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As the Stars Fall From Our Heads

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Thanksgiving, November 2000

Sometimes, when he looks at his kid, he really doesn't know where she gets it from. Not the chattering; that's all Hiram, as are the wide eyes and the crazy amounts of gesticulating. Not even the singing; they don't dwell on that a lot, but it's clear that Shelby Corcoran's genes gave Rachel a clear head start in a very particular career field. It's hard to be upset about it when every time he hears his little girl sing anything-and it's mostly songs from Disney musicals, to the point where he's considering burning their copy of The Lion King or at the very least no longer bringing it on car trips-it's almost like a part of him dies and goes to heaven.

He'll never tell either of them that, though, because Hiram's already planning out a future for her where she's basically headlining Broadway shows by the time she's eleven-and Rachel herself?

"I'm thankful that I'm going to be a star," she proclaims, proudly-her eyes are closed, which is her best impression of a serious face, but there's this strangely self-confident smile playing around her lips, and it's hard not to chuckle a little.

Hiram shoots him a look that basically says, are we okay with this?

He clears his throat. "Rachel, honey. The point of this holiday, and saying thanks, is that we share with each other what the most important things in our lives are. So-this year, I'm very thankful that your daddy has finally figured out that dishes don't do themselves, and that I have both of you and you're both healthy."

"And I'm very happy that we're financially stable enough for me to go and teach little munchkins like you, exactly like I want to," Hiram says, reaching for his hand under the table and squeezing it.

Rachel looks between them for a moment and then bites her lip. "I'm thankful that you love me, and that I love you," she finally says.

It's more or less the point of the message, and so Leroy smiles at her and heaps some more sweet potato onto her plate-but the small frown between her eyes doesn't fade for the rest of dinner, and by the time he's tucking her in, she looks actually worried.

"What's up, baby girl?" he asks, settling next to her with the second Harry Potter book. Hiram thinks she's too young, but it's clear that he just underestimates her. She can handle a lot of crap, because even at age six, she's already found out the hard way that her family isn't exactly normal, by Lima standards.

"Why don't I have friends?" Rachel asks, very plainly, before looking up at him with those same wide eyes that made him fall in love with his husband all those years ago.

His heart breaks. "Honey, I'm sure you have some friends."

Rachel shakes her head after a moment. "I want to be friends with Quinn but Quinn says that I'm stupid. I'm not stupid, because I'm very good at English and Math, so why does she say that?"

He tries not to sigh, but out of all the girls for Rachel to set her sights on-well, of course she's aimed way too goddamned high. For the stars, and no less than that. "Look, Rachel, the thing is... you're incredibly special, and not everyone is going to like that about you. In Quinn's case, it's probably not even her. Her parents are very religious."

"So are we," Rachel says, a little questioningly. "Right? That's why we have Hannukah and Christmas."

"We're not religious like they are," Leroy says, and then stares at the book in his hand for a moment before settling on the bed next to her. She pulls the covers up to her chin and just peers at him with such trust, like he's actually going to be able to give her all the answers to this.

The real answer, of course, is a bitter one: one day, Quinn Fabray will be gassing up your car, because that girl is going to get knocked up before she's even twenty and will marry some podunk white boy from the good part of town, and go into real estate and pop out five more kids before everything starts to sag prematurely and...

Shit, what is he even thinking? Quinn Fabray is a six year old girl just like Rachel, and the fact that her parents have single-handedly started a campaign to keep Hiram off the girls' school's parent council isn't her fault.

Rachel's hand covers his after a moment. "Is this a grown up thing?"

He laughs softly and says, "No, I'm just trying to figure out how to explain to you what I mean."

"It's okay if Quinn doesn't like me," Rachel says, with a small smile. "I think I'm going to work really hard to make her like me, and then maybe I can be friends with her just like Santana and Brittany are. And then they can sleep over, and..."

He lets the book fall out of his hand and listens to his daughter's ideal sleepover fantasy, and wonders how he can ever tell her that the Pierce's aside, not a one of those parents would probably let their kids sleep over at their house.

"... and maybe, when I'm famous-"

"Rachel, honey, you need to not say things like that," he says, putting his hand on hers.

"Why?" she asks, sounding perturbed. "I'm going to be famous."

"Yes. You might know that, and your daddy and I might know that, but it doesn't sound nice to other people. It sounds arrogant. Do you know what that means?"

She shakes her head after a moment.

"It sounds like you think you're better than people," he says, as gently as he can.

Rachel stares off into the distance and then her little fingers squeeze down on his. "I'm not, though. I'm not better than anyone. If I was actually better, Quinn would probably want to be my friend more."

"You know what I'm thankful for?" he says, finally, because the conversation is getting unbearable and he can't handle this; the idea that because of his life choices, his kid is always going to be on the fringes, no matter how talented or sweet she is. Yet it's there, that ever-present fear, and if Rachel wasn't so optimistic...

"Having the best daughter in the world?" Rachel asks, with a cheeky little grin.

He ruffles her hair. "Quinn Fabray can suck on that."

Rachel giggles and leans into his side, and he picks the book back up and asks her to point out where they left off.

She can pretty much read it on her own now, but he'll take these moments as long as he can-because there's not a doubt in his mind that Rachel's going to be famous, and go places that he and Hiram won't ever be able to follow.

She just has to figure out a way to survive Lima first.

...

Thanksgiving, November 2008

He's already cooking when the front door opens and shuts quietly.

It spooks him for a moment, because the number of things Rachel does quietly can literally be counted on one finger: nothing. The girl sings in her fucking sleep sometimes, and really, the decision to sound-proof her room might prove problematic once she starts bringing boys home-and she will, because they're nowhere near as catty and jealous as the girls at Rachel's school are-but how many sleepless nights can one man endure because his kid won't stop warbling out Streisand notes in her sleep?

It's hard to be upset, though, because even when unconscious, she has perfect pitch.

"Rach?" he calls out, because Hiram isn't due back from the store for another hour or so-the lines are going to be crazy and so it has to be her.

He doesn't get a response, and so he drops the spoon back in the cranberry sauce that's softly simmering on the stove and steps back until he can look down the hallway, where...

"Hey-what's going on?" he asks, because Rachel is stripping out of her clothes with short, jerky movements, and then finally looks at him with the most uncomprehending, wounded look in her eyes.

"My clothes are ruined," she says, flatly.

"Did you have an accident or something?" he asks, even though everything about her screams that there isn't a logical explanation for this; no tipped over lunch tray because she wasn't looking where she was going, and no art room disaster either.

Her sweater-the one with a carousel horse on it-drops to the ground in a wet heap, and when he walks over and picks it up, he recognizes the sickly sweet stench that wafts from both her hair and her sweater instantly.

His temper boils. "Did someone do this to you?"

"Dad, it doesn't-" Rachel starts to say, sounding unusually defeated, and he lets the sweater fall to the ground again after looking at it-blue, just like her hair.

"Did someone throw one of those Big Gulps on you?" he asks, more emphatically.

Rachel bites down on her lip hard and rubs at her eyes. "It's … a new hazing method. I think Noah came up with it and..."

"Noah Puckerman did this to you?" he repeats, even more baffled. That boy, bad influence has he's bound to be, has been going to temple with them since he was eight. Sheila and her son and daughter spend the first Friday of Hannukah with them most years, when they're not off seeing relatives out of state.

"No, Daddy," Rachel says, quickly, and then pulls a wet strand of hair from her face. "It wasn't him. It was just..."

She trails off, and he watches as her jaw sets and she straightens.

"Rachel, this isn't just some prank. If you tell me who did this to you, I can call the school and-"

"No," she says, so loudly that he stops talking abruptly. When she looks back at him, her eyes are shining, but her voice is steady when she says, "I will deal with this on my own. If you get involved, the target on my back is only going to grow, and with... with..."

She doesn't need to finish the sentence. The first time Rachel has ever cried at anything Quinn Fabray has done to her, and there have been many things over the years-deliberately inviting every other girl in their class to her birthday party, calling Rachel unusually hairy during swim class even though she wasn't-the comments on MySpace somehow were the first to really break her.

The girl was a first class bully, and with her circle of unnamed friends to protect her, she was virtually untouchable. The worst part of Rachel's sobbing confession was that somehow, he just knew that his daughter was still holding out hope that one day, Quinn would just wake up and realize that they'd make good friends.

But maybe not after today, he thinks, watching as she reaches for her own sodden clothes and bundles them up in her arms.

"You don't need to say thanks today," he says, before he can think of anything else.

She looks at him sharply, and says, "I'm thankful for a lot of things, Dad. Most of all for the fact that no matter how many new ways they find to put me in my place, they will never stop me from leaving Ohio."

She seems to realize that it's kind of a dig to her family at the same time his own face falls, and then sighs.

"I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I just meant-"

"I know, Rachel," he says, and somehow those three simple words turn her back into his little girl; and she steps forward and into a hug and he wonders how the hell he's supposed to make any of this better for her if she won't let him.

"The sauce smells really good, Dad," she says, exhaling quietly a moment later. "I'm going to shower and then I thought we could watch the latest episode of Top Chef together?"

It's her way of apologizing, and he kisses the top of her head even though it's sticky, gross-smelling and making him see red all over again.

"Already watched it," he confesses, and she looks at him in … well, is it really mock outrage when she does look a little pissed?

"It is a miracle I have any morals whatsoever," she then says, before stomping up the stairs, and he watches her go, wondering when someone will finally get just how special she is, and love her for it rather than put her down over it.

Shit, he might be biased, but even then; Rachel's one of a kind, and surely one fucking person in all of Lima will eventually see that?

...

Thanksgiving, November 2009

The normal Thanksgiving confessions run to a complete halt when they reach Rachel, and Hiram looks at him curiously.

"I'm thankful that our God is loving," Rachel finally says, not looking up from her plate.

"Honey, that's... a little general, given how we normally do this," Hiram tentatively points out.

Rachel does look up at that, and laughs weakly. "You're right."

He watches as she visibly struggles with something, and then sighs.

"Quinn Fabray got thrown out of her house this week because she's pregnant, and … now she's living with Finn, who … may or may not have kissed me recently."

There are so many pieces of fact being flung at him at once that it's kind of ridiculous that he's hung up on wondering if maybe he did this to Quinn Fabray, by painting such a bleak picture of her future when she was barely more than a toddler.

"Um," he hears Hiram say, next to him.

"I feel awful," Rachel says, and then stares at the plate again, pushing the tofurkey around into the mash. "For her, and for him. Neither of them are ready for anything like this. When Quinn got to school today, I actually thought... Well. She's never looked more..."

"Human?" he asks, before he can stop himself.

Rachel shoots him a look that actually has him mumbling 'sorry', but whatever. The girl is a bitch. He doesn't know where Rachel gets her unending tolerance and sympathy from but it's definitely not him.

"It's hard to be thankful for any of this," she finally just says, before spearing some more turkey with a sigh.

It's been a few months since he's found unintentional red or blue or purple stains on her clothes, and yeah, maybe she has a better perspective on this than he possibly can. Her conviction that she's going to make it big in New York is no more endearing now than it was when she was six, but he can't help but think that she's definitely got one up on the rest of her classmates.

The doorbell rings, and Rachel slips off her seat without saying anything else-and he cranes his neck just wide enough to see someone really tall in the doorway, before Rachel pulls the front door shut behind her and talks in hushed whispers on the porch.

"I'm so glad I'm gay sometimes," Hiram says, out of the blue.

By the time Rachel gets back inside, looking even more torn than she did before, they're both in stitches. It feels incredibly inappropriate, and Rachel tries to look at them sternly, but then joins in on their laughter before sinking down into her seat again.

"Am I a terrible person for being glad that something awful happened to Quinn?" she asks, over the dishes that night, in a voice so quiet that he almost misses her question altogether.

"Depends. Why are you glad?"

"Because... I think she has the capacity to be a better person than she is, but she'd never become one around her parents. I don't think we'll ever be friends, but... maybe Glee club can be more harmonious from now on. No pun intended."

He smiles after a moment. "Yeah, because if there's one thing pregnant women are known for, it's their hormonal balance."

She swats at him with a towel. " That's sexist, and what do you know, anyway?"

It's an opening to broach a topic that they were hoping to leave in the dark until she was eighteen, but he knows that Rachel isn't actually fishing after details about her own conception. He takes it as the chance to make a joke it is instead, and says, "Please, girl, you know I'm married to the biggest woman in all of Lima."

She chuckles and then gives him an unexpected hug.

"I'm really glad you're my dad. There. That's what I'm thankful for this year."

He doesn't know what the fuck he wants to say to that, because she's Hiram's girl in every sense of the word, but every once in a while-and usually around this time of year-she pulls a rabbit out of a hat and makes him feel like she needs him in a different, but no less important way.

"I did okay in the daughter department as well, so right back at you," he says, holding out his hand for a small fist-bump.

She's almost an adult, but looking at her hands, it's almost impossible to believe that she'll ever not need him to open jars.

Thanksgiving, November 2010

Finn Hudson is a moron.

The kid is nice enough, and very much in awe of Rachel, but he's a fucking moron. The answer to all questions about his future are basically "I don't know" or "Um, haven't thought about it", and when Rachel cracks a joke about a Fibonacci sequence halfway through dinner, Finn actually looks like she was speaking fluent Klingon.

It is depressing, how into him his daughter is, and of course they're out on the porch necking now, or being thankful for each other or what the hell ever-and he's trying not to take his annoyance out on the fine China because it's not those plates' fault that Rachel apparently has no taste in men.

"I feel like this is our doing," he finally tells Hiram, who is humming a song from Wicked under his breath and slowly drying off the long-stemmed wine glasses. "We need more manly friends. Bring them over and show her what … I mean, come on. Can you imagine if she's still with that guy when she's ready to start applying for colleges? Shit. The prospect of paying for Juilliard is stressful enough without thinking that we're also basically paying for her to be sleeping with Shrek over there."

"Lee," his husband hisses at him, and he shuts up abruptly when the front door closes again.

Rachel wanders into the kitchen and, looking crazily like Dopey, sits down on one of the kitchen chairs before blinking out of it and looking at them both.

"Thank you for giving him a chance," she says, finally.

Okay, so now he feels like an asshole, but still. "What's the long term plan there, Rach?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Well, you're obviously going to New York," he says, drying his hand and then turning around to look at her. "In... God, it's only a year and a half from now."

"Breathe," Hiram mutters, next to him, and he rolls his eyes before looking at Rachel again.

"That's a long time, when you're our age," Rachel says, easily.

"Oh, so you don't see this lasting either?" he asks, suddenly feeling much better.

Well, until Rachel bursts into tears and storms out of the room.

Hiram sighs and looks at him exasperatedly. "Men. I swear to God."

He puts away the last few plates and, okay, he's probably not going to be winning the Rachel Berry Father of the Year Award this year, after that shit, but maybe it'll actually get through to her.

Finn somehow had let Quinn Fabray convince him that he'd knocked her up without ever even having sex with her, for crying out loud. What does she even see in him, aside from height?

He sighs, and flicks on the coffee maker before heading back into the living room and wrapping up the tablecloth. This is not where he wants to see her end up, even if it is making her happy, because what's the point in her aiming for the stars when all she has to get home to is some country boy who just misses the wide open spaces of Lima?

Never gonna work, and he could've probably been a little nicer about it but, as Rachel herself would say: whatever. Sometimes, the ends excuse the means.

He'd rather see her single than with this tool, and that's nothing short of first class parenting.

Thanksgiving, November 2011

Sam Evans is a definite step up from Finn Hudson.

Granted, everything in Rachel's life has been a definite step upwards since Finn Hudson, even though he's learned his lesson about voicing shit like that out loud. Nothing but the truth, though; twelve months ago, she had basically no friends aside from Kurt Hummel, when it suited him, and now he and H are playing step-parent to a bunch of kids left floundering because, no joke, they're Rachel's friends and their house is the best place for them to go.

Maria Lopez had called a few days ago, explaining that Santana's father (whose name he still can't think of, for the life of him; the man is like a ghost in that girl's life) is on-call and won't be coming home from the hospital, and she herself has an emergency surgery over in Pittsburgh that she can't reschedule because it's-well, whatever the doctor equivalent of pro bono is.

Some part of him had been dying to call the woman out on her shit, but at the same time, Thanksgiving falls on a Thursday anyway and he knows the holiday at their own house will be better with Santana present.

He remembers the girl of six months ago clearly; and yeah, maybe he'd called her out a little hard on what part she'd played in Rachel's torment of the earlier years, but to her credit she'd just stood there and said, "I didn't do that". He's pretty sure that if he ever got a chance to have a conversation with Quinn Fabray about what the first two years of high school had been like for Rachel, she'd win some sort of Olympic Medal in finger-pointing, and that's why he's actually relieved that out of all of those girls, Santana Lopez is the one to finally realize that Rachel is a great kid.

Over breakfast, Rachel grins and explains that she's going to try to convince Santana that they do in-character Thanksgiving, and he can already picture the look on Santana's face; it's a miracle his coffee doesn't spray everywhere. For someone with such cutting repartee, the girl has no sense of humor about some things, and Rachel knows exactly how to press all of her buttons. It's kind of like how Hiram used to mess with him, actually, back when they'd first met and he'd thought that weird Jewish guy down the block was kind of an assclown...

He nearly drops the tofurkey.

"I don't think even the pilgrims or the Indians ate off the floor, Lee," Hiram says, placidly, from where he's reading the paper and waiting for everyone to come home.

"I got it, I got it," he mumbles, before shoving the damn thing in the oven and then turning around to look at his husband as he pulls his mittens off. "Can I ask you the single most insane thing I've ever asked?"

"Have I ever stopped you before?" Hiram asks, with a small smile, before looking up. "Shoot."

"... do you think Rachel might be gay?"

Hiram's coffee more or less jet-arcs across the kitchen, landing in a puddle about two feet away from where he's standing, and then they both laugh.

"Well, that's up there. Were you not here for last year? All the mooning over Finn, then all the crying over Finn, and..."

"Yeah, not to be … rude, or anything, but that's kind of Rachel reacts when one of her favorite musicals doesn't win the Tonys she thinks they should," Leroy says, before raising his eyebrows. "You know what I'm saying?"

Hiram gets an adorable pensive look on his face-he recognizes it as the one his own daughter also has, when she's concentrating hard on something, like how to get the Cheerios back together this past summer, or how to figure out her housing situation in New York, which...

God, he still can't really think about New York, where his baby girl is going to be surrounded by rapists and muggers and horny college guys, all trying to get one up on her. And now? She's not even going to have the safety of college there, because she's decided she wants to do this her way, like life is actually a Frank Sinatra song and it's just dying to cast her.

Months and months of shouting about this and, he sighs and counts to five, because this is fucking Thanksgiving and they're going to have to apologize to each other about it today if they can't make it happen any other day.

"Can I ask... why you're asking this?" Hiram finally says, pushing his glasses back up his nose with a curious, but not dismissive expression.

Leroy circumvents the puddle of coffee on the floor and then sits down across from him, folding his hands together and twisting his lips for a moment. "I know this sounds crazy, and I know she has a boyfriend that... well, as far as we know, is not just for show-"

"He's really not, unless she legitimately finds it easier to do her math homework when sitting on his lap," Hiram says, dryly.

Leroy sort of groans and laughs at the same time. "Come on, man, I don't need to know that."

"I didn't need to see it either," Hiram sighs. "Anyway. My only real point here is that, as far as I can tell, Rachel likes men as much as we do."

Leroy takes a deep breath and then says, "Okay, but-what about Santana?"

"Santana definitely does not like men as much as we do," Hiram says, with that same slightly uncomfortable smile he always wears when she gets brought up. He's still waiting for the other shoe to drop; thinks the girl is a viper of some kind, as opposed to a fucking tragedy. Leroy would try to explain, but it would turn into this hot mess of babbling about how he sort of sees himself in her, and how that probably does actually guarantee her heart's in the right place.

It's better not to, and he figures she'll win Hiram over eventually on her own.

"What I mean is, what about the way Rachel is with Santana," he finally just says, and gives Hiram a pointed look.

"Friendly?"

"Yeah, but... Shit, do you not remember the first time she came over? Rachel literally sat us down and dragged us through a twenty minute Powerpoint presentation on what not to say to upset her and the kinds of things we should be talking about."

Hiram laughs. "Rachel's idiosyncrasies are not subject-specific, you know that."

"Yeah, and I know that this was the first time she'd ever brought over a friend without it being somehow tied to that Glee club they're all in, but... where was our Powerpoint on Finn? Or better yet, where was it on Sam?"

After a few moments of squinting, Hiram says, "I think you have … some kind of point, but I still think you're off base."

"Want to bet?" Leroy says, after a moment of contemplating what he's actually trying to get at.

"Are you actually proposing betting on our daughter's romantic life?" Hiram asks, before chuckling and saying, "Fine. Fifty says she finishes high school on Sam Evans' arm."

"Fifty says that within six months after that, he's gone and she's in love with some power lesbian whose life dream is an apartment on the Upper East Side," Leroy says.

"You're so on," Hiram says, and slaps their hands together for a formal shake.

When he bumps into Santana after dinner, carrying some stuff back into the kitchen, Santana puts a hand on his arm and says, "So much better than Finn Hudson; amiright?"

"Good enough, though?" he fires back, and watches as Santana's face completely stupids out; like she can't believe she's not given this any thought, and like she knows she should have.

He wonders if she made a Powerpoint of potential boyfriends for Rachel at some point, or if she just pan-scanned the cafeteria and decided that Sam would do, but either way, her reaction is... interesting.

"He's not going to hurt her," she finally says, and then glances at the Tofurkey. "Credit to the chef, by the way; this was almost edible, Mr. B."

"Girl, please, this is the finest fake turkey you've ever had."

She grins. "Yeah, sure. Let's not mention that it's the only fake turkey I've ever had."

"I'll take that," he says, and watches as she heads back into the living room, hawk-like eyes trained on Sam, who actually recoils a little and is probably wondering what the hell he did wrong.

In an ideal world, he'd send his kid to New York with Santana Lopez, because there's not a doubt in his mind that she'd know what to do about all the muggers, rapists and horny college guys-but, Santana has her own plans with her oldest friend, and even though he wouldn't mind punting Quinn Fabray off a building, he admires that kind of loyalty.

At least they'll be in the same city, which means that Rachel will have some friends there... and hell, it means Santana will, too.

He wouldn't have guessed that was in the cards, twelve months ago.

Thanksgiving, November 2012

"Why wouldn't you have told us any of this?" he finally just asks, when Hiram looks like he just wants to start crying all over again. "When have we ever given you any indication that you're not a full part of this family, and that you can't be a part of discussions about your future?"

"You argued about the money without me there," Rachel says, somehow still defiant, even though she looks like she hasn't slept in about three weeks, and even though Santana had lingered after she'd gone inside and then finally looked at him and said, "She's a mess; don't yell at her more, I already covered that part. She needs a hug, or whatever."

That part had made more sense when Rachel, about an hour before dinner, had come downstairs from a nap and said, "I wanted to go to Juilliard but I didn't want to tear apart this family over it."

Now, it's like everything he thought he knew about his daughter is exactly five minutes out of time, and he's scrambling to catch up.

"The money wasn't your concern, Rachel," Hiram finally says, before taking his glasses off and wiping at his eyes. "It was our decision, and we would've found a way to make it work."

"At what cost?" she asks, and God, how do you treat your only child like an adult at the same time as taking some of this awful responsibility away from them? "An extra job for one of you? You going back to accountancy, Daddy? It's not-it's just a degree."

"It's everything you ever wanted," Leroy says, quietly, and then gets up and says, "I need some air. I'll be right back."

"Dad, please-we're not done. I wanted to say that I realize now that what I did was stupid, and immature, and I should have just asked, but... in seventeen years, I've never seen you two fight about anything and..."

"Do you honestly think that means we don't argue from time to time?" Hiram asks; Leroy pauses in the doorway and looks at his husband. "Rachel, just because we made a pact to not do it in front of you, as that's psychologically harmful to children, doesn't mean we don't bicker the way normal couples do. This was a stressful situation, but …"

"Your self-sacrifice was naive and misguided, and completely unnecessary," Leroy says, before actually leaving the room, and then the house, and sitting down heavily on the back steps.

How did he miss this? How did he miss that Rachel would do something like this-not for anyone, and not for many people at all, but surely for them?

They were all she had for most of her life, and she just didn't have the oversight to realize that Juilliard was expensive but they would've found a way to make it happen. For her.

He has no idea how much time has passed before Rachel sits down next to him and says, "Santana agrees with you, you know. And I think I agree with her."

"So now what?" he finally asks, and looks at her. "And are you okay? Because-I didn't think I'd ever see a look like this on your face unless Babs dropped over dead."

She gasps and then stares at him. "Don't even joke about that, Dad."

"What's the new plan, Rachel?"

She looks out onto the yard and says, "I'm going to apply to NYU Tisch. They have a musical theater department and will allow me the opportunity to double-major with what Santana calls a real degree, and... I think I'll get in. I hope so, anyway."

"Baby, of course you'll get in," he says, with a sigh, before pulling her into a hug. "You would get in anywhere. What the hell kind of singing and dancing school wouldn't want you? You were winning awards before you could walk, and all those extra-curriculars you did in high school... I mean, if Santana can get into Barnard, you can definitely get into Tisch."

She smiles faintly and then sighs. "I'm sorry. I'm really sorry about all of this, not to mention the six months of money that I've wasted-"

"Was it a waste?" he asks, and she grimaces a little before looking down at the steps below her feet.

"It was... a reality check. I might be exceedingly special in Lima, Ohio, but..."

"Rachel, you're exceedingly special anywhere; I think what you've learned now is that the real world is a combination of luck and skill," he says, gently, because she looks bone-weary already, and so much more tired than when he last saw her.

She purses her lips together for a moment and then rubs at her face. "What does it say about me that in all the times Sam has asked me about this, I never wanted to tell him the truth?"

"That you're proud. To the point of stupidity, sometimes."

"Maybe. But I would've told..." she starts to say, before shaking her head with a sigh. "Nevermind. It doesn't matter."

"What are you thankful for, this year?" he asks, after another few minutes of watching the sun set together.

"Quinn Fabray's scholarships falling through," Rachel says, sounding vaguely ashamed, before straightening again. "If that's not karmic retribution for the way she treated me..."

He laughs and squeezes her arm. "Y'know, as your dad, I'm supposed to tell you to not be vindictive, as it's unattractive; but as someone who has wanted to strangle that skinny white bitch for the last four years..."

Rachel laughs as well and then tips her head onto his shoulder. "You really think I'll get into Tisch?"

"I think you'll get everything you want, Rach. Whatever it is. That's just how you are," he says.

Really only a small part of that reaction is rooted in the fact that he gets the strong feeling that he's about to make fifty bucks, because unless his name isn't Leroy, Sam Evans-God bless him, that sweet, affable kid who never really stood a chance with Rachel once she really hit her stride-is on the way out.

Thanksgiving, November 2013

"Don't be terrible to her. You know underneath all that bluster she's just a sweet girl with a lot of feelings," Hiram says to him, sternly, pointing at him with the spoon he's eating his soft-boiled egg with.

He almost loses it laughing. "Santana Lopez, a sweet girl? H, I know we both smoked some dope in college but-"

Hiram shakes his head. "I won't have it. We'll treat her as we have all of Rachel's boyfriends, no matter how much she's already a part of the family."

"And what, we're not supposed to reference the fact that she damn near destroyed Rachel at the start of the summer? Come on," he says, staring at his toast.

"What about what Rachel did to her, by leaving like that?" Hiram asks, pointedly.

"Okay-can we maybe just agree to pick a daughter then, and rib the other one for being an ass?"

Hiram chuckles. "I don't think that's how it works, hon."

"Whatever," he finally says, leaning back in his chair and sighing deeply. "I'm calling her on her crap and she'll take it like a man, because she always has."

Hiram smiles at him fondly from across the table. "You really should just be more smug about that fifty you have framed in the bedroom, as opposed to concerned about Rachel's well-being. Can't we just observe them together and decide how we want to play this then?"

It's a very reasonable suggestion, made by the man who has genetically passed on all of Rachel's most hysterical traits, and so Leroy sighs and says, "Fine. Ruin my fun."

He only means it about halfway, anyway; it hadn't looked like Santana was coming home with Rachel at all, but something obviously changed in the last few days, and that's good, because in the past few years, they've finally discovered what that fourth place at the table is for.

Would've felt empty without her-and no, that doesn't mean he's not still giving Santana shit for being so clueless. He saw this coming years ago, for crying out loud.

Of course, his plans to rib her fall apart when Rachel pulls him aside in the kitchen and says, "We just had a massive fight with Sam and Quinn about... our relationship, and I think she's just lost her best friend, so can we maybe..."

"She picked you over Quinn?" he asks, and it's not even that he doesn't believe it; it's just that he didn't think it would ever come down to this, what with how those girls have been tied to the hip for years even before they actually became real best friends.

Rachel looks equal parts pleased and sad when she says, "Yeah. I didn't see it coming, either, but-"

"'cause you're blind. I mean, you thought Finn Hudson was a catch for years," Santana says, somewhere behind them; and that part comes out spontaneously, but what he personally finds more endearing is how she then lingers in the doorway, like a kid with her hand caught in the cookie jar and then some. "Um-I mean-"

"Oh, please, don't start faking respect for me now; that's just ugly," he tells her, mildly, and she blushes to the tips of her cheeks even as Rachel sighs, "Dad" at him before walking over to-yeah, her girlfriend, and pulling her into a loose hug.

He wishes he had a camera, because within a few seconds of just standing tensely next to each other, Santana sort of automatically shifts into his kid, and Rachel turns to look at her with a look that's so sappy that it makes him think of his own commitment ceremony, and the way Hiram had looked at him.

"So cute," he sort of drawls at them, and Santana glares so abruptly that he can't help laughing. "C'mon, Lopez, make yourself useful; there's dishes here with your name on them."

She doesn't sigh, or protest, or do anything but let go of Rachel with one last squeeze, and then slots into her usual space at the sink next to him. Rachel disappears back into the den, and then he glances at Santana from the corner of his eyes.

"You're not having sex with her in this house."

Santana fumbles the plate she's washing and sends a scattering of water and bubbles up in the air, and then stares at him with such a terrified look on her face that he starts laughing.

"Shit, you already did? Girl, you haven't even been here for more than-"

"No," she blurts out, and then stares at the sink again. "I just-uh-I wouldn't, okay? God, first of all, her room isn't exactly the biggest turn-on, what with all the pink and the stuffed animals, and second of all, I know you have super-sonic hearing or whatever."

"And you respect me," he says, a little smug.

"Well, I'm scared of you, sometimes, if that counts," she says, a small grin already playing at the corner of her mouth.

He chuckles and accepts the plate she hands him, and then quickly dries it before setting it aside. "You okay?"

A brief tensing of her shoulders lets him know that really, she's not, but when she looks at him, it's with such determination that he knows she's going to ride this one out; and good on her. "I'm not the one being an ass. It's not like things with Quinn weren't going to be weird enough anyway, because of what a bitch she's always been to Rachel, but-I really thought she'd be smarter than to, y'know. See who I cared about more."

"You made the right call," he says, after a moment. "That Christian nun doesn't strike me as someone who knows how to have a good time, if you know what I'm saying."

"Ew," Santana says, laughing and wincing at the same time, before splattering some suds in his general direction.

"Seriously, though, Santana; leaving aside the fact that Rachel's my kid, and basically the best thing in the entire world as far as I'm concerned, next to Top Chef: Just Desserts, anyway-"

"Word," Santana says, and he almost hugs her just because he finally has an ally on that point, but he hasn't really said what he wants to yet.

"I'm proud of you," he finally just says, and she looks at him in surprise. "You sort of stumbled into our lives three years ago, not knowing your ass from your elbow, and now look at you. Rachel tells me you're involved with these great projects at Barnard, and-"

"Okay, stop it, right now," she says, holding up her hand, and then looks away before sniffing hard. "You can't-what-it's not even Thanksgiving yet, okay? I know you people are going to make me feel all emotional tomorrow but-"

He pulls her into a brief hug, and she sort of sighs and lets him do it, and-yeah.

Best fifty bucks he's ever earned, because he might've been hoping for this outcome all along.

Thanksgiving, November 2014

It's strange, to be packing up and heading out to Pittsburgh, of all places, for a holiday he's not celebrated outside of Lima for nearly 24 years at this point-but it's not unwanted.

Rachel looks at him one more time and says, "Promise me you will be civil to Quinn."

"Rachel, that girl just-" he says, with a sigh, before nodding. "I'll be fine. I ignored her all throughout a Christmas dinner once before; I can do this, too."

"She's not having the easiest time, you know," Rachel says, before helping him lift the suitcase in the car. "She's desperately in love with Sam, and he just seems to think of her as his best female friend."

"Sam Evans being clueless? My God, call the press," he says, holding a hand to his heart.

Rachel swats at his side. "Stop it."

"How are you and Lopez really doing? Living apart and all that?" he asks, when he's done laughing at her.

Rachel has flown in to get a few random bits and pieces from her bedroom, and to drive along with them-in a grand once-a-year Berry Family Tradition-to this Thanksgiving dinner they're having at Maria Lopez' new house.

He hasn't seen her in what feels like forever, because over the summer she and Santana went on a road trip, and since then, Rachel has been demurring about visiting; probably in light of Santana's finances, actually, now that he thinks about it. It's a crappy deal, what happened to her seemingly endless supply of money, but they seem to be coping all right.

"It's okay," Rachel says, with a small smile. "I see her when I want to see her, and I love … well, one of her roommates, so-"

"And next year?"

She brightens at the idea of a next year and says, "Quinn will graduate at the end of this year; don't ask me how, but she somehow has managed to finish a four year degree in three without locking herself in her room all the time. It's a little insane, but-"

"Your basic point is that she'll be out of your hair," he says, raising his eyebrows, and then looking at the house, where Hiram is still puttering around and checking all the appliances are turned off before they leave.

"Brittany and Mike are ready to live together, which means..." Rachel says, and the smile that's playing around her lips is so happy that he can't help but return it.

"You ready for that? I mean, I'm not an expert, but I hear that when gay ladies do that kind of thing, it's basically like marriage."

She blushes, looks shocked, and then swats at him again. "Dad."

"I'm kidding," he says, even though he figures that that, too, is just a matter of time.

"Rach-did you bring a blow dryer?" Hiram calls, from the doorway.

"What does he even think he's blowdrying?" Leroy mutters, just loud enough for Rachel to hear and snort softly, but she gamely gives him a thumbs up anyway, and then the front door finally shuts.

It's a long drive, but for his newly re-sized family, it is worth it.

Santana hugs him tightly, and then hugs Hiram just as tight, and then hugs Rachel tightest of all, as Leroy leans forward to kiss Maria on the cheeks twice.

"So good to see you both again," she says, warmly, and so far, so good; of course, then looks past her towards what must be the living room of her new house, and a very scared looking Quinn Fabray is sitting on the sofa there.

"Does it talk?" he asks Santana, who snorts and says, "Q-get your ass over here and say hello like a normal person."

The girl has the grace to look vaguely ashamed of herself, because really, she's now fucked with not just one but both of his girls, and he stares at her until she lowers her eyes to the floor.

"Happy Thanksgiving," she finally murmurs, and he feels a stab of what must be parental pity for her, because with the way she grew up...

"Same to you, Quinn. How's life? Still chasing after Rachel's ex-boyfriend?" he says, hiding a small grin.

Quinn's head shoots up, Santana muffles laughter in her hand, Rachel says, "Dad, oh my God", sounding mortified, and Maria just turns to Quinn and says, "Please tell me he means Sam and not that Finn Hudson boy."

He stops grinning when Quinn looks like she wants to die, and Hiram gives him a look and then starts moving everyone into the living room.

Quinn doesn't look like she can move, though, and so he pulls her aside and says, "Take it from someone who had the pleasure of observing him for close to a year; you need to do more than drop a few hints with that kid, girl. You want Sam to notice you? You need to either get Santana to force him to date you, or you need to do something so obvious that even he can't see past it."

A few different emotions flit past Quinn's eyes, and then she just looks confused. "Why are you-I mean, you must hate me for the things I used to do to Rachel."

"You still doing them?" he asks, a little more sharply.

She shakes her head mutely, but still just stares back at him.

He pats her on the shoulder. "Good. Congratulations on being an adult, and welcome to a second chance in this … well, non-nuclear family. I suggest not fucking it up."

"Yes, sir," she says, straightening almost immediately, and he watches as she heads back into the living room, looking back at him over her shoulder just once.

He doesn't laugh until she's already gone, and only stops when Rachel appears back around the corner and gives him a reproachful look that she got straight from Hiram.

Whatever. Santana would have high-fived him for what he just managed to do in about five seconds flat, and he can't help it if other people don't appreciate that.

When they finally get around to saying thanks, at dinner later that night, Quinn has to go first, and looks directly at him when she says, "I'm thankful for second chances."

Sam blinks at her a few times and then says, "I'm thankful that Blizzard is coming out with another WoW expansion pack, and that my favorite night elf hunter will be right there to dominate with me. Also, I'm thankful that um, after some tutoring, I'm getting an A-... and that my parents are stopping touring for a while so I can actually go visit them. … that's all, I think."

Leroy looks between Quinn and Sam-or rather, the soft, doting look on Quinn's face and the oblivious turkey-grabbing one on Sam's-and looks across the table to Hiram, who looks like he's just as amused by them.

Maria clears her throat and says, "I'm thankful we're all here, this year. After last year's terrible-well. There's no point in dwelling, but I am glad that everyone is getting along again, and that we've all come together. May there be many more years like this one."

"Amen," Hiram says, before pushing his glasses up his nose and glancing at his half-empty glass of wine for a second. "I'm thankful that Lee is cutting back on his hours after this year, meaning I'll be able to see the man I married more often than I have the entire time we've been married. Here's hoping I won't be sick of him after three months."

Rachel laughs and says, "I'm thankful that all of you have come to accept the most important thing in my life next to my voice."

"Thanks," Santana says, sourly, but then a devious glint enters her eyes. "Meanwhile, I am thankful that some people are naturally limber to begin with, and that yoga classes at Tisch are free and really, really regular."

Rachel nearly chokes on a bite of sweet potato, and Maria starts gingerly clapping her back; Quinn looks horrified, Sam looks like he wants to laugh but can't with this many parents around, and Hiram just shakes his head.

Then, Santana looks straight at Leroy, and he loses it completely, covering his mouth with his napkin before reaching across the table to high-five him. "She deserved that."

Rachel finally swallows and then sighs. "I don't know why I expect you to be civil when my own father is your greatest supporter."

Santana winks at him and then whispers something in Rachel's ear that has her level of pique drop almost ten percent instantly; interesting trick, he thinks, and reminds himself to ask Santana if it's one that a parent could also reasonably use.

Then, it's his turn, and he looks around the table, before finally just shrugging. "I'm thankful that I have a healthy husband, a talented daughter, and... nope, sorry. Can't think of anything positive to say about Santana."

"You wouldn't be the first," Quinn says, dryly, and then gasps when a piece of turkey hits her in the cheek.

A second one follows, and then Sam reacts, tipping the cutlery off Quinn's plate and then holding it up in front of her face like a shield.

"Jesus, Sam, let Night Elf Hooker fight her own battles or something," Santana says, squinting and then lobbing a piece of turkey over the plate, even as Maria tells her that she will be grounded if she doesn't stop right now.

Quinn takes the plate from Sam, puts it down, and then very very carefully reaches for the gravy boat in front of her.

"Oh, no, you wouldn't," Santana says, her eyes widening.

"Not that I condone this type of behavior," Rachel says, before folding her napkin and placing it on her plate, "But-if you can catch her once she starts running, she's all yours, Quinn."

"Thanks," Quinn says, and then with a level of athleticism that only someone who just stopped being a professional athlete a few months ago, rounds the table much more quickly than Santana can scramble away from it.

There is a lot of squealing after that, from a variety of different rooms in the house, and finally Sam picks up a spear of asparagus and chews on it slowly.

"I think this is probably the best Thanksgiving I've had in a really long time," he says, mildly, and then chucks the remains of his spear at Rachel.

"Oh, shit," Hiram says, pushing away from the table, and Leroy laughs-at least, until Rachel takes aim and nails him right in the nose with a broccoli stem.

He still smells like food, three showers later, and sighs before turning on his side to face Hiram.

"That was ridiculous," Hiram says, clicking off the reading light and then leaning in for a kiss.

"Ridiculous, but fun."

"Hm."

"Hey, H. Want to make another bet?"

"... maybe," Hiram says, poking him in the shin with his freezing toes. "Depends on if you're going to rig the results again, like you did with Santana."

"I didn't rig anything; you're just jealous I saw that mutual crush years before you did."

Hiram sighs and says, "What's the bet, Lee?"

"Next Thanksgiving, we're going to have to act real surprised when Quinn and Sam announce they're together and Rachel and Santana … hm. They're going to have massive news for us as well, but I have no idea what about."

Hiram shoots up and looks at him. "You don't think they'll be pregnant, do you?"

He laughs. "Yeah, how is that going to happen? They're not nearly dumb enough to be thinking about kids while they're both still in college, if they're even thinking about those at all."

"Well, then, what on earth are you talking about?" Hiram asks, flopping back down next to him.

It's hard to put into words, because it's really nothing more than just a vibe; but it's a strong one, and he gets it every time he catches the way Rachel looks at Santana, regardless of what she's doing. Even in the midst of tonight's food fight, the amount of love on her face-well, shit, she doesn't even look that dedicated to Funny Girl, and he's been dragged down to the basement to see that movie at least two hundred times over the last twenty years.

"I don't know; I guess we'll find out," he finally says.

Hiram is silent for a long while and then mumbles, "Not touching that Quinn and Sam bet with a ten foot pole, by the way."

"Good call," Leroy says, with a grin, before also falling asleep.

Thanksgiving, November 2015

The table has never been more silent, and finally Hiram reaches for Rachel's hand, next to her plate, and says, "... you're going to have to give us more than that."

"It's exactly as I've said. I've thought about this a lot, and I'm changing my major to education," she repeats, still calm.

Leroy glances at Santana, whose jaw is set and-yeah, this isn't the first time they've had this conversation, at all, and he can already tell that Santana is completely with them and has gotten nowhere on this front.

Hiram looks to him for help, but he knows that if he even tries to talk to her right now, he'll just explode; and it's going to be worse than when she talked to them about Juilliard, at long last, because this time, she's announcing the mistake before she has a chance to make it.

Hiram clears his throat. "Rachel, honey, you've wanted to be on Broadway since you could crawl. This degree you're getting at Tisch, it will help you do that. Has something-did you get a particularly bad review in the last school play, or..."

Rachel shakes her head. "No, nothing like that. It's-"

"She's doing it because of me," Santana says, before pushing away from the table and announcing, "I need some air. I've heard this too many fucking times and it's no less stupid than it was when she first brought it up, so-good luck with it. I hope you get through to her."

"Santana-" Rachel says, in a pleading tone of voice Leroy's never really heard her use.

Santana shakes her head. "I'm sorry, but you know I'll never be anything but honest with you, and this is the-" She doesn't finish the sentence, just gets up and heads outside.

Sam studiously looks at his plate, and Maria softly pushes her chair back as well and says, "I'll go after her."

Quinn is watching the proceedings almost like a tennis match, but she's gripping Sam's hand tightly, like somehow this will spill over into their relationship. He wants to tell her not to be ridiculous, but the way that he feels like yelling at Rachel right now? Well, shit, it might spill over into his relationship.

Great.

"Is she right?" Hiram finally asks.

Rachel pulls her hand away and sighs deeply, sinking back into the chair. "Yes and no. I'm doing it for me, in light of things I want, but she can't look past the part where she thinks I'm making a gigantic sacrifice for her, because she's poor now, and the idea of both of us being unemployed and massively in debt while she's saving up to go to law school-"

"That's what this is," Leroy finally says, because at least Rachel is only partially losing her fucking mind. "You're-about to do something incredibly stupid because you want your girlfriend to go to law school. That's what you're thinking about."

"No, I'm thinking about my own future," Rachel says, and there's that stubborn look that only surfaces in his very worst fights with Hiram; her jaw sets, and she stares at him squarely. "I want that future to be in New York; I want it to be with her; and that means that one of us needs to be employable in the next two years, or we don't stand a chance of making it there. Together."

"Doesn't look like there's a whole lot of together in this," he says, as calmly as he can.

Her expression turns wounded almost immediately. "Santana sometimes lets pride overshadow her better judgment. She thinks I'm trying to... turn her into a kept woman, or something ludicrous like that. When instead, I'm merely responding to an opportunity that was extended to me this summer-"

"What, when you worked at that performing arts academy?" Hiram asks.

Rachel nods and says, "They wanted me to stay on. I've had enough voice training now to teach others how to sing, and-"

"That's great. Really, I'm proud of you," Leroy says, and no, he doesn't mean for his voice to sound so clipped, but-what the fuck is this? "There's no doubt in my mind that you could be a great educator; much better than that horrible little man that taught you all at McKinley. But this isn't what you want."

"I would get sabbaticals to do stage shows," Rachel says, before glancing at the table. "The connections I would make working there would actually ensure I have things to do on stage that I otherwise can only dream of-"

"You don't want to be a teacher," Leroy cuts her off, and then stares at her. "Look me in the eye and tell me I'm wrong. Tell me that you're dying to do this, and-"

And then she does. She looks right at him, and lies through her teeth, and then says, "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go see if I can talk to Santana, because this isn't how I want to spend Thanksgiving."

Sam exhales slowly when she leaves and then looks at Quinn, who looks back at him for a moment, and then finally looks across the table. "She needs your support, not your judgment."

"What she needs is to not throw out her hopes and dreams because Santana is going to have a rough few years, Quinn," Hiram says, before he can snap at the girl to mind her own fucking business; not much point in doing that, anyway. They're all family, and Quinn is obviously part of Santana's package, but-

"What, you're on Rachel's side in this?" he asks, skeptical.

Quinn is silent for a moment, and then looks over at the wall of family portraits in the Lopez house; there are a lot of all of them, at this point, and one in particular that she seems to be looking at-a picture of her and Sam, at some sort of huge event, where she's wearing some sort of dress and headdress and he's in a little green cap and a tunic, and-fuck, Leroy has no idea what he's looking at, but after a moment Quinn smiles and looks back at him.

"I prayed they wouldn't make it, you know. When this first started happening. I think I saw it coming long before either one of them did, and I prayed that they'd never work things out, because I had no desire to see Santana with someone who, for years on end, I positively loathed. And, for what it's worth, that sentiment went both ways." She's quiet for a few seconds and then says, "But they are together. And they're good together. I can only hope that three years from now, Sam and I will be as solid as they are. So-if Rachel is adjusting her life to make sure that there's space for Santana in it, I don't know why any of you would try to stop her. She's not a child. She's almost 22, and she's had months to think about this."

"Be that as it may-" Hiram starts to say, but Quinn shakes her head.

"I'm moving to Philadelphia, at the end of the month. For a relationship I've been in for... how long has it been now?"

"Um, ComicCon was July 12th through 15th, so-four months?" Sam says, and the way Quinn smiles at him when he says it, Leroy feels himself deflate a little.

"My mother thinks I've lost my mind, and I actually more or less understand where she's coming from, because the only thing she has to compare this to is a loveless marriage that fell apart the minute anything real happened in it," she says, before looking at Leroy sharply. "You don't have the same excuse. You have a good relationship, and you should understand that Rachel and Santana do as well. And sometimes, that's worth giving something up for."

"It's not forever, anyway," Rachel says, appearing again, with a still incredibly frustrated and angry looking Santana in tow. "I will do this until she's settled, and if I'm still burning to become a star then, there will be plenty of time for me to..."

Hiram sighs and says, "Is this a discussion, or are you telling us?"

"I'm telling you," Rachel says, sitting back down.

Santana bites her lip, but then sinks down in the seat next to her, and Leroy watches through almost misty eyes as, even in the middle of this near-meltdown, their hands gravitate together and latch on.

"I'm sorry," Santana then says, looking at him. "I tried to get her to-but she's already changed her major and-"

"It's okay," he finally says; and it's not even really because he means it. It's because she really needs to hear this, and she's not the daughter that he's going to slap upside the head over this anyway. "It's okay."

Quinn's words stick in his head, later that night, when he and Hiram are both staring at the ceiling.

"Is what you had in mind, last year?" Hiram finally asks, tiredly.

He laughs weakly. "Nah. I thought they might do something youthful and foolish, like announce they're engaged, or something."

Hiram exhales slowly and then covers his eyes with his underarm. "I don't think I was ready for her to grow up so fast."

"What do you mean?"

It's silent for a long moment, and then Hiram says, "She's taking decisions for her family. And we're not in it anymore. Not in the way Santana is, anyway."

Tears well up in his eyes, and he can't even really explain why, but before he has a chance to respond, there's a knock at his door, and then-

Yeah, she's growing up really fast, but the woman standing in the doorway, meekly asking if they can talk some more, will never be anything other than his little girl.

She settles on the foot of the bed, folding her legs up Indian style, and they both scoot up until they're looking at her. It's almost like Sunday morning cartoon time, except Rachel's eyes are old and tired, and she sounds exhausted when she says, "I can fight Santana on this as long as I have to, but I can't do it if I have to fight the both of you as well."

"Rachel, you need to give us a little while to process this," Hiram says, reaching for his glasses; Leroy looks down at his other hand, and reaches for it, wondering if even at their age, it still makes a difference, to be grounded like that.

"I know," Rachel says, her hands anxiously picking at the duvet. "But I want you both to know that-I'm not taking this decision lightly. If I didn't think I would be spending the rest of my life with Santana, I would never do it. The fact is, I'm doing this for her, but I'm mostly doing this for me, because I love her and I want to see her succeed at what she's doing. Her career isn't dependent on luck. She's not going to be rejected from law school, for being not blonde enough or not tall enough or not soprano enough. She's-"

"You've always believed in yourself more than this," Leroy says, before he can stop himself. "What changed?"

"Hundreds of auditions," Rachel says, after a moment, with a small smile. "I still believe it will happen for me, someday. I just don't need someday to be right now anymore."

She looks like she's going to cry, and Leroy feels something burst in his chest; next thing he knows, he's said "Come here", and Rachel is between them and crying a little, and all he can think about is a little girl, now nearly twenty years ago, asking why she doesn't have any friends.

She has friends now, and they're unlikely ones at that, but no less loyal for it; he smiles faintly at the memory of Quinn's fierce defense, and then stops smiling when he remembers the devastated and apologetic look on Santana's face, and finally just says, "I'll talk to Santana, okay?"

It's not really the same as agreeing with her that this is a good plan, but it's doing what he has to for his family, and maybe that's the more important thing, here.

Santana's out on the porch, smoking, and after a moment he holds out his hand for a cigarette as well.

"You don't smoke," she points out.

"Neither do you, but this is a weird day," he says, and then lights the cigarette before exhaling slowly. "You love her?"

"What the fuck kind of question is that?" she asks, and gives him the most hilarious baffled look; it's extra funny because her eyes are still red from crying, and her make-up is literally everywhere but on her eyes, but she still manages to look a little menacing.

He slings an arm around her back and says, "A stupid, obvious one."

"No shit," she says, and sort of leans into him anyway. "I wish I could make her not do this. I mean, fuck, I can go do something else; I don't have to do law."

"No?"

"No," Santana says, even more forcefully. "My grades are amazing, I can go do whatever. I mean, Women's Studies isn't exactly going to get me on Wall Street, but... I don't care. I could figure anything out. The only thing I need is-"

"Rachel," he says, when she shuts up and forcibly neutralizes her expression again.

She sort of shrugs after a moment.

"Yeah. I think that what you're missing is that it's not any different for her, but she's done some mathematical analysis of what you guys need in the short run and-"

"She's selling herself short so badly if she thinks she won't make it," Santana says, taking one last deep drag on the cigarette and then stubbing it out. "I don't know how it got to this point. I thought, since she started going to Tisch and got the lead in both the play and the musical two years running, she'd realize that-"

"At the risk of sounding incredibly gay, maybe you make her feel more special than any of that does," he says, gently.

Santana shuts up abruptly, then stares at him, and then rolls her eyes so spectacularly that he starts laughing.

"I am kind of a catch," she then mumbles, a few moments later, and he laughs again before stubbing out his cigarette as well.

"This worth breaking up over?" he finally asks.

She looks over sharply. "What the fuck? No, of course not; I'm mad as hell at her but-"

"Yeah, you might want to tell that to her," he says, mildly.

Santana's on her feet and back in the house within a moment, and-oh, great. The porch is right below their bedroom. The first thing he hears is, "Are you retarded? Why would you think I'm breaking up with you?"

"You've just been so angry and I don't know what to do anymore," his daughter responds, and then there's a noise he can't identify, before Santana's voice drifts down again.

"You dumb ass bitch. Don't you know I'm in this for life?"

"Would it have killed you to say that in a nicer way, Santana? Honestly, sometimes it's like I found you in the Neolithic era and dragged you out of a cave-"

That statement-and it makes him laugh, softly-is followed by a noise that a parent definitely shouldn't be subjected to, and he hurries back inside before he hears anything scarring.

Hiram stirs when he settles back in bed and says, "Crisis averted?"

"Only if you don't think Rachel becoming a fucking teacher is a crisis," he says, a little bitterly.

"Does it matter what she does, if she's happy?" Hiram asks, rolling over and looking at him with that small smile; the one he's never really been able to resist, and that still makes Hiram look boyish even at their current definitely-not-young age.

"Don't be rational; you know I hate that shit," he finally just says, and watches as his husband laughs and kisses him.

He'll get over it. Eventually.

Thanksgiving, November 2016

Santana falls asleep in the middle of dinner, almost face-planting into the mash, but Rachel just about saves her from the bottom even as Quinn yanks her back upright by her hair.

"Ow, you crazy bitch," Santana snaps, alert again immediately, before looking around the table and saying, "I'm sorry; I just came off a double shift at one job followed by a single shift at my other job and I uh... I'm thankful that next year, I'll be in school again so that I at least have the opportunity to artificially keep myself alive using coffee."

"Go," Maria says, waving her off. "Nobody needs snoring children at the dinner table."

Santana slips away, and Quinn takes a sip of wine before saying, "I'm thankful for the economic recovery and Sam's admittance onto the PhD program at Temple, ensuring he'll in fact be able to make a career out of being a nerd."

Sam grins a little, and Leroy watches as he twists the gaudiest fucking ring that mankind has ever created on his finger-but Quinn smiles when he does it, so he figures that-as always-he's just not getting the clue. He might ask Santana, later, who'd probably know what the hell a circular, bright green ring means over in geekville. It doesn't really matter anyway.

"I'm thankful that this is my last year of school," Rachel says, before also raising her wine glass in a small toast. "And that I have a job lined up when I'm done, and that I'm not teaching five year olds, because I don't know how many times I can sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star without wanting to kill myself."

Sam laughs at that and says, "I'm thankful that Quinn has finally learned how to use her insane powers of intimidation for good, because-babe, do you mind if I announce it?"

She rolls her eyes but says, "No, that's fine."

"Say hello to Comcast's youngest ever-what is your job title again?" Sam asks, pausing mid-sentence to look at Quinn.

She laughs, and then somewhat grudgingly says, "Assistant to the Assistant of the VP Marketing."

"Ass to Ass VP, right, that's it," Sam says, with a giant grin on his face.

"Sam," Maria says, sternly.

"What, like I'm the one who came up with that name," he says, laughing, and then nodding at Santana's empty chair.

"Ah, always there in spirit," Leroy says, gravely, toasting the space by Santana's plate.

Rachel shakes her head but then very sincerely says, "Congratulations, Quinn. It's wholly deserved."

"Thank you," Quinn murmurs, before looking over at Leroy. "What are you thankful for this year, sir?"

He considers telling her she can drop the sir now that it's clear she has in fact fully divorced herself from her childhood self, but-he kind of likes it, and she doesn't seem to mind at all. "That special brand of wisdom that can only come with age."

The entire table looks at him, and he shrugs. "Took the play-off sweeps at work last spring. Front seat tickets to the Cavs all year long."

Sam perks up. "Um, Leroy, sir, I know you're not my father-in-law-to-be or anything anymore, but-"

He pulls the spare ticket from his back pocket and slides it across the table to Sam. "Whenever you can make it, they're all yours."

"I love you," Sam says, without an ounce of insincerity, and the entire table laughs.

"I'm going to go check on Sleeping Beauty," Rachel says, with a small smile, and then heads away as well.

Hiram looks at Quinn. "She's actually just this tired because she's working three jobs, right? She's not... with child?"

Quinn nearly spits out a mouthful of wine but somehow saves it-which is probably the kind of quick thinking that got her Ass to Ass VP to begin with, Leroy thinks-and then says, "I … really don't think so. They don't want children, as far as I'm aware."

"Do you?" Maria asks, before giving Quinn the kind of smile that highly suggests that she's given up on Santana breeding and is now just waiting for Quinn to do it in her place.

Leroy almost starts laughing, and then actually has to bite his lip when he takes a look at Sam;

Sam's fork is frozen halfway to his mouth with a piece of stuffing precariously hanging off the edge, and his mouth is slowly falling open.

Quinn is quickly reddening. "I..." she says, and then clears her throat. "I already have Beth, of course, and Sam is very good with her, but-um. I think maybe I should discuss this with him first?"

"Yeah, that'd be good, um," he says, before carefully putting his fork down again.

Hiram drains the rest of his wine glass and says, "I'm thankful that I can't have babies."

"Hear, hear," Leroy agrees, and clinks their glasses together as Maria rolls her eyes and says, "Men."

"All right there, kiddo?" he asks Santana, the next morning, when she looks mostly human again.

She gives him a small smile. "Just ten more months, and then I'm off to Columbia Law."

"You'll kick ass," he promises her, and she just sort of rolls her eyes at him.

"Obviously."

This is why she's his favorite; even when about to fall over dead, she refuses to let anyone get the better of her.

It's hard not to trust someone like that to take care of your kid.

Thanksgiving, November 2017

"Quinn's pregnant," Sam says. "Uh, I mean, I'm thankful for that, even though it kind of surprised us both... because we do use condoms and-"

"Sam," Quinn hisses at him, but honestly? The girl's 24 and has a job, and Sam's getting steady pay during his PhD, so Leroy can think of a hell of a lot of worse circumstances for a child to be born in. He's pretty sure that Quinn herself can as well.

"Congratulations," Hiram says, with a small smile. "Do you know if it's a girl or a boy?"

"It's a blob," Sam says, but the way he puts his hand on Quinn's stomach takes the sting out of it. "I mean, we'll know more in a little while, but … Quinn swears that there's a baby in that first sonogram but all I see is a blob, so. Maybe we'll name the kid that, huh?"

"Yeah, sure. Blob Drizzle Fabray," Quinn says, dryly, before taking another sip of pomegranate juice and then saying, "I'm thankful that my morning sickness hasn't set in yet, or this feast before us would really be pissing me off right now."

"Oh, that's right; you're an evening puker," Santana says, with a small smile. "Wow, Sam, you're in for a delightful few months of not being able to drive her anywhere without pulling over."

"Every baby is different; Quinn, I'm sure that this very much wanted child will behave much better than Noah Puckerman's spawn," Rachel says, with a supportive look across the table.

"Thank you," Quinn says, before nodding for Leroy to go.

"I'm thankful that you're not my kid, because I am not ready to be a grandparent," he says, with a wink at Quinn to make it clear that he's kidding. "I'm also thankful that Sue Sylvester the cat has finally accepted that sometimes, we come to visit her in New York, and it doesn't give her the right to pee on our luggage."

Santana chuckles. "That cat is pure fucking evil."

"There's no need to sound so pleased about that, Santana," Hiram says, giving her a look.

Rachel is next, and smiles a little before saying, "I'm thankful that we all still have the time to do this, even if things are a little cramped at our place and the airfare to New York for these holiday weekends is outrageous."

"Anytime, sweetie," Hiram says, before pausing with a pensive look on his face. He brightens after a moment and adds, "I'm thankful that I've finally met Brittany, who-I'll be honest, I spent a lot of time wondering if this girl actually existed and if so, if Santana was just grossly exaggerating what she was like, but-"

Santana chuckles. "Nope. She's one of a kind."

Leroy glances at Rachel at that, but there's not even a shred of jealousy, and … yeah, okay. These girls are solid. He doesn't know what he's worrying about, but he can feel another one of those gut impulses come on, and knows what he's betting on this time long before the holiday weekend is over.

Thanksgiving, November 2018

"Dad?" Rachel asks, in a small voice; he's bending over and pulling something out of his suitcase, and yeah, maybe he is getting on in the years a bit; the flight's made him tired, and he's starting to ache in places he didn't even know he had.

It's sort of fitting, that that's the feeling he's left with when she steps into the guest room and sits down on the edge of what will be his and Hiram's bed for the next few days, because she suddenly looks more like an adult than she ever has before.

"What's up, buttercup?" he asks, before letting the book he was looking for for Santana fall back down and sitting down next to her.

She bites her lip for a moment, and then asks, "How did you know daddy was the one you were going to spend the rest of your life with?"

His mind swims with questions for a moment, but she's looking at him so seriously that he realizes that this isn't just a courtesy question, but she's actually hoping that he'll give her a guideline of some kind.

"I just did," he says, finally, and remembers the day it had struck him clearly; it was the second weekend in May, thirty-odd years ago now, and a little bit of sunlight had snuck in past the curtains to hit him square in the eyes. He'd blinked them open, and the first thing he'd seen was Hiram, with his palm open, reaching for him even in his sleep. He'll never forget it, even though he's sure it's happened since then, and it might've just been an accident. "It wasn't some huge moment. I just realized that he was already making me happier than anyone else could, and... well. If you like it, you should put a ring on it, right?"

Rachel laughs and rolls her eyes at the same time. "I can't believe your advice is a Beyonce lyric."

"Woman's a genius. Married the greatest rapper of all time, had a beautiful kid with him; what more do you need for advice, girl?" he says, and she laughs again.

All levity fades from the room after that, and he gives her a cautious look. "You thinking about doing just that? Putting a ring on it?"

Rachel takes a deep breath and then sort of tilts her head in response; it's not quite a nod, anyway. "I'm... just thinking. For now."

"You girls have time. You know that, right?" he says, and Rachel nods more firmly at that, before looking over at him with a look he can't quite place.

"We do, but-I want to make sure that... if this is something I want, I get to do it with everyone I love there; and Nana is getting on in age and-"

He pulls her into a hug, ignoring the protest in his back, and says, "That's no reason to be popping questions. The only reason you have to do that is that you don't want to be with anyone else, ever again."

Rachel sighs a little and then says, "Dad, I knew that the first morning I woke up next to her."

"Christ, that's sappy," he says, ruffling her hair a little; she giggles just like the six year old he used to carry around the house like an airplane, and then says, "Thanks, Dad", like he's actually already told her anything she didn't already know.

He watches her go, and watches as Hiram folds his arms together in the doorway.

"You have that betting look on your face," he finally says.

Leroy smiles. "Nah. Not betting on this one. You're just going to have to wait and see."

Hiram raises his eyebrow, and with a wince-and this is seriously the last time he's flying anywhere economy class, because those chairs seem to keep getting smaller the older he's getting-he gets to his feet and walks over to his guy.

"We raised a good kid, you know," he says, and then kisses Hiram softly.

Hiram's hand settles at the small of his back, somehow rubbing exactly where it hurts without prompting, and then says, "Don't tell Maria, but sometimes, I like to think that we raised two good kids."

Leroy chuckles and says, "Well, one good one, and one... Santana."

Hiram laughs as well, before tugging on his arm. "C'mon, join us for what is bound to become the most disastrous Thanksgiving yet. Santana managed to burn the tofurkey and is trying to blame it on Schue the cat somehow."

"Twenty bucks says she'll pull it off," Leroy says, with a grin.

"You're on," Hiram agrees, before they gingerly walk into a kitchen black with smoke, where a frazzled Santana is angrily yelling at a cat.

Only on Thanksgiving, Leroy thinks, as Rachel storms past him with a bucket of water.