Disclaimer: I, by no means, claim to own anything remotely related to the Glee Universe. No copyright infringement intended.
AN: This story is definitely AU, in several different ways. (They're still in Lima, though). Umm, let's see... Rachel remains an artist, obviously, but her 'Art' is something different, which is a rather large plot point. The rest, I guess, we'll just figure out as we go along.
I realised that I've yet to explore an unrequited love from Rachel's POV at any in-depth level, so that's what this is. It's not particularly pretty. Sorry in advance.
If anyone were to ask Rachel Berry how or when it happens, she probably wouldn't be able to say.
The why is much, much easier.
There's really no other explanation needed.
If she were more of a romantic, she might even call it inevitable, but that's one of those fanciful words for those with purer hearts.
Still, though, she thinks she's going to have to figure out some way to explain to her best friend that she broke up with her boyfriend because she's just now come to the conclusion that she's probably been in love with said best friend for longer than even she can admit.
It's borderline pathetic, really, that it's all happening now, just two days before the start of their senior year of high school, and doesn't she just have the worst timing?
It's just that she's spent most of the summer with Quinn, enjoying every minute Quinn wasn't working or being her annoying, cryptic self just hanging out and barely even noticing that she was constantly picking the girl over Jesse without even giving it a second thought.
She thinks, maybe, that's why his eyes started to stray, but she's not going to dwell on that. She broke up with him, and that part of her life is over. Well and truly.
Now, it's time to take this next step and tell Quinn how she feels. She made the decision to do so before she even ended things with Jesse, and then she waited to make sure she wasn't just delusional.
She's very much in love, even if Quinn has been acting a little weird these past few weeks. She gets this way around the start of every school year, though, because she just likes to stress herself out unnecessarily. She almost imagines all this pressure and these expectations that only she puts on herself, and Rachel hasn't really been able to convince her it's all in her head.
So is Rachel, apparently, because today's the day.
Rachel woke this morning just knowing today would be the day she would confess to feelings that she's newly discovered. God. Is it supposed to be this hard?
This is Quinn: her best friend in the whole wide world. They've been inseparable since Quinn arrived in Lima when they were both in the fourth grade.
Quinn was shy and quiet, and Rachel was not. At all.
To this day, both their parents still can't figure out what made them click in the beginning. Rachel has always been an extreme extrovert, capable of walking up to strangers and introducing herself without a second thought. Quinn is the type to stand, awkward and unsure, in the corner until someone like Rachel comes along.
And, well, that's essentially what happened.
Now, all these years later, very little has changed. Rachel is popular and well-liked, and Quinn is her best friend.
Whom she loves, and has loved and is now in love with.
Rachel thinks those three things have overlapped for longer than she's been able to calculate. She would give herself a headache trying to figure it out. Maybe she'll ask Dani to do the Math, on one of those days she claims she's bored enough to plan a murder. It's a lesser evil, actually.
Normally, Rachel tells Quinn she loves her all the time. It started when they were still young, the words still relatively meaningless. Girls say it to each other all the time, but Rachel hasn't been able to say the words all summer without breaking into a sweat or having her heart rate rise at the anxiety the sentiment causes.
If that wasn't a sign enough, Rachel also had to deal with her sudden reactions to seeing her best friend in a bikini. It was... a bit much, and Rachel spent more hours flushed and flustered than not whenever they were out by the pool.
She thinks Quinn has picked up on the fact something is bothering her, which is why she agreed as soon as Rachel texted to ask her if she could come over because there was something she needed to tell her.
Which is why they're sitting here, on the faded couch in the Berry basement, an odd tension between them. Quinn is almost bracing herself for what's to come, and this is the first time Rachel wonders if Quinn thinks this is bad news.
Will it be bad news? Does Quinn even think about her that way? Rachel accepts that Quinn could possibly manage to like her, merely because Quinn publicly came out two years ago, but Quinn could also just let her down easy.
What happens then? What does Rachel do if Quinn doesn't actually like her back? God, how naïve is she, really? Quinn probably doesn't even like her that way. Rachel would have noticed, surely. Or, Quinn would have told her. Maybe.
Quinn's voice is soft, almost soothing, even if there's a hint of confusion, concern and something else that makes Rachel want to reach out and smooth the crease in her brow.
"What is it?" Quinn asks. "You know you can tell me anything." Her mouth quirks upwards ever so slightly, trying to ease them both. "You usually do."
Rachel rolls her eyes. "Getting my period was exciting," she defends. "And horrifying."
"Definitely the latter," Quinn says, her eyes shining with mirth. "Please tell me we're not about to have a conversation about menstruation."
Rachel frowns. "What?"
"You aren't pregnant, are you?"
"Oh, my God!"
Quinn raises her eyebrows. "What is it then?" she asks. "You're being jumpy and fidgety, and you can barely look me in the eye."
Have you seen your eyes?
Rachel shakes her head, trying to clear it. "I've been thinking," she starts, trying to recall some of the speech she prepared. She had an index card, but she figured that would be too much. It would also be a little too like Quinn.
Rachel slaps her arm. "Shut up," she says; "I'm trying to tell you something serious."
"Okay," Quinn says, leaning back and giving Rachel her full attention. "I'm listening."
Rachel clears her throat. "I've been thinking," she says again. "About things." She winces, because that isn't what she meant to say. "About myself, and about you and us and... things."
Quinn's brow furrows. "Rachel?"
"This summer was good, right?"
Quinn nods, smiling. "It was the best."
For a moment, Rachel is caught off guard, because Quinn gets this faraway look in her eye for a moment, and it throws Rachel off. "It was," she echoes. "And, we, uh, spent a lot of time together," she continues. "I mean, when you weren't working at that coffee shop you hated."
"I didn't hate it," Quinn hastily defends.
Rachel gives her a sidelong look.
"Well, okay, I did in the beginning, but it definitely grew on me." She gets that faraway look again, and Rachel has never seen that expression on her face before. It unsettles her in a way she's unused to, and she's not sure what to say or do.
Quinn shifts in her seat. "Anyway, you said you have something to tell me."
"Oh. Um. Yes." She wrings her fingers together, gathering her courage. She's not one for keeping things bottled inside. She's never been, and she's definitely not going to start now. "See, the thing is," she says: "I kind of had this epiphany, I guess, about how I feel ab - " she stops at the sound of Quinn's phone ringing.
Quinn doesn't even hesitate before reaching for it, moving to answer immediately, and Rachel loses her thunder in an instant. It just disappears, and she suddenly just knows they're not having this conversation today.
Or, any day.
Because, it really doesn't help that Quinn answers, "Hey," with the kind of softness that makes the hairs on the back of Rachel's neck stand on end. She's never heard that tone of voice before, and -
God, what is happening?
"No, I'm almost done here," Quinn says. "I promised I wouldn't be late, didn't I? Somebody has to show you how to do it right." She lets out this light laugh that Rachel doesn't recognise, and she finds herself inching away without even realising it.
For a moment, Rachel rewinds to just ten minutes ago, and she wonders if she would have still gone through with it if she knew what she knows now.
Even though Rachel has never seen Quinn this way, she's certain she knows what's responsible. Well, who's responsible, and it's a kick to the gut and an arrow to the chest when she realises it.
"Sure, okay," Quinn says into the phone. "I won't forget." She giggles. Honest to God, giggles, and Rachel wishes she could disappear. "Bye then. See you later."
Rachel doesn't move when Quinn hangs up. She's completely still, rigid, and she's actually afraid of what'll happen if she attempts to uncoil.
"Sorry about that," Quinn says, putting her phone back in her pocket. "What were you saying?"
Rachel focuses on her breathing, because she needs something to focus on and she also needs to breathe. It's a win-win. "Oh," she says, finding her voice. She audibly swallows. "It's - it's not important," she says. "You have somewhere to be, anyway."
"It can wait," Quinn argues, because she's too polite, sometimes.
"No," Rachel says, and her voice sounds strained to her own years. She hopes Quinn won't pick up on it. "Really, it's okay. It was nothing. I can tell you another time."
She'll need to come up with something, she thinks, and she'll need time to do that. And a clear head. That, she definitely needs, and that's not going to happen with Quinn still sitting right here, her long legs on display and her toned arms within touching distance.
"Are you sure?" Quinn asks, but Rachel can tell it's out of politeness. She wants the out as much as Rachel wants to give it.
"Yes," Rachel says.
It takes another two minutes, but Quinn does eventually leave, a certain bounce in her step that makes Rachel wonder how she didn't notice before. She watches her disappear up the basement steps, and she can't help thinking about how she missed the signs.
Maybe she's been so focused on her own changing feelings that she didn't even notice Quinn's. It's so obvious now. If that phone call wasn't an indicator, Quinn has been a little bubblier, smilier and a bit harder to make plans with.
The realisation is sobering, to say the least.
Rachel doesn't move for the longest time. She doesn't do anything for even longer. All she can really think is that Quinn hasn't told her. Quinn has kept this from her, and she can't figure out why.
It's not as if she's never been able to talk to Rachel about her girl crushes before. Rachel has always been willing to discuss them with her, contributing in a way that now makes much more sense to Rachel.
She could contribute because she was willing to look, too.
But, Quinn hasn't told her about this new person who's making her smile and giggle, and Rachel feels a sense of betrayal and disjoint that makes her hate this unknown person she hasn't even met.
It sucks even more because Rachel was this close to figuring it out. Weeks, at most, but now she's too late, and it's uncomfortable. She's uncomfortable, because she's supposed to be able to talk to her best friend about this kind of thing.
But, now, out of nowhere, she feels as if everything has changed. In the blink of an eye, the balance of their relationship has shifted, and this is not what she expected when she woke up this morning.
She envisioned them having a conversation, at least. She expected something, but now Quinn is gone off to meet some stranger, and there are things they aren't talking about.
Rachel doesn't handle secrets well. They eat away at her until she can't handle it, and it all reaches a head. They twist her insides into something ugly.
She's also a terrible liar.
Quinn is a brilliant one, though she hates to do it.
Their childhood was interesting, to say the least.
Rachel is still sitting on the couch when her father comes home from work, his feet heavy on the steps as he seeks her out.
"There you are," Hiram says, his grin easy until he sees the look on his daughter's face. It's nothing he's ever seen before, and he rushes towards her, noting how pale she is. "Rachel," he says, settling on the couch beside her. "Rachel, what's wrong?"
It takes a while for her to turn her head and look at him, her gaze unfocused. "Dad," she breathes. "I - I had this plan," she forces out. "I had it all planned out, but it - it didn't - " she stops, blows out a breath and then shakes her head. "Plans never work out, do they?"
Hiram doesn't know what to say to her, because he's never seen her like this in all the seventeen years he's known her. Still, he clears his throat and says, "No, I don't suppose they do."
"Yes, it does."
Rachel shifts closer, seeking comfort that he willingly gives, wrapping her in a hug he hopes will help. She doesn't say anything more, and he doesn't know what questions to ask.
So, they sit in silence and, when they go upstairs for dinner once LeRoy gets home, Rachel's eyes aren't as empty and he can almost forget his daughter is haunted by something.
By morning, Rachel is completely back to normal, according to Hiram. She's a little fidgety and he's surprised to find her without her phone, but her eyes are focused and she eats all her breakfast.
Even though it's the summer, Rachel makes a point to wake up and have breakfast with her parents before they leave for work. Sometimes, she goes back to sleep afterwards, or she disappears into her studio. On days Quinn isn't working, they usually hang out.
On this day, Rachel does none of those things.
In fact, as soon as her parents leave, she does too. It's her last day of summer and it would usually be spent with Quinn, but Rachel made up some excuse about Dani needing her help with something, and now she's sitting in her meadow, her headphones blasting and her mind blissfully silent.
She didn't get much sleep the night before, but that was to be expected. She had a plan, and it failed. It will continue to fail, because there's no way she can tell Quinn how she feels now. It's the worst timing imaginable, and Rachel needs to come to terms with the very real truth that she has feelings that will never come out.
She almost laughs, because she's not going to be coming out any time soon, either. She thinks she could be happy alone. Jesse was a distraction, and she really has all the people she needs in her life, already. Quinn is still her best friend, even if Quinn hasn't told her about whoever she's seeing.
Rachel has Dani, who's been her second sister since they were in kindergarten. Then, there's Kurt, whose mother works as a nurse at the hospital where LeRoy works. They practically grew up together in the hospital's daycare, the two of them making all sorts of trouble that Kurt's older brother, Finn, always had to bail them out of.
Not much has changed, really.
Then, there's Brody, who Rachel adores in a way she knows he's never quite been satisfied with. They're the best of friends, and Rachel knows that's all they'll ever be. She just needs to get to that point with Quinn, and then she'll be good to go.
She just needs the day to wrap her head around it, but Quinn isn't letting her have her peace. She keeps texting, almost constantly, and Rachel is tempted to turn off her phone completely.
A Quinnundrum: Rachel. Rachel. What are you doing?
A Quinnundrum: Are you done with Dani? We have plans.
A Quinnundrum: I bought your favourite Hershey's Kisses. I'll eat them all if you don't reply.
A Quinnundrum: Seriously, what is up with you?
A Quinnundrum: Is this about what you wanted to tell me yesterday?
A Quinnundrum: If you don't reply, I'm going to start spamming Dani!
Now, that definitely gets Rachel's attention and she scrambles to reply before Dani ends up blowing her cover. Fucking Quinn.
Berry The Hatchet: You should be arrested for this spam. I'm reporting you.
A Quinnundrum: She lives. What's up? Where are you?
Rachel needs the day.
She needs it, but she doesn't know how to ask for it. She's never needed space from Quinn before. It's like asking to be doused in paraffin and set on fire.
Berry The Hatchet: Aren't you working?
A Quinnundrum: Nope. I'm officially a free woman. I can come get you, and we can drive up to our patisserie in Willowy. Cheesecake is tradition before school starts.
Rachel both loves and hates tradition, but she eventually gives in and texts Quinn where she is.
Inevitable, she thinks, and she can only hope that getting over Quinn will be easier to do than she suspects it'll be.
A Quinnundrum: On my way.
"You're awfully quiet."
Rachel has no idea how to respond to that, which merely proves the point. She sighs, glancing over the console at Quinn, whose own grip on her steering wheel is white-knuckled.
"Is there something wrong?" Quinn questions.
Rachel almost scoffs, because that's the understatement of the century. "Not really," she half-lies. "I guess I'm kind of bummed school has to start up again tomorrow."
Quinn hums. "But we're going to be seniors," she says, shooting Rachel a smile. "We're almost done."
"I know," Rachel says, turning her head to look out the window at the trees rolling by. "I think that's the part that's terrifying. We're going to have to deal with what happens after."
Quinn takes one hand off the steering wheel and pinches at Rachel's thigh. "We already knows what we're doing," she says, ever so serious. "We decided when we were twelve."
Rachel rolls her eyes. "We're not joining the circus, Quinn."
"We could," she argues. "If all else fails and all that."
"You mean, if I end up some starving artist and politics ends up corrupting you?"
"I suppose the fallback does sound kind of appealing," Rachel says. "I'm definitely keeping my options open. Who knows what's going to happen?"
If Quinn picks up on the sudden melancholy in her voice, she doesn't mention it. Rachel uses the opportunity to increase the volume on the radio and they drive the rest of the way in silence.
Silences with Quinn are generally comforting for Rachel, but this trip is different. This time, there are things she knows and there are things she's hiding, and it's all just adding to her stress.
Also, Rachel did the thing and cyberstalked her own best friend because she needed to be sure. She needed to know that she wasn't imagining anything.
As far as Quinn is concerned, her social media may as well be non-existent, but Rachel found what she was looking for when she went to the Facebook profile she forced Quinn to get when they were in the seventh grade.
It was there, as clear as day.
Quinn Fabray and Sofia Villanueva are now friends.
Then, Rachel took it one step forward - because she's a terrible, awful person - and looked at the girl's profile. Tan and foreign and completely gorgeous, and of course a girl like that would get Quinn's attention.
Rachel thinks it was a bad idea going looking, but she also wants to be prepared. She doesn't know what she's going to be walking into when it comes to the rest of her senior year, and she wants not to be completely blindsided.
They get to the patisserie quickly enough, and Rachel is thankful to be out of the enclosed space of the car. She needs to breathe air that isn't Quinn, and she needs to put some space between them.
She needed a day.
But, it takes Quinn playfully ordering her a banana split when she knows how much Rachel hates bananas for Rachel to realise it's probably going to take more than a day.
It doesn't help that Quinn's eyes light up just right and her smile is mischievous. It also doesn't help that she goes on to order red velvet cheesecake a beat later, which is Rachel's ultimate favourite.
A week, maybe. Surely she can get rid of all these unwanted feelings by then. They came on just as quickly, sort of, so they should go away just as fast, right?
Rachel does her best to convince herself of it as she sits across from the most perfect girl and watches as she sips slowly at her cappuccino and nibbles at her danish she convinced herself she didn't want but Rachel still ordered for her.
She's going to end up finishing it, be blissful for a few hours, and then hate on Rachel for doing this to her.
Whatever this is.
They have a pattern. They have routine and tradition, and now Rachel did this thing by falling in love and it's threatening everything. Best friends aren't supposed to fall in love with their best friends. It's a rule written in best friend contracts, surely, because it's just going to end in disaster.
Rachel is a little assured that their lives are somewhat separate at school. She has her friends, and Quinn has her friends, sort of. Quinn is largely a loner when she's not with Rachel, but she does have two friends who she claims have latched onto her out of necessity.
Quinn believes Santana is like the wise old man nobody wanted, and Lauren constantly niggles at her, testing her patience in the worst ways.
Rachel has always found it cute when Quinn gets annoyed and, well, now she knows why. She gets this furrow in her brow and her eyes get a little incredulous, as if she can't believe there are people in the world whose sole reason for existence is to annoy her.
Oh, the woes of being an only child.
Rachel isn't the same, mainly because she's grown up with the child that is Hiram Berry, so she's learned how to tune it out when needed. Quinn makes it too easy, sometimes, and both Lauren and Santana make a game out of who can get under her skin the quickest. It's usually Lauren, even if Santana knows the exact buttons to press to get a reaction out of her.
Santana may be a pain in all their asses, but even she doesn't cross certain boundaries, mainly because Quinn has several, even if she talks about them only at four o'clock in the morning when the rest of the world is dead to the night.
Santana and Rachel haven't really ever got along, but they did bond over the fact they care about Quinn in their own ways, and that should be that.
Now, though, things have changed for Rachel, and she's still unsure what's going to happen now. If she can't get over these feelings, is she going to have to take a step back?
God, she can barely imagine her life without Quinn. It's too much even to think about. Is that what's going to have to happen? Rachel doesn't think she would be able to bear it. What would she even do with herself when she wakes from a nightmare in the middle of the night and can't call Quinn? Who's she supposed to tell when she gets inspired? That's who Quinn is in her life, and all her other friends seem to slot in all around her.
What's going to happen now?
Rachel doesn't really want to have to worry about it until she absolutely has to, but she can't help but be paranoid and prepared. Even though, technically, she's Hiram's child, she's still LeRoy Berry's daughter, in some of the worst ways, really. She's a planner. Well, she tries to be, because her most recent plans aren't really working out for her.
"Luce?" Rachel starts, because maybe they can still talk about this. She doesn't know if she'll be able to keep it all inside, given who she is, and she's going to have to tell someone.
It should be Quinn.
Quinn lifts her head. "Hmm?"
"Do you ever wonder what our lives would be like if we never met?"
Quinn's eyes widen for a moment, before she nods her head once. "Sometimes," she says. "It's more that I think about my life if I'd never come to live with Phil and Melinda. They're Lima, and so are you."
"We've been through a lot, haven't we?"
Quinn nods, smiling softly at some memory.
"We've survived many things," Rachel continues. "I mean, we've had our fights before, but we always make up, right? We try to be as honest with each other as possible, right?"
Here, Quinn's smile dims, and Rachel tries not to react to it. They're going to get to that, eventually, and it takes all Rachel has not to say I know.
"Yesterday, I was going to tell you about - "
Quinn's phone rings.
It's the Universe, Rachel thinks. The Universe doesn't want her to tell Quinn, and maybe she should listen. She has to listen, because it's also this Universe that has Quinn answering her phone immediately, that same, dopey smile on her face, and Rachel has to look away.
She tries not to listen to the conversation by focusing on keeping her breathing steady.
In and out.
When Quinn gets off the phone, she gets this suddenly guilty look on her face, as if she's doing something wrong. She is, obviously, but Rachel is too afraid to figure out which part of whatever she's doing she deems wrong. What if it's her? What if it's Rachel?
"You have to go," Rachel says, her eyes on the empty cheesecake plate in front of her. She doesn't even remember eating it.
Quinn winces. "I'm sorry."
Rachel didn't actually ask the day before, but she's a little more settled today than she was yesterday. "Who was that, anyway?" she asks, unsure if she wants Quinn to lie to her or not.
The second Quinn opens her mouth, Rachel is suddenly very sure. "Oh, um, just someone from work," she says, and Rachel hates her. Just for a moment, she hates Quinn, and it's the most foreign feeling she's ever had.
"A colleague?" Rachel asks, ever the masochist.
Quinn lies and lies. "Yes," she says. "They need me back at work."
"I thought you said you were done?"
"I did, and I am," Quinn says; "but I, um, there's something I forgot they needed me to do before I left."
"Oh?" Rachel asks. "What's that?"
Quinn looks caught, and Rachel wonders how much more Quinn is going to put them through before she just comes clean. "I don't know," Quinn says, raising a hand to get their server's attention to get the check. "I guess I'll see when I get there."
Rachel just nods as she reaches for her phone, where she keeps her bank card tucked away in its case.
Tradition is that Quinn always pays at this particular patisserie, so she raises her eyebrows in question when the check arrives, but Rachel ignores her and stubbornly pays for her half.
Rachel wanted the day and Quinn robbed her of it, and now she's just going to up and lie to her about where she's running off to. The nerve.
The ride home is made in tense silence, and, when they get closer and closer to their destinations, Rachel tries one more time.
"Will it take long?"
"Whatever this thing you have to do," Rachel says. "I don't mind waiting for you, if you want stop by there without having to drop me off and then have to double back."
Quinn's grip on her steering wheel shifts, and Rachel just knows. "I - I don't know how long it'll take," she says, keeping her gaze firmly facing forward. "I wouldn't want you to hang around doing nothing."
"I could get coffee," Rachel pushes. "I could sketch. I don't really mind. We had plans, anyway. We won't be able to do things like this when school starts up."
Quinn sighs. "Rachel."
Rachel looks away.
"It's my workplace. I'm sorry."
Rachel clenches her jaw, and maybe this is the moment. The moment that breaks them. She doesn't know why Quinn won't just out with it. Why is it some big secret? "Right. Okay."
Quinn sighs again. "I'm - "
"It's fine, Quinn," Rachel interrupts. "Just take me home, and then you're free to go and do whatever it is you've been summoned to do."
Quinn looks at her - Rachel can feel her gaze on her - but she says nothing.
Quinn is a brilliant liar, but she's never really been able to lie to Rachel.
Still, just to be sure, Rachel calls the the coffee shop an hour later and speaks to Mike. She very casually asks about Quinn, but he says he hasn't seen her since she clocked out for the final time the day before.
It might be what she was expecting to hear, but it still stings in a way she can't quite fathom. She quietly thanks Mike, hangs up, heads downstairs and curls into her father's side on the couch in front of the television, soaking up some of his warmth.
Hiram, obviously, doesn't know what's going on, but he kisses the top of her head, draws her closer, and it's exactly what she needs.
The thing is they have this one very special tradition.
Well, okay, they have a lot of them, but there's this very specific one that they do at the start of every school year.
They've been doing the same thing since they first started being friends, and even LeRoy knows about it. Because of it, the man packs an extra packet of iced sugar cookies for Quinn that she and Rachel eat out front of their school as they watch all the returning students and try to pick out all the fresh meat.
It's their thing.
Even Dani and Kurt know not to encroach on the tradition, so Rachel drives herself to school a little earlier than she usually would and goes to sit in their spot, giving them a prime view of the parking lot.
Rachel won't admit her excitement to anyone. It's been better since they were sophomores, because they get to laugh at how young and fresh-eyed and hopeful the freshmen look when they first arrive. They really have no idea what's about to happen to them and, while Quinn sometimes feels sorry for them, Rachel wants everyone to suffer the way the rest of them have.
People start to arrive about ten minutes later, and Rachel has eaten only one of her 'R' cookies in that time. She's proud of her restraint.
She gets greeted as people walk passed, and she has a few short conversations with some of the ones she's closer to about how their summers have gone. She's been in constant contact with her closest friends, so she just gets a handful of waves from them. They all know she's waiting for Quinn.
Quinn's never late.
For school, obviously, but also never for this, which is why Rachel starts to get antsy as the minutes tick by. She considers calling her, but she doesn't want her to have to answer if she's driving. A text, maybe.
She shoots one off quickly, just a casual where are you?, but she doesn't get an immediate reply.
Probably driving, then.
Ten minutes pass.
And then the warning bell is sounding, and Rachel doesn't want to be late for her first day. But Quinn. Where is Quinn? She checks her phone again. Nothing. Maybe she should call Phil? Just, somebody who would -
Rachel's train of thought gets derailed completely at the sound of a roar, and her head snaps up at the same time all the other stragglers turn their heads to see a motorbike - Rachel wouldn't even be able to determine what make it is from over here - tearing into the school's parking lot.
There are two bodies on it. Distinctly female, and Rachel would recognise the one on the back just about anywhere. She's grown up beside that body, watched it grow and fill out and become this person.
This person that Rachel suddenly doesn't want to see. Feels as if she no longer knows.
Still, she waits just long enough for the motorbike to come to a stop, for Quinn to climb off the back, for her to remove the helmet and wave out her hair, and for Rachel to see the blinding smile on her face.
It was a mistake to stay.
It's all just a mistake.
She sucks in a sharp breath and turns away immediately. She has Quinn's packet of cookies in her hand, and she doesn't know what to do with them. She wants to get rid of them, but it would be a waste to throw them out, so she hands them to Puck when she sees him.
She doesn't wait for his reaction; just keeps walking and willing herself not to cry.
Quinn lets the exhilaration of the motorbike ride fade away as she leads Sofia towards the school's reception. Her heart is still racing, and she's literally never felt anything like being at the mercy of a two-wheeler in her life.
She could be addicted.
When Sofia called and offered, she definitely couldn't say no.
Once she's dropped Sofia off, she checks the Administration Board for her own homeroom, and then heads in the direction on Mr Lancaster's classroom. Her eyes are stinging a little from the wind, but it was so worth it.
Quinn gets to the classroom just behind Puck, and he mumbles a greeting around a mouthful of food as he slips inside. She frowns when a few crumbs fall from his mouth, and she's about to tell him to act like a human being when she catches sight of just what he's eating.
It's an iced cookie, with the letter 'Q' written in bright red on a white background. It's one of LeRoy's cookies, undoubtedly. It's one of hers and, the second she realises it, she freezes. Right in the doorway.
Her eyes quickly scan the room, searching for Rachel, but she's not here, and Quinn didn't bother to check what homeroom she was in, because she was late and she missed Rachel and -
Quinn snaps to attention at the sound of Mr Lancaster's voice.
"Your forms," he says, holding out a small wad of paper.
Quinn blinks once, twice, and then makes her way towards the back of the class. It's at this point she would probably fill in her class schedule alongside Rachel, even over text, so they could try to get at least one class together or try to sync up their free period to be able to study together.
Would Rachel be mad enough to forsake that? Quinn pulls out her phone to check and, from the two texts she finds from Rachel: where are you? and never mind, Quinn thinks she's answered her own question.
Still, she picks her classes trying to get as much overlap as possible, though it's still unlikely, because Rachel completed all her science classes as early as she possibly could to allow herself as much time in the studio this year.
She does get a handful of texts from Sofia, and they'll hopefully end up with at least two classes together, which brings an involuntary smile to her face.
Which fades rather quickly as she shuffles through the day and sees no sign of Rachel. She doesn't generally interact with the rest of Rachel's friends - she gets the feeling they just wouldn't get along - so she doesn't think to ask them where she is in some of the classes they share.
Quinn sends a few texts to Rachel during the day, but she receives no response, which isn't much of a surprise. If Rachel is mad at her, it's unlikely she'll get a reply via text.
Class with Sofia is a relief and a pleasant distraction from her Rachel situation, and it's really the first time she realises just how little she's thought this through.
She hasn't even told Rachel about Sofia, and now the girl is here and -
"There's a lot more focus on American history than I anticipated," Sofia whispers to her, a slight frown on her face.
Quinn smiles at her. "Well, you are in America now."
"Like this class would let me forget."
Quinn is charmed, there's no doubt about it, and this girl allows her to forget that she has all these pressures and expectations of herself and a point to prove to all the foster parents who said no to her and all the people who believed she wouldn't amount to much.
This relationship has allowed her to forget; to move on. To be smart about her heart.
Sofia helps quiet her mind, and it's something she's desperate to hold onto, as selfish as it makes her. She can worry about the rest of the world later.
Or, at lunch, when she goes looking for Rachel again but can't seem to find her. She's not in the cafeteria, the library, the studio, or on the bleachers or anywhere else that Quinn can think of, and her brain hurts at the effort.
Which is why it's almost a relief when she sees Jesse standing at his locker. "Oh, thank God," she murmurs to herself when she spots him, and she jogs up to him, a little breathless from all her searching and taps his shoulder.
His eyes widen when he turns, and she feels an odd sense of satisfaction. They've never really talked before. Rachel is the only thing that even ties them together, and she's pretty sure she's the only thing they even have in common. She's never approached him before, but this is important.
"Have you seen Rachel?" Quinn asks.
Jesse looks stumped for a moment. "Uh, no," he says.
"Do you know where she is?"
"No," he says, frowning now. "Seriously, is this some kind of joke of something? I haven't seen Rachel and I don't know where she is and I'm not going to know."
"What do you mean?"
Jesse studies her for a moment, and then he clicks, looking stumped again. "Didn't she tell you?"
"Tell me what?"
"Rachel broke up with me like a month ago," he says, his voice sounding odd. "Why wouldn't she tell you?"
Quinn's brain short circuits, and it takes her far too long to respond. "Oh. Right." She shakes her head. "Must have slipped my mind." She doesn't hang around as she spins on her heel and walks away, her brain trying to compute what Jesse has just told her.
Rachel broke up with him.
Almost a month ago.
Rachel and Jesse are no longer together.
Rachel is single.
Rachel didn't tell her.
Rachel wanted to tell her something the other day, but she had to -
Quinn feels a soft hand on the back of her neck and, for a moment, she imagines it's Rachel who's come to find her, but one turn of her head reveals Sofia and her dangerous smirk. Quinn feels a mixture of emotions at the sight of her, and she can only hope it doesn't show on her face.
"Exhausted already?" Sofia asks, smiling knowingly.
"I forgot what school is like," she says, grateful for the out. "Can I catch a nap?"
"I assume this place has a library."
"Libraries aren't for sleeping, Sofia."
Her smirk turns devilish. "Are they for making out?"
And, just like that, her exhaustion is gone. Everything else disappears from her brain, and it's so pathetic how much of a horny teenager she is. Between studying and this girl in front of her, she doesn't see having much more time for anything else, and she's almost relieved for it.
She's supposed to be looking for Rachel. Apologising to Rachel.
But, then, Sofia is dragging her down the corridor, and what was she thinking about again?
Rachel takes the afternoon.
Kurt invites her to the Lima Bean for some after-school milkshakes with the regular crew, but she makes up an excuse about LeRoy needing her to do something, and then she goes home, doing her best to ignore the sight of that motorbike still sitting in the parking lot.
Not only is there a Sofia, but there's also a Sofia who now goes to school here. Rachel even has a class with her: Art, which is supposed to be her safe place, and Rachel has never quite hated her life as much as she does in this moment.
The other students marvelled over her clothes and her accent and her story, all while this girl who's done nothing wrong doesn't even know that Rachel is Quinn's best friend.
So, she takes the afternoon, goes home, locks herself in her studio, blasts her music at a deafening level and attempts to paint away her feelings.
God, it helps.
She feels more like herself when she emerges from her self-imposed isolation, covered in paint and her eyes hidden behind her hair. She's starving, and she's pretty sure there's food somewhere downstairs. She doesn't bother cleaning up as she heads down the steps, feeling chipper than she has since she first looked at Quinn and wondered what she tasted like.
Rachel practically saunters into the kitchen, but immediately freezes at the sight of LeRoy and Quinn sitting at the kitchen table, clearly involved in conversation.
They stop when they see her, of course, and Rachel wants anything than to be here right now.
"Hi, Honey," LeRoy says. "Thought you were going to stay up there forever."
Rachel shrugs. "I got hungry."
LeRoy looks at her hands. "Sometimes, I wonder if you actually have paintbrushes."
Rachel manages a smile. "All sorts of mediums, Daddy," she says. "I'm versatile."
"And a mess," LeRoy says, getting to his feet. "I'm not letting you putter around my kitchen like that. Go clean up while I make you a sandwich. PB and J?"
It's Rachel's boring favourite, which is also Quinn's favourite, and Rachel doesn't want that right now. "Actually, can I get a grilled cheese, please?"
LeRoy looks surprised and, if he's noticed that Rachel hasn't even acknowledged Quinn's presence, he doesn't say anything. "Sure thing, Honey," LeRoy says. "It'll be ready when you get back."
And then Rachel makes her escape, needing to get away. What is Quinn even doing here? Shouldn't she be out somewhere with her secret girlfriend?
And, okay, maybe her painting session didn't help as much as she thought it did. All she wanted was the afternoon. Why won't Quinn just give her that?
She doesn't rush washing her hands or changing her t-shirt. She ties her hair into a messy bun, washes her face and then heads back downstairs. If her father is around, it's unlikely Quinn will bring up anything that happened today or yesterday or -
But, LeRoy is a little traitor, and he's nowhere in sight when Rachel returns to the kitchen. Only Quinn sits there, a plate of grilled cheeses sandwiches in front of her and a cup of hot chocolate waiting for Rachel.
Rachel curses under her breath, and makes a mental note to squeeze the toothpaste out of her father's tube just to be spiteful.
"They're still warm," Quinn says, gesturing towards the plate on the table.
Rachel clenches her jaw, but eventually moves forward. Her heart is beating a little too fast, because she has a feeling she knows where this conversation is going, and she's not ready for it.
Resigning herself to her fate, Rachel moves to sit opposite Quinn, as far away from her as she can get away with. She sips at her drink first, and then starts to eat. She's not going to be the one to bring it up.
Quinn must realise that, because she says, "I'm sorry."
Rachel just continues to chew, saying nothing.
"About yesterday, the day before, and about this morning."
Rachel keeps her eyes on her cup. "Nothing happened this morning."
Quinn flinches, but Rachel doesn't see it. "Exactly." She shifts in her seat. "I've been keeping something from you." She waits until Rachel looks at her. "But you've been keeping something from me too."
Quinn doesn't expect the sudden panic in Rachel's eyes or the way her hand tightens around the handle of her cup. It confuses her, because why should a breakup be this big of a deal? Is it because Quinn always made herself clear she didn't like Jesse? It's not as if Quinn would have said 'I told you so,' or anything like that. She would have thought it, obviously, but never said it.
Quinn clears her throat. "I've been seeing someone," she says, and Rachel looks away. There's a thinning of her lips and her jaw sets, and Quinn doesn't understand any of it. "I met her at the coffee shop." She smiles, mostly to herself. "It's why the place started to grow on me, I guess. She started to meet me after my shifts, and I - " she stops, realising this is probably not what Rachel wants to hear. "She's new to the city, and I started showing her around, I guess. She's... quite something, and I actually really like her."
Rachel has stopped eating, Quinn notices.
"Her name is Sofia," Quinn continues. "She goes to McKinley now."
Rachel looks at her.
No, she glares at her, and Quinn leans back in surprise, because that's not an expression she would normally associate with Rachel.
"I know," Rachel says, and her voice is hard. "I saw her this morning, while I waited for you like an idiot," she goes on. "And then again in my Art class where everyone was asking how she was settling in and all she could talk about was how she felt like she already belonged because of everything Quinn told her about McKinley." She drops her gaze, as if she's lost her sudden thunder. "Imagine my surprise when that 'everything' didn't include her best friend, Rachel."
Quinn supposes that's something more to apologise for, but Rachel seems angry about something else entirely. Angry about something that doesn't even involve Quinn.
Still, Quinn says, "I'm sorry." She sighs. "I was going to tell you."
"When?" Rachel asks. "When, Quinn? Because I had to find out just like everyone else, and I - " she stops all of a sudden. "I don't understand why you wouldn't just tell me. I thought we talked about these things."
And, Quinn knows she shouldn't, but she can't help her own flash of irritation, because Rachel is being a hypocrite. It's not as if she's told her about Jesse.
"What about you?" she asks, an undeniable edge to her voice. "Don't you have something you've been keeping from me, too?"
Rachel seems to deflate right before her eyes. "Does it even matter anymore?" she asks, and her voice is so soft, so quiet and defeated. "I don't even know how you even found out. I haven't even told anyone, and I thought I hid it well. I mean, I guess I've been kind of struggling with it all summer and you must have figured it out, but I don't want to make you uncomfortable."
Quinn frowns, suddenly wondering if they're actually talking about two different things. Just how many things is Rachel keeping from her?
"So, you weren't going to tell me?" Quinn asks, venturing to figure out what has Rachel so bent out of shape.
Rachel blinks. "I... was," she says carefully. "Two days ago, when I asked you to come over. I had it all planned out, and I was going to explain everything that happened and how I got here, but then you got that call and I - " she stops, sighing. "This is why it doesn't even matter now. You're with Sofia, Quinn, and I'm happy for you. Really, I am. It just might take me a while to get used to it."
Quinn is certain she's not hearing correctly, because Rachel is not insinuating -
There is no way Rachel is saying what she thinks she's -
"Rachel," Quinn breathes. "What are you talking about?"
And, this time, the panic in Rachel's eyes is unmistakable. "What do you mean what am I talking about?" she asks hesitantly. "You just said you already knew I wasn't telling you something."
"Are we not talking about the same thing?"
"What are you talking about?" Quinn asks again.
"What are you talking about?" Rachel echoes, her back ramrod straight and her face deathly pale.
Quinn tilts her head to the side. "I'm talking about the fact you broke up with Jesse a month ago and didn't mention it."
"Oh." Then, realisation seems to hit and she buries her face in her hands. "Oh, my God." She sucks in a breath. "Oh, my God."
"No," she says, sudden and sharp, as she holds out a hand to get Quinn to stop. "Let's not do this, okay? We're just going to pretend none of this conversation even happened, okay? That's what's going to happen here. We're going to forget all about this."
"Please," she pleads. Practically begs. "Please, Quinn. It's nothing. It's fine. We really don't need to do this. You didn't tell me about Sofia. I didn't tell you about Jesse. You did a shitty thing this morning. You're sorry. I'm sorry. Can we just move on? Please."
Quinn still isn't sure she fully understands, but she doesn't think her heart will allow her to accept what Rachel was maybe trying to tell her. She's trying her best to move on. It's something she has to remind herself on a daily basis.
Quinn lets out a breath. "Okay," she finally relents. "Okay, Rachel."
Rachel still can't meet her gaze.
Quinn nudges at the plate of sandwiches with the backs of her fingers. "Come on," she says; "you're letting everything get cold."
A day, an afternoon, a week, the whole fucking year.
No amount of time could have ever prepared Rachel for actually witnessing Quinn be with Sofia. There's a very formal introduction Quinn makes the next morning, and Rachel does her best not to say oh, we've already met as she shakes Sofia's hand.
She thinks she might have hung around a bit longer, but then Sofia's hand was in Quinn's hair and Quinn was looking at her with this expression that sparked jealousy and such deep, deep sadness inside of her that Rachel had to make an excuse and leave.
Neither of them noticed, and she can't decide if it's a good or bad thing.
At lunch, she actually makes it to the cafeteria, trying her best to get back into the swing of things. She can be heartsore in private. She has a senior year to enjoy, after all.
What she doesn't expect, once she's taken her seat next to Kurt is for Dani to round on her and very bluntly ask, "Why the fuck does Jesse St James think it's okay to hit on me?"
Rachel blinks in surprise. "What?"
"Why is your boyfriend flirting with me?" Dani questions, the table quiet around them.
"Oh, um, he's not my boyfriend anymore," she forces herself to say. "Though, it's kind of a dick move to go after one of my closest friends."
"Wait," Kurt says, injecting himself into the conversation when Blaine and Mike start on about something he's definitely not interested in. "You broke up?"
Rachel reaches for her bottle of water and carefully takes a sip. "Yip."
"What? Since when?"
"It's about a month now," she says.
"Why didn't you tell us?"
Rachel shrugs. "It was just a thing. I'm fine. There was no heartbreak or sob session. It just felt like time, so I ended it. It's over."
"Why?" Kurt asks.
"Why was it time? Did something happen?"
Rachel glances away for a moment, which is a mistake, because her eyes settle on Quinn, who's sitting with Santana and Lauren. And Sofia. She winces despite herself, and then clears her throat. "Nothing happened," Rachel says. "But, I got the feeling something might. I guess I just wasn't as in to him as I thought, and boys don't really wait around very long when that happens."
Dani huffs out a breath. "Boys are assholes."
Rachel just hums. Nobody's really ever questioned her sexuality before; not even herself. She's always been interested in boys in some capacity. She had a crush on Finn when she was younger, a friendly attraction to Brody and then an actual liking of Jesse.
Somehow, in the middle of all of that, she thinks she fell in love with Quinn, and that makes all the difference.
That means nothing now.
"I'm sorry, anyway," Kurt says, patting Rachel's forearm. "Breakups suck."
Rachel just shrugs again. The breakup isn't what's hurting her, but she'll happily use it as an excuse for her melancholy over the fact she almost revealed to Quinn that she actually likes her.
God, she's in love with her, and she just knows it's going to break her.
Sometimes, Quinn's emotional naivety frustrates her, but she's grateful for it now. She hates that it's come about because of her rough start to life, but there are small mercies to be found everywhere.
"We should totally do something this weekend," Dani suggests, bouncing slightly. "Just the three of us." She winces. "Well, I mean, you can invite Quinn, I guess."
Rachel shakes her head, because that's the literal last thing she wants. "No, it can just be the three of us," she says, and then turns her head again, catching sight of Quinn and Sofia leaning close together. "Anyway, I think she's going to be busy."
"Oh, yeah," Kurt says. "The new girl, right?"
Rachel nods. "Sofia."
"She's hot," Dani says, and Rachel does her best not to flinch. If Dani notices, she says nothing. "So, the three of us, hitting the town? Any ideas?"
Rachel shrugs. "As long as it's nothing illegal, I'm game for anything."
Dani sighs dramatically. "Just taking away all my fun."
Rachel gets the weekend, and it's blissful.
So, so blissful.
She doesn't have to deal with Quinn or Sofia or any of those confusing feelings that come along with them. Instead, she focuses on her other two best friends and loses herself in shopping, bad movies and the arcade. It's good, clean, exciting fun, and Rachel can almost forget that her world is seconds from tipping over.
The truth is she hasn't gone an entire weekend without seeing Quinn unless one of them is out of town since they became friends, and the truth of it slams hard into her chest on Sunday evening when she's catching up on her homework.
She stills at the thought, her heart pounding in a way that can't be healthy. It's already started, and she's powerless. How does she stop it? Does she even want to?
Rachel doesn't handle conflict well. She also doesn't handle silence any better, which is why she reaches for her phone and sends off a text that she would have been certain of its response a week ago.
Now, she's not so sure.
Still, she gets up from her desk and puts on her shoes. It's warm enough outside that she won't need any additional clothing. She just wants to take a short walk, see her best friend, hopefully feel settled again, and then return to her English Lit. homework.
It's a simple request.
And, as Rachel is leaving her room, suddenly feeling lighter, that request gets denied. Rachel freezes in her doorway, her eyes taking in the words on the screen of her phone as if they don't make any sense.
Except they do.
Everything suddenly becomes very, very clear.
Dani is the one who notices it first, though Rachel isn't too surprised about that. She's always been a little too nosy for her own good. Observant in all the best and worst ways.
The problem is that Rachel can't shake it. The flinches and the reluctance and the way she sometimes can't help but stare at Quinn and wonder if the girl has actually figured it out and is distancing herself because she's too polite for proper rejection.
Whatever it is, it hurts, and, when Rachel's excuse of moping over Jesse runs out, Dani figures it out and very carefully invites her to the Lima Bean with the intention of doing that thing they don't do and actually talk about things.
Dani buys them milkshakes while Rachel settles into a booth with her feet up on the seat and her chin resting on her knees. To Dani, she looks miserable now that she knows to look, and she can't even imagine how Quinn can't have noticed.
The blonde has been preoccupied, sure, but Rachel has always been an open book to her. It makes Dani worry for what's really going on here.
"So, Oreos make everything better, right?"
Rachel manages a smile. "I don't know why you think anything is wrong."
Dani rolls her eyes as she settles beside Rachel, instead of opposite her. "I'm a certified genius, you know?"
"I don't think there's been a day you've let me forget," Rachel muses, dragging her milkshake closer to her. "Thanks for this, by the way. I can't remember the last time I was treated to anything."
Dani frowns. "Don't you and Quinn usually drive out to that place in Willowy for their cheesecake like all the time?"
Rachel looks away. "We haven't done that in a while."
"Oh," Dani sounds, wondering if she has the stomach for this. Rachel obviously doesn't want to talk about it, and Dani doesn't know if she has the patience to draw it out of her. "The new girlfriend, huh?"
When Rachel flinches this time, Dani sees it. "I guess," she says, vaguely. "New relationships and all that. I get it."
Rachel sighs. "We both know you know," she says. "We really don't have to talk about it."
Dani pats her knee. "I told you boys are assholes."
Rachel rolls her eyes. "Probably, but I'm going to go with saying I'm bisexual, so I don't think I can write them off completely," she says, frowning slightly. "You're the first person I've actually told."
Dani looks surprised by that. "Not even Quinn?"
Rachel shakes her head.
Rachel shrugs. "It's obvious they won't care, but none of it even matters now, does it? I'll tell them if there's actually a girl, and there isn't. It's just a... thing, I guess."
And, this is why Dani is no good at these types of things. She has no idea what to say. Which is why she resorts to terrible jokes. "Are you sure you're bisexual? Or are you just Quinnxual?" She cringes as soon as the words are out of her mouth and she wishes she could take them back.
Rachel sips at her milkshake, her eyes closing for a moment. "It's actually a genuine thought I've had," she admits, her voice quiet. "Right now, it's kind of just Quinn, but I think there might have been instances with other girls at some points in the past, I don't know."
Dani waggles her eyebrows suggestively. "Am I in this sordid past?"
Rachel chuckles, covering her eyes with her hand. "You wish."
Rachel just sips her drink again.
"Are you okay, though?" Dani asks, and her voice is soft, too much and too little at the same time.
Rachel opens her mouth to reply that she is, her automatic response, but the words don't come. "Not really," she eventually says. "I was going to tell her, you know? I broke up with Jesse, took some time to re-evaluate, and then I was going to tell her." She drops her gaze. "But, then, I found out about Sofia, and she just seems so happy, and I can't ruin that. I won't give her more to worry about, and I thought it would be easy, you know? I thought I could handle it. She's my best friend, and I - " she stops, shaking her head. "We barely hang out anymore. I expected that school would be the motivator, because she's always been so serious about her grades, but it's... not.
"Now, she's just always busy, and, I think, maybe, in another life, I would have been okay to hang out with her and Sofia, but that isn't even a thing Quinn suggests. It's just - there's just nothing, and I can't figure out if I've done something wrong or not.
"Like, can she tell? I almost let it slip this one time, but she didn't seem weirded out or anything, so I don't know. Maybe I've just never been as invested in a romantic relationship as Quinn seems to be in hers, so I wouldn't know. And, I guess that's just it, right? I don't know anything about her relationship, because she's never talked to me about it. I had to find out myself. She actively lied about it, to my face, and I don't understand why. I don't - I can't - Dani."
"Fuck," Dani says. "Please don't cry. I really won't know what to do if you cry."
Rachel lets out a wet laugh. "I'm fine," she says. "I promise I'm fine. It's just - it sucks. It really just fucking sucks."
"It feels like you're losing her."
"No," Rachel says, and her voice comes out hollow. "It's worse than that. It feels as if I already have." And, what's worse is she has no idea when that happened.
Rachel desperately wants not to like Sofia, but the girl makes it difficult.
Their Art group is quite small, and they all get on really well. Adding Sofia to the mix is easy and, while Rachel is already rather silent and focused in class, it's aggravated by the foreign girl's presence.
Sofia is the one who gets to spend all this time with Quinn. Sofia gets to kiss her and touch her and hear her secrets and soothe her and all those things that Rachel used to do without even realising what it all meant.
Rachel's work turns a little darker as a result, and there's a lot of deep red involved in her canvases. Her Art teacher, Mr Schuester, comments on the change only once, calling it interesting and oddly refreshing, before he moves on to inspect Blaine's work.
If only he could see what the inside of her studio at home looks like.
She's been working on an idea for her semester project, but it's not really coming together as easily as she wants. It's going to require some engineering, and she knows she can't take it to Hiram just yet. He's far too excitable about this kind of thing, and she needs a level head for the initial stages.
Which is why she goes to the next best thing.
"Hey, Phil," Rachel says, smiling widely at Quinn's adoptive father. She's missed seeing him around, and she's not going to let the current weirdness of her relationship with Quinn get in the way of that.
"Dr Rachel," his voice booms a little too loudly for the confined space of the house's kitchen. "Come on in. I'm baking a cake."
Rachel enters through the open door, smiling at the mess he's created. "Any reason you're baking a cake specifically?"
"Do I have to have one?"
"Of course not.
Phil pulls her into a hug, burying her in his warm frame and making her giggle. "I feel as if I haven't seen you in forever," he complains. "Where have you been hiding?"
Rachel feels a flash of guilt that she does her best to suppress. "Just been busy," she says, stepping away from him and peeking into his bowl of batter. "Is Quinn around?"
"Is she ever these days?"
Rachel is both relieved and disappointed. "Well, I came to see you, anyway."
"Any specific reason?"
"Sort of," she says, leaning against the counter. "I have this idea for an Art project, and I was wondering if I could run it by you."
"Well, you're good at building things."
"Your Dad's an engineer."
"He also loves me too much to tell me if my idea is shit."
Phil guffaws, warm and loud. "That is true," he says. "Let me just put this in the oven, and then I'll make us some coffee and we can discuss your diabolical plans."
Wow, she's really missed him.
It's a sentiment that merely grows as the two of them spend the next ninety minutes working through Rachel's idea and sketching out plans in her various sketchbooks. She knows she could potentially just buy what she needs or even find it in some abandoned place somewhere, but she kind of wants to build it herself.
Phil also bakes bran muffins in that time, merely because he insists Rachel take some home with her.
"You know my Daddy is just going to send something right back, right?"
"You know what you're getting yourself into, huh?"
He chucks a chocolate chip at her, which she easily dodges but almost falls off her stool in the process. Phil reaches out to catch her just in time, and the two of them end up in a heap of uncontrollable laughter at the ridiculousness of the moment.
Which is how Quinn finds them when she enters the kitchen a moment later, Sofia hanging off her arm, and looking as confused as ever.
Rachel's laughter comes to an abrupt end at the sight of them because, God, is that a hickey on Quinn's neck?
Phil chuckles, and then sobers. "Oh, hello, Sweetheart," he says. "Sofia."
Rachel glances at Phil, frowning slightly at his reaction to the sight of the two of them. It's almost… hostile.
"Hi, Dad," Quinn says. "Rachel, hey. What's going on?"
Phil pats Rachel's back as he makes sure she's settled on her stool. "Rachel was just helping me bake," he says. "In exchange for creative interference."
Rachel pinches his arm. "You make it sound as if I wanted to build an actual wardrobe."
"You would have, and you know it."
Rachel shakes her head as she starts to pack up her things. "Whatever."
Quinn looks between them, and then asks, "Were we supposed to hang out or something?"
Rachel bristles slightly. "No," she says. "I came to hang out with your dad. I needed help with my project. Don't worry, though, I have to get going, anyway."
Quinn starts to speak, but Phil beats her to it.
"What? No." Phil looks distraught, and Rachel is almost sure he's not actually pretending. "Aren't you staying for dinner?"
"Can't," Rachel says. "My Daddy's working the night shift, and it's too dangerous to leave Hiram alone for too long. He might even try to cook, and I'd rather not have to deal with the fire department again."
Phil laughs, and Quinn's mouth quirks upwards.
"Hiram?" Sofia asks, cutting into the moment.
Rachel's smile doesn't falter, because it's Hiram. "My Dad," she says; "even though he acts like a four-year-old most of the time."
Phil finds a plastic container to pack some of the muffins for her to take while Rachel finishes putting her things in her bag. The kitchen is quiet, and both Quinn and Sofia just stand there, awkward and still.
Rachel needs to get out of here.
Phil must sense it, because he rushes through his packing, stuffing as many muffins in as possible before handing the container to Rachel.
Rachel smiles at him, warm and thankful. "You know, Hiram and I could just end up eating all of these for dinner, and Lee will never know you even sent anything."
"Revealing your intentions is a rookie mistake, Berry," he says. "I can just call LeRoy tomorrow."
Rachel shrugs. "Who's he going to believe?"
He purses his lips. "Point taken," he concedes. "Though, Hiram can't lie to that man to save his life and, frankly, neither can you, Sweets."
Rachel just grins, feeling settled again. "I should go," she says, before reaching up to kiss his cheek. "Thanks for all your help today. And for the muffins. I'll keep you posted on how it goes."
Rachel glances forward, where Quinn is watching them intently and Sofia just looks curious. "Well, bye," she says, inwardly cringing. "See you at school," she tacks on, and then ducks out of the kitchen before she can actually make a fool of herself.
She's just made it to the door when she hears footsteps behind her.
Then, Quinn's voice is saying her name, and Rachel is powerless.
With a sigh, Rachel turns to face her, and they've never been like this before. Quinn has dated before, and it's never been like this. Even when Rachel was with Jesse, Quinn came first. It's how she remembers it, at least.
They can't seem to figure out how to navigate this new territory where the most important person in Quinn's life is no longer Rachel.
"Hey," Quinn says, wringing her fingers in front of her and failing to hide the sudden guilty look in her eyes. "You should have texted. I would have been home."
Rachel shrugs. "I told you, I came to talk to Phil."
"Right." She sucks in a breath. "Are you sure you don't want to stay for dinner? Hiram could come over as well. I feel as if we haven't had a family dinner in a while."
The question is on the tip of her tongue, but Rachel can't bring herself to ask it. It'll bring up too many questions, because why should Rachel care if Sofia is included in this supposed 'family dinner?'
"Sofia makes an amazing paella," Quinn says, answering Rachel's silent question.
Rachel drops her gaze, feeling guilty and lost. "I'm sure she does," she says. "Maybe a rain check? We'll plan it better, for when my Daddy and Melinda can also join."
In other words, it may never happen, because their schedules very rarely sync up enough to have full family meals that aren't on significant holidays.
"Of course," Quinn says, and then smiles this pleased smile when she hears laughter coming from the kitchen. Sofia's, more than Phil's, but it's enough to make Rachel feel sick.
And then guilty.
"I should go," she says.
"Okay," Quinn says, her hand twitching as if she wants to reach out for Rachel but actively stops herself from doing so. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Tomorrow's Saturday," Rachel says, as if it should mean something, but she's long gone before Quinn has a chance to figure it out.
Berry The Hatchet: Question: would you bail me out if I ended up murdering Puck?
Rachel sends the text, almost out of habit. It's how it once was. A random thought would pop up in her head and she would immediately text it to Quinn, just because she could.
Now, every interaction between them is heavy with something unspoken. This cloud of emotion that is seconds away from erupting and pouring down on them.
Rachel doesn't really expect a response, or one so swift, so it's a surprise when her phone buzzes in her hand.
A Quinnundrum: Depends. Based on the brutality of the murder, would you even be eligible for bail?
Rachel can't help smiling to herself. God, she misses this.
Berry The Hatchet: What makes you think it'll be brutal?
A Quinnundrum: It's Puck. Need I say more.
Berry The Hatchet: If I did commit this murder - they've yet to prove it, really - I think I would be smart about it. Least brutal. Maybe poison? That would get me a decent bail, right? How much do you reckon I'm worth?
A Quinnundrum: Ooh. Femme fatale, huh? I don't know if I can see it - you're too Rachel-ey to commit murder, even if it is premeditated and totally deserved.
A Quinnundrum: I don't care how much it would cost. I would find a way to pay it. I will always bail you out, Rachel.
As if Rachel needs any more fuel to this fire that is burning her from the inside out, making her bleed.
A Quinnundrum: Actually, I'm pretty sure I would have helped you hide the body, so maybe I'd need bail too?
Berry The Hatchet: Fuck. What are we going to do? LeRoy would let me rot in there.
A Quinnundrum: So would Melinda. It's going to be up to Hiram and Phil.
Rachel's eyes widen.
Berry The Hatchet: We're going to die in prison.
A Quinnundrum: At least we'll be together.
Berry The Hatchet: We can totally start a prison gang. We'll rule the entire place.
A Quinnundrum: You're getting far too excited about spending your life enclosed in a prison building for a murder you've yet to commit.
Berry The Hatchet: Just imagine it.
A Quinnundrum: Prison is not fun, Rachel.
Berry The Hatchet: It'll be like a forever slumber party. But behind bars.
A Quinnundrum: So, just a different kind of bondage, huh?
Rachel sputters in her seat, drawing LeRoy's attention where he sits in an armchair in the living room. It's just the two of them, with Hiram working on something in his workshop, and the silence is almost comforting.
"Quinn," Rachel offers by way of explanation.
LeRoy looks pleased for a moment, abandoning the medical journal he's reading. "How is our second daughter?" he asks. "She never comes by anymore."
And, just like that, Rachel's fragile good mood dissolves into nothing. This conversation with Quinn is just borrowed time. It doesn't belong to her, because Quinn no longer belongs to her, if she ever did.
"You should ask her yourself," Rachel tells LeRoy, and then glances at her phone, her heart aching at how right and wrong this all feels. "I'm sure she would love to tell you."
Like Hiram, LeRoy has noticed something particularly amiss about their daughter's general demeanour. She seems burdened by something, lost in her own head. She looks as if she's in the kind of emotional pain that looks ancient, aged in a way that's foreign on a seventeen-year-old's face. Hiram said not to worry, but LeRoy can't help it.
"Honey, is everything okay?"
Rachel takes a while to look at him again. "Oh, yeah, everything's fine, Daddy," she says. "Just tired. You know how it is."
LeRoy sits up, worry clouding his features. "You would tell me if something was wrong, wouldn't you?"
"If it was dire enough, yes," Rachel says, trying for a smile. "But, I mean, I don't think you necessarily want to hear about how I can't seem to mix the perfect shade of green I'm looking for to make my painting just work."
She sighs. "I would," she says. "And, I'm fine, really. Things are just… they're not exactly going the way I thought they would."
"At school?" LeRoy ventures.
Rachel doesn't answer. Instead, she gets to her feet and moves to squeeze into the armchair beside him, seeking comfort in a way she hasn't done since she was a pre-teen. She usually goes to Hiram for these moments, and this merely solidifies LeRoy's assumptions that something is very clearly wrong.
Rachel shifts, inhaling his comforting scent. "Why don't you tell me about this surgery you're preparing for?" she asks. "Dad says you have a timer on this one."
LeRoy watches her face for a long moment, searching for something and not finding it. "I do," he finally says, dropping a kiss to the top of her head. "We have a lot to do, and not a lot of time to do it."
And, as Rachel listens to him prattle on about his proposed surgery, Rachel is almost able to forget that she's probably losing the single most important non-familial relationship in her life.
"That's really good."
Rachel glances over at Blaine, who's studying her canvas with undisguised appreciation. "Thanks."
He steps forward, closer. "I've never really considered the way red and green can play off each other like that," he muses.
"I'm really just testing out," she tells him, adding some paint in the bottom right corner, her fingers doing the work.
The edges present a haphazard, unfocused mess, but the centre is immaculate, pristine, worked with thin brushes and impeccable technique to showcase the sunset at her meadow. She took a picture of it the other day, at the perfect light, and she couldn't resist attempting to capture it in her own way.
"I have a different idea," she tells him. "Well, a separate one."
"For the semester project?"
She nods, turning to face him. "I kind of want it to be interactive."
He grins. "You just want to show off."
She shrugs, before reaching for an old rag to wipe her hands. "I think I'd like to go out with a bang before I tie myself to whatever Science Undergrad is going to claim the next four years of my young, impressionable life."
He rolls his eyes. "You confuse me, Rachel Berry."
"I confuse myself, too," she says, almost relieved to have a light conversation. So many things about her life have been oddly heavy, and she's so glad she gets this.
And, it's the second that thought crosses her mind that it all comes crashing down.
Blaine turns to look at Sofia, who's come up behind them.
"That's beautiful, Rachel," she says. "You've captured it so well."
Rachel's breath catches. "Excuse me?"
"It's the meadow at Brixton Park, isn't it? I recognise the Sycamore."
There are a lot of thoughts going off in Rachel's mind, but the most prevalent is that Sofia has seen her meadow.
Rachel blinks. "It is, yeah," she says. "Have you been there?"
Sofia nods. "Quinn's taken me there a couple of times," she says, and then winks. "It's very private."
If Rachel were any other person, she probably would have thrown up or done something equally as dramatic, but she doesn't, because she isn't.
Blaine holds a fist out for Sofia to meet, and they share a laugh.
Maybe Rachel is dying.
Maybe this is what it feels like.
Blaine pats her shoulder. "Even if this doesn't make it into your final submission, it's awesome. I'd buy it from you if Quinn wouldn't fight me for it."
"You'd lose," Rachel says, without thought.
"She's vicious when it comes to your art."
"I'm pretty sure I still have a scar from when she scratched me in fifth grade."
"You destroyed my drawing."
"It was an accident."
"Your face is an accident."
He laughs out loud, and Rachel has never appreciated him more in her entire life. "As long as Kurt thinks I'm hot, I don't really care what you think."
"What makes you think Kurt thinks you're hot?"
"Uh, do I even need to - "
"No, you don't," she cuts him off, smiling, grateful and lighter. "You really, really don't."
Blaine grins. "Sofia gets me," he says, winking at the other girl, who Rachel managed to forget about for a few blissful seconds.
Rachel stares at her painting again and wonders just how many things that once belonged to her this foreign girl is unwittingly going to take.
A lot, apparently, which is a truth Rachel learns just a few days later.
The meadow is one thing.
Her place at Quinn's side.
Peanut butter and jam.
Probably puppies, for all Rachel knows.
But, the one that hurts the most - and is the strangest, most innocuous, thing that Rachel almost laughs at how ridiculous she's being - is when she hears Sofia call Quinn 'Luce' without her saying anything about it.
For years, Rachel has been the only person allowed to call her anything remotely related to her first name, Lucy. She's always claimed that she hates it from anyone other than Rachel, but that's apparently not true anymore.
The moment catches Rachel off guard, and her heart stutters at the same time her breath does.
Yip, this is what it feels like, surely.
Rachel looks to Quinn, waiting, just hoping… but nothing comes.
And, just like that, Rachel realises Sofia has taken Quinn, too.
Quinn doesn't realise what's happening until it's too late.
Well, even then, she still doesn't figure it out, because this is the year of many, many new things for her. She's had girlfriends before, but she's never felt for them remotely as much as she does for Sofia.
This girl, who finds America and its apparent cultures to be so odd compared to her own European ones, has taken up her time and stolen a heart that once belonged to a girl who could never treat it the way it deserves.
Which is why Quinn throws herself into her relationship with Sofia, spending as much of her relatively free time with her as possible. Sofia has things to learn the same way Quinn does, and they're both willing to teach.
So, Quinn learns.
And, it's a brutal lesson when Santana very casually asks, "Are you getting in on the gift Dani is trying to put together for Rachel, or are you doing your own thing?"
Quinn looks up from the plate of what this high school wants to trick them into thinking is food and frowns. "What?"
"Rachel's gift," Santana says, as if she's the biggest idiot in the world. "Didn't Dani text you about it? There's a group chat and everything."
Quinn blinks. "Rachel's gift?"
"For her birthday," Santana says. "Which is this weekend. Where are you right now?"
It takes a moment for Quinn to catch up. Rachel's birthday. This weekend. Rachel's gift. Dani. What?
Santana rolls her eyes. "Did you stay up all night or something?" she asks. "You look dazed."
She feels it. "Um, no, I'm doing my own thing," she says. "For Rachel."
"Oh yeah?" Santana asks. "How are you going to top last year?"
Sofia perks up beside her. "What did you get her last year?"
Quinn can't bring herself to respond, so Santana does it for her.
"Tickets to see Wicked on Broadway, which she had to work off for like six months."
Quinn chances a look at Sofia, and she sees something very distinct in her eyes. She clears her throat. "I can't top that," she says. "I don't think I could come close."
It's true, at least.
And, now that she's being honest, she's going to have to admit that she almost forgot about Rachel's birthday. Rachel hasn't even mentioned it, and she can't recall Dani doing so either. Is she having a party? Did she miss the memo?
Sofia places a hand on her shoulder. "I noticed she was running low on those pencils she likes to use for sketching," she says. "Maybe that could be an idea."
Quinn breathes out in relief, because that's a great idea.
It's a terrible idea.
First, Quinn has to find out from Santana that there is some kind of get together. A surprise one, which is why Rachel hasn't mentioned anything. It's being held at the Berry house, and is being carefully organised by Dani. Who, incidentally, did not message Quinn.
Rachel is supposed to spend the morning with Finn, who's come home from college just for her birthday and to spend Halloween with his mother and brother. Rachel is to be none the wiser.
Quinn knows Rachel is going to hate the surprise, but she'll be polite and maybe even cry a little. It's a small thing, apparently, and Quinn can't escape the feeling Dani is leaving her out of the details on purpose.
Still, she shows up on time, present in hand, and Sofia at her side. It's Kurt who answers the door, though Quinn probably would have just walked in on any other day. Things are different now, and she can't figure out how or when that happened.
Kurt grabs for Quinn's arm quite suddenly, tugging her inside. "Hurry up," he says. "Finn texted. They're already on their way back."
Quinn has just enough time to reach for Sofia's hand as she, essentially, gets dragged into the house, the door slamming shut behind her. Them.
"Find somewhere to hide," Kurt rushes to say, and then slips out of sight.
It's Sofia's first time here, so Quinn leads her through the large archway and into the living room. From first glance, it's difficult to tell there are people hiding behind various items of furniture. Rachel is definitely going to get the scare of her life.
"Come over here," LeRoy says, waving a hand from behind the wall that opens into the dining room.
It takes a bit of shuffling, but they just about manage to squeeze in with seconds to spare, because they can suddenly hear Rachel's voice through the front door.
"I don't know what I'm supposed to do, Finn," Rachel is saying, her keys jingling. "I'm supposed to know, right? I always thought I would handle myself better in this kind of situation, you know?"
Finn clears his throat. "Look, Rachel, maybe we should - "
"And, it sucks even more because I can't just talk to her about it!" Rachel cuts him off, her keys in the lock now. "Isn't this something I should be able to talk to my best friend ab - oh."
"The door's unlocked," Rachel says, and she sounds a little wary. "My parents aren't home. Why would the door be unlocked?"
"Uh, maybe they forgot," Finn offers, and Quinn rolls her eyes at how unconvincing he sounds.
"You've met my Daddy, right?" Rachel scoffs. "LeRoy Berry would never forget to lock the door, Finn. Do - do you think there's someone inside?"
"I can check," he says.
"What? No. Are you insane? What if there's actually someone inside?"
"I think I can handle myself."
"Finn, I love you, but you're… you."
"I don't know what that means."
"Just, uh," Rachel stops. "Just, never mind. Maybe we should just - "
"Rachel, seriously," Finn says. "What's the worst that could happen? Maybe your parents are home early?"
"Unlikely," Rachel says. "Hiram loves the Farmer's Market. He's like a kid in a candy store when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables."
"That's true," Finn agrees, and then tries to backtrack. "But, it's a reasonable explanation. Let's just go inside, okay? There's two of us."
"What if they have a gun?"
"We live in Lima, Rachel."
"People have guns in Lima," Rachel argues. "Lee pulled a bullet out of someone just the other day."
"I'll protect you."
"I won't have your death on my conscience."
"Oh, my God," Dani mutters to herself. "I'm starting to cramp."
"Kurt, why didn't you lock the door?" Mike whispers, trying to stretch his back without revealing his position.
"It's Quinn's fault," Kurt hisses back. "She's the one who arrived late."
Quinn does her best to ignore the glares that get sent her way, even as Rachel and Finn continue to bicker just in front of the closed front door.
"If those two don't work it out in the next two seconds, I'm blowing this joint," Santana says. "I didn't know the Midget was this difficult."
"She's cautious," Quinn automatically defends.
"You don't get a say," Santana says. "My ass hurts."
"Oh, my God!" Finn suddenly says, and the door flies open. "We're not going to die!"
"Finn!" Rachel shouts, trying to stop him as he pushes through the open door. "I really can't lose y - "
"SURPRISE!" everyone screams, more in relief than anything, as they jump out from their hiding places.
Like, goes absolutely still in one of those worrying ways, where you can't be absolutely certain she's actually okay.
Finn cracks first. "Rachel?"
She doesn't move.
"LeRoy?" Finn says, turning to the doctor in the room. "Is she having a stroke?"
LeRoy emerges from behind Quinn, and moves to stand in front of Rachel, his hands cupping pale cheeks. "Hi, Honey," he murmurs. "Happy birthday."
It takes a moment, but Rachel eventually sucks in a breath, still standing frozen in the doorway. "Daddy."
"The door was unlocked."
"There are people in our house."
"I know," LeRoy says. "They're here for you."
"Because it's my birthday."
Santana stretches. "I don't remember her ever being this slow."
Dani elbows her to keep her quiet. "She's in shock. Give her a moment."
"Daddy," Rachel says again, softer this time, and LeRoy leans forward. "Daddy," she whispers, loud enough for only LeRoy to hear.
"I'm in love with Quinn." The words are said without so much as a sound, but LeRoy still understands her.
"I know," LeRoy whispers.
"I don't know what I'm doing."
LeRoy draws her into a hug and presses a kiss to her temple. "It's okay."
"I - I can't," Rachel says.
Rachel takes a deep, slow breath. "Okay."
"I love you," LeRoy whispers. "It's okay, and I love you."
Rachel takes another few breaths, seems to settle, and then straightens her spine. "It's okay," she says. "I'm okay."
LeRoy pulls back a little and wipes at the tears Rachel didn't even realise escaped. "You're okay."
Rachel is not okay.
She also just, maybe, came out to her father, while everyone who's even remotely important to her was in her living room.
Rachel is so not okay.
She's still silently panicking when LeRoy hands her a shot glass filled to the brim with a clear liquid and says, "It's the only birthday shot you're allowed," with a gentle smile.
Dani coughs dramatically from somewhere behind her. "Sure thing, Dr B."
LeRoy ignores her, and gestures for Rachel to drink. "It'll help, Honey," he murmurs. "It'll settle you, I promise."
Rachel just stares at him for a long moment, and then downs the shot. "You're a terrible father," she says, huffing out a sharp breath. "Seriously. Advocating underage drinking, in a room full of people; that's a - " she stops when she feels LeRoy kiss her forehead. "Thanks, Daddy," she breathes.
LeRoy pats her cheek, and then walks away, leaving her to the wolves.
People are cautious at first, because she just nearly had a full-blown panic attack in front of them, but then Dani throws herself at Rachel, and it's as if the entire room lets out a sigh of relief.
"You're finally eighteen!" she screams in Rachel's ear. "You can, uh, vote now."
"Which is very important," Finn pipes up.
Rachel wraps an arm around Dani's waist and squeezes once before letting go. It's a steady stream after that, and Rachel gets hugged by everyone in the room. She's acutely aware of Finn standing behind her when Quinn and Sofia approach. She almost wants to step back to lean against him, but she steels herself.
Sofia's hug is quick, but Quinn's lingers.
Which wouldn't be such a big thing if Rachel wasn't suddenly very aware that she can't remember the last time she and Quinn actually hugged. It almost makes her hug her tighter, desperate to hold on for all of eternity, but her head is thinking beyond her heart and body and she promptly releases the blonde before immediately turning her attention to the person behind her.
She needs to focus.
Well, she is until she decides she needs to use the bathroom. People are moving about, eating and chatting, and Rachel uses the opportunity to sneak out to relieve her bladder.
It's a mistake.
A big, gigantic mistake.
Rachel chooses the upstairs bathroom because it's more likely to be empty, and she heads up the steps quickly, her gaze focused on where she puts her feet.
Maybe it saves her, she doesn't know, because, she looks up just as Quinn and Sofia are disengaging from what appears to be an intense kiss.
Right there in the hallway.
In Rachel's house.
During her birthday party.
Quinn and Sofia separate further at the sound of Rachel's voice. Quinn flushes, and Sofia looks mildly embarrassed.
"Sorry about that," Sofia says. "Just can't help myself, sometimes."
Rachel just blinks, knowing she'll be unable to speak. She just shrugs, awkwardly points to the bathroom, and then immediately slips inside without once meeting Quinn's eyes.
With the door closed behind her, Rachel feels something building, suffocating. She grips the sink tightly, her knuckles turning white. She thinks maybe she should be giving herself a pep talk or something, but her voice still isn't working. God, what if she can never speak again?
And, now, she's just being dramatic.
Her grip eventually loosens and her heart rate slows.
Taking a deep breath, she finally does what she came up here to do. At least one part of her body should get some relief. She'll take any she can get.
Rachel just goes through the motions, and then moves to leave. She opens the door, almost having forgotten, and three very significant things happen at the same time.
Quinn and Sofia are still there, still kissing, and Rachel has enough time to feel her heart break all over again and have her face fall before Santana appears on the landing, her voice dripping with disdain.
"Hey, there's a party going on here," the Latina says. "Make out in your own fucking house."
Quinn shoots a glare at her, not seeing Rachel still standing in the doorway to the bathroom, but she does finally grab for Sofia's hand and lead her down the stairs.
Rachel stands, still frozen, until Santana is suddenly right in front of her, startling her.
"Fuck, you're pale," she says. "Why have I never noticed?"
Rachel focuses on her voice.
"Are you about to throw up?"
"I might," Rachel says without thinking, and her eyes drift to where Quinn and Sofia were just standing.
Santana follows the movement, her brow furrowed.
It takes only a few more seconds, and Rachel notices the moment realisation hits.
"Oh, Honey," Santana starts, and Rachel holds out a hand to stop her.
"Don't," she says. "Please, just don't."
Santana steps forward, and Rachel takes several steps back, dropping heavily onto the edge of the bathtub.
"It's okay," Rachel says. "Really, I'm okay. I'm dealing with it."
"Of course you are," Santana says, stepping into the bathroom and closing the door behind her.
Rachel sighs, defeated. "It's my birthday," she says. "This time, last year, I was sitting in Quinn's lap as I blew out my candles. Now, I'm catching her making out with her girlfriend in my house, at my party, when she's supposed to - "
"Supposed to what?"
Rachel blinks. "I don't know if I get the right to be mad at her," she confesses. "I - I don't remember if I was this way when I was with Jesse."
"Sometimes," Santana says, a little vaguely. "But, never when it came to Quinn."
"Go figure, huh?"
"I did not see this coming."
"You and me and I'm pretty sure everyone else in the world," Rachel says, shrugging as she seems to settle. She scrubs at her face for a moment, and then slaps at her thighs with her palms. "I'm fine," she says.
"You're really not."
"I'm really not, you're right," Rachel says. "But, I really don't know what else I'm supposed to do other than try to suck it up and hope it goes away. And, right now, I have to go back downstairs and put on a brave face and convince everyone I'm not some kind of emotional wreck because I happened to fall in love with my best friend at the worst possible time in our lives."
Santana regards her for a long time. "You know you're going to have to do something, right?"
"Maybe you should sketch a picture of her killing a puppy," she offers. "That should turn the feelings right off."
Rachel rolls her eyes as she slowly gets to her feet. "I'll definitely give it a try," she says. "Nothing else seems to be working." She moves to the sink and runs her hands under the cold water.
Santana waits, patient and composed.
Rachel dries her hands, and then turns to face her. "You can't tell her."
"She can never know."
Santana sighs. "I said I won't tell her, Rachel, but maybe you should."
Rachel's eyes widen. "What good would that do? She's happy, and that's all I want. This - this will just make things worse."
"How could they be worse?"
"We would both be miserable about it," Rachel says. "I won't do that to her. This way, it's just me."
Santana meets her gaze. "Love, huh?"
"Makes me a fucking idiot."
"You've always been one."
Rachel shrugs. "Then it's been aggravated." She starts for the door, needing to breathe different air, but Santana grabs her wrist, stopping her.
"For what it's worth," Santana says. "I am sorry."
"I thought you liked to see people in pain," Rachel tries to joke, but it's flat and forced.
"Not this kind," Santana says. "Never this kind."
Rachel thinks, maybe, if her career as an artist fails, she should consider pursuing acting. Her cheeks hurt from her forced smile, and her head hurts from the noise and her heart hurts from, well, everything else.
She's very aware of Quinn's position in the corner of the living room, Sofia pressed against her side and Santana occupying her attention. She knows Santana's doing it on purpose, and Rachel is suddenly very thankful for her.
Kurt gets her started on her gifts, grabbing an old sketchbook from under the coffee table and preparing to make note of the gifts for Rachel's 'thank you' cards.
There are vouchers and sketchbooks and art books and lots of chocolate. Finn gets her a Ohio State sweatshirt with an exaggerated wink, and LeRoy throws a Skittle at him for trying to put ideas into her head. Hiram, like every year, buys her a lab coat with the words 'Dr Rachel' sewn onto the pocket.
She has eleven of them, all of different sizes. One, from every birthday since she declared she was going to become a doctor - like LeRoy, and Hiram. (The latter is still trying to lure her towards Engineering, and LeRoy is content to allow her to find her way to Medicine, as if it's inevitable. For now, she's an artist, and she's sometimes used the coats as smocks to protect her clothing from paint.)
Phil buys her a little toolkit for the wardrobe - it's not a wardrobe at all - she's apparently building and she throws herself at him for a hug and ends up punching his arm a little too hard when he tickles her mercilessly.
Dani's gift is apparently really a gift from everyone, who pooled together enough money to buy her a digital art tablet. Rachel kind of just stares at it for a long time, overwhelmed.
"It has all the drawing tools you need, I promise," Dani says. "I mean, this way, you'll always be able to do that artist thing without having to worry about having a paint brush or canvas on hand when you're hit by inspiration."
Rachel takes a moment, and then grins. "You've been talking to H, haven't you?" she asks, her eyes lighting up. "You just got this for me because you're all sick of my getting paint everywhere."
"Yes," Matt drawls; "we're really just doing ourselves a favour."
Rachel's smile softens. "Thank you," she says. "This is - this is amazing. Thank you." Then, because she's feeling a little more settled, she says, "Though, you do all know I'm becoming a doctor, right?"
There's a collective groan, because, really, none of her friends believe her.
Truth be told, she doesn't believe it herself most of the time, but hey.
When Rachel gets to Quinn's gift, she pauses. There's no card. There's usually a card, heartfelt and descriptive. She has a collection of them and, for a moment, Rachel thinks it's just misplaced.
On the gift bag, the tiny note attached to the handle has handwriting that doesn't belong to Quinn. It says:
From Q + S
Rachel reasons her life is filled with moments, and this one is a very important one. She must spend a little too much time staring at the note - because, God, that 'S' doesn't belong to Rachel - because Kurt taps her foot, and she manages to reboot.
The gift is a set of pencils. The pencils she always uses and, while she appreciates them, there's something that doesn't feel right about it, and it takes her far too long to realise it's because the gift isn't Quinn's.
Still, Rachel smiles. "Thank you," she says, trying to look at them but unsure which one is worse. "I actually really needed these."
Quinn grins, looking triumphant before turning her gaze on Sofia. "You were right."
"Always am," Sofia returns, accepting Quinn's kiss, and Rachel drops her gaze. She sets the pencils aside, wondering if she'll actually use them, and then takes the next gift from Mike when he hands it to her.
The rest of the afternoon is a bit of a blur, and people start clearing out around six o'clock. Rachel is exhausted as she remains on the couch, lying with her head in Dani's lap and her legs over Kurt's. She's comfortable, even a little drowsy, halfway to slumber as people trickle out of the house. She says goodbye as best she can, but this has been an emotionally draining day, and Dani's hand in her hair is lulling her to sleep.
Then, suddenly, Quinn's face is right in front of her own, and she can't help flinching backwards.
"Sorry," Quinn says, wincing. "Didn't mean to scare you."
Rachel just closes her eyes, trying to gather herself, before she faces Quinn again. "It's okay," she says. "Are you leaving?"
Quinn glances over her shoulder at where Sofia is standing and talking to Matt. The expression on her face is unreadable when she turns back to Rachel. "It's date night," she offers as explanation.
Rachel takes a moment to process, but she eventually nods. "Oh, right, of course."
"I can come by later."
"No, that's okay," Rachel says, because she doesn't think she can handle any more of this.
"But, it's your birthday," Quinn says, furrowing her brow. They have a tradition, where they spend the night at the other's house on birthdays, regardless of what day of the week it is.
Traditions, though, it would seem, have been shirked plenty of times in recent weeks.
"I know," Rachel says, inching away from Quinn; "but it's date night."
This moment is another one of those moments, and Quinn makes a choice. Rachel will wonder about it in the future; if she really did do something to push Quinn away, because Quinn makes this choice, and Rachel will never begrudge her for it.
Quinn has found happiness, and it's supposed to be everything. Rachel just wonders if Quinn misses her half as much as Rachel does.
She thinks she gets her answer moments later when Quinn leaves, hand in Sofia's, and Rachel doesn't see her until lunch on Monday. Doesn't hear from her, either.
Dani just keeps her fingers threading through soft, chocolate hair. She drops her head and whispers, "You okay?"
Rachel just hums, not an answer either way, but it's all she has to offer.
Dani doesn't ask her again.
In terms of Halloween, this one is tame.
Kurt begs Rachel to come out with them to a party being thrown another town over, but she makes an excuse that they both don't believe, and he doesn't push.
If Kurt senses there's also something amiss, he hasn't yet mentioned it, and Rachel is grateful for it. She'll take all the respite she can get because, now that Dani knows, she hovers.
She's protective and about as clueless about how to handle this situation as Rachel is, so she uses her presence and awful, terrible jokes in an attempt to distract Rachel.
It works sometimes.
Other times, not so much.
Like, tonight, when Rachel should be out at some party having fun with her best friends, but is rather lying on her bed next to Dani - no way am I going to a lame high school party when I can hang out with Berry here - and looking at the most recent posts from Quinn's social media.
"They totally did a couple costume," Dani says, scoffing. "That's so..." she trails off, unsure what to say, because, before this year, Quinn and Rachel used to do 'best friend' costumes.
"Lame?" Rachel offers, her eyes not once drifting from the laptop screen in front of her.
Dani just hums.
Rachel sighs. "You know, you really don't have to do this," she says. "I'm fine. You could have gone out or whatever."
"I'm perfectly fine exactly where I am, thank you very much."
Rachel glances at her, reading her stubborn expression, and then nods. "Okay."
"Good, now, I'm pretty sure I remember LeRoy promising we would get to scare all the little kids stopping by the house tonight."
Rachel laughs. "Ah, I see your true motivations now."
"All my secrets revealed," Dani wails dramatically as she rolls off the bed. "Come on," she says. "Maybe we can sneak some candy without Lee noticing."
Rachel gives her a look.
"You're right," she says. "LeRoy Berry knows everything."
It's true, of course, because, when Rachel finally allows herself to recall saying the words I'm in love with Quinn to her father, he didn't look all that surprised.
So, when the two of them do finally sit down to have the elusive talk, they actually don't talk about it at all.
Instead, Rachel asks about work and LeRoy devolves into an entire play-by-play of his latest surgery. Despite her artistic inclinations, Rachel really is very interested in Medicine. She used to play Doctor, Doctor until… well, she would probably still be doing it, if it were still socially acceptable for a newly turned eighteen-year-old.
Dr Rachel asks questions, and Dr Berry answers.
Hiram is already home by the time either of them even gets close to touching the subject they allocated time to discussing. He's the one who asks, "Are you okay?" in such a quiet voice that Rachel feels her love for him grow.
She shifts some food across her plate with her fork, and then sighs. "No," she answers, which is the truth. "I'm really not. Not even a little bit."
They wait, patient.
She clears her throat. "I'm probably, definitely, bisexual," she says, and then holds her breath, anticipating some kind of reaction, and then frowning when she receives nothing. "Or, I mean, it could just have a lot to do with Quinn, or I've just always ignored every other sign because I had Quinn, and now I don't, and she's this person I barely even - " she stops, her voice catching. "I don't really know what happened, but I'm trying to deal with it, and I seem to be failing."
Hiram slumps in his seat, wishing there was something he could do to help.
"Do you want me to beat her up?" he suddenly asks, startling both Rachel and LeRoy. "Just say the word."
"Oh, my God," Rachel says, shaking her head. "Dad, she would totally annihilate you."
"I could totally hold my own," he argues.
LeRoy pats his forearm. "Sweetheart, I'd rather not have you end up in the ER, thank you," he says. "Imagine what the nurses would say."
Hiram pouts. "I could do it."
"Sure, Dad," Rachel relents, managing to smile at him. "But, you know, please don't go after her or anything. She's kind of my best friend, and I'm kind of in love with her."
LeRoy tilts his head. "'Kind of?'"
Rachel clenches her jaw for a moment. "I don't really know what we are at the moment," she admits. "Things are very weird. She hid Sofia for so long, and I don't even know why. Now, we barely hang out and, if we do, Sofia's there, so now Dani comes along to be my buffer, or it's everyone, but I - " she stops, sighs. "I can't even remember the last time we did something just the two of us and, I mean, I get it. New relationships are exciting and amazing and she's happy and I'm happy for her, and it's my own fault I waited too long and missed my chance and okay, but isn't she still supposed to be my friend?"
She shakes her head. "I don't even want to think about what it would be like if this was happening and I didn't love her. Like, imagine if we were just these best friends and then she started pulling away? Would I have cared as much? Would it hurt this much?
"Because, it does. And, I decided not to tell her because I don't want to lose her, but it's already happening, and I don't know if I've done something wrong. I mean, do you think she knows? Is that it? She's figured it out, and now she's just..." she trails off, sounding unsure.
LeRoy reaches to still the hand that's still playing with her food. "Do you think maybe you need to talk to her?" he asks, gentle and probing. "Not about this, especially, if you're not ready, but about the way you're feeling with regards to your friendship?"
"She'll take it so hard," Rachel murmurs. "I don't even think she realises she's doing it. She's happy with Sofia, and I've never wanted Quinn not to be happy."
"But, what about you, Honey?" LeRoy asks. "What about your happiness?"
Rachel smiles, genuine. "I have you guys," she says. "What more do I need?"
Hiram lifts his drink. "LeRoy, I think we have the smartest kid in the world."
"Eighty percent comes from the mother, you know?" LeRoy quips.
"Oh, thank God," Rachel jokes.
"Hey," he complains; "I'm a doctor."
"Sure, Dad," Rachel placates, deep affection in her voice. She sighs. "Thank you, by the way," she adds a moment later. "For not being weird about this, or whatever."
"We love you, Rachel," LeRoy says.
"But we'll love you so much more if you pick Engineering," Hiram adds, attempting to wink and failing completely.
"And, now, it's weird."
Quinn wouldn't really call herself a swimmer, but she does swim. She's on the school's varsity team, a specialist in backstroke, but it's unlikely she'll continue beyond graduation.
Her goals and dreams lie elsewhere.
Still, she swims. It keeps her fit, and it offers her peace of mind. There's something about the water, she thinks, that offers her quiet. It's almost like what it feels like to be with Sofia, in some respects.
The McKinley swim team isn't the most popular sporting team in the school, so they rarely get a crowd for their meets. Still, Rachel hasn't missed one at home since Quinn expressed interest in the sport.
Quinn thinks, maybe, she takes it for granted that Rachel will show up.
They have this tradition, where Rachel shows up in Quinn's letterman, which has her name on its back, and she waves the banner she made something like six years ago for Quinn's first ever gala like the complete dork she is, and Quinn pretends to be embarrassed.
After, win or lose, they always go for ice-cream. Rachel picks their flavours based on the position Quinn comes in her races, and there's a certain beauty to it.
This gala is the first one where Quinn feels anxious for reasons not related to her upcoming races. She can't put her finger on what it is exactly, but she can't seem to sit still, and her heart is pounding.
Rachel isn't here.
Phil is sitting in the bleachers with Sofia, and Quinn's heart warms at the idea her girlfriend is here to watch. No other girl she's dated has bothered, and it means more to her than she could ever explain.
But, there's no Rachel.
Quinn already texted her twice, but she's yet to receive a reply. She doesn't like this feeling. It settles heavy on her chest, and she wishes Rachel would just reply.
Before long, the gala begins, and Quinn returns to the locker room to await her first race. Her breathing is unsteady, but she's always been good at compartmentalisation. Her time in foster care taught you a thing or two about disappointment.
It's what she's thinking about, anyway, when it's finally time, and her coach tells her to start getting ready. She has a small ritual that involves kissing the pendant that hangs around her neck. It's a silver cross that Rachel bought for her when they were twelve, after Quinn confessed that she was worried Go no longer loved her.
Quinn says a quiet prayer, and then steps out, following behind Tiana and Maya, other swimmers in the same event. She's focused as she moves to her assigned lane, familiar with this part. It's almost muscle memory.
Which is the only reason she looks towards her father, seeking his eyes and finding warm chestnut ones instead.
"Rachel," her mouth says without her say-so, and the girl in the lane beside her gives her a curious look.
Quinn ignores her in favour of taking in her supporters. Sofia and Rachel are sitting on either side of Phil, all three of them on their feet. Rachel isn't wearing her Letterman, but she has the banner, and Quinn feels something warm settle in her chest.
Now, she can do this.
Quinn ends up coming in second place, which means she'll get a scoop of salted caramel, which is her second favourite flavour behind cookies and cream. Her second race, the 200m Backstroke, is going to determine the flavour of her second scoop.
In the past, there have been combinations that have been less than pleasant.
At this point, she'll take any incentive to finish in the top three every time she enters the water.
Maybe that's why she takes first place in her second individual race, helping the entire team take steps that much closer towards the victory over the other two competing schools.
The relays, generally, are the most exciting part of the gala, and they generate the most noise. Quinn can hear Phil's voice, booming and loud, and Sofia urging her on, and she can just imagine Rachel almost vibrating in place, tempted to run alongside the length of the pool with her.
If Quinn were more arrogant, she would say it was inevitable, but she's not, so she won't. But, they do win, and the exhilaration is a little intoxicating.
She's still in her swimsuit, barefoot, and dripping wet when they make the announcement, and Maya pulls her into a quick hug before moving onto the next person.
It gives Quinn the opportunity to look into the bleachers for her family. She just wants to see them, and then she can go and get her things before she can indulge in her promised ice-cream. Her green eyes are almost frantic as she scans the departing crowd, and her body jerks when she catches sight of something familiar.
But, then, Sofia is in her face before she can follow the flash of unmistakable brown hair. Her heart is racing, and it has nothing to do with the races or the win or anything.
Where is Rachel going? Why is she walking out?
"You were amazing," Sofia says, tugging her into a wet hug and breathing into her neck. "I didn't think I would find swimming this exciting, but those last five metres are intense."
Quinn squirms, suddenly uncomfortable. "I need to grab my things," she says. "Then we can go."
Sofia releases her, nodding.
Quinn's brow furrows. "Why?"
Sofia also frowns. "Aren't we celebrating?" she asks, sounding genuinely confused.
"Well, yes, but we always - "
Quinn turns quickly to her right where her coach is walking towards her. "Ma'am?"
"You took a whole two seconds off your first split in the two hundred," she says. "The hard work's been paying off."
Quinn smiles, oddly relieved.
"Or, you just had someone to impress," she adds, patting her back. "Get out of here. I'll see you at practice."
It takes Quinn a moment to recall the conversation she was having with Sofia before the interruption. "Wait. Phil is gone? What about Rachel?"
"I think she also left," Sofia says, leaning in and kissing her cheek. "I told them we have plans to celebrate."
Quinn feels this chill settle over her. "Oh."
"Don't we?" Sofia asks, kissing her other cheek. "I mean, I just watched my super hot girlfriend kick ass, and I would really like to celebrate with her."
There are lips on Quinn's neck, and she finds herself agreeing without even speaking. The rest of the night is not much more than a blur and, it's only when she's getting into her room later that night that the initial chill spreads further through her body.
On her bed, neatly folded, is her Letterman jacket. Atop is a voucher from Fergie's for any two-scoop of her choosing and a single folded note, in Rachel's messy handwriting.
Thought you might want to give this to your actual girl.
Congratulations on the win. You looked great.
Quinn reads the note several times, trying to figure out exactly what she feels about it.
It's gnawing at her.
All she knows is she doesn't like it.
"Mike, thank God," Rachel exclaims when she reaches the counter. "I need coffee. Strong, strong coffee. Like, right now. Or even yesterday, if you could manage that."
Mike just laughs as he rings her up. "Rough day?"
"You have no idea," she says. "Can you make it an IV drip?"
"I'd probably end up in jail, so, no," he says, grinning. "But, I can throw in a cinnamon roll to make you feel better?"
"I shouldn't, but, yes, please," she says. "Are you giving me a triple shot?"
"I'm not trying to kill you," he says, alarmed and eyes wide.
"It would be preferable at this point," she mutters under her breath, but he still hears her.
"Life can't be that bad."
She's about to tell him it's actually worse, when it actually does get worse.
It's the sound of her name. In that voice. She freezes, hoping she's wrong, even though she knows she's not.
Mike perks up before Rachel can even turn around. "Hey, Sofia," he says. "Your usual?"
"Please," the voice behind Rachel says, and the brunette is forced to turn around. She's almost surprised that Sofia's alone, because she and Quinn are rarely without each other. "And, whatever Rachel is getting is on me."
"Oh," Rachel starts; "you really don't have to - "
"Nonsense," Sofia says, waving her off. "My treat. Are you staying? Would you mind some company?"
Rachel is, predictably, a little overwhelmed by the bombardment of questions, which is really how she finds herself sitting across from her best friend's girlfriend with a double shot of espresso and a cinnamon roll in front of her.
Rachel yawns twice before she remembers she has coffee in front of her. So, she drinks it. All of it. It's bitter, but it's beautiful, and she's going to need all the help she can get to get through the next hour of her life.
It's Thursday, so Rachel already knows, but she still asks, "Where's Quinn?"
Rachel just nods, and then has a bite of her cinnamon roll. It's not as warm as it was before she drank her coffee, but it's giving her something on which to focus other than the girl opposite her. They've never done this before, and Rachel thinks she could have gone her entire life without doing this.
"Rachel," Sofia says, sounding serious. "You've known Quinn a while, right?"
Rachel blinks. "Um, yes." They've been best friends since they were nine years old. Shouldn't Sofia know that?
"So, you would know if she's... happier, right?"
"Happy. I don't know. Do you think I make her happy?"
Definitely could have gone her entire life without having this conversation.
Rachel eats some more of her pastry, and then steels herself for the words she's going to have to force out of her mouth. "You do," she says, keeping her voice steady. "I've - I've seen Quinn in relationships before, but she's never looked at anyone else the way she looks at you. It's - it's like you ground her or something, and nobody else has ever been able to do that. She's happy, Sofia. Believe me, you're definitely responsible for it."
Rachel thinks the words would taste more like acid in her mouth if she honestly didn't believe them.
Sofia breathes out a sigh of relief. "You know, for a while there, I thought the two of you dated."
Rachel chokes on the bite of food in her mouth, and it takes her a moment to recover. "Oh, my God," she says. "Quinn and me? What? No. We've never - it's not - no."
Sofia looks slightly amused. "I got that."
"She's my best friend, Sofia," Rachel says, and it's a truth that's both heartbreaking and liberating. "Probably the most important person in my life, besides my parents. I just want to see her happy, so please don't hurt her."
Sofia's features soften. "She's lucky to have you, Rachel."
Rachel almost asks her to remind Quinn of that, but she holds her tongue. Instead, she says, "I think, maybe, we're the lucky ones," and Sofia is quick to agree.
Rachel has never actually driven herself out to Willowy. She's just never gone there by herself, and Quinn is the one who likes to drive, anyway. It's about the freedom and the control, Rachel thinks, but she's done analysing Quinn at this point. She's just really exhausted, and all she wants is some cheesecake and a hot cup of something.
Hot chocolate, her brain decides, and caramel cheesecake this time. (Red velvet is a Quinn delicacy, and she's just so damn tired.)
"Oh, can I also just get a glass of water, please?"
The server, a girl probably a little older than Rachel, makes a note of it, and then asks, "Is that all?"
"Aren't you waiting for someone?"
Rachel furrows her brow. "Uh, no."
"Oh," the girl says, looking surprised. "Sorry, it's just you're always in here with another girl. It's odd not seeing the two of you together."
Rachel almost laughs - or cries, who knows? - as she says, "Nope, just me today."
"Her loss, I guess," the girl says, and then takes the menu and disappears before Rachel can even try to figure out what that even means.
Despite what it obviously doesn't mean, Rachel still blushes. Is this a new thing? Now that she seems to have accepted she may actually be attracted to girls, is she going to become more aware of her interactions with them?
The answer to that question is yes, which Rachel discovers rather quickly, when the server - Taylor - returns with her order. The slice of cheesecake is gigantic, and she receives a flirty wink that leaves her completely flustered.
She's halfway through her overly-sweet hot chocolate when she suddenly has to tell someone. Her go-to would be Quinn, but that's definitely not happening, and her brain slides over the thought before she can actively claim it.
Her first choice is Dani, now.
She feels a little liberated to be able to type the words out, her heart rate rising at the prospect.
Very Berry: Okay. I'm definitely attracted to girls.
The reply arrives four minutes later, and Rachel can't help smiling to herself.
Dan-gineer: Err... Not sure how to respond to that but, uh, are congratulations in order?
Very Berry: I think so, yeah.
Dan-gineer: Then, congratulations, my little bisexual princess!
Very Berry: It means it's not just Quinn.
She has a moment where that truth makes her feel awful and relieved at the same time. She doesn't know if it would be worse if it were just Quinn or not, but that's not something she's willing to unpack at the moment.
Dan-gineer: Watch out, girls of Lima! Rachel Berry is coming for you!
Very Berry: How are we friends?
Dan-gineer: Why do I get the feeling this is a question you ask yourself often?
Very Berry: I love it when you prove you're a genius.
Dan-gineer: Damn straight.
Dan-gineer: Which you are not…
Dan-gineer: Hahahahahaha, wow, I'm so fucking funny, fight me!
Rachel just shakes her head, absently making a mental note to do something nice for her friend someday soon. She feels significantly lighter in this moment, as if some kind of weight has been lifted.
There's life and love and happiness beyond all these feelings.
She's in such a good mood because of it that she leaves Taylor an overly-large tip and receives a blown kiss for her troubles.
She's flustered the entire drive home.
"Does it make me a terrible father if I say I'm not particularly fond of Quinn's girlfriend?"
Rachel freezes at the sound of the question, her hand stopping its sketching as her head lifts to look at Phil. Standing in front of a tray of biscuits, he looks guilty and apprehensive, even a little distraught.
"Do you actually not like Sofia?"
Phil heaves a sigh. "I don't think it's actually her," he says. "She's quite lovely, as a person. I think, it's just, well, I can't seem to recognise this Quinn who is with her."
And, wow, okay, Rachel can totally relate to that. "Have you talked to Quinn about this?"
"Of course not." Phil drops his head into his hands. "I'm a terrible father."
"Stop it," she chastises. "Quinn's biological father is a terrible father. You're perfect."
"I want my daughter's relationship to end."
Rachel sighs. "It doesn't have to be like that, you know? You could just talk to her."
Phil eyes her critically. "Have you talked to her?"
Rachel shivers. "What?"
Phil reaches for her closest hand. "I see things, Sweets," he says vaguely.
"I'm not the only one who wants this relationship to end."
"I just want her to be happy," Rachel says, almost automatically. "She is."
And, really, Rachel wouldn't know, because this is not something they talk about anymore. What she sees, what her eyes and head and heart see; Quinn's happy, but if Sofia is weary, and Phil is questioning it, then maybe Rachel is missing things? Quinn has been elusive about a lot of things, and Rachel just doesn't know.
"You should talk to her," Rachel says.
"So should you," Phil returns, giving her a knowing look.
Rachel sighs. "I was going to," she admits. "But, then, I didn't."
Rachel rolls her eyes. "You first."
Phil laughs softly. "Should we shake on it?"
"God no," Rachel groans. "You'll do it just to spite me, and then what am I supposed to do?"
Phil pats her shoulder. "I always did like you better than all of them, you know?"
Her brow furrows. "What?"
He leans close to wrap her in a one-armed hug, and she sighs into his side. "It's all going to work out, you know?"
Rachel won't dare to hope, but he's always been the wisest, most optimistic, person she knows. "Yeah?"
Dani is almost surprised it takes as long as it does, but, when Rachel comes up to her at her locker and very seriously says, "I need to get drunk," Dani can't help but be proud of her for lasting as long as she has.
Rachel sucks in a sharp breath. "Today. Tonight. Right fucking now."
Dani catches her shoulder, steadying her, and her eyes slide past her shoulder to see Quinn with Sofia pressed against the lockers, making out for everyone to see. It's not exactly anything new. It's happened a few times before, even before Sofia, but this is the first time it's affected Rachel this viscerally - Rachel won't admit it's really because of the Letterman jacket draped over Sofia's shoulders.
"Dani," Rachel says, and her voice is strangled. "Please. I - I need to get out of here."
Dani thinks about her last lessons of the day, and knows it doesn't matter what they are, because she's going to skip them, anyway. "Okay," she says. "Okay, yeah, let's go. This place sucks, anyway." She shuts her own locker, not bothering to get her books and then wraps an arm around Rachel's shoulders and begins to lead her away, as awkward as it is with their height difference.
On their way, they encounter Santana, who takes one look at them, and then follows without prompting.
"Are we getting drunk?" she asks.
"Fuck, yes," Dani says.
"Good, because I'm totally nauseated right now," Santana says. "Did you know Puck has a sandwich in his locker he's kept in there since we were freshmen?"
"Gross," Dani says.
"Boys," Santana scoffs. Her head ducks slightly to catch sight of Rachel's eyes. They've been dark, a little haunted in the past weeks, but today seems to be one of the worse days. "Girls as well, huh?"
Rachel's lips twitch. "Do you know a little something about that?"
Santana rolls her eyes. "I know everything, Berry," she says. "Do try to keep up."
Once upon a time, Rachel was loud and talkative when drunk, but not today.
Dani takes them to her house - my mom works late, we'll be fine - after Santana uses her fake ID to get them way too much alcohol for three people, let alone the one person who seems to need it.
Rachel drinks recklessly and without chasers, just to get to a point where she can forget.
And then she cries.
It's the silent kind, but she looks as if she needs it. She curls into a ball on Dani's bed, and she's asleep before she can even begin to wax poetic about her heartache.
Dani looks at Santana over the top of her head and sighs. "So."
Santana sips some vodka. "So."
Santana groans. "They have no boundaries," she says. "You would think I'd be used to it by now."
"Quinn's affectionate when she's not thinking, and her brain has been misfiring a lot lately," she says, glancing at Rachel. "God, it's like love has made her stupid or something."
"Isn't that what usually happens?"
Santana shrugs. "I wouldn't know; I've never been in love."
"I reckon it's overrated, anyway," Dani says. "It either makes you stupid or just makes you hurt. I'd rather have neither."
Santana holds up her drink. "I'll drink to that."
Dani clinks her glass against hers and then takes a large gulp, downing it. "I miss orgasms, though."
"I'll drink to that," Santana says again, and then does.
Silence settles over them as they sit this strange kind of vigil over Rachel. Unrequited love is one thing. That person being your best friend is something else entirely. And, Rachel is Rachel. She's not usually one for keeping things locked inside, and it seems to be eating away at her in the worst of ways.
"What are we going to do?" Dani suddenly asks, clearly referring to this Rachel and Quinn situation. "I'm not even the one in love and this is hurting me."
Santana sighs. "I think it would suck less if Sofia was some kind of she-demon," she says. "She's just European."
"Is that not the same thing?" Dani asks, smirking.
Santana rolls her eyes. "We all hail from somewhere, you know?"
"Yip, you've definitely got European somewhere in you."
"Your best friend is literally the definition of Mediterranean," she says.
Dani snickers. "When we were little, we had this theory that LeRoy just kind of stole Rachel from the hospital."
"Oh, my God," Santana laughs, shaking her head.
"They kind of look nothing alike," Dani points out, ready with her defence to prove the theory, mainly because it's all so absurd. It's obvious to everyone he and Rachel aren't biologically related.
Santana sips at her drink, trying her best not to smile.
Dani stares at her.
Santana eventually looks at her. "I don't know how to help your friend," she says. "I don't even know how to help my own."
Dani frowns. "Why do you say Quinn needs help?"
Santana glances at Rachel. "Quinn's obviously blinded by something, or just very determined, if she can look at this one and not see how much she hurts."
Dani sighs. "I suck at all this emotional shit."
"It's not for me, either."
They just stare at each other for a long moment, before Dani breaks the silence. "Want to make out?" she asks, only half-joking.
Santana eyes her curiously for a long moment, and then she shrugs. She downs her drink, sets the glass on the nightstand, and then tugs on Dani's collar.
Someone deserves to have some fun.
"Sofia said you weren't in Art yesterday."
It's probably not the best lead-in Quinn could use, and Rachel startles because of it, her hand sliding across her page, scratching a nasty line over what she's already written.
Quinn earns herself a glare for her troubles.
All she can offer is an apologetic smile. "Did you skip?"
Rachel blinks. "What?"
Quinn slides into the seat opposite her, feeling awkward. Rachel is almost looking at her as if she's some kind of stranger. "You ditched school yesterday," Quinn says. "With Santana."
"Oh." She creases her brow. "And Dani."
Rachel shrugs. "We wanted to? I don't know. Just didn't want to be at school, I guess."
"You never skip school."
"I know," Rachel says. "Mr Schuester called my Daddy. I'm grounded, so I guess I'm never doing that again."
"You're grounded?" Quinn almost laughs. "You haven't been grounded since we snuck out to break into the abandoned house on Wysteria when we were twelve."
Rachel snorts. "My parents don't even know how to ground a kid," she says. "LeRoy's always working, and Hiram would just want to hang out with me."
Rachel sighs. "Was there something you wanted?" she asks. "I have a World Geography test after this, and I need to revise."
"Oh." She shifts in her seat. "Well, not really," she says. "I just wanted to make sure you were okay."
Rachel gives her a look she doesn't understand. "You could have texted."
"Maybe I just wanted to see you."
Rachel nods once, looking sceptical, even if there's a hint of a smile on her lips. "Were you missing me?"
Rachel rolls her eyes, and then very quietly asks, "Where's Sofia?"
"She has a meeting with Mrs Granger."
Rachel's expression does something; flickers, almost, as if it wants to falter but she forces it not to. "Is she in trouble or something?" she asks, sounding genuinely worried.
Quinn shakes her head. "No," she says. "I guess she's just struggling with all the American history we have to cover. It's all so new to her, and I can only help so much."
Rachel nods in understanding. "I've done the course before," she says. "I've got pretty good notes, if you think that'll help."
Rachel nods. "Just let me know, and I'll bring them to school."
"We can just pick them up."
"I don't mind."
Quinn presses her lips together. "Rachel?"
"Do you want to get some cheesecake after school?"
Rachel can't meet her gaze. "I, um, wouldn't it - I mean, is it - " she stops and huffs out a breath, suddenly irritated with her inability to form a coherent sentence. She's not flustered. This is Quinn.
Get it together, Berry.
"Just you and me?" she finally asks, her voice surprisingly steady.
"It's our place," Quinn says, almost automatically.
Rachel's eyes narrow. "Would you say the same thing about the meadow?" she asks, and her voice is hard in a way Quinn has never heard.
"The meadow, Quinn," Rachel says. "Does that count as an 'our place,' as well?"
She forces herself to take a deep, calming breath. She swore to herself she wouldn't do this. She's not going to. She's better than this.
Rachel finally looks at Quinn, and she wishes so many things were different. "Even if I wanted to, I'm grounded, remember?"
Quinn feels deeply uncomfortable all of a sudden, but she forces herself to remain as still as possible. Her instincts are telling her to run; to get as far away from here as possible, but she's stubborn.
So, she remains, leaning back slightly, and then making a decision. She settles further, and then digs in her own bag for her Physics notebook. She has a lab next period that she should probably read up on, and now is as good a time as any.
"What are you doing?" Rachel asks, her voice low, tinged with confusion and surprise.
"Studying," Quinn says, as if it were obvious.
Rachel nods once. "Oh. Okay."
Quinn watches her as she returns her attention to her own books, a pensive look on her face. Her left fist clenches once, twice, and then relaxes. Her tense shoulders eventually slump, and Quinn can't bear to look away, in case she misses something.
This Rachel is almost someone new, and Quinn can't help but wonder how and when that happened.
She can't ask, she knows, because she can't deny there's a part of her that almost wanted this. This separation; this respite.
This is supposed to be easier.
So, the two of them see out the rest of the lunch period in complete silence, parting ways when the bell rings without either of them saying a word.
Thanksgiving is a very traditional time in the Berry home.
This year, LeRoy and Hiram sit Rachel down and ask her if she wants to forego it, and, as much as she appreciates the sentiment, she declines the offer.
Which is how Rachel finds herself sitting at her own family's dining room table with Dani on her right and Quinn on her left. Kurt, Finn and their mother, Patricia, are opposite her, with Melinda, and Phil is sitting beside Quinn, with Hiram and LeRoy heading either end of the table.
There's this strange tension in the air that Rachel doesn't quite understand, but Hiram is capable of cutting into any kind of situation. He makes stupid jokes, and the table laughs and Rachel allows herself to settle.
It's been a busy day. She and LeRoy spent all morning in the kitchen, and then started setting the table with Kurt when the Hudson-Hummel family arrived. Hiram and Finn set up the bar, and then made themselves scarce.
LeRoy finally let her go when Dani arrived, and the three teenagers went up to Rachel's room to listen to too-loud music and just talk nonsense.
Dani, thankfully, waited until Kurt went to the bathroom to ask how she was going to handle dinner with Quinn.
Like this, apparently.
Rachel is trying very hard not to react to the way Quinn's knee is casually pressed against her own. She's not exactly ignoring her, but she's also not really talking to her unless she really has to.
Phil, thankfully, is keeping Quinn occupied. The food helps. Rachel can almost forget that this has been the strangest school year of her life. If she remembers Thanksgiving from the previous year, she can almost imagine the feel of Quinn's hair against her fingers.
She wouldn't be able to explain why that's her memory, but it's rooted somewhere in her mind, and she turns her head to look at Quinn, surprised and also not to find the girl looking back at her.
"Hey," Quinn says, her voice low, under all the noise around them.
Rachel smiles. "Hi."
"LeRoy says you made the salad," she says. "I like it."
"Only because I made sure there weren't any green peppers in there for you to pick out."
Rachel stares at her, her gaze darting between Quinn's eyes, searching for something. "I hate making salad," she says after a moment, her fingers twitching with the sudden need to reach out and touch Quinn in some way. How has she never noticed how soft Quinn's skin is?
"And, yet, it's the one thing my Daddy always gets me to make," Rachel grumbles. "It's like he doesn't know me at all."
"Vegetables are important, Rachel."
"It's Thanksgiving," Rachel says. "All that healthy stuff is saved for... never."
Quinn laughs, her eyes crinkling in that way Rachel didn't even realise she loved until this moment. Her eyes are so green like this, and Rachel is in danger of losing herself.
Dani pokes her in the ribs and, despite her sudden yelp, she's so relieved and grateful for the interruption.
"Tell Lee I'm a good influence," Dani says, and nearly the entire table bursts out laughing - Melinda doesn't, and Rachel can't really remember ever witnessing her laugh before; it's a little terrifying.
Rachel pats the top of Dani's head. "You're the best influence, D," she says.
"Well, now you've joined me on the dark side," Dani says with a wink, and Rachel flushes.
They get curious looks from several people at the table, but Rachel studiously ignores them in favour of finishing her food. The turkey is divine, really. The stuffing is to die for.
Quinn is staring at her.
Rachel can feel it. She can almost sense the question, and she has no idea how she would even answer it.
Oh, I figured out that I actually like girls too. Funny, ain't it? Also, I'm kind of in love with you, but you're with someone else and it's literally killing me inside. So, would you like more gravy?
Not going to happen.
Phil asks Finn about college, and they're all able to focus on his endless stories until all their plates are finished. LeRoy suggests they clear the table and digest a little before he pulls out the dessert pies.
Dani does a little dance in her seat at the prospect, before she gets up to help. They work quickly and, before long, they're all piling into the living room to watch footage from the Macy's Day Parade and exchanging comments on some of the more exciting floats while indulging on pumpkin pie and apple pie and sticky toffee pudding with lots and lots of ice-cream.
Rachel and Dani are sitting on the floor, in front of the coffee table, far too close to the television screen, but Rachel doesn't care. She's far enough away from Quinn that she doesn't have to look at her or touch her or acknowledge that the girl is smiling down at her phone like a lovesick fool and practically ignoring everyone else.
Kind of the same thing Dani is doing, actually.
"Uh, who are you texting?" Rachel can't help asking.
Dani bypasses answering, and rather just turns her screen enough for Rachel to catch sight of an extremely saucy conversation going on between her and Santana.
"Oh, my God," Rachel suddenly says, dramatically covering her eyes with both hands. "I could have gone my entire life without seeing that."
"No, I didn't," Rachel agues, scrubbing at her eyes. "I asked who, and you answered a question I wouldn't even know how to formulate."
"Well, now you know," Dani says, smug.
Rachel just shakes her head as she resettles, casually leaning against Dani. "So, Santana, huh?" she whispers.
Dani pauses her typing. "She's... not... terrible."
"No, she's not," Rachel agrees, thinking back to their more recent interactions.
"We haven't actually done any of this stuff, you know?" she says. "We talk about it a lot, though, so I'm holding out hope." She turns her head to meet Rachel's gaze. "The thing is, you see, I don't think I'm quite cut out for love. Maybe I'm too damaged or something to do it properly."
"I think you love just fine."
"Yeah." Rachel dramatically stretches out her arms and flops her body over Dani's. "Just fine," she sing-songs as Dani playfully shoves her away, laughing despite herself.
Eventually, Rachel relents and straightens.
Then, she makes the mistake of glancing over her shoulder to where Quinn is sitting, almost expecting the girl to be focused on her phone.
Instead, her piercing eyes are on Rachel, and then on Dani, and then back on Rachel. There's another question there and, this time, Rachel isn't even bothered to figure out what it is. She's just so exhausted by all of this… whatever it is.
Regardless, Quinn leaves fourteen minutes later after much protest from Phil and Hiram. She's expected at Sofia's house, apparently. It's family dinner.
The arguments die mere seconds later, and then Quinn leaves.
Rachel imagines there are sympathetic looks cast her way, but she keeps her gaze steadfastly on the television screen, her dessert abandoned.
Thanksgiving used to be sleepovers.
Well, it's still going to be a sleepover. Only, this time it's going to be Dani, Kurt, Finn and Santana, if Dani can somehow convince her to come over.
Eventually, the teenagers - and Finn - head into the basement and leave the adults to their musings. Kurt puts on some music, throws himself onto the couch and very pointedly asks, "Does someone want to tell me what the fuck is going on?"
Dani looks at Rachel, and the blonde just waves her hands, saying, you may as well just tell her.
Dani sits on Kurt's legs. "Rachel's in love with Quinn. She hasn't told her. Their friendship is all sorts of weird. Also, I may or may not want to bang Santana and, yeah, that's about it. Uh, Finn probably just lies about all the friends he's made."
"Hey," Finn complains.
Kurt takes a moment to process, and then very casually says, "I think my boyfriend may end up prematurely bald."
Finn groans, and then spreads himself out on the carpet, looking a bit like a starfish. "I ate way too much."
"Seconded," Dani says.
Kurt looks at Rachel, who's fiddling with her own iPod, trying to be as far removed from the conversation while still being in the same room. "I love you, you know?"
Rachel breathes out, half in relief and half in happiness. "Love you, too, K."
"What time are you heading to the exhibition?" Santana asks, dropping her tray onto the table with more force than is completely necessary. It's been a day.
Quinn stops revising for her Organic Chemistry Final to look at her friend. "The Art exhibition?"
Santana gives her a withering look. "What else would I be talking about?"
Quinn blinks. "I don't know," she says, and then sighs. "I guess at like six. Sofia didn't really give me a time. Why are you asking?"
"Just want to make sure there's someone to talk to when I arrive," she says. "Dani's on 'Make-Sure-Rachel-Doesn't-Lose-It' duty, and I'm not getting anywhere near that." She practically shudders, because she really didn't expect Rachel Berry to be so extra. The girl has been five seconds away from a nervous breakdown since the start of the year, but it feels as if she's hanging off the edge now that her semester project is about to be put on display. Rachel has been particularly hush hush about it, and Santana has to admit she's rather curious.
"You're going?" Quinn asks.
Santana reaches for her fork. "I am, yes."
"Rachel invited me," she says, piercing a piece of… she doesn't really know what it is, but it's supposed to resemble food.
"And you're actually going?"
Santana gives her look. "Don't sound so surprised," she says. "I do things."
"You don't even like Rachel."
"I like her just fine, thank you very much," she says, surprised by how much she actually bristles at the offhand accusation. She has to force herself from saying between the two of us, I probably like her more than you do, at this point. That would be cruel, she knows, because it would probably be true. Whatever is going on with Quinn; it's been toxic to what was once her most important relationship. "Plus," Santana adds a moment later; "Dani's going to be there."
Quinn tilts her head to the side. "Dani?" she questions, and her voice sounds foreign to her own ears. "She and Rachel are… close."
Santana almost bursts out laughing. "One could say that, yes."
"What does that mean?" Quinn asks. And, if she sounds too defensive, she can't help it.
"It means they're friends, Quinn," Santana says, frowning. "They've always been friends. You know that. If I understand correctly, they were friends well before you even showed up in Lima."
Quinn doesn't need the reminder. "It just seems they've been… closer lately," she points out, still unsure why that makes her so uncomfortable.
"Why do you think that is?" Santana presses, wondering if she's missed something.
The first reason that flashes through Quinn's mind is something she ends up dismissing as an impossibility, because she would know. Rachel would have told her that, surely. "I don't know."
Santana shakes her head. "They've always been close," she says. "You're only just now noticing because Rachel is no longer attached to your hip."
The way it sounds, so casual and true, makes Quinn's heart twist painfully. She turns her head to look towards the table where Rachel usually sits, but she's nowhere in sight. Of course she wouldn't be. She's preparing for tonight the same way Sofia and Blaine are, all of them stressed out with wanting it all to look perfect. She's seen a handful of Sofia's pieces, but all of it has been very quiet.
Rachel hasn't even mentioned it to her.
Quinn lays a hand over her written notes and tries to settle the sudden discomfort in her gut. This time, last year, she would have known everything there is to know about Rachel's work. Her art has always been one of Quinn's favourite things about her.
Among other things, of course.
Santana clears her throat. "So, six o'clock, you said?"
Quinn nods. "It starts around then, I think."
"Meet you there, then?"
Distracted, Quinn agrees with a murmured, "Sure," and then refocuses on her revision. She can dissect her relationships later.
It's later, after she's been let out of classes, that Quinn experiences something of a crisis.
She doesn't know what to do with herself.
Rachel is busy.
So is Sofia, Blaine.
Santana is probably at work, and Quinn wouldn't willingly seek out Lauren.
Before this year, Quinn probably would have been perfectly fine on her own, but it's such a foreign thing these days. She's not used to it anymore, and there's a part of her that knows leaving her mind open to reflection is going to be an awful idea.
So, she really doesn't know what to do with herself.
Which is why she drives out to Willowy, surprised that she can't recall the last time she was even out here. They discovered it years ago, when she and Rachel took a random afternoon drive with Hiram and just ended up here. It's not particularly pretty, but they have some of the best coffee - far superior to the Lima Bean and Café Lima, where she worked over the summer - and the ambiance is relaxing. It's never too full, and it's a place that always seems to bring this tiny, happy smile to Rachel's face.
But, Quinn's here alone and she's not sure she wants to be thinking about anything at all.
Quinn enters without even looking up and turns to her left, heading to what she and Rachel once claimed as their own booth. It offers them a pretty neat view of the Lake just beyond the windows, and she sighs at the sight, casually sliding into her seat and trying her best not to wonder why her heart suddenly feels so heavy.
She has just enough time to push those confusing feelings aside when a server appears at her side, gently placing a menu on the table in front of her and introducing herself.
Quinn looks up to offer a small smile in greeting, and the server's eyes widen in recognition.
"I know you," she says, standing at Quinn's table with her notepad in hand. "I wondered if we'd ever see you again."
Quinn blushes slightly. "It's been a while, yes."
"You're usually here with Rachel," she says, and Quinn's eyebrows shoot up.
"You know Rachel?"
"She's been by a few times," she says. "It's always odd seeing her by herself, though."
Quinn isn't sure what to make of that information. Her heart hurts for a reason she can't make sense of. Is it because Rachel has come here without her? Or is it because Rachel is alone?
"Anyway," the girl - her name tag reads Taylor - says. "What can I get for you?"
Quinn blinks. "Can I please get a cappuccino?"
"Sure thing," she says. "Anything to eat?"
"I'm good, thank you."
"I'll be right back."
Quinn sits perfectly still when she's gone, trying to wrap her head around the whirlwind of emotions going on inside of her. She's never been good at this kind of thing. Her head gets murky and confused, which is why being with Sofia helps. Things are very clear where she's concerned.
Rachel has always been confusing.
Even more so now.
Quinn takes out her phone and sends a text, wishing good luck and hoping all is going well.
For proprietary, she sends a second one to a different number, and then very carefully tries not to think too hard about anything.
It's unsurprising that she fails.
Rachel feels her phone vibrate in her pocket, and she checks it immediately, thinking it's Phil with an update on his arrival with her centrepiece.
Instead, it's Quinn.
Rachel has just enough time to read the text before she hears another phone go off. Her eyes lift to see Sofia, just across the room, reach for her own phone. The smile on her face tells Rachel all she needs to know, and the dark part of Rachel wonders if Quinn sent them in bulk.
Maybe she should check Blaine's phone to make sure.
Rachel ignores the text in favour of finalising her other pieces. A lot of them are covered in white sheets, keeping them hidden from view until it's time for the showcase to begin.
It's some of her darkest work, really.
Matches her insides, maybe.
A lot of red and green.
Blood and Quinn.
She shakes her head to clear it, and then moves away to get some fresh air and wait for Phil. He helped her build the cabinet that's supposed to go above the broken sink she found at an old building sight.
People are supposed to be able to step up to the sink, which has vines painted sneaking up it's stand, look into the mirror and see what Rachel sees when she looks in her own mirror. Part of the project Mr Schuester prescribed involves a self portrait, and Rachel's portrait has her brown, chestnut eyes, a thin line of lips and tears of blood.
It's not pretty.
But, within, behind the cabinet doors, is the worst of it.
The outside might not be pretty, but the inside is downright ugly.
Mr Schuester still called it all beautiful in the way it tells a story. The artistry is miles above, he said, and Rachel wonders what she would have produced if her guts didn't feel as if they were so twisted up inside.
Quinn isn't sure what to expect.
Santana meets her in front of the school and says, "Apparently, there's some kind of fancy art guy here."
"Dani just texted," she says, walking into the main building. "Rachel is freaking out."
"He's very interested in her work."
Quinn's face splits into a proud smile, and she follows behind her friend. Rachel is extremely talented in a way she's never truly embraced. She's going to become some kind of doctor, Quinn knows, but she's always hoped this is a part of her she never loses.
"What does that mean, exactly?" Quinn asks as they walk. "Does he want to buy her work? Showcase it? Maybe invest in it?"
"How the fuck am I supposed to know?"
Quinn just hums, noncommittal. She should have expected that response. Ask a stupid question and all that. She just follows in silence, her excitement building. If this art curator seems to be taking interest in Rachel's work; then it has to be some of her best, surely.
Not that Quinn thinks she could improve. There's always been something about the way Rachel does art that seems very much a part of her. An extension of her.
She never disappoints.
Santana walks into the large studio first. There are, technically, two art studios situated opposite each other, but only one is being used for the exhibition, with each student designated a space to present their collection of artwork.
Quinn's eyes search for Rachel the second she steps into the room, and she spots her at the far end of the long room, her eyes lighting up at the way she's enthusiastically explaining to a few people the idea behind her work.
Quinn's destination is set. All she has to do is trail behind Santana, anyway, which is why she gets the shock of her life when someone suddenly grabs her wrist and tugs her to the right, halting her progress and making her frown. The snarky question is on the tip of her tongue, but she swallows it completely when she's face-to-face with Sofia, who's standing in front of her own selection of artwork.
Who should have been the first person on her mind.
"Hey, you," Sofia says, smiling at her, clearly not noticing Quinn's momentary lapse.
"Hey," Quinn says, blinking a few times as she returns Sofia's quick hug. "Are you all set? How's it going?"
"Take a look," Sofia says, stepping back and turning slightly. "What do you think?"
Quinn knows part of the theme for the entire project is a self portrait, so she's only a little thrown by the image of Sofia right in front of her. It's simple and true. It's a pencil sketch, with rather intricate detail, and Quinn can't resist stepping closer.
"Wow," she murmurs, which gets her a pleased sound from Sofia. She feels a hand on her back, sliding along her shoulder blades and cupping the nape of her neck.
Her mind settles.
"You're very good," she murmurs.
Sofia hums. "Not as good as some of the others," she says. "Blaine did this reflection of himself in one of Kurt's eyes, and it's amazing."
Quinn makes a note to take a look, definitely.
"And Rachel's is..." she trails off. "It's definitely something else."
Quinn looks at her. "What does that mean?"
"You should probably see it for yourself," Sofia says, almost cryptically, and Quinn's suddenly nervous, though she can't pinpoint why. Sofia slips her hand into her own and slowly leads her towards where there's still a group surrounding Rachel's pieces.
There are two of them.
One of the meadow.
God, the meadow, which is a bit of a sore spot for them at the moment, but the painting is stunning. Quinn could probably lose herself in it, if her eyes didn't drift to the left.
Because, the second, is -
Quinn's breath catches.
Rachel's eyes. Those are Rachel's eyes. So, so brown, chestnut and gold.
Tears of blood.
On the outside.
"Rachel," her mouth says, but no sound actually comes out. Still, Rachel turns her head as if she can just feel her presence, and the look on the brunette's face is difficult to read.
Quinn doesn't miss the way Rachel's eyes dart down to where Sofia is holding her hand, and she has the alarming urge to let it go. But, then, Rachel is looking away again, and Quinn wonders if she can actually go up and talk to her.
Some man takes the decision away from her by stepping up to Rachel and starting up a conversation with her.
Quinn's attention drifts back to the cabinet, where Kurt is just now opening it to reveal what's inside, and Quinn pales at the sight, actually gasping. It's messy and dark and almost grotesque.
But, God, it's beautiful.
It's still Rachel in so many ways, and Quinn has the inexplicable desire to go up to her and just pull her into a hug and never let go.
Why has Rachel painted this? Why does she see herself this way? What's happened? Why doesn't Quinn know? Would Rachel even tell her?
Sofia tugs on her hand. "Come see Blaine's work," she says, and Quinn allows herself to be led, feeling oddly numb.
Blaine has always been gifted. He's got many talents, really, but his art has always been a surprise to Quinn. Sofia wasn't kidding when she said it was amazing. The fact he's drawn himself through Kurt's eyes is brilliant, and she thinks it's worthy of framing.
They're all really so talented, and it saddens her that not all of them are even going to pursue art as viable careers when they all graduate. It's a little hypocritical of her, she knows, because she doubts she would, either, even if she was this talented.
Sometimes, she just wants to shake Rachel. Tell her she's meant for this. Maybe this important art person will help her see it.
Quinn walks around for a while, surprised but also not that Phil is here. She greets Hiram and LeRoy, who both look particularly pensive, even worried, and Quinn can't help wondering if they know what's been bothering Rachel enough to produce such dark artwork.
There's a moment, when Quinn looks over, that Rachel is standing alone, and Quinn starts towards her, ready to talk to her, but then Dani appears out of nowhere and throws an arm over Rachel's shoulders.
Quinn freezes mid-step, her stomach bottoming out in a way that's so foreign.
Not foreign, actually.
Just, not recent.
She knows this feeling. She's had it for years, but she's been able to push it to the recesses of her mind because there was just no way. No way at all.
But, now, watching Rachel with Dani; watching her interact with another girl with such ease, it unsettles Quinn's gut, but she can't bring herself to look away.
Quinn turns to Santana, jolting slightly. "Hey."
"Why are you staring so hard?"
Quinn audibly swallows. "Is Rachel all right?"
Santana frowns. "What do you mean?"
Quinn still can't tear her eyes away. Dani's face is far too close to Rachel's. "Her paintings," she says. "They're... dark."
Santana snorts. "I think they're a little past dark, if we're being honest here."
"What do you mean why?"
"Is something wrong?"
"Why don't you ask her?"
Quinn stiffens. "She's busy," she says, almost dismissive. "With Dani."
Santana looks at her, trying to read her. The signals have been so mixed, misfiring in many ways. "Rachel's still your best friend, you know?"
Santana sighs, getting a sudden headache. "I don't know, Quinn. Why don't you tell me?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Santana says nothing.
Quinn clenches her jaw when Dani says something and Rachel laughs, unbidden and unburdened. When is the last time Quinn made her laugh like that? When is the last time she even heard it?
"You've always been the most important person to her," Santana finds herself saying. She taps Quinn's arm, forcing her to look at her. "Can you say the same in return?"
Before Quinn can even think of a reply, Santana is walking away, straight towards Dani and Rachel.
Quinn's heart practically stops when Rachel shoots Santana an amused look, and then very deliberately removes Dani from her person, playfully shoving her towards Santana.
Rachel's mouth says, "She's yours," from what Quinn can read. "Take her away, please."
Dani pouts, and then Quinn gets the shock of her life when Santana kisses that pout, and, okay, what the hell?
What is going on?
What did she miss?
When did that even happen?
She's still lost in thought when she feels a presence at her right, and she turns her head to see Phil standing beside her, his eyes following her line of sight.
"I was worried," he says. "The piece. Her art. It's so personal."
Quinn listens in silence.
"But, I suppose, that's the point, isn't it?"
Quinn just nods, listening.
"You're worried, too," he says. "I can tell." He looks at her. "You should talk to her."
Quinn breathes out slowly.
"Or, is it that you don't want to know?"
She has no response.
Phil sighs. "Quinn."
"I don't - " she starts and stops. "It's - it's just better this way."
"For all of us." Her eyes look at Rachel, at Dani and Santana, and then she searches for Sofia, who is speaking to a few parents about her work. "For everyone," she repeats, as if that'll help her believe it.
As much as Quinn tries, she can't shake the idea that something actually is wrong. Her mind shifts through every worst case scenario she can think of, until she settles on her being partly responsible.
She knows she is.
Things have been... difficult.
They've always been, in some form or the other, but Quinn made a conscious decision to try to make her life easier, and she seems to have failed spectacularly.
It is better this way, she tells herself.
It would be so much worse if it were any other way.
Rachel has honestly never been more relieved to be out of Lima in all her life. She doesn't even care that it's to visit Hiram's crazy family in Maryland. She just needs to get away, for a while.
Away from Quinn.
Away from her friends, who keep looking at her as if she's seconds away from falling apart.
She might be, for all they know.
She wouldn't be able to reassure them, either way.
So, a break from all of that is just what she needs. Her cousins can be a distraction, and she's actually missed her grandparents. They always complain they don't see her as much as they'd like to, so she tries to give them a lot of attention when she does.
She's their favourite. All her cousins know it. Rachel hasn't used it to her advantage for years, but she's feeling a little sad and she's unashamedly seeking comfort and reassurance.
Rachel's never felt so small as she moves to sit beside her grandfather, cuddling into his side and breathing in the familiar scent of laundry detergent and old books.
It's exactly what she needs, until the moment he asks, "How is Quinn?"
Rachel groans internally, and then says, "I'm sure she's fine," as neutrally as she can manage.
He still raises his eyebrows, definitely hearing something very specific in her tone.
"I don't really want to talk about it," she says, preemptive and slightly dismissive. "It's really the last thing I want to talk about. We can talk about anything else."
He seems to consider her for a moment, and then he sighs, absently kissing the top of her head. "College?"
This time, she groans audibly.
He chuckles, his entire being vibrating with it. "What can we talk about then?" he asks.
She sighs, snuggling in closer. "Dad says you got a popcorn machine."
"And a cotton candy one," he says, almost too proud. "Your grandmother vetoed the pizza oven."
Rachel laughs softly. "What a monster."
"Retirement is difficult, Rachel," he says, pouting.
"Being a teenager is hard," she murmurs.
"I think the entirety of life can be considered hard," he says. "Just got to hold onto the moments that make it worth it."
Rachel says nothing.
"And people, I suppose," he adds, and Rachel is really going to remain silent now. She didn't even know she was so transparent. Or, maybe, Caleb Berry just knows her that well.
What does that say about Quinn then? Is she just seeing what she wants to see?
Rachel's five seconds away from giving herself a headache, so she stops thinking about that immediately.
"How did you know Nana was the one?"
His gaze settles on Rachel, but she can't meet it. "I didn't."
"I didn't know she was the one," he says. "Our friends set us up, and we didn't get along at first."
That's news to Rachel. "What happened?"
"We didn't see each other for a year after that," he says. "I dated other people, she dated other people. I didn't even remember her when we met again at a mutual friend's wedding."
"That's horrible," she says, laughing softly.
"She didn't recognise me either," he defends. "But, we met again, and her date was being a bit of an prick, so I asked her to dance and she said yes, and it was as if we were seeing each other for the first time." He pauses, taking a breath. "It's a crazy thing, really, looking up one day and seeing something new, isn't it?"
Rachel groans, because, God, she really is that transparent, isn't she?
Caleb presses another kiss to the top of her head. "I knew from when you were little, Sweetheart," he says. "None of this is news to me."
"It is to me," she grumbles. "You could have just told me."
He laughs again, and Rachel loves that sound. "No use telling you, Squirt," he says. "These are the things you have to figure out for yourself, and you know it."
Rachel curses internally, and then sighs. "I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do," she says. "I've been wanting to tell her for so long, but she's..." she trails off. "It's as if she's pulled away from me, and I don't even know why."
He gives her a very significant look.
"But, apparently, you do," she surmises. "And you're not going to tell me, are you?"
He doesn't say anything.
"I should talk to her, shouldn't I?"
Caleb still remains silent.
It's okay, though, because Rachel already knows the answer. She's known from the very beginning.
Despite the perilous position Rachel finds herself in with regards to Quinn, she still makes sure to send her the painting of the meadow as her Christmas present. Quinn seemed to like it from what she remembers of the exhibition, and there's a part of Rachel that really doesn't want to keep it.
It's tainted in some way, and just getting rid of it isn't something Rachel could ever consider doing. She puts part of herself into every piece she creates, and this painting is no different. It'll be safe with Quinn.
Two birds, one stone, and all that.
She just doesn't quite foresee the repercussions of such an act.
It starts with Quinn, obviously.
There's a series of texts, because Rachel left the painting with Phil to pass on when it was time, and Rachel can't help replaying his raised eyebrows.
And his words. "If she doesn't figure it out after this, she's more of an idiot in love than I thought." They didn't help, not even a little bit.
So, Rachel gets texts of gratitude, and Quinn even calls her early on New Year's Eve and the two of them spend a few minutes talking. The night was, once upon a time, a tradition for them, but they've already lost so many. This call is different, though, because the two of them actually talk, in that way they used to.
Quinn says, "I'm terrified I won't make Phil and Mel proud," in that quiet voice that hits Rachel right in the chest, and Quinn says, "Do you ever wonder if whatever plans there already are for us actually take away our control?"
Rachel keeps her eyes closed for the entire duration of the call, almost imagining Quinn is sitting right in front of her. She says, "I think they're always going to be proud, Quinn," and then sighs heavily. "That's a complicated question. Do you feel as if you don't have control now?"
"I've never had it."
Rachel, at least, can understand that.
She makes the mistake of thinking the 'Painting Debacle' should end with Quinn, but many things seem not to be working in her favour.
So much for control.
At midnight, Rachel kisses a girl for the first time in her life. It's brief, just a meeting of lips under the bright fireworks, and it merely confirms a litany of things for Rachel.
Yes, she's attracted to girls.
Yes, she actually likes them.
Yes, to all those things, but, still, it's Quinn.
Rachel replays the kiss over and over in her head, unable to get over the guilt of it. She doesn't know how or why she should even feel guilty, but she does.
For whatever reason, she feels as if she's betrayed... herself.
This has nothing to do with Quinn.
Except it does.
It has everything to do with her.
The respite from Lima feels moot the second Hiram pulls into the driveway of their home after two weeks away, and Rachel feels as if nothing has changed.
And, for the most part, nothing actually has changed at all.
Except, well, now that she's thrown this act of giving Quinn a painting - it's not the first one she's ever given her; they're all up in Quinn's bedroom - into the Universe, there are questions she might have to answer.
Rachel's trying not to think about that too much, though. She just did a thing that she would have done pre-Sofia, and she's desperately trying to convince herself it's not as big a deal as it really is.
Dani and Santana both give her sympathetic looks when they learn of the painting, and Rachel wants to throw up. It's really the last thing she needs.
"I'm fine," she insists.
Santana rolls her eyes, but says nothing.
Dani isn't that kind. "Dude," she says; "it's basically like an artist's version of making her a mixtape."
Rachel just sips her milkshake, letting her gaze drift across the various tables of the Lima Bean. It's relatively empty for a Sunday afternoon, and she's surprised by it, because tomorrow is the first day back from Winter Break and shouldn't people be enjoying the last day of freedom?
Perhaps they are.
Just, not here.
Somewhere else, maybe.
Really, she is.
"It's not like it's the first painting I've ever given her," Rachel defends. "And, I'm pretty sure I have made her playlists before."
"God, how could you not know you were gay for Fabray before this year?" Santana asks. "Better yet, how could I not know?"
"She was too busy with her tongue down boys' throats," Dani quips, ever so helpfully. "Even she was confused."
Rachel rolls her eyes. "We can stop talking about this, you know?" she says. "I'm totally fine with that."
Dani's features soften. "What would we talk about then?"
Rachel shrugs. "I don't know," she says. "Did you get anything good for Christmas?"
Dani smirks a little too evilly. "Not a Rachel Berry painting, that's for sure."
Rachel groans, loud enough to draw attention to them, but there's a part of her that doesn't care.
Rachel doesn't expect Sofia, but she's not entirely surprised. If everyone else can see the painting for what it may or may not be, then Sofia must as well.
Rachel imagines she should care a lot more than she does, but she really doesn't. Not even a little bit.
Okay, maybe a little. She can't really imagine what it must be like for her in this moment, but Rachel wasn't really intending to play a hand. She just wanted to give Quinn her painting.
Except, it's not, as she's coming to learn.
Rachel is in the art studio when it happens, casually doodling ideas for her very last semester project. Mr Schuester left them with the brief: Everlasting Memories, and Rachel has been toying with the idea of some kind of mural. Maybe. She hasn't yet decided.
Well, apparently she's undecided about a lot of things.
So, she's lost in thought when Sofia takes the seat beside her, perching on the stool and looking hesitant.
Rachel glances at her, frowning slightly at the pensive look on her face. "Uh, everything okay?" she asks.
"I'm not sure," Sofia says.
Rachel blinks. "Is this to do with the semester project?" she asks, wishing it were true.
Rachel sighs. "The semester project?"
"Oh, uh, no," she says. "This is about Quinn."
Rachel nods. "Is this about her birthday?" she asks, trying to keep them from talking about the one thing Rachel suddenly knows she's going to.
"Sofia," she breathes, trying not to showcase her growing exasperation.
"Do you love her?"
Rachel barely hesitates. "Of course," she says. "We've been best friends since we were nine."
"Rachel," Sofia says; "we both know what I mean."
Maybe, but Rachel has denied it for so long that it might be second nature at this point.
"I might have suspected it earlier, but you've never - you've never done or really said anything that put it on display," Sofia says. "Not until the painting."
Rachel groans, suddenly just so done. "Seriously, will everyone just cool it with the fucking painting?" she almost snaps. "If I knew it would cause such a conniption, I probably still would have done it, because it means nothing, okay? It's just a painting. Quinn liked it, so I gave it to her. I've given her ones before. They're all over her room."
Sofia's brow furrows. "Quinn doesn't have any paintings in her room."
And, yeah, okay, so Rachel actually, maybe, dies a little bit inside. The air seems to leave her lungs in one fell swoop, and her heart slows to what feels like a thudding stop.
Rachel clears her throat, trying to calm herself. "Well, there you go," she says, her tone flat. "Nothing to worry about." She can't bring herself to meet Sofia's gaze, and that's telling enough.
Sofia softens immediately, her left hand moving to rest on Rachel's forearm. "Oh, Rachel."
The touch startles Rachel, and she jerks away, getting to her feet in an attempt to ward off the overwhelming feeling threatening to consume her. "No," she says, shaking her head. "Please don't do this, okay? I promise I'm not going to try anything, okay? She'll never even know. Life is just going to go on and, for fuck's sake, stop looking at me like that."
That's the worst part, Rachel thinks. The pity.
Rachel takes a deep, calming breath. "Maybe you know this or maybe you don't, but Quinn really doesn't like to celebrate her birthday. The day brings back bad memories, so don't plan anything big, okay? She'll hate it." She doesn't wait for a response as she packs up her things and leaves, telling herself not to look back.
It seems everyone but Quinn knows, at this point. It ups her anxiety, sure, but it also offers her a sense of ease and relief. One less person to have to hide around, and she doesn't spend nearly enough time with Quinn to have it be as much of a problem as it once could have been.
Silver linings and all that.
It's a surprise and also not that Sofia doesn't listen to her advice, and Rachel doesn't know what she would do if things weren't so strange with Quinn. They have a tradition for her birthday, and Rachel isn't going to hold her breath that they're actually going to be upholding this one.
Usually, they spend the evening together, a sleepover at Quinn's house, just doing nothing and not paying much attention to the day Quinn was officially removed from her parents' house more than ten years ago. Quinn once told her about it, late at night on the night she turned sixteen, and Rachel still has nightmares about it.
It's also the day Quinn willingly showed her the scars her father left on her. Rachel remembers reaching out to touch the ones on her back, her hands gentle against the marred skin, and that was a turning point for them.
In different ways, maybe.
Rachel didn't realise it then, but things changed for Quinn that day in a way she would learn only years later.
So, as far as celebrating Quinn's birthday goes, Rachel doesn't. Instead, she sends a simple text in the morning, asking her if she still has her Art Camp sweater she 'borrowed' something like four years ago.
Quinn will understand.
They seem to be existing on different wavelengths at present. It's the saddest part, she thinks, losing this entire piece of herself without even having a say in it. It hurts in ways she wishes it wouldn't, but there's nothing to be done about it now.
So, when Rachel arrives at school to Sofia making an entire spectacle of Quinn's birthday, she decides to do nothing. What can she do, anyway, other than ignore the way Quinn's forced smile makes her look older, or the way she won't look anyone in the eye?
Sofia seriously should have listened.
Rachel just spares them one more look, and then turns her attention to her locker. She has other things to worry about beyond whatever is going on in Quinn's life. Her own life hasn't really gone the way she thought it would, and now she's facing renewed interest in Art as a viable career.
Sometimes, she hates that she could be considered a jack of all trades. She was almost banking on her grades and aptitude tests helping her make all the big, important decisions about her future, but they've rather just confused her even more. Her guidance counsellor essentially told her that she could pretty much do whatever she wanted, which didn't help at all.
Medicine, Engineering, Art. She thinks she could, somehow, combine majors if she really wanted to, but she's not sure she wants to make her college experience as difficult as it would become if she were to do that.
It'd be nice actually to enjoy herself.
But, then again, she also might want to be too busy to mourn the slow death of her relationship with her best friend.
Wow, maybe she should tack on Drama to her list of potential Majors.
Another burst of noise catches her attention, and she turns her head to see even more of a spectacle. Balloons and streamers and, wow, Rachel hates them all just a little bit.
Her heart stutters when Quinn's gaze catches hers and holds it. Rachel tells herself to look away, but she can't bring herself to do it.
Quinn doesn't look away either.
Rachel wonders if it means anything.
The realistic, protective part of her tells her it doesn't.
But, then, many hours later, Quinn shows up at their doorstep, looking miserable.
Rachel is already asleep upstairs, so it's Hiram who answers the door, surprised he even has to, because Quinn has always just walked into their home as if it's her own.
That hasn't happened in a while, he realises, when he opens the door to a disheveled Quinn Fabray, whose eyes are a little glassy.
"Hiram," Quinn says, her voice strained. "I - I know it's late, but I - is Rachel - I need - "
As much as Hiram would like to protect his daughter from whatever this is, he still steps back to allow Quinn to enter the house.
"She's upstairs," Hiram finds himself saying, and then Quinn is sprinting past him and up the stairs as quickly and quietly as she dares.
Quinn can't really explain why she's here - just that she needs to see Rachel right this instant - and she barely contains herself enough not to fling open Rachel's bedroom door.
She knocks once, softly, and then opens the door, flooding the dark room with light. It takes the slumbering Rachel a moment to stir, slowly sitting up and blinking against the harsh light.
Quinn realises only then how much she's shaking, her body stilling at the sound of Rachel's sleepy voice.
Rachel sits up fully, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. "Quinn," she repeats. "What's wrong? Are you okay? What are you doing here?"
Quinn can't bring herself to speak as she takes an unsteady step forward, asking a silent question of Rachel.
Rachel seems to hear it, because her body sways a little, and she slowly opens her duvet covers, silently inviting Quinn inside.
Quinn immediately shuts the door, kicks off her shoes, removes her jacket and climbs into bed with Rachel for the first time since the summer.
Sofia, who doesn't understand; who will never understand.
Quinn pushes all her pride aside as she reaches for Rachel, seeking comfort from her she's forced herself not to want for months and months. She's aware of Rachel stiffening at first contact, but she eventually settles into it enough that Quinn can't tell who's holding whom.
Quinn just buries her face in Rachel's neck and breathes, finding solace in the familiar scent. Her heart, which was beating entirely too fast, starts to slow at the sound of Rachel's even breathing.
"Please," Quinn whispers, but she has no idea what she's even asking for.
Rachel tightens her hold on Quinn, her hands rubbing soothing circles on the girl's back. She can feel the raised skin beneath the fabric of Quinn's shirt, and she suddenly just knows what she has to say.
"You're safe, Luce," Rachel murmurs, lips against Quinn's hair. "They can't touch you. He can't touch you. He can't even look at you. I promise you're safe. Nobody can hurt you here." She doesn't really think about it when her hands slip under Quinn's shirt to touch the skin of her back. It's warm under her fingers, and she forces her own breathing to remain steady. "He'll never again be able to do this to you." She sucks in a breath. "I promised you. I promised I wouldn't let anyone hurt you again, and I intend to keep it."
Quinn relaxes slowly, her body sagging against Rachel's.
Rachel still continues with her assurances, practically lulling Quinn to sleep. "You're okay, I promise," she breathes. "You can go to sleep. I'll watch over you. I promise I'll keep you safe."
It's enough for Quinn, really, because she's always believed Rachel. She allows her mind to settle, her thoughts drifting from darker territory. She's safe here. With Rachel.
Slowly, Quinn falls asleep, and Rachel stays up for as long as she possibly can, determined to keep her promise.
In the morning, Quinn is gone.
If Rachel couldn't smell her on her pillows, she might think she dreamt the entire thing. She almost wishes she did, because Quinn says nothing about it.
In fact, she acts as if it didn't happen, even though she looks embarrassed about the entire thing. Rachel can tell, because the tips of Quinn's ears burn red when she's embarrassed.
So, while Rachel almost expects the entire thing to be ignored, there's a part of her that still feels dirty; guilty in some way.
She feels used.
Just another thing to add to the list of emotions she's trying desperately not to feel.
The Lima Bean is the one place Rachel goes to hang out with all of her friends, but the patisserie in Willowy - she's never said the name out loud, in case she ruins the magic of it - has always been a 'QuinnandRachel' place.
Now, it seems it's just a 'Rachel' place.
Sometimes she's okay with it, and sometimes she's not.
Before, she would make conversation with Quinn, but now she can just sit and sketch. Maybe catch up on some reading. It's just one of those things, and she's decided to find the silver lining in the free time she's been afforded now that Quinn is otherwise occupied or just carefully avoiding being alone with her.
Sometimes, when Rachel is here at the same time Taylor is working, they have a few short conversations. The waitress asks about school and her art as if she's genuinely interested. Beyond the teasing flirting, Rachel gets the sense the older girl isn't interested that way. Rachel's too young, apparently, but Taylor offers an ear if ever Rachel wants to talk.
So, she does, and Taylor just gets added to the list of people who know about her feelings for her best friend, Rachel finding therapists in nearly everyone around her.
"I think I'll actually disown her if she were to come here with anyone else," Rachel says almost offhandedly, and then freezes when Taylor very suddenly looks away. It's the single action that's needed, and she won't even ask for a verbal confirmation. "Oh."
"I'm sorry," Taylor says, and she sounds as if she truly means it. "I mean, it was just one time, and she made sure they got a takeaway. If that helps at all."
Rachel fiddles with her paper napkin. "It's just… what it is, I guess." She audibly swallows. "High school sucks."
"It does," Taylor agrees, quiet and morose.
Rachel clears her throat. "I shouldn't be surprised," she says. "I can't blame her. I would want to bring my... special someone here, as well. It's... special."
"It is," Taylor confirms, smiling sadly.
Rachel goes quiet, her gaze drifting to look out the window. She feels numb; as if this is all happening to someone else. Prior to Sofia in Quinn's life, Rachel was Sofia, just without... the other stuff.
Now, she's just nobody.
That's probably not true, but it's how she feels.
"This isn't how I expected this year to go," Rachel confesses.
Taylor knows not to ask, so she doesn't. "I broke my collarbone five days before high school graduation," she says. "I have the worst scar."
Rachel almost smiles. "I fell out of a tree I was climbing a week before I started first grade," she says. "Broke my arm in three places."
"I've always been a bit of an overachiever."
Taylor taps her fingers on Rachel's sketchbook. "This what you want from life?"
"To be an artist?"
"I don't know," she admits. "It's kind of this running gag in my family, really. I might be a doctor like my Daddy, or an engineer like my Dad. Or I could do this like - " she stops herself before she mentions Shelby's name, because that's an entire headache she's not ready for. She shrugs. "Who knows?"
"What will make you happy?"
Rachel stops herself from correcting automatically that it's 'who' because even she recognises how unhealthy that is. "I don't know," she confesses.
"I guess, when you figure that out, you'll know what you want to do."
Rachel hums. "What if I just want happiness?"
"Well, then, you're going to have to do something to get it."
What Rachel hears is that she probably should tell Quinn everything.
Half of it.
Maybe just a tiny little bit.
Something, at least.
It's the decision she makes when she walks into school on Monday morning, resolute and determined, only to realise that, God, it's Valentine's Day. The second she spies all the red, she's tempted to turn right around and go home, because she's pretty sure she's going to be sick.
A tarnished record and possible grounding would so be worth escaping this day.
She's almost made the decision when she feels an arm link with hers. "Oh, no, you don't," Santana says, and then drags her into the main building. "If I have to deal with all this shit, then so do you."
"But, Santana," Rachel whines, allowing herself to be pulled along.
"Don't 'But, Santana' me, Berry," she says.
"I hate the Universe."
Santana glances at her. "More than usual?"
Rachel presses her lips together, and speaks again only when they've reached her locker. "I had an epiphany on the weekend."
Rachel looks away for a moment. "It's over," she says. "It's so over, I don't even think there's anything left to salvage."
Santana just stares at her.
"It's like we broke up without ever having dated, and I've been forced to deal with watching her fall in love with someone else." She swallows audibly. "So, I made a decision."
"And, what decision is that?"
"It's over," Rachel says again. "I just want to make it clear for all of us, so we can all stop pretending. And, then, maybe I'll go on an actual date with an actual girl who is maybe actually interested in me."
"Rachel," she murmurs, shaking her head.
"It's what's best," she says. "I - I already lost her, Santana. At least, this way, we'll both be on the same page about it, and I won't have to deal with that guilty look on her face whenever she forces herself to hang out only with me when we both she'd rather be anywhere and everywhere else."
"She took her to The Bread Box, Santana," she says, as if it's supposed to explain everything. And, really, it does, because Santana's eyes actually widen. Nobody goes to The Bread Box. Quinn and Rachel never even say the name out loud.
Until now, apparently.
"It's been our place for years," Rachel says. "Sacred in all the ways. It's 'our' place, and Quinn, she - she's inserted Sofia into every place I used to exist, and I - I can't, okay? I can't. Quinn hasn't figured out a way to have the two of us co-exist in her life, and I get the impression she's never actually wanted to. So, I'm just doing us both a favour. It's over. I'm putting myself out of my misery and just acknowledging it."
Santana doesn't know what to say, which is a surprise for her, because she usually does. This is just -
She and Dani aren't cut out for this. Even Kurt and Finn seem out of their depths. Who else knows? Maybe Rachel's parents will know what to do.
Rachel turns away, facing her locker, and Santana loses her chance to say something her brain hasn't even formulated.
Santana has half a mind to talk to Quinn about this. She's been thinking about it for a while, in an attempt to get to the bottom of whatever's been going through Quinn's mind.
The girl is notoriously difficult to read on a normal day, but the past few months have been clouded by something Santana doesn't recognise. She's supposed to be one of the people who gets Quinn, but she's just as lost as Rachel is.
Maybe Rachel is on to something here.
Maybe Quinn needs some kind of wake-up call.
Maybe this is all going to go down in flames.
Santana is about to let it.
Hoping desperately that they'll be able to pick up the pieces once everything's shattered.
"So, I kind of bought Santana a dozen red roses."
Rachel looks at Dani, who's just dropped herself into the seat next to hers. This is the only class they share, and they end up spending most of it just talking about nonsense.
"It didn't go down well," Dani adds a beat later.
Rachel could have told her that, but that's not what she says. "What happened?"
"She kind of just stared at them, and then at me, and then at the roses again, and then just walked away without saying anything."
"I don't really know what to make of it," she says. "Maybe I just surprised her?"
"Did you talk about your feelings about Valentine's Day before?"
Rachel shifts uncomfortably. "Um, I don't know... before today. Just, before."
Dani shrugs. "We're not dating, technically," she says. "I mean, getting the roses was kind of a stupid idea, wasn't it?"
Rachel rests a hand on her shoulder. "I think Santana will understand you did it because you wanted to..." she trails off. "Well, I don't really know why you bought her flowers."
"I just wanted to."
"Then, there's nothing wrong with that."
"She didn't even say anything."
"Santana would probably go her whole life without talking if she could, and you know it."
Dani rolls her eyes, and then sighs. "You okay? Today?"
Rachel hums. "I'm fine," she says. "I had a moment this morning, but I'm fine. I kind of had this epiphany while I was eating cheesecake on the weekend."
Rachel looks away. "I'm going to talk to Quinn. About how I feel in this friendship we're just pretending still exists."
Dani regards her critically. "Am I being proud of you?"
"Then, I'm proud of you," Dani says. "Any step is a step in the right direction. Communication is important and all that."
Rachel shoots her a look. "You should talk to your girlfriend."
"She's not my girlfriend."
"I'm sure the roses would have gone down better if she was."
"Fuck you, Rachel."
Rachel wraps an arm around her shoulders and kisses her cheek. "I like roses, too, you know?"
Dani just shoves her off, and they just about manage to pay attention to their teacher when the lesson continues to drone on.
Rachel has never been so very aware of her singledom until she gets to lunch, and there are couples everywhere.
It's like a love explosion.
Rachel kind of just wants to hide away, but, like the morning, she's accosted by someone, and dragged into the cafeteria.
Dani is going to make her suffer with her, apparently.
"I've been thinking," Dani says once they're seated at their lunch table.
"Oh, no," Rachel murmurs.
Dani ignores her, continuing as if she hasn't spoken. "We need to get you a date," she says.
Rachel groans, despite what she told Santana in the morning. It's easier to say the words than actually do something about them.
"It's a brilliant idea," Dani says. "Think about it."
"How is it a brilliant idea?"
"Well, it'll get you experience," Dani says. "And, I mean, it'll hopefully help you get over you-know-who."
Dani pinches her arm. "I'm so done with you."
"I'm not going on a date with anyone," she says, almost automatically, at this point.
"You should," Dani says. "I know people have been asking you out. Just imagine the dating pool you could tap into if people knew you swung both ways."
Rachel sighs. "I'm not ready for that," she says.
Dani regards her carefully. "Are you ever going to be?"
Rachel looks up at the voice, smiling at Kurt, who's holding a large bouquet of roses. "Hey," she says. "Those are pretty."
Kurt drops into the seat beside Rachel. "My boyfriend is kind of awesome," he says, almost shrugging. "What are you two talking about?"
"Getting Rachel a date," Dani immediately says, and Kurt perks up.
Rachel groans again, but it's somewhat of a relief to talk about anything other than Quinn or love or just... that other dark stuff.
Rachel will take any relief she can get, and, maybe, if she ends up with a date out of it all, it might not be the worst thing.
It takes Rachel another three days to work up the courage to do what she's been trying to do in some way since the end of summer. There are things she's wanted to tell Quinn for so long, but she doesn't think the words are actually going to come.
Still, she's going to try.
It's been time for a while.
"We need to talk."
Quinn startles at the voice, as unexpected as it is, and her eyes widen at the sight of Rachel standing over her, her eyes looking more serious than Quinn's ever seen them.
All of a sudden, Quinn knows she doesn't want to have this conversation, whatever it entails. "I'm a little busy, Rachel."
Rachel's jaw clenches. "Please stop lying to me," she says. "Please, for just one moment, will you just stop?" She shakes her head. "I know your schedule. I checked with Santana, okay? We need to talk, and we're going to do it right now."
Quinn sits perfectly still, eyes innocent and wide.
Rachel holds out her hand, impatient. "Give me your phone."
"I'm sick and tired of having it interrupt this conversation," she says. "Give it to me."
Quinn does so without a word, and Rachel drops the phone into her school bag.
Then she sits across from her, places her hands on the table and says, "I feel dirty," with all the seriousness in the world.
Quinn just stares at her, definitely not expecting to hear that.
"You make me feel dirty," she says, and the words taste like acid in her mouth. They taste like truth. "I never really thought about it that way, but I woke up this morning and all I wanted to do is scrub myself clean."
Quinn clearly has no idea what she's talking about, from the look on her face, but Rachel is beyond pity.
"What am I to you?" Rachel asks. "What have I been?"
Quinn just stares at her.
"Was I just some pathetic substitute you kept around until the real thing came around?" she asks, which, okay, is more of a surprise to herself than it probably is to Quinn. Where did that even come from? "I tried to understand, Quinn. I really, really did. You were in a new relationship, and those can be demanding, but I thought you would figure it out. You were supposed to be able to balance everything, right? I'm supposed to be your best friend, but I'm not. You're not. We're nothing. You - you took every part of our relationship and replaced me, and how - how - why - " she stops, needing to compose herself.
"I know I used to complain endlessly about tradition and routine, but it was our thing. Rachel and Quinn. Ours." She clenches her jaw. "But, you've given away so many of those, haven't you, Luce?"
Quinn's eyes widen ever so slightly.
"I forgave that, and the first day of school and the fact you lied about your new relationship in the first place and I forgave the meadow, barely, and I've been able to accept that you're going to be busy more often than not. I forgave my birthday and I've managed to look past so, so many things, but I can't - I can't look past The Bread Box." She drops her gaze, her fists clenched.
Quinn feels the bottom of her stomach drop out, wondering how Rachel even knows about that. It'd been a bit of an accident. Quinn wanted to go alone, and Sofia kept asking where she went off to on her own all the time. There was insecurity in the way she asked her questions, and Quinn had no choice, really.
Still, she knows she can't say any of that, because it sounds like a ridiculous excuse, now that she thinks about it.
"You promised me," Rachel says. "You promised it would be our place, and I - I hate that you've done this to us. I hate that it's almost what you intended, and I hate that I've now got all this hate in me. And you did this. You did this. Why? What happened? Did I do something?"
Rachel doesn't even let her answer the questions, which may or may not be rhetorical at this point. She's not even sure she wants to hear whatever Quinn could come up with.
"You know what? I don't even care if I did do something," she continues, shaking her head. "Because, if I did, you should have talked to me about it first. We - we should have had this conversation a hell of a long time ago." Her jaw clenches, and she's forcing the anger down, suppressing it.
The hurt, too.
All of it.
She clears her throat. "I don't want any part of this anymore. I'm so tired. Exhausted. I can't just keep things inside anymore, and now I'm... putting an end to it, I guess."
Quinn just continues to stare at her.
Rachel releases a shaky breath. "Say something."
It takes a few long moments, but Quinn eventually says, "I - I never meant for it to be like this."
Rachel's jaw clenches. "Is that really all you have to say?"
"I don't know what else you want to hear."
And, frankly, Rachel doesn't either. All she knew coming into this was that she needed Quinn to know how she's been feeling, and now…
Now, it's just… urgh.
It's supposed to make her feel better. It's supposed to give her some kind of release, lift a burden of some kind.
She feels none of those things.
It's almost worse, really.
This is one of those friend breakups she and Quinn used to giggle about whenever they happened to the other girls in their grades. It was usually over popularity or boys; so fickle in so many ways.
This, not so much.
This is final and permanent and ugly, and Rachel hates her.
She hates her, and she loves her, and those kinds of emotions are never supposed to co-exist. Especially not in someone like Rachel, who feels everything so acutely.
She audibly swallows. "You could have saved me a lot of trouble, you know?" Her voice comes out sounding like acid. She shakes her head. "Making me feel important, doing all these wonderful, amazing things. You could have just not, if it wasn't ever your intention to - " she stops, almost growling. "Why would you do all of that? Why would you make it so easy to fall - " she stops again. "Fuck, Quinn. What did you do?"
Quinn has nothing.
Rachel shakes her head, absolutely refusing to cry in front of her. "When you figure it out, keep it to yourself."
And, then, she gets to her feet and starts to leave. She pauses, remembering, and then digs Quinn's phone out of her bag. She sets it on the table, her fingers trembling.
"It's been ringing, by the way," she says. "It's probably work, right? Mike calling you in, for sure." It's petty, she knows, but she's hurt and angry and sad and confused and so painfully in love that she doesn't even know what to do with herself.
So, she walks away.
Happiness be damned.
She has a broken heart to protect, and she's finally being smart about it.
Quinn doesn't go home.
She doesn't answer the phone when it rings or respond to any texts. Really, she doesn't move from her position for hours, her mind a mess and her heart hurting in a way she doesn't think it ever has.
If she's being honest, she doesn't quite know what she was expecting. Whether consciously or not, she knows what she was attempting to do. Distancing herself from Rachel was part of some plan, but she didn't expect it to be like this.
It feels like some kind of end, and she can't realistically say that's something she wanted.
All she knows is she met a girl, and that's all.
She met a girl, and that took preference to everything. To Rachel. To the most important relationship in her life... that could never quite be everything she wanted.
Quinn made a decision, over the summer, at the end of one specific, painful party, to move on, and now she's burned the one relationship she told herself she couldn't lose.
She reaches for her phone quite suddenly and dials a number from memory.
Santana answers on the second ring. "This better be good."
Quinn breathes out. "I did something," she says. "Santana, I did something, and I don't know if I'll be able to fix it."
Santana is quiet for a moment, and then she grumbles something under her breath. "Come over," she finally says. "Door's open."
Santana can admit she expected something, but the silence is alarming.
Actually, it's terrifying.
Quinn sits on the end of the Latina's bed, her hands clasped in her lap, and says absolutely nothing for far too many minutes. Santana's even tempted to text Rachel, just to make sure Quinn isn't going into some fugue state.
While Santana is aware of parts of Quinn's past, only Rachel has been privy to the nitty-gritty of it all. Sometimes, Santana is relieved by that, and today is one of those days.
She wouldn't know what to say, anyway.
"Rachel is the first person to tell me she loves me and actually mean it," Quinn suddenly says, and Santana stops moving, waiting patiently. "We were ten, I think, and she offered up the words so easily, and I remember just staring at her in shock. She called me silly, and told me of course I love you; you're my best friend. We put ourselves in those boxes so early on, before I even knew anything about myself.
"She's always been my best friend, and now she's just not." Quinn drops her gaze to her hands, and Santana wonders what she's really thinking about. "I want to say I don't know how it happened, but I guess I do, now that it's been pointed out to me. I want to say it isn't what I wanted, but I think a part of me did."
Santana frowns, not quite following.
"In the end, I chose Sofia," Quinn says, sounding young and lost. "San, I chose wrong."
Santana doesn't know what to say to that, so she says nothing. It's maybe the wrong thing to do, because Quinn suddenly gets to her feet.
"I have to go," she says. "There's - there's something I need to do."
"Quinn," Santana says. "I don't think Rachel wants to see you right now."
"Not Rachel," Quinn says, already moving towards the bedroom door, looking as if she's on a mission she's not even entirely sure of. "Rachel wants nothing to do with me, remember?"
"Then, who?" Santana asks, but Quinn is already out the door.
Whatever Quinn goes to do, Santana doesn't hear about it from the source. In fact, she doesn't hear about it at all. Never explicitly.
Just, for a few days, Quinn and Sofia are absent from their table at the cafeteria, even though they're definitely at school.
Then, Quinn makes a return and Sofia doesn't.
Santana raises her eyebrows in question.
Quinn says nothing.
There's nothing more to it, apparently.
Quinn finds out Rachel's news from Lauren on a Monday.
The girl just casually mentions that Rachel went on a date with someone named Harper at their table at lunch, and Quinn's blood runs cold.
"What did you say?" she asks, because she knows she has to have heard incorrectly. That, or there's a boy somewhere named Harper.
Lauren stares at her for a little too long. "I said Rachel went on a date on the weekend. Didn't you know?"
Quinn licks her lips. "No, actually, I didn't," she says.
"Oh." Lauren drops her gaze for a beat, the air turning uncomfortable all around them. "Well, she did, with this girl from our World Geography class, and Rachel said she was a bit of a disaster about it." She giggles. "Apparently, dating girls is a lot harder than she thought."
Quinn can't breathe.
Her brain just won't compute.
Santana rolls her eyes. "Rachel's just too extra," she says. "She was a nervous wreck the entire time."
Quinn looks at her, almost feeling betrayed. "You knew?" she asks, the accusation clear to hear in her tone.
Santana narrows her eyes. "Knew what?"
"That Rachel - that she - " she stops, unable to make sense of this.
Rachel went on a date.
With a girl.
Rachel is dating girls.
What is happening?
Santana pierces her with a sharp look. "Yes," she answers Quinn's unasked question. "I've known for a while, to be honest. Didn't you? I was sure you would be one of the first people she would tell when she figured it out."
And, okay, Quinn feels like the world has lost its colour, or something equally ridiculous and dramatic like that. This isn't happening. This cannot be happening.
"She - she - " Quinn attempts, and then visibly deflates. "I think she tried to. A long time ago."
Quinn's eyes drift to the empty seat beside her that was usually and is no longer occupied by Sofia. "But," she repeats, solemn. "But, I guess, I didn't let her." She sits back, abandoning her food.
Lauren looks nonplussed, and Santana is as unsympathetic as ever, even if there's a level of understanding behind her eyes.
Rachel went on a date with a girl.
That changes things, surely.
It shouldn't, but it does.
What it changes, though, Quinn can't quite figure out.
It's confusing, definitely, and she almost laughs at the fact Rachel Berry is still able to confuse her after everything they've already been through.
What doesn't change, though, is that Quinn ends up back on the foot of Santana's bed, looking tense and lost in that way Santana doesn't remember her being before this year.
Quinn just came over, looking as if she needed to talk, and, well, she's saying nothing. Again. Santana almost wants to say her own words to prompt whatever conversation she suspects this is going to be, but words have never been her specialty.
They're actually Quinn's.
It takes nearly twenty minutes, but Quinn eventually speaks, her voice low and slightly haunted.
"Rachel is the first person to tell me she loves me and actually mean it," she starts, and it's an echo of the last time they were in this position. "She's also the first person I told I loved and actually mean it."
That, at least, says a lot, because Quinn isn't one for handing out affection. Santana doesn't think the two of them have ever actually hugged in all the time they've known each other. Quinn hugged Rachel. And Sofia. That's it.
That says a lot as well, doesn't it?
"I figured it out quite late, if I'm being honest," Quinn says. "I was already fifteen. As comfortable in my skin as I could be. I knew I liked girls, San. I always knew. I've been powerless to them for a very long time. They could ask me for the world, and I would give it to them. I would have given it to her."
They both know she's not talking about her ex-girlfriend.
"But, she never asked," Quinn says, whispering as if she doesn't want the Universe to hear her. "She never asked." She looks at Santana, and the Latina has never seen her look so lost. "Sofia did."
There's a long, long silence that follows, and Quinn sits perfectly still through all of it.
"I waited," Quinn says. "I waited and I waited, and I watched and endured and she was with him for so long and it hurt. God, it hurt in ways I can't even describe, Santana. So, I decided to be smart, and then Sofia asked and she never did, and that was supposed to be my saving grace." She blinks slowly. "Only, it wasn't, and now I've lost them both, and I think this is my penance for daring to believe I ever had any control over anything."
Again, Quinn is saying far too many words, and Santana doesn't know what to say in response. Quinn's words make sense, sort of, but it's all still so confusing. What exactly is she saying?
"Quinn, what - " she starts, but Quinn cuts her off.
"I should go," she says, quiet and sad, in that way Santana hasn't seen since the first party she threw over the summer. She doesn't remember much from that night, but she remembers Quinn's face at the end of it - a night when she arrived with Rachel and ended up leaving without her.
"Wait," Santana says, just needing Quinn to sit and talk to her. To explain.
Quinn gets to her feet, anyway, and runs her hands over the tops of her thighs. "I have, like, a hundred essays to write, and I have to take - "
"Quinn, just, stop."
Quinn stares at her, eyes a little wide. "Stop what?"
She blinks. "I'm not - "
"Bullshit," Santana snaps, and Quinn flinches, making her regret it immediately. "Sorry," she says, because she knows Quinn's response to raised voices isn't unwarranted. "Just, can you sit down and talk to me and actually make sense, please?"
Quinn doesn't move. Instead she sighs, runs a hand through her hair and says, "She's the first person I ever told I loved and actually mean it."
Santana just continues to stare.
"There's really nothing else to say."
And, Santana reasons, she's probably right.
Rachel finds out Quinn's news from Sofia herself on the Wednesday after her disaster date with Harper.
It's during Art, and Mr Schuester is walking around and asking questions of their project progress. Rachel doesn't have all that much to tell, mainly because she can't decide on an approach, and he tuts over her various project ideas.
"Most people struggle to come up with one idea," he comments when he sees her sketchbooks. "You now have to pick only one of these."
"I have many memories," she says with a slight shrug.
Mr Schuester nods, as if he understands. "Good ones? Bad?"
"Is that why you're unable to decide?"
"I don't know how to showcase both," she explains. "I'm not even sure if I want to. And, if I do pick just one; which one is it going to be?"
"Maybe you should flip a coin," Mr Schuester offers with a kind smile. "Once it's in the air, you'll know immediately which side you want it to land."
"That sounds incredibly irresponsible, Mr Schue," she says, grinning a little.
"I think you should decide which memories have left a lasting impression," he says thoughtfully. "Which ones will stay with you long after you've left this place."
Rachel knows that all has to do with her friends. With Quinn, specifically. It's nothing she can realistically escape, and she doesn't think she actually wants to. Regardless of the state of their relationship, Quinn has been such an integral part of her high school career.
"Think about it," Mr Schuester says, and then continues walking, leaving Rachel to do just that.
She sits a while, just staring at her open sketchbook in front of her. It's an old one, from sophomore year, starting just after Quinn's birthday. After the night Quinn opened up about her horrible, painful experience with her biological family. After the night things changed between them in ways Rachel has never quite understood.
They grew closer, yes, and Rachel promised to keep her safe. Promised to protect her, no matter what happened in the future. She remembers that Quinn spent every afternoon at their house for a full week after that, and things seemed so much more intense.
(And, Rachel will realise belatedly that it ended up being one of those moments that altered the trajectory of her relationship with Quinn).
Well, then, Jesse asked Rachel out, and she said yes.
From Rachel's recollection, Quinn didn't come by for a while after, and Rachel thought it was Quinn's way of giving her space to explore whatever new relationship she was building with Jesse.
It was disastrous, of course, because he was, technically, from a rival school and there was the whole Shelby debacle, but he ended up staying at McKinley, and they tried.
Still, all of that gets listed under the bad memories, though she learned a hell of a lot from those experiences. It's doubtful she's going to forget any of it.
"Is that Quinn?"
Rachel startles at the voice, and her stick of charcoal snaps in her hand.
"Sorry," Sofia says, rounding the studio table. "Didn't mean to scare you."
Rachel shrugs, trying to play it off as nothing. "What's up?"
Sofia taps the open page of Rachel's sketchbook with her forefinger. "That's Quinn," she says of the pencilled face they both know far too well.
Rachel audibly swallows, but she nods. There's no point in denying it. "She was sixteen when I drew this," she says.
"She doesn't look all that different," Sofia muses.
"There's still sadness in her eyes," Sofia says. "She's not... happy."
Rachel licks her lips. "Maybe," she offers, because she's come to accept the happiness Quinn tries to project isn't real. Sofia knew it, so did Phil, and now Rachel does, too. "That kind of means she's never been, then, because this is how I've always seen her."
"Searching," Rachel says. "Longing."
"I guess she'll tell you when she figures it out," Rachel says, shrugging.
Sofia hums, looking pensive. "Your feelings," she says. "Have they changed?"
Rachel decides against acting as if she doesn't know what Sofia is talking about and says, "Yes." She sighs. "They were always going to. Things have... shifted for me, I suppose. I'm being smarter about my heart, or whatever you want to call it."
Sofia nods. "It seems you're rubbing off on Quinn, then."
Rachel frowns, contemplating leaving this conversation right here. She's so tempted, but Sofia takes the opportunity away from her when she continues speaking.
"Is Quinn going to be the subject of your project?"
Rachel doesn't immediately respond. "Maybe," she finally says. "I'm afraid that'll send the wrong message, though. I promised you I wouldn't do anything to inform her of how I feel."
Sofia looks thoughtful for a moment, and then shakes her head, sighing. "It doesn't matter now."
Sofia gives her a curious look. "Don't you know?"
"Quinn and I broke up two weeks ago, Rachel," she says, and she sounds very resigned about it. "We're no longer together, which isn't all that surprising to me. Something always felt temporary between us. Despite what people said, or what I wanted to believe, I don't think I ever really made Quinn happy. Maybe she just doesn't know how to be."
Rachel blinks. She has no idea what to say.
"Beyond the fact I'm definitely returning to Europe after graduation, I mean," she adds. "We just... didn't work, I suppose."
"Is that what she said?"
"Well, no," Sofia says. "She said many things, including and not limited to the fact she claims not to recognise herself when she's with me. Which, well, I thought was a good thing."
Rachel remains silent, trying to digest this new information.
"So, I guess I should ask again: is Quinn going to be the subject of your project?"
Rachel knows she's not lying when she very calmly says, "Yes."
"Well, that changes things, doesn't it?" Sofia asks, and they both know it's rhetorical.
They don't speak of it again.
What it changes, though, Rachel can't quite figure out.
It's confusing, definitely, and she almost laughs at the fact Quinn Fabray is still able to confuse her after everything they've already been through.
She was so sure.
She decided, and she took all those steps to move on and protect her heart.
And, now, well…
Rachel waits until Friday afternoon to do something.
Well, really, all she does is go over to Quinn's house, mainly to talk to Phil. She has some ideas about her final project, and he's always been good to bounce ideas off of.
If he's surprised to see her, he doesn't show it. They could talk about Quinn or Sofia or the fact Rachel initiated an actual friend breakup, but they discuss none of that.
Instead, Rachel ends up saying an offhanded, "At least I don't have to worry about Quinn axing any of these pieces."
Phil's brow furrows, clearly confused. "What are you talking about?"
Rachel shrugs. "Sofia just mentioned that there aren't any of my paintings in Quinn's room anymore."
"Oh," he says, nodding. "Well, yes, her room was getting a little crowded, so she moved them all to the basement. It's now like a little art museum in there."
Rachel blinks, stares, and then blinks again. "Oh."
Phil stares at her. "Did you really think she... got rid of your art?"
Rachel says nothing.
"Oh, Rachel," he breathes, moving towards her and resting a hand on her shoulder. "She would never do something like that. I know you know that. She's cherished those works from the very first scribble you did your first day of meeting."
Rachel feels tears spring to her eyes. "I don't know, Phil," she says. "It felt like she threw everything else away about our relationship. What was I supposed to think?"
"Despite the state of your friendship right now, she's always been your biggest cheerleader," he says. "You should have heard how she was going on about your work when we got back from the exhibition. Wouldn't shut up about it."
Rachel gets to her feet. "Do you think I can - "
"Of course," he says, waving her away. "I'm sure you remember where the basement is."
She offers him a tired smile, and then makes her way down the stairs leading off the kitchen, and down into the well-lit basement. It's been a while since she's been down here, and it catches her by surprise to find two entire walls dedicated to the years of her work Quinn has managed to accumulate.
Each sketch is framed, canvases carefully placed, all of them creating a wonderful collage. They go in a certain timeline, and it's obvious to see the way her technique has improved.
Her heart migrates into her throat as she moves to inspect the first drawing she ever gave Quinn, finding a small caption under the A4 sheet with the date of the first day of fourth grade and the words: She told me we were going to be BFFs. I didn't know what that was in the moment, but I pretended I did. She's going to be famous one day, and I knew it even then.
Rachel's eyes trail over the collection, reading several little captions.
- This is one of my favourites, from the first time we went camping in her backyard when we were eleven. She drew this owl in a tree, just to prove to me I had nothing to be afraid of.
- I'll admit the dead tree scared me the first time I saw it, but I never told her. It's managed to grow on me since, which is a feat in itself, because I hate the thought of anything dying being beautiful.
- I cried when she gave me this one. It's the first drawing she did of me after I came out to her. I've never been able to describe how terrified I was telling her about me, and I was worried she was just being polite about her acceptance until she showed up at my house with this drawing of my standing at attention in front of a rainbow shield. I have the greatest best friend in the world.
- I come back to this one a lot. The idea of family has been twisted for me, I think. I never experienced anything like that first Thanksgiving when I first came to live with P and M, and every year since has been amazing and still unbelievable. But, then, she draws this picture of both our families sitting around a single table, and I think I get it. (I will always want her sitting next to me).
- She told me 'they don't know about us,' and then handed me this quick sketch of the two of us, driving on a road to nowhere, top down and hair sweeping from the wind. 'They're just jealous of us,' she said, and this picture makes me believe her.
- Sometimes, it seems as if she knows how difficult it is for me to return her sentiment when she says 'I love you.' She gives me this look, like she doesn't quite believe me, and I wonder if maybe I don't know how to love. M said there's a lot of love in this painting of the two of us, and M is never wrong.
- She probably won't remember ever giving me this one. She drew it on a random napkin at a party Santana threw after junior year. It's nothing, really, but she captioned it 'I love you, J,' and it's the drawing that changed everything. (My name starts with a Q.)
- Every new one is a contender for my favourite, but this meadow is right at the top of the list. I took her there, once, just days after my sixteenth birthday, once I got my licence. We lay in the sun, and I had all these plans to thank her for being so understanding; to tell her all these other truths about me. I had news, and so did she, and I made the mistake of letting her go first. I learned a harsh lesson that day. Plans are just that: plans. They very rarely work out. What this painting has reminded me is that plans will always be just that. Timing is everything.
Rachel reads the last one again, and then doubles back, a strange niggling feeling knocking at the back of her mind. These captions are so personal, intimate in a way that feels as if she's invading Quinn's privacy.
There's a thought there that she can almost latch onto, but the sound of footsteps on the stairs distracts her, and she turns around to see Quinn emerge.
All of a sudden, Rachel feels as if she's doing something deeply wrong, and the guarded look on Quinn's face isn't helping.
"Hey," Rachel says.
Rachel licks her lips. "Phil said you made a little museum," she tries to explain. "I had to see it for myself."
Quinn nods once. "It's a little lame, isn't it?"
"Not at all," she's quick to say. "It's - it's really quite lovely, Quinn. Nobody's ever done anything like this for me."
Quinn shrugs, saying nothing.
"It's a little confusing, though."
"How so?" Quinn asks, stepping forward and studying the walls as if she's seeing them for the first time.
"There are things I don't understand," she says.
Quinn still isn't looking at her. "You're not alone there," she says, her tone quiet and sad. It's nothing Rachel has ever heard before.
"I also don't understand why you and Sofia broke up," Rachel finds herself saying, and then immediately regrets it.
Quinn's posture changes, grows more rigid. "Is that why you're here?"
"Partly," she confesses. "I was really working on my project with Phil, but I actually wanted to see you; to make sure you're okay."
Quinn turns her body away, facing the latest painting: the meadow. "It really is my favourite one," she says. "I don't think I ever told you."
"Well, now you know," Quinn breathes. "It's beautiful."
"I haven't been back since I painted it."
Rachel doesn't know how to answer that without giving herself away in all the dangerous ways.
"I haven't been back since you gave it to me," Quinn confesses.
Quinn, also, doesn't answer the question.
So, they just stand in tense, awkward silence as Quinn studies the art and Rachel studies her. It could be minutes or hours, but Quinn eventually breaks it.
"What are you doing here, Rachel?" she asks, and she sounds weary.
"I told you," she says; "I came to talk to Phil."
"No," Quinn interrupts. "What are you doing here? Down here? With me? Talking to me?" She turns around to look at Rachel. "I was under the impression you wanted nothing to do with me."
Rachel's jaw sets. "Doesn't feel so nice, does it?"
Quinn stares at her, expression carefully blank. "No, it doesn't," she agrees softly, and Rachel regrets her words immediately.
Rachel drops her gaze for a moment. "Why did you and Sofia break up?" she asks.
"It wasn't because of you, if that's what you think," Quinn says, her voice flat.
Rachel purses her lips. "The timing is suspect," she murmurs.
Quinn nods. "It wasn't because of you, but it was prompted by you," she says. "That day in the library gave me a lot to think about, I suppose, and I realised I wasn't being fair to myself, you or Sofia. She - she seemed to understand far more than I did, to be honest, but it was... amicable, I suppose."
Quinn breathes out slowly, and then lifts her gaze, meeting Rachel's head-on. There's a burning question there, and Rachel feels a ripple of fear shoot down her spine.
"I never did ask, did I?" Quinn says, and her tone is different.
Rachel steps back, suddenly wanting desperately to escape from this room and this conversation and this moment, because she just knows the conversation is about to turn from passive to something aggressive.
Still, her traitorous mouth says, "Ask what?"
"Why did you break up with Jesse?"
Rachel immediately looks away. That's... unexpected.
"Tell me the truth," Quinn says. "Why?"
Rachel takes one deep breath and holds it. It's impossible to suffocate yourself this way, but she's willing to try.
"Rachel," Quinn says. "Why?"
"You know why."
Quinn shifts in place. "No, I don't."
Rachel lets out a dark laugh. "Oh, come on, Luce, don't you think we've lied to each other enough?"
Quinn flinches at the name. "Tell me why."
Rachel meets her gaze as steadily as she can, portraying more confidence than she's feeling. For some reason, she gets the feeling she's the one with the power here.
Quinn is the one asking this question. It's not the other way around.
"I broke up with him because I fell in love with you," she confesses quietly, and the spoken words seem to catch them both by surprise. Frankly, Rachel wasn't sure she would ever actually admit it to her face, but here they are. "Or, better yet, I always was, and then I figured it out and I was going to do something about it, but then you were dating Sofia and shutting me out and, you know what, you don't even deserve an explanation right now. What do you even want?"
Quinn almost loses her train of thought, because that's way more than she was expecting to hear, and her brain just can't compute. None of it is making any sense. "You went out with a girl," she says, unthinkingly, and it takes her zero-point-two seconds to realise it's the entirely wrong with to say.
Rachel's features harden. "So?"
Quinn opens her mouth, and then closes it.
"So what, Quinn?" she asks, and her voice is laced with such tension. "What does that have to do with anything?"
Quinn almost screams, It has everything to do with everything, but she doesn't. "You didn't tell me." And, okay, Quinn is now just making a habit of sticking her foot in it.
"Are you seriously angry that I didn't come out to you?" Rachel asks, incredulous. "Which is supposed to be something I decide, right? On my own terms and all that, or is that immediately thrown out the window because you wear your sexuality so openly?"
Quinn takes a step back, thrown by Rachel's anger.
Rachel reclaims that space, suddenly on the offensive. "Why are you concerned about this now, anyway?" she asks. "Do you really want to know, huh? I'll tell you. I figured out I liked you over the summer. I mean, I always put you first, right, and Jesse made an offhand comment about how I should date you instead, so I started thinking about that long and hard, and then I just wanted to kiss you this one day, and my life has been royally fucked up since then.
"I broke up with Jesse, and then I waited, just to make sure it wasn't some fluke and I wasn't projecting or whatever shit people come up with for these kinds of personal revelations. It wasn't some phase, it turns out, so I decided that I had to tell you, because I can't stand keeping things inside, but then you were hiding Sofia from me, and I still haven't quite figured out why, and then everything was just falling to pieces between us and I thought maybe you figured it out and didn't know how to reject me, because you're Quinn. You're fucking Quinn. I am so in love with you, and I hate you for it."
Well, okay, those are words neither of them thought Rachel would ever say.
Quinn can't deal with them. She doesn't know how to deal with any of this. Life hasn't prepared her for this. Nothing and nobody has.
Rachel takes a steady breath, her fight or flight senses warring within.
"How many people know?" Quinn suddenly asks.
"People, Rachel," she says. "How many? Who knows?"
"You? Me? This thing? Us?" She blinks. "How many?"
"I don't know," Rachel says, almost shrinking away. "I don't know, okay?"
"What do you mean you don't know?" Quinn presses. "I'm assuming Dani, right? Santana, too. Kurt, Finn. Your parents, right?" Her jaw clenches. "Phil?"
Rachel drops her gaze.
She shakes her head. "If he knows, it's because Kurt told him."
"I don't know," Rachel says. "Jesus, Quinn, why don't you just ask the question you really want to, huh?"
"Fine," Quinn snaps. "Does Sofia know?"
Rachel licks her lips. "Yes," she says. "Apparently, I suck at hiding how I feel, no matter how much I try, and I tried. God, you have no idea how hard it was and is, and I'm sorry, okay, but she called me out on it, and I'm a fucking terrible liar. You know that. So, yeah, she guessed and I couldn't deny it, but that was weeks ago and I don't even get why you're bringing this up, anyway." Her gaze narrows. "Don't pretend you didn't know, either."
"There you go again," Rachel accuses; "lying."
"I didn't," Quinn repeats. "Do you really think if I did, that any of this would have happened?"
"Any of what?"
"This," she exclaims, exasperated. And, she is. Exasperated. Everything is such a mess.
This was never what she was expecting.
None of this is working out the way she thought it would, and she almost wants school to be over so she can leave this place behind and move on to college.
"You didn't try hard enough," Quinn eventually says, and it's the one clear thought in her head. Overpowering all the rest.
Quinn's jaw sets. "I said, you didn't try hard enough," she says, her voice filled with tension. "Because, I know exactly what it's like."
"What does that even mean?"
Quinn shakes her head, and then steps back. "Fuck," she murmurs, the truth of their entire conversation hitting her all of a sudden. "Like, fuck, Rachel."
Rachel steps forward. "What?" she asks. "What do you mean I didn't try hard enough?"
Quinn swallows, needing to get out of here. Right now.
"To what, Quinn? What didn't I try hard enough to do?"
"Hide it," she says, which draws a small gasp from Rachel. Quinn lifts her gaze then, looking right into Rachel's eyes. "I managed to do it."
Quinn is already gone by the time Rachel manages to recover.
Well, okay, saying she actually manages to recover is kind, because she doesn't. She's still in the basement, frozen in place, when Phil comes down the stairs to find her.
Phil's approach is more subtle than Hiram's would be, and she appreciates him for it. Still, she's feeling things she wasn't sure she ever could, because this is the last thing she was expecting.
If Rachel is reading it all correctly - and she's quite certain she is - then Quinn just revealed something that's rather devastating and heartbreaking.
"Did you know?" Rachel suddenly asks, looking at him. "Did you know... about her?"
Phil doesn't immediately respond. And, when he does, it's a vague, "I know many things about my daughter."
Rachel narrows her eyes at him. "Did you know how she felt?" she asks pointedly. "About me, specifically."
Phil sighs. "Oh, Rachel," he breathes. "How could I not?"
"Did she ever actually tell you?"
"Quinn has never been good with saying words out loud," he says. "You know that. She's always been a girl of action."
Rachel blinks. "I didn't see it. I didn't see any of it."
Phil wraps an arm around her shoulders and says, "It's always been right in front of you." His words are literally referring to the walls in front of her, and her breath catches.
This is just one thing, but, as a result, she comes to the startling, painful realisation that Phil is right. Quinn has been showing her how she feels for years. It hits her quite suddenly, and she has to close her eyes when she recalls all the birthday cards and presents, the near-weekly trips for cheesecake, the many sleepovers, the always being there, the intense looks, the -
It's a lot.
"Is she gone?" Rachel asks softly, already knowing the answer.
"Slammed her way right out of here," he answers, almost sounding amused. "She's always had a bit of dramatic flare, that one."
"I don't know what's supposed to happen now," she confesses, almost as if it's a secret. "What do we do now?"
"What do you want to happen?" he asks, which isn't helpful at all. Not even a little bit.
"I think, maybe, we've hurt each other enough," she says. "Time apart will be good for us, maybe. To think about things. To reevaluate. Spring Break is coming up, anyway. Maybe we can talk then."
Phil hums. "Unlikely."
Phil smiles, looking like a proud father. "Melinda and I are taking Quinn to see her potential college campus," he says. "She's been excited about it since she received her acceptance."
Rachel feels something heavy settle in her chest, because she doesn't even know where Quinn is planning to go to college. It's not something they've talked about since the summer.
"Where?" she asks, because there's a part of her that needs to know.
Phil beams, his chest puffing out just slightly. "Yale," he says, and Rachel can't figure out if she's relieved it's still on the East Coast, or if she's -
She doesn't even know.
Phil nods, smile still in place. "We're very proud parents."
Rachel is a very proud best friend, though she doesn't say so. At least New Haven is near to New York, which is where Rachel will undoubtedly end up, regardless of the career she intends to pursue.
She's still undecided about that.
It seems she's unsure of more than just her future career.
Rachel's sleep that entire weekend is sporadic at best, and she doesn't even know what, if anything, she can say to her parents. She has so many questions for Quinn, but she can't bring herself to ask them. She types them all out, but she can't send them.
She's too afraid of the answers.
"I don't know what it is about your exes that makes them think I'm available," Dani complains as she throws herself into the seat next to Rachel.
Rachel blinks slowly, clearly caught off guard. "What?"
"I didn't think your date went that badly with Harper," Dani says, opening her Coke and taking a large sip. "Did you talk about me all night or something?"
Rachel shrugs. "I don't know why you think I was kidding when I said it was a disaster," she says. "Secondly, we went on one date, so I wouldn't exactly call her an ex, per se." She pauses. "Also, I'm pretty sure everyone knows you and Santana are like a thing now or something."
"Or something," Dani mutters.
Rachel looks at her. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she immediately says. "We're fine."
Rachel waits, patient and oddly expectant. She's much better at this entire emotional thing than Dani and Santana combined.
"We might be fighting," Dani eventually says. "I don't even know what we could be fighting about when all we do is hook up whenever my mom is out."
Rachel raises her eyebrows. "Dan, your mom is out a lot."
Dani flushes. "We hook up a lot."
"But, you still haven't talked about it?"
Dani scowls. "Talking isn't my forte," she says. "It's also not Santana's. Which, let's be serious, is a massive recipe for disaster."
Rachel rests a hand over Dani's, sensing something rather severe in her friend's voice. "Hey," she says. "It's not a disaster, okay? You just have to... get out of your comfort zone for a little while, so you can get back into it." She swallows heavily. "If there's anything I've learned about this entire thing with Quinn, it's that talking to each other about this kind of thing is very important."
Dani must hear something in her voice, because she stops picking at her food and looks at Rachel rather curiously. "Did something happen?"
Rachel clenches her jaw for a moment, contemplating what she wants to say. She glances over her shoulder at where Quinn is sitting at a table with Lauren and Santana, her head bent over a textbook and a pensive look on her face. "Well, Dani, did you know Quinn and Sofia broke up?"
Dani's jaw drops. "What? No? When?"
"A few weeks ago."
Rachel nods, looking down at her hands. "There's more."
Dani shifts in her seat, facing her properly. "Are you going to start crying?"
Dani shifts closer. "Go on."
"I told you I kind of laid into her, remember?" she says. "I was so angry that she just kind of threw away our friendship, and I kind of ended everything because I thought it was all because of a girl."
"Not the girl I thought, at least."
Dani frowns. "Huh?"
"She wasn't distancing herself from me because of Sofia," she says. "She was doing it because of me."
"What does that even mean?"
Rachel looks at Quinn again. "We haven't really spoken about it properly, but - but - " she stops, shakes her head, and then sighs. "Did you know that Quinn liked me?"
Dani blinks. "Quinn likes you?"
"I don't know if she still does, but she did, and she hid it, Dani. She hid it from me, and from you, I guess. From her own friends. She's just been hiding it for so long, and then she decided to move on, and - and then I figured out I loved her, and now everything is just so fucked up."
Dani just stares at her, eyes a little wide. "I don't even know why I didn't see that coming," she says.
"You and me both, D."
"It's the only thing that would really make any sense," she says. "And I call myself a genius."
Rachel just hums, saying nothing.
Dani turns her head to look at Quinn herself, and she and Santana are now having a very serious conversation over Quinn's textbook. "I guess, if you're friends for so long, and as close as you two are - or were - it's something you can miss, even when it's right in front of you."
Rachel breathes out. "I've been through just a few months of this," she says, quiet and thoughtful; "and it's been torture. I - I can't even imagine surviving years."
Dani hums in solidarity. "But, now, you're not with Jesse, and she's not with Sofia," she points out. "Do you know if they ended because of you?"
Rachel thinks the answer might be yes, but the truth is probably that the two of them ended because of Quinn. "All I know is that Quinn and I have a lot to talk about."
"Are you planning on doing that any time soon?"
Rachel looks over her shoulder at Quinn again, expecting her still to be busy with her textbook. Only, she's not, and Quinn is rather looking right back at her. Rachel panics, squeaking embarrassingly and immediately looking away, her cheeks burning.
Her heart is beating way too fast, and she keeps her eyes focused on her lunch tray as she tries to calm her head and body.
"Yip," Dani says, rolling her eyes; "we're all kinds of messed up, aren't we?"
Rachel takes a deep breath. "I've literally never felt anything like this before."
"Not even with Jesse?" Dani asks, oddly curious.
"Not even with him," Rachel confirms, frowning slightly. "I don't think I've actually really allowed myself to... have my crush on Quinn," she says. "To experience it, or whatever. To feel it." She runs a hand over her hair. "It's all been overshadowed by the fact I couldn't tell her. But, now she knows, and, as much as I would probably like things to be different, my feelings are still there, if only a little... altered."
"How are they altered?"
Rachel risks another look at Quinn, surprised but also not to find Quinn looking back at her again. Quinn quirks an eyebrow, and Rachel shrugs, before looking at Dani again. "I had an idea, before," she says. "We've been through so much, already, and I wondered if I was blowing it all out of proportion."
"But, you weren't?"
"I'm in love, Dani," she says; "and I have every intention of making sure she knows just how much."
Dani eyes her carefully, searching her face for something. Whether she finds it or not, Rachel doesn't know. Still, she asks, "Yeah?"
Rachel nods. "Yeah." Then, because Dani is sometimes a pain in the ass, she adds, "You could learn a thing or two from me."
Dani rolls her eyes. "I'm not in love with Santana."
Rachel raises her eyebrows, but says nothing. Dani shoves her, which makes her laugh, and, if she can feel Quinn's gaze on her, well, that's nothing new.
In general, Quinn isn't difficult to find when Rachel decides to go looking.
The problem is that she forgets that Quinn is sometimes a swimmer, and the day she decides to talk to Quinn is also the day Quinn has a rather important swim meet.
Rachel contemplates the implications of attending said meet for exactly two seconds, before she drives home to fetch the poster she made more than six years ago and makes her way to the pool complex.
If Phil is surprised to see her, he says nothing about it. Just pats the space beside him, smiles a little knowingly, and then asks after her final project.
Rachel shifts closer, leaning in so he can hear her over the noise of the gathered crowd. "I decided," she says.
She smiles softly. "It wouldn't matter the state of our relationship, Phil," she says. "It was always going to be her." She blushes at how corny she sounds. "She's my everlasting memory."
Phil bumps her shoulder with his. "Didn't I tell you everything was going to work out?"
"Nothing is worked out," she reminds him.
She nods once, accepting that much. "Yet."
They fall to silence then, and Rachel looks out over the pool. It's not her favourite place in the world, quite warm and stuffy, and it smells like chlorine. But, well, she'll suffer through it to see Quinn. (Never mind her swimming attire. Really, this is such a hardship).
Rachel knows Quinn enjoys swimming, though she doesn't see herself taking it anywhere. She claims it's just a hobby; something she does to keep herself fit, instead of all those other team sports that would probably require her to interact with people. Rachel rolls her eyes at the memory, and then visibly straightens when an announcer opens the gala.
Rachel doesn't quite pay attention until Quinn's first event is called, and the blonde files out of the locker rooms with her goggles hanging around her neck and a determined look on her face.
Rachel is definitely still in love.
Which is a feeling that intensifies when Quinn lifts her gaze to look for Phil and sees her sitting beside him. Rachel waves the homemade poster in lieu of a hand wave, and a small grin spreads across Quinn's face. She's too far away for Rachel to see her blush, but Rachel knows it's there.
Not that she's faring any better.
Quinn ends up winning her race, and then coming second in her second event. That equates to a scoop of Salted Caramel and a scoop of Cookies and Cream. Rachel isn't certain Quinn will even agree to get ice cream with her, but they definitely do need to talk.
The most exciting part, of course, is the end of the gala when all the relays take place. Quinn swims the backstroke leg of the mixed medley relay, and Rachel actually gets to her feet for that one, screaming herself hoarse and getting a laugh out of Phil.
In the end, McKinley ends up winning the entire meet, and Rachel can't help the smile on her face as the team's captain receives the trophy. She watches as Quinn gets hugged left and right, endeared by the way Quinn looks a little uncomfortable at all the contact.
"Hey," Phil says, getting her attention. "Am I supposed to leave you two to talk?" he asks.
Rachel isn't sure how to answer. "What if she won't talk to me unless you're there?"
Phil shakes his head. "I'm quite certain she wants to fix all of this as much as you do, Rachel," he informs her. "I'm quite okay with making myself scarce. There's a recipe for Sultana Bread I've been meaning to try out."
Rachel laughs as she pats his shoulder. "Retirement really suits you, Phil."
She reaches up to kiss his cheek. "Never change," she tells him.
"Wasn't planning on it."
Rachel waits for Quinn in front of the swimming complex, casually leaning against the wall and trying to look less pathetic than she feels by scrolling through her Instagram. It's rather cold out, and she's tempted to go back inside, but then Quinn is walking out the front doors with a pair of girls.
Quinn freezes when she sees her, and then bids her teammates goodbye, before making her way over to Rachel, a hesitant little smile on her face.
"Hi," Rachel says.
"Hey," Quinn says right back, coming to a stop about a metre away from where Rachel is now standing upright.
Quinn cocks her head to the side. "I did."
Rachel drops her gaze for a beat, and then risks a tiny step forward. "I don't suppose I could interest you in getting some ice cream to celebrate?"
Quinn blinks. "Is that an invitation?"
Rachel nods. "My treat."
"I still have my coupon," Quinn informs her.
"I didn't feel right using it without you," she confesses, and Rachel desperately wants to reach out and touch her. "Do you think it's expired?"
"Only one way to find out."
Quinn smiles softly, and Rachel believes, for the first time, that maybe things really will work themselves out.
Quinn doesn't say much of anything as they get their scoops of ice cream. They opt for cups instead of cones, and Quinn hands over her coupon with little fanfare, which really makes sure this isn't anything close to a date.
It's a bit of a relief, if Rachel is being honest. And she intends to be. There's a lot of truth going to be told this evening, and she hopes they'll emerge from it stronger.
She'll deal with her dreams of something more later.
Usually, they sit on the same side of the booth, but not tonight. Quinn slides in opposite her, wincing as she settles, and then sighs.
"Are you okay?" Rachel finds herself asking, worry clouding her features.
Quinn nods. "Just some sore muscles," she says. "We've been training endlessly to get ready for tonight."
"It definitely paid off," Rachel says, feeling a little proud.
"That it did," Quinn agrees, and then eats some of her ice cream. It's maybe a sign to Rachel that she's going to have to be the one who broaches the first of many heavy topics.
She sighs, and then steels herself for what's to come. Eventually, she opens her mouth and says, "I didn't know."
Quinn's face drops into something neutral. "I gathered as much," she says. "You were never supposed to know."
Quinn looks away for a moment. "You're asking a very complicated question, Rachel."
"Which means the answer is also complicated?"
Quinn hums in the affirmative. "It just seemed pointless to introduce any awkwardness into our friendship when it was unlikely anything would ever come of that kind of confession." She eats a bit of ice cream, almost buying herself time. "I didn't really accept my feelings until - " she stops, sighs and then continues. "Until the night of my sixteenth birthday."
Rachel puffs out a breath, recalling the night as a turning point in their friendship.
"I knew I liked girls, and I knew I liked you, but it wasn't anything I was willing to do something about until I told you about my biological family and you promised to protect me. You - you touched my scars so - so gently, and you weren't disgusted, and, God, how could I not fall in love with you?"
Rachel gasps softly, because this is the first time Quinn's feelings have been confirmed this way. It catches her off guard, and she has to force herself not to start smiling like a ridiculous fool.
"I wanted to tell you immediately after that," Quinn says, and now she sounds so, so sad. "I was planning it all out in my head, trying to figure out how I could tell you in a way that wouldn't ruin our friendship." She looks away now, and Rachel can figure out the rest.
"Jesse beat you to it."
Quinn grimaces at the recollection. "It was - yeah - it was fucking horrible."
The worst part, Rachel realises, is that she can now understand just how horrible it had to be.
"I gave you space," Quinn says. "I guess I gave us both space. So I could get over it. So I could figure out how to get past it." She lets out a humourless laugh. "It didn't work out so well for me. I - I was there, Rachel. I was right there, through all of it, and I was too in love with you to - to protect myself."
Rachel wants to reach out for her. She just wants to reach out and touch her; comfort her; tell her everything's going to be okay.
"Last summer, Santana threw a party," Quinn continues after a moment. "We got ready at my house; I don't know if you remember. We were supposed to come back to mine at the end of the night. It - it was all planned." She licks her lips, looking as if she's tasted something bitter. "It - it was fine. I was always fine with you and Jesse. It was just a thing I came to accept, because you were my best friend, and we would go home together at the end of the night, and I never once questioned my position in your life until that night."
Rachel can't realistically claim she remembers anything about that night, but she does recall seeing that napkin on the wall of Quinn's basement, and she feels something heavy settle in her stomach.
"I know you were drunk," Quinn says. "I know that. Fuck, of course, I know that. I just - I couldn't quite stomach the moment you said, 'He's my boyfriend. You're my best friend. You're supposed to understand,' and then proceeded to leave with him instead of me." Quinn makes sure not to look at her, and Rachel feels as if the world is getting smaller and smaller. "I made a decision that night, to be smart. I made a decision when I realised I couldn't rely on you to protect me. I had to protect myself.
"I met Sofia a few weeks later, and I made another decision not to tell you. I'll own that for whatever it was, but it was such a relief to be able to be one half of a relationship and actually have the other half realise I'm actually a hopeless romantic, and that everything I do is because of my love. I mean, I bought you tickets to Wicked, Rachel. I - I don't really know what else I could have done without explicitly saying the words out loud. I guess I just hid it so well; nobody could figure it out."
The silence that follows is thick with some kind of tension, and Rachel has no idea what to say to make any of this better. She's sure, if she were to open her mouth right now, she would just make things worse.
Quinn finally looks at Rachel after a full minute, her eyes open and unguarded, and says, "I didn't know, either."
Rachel would laugh if it wasn't all so heartbreaking. "I gathered that much," she says, echoing Quinn's earlier sentiment. "I - I figured it out that summer. We had plans this one day, and I had to leave Jesse's house to make it on time, and he remarked that I should date you instead, with the way I was taking off to meet you. It - it gave me something to think about, in terms of my priorities. So, I thought about it, long and hard, and then we spent this one day out by the pool, and, yeah, well, I figured it out."
Rachel blushes when Quinn raises her eyebrows. "Shut up," she says.
"I didn't say anything."
"Well, you're not saying anything really loudly."
Quinn smiles as innocently as she possibly can, absently spooning some ice cream into her mouth.
Rachel would scowl if she wasn't so darn charmed. "Anyway," she says, ignoring Quinn's sudden pout. "I broke up with him when I realised he was probably right. I did love you more. I always have. I just didn't realise it." She sighs. "Everything since then has been a version of Hell."
Quinn looks down, her brow furrowed. "I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault."
"I don't know how you can possibly say that," Quinn says. "I should have known."
"What's my excuse then?"
Quinn opens her mouth to say something, but closes it a moment later. She obviously doesn't know what to say in response to that. When she does end up speaking, she says, "Unrequited love is a bitch, isn't it?"
Rachel thinks they might be able to smile about this one day, but today is not that day. "It was so hard," she says. "I - I was dealing with all these feelings that I totally sucked at hiding, and I couldn't understand why you were pulling away from me. These past few months have been some of the worst, Quinn. I - I don't even care if we never get to where I want us to be, but please can you just be my friend again? Please. I don't know how to be me without you."
Quinn slides out of her side of the booth immediately, and comes to sit beside her. "Rach, no, Sweets, please don't cry." She reaches for a paper napkin and dabs at Rachel's eyes. "I'm sorry. God, I'm so sorry."
"I love you," Rachel says. "I love you so much. Please don't put us through more of this. Please can we stop hurting each other."
Quinn wipes her cheeks clean with the pads of her thumbs, and then cups both her cheeks. "Okay."
"We're going to stop right now."
Rachel just stares at her, wide-eyed and teary.
"I'm stopping right now," Quinn says, and drops her hands to take hold of Rachel's. "I - I can't stand the thought of you hurting at all; let alone being the one to do it. I didn't - I didn't allow myself to see it and acknowledge it for what it was, and I'm sorry. I was being selfish, trying to protect myself without stopping to pay attention to how it would all affect you. I'm so sorry, Rach. I'm stopping right now. I just - you'll have to forgive me if I don't know how."
Rachel looks down at their joined hands, watching as Quinn's thumbs trace over her knuckles. "I don't know what you're trying to tell me."
Quinn sighs. "We've been hurting each other for so long; I don't know how to stop. Do you?"
Rachel might have just kissed her if she were braver. Instead, she shakes her head, which is an answer enough.
"Maybe we can start again," Quinn suggests quietly. "All cards on the table. No hiding anything."
"That's a tall ask."
"Besides the love I've harboured for you for years; you know everything else about me."
"That still seems kind of big, Quinn."
Quinn shrugs. "I think we'll do well to keep talking about this."
"I love you," Quinn says, and Rachel actually might die. She stares, slack-jawed, her heart pounding in her chest, because Quinn just said it out loud, directly, to her face. "It's no longer a secret, and I don't intend to hide any more of my feelings for you." She takes her hands back. "Having said that," she starts; "I think we both need to take some time." She breathes out. "I just - I need some time. To wrap my head around this. To get to a point where I can accept that I haven't ruined everything, and that I might actually get to have you."
Rachel resists the urge to say you already do, and rather bites the inside of her cheek to stop herself from saying something that might scare Quinn away.
"I can hardly believe it, if I'm being honest," Quinn continues, suddenly looking so, so young. "It's like a dream."
"It's real, Quinn."
Quinn's smile is a little lopsided when she meets Rachel's gaze. "I guess our timing's always just been kind of shit huh?"
"That's one way to put it."
"It's going to be different now," Quinn says. "I know, and you know, and we can take fucking timing by the horns and just - "
"Your ice cream is melting."
Quinn smiles, soft and wonderful. "I want to do this," she says. "With you. I want to do this."
"I'm going away for Spring Break."
"Phil mentioned it."
"Can we talk about this again when I get back?" she asks, suddenly looking nervous, as if Rachel could ever say no.
"Of course, Quinn," Rachel says. "Anything."
Quinn's smile grows into something a little more genuine. "You're beautiful."
Rachel flushes, ducking her head to hide it. God. She has no idea how she's supposed to survive any of this.
Quinn laughs softly, and then reaches for her melting ice cream across the table. She shifts closer to Rachel, just enough to feel the heat of her body, and there's just something so inexplicably perfect about this moment.
Rachel wants to bottle it up and keep it forever.
"You're beautiful, too."
If Rachel expects Quinn to react the same way she did, she's mistaken. Quinn rather turns her head to look at her, a glint of mischief in her eye and her mouth sporting a dangerous smirk.
"Well, I figure I must be," Quinn drawls; "you're the one who apparently fell in love with me after you saw me in a bikini."
And, really, Rachel doesn't have a response to that.
Spring Break is spent soul searching, or whatever the equivalent to that is when it involves copious amounts of alcohol and friends who won't judge her.
Finn comes home, and they gather at Dani's house most nights, being young and talking nonsense, because her mother works nights. Rachel doesn't really feel as if Quinn is missing in these moments, because Quinn isn't part of this group of friends. Quinn is rather the person she goes home to, crawling into bed beside her and telling her tales of her night out.
Still, Quinn isn't here, even though Santana sometimes is.
It isn't awkward or weird having her around, really, but Santana reminds her of Quinn in many different ways. The two of them haven't spoken about any of that drama in quite some time, but Rachel gets the feeling she already knows.
Quinn must have told her.
Quinn, who is currently out of reach in an entirely different state.
Quinn, who Rachel misses quite terribly when she does crawl into her own bed late at night, alone and a little heartsore.
Rachel follows Quinn's roadtrip through her social media, her heart hurting at the unmistakable relief she sees in Quinn's eyes when she appears in the odd picture. Phil is a proud father, definitely, and there's even a single picture with Melinda in which the woman actually smiles.
Rachel likes every picture Quinn posts.
She doesn't call Quinn, and Quinn doesn't call her, but, at the end of the Break, LeRoy comes home with a gift bag that he says Melinda passed on to him for her. Inside is a blank postcard from New Haven and a Yale crew neck sweater that doesn't feel brand new.
One deep inhale later, and Rachel knows Quinn has worn this sweatshirt at least once. It smells exactly like her - a combination of apples, cinnamon and something inherently Quinn - and Rachel immediately slips it on, goes up to her bedroom, throws herself onto her bed, grabs for her phone, takes a deep breath and texts Quinn.
Berry The Hatchet: Thank you for the sweater. It fits quite snug and it smells like you.
She holds her breath, and then realises that's ridiculous because she'll probably end up suffocating before she gets a -
Her phone buzzes in her hand, and her heart actually jolts.
A Quinnundrum: You're welcome. (Well, we all know how much you enjoy stealing my clothes, so I thought I would save you the trouble).
Rachel closes her eyes, a small smile spreading across her face. God. This is completely ridiculous. It's Quinn. It's just Quinn.
Berry The Hatchet: I plead the Fifth.
A Quinnundrum: Confessions aren't necessary here, Berry. We have all the evidence we need to convict.
Berry The Hatchet: I see you're starting your lawyer life early, Counsellor.
A Quinnundrum: You can't blame me. I've seen the future.
Berry The Hatchet: Was Yale really that amazing?
A Quinnundrum: It was everything I dreamed. (For so long, I didn't think I would ever get the opportunity for something like this. Even after I came to live with Phil and Melinda, getting to go to college was still so foreign a concept to me, but it's all actually happening.)
Berry The Hatchet: You did it, Quinn.
A Quinnundrum: Yes, I suppose I did.
Berry The Hatchet: I didn't tell you this the last time we spoke, but you should know that I'm very proud of you.
A Quinnundrum: Thank you, Rachel. I don't think I'll ever be able to explain to you how much that means to me. Especially when you're part of the reason any of it is even happening. I hope you know none of this would have been possible without you.
Rachel has to force her breathing to slow. It's threatening to run away from her, because none of Quinn's words are particularly different to how they used to talk before the disaster of their senior year started. Nothing has really changed.
And, yet, everything has
Berry The Hatchet: It was all you, Quinn.
A Quinnundrum: Well, I've never been all me without you, so I'm handing out credit where its due.
Rachel sucks in a breath, absently wondering how she ever survived any of this before. Just the thought of being unaware of what this all means and meant on Quinn's side makes her wish she'd paid better attention.
There's really nothing more she wants to say other than 'I love you,' so she goes with something a little safer. But still anxiety-inducing.
Berry The Hatchet: I miss you.
A Quinnundrum: Get dressed. I'm coming to get you.
Rachel shoots up immediately, her heart launching into her throat at the sight of Quinn's words.
Quinn is coming here? Shit. Quinn is coming here. To get her.
She looks down at herself, eyeing the 'YALE' on her chest and her paint-stained sweatpants. Her hair is probably a mess, and she won't even start on what her face must look like. She hasn't seen Quinn in nearly ten days, and she doesn't want to look like a disaster when she does.
With a squeak, she scrambles to her feet and rushes to her closet to find some decent pants, changing quickly into a pair of jeans. She drags a brush through her hair, wincing when it gets caught on several tangles. She doesn't bother with makeup, choosing rather to splash her face with water, scrub her toothbrush over her teeth and then practically suffocate herself with perfume.
She's just finished slipping on her shoes when Quinn sends another text.
A Quinnundrum: I'm here. Please come out.
Rachel almost rolls her eyes, because now she's saying please. With one last look in the mirror to make sure she looks halfway decent, Rachel heads out of her room and down the stairs. She bypasses her fathers in the living room without saying a word and walks right out of the house.
Her eyes are already on Quinn's car parked out front as she closes the door behind her, her destination in mind. Which is why she lets out a little yelp when someone gently grabs her wrist and tugs her to the right.
Before she can even think to fight her attacker, warm arms slide around her body and she's being hugged as if she's never been hugged before.
She stops struggling immediately, because she knows these arms, and her body relaxes into the embrace. Her own arms wrap around a familiar waist, and she closes her eyes and inhales deeply. Apples. Cinnamon. Quinn.
Her grip tightens, her hands fisting the fabric of Quinn's sweater, and she quietly vows never to let go. She's relieved when it seems Quinn has the same idea, and she ends up losing track of just how long they stand there wrapped around each other.
Rachel's convinced she could have stayed out there forever, but she eventually starts to shiver despite the warmth of Quinn's body pressed against her. Quinn initiates the release, pulling back and drawing a sound of reluctance from Rachel.
Quinn chuckles softly, and Rachel feels the vibrations of her chest. "You're going to get sick," she says.
"Don't care," Rachel mumbles.
"We have school tomorrow."
"Wow, I really don't care about that," she returns, barely resisting an eye-roll. "Like, at all." She gets the surprise of her life when Quinn brings her closer again, nuzzles her temple, hums softly, and then presses the gentlest kiss to the side of her head.
It's nothing new, really, but this action at this moment in time is heavy with something unspoken.
"Quinn," she murmurs, and then feels Quinn's lips spread into a smile against her skin.
"I miss you, too," Quinn whispers right back, and Rachel shivers for a reason that has nothing to do with the cold. "God, I've missed you for forever."
Rachel grips her sweater tighter, and she wants to say another set of very dangerous three words. She presses her lips together to stop herself, choosing rather to drag the tip of her nose along the line of Quinn's jaw.
Quinn's breath catches. "It's - it's getting late, Rach," she manages to say, and the truth is that it really is.
Still, it takes them another three minutes to separate, another two actually to say goodbye and another seven to stop looking at each other as if the world will end if they do. Rachel remains standing on the front porch, watching as Quinn gets into her car and eventually drives away.
It takes her another minute to go inside, and, even then, she hasn't stopped smiling.
"Rachel?" Hiram calls out from the living room, eyeing her curiously. "Is everything okay, Sweetheart?"
She tries to temper her smile by trapping her bottom lip between her teeth, but she doesn't think she's all that successful.
"Everything is great, Dad," she says, and she actually means it. "Goodnight," she says quickly, hoping they don't ask more questions, and then races up the stairs.
On the landing, her feet carry her to the right rather than the left, her mind choosing her studio instead of her bedroom.
She spends the rest of the night painting.
Rachel isn't entirely sure what to expect in the morning, but she wakes to a very particular text from a very particular girl, which puts a very particular smile on her face.
A Quinnundrum: Good morning, Monet :) Do you have any free afternoons this week? There's somewhere I'd like to take you. (No, I'm not going to tell you where. I've missed being able to surprise you.)
Rachel's smile grows into something far too wide for this early in the morning, and she's convinced she could burst into song from how full her heart feels. She rolls onto her back and stares at her ceiling. Get it together, Berry. She knows she's being ridiculous, but this moment in time is just amazing.
Berry The Hatchet: Good morning, Quinn :) How did you sleep? Um, well, as far as I know, I have Tuesday, Thursday and possibly Friday free.
It's the truth, at least. While Mr Schuester has never been explicit about it, he does expect them to go to the studio on Monday, Wednesday and sometimes even Friday afternoons to work on their projects.
And, well, Rachel has something of an actual, feasible idea to put together, now that she's decided - and actually started.
A Quinnundrum: I slept wonderfully, thank you, how about you? Damn, I have swimming on Tuesday and Thursday. Is Friday okay? Think you can handle the suspense until then?
Berry The Hatchet: I didn't really get much sleep, to be honest. Inspiration kind of sunk its teeth into me, and I think I'm seeing double at the moment. I think I'll survive, Fabray. Friday sounds good. It's a date.
Her eyes widen the second she hits send, and she panics for all of ten seconds before she's typing out another text. Or several.
Berry The Hatchet: I mean, not a date date.
Berry The Hatchet: Unless it is a date, then ignore me.
Berry The Hatchet: But, if it's not, also ignore me.
Berry The Hatchet: In fact, just ignore me altogether. I'm tired and a little loopy. Who are you? Who am I even speaking to?
Rachel forces herself to stop, because this is just ridiculous. She rolls over on her bed and groans into her pillow. Quinn's going to think she's an idiot.
She is an idiot.
When her phone sounds, she takes a moment before she reads the text.
A Quinnundrum: Just so we're on the same page, I definitely meant it as a date. Sorry. I should have been clearer. Also, I don't plan ever to ignore you again, so that's never happening. I don't know if I should congratulate you or worry over the fact you haven't had any sleep. I'll bring you a coffee this morning, regardless. Meet you in the parking lot?
Rachel swoons, her heart racing for reasons she can't even explain. She types back a reply she won't be able to recall, and then grins like a lovestruck idiot when she gets a simple see you soon back from Quinn.
"Okay," Dani starts once she takes her seat beside Rachel in class. "Tell me I didn't see you and Quinn Fabray talking and drinking coffee together this morning."
Rachel bites her bottom lip to stop her automatic smile just at the sound of Quinn's name. "What?"
Dani eyes her carefully, studying her closely. "Are you blushing?"
"You're a lousy liar."
"I'm aware, thank you."
Dani shifts closer. "Are you two, like, talking or whatever?"
Rachel shrugs. "Or whatever."
Dani's eyes widen. "Rachel Berry. Spill. Right now."
Rachel laughs softly, shaking her head in amusement. "We're going on a date on Friday," she says, and then has to quiet Dani when she makes a sound that doesn't sound entirely human. "Dan, please."
Dani does a little dance in her seat, merely proving how strange she is. "This is great news, right? I mean, of course, you still have stuff to talk about and figure out, but this is good news, right? We're happy?"
Rachel ducks her head, unable to stop her smile. "Yeah," she breathes; "we're happy."
Dani pats her shoulder once, twice, and then asks, "So, is she as good a kisser as I imagine she is?"
Despite her deep blush, Rachel raises her eyebrows in question. "You've imagined what it's like to kiss Quinn?"
"Oh, come on," Dani says. "I'm pretty sure every sexually fluid girl has thought about it at least once."
Rachel rolls her eyes. "Have you told that to Santana?"
"Huh," Dani muses; "maybe I should."
Rachel smiles softly, and then shakes her head. "We haven't kissed," she confesses. "We're just, I guess, we're just seeing how things go at the moment."
"And you're okay with that?"
Before Rachel can answer, her phone vibrates in her pocket, letting her know she has a text. The way her heart jolts at the mere idea of it being Quinn should be worrying, but she's decided to enjoy it.
This is the part they missed out on before.
She takes out her phone, her smile large and wide when she sees 'A Quinnundrum' on her screen. "Yeah," she says, answering Dani's question. "I'm totally okay with that."
While they text near non-stop, Rachel doesn't actively see Quinn until late Tuesday afternoon. Even then, it's not something she consciously decides to do. She knows Quinn is at swimming, which is why she deems it safe to visit Phil to talk about her final project and the major decision she's made.
If he's surprised to see her, he says nothing about it - which is probably one of her favourite things about him. He just invites her inside, sets her up at the kitchen island and places a plate of cookies in front of her.
"You're looking... different," Phil says.
"Not to sound cliché, but you're looking lighter," he comments. "Less burdened, as it were."
He's fishing, Rachel knows, but she's not willing to give that much away when she and Quinn still don't quite know what they're doing. Instead, she says, "I've been working on my project."
"I have an actual, proper plan now," she says, smiling softly. "I wanted to ask if you were okay with my including you and Melinda in my pieces."
"You're both part of my memories," she explains. "You're both part of Quinn."
He smiles softly, and then moves to sit on the stool beside her. "I was convinced we were the worst people for her when she came to live with us," he admits quietly. "I'm pretty sure she hated me."
Rachel pats his hand. "I don't think it was that," she says. "She was just... wary of you."
"I know," he says, frowning at the possible reasons why. "It was really difficult in the beginning. For all of us. We had a few terrible weeks trying to get used to one another, and there were tantrums and silent treatments and she was this little hurricane who didn't trust anyone and made sure to squirrel away food in case we stopped feeding her." His eyes turn sad. "And then she started school, she met you and I want to say the rest is history."
Rachel blushes then, her heart aching for a little Quinn Fabray, taken from her home and thrust into another family's. Then another family's. And then another.
Until she came here, to Lima, to live with a childless, slightly-older Phil and Melinda, who had bounds of love to give and an abundance of comfort to provide.
"Things changed a lot for us after that," he continues, leaning his elbows on the counter. "Do you know when I first figured out she accepted we were the ones to stay? When she allowed herself to be comfortable in our home?"
His smile grows. "It was this one Tuesday and she came home from school, rambling randomly about her classes and her sports and how her yoghurt exploded in her lunchbox. She just went on and on and on until she fell silent quite suddenly, looking nervous, and I remember forcing myself not to question her about it, choosing rather to let her get there in her own time. Which was a good call on my part, because, then, ducking her head slightly, she asked very quietly, 'Can Rachel please sleep over on Friday?' and isn't my daughter just the cutest?"
"Mhmm," Rachel says, internally agreeing. Quinn really can be the most adorable person, even when she's trying desperately not to be. Especially when she's trying not to be.
Phil slips off his stool again, and moves towards his oven to check on his banana loaf. Rachel doesn't know why he's even baking such a thing, when Quinn hates bananas and Melinda claims she's allergic to sugar.
She clears her throat. "Do you think I'm going to freak her out with all of this?"
Phil glances at her. "Would you be asking me that question if you two were still just best friends?"
She arches an eyebrow. "What makes you think we're not still just best friends?"
Phil narrows his eyes slightly. "You're not the only one who's been floating around here, you know," he says.
Rachel blushes at the sound of that, saying nothing.
Phil laughs, his shoulders shaking. "I honestly cannot wait to give my speech at your wedding."
Now, that does nothing to help with her blush, and she's relieved she hears the front door open and close right until the moment Quinn appears in the kitchen, hair damp, glasses on her face and cheeks a little flushed.
Rachel's breath gets caught in her throat at the mere sight of her, all straight edges and guarded eyes. She's never really allowed herself the opportunity to look at Quinn, take in her features and commit them to memory. Sure, she's studied Quinn in order to draw her, but she's never been able to look at her and admire her.
Quinn looks between them, smiling a little bemusedly. "Am I interrupting?"
"Come and give your old man a hug," Phil says, holding out his arms rather dramatically, and getting giggles from both girls.
Quinn sets her phone on the island and then throws herself at Phil, almost tipping them both over. Rachel takes a mental picture, knowing she's going to attempt to draw it later.
Phil presses a sloppy kiss to the side of Quinn's head, and finally releases her when she squirms to be let go. Rachel just smiles at their antics, carefully making a note in her sketchbook to remember this mental image later.
She's just finishing the end of her note when she feels Quinn's arms wrap around her shoulders from behind. Her heart staccatos in her chest at the feeling of Quinn's front against her back, but it threatens to leap right out of her throat when Quinn nuzzles her hair, whispers hello, you, and then kisses her cheek.
Quinn moves to let her go, but Rachel lifts a hand to her forearm to keep her in place.
"Stay," she murmurs, and Quinn does.
In fact, Quinn gets closer, resting her chin on Rachel's shoulder and humming softly. "What are we doing?" she asks. "Art?"
"Art," Rachel confirms, relaxing in Quinn's embrace. "On top of our final project, we still have our weekly assignments to complete while in class."
"What's this week's assignment?"
Quinn barks out a short laugh. "Seriously?"
"Seriously," Rachel confirms, suddenly beyond comfortable that she thinks she could probably fall asleep right here. "You're probably just as confused as we were. I didn't even know where to begin."
"But, you do now?"
"Well," she murmurs; "I'm just going to draw a bunch of dead flowers. But, like, pretty ones. And then douse it in perfume. Done."
Quinn laughs breathily, right against her ear, and Rachel is five seconds away from making some very embarrassing sounds. "Well, you've always managed to make dying things look beautiful."
"I don't know if that's a compliment or not."
"Definitely a compliment," Quinn whispers, and Rachel closes her eyes for a long moment.
"Uh," Phil suddenly says; "Should I leave the room?"
Rachel's eyes snap open, and Quinn stiffens behind her. She can feel Quinn start to release her, so her hand tightens on Quinn's forearm, keeping her still.
"Wouldn't your banana loaf burn then?" Rachel asks.
Phil eyes her. "It probably would, because the both of you are useless at baking."
Rachel smiles innocently. "Still, if you're willing to risk your baked creation, feel free to leave the room," she says. "Nobody's stopping you."
"So you two can do what, exactly?"
Rachel leans back slightly. "I'm pretty sure all we're doing is discussing my Art assignment, Phil. Isn't that right, Quinn?"
"By my recollection, that's exactly what we're doing," Quinn immediately says. "Unless we're both mistaken. Are you hearing something we're not, Dad?"
Phil eyes them critically, but his mouth is twitching with the effort it takes to suppress his smile. Rachel knows he absolutely loves it when Quinn calls him 'Dad' instead of 'Phil.'
Quinn nuzzles into Rachel's hair again, and Rachel giggles at the way Phil's eyes narrow at them. Eventually, Quinn relents and straightens, releasing Rachel and receiving a sound of protest from her.
Quinn laughs softly. "I know I'm interrupting," she says. "I also have a ton of homework, and I don't want to be in the way of whatever you're up to while I curse my teachers."
"Don't leave," Rachel says, unashamed.
Quinn just squeezes her shoulders, and then starts to walk out of the kitchen, grabbing her phone on the way. "I'll be upstairs if you need me," she calls over her shoulder, and then pauses in the doorway, turning to look at Rachel. "You'll come say bye before you go, right?" she asks, and she sounds so young, nervous and vulnerable in that way that makes Rachel love her so much more.
"Of course," Rachel says, smiling in assurance.
Quinn smiles in relief, salutes playfully, and then disappears.
Rachel looks at Phil then, her heart full and aching with warmth.
"What did I tell you?" he says, beaming at her. "She's just the cutest."
An hour later, Rachel makes her way down to the basement, retrieves something very important, and then heads all the way up to Quinn's bedroom. The door is wide open, soft music playing from her Bluetooth speaker, and Rachel peeks into the room to find her lying on her stomach on her carpeted floor, textbooks and notebooks spread out in front of her.
Rachel doesn't announce her presence immediately. Instead, she just stands and watches Quinn work, her brow furrowed and her lips pursed in concentration.
Quinn suddenly grumbles something under her breath as she turns a page a little too violently, and Rachel feels so, so stupid with her love. Until now, she's avoided allowing herself to feel any of this. It's such a relief to be able to acknowledge that she and Quinn are actually doing this. That they're somehow going to work through all the pain of the last few months and try.
Rachel thinks she should start to feel creepy just staring at Quinn this way, but the overwhelming feeling is love. So, so much love.
"Hey," Rachel says, and Quinn immediately looks up, smiling automatically. "I see you're hard at work."
"I hate school," Quinn says, as she lifts herself up, turns and sits cross-legged with her back against her bed. "Who invented it?"
"Someone pretty smart, I imagine," Rachel says, walking into the room. It's different to what she remembers, the walls bare.
"What's that?" Quinn asks.
Rachel avoids answering, rather kicking off her shoes, heading for Quinn's bed and climbing onto it. She takes a moment to steady herself on her feet, and then carries the painting of the meadow to the wall behind the headboard and puts it up on the nail that's already there. She spends a moment making sure it's sitting straight, and then steps back to inspect her handiwork.
"Did you steal from my museum, Berry?" Quinn asks.
"Steal is a harsh word," Rachel says, looking over her shoulder at Quinn. "I guess I thought your favourite one deserves to be seen. Every day. By you. So you can be reminded of me."
Quinn arches an eyebrow. "I don't need a painting to be reminded of you," she says.
Rachel shakes her head, because Quinn really is too good at this. "So..."
Quinn tilts her neck back, resting her head on her bed and looking at Rachel. "I'm glad you're here."
Rachel carefully moves to sit on the bed, crossing her own legs, her left knee ending up right near Quinn's head. "Phil invited me to stay for dinner," she says.
Quinn's smile is slow as it spreads across her face.
"Is that okay?"
"Of course," Quinn says. "He misses you."
Quinn rises up, turning onto her knees and leaning over the edge of her bed. Her left hand rests on Rachel's knee, and the other tucks a lock of hair behind Rachel's ear. "Not just him," Quinn says softly. "I'm sure Mel does too."
Rachel laughs, swatting Quinn's hand away.
Quinn holds onto her hand, linking their fingers. "Tell me something," she says.
"Are you okay?" she asks. "Is this too much? Not enough? Can I - "
"Can you what?" Rachel asks, her voice breathless.
"Hold you," she says. "Hug you, touch you, kiss you, just..." she trails off, smiling a little sheepishly. "I mean, I don't know what you're comfortable with. I only heard about that one date you went on with a girl. I don't know if you've even kissed anyone else, and I don't want to do anything that'll be too much, I suppose."
Rachel stares at her for a long moment, suddenly very aware that she can't tell Quinn about her first girl kiss after that. Quinn is being so sweet and considerate, and -
Rachel clears her throat. "You can do all those things," she manages to say, her voice a little shaky. "Is - is that something we need to talk about?"
"I mean, I already know about your first kisses and your first time, and I've known all the people you've dated. Is this something we need to talk about?"
Quinn blinks. "Can I say that I'd rather not?"
"We don't have to, if you don't want to."
"Do you want to?"
"Not really," she says. "I mean, you already know about, uh, Jesse." She winces, even when Quinn doesn't react to the name. "You know about my ill-advised first kiss with Finn. There's - there's - " she stops, sighs and then shakes her head. "Okay, full disclosure, I had a midnight kiss on New Year's while I was visiting my grandparents."
"Okay..." Quinn says, looking a little confused.
"Her name was Maia."
Rachel looks down, nervously biting her bottom lip.
"Rach?" Quinn says quietly.
"Will you please look at me?"
Rachel takes a slow breath before she lifts her gaze, meeting Quinn's as steadily as she can manage.
"I'm not sure if you're expecting some bad reaction from me to that news, but you're probably not going to get it," she says. "I just - was she kind about it?"
Quinn blushes. "If it was your first, I just - I guess I hope it wasn't terrible and she made it special."
Rachel reaches for Quinn, cupping her cheeks with both hands. "You are too good for this Earth, Quinn Fabray."
Quinn blinks slowly, and Rachel is very aware that Quinn's gaze keeps dropping to her lips. It makes her body feel hot, butterflies erupting in her stomach at the mere thought of kissing Quinn. "Did I already tell you how beautiful you are today?" she asks.
"This morning, yes."
Quinn smiles, soft and perfect. "Move back," she suddenly says.
"Move back. Lie down. I want to hold you."
Those butterflies take off, escaping from her stomach and flying through her every organ. She's flushed and breathless as she does as instructed, moving to lie on her side on Quinn's bed, very aware of every move Quinn makes.
Quinn is so gentle as she climbs onto the bed and slots herself behind Rachel, wrapping her arms around her waist and holding her close. Her breath is warm against the back of Rachel's neck as she places a soft kiss there.
"Is this okay?" Quinn murmurs.
"I've dreamt of doing this so many times," Quinn admits.
"Other things too, of course," she says; "but always this. Just, this."
Rachel closes her eyes, allowing her body to relax into the mattress beneath her and Quinn's body behind her. She thinks she and Quinn are going to be experiencing a long string of perfect moments.
"Just this, huh?"
Quinn hums softly. "Exactly this."
Phil finds them an hour later when he goes upstairs to call them for dinner. They're asleep, wrapped around each other, and both wearing content looks on their faces.
He snaps an inevitable picture of them, already knowing he's going to save it for their wedding.
He almost doesn't want to wake them.
He does, anyway.
After all, he really misses them.
The first date is magic.
Because it is Friday, Quinn adjusts her plans slightly, because they'll be able to stay out much later. Hiram even teases her about Rachel's curfew when she arrives to pick her up from the Berry home on Friday afternoon.
Quinn just blushes, and then says, "I'm sorry I've been so weird these past few months."
Hiram very obviously has no idea how to respond to that.
Quinn continues anyway. "I had things to figure out," she explains. "I think I needed to experience a life without her to know I could never survive such a thing. Even being just her friend is enough."
"But, you'll happily take more?"
Quinn nods. "It's all I've ever wanted." She smiles a little sadly. "She's all I've ever wanted, even when I forced myself not to."
Hiram just hugs her, because, God, he's missed her so damn much. When he releases her, both their cheeks are red. "Her curfew is midnight," he says.
"No, it's not," Quinn says, at the same time Rachel calls from the top of the stairs, "It definitely isn't."
Quinn looks up then, and her eyes widen at the sight of Rachel in all her glory. It's not even that she's wearing anything Quinn hasn't seen before. It's just that she's in a very pretty dress, looking very pretty herself, and they're about to go on an actual date.
"Wow," Quinn breathes out.
Rachel walks down the stairs slowly, a blush on her cheeks and her bottom lip trapped between her teeth. When she reaches ground level, she steps up to Quinn and gently tugs on the lapel of Quinn's jacket. "You look beautiful."
Quinn smiles softly. "Have you seen yourself?"
"About a minute ago, yes," she says; "when I panicked over my appearance in the mirror."
Quinn sways forward and presses a lingering kiss to her cheek. "You are stunning," she whispers against Rachel's skin.
Hiram clears his throat, and Quinn pulls back, her facial expression entirely too innocent even if she's blushing. "Curfew is midnight," he says unnecessarily, because they all know Rachel will be back whenever she wants. Especially if she's with Quinn, who is as responsible as they come.
Quinn holds out her hand for Rachel. "Ready to go?"
Carefully linking their fingers, Rachel bids farewell to her father and allows herself to be led out of the house and down to Quinn's car. Quinn opens the passenger's side door for her with a bit of a flourish, which makes her giggle - Quinn is really such a dork.
Rachel forces herself to get into the car before she can do something ridiculous and kiss Quinn before the date has even started. She told herself she would wait.
It's still a little early in the evening, the sun still shining quite high in the sky. Quinn fiddles with her phone, setting a playlist, and then gets them on the road. Rachel doesn't know where they're going, and she tells herself not to ask. She rather just listens to the music and makes easy conversation about nothing much.
"I have to confess something," Quinn says, as the song changes to some old school Alicia Keys.
Rachel looks at her, expectant.
"I might have discussed this date with Santana, hoping to get her opinion on it, so there's a high probability she's going to tease us relentlessly the next time she sees us."
"I'm going full-on cliché here, Rachel," Quinn says. "Granted, I read about this thing a while ago, and I was going to tell you about it, but now I get to take you there, and I hope you won't find it too cheesy."
Quinn is making it way too difficult for Rachel not to ask all her endless questions. She's giving nothing away, but saying so much, and Rachel squirms in her seat, which prompts Quinn to glance over at her and smile knowingly.
Well, it's really more of a smirk.
Rachel realises, almost belatedly, that Quinn is driving them right out of Lima, leaving their home behind. She won't pretend to know how far Quinn is prepared to drive them, but Rachel has the crazy thought that she would be willing to sit in this car forever, if it meant she gets to spend all that time with Quinn.
It's all a little pathetic, but she's choosing to embrace all these amazing feelings for what they are.
At some point, Quinn turns them off the main road and follows some smaller roads until they get to a parking lot at the edge of a lake. "I know you like picnics," Quinn says once the car has come to a stop. "I thought it might be nice to have one out on the pier, our feet in the water, the stars lit up in the sky above us."
Rachel smiles softly, so painfully in love that it almost wants to burst right out of her.
Quinn shifts nervously. "Is it too much?" she asks. "Is it weird? I mean, I have something planned for us in Columbus; that's why we have to be closer, but we can head into the city now and eat at an actual restaurant, if that's what you want. Anything's fine with me. I just wanted to watch the sunset with you, I guess, and I know how much you…" she trails off, helplessly, looking away and audibly swallowing. "Please will you say something."
"I love you."
Quinn sucks in a sharp breath.
"And I would very much like to kiss you right now."
Quinn just stares at her.
"Would you be okay with that?"
Quinn's eyes dart down to her lips for a beat, and then they're both moving, coming together to share their first ever kiss over the centre console of Quinn's car. Quinn's lips are soft against Rachel's, warm and slightly hesitant as they move.
It's everything Rachel ever imagined.
It's more than that.
Every part of Quinn is just more.
Eventually, Quinn pulls back, a small smile on her face. "If I were anyone else, I might make a terrible joke about how we seem to be starting with dessert."
Rachel laughs, her head shaking in amusement. "You're ridiculous."
Quinn pecks her lips once more, humming softly. "So, how about that picnic?"
Rachel wouldn't have thought it possible, but she's sure that she falls more and more in love with Quinn with every second that passes. The ninety minutes on the pier is spent watching Quinn ramble nervously about the food she's brought and then wax poetic with a certain confidence about her upcoming finals, her future at Yale and all the recent music she's been listening to.
Rachel feels so, so stupid for never seeing this for what it was. It's so obvious now.
"What?" Quinn suddenly says, her brow furrowed. "Do I have something on my face?"
"You're staring at me."
Rachel flushes at the way Quinn just casually points it out. "I want to paint you."
Quinn blinks slowly. "Right now?"
Rachel reaches out to touch her jaw. "I can't quite get over how beautiful you are," she murmurs. "It's unreal."
Quinn frowns. "I'm pretty sure there aren't any hallucinogens in the food."
Rachel pats her cheek a little too hard to be strictly affectionate. "I know what I see," she says. "I'm an artist, remember? I know beauty when I see it."
"You're an artist, huh?"
Rachel shrugs. "Well, I mean, we haven't really talked about it since, well, before, but it's highly likely I'm going to be going to NYU this fall."
Quinn smiles proudly. "And, what, pray tell, are we going to be studying when we get there?"
Rachel puts a grape in her mouth to buy herself some time. "Still undecided," she finally says. "I have a while to figure it out, I guess."
Quinn regards her carefully. "What are you so afraid of?"
Rachel can't look at her anymore. "What if - what if I try to make a career out of it and fail?" she asks, so quietly, that Quinn has to lean in to hear her. "What if I start to hate it? What if there's a day when I just can't produce anything anymore? What if - "
"Hey," Quinn says, tilting Rachel's head up with a finger under her chin. "Those are a lot of what ifs," she says.
"How's this then?" Quinn says, shifting closer and kissing her cheek, letting her lips linger. "What if you try to make a career out of this and actually succeed? What if you continue to love it?" She kisses along the line of Rachel's jaw. "What is there never comes a day when you can't produce the greatest art? What if I promise to be there always, to help you - "
Rachel very suddenly turns her head and kisses Quinn's mouth. This kiss is even better than their first, and Quinn kind of sighs against her lips. Into her mouth.
Rachel has the crazy idea to climb right into Quinn's lap, but Quinn ends the kiss before she can make a move. They're both breathing heavily, and Quinn's pupils are blown.
"We - we have to go," Quinn forces out. "I mean, we have somewhere else to be." She reaches for her phone to check the time. "Uh huh, we need to get going."
Rachel just nods, forcing her hands to stay in her lap.
Quinn smiles softly, though, and kisses her one more time, before she starts to clean up their dinner of chicken salads and layered trifles. All of which Quinn shyly confessed to preparing herself.
It's impossible not to love her that bit more with every breath she takes.
This moment, right here, makes her love feel infinite.
"We can leave if this is lame," Quinn preempts as they step into the well-lit gallery space. It's a student showing from the local college, and they're showcasing their own semester projects. "I thought it might be nice to see other students making a go of it," Quinn explains, blushing slightly. "But, if it's too much, there's also a poetry jam we could go to a few blocks away."
Rachel says nothing, just tugs Quinn further inside by the hand, and allows herself to immerse in the art all around her.
The projects are all expressed in different mediums. There are paintings and sketches and sculptures and metal constructions and even technological pieces. It's all so fascinating, and her eyes are a little wide as she takes it all in.
Rachel doesn't really know if art actually interests Quinn, but she fakes it well enough. There are a few things that catch her attention, but Quinn seems happy to let her study techniques and meanings in all the mediums.
At some point, they come across a gathered crowd in one of the corners, and she and Quinn gravitate towards them, curious to see what's happening. There's apparently some projected presentation coming up, and Rachel tugs Quinn closer, even if they're still in the back.
Being still makes her very aware of Quinn's presence beside her, and the air she breathes smells like her. It ignites something in her, makes her a little reckless, her blood rushing through her veins.
She absentmindedly registers that the girl standing at the front of the gathered crowd ends her introduction with, "... as a result, I wanted to create something that equates to that feeling of breathlessness that comes along with new love, and this is what I came up with," and then the lights dim.
The audience starts murmuring to themselves and Quinn turns her head towards her and Rachel's lips fall against Quinn's mouth almost accidentally - except, it's far from accidental, of course.
They kiss slowly, softly - shifting closer only ever so slightly - almost too afraid to break the intensity of the moment by going too fast.
Rachel absently registers that someone else is now introducing their own work two minutes later, and she knows she should be paying attention - she would hate it if a pair of teenagers came to her show and rather made out in the back instead of taking in all her hard work - but she doesn't have enough willpower for that.
Because, then, Quinn presses her body into Rachel a little bit harder, a little bolder, and Rachel's hand falls down to Quinn's hip, just under the hem of her shirt, even though she doesn't really mean to, and it causes Quinn to let out a quiet throaty noise that makes Rachel's spine arch completely outside of her control.
And, suddenly, Rachel's not aware of anything or anyone around her, because Quinn shifts forward harshly, kissing Rachel faster and messier and Rachel's fingers start to press harder into Quinn's hip with every hot shiver that's running down her back.
Her pulse quickens, her breathing turns uneven, and when Quinn sinks her teeth softly into Rachel's bottom lip, biting down on it, Rachel is not able to stop herself from moaning into Quinn's open mouth, accidentally digging her fingernails right into Quinn's skin.
Quinn gasps and pulls harder on Rachel's hip, pulling her harder into -
The audience suddenly breaks into applause, and they both startle out of the kiss at the same time, the lights brighter around them.
One of the art students is telling them this part of the show will run again in a half-hour's time, and they're free to continue looking around.
Rachel is flushed and breathless, and all she really wants to do is keep kissing Quinn. It's really as simple as that. How has she spent so many years at Quinn's side and not done that at every presentable opportunity?
Quinn eventually clears her throat and slips her hand back into Rachel's. "Shall we continue our tour?"
Rachel nods once, silently tells herself to get her hormones in check, and then allows herself to get lost in the art they drove all the way out here to see.
Art is probably her second favourite thing to Quinn at the moment, and it deserves some attention. It helps that Quinn never strays too far away, their fingers constantly linked.
It feels like nothing and everything, all at the same time, and Rachel wants it. She wants this: lazy strolls through galleries with this wonderful creature and everything else that comes with that.
Thankfully, it seems Quinn is on the same page as her, because, at the end of the most perfect night, standing on the Berry home's front porch, Quinn asks, "Will you be my girlfriend?", and Rachel kisses her. Quinn allows the kiss for a moment, before her mouth spreads into a wide smile. "Is that a yes?" she murmurs.
Rachel makes an impatient sound of something like agreement while she tugs on Quinn's jacket, drawing her closer.
"I need verbal confirmation," Quinn eventually says, pulling back to get some much-needed air.
"What?" Rachel asks, clearly dazed herself. "Hmm?"
"Girlfriend," Quinn manages to say. "Will you be mine?"
Rachel smiles softly, even if there's an explosion of giddiness currently taking place in her chest. "Of course, Quinn," she says, gently cupping Quinn's cheek. "Don't you know I've always been yours?"
The teasing that comes after is inevitable.
It comes from everywhere.
Her parents, her friends, Quinn's parents, Quinn's friends.
Just, from everyone who knows they've finally managed to figure things out, especially after the disastrous and emotional year they've put each other through.
At school, they're very lowkey. Rachel wonders if it's to do with Sofia, but she's not brave enough to ask Quinn. She's never been one for PDA anyway, but she delights in all the moments Quinn holds her hand or drapes an arm over her shoulders.
Santana calls them boring. Dani says they're gross. Kurt says they're adorable, and Rachel doesn't really care all that much what Lauren thinks.
Quinn thinks they're perfect and beautiful, and Rachel has never been more in love in her entire life. She just accepts that they're boring and gross and adorable and all those other things, because they're Quinn and Rachel, and they're always going to be.
They go to the Bread Box as an actual couple for the first time just two weeks after their first date, and Rachel can't quite put a finger on what, if anything, feels different. Quinn still drives them, she still opens the door for her, still orders red velvet cheesecake for her and still complains when Rachel orders her a danish.
Nothing is really different, except the fact Quinn's foot is pressed against hers under the table and their fingers are linked between them.
Taylor shoots them knowing looks from time to time, but Quinn doesn't seem to notice. She's rather rambling about the new Parachute album and searching her phone for their next tour dates.
"I'm going to try to get us tickets," she says, slightly distracted. "It looks like they'll be coming to Columbus."
Rachel squeezes her hand and says, "Quinn?"
Quinn stops speaking immediately, looking up in slight alarm. "Is something wrong?"
"Can you come sit next to me, please?" she asks.
Quinn blinks slowly, and then gets to her feet and slides onto the cushioned seat beside Rachel. "Is something wrong?" she asks again.
Rachel just leans against her, tucking herself into Quinn's side and prompting her to wrap an arm around her shoulders. "Nothing's wrong," she says once she's settled. "What were you saying?"
Quinn laughs softly as she presses a kiss to the top of Rachel's head. "Okay, baby."
Rachel smiles widely, because she doesn't think there will be a day she'll get used to the sound of that. She hated all the terms of endearment Jesse used for her, but it's different with Quinn. With Jesse, it was almost as if he was saying it as a chore; as if he couldn't bother to say her actual name.
Everything is so different with Quinn.
Quinn starts on again about Parachute, scrolling through her phone for their tour announcements. They're one of Quinn's favourite bands, and Rachel would willingly sit through a concert if it would make Quinn happy. She's pretty sure there are a lot of things she would do to keep the smile on her girlfriend's face.
Because Quinn is her actual, official girlfriend.
Without giving it much thought, Rachel lifts her right hand to Quinn's cheek, turns her head, and kisses her. It's soft and lingering, just an extended pressing of lips, but it still settles the forest fire blazing in her chest.
"I'm really glad we're here," she says. "I've - I've missed this."
Quinn sets her phone on the table and gives Rachel her undivided attention. "Do you have any idea how happy I am right now?"
Rachel looks at her. Like, really looks at her, seeing the slight change in the way the light hits her eyes and the different angle to the lines and planes of her face.
Quinn is no longer searching.
She's no longer longing.
She's absolutely stunning like this.
"I think I do," Rachel murmurs, already knowing the final picture of her Quinn Collection is going to be this moment right here: Quinn Fabray, eyes a little bright, mouth in a small smile and features so, so soft. The sunlight reflecting off the lake hitting her just right. Happy.
"Good," Quinn says. "Now, eat your cheesecake. I'm paying good money for that."
But, later, Taylor very casually says their little meal is on the house when Quinn asks for the check, and Rachel won't tell Quinn exactly why.
Dani does the thing and suggests they all go on an actual couples' date. She and Santana, Quinn and Rachel, and Kurt and Blaine.
On paper, it sounds like a disaster, and Rachel doesn't foresee Santana ever actually agreeing to something like that. As far as she knows, Dani and Santana aren't technically a 'couple.'
Quinn asks the same question when Rachel brings it up to her while they're working on homework in the library, both of them sitting far too close than is strictly necessary for two girls attempting to get work done in a public space.
Rachel shrugs. "Who knows when it comes to those two?" she asks. "Maybe this is Dani's convoluted way to get Santana to agree to date her, even if there are two other couples around."
Quinn looks thoughtful at the sound of that, turning it over in her mind. "I mean, it probably wouldn't hurt us to help, would it? Unless you're totally against group dates? Then we're not getting anywhere near that."
"It's not a dealbreaker," Rachel says, carefully highlighting some text in her own written notes. "Just, we're not making it a common thing. I especially like it when it's just you and me."
"Funny that," Quinn muses. "I do, too."
"What a coincidence."
Quinn laughs softly, resting her left hand on Rachel's thigh under the table and giving it a gentle squeeze. "I'm down for a group date if we can all find the time," she says, confirming her response. "Which, let's face it, is going to be near impossible."
"I can make it happen," she declares, confident in her abilities.
Quinn just kisses her cheek, smiles knowingly, and then says, "The faster you finish that essay, the more time we'll have to make out until you have to be home for dinner."
As if Rachel needed the extra incentive.
"So, I kind of have something for you," Quinn says as she settles onto Rachel's bed and crosses her legs. "It's - well, uh, it's kind of a letter I've been writing since I figured out how I felt about you. It's basically my attempt at explaining my feelings to you without losing you." She keeps her gaze on her hands as she speaks, and Rachel can see the blush on her cheeks from where she's sitting at her desk.
"I started it a long time ago, and I've been rewriting it ever since," Quinn explains, her voice barely audible. "I've had sad versions, really angry versions, hopeful ones, resigned versions, but all of them result in the same very important thing." She takes a breath, and then lifts her eyes to meet Rachel's. "I am in love with you. I always have been, and I always will be. It's really as simple and as complicated as that."
Rachel watches her carefully, absently wondering how it is she ended up so lucky. "You don't have to give it to me if you don't want to," she offers.
"I do," Quinn says. "I want to. God, I've wanted to give it to you for years. I've wanted you to know how much I've wanted you and loved you and pined for you and wanted nothing more than to have you look at me the way you're looking at me right now."
Rachel is already teary when she asks, "And, how am I looking at you?"
"Like you love me."
Quinn smiles, as if she still doesn't believe it. "I haven't done any editing since before that… party. I told myself this would be the final version; that I would give up on anything ever possibly happening between us. Until that point, I wanted to tell you, maybe, some day, but this version is kind of where I essentially just… resigned myself to the fact you would never be mine, whether I ended up telling you or not. There's - there's nothing about what's happened since in it, though. I - I kind of don't want to put that in writing."
Rachel silently agrees with that.
"So, uh, I emailed the letter to you earlier," Quinn says. "I don't - " She sighs. "Look, there, umm, there are no expectations of some kind of response, okay? It's just that the letter is yours, and you deserve to have it, whether you choose to read it or not."
Rachel smiles to assure her. "Okay, Quinn," she says, getting to her feet and moving towards her.
Quinn only speaks once Rachel is on the bed, straddling her legs and threading her fingers through soft hair. "Okay?"
Rachel hums, "Okay," and then kisses her.
She doesn't get to the letter until Quinn is already asleep, and she's able to cry in private.
So, I'm sure this is weird. Why would I write a letter when I can just text you, right? Well, you see, there's something I want to tell you that I'll never be able to tell you in person, and the best I can do is write it down.
It's kind of a difficult thing to talk about, so I'm asking you to bear with me. I might ramble and go on a tangent, but there's something I need to say, so please be patient.
I've come to realise a few things since I turned sixteen, and you're involved in a lot of them. And, while I know this is probably going to freak you out (it would probably freak me out, if I'm being honest), I feel as if this is something I need to get out. Whether you need to hear it remains to be seen, but here we are.
Please don't freak out too much. I don't know what I would do if you did.
Firstly, I think you are wonderful. Some kind of positive, magnetic force of a woman. You're amazing at so many things: art and life and being a friend and being openminded and understanding, and I admire the way you love and feel so freely and intensely. It's easy to see how much you care about every single person you meet. It's in your entire being, and in the way you smile.
God, your smile. It could ruin me. It almost has.
I think you are beautiful, you know? Always just in my head. I love your paint-speckled hands, and the slight bounce in your step, and I realise now that I'm a gigantic idiot. I swear, I didn't really know what was happening while it was happening. It's just you've always just been there every day, this little beacon in my life, and I guess I couldn't help it.
I started to look forward to seeing you, obviously, even if it meant waking at some ungodly hour or staying up late and waiting for you to get back from wherever you were. I just knew I would do just about anything under the sun, because I wanted to spend more time with you.
We've always been able to talk to each other. I guess that's it, right? In the years since we became best friends. You're just really easy to talk to, particularly about nonsense. And, really, I might have talked complete rubbish for a while in the beginning, but I've always been able to talk to you about stuff I didn't talk to anyone else about, and that thought lingers.
You linger. In everything. In my thoughts and memories.
I mean, I've known I'm gay for a while already, but I don't think it ever really occurred to me that I really figured it all out because of you. The big realisation sort of clouded over everything.
My sixteenth birthday, in the middle of the night, with your arms around me, protecting me, and your words echoing in mind.
It's kind of the moment I knew.
Well, I think I knew long before, but I finally acknowledged it for what it was, and accepted it as truth. At some point, you just can't ignore the racing heart and the jumbled thoughts and the way I spend all my time thinking about you or wanting to be near you.
What I'm trying to say is I love you, Rachel Berry, in that way that I really probably shouldn't. It's freaked me out from the moment the realisation crossed my mind, and I'm still unsure what to do about it.
Nothing, obviously, because, well, what else is there to do? You're happy. You're with Jesse. You've never showed any inclination of being anything other than straight.
It's just, sometimes it feels as if you know. Sometimes, you look at me as if you're asking a question you don't know the words to, and now I know the answer. I know I shouldn't even entertain the idea, but I can't help it, sometimes. It really affects me when I get too much in my head, and it always manifests in my broodiness, which you love to point out.
You keep asking me why I look as if I'm feeling down whenever you see me, and I let you believe it's because of school and the aftereffects of actually dealing with Santana. It's never that.
I can't even explain it properly. I don't know if you notice how awkward I can turn. I just have so many things I've wanted to say for so long, but the words just won't come (I've written them down, as a result).
It's just that you've helped me so much more than you'll ever know.
The thing is I've never been in love before. I mean, I've liked people, sure, but there's never been someone whom I literally can't stop thinking about and constantly replay every interaction we've had in my head. It's a little worrying, really, because we've spent years interacting.
Still, I can't stop myself from having this little fantasy where you magically figure it out and you actually like me back. Which is stupid, I know, so I'm trying to trap that whole notion in its stupidity box and bury it so deep down that even I'll never find it if ever I slip up and go looking.
The thing is, you know, I could never quite understand other people falling over themselves for other people. It still kind of hit me like a ton of bricks, so I'm doubly irritated with myself, even if it's now become clear to me that there's probably been a part of me that's always known it was inevitable you were going to be the one I was first going to fall in love with.
Told you, I'm an idiot. For someone as intelligent as I like to think I am, I'm not as aware as I like to think. Talk about humbling.
Well, I think that's basically it. I don't really know what I revealed or how you feel about all of this, but I just had to get it out. It's a selfish desire, I'm aware. This entire thing is probably the most selfish I've ever been.
Still, I want to say thank you, for being you, I guess. Because you're great, and kind and so smart and caring and your smile is such perfection that someone like me never quite stood a chance.
This happens to you a lot, though I don't think you ever notice: people getting all hopeless and helpless over you. Because, honestly, it baffles me that people aren't tripping over themselves at your feet, clamouring for your attention and vying for your sole focus. Wanting nothing more than to stare at you and wonder how it's possible you even exist.
Also a little sorry about it. I'm kind of hoping you'll be flattered, being this first person I've truly loved.
You don't have to say anything, by the way. I'm not expecting some kind of response. I think I could go my entire life without having you stumble through 'letting me down easy.' Gosh, I don't even want to think about that. If it helps, we can just forget any of this has ever happened.
If you want nothing to do with me after all of this, that's okay, too. I mean, it'll probably suck, but I'll definitely understand. I like to think I'm emotionally mature, remember? I've got this. It'd probably be better, in fact, for all people involved. If that ends up being the case, well, I still appreciate all you've done for me. I wish you a wonderful, happy life full of success and love and endless creative inspiration.
Anything else, I'm kind of not allowing myself to hope for, so we'll face it as it comes.
Please take care of yourself.
(Update: We've since started dating, and it's honestly better than I ever could have imagined. I love you. I love you. I love you.)
Rachel reads the letter four times that first night Quinn gives it to her, Quinn asleep beside her, and then a further three times when she wakes in the morning, just moments before she decides she needs to see Quinn's eyes.
She wakes Quinn with butterfly kisses, her lips trailing along the column of Quinn's throat, over the curve of her jaw and up her cheek, working their way to the ultimate destination of her lips.
Quinn stirs slowly, her body stretching out and her eyes fluttering open. For a moment, she looks confused, but her expression settles into something content when her gaze takes in Rachel's face.
"Mornin'," Quinn murmurs sleepily.
Rachel kisses her chin. "Good morning."
"It looks like it," she says, yawning adorably. "Did you sleep well?"
Rachel kisses the tip of her nose. "I always sleep well when I'm with you," she assures her.
Quinn lifts a hand and tucks an errant lock of hair behind Rachel's ear. "I do, too," she confesses quietly. "You've always made me feel safe."
Rachel can't help but think about the night of Quinn's birthday, when Quinn appeared and disappeared just as fast, and her smile flickers. It was a turning point for her - she's had a few of them, sure - but that night contributed to her feelings of being dirty and used.
Quinn blinks at her. "Baby, what's wrong?"
Rachel hums softly, a slight furrow to her brow. "Nothing's wrong," she says, which is true. "I just - I guess I just thought - "
"You thought what?"
"I know we were... struggling," she says, which is a diplomatic way to describe the events of their rather painful year. "I just - the night of your birthday, you still came to me. You still knew, after everything, that you would always be safe here with me; that I would never turn you away in a moment like that."
Quinn blinks a few times, properly waking up. "I - I can't tell if that's a bad thing," she says softly, looking a bit confused.
"I can't, either," Rachel admits, looking thoughtful. "Why did you show up here?"
Quinn clenches her jaw, her gaze darting away. "I - I didn't intend to," she says. "It caught up with me, all of it, and - and I wanted to - I couldn't - " she stops, puffing out a breath. "You're the only person who's ever truly understood."
Rachel sucks in a breath.
"I'm aware I haven't told many people, and I don't talk about my life before Lima as much as I probably should, but you know, Rachel. You know, and I was weak. I told myself not to want you or this or your comfort and protection, but I'm selfish and, fuck, I'm weak, Rachel, and I'm sorry I just bulldozed into your bed and then left without saying a word. I was just - I couldn't face how I failed at what I told myself I had to do. I failed to stay away, and I didn't - " she stops again, looking a little lost.
Rachel shifts forward, gently cupping Quinn's cheek with her left hand and turning her head so their gazes can meet. "I love you," she starts, because she thinks it's the most important takeaway from every aspect of their lives.
"I'm sorry," Quinn whispers. "I - I tried so hard, and I - you told me I made you feel dirty, and I've - I'm - "
Rachel leans forward, resting her forehead against Quinn's cheek as her eyes close. "We still have so much to talk about, don't we?"
"We do," Quinn agrees, sighing.
"We will," Quinn echoes.
"Just, you know, don't forget that I love you, and I'm sorry we've both had to go through all of this pain to get us to this moment in time."
"It's all about timing, huh?"
Rachel lifts her head, and kisses her. Slowly and deeply. "I think we're on our way to getting it right."
Quinn doesn't bother with a reply as Rachel rolls onto her.
They can talk later.
Sofia finds out about them by accident.
It's not as if they've been hiding, exactly, but the intensity of their romantic relationship has been reserved for behind closed doors. It's just a thing, and Rachel doesn't question it.
It happens on the Wednesday just over two weeks later, while Rachel is in the studio. It's late in the evening, and Rachel has been working for hours on a particular part of her main portrait for her final project. Quinn's mouth and Quinn's nose are deceptively difficult in their perfection, and Rachel prefers to work on the most delicate parts when she's alone.
Which she is.
She suspects there are other students in the other studio, but Mr Schuester left her the key for this studio, and she plans on staying a while. She has music playing from her phone, providing some form of inspiration, and she's just finished her second bottle of water in the past eighty minutes.
Her head is bobbing to the music when she hears a knock on the closer set of doors, and her head immediately pops up, her eyes snapping to the left. They widen when they see Quinn's head, a hand waving at her. She looks back at her painting, and then at Quinn again.
Carefully, she turns the easel to face further away from the door, and then gets up off her stool, stretches languidly, and then makes her way to the door, unlocking it and getting an armful of Quinn Fabray. The hug is quick, and so is the kiss.
"I'm not staying," Quinn murmurs, invading her personal space. "I know you're busy, and I don't want to distract you. It's also all cloak and dagger here, so I don't want to make you anxious." She shrugs, smiling softly. "But, I figured you haven't even thought about eating, so I brought you some dinner." She looks away for a moment, blushing. "I also just wanted to see you."
When they started all of this, Rachel had no idea it would be this wonderful to be with Quinn; to have her undivided attention; to be the single person she does all these glorious, amazing things for.
"You are wonderful," Rachel whispers.
Quinn blushes harder. "I hope Chinese is okay," she says. "Your Dad says you had Indian the other night, so I skipped out on getting something from Tandoori even though I know it helps with the creative juices."
"So wonderful," she says, and Quinn laughs nervously.
"Here you go," she says, handing Rachel the paper bag in her right hand. "There's also a Vitamin Water in there for later, some fortune cookies, and, of course, a Hershey's Bar."
"So fucking wonderful."
"Rachel," she says, sounding slightly embarrassed. "Take the food."
Rachel does, immediately setting it on the closest counter to her left, and then tugging on Quinn's jacket and kissing her. It's really a struggle not kissing her every moment they're together. Especially when Quinn does things like this.
Quinn's hands land on her hips, pulling her closer, and she has a fleeting thought of pulling Quinn into the studio, locking the door and making art with their bodies.
She forces herself to break the kiss, and they both look a little dazed. "I love you," Rachel says, because she can, and she really, really does.
Quinn grins at her, kisses her once more, just a peck, and says, "Let me leave you to get back to work."
"Don't you want to stay and eat with me?"
"Of course, I want to, but I think it's more productive for everyone if I go home and work on my History essay." She rolls her eyes at herself. "Did I tell you I hate school?"
"Not today," Rachel quips.
"Well, I hate school."
Rachel pats her cheek. "Okay, then, you should get going."
"Will you text me later?"
It takes another three minutes for Quinn to leave, with two of those minutes spent making out against the frame of the door. Who needs Indian food for creative inspiration when Quinn Fabray exists in the world?
Eventually, Quinn gives her a little wave, and then strides down the corridor. Rachel leans against the doorframe and watches her go until she's completely out of sight, and she sighs dreamily, fully aware there's a stupid smile on her face.
It's that moment that she looks across the corridor and right into the second studio, where Sofia is sitting and sketching at the large table. Facing her. Rachel's heart stutters and, for a moment, Rachel entertains the idea the girl just missed her playing tonsil hockey with her ex-girlfriend.
It's naïve, really, because Sofia suddenly looks up again, her gaze meeting Rachel's through the glass in the door. They remain locked like that for a long moment, before Sofia gives her a short wave, a small smile and a resigned shrug. She doesn't look sad, but Rachel can't imagine it must be nice having to see what she's just seen.
Rachel's return smile is more apologetic, and she waves back, before ducking back into the studio and locking the door behind her. She feels a flurry of emotions, then, and she just manages to channel it all into her art. She eats sporadically, smiling every time she puts another bite in her mouth, because it just makes her think of Quinn.
Quinn texts her every few minutes, asking her how she's doing and wondering when she intends to go home. She sends memes that make Rachel laugh and complains endlessly of all the old white men that made such a mess of their past.
Rachel finally heads home just after ten-thirty, walking through the dark, empty school with the ease of someone who's done this many times. Quinn is more worried, of course, and she asks Rachel to text her every minute until she gets home.
Rachel doesn't really figure out why Quinn is so keen for her to get home until she steps into her bedroom and finds a certain blonde lying in her bed with a book propped up on her chest. She dumps all her things on the floor by the door and practically launches herself at Quinn. Hugging her and kissing her and touching her and -
"You smell like paint," Quinn says, already breathless from the attention of Rachel's mouth. "Jesus, you taste like paint. Did you eat it or something?"
Rachel peppers her face with endless kisses, laughter bubbling in her chest at the sound of Quinn's halfhearted complaints. "What are you doing here?"
"I missed you," Quinn says, one hand sliding into Rachel's hair and guiding her mouth back to her own. "I always miss you."
Rachel will happily spend the rest of her life kissing Quinn, but she does smell like paint. Reluctantly, she pulls away and looks down at Quinn's hooded eyes. "I should go shower," she says.
Quinn groans, tilting her head back and absently shifting her hips. "Get the fuck out of here."
Rachel laughs, kisses the tip of her nose, and then climbs off of her. She patters around her room, gathering her pyjamas and other essentials, before slipping into her bathroom and spending the next fifteen minutes scrubbing herself free of paint and working through the rest of her nighttime routine.
When she steps back into her bedroom, Quinn is asleep, looking as adorable as Rachel has ever seen. She crawls into bed with her, easily slipping into the curve of her body, after she's turned off all the lights. She's in the middle of setting her morning alarm when Quinn's arms tighten around her waist.
"You're awake," Rachel whispers, sensing that there's actually something Quinn wants to tell her.
Quinn hums softly, and then says, "Sofia texted me."
Rachel stiffens at the sound of those words. "Oh?"
"Apparently, we make a cute couple," Quinn says.
"Oh, my God."
Quinn laughs softly, and then just breathes. "I'll admit that I was worried," she confesses. "I didn't want her to think that I was just using her, or that I didn't love her while we were together. She was a relationship that mattered to me, Rachel, and I still care about her in some way."
Rachel isn't sure how she's supposed to feel about that, given that she hasn't even given Jesse a second thought since the start of the school year.
"I've been so worried about hurting her more than I have," Quinn continues. "Have I been hurting you in the process?"
"No, Quinn," she says. "I don't mind the whole no PDA thing. But, I will admit that I wondered about it, because you don't usually care about that kind of thing."
"Hmm," Quinn sounds. "Well, she knows now, and she's okay, I guess. Does Jesse know? Are you worried about him?"
"I don't know if he knows," she says, already figuring that she would know if Jesse knew. He would make sure she was aware. "I'm not at all worried about him, to be honest."
"Is there anyone you are worried about?"
"Do homophobes count?"
Quinn puffs out a breath. "Yes, they count," she says. "I don't know if you've yet had to deal with anything negative?"
"No, I haven't," she says. "Not exclusively related to me, at least. I've never really had to come out, as it were. The most people know is I'm in love with my best friend. My sexuality doesn't quite extend beyond that, at the moment."
"God, I hope you never experience hate."
Rachel almost laughs. "You do remember I have gay parents, right?"
"Baby, I can assure you it's different when it's you, though I suspect there's nothing worse than your child going through that kind of negativity."
Rachel shifts, turning around in Quinn's grip, so she can look at her face. "Is that something you worry about?"
"How society will treat your children."
Quinn clenches her jaw for a moment, and Rachel kisses the tight skin to ease the tension in the muscles. "I don't know if I want to have children."
Rachel waits, patient and a little apprehensive.
"Maybe I'll foster instead," Quinn adds a moment later. "There are already so many children out there in the world who need homes and love and care and attention, and I don't give a fuck what society says about whom I love when I have so much to give."
Rachel kisses her. Hard and fast and with the sort of feeling that threatens to overwhelm them both. The topic of sex hasn't been discussed properly, but Quinn very obviously wants it. Rachel likes to get her worked up, kissing her fiercely and touching her abs until Quinn is breathless with desire.
Rachel is a self-confessed tease, she knows, but Quinn is too easy.
Like, now, Quinn is reaching for her pyjama top, hands sliding under the fabric and trailing over the skin of her back. Their kiss is minty, a little sloppy in the dark, and Rachel uses Quinn's hold on her to roll herself onto Quinn.
The moan that fills the space between them makes it very difficult for Rachel to have coherent thought. Kissing Quinn is honestly her favourite thing to do. Seriously. She could spend hours doing it. Quinn is really a phenomenal kisser, an expert with her tongue and teeth and lips.
Rachel arches into her, their legs tangling until thighs are in the right places, and she swears she hears angels singing at the first roll of Quinn's hips. It's late, her parents are already in bed, and Rachel wonders if she really wants to do this right now, with them just down the hall.
Quinn shifts again, practically squirming beneath her, and Rachel kisses her again. And again. Wanting her quite desperately.
"Rach," Quinn breathes, almost a warning.
It's enough ice water to cool Rachel's desire, though, and she just about manages to slow their kissing and ease the movement of her body. Still, she doesn't roll off; rather just settles over Quinn and tries to catch her breath.
Quinn smoothes a hand over Rachel's hair. "You know I want you, right?"
"I know," Rachel sighs out, resting her ear over Quinn's beating heart. "I know."
"Not like this, though," Quinn says, smiling softly. "I know it's cliché or whatever, but I want it to be special. I want us to be alone. I want to be able to take my time with you; to make love to you the way we both deserve. I want to be able to see you and hear you without having to worry about anyone overhearing just how badly I want to make you scream. I want to - "
"Okay," Rachel interrupts, breathless and so terribly turned on. "Yeah, okay."
Quinn kisses the top of her head. "I love you."
"I love you, too."
It's two days later when Quinn shows up at her locker with a morning latte from the Lima Bean and a lazy smile on her face.
With eyes only for Rachel, Quinn says, "Good morning, beautiful," and then kisses her lips ever so softly, before breaking into a ramble about their upcoming Finals.
If Rachel is stunned to silence by the entire thing, she does her best to hide it. Quinn just seems so at ease, her face and body relaxed, and Rachel manages to stumble through an entire conversation until Quinn says, "Well, I better get going," publicly kisses her lips for a second time, and then leaves.
Rachel watches her disappear into a crowd of students, her heart pounding uncontrollably. She glances around to see if anyone caught their interaction, but only a handful are even paying attention to her.
It's not until she gets to lunch that Rachel feels that anything has even changed. Dani is already at their table with Mike, the two of them probably having a serious conversation about some genius thing, and she absently wonders where Kurt and Blaine are as she waits in line to get some food.
She's in the middle of deciding between two unappetising choices for lunch when she hears, "You're actually dating Fabray now?" behind her.
She recognises the voice, of course, but it's been a while since she's had to deal with Jesse St James. She has to admit that she hasn't really given him much thought since the breakup. She had other drama to sort through.
Rachel sighs and then turns around. "Hello, Jesse," she says. "Can I help you with something?"
Jesse eyes her critically. "Seriously? You're dating her?" He practically scoffs.
Rachel sighs again, wishing this moment really wasn't happening. She isn't even sure what she's supposed to say, because nobody's ever actually explicitly asked her if they're together.
"How long has it been going on, huh?" he continues, actually having the nerve to sound personally insulted. "While we were still together? Did you know you were gay the entire time we were in a relationship?"
She bristles at the implication, and she opens her mouth to respond, only to snap it shut when Quinn suddenly appears at her side, an arm sliding around her waist. The smile on her face is forced and entirely too sweet when she regards Jesse.
"Hello, Jesse," she says.
Jesse stares at her as if he's never seen her before. They've never been close; never really interacted beyond exchanging pleasantries whenever they were both around Rachel.
"Is there a problem here?" Quinn asks.
Jesse shifts, his blank expression transforming into a scowl. "I see you finally got your clutches in her," he practically snarls. "Turned her against boys, didn't you?"
Quinn straightens to her full height. "If anyone did that, it had to be you," she drawls, and Jesse's scowl deepens. "Though, I wasn't aware you were homophobic, Jesse."
Jesse sputters. "I'm not - I'm not homophobic."
"Sure sounds like you are," Quinn says. "Which part is it you have a problem with? The fact your ex-girlfriend has moved on to her best friend? Or the part where she's moved on to a girl?"
Jesse steps closer, his eyes blazing.
"Easy there, Jesse," Quinn says. "Touch me and it might be considered a hate crime."
"You're a bitch," he practically spits.
Quinn looks unfazed. "By my recollection, it's already been quite a number of months since your breakup, so I have to ask, what the fuck are you doing interrogating my girlfriend about something that has absolutely nothing to do with you?"
Rachel knows she should pay attention to the confrontation going on right in front of her, but she can't stop looking at Quinn, who looks so gorgeous when she's being all... whatever it is she's being.
Rachel is very turned on by future lawyer Quinn Fabray.
"Jesse," Quinn says patiently. "I suggest you just turn around and walk away before you make more of a fool out of yourself."
Rachel watches the way the muscles in Quinn's jaw tick, her brow creased as she waits for Jesse to lose steam and make the informed decision to save face.
It happens eventually, and then Quinn turns to Rachel, looking sheepish and a little apologetic. She looks as if she's going to say something, but Rachel beats her to it.
Rachel says, "Fuck, that was sexy," and then slides a hand into her hair and tugs her down into a heated, entirely inappropriate for their school's cafeteria, kiss.
"You think I'm sexy?" Quinn asks when they break apart, pupils blown and lips wet.
"So sexy," she murmurs, her eyes widening when she suddenly has the best idea. "Want to skip lunch and make out in the art studio?"
Quinn just smiles, not bothering with a verbal response as she turns, reaches for Rachel's hand, and then leads the way.
The whole take off clothes and have sex thing happens exactly a week later.
It's really an accident, very unplanned, because Quinn arrives at the Berry home on Friday evening expecting to take Rachel out for dinner and maybe a movie, but things don't really work out that way.
First, she arrives early, texting Rachel she's pulled up and then slipping into the house and heading upstairs to bother her girlfriend while she tries to finish getting ready.
Rachel is sitting at her vanity when Quinn finds her in her bedroom, carefully applying her mascara, and Quinn spends a moment just standing there, admiring her.
Rachel sees her in her mirror, and she smiles. "Hello, you."
"Hi," Quinn says, leaning against the doorframe. "Sorry I'm early. I was getting bored just sitting at home."
Rachel grins at her through her reflection. "You missed me, huh?"
"So much," Quinn confesses, smiling softly. "But, I'm not here to rush you, okay? Take your time or whatever. I'll just hang out with your fathers."
"They're not here," Rachel tells her, setting her tube of mascara on her vanity and reaching for some blush.
"Daddy has a conference in Cincinnati," Rachel says, entirely too easily. "They decided to make a weekend trip of it." As soon as the words are out, the atmosphere shifts. Heats up. Ignites.
Quinn breathes in. "Are you saying you have the house to yourself?" she asks. "All weekend?"
Rachel abandons applying her blush and meets Quinn's gaze in the mirror. "Yes," she breathes out.
Rachel watches her; seeing the way her eyes darken, her thoughts practically playing across her face. Rachel squirms in her seat, suddenly just knowing they're not leaving this house tonight. Slowly, she gets to her feet, almost bracing herself for what's to come. Her pulse is practically racing through her veins and her body is vibrating in anticipation.
It takes Quinn less than a second to close the distance between them, and then all Rachel feels is Quinn's mouth hot on her own and her fingers digging into her hips, and Rachel loses herself over and over and over again.
It's a whirlwind. Nothing but one intense sensation after the other; Quinn's lips, first on her mouth, then on her neck; the fabric of Rachel's dress sliding down her shoulders, down her waist, down her legs; Quinn's dress falling to the floor as well; heated fingertips on bare skin; the way their bodies seem to burn up at the same time -
Rachel stumbles backwards until she falls onto the bed with Quinn on top of her, kissing her softly, kissing her hotly, hands getting tangled in Rachel's long hair.
"Is this okay?" Quinn suddenly asks, leaning back slightly, but still so close, and Rachel can't believe she's even asking – as if Quinn wouldn't be able to tell Rachel is bursting right out of her skin with how much she wants this.
Rachel shakes her head in disbelief and pulls Quinn even more on top of her, kissing her again.
Quinn smiles softly against Rachel's lips, and murmurs, "Those are mixed signals, baby."
Rachel's heart stutters at the term of affection, as it is now wont to do. "I just - it is so okay," she breathes, because it really, really is. Her heart is racing and she's a little nervous but she feels so good and for once she just wants to go with what she feels. So, she brings her lips up to Quinn's neck, trailing hot kisses down its curve to her shoulder.
Quinn hums and falls against her even more, softly running her hands over Rachel's thighs and hips and stomach. "Just tell me if you want me to stop," Quinn whispers, right before stroking lightly over Rachel's breast, while kissing her collarbone.
Rachel's eyes flutter closed and her hand falls into the sheets as she clutches hard at them, not able to say anything else besides a shaky, "I wouldn't – count – on it."
Quinn laughs and, after that, it's a blur – panties being dragged down; Quinn's thigh falling between Rachel's; soft gasps and heavy moans as skin meets skin; pulse racing; sharp inhales and stuttered exhales. And then Quinn's fingers start to burn a hot trail down Rachel's body and Rachel is pretty sure she'll never properly breathe again, back arching off the mattress with every touch, Quinn's name falling from her lips in a desperate moan the second her fingers reach their destination.
She becomes a multitude of heat and shivers, burning right from the core of where her heart is falling harder with every second, burning right into her bedroom walls, into the night, into the world.
If she's being honest, nude art never really interests Rachel until she sees Quinn Fabray draped across her bed, body deliciously stretched out and delightfully naked. She's lying on her back, one arm above her head, sheet casually draped over her hips and one leg sticking out.
It's really the perfect picture.
Rachel wakes first, and lies perfectly still for long, long minutes as she recalls the night as a whole, flushing at the memories of Quinn's hands and Quinn's mouth, her fingers and her tongue.
Eventually, she crawls out of bed, slips on some underwear and a ratty old t-shirt before she looks back at Quinn and her breath catches. She's beautiful. She's absolutely gorgeous, and Rachel's fingers twitch with her desire to draw her.
So, she does.
Rachel grabs her sketchbook and a pencil, settles into her swivelled desk chair and spends the next forty minutes tracing the planes of Quinn's perfect body with her pencil. For some reason, these types of drawings always remind her of Titanic, and she finds herself actually blushing as she draws the rounds of Quinn's breasts at the jut of her gorgeous collarbones.
She's busy finalising the straights of Quinn's exposed leg when Quinn finally begins to stir, her body uncoiling and stretching out in a way that has Rachel transfixed. She makes the most adorable mewling sound, and Rachel immediately abandons her sketch, getting to her feet, and moving to get back into bed with Quinn. Why on earth would she be anywhere else but right beside her? Pressed against her. Engulfed by her.
The morning is slow. They exchange a few lazy kisses before Quinn mentions the word 'shower,' and Rachel discovers a woman's body can be that more stunning when it's dripping wet.
Quinn makes them breakfast while Rachel finishes her sketch, finalising the details and shading to create light contrasts. She sits at the kitchen table, her feet up on another chair and her heart pounding in her chest. It hasn't managed to slow since -
Well, since Quinn first said I managed to do it.
Rachel knows she and Quinn are always going to have a lot to talk about, but they haven't talked about this particular aftermath, and she doesn't think they're going to. She's not anxious about it. This part of their relationship doesn't concern her. It was amazing. Everything has been just wonderful.
It should make her wary, but it rather makes her want it to work out even more.
"Hey," Quinn suddenly says. "Do you want coffee? Tea? Juice?"
Rachel just looks at her, her tilted to the side a little. "Is it cliché to say I want you?"
Quinn grins around her own cup of hot beverage. "Only if you don't mean it."
"I mean it," Rachel says, setting her sketchbook on the table. "I could stare at your face forever."
Quinn ducks her head, blushing rather fiercely, and the idea that this girl, who was making love to her so thoroughly just last night could be this bashful is mind-boggling. Rachel can hardly stand how much she's currently in love, absently wondering how she ever survived a life when she didn't feel this way. "Do you want coffee?" Quinn asks, forcing calm.
"I told you I want you."
Quinn rolls her eyes. "Actually, you asked if saying that would be cliché?" she says. "You said nothing about what you want."
"You," Rachel says. "I just want you."
Quinn very purposefully sets her steaming cup on the counter, and then meets Rachel's gaze, both of them suddenly knowing breakfast is going to be a little late.
"Oh, my God, you two totally fucked."
Rachel's eyes widen in panic, and she covers Dani's mouth with her hand, her eyes darting to where Quinn and Santana are bickering about what movie they're going to watch. Rachel knew she was going to regret inviting Santana and Dani over to watch movies while her fathers are out, and Dani's just proving her right.
"Dude," Dani mumbles against Rachel's hand, her tongue darting out to lick her.
Rachel jerks her hand back. "Gross," she says, wiping her palm on Dani's pant leg. "Can you keep it down, please?" she says, suddenly nervous. "How - how do you even know?"
Dani's eyes her carefully. "It's not as if it's written on your forehead, Rach," she says. "You just - I guess you seem… something. I can't quite tell what it is, but you're lighter; less tense in a way. Relieved, almost."
Rachel goes quiet, leaning back and allowing her body to relax into the back of the couch. "I love her," she says. "I mean, of course, I love her. I'm in love with her."
"I was worried," she admits. "I was worried this part would be... difficult, or something. That we would get to this point, and I wouldn't be able to go through with it. Besides the fact she's a girl, she's also my best friend, and there's no coming back from this now."
"It was so easy," she says, smiling dreamily. "She was so kind and attentive, and I barely had anything to worry about. She was perfect. She is perfect."
"That's high praise for such a baby relationship," Dani points out.
"Romantic relationship, you mean," Rachel says. "There's absolutely nothing new about our friendship relationship."
Dani hums, acquiescing. "You look happy."
"I am happy," Rachel says, and this time when she looks at Quinn, her girlfriend is already looking back at her. Smiling secretively and staring at her with dark, dangerous eyes.
Dani catches the look, and she lets out a low whistle. "I bet the sex is fantastic," she says.
Rachel blushes, her eyes still on Quinn, but she's always going to tell the truth. "Uh huh," she says. "It really, really is."
It's not as if Rachel actively tries to hide the fact Quinn is the subject of her final project from Quinn. It's just what ends up happening. If she's honest, the entire thing is a little more than embarrassing, now that they're actually together.
It still catches her off guard whenever she's reminded of the fact Quinn is more than just her best friend. In general, things between them now aren't so different to how they were before their senior year. They're still best friends, but there's more affection between them and looks that linger, touches that burn and words that consume.
Still, she didn't want to be the type of girlfriend who would do something as cliché as this. Either way, she's not willing to do anything else. Phil's at least right about that. Regardless of the status of their relationship, Quinn Fabray was always going to be the most important part of her memories. Of school. Of her youth. Of everything.
It helps that Quinn gives her space and time to work on her project, and the two of them fall into a routine of school, homework, Finals preparation, dinners, make-out sessions and three full nights of mind-blowing sex before the exhibition is upon them.
Blaine asks Rachel, "Does she know?" while Rachel is setting up the smaller pieces of her collection for the evening's showing, all of them still covered by white sheets. There are five in total, with the largest in the centre.
It's a little more than large, possibly. Its height is at least double Rachel's own, and she can barely pick it up by herself. It's a painted piece, and she spent a good number of hours up on a ladder making sure every strand of Quinn's hair was perfect.
"Does she know what?" Rachel asks, a little distracted with turning the first picture towards the perfect angle. It's all about the complete experience.
"That you're practically asking her to have your babies."
Rachel's eyes widen as she turns towards him, and she sputters out a squeaky What! in surprise and indignation.
Blaine just laughs at her reaction. "I mean, it's one thing to give her the painting of the meadow, but this is a couple of steps beyond that, you know? You're asking for a life-long commitment here."
Rachel huffs out a breath. "I swear, I'm going to be old and grey and you people are still going to be going on about that stupid, gorgeous painting."
"Probably," he muses, and then sighs. "You haven't answered my question, though."
"Does Quinn know that the final Art exhibit of the year, where there are going to be any number of parents and critics and students, is going to showcase her, as she's seen by the best art student in our year?"
Rachel isn't sure how to respond to that question, so she just goes with, "Don't say that too loudly; Jesse's ears might fall off or something equally dangerous."
Blaine's expression sours at the mention of Jesse's name.
"What?" Rachel asks, frowning. "What's he doing?"
"Nothing, really," he says. "Just, well, besides overcompensating for the fact people now think he's a homophobe, he's been talking quite a lot of smack about you."
Rachel's frown deepens. "Why? We've been broken up for months," she emphasises. "I don't, for a second, think he's sour now that I've moved on."
"To your best friend," Blaine says; "who's a girl."
"Gosh, he probably is a homophobe, isn't he?"
"Or, he just doesn't like Quinn," he points out.
Rachel rolls her eyes. "Which is crazy," she says rather pointedly; "because my girlfriend is fucking awesome."
"And totally unaware she's going to be the subject of a lot of conversation tonight, right?"
Rachel looks away, her cheeks flushing slightly at the thought of having to tell Quinn she actually did the thing and practically made a mural of her. "I've been trying to tell her," she admits. "I really have. It's just that, whenever we're together, the words don't come out." She shrugs. "It seemed so much simpler when - "
"When you weren't dating?" he asks. "When you were dating other people?"
Rachel shudders at the memory of that time in their lives. "I should probably tell her, shouldn't I?"
"She's going to be blindsided, Rach," he says. "And it's going to happen in here, right in front of Sofia and Jesse. Wouldn't you want to be prepared if it were the other way around?"
Rachel puffs out a breath. "Did Kurt put you up to this?"
"As if I would ever do what he says," Blaine attempts to scoff, and then bursts out laughing when Rachel just shoots him a look of disbelief. "You're right," he relents; "I would probably shave off my own hair if he asked."
"You might have to take the plunge at some point," she teases; "I hear you're going bald."
Blaine reaches out to swat at her, but she easily evades him and pulls out her phone, hesitating for only a few seconds before she texts Quinn to meet her. It's still lunch time, and she knows Quinn is probably revising in the library or getting something from the cafeteria.
Rachel gets a response mere seconds later.
A Quinnundrum: Be right there, baby. Can I bring you anything?
Rachel does a little twirl in place, internally swooning.
Berry The Hatchet: Just your cute butt.
Quinn shows up just outside the studio five minutes later, her head popping into view through the door's window. Rachel practically skips towards her, momentarily forgetting that there's something important she needs to tell her.
Quinn steps back when Rachel opens the door and exits the studio, and the two of them move to the right, carefully out of sight. Rachel has enough time to register that Quinn has a bottle of Vitamin Water that's definitely for her in her left hand before Quinn is reaching out for her.
"Hey," Quinn says, her eyes soft and kind, arms wrapping around Rachel's shoulders and drawing her into a warm embrace. "I missed you."
Rachel tucks her head under Quinn's chin, humming softly. She knows it's now or never. "Quinn?"
"I have to tell you something."
Quinn stiffens for a moment, but her grip on Rachel tightens and she says, "Okay, I'm listening."
Rachel sighs. "It's nothing bad," she says. "At least, I don't think it is." She shifts slightly, burrowing further into Quinn, as if she could somehow crawl into her. "It's about my project."
"You mean the ultra-secretive, for-your-eyes-only project that has you stressing out enough that you're convinced your hair is falling out? That project?"
Rachel puffs out an amused breath, appreciating Quinn's attempt to alleviate some of the tension creeping into the air between them. This shouldn't be a big deal, but she can't seem to stop herself from making it one.
"Baby, what is it?" Quinn prompts, sensing Rachel's nerves. "If you say it's nothing bad, then I know it's not. Did something happen? Is it not coming together the way you want? You still have a few hours, you know, and I'll definitely help. I have the utmost faith you'll be able to figure it out."
Rachel has every intention of telling her, she really does, but there's nothing else to do but kiss Quinn when she's being all sweet and kind and caring and understanding.
Which is what she does, and neither of them says anything more for the next slice of forever.
So, it's a bit - okay, a lot - of a surprise to Quinn when she walks into the Art studio with Santana in tow just hours later and comes face-to-face with the largest canvas she's ever seen.
Of her own face.
She freezes at the sight of it, her heart leaping into her throat and lodging itself there. Whoa.
"That's me," her mouth says before she can stop it.
Santana glances at her. "Are you sure Yale let you in?"
Quinn just continues to stare, her eyes wide with disbelief and wonder. "She painted me, Santana."
"I think she did a bit more than that, Q."
Santana steps forward, her hand hovering at Quinn's elbow, prompting her to move closer. "Dude, you're in every one of her pictures."
Quinn steps forward, wanting to get a closer look, and it's the moment she's made glaringly aware that the room has fallen silent and there are countless eyes on her. There are people standing around, sure, but a lot of them are huddled around Rachel's work. Quinn even recognises the art curator from the last exhibition, standing with a shorter woman who is taking notes of everything he says.
She spots Rachel a beat later, her girlfriend staring back at her with wide eyes. Huh. Quinn's eyebrows rise in question, and Rachel seems to take a tiny step back, as if she's tempted to turn and hide away.
An entire conversation seems to pass between them, Quinn tilting her head to the side and Rachel pursing her lips. Eventually, Quinn just shrugs and continues her way forward. She's just as curious about Rachel's project as the next person.
The entire thing consists of five separate pieces. Four smaller ones, each done in a different medium: pencil, pen, charcoal and water colours. Each one depicts a different scene from their mutual past, spread out over the many years of their friendship.
Their very first class together, sitting at the table they shared with Nicole and Henry in Miss Waters' class, frozen in time in startling pencil.
The first time they went to the Bread Box with Hiram, all those years ago, the three of them on one side of a booth, toothy smiles on display, depicted in blue ink pen.
The one, lone occasion from Rachel's sixteenth birthday when all their friends - Dani, Kurt, Blaine, Finn, Santana and Lauren - squished into a single booth at the Creamery with them, carefully memorialised in a charcoal sketch.
Water colours show both their families, just parents and daughters, sitting around the Berry family's dining room table at Thanksgiving.
And then the large canvas in the very centre, an intricately painted still of Quinn's head and neck, a little turned to the side, with the most blissfully content expression on her face. In her eyes. Something like happiness.
Quinn barely recognises herself.
Santana gets to the display before she does, having no qualms about getting closer. Quinn hangs back, trying to take it all in; trying to appreciate it all the way it deserves; as if she's not a part of it. Her heart is thumping wildly, swelling with every breath she takes.
Rachel did this.
"Dude," Santana suddenly says, glancing back at her. "You're highlighted in every picture."
Santana rolls her eyes. "I still don't know how you got into Yale."
"What are you talking about?"
Santana makes a point of gesturing towards the four smaller pieces. "Look," she says; "you're either a little brighter or a little bolder in each of them. You stand out in every single one, Quinn."
As she steps closer, she's made even more aware that people are staring. There's a bit of muttering coming from all directions, and she feels her cheeks flush under the attention.
Still, she can't look away, and Rachel seems to be having the same problem.
Somehow, Quinn manages to watch as Rachel moves away from the group of people she's been talking to and makes her way towards her.
It should be odd, but Quinn doesn't really read into it too much when the great big world seems to fade away to nothing all around them at Rachel's approach.
"Hey," Rachel says, looking bashful and embarrassed and all those other adorable things that make Quinn want to hold her and kiss her and do all those other lovely things not appropriate for public viewing.
Quinn steps closer. "Hey to you, too."
Rachel's smile is small, tinted with nervousness and a little apprehension. "So."
Rachel reaches for her, hooking the forefinger of her right hand into the gap between two buttons of Quinn's shirt.
"Is this what you were trying to tell me earlier?" Quinn asks, allowing Rachel to pull her closer, even though there's no force behind her finger.
"And failing," Rachel says a little sheepishly. "Sorry."
Quinn gets in nice and close, ignoring the world around them as she rests her forehead against Rachel's. "There's nothing to be sorry about," she assures Rachel. "It just - it caught me by surprise."
"Not me," Rachel murmurs, closing her eyes. "I think I've always known this final exhibition was going to be all about you."
"But, it's not," Quinn says. "It's all about you."
"I love you."
Quinn wraps her arms around her, hugging her close. "Rachel Berry," she murmurs. "I swear, if you don't at least try to make this your career after all of this, we're going to have some very serious words."
"We've always had words."
Quinn kisses her, just once. "You are amazing."
"As long as you know."
"Baby, I've always known."
They kiss again, and Rachel wants nothing more than to stay in this moment forever. Which, given the circumstances, is entirely out of the question, and they're interrupted a beat later by Santana's clearing her throat.
"Dudes," Santana says. "There are like a hundred people here who want a piece of Rachel right now. Don't monopolise the artiste, Fabray. That's just unfair to the rest of us."
Quinn laughs softly, releasing Rachel and taking a step back.
"Hey," Rachel says, holding onto her, making sure she doesn't get too far away. "Hold on, okay? We still have time."
Quinn gives her a curious look. "We do, don't we?"
"It's what this has always been about."
Quinn furrows her brow, before a slow smile creeps onto her face. "You actually mean timing, right?"
Rachel slides a hand into Quinn's hair, her fingers playing with the soft strands. "Exactly," she breathes, gently pulling Quinn into another soft kiss. "We finally got it right, haven't we?"
Quinn hums in response.
"It's always been a matter of timing."