Right! Of course there is!"

Clipping my foot on the side of a pebble I'm about to lose my balance when two strong arms right me, Quinn barely stops her frantically agile movements before she hoists me on her back, bringing my legs to lock around her waist and my arms to fold over her chest.

To say I am shocked at the position I have found myself in would be an understatement, but, at that point in time, I am legitimately more worried about getting squashed by a gigantic boulder and falling into a sea of lava so, tightening my grasp on Quinn, I bury my head in her shoulder.

"Don't stop now! Jump jump jump!"

Quinn makes three graceful leaps into the next section of our obstacle course. Landing on a variety of different sized circles and effectively hopping from one protruding 'haven of rock' to another before we reach our final destination.

Our jackets have been laid out lengthways and covered with an assortment of sticks and rocks to make an impromptu spiky barrier.

Quinn begins to move in slow motion in preparation for what will, no doubt, be an epic leap of victory but her voice is full of hilarious panic and alarm.

"It's too high! We're never going to make it!"

Giving a squeeze, I squeal in excitement and have to stop myself from bouncing on her frame like a jockey.

"Don't give up! We can do it!"

Turning around to backtrack a few steps Quinn takes her place and sprints towards the heap of jackets (gigantic spiky barrier). One strong push from her legs and we are making a large arch together; airborne; in flight.

It lasts only a moment, but I am sure that this is the freest I have felt in my life thus far.

The moment we touch the ground Quinn rolls to absorb the impact of the landing, this proves difficult with me hanging off her frame and we end up separated, tumbling against each other in awkward somersaults.

When we eventually come to a stop, we're both cackling hysterically and I am so glad there isn't anyone else on the beach. Firstly, because this moment is meant for us and only us, and secondly, because anybody watching would probably have us both committed. Trying to control my laughter, I crawl over to Quinn and flop clumsily against her stomach before turning to rest my head on it, causing our bodies to create a lovely T shape.

Reaching a finger up, I blindly locate Quinn's arm and give it a poke. "You, are an excellent jumper." My head is still rising and falling swiftly, in perfect time with the deep lungfuls of air Quinn is grasping for between her laughs.

My words cause a new flourish of giggles to erupt and Quinn rubs a hand over her chest in soothing motions, as if willing herself to calm down. This lasts only a moment however because then that hand is falling against my hair and stroking.

"Thanks! You, are a lovely cardigan."

Smiling deeply, I sigh at the intense pleasure the light touch causes before finally cottoning onto the awful, awful joke.

"Oh God, it's amazing that someone this agile can be this lame!"

We laugh again in rounds of contended chuckles before eventually slipping into a warm and comfortable silence. Quinn's hand is still stroking through my hair, almost absentmindedly, and, looking up, I see her eyes are fixed on the rippling water. She notices me watching her and smiles down at me briefly before moving her eyes back to the waves.

"Hey Rach?"

Closing my eyes and nuzzling my head into her warm torso, I can't do much more than make a noise of affirmation. Quinn doesn't seem to mind, but her hand shifts ever so slightly to play with the hairs at the base of my neck as she whispers.

"Best date ever."

Valiantly trying to compose the reaction she's igniting in me, I'm not sure I really register what she's saying to the full extent.

"Y-Yeah?"

Quinn makes a noise of contentment as the edge of one digit extends to brush against the junction of my neck and back. The moment the contact is made my entire body convulses in a sudden, helpless shudder.

As soon as they're able to, my eyes snap open in shock at my response. That has certainly never happened before. But before I can apologize, or comment, or do anything at all, Quinn effortlessly halts my racing thoughts.

"Well.. almost."

My eyes narrow in worry as my head pushes up to look at her fully, have I done something wrong? Is something missing?

"What do you mean?"

The cheeky smile on Quinn's face is enough to stop my mental checklisting but I'm still confused, until her eyes flicker back towards the waves again.

"Well, we've gone to the 'ocean' and played games and had fun, but, we haven't gone swimming yet."

My eyebrows actually twitch in disbelief, she can't be serious.

"Quinn, the water's probably freezing!"

A solemn sigh escapes her, "mhm, probably."

"And we don't even have any bathing suits!"

A serious head shake is next, "mm, nope."

"Or towels!"

Finally, a firm nod of agreement, "mhm, we're completely unprepared for this."

Grinning wildly, I try and still my errant heartbeat as Quinn pushes up off the sand and dusts herself off.

"Quinn… don't, don't do it!"

But it's too late, I'm being lifted up and tossed over Quinn's shoulder with a grunt like I'm nothing more than an annoyingly heavy schoolbag. Squealing, I giggle helplessly as Quinn stumbles us towards the waves.

"You wouldn't! You actually wouldn't!"

"Hey, this is your fault Berry, you had to make it do-as-you-please! Woah!"

The end of Quinn's sentence sharply pitches up as her bare feet make contact with the shoreline. If that's anything to go by, the water is most definitely cold.

"Oh God you're actually going to do this aren't you? Quinn!"

She takes a breath and backtracks around ten feet, instantly my muscles relax, clearly she's not completely insane. I am swung back off of Quinn's shoulder and held up the moment my feet touch the ground. I ready myself to smack at her chest in exasperation but Quinn is looking at me intently; waiting.

Eventually, I adjust to being vertical again and quirk an eyebrow.

"What?"

Quinn pulls in her bottom lip, her cheeks are flushed and her eyes are steady. She smiles, whispering "time for another jump" before turning around and lowering herself slightly.

I realize she intends for me to climb back on and can't help but track my eyes over to the softly lapping (and probably freezing) waves a few feet in front of us. An excited laugh bubbles in my chest, she's insane, this is actually crazy. I love it.

Without another thought, I take two steps towards her and climb on, sinking gratefully into the now familiar hold. "Well, luckily, I happen to have it on good authority that you are an excellent jumper."

Quinn's arms immediately move to hold me securely. I am aware that we are about to do something completely ridiculous and irresponsible, but I cannot feel anything but safe and content for the moment.

Especially when I hear her say "I'm an even better swimmer" before starting her run towards the water.

Unrestrained gasps of air leave my lungs in breathless squeals as we approach, my vocal coach would be scolding me profusely for my lack of mastery but before I can spare a moment to care about this Quinn makes five controlled jumps through the water and dives us both beneath it.

I was right.

It. Is. Freezing!

The water is so cold that I can feel my skin tighten at the change. It's like my entire body has been awakened. My lungs burn; alight with warmth, bright flashes of color burst beneath my eyes and my limbs tingle with unspent energy. I tighten my grasp around Quinn and give a delighted yell that rushes out of my chest in scores of bubbles.

Although I'm sure she could stay submerged for longer, Quinn pops us up a second after we go under and we both gasp shocked heaps of air back into our lungs.

"Holy shit!"

I bark out a laugh when the shock of hearing Quinn swear almost outweighs the shock my body is experiencing at the freezing water. My jeans are instantly soaked through, my t-shirt is already riding up the small of my back and I'm fairly sure my hair is taking on a very attractive wet-rat quality. Clinging onto Quinn as she kicks us further away from the shore, I don't care about any of this. The only thing I can think of is playing the dolphin game.

"Okay, so you have to dive down and I'll go with you like you're a dolphin, ready?"

Quinn is wading us through the water in broad breaststroke and laughing in disbelief.

"How are you not freezing right now, you're just sitting there?!"

"Dolphins don't speak English Quinn, now dive my pretty, dive!"

Quinn chuckles again despite herself and makes a show of executing an almost perfect dolphin dive. The moment we are fully submerged again my face prickles at the cold. Keeping my legs wrapped tightly around Quinn's hips, I release my hands and move them in careless pushes through the water, propelling us along. Quinn makes two more full body strides before she brings us back to the surface again.

We both take a few large breaths of air before we excitedly go again. Quinn dives deeper this time, bravely running the front of her body along the lake floor, I wrap my arms around her torso again and focus on the luxurious amount of contact our adventure is allowing us to have.

Without thinking, I press my lips against the back of Quinn's neck in a series of underwater kisses, they are light, breathy, and I am sure she will not even feel them as she pushes us along, but, as I pull back, Quinn spins herself around so we are now face to face and kicks off from the floor, readying to bring us back to the surface.

We break in a heap of gasps and splutters, my lungs burn at the warmer air I am breathing in but I barely notice, all I really notice is Quinn's panting face, which is now only inches from my own.

Licking my lips, I squeeze my legs around her again; reveling in the sheer bliss the contact sends through me and resolving to never mention the fact that I am actually a very good swimmer. She brings a hand up from around my waist and pushes an unruly clump of hair that has made its way to my cheek back around my ear.

The skin on Quinn's face is pale as snow but there is a bright, warm redness resonating through a few places- down the line of her jaw, beneath her cheeks, and along the tips of her ears.

The contrast of color is breathtaking and without even realizing I'm doing it, I see a finger of mine move to trace over those very places, following the blush like a map.

"Best date ever right?"

I mean the words to come out teasingly, but I know I don't quite manage it. Because no matter how hard I try, there is still a part of me that is very nervous. This is Quinn, and I am wrapped around her in a freezing lake with wet-rat hair and no makeup. It's not exactly.. conventional.

I try to pay attention to the look of disbelief on her face, to the strength in the hand that is cupping my cheek.

"Rachel. This has been the best day of my life. Period."

We float then, in silence, bodies trembling from the cold and the company alike.

"Quinn.."

I'm not sure exactly what it is that I want to say. Well, that's not true.. I know what I want to say, but I'm not sure exactly what is going to come tumbling out of my mouth, and I don't think I'll ever know because, at that moment, I hear 'Papa Was a Rolling Stone'[1] start to sound in the distance. My head snaps towards the shore instantly.

"That's my dad.."

Without a word, Quinn wraps my arms back around her neck and starts an efficient freestyle stroke to get us back to shore. We're at the shoreline in seconds and, as I pull out of the waves, my body heavy and clumsy from the water, I try not to let my anxiety get the better of me. This is difficult however, because my dad is out of town and he never calls me out of the blue. Wiping a dripping hand on our picnic blanket, I grapple for my phone and bring it to my ear.

"Dad? Hey, are you okay?"

Quinn is moving around me in methodical motions, she has packed up our picnic basket and is shaking out the blanket. The sun is starting to set and a cool breeze has picked up, leaving me desperately trying to suppress my shivers as I speak to my father.

Suddenly, our fluffy picnic blanket, sans sand, is being wrapped around me and tightened. The relief is instant and I sneak a look to Quinn, motioning for her to join me. She shakes her head with an easy smile and instead grabs for my keys, silently jogging towards the car and packing the supplies.

I focus on what my father is telling me for a few minutes, rolling my eyes at a lame joke or unnecessarily protective request, and then, I turn around to scan over where I last saw Quinn.

I almost drop my phone at the sight that greets me.

She is standing behind my car in her fitted black slacks and powder blue bra, wringing out her top. Her top which is in her hands. Not on her body. Because she has removed it. Because she is topless.

Oh.. wow..

My father's voice is high pitched and distanced and I snap to attention when I realize this is because I have removed the phone from my ear to hang limply by my neck instead.

"Uh.. yes, sure, that's okay. I love you too. Okay. Bye."

The low beep of the call disconnection doesn't even register to me as I continue to stare. Every gently toned muscle that flexes in Quinn's back weakens me further. She snaps her top out against a nearby tree a few times before taking it to her head like a towel, squeezing the excess water from her hair and causing it to fall back in careless, surfer waves.

Another moment of wringing and her creamy flesh is once again hidden by the damp green of her t-shirt. It is only then, that I can gather the power to blink again, my eyes burn unpleasantly from prolonged exposure to the elements and my hand aches around the tight hold it's been keeping on my phone.

Quinn, of course, notices none of this as she jogs back over to me, feet caked in wet sand, smiling uncertainly.

"Are you okay?"

Blinking in alarm, I instinctively look away from where my eyes have been tracing the subtle outline of that powder blue bra, okay so maybe she did notice.

"Uh, yes, of course, I'm fine."

Swiveling her head to meet my eyes, Quinn's brow is quirked in concern and confusion.

"I mean.. with your dad?"

I look down at my phone in shock, having completely forgotten about it the moment Quinn started speaking to me again.

"Right! I know. Everything's fine, my dad was meant to be home from Houston tonight but his convention's been extended so he won't be back till tomorrow. He was just letting me know. My daddy's working night shift tonight so it'll just be me."

"Right, good, I thought.. I don't know, I thought that maybe something happened.. I'm sorry I packed everything up.." Quinn grins nervously, awkwardly hovering in front of me.

"Oh no, that's okay, thank you for doing it.." removing the blanket from me I wrap it around Quinn with a shaky smile. "You're um, all wet."

She hooks her fingers over her chest to hold the blanket in place but gestures to me regardless. "So are you, you'll get cold."

I shake my head with certainty "No, I'm fine" and I really am, because the feverish heat that's burning through my veins needs some serious tempering before things get out of control.

Quinn nods in silent contemplation for a moment. Frowning, I feel as if something has shifted between us, as if the intimacy we shared in the water has somehow been kept prisoner in the lake. Perhaps I'm just projecting my disappointment at spending another night alone in my house.

I do not like to dwell on thoughts like these, they aren't helpful and never lead to anywhere positive.

I know my fathers love me, I know that they are proud. I do.

Without consent, my lip is struck with a tremor that I violently attempt to smother. I don't want to do this right now. I really, really don't. I'm about to sag in defeat and cry when Quinn takes a step towards me, standing very close. It shocks my spiraling emotions to a standstill.

"Hey.."

Her voice is like honey; thick and numbing to my hurt in an instantly sweet haze.

I blink at her, the tremor in my lip stilling completely now.

"Hi..?"

She gently takes the phone from my grasp and hides it in one of my boots before making a show of looking around and giving me a comically relieved smile. Watching her strange movements closely, I have to ask.

"Um, what are you doing?"

Quinn's face is all business but there is a twinkle in her eyes.

"I'm checking for Francos."

Before I quite understand what's being said, there is a damp finger running down my arm and moving to play over my knuckles. My eyes immediately sink closed at the provocative sensation. Were we really robbed of this moment at the Java Hut only hours ago? It seems like years. It seems like we've been sitting by the beach and laughing for eons. Like there has always been a part of both of us playing together on the dunes.

"Quinn.."

"shhh."

Depriving myself of sight, touch is the only sensation I have to work with, this is magnificent, because I can feel every miniscule layer of contact unfold as each of Quinn's fingers methodically move to lace through mine.

At this point, there is still space between them, pockets of air and history and insecurity, but Quinn squashes them all the moment she applies a gentle, kneading pressure that squeezes our hands completely together.

The movement seems to echo for miles around.

Swallowing through the lump in my throat, I gather myself and return the squeeze, still lost in tumbling motions of black.

My hand is throbbing in alarm, because this touch has been the stuff of fantasy for years; when Quinn and I walked our own paths and only collided in moments of explosion. But now, it seems that finally, finally, we are beginning to take our steps together.

My eyes flutter open when I register a murmured, plaintive sigh escape Quinn's lips; so soft it is almost carried away by the breeze altogether. It appears as though the sound has surprised Quinn as well because her eyes snap open a moment after mine and she attempts to clear her throat ineffectually.

Blinking away her blush, Quinn tugs us over to a wooden bench and wraps the blanket around the both of us, focused and careful to not let our hands leave the precious and unfamiliar position they have landed themselves in.

"We don't have to go yet, if you don't want. Would you like to stay? Maybe, watch the sunset?"

Instinctively, my fingers tighten around Quinn's and I am so grateful that she understands. I don't want to talk about it, I don't want to think about it. I just want to be happy for as long as possible tonight. So, with that thought in mind, I rest my head on Quinn's shoulder and slide my eyes closed again.

For once, I am not at all interested in the beauty of the setting sun, in the radiance of pinks and peaches and purples against the rippled blue of the water.

No.

Instead, I am focused entirely on the steady breaths occurring next to me, on the soft, cold digits threaded through mine, tethering me. On the feeling that rises from my chest every time I feel a steady heart beat against my ear. I close my eyes and begin to catalogue everything.

"Yes, I do. For as long as you please."


As is so often the case, time seems to be consistent in its progression in spite of my protests and, within a matter of minutes, Quinn and I are sitting in darkness.

We haven't said a word since initially sitting down and though she's doing a commendable job of hiding it, I can feel Quinn shivering beside me. Pressing our arms together affectionately I squeeze our still joined hands and begin to stand.

Quinn's hand in mine pulls me back down and a murmured "No, we don't have to" is slipped into the air. Turning on my side, I smile and disengage our hands with a final squeeze, instead moving my tingling palm up to ruffle through her hair. I know what she's doing, and it melts me, profusely.

"Yes we do, we need to get into a shower and dry clothes before we both get pneumonia and die, because if that happens I'll never achieve EGOT status and the universe will implode."

I want to show Quinn that I am feeling better, that our silent time together has settled my wayward emotions and filled me with joy. I think my candor does the trick when she rolls her eyes and pushes up, strolling towards our jumbled shoes.

"Tyrant."

"You better believe it!"

When we get to the car we take turns dusting each other off, we're both in that awfully uncomfortable mid-dry stage where our clothes are stiff with sand and water but not yet fully dry. Shaping our jackets and picnic blanket into impromptu seat covers, we settle back into the car and ready ourselves for departure.

Turning the ignition, I immediately blast the heating and, sparing a glance to Quinn, see that she is gazing sadly out the window, eyes drinking in the near invisible waves.

"Hey.. what are you doing?"

I'm tilting myself towards her, unconsciously encouraging eye contact, but it's not forthcoming. Quinn just continues to stare at the waves longingly, almost despondent. Her sudden shift in mood is unsettling and worries me, nothing about today was meant to be anything other than fun.

"Nothing, I'm just saying goodbye.."

The matter of factness in her tone startles me, as if she is sure she'll never be allowed to return here. As if it's all been a dream that she'll never have again. I race to set the record straight.

"Well, just for now though right? I mean, we're definitely coming back, right?"

Biting my lip, I'm not sure how much to say. Because forget Lima, forget New York, this tiny strip of beach is my new favorite place in the world.

At this, Quinn shifts her gaze from the waves to rest on me, a slow, thoughtful smile filling her face. My heart beats stronger as each layer of sadness recedes from her eyes and is replaced by beautiful, shining hope.

"I would definitely like that."

Nodding, I shift myself back into driving position and fiddle with the air-conditioning vents before reversing out of our park.

"Good. Me too."

Our drive is quiet and subdued, my 'impossibilium' playlist doing most of the talking. Sneaking glances over to Quinn I see that her eyes are closed and she is laying in relaxed repose, rocking gently with each mile of road we pass.

I use this time to think about something I have been trying to ignore all day. Reading about my NYADA acceptance was one of the happiest days of my life. I am filled with so much nervous excitement when I think about the reality that I'll be leaving Lima behind in a few short months to start life in New York. It is thrilling. But still, I worry.

Because, sneaking another glance at Quinn's dozing form, things are complicated now. They are very complicated. Hearing Quinn congratulate me on my acceptance filled me with such unexpected sadness. I don't know how to approach her about what her plans are after graduation, it's not something we've ever discussed and, considering the amount of life changing experiences Quinn has undergone in recent times, I'm not even sure if she's even thought about what she would like to happen.

I know what I would like to happen, I know that Quinn would flourish in New York, the people and the art and the culture would lift her. Would fill her and nurture her and make her strong, happy, vibrant, alive.

And I would be there too.. maybe.. doing some of those things as well. If she'd like..

Before I have time to ponder further a sleepy groan sounds next to me and Quinn's grumpy voice is capturing my attention.

"Stop it."

Glancing over, I can't hide the shock on my face. I haven't done anything!

"Stop what?!"

Quinn's head moves to face me and she cracks one eye open, suspiciously running it over my face.

"Thinking so loudly."

I want to form a witty retort, but I am so surprised at how spot on her perception is that I don't do much more than splutter. I am mortified at my inability to form words but Quinn's quiet chuckle calms me.

"Go on, you know you want to."

Tightening my hold on the steering wheel, I bluster out a scoff to redirect the conversation.

"I have no idea what you're talking about Quinn, I-"

Quinn cuts me off with the grace of someone who has spent years dominating conversations and I find the whole thing incredibly annoying.

"You want to ask me something."

Rolling my eyes, I know that I've been caught out so, biting the bullet, I straighten my shoulders and take the plunge.

"Okay fine, I was wondering what your plans were.. post graduation."

The easy smile that has been sitting on Quinn's face disappears and is replaced by anxious uncertainty. I kick myself internally as soon as it happens and immediately want to take everything back.

"Never mind, forget I asked that, I was wondering something else."

"Rachel.. don't."

"I know, I'm sorry."

"No, I mean, don't apologise. I don't want you to feel as though you can't ask me things. You, above anyone, deserve answers from me."

I blink in shock at the words before putting every ounce of my attention into not veering us off the road.

"O-Okay.."

"This is.." a frustrated sigh is sharply cut from Quinn's chest and she runs her fingers through her hair in thought. "Okay, this is a code black situation but I'm going to do my best okay?"

Accelerator, Brake, Clutch. ABC. Check your side and rear-view mirrors every twelve and fifteen seconds and keep all limbs firmly inside the vehicle during times of movement.

My mind is awash. I can't speak. All I can do is nod dumbly and check my side and rear-view mirrors obsessively. Hands resting in ten o'clock/two o'clock position as if our lives depended on it.

Quinn watches me closely and nods again.

"Okay, so, I put in my applications before everything happened. I've had to change them since then of course and, in particular, look for scholarships. I've… I've applied to a lot of places. I haven't heard anything yet. That's why I haven't said anything. Because I don't know, I just, I don't know what's going to happen to me Rachel."

Hearing Quinn's tone get increasingly elevated, I move my hand from where it's landed on the gear stick and blindly grope for hers, eventually finding it and squeezing firmly.

"Hey, it's okay. No matter what happens we'll figure something out."

I kick myself internally for assuming that Quinn hadn't spent time thinking about this. I know how important getting out of Lima is to her and I know how impassioned she is with learning. Licking my lips, I try to word the perfect thing to say but, at the end of the day, all Quinn really needs to hear is the truth. So that's what I give her.

"I know the timing is awkward but you're the smartest person I know, any school would be lucky to have you and they know it. I'm not the only one that's going to be getting out of here, okay?"

Glancing over, I see that Quinn's eyes are closed and she is in the middle of taking a very deep breath. The expression on her face uncannily echoes the one she adopted just before she stormed out of the chemistry lab all that time ago.

Initially, the resemblance makes me extremely uncomfortable but the warm, firm, and attentive hand in mine settles any worry that I have. Quinn hasn't gone anywhere, she's right here. This is her sunset silence, this is what she needs to do to make everything alright again.

So, smothering my instinctive urge to continue talking, I give Quinn's hand another squeeze and move it to rest over the gear stick, placing mine on top of it silently.


We sit this way for long moments until my car passes a bright yellow 'welcome to Lima' sign that makes me more than a little sad. I don't know if Quinn notices this or not, but she chooses that moment to bring my hand up to her mouth and kiss over a knuckle before setting it down again.

It is barely a whisper of contact, a small, subdued thank you really. But still, it's more than enough to fill every chamber of my heart to bursting point.

Suddenly, I catch up to myself and scan my eyes over the road. There's an important decision we need to make now that we're back in town.

"So, did you want to come over to my place for that shower?"

I try not to make the words sound desperate, because they're not, I don't need Quinn's company tonight, I'd love it, but I would be just fine with a quiet movie before collapsing into bed. At least, that's what I tell myself.

It turns out it doesn't really matter anyway because as soon as the question leaves my lips Quinn shakes her head.

"No, I don't."

I am not expecting the hurt that comes with that statement but, as if only just realizing how it sounded, Quinn is quick to pivot towards me and continue.

"No, I mean, that's not what I meant. What I meant was, would you.. like to come over to my place instead? Maybe?"

Snapping my head towards Quinn, the comment is so unexpected that I have to literally force myself to look back at the road. She's.. is she opening up her door to me? Literally?

Licking my lips, I focus on staying the appropriate distance away from the car ahead of us.

"Really?"

"Yeah, I mean, I know you have school tomorrow and it's already getting late but, I can promise that my shower will provide you with excellent lukewarm water and I um, have someone, that I'd love for you to meet."

My heart begins to race through my grin because I have so been looking forward to this meeting as well.

"Your sister, Fran?"

Surprisingly, Quinn waves a dismissive hand through the air and scoffs light-heartedly.

"Oh yeah, she's probably going to be there too. But I meant Joan Sutherland."

My eyebrows furrow in thought for a moment before I click the pieces together. This instantly causes a bright bubble of laughter to leave my chest.

"You want me to meet your kettle?"

Quinn's eyebrows also furrow, though it's definitely more from disapproval than thought.

"Hey, don't talk about Joan that way, she was an important lady you know."

I try to keep my chuckle at least mostly in my chest as I nod.

"Of course she was, okay then navigator, where am I driving us?"

Quinn looks up from the text message she's compiling to her sister and takes a moment to scope the area, obviously getting her bearings. I am not even the slightest bit surprised that she's one of those 'no-map' people with an internal GPS. Thank God really, because I'm one of those 'no-map-will-help-me' people with an external GPS that I rarely know how to follow. Really, it's a small miracle that I managed to get us to the beach and back today without ending up in Kentucky.

"Well, it's just off of Wilson and Main so we should probably take New Hampden, that'll get us there the fastest."

I blink at the road ahead slowly, trying to figure out how best to verbalize just how little help that was to me.

Quinn laughs heartily, obviously enjoying herself.

"Just drive North okay?"

I blink again, even slower, a tiny grimace working its way onto my face.

"Um.."

She smacks her thighs and stares at me in disbelief

"Oh God Rach, are you serious? Left! Just take the next left!"

Smiling in relief, I nod, relaxing. Finally, directions I can follow.

"Right.. I can do that."

A frustrated groan sounds next to me as Quinn quirks an eyebrow, obviously trying to gauge if I'm being serious.

"You mean left."

Taking in her incredulous expression, I can't help but go again.

"Right, that's what I said."

"No, left!"

I am running my tongue over my teeth in pleasure now, desperately trying to tone down my ridiculous grin.

"Right, left."

Another frustrated groan is called out.

But, as I indicate left, all I can do in response to it is laugh, and laugh, and laugh.


After more than one or two wrong turns, we eventually find our way to Quinn and Fran's apartment. It is on the second floor of a smallish complex, obviously not flashy but reasonably well maintained on the outside. Leaving everything but the picnic basket in the car we ascend the stairs side by side.

When we finally reach a door with the number 2-13 on it, Quinn is nervously fiddling with her hands. I think this is the first time I have ever seen her display an uncensored expression of nervousness.

"So, it's not much, but, I kind of love it."

I have to blink at her uncertainty for a moment before I quirk a smile and worriedly fuss over my absolutely wrecked outfit.

"Well, I for one can't wait to meet Joan, do you think I look okay? It's not too much is it? I'm going for beach chic."

Quinn smiles gratefully as she gives the door a gentle knock. I flush with adrenaline when I hear muted footsteps approach but my heart rate doesn't truly start to race until Quinn reaches over and, without warning, places a soft, reverent kiss on my surprised lips.

"I think you look beautiful."

Judging by the expression on her face, she is almost as shocked by the action as I am, but, before I can form any kind of response, the door we're standing in front of swings open and I'm greeted by an excitedly grinning face.

"Hey Lucy Q, who's your friend?"


 

Chapter Text

Quinn.


"Hey Lucy Q, who's your friend?"

I blink at Fran for a few helpless moments, still trying to process the fact that I actually just kissed Rachel and told her she was beautiful because.. I wanted to. I didn't even think about it, I just.. I just did it, because I wanted to..

Glancing over to Rachel, she doesn't appear to be upset, she is, however, looking at me expectantly. Furrowing my brow I look back at Fran's smirking face before finally realizing I'm meant to be playing an active part in the conversation.

"Right! Right, Rachel, this is my sister Fran."

Rachel's grin is dazzling as she takes a step forward to shake Fran's hand; her face glowing with excitement.

"It's so lovely to meet you!"

Still trying to control my blinking, I move my gaze back to Fran and lift a hand, gesturing it towards Rachel.

"Fran, this is my Rachel."

My eyes widen in horror as I register what has just come out of my mouth. The hand I'm currently gesturing towards Rachel with spasms and I frantically try to recover.

"Uh. Rachel. This is Rachel, that's her name.. it's Rachel."

The pitch of my sentence gradually lessens until it's not much more than a whisper, murmured into the hand that's now playing over my mouth in anxious twists.

Fran bites her lip to stop from laughing and fixes Rachel with a look of disbelief.

"Wow.. she's a keeper.. do people ever think you're her carer?"

My jaw drops at the insult and I'm about to retaliate when Rachel's smooth voice cuts through my bluster.

"I try not to notice the stares."

Fran is laughing fully now, they both are, at my expense. But I can't hear anything other than the smack of my hand landing against my thigh in defeat. Eventually regaining control of my faculties, I shoot a glare over to Fran and jut my hip out threateningly.

"Whatever, were you born in a barn or what? Let us in already!"

"Oh jee.. I don't know sis, you guys seem to have brought the entire beach back with you, I have half a mind to make you change out here in the hall."

I look over to Rachel just in time to see her eyes gravitate towards my chest and a surprised squeak burst from her throat. Trying to ignore the flush that sweeps over me at the gaze, I jump between sending an apologetic smile to her and a scathing glare to my moronic sister.

"I am so sorry for subjecting you to this woman, she doesn't have many friends."

Rachel licks her lips and nods in what, I can only assume, is acceptance before suspiciously regarding my sister's frame, blocking the doorway.

"You're not really going to make us change out here are you?"

Scoffing, I move a step closer to Fran who, by all accounts, has never looked quite so happy with herself.

"No, no of course not.. Francine is just trying to be funny, aren't you Francine?"

She takes another moment to grin between Rachel and me before ruffling a hand absently through her flaming hair and opening the door wider, stepping aside.

"Of course! Please, come in."

I wait for Rachel to enter first and follow in behind, silently giving a hard flick to Fran's temple and pointing a finger of warning at her mischievous grin.

Rachel spins in a slow circle to absorb the room, I look at the mismatched compilation of furniture and try to remember how I felt when I first saw it, I'm not quite sure why it's so important to me that Rachel likes it, but I hope she does all the same.

"Oh wow, this place is absolutely amazing!"

Grinning, I bounce happily on the balls of my feet for a second before I hear Fran laugh good-naturedly from behind me, she slips past my shoulder and leans casually against the kitchen bench, crossing her arms and smiling in Rachel's direction.

"Thanks, you're very.. polite, but I know it's a mess."

Rachel's eyes widen, as if horrified that her comment could be interpreted to be anything other than completely genuine. I have to hide my smile as she begins to splutter.

"Oh no, I wasn't being facetious in the slightest, I absolutely love it! You've done an excellent job coordinating your tables and chairs especially."

Fran looks over at me and quickly raises an eyebrow. She's my sister, so I know what she's asking.

Is she for real?

My answering look is just as clear.

Totally. Adorable right?

Fran chuckles and looks away, moving her gaze back to Rachel before mechanically beginning to sort through the kitchen.

"So, would the adventurers like some tea?"

I nod silently and look to Rachel, who is now sitting on the futon and bouncing excitedly, testing out the squeaks. When she feels my gaze land on her, the movements still and she smiles sheepishly.

"Sorry, yes, I'd love some actually."

Fran rummages around in the kitchen for a moment more before skipping over to Rachel with a wooden chest in her arms. She cracks it open and presents Rachel with a formidable selection of black, white and herbal teas.

"Any preferences?"

"Oh.."

Rachel blinks at the gigantic display Fran has presented her with before looking back to me, overwhelmed by the multitude of choices on offer.

Smothering a chuckle at the conflict in her eyes, I move over and tap a finger over a black box in the bottom left corner.

"How about we go for the chai?"

Rachel relaxes into the squeaky futon again and nods up at Fran.

"Yes, chai please."

"Excellent choice ladies."

Fran nods and spins back around, already pulling out a selection of mismatched coffee mugs for us.

I'm about to bite the bullet and take a seat next to Rachel when I suddenly remember a very important introduction that hasn't taken place yet.

"Oh! Oh! Rach, you have to come see!"

I bend down and grab Rachel's hand without thinking, dragging her over to the kitchen and barging Fran away from the it up, I present it to Rachel like a shrine.

"Rachel, meet Joan Sutherland. Joanie.. this is Rachel, the girl I've been telling you about. Her voice is even better than yours" I send a grin Rachel's way before bringing my mouth to the spout and murmuring a whispered "almost" into it.

Rachel raises a wry eyebrow at this before curling a hand around the spout and shaking gently.

"It's wonderful to meet you Mrs. Sutherland, I loved you in Rigoletto."

Fran just stares at us from her corner of the kitchen, baffled and afraid. This makes my smile widen all the more.


My feet come up to cross over themselves on the coffee table as I wait. Rachel is in the shower, I've managed to find a clean pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt to lend her. Moving my eyes to the bathroom door, I can see the steam swirling behind it impatiently and, without even really knowing why, I lick my lips at the sight.

Our randomly sized coffee mugs are now drained of tea and sitting idly by my feet. I am taking turns stretching each of my toes to push them forwards in increments when Fran comes to sit next to me.

"So.."

My lips curl into a soft smile at her tone.

"So?"

"She's kind of lovely."

Trying to keep my laughter down I look up at the ceiling, that's the understatement of the century.

"I know."

Fran easily echoes my laugh and knocks her arm against mine.

"You're kind of in trouble."

My eyes sink closed at this and I move to rest my head on Fran's shoulder, taking comfort in her strength.

"I know."

There's a hand working through the tangled knots in my hair and I can feel small vibrations of laughter sound against me again.

"Awesome."

Opening my eyes again, they scan to the bathroom door. I try my very hardest not to fixate too much on what's happening behind it. After a moment, there is a squeak of plastic against metal followed by the bellow of rusty pipes echoing throughout the house, signifying the shower being turned off.

I nod, firm against Fran's shoulder.

"Yeah, it is."

I can hear Rachel blow-drying her hair now and, wiping my hands down my thighs, I fix Fran with a steady glare from my spot on her shoulder.

"So, should I be concerned about leaving you two alone?"

She pivots to the side and gives me a disbelieving smirk.

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

My eyes narrow as I lift my head, already not liking the direction this is going.

"You're not going to do that weird older sibling thing where you make sure she's good enough for me are you?"

I hadn't meant the question to be serious, but I'm still pleased at the disbelieving look Fran shoots me. It fills me with an odd kind of joy to see that she already thinks it should be happening the other way around.

"Pft, yeah right, in your dreams sister!"

After a final glance of suspicion, I settle back into the futon again, finally relaxing.

"Good."

Of course, Fran puts a stop to this as soon as she notices.

"I just may kind of have a few baby photos lying around the place, that's all"

My palms connect with my forehead in a loud slap as I push out a miserable groan.

"Oh Lord."

Rolling my eyes at Fran's evil cackle, we sit like this for a few minutes, happily floating in and out of idle chatter until a distinct vibration sounds in her pocket.

Reaching in to grab her phone, Fran isn't quite fast enough to hide her frown from me when she sees who it is.

"Enamored stalker?"

The smile doesn't last very long on my face, Fran is sitting frozen; looking at her phone apprehensively. She doesn't move until I shift towards her, trying to get a peek of who could be making her react so strangely. Just as my eyes are about to land on the caller ID, Fran yanks her phone away and shoves it back in her pocket.

"Woah, are you okay?"

My hand is soft on her shoulder, I am unsure of the contact. The relaxed atmosphere that has been floating around us begins to shift and stiffen in response.

"Yeah of course, I'm sorry, that was a weird way for me to react."

Fran takes my hand from her shoulder and squeezes it reassuringly, I try and search her face for any sign of worry but if she's feeling any she's even better at hiding it than I am.

"I just didn't recognize the number that's all, and it's late so I was trying to figure out who it was. I'm pretty sure it was Luke, a guy I used to date. He has boundary issues."

I look at her for a long moment, seeing if my prolonged gaze will cause her to crack, but she doesn't. Not even when the patterned vibrations of a text message begin to tickle against her leg. She doesn't frown, she doesn't flush, she just shoots me a wry smile and flashes her eyes towards her pocket.

"See what I mean? No boundaries!"

Finally, I smile and nod in understanding. I'm about to ask Fran to tell me more about this Luke character when she beats me to it by asking how my 'outing' went with Rachel.

At once, I want to tell her everything. I want to tell her that it was most definitely a date. I want to tell her about my perfect sandwich and the lava, the icy prickling of the water and the heady sense of freedom that is still pumping through my veins.

I want to tell her about the laughter and I want to tell her about the love.

But, when I try, none of the words come out right, nothing seems to fit. Nothing seems to adequately describe just how.. changed.. I feel.

So finally, giving up on trying for more, there's only one word that successfully flows from my lips.

"Alexithymia-"

My throat hitches on the final syllable when the bathroom door opens and Rachel slips out; freshly washed and radiant, standing nervously in my baggy clothing. She has her hands bundled in the material covering her thighs, flexing to lift the too-long trouser bottoms off the damp floor. My eyes sink helplessly to look at the tendons in them, straining in gentle tugs. Something clenches deep within me at the sight. It is a primal, basic instinct that sears under my skin. Immediately, I know the strength within those hands.

My mind is overwhelmed with phantoms, flashes of skin and heat and hissing trails of steam bursting through my chest. I wonder if she could hold me down, if she could lift me up, if she..

Lustfully trailing my eyes down the beautiful planes of Rachel's body I stop when I see ten pink toes wiggle their way towards me.

"All yours."

Snapping my head back up, I find Rachel biting her lip, which is crimson and bruised from the warmth of the shower. Grasping blindly for something to hold onto, my eyes widen in shock at her words and, stumbling, I almost fall off the futon. I hadn't even realized that I'd been sitting on the edge of my seat since the bathroom door opened.

"Excuse me?!"

Rachel's eyes; usually so open in their rich, vibrant depths, are brighter than usual; shining with merriment. They are a brown forest, a deep and pathless wood. I try to leave breadcrumbs as I wander but it's useless, the longer I stare, the more lost I become. Not that I'm surprised, this has always been the case between us.

Thankfully, Fran's voice crashes through my haze with perfect accuracy. She is effortless in her ability to derail my musings and capture my attention. Annoyingly effortless. I barely even notice the patterned vibration of another text message sounding against her thigh.

"Sheesh, calm down you big weirdo, go take a shower and let your sister have some Rachel time."

Pitching up from my half fallen state on the futon, I desperately try to compose myself and manage to keep my fumbling to a minimum on my walk towards the bathroom. Without really looking, I pick up a random bundle of clothes to change into and ready myself to leave, but not before spinning around and fixing a pointed finger on my sister.

"No photos. I mean it."

Fran's sly smirk is the last thing I see before I shut the bathroom door, resting my throbbing forehead against the damp wood in silent prayer.


I am out of the shower in ten minutes flat having torn through it in record time, not even bothering to dry my hair more than absolutely necessary.

When I barge through the doorway and back into the living room; my hair falling in damp wisps, Rachel and Fran look every bit the innocent conversationalists as they greet me.

I tug at my outfit nervously and blink back at them. In my distracted state, I had picked a pair of Fran's old love heart pajama pants and a thin strapped black singlet. I feel like there may be a little too much of my skin on display and, when Rachel's eyes play teasingly over my chest, I know I'm right.

Before I can start an interrogation of their actions in the past ten minutes, Fran pushes up from her spot on the futon and grins at me in genuine excitement.

"So Q, you should totally show Rachel what we've done to the study!"

Rachel jumps up a second later, mirroring Fran's expression exactly.

"Oh yeah, you told me you were going to try and squish a bed in there!"

I nod distractedly, suddenly nervous. This is another step. Rachel is in my apartment, the space I share with no one but my sister and my special kettle and sometimes Sam if it can't be avoided. This is okay. This I can handle. This.. makes me feel like I am glowing.

But, I have spent years censoring and controlling everything I have shown Rachel. She has only seen the hard parts of me, only felt the cold. She has seen me be terrible and beautiful and great and looking down at the love hearts that are currently covering my legs, I know that I am none of those things anymore.

I know that this is a good thing. That I don't need to be any of those things for her, that things have been steadily changing between us with each passing day. But still, I can't help but feel trepidation.

My room, my bed, the place I rest and toss in fitful slumber. The place I lay myself down at night. The place I dream.

This is the last step, the final unknown, after this, I will have nothing in my life that Rachel has not seen and that has not been seen by Rachel.

Clearing my throat, I force out another casual nod.

"Oh, yeah. We just finished squaring everything away yesterday."

Fran picks up our empty tea cups and ushers Rachel towards me, pushing us both in the direction of my new room.

"Well go on, I'll be out here studying. Have fun and don't do anything I wouldn't do!"

Seized with sudden panic, I curl my lips into a snarl and it takes everything within me not to jump on Fran's back in a tackle. My body is tense, but Rachel's hand is soft and insistent on my elbow as she turns me away.

"Hey, we don't have to, we can just talk out here."

I glance at Fran, who is making a point of ignoring me; already opening up a textbook and readying her highlighters. I frown when I see her tug her flashing phone out of her pocket and turn it off but, too quickly, I am distracted.

I try to remember my baptism of fire, I try to embrace the burning on my skin; the vulnerability. It's not even that bad, not really. Letting out a sigh, I roll my eyes at how ridiculous I'm being.

"No, no. I'm sorry, I'm being crazy. Let me show you my room."

Leading a suddenly speechless Rachel down the small hallway, my hand curls around the door handle and, without allowing myself time to think about anything, I pull it open.

Rachel's eyes are wide and bright as they scan over everything in front of her.

"Oh..wow! You did all of this?"

The door closes behind us with a click and I shrug casually, letting my hands slip into the deep pockets of Fran's pajama pants.

"Well, Sam may have helped.."

And he really did. It didn't take much, just a simple text asking if he'd be available to play handyman after school one day and he'd readily agreed, on the proviso that he was granted payment in Doritos of course; Cool Ranch were his curse. I, of course, consented and we managed to do a pretty good job of transforming the small room into something presentable.

Sam brought a few buckets of paint he had in his father's shed and we mixed them to create a creamy cappuccino color. There was nowhere near enough to cover everything though so I decided to use the mixture to create a feature wall and paint the rest in the warm neutral cream of which we had excess.

While I worked on that, Sam changed the hinges on the door so it opened outwards instead of inwards, allowing for more space in the actual room. Once this was finished and the paint was dry, a small bed that Fran and I liberated from a nearby thrift shop was moved to sit in the far corner.

I managed to find some vintage wooden crates to drill and stack together, transforming them into bookshelves, and they were already nearly full with Fran's textbooks, children's literature and the rest of her personal book collection.

We turned a hollowed out television set into a bedside table and there were one or two slabs of wood drilled to float against the walls for additional walls themselves were mostly bare, except for small clusters of cut out magazine letters, arranged to form some of my favorite poems.

It's wasn't much, but it was a start, and to be honest, I was quite proud of the changes Sam and I were able to make.

Staving off my need to blink, I watch as Rachel takes in these features now. I try to keep my body language neutral as she inspects the most intimate space I have. Her hands gently run over the improvised bookcases, fingernails grazing past my bedside table. They dip down to trace over the thin, metal bars that frame my bed.

She looks at me for a long moment then, before smoothing her hands over my sheets and sitting down on top of them.

I see the soft imprint her weight pushes into my bed and I hope with desperate needfulness that it will never go away. She runs her hands down the even line of her thighs, ironing out the creases in my baggy sweats. My t-shirt is also bordering on too large and a corner slides down to expose the beginning of a richly toned shoulder.

There's a fist in my stomach and it clenches when I notice that she isn't wearing a bra. Forcing down a swallow, I tremble through the deep breath Rachel expels before she silently meets my eyes.

In all honesty, I don't think she's ever looked quite so provocative.

I realize then that there is nowhere else for me to sit but next to her and, not being quite prepared for this, I hover awkwardly by the door instead.

"So, this is my room."

Rachel tilts her head, eyes still regarding me steadily. I feel my palms begin to sweat at how easily she can hold my gaze.

"Do you like it?"

I blink, not expecting the question, before looking around and giving a slow nod.

"Yes."

I do. I really do. It makes me feel happy and, despite the broken heater, I don't go to sleep every night feeling cold.

Rachel nods back at me, her face breaking into a sudden smile that makes me wonder what it is that she's seen in my eyes.

"Good. Me too."

I return the smile and we stand in silence for a moment longer, once again, Rachel is the one to break it.

"You could.. come and sit next to me you know?"

Her eyes are open; glowing with hopeful innocence. I picture a sunbeam glittering through the branches of a wintered forest. Falling back against my door with a soft thud, I very nearly give in.

"No.. I can't."

There is a twinkle in her eye that I have definitely seen before. It causes a rueful smile to bloom on my face despite myself.

"Why not?"

Rachel's shoulders tighten in displeasure as she poses the challenge. She's being deliberately obtuse, I know this, and, as difficult as it makes things, I love it. It causes my skin to break out in goosebumps and an unfamiliar throb to steadily work its way through my extremities.

I bite my lip, unsure about how much of our situation to actually verbalize, it seems as though we've been functioning without words or labels for so long. But, perhaps, just perhaps, it's time to speak some truths aloud.

Taking a breath, my jaw clenches and I allow my eyes to roam over the expanse of Rachel's shoulder. She has always been the chink in my armor. I remember our locker room interlude, I remember the strips of skin Rachel flashed as she frantically changed and I remember everything I can about the soft curve of flesh she's sharing with me now. It is all so dangerously inviting.

"Because..."

I struggle to exert control over my voice, which has come out as nothing more than a breathless rasp. Clearing my throat, I try again.

"Because, we both know what will happen if I do, and we have very thin walls.. DON'T WE FRAN?"

I tilt my head towards the door and project the last part loudly, demonstrating our lack of privacy to Rachel. There's a muffled tearing of paper in the other room before a distracted "WHAAT?" is yelled out.

I kick my leg up to rest against the door with a chuckle, rolling my eyes.

"NOTHING.."

Rachel chews on her lip and I am expecting her to change the subject, but she surprises me by getting up and walking straight towards me in slow, measured steps.

Pressing myself back against the door, I am instantly overwhelmed.. by her closeness, by the heat, by the collarbone that flexes as she cranes her neck, pushing her face up towards mine.

She's so close.. if I bent down, just a little bit, a tiny movement, and maybe..maybe pushed her hair back, exposed her neck.. I, I could..

A soft, plaintive whimper tumbles out of my mouth before I can stop it.

Hitching the breath in my lungs, I desperately try to regain some semblance of control but Rachel's body presses against mine in a sudden and decisive movement. Another embarrassingly uncontrolled sound tears from my throat and lands flush against Rachel's cheeks. Her lips are a gentle breeze skirting over my ear.

"Shh, you have very thin walls you know."

My head falls, without thought, against that wonderfully bare shoulder and my lips are instantly singed by the contact they make with soft skin. I feel winded, ambushed by the violent churning occurring inside of me. Something is pacing rabidly, stalking through my shadowed mind; itching and ready, but then Rachel's apologetic tone is breaking through the foggy haze.

"I'm sorry, this was not meant to be a push."

Before she can fully pull away my hands lift in a uniform motion and ten fingers splay over the arch of Rachel's back. Exhaling a shaky breath, I let my nails dig in softly and pull her into me again;reveling in the glory of our closeness.

Rachel's hands are only seconds behind mine, they tangle through my damp hair, grazing hot lines over the sensitive skin of my scalp in patterns that make me shiver against her. Lost in the midst of our contact, I somehow still manage to compose a thought. I am awed by the fact that it was only hours ago that I was reminding myself I didn't understand hugs. That they were awkward, intrusive, bruising.

Squeezing Rachel tighter against me, I am experiencing none of these things. There is no trap to fall into, no hurt to suffer. There are only strong arms encasing me, a warm shoulder under my lips and the gentle tremble of Rachel's body against mine.

I want her so badly then, I have no experience at this. But I know it. I want her. I am aware. Some things don't need experience, some things are just felt and known and that's how I feel about touching Rachel. I feel as though I just want to know her and.. and I want her to know me.

The very thought of that happening makes me blush, we haven't even.. we've barely kissed, there has been no steady progression, no conventional set up. In any case, there's no way anything could happen now, not with so little time at our fingertips. But even as I'm thinking this, even as my hands crest up over her shoulderblades and dip to tickle down again, I know that something else is holding me back.

I just.. I can't do it. I can't give myself to her that way knowing that our days could be numbered, that when summer ends she could be out of my life forever. Because my world has gone topsy-turvy, the rules have been changed, I have been changed, and what have I been left fit for? What is going to happen to me? And what's going to happen to Rachel?

I know her, I know that she pursues, I know she gives chase. I know she lives with fierce determination. If she were to do anything to jeopardize her future because of me I would never, ever, forgive myself.

So, branding a fierce kiss into the skin beneath my lips, I pull back slightly and swallow, searching for Rachel's eyes.

"We need to have a conversation."

She tilts her head up and touches her nose to mine, instantly testing my resolve.

"About what?"

A breathless sigh slips from my mouth but my hands are strong on Rachel's back. They begin to creep, quite against my will, down a softly curved torso, coming to rest high on her hips.

"About this."

I gently squeeze to emphasize my point and Rachel dips against me, losing the strength to stand for a short moment.

"About what's happening between us."

She seems to regain her composure, because not a second goes by before Rachel is pulling back another few inches, hands coming to join in a link around my burning neck.

"I've decided to throw a birthday party this Saturday. Will you come?"

Blinking, I try and catch up to the sudden change in topic. I almost don't let it slide because this is a very important conversation, but it's so unusual for Rachel to even attend a party let alone choose to host one that I can't ignore it.

Clucking my tongue in thought I try to recall the date, it's mid April, Rachel's birthday isn't until December. So she's either being a really early bird or... I raise an eyebrow in question.

"Leaving it a bit late aren't you?"

Rachel laughs out happy bubbles of sound, clearly pleased that I'm aware the party isn't likely to be for her birthday. I have to shake my head through my affectionate smile, if she only knew how much I knew about her. How much I paid attention. Maybe one day, she will.

"Oh, it's not for me, it's for Barbra."

The serious conviction that has made its way onto Rachel's face is almost enough to make me stop breathing. Funny that this particular idiosyncrasy should be the catalyst but, suddenly, I am sure. My love for this woman is endless. Endless.

Breathing out the emotion that is glowing on my cheeks I try for an easy smile.

"Well in that case, it's not going to be a weekend long kegger is it? Because we both have school on Monday."

Another carefree laugh dims into a bright smile before Rachel gives a reassuring squeeze to my neck.

"I promise to have you home by midnight."

Quirking an eyebrow at her phrasing, I lean back against my door again, tugging Rachel with me.

"Okay, I'll come."

I am oddly at ease with the intimate hold we're still sharing. In normal circumstances, it wouldn't be happening, Rachel would be in her car and halfway home right now while I would be curled up in bed crying at my lack of.. ability.

But, neither of those things are happening right now, and it makes me feel like perhaps what I classify to be a 'normal circumstance' is changing.

There's still a strange kind of twinkle in Rachel's eye; a curious curve to her lip. She bounces lightly on her feet for a second, (a gesture that I have come to learn means she is extra pleased or excited about a recent turn of events) before tossing her head back casually, flicking waves of hair out of her face.

"So, I'll pick you up at like, seven?"

Suddenly, a knowing grin stamps its way onto my face. I finally understand what is happening and my heart flutters uncontrollably as a result.

"Are you.. Miss Berry, are you asking me out on a date?"

Rachel's grin mirrors my own as she squeezes my neck again, happy to finally be on the same page.

"I am Miss Fabray. Are you saying yes?"

I look at Rachel then, I see such happiness in her shining eyes, but there is more. There are nerves, I see them clearly, I see the plate that Rachel is putting her heart on. Blinking rapidly, I can't bear to keep her in anxious wondering for a moment longer than I have to. So, as soon as the breath returns to my lungs, I jump, soaring midair, hoping to land on sand.

"I am."

It sounds resoundingly confident, laced with surety and hope.

I am nervous about that for a moment until I realize that it sounds that way because it is. Because I am sure.

So, so sure.

"Excellent."

When I look at Rachel smile, I don't think about sinking. I don't think about my parents. I don't think about God or Glee or school or Sue Sylvester or the icy bite of slushie on my virgin skin. I don't think about anything except for diving through the water with Rachel on my back. Swimming.

"So.. we're kind of.. dating, huh?"

I blink out of my reverie to see a broad grin flashing at me; it is nervous and unbelieving. I know Rachel, so I know that, despite herself, the only thought running through her mind right now is 'I'm dating Quinn Fabray' and the hilarity of this makes me laugh out loud for a brief and playful moment.

"Kind of."

There is so much emotion between us, it sparks in wondrous bursts of color and light. My hands curl down over the swell of Rachel's hips, fingertips dipping lower in careless, teasing movements. I have to smirk at the arousal that suddenly sweeps through Rachel's eyes.

"Well.."

She licks her lips and I marvel at how quickly she can switch from nervous and giddy to seductive and wanton.

"..I'm glad we had that conversation."

Suddenly, there is a hard pressure on my back and I only realize it's the door after a moment, already too lost in the feeling of Rachel's lips on mine. It has been far, far too long since they have touched and I whimper at the subtle spice of chai on my tongue.

I am gripping Rachel's hips too tightly, I know this, but I cannot loosen my hold. I am inundated with memories of our sixth touch, of the scrapes along my shoulders and the burning in my heart. Stretching my fingers out now, I have lost count of which touch this is.. how many have there been? Tens? Hundreds? When did I stop counting? When did I stop putting Rachel in a box? When did I start needing this so much?

Groaning hoarsely against her mouth, I cannot even begin to deny it. I do. I do need this. I am undone at just how much I need this, at just how much this confirmation means to me.

Because it has been so painful, there has been so much hurt, so many mistakes. So much of everything that I thought we'd never be able to get here, I thought that there was never a chance of anything ever happening between us. That I was far too buried in mess and fear to ever get the chance to be anything to this woman.

But, with Rachel's lips hot on mine, I can feel the tears begin to fall from my cheeks. Because it is happening, we are happening, and I want to hold onto Rachel and never let her go because it's the most beautiful realization of my life and it's all because of her.

Although she has been the instigator, ever riding the line between confidence and insecurity, the helpless murmurs that bubble and spit from Rachel's chest lead me to believe that she too, is needing, that she too, is coming full circle.

Feeling a growl rustle deep in my bones, I spin us around and pin Rachel in place, instinctively curling a hand around her already rising thigh, she hooks a toned leg around my waist and pulls us tightly together. I am instantly enveloped in her warmth, in pure heat, and I very nearly crumble when her hips execute a well timed thrust that has our centers rolling together.

I have no idea what I'm doing, I have no idea if I'm going too quickly or making an idiot of myself but I don't have time to think about this. Because Rachel's nails are digging into my back and she is crushing our chests together, eliciting harsh, heaving motions from me the moment I register two hard nipples burning into my skin through the material of our clothes.

I know what will happen if we continue like this, I can already feel myself getting carried away. It's too much, I promised myself I wouldn't. I promised. But I'm helpless to put an end to the amazing sensations being pulled out of me.

Choking back a sob of frustration, it seems as though Rachel senses my conflict, because she pulls herself back slightly and the intensity of our movements begins to dim. Shakily bringing her leg back to the ground, I wipe at the drying tears on my cheeks, still not allowing my mouth to stray too far from Rachel's.

Her hands, which have now relaxed their grip to trace over my shoulders, tickle up to rest on my neck in bursts of listless energy. My eyes are closed. I am placing blind kisses over every inch of Rachel's lips, but when she stumbles over something, her voice, which is thick and stuttered from my efforts, pulls me out of my trance.

"What's this?"

Looking down, my breath catches as I see my cross, lying idle in Rachel's shaking hand. For a moment, I don't know how to answer the question. It's.. it's a lot of things, and I want Rachel to know them all.

"It's.." I lick over my bruised lips in thought "Fran gave it to me."

I search for Rachel's eyes but they are still fixated on my cross, her fingers, now steady rather than trembling, are running over it in stroking motions. Biting my lip, I try to verbalize the thoughts that are swimming around inside of me.

"It's meant to remind me.. about family, and love, and being good to myself."

Rachel's fingers pause in their ministrations and she looks up at me, as if I have said something deeply profound, she nods in silent thought.

"Like a promise?"

My smile is shaky, but not with regret or fear, it's more to do with the fact that Rachel is still pressed up against me with her hands on my chest, touching.

"Yes.." I swallow, heavy in my throat "exactly like that."

She smiles softly and looks back down to my chest, a pinkie finger delicately tracing along the wooden outline.

"It feels.. it's so beautiful."

What I say next, I say because I feel it and I believe it and I need Rachel to know it. Really, I say it because I want to.

"I think it feels like love. Just like you do."

Rachel looks into my eyes and I can tell that she's searching for something, she's taking note of a reaction. I'm not sure what it is exactly until she says.

"Your look is different."

My eyelids flutter under the whispered touch of Rachel's fingertips, which have moved to travel over the lines of my face. The tone she uses makes it sound like something beautiful, but I'm still not sure what she means.

"What?"

A gently building light of wonderment shines from Rachel's eyes and into mine.

"No more bursting into flames.."

Our lips meet again, softly this time, in a slow burn of contact that has us both breathless and panting. When we part, Rachel takes a couple of much needed steps back and we stand for a moment, trying to collect ourselves.

Leaning gently against a wall, Rachel's head tilts to the side. I watch as she sweeps a casual glance over my alarm clock. It's very late and we both bite our lips in remorse when we realize this.

I'm about to bring the issue up when I see Rachel's eyes catch over something on the wall. She starts to trace her fingertips over a nearby poem; my eyes widen slightly when I register which one it is.

"I like this one, whose is it?"

"That one's Maya Angelou, it's just an excerpt."

Rachel's fingers tap above the poem thoughtfully, I can see she is piecing something together in her mind.

"It makes me feel.. something I can't quite describe, like it's tickling my brain."

I move to stand next to her and trace my fingers over the paths Rachel's have already established, reading aloud with my movements.

"The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom."[1]

Clearing my throat I bring my arms to cross loosely over my stomach as I come to rest against the wall, directing my gaze towards Rachel again.

"The first time I read this poem was a month after I joined Glee. I.. It reminded me so much of you, it was like I couldn't get the words out of my mind."

Rachel reads over the words again with a slightly furrowed brow, searching for the meaning.

"It reminds you of me?"

I nod, absentmindedly bringing a finger up to smooth over her brow.

"It does. Well, it did. Especially then."

Soft dimples dance on her cheeks until my motions stop and then, blinking, it's as if Rachel has remembered we were having a conversation. She nibbles on the inside of her cheek in silent curiosity; ever patient for my explanation.

"I thought you were so much like a caged bird.. always singing about romance, love, grandeur, Broadway and all these other things that should have been yours but that you didn't have. I put it up there to remind me."

There's a wave of shock in Rachel's eyes, perhaps because this is the first time I have shared a little bit of how often she's been in my thoughts over the past few years.

"Remind you of what?"

I tilt my head thoughtfully, trying to pinpoint the details behind my feelings.

"Of the past, the battles people fight, mostly, to remind me of how far you've come, and the importance of never forgetting that you're a song bird through and through."

There's a change in Rachel's eyes, she is looking at me carefully, her eyebrows raised in question of my statement. I take a moment to figure out how to say what I want to share.

"Greatness is in your veins, it's the air that you breathe, the song that you sing. I will never let you settle for anything less."

There's a crack in Rachel's face then, a deep, longing chasm that rockets through her features. It makes me frown instantly, I had not meant for my words to upset her. Before I can strive to make repairs, she takes a breath and pushes towards me, unfolding my arms from about my waist.

Purposefully, she sinks against me until there is nothing between us, the contact makes my heart begin to race, I feel renewed and restless, still deeply unsettled by her shift in mood.

"Rachel?"

"If you'll never let me settle for anything but the best then why are you holding back?" Rachel's arms are around my waist and I am squeezed tightly by them for a second. "You have to know that this is meant to happen."

The surety with which she says it, as if she has always known that we were meant to happen, meant to end up like this, makes my head begin to throb.

"I..."

Internally, I scramble, desperate to try and explain the way I feel. I don't want to run away from this, but..

"I need to make sure that I can be good for you, not just good enough.. and I just.. I can't do that unless I know where I'm going, until I know what's going to happen."

Rachel puffs a frustrated breath against me. "But Quinn, you can't always know what's going to happen, and I don't care where you go, Lima, New York, you could be half way across the world and I'd still make it work. I don't care about the consequences, I just want.. this."

That is exactly the problem and the guilt on Rachel's face shows that we both know it, sighing out an affectionate breath I can't help but twitch out a smile.

"Rachel Berry.."

Her face blusters against me before nuzzling into my chest. "I know I know, I'm dramatic, I can't help it.. love, romance, grandeur. They're in my veins you know."

I relax against the wall and give a gentle squeeze "and Broadway."

Rachel's lips are curved feathers on my skin, her light laughter spills in rushes of warmth against me.

"Yes, and Broadway.."

We are silent for a long moment until I feel Rachel expel a smooth yawn against me. Checking the clock again I know that it's time to stop. Time to close the door and say goodnight and, for the first time in my entire life, I really, really, don't want to.

I am so caught up in these feelings that I almost miss Rachel's voice, quiet and shy, rumbling against the base of my neck.

"And you.. you're in my veins as well."

My breath hitches, because I know what she is saying. I understand. The words so perfectly describe how I feel as well. Rachel is becoming a part of me; swimming through my veins; pumping through my heart. She fills me up. I want to fall to my knees and wrap myself around her for it, this beautiful creature that has made such change in my life, that has become so much to me.

She is the moment of still after a whispered prayer, the rush of air from an opened door, the first meeting of head to pillow. She is what's underneath my words, what's behind my thoughts. She is everywhere inside of me.

"Rach?"

I pull back slightly and crack a smile, I know that it is broken because I don't have the wherewithal to control everything I'm doing. But, resting my forehead tight against Rachel's, I don't care.

"You're in my veins too."


I wake early the next morning covered in Rachel, figuratively of course. We had said our lingering goodbyes the night before and she had driven away, sending a text message to let me know she got home safely. I fell asleep curled around the slight imprint she had left in my covers; swimming in sensation.

Stretching out my body now, I can still feel her everywhere. She is on my clothes and under my skin, on my tongue and under my nails. That vibrant mix of lemon sherbet and golden promises. She is everywhere.

I'm in the process of composing a blissful smile at my good fortune in waking up this way when I hear my sister's voice sound muffled in the distance, gruff and harsh with hissing protest. Furrowing my brow, I instantly remember the phone calls and text messages from Luke that Fran was ignoring yesterday. My feet are warm against the shaggy carpet as I pad towards the door, reminding myself to thank Sam for oiling it when it opens in silence.

I spy Fran standing by the front door, she is still in her pajamas and facing away from me, talking to someone I can only assume to be Luke on her cell phone. My eyes track down to her free hand and frown when I see that she is clicking her nails together in anxious snaps, a habit she's had since childhood that I have not seen her enact for years.

Blinking back up, my frown only deepens when I hear the timbre of her voice. She sounds strange, hollow, not at all the smiling, methodical sister with flaming hair and mismatched mugs that I have come to know.

"Well, I don't know what you want me to say."

She waits for a moment, obviously listening to a long winded response before her body stiffens and her voice rushes out in an angry whisper.

"No, of course I won't!"

I lean against the doorframe, body flushing with anxiety. I do not like seeing Fran so flustered; she is unflappable and strong and the way that her body sags in apology at her outbreak makes me feel instantly uncomfortable.

"I know, you're right that was rude, I'm sorry. But I can't. It's not my secret to tell, why isn't it enough for you just to know that she's safe?"

Balling my suddenly numb hands into tight fists, my stomach bottoms out in a rush of sickly fluid when I realize who it is that my sister is actually speaking to.

"Mom..please don't."

My mind reels at this new information. Could my mother have been calling Fran? Texting her? When I was right there? Inches away? When I was with Rachel.. the thought of Rachel being that close to my mother again, even by proxy, makes me feel suddenly queasy.

Fran's voice is small and conflicted. Her relationship with my mother has always far exceeded my own. In a way, I think it rather mirrors the way I feel about my father; that all encompassing control that an individual can hold over your life.

"Stop, please just stop."

The guiding hand. The steely compass.

Pushing down the unpleasant bile that is scratching at my throat, I'm about to close the door and hide from what is happening in front of me when Fran's voice cuts through the air.

"Okay, you know what? That's enough. Quinn is turning into an amazing woman. No thanks to the two of you!"

I blink; stilled into frozen shock.

"I..no.."

Ignoring it's me that she's talking about, my heart hurts to hear how beaten down my sister sounds. It has always been this way with my mother, Fran is a wave, lapping at the shore, strong for a moment, shamed in the next. Ebbing and flowing with tremulous energy.

My mother must say something especially hurtful because three seconds pass and she rises again; sharp and vicious with anger.

"You know what? Stop. There is nothing wrong with her. She is a good person and if you can't see that then that's your problem. I'm proud to call her my sister, I don't care what you have to say about it."

A faint, watery smile plays over my face as my forehead makes contact with the door. Fran's choice of words hit close to my chest. All I have ever wanted in life is to make my family proud. I never thought, in a million years, I could do it by being myself.

"Stop it mom, you've always done that. This isn't about comparing us!"

Fran is silent for a long moment, trying to break into my mother's tirade with the occasional 'but' and 'no'. Finally, it all seems to unravel for her because she hits her palm flat against the front door and all but yells into the receiver.

"Because, none of it is real! It's not even true!"

The shock of the sound makes me grip my door again, caught between backing away and moving forward. I don't trust my mother at all, Fran might need me. I don't even think to consider when exactly it was that I stopped considering self-preservation to be my most important goal.

Instead, I slip out from my room and come to hover by the kitchen, standing just out of Fran's line of sight but close in case I'm needed. Twisting a hand in my black singlet, all I can do is stand anxiously and listen to what unfolds; heart breaking at the cracks appearing in my sister's voice.

"I'm not a liaison, I don't live in a corner apartment on Barkley. I'm not always out of town on business. I live just off Wilson and Main in a crappy apartment that smells like toast!"

My jaw drops at Fran's confession. There is silence, one beat, two beats,thr-

"Oh I know, shock of the century isn't it? But wait, there's more! I didn't leave Nathan because he was an atheist, Nathan left ME because I had sex with him and got PREGNANT!"

My hands instinctively come to cover my stomach. Having the truth yelled out by Fran in such a blunt manner makes me feel like I've been punched in the gut. She sinks down then, crumbling against the wall.

I want so much to go to her, it seems as though all of the strength and anger has been torn away. But I'm not sure, I'm just not sure.

"You knew mom, that day, I could tell, you knew.. and I needed you! I needed my mom. You knew I lost the baby and you didn't even fucking care enough to acknowledge it!"

One rasping breath is struck from Fran's lungs before she starts again.

"Did you even wonder what it was like for me? When I started bleeding? When I called 911? When I was alone in that stupid fucking hospital room? When I stripped my throat raw crying out to God for an answer? I needed you mom!"

It seems like Fran suddenly returns to herself, hands desperately trying to collect all of the words that have fallen out of her mouth to press them together and push them back inside. She stops clicking her nails together and runs a shaky hand through her hair.

"And.. and Quinn, she needs you now."

My eyes darken into stormy clouds, it is almost enough for me to break cover. I think of the brutal cuts left on my heart when I was torn away from my father, I think of how well they're healing now, of how well I'm doing, of how much brighter I find life to be outside of the walls of that house.

I resolve that I don't need my mother, I don't need my father. I don't need anything from them at all. They have nothing that I want. They mean nothing but disappointment and they can't hurt me anymore.

At least, that's what I'm telling myself, when Fran nearly screeches across the room.

"Y...you did what?!"

My heartbeat triples in the space of two seconds. What? What?! What did she do? What's going on?! I take a stuttered step forwards, unable to hold myself in place as the adrenaline rushes through my system.

"Mom.. why? She.. don't you dare do this to her! Mom.. don't you da-"

As her mouth is shaping the last word the floor creaks beneath my foot and Fran pivots around, suddenly realizing she is not alone. She must see the terror on my face because she's already pushing up and taking a step towards me when she stops, clutching her phone tighter.

"No, hello?.. Hello mom? Mom! Fucking damn it SHIT!"

The phone is violently thrown into the nearby futon with a dull thud.

"Shit, shit, fucking, shit!"

I flinch at the sound of Fran's voice, the panicked, stricken sound. Bringing a hand up to press over my cross I try and control my breathing. What have they done? What are they doing to me now? Fran's arms are around me, not hugging but holding me up, I can't breathe. There's just not enough space in my chest for anything other than rasps.

"They.. you had a bundle of mail, lots of letters from different colleges. They burnt them, they actually fucking burnt them! I don't even know how long ago!"

I close my eyes in resignation and sag against Fran, there's no way to know where the letters were from. I'd have to call every department of every college I wrote to and ask about the status of my application, if they'd even know. I thought that I had changed my address in time but clearly that was not the case.

Fran pulls back slightly when she feels my body slump against her. I feel physically attacked, as though every good thing in my life has been snuffed out, my chances of getting out of Lima, of doing something with myself; smothered in their sleep.

Looking up, I see the complex track marks of Fran's tears lining down her cheeks; she looks oddly gaunt and detached. Biting my lip, I place my situation in a box and lace my fingers through hers, tethering us together with a squeeze. We come together in a one armed hug and I can already feel Fran's tears springing back to life against my shoulder. I can't do much more than hold tight and whisper into her shaking frame.

"I'm so sorry that I left you alone."

I'm not even quite sure what I mean, only that it's one hundred percent true. I'm sorry for letting her go, for not keeping in touch, for forgetting she was my sister, for letting my parents dictate our relationship, for not seeing through her lies last night, for not breaking out of my room and standing behind her when she was falling apart to my mother on the phone.

Fran lets out a short hiccup of laughter, as if she can't believe the words are even coming out of my mouth. I don't understand it but I guess I don't need to, I squeeze her tighter anyway when she whispers back.

"I'm sorry I left you alone."

I bite my lip through the shallow heaving of my chest. There is so much hurt in our past, so many doors that we fight to keep locked. It's always been the case, the Fabray way. Letting go of Fran's hand and bringing both of my arms to wrap around her, I resolve to try and change this condition. To give life to something different.

"If... If you ever want to talk about anything, or, or if you need a hug. I'm learning how to give them now and, not to toot my own horn or anything, but I think I'm getting pretty good."

There's a graceless snort into my shoulder that lets me know that Fran will be okay. She nods against me and we stand together in a tight hold, it lasts much longer than all of the hugs we've experienced in our lives put together. By the end, my bare feet are icy cold against the floor and my stomach beginning to gurgle for food, but it's Fran's voice that finally jostles us from our position.

"What are you going to do?"

Squeezing my eyes shut, I try my best to control the tears that begin to leak out. I hold Fran tighter to me, vainly attempting to gather some form of resolve. The truth is, I have no idea, I don't know what to do. I don't know what I can do. I can't rationalize any of this. I need help. I need Rachel.

"I.. I guess I'm going to school."


 

Chapter Text

 

Rachel.


I make the early morning journey to bus stop four while chewing on an apple slice and furiously sorting through the extensive music collection I have accumulated on my iPod. It may seem mundane, but I'm actually undertaking a sacred Rachel Berry ritual: I'm hunting.

In the rushed ten minutes I had alone with Fran last night, we instantly clicked. I'm not sure if it was because of our mutual affection for Quinn or simply because when I commented on her hair by saying she looked like a match stick she immediately took it for the compliment I meant it to be, in either case, we had a strange moment of instant understanding.

It was nice, well, more than nice really. There are occasional moments in my life where I still sometimes wonder.. what would it be like? To have a sister? To have someone stuck in my life that I can simultaneously love and admire and want to strangle? There's a very quiet part of me that is hopeful I will still one day know and I am so, so thankful that it could be Fran. That Quinn was blessed with a sister as wonderful as her. That, regardless of what happens in life, they will always have each other.

Turning a corner, I briefly look right then left then right again for good measure as I cross the street before focusing back on my iPod. I have a song to find. Something to attach to Fran's number, which she sneakily slipped me just before Quinn exited the bathroom. Grinning at the song that has flashed onto my screen, I pull my phone out of my pocket and attach Goldfinger's cover of 99 Red Balloons to Fran's smiling face with a satisfied grin. Perfect.

Pulling another slice of apple out of the side pocket of my bag, my teeth graze over the firm crispness and, all at once, I am assaulted by the memory of Quinn's lips under my teeth; present and certain and aching against me.

Swallowing my mouthful, I feel a worn sigh swim up through my torso, I miss her.. I miss her already. I missed her before she even got my car door closed last night, I think I began missing her the moment her lips left mine.

I surprise myself with these kinds of thoughts, with my almost casual acceptance of the dramatic changes that have taken place recently. It seems out of place until I realize it really, really isn't.

Because I'm dating Quinn now, we're kind of, sort of, together?

There's still a lot we need to talk about, but I asked her out and she said yes and then there was kissing and maybe a few seconds of touching and so many wonderful, wonderful words and just weeks ago none of this would have made any sense to me at all but now, right now, in this moment and for all those that follow it.. it just, inexplicably, gloriously.. does.

Things are not finished, we're not perfect or even functioning normally yet, but what does that even mean anyway? As far as I can tell, for the first time in our messy and complicated interactions, we're making each other happy. We're bringing joy. We're playing and laughing and learning things every day and that is more than enough for me.

When I finally reach stop number four at 7:43 am, I instinctively pull out the extra bag of apple slices I keep with me on school mornings. Mr. Thomas Johnston; a friendly, if not consistently inebriated alcoholic that enjoys discussing musical theater with me on his way to stop eleven, smiles when he sees them. Handing over the neatly labeled bag I frown when I notice he is wearing the same clothes he had on last time I saw him.

"Please tell me you've at least had a piece of toast this morning?"

Apart from our mutual interest in theater, I am particularly fond of Mr. Johnston because he insists on referring to me as Miss Berry on account of the fact that there is a high likelihood I will be achieving stardom in the near future.

He holds the bag up to me in thanks and proceeds to mumble out a poorly worded debate around the actual quality of Gilbert and Sullivan versus the hype.

Trying to tone down the fire in my eyes, I am about to join him in what will, no doubt, be a rousing and whiskey-scented discussion when Betty Who begins to jingle in my pocket.

"Someone's singing to you Miss Berry!"

Picking a piece of apple off my top that Mr. Johnston has unwittingly spat at me, I don't even try and tone down the twirl of excitement I execute as I reach for my phone.

"Yes! Please, excuse me Thomas.. I have to take this call!"

Puffing out a deep breath to still the gleeful sunshine that is undoubtedly scorching my insides, I take a few steps away to give myself the illusion of privacy. Sparing a glance, this turns out to be an entirely unnecessary action as Mr. Johnston has already moved his focus away from me to an apple slice he's currently holding.

One more puff of air escapes me before I confidently swipe my finger across the screen.

"Good morning, you've reached Miss Rachel Barbra Berry: future starlet and EGOT laureate. How may I help you today?"

There's the sound of a rush of air making contact with the receiver before Quinn's voice fills my body; all the way from my thrumming head to my tingling toes.

"Good morning Miss Berry.."

They are simple words, but I am all together unprepared for the warmth in Quinn's tone. It stalls me completely and I find myself leaning against the metal frame of the bus stop for support. It's funny how such a delicate puff of air can be a gale force wind, how large such small words can make me feel.

Once again, I am so grateful that Quinn has begun to let me climb inside. I am acutely aware of the access I am being given. I get to experience parts of her that no one else will ever see. I get to feel the gentle, the tender yield. Every moment is amazing to me.

Most people would not have thought this level of softness to even be possible. So rarely does Quinn speak at school with anything other than apathy or derision that I am sure they would not expect her to be capable of anything else.

But even then, I can think of times, no doubt difficult days where a low sentence or a whispered comment would wiggle its way past the insults and I would be given yet another piece of the puzzle to place and understand.

Swallowing down the lump in my throat, I try to clear my thoughts and appreciate the beauty of the current moment over the darkness of the past.

"You know, you're the second person to call me that today.. I think I kind of like it."

Quinn scoffs, and, for a moment, I can hear the curious chatter of people in the background.

"It's not even eight in the morning, who could have possibly beaten me?"

It takes me a few seconds to control the smirk on my face before I realize that she can't see it anyway. Some things will never change; Quinn loves coming first, she loves to win, to conquer and prevail and be the top of her pyramid. She will always love it, and I will always love her for it. So, stifling a giggle, I run a hand over my lips and absentmindedly trace the shape of my smile.

"Oh don't feel bad, my favorite bus stop um.."

Looking over, I blanch, suddenly receiving far more than a standard eyeful as struggles to tuck his tatty shirt into his sagging trousers.

"Uh.. associate, prefers to greet me with more formal salutations."

Spinning back around, I desperately try to mentally checklist all of Julie Andrews' musical appearances in reverse chronological order to banish the image from my mind. Quinn's voice, ever successful at capturing my attention, comes to my aid again.

"Can I be the first to say that it's a little odd that you still prefer to catch the bus to school even though you have a car?"

I can still hear the chatter of voices in the background but before I can question exactly where Quinn has found herself so early in the morning, I see my bus turn the corner towards me.

Rolling my eyes at her lack of appreciation for public transit, I am able to recall, with perfect clarity, the wrinkles that appeared in Quinn's forehead when I told her my car would not be following me to school every day.

Shifting my gaze to Mr. Johnston, I see he is now lying down for his pre-bus-ride nap so I rummage through my school bag and pull out a chocolate flavored soy milk drink, tossing it onto his chest.

"I'll see you tomorrow Thomas, and don't forget to recycle that, there's no excuse for littering!"

Once I'm satisfied that the distracted nod he gives me is actually a confirmation rather than an unconscious gesture, I step onto the bus, pressing the phone to my ear with my shoulder while I search for change.

"My fathers are right Quinn, public transport is character building! If I had a dollar for every interesting individual that I've sat next to I'd be a lady of leisure by now."

Handing my fare to the driver I practically skip down the center isle of the bus to find a seat. I know that all appearances suggest that I am unreasonably, inexcusably, and altogether far too happy for eight o'clock on a Thursday morning but I really don't care.

Crashing down next to a man who is listening to his headphones too loudly, there is a shuffle behind me before a scent so familiar it causes my stomach to constrict, steals the breath from my lungs.

"I'll take your word for it.."

The statement sounds twice, echoing once through the phone still pressed to my ear and once.. once right against me, in perfect time with a whispered breath on my neck.

As soon as I register this, it doesn't seem like it's been a mere seven hours since I last heard Quinn's voice, it seems like far longer, like years, and my head lands heavily against my seat as I try to piece together how this could even be happening.

Finally having the presence of mind to turn around, I am still absolutely shocked when I see Quinn, sitting straight-backed behind me with her phone now resting in her lap. She pulls a green beanie off of her head and my vision is blissfully filled with honey blonde. There is a small, pleased smile on her face and, at once, I am sure that she derives a very specific kind of pleasure from surprising me.

"Quinn! What are you doing here?!"

Running on autopilot, I drop my phone back into my pocket and flash an altogether blinding grin as she continues to smile at me.

"I'm riding a bus, it's character building."

My eyes suddenly feel the need to blink repeatedly. There's that warmth again; the tender yield. Except now it's written all over Quinn's face as well, and I have to rally everything within me to not just crawl over the seat separating us and kiss her breathless.

It takes a few seconds, but my shock eventually fades and, as it does, I finally begin to notice things.

Things I am altogether not happy about.

Like how there's a blush of redness sitting in Quinn's eyes, and how there's a gentle crease lining her brow. How she has stopped smiling and is now biting her lip, a gesture that I am sure is to stop it from trembling in front of me.

Quinn's face has undergone a swift change; where there has been happiness and ease there is now struggle. A torrent of conflict. I can see it clearly, she is trying not to fall apart. For a moment, I am flummoxed, I don't know what to think.. her appearance is so at odds with the relaxed demeanor she had been exuding over the phone. I feel as though I've taken a wrong turn and I scramble to right myself again.

"H-Hey..?"

Curling my hands around the metal bar that tops my seat, I press my chest into the backrest, cautious of how to make my approach.

"Is everything okay?"

There is another shift in Quinn's features then, a smile slides back onto her face but there is a deep and desperate kind of confusion still suffocating her gaze.

"I don't, I just.. I just wanted to see you."

The gentle frown I've been projecting grows exponentially when I see the beginnings of tears in Quinn's eyes. She is shifting her gaze around, obviously trying to regain control of her emotions.

I want to reach out and wrap myself around her to squeeze the sadness right out of her bones, but, I remind myself that we are in public and that Quinn does not usually allow herself any kind of uncertainty in public, so I don't. Still, seeing her display this lack of control causes a chorus of high pitched alarms to sound loudly within me.

"Quinn.."

My mind is further blown when there are two pale hands wrapping themselves around the ones I am using to clutch onto my seat with. Blinking down, I manage to piece together that they are Quinn's, Quinn's hands, holding mine, tightly.

Shifting my gaze back up, I catch the end of a soothing intake of air before Quinn looks at me again, restraint and balance now projected steadily in her gaze.

I am sure it is meant to do the opposite, but the sudden change does nothing but induce more panic within me. My own control is admirable however; nothing changes in my expression barring a subtle tightening of my jaw.

Still, it is enough for Quinn to notice.

She has always been able to see these things, and suddenly her hands are encircling my wrists, holding me warm and close in their clasp. I don't even have time to notice how the tables have turned between us because Quinn's voice is there again, warm and steady and speaking just for me.

"Rachel, it's okay. I'm compartmentalizing. You don't have time for this right now and I'm sorry I couldn't.. I just needed to see your face, that's why I didn't just call."

Although I am soothed by her words and the warmth of the fingers circling over my pulse points, my mind is still incessantly scribing complex lists of all the things that could be causing this response.

Dragging in a controlled breath, I turn my hands around in Quinn's grasp so my fingers can absently brush against the alabaster of her forearms. I'm up to page three of my list when I become sure that there has been some kind of terrible fire or accident or area-specific natural disaster in which Fran has been injured, or Quinn, maybe Quinn is the one in trouble, maybe she's having second thoughts? Maybe there's something wrong with her health? Maybe there's a tumor?!

Forcing down a swallow, my eyes widen in time with the pressing of my fingernails into Quinn's skin.

"Don't be silly, something's wrong, I'll make time. I'll always make time! We never know how much time we're given and if you've been diagnosed with some kind of inoperable brain tumor please don't feel as though you have to hide it from me because we should be in this toge-"

"Rachel, stop."

The sheer amount of practiced authority that Quinn is able to inject in her tone is enough to cause the ornate quill in my mind to pause, mid word.

Instead, I blink, escalated and waiting for Quinn's voice, ever steady and calm, to bring me down again.

"Everything is okay. I'm okay, Fran's okay, everyone is okay.. okay?"

The nonchalance with which Quinn extracts my nails from her skin almost causes me to miss the movement but, blinking down at the small half moons I have imprinted upon her, I can't even formulate an apology. I am too busy trying to believe the words that are coming out of Quinn's mouth, trying to trust that my world isn't falling apart around me.

Gnawing on my bottom lip, I watch Quinn's face closely.

"Promise?"

She gives me a smile that actually remains solid for more than a beat before it begins to waver. I view this as progress and decide to nod my head, focusing on the shape Quinn's lips take when she speaks.

"Yes, I promise. I just, I.. I think I may need.. your help, with something."

Although I am sure it's unintentional, the phrasing immediately knocks me out of my panicked stupor. Quinn needs my help. Not only that, but she's actually asking for it. This is very, very new. Immediately, I nod.

"Anything."

And I mean it.

Quinn looks out the window, obviously trying to calculate how much time she has left with me. When she turns back, she curls a finger around a strand of hair that's hanging by my eyes and slowly brushes it aside. As my eyes drift closed, I am instantly, irrepressibly thankful that I decided to wear it down today.

"I'm sorry I pressed your panic button, let's start again. Would you like to have lunch with me today?"

My eyes pop open in surprise to find Quinn smiling at me, resting her chin on her other hand, which is fisting her green beanie in a casual hold. My powers of speech are slow to come to me in the face of the genuine hopefulness staring back at me. Wordlessly, I nod, before finally managing to stumble out a reply.

"Yes, I, of course!"

Quinn's fingers twitch under her chin in an unconscious wave of movement, seemingly trying to stop themselves from reaching out again. Her nod is gentle but her words are warm again, and all of these things are the perfect combination of okayness to make me let go of the last of my anxiety.

"Great. Meet me in the auditorium? It's Thursday so it'll be empty."

I scan Quinn's eyes as they track over my face and a light blush floods my cheeks when I realize she is mapping my features. Self consciously, I push a strand of hair behind my ear before smoothing it all down and straightening my headband. I am both nervous and giddy under the gaze. For a moment, I even forget what we're talking about.

"Um. Right. Are you sure it's safe for you to be loitering around school property? I mean, officially, you're still a delinquent until Monday."

Quinn's eyebrow quirks wryly and a disbelieving laugh shoots from her mouth the moment I say the word 'delinquent'. I am sure this is because it's one word she never thought she'd be getting associated with. Still, her recovery is commendable when, with just a slight shake of her head that causes strands of blonde to shimmer in the sunlight, she strikes me speechless again.

"Don't worry. I'll make it work."

I smile goofily for a moment, thrilled at the prospect of actually getting to spend time with Quinn at school again, before I realize that this will be her first time at McKinley since.. well.. everything.

"Quinn are you sure yo-"

I am interrupted by Quinn pressing the STOP button and it's only then that I look around and notice I'm seconds away from my stop. I want to say more, I want to let her know that she doesn't have to do anything she's not ready for. But it seems like I'm the one that isn't ready, because Quinn is already picking up my bag and slinging it over my shoulder. Fixing my hair and planting a nervous but infinitely sweet kiss on my cheek. The brief, bold contact leaves me completely picked apart, flying and falling all at once.

"Rachel..I..I had a wonderful time yesterday and, and last night as well.."

The bus grinds to a halt and, as we wait for the doors to open, Quinn shifts her gaze from my eyes to my mouth in maddeningly tempting motions. I don't even consider editing the emotion in my tone.

"So did I.."

Suddenly, I want to forget about school. I want to abandon Geometry and Spanish and Gym and spend the rest of the day riding buses instead. Before I can commit to anything however, Quinn is leading me to the middle doors and her words are a thrilling whisper against my neck.

"I can't wait to see you again."

And even though she's standing right in front of me, the moment the automatic doors close against Quinn's smiling face and the bus starts to drive away, I know exactly what she means.


I make it until 12:32 before I finally break. In all honesty, it's not so much a break as a relatively slight disregarding of my pre-established rules.

I have a free period before lunch today so I decide that, instead of spending it in the library going over my English Lit notes, I'll use the time to get to the auditorium early and wait for Quinn, perhaps practice some solo ideas that I have for Glee club.

My feet begin to drag the moment I turn the corner that leads towards the auditorium. It is faded in the empty hallway, but my ears are still able to pick up on the impassioned percussive strike of a well tuned piano.

The sound is beautiful, though almost immediately I feel as though this is unintentional; nothing more than an irrelevant by-product, as if it were not created for beauty's sake at all.

I do not need to step any closer to know that it is Quinn.

The piece sounds classical, possibly part of the early romantic era. I am not familiar with it beyond this general assumption but, as I reach the precipice of the doorway, the frenzied, provocative notes stoke something within me.

I feel unearthed, exposed.

Letting out a breathy sigh, I press my body against the heavy doors and listen. While I admittedly couldn't pick up on it if it wasn't, Quinn's playing appears to be flawless;masterful strings of controlled chaos poured into each complex arpeggio she shapes. Waves of desperate fortissimo assault my ears and each sharp sforzando note causes me to press tighter against the barrier I have come to rest against.

I want to get closer, always closer.

She is fervent, unsettled. I can hear this in every sound she makes. I know that I have arrived early and this causes me to feel as though I am intruding. But, running a warm hand down the cool metal in front of me, I remember that things are different now, that there have been nights of whispers and days of laughter and books in my room and kisses in Quinn's. I remember that she has reached out to me for help, that neither of us are who we used to be.

I remember that the game has changed, that we are kind of dating now.

It is with that thought in mind that I open the door with a gentle push and begin my walk towards the stage.

Quinn is wearing the same pair of jeans and scuffed shoes she had on when she visited my window last and the very sight of the combination makes my smile widen. Atop them is a fitted white t-shirt covered by a loose knitted charcoal jumper, I can only assume it belongs to Fran because it looks to be too long in the sleeves- they have been bunched up around Quinn's elbows to allow for a freer range of movement as she plays.

For the moment, her head is hung low over the keys so that all I can see are strained, flexing muscles ghosting up a pale strip of neck. After a long string of interwoven arpeggios Quinn's back straightens again and she commences what appears to be the closing section of the movement.

Frozen in place behind her, I feel as though I'm spying but I honestly cannot move. There is something so surreal about this moment, about how entirely different it is to the last time I watched Quinn make music. I'm no longer in the shadows, no longer swept away by painful pangs of loneliness and frustration.

Was it only weeks ago?

I feel as though the entire universe has experienced a shift since then, as if there has been a flash, a photo negative, a completely inverted view of the world.

Finally returning back to myself, I see that Quinn has stopped playing, the echo of the final note still hanging sharply in the air. She is sitting straight with her fingers extended in the closing chord, breathing heavily.

The backs of my knees begin to quiver at the sight.

Clearing out the garbled pile of clumsiness that is no doubt clogging up my mouth, I eventually manage to extend a breathless "Hi" into the air between us.

Quinn is lightning fast in response to the intrusion; she swivels slightly, as if to confirm that it is really me standing behind her, before shooting up in the piano stool.

"Oh I'm so sorry, you're early, I was going to.."

She gestures frenetically at the picnic basket sitting a few feet away from us and my eyes widen happily at the sight, I had not even seen it there; far too enamored by the exquisitely skillful performance Quinn was giving.

Just as she is about to push away from the piano and begin to fuss, my hand lands on her shoulder, stilling her retreat. I am confused by much in life but I do know two things. One, that Quinn pours herself into the music she plays and, two, the piece she very deliberately chose was filled with frantic, anxious emotion.

Both of these truths cause me to instantly seek to calm her. There is no rush, she will come to me when she is ready. I know it.

"No, it's okay. I mean.. like you said, I'm quite early, please sit a while."

I am, only now, registering the hypnotically soft feel of wool beneath my fingers. Blinking my eyes towards the source, it is with an almost shocked kind of pleasure that I realize I am touching Quinn. That I have done so without thought or second guessing, that she has not run away or stiffened beneath me. On the contrary, as I helplessly stretch my fingers out to brush over the small strands of hair at the base of her neck, Quinn's rigidly perfect posture loosens and she falls down to sit again.

Seeing this, I am filled with recollections of last night's proclivities, of the way my thigh felt wrapped around Quinn's waist and the steady openness with which we kissed. Of the laughter and the sunshine and the feeling of sand caving beneath my touch. I remember everything and a resounding tremor beseeches my attention when I feel Quinn's presence flowing through my veins; dancing in delightful streams of warmth. Always, she will be inside me. I am sure.

Licking my lips, I boldly run my hand up through messy blonde tresses before placing a soothing kiss at the top of her head. The shaky breath that bursts from Quinn's lungs tells me that I have shocked her with the contact, but I cannot help but notice the slight incline her head makes as I pull away, as if searching to prolong the contact.

Reminding myself to be wary of pushing, I move to smooth my fingers along the sleek black of the auditorium's magnificent grand piano, following its shape until I am facing Quinn with the instrument sitting between us.

There is a light blush to her usually snowy skin and my eyes catch sight of the tip of a very pink tongue tracing over the tops of white teeth. A thrill rockets through me when I realize that she is aroused, that she is wanting, that with one brief touch I have caused color and light to bloom across her face.

Breathing out a sigh at this knowledge, my smile only extends further when I hear the distracted, almost dreamy quality Quinn's voice takes on.

"You were listening to me."

"I was.."

The grin that morphs onto my face at the fact that this has, in no way, upset Quinn, is so wide that it tightens my cheeks to the point of discomfort.

"..it was beautiful. I didn't recognize the piece."

Quinn seems to swallow away her haziness and she almost rolls her eyes when she gives me the title.

"White noise."

I am sure the piece is classical, neoclassical at least, it is definitely not even approaching contemporary, so the title makes absolutely no sense to me. Resting on my forearms, I pitch my weight to lean forwards against the piano slightly with a furrowed brow.

"What?"

Quinn's eyes drift down from mine and widen for a moment before she licks her lips, eyes zigzagging from one part of the piano to another, never staying in place. Finally, she seems to settle and is able to meet my gaze again.

"White noise.."

Quinn pushes out a short, humorless laugh and looks down at the shining keys lying prone before her.

"My father, he hated it. He called it white noise because it sounded like crackly static. It's.. pretty fast."

She wiggles her fingers and brings a few to absently close around the index finger on her right hand. I know that she dislocated it during Cheerios practice over a year ago and I'm sure that it still gives her troubles. The realization that she was able to pull off such a masterful performance regardless isn't lost on me.

My heart beats in fast staccato at what is about to leave my mouth. I know this is a change, this will be another shift, but if Quinn is not quite ready to go there herself then I will help her, I will lead her through these woods.

"This may not be the most appropriate thing to say, but I have noticed that your father can sometimes be an idiot."

The darkened hue that has overtaken Quinn's features lifts in a bright flash of shock. We are silent for a moment, or perhaps for two or three, but eventually, Quinn's eyes unfreeze and begin to blink again. She, almost wryly, nods her head in silent admission before clearing her throat, letting the moment drift away to the past.

"It's the third movement from Beethoven's fourteenth Sonata more commonly known as his Moonlight Sonata.[1] Most people are usually more familiar with the first movement."

As the words leave her mouth, Quinn's fingers come to life again. Almost by magic, they seamlessly begin to give shape to the somber, melodic sounds of Beethoven's first movement.[2]

She tilts her head as she plays, watching me closely. I realize that she is watching me watch her and this causes my heart to beat fast again.

There is romance in the notes, deeply rooted in echoes of sadness, but it is there; ribbons of love and adoration that ladies have been courted to for hundreds of years. It's there, and we are both aware of it. I wonder if this is how people feel when I sing to them, if this overwhelming connection translates to words as well as it does to melody.

A small smile ghosts over Quinn's relaxed features. I, for one, cannot fathom how she can appear so at ease with her hands so skillfully occupied. It makes me wonder about things, very private things, and I am skirting a nail over the curved piano edge when Quinn's voice tugs the fantasy of them away from my chest.

"Do you play?"

Working down the blush that I know has risen to my cheeks, I shake my head bashfully.

"No, not really."

"I could teach you sometime, I know some beautiful duets."

As though they cannot help themselves, Quinn's fingers shift and begin to softly play through the opening section of The Piano Duet[3] from the movie Corpse Bride. I know this, because fifteen months ago I overheard Artie defending the genius of Tim Burton to Santana and resolved to watch at least three of his movies before I made a judgment.

"Pardon my enthusiasm.."

Quinn's eyes drift down in front of me again and her shy, teasing voice is a feather against my heart. It tickles and tickles until I am racked with helpless shudders and throbs.

Before I even realize it, there is a very warm smile lighting my face. The thought of Quinn teaching me how to make sounds as beautiful as the ones I am hearing now fills me with joy.

Being musically minded, I had dedicated a small portion of my childhood to attempting to master the piano but I never made it past the basics, and not for any lack of trying on my part. Taking this into consideration, I feel it's only right to warn Quinn what she's getting herself into.

"I like your enthusiasm.. although, I have to warn you that I'm pretty terrible."

A light-hearted laugh sounds between us and the way my body responds to it makes me glad I am holding onto the piano. I swallow at the shaggy locks of Quinn's hair that gleam and glisten under the stage lights with every gentle shake of her head.

"Rachel Barbra Berry, I don't think you could be terrible at something if you tried."

Rolling my eyes I have to smile back, I enjoy the level of innate ability Quinn believes me to have, it makes me feel capable and strong and like there really is nothing in the world I couldn't do if I put my mind to it. Except for play the piano that is.

"Well, I'd never be as good as you."

Although her eyes never leave mine, Quinn's fingers stall for a brief moment before she plays a final chord, bringing her excerpt to an end.

"I've just spent a lot of time practicing."

Quinn's hands move to encircle her forearms, brushing over them in circles with what looks to be remembrance. I think about her flawless technique and her perfect posture and I feel as though I am walking in the dark and have stumbled over something unknown, there are apologies in my eyes but, after a soothing sigh, Quinn smiles them away.

Her gaze flutters from mine and the lid is clicked back on the instrument between us.

She pushes out from her stool and tilts her head again. Penetrating, watchful eyes regard my frame and I am helpless before them. I don't know what she's doing, or what she's looking for.

After a moment, I realize it's possible Quinn could be looking at my outfit. Shifting my eyes down to the clothing in question I frown, I had not put much thought into it today. Just a standard black pleated skirt and fitted purple t-shirt, although, glancing down at the plunging v neck my eyes widen when I realize I have been leaning over towards Quinn for the entirety of our conversation, thus, quite unknowingly, giving her a bit of.. um.. a show.

I'm about to push back in embarrassment when Quinn's dulcet tones fill the room again, stilling my restless limbs instantly.

"So.. I brought lunch."

She moves to trace the same path around the piano that I had forged moments ago, but, when I absentmindedly bend over to remove a piece of lint from the top of a knee high sock, she stutters in her approach, coming to a standstill roughly a foot away from me instead.

Seeing this, I prepare to turn and abandon my position at the piano altogether when, quite unexpectedly, a strikingly new chord curls itself around Quinn's throat and she breathes out a word that plunges the atmosphere between us into fog.

"Wait.."

My head turns in a fluid snap, completely disbelieving that I could be interpreting the profound depth in her voice correctly. But, without thinking twice, my hands move to rest flat against the piano the moment I register darkened eyes staring back at me.

"Please, stay.. stay like that, for a moment."

Her voice is unfocused, coming out in a strained murmur, and every new word that tumbles from Quinn's lips brings her closer to me until I can feel the subtle weight of her body pushing against mine.

It is a most delicious pressure, the kind that makes your chest collapse and your veins ache from the moisture that hisses to steam within them.

My eyes flutter closed and I instantly wish that I had thought to wear a longer skirt, or a pair of jeans, or a burlap sack, anything to minimize the amount of skin making contact with the air. Because every single inch of it has been shaking in hot tremors since the moment Quinn began her approach and I honestly don't know how I'm going to be able to handle anything more. This weak and tenuous resolve is further tested when a shy whisper tickles along the shell of my ear.

"I woke up covered in you today.."

My throat constricts at the words and, unbidden, an aching groan swells from deep within me. Quinn's voice has regained its trademark focus now. Each sound is shaped carefully and tells me that she is very much present in this moment. I know that my fingertips are sweating marks into the piano but I don't care, I am alight, beset by fever inside and out.

"..and since then, I just.."

The backs of my thighs fade into quivers when I feel a steady hand smooth its way up my spine. I try to hold back the sounds my body instinctively wants to make as I desperately scramble to find some purchase on how exactly I have ended up in this position.

Quinn was playing.. there was music.. duets.. walking in the dark.. and.. oh..

All thought dissolves from my mind when nimble fingers curl around my loosely falling hair and pull it to the side, exposing one half of my neck. The blood pumping within throbs with restless energy, I feel too small for these emotions, I feel ready to burst.

"Rachel.."

Again, I am undone by the wondrous inflection Quinn puts on my name, she says it like no other. She makes me sound like something beautiful, like something prized, something infinitely too desirable for words. Of course, I barely have time to think about any of this, because, the instant she says it, her lips are on my neck; puffing words like smoke against my pulsing skin.

"I've missed you."

I reach my limit then, in that clenching moment when the space between Quinn's lips and my skin is filled with the crackles of energy that bloom and burst between us. I fall back against her, hands deftly threading through mussed hair and pushing us closer together.

I want the contact, I want the pressure, the wetness of touch. At first, I am altogether not myself, almost out of control in the grip that I put on Quinn's hair, but the moment a shuddering intake of air gets whispered between us, everything falls into place again.

Quinn's lips are silken on my skin, their softness only punctuated by the bitingly stiff promises her teeth hold. She grazes them along the column of my neck in reverent, rapturous motions that make me want to cry out. Every tiny bite is a push against me, every heated kiss; a coiling in my stomach.

"Q-Quinn!"

The word seems to explode from my lips, jumping out in sharp staccato. It is a plea, a supplication. It is meant to communicate everything I have not the strength to say, all of the words that I want to put across to show Quinn how she is making me feel, how just being close to her is pushing me in ways I have never experienced. How ineffably ready I am just from her simple presence behind me.

My fingers dig in to curl loosely through Quinn's blonde tresses again before I spin myself around, too far gone to notice the plaintive groan of disappointment that leaves her mouth at the loss of contact. Grabbing for the belt loops of her jeans, I banish every ounce of space between us before crushing our lips together.

It is, all at once, far too much and nowhere near enough.

I feel at a cross roads. I know that we are standing in the middle of a high school auditorium on a school day with countless potential interruptions milling about the place and that all of these things mean that it is most definitely not an appropriate location to lose your virginity.

I know that Quinn is not ready for this, that there are things that hold her back and that, regardless of how effectively she is able to compartmentalize, there is still something that is upsetting her right now. I know it's not meant to happen like this at all.

Logically, I know all of this.

But none of that does anything to stop me from gasping against Quinn's mouth. From moaning at the taste of oranges on her lips, from curling my tongue against her in helpless, pleading shudders.

It is for this, and many other reasons, that I am eternally grateful when Quinn rasps a sigh of frustration into me before moving her hands to curl around my back; holding me in a tight embrace and stilling my escalating movements.

It is centering, tethering, settling.

It is an apology and a promise and it is exactly what I need to get my heartbeat to return to vaguely normal again.

In spite of my decreasing heart rate, my body is still struggling against waves of sensation. Clumsily grappling for control, it is with naive astonishment that I realize just how close I am to doing something inappropriate. Regardless of etiquette, my thighs clench in mourning of this opportunity.

Perhaps it is the endorphins pumping through my veins, perhaps it is Quinn's arms wrapping tightly around me, but I find the truth of this to be inappropriately hilarious and laughter bursts forth from my chest in uncontrolled rumbles of happiness.

"I..I missed you too."

Quinn's frame shakes in chuckles against me at the severity of the understatement. This lets me know that she too is experiencing an embarrassing loss of control in my presence. It makes a new kind of warmth spread through my stomach.

Eventually moving to pull back, I press up and touch our noses together in a brief kiss of contact. I try to remind myself, there is no rush. We have time.

"So. Lunch?"

Quinn's eyes are dazed for a moment and the fact that she is yet to let me go does not escape my noticing.

"Yes. Lunch."


We've been sitting in comfortable silence for quite a while now. Quinn's sub and salad have long since been demolished though I am only just starting on the second half of mine.

It is, as far as sandwiches go, the most amazing combination of ingredients I have ever had the pleasure of devouring. A dark, earthy loaf of rye layered with avocado, bursting with lashings of horseradish cream, alfalfa sprouts and other mixed greens. I even detect the faint undertone of roasted Portobello threaded throughout.

"This.. Quinn this is.."

I take a moment to finish chewing, eyelids dipping in pleasure at the complex layers of flavor exploding in my mouth.

"ngrh, what is this?"

When my eyes open again, I see Quinn sitting cross legged across from me, chin resting on her knuckles, a proud smile decorating her features.

"I'm calling it the Quinn Fabray."

Without thinking I nod and take another bite.

"It is absolutely the most delicious thing I have ever put in my mouth."

I'm too busy chewing and readying myself for another hit to pay attention to Quinn's laughter, it's not until her hands fall from her face, loosely coming to rest on her knees, that I realize what I've said.

"Oh..I..I didn't.. Oh, you know what?"

Rolling my eyes, I can't even bring myself to finish my stumbling apologies. There's a corner of the sandwich dripping with horseradish cream that has my name on it and I am far too enamored by this to allow bashfulness to get in my way.

"Whatever. I don't care. It is."

Quinn's grin is flirtatious and pleased, it hovers for a beat before melting away.

"I'll bet."

Placing the final remaining bite of sandwich in my mouth, I take another moment to blissfully chew before eventually recognizing that it might be a good idea to display at least a tiny ounce of decorum and grab for a napkin to dab at the messy corners of my lips.

There is a shift in the way Quinn looks at me then, she is wistful, her eyes begin to skirt along the edge of looking sad.

"So.."

Swallowing down the last wonderful mouthful of Quinn Fabray, I pick up a bottle of water and take a sip before shuffling in place, readying myself for what is to come. Quinn notices and her eyes lower all the more, the despondency in her posture fills me with sadness.

"Something's really wrong isn't it?"

Quinn nods, apparently not at all interested in covering up this fact anymore.

"Yeah. But I don't want you to know what it is because I want the moments I get to spend with you to be wonderful."

Shaking my head, I move closer and bring a hand to rest over Quinn's, squeezing tightly.

"Hey, it's been the best lunch date ever. Tell me."

I count then, one, two, three Mississippi's worth of contact before I pull away; I don't want to crowd. Still, once they've disconnected, my hand stays open next to Quinn's, waiting patiently should she decide to need it again.

Instead, Quinn does something unexpected and pushes herself up to stand, pulling me along after her.

She starts to pace in short motions; three steps left, three steps right. I have noticed that Quinn likes to move when she's anxious, she detests remaining stationary. Though, I have no more time to think on this because there's a hand stroking over the cross on her chest and then there are words rushing from her lips and into the air between us.

"Okay, so, I need your help."

Quinn's eyes widen as she speaks, as if she cannot believe she's even allowing herself to say the words. I don't take it personally, contrary to popular belief I do know when things are not about me. Immediately, I nod my head and focus on following Quinn's restless motions. This is an important moment, this is the beginning of something new, another step, and I'm not sure it even classifies as a baby step either.

"Yes. Of course. Always."

There's the muffled gurgle of a throaty swallow coming from Quinn's direction before she stills entirely, finally allowing a crumbling kind of dismay to creep into her features. She is as marvelous and heartbreaking as any classical sculpture. She is tragedy in repose, and I don't think my heart could feel any heavier than it already does, until she begins to speak.

"My mom called Fran this morning. They had a fight, but the point is, my parents have burnt all the letters I got from different colleges. I.. they burnt them. They set them on fire."

Quinn has been standing completely frozen through the words, but I have not. I have turned each sound into a step until there are only inches of space left separating us. Close to fifteen years of breath control lessons do absolutely nothing to stop my lungs from stuttering and spluttering in the vain attempt to draw air. I don't know what to say, I don't know how to feel.

This petty form of sabotage, this kick in the gut, it's really the most awful thing they could have done to her and I'm sure she knows it.

"Oh Quinn.."

I know this is inadequate, but her grief is so big and my words are so small. What could I possibly hope to say to make things okay? It doesn't seem as though Quinn minds, because she continues on regardless, fists hidden in her too-long sleeves, shoe squeaking with each rough kick she gives to the ground.

"and now, now I just.. I don't know what to do Rachel..Ijust..I just don't know what to do!"

Her voice is a bubbling torrent, a roller coaster of building pitch. My vision goes fuzzy as I try and process what I am being told and suddenly there is a rush of air against me, a surprisingly cool vacuum of space, and then there is weight and warmth and the wetness of tears on my stiff and contracting neck.

It takes me a moment to realize that Quinn has thrown herself against me, that her arms are once again joining around my back and squeezing, that she is holding herself to me. Without sparing another thought my arms lash out to squeeze back.

I want to unravel the layers holding my body together and give every ounce of strength I have to Quinn, I want to stroke my fingers through her hair until her trembles still and she doesn't feel quite so undone anymore.

I want so much to just make everything better.

"It's okay, everything is going to be okay. I'm going to help you and we're going to fix this."

At this, Quinn seems to completely lose composure and I'm not expecting the sudden lurch of weight she puts against me as she collapses. Holding tight, I try my best to lower our bodies to the ground in a somewhat controlled manner.

In any other scenario, the position would be awkward, but right now neither of us seem to care. Quinn is half sitting on top of me, looking to be in the midst of trying to crawl into my lap and my legs are folded awkwardly to the side while I try to keep balance. Stricken, helpless sounds are being murmured into my chest and my insides feel ravaged by the reality of our situation.

Up until now, Quinn's parents have been an other, a face of the past, something that had been overcome and not spoken of again. But now, now they are very much in the present again and I am sure that, regardless of whether or not Quinn wanted them in her life, a small part of her is still shattered that they would do this to her.

Using as much strength as I can muster, I bring my legs to cross on the floor and tug Quinn on top of me fully. She mumbles out a string of incoherent protests but does nothing to physically stop me from moving her. Once again she is compliant, she is.. pliable, and, swallowing down the razorblade lodged in my throat, I desperately try not to think about the last time I saw her so docile.

I know we can't go on like this, lunch will eventually finish and we will have to leave and, smoothing my hands along the small of Quinn's back, I know that she needs me to be strong in all of this. So, opening my mind, I start working to solve the problem. After long minutes, things begin to come together.

"Okay, first.."

I swallow, and tighten my hold with confidence, I can do this, this is something I know how to do.

"We're going to put an immediate flag up to redirect mail to your new address, that will make sure that nothing like this happens again. Next, you're going to come over to my house this afternoon and we'll compile a spreadsheet outlining all of the colleges you've applied for. It will take time but we'll check your status and get some answers, I promise."

Thinking for a moment, I try and calculate the most efficient way of approaching the issue, it's then that I remember Quinn recently made some changes to her applications anyway.

"Oh, I remember, you told me you redid some of your applications right? To get scholarship grants instead?"

I've noticed that, as I've been speaking, Quinn's tears have begun to mellow. She doesn't quite pull her head back as I voice my question, but I do feel her nod against me.

I am flush with strength at the trust implicit in the gesture. Because I'm helping. I can do this. I know how.

"Okay, so we'll only get in contact with your scholarship schools, there's.. you don't need to know if you've been accepted to programs you're not.." I want to say eligible for but I know it's not a helpful term to use so, licking my lips I search for another "..going to need anymore. Does that sound okay?"

Quinn pulls back slightly and lifts her head, just enough for me to feel the movement of her lips on my neck. If she pulled back a whisper further they wouldn't be brushing anymore, but it seems like she appreciates the contact, it seems like she needs the touch. Like my skin will somehow buffer the fear laced in her tone.

"I..I'm so scared Rach, everything has been going so well and now it feels like it's all ruined."

It's the bone-tired resignation in Quinn's voice that is finally my undoing. I hate her parents for what they've done, if I ever see either of them again I'm honestly not sure how I'll react, but I'll be damned if I'm going to let them ruin anything for Quinn. The battle's not lost. It hasn't even begun.

I promise myself, in that moment, that I will tolerate nothing short of complete victory. Because I am driven and I am exacting and I am Rachel freaking Berry and anything less than that will be entirely unacceptable.

I squeeze Quinn's body to mine tightly.

"Quinn, baby they haven't ruined anything, I promiseyou that we will make this okay."

The endearment is out of my mouth without me even realizing it, meaning, I honestly haven't even noticed I've said it. But Quinn has noticed, and it has caused her to stiffen in my grasp.

After a few seconds of confusion, I finally catch up to what's happening and I'm about to stumble a poorly constructed something out of my mouth when I'm effectively pinned to the spot by Quinn's eyes, which have snapped up to meet mine.

They are luminescent in their intensity. Stormy, viridescent galaxies churning in on themselves, the words on my tongue are all instantly lost. Everything is lost. I am hollow again.

Suddenly, wet, salty lips are shaking against my own in a kiss that is so delicate I almost don't know it's happening at all.

Quinn is kissing me as if I am paper and she is rain, as if even the slightest amount of pressure would cause everything to collapse. She is reverent, each touch shaped like a prayer, and I immediately stop worrying that I have overstepped a boundary or that I have knocked down an important barrier. Because, with each passing moment together, it is seeming more and more as though boundaries are expanding and barriers are ceasing to exist.

We continue thus, pressed together in mutual supplication, until her tears recede and my strength returns and, when we part, it is only by an inch. We are close enough that I can still feel her breath flutter across my cheeks.

"Rachel.."

Our foreheads come together then and I find that I am far too close to crying myself, because it's there again.. the tender yield, wrapping itself around the sound of my name. It makes me sure, sure that there is nothing I wouldn't do to protect what we have.

I take a breath and press a solid kiss to Quinn's damp cheek. It says; I love you, it says; I will always love you.

"Yes?"

The tip of that once dislocated index finger is tracing down my cheek, over my nose, around my chin. It slides upwards and smoothes out a furrowed crease in my brow that I did not even realized I had.

I can feel my heart blooming, my insides expanding; it fills my chest and my lungs and the very core of me. Inside and out. It just fills me up.

And then there are more words, in the shape of a question, which I will reserve pages forty five to seventy one of my memoirs to discussing. Because I am sure it will be the official beginning of the greatest adventure of my life.

"Be my girlfriend?"

Yes, in the years to come, I will dedicate twenty six pages to this question. To this moment. To every detail my analytical mind is currently cataloguing, like the particular shade of charcoal Quinn's jumper is, or the patterns the gelled stage lights are casting on our skin. I will remember everything and I will fill these pages to the brim with my recollections, and Quinn will give me hundreds of beautiful words to help me do it.

But, for now, I can only find one word, just one.

"Yes."

It is a tiny puff of air, a little breeze in such a big world, but, judging by the light it puts in Quinn's eyes, it blows her away anyway, and all I can think at that moment is how much of a genius A.A. Milne really was.

Because yes, sometimes it's the smallest things that take up the most room in your heart.


 

Chapter Text

Quinn.


It is an altogether surreal experience, to be standing at the front door of my girlfriend's house, waiting to ring the bell.

My girlfriend, who is Rachel Berry, and also.. a girl.

It has just ticked past five o'clock and the street is starting to fill with cars returning home for the day. I see husbands and wives and lovers and children all stepping into their homes and I feel like every single one of them is watching me.

Swallowing down my anxiety, I let my eyes slip closed as I grapple to regain some vague purchase on reality. My fear is nothing more than a fabrication. No one is watching, no one cares, there is no judgment here, and even if there were, don't care anymore because I have learnt how to do this.

I know that I've done nothing wrong, I know that there has been no sin and there is no need for contrition. I'm just a girl that's waiting in front of a door that someone I happen to be in love with is standing behind.

My fingers brush over the fabric of my jeans absentmindedly as I play out the note structure of Amazing Grace to soothe me. My father's cologne has not filled my nose, my mother's eyes are not boring into the back of my skull, and yet, I fiercely detest the panic that is filling my veins. I hate this hypervigilance, these prickles of fear under my skin.

I'm tired of the worry because it's all so contradictory; I am so grateful, I am so proud.. Rachel is an aria, she is sound and light and motion and a veritable starburst of wonder and she wants to be with me.. she has brought color to my world and she wants to be with me.

So, running a hand through my hair to organize any wayward locks, I bring a finger up to the doorbell of the Berry house and make a very deliberate push.

I know that neither of Rachel's fathers are going to answer. Before we parted this afternoon Rachel mentioned they were both working late. I can hear the soft thumping of footsteps beginning to descend stairs and it instinctively causes my heart rate to increase regardless.

In order to distract myself, I think about what happened this afternoon.

I think about the wonderful release I felt at finally getting to play the piano again, I think about the flesh of Rachel's neck under my lips, the way she arched beneath my teeth. I think about how completely undone I had felt when I told her what had happened, when everything that was holding me up seemed to evaporate all at once.

I think about the fact that she did not let me hit the ground.

The metallic click of a lock being pulled back shifts my focus to the door handle. It jiggles for a moment before twisting and, after a sudden whoosh of air, I am met with Rachel's smiling face.

Everything crystallizes then, in that brilliant moment where I finally think about the fact that the wonderful creature standing in front of me is my girlfriend now. That we are finally more than just the feelings we project, more than just a collision, a collection, a storm. That we are finally just.. more.

The instant Rachel greets me with a shy "ahoy" everything within me expands.

She has replaced the outfit she wore to school today with a pair of loose fitted sweatpants and a wide-collared aubergine t-shirt. Her hair has been tied up in a casual ponytail and there is a thick black headband keeping the wilier strands at bay.

I know what she's doing, I know why she's dressing down. I know she doesn't trust that we'll be able to handle anything even remotely revealing today but all of this knowing does nothing to quell the typhoon spinning through my chest and I actually have to lean against the doorframe for support.

I want to say 'you look so beautiful right now' because the truth of the statement is sounding so loudly in my ears, because I've been brave enough to say it before and because Rachel is my girlfriend now so I should be able to say it again.

But I take too long, I miss the moment, because, all of a sudden, Rachel is giving me a nervous smile and grabbing the cuff of my jumper to tug me inside.

I look down at the incidental contact, at how unconsciously I have allowed it. Even more so, at how my entire arm is relishing the closeness. Usually, I am still so unprepared for people to step into my space. But I am learning that Rachel is not people, she is my gatekeeper, and when my ears finally tune into the sentence she's been rambling out since the door closed, I curl my fingers around her wrist and squeeze.

"..not that I'm opposed or anything, I just think it would be more mutually beneficial if we were to stay in line with my original plan and.. um.."

As if by magic, the talking stops and Rachel's entire body stills; waiting.

My eyelids flutter down the line of her body, now so close and warm by mine. I see a smudge of ink sitting above Rachel's elbow, I see a faded stain on her sweats and I see a pair of gray socks with yellow stars peeking out from underneath them.

There has been too much silence, too much avoidance, too much letting go. The Fabray way has only ever caused heartache for the both of us, so I take a breath and let my fingers squeeze the wrist in mine again. I ache with every steady throb I feel.

"You're beautiful."

Rachel's entire face flushes and the wide collar of her loose t-shirt means that I can see the blush bloom all the way down her throat to the smooth ridges of her breastbone.

"I.."

I have not said the words to flatter, this is not an empty compliment, and I am sure that's why Rachel finds it so hard to deal with. I know she has no idea how beautiful she is, I know she finds this hard, but I don't let it bother me. Because I believe her when she says she will help me fix the mess I've made and then, when all is done, I will have time. I will have time to tell her, to show her.. everything.

Her mouth fumbles for another moment or two before she finally settles on a softly spoken "thank you". My fingers uncurl from around her wrist and I feel my lips begin to gently curve upwards.

I know what Rachel needs to do to recover, so I wait patiently for her to continue.

She clears her throat and runs a finger absently above the wrist that I have released before closing her entire hand over it in a casual stance. One hip juts out in time with an almost perfectly raised eyebrow and I feel very much like I'm about to get another lecture on going sharp in Glee club.

"I'm going to suppose that you weren't paying attention to any of the words coming out of my mouth just then, is this a fair assumption?"

My smile widens, tinted with guilt, I nod.

"Sorry.."

"That's.. okay."

Rachel huffs good naturedly and rolls her eyes before starting again, leading me down the hallway as she speaks.

"I was saying that, in light of recent physical developments between us, I feel it's probably more appropriate for us to explore your college opportunities on the couch in the living room rather than in my.. bedroom."

It is now my turn to blush madly, and indeed I do. I feel the heat overtake my body like wildfire and can't help but let an embarrassed, choked laugh slip away from me.

When I finally regain enough function to lift my eyes from their place at the floor, I see Rachel grinning at me happily and that in itself is almost enough to cause me to retaliate. But I don't, because of course, she's right.. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind what would happen if we were to go.. there.

My eyes dart up the staircase ahead of us, I remember being here before. I remember tears and Rachel's hands undressing me and falling asleep covered in lemon sherbet. It's not the right time to go back there again. So, shaking myself from my thoughts, I fix Rachel with a gentle stare and nod in agreement.

"I think that's probably.. wise."

It's not the admission I want it to be, but it's the closest I can come in the present moment to telling Rachel how much I want her, to acknowledging that she is most definitely not alone in this. I think that I'm successful because Rachel actually flushes again at my words, albeit mildly, before shooting me an almost rueful smile and spinning towards the living room.

"Let's go then."

As we move, I take the opportunity to look around. There is a dusky kind of light moving through the house, it's being caused by the window blinds glowing orange in the afternoon sun. This matches the rest of the house perfectly because everything around us seems wooden and warm; there are summer palettes of creams and peaches and apricots littered throughout the hallway and rows of pictures hanging on the walls in thick white frames.

Taking a moment to look at them, I smile widely when I see Rachel. In all her forms.

There is baby Rachel; a smiling infant with impossibly large eyes that has an arm extended towards the camera, already interested and reaching.

There is preschool Rachel; with frizzy hair, a frilly dress and a rather determined line to her jaw. She is smiling proudly wearing miniature tap shoes on her tiny feet.

There is a section of wall dusted with small photographs of the Berry family wearing white, obviously the result of a photo shoot. I see one in particular of Rachel with the Berry men; Hiram and Leroy.

Hiram has a casual arm draped around Rachel's shoulders and is pulling her off balance, Leroy is in the background wrapping his arms around the pair of them in a tight hold. All of their expressions are wonderfully captured. Hiram is full of excited mischief, Leroy is full of strength and love, and Rachel.. Rachel is exuding an embarrassed kind of affection for the both of them.

When I look closer to try and place the date, I see that she has the shy awkwardness of an early teen. This must have been only a year or two before junior high, before I started at McKinley and we.. met.

I know that I have slowed my walk to a crawl but I cannot look away, there are more photos now. More competitions and photo shoots and practice head shots, more laughter and hugs and smiling. There are pictures of Rachel glaring heartily while her fathers fumble with a fish on a boat, there are pictures of Hiram and Leroy in different cities around the world.. and finally, just as we are about to reach the end of the hallway, there is a picture of Glee club at Regionals last year.

I'm there, smiling blankly towards the camera, but that's not what causes me to stop dead in my tracks. I stop because I see Rachel in the photo, standing just apart from the group. I see Rachel who.. who is looking.. looking right at me..

Watching.

It is a full body, full face, completely-side-on-and-ignoring-the-camera stare and seeing it causes me to press a hand to the wall for stability.

My questioning eyes snap towards Rachel and I find her leaning against the wall with her arms crossed, a smile small sitting on her face. The angle is causing her loose t-shirt to drift downwards, exposing the curve of a shoulder to me. For a moment, I honestly don't know what to say and thankfully, in the end, I don't have to say anything at all.

"My fathers still don't understand why I chose that photo for the wall, but.. you looked especially beautiful that night, I almost forgot my cues."

A deep, tremulous breath is exhaled in a rush of air that makes my teeth feel cold. I spent so much time not looking that I ended up not being able to see. But, staring at Rachel's still smiling face, my eyes are open now, I know exactly what's in front of me. The words tumble out before I even have a moment to register them.

"May I kiss you?"

Color blooms on my cheeks because really? May I kiss you? It seems like possibly the corniest thing I could have asked but the way that Rachel looks at me, as if I've done something amazing, as if I've just jumped into space and given her a star to wear around her neck, I want to say it again and again.

She rushes out a sigh that sounds almost nervous, disbelieving.. it causes my eyebrows to twitch in uncertainty. But then Rachel's arms are uncrossing and moving to rest behind her back. Her eyes are flirting with the idea of being tearful and if it weren't for the smile that was glowing on her face I would be feeling very worried.

She swipes her tongue over her lips once before those eyes focus on me and instantly make me feel as though I have been captured. Her voice is soft, low, respectful of the words she is shaping, as if speaking them too loudly will insult their importance.

"Well, you're my girlfriend now so I'm fairly sure you don't need to ask."

There is a beat of time, just a small ripple of motion, and then my lips are pressing into Rachel's with a surety that has us both swooning. I hold myself back from pressing our bodies together because I don't want to lose myself, I want to hold onto everything that's happening right now and this in itself is still unusual for me, to not want to forget the things that happen in my day.

To want to focus and collect and replay everything at night in my dreams. In my room. In my bed. My bed that Rachel has pressed herself into.

I sigh deeply against the wetness of her lips before pulling back on wobbly knees, leaving trails of tiny kisses in my retreat. I want so much to stay, but there is so much to do and so many things at stake that I feel I cannot linger. Our lips graze together in a barely-there whisper one last time before I pull away and take a few purposeful steps back, shoving my itching hands in the pockets of my jeans.

"Thank you."

I know it's unnecessary, but almost eighteen years of manners dictate that when someone gifts you with something of worth you say thank you, and that was definitely something of worth. Rachel laughs shyly and brings a hand up to fix her already fixed hair. It is a nervous gesture of hers and never fails to make me smile.

Without another word, we both push off from our positions and turn the corner, strolling into a comfortable looking living room with two recliners and a couch.

My smile quirks slightly when I look down at the coffee table. Various snacks are sitting in uniform purple bowls that have been arranged in a perfect circle. There are four matching plastic cups sitting either side of a jug of iced tea and there is also a bottle of soda sitting on ice.

"I bought soda, and tea.. and I wasn't sure what you'd like in the way of starches so I settled for regular potato chips."

I glance over to Rachel and see that she is watching me closely, hands wringing together in gentle twists.

"Um.. thank you?"

A slightly shaky breath leaves her lungs and she nods silently, clearly tossing up between sitting down right away or standing up for a bit longer. My eyebrow rises slightly at the way she is worrying her bottom lip with her teeth.

"You're nervous."

It's not an accusation, more of a gentle observation, it causes Rachel to look at me for a moment before just nodding silently. It is this silence that begins to concern me, I tilt my head slightly and take Rachel in before moving my gaze back to the neatly presented snacks and beverages she's arranged at the table. Suddenly, a frown tugs at my face.

"Because of me?"

I haven't even thought of this, it took me a long time to open my door to Rachel and here I am waltzing into her house with my problems and I haven't even taken the time to ask her if it was okay, I mean, I know Rachel invited me, but Rachel would invite a naked homeless person with a foot fetish into her home if they needed her help. My mind is about to devolve into full blown panic when Rachel shakes her head vehemently.

"Not in the way you're thinking."

I blink silently, not even feigning surprise that she has instantly understood where my thoughts have gone. She is my gatekeeper, she knows all the pathways that litter my mind. There's a light color to Rachel's cheeks as she looks down to the coffee table as well. Her sigh is small, her tone; embarrassed.

"I.. I don't usually have people over."

I realize then, it is not that Rachel has opened her door to me, it is that Rachel has opened her door and someone has actually walked through it. My eyes dip closed for a moment in regret.

So many mistakes, so much hurt. There is no instant fix.

But then I remember that we are not standing still, that there is always movement. Because Rachel has opened her door to me and I have walked through it and there is going to be a party this weekend and, if there is one thing I am learning, it is that, in life, there always exists the opportunity for change.

So, looking at Rachel's hopeful face, I smile happily and grab a handful of perfectly rounded potato chips from the closest bowl.

"Oh, well, you're doing great, a very considerate hostess. Although you didn't offer to take my jacket when I walked in so.."

The chips crunch loudly in my mouth but I can still hear the horrified gasp that leaves Rachel's lips.

"Oh! I'm.. but.. you weren't wearing a ja-..."

I try to swallow around the grin on my face, which is only widened by the unimpressed derision singing in Rachel's eyes.

"You ass."

I'm pretty sure that, when I laugh, more than one fragment of chip makes its way from my mouth to the surrounding atmosphere, but hearing Rachel approach anything even remotely close to cussing is totally worth it.

"Wow, offering me a beverage to calling me an ass in two sentences? We've gotta work on your people skills."

Rachel's head falls to the side as she watches me, I see far more affection in her face than I know what to do with so I end up just forcing a jagged swallow of sharp potato chip down my throat and smiling again.

She spins around and grabs a bright pink bedazzled laptop off of a side table before literally bouncing onto the sofa. I think she must see the look I'm giving the object because not a second passes before I see one perfectly tanned finger pointing at me in warning.

"Not one word."

I laugh and move to pour us both a glass of iced tea because instinctively, somewhere in the back of my mind, I know that Rachel doesn't drink anything with bubbles after five o'clock. I smile at the tiny wedges of lemon that are at the bottom of two of the plastic cups before looking back up at Rachel.

"Really? Not even one? Because I know so many.. like.." my eyes scan over the glittering pink beads on Rachel's lap in mirth "foofaraw.. frippery.."

I'm about to continue when Rachel clicks open her laptop, making a show of cutting me off with a disinterested, dismissive tone.

"I'm fairly sure I could guess what those words mean."

Crouching down to move the now full cups closer to the sofa, I laugh at the studious way she is attempting to ignore me. I rake a hand through my hair and drop my face slightly, trying to catch Rachel's eyes through the side of her laptop.

"It's part of my charm you know."

I have no idea how to appear roguish or charming, in fact, I'm fairly sure I've just caused a rather large section of my fringe to stick out unpleasantly. But I don't worry about this imperfection at all because Rachel gives me an indulgent smile and pats the soft cushion next to her invitingly.

"Just get on the couch Fabray."

And then, I don't say anything at all. Because really.. how could anyone argue with that?


I am sitting on the couch next to Rachel with a notebook of messy scribbles in my lap. Our light-hearted banter all but disappeared the moment I sat down, replaced instead by a quiet, somber energy.

Rachel's eyes flicker over to my list as she pivots herself towards me.

"Is that all of them?"

I look down at the small collection of bullet points. That's my future.. eleven colleges, randomly stationed in different areas of the country.

"That's it."

"Okay, so I'll start researching the most effective ways of contacting them and write down the office numbers. That way we can call them tomorrow in business hours and get some answers. I.. I hope you don't mind, I also took the liberty of organizing your mail redirect when I got home from school. I may have had to fake your identity and pay extra to have it effective immediately but everything will definitely go to Fran's address from now on."

A part of me wants to instinctively object to the amount of money Rachel would have had to have spent on this, but then I see the look on her face.. the searching, nervous look, as if I would actually mind that she has taken my problem and made it our problem and is now committing herself to helping me fix it.

It doesn't even occur to me that, not that long ago, I definitely would have.. so I nod gratefully and accept what she has gifted to me.

"Thank you so much."

Now that we're actually beginning the process of recording numbers, the reality that my future is only a phone call away starts to sink in. Every bullet point in the list feels like a stone on my chest and, without thought, my hand reaches up to rub over my clavicle.

Rachel pauses typing for a moment. She isn't looking at me but I can feel that every inch of her body is focusing on mine. It makes me feel comforted without the pressure of eye contact and, as a result, I slip slightly further in love.

When I settle, Rachel's hand skims down the page on my lap, she taps over the final bullet point in careful thought before she speaks.

"This is a good list of colleges Quinn, any of them would be lucky to have you."

I bite my lip and nod, I know that they're good, that some of them are very good.. that's what has me worried. What if they're too good? What if I'm not good enough? My references and admission letters are sound, I know this.

But what if they see through all of these things and realize that the messed up lesbian ex cheerleader Christian whatever the hell I am just isn't worth their charity? I've never had to apply for anything before in my life, I've never run the risk of not being chosen. The very notion terrifies me.

Rachel's hands are back on her keyboard now, poised in perfect touch typing formation, they are tense and unmoving. I think about getting an acceptance letter for somewhere like Chapman University, it's a six hour flight from Orange to New York.

"Do you.. I'd like to be the one to call them, if that's okay?"

It's not that I don't trust Rachel, but.. I don't know what I'll do if I get accepted to a college that's hours away or comes with a set of conditions or.. I don't know. Things are complicated right now, I am not letting Rachel go, but all of this uncertainty just leaves me with a head full of doubt and a heart full of worry.

Rachel looks over to me for a moment before nodding again, her fingers move over the keys of her laptop in rhythmic clicks as she speaks.

"Of course. This is.. Quinn any answers you get should be for your ears alone, I'll be here when you're ready to share them."

I know that she's trying not to make any of this sound like a big deal and I'm grateful for it, because the reality of the situation is that, right now, there are only three schools on my list that are in New York and there's nothing either of us can do but wait.

More minutes pass and then Rachel is emailing me a finalized spreadsheet of my college options, complete with fastest call times and specific department contact names. I'm about to start copying down some of the information Rachel has up on her screen, if only just to give my mind something to focus on, when she suddenly snaps the computer closed with a sharp click.

I'm still pointlessly blinking at where the screen used to be when Rachel spins completely in her position, placing the laptop on the floor by our plastic cups.

There's a panicked kind of conflict shining in the gaze that meets mine and, just for a moment, I feel the urge to bolt when I see it. Instead, I turn around in my position as well, crossing my legs and waiting for Rachel to say what's on her mind.

"Go ahead."

"I'm.. I'm so sorry they did this to you. They had no right. None at all."

I am not expecting the apology, really, I am not expecting any of the words. The truth of them shoots right through my skin and settles around my organs, constricting against them. It makes me feel like everything that is keeping me alive is in mourning.

It's then that I notice the color purple and resolve that I have shut my eyes tightly. Forcing them open again, I know that they must be turning an awful shade of red. I can feel the capillaries bursting in tiny stinging waves. My throat swallows tightly and I nod, everything within me wants to run away from this conversation, but my hands grip around the cuffs of my jumper and I stay.

"I know."

Rachel is upset, escalated, as if she has been trying her best to keep this inside all day and it has finally just become enough. I doubt that she can see my discomfort over her own.

"It's abhorrent, I mean, it's not just cruel, it's illegal Quinn."

I begin to feel dizzy at the feelings that are whirling around in my gut. I am aware of all of this, I understand the law, but what is justice in a family like mine?

"I know.."

Rachel's hands bunch up in the material of her sweats as she leans back slightly, eyes shifting off to the side, obviously in the clutches of a runaway thought.

"Of course this is entirely your decision but if you were amenable to getting the police involved I'm fairly sure we could."

My eyes sink closed again, it's too much. I can't.. I don't know how to respond to any of this. I'm barely keeping myself together over my college situation and now..

"What I really mean to ask is, do you.. I mean, is there a part of you that wants to confront them?"

"Rach please.."

The plea slips from my mouth quietly but the effect is immediate, Rachel's eyes snap back to meet mine and she closes her mouth with a pop. I have no idea how to communicate how unsafe this conversation makes me feel, so I resort to the only words I'm sure she'll understand.

"Code black Rach, I.. code black."

There is a gentle nod then and I can see a stream of apologies readying to deploy from her lips. I stop them with a finger, it presses down lightly, grazing over soft skin before falling away. I don't need apologies, I understand the curiosity, and I take a moment to push myself and think on exactly why I find talking about this so painful.

"There's a part of me that wants to hurt them."

I lick over my lips in restless worry the moment I make the confession because there really, really is. Sometimes it suffocates me, how badly I want to exact revenge, how badly I want them to hurt like I hurt. But the feeling always passes, and I'm left alone anyway, injured.

I take a breath and start again.

"It makes me worry about how similar we are, and it's one of the reasons that I'm not going to approach them again."

I am absolutely sure that every inch of my body is screaming to be left alone, but Rachel bypasses all of these warnings and rests both of her hands on mine, pulling them from where they've landed on my lap to the patch of sofa between us. As always, I am astounded by how much I don't mind the intrusion.

"You are nothing like your parents, if anything you take after you sister. But, if you ever want to.. I don't know, do something dramatic like show up on their doorstep demanding answers, I want you to know that I am always available to be your backup, whenever you need okay?"

There's a stammer in my heart at being compared to Fran. She is exactly the kind of person I am striving to become, I want the open heart, I want the easy smile, I want to feel better, I want the pain to go away.

But then I remember the snapping of Fran's nails and how wet her tears were against my chest and I think that no one is perfect. We all get hurt, what matters is what we choose to do after the hurt. So then I wonder, what will I choose to do? I blink for a moment and give Rachel a small, thankful smile.

"Thank you, but I think.. I never want to see them again. I used to feel spiteful when I'd think that, but now.. I just don't want them in my life anymore."

Rachel nods in easy acceptance and we sit in silence for a moment, there is a beautifully scripted 'R' being traced against the skin of my palm and it makes me feel owned, in a wonderful, gentle, open kind of way. As if I am a beautiful flower that Rachel is keeping in her hair. As if I am a shell that she has borrowed from the beach.

I move my hand to touch the tip of my index finger to hers, it is now our only point of contact. For some reason, I find the intense focus of this small joining to be incredibly distracting and my eyes begin to flutter. I swallow after a moment, trying to remember what it was I wanted to say.

"Maybe.. maybe later, I mean, in a few years, when I have something and I'm not so.."

I want to say: alone, vulnerable, poor, shattered.

I settle for: young.

"But not now, not yet."

"..Okay."

There is another easy nod and I am sure that Rachel is about to say something more, but the moment is quickly stolen away from us when the distinct sound of a key being pushed into a lock filters into the room.

My eyes automatically widen when I realize what is happening but, almost immediately, there is a warm hand closing over my shoulder and Rachel's eyes are very close to mine.

"It's okay, it's just my dad, he's home early. We're alright.. okay?"

I blink rapidly. Are we? Because I'm fairly sure that I'm definitely not okay, I feel like I've just been caught breaking into someone's house, but before I can do anything other than shoot up to stand next to Rachel, there's a voice sounding through the quiet.

"Hey honey bear, I'm home!"

Okay, so it's perhaps not the most terrifying opening line he could have used, but my hands are still shaking as I step forward with Rachel to watch Hiram Berry walk towards us. He has a number of shopping bags in his arms and is clumsily flailing with an overloaded set of car keys. I know I can't be sure of any biological connections, but I find the similarities in gait and movement and gesture that exist between him and Rachel to be completely overwhelming.

"Jenny said she'd cover the last chunk of my shift so I am al- oh! Hello!"

My mouth morphs into a helpless smile the moment Hiram looks at me. I am completely at a loss for what to do so, instinctively, I move to take one of the shopping bags he is being weighed down by.

"Um, here, let me help you sir."

I am slightly more relaxed the moment the groceries are in my arms, they give me something to hold onto, even if I do have to focus on not piercing through the brown paper bag in panic. I am sure that Hiram notices nothing of this because he shuffles the remaining bags in his grip and fixes Rachel with an amused smile.

"My my Rachel, your new friend has manners, I like it."

Rachel takes a step closer to her father and relieves him of another bag. She glances between us momentarily before social convention catches up to her.

"Dad, this is Quinn."

My free hand twitches for a moment as I fight the urge to rearrange my clothing. Finally, I compose myself enough to push out a rather lackluster greeting.

"Um, hi.."

"Oh of course, wonderful to meet you Quinn!"

Hiram brings a hand up and, as I automatically slip mine into it, shaking lightly, I see the friendly manner he's been approaching me with stall for a moment. There is a silent beat before our hands both drop away, Hiram's limply resting at his side and mine pushing into the pocket of my jeans in spite of knowing how rude the gesture is considered to be in formal etiquette.

".. wait.. Quinn Fabray?"

I hear it right away, I hear the question in his tone, the unspoken judgment. I nod my head and submit to what I know is coming next.

"Yes."

And there it is, the ever present padlock chained around my heels. Yes, I'm a Fabray. Rachel seems to be the only one I know that makes it sound like it could be a good thing, or at least, not a terrible thing.. like it's just a name and not an all-defining aspect of my existence. My alpha and omega.

"Is that going to be a problem Dad?"

I am, for once, very glad to not be on the receiving end of Rachel's gaze. She is pinning her father with a rather determined stare and it's only then that I realize she has positioned herself in front of me slightly, like a tiny Jewish human shield. The bravery so deeply ingrained in her bones is enough to make me smile, in spite of the situation. She has always been so fearless.

For his part, Hiram looks very much like he's actually considering contesting the point until he takes a breath and looks back at me. I have no idea what happens then, I have no idea if it's the look on my face or the red in my eyes or the cut of my hair or the way that Rachel has stepped back in her protective stance to stand close, almost flush, against the front of my body.

Maybe it's all of these things put together, but something happens and Hiram's eyes soften as he steps back.

"Oh sweetie.. I had no idea. When did this happen?"

They are having a silent conversation, I know this. I have no idea what's being said and I'm sure it's not my place to, so I stay in position and wait. Rachel's voice surprises me when she finally speaks up. It is unsure, shy, trembling with a weakness I have never heard before.

"It's been a while dad, we just hadn't.. this.." she gestures between us and my eyebrows shoot up as I finally catch on to exactly what conversation is taking place. "This is very new, today actually."

Rachel's chin is raised, but I have heard the tremor, tiny and hidden as it was, I can feel the fear. Because it is always a terrifying thing, to face the risk of disappointing your father. I know the feeling more intimately than most.

I think about the story of Jonah and the whale, and how sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to let it swallow you whole.

I'm not sure if it's the right thing to do at all, but I inch my hand towards Rachel's in a smooth motion and lace our fingers together. Moving until I'm standing beside her with our arms pressed close.

I haven't been this terrified since I landed on Fran's doorstep, but the firm grasp Rachel has on my hand is more than enough to see me through. She has been so strong, it's my turn now, I will hold her up and break her fall should she begin to stumble.

Hiram looks at me then, it is a long, drawn out, penetrating gaze that has my hand sweating as it clutches onto Rachel's. Finally, just when I feel as though I can't take anymore, he places the rest of his shopping down on the sofa and grins.

"Right, well, she's definitely a lot nicer to look at than the lanky one you used to bring around. The open door policy we instigated with him still stands by the way, regardless of pregnancy concerns.. and I want written warning when you're planning on having visits.. and.."

I am pretty sure my eyes are impossibly wide at this point. Open door policies and written warnings.. I have absolutely no experience with any of this and I am sure that Mr. Berry wants to put me in a blender and whizz me up as fertilizer for leading his daughter astray until there's a warm hand resting over my bicep and the mischievous Hiram Berry smile from the photograph in the hall is being aimed at me.

"..and it really is wonderful to meet you Quinn."

My gross motor reflexes spasm and the bag in my arm wobbles clumsily. I snap my head between Hiram and Rachel to find that they are both smiling at me. Words are slow to come to my lips, but when they finally make it, I mean every one.

"I... it's wonderful to meet you too Mr. Berry."

There's a hand flying carelessly through the air at the formality and suddenly, all the tension of the past minute disappears.

"Oh pish, please call me Hiram. Now how about I get us some drinks and you girls can tell me all about how you um.." He raises a curious eyebrow between Rachel and I before he continues, already leading us both towards the kitchen "got to know each other?"

"Oh my God, dad!"

There's a sharp smack of skin on skin as Rachel scolds her father and in the space of a single heartbeat so much occurs in my mind. First there is a flash of sadness at the fact that this particular sound would definitely have not been followed by laughter in my family home.

Next, there is a prayer of thanks that Rachel has no understanding of this and, finally, everything settles into a warm hum of hope at the realization that the sadness I feel is part of my past and that my present is very much encapsulated by the feeling of Hiram Berry's hand,pulling me along.


It's only a tiny glimmer, a small layer of understanding that I gather in the next fifteen minutes. We are sitting in the kitchen of the Berry home with cups of blackcurrant cordial in our hands when it happens.

Hiram's voice is wistful as he swirls the drink in his glass, making it look more like concentrated alcohol and less like concentrated sugar.

"You know, Rachel loves blackcurrant cordial Quinn, she used to cry when we'd only let her have one glass a day."

Rachel sighs in exasperation at our giggles before looking between us helplessly.

"I was six!"

Hiram doesn't miss a beat as he leans over the table to come closer to me.

"..and already a diva, can you imagine?"

I try to control the volume of my laughter as I roll my eyes, but this is all so lovely. It's exactly the kind of family moment that well.. families have. I never want it to end. Clearing the emotion out of my throat, I fix Rachel with a look of teasing consideration.

"Well, I want to sound surprised."

My eyes flicker down as Rachel takes a long drink of her cordial before pulling away slightly and mouthing the word "a-s-s" to me. The move is altogether far too stimulating to be happening while sitting at a table with her father so I look away, trying not to blush too noticeably.

"So, tell me!"

Hiram gestures wildly between the two of us and he looks every bit the high school gossip queen, the image makes me laugh rather embarrassingly into my cup but no one notices because Rachel is already taking a deep breath and proudly taking the floor, ready to answer whatever questions her father may have.

Before anything more can be said, there's a high pitched alarm sounding in Hiram's pocket and he whips out a beeper, controlled panic immediately evident in his gaze.

"Damn."

I see Rachel let out the breath she had been taking and look down into her drink, not even bothering to lift her gaze as she speaks.

"Everything okay dad?"

Hiram is already putting on his jacket and searching for the jumbled mess of keys he carries with him.

"There's been an incorrect discharge, I have to get back to the hospital sweetie. I'll be back in an hour or two alright? Eat your dinner and don't stay up too late and oh!"

He pauses in his rushed exit to kiss Rachel on the head and fixes me with a smile.

"It's been lovely Quinn, organize to come to dinner the next weekend you're free okay? Saturday is family day and I know my darling husband is going to want to meet you."

"Um okay, yes, of course."

I barely have enough time to nod before there are scrambled footsteps heading away from us and a door being slammed closed in haste.

It feels as though all of the warmth in the room has left and the silence is only made louder when Rachel whispers out a quiet "bye..." to her father's empty chair.

She stands then and automatically collects the three glasses, placing them in the sink to be washed. I am still blinking dumbly at Hiram's sudden departure, I can still feel the warmth of his hand on my arm, I can still..

My eyes snap over to where Rachel is leaning against the sink.

Immediately, I push out from my chair and come to stand behind her. Usually I would worry that I didn't have the right things to say. But, for this moment, my lack of verbal skills are blissfully irrelevant. Because neither Rachel nor myself say a word as my arms move to slip around her waist and she folds herself into me, swallowing a sob.


Seven minutes later we are leaving the kitchen and there are three dirty glasses still sitting in the sink. It must be a strange and hurtful thing, to have a father so present and loving only available to you for five percent of your day. But Rachel is already recovering, already wiping the sadness away and continuing on.

"I have a surprise for you.."

I don't know how she does it, how she manages the juggle. Her fathers love her, there is evidence of this fact stapled to every inch of this beautifully crafted house. They love her, but.. I look over to Rachel, who is now leading me by the hand into the formal dining room.

She pauses when we get to the door and turns around, shooting an amazingly genuine smile my way.

"Are you ready?"

I blink at the childlike anticipation written on her face and don't even try to stop myself from pressing my lips against a rosy cheek. The contact is fleeting, almost chaste, but I try and convey the love I feel through every millimeter of contact.

"I'm ready."

Rachel stares at me for a moment, a wonderfully dazed expression floating over her features, before she carelessly pushes the door open.

When I look through it, I see a well carved dining set for six with a glass cabinet pressed against the closest wall. My eyes widen however when I look at what sits in the far corner of the room.

It's a piano, a wonderfully petite upright Baldwin, colored a deep and woody chestnut brown.

"Rachel! Oh my God!"

I race over to the instrument and run my fingers along its length, not quite touching the wood. It's a beautiful piece of craftsmanship and I am sure, were I to lift the fallboard, I would see that the keys would be a rich honey cream.

"This is beautiful.. who plays?"

I look up to see Rachel smiling at me from her place at the door, she has been watching me and the knowledge of this sends a shy wave cresting through my chest.

"Well, my daddy does a bit. To be honest, my fathers bought it for me when I went through my piano phase and now we really only use it for the holidays.. go ahead, give it a go."

My eyes widen as I look from Rachel to the piano.

"Oh.. I.. I couldn't.."

There are footsteps then, muted by fluffy gray and yellow star socks and the softness of the rug on the floor. Rachel's fingers curl around the fallboard and bring it up with a soft click. My smile is almost watery when I see the rich honey tones of the keys shining up at me.

"Please play something.."

I'm sitting on the piano stool before I even know it and my hands have a gentle shake to them the first time they touch the keys. It is an intimate thing, to meet a piano for the first time. Especially one that is Rachel's.. one that is Rachel. Because it really is, if Rachel were an instrument she'd look exactly like this;all made up of lush brown tones and caramel keys and.. my finger presses lightly into a G sharp and I almost shiver at the richness of the sound.

Beautiful.

Without another thought I am closing my eyes and playing the first thing that bursts through my chest. The low, opening chords of a composition of Hans Zimmer's 'Time'[1] that I've been working on recently sounds throughout the room. My bottom lip is buried in my mouth and my teeth are pressing hard because there is a vulnerable kind of passion that overtakes me when I play this piece.

It always makes me think of Rachel, I see her and smell her and feel her and breathe her with each note I play because every second I spend in her presence makes me feel as though I'm apart from the chronological world. As though I am separate, safely encircled and beautifully hidden from clocks and time and all forms of inevitability. She is my dream within a dream.

The instrument has a wonderful sound, rich and vibrant and bursting with potential. I think about all the wonderful sounds I could cause it to make. I think about how every part of it feels like Rachel. How every arpeggio sounds like a cry, every drawn out chord a lingering kiss.

My eyes slip open when I sound the last chord and I am almost shocked to find Rachel standing by the side of the piano, smiling in.. in something I don't recognize. It makes me blink and stroke over the slickness of the keys beneath my fingers in absent patterns.

"I honestly don't know how you do it.."

Something warm whispers up my neck before finally settling deep in my cheeks, it's not an unpleasant sensation, on the contrary it makes me feel.. something. Wistful? Happy? I'm really not sure, I think it could be nerves or bashfulness. All of this is very unusual because I never feel these things sitting at a piano. But one more sweep of Rachel's eyes focusing on me and it happens again.

Maybe I just enjoy the fact that she's watching?

It would be a first, but then, Rachel is a lot of firsts to me. I have never enjoyed people watching me play, I have never derived pleasure from them listening. I have always felt like the things my hands were able to do were for me and me alone, because Rachel hit the mark spot on all those weeks ago, when she cornered me in a classroom and tore the walls of my world down around the both of us. The more you share yourself with people the more dangerous they become; a simple truth that I had accepted long ago.

I don't know how to fit this into my world now because, to a large extent, I still believe it to be true. But then there is Sam and there is Fran and there is Rachel, all armed with different levels of knowing and I am yet to be bruised by any of them.

Biting my lip, I increase the pressure of my foot to the ground and slide the piano stool back an inch.

"I'll show you."

I shuffle back in my seat and extend an arm towards Rachel, I am patient and still and waiting for her to take it and the very fact that I can do this now is enough to cause my heart to contract.

Her hand slips so naturally into mine, as if we are lovers of old that know the patterns of each other's skin better than our own, but before I can get too caught up in the beauty of this notion I am tugging Rachel forwards and guiding her to sit in front of me.

She is made up of supple, compact curves and each one now presses deliciously into the softness of my chest. The contact causes me to feel something that makes me lose my breath and I find I have to take a second before I can bring my hands back up to the piano keys.

"You play left hand, I'll play right."

Rachel is silent and steady against me; a burning light; a constant heartbeat; an anchor to my wayward vessel. She keeps me in place and, as if to return the favor, my right hand moves to encircle her waist for a moment, pulling us closer together.

"Uh.."

There is a hitch to her voice, a stuttering stumble in the dark. I briefly wonder if perhaps I'm being too forward, but then Rachel's right hand is resting over the one I have curled around her waist and it is as if that one small movement immediately clicks everything in my life together.

She nods against me, slowly shifting from silent and dazed to focused and exacting.

"Left.. right."

The rush of air that chases my smirk causes strands of brown hair to flutter in front of me like lines of errant kite strings. It makes me think of wet grass and sunshine and having dirt on my knees.

Still, I shake my head disparagingly.

"Please, let's not start that again."

Rachel's head dips shyly.. "sorry, you're right..." her tone is humorously contrite.

Instantly, I nod in approval.

"or left..?"

It's at this point that something between a growl and a whine slips out of me and provokes a wonderfully open Rachel Berry laugh.

Pulling my mind back into focus, I bring Rachel's left hand up to the keys and position them into a C chord. She shifts slightly in front of me, suddenly at ease with our position. I know that she is primed and ready now, ever the willing student, even during play, Rachel always gives her best. It is one of the things that I love most about her.

Clearing my throat, I rest my hand atop Rachel's gently.

"Okay so, we're going to move from C to B flat, can you do that?"

There's a slightly offended tossing of hair that bats against my face before Rachel speaks.

"I have perfect pitch Quinn I know how to run chords."

I'm sure that my eyes roll quite of their own volition, patience, I think, that is to be my new mantra in these sessions.

"Yes, but do you know what they look like on a piano?"

Rachel thinks for a moment and tinkles out a few notes, I can tell she is searching, I can tell she is piecing things together. It takes a few seconds but she presses out the necessary C before following it into a B flat.

"Is that right? Tell me if it's not right."

I don't need to see Rachel's face to know that she is touching the tip of her tongue to her left incisor. This has always been an unconscious gesture of hers, most easily visible when she enters that space of creation and concentration that so many people can get lost in.

But not Rachel, she never gets lost, she has always been able to master it. Looking back, I really shouldn't have been so surprised at how easily she was able to master me.

My right thumb grazes over the arc of a gently curved rib and I take a moment to just squeeze.

"You're perfect Rachel.."

My eyes widen at that because oops, it really wasn't what I had intended to say, I had intended to say that's perfect or it's perfect or something a little less full of personalized adoration. But, not even a second after this panicky impulse strikes my heart, it melts away as if it never was. It doesn't even leave a mark, and I think this could be because perhaps it is what I really meant to say all along.

Rachel flexes her fingers and goes over the pattern again. I give her a few more chords to add to the mix until a recognizable bass accompaniment begins to take shape.

I know the moment Rachel recognizes the song because there's a soft "Oh.." that seems to tumble from her mouth without her even realizing it and the hand covering mine heats up slightly.

I want to ask Rachel to sing with me, I want it to sound romantic and poignant. I want to be able to say something, anything, to underline just how much the next few minutes of our lives will mean.

Because music is our life force; a living, breathing, entity that feeds both of our souls. It fills us up, and this will be the first time since everyone found out about Lucy that we'll get to do this together.

Unsurprisingly, I cannot find the right words to say what I mean. So, instead, I slip my right hand from beneath Rachel's and begin to play an introductory piece of melody to count us in. I go for two bars before pressing Rachel's left hand down in time with the song.

The chords are a little shaky at first, but her profound understanding of musicality has her playing in time without great delay. It takes a beat or two, but we find a rhythm.

We play in time, beautifully so, and if the moment were a place, I'm sure it would be a beach. It would taste like apples and smell like lemons and feel like dry sand slipping through your fingers, like sunshine on your back, burning through your clothes to the skin beneath.

And then, just for a moment, I'm actually worried that Rachel can read my thoughts, until I realize she's timed herself in and is adding the opening lyrics of the song.

"All along it was a fever... a cold sweat hot-headed believer." [2]

My left hand gradually slips from atop Rachel's. Instead, while the fingers of my right hand give life to melody, I focus my attention on Rachel's neck, which, I am finding, is turning into a constant source of conflict for me.

It is debilitating, how badly I want to have it beneath my lips. The things I want to do to it drive me to distraction and when a particularly long and graceful tendon tenses in front of me it's actually almost enough to cause me to miss a note.

I should be appalled at this, I should be shaking my head and clearing my thoughts and focusing on perfection. Instead, idle hands do the devil's work and I am running a finger down Rachel's hair, pulling it to the side like a curtain to expose that debilitating, distracting, delectable column of flesh completely.

At this point, it's time for me to softly harmonize "If you dare, come a little closer" and it is so, so painfully apt because that's exactly what I do.

Running the very tip of my nose down that dangerously flirtatious tendon, it's a catch twenty two really. The more I touch it, the more it tenses, the more it tenses, the more I touch it. Rachel doesn't seem to mind, in fact, I think the performer in her quite appreciates the raspy quality the contact brings out in her voice.

Breathing out a sigh, I shift my head so I'm resting my chin on Rachel's shoulder, looking down at the way our hands are moving together. It is a subdued piece of vocalization, but Rachel is, of course, turning it into something extraordinary.

My eyes slip closed and there's not a thing I can do to stop it. I know that everyone in Glee (myself included) gives her a hard time about how confident she is in her abilities. But, impossibly, I have always thought that not even Rachel knows how good she actually is. Not even Rachel can really see what her performances do to people.

There are so many wonderful inflections and layers of emotion that she's able to convey. This has always been her gift. It is why I am so, so sure that she'll make it out there.

Her performances are so effortless, or, of course, that's how she makes them seem. I know that they are not, I know how hard she works, I know the costs. But still.. they are perfection, absolute, and all without the need for messy or extravagant runs. There are no unnecessary trills, no distractions, just the power of the words and the beauty of her voice and the heaviness of every pause in between them all.

I float in this haze until Rachel transitions into the chorus, when I suddenly begin to feel an unpleasant heat start to smart on my skin. It is jarring.

Up until now I hadn't even considered why I'd chosen this song, it's beautiful with an easy bass and perfect for our vocal ranges, but the moment I hear Rachel's voice begin to crack over the word 'stay' I feel so, so, stupid.

I know that I have struck a nerve.

I think about Rachel's father, I think about the empty house our music is trying to fill. I think about every single time I left Rachel alone, every time I ran away. I thought I knew, back then, I thought I knew what it meant. I didn't, I didn't know at all. I thought it was bad, but it's so much worse than that. Rachel has abandonment issues that I had never even considered.

I think about Rachel's pushing and the heart she keeps on a plate for people.

Before my thoughts can spiral any further my mouth is pressing against Rachel's ear and I am singing in whispers because it's all the strength that I have in this moment and I just need for Rachel to know that I understand.

"It's not much of a life you're living.. It's not just something you take, it's given."

It's not enough, I don't have any allusions to this, but it's a start. Even though the words could go either way; Rachel's relationships.. my hang ups with control.. we're both a little left of center but even as I'm thinking this I'm sure we fit each other perfectly.

So I decide to stop worrying, to stop walking in circles and instead just.. listen.

I listen to Rachel sing, I listen to the voice that started everything. It was the first contact I had with her, at the very beginning of junior high. It was only my second day of strolling through McKinley as Quinn Fabray with Lucy as nothing more than a fading bruise on my skin.

I heard her before I saw her, she was singing something I thought was innocuous at the time (that I now know to be Defying Gravity) but the sounds she was making.. the notes she was reaching and the fuses they lit within me.. it made me clutch my books so tightly to my chest that my lungs started to burn.

I slowed down my pace as I passed the music room and caught a shadowed glimpse of argyle and lace, a brief flash of shimmering brown. My jaw tightened exponentially when I realized what I was doing and I immediately turned around and continued on to class.

Of course, it was too late by then, the damage had been done. Without even recognizing it at the time, I had stumbled and I was in so, so much trouble. Almost intuitively, I spent the entire night on my knees in prayer. I didn't even really know why.

Yes, from that very first day everything had been set in motion.

Rachel's voice is even more amazing to me now, every rise and fall tugs my heart along with it and before I even have enough breath in my lungs to handle the commitment I know it's time for me to harmonize again.

"Funny you're the broken one but I'm the only one who needed saving.
'Cause when you never see the light it's hard to know which one of us is caving."

By the end of the sentence my lips are on Rachel's skin again and I am shocked beyond belief when I realize the salt I can taste is coming from a tear that has made its way down my nose.

The sound of my fingers abandoning the piano keys in a messy smear is deafening to me, it's the most incorrect, uncontrolled, shattering sound I have made on a piano since I was four years old.

I should care more about this, I should care about the smear, but I don't.

I care about wrapping my arms around Rachel almost double, making sure that every inch of them is coming into contact with her skin, I care about moving my legs to press against hers until she is a pearl and I am just an oyster shell, closing in around her.

I care about putting every ounce of energy into making sure the right words come out of my mouth. Regardless of whether or not I've said them before.

I want to say:

"I'm so sorry I left you alone."

"I will never hurt you like that again."

"I'm so sorry I was so cruel."

"I'm so sorry I made you wait."

"I'm so sorry that I took so long."

"I'm so, so sorry."

And before I've even realized it, I've said all of these things and Rachel is shaking against me and I feel a dead weight press on my chest until her sharp nails find my hands and she interlocks them tightly. The angle is awkward but I don't give an inch, I don't loosen my hold, not even for a second.

I squeeze the breath out of both of us and it's as if I've opened a box I didn't even know was there. All the words I've kept inside, they float from my lips like bubbles, popping and breaking in the oxygen between us.


"I noticed you the first moment I heard you, I wanted you the first moment I saw you. And I hated it, I hated it all so much. Because you were this shining beacon.. made up of more softness and gentility and passion and beauty than I would ever know."


"All I could think about was wanting to hurt you, mostly.. because you were so wonderful that I couldn't hate you at all."


"When I joined Glee my plan was to sit behind Finn so when you were singing to him, I could pretend you were singing to me. I could give myself a minute of just.. lying. But I only did it once, because even then, I knew what you brought out in me. I knew that people would notice the change."


"I've never been able to stay away from you. You're like a magnet, this irresistible pulling force.. and I never thought my life could be anything but painful until you changed it all. I found that there were things I understood about you, that I never let myself think about before."

"Like how.. I know that the reason that you push so hard is that your entire life is a push, and people don't get that about you, but I do.. I get it.. and Rachel..I.."

None of this was part of the plan, I still have no idea what's going to happen to me. There is no certainty, I promised myself I would not do this. But I'm helpless to deny this any longer, and perhaps, if I finally accept that, my baptism of fire will be over.

"I...I love you"

"I love you Rachel."

And there are tears in my eyes and salt on my lips as they kiss over every inch of Rachel's skin that I can find. Then more words are there, bursting from my mouth. The magazine cut-out letters of which are sitting in a basket by my bed, waiting patiently for this moment, as if cementing them to the wall of my room would somehow be an echo of saying them out loud.

These are important words. I know they are not mine, but I say them anyway, because I felt the truth of them years ago- when they settled under my skin as I was holed up in the library, thinking about hate and loneliness and Rachel in the moonlight.

"I love you without knowing how.. or when.. or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close. I love you." [3]

And then Rachel is scrambling to turn around and we are lucky she is so slight because she's able to straddle my hips without squeezing any more awful sounds from the piano. Her legs lock around my waist and I don't even have time to look into her eyes because immediately there are lips against mine and a strong pair of hands stretching over my scalp, holding me steady.

It is a ravaging, that is the only word to explain it. Rachel is a wildfire burning through my mouth and I'm almost worried by how impassioned she is. I can't tell if she's cross, or upset or just lustfully inflamed. I don't want this moment to be angry, but before I can pull my mouth away she does it for me with a pop, breath panting over my lips in hot plumes of steam.

"I'm so in love with you, I've loved you..uhn.. Quinn.."

There's a desperate crack then, as if Rachel's voice box has been torn in two. It makes me panic for a moment until she clears her throat, seemingly gathering up all of her resolve, and tries again.

"I've loved you for so long..I.."

I can see Rachel is struggling, there is something she's trying to verbalize and I can't actually believe I'm on the receiving end of this alexithymic episode. In the end, the words seem to melt away and she settles for the thesis, for the crux of all of this.

"I love you."

I echo the words immediately, running my hands from Rachel's hips up to cup her shoulderblades, which are flexing and contracting with each motion her hands make through my hair.

There's a forehead against mine then, and Rachel's eyes are almost russet; a red dawn breaking within them. I can feel the force of the swallow she takes.

"I'm so glad I finally found you."

The innocence of her words sets a pang loose in my chest; I am left heavy with shame and regret.. "I'm so sorry it took so lo-" ..but Rachel's lips press into mine, drowning out the apology with resolute confidence. When she pulls back there's a smile on her face, a Rachel Berry smile that I am still getting used to being directed at me.

"No, don't, that's not what I meant."

There's a shuffle then, as if Rachel is getting comfortable. Just like on the piano stool before, she has acclimatized to her environment, and I'm sure it doesn't even register to her that she's straddling my hips, that if I sunk my fingers into her skin it would push us together and set us both alight.

My eyes flicker like flames at the temptation, but now is not the time, now there are other things that need to be spoken of and Rachel's hands are moving down my scalp, grazing over the tiny hairs on the back of my neck. I tremble beneath her.

"Good things take time."

Rachel's trademark certainty used to drive me crazy, it used to make me feel like something was rotting inside of me and my fists would smart against the walls that I would flail against.

But now, there is no competition, nothing makes me feel more settled.

"There's nothing worth having that doesn't come with..." There's a dramatic pause, which I'm sure Rachel uses to try and find a polite way of saying 'baggage', she finally settles on using '...challenges' and the understated way she's describing our trajectory to date actually makes me laugh.

I laugh because Rachel is smiling, Rachel is happy, and, in a completely insane way that I will never understand, that is because of me. My heart could actually burst at the thought.

"Well.." clearing my throat I roll my eyes, still chuckling at the understatement "I think I came with more than my fair share of challenges."

Rachel shakes her head silently and just.. squeezes me to her. It's the most comforting thing I've ever experienced and, quite unexpectedly, it takes my breath away.

There's a whisper against my cheek when Rachel speaks again.

"Hey, so did I.."

It is an easy going and humorous statement but the box within me has been opened so I say what I'm thinking into Rachel's skin without second guessing anything.

"That just shows how worth having you are."

Rachel's laugh is joyous, a chorus of bells ringing in delighted happiness. The sound makes me hold her tighter and banish every doubt about college from my mind. I don't care what I have to do, I'm going to New York, I am never letting go.

Again, Rachel echoes my thoughts.

"I'm never letting you go, you know that right?"

It is as if she is the next part in an equation. As if I have opened as a coefficient and she is closing as a constant and for some strange reason there is a cat in my mind that is overjoyed with the knowledge that I have finally forgotten about geometry and gone with simple addition.

I have no idea what to make of this so I let it go and nod against Rachel's chest again.

"Sounds perfect."


 

Chapter Text

Rachel.


We've been experiencing radio silence for the past seventy two seconds. If I were in the army, I am sure that I would be initiating some kind of distress call protocol right about now.

Foxtrot Foxtrot?! This is Bravo, come in Foxtrot!

My thoughtful frown presses deeper into the phone receiver as I continue to wait. Do they even call it a distress call? Or is it a mayday signal? Or is it a mash-up of both? My understanding of military procedure is even less pronounced than my patience and, at the present moment, I'm about one second away from just not being able to handle the silence anymore when Quinn's voice finally rasps through the vacuum between us.

"W-What?"

I roll my eyes at the alarm that is so clearly evident in her tone. In any other situation, it would be filling me with echoes of anxious dread, but this really isn't that big of a deal. At least, that's what I've been telling myself.

"Um.. Barbra's birthday party has regrettably been postponed until next Saturday."

"Yes.. why?"

A tiny creak sounds against my ear and I am sure that it is Quinn clutching her cell phone tightly.

"You've um.. you've been invited to attend the Berry family dinner night this Saturday instead."

I can hear a thick and panicked swallow wheeze out from Quinn's throat and I try my best to suppress the wry smile that takes over my face as a result of it.

"B-Because..?"

I had given my dad an extremely watered down version of events after Quinn left last night, which consisted mostly of things like 'Quinn recently left her parents house and is now living with her sister' and 'we've had feelings for each other for a while but you know how complicated being a teenager can be.' He had given me a skeptical nod and called my daddy out of surgery right away. With this in mind, my bottom lip ends up being chewed on for a moment while I work on crafting as much nonchalance into my tone as humanly possible.

"Because my daddy wants to meet you?"

Stretching out on the couch, I trace my fingertips over bright beams of morning sun that are painting the patterned material and smile as I remember what it felt like to fall asleep in Quinn's arms against it last night. We had made our way back from the piano in between kisses and whispers and, although we'd stuck it out for quite a few minutes, we were both soon dozing off against one another. When my dad returned from his hospital mix up and found us a few hours later, all it took was a gentle shake to my shoulder to cause the two of us to jump up in a heap of tangled limbs and stutters.

Quinn's arms had been wrapped around my torso; warm hands pressing into the skin underneath my t-shirt. My legs had been curled up against our bodies and my own hands had somehow found their way to the small of Quinn's back, fingertips grazing even as I woke to see my father's vaguely unimpressed smirk.

We were both blushing and flush with tingles at the intimacy of our position and I don't think I had seen Quinn move quite so quickly since the days she used to spend avoiding me. If it hadn't been for the breathlessly deep kiss she left me with at the door, I probably would have been worried. As it stands, I think Quinn is the one who's worried now.

"Oh my G-.. I need to sit down."

Abandoning my thoughts, I blink my gaze away from the material of the couch and give a disparaging snort into the phone.

"Quinn this is hardly an appropriate reaction to the situation, it's not like he has a gun."

I hear the squeaking of creaky springs and immediately imagine Quinn sprawled out on her bed, hair ruffled with sleep, brow cutely furrowed in worry.. I want to imagine more, but instead, I clear my throat and try to pay attention to the panicked rambles that are spewing from her mouth.

"He's like a brain surgeon Rachel! He doesn't need a gun! He could probably kill me in ways that wouldn't leave a trace. One injection between the toes, one bathtub full of ice, and it's bye bye Fabirdie!"

"Okay, first: gross. Second, he's a cardiothoracic surgeon. Third: He's not Dexter! You need to get a grip, you've obviously been watching way too many midday movies during your suspension."

"You're the one with fathers ripped straight from Grey's Anatomy. How am I supposed to know what they're capable of?!"

The panicked desperation in Quinn's tone actually pulls a laugh from me, which I smother violently as soon as a squawk of indignation sounds against my ear.

"Okay, baby it's truth time.. my daddy snores the house down every night and can't cook to save his life, and my dad never vacuums under the sofa even though he knows it drives us all crazy. They're people, just like you and me."

There's more silence then, but it is different than before. It makes my lips turn down into a frown and my muscles quiver with uncertainty. Again, it is Quinn's voice that breaks through the distance; it is her words that cause our reconnect.

She is quiet, timid, as if at complete unease with what she is saying.

"I.. I don't know if I can do this."

My brow sparks at this, and I find my legs cross themselves briskly without thought.

"Oh really.. are you sure about that?"

There is a beat, equivalent to one and a half Mississippi's, before a deep sigh crackles into the receiver and I can start to breathe again.

"I.. No, of course I'm going to do it. I just..I need to sit down."

The stiffness of panic gradually leaves me and I can feel a smile tugging at my lips again, I understand what is happening now. Quinn is a perfectionist; her sun rises and sets on rays of victory; flawlessness. She is afraid to stumble. My breath washes over the phone speaker, now warm with affection.

"I'm fairly sure you're already sitting down.."

I hear another restless squeak followed by an irked growl and let myself smile fully again.

"Uhg, how can you be so freaking calm about this?! It's so frustrating!"

An interesting thing happens between us then. The tone that is shot at me leaves no room for doubt that HBIC Quinn is clawing her way to the surface and for the first time in my entire life, I find the whole thing to be.. well.. kind of cute actually.

I spin around on the sofa until I'm hanging upside down with my legs up against the backrest and my head dangling over the cushion edge. My fingers play absently with the straps of my schoolbag that are falling just within my reach.

I've never really been frightened of Quinn, but that doesn't mean there are aspects of her personality that aren't objectively frightening. Slowly, I am unraveling these layers, I am deciphering these subtleties and the reasons for their existence. I have said it before and I will say it again, I love them all, and now, I am learning how they are to be treated, I am learning how to mold them beneath my hands.

In this case, I barely let a moment of silence hang between us before I patiently shoot back my response.

"Why hello HBIC Quinn I'm Rachel Berry, lovely to see you again. As I was about to tell girlfriend Quinn, I'm calm right now because I know this isn't going to be even a fraction as bad as either of you think it's going to be."

My chuckle drifts softly into the stunned quiet and I smile when Quinn mumbles out a thoroughly embarrassed 'sorry'. I can practically hear her claws retracting and, although it takes a couple of seconds, the voice that greets me is once again my flustered, uncertain girlfriend.

"I'm just, I know I'm pretty much their least favorite person, and you're definitely their most favorite person. And if I had to listen to my least favorite person try and convince me to let them love my most favorite person I'd just..code black Rach."

I've been rather lost throughout Quinn's ramblings, admittedly mostly due to the fact that I've been paying attention to the deep rasp that smokes through her voice in times of stress. Because of this, it takes me a moment to register what's happening, but when I finally do I practically tumble off of the sofa in my haste to right myself again.

"What?! No! No code black. Consider your call officially trumped Foxtrot. I'm aware that it's a little early into the relationship to be laying down ultimatums and mentioning 'trumping' but I wouldn't do it if I wasn't one hundred percent sure that we could do this. It's a code yellow at most, I promise."

I can hear Quinn readying to rebuff my statement, but the barrage of words barely start before they're whooshed together in a jumbled rush of air and she begins again.

"-Okay since when do you use the NATO phonetic alphabet in general conversation?"

"Since you've started turning standard family gatherings into military operations Foxtrot, besides.." I bring myself to stand and twirl around in a preen, fixing the wayward strands of hair that are falling down by my face. "..I like Bravo, it has a certain stage presence to it."

Quinn breaks from her panic to give a deep and knowing chuckle, it dances smoothly from her lips and lands against my ear in a gentle nibble that makes the insides of my elbows tingle.

"It does suit you Miss Berry.."

The warmth in her tone fills me to the brim and I practically float into the kitchen to snatch up a couple of bags of apple slices. I think about the patterns the sofa fabric pressed into my skin last night, I think about how I lay in bed tracing over them and remembering.

Remembering that, even though I was by myself in bed and I had not seen either of my fathers for more than a few moments that day, I was very much not alone.

A faint click echoes through my mind at that point, like the sound of a domino being pushed, and a sudden kind of realization sweeps through me.

The girl I'm speaking with this morning is the same one that I fell asleep with last night. Who is the same one that whispered Pablo Neruda against my clutching limbs and stuck Maya Angelou on her walls in thought of me. Who is the same one that dove through the water and stopped my fall on the sand. Who is the same one that fell to her knees before me in crippled ruins. Who is the same one that hurt and took things from me and that I hurt and took things from as well. Who is the same one that stopped me from getting slushied on a very special day all those years ago.

Every moment comes together in a fierce snap and the words come out of my mouth quietly because, in spite of my wayward thoughts, I am hesitant to inject any melancholy into our conversation.

"I miss you.."

There's another beat of silence and then a slightly broken sigh sounds against my ear. In it, I hear many things. I hear longing and frustration, I hear excitement and trepidation, but most loudly of all.. I hear love. Quinn seems to take a few breaths to sort out exactly what she wants to say before she finally speaks into the phone with only partly shaky confidence.

"Well, you'll be seeing me tomorrow night for dinner."

I pause moving around the house and press my ear tightly against the speaker, I have so much love for this woman. I know that she is terrified, I know that all of her past experiences, her conceptions of what family time is, they're all telling her to run as fast as possible in the opposite direction of this.. of me.

I know that she's ignoring them all, and each click of memory in my mind heightens the importance of this sheer act of faith.

I don't want to go to school, I don't want Quinn to go to work. I want to stay leant up against my hallway, looking at the photograph of us at Regionals last year and thinking about how quickly things can change in life.

Instead, I run my finger over the glass covering Quinn's face and sigh wistfully.

"You have to go now.."

I hear more squeaking followed by the speedy beats of Quinn's footsteps zipping around her apartment. Each bang and crash only serves to widen my smile, she's in the kitchen.. her voice is slightly distracted and I can hear the ominous buzzing her fridge makes every time it's open for more than a second.

"I do, it's my last morning shift until after graduation. I think Franco's going to miss having me there to watch him flirt with Stella Palucco over the stale bagels."

My eyes narrow at the mention of Franco and I purposefully spin away from the photograph I've been staring at, moving instead to search out my shoes. I hear another low buzz and roll my eyes in exasperation.

"Don't just steal something from the fridge, have a piece of fruit and some cereal at least and ..I still don't like him."

There's a loud bang signifying the fridge door being pushed shut before Quinn's voice, soft as a caress and infinitely more gentle twists it's way around my heart.

"Hey, Bravo?"

I feel a squeeze, a soothing pressure at her words. It causes me to stop mid-movement with my foot precariously hanging half out of my shoe.

"Y-Yeah?"

"You're going to miss your bus."

My knees only dip slightly at the fact that Quinn would know exactly when my bus reaches my particular stop and I clumsily slide my shoe fully on before finally giving voice to the reason I called her in the first place.

"Yeah, I know. I just.. I wanted to wish you luck with making your phone calls today. Not that I think you'll need it of course."

I want to say more, to try and verbalize just how sure I am that Quinn will have a positive result, but she cuts me off with a softly spoken "Thank you" that somehow simultaneously lets me know that she is truly grateful for my support but entirely not prepared to discuss the issue.

In response to this, I reign in my usually hyperdrived support systems and try to respectfully let the subject go.

A few seconds later, I can hear a subtle chewing sound and my ears just barely pick up on a muffled groan of enjoyment. Finally spurring myself past first gear, I search around for my school bag and frown distastefully, I know there are only two things that cause Quinn to make sounds like that, and one of them is standing in my living room.

"You're eating bacon aren't you?"

All I get in return is a half apologetic "Um.." which causes me to laugh heartily as I fix my hair a final time in the mirror. Quinn finally swallows around her mouthful and I can practically hear her careless shrug.

"Shut up, you love it."

The moment I hear her speak I want to say the words, because I do. I love it and I love her. It would be so easy to let them slip from my tongue. But they are still so important, still so new and fragile. I love Quinn and she loves me. We have entered this wild and rapturous variable into our equation and it will undoubtedly change things. But the heaviness of the moment followed by the stress of the day drained us of our energy and took away any opportunity we could have had to really get used to the words and the galaxy of meanings behind them.

Tagging them onto the end of a phone conversation now just seems disrespectful, and I think Quinn feels the same because she takes a breath around her next mouthful and seems to struggle as well.

Eventually, the moment passes and she lets out a hopeful whisper.

"So, I'll see you tomorrow?"

I nod, eternally grateful for the fact that we seem to be on the same page with our feelings. It is still such an unusual place to find myself in; our entire relationship to date has been a series of missteps. A series of dark pathways, trap doors and dead ends.. and yet, somehow, miraculously, all of these things have shifted into far more manageable booby-trapped chasms of death which, as long as I'm perched on Quinn's back, I am sure we will be able to jump across together.

I know she can't see it, but I smile into the phone regardless and can't help but softly tease.

"Yes, 6:30 sharp, and don't be late or my fathers will kill you."

There's a jarring crash in the background followed by a panicked screech that is not at all indicative of the raspy tones Quinn's voice is capable of projecting.

"Rachel!"

I end the conversation with a satisfied cackle before heading out to give Mr. Johnson his breakfast.


Friday passes steadily by with Saturday hot on its heels and then, before I know it, I am in my bathroom watching as the brightness of the Saturday sun slowly gives way to a more subdued kind of evening glow.

This is one of my favorite parts of the day, one of my favorite moments. Where soft blazes of orange start to stream in through my windows, radiant in their blooms of heat and light that make me feel like the whole world is on fire.

There is a very specific kind of pleasure I get from preparing for a special night out, or a special night in as the case may be. I have ceremony in my movements; a script for my body to follow. Each stage is a carefully crafted experience, sacrosanct and full of ritual.

Everything from the temperature of my bath water to the amount of time I spend conditioning my hair is thought out and deliberate. It gives me a sense of balance and control and I am sure it is one of the things I will have to try my hardest to control when I take over Broadway.

The bathtub has almost finished draining itself and I am twisting my hair up into a towel. There are still gray licks of steam curling out from my skin when I hear my phone jingle out a text message notification. Making sure my hand is dry, I swipe open the phone on my dresser and quirk my brow at the words that greet me.

5:33 pm: Bravo, this is Foxtrot reporting for debriefing. Over.

Debriefing? I have no idea what Quinn is referring to so my fingers quickly move to punch out a response.

5:33 pm: Foxtrot, you have Bravo. Please explain debriefing parameters. Over.

I am shifting my eyes between two bottles of body lotion, trying to decide on which one to go for, when Quinn's ringtone suddenly echoes through the brilliant acoustics of my bathroom.

Finally gathering a smear of vanilla spice on my finger, I bring my phone to my ear and breathe out a happy sigh.

"Hi there!"

"Evening ma'am."

There's a forced southern drawl injected into Quinn's tone that is not entirely unpleasant and being able to listen to it while my free hand runs lotion down my thigh leaves me grinning strangely and biting my lip.

I can all too easily picture a salute following the greeting and the idea of Quinn in uniform only serves to widen my smile. In fact, the image is so distracting that I find myself stumbling over forming a witty reply before finally just giving up.

"Uh, well.. Okay, I'm not sure I have enough knowledge of military jargon or procedure to stay in character for the entirety of this conversation."

The throatiness of Quinn's laughter sparks up my spine and my fingers twitch lightly from where they are now smoothing lotion over my stomach. It feels almost forbidden, touching myself without Quinn knowing.. even though I'm not really.. well, touching.. a single digit traces thoughtfully over my bellybutton as I stand in silent reflection of this; mind lost in possibility.

The moment is soon ruined however, by Quinn's annoyingly cocky voice.

"Rachel Berry unprepared for a role? I never thought I'd see the day!"

My hand drops from my stomach and lands on my hip in a defensive stance. Sparing a glance to my still foggy mirror, I can easily see the unimpressed expression sitting on my face.

"Well not all of us have time to dedicate our afternoons to watching JAG reruns Quinn."

There is another throaty chuckle and I'm absolutely sure that Quinn knows exactly what it does to me, because not even a second passes before I forget to feel indignant and my hand moves to flutter over my stomach again. Clearing my throat quietly, I put the phone down and place it on speaker as Quinn responds.

"I have no idea what you're talking about. Now debrief me."

Her words are confident, her tone is assured, it's a far cry from the uncertain bluster of yesterday's conversation and I can't help but wonder what has changed between now and then. My fingertips dip into the richly spiced vanilla scented lotion again before starting to apply it to my arms in firm, broad strokes.

"I still don't know what you mean by that."

"Rachel.. come on. We're having dinner with your fathers in less than an hour and I know you have a list. I dated Finn too remember? He wouldn't stop talking about how it was the most homework he did all year and it wasn't even for school."

I am making soft, methodical circles against the insides of my wrists when my motions suddenly cease. Quinn means.. she wants to be debriefed as a date. Biting my lip again, I'd be lying if I said the fact that I was yet to do this wasn't causing me some anxiety.

"You.. I.. I didn't want to.. it's silly."

My eyes shift over to the row of beauty products framing my bathtub- all meticulously lined up in order of use. The sight makes me frown. I don't usually do that. Not unless I'm distressed or fretful or about to give a performance that has to be perfect, well, even more perfect than usual.

But if there's anything I've learned from dating it's that you shouldn't expect too much from these initial meetings between family and beau. Well, at least that's what I've learned from dating Finn.

Quinn takes me quite by surprise however, her words have me tearing my eyes away from my strange arrangement of beauty products and snapping back to look at myself in the mirror.

"It's not silly at all, it's exacting and practical and important to you. Never feel bad for wanting the best Rachel, you deserve it."

I breathe out a deep sigh and pull my hair free from my towel. It falls in gentle curls that I am sure Quinn would delight in playing with were she here. Knowing this makes me smile, and so, giving my reflection an encouraging nod, I sit down by my dresser and scoop out another fingerful of lotion, running it over my breastbone and neck in slow, soothing motions.

"Okay so.. my dad, Hiram. You've already met him, he's head nurse at St Leonard's and he'll want you to call him Mr. H or Hiram."

"He..he told me Hiram.. but I just don't know how to do that, I mean, he's.. and Mr.. Mr. H? That's just..can't I just call him Mr. Berry?"

There's a mechanical clicking in the background as Quinn speaks, it sounds like an ironing board opening up but before I can think more on this I find myself laughing at the intense discomfort Quinn has with anything outside of strict formality.

"Well sure you could, but then what'll you call my daddy?"

She takes a breath, obviously intent on providing me with an ingenious answer, before she realizes her error and sighs sheepishly.

"Okay, so that was stupid. I'm sorry, continue.. what about.. Leroy?"

An amused chuckle bubbles from my chest at the strained way in which Quinn says my father's name, as if every inch of her is rocked by the scandal of referring to an adult male by his first name.

"He's a surgeon at St Leonard's and he definitely prefers Leroy."

We are quiet for a moment as Quinn fiddles with something and I twist the lid back onto my lotion. Two more beats of silence and there's a slightly indulgent scoff sounding from my speaker. It is aimed, no doubt, at my unusual and out of place restraint.

"Come on, I know you have more."

She's right. I do have more. I have thirteen pages of information neatly compiled in Word format complete with printed flashcards left over from Finn. It has always been of almost obsessive importance to me that anyone I bring home is prepped and ready. But Quinn..

"You don't need it, they're going to love you."

"Rachel.."

I push up from my seat and, without thinking, move towards the beauty products that line my bathtub, fingers twisting and rearranging them absentmindedly. I am unsettled, because my fathers are the most important figures in my world and I honestly cannot handle a reality in which tonight will go anything other than pleasantly. I am focused on my movements, so much so that I don't even realize what I'm saying until it's too late.

"They will. Because I love you, and they love me.. so there's really only one way for this to go. Okay?"

A breath leaves my lungs shyly, I had not meant to blurt that out. It was pretty much the exact opposite of what I wanted to do, but sometimes there are only so many words you can use to say what you really mean. To express exactly how you really feel. I don't think Quinn minds, I think the openness of the moment touches her also, because she doesn't say anything but a softly spoken "Yes ma'am" that is completely devoid now, of any false accents or joking mockery.

Seemingly quite out of nowhere, a tremulous sigh gets caught in my throat and I pick up my phone, taking it off speaker. As if holding the object closer to my ear will somehow afford me a greater amount of intimacy.

"I'll see you at 6:30 okay?"

"Rach..?"

The timbre of Quinn's voice has me instantly envisioning, in stunning high definition remembrance, her huddled form perched up in the tree branches outside my window, whispering my name in a similar fashion. I remember the drumbeat in my ribcage, I remember the stuttering crescendo, and then I don't have to remember anything anymore because it's happening to me all over again.

"Y-Yes?"

I run my fingers over my chest to try and control the deafening thumping but nothing helps, finally, I submit to the sensation and lean down to rest my head against my dresser. Bowed in anticipation.

"I love you too."

It is a quiet murmur, each new sound escaping in almost bashful succession to the last. But it causes me to stay frozen long after Quinn disengages the call.


It is 6:25 pm and I am surreptitiously strolling from one side of the hallway to the other when I hear the click of dress shoes sound against the floor. Turning my head, I smile automatically when the soft peach of my daddy's shirt comes into view. I am sure he's been thrown out of the kitchen because there's already a pink band-aid wrapped around the tip of his index finger and a tiny green stain on the cuff of his shirt.

I'm about to tease him about his complete lack of culinary prowess when it occurs to me that I have neglected to give Quinn any indication of the dress code tonight. We don't usually dress up for our Saturday dinners, but it's kind of a special occasion and, with her recent move, I'm not even sure what kind of clothing Quinn currently owns. I am sure that there is panic written plainly on my face because, before I can even think to send a last minute text message, my father pulls me into a warm hug.

It is almost enough to calm my nerves, until he speaks.

"Scared she won't show?"

I land a soft smack on his chest as I pull back, already fixing the fall of my hair and straightening out any creases in my dress, even though I'm sure the rich, plum color will hide them anyway.

"Don't start."

He is smiling at my indignant tone but I can see streams of worry in his eyes and the fact that they are there because of Quinn makes me very, very sad.

"Sweetie, I love you. But.. I just want to make sure that you're sure about this.."

I can hear the words he isn't saying. He wants to make sure that I'm sure this isn't a hoax. He wants to make sure that I'm sure that Quinn isn't pulling at the strings of my heart mercilessly like some kind of deranged, evil, Christian Crusading puppet master.

I want to be able to resent this but, although I've kept most of the exchanges we've had throughout high school to myself and he has never actually met Quinn.. he has met her parents. Once. At a parent teacher night in junior high. It ended.. loudly.

I almost mourn the fact that he still groups them together.

"Daddy, I know there's no way for you to know this, but Quinn is nothing like her parents."

Before he can answer me, there is a gentle knocking and, rather comically, both of our heads shoot towards the door as we simultaneously move to grip its handle.

I'm about to voice a protest when there's a large, tanned finger touching the tip of my nose and my daddy's eyebrow is rising before me.

"Pumpkin, if I'm meant to be taking her seriously then let me take her seriously."

Sighing out a nervous breath, I close my hand around the finger on my nose for just a moment and whisper out a pleading "be nice.." before slinking back into the hallway to eavesdrop.

There is silence for a moment before the door swings open and I hear my father wish Quinn a good evening. I press my back against the wall and instantly melt at the gravelly way she clears her throat before she responds in kind.

"Good evening Sir, I'm Quinn Fabray."

A delighted smile lights my features, Quinn is adopting formal etiquette which my daddy most definitely appreciates, I roll my eyes and scoff quietly at unimpressed tone he projects regardless of this fact.

"I know your name. My name is Leroy."

I hear the sound of skin connecting and surmise that they must be shaking hands. There is a beat before Quinn speaks again, her voice still strong and neutral.

"It's a pleasure to meet you Leroy."

Another beat then, and another.. and another, and I'm sure that time has lost all meaning to me until my daddy's now quiet voice reaches my ears.

"Please, come in."

I am sure that my father would relish the opportunity to inflict more torture on Quinn but I am unwilling to give him the opportunity so, before either of them can say another word, I straighten my outfit again and turn the corner.

"Quin-n!"

I falter on the word as my father steps aside and I actually catch sight of the woman in question. My eyes helplessly track in large, sweeping motions and I am entirely unprepared for the reaction her appearance elicits from me.

Quinn looks… wow..

She is wearing a pair of light gray fitted slacks with a thick black leather belt and a lavender shirt. It is starched and well-ironed but feminine in cut. Each sleeve has been rolled up to sit just below elbow height and her collar also sits loosely open, with only the top button undone. The subtle v of skin this opening creates is a gentle allusion to the fact that something of interest is most definitely laying beneath and it instantly causes my mouth to go dry.

As they continue their path, my eyes stutter over the wooden cross that is hanging casually atop Quinn's clavicle and the enticing way that it shifts slightly each time she swallows.

She looks so.. open.. and mature.. and confident.. and dashing.. and just so, so sexy. My stomach flutters as though I can still feel my fingers ghosting over it.

Dipping my gaze over her shirt again, I finally look down at my own dress in shock. Our colors, they match perfectly, and I am hazily wondering if this is pure coincidence when I see Quinn's eyes subtly trail down my body as she begins to walk towards me. There is a warm smile on her face when she leans in to give me a soft kiss on the cheek. Her voice is a bare whisper against my ear.

"I was hoping you'd wear this, you look beautiful. Have I ever told you how much I love this dress?"

I am still absolutely speechless when we pull back. My hand, which has fallen onto Quinn's forearm during our brief hello, is now clutching rather desperately as I struggle to display some kind of poise. Without even blinking an eye, Quinn saves me by closing a hand over mine and squeezing before stepping back to a more appropriate distance.

I shouldn't be as surprised as I am, I know this. Quinn is a Fabray and has had a lifetime of public meetings and private functions in which her role was to play the perfect daughter. I like to think this scenario is nothing like those gatherings, but the confidence with which she holds herself is practiced and charming nonetheless. I think, like most things in her life, once Quinn sets her mind to something, there really is nothing that she cannot achieve.

She turns to look at my daddy, who I am only just noticing has been watching us closely with a guarded smile on his face, and grins, bringing up a small brown paper gift bag that has a coffee bean sitting under a roof printed on it. I blink at the logo vacantly for a moment, I had not even seen the bag in her hand.

"I hope you don't mind, I brought some coffee beans for after dinner. Rachel tells me yourself and Hiram both work in the medical industry, so I'm hoping you like caffeine as much as I do."

Shifting my gaze from the brown bag to my daddy's now excited face, I feel like I am looking at Quinn: 2.0.

Puzzle pieces of Lucy Q and Quinn Fabray and HBIC Quinn and Caring Quinn and Artistic Quinn and a dozen other intricate personalities all slotted together to form this cohesive and composed individual standing in front of me now.

But I know these pieces, I understand how they fit together and as I look at the smile on Quinn's face I can see the glimmer of nerves beneath it.

I barely even notice my father's seriously intoned: "Arabica?"

Quinn grins for a moment and nods but it's not until her blonde highlights flash at the movement that I finally return to myself.

"Fresh ground."

She is smiling, still nervously, and I realize this is because my father and I are yet to take the bag off her hands. Curling my fingers around the string handle, I place a hand at the small of Quinn's back, giggling inwardly at the raised eyebrow this elicits from my daddy and the gentle swallow it provokes from Quinn.

Ignoring both of them, I turn us towards the formal dining room and pass the bag to my daddy who leaves to place it in the kitchen and bring my dad out.

"Come on, I'll show you to the dining room."


"Okay, I'm aware that it's customary to compliment the chef on their meal, but this is quite honestly the most delicious lasagna I have ever eaten."

My fathers and I laugh at the almost disbelieving look of appreciation that lights Quinn's features as she takes another large mouthful of dinner and my dad lifts his fork in a gesture of thanks. His mouth is still full of roasted vegetables and vegan friendly béchamel sauce however, so my daddy chuckles and responds for him.

"Well, unfortunately neither Rachel nor I can take an ounce of credit; Hiram is most definitely the resident cook. My only contribution was an 'incorrectly' diced carrot and around a pint of blood loss."

I giggle at the patient way my dad rolls his eyes at my daddy's ranting, this is a long standing argument in my household.

"I mean, I'm a surgeon for Pete's sake, I didn't even know it was possible to dice a carrot 'incorrectly'!"

Quinn laughs into her napkin but I'm not sure if it's because of my daddy or the disgusted expression I've instinctively projected at the mention of blood at the table. Either way, both my fathers and myself echo the laughter and I am filled with relief that tonight is going well.

The only point of tension so far manifested itself thanks to the ridiculously old fashioned way my fathers attempted to sit Quinn across from me at the head of the table. After a few seconds of squabbling with them while Quinn stood frozen, I pulled her to sit next to me and my fathers sat together across from us- the head and foot of the table left decidedly empty for serving dishes and sides instead.

But, putting that mild hiccup aside, everything is going swimmingly. Quinn is being charming and gracious and polite and my fathers are actually beginning to look at her like she's more than just a miniature version of her parents.

My dad spears himself another twirl of zucchini before looking at my daddy and me in feigned sympathy.

"It's true Quinn, neither of these two are worth a dime in the kitchen, unless it's for entertainment purposes of course."

He ignores the glares we direct at him and grins over at Quinn, who responds with a cheeky smile of her own.

"Oh, I don't know, Rachel makes a mean BLT."

I swallow through my embarrassed laugh and try not to look at the expression on my dad's face. Unlike my daddy and myself, he doesn't consciously follow a vegan diet and I just know his eyebrows must be hitting the roof at the fact that I would buy bacon let alone actually cook it.

I can feel his amused stare rest on me for a second longer before it finally breaks away and moves back to Quinn.

"So, you're not vegan then?"

Quinn's eyes widen and I'm sure she is frantically searching for an appropriate way to answer the question without making promises she's not willing to keep.

"Oh, no, I mean.. I would be amenable to making the lifestyle change?"

I can see the alarmed despondency in her eyes and I can't hold back the affectionate laugh this causes. Reaching over to where Quinn's hand is sitting by mine, I pat it for a moment before pulling back again.

"It's okay sweetie, I'd never expect you to give up bacon."

The endearment leaves my lips without thought, but Quinn and myself still trade shy glances between each other and my fathers in the second that follows.

My daddy is smiling in quiet thoughtfulness and my dad is practically bouncing in his chair, grinning between us. He pivots himself towards Quinn slightly and, although the attention causes her back to straighten, she does an admirable job of not looking completely petrified.

"So, tell us more about yourself, the girl who stole our Rachel's heart."

I look at the shy smile painting Quinn's face and can't help but echo it as I take another bite of my lasagna. I knew my dad would like her.

At this, my daddy piques up as well, leaning forward in his chair and smiling as he slices through a piece of eggplant.

"Yes, please. We don't really know much beyond the fact that you have similar taste in men."

My dad nods in agreement and shoulder bumps my daddy, sending a playful grin my way.

"uhhu..and awful taste to boot, I mean I'm sure Finn is a lovely boy but oy vey.."

I think they're expecting me to protest, but I honestly can't find it within me, so instead I simply shrug my shoulders and gently breathe out my reply.

"Well, I guess the best things are always worth waiting for."

Quinn takes a small sip of her water and swallows heavily at my words, her body shuffles closer to mine but I can't tell if it is a conscious move so I don't do anything in response to it. She thinks for a short moment, as if she's deciding exactly how best to start, before she finally answers in a steady but quiet tone.

"I like to read a lot, all types of literature, and I play the piano.. and there's Glee club, I used to be a cheerleader of course, but I quit the team."

I unconsciously raise my eyebrows at Quinn's honesty, but my fathers cannot possibly comprehend the weight attached to her admission, so they breeze past it with nonchalant acceptance. My daddy nods and takes another mouthful of lasagna while my dad waves his fork in a nodding motion, very much channeling the high school gossip queen persona he was projecting when he first found Quinn and me together.

"Oh it's for the best I'm sure, uhg.. just thinking back on the cheerleaders at my school.. bratty, vapid creatures that that would no doubt take delight in tormenting shining stars like our Rachel here. Still, if you're a current example it's good to see that things change, if you know what I mean?"

Quinn slows her chewing and swallows before she speaks, eyes blinking slowly, as if she is confused that she has to remind my fathers of this dark and crucial aspect of our reality. I realize only too late what she means to do.

"Well no.. I.. I used to be one of them? Well, the worst of them really."

My eyes flash at the words and, just as quickly, I snap my gaze to my fathers. My dad, whose fork is still raised high midair and my daddy, who has put his down in confusion.

"Excuse me?"

The pointed accusation in my daddy's tone has me struggling to swallow the lasagna in my mouth without public incident. I am panicked and flush with adrenaline. I hadn't even thought of this scenario occurring. I had not expected this at all, I didn't think Quinn would be so forthcoming.

The tempo of my heart rate only increases at the searching, puzzled expression that makes its way onto Quinn's face as she stares at me. She is baffled, as if a half-step behind the truth, and my stomach actually drops when a knowing kind of disbelief finally fills her features.

"You haven't told them?"

I feel cornered, trapped by this sudden and unexpected discovery, because no I most certainly have not told my fathers about my experiences at school, let alone my experiences with Quinn. They know nothing beyond the fact that we used to quarrel over Finn and they know nothing beyond this fact for a very good reason.

"This is not a discussion I wan-"

"Rachel."

The word escapes from my dad's lips in a way that tells me he is trying to make it sound like a question, as if he is trying to inflect that he doesn't already know what I have done. What I have hidden. Unfortunately, he doesn't quite make it, and I think the gigantic chasm of space this brings to light between us is what finally causes his expression to make the leap from confused to hurt. Lowering my eyes to the lasagna on my plate, I steel my insides and scramble for a way to efficiently close the conversation.

"I'm not talking about this."

There is a long tick of silence, it is thick and heavy and, when my eyes shift upwards, I find my fathers faces locked in a strange kind of silent conversation with one another. Eventually, I assume that one of them wins because there is a muted clang of cutlery on china as my daddy pushes his plate away and pins me with a no-nonsense stare.

"You most certainly are."

My dad follows this strained ultimatum with a furrowed brow and a deeply saddened grasp for understanding.

"Sweetie, why didn't you tell us you were being bullied?"

I want to tell them the truth: that I just didn't want them to know. But that is too close to the heart of the problem for me to be able to verbalize. So instead, I bring my napkin up to touch my lips for a moment before placing it over my plate, effectively submitting to what I know will be coming next.

"It's not something you just.. say."

My dad winces but, surprisingly, the admonishment actually comes from my daddy, who is gawking at me with wide, incredulous eyes.

"Yes it is Rachel, it is something you just say, especially to your fathers!"

My dad sighs softly and reaches a hand out towards me, searching and careful.

"You should have just come to us sweetheart."

I stare at it for a moment before my eyes push closed and I am suddenly very, very angry. How dare they try and make this all about me. Did they think it was easy for me? That it was a matter of convenience?! To put on a brave face and smile and laugh and not mention at all why I never took the time to invite any of my friends over. Did they think it was a game? That I didn't spend each night alone in my room. Would they have even noticed if I had?!

My eyes flash open and I push my plate out towards my dad's hand, rebuffing any kind of contact he may be trying to establish.

"and when would I have done that exactly?! In the twenty five seconds you've actually spent with me since I was ten years old?!"

My dad frowns deeply and retracts his hand but my daddy pushes both of his flat against the table, warning and disappointment clearly evident in his tone.

"Rachel Barbra Berry!"

I know that my eyes are watering quite against my will and I drag a hand across my cheeks to wipe away the annoying tears.

"No daddy, you don't get to do that! You were never there! Or you were, and then that stupid hospital expansion happened and now.."

The same tanned finger I was holding onto minutes ago is now poking into the table cloth, punctuating almost every word coming out of my daddy's mouth.

"We work hard to make sure that you'll always have everything you need, you can't be angry at us for that!"

My dad's hand closes over my daddy's shoulder, the gesture equal parts loving, restrained and concerned. It makes him sag as the energy leaves his body and, in a strange echo, I experience a similar kind of feeling.

"You can't be angry at me for not telling you what's happening in my life when you're never there to be a part of it anymore."

When I finish making the admission, there's a soft sensation grazing down my ankle and it causes me to start until I realize that it's Quinn, pressing her foot to mine. Guiltily, I realize that I had almost forgotten about her sitting next to me, and when my gaze temporarily shifts from my fathers to take her in, I frown when I see how stiffly she is sitting.

It is an almost practiced pose, her back is straight and her hands are folded in her lap. The only indication that she is doing anything other than calmly and patiently sitting are her eyes, which are closed tightly and contracting in time with her overly measured breaths.

I know that she is frightened. I know that she is trying very hard to remain sitting and not bolt. I can only imagine the images that are ghosting through her mind at this moment. The fact that she is still reaching out to comfort me causes something in my chest to break rather suddenly.

This is not how I wanted tonight to go, I wanted to show Quinn that there doesn't have to be conflict when families come together. I wanted to show her the gentle and the loving and the happy that usually blossoms when I get to spend time with my fathers. We haven't actually fought in years.

My daddy's voice brings me back to the present moment and I reluctantly tear my eyes away from Quinn to look at him again. His eyes are flickering between Quinn and myself, a conflicted, uncomprehending grimace shimmering occasionally over his features.

I have never seen him grapple with something so beyond his understanding before, and I want to tell him everything, I want him to understand that no, I don't enjoy hurting myself, and no, I don't think that I'm not good enough for love, and no, neither of us are even those people anymore, and yes, Quinn is an amazing person who I am sure will be so, so good to me.

I want to quell every fear that I can see burning through his mind, but then a flash of frightened anger skips over his face and he shrugs my dad's arm off of his shoulder stubbornly.

"Maybe we have been.. busy. But you didn't have to resort to bringing a tyrant home to dinner just to get our attention!"

The foot that is grazing over mine stiffens and, without even giving it a second thought, I am pushing up to stand, effectively towering over my daddy's still frowning face. I know that he had trouble coming out, I know that, unlike my dad, his family was not very supportive. I know all of this and that makes the way he is reacting now seem even more unacceptable to me.

"Daddy, don't you dare! You have no idea who Quinn is or what she's been through. I would think that you of all people would be sympathetic to the problems inherent in her situation."

Quinn pushes back in her chair and glances up at me uncertainly, her hands leave her lap to come and rest on the table and she moves one towards me, palm up, unguarded and entreating.

"Rachel it's ok-"

My gaze snaps away from Quinn's pink and open palm and the action stings like a broken rubber band on my skin. I meet her saddened gaze heatedly.

"It is NOT okay. These are my fathers.." I helplessly track my eyes over to them and swallow heavily both at the look of knowing concern on my dad's face and the look of stubborn determination on my daddy's.. "and if they are too closed minded to see that people can be more than the fearful actions they commit then I.."

I honestly have no idea how to finish the statement, though it turns out I don't have to because my dad absentmindedly straightens out his cutlery and fixes Quinn with a measured look. I'm not sure what it says.. I'm not sure why he seems to be so subdued about this and why my daddy is the one exploding, usually it would be the other way around. I don't understand anything that's happening right now.

"I think that you should probably leave Quinn."

Quinn's eyes flicker towards mine and the sheer amount of resolve within them makes my crumbling heart take pause for a small moment.

"Actually, I think I should stay."

My dad sighs and shakes his head, sparing a glance at my daddy who is glaring into space, obviously trying not to make a scene. "We need to-"

"Look, you're right.. okay?"

Quinn's voice shakes as she speaks over my dad. She takes a steady breath before continuing, all the while darting her eyes between the three of us in barely contained composure.

"There's.. this doesn't make any sense. It shouldn't be happening. We've got years of teasing and tears and name calling and bathroom pictures and God, boyfriend stealing of all things, between us. And yes, pretty much all of that is because of me."

Quinn holds up a hand and the protest that is shooting from my mouth transforms into a fumbling mess of vowel sounds before quickly fading away. She is looking at me, her gaze is steady, almost pained with the weight of acknowledgement. I know that she is addressing my fathers, but her eyes never leave mine and I feel like she's speaking the words directly into my heart.

"But.. have you ever felt like you just literally cannot stay away from someone? Like, no matter how much it hurts you and how many people you think you're going to disappoint, you just can't keep.. lying."

Quinn's voice seems to break over the last word. As if all of the energy she has been putting into her impassioned argument has escaped with that final sound, as if every lonely night and freezing slushie and stinging word and fervent prayer has been placed upon her shoulders all at once.

"That's how I feel about Rachel, I feel like my whole life I've been lying and she's.. she's the truth of me. My one true thing."

Quinn's eyes finally flutter from mine then, heavy tears are teetering within them that I yearn to kiss away. She seems to take a moment to gather together whatever strands of herself this confession has brought loose and turns to look fully at my fathers now.

"I know you don't like me, you don't even really know me, which is fine because I barely know myself, but I love your daughter and I'm spending every day working on being good enough for her."

"If you think-"

"Lee. Stop."

My dad's hand rests more firmly on my daddy's shoulder and my jaw drops when that tiny action is enough to cause him to close his mouth and stop his objections. I look at my dad's eyes, they are staring into Quinn's and she is staring right back. This strange, silent connection lasts a few more moments before my dad pushes out his chair and stands.

"Rachel, Quinn, please excuse us for a moment, I need to talk to my husband alone."

I can see the protest readying itself on my daddy's lips but it never quite makes it out, because there's a soft kiss from my dad pressed against his ear and a murmur that's far too quiet for me to understand and then they're both standing fully and walking into the kitchen, closing the door behind them.

Mechanically, I begin to stack the dinner plates, thoughtlessly forcing out my breaths in uncontrolled and trembling rasps of air. I'm picking up the final one when Quinn's hand closes over mine, the contact startles me and my eyes instantly flash up to hers.

Slow and precise, Quinn unravels the vice grip I have on the plate and threads her fingers through the spaces in between mine instead. After a gentle, assuring squeeze the insurmountable tension coiling through my body eases and I puff out a soothing sigh, tossing my hair over my shoulder slightly and trying for a shaky smile.

"I'm so sorry, we're not usually like this. I don't know what's happened."

Quinn shakes her head and gives me a wonderfully dulcet smile, it is like a present and I want to put it in my pocket and keep it close to my skin forever. I have always thought that there is something sublimely festive about Quinn, perhaps because she looks so much like an angel and is made up of boxes that, when opened, never fail to hold gifts inside.

She gives my hand another small squeeze and her smile turns humorously disparaging as she rolls her eyes.

"Hey, it's okay. This is still way better than dinner with my parents."

I can see beyond the casual ease she is projecting and I know that she is curious as to why I've been keeping things from my fathers. But one of the things I love most about Quinn is that she doesn't need to ask. She is that respectful kind of quiet that bares more resemblance to a listening ear than a muted mouth.

There are things that I am not ready to discuss, things like the memories I hold in my mind of being squeezed and loved and laughed with being replaced by memories of a larger house with larger rooms and larger amounts of space and silence to fill in with my voice and, even as I'm thinking it, I know that it's not fair. My upbringing has been nothing like Quinn's. My fathers are warm, loving, kind people who have always tried their hardest to make sure that I know I am loved and if there were only a few more hours in a day I would be blissfully happy, but there aren't.

So I'm not.

"C'mere.."

Quinn moves us towards the small chestnut piano sitting in the corner of the room and takes a seat on the stool, pulling me down to, once again, sit between her legs. The position is instantly intimate and familiar and just being there again, wrapped up in the clean, heady scent of freshly pressed clothes and the soft floral notes that seem to follow Quinn around incessantly, I am undeniably centered and, helplessly, my eyes begin to water again.

I breathe in a haggard mouthful of air as I ruthlessly try to hold back the tears but then my emotions settle when, smoother than any silken ribbon, Quinn's arm is curling around my waist to pull me close against her.

Her free hand closes over the fallboard in front of us and clicks it into an upright position, exposing the shining cream keys beneath. There is an infinitely soft kiss pressed to the outer shell of my ear before Quinn's deep, resonate alto is filling the air, her fingers easily trilling through a simple melody.

"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray. You'll never know dear, how much I love you.. so please don't take my sunshine away." [1]

I close my eyes and laugh wearily at the childish song, it strikes such a profound chord of melancholy within me that I squeeze Quinn's arm around me and ask her to play it again. Just as she is about to finish the first verse I interrupt, instead breaking into one of the other, lesser known verses.

"The other night dear, as I lay sleeping, I dreamt I held you in my arms. But when I woke dear, I was mistaken, so I hung my head and cried."

I watch as delicate fingers effortlessly trill through a few more melodic chords before finally coming to a close and then there is a sheepish laugh against my ear that has me sinking even further into Quinn's embrace.

"Okay, so probably not the best song choice."

My cheek cranes against the slight v opening of Quinn's shirt and I plant a lingering, watery kiss against the skin I find there. The situation is obviously far from arousing, but I can't help but smile when the contact causes Quinn's breath to catch regardless.

A soft shake of my head and I purposefully cast away my despondency. Instead, I resolve to soak in the warmth of the arms around me. Each second I spend within them further mends the injuries I have sustained. So much so, that I quirk my brow into a disapproving frown and nudge my cheek against Quinn's chest again.

"Don't be ridiculous, it was perfect."

Quick as lightning Quinn's arms are squeezing around me, lifting me up and sitting me on her lap instead of between her legs. I try to hold back the girly squeal that erupts from my throat at the sudden change but even I have to admit I am only mildly successful.

A gently curved lip presses against my damp cheek from behind and, when Quinn's nose travels down the arch of my neck, breathing in deeply, I am never more grateful for vanilla spice body lotion than I am in that moment.

"You're perfect."

As if to prove my point, I turn in Quinn's arms to sit side on and snort unattractively. My hand smacks over her tensing bicep and I have to work to sniff back the stuffiness in my nose.

"I'm covered in snot."

Quinn laughs softly and nods, chasing my retreating face until I have nowhere to go and have no choice but to let her kiss over my tear tracks in frenzied motions. Eventually though, her kisses become less comical and more.. deliberate. I have to swallow down the burning that coils in my belly when her lips graze over the corner of my mouth.

I'm absolutely sure it's the infinitely gentle groan that breaks away from my throat that finally causes Quinn to pull back, just enough for her to speak against me.

"Yes, perfectly so.."

"-Quinn."

I'm rather haphazardly spun around in Quinn's lap as we both scramble to look a little less like we're about to tear each other's clothes off against the piano now that my fathers are standing at the door watching us.

My dad, whose voice broke through our conversation, is smiling softly and my daddy, who is yet to speak, is standing in silence. His posture is neutral, giving nothing away.

Quinn stands with me still in her arms and gently lowers me down, she erases all traces of intimate touching but most certainly does not move away from me and this undoubtedly unconscious kind of promise makes my skin hum with joy.

My dad clears his throat and looks at me for a moment, I'm not sure what it is that he is seeing but his posture continues to relax the longer he holds my gaze. Finally, he shifts and extends a small smile towards Quinn.

"I was hoping you could help me with the coffee."

I'm blinking rather uncomprehendingly at the casual tone my dad is using so I don't actually notice the resulting silence until a few moments later. Eventually, my head tilts towards Quinn and I'm further shocked to see that she's looking at me expectantly, putting the ball in my court.

My eyes map over the steady features of her carefully sculpted expression and I cannot help but lick my lips at the trust that is sitting there. I think of the blankly smiling face hanging up in my hallway and I almost bring my fingers up to Quinn's cheeks from sheer shock at how noticeably different the girl looking at me now is. It reminds me of how quickly and completely things can change. It reminds me of how, sometimes, the best thing to do is to blow all of the distractions away so you can get to the truth of an issue, or the truth of a person.

I nod silently through my tremulous smile and watch as, with a final squeeze of my hand, Quinn smiles at my dad and walks away.

This of course leaves myself and my daddy standing together and, when the door clicks shut, he turns towards me and gestures towards our seats.

"We're going to have a conversation now."

I take one look at the measured expression on his face and roll my eyes, stamping my foot in exasperation at his continued persistence.

"Daddy!"

I haven't stamped my foot in such a fashion since approximately the age of fourteen and I'm fairly sure it's going to be just enough to end the stalemate that's crept up between us. My daddy surprises me though, because he clears his throat over my protest and, in one fluid motion, sits down in his chair.

"Sit down little star."

Something in my chest actually stutters when I hear the words, he hasn't called me little star since.. well, since I was little. Since before he got promoted to a full workload and started spending more time fixing other people's hearts than paying attention to his own.

My thighs slide against the cushioned fabric of our dining chairs silently and, for some reason, I sit on my hands as I get comfortable. It is a gesture so reminiscent of my childhood that I cannot help but notice the strangeness of its reappearance now.

My daddy crosses his legs and locks eyes with me for a moment, his hands are in his lap and I notice that he is tracing circles against the small protruding tip of ulna by his wrist. He does this when he is nervous, which is very, very rarely. Knowing that he is nervous now makes my thighs clench slightly above my sweaty hands but I do not break our gaze, I wait patiently for him to speak.

"Your dad, he's always known who he is, and he's always loved himself for it. I'm different, although I'm obviously perfectly at peace now.. I didn't have the easiest time coming out. It took me a long time to learn to love myself, and throughout all that, I wasn't a very nice person."

My eyebrows furrow slightly as I listen to him speak, this is something new. I've never spoken to either of my fathers about their coming out experiences other than as explanations for why my daddy's relatives never join us for family gatherings.

He reaches over to pick up his glass and takes a small sip of water before continuing on.

"I.. bullied and hurt people, just like Quinn has done to you, and the defense mechanism didn't just go away once I got a boyfriend. I just.. I don't want this for you sweetheart. There's so much that can hurt you."

It is in that moment, that I am simultaneously elated and dismayed. Nobody's perfect, but if my father can come from a similar place and end up part of a loving family then what does that say about the future Quinn and I might have? I've never dared to even consider what our limits are, and now I feel as though I don't have to. I feel as though my daddy is living proof that people don't have to be caged by their pasts.

My heart soars.

But then, as if at the mercy of an errand wind current, it dips when I realize where this knowledge has come from. My father has never spoken about his family and I cannot help but wonder how bad his situation was. I cannot help but wonder if that's why he reacted so strongly to meeting the Fabray's at parent teacher night in junior high. It was the only time I'd ever seen him argumentative in public, and I wasn't even close enough to hear what he was saying.

Either way, I know what he's saying now, and as much as I love him for it, I don't think he quite understands. So, nodding my head, I place my hand over where his fingers are still circling his wrist and smile.

"Daddy, as much credence as I'm sure Freud's work has, I am not in love with my father. You and Quinn are very different people, and have some faith. I know how to handle her, claws and all."

"Bu-"

I cut him off by curling my hand around his index finger and squeezing. To this day, it never ceases to amaze me how large his hands are compared to mine.

"Daddy, please trust that I love her, and she loves me and that I know what I'm doing."

My father sighs and looks down at our joint hands, I'm sure similar thoughts are going through his mind as well. I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like to watch the hands of someone you love grow from small and chubby to capable and dexterous.

I think of the photo of me as a baby that he chose for our wall. I am pointing, grasping, reaching and reaching and trying my best to touch the world with nothing but a tiny pincer grip and a joyous smile. My hands are larger now, but, in many ways, I have not changed at all. My daddy's hand closes around mine and he gives it a final squeeze before pulling back, sighing in defeat.

"That is exactly what your dad said.. and I know this needs a whole separate conversation that we are most definitely going to have tomorrow over blackcurrant cordial, but I want you to know that I'm so sorry we haven't been here for you sweetie. Mostly though, I'm sorry that we made you feel as though you couldn't talk to us about any of this."

I can't quite suppress the chuckle that fills me at his mention of blackcurrant cordial as I shake my head, pushing a curl of brown hair behind my ear.

"Daddy, you've done an excellent job raising me, it takes more than a couple of choice words and some slushie facials to bring me down."

Ironically, my smug smile freezes slightly at the alarmed look my father shoots me.

"Slushi-.."

"Nevermind. The point is.. Quinn and I are past that now and I'm confident that we'll be able to handle anything that life throws at us in the future."

My daddy very purposefully blinks away his horror regarding slushies and instead regards me with a curious look.

"What is she like at school?"

I pick up the edge of the tablecloth and play my fingers over it nervously as I try to focus on not making the truth sound like such a big deal.

"Oh, actually.. she hasn't been to school since all of this has happened, she got suspended two weeks ago.." I see the pair of eyes looking at me begin to widen and I jump in before any more damage can be done "..FOR taking full responsibility for pulling a prank on me AND she's apologized AND we've moved past it.. I promise."

There's a small, blue vein in my daddy's forehead that tends to make itself known when he's.. overwhelmed. I can see it flashing at me menacingly now, even through the few calming breaths he takes. I'm sure the conversation is going to go south again but my father clasps his hands together and actually gives me a genuine smile that is only slightly tinted by worry.

"Sweetheart, you have a rare and amazing gift for forgiveness. Be careful with it, okay?"

My responding smile is practically huffed out as a relieved breath whooshes forth from my lungs. In spite of this, I try to listen to what is being said to me, I know it is important, I know I have a habit of letting my best intentions run away with me so I nod, and commit the words to memory within me.

"I will. But please, give her a chance? She's made so much progress and it's only been two weeks. How long did it take you to meet your first boyfriend's parents?"

My daddy actually barks out a surprised laugh and crosses his arms, playfully raising an eyebrow.

"I choose not to answer that based on my need to appear perfect but.. I'll try my best to try my best with Quinn, okay?"

It is the absolute best that I can hope for and we both know it, so I nod my head again and breathe out a delighted "okay" that I'm sure is more sigh than speech. This pulls another small laugh from my daddy and then his arms are around me and I'm being enveloped in another wonderfully warm hug.

"I love you so disgustingly much, you know this yes?"

I smile against the sunny peach of his dress shirt and it's so wide that my cheeks begin to hurt. I haven't felt this close to my daddy in.. well, a very long time, and it feels like something has changed between us all tonight. Something a little bit wonderful.

"I know, I love you too."

The crash of the door being bumped open breaks through the happy silence that follows our declarations and I pull back to see that my dad and Quinn are standing at the door, holding a large plunger of coffee and a jug of milk respectively. The brew is steaming pleasantly and already rich in aroma, and when my daddy licks his lips appreciatively I'm fairly sure it's at that exact moment that I'm sure he and Quinn will, one day, be very close.

"Aw, look at them all cuddly and sweet. It's a wonderful sight wouldn't you say?"

My dad giggles childishly and bumps Quinn who, to her credit, seems to accept the contact graciously and just fixes me with a deeply happy gaze. I see so much in her eyes, they are viridescent and knowing and veritable seas of possibility that I simply cannot wait to get lost in.

Her lips quirk further at the intensity of my responding gaze and she nods once, agreeing with my dad's assessment simply.

"Wonderful."

My dad raises an eyebrow and glances between us for a few awkward moments before finally giving up and walking towards the table, obviously intent on making up for lost time.

"Okay okay, save it for when you're married girls. Who's up for coffee and dessert?"


I groan contently at the hands that are covering my slightly protruding stomach and, for the first time that evening, feel almost bashful about how much vegan chocolate cake I managed to ingest.

Quinn laughs softly and rests us against one of the white posts that line my porch. It's getting late and she has to leave, my fathers have afforded us a bit of privacy to say goodnight but now that they actually know that we're dating, I know I shouldn't push my luck. I'm pulled out of my musing by a soft kiss being pressed to my temple.

"Everything go okay in there?"

My eyes dip closed at the intimacy of the contact and I try my best to temper the waves of warmth that simmer through my bones as a result of it.

"Um, yeah, he just.. my daddy had trouble coming out. His family was, well, I don't think they were quite like yours, but they weren't supportive. I think he's just scared."

I don't want to tell Quinn exactly what my daddy is scared of, but it seems as though she already knows, because she pulls back slightly and fixes me with a soft gaze.

"Are you scared?"

I know she is not trying to intrude, she is not trying to breach, but I can't quite control the worried swallow that bobs in my throat as I let myself really think about the question. My arms move from around Quinn's waist to bunch up at the front of her shirt, running my thumbs across the soft and clean material rhythmically.

"What's going to happen at school on Monday?"

Quinn's gaze doesn't quite waver, but she licks her lips gently and ends the motion with a slight clench to her jaw.

"Probably a whole bunch of stuff."

I smile despite myself at her evasive reply and tug on her shirt lightly, bringing our bodies even closer together.

"And you're okay with that?"

I know it could technically be counted as cheating, but I am hoping that being able to feel my body pressed against hers with nothing but thin layers of fabric separating us will influence her answer to be slightly more in my favor. As it turns out, my subterfuge is quite unnecessary as Quinn's response surprises me for the umpteenth time that evening.

"Rach, in the past few weeks I've been kicked out of home, found a better home, lost all of my possessions, gotten a job, escaped a tumbling boulder, gone dolphin diving, played the piano in front of someone for the first time in years AND survived dinner at the Berrys. I think I can handle whatever Monday brings."

I'm fairly sure it's the incredibly sexy quirk of her eyebrow that is my undoing but I find that, as soon as Quinn finishes speaking, I am completely,one hundred percentnot worried about Monday anymore and far more worried about the fact that, if I don't detach myself soon, we're going to have another first right here on the porch.

Blinking out the want that is no doubt swimming in my eyes, I don't even really consider that Quinn has turned the tables and used questionable sensual tactics to play me. Instead, I let out a breathy giggle that actually has me blushing from how smitten it sounds.

"Well.. when you put it like that!"

Quinn chuckles happily for a moment before her face becomes serious as she dips it down closer to mine, catching and holding my still burning eyes.

"Are you okay with it?"

There's something provocative about the shape her lips take during the question, as if each word is being held and molded just for me, as if each sound is a secret. The thrill hits my gut hard and hot and I am sure that my fingers are creasing marks into the lavender of Quinn's shirt but I honestly cannot find it within me to care. I can barely find it within me to speak, so instead, I nod once and force out a short, resolute affirmation.

"Very."

Quinn licks her lips and I notice that her eyes have darkened considerably, there are secrets within them, things she wants to say. I don't know if it's the fact that we don't have much time left together or that one (or both) of my fathers are no doubt eaves dropping on us from behind the front door, but she bites her teeth down and stays silent.

It lasts for a beat before, almost mutually, we disconnect slightly and take a breath. Quinn clears her throat and fixes her shirt in a manner so charmingly practiced that I almost can't believe she was restricted to summer dresses and cardigans until not two weeks ago. She fixes a smile onto her face that seems to spark with promise and excitement.

"In that case, would you like to go on a date with me tomorrow?"

My head tilts in surprise, Quinn has never done this before. Excluding our lunch time meeting in the auditorium I've been the only one to initiate dates. It's an imbalance that I had not even noticed until now and, although I'm sure I'm not misinterpreting the proposition, I still find myself stumbling to ensure we're on the same page.

"A date? Like a girlfriend/girlfriend date date?"

One of Quinn's hands slips into a pocket and the move looks so casual that anyone would think she wasn't fussed at the conversation at all. Anyone but me of course. I know Quinn better than I know most things so I know that it is a nervous gesture and the fact that this is even making her nervous at all makes me all the more excited. Still, she gathers herself and nods in response to my questioning ramble.

"Yes to all of those repetitions. I know it's Sunday but it's our last day before Monday hits and I would very much like to spend a large portion of it with you. So, will you accompany me for an early evening out Miss Berry?"

I can just barely control the bounce in my step as I nod my head but then, it falters naturally when I realize the hurdle ahead.

"I would love to! But oh, I'm.. I should probably check with my fathers, just in case."

Quinn grins and shakes her head, eyes nervously tracing over the planes of my face as she speaks.

"I asked your dad's permission, I hope that's okay. He said it would be fine."

For a few moments, I can't actually do anything other than blink while my mouth moves ineffectually. I've never known an individual so.. precise and methodical and.. thoughtful before. Eventually, my jaw muscles begin to work again and I shake my head at how 50s diner this entire scenario is turning out to be.

"You're hilarious."

Quinn gives me an injured glare for a moment before she gently kicks her shoe against mine.

"No, I'm charming."

The sheer childishness of the move when paired with how smoking hot Quinn looks tonight only serves to heighten my amusement and I find that I have to lean against a nearby post while I collect myself.

"Is that what they're calling it these days?"

There's another reproachful glare being directed at me but it hangs for only a moment before it melts into another nervous smile.

"Yes! And I have a request."

My giggles have completely faded now, instead replaced with an intense amount of curiosity and perhaps just a tiny soupcon of apprehension.

"Okay.."

Quinn runs a lip under a row of white teeth and smoothes a hand down my hair, guiding it away from my face before resting her thumb over my brow to graze over the slight furrow that has come to sit there. A soft whimper bubbles in my chest, the tenderness of the gesture affects me so. It is almost enough to cause me to miss what Quinn is saying.

"Wear a yellow dress? I mean, you don't have to, you'll be radiant anyway but, if you'd like to, a yellow dress would be wonderful."

My eyes, which have drooped shut at the torrent of emotions Quinn's touch has ignited within me, snap open in curiosity. I don't even bother questioning the color or the request, instead I strike for the heart of the matter inthe fervent hope that Quinn will take pity on me and, at the very least, give me a clue.

"Where are we going?"

Of course, I should know better. There is no clue, there is only that wonderfully seductive smile and a pair of steady eyes, blinking into mine.

"You'll just have to wait and see won't you?"

My eyes narrow as a tooth thoughtfully sinks into the flesh of my lips.

"Tyrant."

 

Chapter Text

Quinn.


"Hey Dyke!"

My head snaps up from the heavy tome I'm looking at to stare straight into a pair of interested green eyes.

"mm-m-ister Schue?"

The words are a slap to the face but I am, oddly, even more horrified to hear the stutter that comes from my mouth; the helpless way it restricts my vocalization makes the situation that much worse. All I want to do is crawl into my book and disappear, but I'm not afforded this luxury because Coach Bieste appears a second later, blinking at me sympathetically.

"I don't think the little nugget heard you Will.."

I push off from the locker I've been leaning against and clutch my book to my chest, it is thick and heavy and the weighted corners dig into my arms painfully. I don't care though, I just need to get away.

Straightening the lined, eggshell hem of my summer dress, I'm about to barge my way past the two adults when Mr. Schue's frame moves directly in my way, effectively trapping me in place.

He looks at me strangely, as if I have some kind of disability, before speaking again in a loud, overly enunciated tone.

"Oh, I said 'Hey Dyke!'"

Coach Bieste nods and dips her head down towards me, as if addressing a child.

"Yeah, he said 'hey Dyke' coz you're lesbian now sweetie."

This causes a frown to quirk, I am suddenly confused. Licking my lips, I shuffle in place between the two before finally looking at Mr. Schue, trepidatious trust written plainly on my face.

"I.. what?"

"Oh great now she's faking, don't bother, everyone knows."

I look around the crowded hallway and feel inexplicably vulnerable. The only thing that staves my panicked tears is the weight of the dusty tome pressed against my heart. I don't know what I'm doing here, I don't know what's expected. I lean towards Mr. Schue and try to whisper out a plea.

"I'm.. Mr. Schue, I don't feel very comfortable here."

He shares a laugh with Coach Bieste before clapping me on the shoulder and beginning to lead me down the busy corridor.

"Well, you better get used to that if you want to win Nationals."

I just barely miss getting barged into by a faceless body and struggle to keep up with the fast pace Mr. Schue is setting.

"Nationals? I.. I haven't really thought about it."

He looks ahead, no doubt plotting out our path, and rolls his eyes mirthlessly.

"Oh Rachel's going to love that."

My eyebrows spark up at the name and something tickles my brain ceaselessly.

"Rachel.."

My mind flares in sudden remembrance; there is a person in my life called Rachel that I know. She is important. She is.. colorful. But, scanning my eyes over the hallways as I'm tugged along by Mr. Schue's large hand, I can't quite find her.

My jolted progress is halted by a strong, hard body making contact with mine. The force pushes my book heavily into my chest and I am instantly winded.

It almost falls from my hold, but I manage to grasp onto the spine with strained fingers just before it hits the floor. I am unspeakably relieved at this, but the awkward angle has caused me to fall to one knee. Pressing my free hand to my chest I heave in rapid pulls of air in an attempt to regain my breath.

Finally, I track my eyes upwards and see a mess of blonde hair framing a very familiar pinched scowl.

"Haste makes waste Q, and you reminded me of a young Sue Sylvester."

There's a hint of sadness that fills me at her words, a kind of lonesome emptiness. It has me licking my lips in remorse and struggling to word an apology. I never quite make it though, I don't have time; Mr. Schue is already pulling me back up to stand, shoving Coach Sue out the way.

"Not now Sue, we're late for Glee practice. You know we have Nationals tomorrow!"

I spark in alarm at the sudden news, gripping Mr. Schue's vest and pulling him to a stop.

"Wait, what?! We do?! Tomorrow?!"

He sighs impatiently and pushes my hand off of him in exasperation.

"Do you just not care at all?"

Suddenly, his eyes flicker behind me and he fixes a pointed finger at the space by my left shoulderblade, clearly indicating his upcoming request will not be up for debate.

"Don't dawdle."

I'm about to spin around to try and pinpoint who he is talking to, when there's a sharp poke to my stomach and Santana's arm is draped around my shoulders. We are strolling at a gentle pace and the sea of bodies parts instinctively at our presence. For a moment, I am calm once more.

"So what's it like? Having sex with the Hobbit? Does she have hairy feet?"

I snap my head to gape at Santana and, almost as immediately, I find I cannot meet her gaze. Instead, my fingers play over the strong spine of my book in nervous motions. There's a warm pressure on my right side now and I smell the watermelon bodywash I have come to associate with Brittany.

She snakes an arm around my waist so I'm effectively in a three way embrace, hanging between light and dark. Brittany squeezes me and speaks clearly into the open air before us.

"On account of the fact that you're Lebanese now, can I call you Quim Fabgay in our fondue for two interview?"

Flushing darkly, I drag us all to a stop and pull myself free of the strange hold I've become enmeshed in, cheeks glowing hot with fear and something oddly shameful.

"Okay, what the hell is everybody talking about?! I'm not ready for this!"

My irritated gaze shifts between the two of them accusingly. I try to gather my best HBIC glare but I think they know that I'm terrified because neither Santana nor Brittany seem to be phased. Instead, they just look at me sadly, like I've been the butt of a joke I haven't even understood.

I'm not sure about any of this and I don't like the way they're looking at me, I don't like the way that Mr. Schue is tapping his foot impatiently ahead of us. I need more time. I need help. I need..

"Where's Rachel?"

Santana puffs out a dismissive gust of air and crosses her arms, somehow seeming nonchalant, concerned, predatory, and remorseful all at once.

"She's long gone, you know that."

There's a piece of shrapnel that quivers in my heart; stuck there from an old explosion. It pierces and aches inside of me relentlessly until I feel as though a part of me is being choked.

"G-Gone?"

"Yep, Broadway ain't exactly close by you know?"

At this, the shrapnel dislodges and sinks away, leaving an empty hole in its wake. I feel cut; bleeding. The rise and fall of my chest begins to morph slightly, as if to physically mimic this sensation. I feel on the verge of splitting, but then there is an olive hand pressing against my breastbone and holding me together.

"Don't fall apart on me now Q."

I look at Santana's face and stutter at how firmly she is pressing into my chest. There is feeling in the contact, an emotion she is trying to get across, but we have never been good at verbalizing things, especially to each other.

"You're hurt.. both of you."

The innocent sense of revelation on Brittany's face makes me crumble all the more, I don't understand any of this. Everyone is being so mean and who am I to care where Broadway even is and why is this book still resting against my heart and why do I feel like I need it so much? Why can't I fathom letting it go?

"I.."

I'm not even sure what it is that I want to say, but I never get a chance to say it because Brittany pulls me away from Santana and guides me further down the hall towards the Glee room, looping an arm through mine in casual intimacy.

"Do you think there's a wrong way and a right way?"

I swerve to avoid a herd of cattle in the hallway that, upon further reflection, actually turn out to be human rather than bovine.

"What?"

Brittany looks confused that I have not understood the comment, but continues on regardless.

"To slice a carrot."

She's holding a scalpel now and the intense amount of alarm that hits my gut is only cut away by Finn's friendly greeting.

"Oh, hey Dyke!"

My gaze snaps away from Brittany, who is now using her scalpel to spread peanut butter onto her animal crackers, and pierces Finn with a flaming heap of frustration.

"Okay, that is not my name!"

Although it's hard to tell in light of his general expression, he seems to look confused. We stand awkwardly for a moment with Mr. Schue still yelling at me to follow him to Glee and Brittany munching on her animal crackers, before Finn finally nods, still somewhat vacantly.

"Oh. What's your name then?"

"I.."

Mountains of anger and venom are readying to explode from my mouth, until I realize that I don't actually have the capacity to answer. The knowledge of this worries me greatly and my fingers flex around the book I'm, once again, holding close to my chest. For some reason, I don't trust Finn around it, even though I'm sure he wouldn't even know how to read it.

"I thought I knew."

Suddenly, his friendly demeanor turns sour and he crosses his arms, staring at me with clouds of stony judgment in his eyes.

"Yeah, right. That didn't work out so well did it?"

I really have nothing to say to this because I have no idea what he's talking about. I feel like there's so much I don't understand and there's just not enough time. I'm late. I'm running late. Everything is moving too fast.

Finn notices my discomfort and gives me a smirk that I don't quite understand. Until, I blink again and I realize it's not Finn at all, it's my father, dressed in his Sunday best and frowning at me blankly.

"You got your dress dirty again."

Looking down, I see the pale cream of my summer dress has become shaded by the gentle brown dust that is covering the tome in my hands. It doesn't feel dirty. It feels..

"How's your neck sweetheart?"

I abandon the thought and my free hand shoots up to my clavicle in automatic response, I am confused to find it intact, unmarred, but empty.

The edge of a nail presses painfully into my skin and I can't even wrap my head around why this makes me feel marginally better. I don't know how to respond to all the things that are buzzing around my mind, so I ignore them and grind out a hollow "fine.." that I'm sure doesn't even audibly register.

"Okay guys, show circle time!"

My gaze pushes away from where it has landed on Mr. Schue, who is gathering everybody together, and back to my father, just in time to see him turn a corner and disappear.

I blink rapidly at the loss but turn around in sheer confusion at the fact that I am now wearing a black dress with thick gold trim. The show circle is compiled, everyone is there, waiting for me, but as I begin to walk over I can't smother how unprepared for this I feel.

"Nationals already?"

There are the beginnings of disappointed scowls on everyone's faces but I'm saved their completion by Principal Figgins' voice crackling over the PA system.

"Attention students and teachers: this is a school wide announcement. The cafeteria will not be serving its much loved mystery meatloaf today due to new state public health regulation guidelines and also, on a mostly unrelated note, could Miss Quim Fabgay please make her way to the office for the commencement of public ridicule and Quim Fabgay to the office please."

All breath leaves my lungs as a strange and unwelcome ache overcomes my knees. I hesitate in my place just left of the show circle. I don't understand any of this, I was so careful, I had it all planned out. None of this is happening in the proper order. Looking down, I see a pair of dirty black high tops encase my feet and there are jeans around my legs.

I'm not even sure when I changed.

Santana's throaty laughter suddenly fills my ears and I swallow heavily as I watch her with Brittany. She has a toned arm wrapped around Brittany's waist and is pulling her close.

"Quim Fabgay, I love it babe."

"Do you? I can't wait for the interview!"

Brittany grins happily and picks Santana up, twirling her around briefly in a fit of energetic laughter. They look so happy, I almost don't understand how they fit in this place. Once Santana's feet hit the ground, she pivots around and catches my gaze, as if only just noticing I'm still present.

"Well go on, you'll miss your spanking!"

I blink and, ineffectually, try to verbalize some kind of excuse.

"What about Nationals?"

Brittany joins Santana in turning to fully regard me. They're holding hands now and the corridor is suddenly empty, the muted silence coming out as a high-pitched buzz to my overwhelmed ears.

"That was ages ago, oh.."

Following their surprised gazes, I look down at the large, heavy tome I'm holding in my arms. My eyes widen as some of the dust clears from on top of it. I can see the beginnings of an intricately shaped 'R' begin to unravel.

Taking a deep breath, I blow away the rest of the dust bit by bit, my heart rate increasing with each new letter that is revealed.

By the end, my heart is pounding and I am breathless, holding a book with the letters R-A-C-H-E-A-L lovingly and carefully inscripted upon it.

"You had her all along Q. Why didn't you tell us?"

Santana's hurt voice fizzes harshly against my eardrums and, all at once, I wake.


There is cold sweat sticking to my skin, my window has blown open and an icy breeze is hitting my face, chilling me to the bone. Reeling from the dream still bobbing under my eyelids, I sit up in the center of my bed, curling the covers around me in a tight, protective fort.

"What.. the fuck?"


Silently, I push the door to Fran's room open and pad towards her bed, already feeling guilty when I see that the clock has just struck 2:00 am.

After a moment of deliberation, I realize that I'm hovering creepily. I don't mean to be, I'm just trying to formulate some kind of way of waking Fran up without coming across as either completely insane or completely incapable of acting like an adult.

As it turns out, my muted pacing is enough, and she only starts for a second before looking at the time and sluggishly rubbing her face.

"Heey Lucy Q."

Fran's cheeks are creased with sleep, short spikes of red hair flame out haphazardly and I find myself biting my lip and taking a small step back to hover by the door again.

"It's really late."

Fran blinks her sleepy eyes at me for a moment before silently shuffling back and opening the covers to me. I'm not sure why, but the unquestioning comfort inherent in the gesture causes tears to prick sharply in my eyes.

"I'm sorry I woke you."

She stretches out like a contented cat and waves a hand at me, initially dismissive and then quietly beckoning.

"It's okay, come on in."

Stiffly at first, as if unsure of the movement, I crawl in beside her and I am instantly enveloped in a blanket of settled warmth. It stills my churning stomach and, for perhaps the hundredth time, I am infinitely grateful to have Fran in my life. She shuffles in towards me and ruffles a gentle hand through my hair, frowning at the undoubtedly haunted look in my eyes.

"Bad dream?"

My hands close around the one weaving through my hair and hold it between us, absentmindedly touching my fingertips to each of Fran's multicolored nails. I don't know where to start, I'm not sure where any of this has come from. I thought that everything was going so well..

"..Yeah"

"Wanna talk about it?"

My throat bobs in confusion as I struggle to fit the pieces together but I can't see the forest for the trees. I remember a book in my arms, Rachel pressing on my heart, I remember shame and panic and always moving one step too slow. I remember my father walking away and, perhaps clearest of all, I remember Santana's face, filled with a complex torrent of conflicting emotions.

Turning around, I shuffle myself back into Fran and nod, taking a centering breath.

"Yeah, I do.."

I feel arms wrap around me strongly and a resolute nod bump the back of my shoulders.

"Okay then, go."


"Wow."

At some point during my retelling, I swiveled back around to face Fran again and, since then, our faces have been quite close together, as if sharing a secret. It is thanks to this closeness that I can see the confusion present in her eyes despite the darkness, I can see the way she is scrambling to make the puzzle pieces click.

Breathing out a sigh, I snuggle deeper into the covers and blink up at Fran's frowning face.

"I know.."

She moves to lie on her back and thinks for a moment, before turning her head to the side to regard me once more.

"Forgive me for stating the obvious, but it does sound like you're worried about school on Monday."

Try as I might, I can't quite bite down the disappointment that rustles in my bones from the truth of that statement. I think of the way Rachel felt in my arms at dinner, I think of how tightly her hands clung to my shirt. I'm trying so hard not to be but..

"I am."

Fran's lips shade white as she presses them together thoughtfully, she is taking a careful moment to choose her words, I like it, it makes me feel like the world isn't moving as fast as it was in my dream.

"That's okay you know, you're allowed to be worried. It has nothing to do with how you feel about Rachel."

I sigh listlessly because I know the logic of Fran's argument, but my anxiety actually has everything to do with how I feel about Rachel.

"I'm scared of getting overwhelmed and saying something stupid. I'm scared I'll lose her, that I won't be able to find her over the noise in my head."

Fran nods, as if conceding the point, and sighs regretfully.

"Well, unfortunately, I can't help you with that other than to remind you that you found each other once so I have no doubt that you'll do it again."

I suddenly feel flush with energy, restless and dissatisfied with my stationary position. I sit up and lean against the bedhead, bringing my knees up to my chest and squeezing them tightly. The tension that blooms through my biceps makes me feel better, like my cup isn't quite overflowing.

"I'm just so scared now, and I can't work out if I'm scared because of the dream or if I had the dream because I was scared."

Fran surprises me by batting at my clenched fists until they loosen and unraveling my tightly coiled position. We end up with her head in my lap and my hands in her hair, making tiny plaits that fall apart as soon as I stop holding them together. It's nice.

"Maybe it's a bit of both, can I ask you a question?"

I give a vague sound of assent and continue to methodically weave the tiny strands of hair at my disposal.

"Why do you think you remembered Santana so clearly?"

My finger falters on a join and the plait I'm shaping comes loose, causing Fran's straightened hair to immediately spring back into its spiky formation. I think about the missed calls and the messages and the voicemails I had spent the first few days of my suspension deleting. I try not to think about how sick and guilty I suddenly feel over the action. Fran is right, I do remember Santana the clearest. Even now, I can still see the look on her face, its clarity second only to the memory of revealing Rachel's name with soft, precise puffs from my lungs.

"I.. I don't know."

We're silent for a moment after that, and I cannot tell if it's because Fran is thinking or because she's giving me time to think. It could be a combination of both, because she clicks her tongue quietly, as if wrestling with her internal dialogue, before pushing out another question.

"What's she like?"

A light, weary laugh sparks from my lips, because really? How on earth do you describe Santana Lopez to someone who has never met her? She's a lot of things, and throughout these past months especially, I have been able to see that even those underpinning characteristics are changing as well.

She is no longer just made up of the shadows that her anger casts, Brittany is showing her how to be okay with being more than that, a fact that, rather shamefully, used to make me seethe with jealousy.

"I've always thought that her and her girlfriend Brittany were like Eros and Thanatos, Brittany is all about life and love and openness, but when Santana loses herself, she can be destruction; absolute."

Fran's eyes are averted and looking across the room, but I can feel her gaze burn through me regardless. It stings a very specific portion of my heart, like a magnifying glass to an ant. She is looking at me closely and she is seeing what I have always been able to.

"You identify with her."

I blink away the panic that builds within at the level of understanding Fran has reached and, instead, choose to consider my description of Santana and how it relates to me.

We are very similar; external and internal manifestations of the same kind of fear. In spite of our mutual progression away from these dark things, Santana can be extroverted, threatening, violent. I can be introverted, detached, dangerous. I swallow and wonder if these facets of our crystalline personalities will ever truly cease to exist, or if they will just remain hidden, away from reflecting light.

"Sometimes."

Perhaps it doesn't matter, perhaps it only matters what parts of ourselves we choose to use. I am so deeply caught in these ruminations that I don't notice Fran turning at first, she looks up at me and smiles thoughtfully before touching a playful finger to the tip of my nose. When I have to wiggle it to stop myself from having a sneezing fit, a significant portion of my heavy thoughts are effectively shaken away.

It is at this point that I am sure Fran is, one day soon, going to make an absolutely magnificent teacher.

Laughing at the put out glare I'm sending her, she lets me rub my nose for a moment longer before shuffling away from my lap and tugging me back down to lay. I close my eyes against the cool of the pillow and try to ignore the knowing smile that's being directed at me.

"So, you think Santana and Brittany temper each other?"

Immediately I nod, head already full of memories of just how well the two work together.

"Completely, anyone could see that they're endgame material."

Kind of like you and Rachel?

She doesn't have to say it, I can tell by the smile on her face it's what she's thinking, and that causes me to blush and hide my face even further in Fran's pillow for a moment. She laughs at my bashfulness and gives me a nudge, steering the conversation back towards Brittany and Santana.

"It sounds like they mean a lot to you."

"Well, we were on the Cheerios together, I was their captain, we were a unit I guess. The Unholy Trinity."

Fran shakes her head and shuffles closer.

"No, it sounds like they mean a lot to you."

I frown at the distinction and look down at my hands, tracing my fingers over the grooves and crevices that make up my palms.

"We haven't ever really worked that way, as friends I mean."

We haven't, and I have always been intimately aware that this has mostly been a failing on my part. I was cruel when I found out that Santana and Brittany were in love, I was cruel and cold and very careful to ensure that they only knew how much I disapproved, how much I wanted to ignore the reality of what was happening. I couldn't handle watching them together, knowing that, just on the edge of my consciousness, I wanted all the same things so very badly.

Because before puberty really struck and it was obvious that Santana would never be able to just be friends with Brittany, we were close, the two of us. In a very strange and distant way, we appreciated things about each other. Like the importance of reputation and the necessity of manipulation in the search for, not just survival, but supremacy.

The only difference between us was that I had more to lose and less people to rely on.

I blink to see Fran watching me closely, a gentle frown quirking her features. It deepens for a moment before she rolls her eyes and wipes it away, replacing it with apologetic impatience.

"Okay I'm sorry, I've tried to be subtle about this but it's really late and just not working for me so here are my assumptions. I'm guessing that, even though the both of you have never actually spoken about it and you've probably done some insanely stupid stuff to one another, Santana is pretty much your best friend. I'm also guessing that you haven't spoken to her since any of this went down and that, before it did, you were less than supportive of her relationship with Brittany. This has left you feeling weird and guilty."

I'm taken back by all this information, I've never thought of Santana as my best friend, I've never had a best friend. What do they look like? Because I'm fairly sure an occasionally toxic and competitive relationship with a rival doesn't quite fit the bill.

"But in my dr-"

Fran cuts me off with a shake of her head and continues on, clearly tired of censoring herself.

"Your dream was made up of a whole bunch of crazy that would never actually happen in reality, although if you insist we focus on it then okay. Think back, everyone was saying all these awful things to you, your teachers, your ex-boyfriend, people in your world that meant something to you, and you dealt with it right?"

I nod hesitantly, not really sure of the larger picture I'm no doubt agreeing to.

"Right. But, cue Santana and Brittany and suddenly you get very upset very quickly. You're scared that Santana's going to reject you Q. You've been working so hard to become someone that you're proud of and you're scared that, when she sees that person, she's not going to understand."

There's a rather large part of me that wants to lash out at that assumption. Because I have never needed anyone in my life before and now there seem to be quite a few people I apparently can't do without.

But then the pacing anger settles, because I realize that perhaps the point isn't that I can't, but rather that I just don't want to.

I think about the ways that Brittany, Santana and I have grown; Freshmen Cheerios to captain and lieutenants. I think about the fact that Santana was the first person I spoke to when I tried out for the team in junior high, the first person to meet Quinn Fabray in all her terrible glory. We clashed immediately but Brittany held us together until we built our own threads of understanding, until we learned to coexist.

I think about sleepovers and secrets and lies and betrayals and laughter and swimming and all of these tiny moments that have plaited our lives together. I know it then, I am worried. I'm terrified. I don't want to go back to having nothing and needing no one. Santana is important to me, they both are, because they're a part of me and I..

I want them to know me. Finally.

A breath full of remorse shudders forth from my surprised lungs as I finally blink my gaze back to Fran.

"You.. You're right."

She nods then, as if she's known what I have just managed to divine all along, and I wonder what it would be like to see things as she does, to know and to understand so intimately. People are too often still a mystery to me, landscapes of smiles and frowns that I struggle to navigate without error.

"So..?"

Her inflection suggests it is a question; a leading statement, and I see that, again, she is taking my hand and guiding me through the maze, she is helping me find my way.

Quite suddenly, the power I've attached to my dream begins to melt away. I think about it for a moment longer, I think about the things that I felt and the things that I saw and then I let every one of them go. I watch as they fall away from me like leaves before I nod in the direction of Fran's waiting face.

"So.. I'll call her in the morning."

She smiles triumphantly and stretches out again, covering a yawn with the back of her hand.

"Yes you will, now get out of my room or go to sleep. I'm not twenty anymore, I need more than three hours a night!"

I laugh gratefully and push up to press a sudden kiss to Fran's surprised brow. It is sloppy and firm and perfect to express just how carefree she has made me feel.

"Thanks sis!"

"Ew." Fran wipes the spit off her forehead before smearing it on my pajama leg "That was gross, and it's not all me, I have to say I think we've made significant progress in tonight's session.. Quim."

I have a hand curled around Fran's pillow and, before she can even blink, it's smacking her in the face in a perfectly aimed gust of feathered scandal.

"Oh my God, shut up Fanny!"

There's only laughter between us then, it lasts for long moments until we're both breathless and tired from the effort of wrestling at three o'clock in the morning. Eventually, our laughter dims and our limbs grow heavy and then we're nothing more than two bodies curled up in the quiet of a dreamless slumber.

It is, perhaps, the loveliest sleep of my life.


I'm methodically organizing the sugar packets on my table when I hear a throaty laugh sound from across the mall and my gaze snaps up to find its owner. Breathing down the anxiety that has spiked through my heart I settle when I see it's not Santana.

It's currently 12:34 pm. Santana said she would meet me at the Lima Bean in the mall at 12:30. I wouldn't put it past her to stand me up. When she answered her phone she made it very clear that she wasn't impressed by my sudden disappearance from school or whatever 'episode of crazy' I was currently experiencing. It took me almost ten minutes to convince her to meet me and only because I promised to let her in on everything that was going on.

So here I sit, in the enemy territory of the Lima Bean, organizing all of the (incorrectly) assembled sugar packets within my reach and waiting.

There's a half-finished soy hazelnut latte and an untouched long black sitting on my table. A small shopping bag leans against the spare third chair and, resting my eyes on it for a moment, I cannot help but smile as I think of seeing Rachel tonight.

I take another small sip of my coffee and lick the foam that's touched my lips. It seems silly, using Rachel's coffee order, but I can't deny that there's a part of me that needs to feel like there's a part of her that's here, to make my nerves feel not quite so completely frayed.

"Holy shit Q, what the fuck did you do to your hair?!"

Soymilk steams on my skin as I jolt at the loud, intrusive bark. Luckily, my few shifts at the Java Hut have given me experience in ignoring burns, so I lick the milk off my knuckle before calmly blowing a puff of cool air over the redness.

When my eyes finally meet Santana's I can see that she did not mean for her voice to scare me, she's actually genuinely shocked.

"Hey."

Internally, I wince at the chill in my tone. I'm trying not to shut down, but the look in Santana's eyes as she takes in my changed appearance is causing heat to smart on my skin far beyond the patch of red that's forming on my knuckle.

"Have you like joined a cult or what?"

Furrowing my brow, I look down at my jeans and orange 'what's shakin bacon?' t-shirt, trying to figure out where her brain has gone.

"What? Why the hell would I want to do that?"

Santana crosses her arms and juts a hip out, fire already present in her eyes. The sight makes me grip the coffee cup firmer in my hand, letting a jet of hazelnut scented steam waft into the air and center my rapidly spiraling thoughts.

"Oh jee, I don't know Q, it's been so long since I've actually spoken to you I guess I just don't know you anymore!"

I take a deep breath and nod, accepting the rebuke gracefully; I more than deserve it. I try and remember that this is only Santana, and that if I can manage to keep it together while getting yelled at by Rachel's dads then I can handle this, regardless of whether or not Rachel is with me.

I want to apologize for not returning her calls, I want to explain why I deleted each and every text message she sent. But, drinking in a warm mouthful of my coffee, the best I can manage is to extend a finger towards the steaming long black sitting by the chair across from me.

"I got coffee."

Apparently, my casual approach is definitely not the right one to take, because Santana actually gapes at me for a second before her lips thin and she begins to spin around.

"Good for you! I'm leaving."

My coffee cup is slammed down with a crack as I push up from my chair, knees knocking the underside of the table in my haste.

"Santana!"

There's a whip of shiny black hair and then Santana is facing me again, anger and intricately veiled injury glowing hot in her eyes.

"No, fuck you Q you can't ju-"

I ignore every word that comes out of her mouth and step around the table, not stopping until I am very close. I can see that my proximity is unwelcome and that Santana is just about to pause her yelling to push me away, so I let the most honest truth I've ever shared with her fall from my lips.

"I'm in love with Rachel Berry."

I'm not expecting the hard shove that comes, so it actually knocks back slightly. Flashes of my dream dance through me like wraiths and I step close again as Santana continues to curse.

"Fuck you!"

This time, when her hands make contact with my chest, I grip them tightly and keep them there.

I know that this has shocked her; it goes against every expectation of me that she has ever had and it will buy me at least four seconds before I'm pushed again. I squeeze the suddenly limp hands in mine and every molecule in my body focuses on maintaining eye contact in these next few terrifying seconds.

"San, I'm in love with Rachel Berry."

So many things happen then, there's a young barista eyeing us carefully at the counter, weighing up whether or not he should intervene in our slight scuffle. There's a baby that has begun to cry four tables over, she is quickly settled when her cooing mother picks her up and starts to hum a wordless song. A fluorescent light flickers from the mall ceiling high above our heads, consistently changing the hue of the surrounding atmosphere by almost imperceptible decibels.

Santana's hands actually press into my chest and three heartbeats sound against them before she gathers her wits and pulls away, burned.

I feel like my insides are floating, suspended in that timeless moment before a fall. I don't have the ability to regret blurting the truth out without preamble, I don't have the ability to realize that I have neglected to rationalize.

All I can do is stand, and wait.

Finally, after my internal organs have drowned and reawakened countless times, Santana expels a harsh rasp of air that is strong enough to flutter past my cheeks in spite of the distance she has put between us. She is looking at me closely, mind no doubt wading through the past few years, searching for the truth, combing through the lies.

She runs a shaky hand through her loose hair and juts a hip out again, completely unconsciously inciting challenge to everyone around her.

"Dios mio, the halfling… you really have joined a fucking cult."

I can see that Santana is mumbling to herself but, when I hear the name, my arms cross over the cartoon plate of bacon on my chest without hesitation. I let a perfectly shaped eyebrow rise in careful challenge.

"San.."

"Shut up, I just.."

I watch anxiously as Santana paces between her chair and the exit. Externally, I am unbreakable and grounded and patient. Internally, I am already crying out at the rejection I am sure is coming. She licks her lips and curls a hand around her chair, blinking down at the untouched coffee before it.

"I just.. I need a drink."

The wood of her chair creaks against the coffee shop tiles and the sound is deafening to me. For a moment, I don't move, I can't move. Instead, I desperately try to catch up.

Santana's not leaving, she hasn't hit me, I'm not dead and I don't have a cup of hot coffee dripping down my face. Blinking at the woman in question, who is now calmly sipping her beverage, I mechanically sink down into my chair.

"Um, okay.."


I haven't checked my phone, but I'm pretty sure we've been sitting in tense silence for at least six minutes, maybe seven. Flicking my eyes around the mall I almost growl at the lack of available timepieces. It's probably only been six. Not even Santana could be silent for more than that. Probably. My nails anxiously press into my wrists and finally, looking at the grave expression Santana is giving her coffee and the way she is leaning back in her chair, balancing it away from me on only two legs, I just can't take anymore.

"I'm so sor-"

There's a sharp crack as Santana's chair legs reconnect with the floor and a very stern hand that I don't have nearly enough wherewithal to argue with.

"Shut up, just, stop. You know I don't do apologies. They're gross and messy."

Instinctively, my fingers close around my coffee cup and I nod, absolutely shocked at how reprimanded I actually feel.

"Okay."

Suddenly, it's as if something cracks within Santana and she lets a deeply pierced shard of worry protrude from her chest.

"Fuck. Do your parents know?"

I know that Santana knows what my parents are like, she knew the name of our game. I remember that the basis of any good friendship is honesty so I don't want to lie to her at all. Instead, I nod carefully and try and find the right words to say what I think and how I feel.

"Yes. I left."

There's a knowing eyebrow being raised and for some reason, I feel caught out.

"You left?"

A ghost of a smile actually makes its way to my face at Santana's perceptiveness and I nod in silent affirmation of her questioning tone.

"Well, dad kicked me out, Sam was there. He drove me to my sister's place, I'm living with her until graduation."

Santana chokes on the coffee in her mouth before snatching the napkin I'm offering out of my hand and pressing it to her face. "Sam?!" Her tone is incredulous and I wince at the hurt that is swimming underneath it. "Sam knows?! Jesus Q what am I the last one you're bothering to tell?!"

I shake my head, this is coming out all wrong. That's not at all what's really happening here.

"I'm sorry-"

She shoots me a glare that makes my mouth snap shut with a pop, causing the rest of the apology to fall away into silence. There's a breath then, as if she is calming herself, before I'm finally hit with what's at the heart of her annoyance.

"Stop apologizing. I just, I don't understand."

I nod, because I get it. I really do.

"Okay, truth. This person you're talking to right now, me, I'm still trying to put myself together. I've been incredibly messed up about my feelings for Rachel for.. well a really, really long time."

Santana gives an uncharacteristically gentle nod before she murmurs.

"Yeah, I've met your family."

I smile at the effort she's putting into all of this and take a breath, readying myself for more honesty.

"Rachel was the first to find out after I kissed her and then freaked out and slushie-bombed her locker. Then Sam found out after he kissed me and I freaked out and hid in my bathroom. Then my dad found out because he came home early and overheard us, then my sister found out because I landed on her doorstep crying."

I'm getting better at touching, but I know that Santana is like me, so when my foot gently connects with hers under the table for a brief moment, I hope that she knows it's the equivalent of a fierce, chest crushing hug.

"Now you're finding out, because I'm telling you."

I want to explain things better, but those are the best words that I have. Santana isn't finding out, I'm telling her, and the apprehension that I feel at exposing myself this way is becoming difficult for me to control.

I curl my fingers around the cross on my neck in soothing motions, remembering the feel of Rachel's skin beneath my fingertips. Steadily, my heart rate decreases, and I'm only fully brought back to my current situation by Santana's quietly worded observation.

"You've changed so much. Has it really only been two weeks?"

Tucking my cross away to rest back against my chest, I smile in agreement and puff out a gust of air that has my fringe flying for a moment.

"It does feel like longer."

Santana takes another sip of coffee and gestures to my hair, forced nonchalance oozing from every precise motion.

"It looks okay, the hair, on you."

I smile and resist the urge to run a hand through it, instead picking up my paper cup and taking a purposeful drink, watching Santana continue to watch me.

"Thanks."

"So.. Berry, honestly? And it's, I don't know, mutual or whatever?"

I nod and my eyes only register the disbelief in Santana's gaze for a moment, because then my thoughts are overrun with images and memories of tastes and touches and smells and sounds that pile up onto one another until I am gloriously buried beneath them.

I taste green apples and feel skin smoother than any piano key under my fingertips, bursts of lemon sherbet and laughter bloom within me and I'm actually dizzy by the time I gather myself enough to calm down.

"Very mutual..she's... pretty marvelous actually."

"Marv- Oh God I'm actually going to hurl. Subject change. Look, since we're being all open and honest and shit, Coach made me captain of the squad."

I laugh heartily at Santana's pale and vaguely disgusted expression before letting out an easy nod, the news is not a shock to me. On the contrary, Santana would be the obvious choice as my replacement. Still, she slows her speech slightly, as if to ensure I don't have anything to say on the matter, and when I obviously don't, she continues.

"So, of course you won't get slushied on my order. But this school, hell, this entire town, is full of deadbeats Quinn. I mean, me and Britts can get away with walking the line, but school's going to suck unless you keep all of this on the down low."

I see genuine concern in Santana's eyes and its presence makes a smile pulse through my entire body. Still, I shake my head at her advice. I'm not going to hide, I have no interest in the totem pole, the only thing I'm interested in is going to school for the rest of the term, getting an acceptance letter, graduating, and then building some semblance of a life for myself, and for Rachel of course.

"Thanks. But I'm a big girl and there's only a few months until graduation, I don't need you to protect me San."

Santana clicks the lid off her coffee and absently runs a finger over the rim, tapping it thoughtfully.

"So what's your angle?"

Her eyes are steady on mine and I frown when I see that they've become guarded again.

"My angle?"

My eyes flutter in momentary confusion until I remember that, not that long ago, I would have most definitely had an angle.

Santana nods, giving a sound of assent and it seems as though the ceasefire we've been sharing for the past ten minutes is rapidly drawing to a close. It makes me sad to see her arming herself again.

"mhm, what do you need me for?"

I want so much to be brave, but there are neural pathways laced with fear that are flashing through my body, making me reconsider. I think about the notion of bravery then, the concept of courage, and how none of it ever really means anything unless there is risk, unless there is fear.

So, pressing my hands into the table I try to gather myself, I can already see the steamed outlines of my fingertips glowing up against the wood. Santana is waiting with interested, cautious eyes when I finally speak.

"I don't need anything, I.. I'd like for us to be friends."

The eyes boring into mine narrow and a very clear fuck you begins to take shape on Santana's lips but, before it can be uttered, I reach my hands slightly closer to her and turn them up, pleading my case in an entirely unconscious move of submission.

"Look, we've always known how the game is played. It's not much more than sheer luck that I've been captain thus far instead of you. But this isn't about that, this isn't about school and this isn't about Lima. You can be a calculating, cold-hearted bitch Santana and I respect that, but.."

I see youI see that there's more. There's more to me too.

It's comforting, to be around someone who needs even fewer words than I do. I don't even have to say them, because in the silence that hangs between us, Santana's eyes soften considerably, to the point where she actually looks annoyed with herself.

I know that we're getting there, I know that things will be okay, so much so that I don't even feel the need to punch Santana for what comes out of her mouth next.

"What about Britt? Now that you're having disgusting, closeted librarian sex with Berry, all of a sudden you approve?"

Instinctively, I flush and frown disapprovingly at her jibe before abandoning it to pay attention to the more important part of her comment.

"I never.. San, seeing as how you're not going to let me apologize, listen to me when I say that the two of you are complements. You belong together, anyone can see that. I've certainly always been able to."

There's another heavy silence, in which I'm sure Santana is struggling with her survival instincts but, eventually, she gives me a firm nod and drains the last of her coffee in a large gulp.

Scoffing distractedly for a moment, I am amazed at her tolerance for the black, sugarless brew.

"I still don't know how you can drink that. San.. are we okay?"

My eyes widen as the words tumble out without permission and I look down to see that I've torn the label (along with quite a few subsequent layers) off the outside of my coffee cup. Before my eyes can shift back up, there's a large, empty coffee cup balancing on top of mine that I have to hold onto to keep from toppling over.

"We're fine, what do you want a freaking hug?"

Santana lands back in her chair in a whoosh of air and, as I look at our stacked cups, in a strange way, I think she's just given me one. I think about what I've just been gifted and peel another piece of myself open to share a grateful smile.

"No, thank you."

Our conversation eases then, onto slightly less harrowing subjects like what the Cheerios have been up to and exactly how Santana is going to make sure that Brittany graduates with us this year. I tell her about my dream and my job and my date with Rachel tonight and, as I'm using our empty coffee cups as imaginary dancers and moving them together in a slow waltz, I'm suddenly struck with an idea.

"San, is it too early to ask for a favor?"

I'm sure that, were my expression not quite so full of innocent hope, Santana would feel jaded by the question, but as it stands, she just shakes her head in disbelief, shoulders bouncing with subdued laughter.

"Fabgay, you are a piece of work."

I roll my eyes at the name, head already too full of ideas to seriously berate her for using it. Besides, I'm running out of time before I have to pick Rachel up. So instead, I lean forward and smile, biting my lip in anticipation.

"It's about Raphi. Is he working tonight?"


It's 3:45 pm and, smoothing my hands down the legs of my jet black slacks, I take a breath and prepare to knock on the door of the Berry household for the second time in my life. I've never been this nervous before, how do boys even handle this? How did Rachel handle this?!

Absentmindedly tugging the cuffs of my white dress shirt down past the sleeves of the jacket I'm wearing, I run my fingers over the gold trim and smile at the good fortune I had in finding it.

I had stumbled across it a few days ago on my way to work, innocently sitting in a shop window. A royal blue oxford blazer with muted gold trim; a once in a lifetime find in Lima, and on special. I could easily afford it with the money I'd withdrawn from my bank account before my parents closed it.

It's perfect for tonight, and, nervously straightening out my starched collar to lay slightly more open and in line with the three buttons I've left undone, I hope that Rachel doesn't cotton on to what I have planned too quickly.

Finally gathering up the courage to knock on the door, higher thought abandons me as a rather breathless Rachel opens it almost immediately. She is closely followed by Leroy who is, rather humorously, also out of breath. I can only assume that they've been racing each other to the door.

In a strange kind of echo, my breath also catches, because Rachel looks.. radiant. Literally. Her skin seems to glow even more so than usual against the sunny yellow of her summer dress, but what is most surprising to me is that, rather than letting it fall down, she has pinned her hair up in a stylish French twist, with a few reckless strands of hair sitting loose around it. The subtle change makes her appear older somehow, as if she is moving past youthful brilliance into a more striking kind of elegance. Timeless and profound.

I feel like it's barely a whisper of what's going to come when she enters Broadway, and the thought of actually being able to witness such a beautiful transformation causes my heart to thump loudly in my chest cavity. I spend a moment thinking about the telephone calls I made to my colleges and mentally cross my fingers.

Finally realizing that I'm staring, I come back to myself and glance between Rachel and Leroy before squaring my shoulders and smiling.

"Good afternoon Leroy, hey Rach."

I don't quite realize that I'm holding my breath until Leroy mirrors my smile and rests a hand on my shoulder, pulling me into the house.

"Good afternoon Quinn-"

I know that Rachel has spent most of the day talking to her fathers, which is why I was hesitant to bother her with my crazy dream and subsequent coffee date. Looking at Leroy now, I'm sure that he's about to say something else, but our conversation is usurped by Rachel's still breathless voice, dancing through the air.

"Quinn, you look.."

I smile shyly at the wonderment that's shining in the eyes across from me and nervously begin to straighten my outfit, I'm still getting used to this type of clothing. It's not that I've decided to abandon my dresses and skirts entirely, but I wanted to make myself as true to character as possible tonight so the blazer and slacks were a necessity.

The attention that's being paid to my outfit begins to make my cheeks flush so, trying to appear at ease with the fact that I'm being mentally undressed by Rachel not two feet away from one of her fathers, I tug at the cuffs of my shirt again and smile conspiratorially.

"I look.. on theme."

Instantly, there are questions in Rachel's eyes, yards of curiosity and inquisition that I can tell she is desperately trying to temper. She bounces in place for a moment before finally composing herself and eyeballing me rather closely for more clues.

"On theme?"

The intensity of Rachel's gaze causes a tendon to gently rise in her neck and the sight of this causes something beautiful to flutter beneath my skin; delicately feathered and pulsing with emotion.

I barely notice that Leroy has rolled his eyes and walked upstairs to fetch Rachel a cardigan, already too enamored by the intricacies that make up the woman standing before me.

Suddenly, I remember that I'm concealing something I should have given Rachel as soon as she opened the door, so I hastily reach into my jacket to pull out a single red rose that I've stripped of its thorns.

Smiling at the shock on Rachel's face, I touch it to her nose for a second before placing it against a limp hand, which instantly springs to life to receive it.

A strange dance occurs along the planes of Rachel's face then, it starts off looking surprised before shifting into a gaze so fiercely passionate that I cannot help but take a step towards her just to be that much closer to touching it.

"Quinn.."

I swallow at the emotion in Rachel's voice and twitch out a nervous smile.

"You look so beautiful."

There's a moment of stillness then, in which I'm sure that Rachel has read the helpless expression on my face and sensed the power she has over me. She returns my clumsy smile, gently brushing the rose over her cheek in thought before finally deciding to let out a subdued scoff.

"Pft, you told me I was beautiful when I was wearing ketchup stained sweatpants and had a beehive stuck to my head. I have to question your judgment."

I watch closely as the tips of four rose petals brush over the skin of Rachel's clavicle before dipping down, tortuously slowly, over the curve of her breast. The action so intimately resembles a kiss that, without thought, I shove a hand into the pocket of my trousers and desperately try to maintain composure.

Sifting through the fog in my mind, I know that Rachel has made a comment, that she has said something that the conventions of reciprocal conversation dictate I respond to, so I swallow down any excess huskiness in my tone and think about how deeply Rachel resembles the afternoon sun in this brilliantly shining moment we are currently sharing.

"I see how it is.. in that case you look.. resplendent."

Something passes between us then, a spark of energy that collapses under the sheer weight of itself and implodes, leaving a delicious kind of vacuum in its wake. Quite unknowingly, we both step closer to one another, but whatever pleasurable destination our movements would have climaxed in is instantly halted by the sound of heavy shoes clicking down the staircase.

Leroy triumphantly holds up a cream bolero as he comes to a stop next to Rachel, already straightening out the sleeves and holding it up for her to put on.

"I found it sweetheart,remind me to never attempt navigating your wardrobe again alright? Oh, Quinn.. how beautiful!"

My eyes shift from the rose in Rachel's hand to Leroy's genuine eyes and I find myself licking my lips, bashful of the attention I'm begin given by the both of them. Thinking quickly, I try and find a way of shifting focus away from me and back towards the flower.

"Thank you, I usually would have chosen a gardenia but this was more in keeping with the theme."

In the midst of having her father help her put on her cardigan, Rachel's ears actually perk up, a gleeful grin enveloping her face.

"The theme includes a rose? You're being very generous with your clues today!"

I smile at the way that she's still clutching the flower tightly to her chest, as if afraid to let it stray too far. I think of my dream and how right it felt to have Rachel pressed against my heart and I hope, with every single inch of me, that I, at least partly, make her feel the same way.

Running a finger softly over the gold trim on the cuff of my blazer, I smirk gently and lift my chin in silent challenge.

"Well, do you have any idea what we're doing tonight?"

Rachel does up the final button on her cardigan and rolls her eyes resentfully.

"No..you could always just tell me!"

I pivot my position to face Rachel's father and share an easy smile as I pull the front door open for her to step through.

"Have a great afternoon Leroy, I promise we won't be late."

Leroy chuckles at the frustrated sigh that Rachel heaves as he kisses her goodbye before completely surprising the both of us by leaning down and giving me a soft kiss on the cheek as well.

"Have a wonderful time girls."

I'm being far too silent and blinking in a rather awkward owl-like fashion, I'm aware of this. My gaze snaps to Rachel for some kind of clarification on what exactly has just occurred but she shares nothing with me other than a soft, encouraging smile. At a loss, I look back at Leroy to find him suspiciously close to having to hold back laughter.

"Um.. thank you, we will?"

I'm still doing a fairly good impression of a statue so Rachel steps through the front door before me and it's the incredibly complex notes of fragrance following her that finally knock me from my stupor.

I blink away the strange wave of emotion that has begun to overwhelm me and turn to face Leroy, intent on giving him a final goodbye. My brow twitches however, when I see the knowing look he's projecting as his gaze travels from Rachel's outfit to mine.

At that point, I'm sure that he can see it, I'm sure that he knows what I have planned so, when his eyes meet mine again, I give him a grateful nod for keeping it to himself before I slip out the door, following Rachel's light footsteps to Fran's car.


When I was around seven or eight, my French tutor Adele would tell me the story of Beauty and the Beast to help me practice my formal speech. She would say that, a long time ago, a French aristocrat wrote a version of the fable to share with her friends and they liked it so much that they asked her to publish it and that became the version most of us know today.

Her name was Madame Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont. I remember it to this day because, at the beginning of every lesson, Adele would ask me for it and I would have to answer before she would teach me any new words.

"The past bequeaths the present ma petite lumière."

It's funny how things have a way of coming full circle, even as a young girl stumbling over active verbs, I felt a strange kind of affinity for the story. The notions of cursed appearances and repressed anger and beautiful transformations already beginning to touch something inside of me.

I stopped seeing Adele when I moved to McKinley and underwent my own transformation. At the time, I was sure was coming full circle, beast to beauty, dark to light. It's taken me many years to realize that, in spite of my efforts, I, of course, was still just sitting in the shadows.

I hadn't thought about any of this for years, not until I saw an ad for a revival cinema on the outskirts of Lima and immediately thought of Rachel. The twentieth anniversary of Beauty and the Beast was coming up so they were dedicating a few weekends to showing it and, although I didn't have conclusive proof, I was sure that it was Rachel's favorite Disney film.

The next day, I had walked past a blue and gold blazer sitting proudly in a shop window and I knew it was just meant to happen, I had been sure. It would be perfect.

Driving to the theater now, I know that the time for secrecy is quickly drawing to a close so I try to muster as much nonchalance as possible and ask Rachel to grab a CD out of the glove compartment, smiling when her fingers curl around one with the letters 'bb' on it.

This is the moment, I'm sure of it, this is the moment where I'll either hit the mark or make a complete idiot of myself. Knowing this, I can't help but tighten my fingers around the steering wheel and hold my breath until Rachel presses play and the very familiar orchestral trill of the film's prologue begins to sound between us.

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, a young Prince lived in a shining castle. Although he had everything his heart desired, the Prince was spoiled, selfish, and unkind.

My eyes flicker from their position on the road to see Rachel's delicate fingers still hovering midair, as if frozen in place. I chew on my bottom lip thoughtfully as I try and decide whether or not this is a good thing. Looking closer, I scramble for clues but there are no more breadcrumbs for me to follow, there is nothing, Rachel isn't moving or blinking or smiling, she's just still.. stunned.

I can feel my body panicking and I'm truly one second away from just yelling something out to draw attention to the oddity of our situation when I see an almost imperceptible tremble begin to overtake her fingertips.

The rose she had offered was truly an enchanted rose, which would bloom until his twenty first year. If he could learn to love another, and earn her love in return, by the time the last petal fell, then the spell would be broken. If not, he would be doomed to remain a beast for all time.

As the years passed, he fell into despair and lost all hope. For who could ever learn to love.. a beast? [1]

My heart sinks as the fingers I've been watching snap closed into a fist and push themselves into Rachel's lap, restlessly twitching by her fastened seatbelt.

"Ra-"

"May we pull over please?"

There's a strange kind of edge to Rachel's voice. I can feel the stinging heat of tears begin to attack my eyes and I fiercely hate the blurriness they lend to my vision. I have no idea what I've done wrong, maybe I've misread the situation, maybe all of this was just a really lame idea. Still, I nod silently and indicate, pulling over to park by the curb of the street.

I'm readying an apology the moment I push us into park, but it dies on my lips in rather glorious fashion because, very suddenly, there's a rustle of fabric that prefaces a compact body pressing against mine and a pair of very hot lips kissing the life out of me.

Gasping against the heat that has suddenly enveloped my body, the abruptness of the situation leaves me winded so, for a moment, I can't do much more than just passively sit as Rachel straddles my thighs and slips a teasing tongue into my mouth.

My latency only lasts for a moment however because, as soon as I feel teeth begin to graze against my skin, everything within me snaps and I bear my hands down on Rachel's hips, decisively crushing us together.

"Uhn, fuck!"

I had no idea the angle would be that perfect and, to be honest, I wasn't expecting Rachel to put such a sexy roll into her hips. In any case, the jolting contact presses our centers deliciously close together and instantly causes a rather dangerous tightening to coil in my gut.

It seems like my inappropriate exclamation does nothing to temper the passion Rachel's feeling either, because she groans desperately against me and wraps her arms tighter around my body, tugging on my hair and pushing our heaving chests together.

There's a long lick against my lips then and it leaves me panting, frantic with something I can't even explain. I chase Rachel's retreating mouth until I can close my teeth around pink flesh again but it only lasts a second and I'm almost embarrassed at the pitiful whimper that leaves my throat when it slips away.

Hot breaths crash against me like waves and I only begin to notice that Rachel is purposefully stilling her hips when the intensely pleasurable sensations they ignite within me begin to cease.

After such a thorough assault, I can't even remember why I pulled over in the first place. All I can do is place kiss after kiss on the deliciously bruised lips that hover before my face and pray for the moment to never end.

"How did you know?"

My eyes drift open and immediately widen at the intensity burning in Rachel's eyes. They are focused, exacting, and having them directed at me instantly causes shivers to break loose. I lick my lips and helplessly press my fingers tighter into the supple hips that are pinning me down.

"K-Know?"

"Beauty and the Beast, that's where you're taking me right? The revival theater? It's… it's my favorite, how could you know that? Nobody knows that."

My heart rate decreases slightly as Rachel continues speaking, so, at this point, I'm able to clumsily try and collect whatever strands of composure she has deigned to leave me with.

"You.. you hum 'Belle' whenever you're waiting in line at the cafeteria.."

My fingertips trace over the surprised sag of Rachel's jaw and the fact that I have managed to shock her so fills me with a heady surge of happiness. I twist a strand of Rachel's hair back into place and smile knowingly.

"And..come on, a beautiful and intelligent woman yearning to break free from the small town she lives in? Belle is so totally your Disney princess."

Rachel's hands have always been warm, I have known this about her since our third Glee rehearsal when our fingers accidentally touched exchanging sheet music. That was years ago, and nothing has changed since then, so my cheeks burn when they're encased in Rachel's gentle palms. It is a most delicious heat.

We keep our eyes open when she presses her lips to mine again and I'm made breathless by the secrets they share; infinite and impossible to verbalize.

"So that makes you my Disney prince?"

Gently.. so, so, gently, I touch my tongue to one of the beautiful dimples that Rachel is showing me before drowning the entirety of the indent in a kiss.

"Always."

I give more kisses then, and each one is a word, whispered from my lips into Rachel's glowing skin.

Yes. Of course. Always. Forever. Eternally. Perpetually. Completely. Yes.

"Quinn.."

It's a gentle pressure, an infinitely subtle pushing of hip to hip, but the power I see radiating in Rachel's eyes as she presses into me has me forgetting everything but the sparks that flash beneath my eyelids every time we touch.

"mm?"

Suddenly, the glorious yield of Rachel's body, the delicious wetness of her lips, they're all gone, and nothing but cold air rushes to fill their place.

My eyes snap open in despair and I turn my sluggish head to see Rachel sitting back in her seat, stretching out the creases our motions have pressed into her dress.

She smirks at the disbelief plastered on my face, but I can see the golden flecks of molten caramel churning in her eyes, I can feel the tremble; she's just as picked apart as I am.

Still, Rachel smoothes a practiced hand over her hair before clicking her seatbelt back into place and skipping the CD until it lands back on track one.

"Step on it Foxtrot! I don't want to be late, the prologue is one of my favorite parts!"

I run two shaking hands over my outfit, first straightening out my trousers and then readjusting my shirt, which has somehow managed to unbutton itself further. Finally, I flick a speck of dust off of the cuff of my blazer and curl a hand around the gear shift, smiling when Rachel immediately takes it within her own.

"Yes ma'am."

Checking my mirrors and flicking down the indicator, I try and suppress a swallow at the warm fingers trailing over my knuckles. We need to go somewhere public. Very soon. Right now.

If only I could remember how to actually drive.

Chapter Text

Rachel.


I'm quite certain that there should be some kind of a law against moments like these because really, they are just far, far too difficult to deal with. I can see the outline of Quinn's body simmering at the edge of my peripheral vision and, if I shifted my gaze even slightly, the blurry haze would settle into wonderful clarity.

I could do it, I could. But I won't.

Because there's the incredibly irritating fact that Quinn is currently operating a moving vehicle and that we would both probably sustain rather severe injuries if I were to throw myself at her again during this time.

My state of agitation really can't be helped, the way she looks right now.. the whole idea behind this wonderful experience she has planned for us. It's all just.. far too much.

The moment I opened my door to her this afternoon I was sure that there was something I was missing, like looking at a picture inverted; the outfit meant something and nothing all at once.

Really, I should have guessed what was happening when I saw the rose but, bringing it up to rest against my lips now, I'm innumerably glad I didn't. Because having my way with Quinn Fabray on the hardwood floor of my entranceway would probably have been too much for even my dads to handle.

I can see the warm lights of the vintage revival theatre begin to flash in the distance. I know that, very soon, we're going to arrive and be forced to leave behind the warm bubble of possibility that's been enveloping the two of us.

Before we do, there's something that I want to say, so I slip my hand away from where it has been resting on Quinn's and, instead, run the back of my index finger over her wrist.

"Baby?"

It could just be a projection of my own tectonic flutters, but I'm sure that I feel a quiver, a very gentle tremble, occur beneath my finger. Though Quinn is nothing if not adept at composing her emotions, so the movement fades away into nothing and then there's a pair of eyes smiling into mine from where they're flickering away from scanning the parking lot.

And just like that, I've made the error; the fatal mistake. I've looked at her. I'm looking at her. I can't stop, she's just, she's just so..

Puffing out a breath, I take a moment to scramble out an attempt at putting myself back together and, rather unhelpfully, let my gaze wonder down the lapel of Quinn's blazer. My eyes are instantly lost in the shining gold threads that are covering her chest and it's not until I hear a slightly confused sound of acknowledgment come from Quinn that I realize she's still shifting her gaze to me every so often, eyes now blushed with uncertainty; imploring, inviting me to share my secrets.

Suddenly, and in the worst possible way, I feel very much like a teenage boy; ogling and vacant, so I shake away the juvenile aphasia that's overtaken me and catch Quinn's eyes again.

"I was just going to say.. in case I forget to tell you tonight, this has been the best date ever."

Quinn looks like she's about to say something but then our bodies jerk softly as she slides us into park and tugs the handbrake into place. There's stillness then, broken only by my finger, still brushing over Quinn's wrist like it holds all the secrets of the universe.

She looks at the contact for a moment before making a resolute push towards me, it causes my heart to flutter because I'm ready, I'm ready for the kiss, ineffably and rather embarrassingly so. I'm ready.

But it never comes.

Instead, when my eyes open in confusion, I see Quinn's face very close to mine; blinking verdant wreathes of emotion at me in steady pulses of warmth.

Slowly, and with infinite purpose, Quinn leans in past that last endless inch and then I feel indelible softness graze the corner of my mouth; reverent, like a prayer, tempting, like a trap. I so badly want to fall in and never escape. But then it's gone, and my mouth is left wanting, frozen from the profound sense of blessing I've found in the contact.

Her eyes are mirthful, dancing with merriment and a specific kind of knowing that can only ever exist between two lovers.

"Come on Bravo, you're going to want to see this place."


Until recently, the building that Quinn and I are currently standing in front of was a foreclosed playhouse. But, after being up and running for the past six months, it's now well on its way to becoming fully restored as the 'Lima Lunar Revival Cinema'.

In that time, according to the paper anyway, management has begun the process of refurbishing the building room by room, starting with the screening rooms of course. This budget friendly approach has resulted in the area taking on a mismatched appearance that looks like it could have been ripped straight out of Fran and Quinn's apartment.

The moment I cross the threshold, I fall completely and unapologetically in love.

I see classic red velvet ropes looping around each of the open screening rooms and an old fashioned popcorn and candy stand being attended to by a kindly looking elderly man in a fifties style red and white striped shirt.

In the background, a strung out, stripped down version of the theme from 'It's a Wonderful Life'[1] is gently playing, almost quiet enough to not be heard at all.

Gigantic posters of cinema's most resounding classics litter every inch of the foyer's wall space; overlapping and interweaving with one another due to the sheer number on display. I see flashes of Greta Garbo, Doris Day, Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, Marlon Brando, and (my heart stutters) Judy Garland.

It's a weakness of mine, a huge, thumping dead-weight of a weakness; how strongly I respond to the idea of old Hollywood. To a time where glamour and giftedness were framed in flashing lights and artists worked themselves to the bone just to give audiences a glimmer of everything their bodies knew how to do.

I don't even realize I've completely walked off route until I feel my hand brush over the glossy grayscale cheek of a beautifully immortalized Grace Kelly. Something lodges in my throat at the first touch but it doesn't feel like I'm choking, it feels like whatever is inside of me is far too beautiful to ever make contact with the outside world.

"I loved her in Rear Window."

Although my eyes never leave the poster I'm touching, I speak to Quinn because I know she is standing behind me. I can feel the way her chest is ghosting against my back and the way that her hands are resting, almost imperceptibly, on the curve of my hips.

As I continue to look into the dark, stormy eyes before me, I feel a familiar sense of recognition take hold.

"She's always reminded me of you, do you know that? Ever since the first moment I saw you."

There's a subtle dig into my hips and I can clearly imagine the look of surprise currently coloring Quinn's features.

"Me? Really?"

She shuffles slightly closer and I find myself sighing and leaning back into her open arms, reveling in the simplicity of the intimate contact I'm being offered.

My hand shifts higher to trace over a carefully sculpted eyebrow and, once again, I look at the things that are going on in the eyes before me, all captured in a second, a camera shutter's worth of time.

"Yes. She was so, so beautiful, but so much more than that. Everyone in Hollywood tried to understand her like she was this distant thing, this.. enigma. When she stepped in front of the camera she had the whole world at her feet, everyone would stop and stare. People said she had everything."

My finger gently taps against a perfectly shaped iris as I shake the back of my head into Quinn's neck.

"But you can see it in her eyes, you can see she feels an absence of something, and then she meets her Prince and she falls in love and she gives it all away and lives happily ever after."

A smile pulls at my features as I think about the romanticism of the story but, eventually, I clear my throat hesitantly at the silence that I'm met with. I hadn't meant to overstep any boundaries or set any expectations, that wasn't the point at all, still, I'm concerned.

But then, quite suddenly, Quinn is taking a deep breath against the back of my ear and wrapping her arms around me fully and there are words that are being spoken against me that I know I should be listening to, but the delicate way I'm being squeezed is making higher functioning exceedingly difficult to achieve.

"mmm, that all makes perfect sense and will no doubt feature in the next chapter of the Princess Quinn Dairies, but, aren't I meant to be the Prince today?"

I choke out a laugh and spin in Quinn's grip, reaching up a hand to flick a careless strand of shimmering hair out of her face. It's jarring, to spend so long looking at a black and white pair of eyes that have been frozen in time and then to see their modern day counterparts blink before you; open, alive and alert.

It makes me feel like I'm a part of something bigger than myself. It makes me wonder what the posters of me are going to look like, and, if sixty years from now, a pair of lovers will be standing in a small town revival cinema tracing over my features and whispering about enigmas and bravery and everlasting love.

Tucking the thoughts away, I push up into Quinn and press a firm kiss to her cheek, not even thinking about the fact that we're in public and she may not be ready for this level of togetherness.

"Well, you're nothing if not versatile."

To her credit and my slight surprise, Quinn doesn't even blink. She just reaches a hand up to cup my cheek for a moment before trailing it along the hairline that my up-do is exposing.

"Would you like to catch a later session? We could just walk around and have a look at these for a while?"

"Oh I couldn't, I'm sure we're on a schedule."

Quinn shakes her head as she lets out a cheeky smile, her sunny blonde hair glistening even in the dim lights of the foyer.

"It's Sunday so they're screening every hour, which should be just enough time for you tell me about one or two more posters."

I poke at Quinn's belly in response to her tease before stepping out of our casual embrace. My eyes trace over all of the posters in my reach, treasure troves of anecdotes and lesser known facts already forming in my mind. I feel an energized hum of excitement slowly begin to overtake my body because Quinn is looking at me in anticipation, wanting me to share my thoughts.

"Really? You don't mind?"

This has never happened to me before. My 'romantic' dates usually consist of bowling or Breadstix or something equally mundane and predictable. But not this, nothing like this, Quinn is never mundane, we are never predictable. We are dynamic and interesting and the thought that this might actually be what my life is going to be like from now on makes my heart throb with a fierce and sudden kind of ache.

She takes a few aimless steps before tapping another poster, diagonally pinned up against Calamity Jane and Shutter Island.

"Who's this?"

My world grinds to a halt for a moment as disbelief and dread fill my bones. The awful state of limbo continues until I see the playful smile Quinn is shooting me; it lets me know that she's only kidding. Well.. my eyes narrow.. maybe. Hopefully.

"You're not seriously asking me who Clark Gable is, are you?!"

I can see Quinn blink back a laugh and she actually manages to do a rather admirable job of keeping a searching kind of confusion sitting on her face.

"mmm, refresh my memory?"

My eyes glance over to the large, grandfather clock that is ticking softly a few feet away from us. We could still rush and catch the 4:20 session, but Clark Gable is staring at me with his rugged face and chiseled jaw and he looks almost as dashing as Quinn does; standing there in her blazer with her hands clasped behind her back like she's fresh off the train from Eton grammar and ready for a weekend of fun.

In the face of such persuasive temptation, I do the only thing I'm capable of doing in that moment. I take a breath, and start with 1901-1922: the early years.


By the time the next screening is due to start, we've covered seven posters and I'm doubled over with laughter at the hilarious dispute Quinn is having with the popcorn man over the merits of calling spun sugar cotton candy vs. candy floss vs. fairy floss. When I eventually manage to separate the two and drag Quinn away, she's given up on even purchasing the item because of the contention it's caused and passes me a small bucket of unbuttered popcorn instead.

We're about to turn the corner to purchase our tickets when a tall Latino boy who looks like he's only a year or two younger than us runs up to Quinn and practically shouts in her face.

"Hey!"

Gripping Quinn's arm, I'm slightly taken aback by the volume of the greeting, until I see how deeply it has caused the boy to blush. Wiping at his cheek, as though this action alone will smooth the color away, he fiddles with his usher's uniform for a moment before straightening up and saying hello again, this time at a far more reasonable volume.

I look over to Quinn for guidance and I see that her jaw has dropped, a wide smile slowly morphing onto her face.

"Oh my God, Raphi? How did you get so tall?!"

An awkward, crackly laugh leaves the boy's lips as he runs a hand through his dark, messy hair. The practiced nonchalance of the movement isn't lost on me, and it causes an affectionate smile to quirk my lips even as my hand snakes around Quinn's waist.

"Quinn, it's so, so great to see you, I was expecting you earlier. You look so awesome. Doesn't she look so awesome?"

Raphi looks to me when he asks the question and, even as I'm nodding in amusement, I can see what's happening. The light of adoration is shining so brightly in his eyes that I wonder if that's what happens to my face when I look at Quinn.

Her eyes flicker over to mine for a moment as a deceptively genuine blush creeps up her neck. I expect myself to be jealous, but I'm really not, how could I blame anyone for recognizing the truth I have always been able to see? That Lucy Quinn Fabray is rather impossible to not fall in love with.

Leaning up on my tippy toes, I graze a kiss that is not entirely chaste over Quinn's surprised lips and try to keep my smirk within a publicly acceptable range.

"Yes, she's beautiful."

Quinn's blush deepens as she swallows and practically sways further into my hold. It takes a moment, but eventually, it seems as though she realizes that she's forgotten something very important and stands up straight again, looking between Raphi and myself.

"Right, okay. Mr. Raphael Lopez may I present my girlfriend; Miss Rachel Berry. Rachel, this is Raphi; Santana's cousin."

The tips of my ears burn, both at the unexpectedly respectful introduction and the fact that Quinn has referred to me as her girlfriend, but before I can fluster myself into a state over this, Raphi holds out a hand and smiles goofily in my direction.

"Only by blood, not by temperament, I promise."

I think of the murder that would be flashing in Santana's eyes if she heard the comment and have to laugh as I clasp his hand in a gentle shake.

"It's lovely to meet you Raphi."

I know we've only just met and he's obviously crushing hardcore on my girlfriend, but I like Raphi, he seems sweet and warm and does actually remind me of Santana. In an odd way, if she were male, and sedated, and.. okay so maybe there isn't that much of a resemblance.

He looks expectantly between the two of us before jumping behind the counter to an unmanned register, quickly punching in a series of numbers.

"So, you guys want the 5:20 session now right?"

I don't even think to question how he knows what we're here to see, because when Quinn pulls out her wallet to hand over a couple of bills, I find myself having to take stock of my situation.

I'm at a revival cinema. I've just spent an hour discussing my favorite things about old Hollywood with someone who was actually interested in hearing what I had to say, and now I'm about to go see my absolute favorite Disney film of all time, a favorite that I have never even told anyone about. That Quinn somehow just knew, based on nothing but intuition and a few moments of humming every other day.

I'm feeling every bit the beautiful princess in my yellow dress, especially with such a dapper blue and gold arm now extended and ready to escort me to my seat.

It is for this, and many other reasons I think, that my eyes begin to gently water the moment my arm slips through Quinn's. I'm so blown away by how spot on everything about today has already been that I almost miss the overly casual way Raphi grins at both of us.

"So, I'll see you ladies after the show ri-?"

"Right, goodbye now Raph."

Quinn's eyes momentarily flash, it's extremely subtle and it takes Raphi a moment to get the message, but the damage has already been done, and I have to use every bit of my willpower to not look excited about what Quinn could possibly have planned for us next.


By the end of the film, I've completely forgotten about Raphi's little slip up, far too caught up in the magic of Beast's transformation and the comfort I never fail to feel at the all encompassing power that love seems to have in these stories.

As we leave our seats, my hand is, once again, curled around Quinn's arm and we're engaging in an incredibly stimulating discussion of the semiotics and moral value systems present in a variety of Disney films.

This aspect of our relationship still surprises me, the way that we're both able to meet each other intellectually; there is no slow blink in response to my thoughts, no uncomfortable smile. There are only words, wonderful, wonderful polysyllabic words and brilliant ideas and Quinn's delicately shaped hands making patterns in the air as she speaks beside me.

We pass through the large archway that separates the screening room from the rest of the cinema and I see Raphi bouncing nervously a few feet away. My brow quirks at this, but then I'm distracted by the slight stiffness that has entered Quinn's frame. She almost always stands with perfect posture, a fact that I have always deeply appreciated about her, but at that moment, she's oddly rigid in my grasp.

Tugging on the deep, cerulean sleeve my hand is wrapped around, I look up at the gentle creases that have begun to crinkle Quinn's brow and casually touch my rose to the edge of her temple.

"Hey, everything okay up there?"

Quinn moves her gaze from Raphi and back to me, smiling reassuringly and appearing as though she is willing herself to relax.

"Everything's wonderful, I just have something to show you."

Raphi walks a few paces ahead of us until we turn a corner and come to a large set of double doors. They are obviously locked and my jaw slackens slightly at the possible scandal of the situation when I see Raphi pull out a set of keys to open them for us.

"Welcome ladies."

As we step through the doors I can see that the room is dark, though not unpleasantly so; it doesn't feel decrepit or forgotten. It feels like it's been hidden, safely tucked away and protected. Rows of faded blue chairs curl inwards towards a medium sized stage, obviously a remnant of the original playhouse design yet to be refurbished.

It is an intimate and organic kind of space, composed as if every creak were a groan, every echo a whispered secret. Like stepping into a chamber of some sleeping giant's heart.

Basically, it's perfection.

Raphi grins at the shock on my face before sighing wistfully, eyes skipping over Quinn's smiling face for a second longer than a large part of me is entirely comfortable with.

Quashing down the rather uncharacteristic surge of possessiveness I'm experiencing, I know that, logically, he could look for an hour, for a week, for a lifetime. It wouldn't change the fact that Quinn is mine and that she has somehow managed to expertly composite all of my most precious fantasies into one, beautifully compact series of moments.

These thoughts leave me helplessly shifting my gaze between Quinn and the stage. Finally, the look in her eyes settles my movements and I am pinned, frozen in time and space with each gentle blink she gives me. I can see the burning light of excitement in her gaze, it is wrapped up in a blanket of love and every joyful crinkle that creases her eyes sends a quiver through my bones.

Raphi seems to notice this shift in atmosphere because he shuffles in place for a moment before clearing his throat, cheeks already beginning to glow red.

"I'll um, I'll just leave you two alone then. Come and get me when you're done and I'll lock up."

I blink vacantly, still not at all myself, but Quinn is polite enough for the both of us and nods gratefully to Raphi before sliding the heavy door closed behind him.

In this break of contact, my eyes finally move back to the stage and register a small blanket lying flat with a cooler and a tall, empty vase sitting in the center of it. I look down at the rose still cradled securely in my free hand and blink away the lump that is condensing in my chest.

"Quinn.. this is.."

Unbelievable? Amazing? Wonderful? Perfect? More than I deserve? More than I have ever even dreamed of?

Not really expecting me to finish my dazed statement, Quinn threads our fingers together and tugs me towards a small black lighting pit that's positioned in the back center of the room.

"I couldn't use any candles because of the building's fire code but, I thought this would be better anyway."

She depresses a gray handle that has a small post-it note with a love heart attached to it and suddenly the stage is illuminated with a wide, warm spotlight. The hand that I'm holding my rose with finds its way to my chest and I have to press down hard just to be sure that nothing is going to burst out of it.

I have always felt my best on a stage, I've always felt at home, and when Quinn leads me up a creaky staircase and my shoes make contact for the first time, I feel like she, above all others, understands this about me.

That it's not just about performing or having an audience, it's about the history beneath my feet, etched in every rivered grain of wood. It's the quiet and the solitude before the curtain opens. The calm before the storm. The sigh before the song.

Quinn gently tugs the rose from my hand and, as she places it in the empty glass vase by our blanket, I look up to see billions of tiny dust particles playing above our heads, illuminated by the spotlight like specks of Broadway snow.

Something rather wonderful bursts within me and before I even know what's happening, I'm spinning. I'm twirling and laughing and singing in time with every wooden squeak my movements are causing and my pretty princess dress is ballooning out around me like I'm a spring time blossom straight from Fantasia and, for a moment, I feel like I might actually be flying. Above limitation. Defying gravity.

I am dizzy and drunk and joyful by the time my movements stop and, when my vision finally snaps back into focus, I find Quinn smiling at me. She looks so happy that, for a moment, I'm not even sure what to do with the expression. Finally, I take in a deep lungful of air to finish catching my breath and return the smile tenfold because I know then, that she looks exactly how I feel.

That's also when I notice a small portable CD player sitting in Quinn's grasp, but, before I can question her about it, she silently places it at her feet and presses play.

I wait, with baited breath, as a faint whirring sound buzzes between us and then, there are a series of gently trilled arpeggios filling the air and curling their way around my heart. I look at Quinn to see that the tips of her ears are glowing red in an endearingly bashful manner; she catches my eye and fixes her jacket unnecessarily before gesturing at the music.

"So, this is me."

Each note has an echo that lets me know it was performed in an open space and the piano itself has a resonance that is uncannily similar to the one in the Glee rehearsal room. My heart skips in an oddly pleasant manner when my mind finally puts together the melody as Tale as Old as Time, the main theme from Beauty and the Beast[2].

The one where Mrs. Potts sings for the couple as they waltz their way in circles around the castle's regal ballroom, shining and luminescent and reveling in one another's presence and all of these tiny moments of recollection snap together brilliantly when Quinn nervously clears her throat and extends a hand to me, grinning shyly despite herself.

"Um, dance with me?"

I've never done this with another girl before, I mean, I've barely danced in formal waltz at all. But none of that means anything to me, because barely a second after my fingertips graze against Quinn's palm, she is holding me closely and effortlessly leading us through an easy series of movements.

I know that it's not strictly up to code, but throwing convention to the wind I rest my head against the crook of Quinn's neck and settle myself closer to her, squeezing around the shoulderblade that's flexing beneath my palm. I can feel a smile curling itself into my hair and then I'm being spun, twirled again, flying and free.

When I land back against Quinn I feel a bubble of warmth pop in my chest and it comes out as a childish, carefree laugh.

This is perfect, I feel perfect, this is my perfect moment, the pinnacle of my life to date. My lips push up and graze a gentle kiss across Quinn's earlobe, tugging just long enough for her to know she's not imagining the sensation before pulling away.

I hear a rather scrambled intake of breath that's held for a moment before being expelled in one of those wonderfully scratchy noises Quinn's throat makes when she's flustered. The fact that all of this does nothing to compromise the ease with which she leads us around the stage causes me to smile deeply into the pale alabaster of her shirt.

I breathe her in then; this surprising, vibrant, brilliant woman that I am sure I will spend a lifetime learning everything about. She smells so fresh; like the rain, like the wind, like the world after a storm.

"You're a wonderful dancer."

The shirt beneath my lips rustles slightly as Quinn chuckles and spins me again, this time ending the move in a rather stylish mini-dip that falls in time with a rumbling crescendo she's woven into her piano piece.

"Well, they don't call me Foxtrot for nothing you know."

For a moment, my heart races, because, as unbecoming as I feel it is for a future Broadway star, I've always been afraid of dipping; of being held so precariously close to the ground. But, in Quinn's arms, I can think of nothing but thunder and laughter and summer rain.

My neck stretches out in delicious acceptance of the vulnerable position I've found myself in and then Quinn's lips are ghosting over my skin in a surprising wave of warmth that causes my throat to bob unsteadily.

Before any real contact can be made, she rights us again and we fall back into the simple one-two-three pattern we've been keeping which, I suspect, Quinn has chosen more for my benefit than for her own.

I'm content with the silence, with the unspoken things that are occurring between us in this moment, but then Quinn's voice is speaking softly against my ear and I'm sure that she is opening another box just for me.

"When I was around ten or eleven, my mother went through a phase where she entered Fran in the debutante circuit. She was beautiful, blonde, single and old enough to respectfully marry so I'm sure my mother felt like she was getting Fran on the market while she was still in her prime."

My face stiffens at the farm-auction speak but Quinn just rolls her eyes good naturedly at my worry and I feel oddly comforted that this horrible truth about her past is something she can brush off and not let affect her anymore.

"Anyway, I was Fran's stand-in dance partner at home. We were pretty awful at first; if the bruises on my toes could speak, what stories they would tell."

I smile thoughtfully and rest my head back against Quinn's chest as she continues to glide us across the floor, I have no idea how long we've been dancing for, but my ears eventually begin to pick up on the fact that the piece is coming to a close.

Soon, the music will stop and the moment will pass and, while I'm sure there will be a million more to follow in its wake, I will still feel the loss of this most perfect interlude.

I feel like Quinn has built a bridge between us with this music, this moment, with this entire date; as if she has opened her door, her arms, her heart to me all over again. I don't know what tomorrow is going to bring, but I do know that I don't want this to end.

"Quinn?"

I curl a hand around the back of her neck, searchingly spreading out my fingers along the curve of her skull and pressing a kiss to a nearby patch of exposed flesh.

"mm?"

The vibrations of her hum echo through my fingertips as I continue to move them up and over the mass of bone that is currently safeguarding her quite remarkable mind.

I know that, beneath these protective layers, beneath the hardness, I'm grazing over her frontal lobe; the portion of her brain that is responsible for executive function. I remember this controls an individual's ability to recognize future consequence from current action.

Cause and effect.

I also remember that the frontal lobe is instrumental in helping individual's retain memories that aren't task-based. Memories that are, instead, associated with feelings.

Emotions.

I trace over the small circle of space wistfully, longing for something that is sitting just beyond my own mind's grasp.

"Just, don't ever stop letting yourself be wonderful okay?"

I've tried to keep the worry out of my voice, I've tried to dull the unease, because this is still my perfect moment and even with the realities of life crackling on the outskirts of my vision, I want to be in this moment with the Quinn of today, not the Quinn of yesterday or the Quinn of tomorrow.

There will be time enough for all of that.

In spite of my thinly veiled subterfuge, I think Quinn understands what I'm really asking her. Because, just as her melodious piano chords start to wind down, she stills our swaying motions and grips me tightly; cementing the both of us in the importance of the moment.

I think I know then, that her arms holding me securely, her breath washing over my ear, her heart cresting against mine; these are her choices. These are the actions she is committing to that will, no doubt, be causal to both future consequence and reward.

"I won't."

There are large promises in the small words and they tickle my mind with butterfly wings. By the end of it, I'm not even sad that the piece has ended. Because, even standing in complete silence with Quinn, I have realized that I can always hear music now; symphonies in my chest that sound loudly in rolls of synesthesic splendor.

Even with nothing, I already have everything.

Another song begins to play now, this one opening with teasing electro-pop beats threaded with the high soprano of a female lead. I've heard it before and I'm sure it's sitting somewhere on my iPod but before I can get too caught up in searching my mind for a band name, Quinn pulls away from our embrace and gestures towards the blanket by the other side of the stage.

"I hope you're hungry, I think I've been limiting myself to sandwiches so Fran helped me with a wild mushroom fricassee that I am fairly sure should still be warm, followed by a selection of truffles. All vegan of course."

My eyes widen and the almost unreasonable amount of excitement I'm feeling at the mention of dessert is immediately given away by the loud grumble that thunders from my torso.

"You made truffles? Vegan truffles?!"

Quinn glances down at my stomach affectionately before her eyes dart back up, swaying with my own in a continued dance that is both dizzying and lovely in its casual intimacy.

"Well, I've been practicing."


My dress has fallen around my crossed legs now and I'm tapping my feet time with the deep croons Lauryn Hill[3]is echoing across the stage. Quinn's blazer is neatly folded by our blanket and she has rolled up the sleeves of her shirt to lessen the risk of staining as she plates up our fricassee.

I look at her silently pottering around the miniature cooler-box like it's an industrial kitchen, fixing and garnishing things in precise, artistic flourishes. Smiling, I catch sight of a small burn sitting a few inches below her right elbow and seeing it makes me lick my lips in a strange mix of arousal and affection.

It's very new to me, seeing this domestic side of Quinn. Logically, I know that she was on her way to being raised a perfect Stepford wife, but it's an aspect of her personality that she has always kept so well hidden that I've never actually seen it in action before.

She hesitantly meets my gaze every so often and I can see that my staring is making her nervous. So, to counteract this, I take a sip of the juice she's poured for us and look around instead, sighing contently at all of the wonderful subtleties of the stage that people usually miss.

I look at the thick ropes holding the stage curtain up; already dark and dusty from disuse. I look at the intricate maze of lighting arrangements still hanging up by the ceiling. I look at the way the spotlight is illuminating the space outside of its intended target in a soft, ethereal glow.

As always, all of these things fill me with feeling, but my attention is diverted when I gratefully accept a plastic plate full of food from Quinn. I don't mind, I honestly can't wait to get stuck in, because if the 'Quinn Fabray' sandwich is anything to go by, this is going to be amazing.

So, twirling my fork through the mixture, I'm already salivating uncontrollably just from the deep brown of the mushroom and the rich creaminess of the sauce.

Everything looks so, so good.

Finally bringing a forkful up to my mouth, I take a bite and groan in anticipation of the flavor that's about to explod-

Oh..

My brow furrows anxiously for a moment before I take another experimental chew.

It's um. It's..

"Oh no..."

I look over to see Quinn's face; pale and twisted in dismay, empty fork still hovering close to her face. Swallowing down the remainder of my mouthful, I take a sip of juice and blink, trying to form an acceptable opinion.

"Quinn, this is.. um-"

"Disgusting."

A tiny squeak of assent slips out of my mouth without me even realizing it and the crestfallen expression that slams onto Quinn's face when she hears it has me scrambling to recover.

"What? No! I didn't mean that, I meant, um, it's not.. it's just.. seasoned..?"

Quinn is holding her plate up close to her face and sifting her fork through each piece of mushroom suspiciously, as if searching for the exact slice that has caused the downfall of her dish.

"I don't know what happened, I must have read the measurements wrong."

I look at the disappointment in Quinn's eyes. I see the way that each wedge of mushroom has been sliced uniformly, the way that each leaf of thyme has been carefully plucked from its stem. So, steeling myself, I stab another chunk of the salty fungus and jam it into my mouth, effectively bullying a happy smile to sit squarely on my face.

"Not at all, it's quite delicious! Really only very slightly over seasoned."

Quinn raises an eyebrow at the way my eye twitches from the ferocity of my chewing and balances her plate on her lap.

"Rachel.."

Collecting another three pieces of mushroom I wave my forkful in Quinn's direction before shoving it in to join the desperate massacre occurring in my mouth.

"S'fine! Really!"

She giggles and rolls her eyes, lightness returning to her face again.

"Rach.."

I pick up my glass of juice and take a long, healthy swig, panting lightly when I finish draining it.

"We have lots of fluids right?"

Quinn reaches behind herself and pulls out a large bottle, topping up my glass with the practiced ease of someone who has filled a hundred champagne flutes in their life.

"We do."

"Then this is definitely the best wild mushroom fricassee I have ever tasted."

It's not a lie; I've never had a wild mushroom fricassee before so, technically, I have nothing to compare it to. The inside of my mouth is scratchy and dry and I'm fairly sure that I'll have to adopt a low sodium diet for the next fortnight just to counteract this overload, but honestly, I could not care less, because something amazing happens next.

Quinn watches me chew for a long moment. She waits until my eyes meet hers again and, when they do, I see that her gaze is fixed, steadily blinking in a constant kind of adoration that is, somehow, inexplicably, directed solely at me.

"I love you so much."

The right side of her mouth tilts up as she makes the admission, gracing me with a gentle and altogether disarming half-smile that I have never seen her give anyone before. It is smooth and shy and deeply understated and I feel a flash of something rocket through me when I realize that I'm pretty sure I've just been introduced to Lucy.

Why, hello there..

The gravity of the situation isn't lost on me and something squeezes rather painfully around my heart when the side of Quinn's mouth naturally lowers again and she carefully packs Lucy away.

I am stunned. Frozen. Our moment was brief yes, but I don't feel cheated. This isn't a loss, not even close, this is most definitely the biggest win of my life.

Quinn picks up her plate and takes a stab, cautiously bringing a piece of mushroom up to her lips, and the only thing I can think to do is swallow the food that is still sitting in my mouth because Quinn Fabray has just shared something entirely unheard of with me and this.. this woman loves me..

And the fricassee is salty in my mouth, so I know that I'm most definitely not dreaming.


It takes me around three glasses of juice, but eventually my meal is a few bites away from completion. Quinn and I have been debating over where she went wrong in her recipe. We've come to the conclusion that relying on Fran's (rather lacking) culinary skills to finish and package the fricassee while Quinn ironed her shirt was probably poor judgment on her part.

Gleefully stabbing the last piece of mushroom on my plate, I look up at Quinn who (for once) is not going to finish her meal before me, and smile.

"So what did you do today? Aside from making,what I maintain is,the best wild mushroom fricassee I have ever tasted."

"Dork." Quinn rolls her eyes and scoffs into her fork before putting her plate back down on her lap and looking at me thoughtfully. "I um, I had coffee actually.. with Santana."

My eyebrows rise purely from the fact that Quinn has chosen to wait this long to share this particular piece of information with me. I think about whether or not that means that it went spectacularly well or spectacularly badly. In the end, I decide to test the waters by nodding my head and watching Quinn closely.

"That's good right? You two make good friends."

I try to keep the question out of my tone because, objectively, I have always seen that they do work well together. Well.. maybe not together. Quinn and Santana have always seemed to work parallel to one another; lines running side by side but never touching for fear of absolute cosmic implosion.

Quinn finishes off the last of her meal and I frown when I remember that I still have one piece of mushroom left so she's, somehow, managed to beat me again. Oblivious to our imagined race, she sets her plate to the side and leans back on her hands, sighing deeply.

"Well, we used to I guess, the past year we've kind of been.. on hold."

Swallowing my final piece of mushroom, I immediately slam down another three gulps of juice to wash away the aggressive salt attacking my tongue. Once it's gone, I nod sympathetically and shuffle over to sit next to Quinn instead of opposite her.

"Because of Brittany?"

Immediately, Quinn shakes her head and I am lost in the way her hair sparkles at the movement. I want to touch it, I want to know how it feels beneath my fingertips, but I smother the urge. Because this isn't the time for seduction, this is the time for listening, and learning, and helping.

Bearing all of this in mind, I frown at the self-deprecating smile that has usurped Quinn's features.

"No- because of me being a bitch. I'd been pushing it to the back of my mind but I guess recent, events, pulled it to the front."

I think about all of the intricacies at play within the Unholy Trinity, and there are really so many. I know that they experienced a schism when Brittany and Santana made things official, well, as official as those two get. It was covert and private and practically impossible to discern as an outsider, but I could see that it happened: the rift.

Things change though, they change so quickly, and if Quinn has started the process of making repairs with Santana then I wonder if maybe, just maybe, she will feel comfortable enough to tell her about us one day in the future. After all, she did tell Raphi today, and I didn't pick up on any nervousness during that introduction that wasn't coming from me.

I'm sucking my bottom lip into my mouth in subtle pulses while I think these things through. When I face Quinn again, she's looking down at her hands, threading and unthreading her fingers together in casual plaits.

"So, how did it go?"

Quinn's fingers fall away from themselves and she surprises me by spinning herself on the soft blanket and bringing her head to lie in my lap. The weight descends slowly, as if she is mindful of creasing my dress, but I'm not thinking about clothing at all. I'm thinking about the fact that my hands are getting to run through Quinn's hair after all and that, sometimes, the things I feel when I'm around her are more than I know what to do with.

Letting out a shaky laugh, Quinn takes a moment to think about her answer, she reaches a hand across the blanket and picks up a small plastic container, popping it open to reveal four perfectly rounded chocolate spheres.

Even in light of the ten ounces of salt I've recently ingested, I'm only slightly wary and immediately move to pop one in my mouth.

"Well, I told her I was in love with you. Twice. I think it sunk in the second time round."

The flavor is delicious; velveteen and rich, somehow managing to be creamy in spite of being completely devoid of dairy and, unfortunately, I cough the majority of it up when Quinn's words actually register past the oral pleasure I'm currently experiencing.

She.. she told Santana? Just like that? I have not been expecting this and, immediately, I feel guilty for underestimating how brave Quinn can be. Pressing a napkin to my face, I spend a few seconds focusing on just trying to eat like a normal person before I swallow and look back down.

"You.. how did that go?"

Quinn smirks up at me as she pops a truffle in her mouth and shrugs. I know that she has intended this to come across as casual; blasé, but I can see the happiness in the movement, I can see the relief.

"Better than the fricassee."

Quinn's eyes shine a little as she says the word and, as if entirely beyond my control, my body relaxes in response to it, a large smile slipping onto my face.

"I think you like saying that word a little too much."

Quinn laughs quietly before turning her head into my lap, nose nuzzling against my torso in a move that, at any other time, would immediately have my knees trembling.

"Fran said she was my best friend, but I don't really know.. how to understand that."

I smooth a mess of blonde hair out of Quinn's eyes and smile when they flutter closed and a deep, contented sigh spills from her chest.

"That's okay, I doubt Santana does either. Though I'm fairly certain you're both of above average intelligence so I'm sure you'll work it out."

There's a small vibration against my stomach followed by a pitchy scoff and then Quinn is turning her head up to face me again.

"Jee, thanks."

She picks up one of the last truffles and places it at my lips, her face an oddly stitched together mix of wry displeasure and genuine affection. It makes me take pause for a moment before my lips close around the chocolate and I pull it fully into my mouth.

I can feel a scattering of cocoa power sitting on the edge of my lip so I bring a finger up to remove it but Quinn's hand, which has remained hovering by my cheek, beats me to it.

Slowly brushing her thumb over the side of my lip, she collects the rich, chocolate powder on her finger but, instead of flicking it away, she brings it close to her face and rubs it between her fingertips, blinking strangely.

"Brown dust.."

The words are a murmur, a whisper at most, and my brow furrows at the odd look of contentment that washes over Quinn's features as she says them, as if she's worked out the answer to an exceptionally difficult algebraic equation.

She remains in this state for another heartbeat or two before her eyes finally detach and meet mine again. I'm sure I look quite confused as my eyes begin to search the ones in front of me, but Quinn shakes my concerns away with a smile.

"It's nothing, I'm just remembering something from a dream I had. You were in it."

I want to know more, I want to inquire as to what exactly happened in this dream that has caused Quinn to become so contemplative, but before any more thoughts can form, she effectively stops everything by taking that lightly stained fingertip of hers and slipping it into her mouth.

There are three slow, sucking motions then; gentle and pulsing. I can see the strain of them ripple through Quinn's cheeks and down the line of her jaw. All of this would be quite too much for me even without acknowledging the fact that Quinn's head is quite literally in my lap and her eyes are somehow both innocently and expertly picking me apart.

My throat constricts as a hand grapples to close over the one Quinn has in her mouth. I pull it free and then, quite inappropriately I'm sure, my lips are nibbling and sucking all traces of cocoa power from the delicate digit. It is soft, but I can feel the bones beneath; hard and within me enjoys the resistance.

I barely register the gasp that leaves Quinn's mouth, already too lost in the wonderful world of taste and feel that I've fallen into.

The cocoa is bittersweet on my tongue so I abandon the flavor in search of more, ending my quest by pressing my lips directly against Quinn's in a heated push.

Her head is still in my lap so I'm bending down quite significantly, but it's only for a moment, because then Quinn is riling up into me and her wet fingers are stretching over the side of my neck like it's the only thing in this world that's keeping her from falling apart.

There's no wrestle for dominance here, no forced submission, no chase or pursuit. There is simply Quinn, pressing her lips to mine and causing my lungs to flood. A low groan sounds next, and my mind is only able to piece together that it's coming from one of the floorboards when I realize that I'm shifting my weight, lowering myself down against the blanket and tugging Quinn atop me through our kisses.

Her gasps are hot against my mouth and every time my hands squeeze around her hips a series of soft, tumbled sounds erupt from her mouth. They continue until my hands begin to inch up, trembling with purpose as they gently graze over the undersides of two perfect swells of flesh.

Quinn shudders a breath into me then, her limbs become shaky and somehow, I am intimately aware that this is not from any kind of physical exertion. It is from restraint, restraint that I am clearly not currently displaying. So, like the beginning of a goodbye, I brush my tongue along the inside of her mouth and leave a few wandering kisses along the line of her jaw before eventually, regretfully, bringing my hands back down and pulling away.

Blinking my eyes open, I see that Quinn's face is flushed; cheeks blooming with rosy, pink inkblots like lustfully inflamed Rorschach cards. I see so much in the colors her face adopts after we touch.

I see the want, the anticipation, I even see the apprehension, and it is this in particular that causes me to shakily run a hand down the receding patterns on Quinn's cheeks and smile.

"Sorry.."

The word is wobbly, as is the expression on my face, as are my arms, my legs, my hands, my stomach, my every inch of me. Trying to shake myself from this unwanted inertia, I clear my throat quietly and try again.

"W-What were we talking about?"

Quinn grins adorably and nods, almost to herself, before shifting away, coming to rest beside me rather than continuing to hover. The absence of her warmth is immediate, but, trying to still the restless spinning of my stomach, I resolve that I am certainly not in need of the extra body heat.

Quinn's fingers brush over her lips almost absently before she too seems to return to herself and fixes the lay of her shirt in short, efficient movements. She may look composed, but I can hear the shake in her tone, the gentle tremor.

"Um.. we were talking about f-friends? I think?"

What happens next is entirely my own fault, I am aware of this. I am watching Quinn continue to fiddle with her shirt when she runs the insides of her fingers across the open V she has created and, as they ascend, I am shown a teasing flicker of alabaster flesh encased in powder blue.

The view is accidental, fleeting, and yet, in spite of this, my mind is still able to reconstruct, in perfect detail, the image of Quinn standing topless at the beach, muscles gently straining to wring out the drops of river-water from her Java Hut t-shirt.

My fingers itch as an unpleasant flush overtakes my body, I know right away that I'm overheating. A flood of adrenaline is being released into my system and is causing my nerve endings to spark, my senses to heighten, my toes to curl.

My eyes flutter as I try to focus, but every time I close them all I see is blue and every time I open them all I see is Quinn, and neither of these two images are at all useful in helping my heart rate to slow.

Pushing up and off the blanketed ground, I'm standing by the edge of the spotlight before I know it.

There is something theatrical in the way I turn to face Quinn, I'm not sure if it's the tiny white stage marks on the floor or the warm glow of the spotlight itself or the fact that Quinn doesn't seem to look at all surprised that I have moved away from her. Instead, she seems relaxed, as if I am a script that she has spent the whole night reading.

She places the last truffle in her mouth, smiling almost mischievously when she casually licks off the excess cocoa from her fingers and my eyes darken at the sight before my overloaded brain finally registers that I am being teased.

Pivoting in place, I face the empty audience as I desperately scramble to move away from temptation and remember the details of our previous conversation instead.

Finally, after far too many seconds, it comes to me.

"I'm no expert on the matter, but I don't think Fran meant the kind of best friend you paint your nails and talk about boys with. I think she meant the kind where you both just try your best to be there, which is a big deal, for you. For both of you. Besides, I have always been a firm believer that labels can be somewhat superfluous, the important things are the actions people put behind their intentions."

I look to find that Quinn is sitting up now and has her hands nervously playing in her lap. She nods silently for a moment before looking up at me with an expression so soulfully earnest that I almost stumble from my stage mark when she begins to speak.

"Or.. sometimes, the lack of action can be the important thing. Like, sometimes not doing a thing shows you how important that thing really is.. to do. You know?"

We both know that she is, in no way, talking about Santana.

She's talking about cocoa powder and trembles of restraint and adrenaline and the tingling in my toes, the gentle creases fanning out across her shirt. I feel as though a gust of wind is curling through my insides, picking me up and lifting me high. But instead of succumbing to flight, my feet stay firmly planted on the ground.

I let a smile move to rest delicately on my face. Because yes..

"I know."


Quinn jumps out of her seat the moment her keys cut the ignition and, before I know it, she's outside the passenger side door and opening it for me.

Fighting back a smile, I can't help but giggle as I take the hand she offers me.

"I never knew you were so chivalrous!"

I know that my eyes are shining with pleasure so I'm confident that I won't puncture Quinn's ego with my gentle tease. It turns out that I'm quite right because, other than the slight narrowing of her eyes, she proceeds to ignore me and then, without a word, picks me up clear off the ground to quickly spin me around.

"QUINN!"

I'm breathless through my surprised squeal, the world already devolving into a fairground of blurred colors and laughter. My hands try to cling onto her shoulders but she's lifted me up from behind so I'm left flailing rather awkwardly as she twirls us around again, jumping the stairs to my porch and roaring in unabashed triumph as we reach the top.

When she finally sets me down, I have to take a moment to compose myself and breathe out the slight stitch that's sprung up in my stomach from my laughter. Leaning joyfully into her chuckling frame I don't even try to edit the punch I give her hip as I meet her smiling eyes.

"What on earth was that for?!"

A mischievous grin spreads its wings before me and is quickly followed by an unmistakably cocky Fabray eyebrow raise.

"The ground was muddy, I was being chivalrous."

Rolling my eyes, I lock my hands around Quinn's waist and squeeze her tightly, leaning up to deliver an overly dramatic conspiratorial whisper.

"Has anyone ever told you you're hilarious?"

I can see that our proximity is affecting Quinn, because her eyes drift down to where my lips are hovering before she swallows and shakes her head, soft and pleased.

"N-No?"

It's now my turn to grin and I punctuate the expression by pressing a teasing kiss against the corner of Quinn's mouth.

"mm, I'm pretty sure there's a reason for that."

A rush of air meets my lips as she guffaws in surprise before the sound dissolves into the type of laughter that makes it seem like she has the upper hand again. As soon as I hear the change, I pull back slightly, immediately suspicious and interested in what tactic she'll choose to employ.

"Well, I actually got you something today but with an attitude like that.."

Suddenly, the playful atmosphere between us settles into something altogether more serious and I can't do much more than blink silently, eyes wide in surprise, as I try to collect my thoughts.

"Really? But.. but you've already given me everything."

Although the look on her face tells me that Quinn is touched by my words, I barely notice this because I haven't said them to flatter. To me, they're completely true; she really, really has.

"Close your eyes."

I give another intrigued blink at Quinn's soft request before silently obeying. My world slips into darkness then and it leaves me blind; brimming with anticipation. I hear a muffled rustle come from Quinn's jacket and then there are hands ghosting over my wrist and clasping something metallic into place.

"Quinn.."

I give a heavy swallow, not having meant to make the declaration, but then I'm so glad that I have because Quinn's lips are pressing over mine and she is quietly, so, so quietly, asking me to open my eyes again.

The first thing I see when I do.. is the Fall, as in, the season.

Greens and browns and even exceedingly rare glimmers of reds and oranges tumble through the beautiful rivets of Quinn's irises as she stares at me. The sight actually causes me to quite forget that there's something attached to my wrist until she begins to chew on a lip and nervously whisper.

"So, I may or may not have gotten lost in a kooky jewelry store at the mall this morning.."

My brow quirks at her words and then my eyes are dipping down and widening when I finally see what Quinn has gifted me with.

It's a bracelet; delicate and silver, with five small charms dangling from it. Running over them with shaky fingers I see a piano, a book, a dolphin, a clock and a star. They're beautiful, like puzzles. Like a story without words, a soundless poem, just symbols, simple and captured and full of the deepest kind of meaning imaginable.

"It's.. refilling sugar packets isn't exactly high end employment. But.. I know tomorrow's going to bring something new and I want you to remember well.." Quinn takes a breath and circles the curve of my wrist, enclosing me in a grasp that has me buzzing. "..all of this."

"Quinn.."

My throat constricts over the word and I am left frozen; I cannot think, I cannot speak, I cannot even hope to tear my gaze away from the silver that is locked around my wrist. It's beautiful, absolutely beautiful. I am breathless.

My stillness is making Quinn nervous, I can tell by the way that her fingers flex in their delicate hold on my wrist. She swallows and brings her other hand up to trace over each tiny charm in turn.

"The piano, that's the beginning; when things really started to shift. The book, that isn't meant to be just one.. it's more, everything we've read together. The dolphin, that's our day at the beach. The clock, that's actually meant to be today because of-"

"The song.. tale as old as time.."

My chest heaves gently as I make the connection, eyes tracing over every miniscule detail before me. Quinn's fingers tighten over the clock for a moment before they relax and give it a gentle stroke.

"Exactly."

The word is rushed out with more breath than necessary, as if Quinn's longwinded explanation for her choice has been replaced with just a single word before her body has had time to adjust. She punctuates her response by running a thumb over my pulse point and I feel as though the fact that I have instantly understood her intention has touched her deeply.

Before my stomach can begin to quiver at the thumb that's on my wrist, Quinn's fingers move to curl around the final charm on my bracelet; a small, silver star. She reverently cradles it between her fingertips for a moment before angling it up to shimmer in the porch-light.

"..now, the star, that's Polaris."

Hearing Quinn voice the name finally does enough to snap my gaze away from silver to settle back onto steady hazel. I am surprised to find that Quinn's eyes are already fixed on my face, as if she had never looked away from it to begin with.

Licking my lips, my eyes drop back down for a moment before returning up; helpless and magnetized to the draw of Quinn's gaze.

"Polaris, the north star?"

It's a subtle movement; a tightening of Quinn's brow blended with an almost imperceptible twitch of her lips. It results in a lop-sided smile, in Lucy, and the expression is so ghosting and fluid that, for a moment, I'm not even sure there's really a difference between the two of them at all.

"Yes. This way, I'll always be able to find you, I'll always be able to come home."

My eyes flutter, blinking rapidly, and I instantly feel the unmistakable blur of tears begin to build. I don't bother trying to control them; I know the effort would be in vain. Because this is all I've ever wanted, this is the dream. To have Quinn's eyes knowing and Quinn's voice speaking and words like always and you and home kissing my ears in a perfect coming together.

"Thank you.."

A deep and searching shudder that I haven't even been aware has been building, breaks from within my chest and then I'm kissing Quinn in a desperately confusing mix of fervor and restraint.

Everything within me aches to press her up against the wooden post she's standing beside, to somehow make her understand exactly what she's just given me. But by the calm and receptive way she is accepting each and every one of my frantically watery kisses, I am sure that she already knows. I'm not even really sure why, but this does something to relax the frenzy inside of me to a more manageable level of restlessness.

"Thank you, I love you, thank you-"

Before our kisses can escalate further, the creak of the front door interrupts us. The compulsive declarations I've been exclaiming into Quinn's smiling mouth still and this causes her to immediately take a step back and clear her throat in a manner that is equal parts charming and irresistible.

"Everything alright ladies?"

I turn around with shining eyes to find my daddy leaning against the door frame with his arms crossed about his chest, smiling wryly. For him in particular, the long heart to heart my fathers and I had today resulted in him expressing the desire for an increased amount of participation in my personal life.

Subtly licking over the tingle in my lips now, I am sure that, if I didn't find the whole thing so wonderfully heart-warming, I'd still be able to gut him with the power of my glare.

As it is, I blink away my momentary annoyance and smile, bouncing on the soles of my feet as my fingers naturally stretch to find Quinn's.

"Everything is perfect daddy, Quinn was just dropping me off."

I'm completely aware that my smile is dazzling, and it only widens further when I see the way Quinn's gaze dips down to my wrist shyly before meeting my father's.

"Good evening Leroy."

My daddy looks between us for a moment and chuckles softly before tipping his head to Quinn.

"Evening Quinn."

It takes three heartbeats for Quinn to realize that my daddy isn't going anywhere and, when she does, it's with another gentle clearing of her throat and a softly spoken "Um, so I'll see you tomorrow?" that manages to sound both subdued and fiercely excited.

Another wide grin breaks across my face as I nod, leaning up to press a chaste kiss against Quinn's blushing cheek.

"You will."

"Kay.."

There's a final squeeze to my hand and then Quinn is letting go. As she steps back, she looks between my daddy and me and I can tell that there are things she wants to say, reassurances she wants to give. I shake my head subtly to let her know there isn't any need, and there isn't, because in that moment, she's already told me everything I need to know without uttering a single word.

I bring a hand up to trace over my collarbone absently and sigh, watching as Quinn begins to walk backwards up the path to Fran's car.

"Bye."

"Bye.."

They're only gentle whispers, but they have us both biting our lips as the distance between us grows and Quinn becomes nothing but an outline with hair that shimmers in the moonlight.

I think, I hope, that it's because we both know what we're really saying.

It's not until Fran's car has turned the corner of my street that I finally release the sigh I've been clinging onto. It's happening again, I miss her, I miss her already. How am I going to last through another eleven hours of this feeling? My daddy's laughter breaks through my dismay and I feel a warm hand wrap around my shoulder as we both stare at the, now empty, street.

"Oh baby girl, you've got it so bad."

I lean into the hold, sighing contently as every wonderful second of the past five hours begins to settle within me.

"No daddy, I've definitely got it good."

This elicits another laugh and then he's guiding me inside and leading me to the lounge.

"Come on, I'll make tea and you can tell me everything.. or.. not everything. Can you tell me everything?"

Trying desperately to smother my smirk, I can't help but gently tease, after all, if he wants to be involved in the personal life of his teenage daughter he might as well get used to anxiety and paranoia.

"Why daddy, I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about, Quinn's manners were.. impeccable."

"Right.."

He furrows his brow, already desperately trying to decipher whatever code he assumes I've put into the statement. Finally, after he's sure my smile will give nothing away, he nods.

"So. Tea. Yes. Right.."

He wanders off towards the kitchen then, distractedly mumbling words in Yiddish that I'm actually glad I can't understand.

And then I'm alone, standing in the center of my living room. I take hold of this opportunity and breathe deeply, slowly finding my center. After a moment I see that, without even realizing it, I've begun to finger the charm bracelet around my wrist.

Looking down at the clock in my fingertips, I have to smile at the thoughtfulness of Quinn's chosen signet. Because time is a funny, powerful sort of thing, and to have it dangle from my wrist in such a manner oddly settles me.

It helps me feel a little less like there's a ticking in the background of all of my interactions with Quinn; a steady second hand, counting down.

Blinking, I try to lay these thoughts to rest; they are not helpful. I don't know what the future is going to bring; whether it be tomorrow or next year.

What I do know, is that there's a star dangling right next to that clock. One that Quinn promised me she'd always be able to find, and as I lay down on my couch and breathe out the magic of the day I've just had, that promise, is what I choose to hold onto.

Chapter Text

Quinn.


My room is drowning in chaos; a frighteningly disorganized mess of color and cloth. Which, considering the seriously limited amount of possessions I currently own, I consider to be quite a feat.

The small suitcase worth of clothing I've been surviving on for the past few weeks is strewn haphazardly across my bed. I've made it as far as putting on the only pair of jeans I own, a plain white bra and some shoes, and now, I'm standing in the center of the maelstrom I've created and staring at a pair of t-shirts that I have scrunched in my palms. One is red, one is black.

I can do this. I can do this.

I blink and attempt to still the anxiety that is pressing my chest into submission. Life is about changes. It's about moments; slipping and sliding away from one another, never staying the same for more than a heartbeat. These are the building blocks of existence, the foundational thoughts on which all life is created; change, rebirth, transformation. It is the way of things, and I know what's been on my horizon for a while now; I have been counting down to this morning for days.

There is always destruction in evolution; for something new to exist, something old must fall away. But all that doesn't make my room any cleaner or the t-shirts in my hands any easier to choose between.

Finally regaining some vague grasp on reality, I quickly pull one top over myself and shove the other in my bag. If I know McKinley, I'll be needing them both today anyway.

My head is burrowed in the cluttered recess beneath my bed as I determinedly search for a hairbrush when I hear my phone begin to jingle. Scrambling away from the floor, I paw at the side pockets of my schoolbag and frown when I see Santana's face smirking on my screen.

"Uh, hello?"

"So, I feel it's only fair to give you a heads up on what's been happening since you left."

My lips feel soft under the pressing of my teeth; they crumble and yield in unquestioning surrender. Santana's words have me cautious, what's been happening is never a good way to open a conversation.

The possibilities make my head spin but I'm distracted when I spy the edge of a hairbrush poking out from underneath my bed. I fall to my knees again and grasp for the handle, sighing at the mess I know my next words are going to create.

"Okay, so what's been happening?"

"Q, you're HBIC and then all of a sudden you quit the Cheerios and get yourself suspended for pulling a stunt on Berry! People are going to talk."

I can hear the sound of water running in the background and every third or fourth word that comes out of Santana's mouth is slightly muffled. I resolve that she must be brushing her teeth and the sheer banality of the act has me leaning against the side of my bed wearily.

Politics, high school politics, what would life be like without them? Wonderful probably, not that I would know. The thought makes me bitter and, before I know it, I'm pressing the hairbrush into my forearm, watching the dull teeth mark my skin in hypnotic patterns. After a moment of thinking, I retract the brush and the unattractive self-pity that has dug its way into my skin and force out a frustrated puff of air.

"Whatever, I'm not HBIC anymore, you are, why would anyone be interested in me?"

A sound scrapes over the receiver and I can't tell if it's a particularly aggressive scoff or if Santana has just spat out her toothpaste, either way, I pull the phone away from my ear until I hear her voice again. It is clear now; her diction precise, spoken in that strange combination of derisive and caringly exasperated that only Santana can ever really pull off.

"Are you stupid? Everybody loves a fall from grace. All I'm saying is there have been a crap load of rumors. The Trout's been pretty tight lipped, he hasn't said anything other than you two aren't seeing each other anymore, but.."

My eyebrows furrow immediately. "Rumors? Why hasn't Rachel told me any of this?"

The rustle of fabric and the muted bite of a zipper preface another amused snort and I'm strangely comforted at being part of Santana's morning routine again. It seems like a lifetime ago that we use to put each other on speaker and debrief before heading into school, seamlessly informed, fire and ice, steaming through the hallways. Before I can think any further on the matter, Santana's voice breaks through and reminds me of just how much time has passed.

"Thumbelina? Please, she wouldn't know gossip if it hit her in the face. Which I'm sure it has. Repeatedly. Not that I can blame it, let's face it; we've all felt the urge."

I hear Santana's words for what they are, not what they sound like. I know she can't see it, but I try and hide the smile on my face anyway, smothering my quiet laugh by pressing the back of my hairbrush against my lips tightly. Thumbelina? A week ago it would have been hobbit, halfling, dwarf, sewer rat, midget or a million other insults carefully shaped to cut and injure. But now, her words are filled with clumsy overcompensation, as if wary of being too nice.

"Thumbelina? That's actually.. pretty cute San."

There's a small patch of heavy silence then, in which I'm sure Santana is calling on every shred of her resolve to not suckerpunch me over the phone. Finally, she emits a quiet, uncomfortable grumble that reminds me exactly why I want her in my life.

"Yeah well, all the weight you've gained since you stopped cheering means you'll be able to body slam me harder than Lauren Isis so I figure it's best to curb the insults sooner rather than later."

It's just a stupid name, I know that, and if it were anyone but Santana it wouldn't seem like much, but it is her, and I can see what she's doing, I can see how she's trying. For a girl from Lima Heights that's been taught to punch first and ask questions never, it's a big, big step. One that I'm sure we will never discuss, so, tugging my brush through my tattered locks, I wince distractedly even through my thoroughly amused chuckle.

"Brittany told you to stop being such a bitch didn't she?-"

"-Fuck off Fabray."

There's not even an ounce of hesitation in the remark, just a clear, irritated bark that somehow has me grinning happily even through the messy knots in my hair.

"Awesome, later Lopez, thanks for the heads up."

Santana's muttered "Whatever." is the last thing I hear before the dial tone sets in and I'm left on my knees by my bed; alone again.

The position stirs something in me that I've been brushing aside for weeks. Sparing a glance at my alarm clock, which is half buried under some pajama pants, I let out a deep, steadying breath and center myself; opening my mind up to a musky page of a book that, until now, I have kept tightly shut.

"Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy na-"

I know the words. They sit on my tongue, intimate and unthinking, through all my waking moments. I know the words, but I don't know what to do with them anymore. So, murmuring my way into silence I shuffle in place again. This time, I slide out of my kneeling position and move to sit Indian style instead, resting a hand on each of my knees, palms up and open.

My eyes sink closed and I begin again, hoping for a new conversation; for some kind of fresh page.

"…I'm afraid."

My tongue licks over my lips in distress and I frown at the anxiety even saying those two words brings out of me.

"I'm afraid of what this day will bring and what this day will take away."

There's another swipe and a small part of my brain catalogues the need to bring a stick of balm to school with me today. My gaze lifts slowly to my stained ceiling and I'm immediately lost in the tiny veins of cracks I see up there.

I sit this way for what seems like long moments; staring and searching; silent and still.

As a general rule, I count silence to be a friend of mine, but in these moments of desperate uncertainty, there isn't much I wouldn't give for.. well.. something to answer me, something to let me know I'm not ..alone. The thought causes a lump to build in my throat that I determinedly try to whisper through.

"Most of all, I'm afraid that you don't listen to our conversations anymore. But then, I know it has to be more complicated than that. Maybe it's not even about you at all, maybe it's about me listening. Maybe that's the way it's been all along. I.. I don't know."

My hands twitch in their place on my knees and, fighting the instinct to bury my face in them, I lean my head back instead and slowly breathe out every last scrap of air that's buzzing in my lungs. It's nice, for a moment, to feel so empty; the seconds before I succumb to the uncomfortable burn of oxygen deprivation settle me strangely.

"I..I've missed our conversations. Even if they are one-sided.."

Glancing up at the ceiling again, I manage a quiet smile for a moment before my world fades back to black. I know about this thing called faith. I know the set of limitations it comes shrouded in. I know they can make it beautiful and they can make it ugly and I just wish..

"I wish so much that you'd let me kn-"

My eyes snap open at the jarring sound of my cell phone and my jaw drops as I wonder, for one ridiculous moment, if it could be who I think it is. Slowly dragging the phone towards me, my eyes track between it and the ceiling in desperate, panicked motions before my shaky fingers finally turn the screen over to face me.

My lungs, which I have filled to bursting point, empty themselves once more as I sag in palpable relief upon seeing who it is.

There's a rather shy grin lighting up my screen and I smile instinctively when I spot the edge of my lips, just noticeably grazing over one blushing cheek in the corner of the cropped photo.

Rachel.

Looking up at the cracks on my ceiling again, this time my smile is confident; grateful. Because yes, of course it is, it has always been, and will always be.. Rachel.

There's a thickness in my throat that feels like hope, and I swallow it down in tiny bobs as I cradle the phone to my ear.

"Hey you.."


The ride to school is uneventful but the moment I step off of the platform I'm ready. I have caught a late bus to avoid the heavy traffic of students clambering to get to class on time.

Instead, I am quite alone, with only one or two disoriented Freshmen milling about. Looking up, I see that the main building of McKinley is just around the corner and, front and center of that main building, are the main doors.

I have walked through those doors countless times. I have been Quinn Fabray: Cheerio hopeful, Quinn Fabray: Cheerio captain, Quinn Fabray: HBIC, Quinn Fabray: the Terrible, Beautiful and Great.

Most recently, I have walked out of them as Quinn Fabray: ex-captain and suspendee.

My fingers trail along the chainlink fence that curves around and up towards McKinley High. The metal diamond outlines tug at my skin; grasping with friction and resistance. Ugly gray and spliced with garish orange, they have been made porous with rain and rust and time and they make me wonder.

Who will I be today, as I cross the threshold once more?Now that I have hollowed myself out, who will I put back in?

Will I be fierce? Will I falter? Not for the first time that morning, I both wish that I had been brave enough to ask for Rachel's help and fiercely curse the fact that it's a Monday. I barely even get to see Rachel on Mondays, but she had called, full of assurances that she would be more than happy to drive us both to school so we could face this moment together.

I turned her down and, leaning against the metal rail of the school fence now, I don't even know why I did it.. I just.. did.

As if it was no big deal. As if I wasn't nervous at all.

I think Rachel bought it. I hope she did. Because I don't want her to worry, but this is a big deal, a very big deal, even though I don't want it to be.

I have no interest in being who I was, but I've skipped over a vital piece of the puzzle, I've misplayed a maneuver; I have given no thought as to what role I will play today.

Slowly, carefully, I am assembling myself; I am learning how to be the architect of my own existence, but this has been occurring in a bubble, with only Sam and Fran and Rachel being granted varying levels of access.

When I walk through those doors today.. the bubble will burst.

My racing thoughts fall in time with my footsteps and so, before I'm even the slightest bit ready, I find that I have scaled the stairs and am standing underneath the dusty 'entrance' sign.

Just as my hand is reaching up to rest against the large doorway, something catches the light in the corner of my eye and, as I turn my face, I am shocked to find Rachel standing only a few feet away, watching me intently.

As she walks towards me I notice that she is wearing a navy blue t-shirt with an oversized yellow bow printed on it and, somehow, seeing this makes every vicious knot in my stomach instantly unravel.

But she is nervous, flighty, in a strangely apologetic way, and, regardless of the adrenaline that is screaming through my system at what I am about to do, I find myself curious about this.

"Ra-"

"I know you said it was fine, that you were fine.. but.. just in case you weren't I thought I'd..I know it's silly and controlling, but, I hope that's okay.."

I look down at the anxious twists Rachel's hands are making and swallow through my suddenly dry throat.

"No.. I mean.. yes, it's.. I.."

She knew. How does she always know? I am aware that I can be difficult to read, that my face can be a puzzle box, my eyes a cryptic cipher, but Rachel always seems to know me.

My mind is racing now, racing with words that I want to push out, but they curl themselves around my bones and hold on for dear life because, no matter how much I hate it, being back in front of these stupid doors has made me afraid to let them go.

But I am not who I once was, there has been change, miles of it, and, as I desperately try to hold onto that fact, I pitch forward and crush my lips to Rachel's.

She is shocked, almost as much as I am, but her moan is throaty and the contact is hot so reciprocation takes but a moment. My hands dig into the base of her hairline, at that wonderful junction, that cluster of vertebrae that join neck to spine. This is exactly what I need right now. Rachel. Because I only ever really know how to be myself when I'm with her and, right or wrong, that is all I've learned how to do for now.

So, pulling back, I breathe out against her lips in flushed rushes of air before settling for a blindingly inadequate "..Thank you."

I can feel my face contorting and I am sure it doesn't look attractive. But, surprisingly, Rachel's expression seems to soften all the more as she takes me in. She flicks a tongue out to trace over her lips and the way she watches me watch her do it..so intent and so entreating.. it's like she's reliving a memory, like she's making a promise. Like she's whispering to me..

Remember.. Remember this. Please, please remember this..

I want to ask her how she thinks I could ever forget, but when my senses finally return to me and I take three steps back to rebuild the distance between us, I am sure that maybe that's not quite what she means.

There's a large inhaling of air then, it fills my lungs sublimely, but, before I can use it to form some words of comfort, I catch the glinting silver of Rachel's charm bracelet and take pause. She follows my gaze and smiles, fingers naturally curling around the object in a quiet, cradling grasp.

Stepping forward, I feel oxygen leak from my chest like a soft breeze the moment my fingers move to graze over the small, twinkling star that sits between us. Gentle kisses of sunlight brush past in bright flashes and they make it seem illuminated, like a shining beacon; high and bright and clear. It is so beautiful, so like Rachel herself, that I find I have to look away.

"It looks.. so good on you."

Rachel grins softly and gives her lips another slow lick before she nods and tilts her head towards the door.

"Are you ready?"

I square my shoulders on automatic and nod back, sharing a final smile before my hand connects with the door once more.

"Let's find out.."


Last August, my parents' neighbors built a wall. It was large and red and every morning at 6:45 the builders would start construction and I would wake to the sound of bricks being laid. The metal trowels would sound hollow banging against the clay and shale. They'd connect in clicks, constant clicks, like the ticking of a clock, and slowly but surely a structure would be built. A barrier would be raised. Click, click, click.

There's a clicking in my mind now; a wall being raised, and I don't know how to make it stop.

Santana's arm is resting on my shoulder. I cannot see the expression on her face but I am sure that it is pinched. I cannot see the expression on her face because I cannot see anything and I cannot see anything because I have been blinded. Blinded by a slushie.

It's colder than I expected..the sudden temperature change is causing a throb to start in my skull and, knowing that I have inflicted this upon people, countless people, that I have made anyone feel like this- it makes every icy bite go deeper, like a carving on my skin.

"I'm going to tear him a new asshole for this."

The warmth of stale tap water splashes against my eyes and, after a few more moments of torturous stinging, I blink them open to see a pool of red water in the sink before me. I can see Santana now, her jaw is clenched and she is methodically folding up a piece of paper towel in harsh, angry motions.

I can't quite keep my eyes open indefinitely so, just before they close again, I curl my hand around hers and tug the paper towel from her grasp.

"Don't bother."

Running the towel along my neck I can feel the chunky shards of sugared ice begin to melt and fall. Soon there will be nothing left, just sticky residue to wash away and a memory to keep forever. Santana is pacing now, I can hear her shoes go click, click, click and each sound is a stone pressing against my skull.

"Are you fucking kidding me Q?! If he thinks he can just do that to you.."

Splashing more water on my face, I blindly tug my soiled t-shirt off and use it to shake the last shards of ice from my hair. When I remove it, my eyes open to find Santana strangely silent and looking at the wall, holding out my spare t-shirt awkwardly.

I roll my eyes and rinse the rest of the cherry from my skin before pulling on the clean shirt.

We're standing now, the two of us, reds and whites and blacks are spilling out from all corners of the room and it's only then that I notice Santana has pulled me into a gymnasium bathroom; one reserved for the sole use of the Cheerios.

I don't belong here anymore, and the realization of this has me clearing my throat and reaching out to Santana, who has once again begun pacing rabidly. My hand lands on her shoulder and we only stiffen for a moment before accepting the contact.

"Don't bother San, because he does think he can, and nothing you're going to do will stop that. You know how this place works, it's just a slushie, it doesn't change the fact that twelve months from now Karofsky is going to be a fry cook at Pearl's Diner and you, and me, and Brittany, and Rachel, we're all going to be.."

My eyes are shining, I can feel it in my gaze, but I can't help it, because the image of that tomorrow is so hotly burnt into my mind that I cannot help but feel anything other than passionate about it.

It's okay though, because, for the first time in our entire history, Santana opens up too. Her eyes burn with the fire of hope; the heat of determination. It's just one word that she speaks, but it feels like a revelation, like an epiphany for the ages.

"Gone."

All I can do is nod, because yes, we'll be gone..

"So gone."

"..and out, Britt's already bought us matching rainbow socks."

We have never spoken like this before, Santana and I, but there is red in my hair and Santana is trying to pat it out with more paper towel and, in some incredibly existential way, it feels like we're sitting on my bed and talking about boys. Because that's what best friends do, isn't it?

"I'm sure Rach has a rainbow headband and I saw a scarf with my name on it the other day."

"Pft, screw that."

Santana scoffs and catches my eye in the mirror, she juts her chin out at my hair and I automatically move to look at what she's referring to.

"Check out what the cherry's done to your hair, I say roll with it."

I picture myself then. I am sitting in a lecture hall and my hair is a cacophony of color; reds and oranges and greens and blues and all the colors of the rainbow are there for everyone to see, like a badge, like a flag. The image is terrifying in a somewhat ridiculous way, but it has me smiling all the same.

"We'll see.."

I chew on the inside of my lip thoughtfully as we slip into silence before trying to catch Santana's eyes once more.

"Hey, thanks for being so cool about Rachel, and for telling Britt."

They are awkward words coming out of an awkward mouth; I have no experience at this kind of thing. But Santana accepts my thanks gracefully, rolling her eyes in exasperation as she continues to draw the red out of my hair.

"Whatever. I had to spend half an hour yesterday trying to explain that Rachelberry wasn't a type of fruit."

I laugh at the amazing way that Brittany interprets the world and nod happily.

"She is one of a kind."

Santana nods back at me and I can see that she is thinking about Brittany. I know this because there is a crinkle that forms by her left eye when she does it. I like to think that that's where Brittany lives, inside Santana's mind, in that tiny wrinkle of time and skin; that is where she waits.

I wonder where Rachel waits on my face and, before I can even think to flush at the imagery the notion elicits, a question is already forming and tumbling from my mouth.

"Have you gotten any letters yet?"

Santana's hands still in my hair before she pulls them away altogether.

"Just one.."

My eyes widen at this and I spin around, no longer content in continuing our conversation through the inversion of a mirror.

"And?!"

I cannot read the look on Santana's face and each thick tick of silence increases my anxiety exponentially until she finally speaks; plainly but with an unmistakable undercurrent of relief.

"I'm going to NYU."

"Tisch?! Are you serious?! Santana tha-"

"The School of Business actually, I figure high school's more than prepped for dealing with divas and their dramas and I know an artists' life isn't going to feed my Jimmy Choo addiction."

Everything makes sense then; the hesitation and the strange baseline of tension that's been sitting between us for the past few minutes. Santana is nervous because, from the look on her face, this is the first time she's ever shared something that has actually mattered to her, and she's terrified of how I will respond.

She doesn't need to be, my mind is already constructing images of her owning the streets of New York with a briefcase and a power suit. Smiling as she spends her millions on making every single one of Brittany's dreams come true; a rehabilitation clinic for cats coming off 'the horse', a lifetime full of dance, limitless amounts of love.

Their future plays like clockwork in my mind's eye but, rather than share it with Santana, I do the next best thing and pull one half of my face into a smile, bumping our shoulders together softly.

"Yeah, I can see that."

She is serious then, and I feel the weight of the hand that's placed on my elbow acutely.

"You will see it, because you're going to be there too. You'll get your letter Q."

Immediately, my eyes close to block out the harsh light of the bathroom and I sigh; head already full of clouds at the subject matter.

I cannot fathom a reality in which I will not get a letter, but the situation is entirely out of my control and all of the words in my mind do nothing to adequately describe how that makes me feel.

Either way, I cannot go into this now, so I nod shortly and run my hands through my hair, frowning at the strange pinky-red streaks Karofsky's slushie facial has left me with.

"So, how do I look?"

Santana flicks a damp curl away from my eye and looks me over, frowning disapprovingly even as she tosses my soiled t-shirt for me to catch.

"Like a rat that's tried to drown itself in soda, now let's go we're already late."

I take a second to look at myself as Santana heads for the door and I have to laugh at my messy complexion; never in a million years did I think I'd be walking through the halls of McKinley looking like this. For some strange reason, it almost makes me smile.

"Perfect."


I am walking through the halls of McKinley in search of Rachel, I haven't seen her since the morning and there are two empty trays in the cafeteria with our names on them. Further to this, if I'm quite honest with myself, the knowledge that we would be having lunch together has been one of the few things holding me together today.

The last few herds of athletes and hipsters stroll towards the cafeteria and I weave through them to avoid another Karofsky-like confrontation but, as I turn the corner to find Rachel's locker, my footsteps stall when I see that she is not there. I feel around in my back pocket for my phone and drag it out, shoulders relaxing slightly when I see that it has not quite reached one o'clock yet; Rachel is nothing if not punctual. She will come.

The last few steps toward Rachel's locker have me weaving past a few more people and, as I duck and parry, I feel as though I am covered in cloth; as if everything I'm doing is being muffled today.

Nothing is as sharp or as clear as it once was and, rationally, I know that the soft, white tread of my Cheerios trainers would have been near silent on the hallway floors, but my memory is making them appear forceful and loud and making the gentle padding of the high-tops I'm wearing now seem even more out of place.

I look up, and where, in the past, eyes would have been fearfully averted, many types of gazes pin me now. I see curiosity, derision, nonchalance, lust. There is no awe; I am no longer a phantom, no longer great. No longer untouchable.

This fact in particular is outlined almost poetically when a scrawny body makes contact with mine, clumsily knocking me into a metal wall of lockers.

"Christ Israel, watch it!"

My skin burns at the intrusive contact but Jacob doesn't miss a beat, instead, he scrambles to right himself and produces a black microphone that is attached to a tape box. He grins through his labored breaths and sticks the object in my face, effectively pinning me in place.

"Quinn Fabray, are you aware that you're setting pants and twitter accounts alight with your edgy new persona?"

My eyes stammer downwards to look at the splashes of red slushie littering my jeans and the black t-shirt I'm currently wearing, it has a somewhat faded ["That's what" – she] printed over the chest. Bringing my gaze back to Jacob and his intrusive microphone, I just about manage to raise an eyebrow in the face of my building panic.

"Edgy? Do you even know what you're saying right now?"

"How do you respond to speculation that you've had a nervous breakdown? Have you joined a cult? What about the pregnancy rumors? Word on the grapevine is that it could be Noah Puckerman's?"

My eyes scan across the hallway, it is empty now and, momentarily forgetting that I am not who I once was, I push myself away from the lockers and advance menacingly. My height has Jacob swimming in shadow and I use every inch of it to get my point across.

"Okay first, I am not pregnant and the day I sleep with Noah Puckerman is the day you lose your virginity without having to pay for it. Second, no Jacob!"

"In that case, this could be the biggest news to hit McKinley in years! Is former HBIC Quinn Fabray channeling Tegan and Sara and pursuing Santana Lopez: feisty new head cheerleader, hot Latina and all around love monkey for one Brittany S Pierce?!I hope so, because if I put one more lesbian into this sentence, I'll have the Indigo Girls!"

Oddly, the first thing to pop into my head is the intense desire to stab Jacob in the eye with his stupid microphone and inform him that there are, in fact, only two Indigo Girls. But the instinct fades before I have time to smother it, everything fades really. My mind is left blank, a white sheet of paper, empty.

I don't even register that Jacob has paired me with the wrong girl, the only thing my mind has latched onto is the word lesbian. Because this is the moment, isn't it? This is the fall, where all of my intricately constructed walls are bulldozed over without remorse.

I am not ashamed, but that does not mean that I am not frightened. Because this is all very new to me; having a part of my life that I care about so deeply be subject to public ridicule and mockery. It causes my defenses to tighten and a pointed finger to jab sharply into Jacob's chest.

"Look. I know that you're about one degree of separation away from being a bonafied sexual deviant so this is going to be hard for you, but keep your mind out of the gutter Israel."

"But my sources confirm seeing you and Miss Lopez entering a private bathroom together this morning."

My eyes widen as the implication finally sinks in and the absurdity of it is enough to make me laugh.

"Are you serious?! I was covered in slushie!"

Jacob raises his microphone in a gesture of surrender before smirking lecherously and waggling the twin caterpillars on his face he calls eyebrows.

"It's not my place to judge kinks; I'm just after the truth."

"Jacob, you wouldn't know the truth if it bit you on the ass now get out of my way, this little 'interview' is over."

I've pushed past his hunched form and am making my way back to Rachel's locker when Jacob begins to speak again. Mouth full of words that cause me to still and take pause; deathly and tense.

"Tough act Fabray, but do you have the social capital to back it up? You're not even near the pyramid anymore, let alone on top of it. So, from where I'm standing, right now you're pretty much on par with me and McKinley's very own social pariah Rachel 'manhands' Berry."

My eyes flutter, and it is only after a moment of blinking that I realize I have Jacob pinned against a row of lockers with my fists curled tightly through the front of his ugly plaid shirt. The obviousness of our height difference is further exacerbated by the way that his posture seems to shrink before me.

It's a wonderful position I find myself in then; terrible, but wonderful. Familiar.

"Do not call her that again. Ever."

My fists are pressing against Jacob's windpipe tightly but his eyes spark at the threat laced in my response and he manages to push his microphone between us once more.

"Ah, your passion is as intriguing as it is arousing. Maybe I've gotten this all wrong, as someone who's been blogging about your insults since Freshman year I can say that you have always saved the best for Rachel Berry. Including some of my personal favorites.. 'I hope your dads kept their receipt' 'Did someone leave your cage open?''Do you ever wonder what life would have been like if you'd gotten enough oxygen at birth?' and of course, this particularly sharp zinger from the winter of Sophomore year: 'is that your face Berry or has your neck just thrown up?'"

I can feel my cheeks lose color as I recall, in painful detail, the moment each and every one of those insults left my lips. My grasp is about to loosen instinctively as I retreat into myself but then Jacob smirks, clearly aware that he's hit a nerve, and pushes on.

"Plus, let's not even start on the plethora of highly original nicknames you've integrated into popular use; RuPaul, stubbles, treasure trail, and, of course, the quinntessential, excuse the pun, manhandsThey're all on my blog!"

It's only once I open them again that I realize I've let my eyes sink closed. As if depriving myself of sight will somehow soften the blow, but a part of me feels that it's important to listen to what is happening in this moment anyway; that, as vital as the sting of slushie on my face, the pathways of sadness and rage my words created must never, ever, be forgotten.

Still, I let go of Jacob's shirt and rest my shaky hands on my thighs, trying to still the dangerous churning in my stomach.

I'm not that person anymore. I'm not. I'm not.

But..

How could I have been so cruel?

How could I have hurt so much? Hurt Rachel? Rachel who sees and knows and touches and feels.. Rachel.. who makes me feel.. everything.

Rachel who jumps on the soles of her feet when she gets excited, who smells like Christmas biscuits, who has lips that glow with warmth and hands that burn away all traces of anything that has come before them.

How could I have done all this?

Swallowing down the bile in my throat, I look up, aghast, as Jacob, who seems quite unaware of my fragile state, whips out his vibrating phone and grins.

"OH! Twitter alert from one of the faithful! Jockblock93 says: 'Fabray is totally lezzing out right? what do 2 chix do 2gether? I'll pay4 pics JBI!' So what do you say Fabray, you and Rachel make a cute couple, are we doing cash or card?"

My wayward insides still then; as if in some strange state of antigravity. I bring myself back to stand full height and effectively pin Jacob to the wall with my glare.

"Leave it alone Jacob."

To his credit, despite his cocky smirk I can see that Jacob's shoulders shuffle slightly, as if he's standing before a caged tiger; stationary but inherently not at ease.

"Why would I want to do that?"

All I can think of is the crumble that would rocket through Rachel's brow if Jacob photo-shopped some images of us. It makes me feel panicked, boxed in and weak and, before I even realize what I'm doing, I find myself stepping close again. Not touching now, never touching, I let him feel the space between us now, the coldness of the air. I let him drown in the distance I create.

For a moment, I am an artist again and my voice is a shard; it pierces the air acutely and something within me begins to rejoice at the uncertain fear that usurps Jacob's gaze.

The moment I feel it; that telltale mix of power and control, my stomach turns. It does nothing for me anymore, not like this, not even with Jacob.. and I know this is an objectively good thing but right now I need to hold onto the past a little bit longer to make sure he doesn't do any damage.

With that thought in mind, I lick over my lips and settle my face into its most impassive state.

"You think the fact that I don't have to wear that stupid uniform anymore makes me any less dangerous? That it makes things more difficult for me? It makes things easier you moron, because now I don't have to worry about getting kicked off the team. I have nothing to lose. So yes, you'll leave this alone."

I know I've hit my mark when a small sheen of sweat begins to light Jacob's forehead, but he is foolish in our game, he doesn't know the skill of the player he is up against and, as he splutters out a clumsy challenge, I try to tell myself that his loss is my gain. I try to be terrible, only for a moment more.

"Or you'll do what Fabray?"

"Or I'll be getting into contact with Principal Figgins and telling him exactly how you go about hacking into the school's internet server every Monday afternoon to download and distribute porn to the Freshmen. I've seen some of the stuff you hand out, and I don't think you need me to tell you that it's definitely not legal. What do you think they do to pudgy, white, Jewish boys in juvie Jacob?"

Where seconds ago there was triumph, now there's nothing but a lump in my throat at the fear reflected in Jacob's eyes; he doesn't know what he's doing and his inexperience is made even more apparent by the way he fumbles with himself.

"You.. how did you-"

Snippets of pornographic images with Rachel's face photoshopped atop them flash through my mind as I make my final assault. I remind myself that I care nothing for this boy's feelings because he cares nothing for mine, and certainly nothing for Rachel's. He could cause so much hurt, hurt that someone like Rachel, who Googles herself three times a day, could never quite let go of.

My eyes narrow as I step close again, causing Jacob to press himself against the lockers in an attempt to get away from me.

"I ran this school for years Jacob, I know all of your dirty little secrets. I also know exactly where to find your mother at any given time of day, I'm sure she'd love to hear about this."

At the mention of his mother, Jacob looks every bit the terrified Jewish boy and I am just about to swoop in and seal the deal when a voice injects itself into the atmosphere and shatters everything I've tried to hold together.

"Quinn..?"

My heart crumbles at the trepidation in Rachel's tone and, in the space of seconds, it feels like my whole world has begun to spin backwards. But Jacob is still before me and his eyes are beginning to shift carefully between Rachel and myself.

I can see what he is thinking. I can see the judgment and intrigue and, my stomach turns, the perverted interest in his gaze. It makes me flush and panic and I'm not sure I can handle it continuing so I rally everything within me and ignore Rachel's presence, keeping my gaze intently pinned forwards instead.

"Don't look at her Israel, look at me. Do we understand each other?"

Jacob seems to snap out of his stupor when he begins to fumble with his microphone,clicking it against the side of his recording device and nodding frenetically at my imposing figure.

"C-Completely!.."

My insides settle at the fear in his eyes; the game is won, his silence is assured. But then there is that voice again and it creates colors that bubble along the edges of my vision insistently.

"What's going on?"

I blink back the tremble that is fighting to overtake my voice; suppressing the adrenaline surging through my system. My fingers curl around Jacob's recording device in a decisive move and there's a voice in my head telling me that it never hurts to have insurance.

"Jacob was just letting me borrow his recording equipment-"

At that second, a dawdling crowd of Sophomores turns the corner towards us and, seeing their approach, Jacob looks like he's about to protest, for one, very small moment in the group, I focus my energy on blinking steadily into his shifting eyes until Jacob eventually nods and relinquishes his hold on the object.

"-I.."

My mind is already trying to come up with ways to return the equipment (sans tape of course), in a manner that doesn't denote weakness when I notice Jacob still hovering fearfully.

"Thank you. Now go."

There is a heavy weight in my arms as Jacob scrambles away, but I'm not sure if it's the tape box or the methods I had to employ to acquire it. The encounter has left me agitated; brimming with energy and self-derision. I didn't like the way he was looking at me. Especially the way he was looking at me and Rachel.

I want to close my eyes and let out a long, soothing breath, but then I hear Rachel's voice and, all at once, I remember that she has been watching me. She has seen what I have done, who I have been.

"Quinn.. are you okay?"

My head snaps to look at her and, for the first time in weeks, I feel trapped by her gaze. It is too knowing, she is too close, I have always existed as a careful lie in these hallways and, even now, it seems as though Rachel knows I have been playing a part.

I step away from her and struggle to push down a swallow, I think of the slushie on my skin and the microphone in my face and the countless other invasions of space I've experienced today. Touch was turning into such a wonderful thing but.. I feel so out of place, like a picture out of focus.

My eyes flicker towards Rachel's when I realize I have been silent for far longer than usually acceptable.

"I'm fine."

"Quinn.."

There is a small crease in her brow and my chest struggles not to collapse as I wonder if that's where I live on Rachel's face, am I the worry in her brow? Am I the anxious wait?

I blink and try to organize my thoughts but my mind is awash, all I know is that I feel dirty and wrong for having dipped my toe in the waters of who I once was. I hated that girl, I hated her, but there she was.. ready and waiting the moment I became uncomfortable with the way I was being looked at.

I'm not sure whether it's the white of my knuckles or the silence of my blank expression or the worry of Rachel's, but the group of Sophomores passing through seems to have picked up on the undercurrent of stress between us. They slow their walk slightly and it's only then that I realize the two girls at the head of the crowd are Courtney and Tanya; the two lower level Cheerio's whose absences from practice were responsible for my running suicides with Coach Sylvester. For my boarding on physical exhaustion. For my collapse in the Chemistry lab. For.. everything that happened thereafter.

I swallow when I see that they are both looking at me closely and I don't quite know what to do with the derision in their eyes. Instinctively, a flame in my chest begins to glow with contempt. They're at the bottom of the pyramid, they're Sophomores, and I could extinguish their athletic careers with one snap of my fingers.

Except, I couldn't.

Not anymore.

I rub a hand over a knot in my shoulder absentmindedly as my thoughts continue to spiral; it has experienced so many intrusive knocks today. I am nothing to these people anymore.

Worse, I am a target.

The sea doesn't part for me, instead it churns and spits and I am tumbling through the undercurrent of another wave of unpleasantness when, apparently unaware of the source of my turmoil, Rachel steps forward to close her hand over mine.

My nostrils flare in panic at the delight that blooms on the faces across the hall from me. They know. They know about this beautiful, delicate thing that I'm experiencing and now they're going to make it dark and dirty and seeing this makes me feel so..

My stomach locks in a violent churn; this is too much. I can't. I don't know what to do.

I try and center myself but there is a wall in my mind and the click, click, click, of bricks and when I feel Rachel's hand make contact with my skin my reaction is immediate.

Unwarranted. Unwelcomed. Completely unforgivable.

But immediate.

My hand turns to coil tightly around her wrist as I snap it away from my shoulder, tearing myself away from the intrusion.

"God damn it! Just get away from me Berry!"

The inertia of my forceful spin has caused Jacob's tape box to spin out of my grasp and crash onto the floor. The sound of plastic breaking is the first thing to clear the bruising fog of terror from my mind.

There is silence then, save for the awkward giggles coming from across the hall as Courtney and Tanya lead their group onward towards the cafeteria. It's only too late that I realize exactly what has come flying out of my mouth and exactly who I have so viciously rebuffed.

I can't quite find the words to adequately express the remorse I am feeling. It doesn't matter, I would throw them to the wind even if I could, because Rachel's eyes say it all.

She is holding her hand to her chest, glancing between me and the broken box on the ground and looking as though she's been burned.

There's a hole in my world when I realize it's because I have fire in my eyes. Fire aimed at..

"Rachel.."

My face cracks as my lips tremble violently with the beginnings of a thousand words. Because this is not who I am anymore, but the damage has already been done and Rachel's face is filled with sadness as I quickly begin my retreat.

"I'm.. I'm so sorry.."

I have to go. Go before more damage can be inflicted. Before more words I don't even mean can cut themselves out of me. I'm already racing towards the football field, which I calculate to be the part of the school that is the furthest away from my current location, when I hear Rachel's voice sound again.

"Quinn, please wait-"

But it's too late, she's too quiet under the throbbing in my ears and my legs don't stop their relentless pounding until vinyl gives way to tile and tile gives way to grass and grass gives way to the bottom of a large metal fence that I strike my fists against helplessly.

Panting against the cool of the metal, I breathe out shakily and lower my forehead with a crack, relishing the quick flash of pain that rockets through me at the contact. Rachel is color and promise, she is my aria, my gatekeeper, my everything.

But I am pressed up against a wall and there is no way out and I've already gone too far when I realize that I've left her behind.

My eyes snap open at this, hands connecting with the fence again in loud agitation.

"Shit."

I left her behind, I left her.

Spinning around, I push off and race back to the hallway, because there has been change, miles of it, and, regardless of the circumstances, I will never run away from Rachel again.

I promised. She is Polaris, and I have to find her.


I am sitting in the second row of Glee club with my knees pressed up against my chest. I spent the rest of lunch searching for Rachel but I could not find her. She wasn't in the auditorium, the rehearsal room, the cafeteria, the library. Rachel has never been difficult for me to find, even when I have been trying to avoid her. It stands to reason then that this sudden absence could mean only one thing: that she did not want to be found. Not by me.

So, as I'm flanked either side by a wall and Santana, I sit and wait for Rachel's entrance, if she will choose to make it today. I sit and wait for the inevitable apology. She will do it sweetly, for I am sure that is the only way Rachel knows how to do these things, but there will still be a break. Not that I can blame her, I have come with far too many red flags.

But, whether it is selfishness or selflessness, I cannot let things lay this way. I cannot let one thoughtless moment ruin all of the joy that we have shared. I think about sand and music and dancing and laughter and my mind races blindly over all of the things I want to say to convince Rachel to just stay because I could be good for her, I could be good to her, I could, I just need time, because today has been a lot all at once and I feel like I just need a moment to breathe.

Mr. Schue enters then and a sigh flutters from my mouth when I see his frame is shadowed by Rachel, who is smiling softly at his excited jabbering. Immediately, I feel my heart begin to thump heavily as I straighten in my chair. Rachel's eyes lock on mine and there are questions in them I am not prepared for, she is looking at me as if am the one that has been missing all day, as if she is surprised at my presence.

Before I can make sense of what is happening between us, Mr. Schue claps his hands together to garner everyone's attention and Rachel hastily sits in an unoccupied front row seat by Finn, who I happen to be sitting behind.

"Graduation's fast approaching guys and I want you to know how proud I am of each and every one of you. At times like this, it's important to look at where you've been as well as where you're going. I want you to share something that shows us where you were a year ago, or where you think you'll be a year from now. Something from your past or your future."

I'm still blinking at the back of Rachel's head when Finn suddenly jumps up, rubbing his hands on his jeans nervously. His eyes are tracking across the room but my gaze narrows considerably when I realize where they're landing on the most.

"Well, I have no idea where I'm going to be a year from now but I definitely remember where I was a year ago, so… this is for you Rachel."

I tighten the hold I have on my knees and glare daggers into Finn's face as he readies himself to sing. I know I am being irrational. I know that, as far as he is concerned, Rachel is as single as they come. But that doesn't stop the chill that wraps itself around my heart and squeezes.

"When I first saw you, I saw love. And the first time you touched me, I felt love. And after all this time, you're still the one I love." [1]

"Oh my God.."

Mercedes' murmur is echoed throughout the room as the telltale nineties keyboard introduction of Shania Twain's 'You're Still the One' begins to sound.

"mmm..yeeah.."

A full three minutes and thirty three seconds of awkwardness later, Finn gets up from his knees and smiles nervously at the silent room before taking his seat again.

My eyes, which have been glued to his strangely contorting face, blink rapidly as I try to figure out what the hell has just happened.

Next to me, I can feel Santana readying to express my inner turmoil verbally in what will, no doubt, be a beautifully scathing exposition of the absurdity of Finn's performance, when Mr. Schue saves him the embarrassment and interjects.

"Wow, um, thank you.. Finn.. anyone else?"

I see a long, tanned arm come into view and swallow at the perfectly shaped fingers that sit atop of it.

"Okay Rachel, what do you have for us? Future or past?"

My heart stutters as I unravel myself from the coiled position I've been maintaining, feet hitting the floor with a thud. Rachel is facing me now; standing to address the room, and finally getting to see those beautiful, expressive eyes again has me feeling unhinged and desperate.

She looks at me then, and there's another confused lilt to her brow before she blinks it away to address Mr. Schue.

"I.. I don't know yet."

I watch her nod at Brad, who has been sitting patiently at the piano, before she smoothes down her t-shirt, bringing the large, yellow bow into full sight again.

I think about what song she will choose, will it be a ballad, will it be a break up? I'm saved further anxiety by Brad's smooth piano intro and Rachel's voice, sounding loud and clear through the acoustics of the room.

Relief lasts but a moment though and my eyes drop because, from the first few chords, I know that I know this song.. I can feel that Rachel's eyes are pinned to me and, at once, I am sure that they will pierce with every word that leaves her mouth.

"Your arms around me come undone, makes my heart beat like a dru-" [2]

The sudden absence of Rachel's voice makes Brad's piano accompaniment seem out of place and empty. My eyes widen when my brain is finally able to piece together that this is so because Rachel has stopped singing. I snap my head up in shock and am further surprised to see Rachel turn around and rest a hand on the edge of the large grand piano.

"I'm sorry Brad, stop. I -I'm not going to do this. I'm just not."

Rachel's hair cascades around her in an open fan with the speed at which she turns her head and, suddenly, I am being pinned once more. Pinned by her eyes, by her gaze.. which feels like a pair of hands holding me in place; gentle and guiding and altogether far too dizzying to accompany the importance of her words.

"This is stupid, whatever you're doing, whatever happened today, just stop. Let it go."

My mouth curls downwards then as a painful lash tears through my torso. I want to, so badly do I want to, but I don't understand. Why would she hide from me? Have I misunderstood the situation? I watch as Rachel's gaze lowers to the floor and it is only then that I notice she is tightly clutching the star on her wrist. The faith with which she tightens her hold makes a spark of hope flash through my chest.

"Just, remember everything and come back to me. Please."

Everyone but Sam, Brittany and Santana is looking at Rachel like she's finally cracked, their faces an odd mixture of confusion, concern, and discomfort. Before I can gather myself enough to respond, Finn blinks and shuffles in his seat slightly, encroaching on Rachel's stage space.

"Rach, I.."

My eyes spark intensely at the sound of those words coming out of Finn's mouth. It makes my stomach twist; crusted and cold with discontent. I realize then the confusion that Finn must be feeling, because I am sitting directly behind him and Rachel has been looking at me and he must think that.. suddenly, memories of being in this exact same position as Rachel serenaded him play before my eyes.

I'm working through how exactly I feel about that when I realize the error I've made, I've taken too long, I've run out of time.

My eyes widen as Rachel's shoulders slump and she bites the inside of her cheek. There's an infinitely gentle "excuse me" murmured and then, faster than I can catch up with the situation, she's readying to leave the room.

"Rachel, what's go-?"

Mr. Schue is interrupted by the harsh screech my chair makes against the floor. I blink and look down at my feet, finally realizing I have stood up. Impossibly, my eyes widen further and I swallow heavily as I scan across the room.

I see Blaine, Puck, Artie, Mike and Tina blinking at me curiously. I see Sam, Brittany and Santana fidgeting restlessly. I see Mercedes and Kurt looking at each other in a mix of confusion and excitement. Finally, I see the edge of Rachel's shoe, which I can just make out in the doorway.

"I'm.. I've been in love with Rachel for- a really long time. My parents kicked me out a couple of weeks ago when they found out and I've been living with my sister since then. We're.. we're together, as in girlfriends.. together. I hope."

"You..WHAT?!"

"You're not pregnant?!"

"That's why you cut your hair?!"

"You're gay?!"

Although my eyes never leave the doorway, I can feel the looks I'm being given. I just know that Mercedes and Kurt are gaping in unison. Tina and Artie are grinning at each other in shock, Puck has already slapped his thigh in amusement and I can see Sam shuffling in his seat at the edge of my vision. His movements are echoed by Santana and Brittany, who both lower their feet from the chairs they have been resting against.

All three of them are tense; ready to take anyone on if need be, and just knowing that I have such wonderful people in my corner.. it makes me feel so much, it makes me feel strong and brave and fearless and before I know it I've slipped down to the front row of chairs just to bring myself that much closer to Rachel's still frozen frame. She turns around then, bringing herself to stand more fully in the doorway and I am shocked at the way the tears in her eyes look against the smile on her face, as if she is a composite, a stitching together of two very complex emotions.

Words tumble out of me then, they are stuttered and sloppy and perfectly indicative of how undone I feel at the mess I've made today.

"I came back, I looked for you, I tried to find you.. I thought.. I thought maybe you didn't want me to.. I'm so sorry Rachel. I had no idea that was going to come out of my mouth. I didn't mean.. I.."

I sigh helplessly as Rachel closes her eyes and draws in a painfully long shudder of a breath. She opens them again as her lungs empty and my entire world slows in blissful wonderment when I recognize they are filled with relief. Not sadness, or hurt, or apathy.. but relief and a strange hue of amusement as well.

"Lucy Quinn Fabray. I was looking for you.. everywhere!"

I let out a short laugh at the irrational embarrassment I feel from Rachel using my full name and I'm about to take another step forward when Puck, who has been grinning widely, leans back in his chair and wolf whistles, elbowing Finn in the ribs.

"So you're actually gay for the Jewberry? That is so hot. Dude, did you know about this?!"

"Shut up Puck!"

I'm distracted from the all-encompassing joy I'm feeling at the acceptance in Rachel's eyes by the harshness of Finn's words. Looking over, I frown in equal measures at the anger in his tone and the blotchy redness on his cheeks.

I'm aware that I've just blurted out a bombshell, so, turning around, I take stock of the shocked and amused faces in front of me and try to organize my thoughts.

"The reason I'm telling you all this is because I did something really stupid today and I just.. I don't want to lie to you."

My eyes catch Sam's for a moment and the subdued smile he is wearing makes me feel grounded, as if all of the anxiety in my system is entirely out of place and this whole encounter isn't actually as terrifying as I think it is.

I feel too far removed from the pull of Rachel's eyes, so, helplessly, I find myself turning to face her again.

My hands are twisting over my t-shirt, pressing against my cross and running through my hair in haphazard movements that I am sure I couldn't control even if I tried, but I barely notice any of this. Because Rachel is looking at me and there is no fire in my eyes and no sadness in hers and, even though all I really want to do is wrap myself around her and squeeze, I keep my distance for the moment because the clock is ticking and there are more words that need to leave my mouth.

"Rach.. I'm so sorry, I don't even know what I was thinking when I pulled away from you like that. I never want you to feel as though you're not welcome, because the truth is, you're so impossibly welcome it's ridiculous. Today has just, been a lot and-"

My features pinch at the scrape of another metal chair dragging across the floor and then the pull of Rachel's eyes is replaced by the push of Finn's; they are narrow and angry and full of confusion and challenge.

"You.. but you guys hate each other, you've spent the past few years fighting over me!"

"Shut it custard-nips, not everything is about you."

The thud of Santana's arm pushing Finn back into his seat seems to sound far louder than it should. The side of my mouth twitches in thanks and there's a flicker then, as the smoky flames in her eyes soften, I am so grateful that Santana understands.

Her hand disconnects and she gives an almost imperceptible nod as she shuffles back into Brittany's grasp. We both know the game, we know the weight a lie can take and the terror that comes with telling truths.

Finn pushes up again and steps towards me then, his hands large and outstretched in frustration.

"Why are you doing this?!"

My arms cross easily over my chest as I raise an eyebrow at the accusation in his tone.

"Excuse me?"

"What, you see me sing a love song and all of a sudden you can't handle the possibility of me and Rachel being together again?!"

My skin smarts at Finn's presumptuousness and I can't help but stiffen my stance in response to it. Because he's right, he has no idea what he's talking about, but he's right.

"Well yes, but not for the reasons you're thinking."

I regret the goad the moment it leaves my mouth, but it's too late, I've hit my mark and Finn snarls angrily, taking another step towards me.

"Shut up! Just, shut up!"

"Don't you dare Finn!"

Rachel's voice booms from behind me and I actually hunch slightly at the controlled force that is laced through it.

I turn around but Rachel isn't looking at me, she's looking at Finn, and her arms are crossed very, very tightly. Alarm bells go off in my head at the stance but Finn either doesn't see it or doesn't know how to read it, because he steps past me and stands close to Rachel; imploring her to understand.

"Don't let her make a fool out of you Rachel, you know what she's like."

My face twitches at the words; a strange cocktail of shame, anger and resentment filtering through my veins. But then Rachel's face is twitching too and her eyes are stormy and I am sure she is about to yell or stomp or do something equally dramatic until she takes a deep breath and begins again.

"Yes, I do know what she's like actually, better than most. You, however, clearly don't. So how about you calm down?"

I notice for the first time then, that the rest of the room has been watching these events unfold closely, as if frozen to intervene. I spy Santana, who looks as though she's about five seconds away from unleashing Snix on the general population, and swallow anxiously. I give Brittany a quick head shake and she nods in understanding, lacing her fingers through Santana's flexing hands and pulling their bodies back together.

My eyes track back to Finn and I frown at the uncomprehending desperation knitted through his brow. If only I could make him understand, if only I could make him see, see the truth of all of this.

"Finn, this isn't a spur of the moment thing. Trust me, I never.. I never expected anything like this to ever happen between us."

I try for a sad smile but it dies on my lips instantly when I realize I have definitely chosen the wrong word to use. Finn pivots away from Rachel and rears into me angrily, his hands are flailing and enraged and I find I cannot look away from them for a moment.

"Trust? Trust you?! What's your angle huh? You finally realize I'm never going to take you back so you move onto Rachel? Hm? That's almost as sick as imagining the two of you together in the first place!"

My eyes connect with Finn's in a flash and I immediately see the light of regret in them, buried deep and pulsing. I know he didn't mean it, no more can be said though because Mr. Schue chooses that moment to finally intervene, slipping from his chair and coming to stand between us.

"That's enough Finn, I don't care how upset you are, there's no place for language like that in these walls."

"What?! Mr. Schue! You're not seriously taking her side?!"

My posture slumps in on itself, more from having Finn's attention diverted away from me than from any hurt I'm experiencing in response to his words. I am expecting Mr. Schue to gently talk him down, but then Sam's voice is sounding across the room and, looking up, I see his arms are crossed and his jaw is flexing unpleasantly.

"This isn't about sides man, and it's definitely not about you."

"How can you of all people say that?!"

Finn scoffs disbelievingly and tracks his eyes over the rest of the room, desperate for some kind of support that, unfortunately for him, seems not to be forthcoming. He pauses for a moment before realization dawns and he snaps his head back towards Sam.

"Is that why she broke up with you? How long has this even been going on?!"

I swallow down a sigh and hesitantly step closer.

"Finn.."

"No, I just.. I can't deal with this, get out of my way."

Rachel disappears from the doorway, blocked by Finn's lumbering frame, but before I can panic and spring forward, she reappears again; hair slightly disheveled by Finn's rapid exit.

The fact that he was careless enough to barge into her makes my knuckles go cold in sudden anger. There is something inside of me that is already seething and stalking when, surprisingly, it is Brittany that springs from her chair and pins Rachel with a worried glance.

"Rachelberry, you're not a bumper car!"

In the time it takes Rachel to blink happily at Brittany's concern, I have already taken the necessary steps to eliminate the distance between us. There's a pleasant burn then, as I feel Rachel's hand slip into mine. The sudden intensity of our contact is very quickly dismantling me and I am sure Rachel can see this, because she squeezes my hand tightly for a moment longer before breaking our eye contact to look back to Brittany, effectively giving me room to breathe.

"Thank you for your concern Brittany but I'm fine, please everyone, just give him a minute."

The room breaks into a storm of murmuring and gossip with phrases like "oh hell to the no!" and "pudgy needs a Snix fix" filtering through to my ears. But Rachel silences everything as she stares out the door for a moment, before looking back at the room in honest reflection.

"Speaking rationally, he's probably feeling overwhelmingly inadequate considering the only two women he's ever been in love with would rather sleep with each other than him."

My face burns as Rachel looks around at the wide eyes around her and blinks innocently, a fact which only causes the flush dotting my cheeks to darken further.

And just like that, the most public confession of my life is over, and all I'm left with is a gentle dimple pinning Rachel's cheek and a shy, exasperated smile painting her beautiful lips.

"What?!"


As Mr. Schue gives his final pointers for the afternoon, everyone begins to trickle out of the rehearsal room until the only two bodies left in it are mine and Rachel's.

We are alone.

I am waiting on the bottom step, sitting on my hands, when I feel Rachel come to sit beside me. From the corner of my eye, I can see her hands run down the pleats of her skirt in unconscious movements that make my mouth twitch in spite of my exhaustion.

I am readying myself for an important conversation, because I believe that one really needs to take place. But Rachel seems to have other ideas, because she softly bumps her shoulder against mine and the delicious closeness of the simple contact makes me swallow and dip closer to her; instantly helpless.

I am so affected that it actually takes me a moment to register the words that have come out of her mouth, practiced and patient and perfectly clichéd.

"So, rough day?"

Before I can quite catch up to what is happening, I feel laughter build deep in my chest. It bubbles and bubbles as if I'm nothing more than a shaken up soda bottle and then all control is lost and I have no choice but to let it out; delirious and tumbling and simply tickled by the severity of Rachel's understatement.

I worry my response will be misunderstood but then I feel Rachel's shoulder shaking next to mine and the both of us are laughing loudly on the wooden steps of the rehearsal room floor.

"Oh God, yes. You could say that."

My chuckles settle as I speak, and then, where there have been bubbles, I feel dead weights begin to press against my chest as everything comes back to me. Turning around to face Rachel, I find I cannot quite meet her gaze as I set about righting the biggest wrong of my day.

I look at the tiny collection of charms on her wrist and my fingers gently brush over each shape until they reach Polaris. My North Star.. it hadn't really worked quite as I'd hoped for, but I try to remind myself that the day has ended mostly free from tears and perfect endings are best left to books and ballads anyway.

From the moment my fingers curl around Rachel's wrist to the moment I press her hand to my chest, I am focused; calm and steady in my motions. There is a second of terror, in that breathless tick of time before Rachel's fingers make contact, because I am wary of rejection, I am shaking at the prospect of refusal.

But then Rachel's hand touches my skin and it presses and, by the way it presses, I am sure that Rachel is striving to push through the muscle and sinew I am composed of to get to the very core of me, to all of the soft and yielding places that I save for her alone.

My eyes trail up a neck full of wonderfully clenching tendons, trace over the sight of teeth pressing into flesh, and come to rest in the slow blink of two brown eyes.

"I should never have said those things to you.. I'm so sorry.. and not just for that but, I'm also sorry for running away. I came back as soon as I realized but I couldn't find you."

My brow sinks in automatic response to the memory of my thoughtlessness, but Rachel simply smiles and shakes away my concern, an earnest expression overtaking her face.

"You're allowed to leave when things get too much Quinn, I'm not going to hold you hostage."

I briefly tighten the hand I have circled around Rachel's wrist because I want her to understand, I need her to understand; there has been change, there has been so much of it.

"No, I know that, but I shouldn't have left like I did, that's what I'm apologizing for."

My fingers fall away as Rachel's hand twitches against my chest. She pushes it up along my neck and over the line of my jaw before finally settling against the swell of a cheekbone. My eyes sink closed at the movement because I am learning that Rachel holds when she touches.. every time she touches. There is a cradle in her grip, as if every incidental piece of contact is sacred to her state of being. It is a most fervent wish of mine that this exchange should never cease to exist between us.

"Tell me what happened this afternoon?"

I swallow down the clumsiness that's sitting in my throat and force my eyes open, straining for some control over my bodily responses to return.

"Jacob was.. he was being Jacob: disgusting, intrusive, the usual. He wanted to take photos of you and me together."

I see Rachel's eyes widen so I shake my head to dispel any worry she may have before continuing on.

"I was threatened, so I frightened him into submission and that made me feel awful. I didn't like the way he looked at me, I didn't like the way anyone in that hallway was looking at me. At us."

I sigh wearily at the jumbled mess of words flying around my brain. I am so tired, but Rachel's eyes are warm and patient so I lick my lips and take a chance on voicing what I feel to be at the heart of the matter.

"I have been trying very hard not to be who I was and that was a giant step backwards."

We are silent for a moment then, until Rachel's thumb starts to stroke over my cheek absentmindedly as she stares out into the space between us.

"I don't think we're ever really anyone other than who we are in the present moment."

I quirk my brow at her wording and blink.

"Meaning?"

"Meaning.. who you're being right now is who you're being right now and who you were being this afternoon is who you were being this afternoon. They don't have to be exclusive."

My eyes darken as I envision the truth of Rachel's statement.

"But I never want to be her again."

Rachel laughs, gently amused at the obviousness of my discontent, before running her fingers through my pink-stained hair and ruffling it playfully.

"Well, that takes time.. and it's only Monday."

The intensely pleasurable sensations Rachel's fingers cause fizzle away into nothing as I register her words. Instead, I bulldoze through her hold and move to bang my forehead against her shoulder in despair.

"Uhg, please don't remind me."

There's another laugh from Rachel then, and it is so beautifully melodic that I don't even care that it's occurring at my expense. In fact, looking up through my curtain of hair at the dimples in Rachel's cheeks, I feel instant pride at being able to elicit such reactions in her.

I'm about to lean in and elicit even more wonderful reactions, when Rachel squeals knowingly and rushes away, dragging me along with her.

"Not so fast Foxtrot, you have a bus to catch."


The next few days pass in steady defiance of the flurry of activity that was Monday.

I almost don't go to school on Tuesday, mostly from sheer apprehension at having a repeat day of horror, but an extremely long telephone call and three or four chapters of Enid Blyton on Monday night settle my spirits enough for me to give it another try.

On Tuesday morning, I walk through the main doors of McKinley with Rachel again. It is a much better day.

We are slushied before lunch and again before gym;once by Karofsky and once, boldly, by Courtney.I should feel humiliated by this, but being alone with Rachel in the locker rooms as we get changed is enough to make the entire experience entirely worth it. Because I can see the curve of her shoulder and her gently straining bicep but Rachel doesn't stumble and I don't run away and not a single part of the moment is painfully boxed away.

Tuesday afternoon, I hold Rachel's hand over lunch and it is the single most terrifying public experience of my life. But I do it, and Rachel tells me that it makes my eyes sing and my hair shine and my face glow and then I tell her she needs to stop eating the vegan special and she smacks me on the arm and, even though Tina and Artie still can't quite speak to me and Santana and Brittany are sitting with the Cheerios, I feel the happiest I have ever been.

Wednesday morning, I find Jacob loitering outside of the girls' bathrooms and hand him a new tape box. No words are spoken and I try not to overshadow him, but he is quick to leave my presence regardless and that is something that I am not a hundred percent sure I am ungrateful for.

Wednesday afternoon, I see Finn standing at his locker and his eyes only narrow slightly before he lowers them and walks away from me. He still has a look about him, a look full of sadness and resentment and a torrent of regret not easily masked. Not that I can blame him; losing the shine of a star like Rachel would make for a dim life.

Thursday morning, I am sitting in English Lit attempting the near impossible task of not letting Mrs. Skinner's monotonous droning ruin Robert Frost for me.

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep." [3]

"One of Frost's most resounding classics. Would anyone care to offer comment? Yes, Miss Fabray?"

My eyes trace over the crown of Rachel's head; she is looking down at her paper with such intense concentration that I cannot suppress my smile as I answer.

"I think it's about love, and the conflict of wanting to get lost in something so completely but knowing you're not there yet. There's so much imagery attached to the forest; it's a wilderness, a great unknown, but at the same time the initial stanza outlines that the woods belong to someone, that they're owned. So, is Frost alluding to a place or a person?"

"Interesting question Miss Fabray.. what do the rest of you think?"

I look away to see a small paper star being handed from Tina to Kurt and from Kurt to Artie and from Artie to.. me?

Looking at the small, yellow star I know immediately that is has come from Rachel's notebook so my eyes instinctively move to seek her out. When I reach my target, I find Rachel staring at me intently; a small but perfectly rounded smile sitting on her face. Something about the expression causes one side of my mouth to twitch and my stomach to flip-flop embarrassingly.

Unfolding the paper, my throat bobs in further emotive response when I see what Rachel has gifted me with.

It is a picture, intricately, if not somewhat crudely, drawn in green and black pen; an entire A5 sheet of paper full of meticulously drawn pine trees that only stop in a small, circular clearing at the very center of the page. In this clearing there is a bed, and in this bed there is an adorably short stick figure that looks suspiciously like Rachel; sleeping contently.

Lowering my gaze to the edge of the page, I see Rachel's neat, flowing handwriting weaving its way through the bottom row of pine trees, like a girl in springtime, like a wandering fawn.

'your woods are lovely, dark, and deep, and I have promises to keep…'

A burst of sunshine burns my skin and it causes a blush so profound that I have to close my eyes until the strangely provocative words settle in my belly. Of course Rachel would use Frost to flirt, of course she would know exactly what that would reduce me to.

Sighing away the painfully out of place arousal thundering through my torso, I finally raise my eyes to find Rachel's again and, when I do, I see that she is grinning madly, flashing her eyes between myself and Mrs. Skinner in a nervous attempt to not look completely disengaged from her lesson.

Slowly folding the paper back into its original five pointed star shape, I raise an eyebrow at Rachel's shining eyes before purposefully pulling back my t-shirt and tucking the note into my bra, tapping the place over my heart, where it has come to rest.

Rachel's eyes narrow as soon as my skin comes into view, and the wintered forest that lives in them.. I watch it burn; nothing but smoldering embers left in its wake.

I think then, of finding Rachel in a deep and darkened wood.. and a thrill smokes its way up my spine. Because yes, we have many promises to keep, and Saturday is just around the corner.

Chapter Text

Rachel.


Steam billows in magnificent clouds as I exit my bathroom, hair up in a towel and hands full of supplies.

Tumbling everything onto the bed, I grip my hairdryer and hairbrush in short, economical movements. My hands are practiced, my movements precise, but my mind is racing. Racing because, in less than an hour, there will be people knocking on my door, assuming anyone actually shows up of course.

When I'd distributed my updated invitations during Glee club (texted, because I have come to understand that teenage house-parties don't require printed invitations), at first there were the predictable rounds of gossip and giggles about another Rachel Berry house-party-train-wreck-extravaganza taking place.

Then there were squeals and groans when people saw I was making it a costumed event, that I wanted guests to wear something from a Broadway great to honor a Broadway great. It caused a renewed wave of chatter and non-committal answers.

But when Quinn casually mentioned that this would most likely be the last proper gathering we'd have before graduation, I could feel the change in the air. As though all of those moments, so readily cast aside in high school, were suddenly turning into something different.

I love Barbra; passionately and proudly so, this is a fact that can never be denied. But I would be lying if I said I didn't have ulterior motives in hosting this event. Initially, it had been about creating a platform on which Quinn and I could spend more time together; a date. But now, after everything that has happened, I feel as though it's become about more than that.

Because, for better or worse, these people have been my life. They have seen me at my best and my worst, I have fought and laughed with all of them at one point or another, I have kissed more than I care to admit. Spending time with them, singing with them, it's been my life, and, in a few short months, everything about that life is going to change.

Flicking my now dry hair over my shoulders, I slip my dress off its hanger and begin to pull it up my body, slowly closing the zipper over my ribcage. The winds of change are blowing for the better I am sure, but it's the beginning of May now and there are still no letters in Quinn's hands and, silly as it may be, I want so much to experience just one night where I can cast aside all of the mess between us as though it never existed.

One night where we can just be together and have fun, surrounded by friends. One night where Quinn can laugh and play and dance herself silly. Because she is an altogether remarkable human being and it has not been an easy week.

Other than a mild hiccup on Monday, I have actually been astonished at how well Quinn has been adjusting to going to school without her armor on. Although I have no proof, it seems as though Santana is doing everything she can to put a hold on most of the bullying and the only two people we have had to consciously avoid have been David Karofsky and Coach Sylvester.

I am tugging at the laces that are tying my dress together, pushing my bust up to the optimal position, when I hear a muted curse come from the side of the house. Moving my eyes to the open window, I surmise that it has to be my daddy struggling with the furniture.

The past week or so has seen a string of pleasantly warm days occur, like the very beginning of springtime yielding to the up and coming summer. In light of the good weather, and with an eye for avoiding any broken furniture, my daddy decided to clear some space on the decking, drag out a few trestle tables and garden chairs and hold the party outdoors.

He'd made the mistake of leaving the fairy lights to me and my dad and we had lasted around twenty minutes before he took over and we retreated back indoors to get ready.

My fingers flitter restlessly between the miniature bottles of product that sit at my mirror as I take another look at myself. My cheeks are flushed, and I haven't even applied blush yet. I am sure I won't need any tonight; I am more than nervous enough.

Because this is the first time, in a long time, that I've had more than one person walk through my door and, if the alcohol-fuelled embarrassment of last year is anything to go by, I have a thing or two to learn about hosting large group events.

It is because of that rather disastrous event in particular that I have determined this evening to be a strictly alcohol-free zone. I tried my best to underline this fact as clearly as possible to Noah and Santana and I can only hope that they won't try and spend the evening spiking my daddy's peach-bomb punch.

Fixing the ties of my white Victorian gown, I adjust the settings on my curling iron and wait for it to heat up. As my fingers let go of the handle, I hear the doorbell begin to sound from the floor below.

Knowing exactly who is standing on the other side of the door, I don't even try to temper my grin as I exit my room and move down the hallway.

I'm about to turn the corner to the stairs when I hear two voices engaging in conversation, my daddy is still outside wrestling with the furniture setup so I know right away that it has to be Quinn and my dad.

Leaning against the wall, I press my head back in joy at the easy candor with which they are speaking. It sounds like my dad's just asked Quinn about her costume for the night, her costume which I have put myself in charge of and given her no clues at all about other than for her to wear a white shirt and black trousers.

"Oh I still have no idea, but knowing Rachel I'm sure it'll be perfectly.. theatrical."

I smile at my dad's laughter and I can just imagine the twinkle he'd have in his eye at that particular comment.

"mm, how very diplomatic of you.."

A chuckle bounces in my chest silently at the anxiety I know I've been causing Quinn but, peeking around the corner of the hallway, I very quickly decide that it's been completely worth it, because she looks amazing.

Not that she's had much flexibility, but her white shirt is casually unbuttoned to just below her wooden cross and she has had her hair trimmed and styled to look like she's just stepped out of some kind of strange, controlled electrical storm.

Add to that the slightly heavier than normal eyeliner she's sporting and the sight is almost enough to make me lose my cover, but then she is speaking again, in that wonderfully careful and deliberate voice of hers, and I am frozen in place once more.

Quinn will never cease to have this affect on me, this simultaneous speeding up and slowing down. I am certain.

"So, I brought an overnight bag."

I puff out a breath at the endearingly awkward way she holds up her small backpack and my heart instantly begins to race when I remember why she has it.

Because she'll be spending the night here, with me, in.. in my bedroom.. with me. Here. Tonight.

My eyelids flutter at the enormity of the thought but the haze is quickly broken by my dad's chirpy tone, sounding happily throughout the room.

"Oh yes, excellent! We bought a little trundle bed a few months ago so I'll be sure to tell my husband to put the damn thing up at some point tonight. I'm absolutely hopeless when it comes to things like that, how about you?"

"I'm not sure actually, but I'd be happy to give it a go."

I watch Quinn shrug her shoulders softly before giving a careful smile, she slips a hand in her pocket and I read the nerves that this action betrays as if they were words on a page. I am sure then that she is thinking similar thoughts about this evening and I would, of course, give anything to know exactly what those thoughts were.

"Well, he's put it somewhere in the basement so leave it to me. Now go on, that daughter of mine has unfortunately not inherited my patience or sense of poise."

The charmed smile that has been sitting on my face since the two of them started talking suddenly falls, along with my brow. I choose that moment to lean against the staircase railing and clear my throat haughtily.

"Jee, thanks dad."

When Quinn's eyes find mine I see that they have an interesting sparkle to them; a shy and happy secret. It causes my hands to tighten on the railing and then I'm pitching forward, grinning happily at the way Quinn has instantly begun to make her way up the stairs towards me.

"Hi.."

beep beepbeepbeep

"Oh.."

Twisting my head back in the direction of my room, I remember the hot curling iron that's awaiting use and the hoards of flammable objects currently sitting near it. With that in mind, I pitch backwards just as Quinn has made it halfway up the stairs and call behind me as I run.

"That's my curler, come on!"


I'm already finished with three sections of hair by the time I realize Quinn has yet to enter my room. Switching off my curler, I move back to my open door to find her standing in the hallway silently. I notice the stiffness in her posture immediately and there are questions on my lips that only fizzle away when I finally see what it is that Quinn is looking at.

"My books.."

Swallowing down the unusual nerves that are sparking through my body, I walk to where she is standing, still staring dumbly at the painstakingly organized collection I have been safeguarding for her.

"Yes, there wasn't enough space in my room, you um.. you have a lot you know."

Quinn smiles and carefully extends a hand along the spines of a few raggedy tomes. Looking at her eyes, my breath is taken away by how intensely they are shining. I feel as though this must be what it would be like to come face to face with my music collection after a long separation, except each note is a word, each accent, a printed letter.

"This is new."

I blink when the pale fingers of Quinn's hand move beyond her books to what I have housed them in. It is a tall bookcase stacked with five shelves, framed in strong, white oak that reminded me of Quinn as soon as I saw it. Watching her carefully sculpted fingertips explore the grains now, I know that I chose well.

"Well, I thought they deserved to have a home that was just as special as they were."

Those five pale fingertips that I have been watching so closely stutter in surprise at my words, the sudden absence of movement causes me to look away, back up to the pair of hazel eyes that are pinning me in place.

Quinn's brow crumbles for a moment, until a slow swallow works its way down her throat and her gaze begins to shift rapidly between me and the bookcase.

"You.. you bought this for me?"

I know what she is thinking; I case see the conflict in her eyes. Quinn has an eye for quality so I am sure she knows that this was not a thoughtless purchase. But I have absolutely no qualms in putting aside a small portion of my savings for an investment such as this. Just as I have no qualms in admitting how well I think it would go with some of my furniture, in the same space.. one day.

Still, I can see anxiety threatening to tumble Quinn out of balance, so I press my hand to the side of the case and give it an affectionate pat, smiling casually.

"Well, it's more for them really."

There is a beat of silence and then I feel each press individually as one, two, three, four fingers and a thumb close over my extended wrist.

"Rachel.."

Licking my lips, I have to tear my eyes away from the suddenly intoxicating sight of our combined skin tones before finally shoring up enough strength to meet Quinn's gaze again.

It is steady, and searching.

She stares at me for a moment, I am sure that she is waiting for one of us to crumble, she stares at me, but I stare right back, and then my hand is no longer pressing against white oak. Instead, it is being brought up to a very warm pair of lips and kissed reverently, over and over and over again.

"Thank you.."

My heart rate doubles at the heat in Quinn's tone but then I hear the clatter of my dad in the kitchen downstairs and I quickly decide that, before I lose all sense of decorum and press Quinn into that white oak bookcase, we should go. So I twist my hand in her grasp and smile, tugging us into my bedroom.

"Come on, I have something to show you."


"You have got to be kidding me!"

My eyes widen in disbelief at the look Quinn is giving both me and the object sitting between us. I can honestly say this wasn't the reaction I was expecting when I handed her the thin, white mask that would be partially covering her face for the evening.

"The Phantom of the Opera? You're making me the Phantom of the Opera?!"

"Um, Yes..?"

My eyebrows lower in confusion at the strange spark in Quinn's tone, and then I notice a small furrow creep into that perfect, alabaster brow and I know I am missing something.

"What?!"

Quinn rolls her eyes at me, no doubt already amused at the petulance I can hear creeping into my tone, before she holds the mask up between us almost entreatingly.

"Rachel.. consider our history for a moment. This isn't exactly the kind of persona I want to be emulating tonight."

There's a penny in my mind, and it drops in time with my shoulders as I realize the point that Quinn is making. Because the Phantom was not a beautiful man, he was dark and possessive and enraged with many things in life and the similarities that must be flashing through Quinn's mind and playing with her insecurities instantly cause me to scowl at my own thoughtlessness.

"No, no of course not, I just.."

"Just what?"

She catches me off guard, with the speed at which she latches onto my mumbled words, and I panic then. Because I am Rachel Barbra Berry and I plan things out meticulously and I'm not sure if I can really admit the.. questionable.. reasons my mind had for gravitating towards this particular Broadway pairing.

But, apparently, I can, because I do.

"Okay, honestly? I've always wanted to go Victorian and I thought you'd look really hot in the mask."

My eyes close in embarrassment for a moment until Quinn guffaws out a rather shrill "Rachel!" that lets me know she's more scandalized than legitimately hurt.

Opening my eyes again, I see the amused shock on her face and decide to throw propriety out the window, replacing it with youthful nonchalance instead. So I shrug my shoulders and spin to grab the other part of Quinn's outfit that's been keeping me awake at night.

"What?! It's true, look.."

We're standing in front of a mirror I have glued to my wall, my front to Quinn's back, as I clip on the black and white cloak that is so classically Phantom and pull Quinn's mask up to cover a small portion of her beautiful, beautiful face.

She stands then, her mask hiding the more subtle emotive responses her face projects, and her cloak hanging proudly from her softly rounded shoulders until, for just a moment, she is otherworldly and mysterious; a phantom before me.

"See? Stunning.."

From my place behind her, my fingertips trail down the front of Quinn's shirt, grazing gently over each carefully shaped button, until they land on the buckle of her belt and grip tightly. They do this because, even subconsciously, I feel as though my body knows that now is not the time to touch, regardless of how very badly it wants to.

"mmm, I guess you do make an exceptionally beautiful Christine.."

Smirking gently, I let the very edge of my fingertips fall to trace the underside of Quinn's belt, flirting dangerously with the idea of slipping further.

"This is true, and I did buy your books some exceptionally beautiful housing.."

I feel the shiver course through Quinn's body and into mine intimately as she turns towards me and I engage in the most important act this mysterious guise allows.

My hands curl around either side of Quinn's mask and slowly, meaningfully, pull it up and over her head.

Cold white gives way to the heady blush of living skin, unfeeling plastic gives way to the million different creases and quirks that tell me everything Quinn herself cannot. Phantom gives way to reality, which I find to be so unspeakably more wonderful; in every, single way.

A heartbeat sounds and then I swoon at the strength with which Quinn presses my body to the mirror, at the fervor with which her lips claim mine. The bodice of my dress is laced tight so I can feel my breath being pushed out from my chest in desperate lungfuls of air every time I'm given a moment to breathe.

I don't care though, I don't care about anything, because Quinn's hands are tightening around my hips and then she is lifting me up off the floor and my legs are locking around her waist tightly and everything I am made up of is coming apart so beautifully against her.

My mouth stretches open to let in her questing tongue, but it's only for a moment, because then I feel the indelible softness of that plump, bottom lip in my mouth and I can do nothing but capture it and suckle.

I have seen Quinn torture this lip for years; she chews it when she is anxious, she sucks it when she is thoughtful, she nibbles it when she reads, she licks it when she is hesitant. I have watched all of these things occur and always, always I have wanted to soothe it.

Quinn whimpers against me when I finally do, and the sound makes my thighs clench tighter around her. My grip is so tight, that I have to release her lip from between mine and expel a shaky breath.

Because we have to be careful now, in these moments of heat and closeness, we've been skirting the edge of this all week, trailing along the outer rim of greatness and explosions but always pulling back in time.

Regardless of this fact, my head connects with the mirror in a dull thud as Quinn's lips begin to trail down my neck and venture along an exposed shoulder.

"Yess baby, God.."

This time, my thighs lock themselves out of sheer desperation, because now is not the time to jump, and I'm screaming those words in my head on repeat, I'm singing them in the tune of each of my favorite Broadway classics, I'm dancing them in steps I've known since I was four years old, I'm doing everything I can to not go too far, when, impossibly, Quinn's deep and raspy voice does it for me.

"Rachel.."

I shouldn't react intellectually to her exclamation at all, I'm aware of this. But it causes a question to pop into my head that I've been meaning to ask for a number of days now, and Quinn's hands aren't going to be able to stay on the outside of my thighs for much longer before my resolve breaks anyway.

So, clearing my throat, I pull back slightly and lick my lips at the red blush that is blooming over Quinn's cheeks.

"Can I ask you a question?"

I feel the heat of one of those cheeks press against mine in a slow, affectionate nuzzle that has me feeling like I'm floating. I don't even think to consider that, still held aloft in Quinn's arms, I am.

"You can ask me anything."

There is a steady openness with which Quinn speaks, as if I actually could, and the moment I register the truth of this, my hips shift involuntarily and my fingers sink into the shoulders before me. But, blinking, I reluctantly force myself away from the poignancy of the moment and back to the question at hand.

"You never really call me anything but Rachel, or Rach."

A flicker of a smile ghosts over Quinn's face and I am sure, were her mask still on, I would have missed it completely. She bends her knees in a controlled squat as she sets me back on the ground, so seamless in the control she exerts over her limbs that my feet touch the ground without me even really noticing.

"That's not a question."

I laugh softly at the eyebrow she has raised and bite my lip, tracing my fingers over the outline of her cloak. I am nervous, I'm not even sure why, but I am.

"Why? Do you not like, um, pet names? I mean, I don't mind at all, it's just sometimes things slip out without me realizing it and.."

Quinn shakes her head, and, now styled, her hair barely shifts from the movement. But every shade of blonde still sparkles brightly and, without really realizing it, I find that I am smiling even before she begins to speak.

"It's nothing like that, it's just, you have the most beautiful name; lexically, phonetically.. it's beautiful. I spent years not saying it because of how beautiful I thought it was. I replaced it with awful things, awful names. So now, I never want to miss an opportunity to use it again."

Of their own volition, my eyes shift to the white mask that I have thrown on my desk and then back to Quinn's nervous face. Her words are a reminder for me; blunt and unassuming, she is right. There used to be so many awful whispers, so many awful words.

"Is that okay..?"

I barely notice the worry in Quinn's eyes; my thoughts already too far off. Was it only weeks ago that my heart rejoiced at the fact that Quinn would actually say my name, even unthinkingly?

There has.. so many things have changed.

My stomach is still fluttering from the excitement of our kisses and, as my eyes dip down to that white mask again, my body clenches.

"Rachel?"

I am standing in fog, but Quinn's voice finds me, and my eyes slip closed helplessly as every inch of my form is overcome with feeling; nerve endings sparking with almost painful intensity.

"Say it again.."

There is a shifting of fabric and then Quinn's body is pressing against mine, she is warm and firm and real and her voice is a wave crashing against the rocks of our past. Breaking and breaking until each jagged cliff becomes nothing more than sand for us to play upon.

"Rachel.."

There are hands now, wrapped around my waist, and I feel the softness of lips play along my skin. Strange torrents of power course through my body every time I hear Quinn speak, because I hear everything I need to in the subtleties of her voice.

I hear the passion and the love, the reverence and respect, the acknowledgement and the promise. I hear it all, like a beautiful song sounding only for me. I hear it, and my body dips from the weight of it all.

"Again, please.."

Quinn's lips are a sear against my throat, a relentless branding. Nothing exists beyond them, nothing but my name.

"Rachel.."

My voice hitches embarrassingly but I don't spare a second to dwell on it, instead, my hands shift up to grip onto the intricately styled points that make up Quinn's hair; pinning her to me.

I feel like I am drowning; oxygen deprived and dizzy, like every brush of her lips against my skin is a squeeze.

"Tell me what happe-ns.."

Clearing my throat, I do my best to lick away the lethargy that has overtaken my larynx before splaying my fingers along the ridges of Quinn's skull and valiantly attempting to finish my question.

"in here…? Tell me what happens in here?"

An infinitely gentle moan sounds against me then, it is so soft that the skin of my neck almost swallows it up completely, but I hear it, and, raking my nails back over Quinn's skull, I almost smirk as it reappears, louder and more desperate with each flex.

There is a girl in my chest, and she sings in the echoes that each one of those sounds create.

Because it is still such a new thing, to know that I elicit this kind of response in a creature as charming and beautiful as Quinn. It causes the lines of who dominates and who submits to blur deliciously and I remain in this state until Quinn grazes her teeth up towards my ear and I am, once again, helpless to do anything but shiver beneath her.

But she is delicate, this primed and powerful hunter of mine; she never punctures skin. It's only whispers that she gives me, whispers of love that don't hurt at all.

"Well.. 'Rae' is light and warm, airy.. like a sunbeam. It makes me feel like I'm floating. 'Chel' is an inversion of that in that.. it's deep. It's so, so deep. Deeper than the darkest soil, I feel it in my bones and it gives me goosebumps. Until I say 'Rae' again and begin all over."

My eyes, which have opened during Quinn's description, shift to focus on the space above us as I float in thought. I know this condition she is speaking of intimately, this never-ending cycle. It is the most delicious pattern I have in my life. It is perfect and constant, it is..

"Like a circle."

I'm not sure what I have said, but it has Quinn pulling back from my ear to bring our faces together again. Her eyes are hard in a rather brilliant and inviting way. They spark with passion and focus, two pieces of Quinn that I take delight in greedily.

"Rach, I have something to tell you."

The metronome in my chest increases tempo until it's ringing loudly in my ears, already, I am licking my lips at the world of possibilities that statement creates. But then, there is another ringing coming from downstairs and I tighten my grasp on Quinn's hair when I realize it's the doorbell.

"Someone's early?"

Turning my head and straining to see my alarm clock, I practically fall over in Quinn's arms when I register the time.

"Oh my God it's five past! Quinn! Quinn! It's five past! I.. my hair.."

"-Is perfect. Your outfit is time specific, sexy and well put together. Your house looks great, your dads are downstairs. Everything is perfect. Okay?"

I have stumbled in Quinn's grasp but she has held me firm, and the fall leaves in her eyes cushion my panic until I am regrown and ready to stand on my own again.

Pushing up, I press my forehead to Quinn's, too many words already blooming within me. I find the best one, the one that is, for the moment, the most important, and I pick it like a flower.

"Thank you."

Running my fingertips down the lines of Quinn's arms, they stop at my hips, where her hands have been gripping me securely, and squeeze.

"But is everything okay?"

I can hear the low murmur of voices coming from downstairs and then the base of some standard pop song begins to play outside. The party is starting, my party is starting. But I don't move, I wait, because Quinn's eyes are smiling at me and full of secrets that I desperately want her to share in these last quiet moments we have together. I am denied though, with a gentle smile and a softly shaken head.

"Yes, it definitely is. Don't worry, it can wait."

My grip tightens slightly as I bring our hands to rest between us. I am searching Quinn's eyes for boxes, looking for even the slightest sign that she is compartmentalizing, but there is nothing, only those ever-elusive flecks of red and orange that sink away as soon as my eyes try to focus on them.

I am sure that the hints of unease I'm feeling at Quinn's lack of disclosure are shining brightly on my face, but she just grins and slips her mask back over her face before billowing her cloak out in a dramatic circle of movement.

"I promise it can wait! Now, let's get down to the party before you pop a gasket Christine."

I can't help but smile at the way that Quinn is embracing her character and, although a part of me wants to spend a few more moments worrying about this apparently not-bad thing that she is refusing to share, Quinn slips a hand in mine and her kiss leaves me breathless, even with the cool pressing of the mask between us.

So, I let the worry go, and follow her down the staircase instead.


Taking in the scene around me, I actually.. I think I could actually say that people are having fun.

Noah and Sam are playing beer pong with the sparkling apple juice. Mercedes, Kurt, Blaine and Artie are messing around on the dance floor and Tina and Mike are making structures out of carrot sticks between kisses.

Of course, Finn is missing, and, although I had not really expected him to come, I feel his absence all the same. He's an oaf, he can be hurtful and selfish and short-sighted, but I have always thought that there was the potential for so much good in him and I hope that, in the months to come, he can get past the hurt he's feeling and not miss out on time spent with his friends. Because graduation is fast approaching and moments like these won't be possible for much longer.

Noah is moving to LA, so is Mercedes. Mike's off to Chicago, Kurt is still waiting for his NYADA letter. Santana is going to NYU and Brittany's already looking at opportunities for dancers in the city. Sam, Artie, Blaine and Tina are going to be all that's left and who knows how often we'll be able to come back and visit them.

Throughout all these thoughts I realize that I have neglected to mention Quinn, and this causes me to press tightly against the wooden decking frame I've been resting upon.

Because she..

She'll be..

Before my thoughts can spiral downwards, I catch a flash of billowing black and smile when I see Quinn leading Brittany through the sliding doors towards me. She is dressed in a frilly, pink dress and her honey-blonde hair is lightly curled, falling past her shoulders carelessly.

"Brittany, you look wonderful!"

I'm immediately swallowed by a hug that has me simultaneously gasping for air and laughing at the unlikelihood of having now been embraced by two Cheerios in my life. A muffled squeal leaves my lungs as I'm spun around briefly before Brittany plonks me back on my shaky feet and smiles brilliantly.

"Thanks Rachelberry, but wait till you see Santy!"

"Well, I'm sure she'll be just as- oh.."

My feet, which have been shifting from place to place trying to regain my balance, completely still when I see Santana walk through the sliding doors.

"She wanted to look naughty so I thought; who's naughtier than the Wicked Witch of the West?!"

I blink owlishly, first at Quinn, who has been standing apart while Brittany embraced me, and is now smirking devilishly, to Brittany, who has her hands clasped to her chest and is sighing happily.

Santana is in a form fitting but respectable black dress, her hair is plaited neatly down her back and she has a pair of thin-framed glasses on her face.

But this is not what has shocked me into silence, what has shocked me into silence is the fact that every inch of skin Santana is currently showing has been painted a bright and vibrant green.

"Isn't she a perfect Elpha?!"

"Elphaba.."

I make the correction without thinking and then my eyes snap over to Brittany once more before looking back at Santana, swallowing at the murder that is flashing in her eyes. She twitches her lips slightly before her gaze softens and she looks at Brittany, seemingly smiling despite herself.

"This wasn't exactly what I had in mind BrittBritt, but if you love it, I love it."

Quinn bumps her shoulder into Brittany's and sends a cocky grin to Santana; a move that somehow has me feeling incredibly aroused and fearing for her life all at the same time.

"She looks awesome B!"

Brittany laughs happily and gives Quinn a side-on hug before starting an animated discussion about Wicked and the annoyance of finding green body paint that doesn't rub off right away.

I'm about to flee and join them when a painted arm wraps itself around my shoulder and pulls me to the side. The last thing I see before my vision is filled with green and black is the silly smile Quinn gives the panic in my eyes.

"Listen up Tinkerbell.."

My eyes are scrunched closed in anticipation of whatever Santana's going to dish out, but then there's a pause followed by a large sigh and, although her voice is still low and hissing, it now seems to be entirely without any serious threat.

"If.. if word of this leaves this house, I don't care how happy you make Q, I will end you."

One eye squints open at the strange, backhanded compliment Santana has paid me before I twist my head in search of Quinn, who, I have assumed, is the one that has just saved me.

But she hasn't; she is looking away from us and moving her hands happily, explaining the finer points of Wicked in relation to the development of poststructuralist feminist theory to a blank looking Brittany.

A blank looking Brittany who is ignoring Quinn altogether and smiling at me instead.

An odd kind of acceptance washes over me then, as I take in that smile, and, looking back at Santana, I notice, for the first time perhaps, that, in spite of all of her bluster, she is actually not that much taller than me.

So, swallowing down how exhilaratingly reckless I feel, I grin and step out of Santana's grip to readjust my dress.

"You have my word Santana, and I promise that I'm suitably intimidated by your display of aggression, but I am also going to hug you now."

The contact is careful and awkward because she's covered in green and I'm covered in white, but I don't care at all because, impossibly, Santana lets it happen for just a moment before, predictably, stiffening and pushing me back.

"What? Ew, gross, Q get this thing off of me!"

And then I'm returning the silly smile Quinn is shooting me again because, suddenly, I'm three for three on the Cheerio front and it's not even eight o'clock.


I'm pouring myself another glass of peach-bomb punch when my vision is suddenly shadowed by two hovering figures.

"Having fun baby girl?"

I raise my eyebrow at the way my fathers are swaying distractedly, their eyes taking in as much information as possible without appearing to be prying.

"Um, yes.. are you?"

I'm sure they think their subterfuge is working rather brilliantly, until my dad puts too much weight on the chair he's leaning against in an effort to see what's in Mike's cup and almost topples over into me. He rights himself quickly before surreptitiously pouring a cup of punch for himself and sniffing at it deeply.

I'm about to comment on the unnecessary measures they're taking when my daddy grins nervously and looks around at the revelry taking place around us.

"Well, don't mind us; we were just making sure everyone was having a good time."

I manage to keep a straight face right up until the rest of their rambled conversation pieces teeter off and they stand awkwardly in front of me, once again looking every bit the out of place teenagers I know they both were.

Finally, it's all too much and I laugh heartily before giving them both a large hug, giggling all the more at the bemused expressions now sitting on their faces.

"You can hang around you know, I know you took most of today off for me."

I lean into my daddy's hug as I watch my dad shrug his shoulders almost bashfully.

"Well, we didn't want to cramp your style.."

His words make my smile hit down to the bone and I am touched at how careful they are being to not jeopardize the success of the evening for me. Still, leaning over and grabbing a stick of celery, I shrug my shoulders carelessly and grin as I listen to the sound of music and laughter behind me.

"It's okay, I'm not fifteen anymore."

My dad pokes me with a carrot stick and laughs playfully.

"Oh right, because that was like.. so ages ago."

I roll my eyes but the funny thing is, they're right. Usually, my anxiety would be right up there with theirs, tumbling in freefall from hours of planning and tightly controlled activities. But, swallowing down the crunchy celery in my mouth, it's just not. Because something wonderful seems to be happening tonight in that, somewhere in between the carbonated bubbles and the fairy lights, everyone has just started.. having fun together.

Noah chooses that moment to run past us with Sam on his back and it takes me a moment to register that they're being chased by Brittany, who has Santana on her back.

"Awesome party Rach!"

"Stop sucking up and get ready to die Trouty mouth!"

Each rider has a foamy, plastic sword in their hands and I honestly have no idea why Noah even brought them but I quickly find that I don't care at all, because Sam lets out a completely non-fierce battle cry before bringing his sword down against Santana's, causing Brittany to squeal and lithely run away again.

I try to keep the laughter in my chest as I watch my fathers blink silently for a moment before my dad finally ends up shaking his head and grinning at me despite himself.

"Those are some interesting friends you have there honeybear."

Leaning against the trestle table, I'm sure that my smile is as wide as it's ever been as I continue to watch Santana beat Sam and Noah's retreating backs.

"Yeah.. I know."

My eyes shift away from following the battle and I can feel my body instantly begin to hum when I spot Quinn, sitting down by the tree at the back of my yard. She has her mask in her hands and I see that she is smiling happily, but it's only when I begin to look closer that I notice the twinkling prisms of light that are trailing down her cheeks.

Immediately, I shift my gaze back to my fathers and give them a smile, already moving towards the direction of the tree.

"I'll be back, stay and hang out but don't eat all the dip!"

I make my way past little bubbles of dancing and fighting and singing and, by the time I reach Quinn, I'm fairly out of breath from it all. But my heart is strengthened by the fact that, when she sees me, she makes no effort to hide her face. It's only a smile that I'm given; a grateful and loving stretching of lips, a gracefully dipped head, and a softly spoken "ahoy".

"Hey Foxtrot."

Without thinking twice, I hike up my dress and sink to my knees, coming to sit close by Quinn's side. I see she has a rather wonderful view of the party from this vantage point, but I'm still concerned that she's looking on rather than participating. So, knocking our sides together, I press a kiss to Quinn's shoulder and keep it there, looking up at the mysterious tears still leaking gently from her eyes.

"You okay?"

Quinn surprises me then, by effortlessly jumping to her feet and spinning herself around in a circle, arms extended wide and hands open.

"I'm so, so good."

She grins wildly before jumping up to a branch and pulling her body around in slow somersaults that have me questioning whether her arms should even be able to bend that way.

My gaze shifts down to the empty cup she's left by the tree and I'm suddenly gripped with worry, torn between glaring back at the dance floor and looking anxiously up at Quinn's spinning motions.

"Did Noah spike your drink?!"

Quinn pauses her spinning for a moment and laughs loudly.

"What? No!"

She lets go of her branch and lands back on the floor with a thump, cape billowing impressively as she falls to her knees before me.

"I'm just.. I have something to tell you."

I'm still eyeballing her suspiciously and my fears are only allayed when I see no trace of fogginess in her gaze. Although, what I do see causes my heartbeat to remain elevated all the same. Licking my lips, I shuffle closer to her huddled form and quirk my face in confusion.

"Okay.."

Two Mississippi's pass and then Quinn is on her feet again, holding out a hand for me in a gesture that I am sure is entirely unconscious.

"Do you ever have moments in your life where you just.. realize things? Like epiphanies?"

She is the most thoughtlessly thoughtful person I have ever met, so intrinsically attuned to the needs and expectations of the people in her world. It's a double edged sword, this kind of awareness, but, regardless of this, I feel so much at getting the chance to experience having it focused on me.

Blinking up at her patiently waiting face, my hand slips into Quinn's without hesitation and I know there's a smile in my response as I'm gently pulled to my feet.

"Daily."

Quinn doesn't let go of my hand once I'm vertical, if anything, she tightens her hold as she begins her admission.

"I feel like for such a long time, I had been made up of lies. My whole life.. the stories I would tell myself, the boxes I would make, they'd just crush me. But you, I want you to know the truth, the truth of me. Though I have to tell you, we'd be finding it together, because I'm not even sure what it is."

I have no idea what Quinn is talking about, but the focused resolve she is speaking with causes a large smile to break over my face and then there's a light in her eyes, a crackling and swirling kind of excitement that I can't help but shake my head in wonder at.

"I love your brain."

I am shocked the admission comes out of my mouth, I had not meant to share it. But, at once, I am so glad I have, because Quinn's face looks as though she has discovered something about me. Her eyes are shy as she takes a step closer towards me.

"You do?"

The grin I have on my face only widens at the blush I have created and then I'm nodding my head with unquestioning certainty.

"Of course."

"I got you a surprise."

My eyes spark as the last time Quinn uttered those words to me comes to mind and I find that my curiosity about the conversation we weren't able to finish earlier this evening increases tenfold.

"A surp- Quinn, what's going on?"

But, again, Quinn is annoyingly secretive through her nervous grin.

"Give me your hand and close your eyes?"

She has phrased it as a question, but, even so, I feel as though I have no choice but to sink my eyes closed and try to be ready for whatever it is that awaits me. I feel Quinn's fingers close over my wrist and then there is the clink of metal as something is clasped onto my silver charm bracelet.

A familiar thrill races through my veins as Quinn withdraws her hands and gives me a softly murmured sound of assent. When my eyes open, I immediately lick my lips at the nerves that are written on Quinn's face before I can wait no longer and have to dip my gaze down.

"It's.. Quinn it's a cross?"

Quinn takes a breath before reverently pulling an envelope from her back trouser pocket and handing it to me.

"I got this in the mail yesterday afternoon."

Although my eyes never leave Quinn's, my numb fingertips retract the letter automatically and it's not until its open before me that I actually find the strength to look down.

Time seems to slow as the silver clock on my wrist catches the glow of a fairy light and glimmers before me. I feel a steady thump, all the way from the tip of my toes to the edge of my temple.

"Quinn, this is from Columbia University.."

"Yes."

My brain stalls unhelpfully as my eyes race like wildfire over the words printed in front of me.

"From the Department of English and Comparative Literature.."

"Yes."

Gripping the edge of the paper, I push my finger over the printed insignia and force my eyes to carefully take in each and every letter of the return address over and over again until I am absolutely sure that I'm seeing what I think I'm seeing.

"..in New York City."

"Yes."

Finally, finally, something releases its hold on me and my hands drop to my lap as my gaze shoots up to meet Quinn's. Her eyes are shining again and I can hear the force of her swallow from where I'm standing.

"Quinn..this is..you..oh my God!"

I'm drowning in pressure as my arms squeeze and it's only then that I realize I've flung myself against Quinn's body. My face automatically burrows into the crook of her neck as I desperately try and catch up to what has just happened between us.

New York. Quinn. Columbia. Quinn is going to Columbia. Which is in New York. Quinn is coming to New York. With me. Quinn is coming with me.

I'm not the strongest girl in the world, but I still have to tone down the intensity of my grip when I hear Quinn wheeze out a breath. I'm about to pull away and apologize, but she only holds me tighter, and the feeling of her words washing over my hair picks me apart in the most wonderful of ways.

"I checked the scholarship details online today, I didn't want to say anything until I was sure, and now I am. I'll be starting with you after the summer. So, I want you to know everything. I want you to know me Rachel, because behind all of this crazy, there is one truth that I know above all others. I love you, I've loved you since, well, always, and that makes so much sense to me now. It's simple, a simple sum."

Pulling back slightly, I could weep at the hesitancy I find in her eyes; it cuts to the quick of me because, as always, she is so eloquently correct. We are a simple sum, a coming together, a beautifully natural adding up.

A simple sum, her heart and mine, and all of a sudden it hits me. The silver on my wrist, it's not a cross at all, it's.. addition. So, bringing my wrist up between us, my eyes widen as realization sets in.

"Love is Parallax..?"[1]

Quinn smiles then, it's an honest to goodness Lucy Quinn Fabray smile and I am giddy at the sight of it, of her. I am giddy. Grinning, I wrap my free hand in a tight fist through the material of her shirt just to pull her that much closer.

"It..that's Sylvia Plath, that's my favorite poem!"

The smile Quinn has been gifting me with softens; she is dulcet as she takes me in.

"I know."

And of course she does. Because just as I know her, she knows me. Clutching the letter, I press closer to her and we come together again. Breathless in our tight embrace, I grip her billowing cloak with a desperate fierceness and, just as I know one and one is two, I know then, that I will never let her go.

Because we are a simple sum, a reverent joining. Parallax indeed.


Quinn's cloak manages to shield me from the torrents of sparkling apple juice that Noah shakes into the air when he finds out about Columbia.

She is scowling at having to remove the item of clothing, but you would have to be blind to not see the happiness that's shining on her face. It stretches even further when an elated Brittany picks her up and, without a word, begins to spin her around on the decking.

"Calm down guys!"

When Brittany finally lets go, I hear laughter, it is bright and joyous and causes my heart to hurt from the weight of the happiness I feel.

I'm standing slightly apart from the crowd as Quinn receives the last of her congratulations, my fathers send over a big thumbs up from their position at the food tables, still wary of being 'too out there' and 'ruining the vibe' of the party, whatever that is even meant to mean.

But the most surprising moment occurs when Santana, who has somehow managed to avoid getting smudgy from Noah's non-alcoholic champagne shower, steps in front Quinn and embraces her tightly.

Tina is laughing with Mercedes about something, Kurt and Blaine are talking excitedly about New York, but every one of them quietens instantly at the contact.

I take a step forwards and sigh when Sam, who has dressed up as Spiderman for the evening, bumps into my shoulder and playfully raises an eyebrow.

Biting my lip, I smile at the very quiet whispers I hear being exchanged between the two girls in front of me until Santana pulls herself back abruptly, as if only just realizing she's broken code and done something incredibly girly in public.

Looking at the blush on Quinn's cheeks, I have more experience than most with this kind of social insecurity, so I take pity on the both of them and yell for my dad to turn the music up again. When he does, the ending of a bouncy number sounds across the backyard and the strange stillness that has overtaken everybody makes way for more dancing and laughter.

Quinn nods in thanks as Kurt and Blaine give their congratulations before jumping in place next to me, rearranging the sit of her shirt, which has been ruffled by Brittany's blitz attack.

"Sorry, I got ambushed!"

I grin happily and lace my fingers through the ones that Quinn is using to fiddle with her cuffs. Looking down at our contact, I find my tongue begins to run its way over my lip without thought.

"Just so you know, now would be a good time to ask me to dance with you."

Quinn stills for a moment before letting out a deep chuckle that causes my stomach to burn pleasantly. She lifts her free hand to a spare patch of space on the decking as the opening beats of a much slower song begin to play.

"Dance with me?"

Pushing up, I press a kiss to the cool skin of Quinn's cheek and grin at the flutter that overtakes her features as a result of it.

"Always."

Slipping into Quinn's arms feels so much like coming home that I don't even find myself worrying about missing a step. Of course I don't need to, because, just like before, Quinn casually leads us through a simple series of movements. They start out formal but quickly become more intimate and casual with every brush my fingers make over the curve of her shoulderblade.

It takes only seconds for us to laugh softly at each other and slip closer, swaying rather than dancing now.

I close my eyes and breathe in the night air; I smell apples and grass and water and wood, I hear voices and laughter and the steady, whimsical beats of one of my favorite songs. Before I know it, I'm singing into Quinn's neck so quietly that I'm sure we're the only two people in the world that can hear it.

"I was a little girl alone in my little world who dreamed of a little home for me." [2]

I can feel Quinn smile against me and then the fairy lights are nothing but glowing blurs as we start to twirl playfully against one another. I try and get out the rest of the short verse, but it's broken up with layers of laughter and breathlessness that I'm not entirely sure I mind being there.

"I played pretend between the trees, and fed my house guests bark and leaves and laughed in my pretty bed of green.. I had a dream."

Quinn leads us in a final twirl before pulling back slightly and pressing her cheek to mine. I'm not expecting the words to come out of her mouth, it isn't a very popular song and not many people know it, but come they do; perfectly in time and tremulous. My knees quake as I press myself tighter into the hold we've created; lost in the details of Quinn's serenade.

"Long walks in the dark, through woods grown behind the park, I asked God who I'm supposed to be."

Quinn's voice hitches as she moves into the last part of the verse, and it's only then that I realize that my lips have closed over the wooden cross that's sitting on her chest. Smiling, I hold them there for a beat before pulling away and pressing into her collarbone instead.

"The stars smiled down on me, God answered in silent reverie, I said a prayer and fell asleep. I.. I had a dream."

There is an infinitely gentle tremble against me and neither of us has to say a word to know what it means. Because there has been so much, so much to get us to where we are right now; dancing in the moonlight surrounded by laughter and trees and fairy lights.

I tighten my hold on Quinn and whisper the only thing I can as the music continues to steadily thrum its way through our heads and hearts.

"So, I think your new bookcase will look really lovely next to my bed."

Quinn barks a sharply emotive laugh into my ear and shakes her head against mine, fingers playing through the intricate lace ties of my dress distractingly.

"There's no way it'd fit Rach."

Grinning, I pull back and press our foreheads together, my eyes are bright and wide, I know it. I know it because Quinn's look exactly the same; we are a mirror image, ripples in the same pond, trains on the same tracks, apples hanging from the same big tree.

"Well, not in this room."

And, as Quinn's lips push into mine, I can't help but feel like I'm flying, because none of it is a dream.

Not anymore.

 

Chapter Text

Quinn.


Standing by the unattended beverage table, I skip past the peach punch that I am ninety nine percent sure Puck has already attempted to spike, and opt for soda instead. Reaching for a plastic cup, I take a moment to catch up with the evening. Because tonight has been incredible, it has filled me with laughter and dancing and endless whispers of a bright and shining future that, for once, I am not just desperately fabricating.

I have never felt more grateful, never felt quite so perfectly in place.

Pouring slowly, I am waiting for the bubbles to recede to avoid any unnecessary spillage when I hear footsteps approach and look up to see Leroy standing beside me. Immediately, my eyes stutter downwards and I see that my cup has almost reached full capacity.

"Good evening Quinn."

Hastily pulling the bottle back, I smile nervously and try to focus on not making a complete idiot out of myself. Since the calamity of dinner a week ago, my relationship with Rachel's fathers, meaning Leroy specifically, has been polite and tentative at best. These eggshells on which we are walking are not a surprise to me, but still, I find myself grasping in the hopes of more.

"Um, hey Leroy, would you like a drink?"

Leroy's face twitches into a smile as raises his plastic cup, so I nod in understanding and lift my own cup to take a drink instead.

Awkward silence fills the next thirty seconds and I'm about to give up and excuse myself politely when he speaks again.

"So, you're a fan of the Phantom?"

"Oh, no I'm not actually." I laugh before pointing my cup in the direction of the small patch of decking that has been transformed into a dance floor across from us. "But, of course, Rachel definitely is."

My face pulls into a smile as I watch Rachel play. Artie has Tina sitting in his lap and she is spinning the both of them around quickly, her laughter is sunshine in my veins and I feel something inside me begin to bloom at the sound; photosynthesis in love.

"You're not at all like I thought you'd be."

I look back at Leroy to find him staring at me earnestly; head tilted in a gesture so reminiscent of Rachel that I almost have to do a double take.

I chew on the side of my lip thoughtfully, nervous at the openness with which I have been staring at his daughter. But then I remember, the more I show of myself, the more he will know how I much I feel, because, at this point, even I am now sure that my emotions write themselves plainly on my face wherever Rachel is concerned.

So I let my lips fall from between my teeth and tug out a smile.

"I'll take that as a compliment."

I'm surprised then, to hear the absolute sincerity with which Leroy responds.

"It is you know, very much so."

I blink up from where I have been studying the ground to regard him for a moment. There are words that I want to say; swirling and elusive on my tongue. There are 'thank you's and 'yes's and 'I will always keep her safe's but they slip through my fingers like water until all I am left with is a dry throat and a shaky nod of acknowledgment.

Leroy watches my response before shaping one of the gentlest smiles I have ever seen. It falls like a feather; hovering for a moment and slipping away only to be replaced by a look of deep contrition that I have trouble understanding.

"I believe that I owe you an apology."

My frown is sudden and precise; it stretches over my face in time with the short head shake I give.

"No you don't, your wariness was totally understandable."

Leroy mirrors my head shake and sets his drink down. He grabs a couple of garden chairs and pulls them over for us, gesturing for me to sit as he speaks.

"Quinn, although my recent actions may suggest otherwise, I am the adult here. Even putting aside the tremendous amount of stress that you've been placed though recently, you're only seventeen, and no matter what thoughts or fears were running through my mind, it was unacceptable for me to lose sight of that.. so please, let me apologize for my presumptions and my behavior over dinner last week."

The smooth wood of the garden chair is tender against my hands and I suddenly wish that I had not slipped my mask off to rest against my neck.

I have never had a man.. a father.. apologize to me before, and I feel as though I have been handed a puzzle. But before I can fret myself into a state over this new and unexpected interaction, Leroy leans back in his chair and sighs.

I look at him then, for the first time perhaps, and I do not see his height or the cut of his shirt, I see that he looks tired; weary, and then, I see more than that. I see the smile lines that curve around his cheeks and the litters of small, incidental scars that mark his arms and the steady way in which his fingers play over his wrists as he thinks.

I see the way he watches Rachel spin and dance, I see each and every crease on his face deepen with the pressure of his smile when she squeals as Brittany playfully dips her.

We are silent then, both watching Rachel shine in the moonlight like the star we know she is, and then there are more words, they are spoken softly; in careful respect of the years of experience they took to acquire.

"When you're younger, it seems like something magical happens once you reach adulthood and you just know what to do about things. But I'll tell you a secret, it's a lie. You don't know, you just keep stumbling through like you always have and hope for the best."

My teeth close around my lip again as I nod in understanding, I have always suspected a truth such as this. That a life truly lived is never an easy trajectory, that there are jungles and forests between the beginning and the end of things and that we are helpless to do anything with these great wildernesses but traverse them as best we can and pray for solid footing.

Leroy crosses his legs and leans towards me. The gesture instantly reminds me of my father, of the smell of oiled leather and the vermilion and licorice panels that once lined the walls of his study.

I would only ever be permitted entrance on occasions of absolute necessity because to sit in the rich leather of his chesterfield sofa meant that it was time to engage in formal conversation, that it was time to speak of important things.

But I look at Leroy now and I see his casual shirt and his khaki trousers and I smell the wet grass tickling my nose and, all at once, I feel nothing like the small child I once was, instead, I feel every minute of my almost eighteen years.

So I cross my legs in mirrored response, and listen to his words.

"I knew I was gay on my seventeenth birthday, but it took me a lot longer than that to actually be okay with it, and I left a long road of destruction in my wake."

Leroy's eyes flicker towards mine and I am sure that he isn't looking for acknowledgement, but I nod my head anyway, because I know the truth of his words more intimately than most.

"There was a boy that I liked.. that I hated. I couldn't deal with it, so I broke his heart and left the state. I found out, much later in life, that he had attempted suicide after my departure."

My fingers, which have been softly grazing the edge of my mask, grip the plastic tightly at this new and shocking piece of information. Rachel has never mentioned anything like this about her father before, and I am sure then that she doesn't know; that Leroy is very deliberately choosing to tell me these truths about himself instead.

"We got into contact years later and.. spoke about a lot of things, there was a lot going on in his life at the time but we still talk quite often. That night over dinner, I thought about my little star and how deeply she feels things.. and I just.."

A helpless kind of anxiety overtakes Leroy's face for a moment, and I understand then, the lens through which he would have viewed my entrance into Rachel's life and the subsequent motives I may have had. I cannot place blame at all, because, objectively, his wariness would have been entirely called for. Because I wasn't ready, I wasn't ready to have anything even remotely like the life I am currently leading. But then.. something happened.

What was it?

Reading, playing, laughing, dancing, loving, touching, talking, listening.

I think back and try to pinpoint the exact moment the shift took place, the moment where sink became swim. But all I can see is a wintered forest and all I can hear is Rachel's laughter and, looking over, I find that to be because she is cackling helplessly as a green Santana chases Kurt around with a drink she has undoubtedly spat in.

I realize then, that perhaps the shift was a collection of details rather than a single defining moment. That, perhaps, it came from experiencing a person rather than a place.

Moving my gaze back to Leroy, whatever look has overtaken my face has him smiling at me. Shuffling my chair closer to his, I lean in and take a breath that is pregnant with reflection.

I think then, about this man, about his words and his worries.

I can see the way that his concern has him feeling torn. Because, as I am learning, good parenting is all about riding a series of very blurry lines, and it is not always easy to know when enough is enough.

Truthfully though, I am not sure how to respond to the honesty or the depth of Leroy's disclosure, so instead, I smile at the way that his gaze keeps moving back to the dance floor.

"You love your daughter Leroy; you don't want anything to hurt her. This is a very, very good thing."

We both laugh then, at the no-nonsense way in which Rachel seems to be explaining the vegetable platter to Sam and Mercedes, who look both hungry and confused.

As our chuckles quiet down, I see Leroy nod as he shifts his gaze back to me and I, once again, feel echoes of Rachel ripple throughout his thoughtful eyes and tilted head.

"Yes I do, and you love her too."

"Yes, I do."

It is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the easiest confirmation I have ever had to give. Because yes, a lifetime's worth of yes.. I do. I love Rachel, simply, and completely. I do.

"mm, and that is also a very good thing."

Before I have time to adequately fall apart at the acceptance I've been granted, Leroy grins and jumps to his feet, suddenly spry and every bit the charismatic cardiothoracic surgeon I have heard mention of in the past.

He pulls me up with him until we are just two people standing together, and the weight of our previous conversation is replaced by the weight of his arm around my shoulder.

I want to stand and think about the poetry of how light the heaviness of this contact makes me feel, but Rachel is beginning to bicker with Santana over the music that's playing, and there's really no where that I'd rather be than standing next to her for that.

So, returning Leroy's knowing grin, I quietly slip away.


Rachel closes the door as Santana and Brittany who are, surprisingly, the last to leave, hop into their cars and drive away.

The moment the lock clicks into place she turns around and leans against the wooden frame, sighing out a contented breath.

"That.. was fun."

I look at the careless way in which her hair is falling, at the gentle waves of brown that are spilling over the tops of her bare shoulders. Raising my eyes, I feel a wide smile blossom from deep within and take hold. It only stretches further as my hands slip around Rachel's hips and lock into place, holding us together.

"So much fun.."

Simultaneously, we press ourselves together and Rachel's lips are a midnight shore; lapping against mine in whispers that are somehow full of teasing and promise. I want to stay this way, indefinitely, but then Rachel is tugging on the mask that is still hanging from my neck and grinning happily, pulling me back in the direction of the patio.

"Come on Phantom, we have trash to tidy!"

We've just walked through the glass sliding doors when Hiram turns the corner and stumbles into us, leaving a large pool of soda bubbling on Rachel's white dress.

"Dad!"

"Oh my goodness, I am so sorry honeybear, I didn't see you there!"

My hands instantly slip down to steady Rachel's hips as I take in the stain that's quickly forming on her dress.

"Are you okay?"

Rachel gives Hiram, who is now frantically pressing a kitchen towel to her chest, an exasperated chuckle as she takes over from his hold.

"I'm fine I'm fine, just give me a moment to wipe this off and I'll be right back to help."

"No that's okay sweetie I really did a number on you, go have a shower. We'll be fine, won't we Quinn?"

Rachel raises an eyebrow at her father before pivoting to look back at me. I quickly survey the backyard and take stock of what needs to be done before nodding.

"Sure, we'll finish this and I'll meet you upstairs when we're done,alright?"

She bites her lip and looks over the backyard, now beginning to twist the soda out of the front of her dress in steady drips.

"Are you sure?"

I laugh at the hesitancy in Rachel's voice and squeeze the hips still sitting in grasp, moving us back towards the sliding door.

"Of course, go!"

"Thanks, I'll be quick."

My eyelids flutter shut at the wonderfully shy kiss that is pressed to my lips and, when I finally open them again, the only sign that Rachel has been there at all is a small trail of soda drops leading back towards the house.

"Okay.."

Turning around, I immediately feel my ears burn red at the amused smirk Hiram is shooting my way.

"Come on Romeo, grab a bag."

I clear my throat and tear off a rubbish bag from the roll Hiram holds out to me before focusing on looking as studiously committed to cleaning as possible. Only a minute or two passes before I hear the squeak of white trainers and see Leroy coming into view, a backpack strapped loosely across his chest.

"Well, I drew the graveyard shift tonight so I'm off unfortunately, many thanks to the cleaning fairies oh..." he hooks a hand around his bag strap and looks around curiously. "Where'd Rachel go?"

"She's showering, there was a spill that I had absolutely nothing to do with at all."

"Right, I'm sure.." Leroy narrows his eyes but they are full of mirth, even as he sighs forlornly. "I didn't get to say goodnight.."

"Sweetie, I'm sure Rachel's very happy that we're cutting down our hours and focusing on spending as much time as possible with her before these two shoot through to NYC, but I'm also sure that you can say goodnight to her tomorrow. Now off you go, word on the street is you have lives to save tonight."

"Well apparently, but who knows! Hang on, was there something I was meant to do before I left?"

Hiram purses his lips in thought for a moment before shrugging casually.

"Nothing I can think of, now get out of here Dr Berry."

I stand apart from the pair so I can watch their to and fro, and it warms my heart rather brilliantly to see Rachel's fathers interact like this. It seems so loving and natural and.. normal. Leroy laughs through my thoughts and presses a kiss to Hiram's cheek before shooting me a smile and beginning to walk back towards the house.

"Night Quinn."

"Goodnight Leroy."

The sliding door closes with a click and I've barely filled up one bag of rubbish when Hiram starts to whistle to himself merrily.

"You know what, how about you go upstairs and wait for that daughter of mine? It's a lovely night, I think I'll put some music on and finish straightening things up out here."

My fingers stall over a plastic plate as I automatically look up to the second floor of the house before returning my gaze back to Hiram's soft grin.

"Are you sure? I, I really don't mind."

He tugs the rubbish bag from my grasp and gives me a nudge towards the door.

"I'm very sure, go, frolic, be young, I'll be out here enjoying the night air."

When I reach the door, my hand is suddenly sweaty as I slide it open. I find that I am nervous, without having the slightest idea as to why. In any case, I give Rachel's father a genuine smile as I make my leave.

"Okay, thanks so much!"

The last thing I see before I turn towards the hallway that leads up to the stairs is another one of Hiram's soft grins.

"You're very welcome."


Slowly pacing the floor of Rachel's bedroom, I am running my fingers over my white Phantom mask in absentminded strokes. My eyes are not focused on it, instead, they are flickering towards the moonlight that is streaming through Rachel's window. After a moment, I find myself gravitating towards the tree on the other side of it.

I look at the strong, twisted branches and remember how it felt to sit between them, looking up at Rachel positioned exactly where I'm standing now. She seemed so far away from me then; still this beautiful but intangible object that I was learning how to know.

I feel as though a life has been lived since that night and, as happy as the memory is, I cannot deny how much better it feels to be standing on this side of the glass.

Minutes pass and then I hear muted voices coming from behind the closed door. I surmise that it is Rachel speaking with her dad; this immediately makes me nervous and causes me to resume pacing by the bed.

I see that my overnight bag is still sitting on Rachel's neatly organized desk and it only occurs to me then that I maybe should have already changed into my pajamas. But then, maybe not? Will we be going to sleep right away? Leroy was meant to help assemble the trundle but, with his departure, I'm not sure how or if plans have changed. Should I try and put it together? Will I be sleeping on the floor?

I have absolutely no idea what's going to happen next, but, as I contemplate the possibilities, my eyes cannot help but drag over the cream of Rachel's sheets; they look so soft.

I only have vague memories of being here before, of drowning in lemon sherbet and dreaming about falling. There is only one thing I remember with absolute clarity, and that is the hazy feeling of Rachel's hands delicately undressing me.

Closing my eyes, I try to ignore the dull throb that envelopes my body at the recollection. We haven't exactly talked about this, about taking this next step. Although, with my admissions letter still tucked safely in my trouser pocket, New York is suddenly more than just a fervent hope to me.

It is set, this dream; my future. The continuation of this new and wonderful way of being.. it isn't a maybe anymore.

It's happening.

The moment the thought leaves my mind, I hear the metallic grind of the door handle turning and look up from my place by the bed to see Rachel, eyes widening exponentially as she silently slips off her robe.

Yes. This most certainly is happening. Tonight apparently.

She is standing by her closed door wearing nothing but a loose fitted sleeping shirt that ends by her knees and an oddly pleased smile. I barely even register the sound my mask makes slipping from my numb fingertips and landing against the floor.

"Hey.."

My eyes slam shut for a moment as the lame greeting pathetically gibbers forth from my lips. I really thought I was past this.

"Hi.."

When I open them again, Rachel's smile has softened to slightly bashful and, for some reason, knowing that she isn't above nerves either makes me feel somewhat better about my own state of fretfulness.

"Um, my father has informed me he's going to sleep now and the trundle bed is out of commission. So, he's left it up to us to be responsible and use our common.. sense."

As Rachel's words taper off with a deep swallow, I drag my eyes up from where they've been raking over her legs and feel the tips of my ears burn at my lack of subtly. Nodding in acknowledgment of the comment, I lift a finger towards the damp dress Rachel has thrown into her laundry basket.

"Nice and dry?"

I haven't meant them to be so, but the words are provocative and, judging by the look sitting on Rachel's face, we both know it.

She takes a series of slow and measured steps towards me and I'm suddenly engulfed in the remembrance of the first time we kissed. Of the feeling of being hunted, of being gently and softly and tenderly pursued until all hope or want for reprieve fell away, blissfully forgotten in the wake of.. oh..

When did Rachel get so close?

There's a hand pressing firmly on my chest and then I know that the sheets are as soft as they look because I'm landing against them in a gentle whoosh of air. Instinctively, I shift up slightly to lean back against the head of the bed and watch with focused, penetrating eyes as Rachel pushes past every line in the sand we have drawn thus far and, very purposefully, hikes up her shirt to climb on top of me.

I can feel her thighs sliding against me as she sinks into the straddle, I can feel her warmth clamp down around the base of my torso, her fingernails sink into my shoulderblades as she steadies herself. The sensation is so reminiscent of the moment in gym class that started all of this that I lose myself and draw out a long, low, rapturous murmur between us.

"Ra-chel."

My breath hitches at the way that one of Rachel's hands moves to close over mine, and then, at the way she slowly guides it to the base of her throat. It's a gentle hold, but a very strange thrill pulses through me when I feel a swallowed whimper tremor beneath my palm.

There's vulnerability here, in this new ground we're treading, there's softness. More than I have ever known.

"Please.."

Rachel's voice is supple, thick with surrender, and the knowledge of this causes my body to, very purposefully, still. This external latency is in stark contrast to what is happening inside of me, where every molecule is restless and blooming with arousal. Because it's been years, I've been listening to Rachel speak for years and I have never heard her sound like that.

The plea is primal, as if it has bubbled up from somewhere she didn't even know existed, it calls, like a song, to a place beneath my skin. It calls and calls and, finally, causes a break, a tremulous rupture within me. No longer like the snapping of a bowstring or the shooting of an arrow, but now, more akin to the breaking of a new dawn; innate, enduring.. unstoppable.

Gently, very gently, my fingers sink into the skin of Rachel's throat. One pilgrim thumb trails along the sacred column of her bobbing windpipe. It houses a most precious instrument, and Rachel has put it in my hands. I clench at the trust implicit in the gesture.

My pulse is racing; drumming along in perfect time with the elevated thrums Rachel's is echoing into my hand. The edge of my vision wrestles with blurriness but I fight it back with stalwart resolve. Now is not the time for the faint of heart, now is the time for the brave, the time for lovers.

For what could be braver than letting yourself feel this much?

I am struck then, all at once, with a cresting wave of intent. I know what I want to do. It feels baptismal, as if I've found myself on the other side of death, something beyond what I've been previously living. My murmur is breathless with conviction, which is an easy thing for me to accomplish, given how certain I feel about the subject matter.

"Please what? Tell me what you want and I'll give it to you Rachel, I'll give you anything."

A plaintive moan washes over my cheeks as the hand cupping mine spasms into a hold that is fierce with longing. I haven't noticed until now, but Rachel has been steadily clamping her thighs around my hips in ever increasing decibels of tightness. I see a pink flush blossom on the very tips of her cheeks but any sense of bashfulness is quickly washed away by the helpless declaration that erupts from her mouth.

"Quinn, if you don't touch me soon I think I might actually die."

The back of my skull connects with the head of Rachel's bed in a dull, heavy thud and now it's my turn to smother a whimper. Because I know exactly how she feels, I know exactly what she feels. This has been a long time coming; lifetimes in the making. My thumb brushes along the ridge of a clenching jaw as I lift my head and effortlessly find Rachel's eyes again. They are smoky, clouded, and almost pained with the effort of some kind of exertion.

"But I am touching you Rachel."

I'm not sure what the challenge is or why I have said it. I just know that I want to do so much more than this and I just can't seem to find my way through the woods we're walking. I need something, a guide, a tug… a push.

Then, gloriously, as if it is intrinsic to her very existence, which I am sure, in a way, it is.. Rachel pushes.

"No, touch me here."

She drags our joined hands away from her throat and down the rippled planes of her décolletage, finally resting them flat against the swell of a supple breast. Instantly, I feel a hardened nipple shift beneath my palm and it burns, it burns so hot.

I gasp in wanton shock both at the suddenness of the contact and at the way that Rachel's hips seem to instinctively spasm into mine.

"-yesss."

The word hisses like steam from my chest and then, as the last of my resolve crumbles away, I cant forward and crush my lips to Rachel's.

For a moment, we are a heap of desperate limbs and tongues and then everything in my world is torn asunder when Rachel boldly moves our hands lower still; down to cup her center which is throbbing, scorching, and wet.

"and here.."

"Ohmy, uhn, Rae.."

There's a rather terrifying wheeze to my voice, a thundering crack, but I honestly don't care at all because Rachel has taken my hand and pushed it against the most intimate part of her and it's taking everything within me to not just curl my fingers around her panties and tear them to shreds.

"a-and.."

Soft, swollen lips tremble against my own and the word is not so much spoken as it is groaned into the surrounding atmosphere. It doesn't matter; I know what she's going to say. I know what she wants, what's finally going to happen tonight, and the anticipation is enough to make my thighs twitch unbearably.

"..everywhere."

We speak together, finishing as one, it sounds like a delicious omen of things to come and I already feel like I'm soaring but, simultaneously, I'm enveloped in an aching type of needfulness that I'm not sure I will ever want to go away. So, tearing my hand away from the tempting warmth between Rachel's thighs, I curl it around the bottom of her oversized shirt instead and pull the garment off in one, smooth motion.

I want to take the time to look, but I know what it's like to feel bare and unsure, so before either of us can acclimatize to the fact that Rachel is most certainly not wearing a bra, I pull her upper body against mine in a fierce and sudden hug.

"I love you.."

There's a moment of stillness before I feel a soft nod press against the side of my head and Rachel's voice once again renders me incapable of doing anything other than loving her.

"It's okay, I trust you."

"I love you.." My lips press against a delicately tanned shoulder and trail closer and closer to the center of Rachel's body, slowly creating more space between us. "I love you.." Each press is punctuated by the declaration until I'm not even sure what sounds are coming out of my mouth, until the only thing I know are the feelings behind them.

Rachel groans in low contralto the moment my lips close around her throbbing pulsepoint and then, without a moment's hesitation, my hands are smoothing up the compact curves of her torso and whispering over the undersides of two perfect breasts.

There's a pair of hands threading through my hair and then the blunt insistence of short nails digging into the base of my skull. When they begin to graze in short, curling motions, I want to cry out at the sensual torment the sensation elicits.

Instead, I squeeze the flesh in my hands and let my teeth shoot out to sink into the skin I'm feasting on; biting down hard.

A low growl rumbles in my chest; rabid and sinful and popping with lust, it drips from me like molten wax and then crystallizes in the open air, leaving me shocked and unsure at the intensity of my outburst.

I'm undisputedly stalled by this sudden and unexpected reaction, because I've never done anything like this before, and I have no idea what is considered normal and what is considered perverted. My mouth leaves Rachel's skin with a pop and I'm about to voice my alarm, followed by a clumsy apology, when I'm literally manhandled back against the glistening skin I have been claiming.

"No!"

Rachel's voice is panicked, strained, her naked chest is heaving into my hands and the fingers on my skull somehow manage to lock around my hair, pinning me helplessly in place.

"More, please, more."

I'm sure that there's a part of me that is unsure about this, but it's incredibly small and currently being smothered by a hoard of other personalities, who are all irrepressibly at the mercy of Rachel Berry's body. So, with this in mind, my teeth scrape down the column of her neck and sink in again, sucking headily.

Dizzy at the ecstasy of the feeling, my fingertips brush over two pebbled nipples and experimentally begin to roll. I'm painfully aware that I have no real clue what I'm doing but my anxiety is smothered when, within a moment, Rachel tosses her head back, a stifled moan ripping from her throat. The action pushes her neck even further into my mouth and I'm absolutely sure that I could come just from feeling this happen.

I pull back and my gaze darkens immediately when I see the crimson bruise I have left behind. It will mark, everyone will see it, everyone will know. I lick over the spot possessively in a moment of unconscious abandonment before I begin to kiss down the planes of Rachel's chest.

I can feel her rocking against me, I can feel that her panties are ruined, that she is staining my trousers with each new thrust, and the only thing that's keeping me from losing myself completely at this is the knowledge that I most definitely don't want that to happen without Rachel, not tonight.

When my mouth finally closes over a straining nipple, I'm suddenly certain that the two of us are somehow cosmically linked. Because each nip and lick I give, I immediately feel ghosting through my own chest in kind. My tongue circles and plays over every dip and rise I can reach and when Rachel sighs into me breathlessly, I take the opportunity to curl my fingers around the small of her back and pull her hips even closer to mine.

"Quinn.."

A shiver pulses from the tips of my fingers to the very core of me at the purposeful intent evident in Rachel's tone. It's enough to cause me to stop what I'm doing and pull away and, as soon as I do, ten shaky fingers begin to unbutton my shirt before giving up and tearing it over my head instead.

Rather gracelessly, my head gets stuck in the collar and we both giggle helplessly at the careful way I have to peel the garment away from my ears, but by the time I'm free, Rachel is already curling her fingers around my bra and waiting.

There's a beat of silence then, in which Rachel looks at me like I'm the most beautiful thing she's ever seen and something that I didn't even know was pacing within me finally begins to still. I see the question in her eyes and I nod my assent, in time with two delicate fingers unclipping my bra and pulling it away from my blushing chest.

Her fingertips are snowflakes melting on my skin; soft brushes of sensation so perfectly positioned that my body can do nothing but writhe in response to them. I mumble out an incoherent jumble of sounds when Rachel licks a path from one breast to another, finishing by curling that glorious tongue back into her mouth and tugging my nipple along with it.

I have never felt anything like this; to be so gently yet so thoroughly ravished. I don't know what I was expecting.. sex always seemed like it had to be fast and rough and loud to me. But Rachel is taking everything I know and spinning it on its axis.

My eyes are closed when we eventually tumble against the sheets, but I don't notice. The only thing I can register is just how much skin there is, and every bit of it tastes different on my lips.

Adrenaline, heat, salt, sunshine.

Every lick is a different story, every kiss a new discovery, and when Rachel sinks a hand down my torso to unbuckle my belt, I swear that every single one of them explode beneath my eyelids all at once.

She's hovering above me, nimble fingertips working along my clothing. I hear the creak of straining leather and the sharp jingle of metal and then there's cold air hitting my skin and the change makes me desperate and weak.

"Oh God, this is.. Rach.."

My head sinks into the cool sheets as I lift my hips in silent support of Rachel's quest to get me just as naked as she is. I notice that her fingers are hesitating over whether to drag down my underwear as well and, immediately, the decision is made.

My fingers curl around the delicate bones of Rachel's wrists; stilling her movements. The position feels intentional somehow, as if laced with history and ritual.

"Take everything."

I realize then, that we've come to lie horizontally on the bed with my legs hanging off the side and Rachel actually standing to undress me. It highlights the power imbalance between us and makes me swallow down a spike of very unexpected arousal.

Suddenly, I'm once again shy and panicked about my complete lack of experience. I've never thought about anything like this before, I've never wanted anything like this before, I've never.. pressing my eyes shut, I'm lost to plumes of purple for a moment as I try and will my body to relax.

Rachel helps, as she always does, by beginning to kiss her way down my sternum, ending with her lips pressed over the wrists I'm still encasing. The contact jolts me; I hadn't even realized that I was yet to let go.

I feel like it's meant to be a big moment, because my entire life has been dictated by how I look and how I feel about how I look and how I feel other people feel about how I look.

But, with Rachel's hands on my hips and Rachel's lips on my skin and Rachel's steady, steady eyes looking at me like I'm everything she's ever wanted wrapped up in a bow..

All of it just kind of, falls away- in time with my clothes. Until I'm naked, and then Rachel's naked, stripping herself of her underwear and standing in front of me looking every bit that deadly combination of modest and completely ravenous.

She is so beautiful, soft and small yes, but I can see past that, I can see the strength.

I can see the daily workouts and the weekly dance lessons and the painstaking attention to detail she puts into her body. I can see the stories, they present themselves in a million ways, like the curve of her bicep or the smoothness of her belly or the way that her legs just make her seem so, so tall.

And then there's..

My swallow gets lodged somewhere down the column of my throat as I finally let my eyes rest on what my hand was so recently cupping.

Rachel.

My eyes flicker up to the heart-shaped blemish of color still evident on her neck.

And she's mine.

"Are you sur-"

I rear up and cut Rachel off before she can continue any further, capturing her lips with mine in a fierce, bruising kiss that I hope will give her the answer she's looking for. Already, I can feel a distinctive burn begin to condense within me, thick and heady. Part of me isn't exactly sure where I even find the courage, but I'm a Fabray and we've always been 'go hard or go home' kind of folk, so my hands curl around Rachel's back and lift her up clear off the ground, forcing her legs to cross around me.

She lets loose an incredibly endearing series of squeals that actually cause my knees to buckle. Luckily, I'm in the process of spinning us around to lower us back into bed so the premature loss of control isn't detrimental.

We collapse together in a heap of giggles and stimulated nerve endings but it's not long before the laughter dissipates and wondrous exploration is left in its wake.

Lying side by side, I watch in silence as Rachel gently moves a hand up to my neck, pushing beneath my jaw and causing me to tilt my head back in surrender. There are fingers then, whispering over my chin to my mouth.

Her eyes flutter closed as my lips part beneath her fingertips - not so much kissing, but touching, yielding beneath the searching pressure, hinting at the wetness and warmth that lies within.

She sighs against her fingers and I can feel the air break against my lips in turn; the whispered breath hitting straight to my core.

Rachel replaces her fingers with her mouth and my body instinctively begins to move against hers the moment our lips touch. Already, I'm lost to how otherworldly this feels, all of this; the want and the love and the heart that I can feel beating wildly against my own. There's a row of teeth grazing over my bottom lip and my hand shoots out to grip Rachel's hip, tugging her leg over mine thoughtlessly in the desperate search for that all elusive closeness.

"Uhn, Quinn!"

My groan echoes Rachel's when I register that my thigh has slid home between her legs and our eyes snap together and widen in mutual wonder as Rachel's thigh slips between mine.

Once again we are two pieces of a puzzle, two halves of an equation, a blissful adding up. I don't know much about sex, but even I can recognize that I'm painfully aroused, that I'm teetering and shaky and blindingly close.

It's just a light brush that Rachel gives; a fleeting whisper of experimental contact, but even that is enough to cause sparks to burst beneath my eyelids. My hand moves up around Rachel's back, pulling her closer to me in sheer shock at the intensity of my reaction.

There's another soft flex, and this time, Rachel moans louder than I do as she teasingly brushes over my wetness. My upper body is trembling as an effortful grunt of restraint bubbles up from somewhere in my chest. Looking up, I see my expression mirrored perfectly on Rachel's face before my cheeks are peppered with slow, wet kisses that sear right through me.

"More?"

There's that voice again, that wondrously low register that I didn't even know Rachel could hit until tonight. It causes my thighs to clench helplessly around her and then all I can do is echo dumbly.

"More."

Yes. So much more.

Finally, as if she's received the last piece of confirmation she needs, Rachel's arms lock around my back and she pulls closer to me, pushing her thigh up in a tortuously slow grinding motion.

I bury the cry that rips through me into the sheets and push myself up as well, meeting her thrust for thrust. My hand finds the base of Rachel's neck and the single vertebrae that joins it to her back sits perfectly beneath my palm. Every shift and stretch that Rachel makes is played out against this wonderful joining of muscle and bone. I can feel everything, every rise of pressure or stiffened restraint, it all convulses perfectly before me.

Rachel's neck is taut now, so taut that it looks about to snap, and I can feel the desperation she is putting into every rolling motion of her hips.

Biting down on my lip, I want to give her more, I want to give her everything. So I snake my hand between us and watch her eyes widen as I slow her thrusts by dragging my thumb over her wetness in a single swipe.

My own eyes flutter closed as I rasp helplessly at the sheer amount of heat I'm met with. It's like nothing I've ever known and, at once, I am sure it will be the centerpoint of my existence for the rest of my life.

Moving again, I experimentally push my thumb in deeper and snap my eyes open when Rachel nearly screams as it brushes past a small bundle of nerves.

Panicked at being overheard, my free hand immediately goes to cover her mouth and Rachel groans against it wantonly before giving me a distracted nod of gratitude. Something within me purrs at the feeling of her shallow breaths cresting and breaking against my hand and I still my own hips slightly as I make the same path again, this time swerving just past the place Rachel wants to be touched the most.

I try to watch the effect I'm having, but her distraught whimper makes my eyes sink closed and then I'm removing the hand covering her mouth and replacing it with my lips, kissing Rachel deeper than I ever have before. Because it's within my power to give this woman everything she wants tonight and that's exactly what I'm going to do.

Dragging back again, I go on instinct and draw a small circle over the skin beneath my thumb, Rachel bites down hard on my lip for a second but otherwise manages to keep herself quiet as her hips begin to jump and dance.

Moments pass, and I'm lost in a haze of delirium, drunk on the feelings that are being pulled out of me with every keen and thrust and whimper Rachel emits.

Because of this, I am unprepared and my world is effectively shattered when I feel two timid fingers gently brush over me before landing squarely on my clit and tugging in slight, circled movements.

"Holy G-Rach.."

She's always gotten so close, she's always cut to the very quick of me. Before I know it, I feel like I'm tumbling out of control, racing towards something that I know will blind me with its brilliance. My eyes shut tightly as another plume of sensation explodes within me and then, when Rachel's hips give a particularly strong jolt, my fingertips lose their place and slip down, circling over her entrance instead.

The reaction is immediate; a long, drawn out shudder from Rachel and she's clinging onto me like I'm the only thing that's stopping the entire universe from collapsing in on us. I don't blame her, I'm holding her just as tightly, because nothing has ever felt even remotely close to this, and that's the last thought that breezes through my mind before I hear Rachel whimper out another plea and my fingers push forwards, sinking into her in a single, confident stroke.

I feel like I'm burning,she's so warm around my fingers; every curve is sublime and yielding and makes a very large part of me want to break down and cry. My eyes, which have been taking in every minute detail occurring on Rachel's face, flutter when I feel her fingers begin to teasingly play over my entrance, instinctively my legs spread wider and, if this were anyone but Rachel, I'd be embarrassed by how obviously I need this.

But embarrassment falls away, discarded; it means nothing tonight. Because this is Rachel, and I'm so, so close. We both are. It won't be much longer and then we'll be tumbling, freefalling, soaring, not knowing or caring which way is up and which way is down; topsy-turvy and tangled together.

The rest of my thoughts collapse in unquestioning surrender when Rachel's breath hitches against me and then there's nothing but the feeling of being filled blazing beneath my eyelids.

The push stings for a moment before giving way to a rapturous and teasing kind of pleasure, I've never let anyone inside of me before and if I weren't already desperately clamping down around Rachel's fingers I would probably be thinking about what a beautiful metaphor that notion would make.

We struggle for a rhythm, but only for a moment, and then we are a perfect dance, a give and take. We are chemical and reactive and Rachel almost sings into my ear when I flex my fingers inside of her and hit a place I never even knew really existed.

My arm is burning but I don't slow my pace, I'm intent on giving Rachel everything because we're racing now, side by side, we're ready to jump.

She licks a bead of sweat off my neck and somehow that makes me burn even hotter, makes me move even faster and then there's a hand in my hair pulling my face up and I can taste the salt still clinging to Rachel's lips and she surprises us both, I think, by snapping her neck back taut and letting out a rumbled, tumbling cry.

It's a warning, a glorious revelation, and it makes my vision begin to swim.

I feel a contraction then, a shortening of space. It crushes the fingers I've embedded within Rachel quite deliciously and, desperate as she is to not make use of her vocal range, I know that she's coming the moment I feel her teeth sink into my shoulder.

The shudder she gives flexes the fingers she has inside of me and then, suddenly, thunderclaps echo through my veins. There is lightning around us; lifting and burning and bright. It's an electrical storm and it's crackling and fierce and my back bows harshly as I lose my composure in the awesome face of it.

A sharp cry tears from my throat and I feel stripped, raw. I feel soaring and bright and undeniably touched as I come undone, panting against Rachel's forehead which is crinkled in the throes of her own pulsing flashes.

We hold each other closely as we slowly come down, tethered and listless all at once, neither one daring to move our fingers an inch. It's a long while before I even realize tears are pricking my eyes; falling like tiny drops of rain.

Their appearance confuses me for only a moment, before a shining kind of insight begins to settle within me. Because this was.. this is the most beautiful experience of my life, and I'll never be the same. Nothing will ever be the same, not now that I know that this is what becomes of feeling, of loving.

This is what becomes of those who are brave enough to leap, to listen, to sink or swim.

Rachel frowns softly as she wipes my tears away with her free hand, already whispering softly against me. I want to explain, I want to explain how wonderful they feel, how grateful I am to be shedding them, because there is no mourning, no sadness here, only love and softness and the feeling of coming home.

I throw every word I have bubbling within me to the wind and push into Rachel instead, kissing over the bruises and nips that now litter her beautiful, beautiful lips. My movement causes my fingers, which have been lying idle, buried between Rachel's thighs, to shift and flex and this is the beginning of a most exquisite chain reaction.

Because Rachel barely pauses, she barely lets me even breathe before she's rolling on top of me and grinding herself against my hand, teasing out a cacophony of whimpers and pleas from my willing throat.

"More?"

Her lips are delicate against my tears and each kiss and gentle lick stokes the fires of my urgency anew until I can't remember anything but the feeling of falling. Until I know nothing but needfulness again.

I groan then, body sagging in a helpless heap as she mercilessly begins to spread her fingers within me. It feels so good, like I am growing, blooming, blossoming beneath her touch.

"More."

Yes. So much more.

We will share all of our secrets tonight, of this I am sure, and, come the dawn, we will be evergreen.

Chapter Text

Rachel.


I wake to a gentle, roaming pressure on my back and the soft tinkle of Debussy[1] dancing in the air. Blinking my sleepy eyes open, I see Quinn's phone illuminated on my night stand, sounding out each beautiful note that echoes between us.

I am lying on my stomach; arms curled around my pillow and holding it to me tightly. My naked back is stretched out and exposed, the sheets having naturally pooled somewhere around the junction just below my hips.

I am quite naked to the night air, but warm, and, as I begin to wake more fully, I discover this to be because Quinn's hands are rarely leaving my skin. Her fingers are making gracefully composed movements across my spine, tickling vertebra and kneading sensitive tissue in constant motion. A smile presses into the material of my pillow when I realize she is using me as a pianoforte.

I know it really shouldn't, but the perfect time she is able to keep with the recording still astounds me; she is more talented than she will ever give herself credit for and, when the edge of her index finger presses against a particularly sensitive portion of my skin, I can't quite suppress the breathless groan that bubbles from within me.

I have always found talent to be a most arousing human trait.

The piece winds down to a close then, before starting up again, once more effortlessly sweeping across the room in romantic ambiance. It makes me grin into my pillow, because Quinn has it on repeat.

The room smells like rain, love, and salt and, sparing a glance to the clock, I see that it has been a few hours since we last fell asleep.

"How long have you been doing this?"

Quinn's voice meets my ears in a hushed, reverent whisper.

"I never understood what he meant until now."

"Who?"

"Debussy.. My piano teacher would always try to work on my adagio with me and she would say that Debussy would tell his students to play with more sensitivity in their fingertips. He would say to play the chords as if the keys were being attracted to your fingertips and rose to your hand like they would to a magnet."

It seems as if Quinn momentarily abandons the carefully constructed set of keys she has imprinted on my back because she flattens both her palms and runs them along either side of my spine in one smooth, steady motion. The surety in the gesture is enough to make my heart swoon and my back arch up into her; searching to prolong the contact.

There is a small whimper circling through my lungs, that, unthinkingly, I try to hold back. I don't want anything to stop Quinn from speaking; every word she whispers is special to me, every secret she shares - a gift.

"That's how I feel when I touch you, I feel as though there is a pulling between your skin and my fingertips, one that I just.. can't ignore. That I have never been able to ignore."

She bends down to place a kiss at the base of my neck and, all of a sudden, her fingers are effortlessly keeping time with Clair De Lune again.

My eyes drift close of their own volition; each gentle pressing is a delicious burn against my skin. A branding. It's dizzying and it makes my hips flex in unconscious arches amidst the tangle of sheets. I have never experienced anything like this before, to be focused on with such loving attention, to be shaped and molded beneath an artist's hand.

"Didn't he um, didn't he write this in response to a poem?"

Quinn's fingers stall for just a moment, almost smooth enough to be seen as a natural point of pause in the piece, but I know she has stopped in surprise.

Not too many people know this about Clair De Lune and I find my face warms pleasantly against my pillow at the fact that I have managed to impress her, she who knows so much about these things, she who probably knows the poem by heart, in English.. and French, not that she'd ever tell anyone.

"Yes, yes he did, a poem of the same title by Paul Verlaine."

Quinn's right hand continues to play while her left moves to make soft circles around the join of my neck and spine. I have learnt throughout this night that this is one of Quinn's favorite parts to touch.

I have also learnt that this is one of my favorite parts to have touched.

Clearing my throat, I unconsciously shift my position slightly, bringing one knee up to give my hips more room to move. I feel the warmth of Quinn's torso close to mine and a whispered kiss brush across my skin.

My voice crackles like static in my throat for a moment, before I am finally able to push words out.

"Tell me..?"

A soft gust of air spills against my skin; Quinn is smiling into me and I can feel the shapes her lips are making between kisses. Her right hand continues to keep time with Debussy but abandons my back to teasingly move down along the very top of my thigh, as if suddenly shifting two octaves lower.

"What makes you think I know it?"

Fluttering my eyes closed once more, my knee shifts wider again, effectively spreading myself open. I don't quite notice I have made this move until the pinkie of Quinn's left hand hooks around the sheets and begins to drag them down to my knees.

The slow, purposeful attention she puts into the movement is almost enough to end me right then and there.

I gasp in a sudden lungful of air when Quinn continues to play across me, seemingly quite undeterred by the fact that her fingers are mere inches away from the apex of my thighs. The sensation is maddening, my skin is hypersensitive and radiating heat and every time she moves near middle C my thighs tremble in desperate fits of fervency.

I feel swollen, like I'm growing larger, like my cells are doubling and tripling and taking over every molecule of space in the room. I don't quite know where I find the strength, I am clearly not the one in control here, but as Quinn places another chaste kiss against my skin, this time deep along the swell of a hip, I fist the edges of my pillow tightly and manage to grind out a challenge.

"Tell me, or I'll make you tell me in French."

A deep, rumbling chuckle vibrates against my skin; Quinn knows that she has been caught. Biting my lip, I can't help my pleased smile. Each new layer I discover is like a page in a muddled novel, I am beginning to weave them into sequence. The tapestry is slowly taking shape. I have no more time to ruminate on this however because Quinn is speaking quietly into my skin and I cannot bring myself to miss a moment of it.

"Your soul is a select landscape.. where charming masquerades and bergamasques go. Playing the lute and dancing and almost sad beneath their fantastic disguises. All sing in a minor key of victorious love and the opportune life, they do not seem to believe in their happiness, and their song mingles with the moonlight."[2]

Quinn stills for a moment and the only sound around us is the tinkling of Debussy, I'm about to ask her what she's doing when I realize she is waiting – matching up her words with the piece itself.

Knowing this, feeling the practiced way she engages with the romantic melancholy of the music, I am struck with an unexpected lashing of grief.

I have to close my eyes to settle myself when I begin to wonder how many times she has done this, how many times she has sat holed up in her room whispering about masks and love and moonlight. Alone.

Willing back the tears that are pricking at my eyes, the only thought that seems to help is that Quinn isn't alone anymore and, thinking on this, I smile when her soft fingers once again begin to play in time over my shoulderblades.

She is definitely not alone, neither of us are, and, with a breath, a slight change in register enters the piece and she begins again.

"With the still moonlight, sad and beautiful, that sets the birds dreaming in the trees and the fountains sobbing in ecstasy, the tall slender fountains among marble statues.."

When she finishes, we are silent for a moment, lost in a haze of stillness, and then, suddenly, Quinn breathes out a decisive sigh against me.

She gives up on following the piece, her hands instead moving a trail down the curve of my backside instead; fingertips skirting just along the insides of my thighs. We have spent hours touching one another tonight,yet still, I have not expected the contact, so a surprised moan rips from my throat at the intimacy of it all.

I am instantly aflame and a deep throb begins to resonate within me. My nipples strain hard against the soft down of my sheets; squeezed in a delicious press of sensation.

Instinctively, my legs spread further apart.

"Please.."

I have no idea why that word in particular falls from my lips; I don't even really know what it is that I'm asking for. But, blinking through the residual wateriness of my eyes, I cannot form any real thoughts. I cannot comment on the wonder or the beauty of what Quinn has just shared with me.

Fortunately, it seems as though I don't have to because, before I can even think to clarify my plea, Quinn's frame is lying on top of mine, sandwiching me deliciously against the bed, and a steady hand is curling around my hip, drawing it up in the air slightly.

I feel wet lips begin to kiss behind my ear, I feel splashes of air crest in tremors against my neck, I feel a searing kind of warmth press against me from behind and, as I push back into it, I feel the way it causes Quinn to quiver.

Finally, I feel those practiced and steady fingertips begin to play up the inside of my thigh.

I am erratic, mind awash at how pleasu