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This was it. This was finally it. Today was the day. The day everything changed. The day her life would finally, really start. This was the day all of those scattered puzzle pieces that all looked exactly the same would magically come together to make a whole that actually made sense. Things would fall into place the way she’d always been told they would. This was the day she would finally shine like the star she always knew she was.

The first day of high school.

Rachel Berry sat in the back of her dads’ car, her heart beating away like a hummingbird in her chest. Whether it was from excitement or fear, she wasn’t entirely sure; it was probably a combination of both. She squeezed her hands together in her lap in an attempt to make her nerves stop buzzing.

Rachel had certainly heard the horror stories of what went on inside the walls of William McKinley High School; she knew that most of them were nothing more than tales told to frighten the impressionable incoming freshmen, like herself, before they’d even arrived, but she couldn’t help the anxiety that kept telling her she’d get lost in the hallways or get trapped in her own locker by an upperclassman or get yelled at by a teacher or catch a slushy in the face.

She knew for a fact that the last item on that list of fears was more than a possibility. It had been big news around Lima when the slushy machine was acquired by the local public high school. It was almost unheard of that any school funds went toward a program other than athletics - cheerleading specifically. For money to go into the cafeteria was a minor shock to the entire community and a dinner party talking point for weeks.

But Rachel did have a fair amount of hope in her. Being in high school meant a far wider selection of clubs and sports than her middle school had to offer, which had her nearly trembling with excitement when she’d been imagining it over the summer. To be specific, Rachel was itching to get her name on the audition list for the glee club. As much of a dork she knew it made her, Rachel wanted nothing more than to spend her life singing and dancing in the spotlight on a stage. She’d been singing since she could open her mouth, and the dancing followed closely behind. She took every class she could find to become the best in those particular areas of interest; the shelves in her house were littered with her trophies and medals, little mementos and reminders of the fact that she was meant to be greater than a small town in Ohio. 

Her dads told her from a young age that she was absolute, pure talent, and she had always believed them. All she wanted to do was put that talent to use. Her entire life was dedicated to pushing her that much closer to her dreams, and the glee club was but one of many important stepping stones that would send her in that direction.

She’d heard recently that the school had gotten someone new to teach the glee club - one of those teachers that went to the high school they grew up to teach at.

Apparently the old coach had had a case of the grabbies when it came to his students, and somebody eventually came forward about it. She prayed that the faculty member they got to replace him would be able to adequately direct the group. She certainly did not want to have to put up with some inexperienced, random teacher who didn’t know the first thing about leading a show choir. Rachel thought she remembered hearing that he had been in the show choir during his high school years, so there was a chance he might be good for the job, but she had trouble believing that the school would be able to find someone who would be able to understand and fully utilize her skills on short notice. Rachel closed her eyes. She hadn’t even met the man yet; now was still the time for optimism. Her dads had told her time and again not to write people off before she’d given them a fair chance.

The car pulled up to the curb in front of the school’s main entrance, and Rachel paused to stare up at the suddenly formidable building that loomed over her. Her heart stopped for just a moment, and she felt all of the nerves in her body jump at once. She licked her lips and bounced her leg.

Maybe today wasn’t the day. Maybe she wasn’t ready for high school. Maybe she was feeling a little sick and should just go back home and stay curled up in bed all day with the covers over her head. Maybe that pounding of her heart was some kind of health issue and she should get it checked out by a doctor or go spend the day waiting in the hospital’s emergency room, just to be sure she hadn’t contracted some kind of terrible, terminal illness. Her face grew pale and her palms began to sweat and her all but empty backpack suddenly weighed several tons.

One of her dads, Leroy, turned around in the driver’s seat to look his daughter in the eye. He could see the horrifying thoughts running through her head the moment he stopped the vehicle. He cocked his head to the side a bit. “Rae.” He paused and waited for her to meet his gaze. His deep voice snapped Rachel out of her stupor, and she swiveled her gaze to meet his soft, dark face. She was calmed a bit as she basked in the pride she found in his eyes; it was unwavering, and that reassured her. “It’s going to be okay,” he said evenly. “I know it’s scary, starting high school, but baby girl, believe me. You are going to rock that place.”

Her other dad, Hiram, turned and placed a slender hand on his husband’s knee and smiled at him before he too turned to his daughter, stating very simply, “You know he’s right.” Rachel coughed up a little chuckle. “I mean come on, you’re Rachel Berry. You’ll have these simpletons begging for your autograph in no time.”

That was all she needed to hear. She smiled and kissed each of her fathers on the cheek. “Thanks dad, daddy.” She opened the door and stepped out of the car, giving a small wave as the two drove off. They were right. She was Rachel Freaking Berry. High school would be cake. Right? Right.

Right?

She made her way inside the building and felt her heart rate pick back up again as she realized how much bigger everyone else was than her, in physicality and confidence. She wouldn’t get trampled trying to cross the hall, would she? No, no that was ridiculous. Right? Right.

Right?

Rachel bee-lined for her locker, which she’d purposely come in and located previous to the first day, and blew out a sigh of relief when no one shoved her inside and slammed the door.

She made sure she had some sort of writing utensil and an empty binder before closing her locker and turning to search for anyone who looked as lost as she felt. Students from several different middle schools in the district ended up coming to McKinley for high school, and Rachel hoped she might be able to make some new friends. She didn’t have many from her own middle school days.

After she volunteered to play Romeo in the school’s production of Romeo and Juliet when no boys stepped forward, her freak status went through the roof, and her popularity went from slightly below average to practically nonexistent. That, combined with the fact that she had no problem pointing out where others were wrong and asserting her points of view, effectively shrunk her friend pool to a measly two: Noah Puckerman and Mercedes Jones.

Noah was a family friend – they attended the same temple and what started as a hesitant friendship grew to a true bond when they’d been forced to have a joint thirteenth birthday party, an extravaganza that was what their parents had so cleverly dubbed their “bart mitzvah”.

Mercedes shared Rachel’s passion for singing, and the two had grown close over their time spent as the only two who had gotten/tried out for any solos in their middle school chorus classes. There was quite a bit of rivalry between the girls, but at the end of the day they had each other’s backs.

She glanced around, but spotted neither of them. The hallways were busy with unfamiliar teenagers. The fluorescent lights overhead cast a harsh glare on everyone.

Deciding her best bet was the cafeteria, Rachel spun around to find some sort of indicator as to where it might be, and effectively plowed into the middle of a trio of girls who made their way towards the gymnasium. Her clumsiness knocked the books each of them carried in their arms to the floor. She stepped back, apologized rapidly, and struggled to control her pulse, which raced with embarrassment.

The girl on the left, all gleaming dark eyes and a sense of sass that could be felt miles away, glared at her so hard Rachel was sure flames were about to shoot from her eyes. She let her gaze drop to the floor and glued it there. She bent down and began to pick up the scattered books from the red and white tiled floor, “I’m sorry”s still spilling from her lips. The girl cut her off, harshness dripping off of her tongue. “Are you blind, Man Hands, or are you just too short to see us coming?”

Rachel mumbled one last apology before she handed over the books and dropped her eyes to her feet once again. The girl on the right, a tall blonde with innocent eyes and dancer’s legs, turned to her friend. “Santana, that’s mean, she can’t help that she’s so short. Her parents are probably part oompa loompa or something. It’s not nice to make fun of someone because of their heritage. How would you like it if Q and I made fun of you because you’re Lebanese?” Rachel’s instincts were to take offense at the oompa loompa comment, but there was a naivety about the girl’s voice that made her let it slide.

The girl, Santana, crossed her arms and shot the blonde a somewhat exasperated look, incredulousness evident, but the annoyance that creased her brow never fully reached her eyes. “Britt. I’m Hispanic. And I mean, come on. We’z gonna rule this school. It’s better she learn her place now.” She turned to the third girl, “Quinn, back me up.”

The girl in the middle, who was also blonde, hadn’t made a comment yet. Rachel found herself almost curious as to what she would say and peered up to lock eyes with her through her lashes. Quinn had spent the entire encounter simply letting her light green, or perhaps they were hazel, eyes take it all in. She sparked an interest in her, though for what reason Rachel couldn’t be sure. She didn’t seem to be enraptured by Rachel’s torment the way Santana was, and the innocence coming off her was of a different nature than Brittany’s. She contemplated for a moment before answering the impatient girl beside her, though her gaze never left the coffee colored irises of the girl whom they were discussing. “Yeah, Brittany, I think Santana’s right.” She tilted her head slightly and pulled her lips in between the teeth, and Rachel knew that the next comment was directed more at her than the third member of what she’d named in her head the Unholy Trinity. “It’s for her own good.”

Rachel hugged her own books to her chest as the three girls brushed past her, Santana intentionally knocking into her shoulder, and practically strutted down the hall as if it were a catwalk. They stopped outside the gym doors to write their names on a large sign-up sheet.

Rachel took several deep breaths and started to fast-walk in the other direction; she did her best to swallow the tears that threatened her eyes. As emotional a person she was, she really didn’t need the entire school to know how easily she cried before she’d even gotten to her first class.

Rachel made it to the end of the hallway before one rogue drop snuck its way out of her eye. She stopped abruptly and turned to face the wall; she hoped no one saw the streak on her face before she swatted the salty drop away. She sucked in a long breath of air and collected herself as best she could.

She glanced up and her spirits lifted the tiniest bit when she realized she had stopped right in front of the bulletin board that contained the sign-up sheet for the glee club. The name made her smile; it was perfect. The New Directions. After digging hastily through her bag, Rachel pulled out her pen and went about writing her name as neatly as she could on the first line. She placed a shiny star-shaped sticker next to her curvy scrawl after less than a second’s hesitation.

Gold stars were sort of her thing.

The excitement that had coursed through Rachel earlier that morning returned full force. Auditions were tomorrow, and the first meeting would be the following day. Maybe things were looking up.

 


 

Rachel did end up finding Puck in the cafeteria. He was sitting with a boy she didn’t know, talking animatedly on the opposite side of the room at the end of a long table. Despite the thin crowd, the jostling tendencies of high schoolers meant she managed to bump shoulders with nearly everyone she passed as she crossed the stain-coated floor and approached the pair. She planted a grin on her face and steeled herself in preparation of the inevitable awkward introduction that was to come. She walked quickly around them and plopped herself down in the empty seat next to Puck. “Hello Noah. How are things?”

He turned in his seat as an easy smile spread across his features. He leaned back in his chair to include her. “Hey Rach. This place is crazy, right? It makes the middle school seem tiny.”

“I know! Everything’s bigger… and different.” She paused, forcing herself to stop thinking about the way social hierarchy had already created such significant rifts between kids who all used to be friends. Granted, she knew that had been happening throughout middle school as well, but it was still something that bothered her about adolescence. She shook her head, hoping that the motion might also shake the thoughts from her mind. “Speaking of which, I like the new haircut. It makes you look all tough.”

A self-satisfied smirk settled over Puck’s face as he ran a hand over his newly shaven mohawk. “Thanks. I thought it might help up my cool-factor,” he said with a self-deprecating shrug.

Rachel smiled genuinely and came back with a giggle, “Oh, well, mission accomplished.” They both laughed openly, and second by second the tenseness that Rachel felt eased. As their chuckles subsided, Rachel noticed that the boy Puck had been talking to was looking around uncomfortably and remembered that she had just come over and interrupted the two of them. In an attempt to reintroduce him to the conversation, she asked Puck, “So, uh, who’s your friend, Noah?” She gestured across the table.

“Oh, right!” His eyebrows shot up, having already forgotten that the other boy was there. “This is Finn. We’re both going to be on the football team.”

Hearing his name, the boy, Finn, turned back to the two at the table. He sent a boyish grin in Rachel’s direction. Despite the outward confidence he was clearly consciously exuding, Rachel detected some shyness from him as well.

She supposed he was kind of cute, in a really tall, goofy sort of way. She lifted her lips into a small grin at the quiet “hi” and small wave he gave her, then promptly clenched her face into a frown when something her friend had said pushed its way to the forefront of her mind.

She whipped her head around, hair flying in its wake, to stare hard at a now guilty looking Noah Puckerman. “Wait. Football? You’re joining the football team? But you said… you promised you’d be in glee club with me!”

“I know, I’m sorry. But I’m good at sports. And Finn says being on the football team is like a fast pass to popularity in this school.”

Rachel chose to ignore the fact that Finn shrank into his chair and the look of instant panic and apologetic smile that came from her friend’s new friend at having part of the blame thrown on him, and pleaded with Puck. “But you are such a fantastic singer, Noah. Your voice would be a pivotal addition to the club.”

“Rachel, you haven’t even met the club yet,” he rationalized. “I totally would do glee with you, but being on the football team will really help me become a full-blown stud. And I don’t think I can handle taking a slushy in the face everyday. I’m not like you, I don’t know that singing with the glee kids is going to get me out of this town.”

Rachel saw, out of the corner of her eye, Finn bowing his head to stare at his lap. The girl mimicked his motion and twisted her hands together. “I see.” She stood and made to leave; she knew that the first bell of the day would ring any second. Puck turned after her, about to apologize again, but she stopped him with a hand on his arm. “It’s fine,” she said, voice little more than a murmur, eyes not quite meeting his. “You’ll be a great football player. Let me know when your first game is.”

She was the first one to make it into her first period class. She chose a seat just off center of the room, slightly left and to the front. She pulled her pen out of her bag for the second time that day, along with a brand new notebook and placed them both carefully on the desk in front of her. She was sitting calmly, with her hands clasped. She was ready for the day to be over by the time the first bell sounded.

Chapter Text

Quinn strode into the locker room after the first day of Cheerio try-outs with a thin layer of shiny sweat covering nearly every available inch of her skin, a dull throbbing weighing on each of her limbs, and a splitting headache that resulted from some over-eager clutz completely losing the beat and going for her cartwheel too soon, consequently kicking Quinn right in the ear.

 

Needless to say Coach Sue Sylvester gave the other girl her own earful; the harsh words combined with the use of a megaphone in a less-than enormous gym had the poor thing running out of the room in tears in under thirty seconds.

 

The hard woman in charge, clad in a red and white tracksuit, had terrified Quinn a bit at first, but when she gave the aspiring cheerleader a gruff, “You okay?” she knew that the coach at least had some semblance of natural human compassion. She nodded that yes, she was okay, and grasped tightly to the bit of hope she found when she saw what she was sure was a flash of approval in the woman’s eye.

 

“What’s your name, blondie?”

 

“Um, Quinn Fabray.”

 

“Alright, Q. Let’s see what you’ve got.”

 

As she was bent over a bench, lacing up her sleek new tennis shoes, Santana walked behind her and gave her a playful nudge on the shoulder. “Hey Q, glad to see you still have your ear. I thought that girl’s giant clown foot would’ve cleaved it clean off for sure.”

 

Quinn let a wry grin find its way onto her lips. “Even without it I’d be able to hear the sarcasm in your voice.”

 

Santana smirked, accepting the jab for what it was, and continued on her way with a wink and a small wave.

 

Quinn smiled to herself as she left the girls’ locker room, freshly showered and changed. Her body officially hated her, and she knew she probably didn’t smell like a field of ripe strawberries, but she was satisfied with the way her day had gone. It wasn’t often that girls who got kicked in the head at Cheerios try-outs even stayed on their feet, let alone got themselves on Sue Sylvester’s good side - it was usually the one who did the kicking - so she allowed herself to enjoy the scrap of pride she had earned.

 

She made her way through the deserted school in the direction of the parking lot, where her mother, Judy, was waiting in the family car to take her home.

 

Quinn had to do a double take when she passed her boyfriend standing in the doorway to the auditorium; he had a bag haphazardly dangling from one shoulder and was clearly eavesdropping on what looked like some kind of singing audition. She stopped, turned, and walked back towards him. She peered around his bulky form to see what about some girl singing her lungs out could possibly have him so engaged. She stilled just behind him; he hadn’t noticed her.

 

It was the girl who had run into her yesterday morning. Quinn blinked as a small amount of surprise coursed its way through her.

 

She was really good. Actually, if Quinn was honest, the girl was knocking that song out of the park. Quinn remained motionless behind the frozen figure before her and found herself equally mesmerized by the performance. The short brunette ended with a big, drawn out final note. She raised her arms over her head with it and everything.

 

The music faded, and the small group watching from the rows of seats inside the auditorium clapped. Quinn snapped out of her reverie. She looked up and down the hall to make sure no one was around to have seen her, then rolled her eyes at herself. Everyone was gone for the day; everyone except for the (almost oafish) boy standing a few inches to her front. Speaking of which – “Finn!”

 

The young football player jumped about a mile high with a rather high pitched yelp and spun around to face the girl who surprised him with his hands poised as if he were about to karate chop her. He quickly realized who she was and let out his breath. “Oh, Quinn. You scared me.” He smiled in that way of his, and Quinn took a second to remind herself that she loved that smile. It was one of the things that had made her want to date Finn in the first place.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“What? Oh. Um, nothing?” he said, the statement coming out more like a question. He looked far too guilty for her liking. “Y’know, just… watching.”

 

She lifted a single eyebrow and scrunched her lips to one side. “Watching what, exactly?” She knew it was wrong, but Quinn almost relished the way she could make Finn squirm. She’d always had the pants in their relationship, and that power was something she enjoyed having over him.

 

“Oh. Y’know, the, uh… Rachel Berry’s trying out for glee club.” He did his best to pass it off as something that could be said by anyone of football player status at McKinley and still sound normal, but he didn’t quite succeed.

 

Inside the auditorium behind them, someone shouted an excited, “Go Mercedes!” as another girl took the stage and started singing about R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

 

“I’m sorry, what - Rachel who? How do you even know her? Why do you care if she’s trying out for glee club ?”

 

Panic filled his eyes. He was clearly intimidated by the glare Quinn fixed him with. “I - she’s Puck’s friend. I met her yesterday. I was just walking to the locker room to get ready for football try-outs and I heard singing from in there,” he gestured toward the auditorium door, “so I stopped to listen for a minute.”

 

“And why exactly is some stupid show choir audition of interest to you?”

 

Finn turned his eyes to the floor, pushed his hands into his pockets, and mumbled a response. Quinn didn’t quite catch it over the sounds of the girl on stage, apparently named Mercedes, as she gave Aretha Franklin a run for her money.

 

Quinn blinked exaggeratedly and asked, “What was that?”

 

Finn shuffled his feet and avoided looking her in the eye. “Well... I was thinking about joining.”

 

Quinn looked up at him, unable to accept what she had just been told. Had she heard right? Maybe this was some kind of badly thought out joke. He couldn’t be serious, so there had to be some other explanation.

 

Glee club was the lowest of the low. The kids in the glee club were the ones the losers from the chess club and mathletes team picked on. Joining the glee club was basically guaranteeing yourself a slushie facial every single day for the entirety of your high school career.

 

Quinn wasted no time in relaying all of this to Finn.

 

He glanced back into the auditorium, where applause erupted briefly again. “I know, but… I like singing. And I’m good at it. We could join together! It’d be fun.”

 

She paused, incredulous, before responding, “You are seriously deluded, you know that?”

 

“No, listen. It could work out. Glee is Tuesdays and Thursdays, and football is Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I think coach cut down on practices because he’s given up all hope of us ever winning a game…” His face lit up with excitement, and Quinn had to close her eyes momentarily to retain the stony demeanor she needed in order to kill this latest idea. “And your Cheerios practices are mostly before school, right? And the ones after school aren’t until later at night. Come on, I know you sing to yourself when you think no one can hear you. Your voice is great.” He reached out and placed his hands on her arms.

 

Quinn put her hands on her hips and rolled her head back before she fixed Finn with her best glare. “You have got to be kidding me.” She shrugged his hands off with a huff.

 

In truth, Quinn did think joining the glee club had the potential to be a lot of fun. She did enjoy singing, quite a bit. But she had to face facts. The kids who joined glee were the biggest jokes in the school. Quinn’s older sister, Franny, had told her in no uncertain terms prior to her first day, that there were concrete boundaries between the social classes in high school, and you were sorted into your place the moment you crossed the threshold.

 

Upon first glance you were high society, royalty, or a lowly, untrimmed peasant; or you were one of the many in the middle who made no impression at all. The track she and Finn were on now, they were headed for the throne room in no time. The glee kids, they were the ones picking through the trash outside the castle. She shook her head at her boyfriend disbelievingly.

 

“Do you not understand what happens to people who are stupid enough to join glee? It’s not a matter of just aligning schedules, okay? The order in this school would, would fall into chaos if either of us were a big enough dufus to try and cross that line.”

 

“Okay! Okay, fine. I get it. I have to go get changed for try-outs. I’ll see you later,” he said, with a sad frown. He looked into the auditorium one last time before turning and stalking off in the direction of the boys’ locker room.

 

Quinn sighed. She knew she’d have to make some sort of apology to Finn later for snapping at him. She leaned against the doorframe and looked on as the auditions continued. She knew she should have felt worse than she did about her hostility to her boyfriend. She watched as a brown haired boy with a rather high pitched voice got up to sing his heart out, and told herself she’d try to be a better girlfriend. She didn’t have to be a bitch all the time.

 

She started to turn to leave, but glanced back when she heard another voice join that of the boy on stage. It was the girl. Rachel Berry. She had moved unnoticed to sit in the back when she left the stage. She was singing along quietly. Someone in the front yelled, “Yeah Kurt!” encouragingly, and wolf-whistled. Quinn was sure no one else could hear the voice that had softly joined in with the one on stage.

 

It was almost admirable. As much of a diva as the girl appeared to be when under the spotlight, Quinn could see that she wasn’t singing now for attention. She wasn’t singing to prove to anyone that she was the best. She was singing because she loved the music. She was singing because she couldn’t not. Or whatever.

 

The song ended and Quinn watched the short girl hop up and all but skip forward to rejoin the group, chatting and laughing and generally being happy. Quinn found herself smiling along with them. It painted a pretty picture.

 

Apparently the teacher in charge of the show choir agreed, as he stood and addressed the collection of students. “Great job, guys, really. I am so impressed. And this, right now, this is what it’s all about. The friendships you’re forming, the laughs you’ll all share. Glee, by its very definition, is all about opening yourself up to joy. I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”

 

There were a few short exclamations of, “Aw, Mr. Schue!” and everyone began collecting their things. Quinn started, realizing that they would all be headed in her direction.

 

She hitched her bag up on her shoulder and power-walked her way through the halls and out to her mother’s car. Judy turned to her excitedly as Quinn jumped into the passenger seat and started firing questions about how the Cheerios try-outs went. “Yeah it was great, can you drive please?” Quinn looked behind her, praying no one had seen her. The rest of the would-be cheerleaders had long since headed home, and she was not interested in coming up with an excuse for her still being at school. She couldn’t exactly tell people she and her boyfriend had been spying on the glee club auditions. Her mother gave her a curious look, but took it in stride and stepped on the gas.

Chapter Text

Rachel walked out of the choir room slightly disheveled and entirely dissatisfied. Three weeks into the school year and she thought that the glee club might have made the slightest bit of progress.

 

However, with such a small group, the best they were able to pull together was a pitiful rendition of “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” with all of the attention on a boy named Artie and his wheelchair. Rachel didn’t find the irony nearly as amusing as Mr. Schuester seemed to. They danced around in a tight circle, waving gloved hands all over the place, and she supposed it could have been a good idea in theory, but it just wasn’t what she had been hoping for.

 

When she had imagined joining the show choir in high school, she’d always envisioned large stages, bright spotlights, and herself in the middle of it, pouring her heart and soul into every last note, moving audiences to tears with nothing but her voice. She’d seen extravagant and beautiful sequined gowns. She wanted glamour. She expected glamour. Instead she got poorly formed puns and irrelevant jazz hands.

 

She huffed her way out to the parking lot to wait for her dads to come pick her up. It was relatively empty; only a few stragglers’ cars littered the occasional spot. Most everyone had gone home for the day, eager to be anywhere other than school.

 

Rachel sat herself down on a bench on the outskirts of the expanse of pavement and let her gaze drift as her toe tapped along to the beat in her head. She went through her mental checklist of homework assignments that needed completing, too lazy to dig her daily planner out of her bag; she groaned internally when she realized that she would most likely have to stay up at least an hour past her usual bedtime in order to finish it all. Not that she had an official bedtime anymore. She simply knew her limits and had a particular time of night at which she retired in order to perform at her highest possible quality each day.

 

She was just about to pull out one of her quicker assignments to work on while she waited for her ride home, when she heard several loud voices coming toward her.

 

She looked up to see a group of eight or nine football players as they meandered in her direction.

 

She couldn’t say why, but she immediately panicked and did all she could to make herself as small and quiet as she could. Puck was sick, so there was no one around to protect her from such a collection of largely built boys. She shrank into herself and held her breath, praying to any greater being that may or may not have existed that she wouldn’t be seen.

 

She cursed them all when one of the young men turned and walked directly at her. She started to brace herself for whatever torture was forthcoming, and then let out the biggest breath of relief when she realized who it was. The boy smiled his goofy smile and Rachel allowed her own grin to spread across her features.

 

The boy sidled up and sat on the bench next to her. “Hey Rachel. It’s Rachel, right?” He asked the question, but she could tell he was only trying seem cool and aloof. Because apparently that always works.

 

Rachel nodded, confirming the obvious, then surprised herself with her own confidence. “That’s me. Rachel Barbra Berry at your service. And you would be Finn Hudson, up and coming football star and Noah Puckerman’s new best friend.” He didn’t seem to notice the slight bitterness in her voice or the accusatory look she was shooting him with.

 

His only response was, “Oh, I don’t know about that.” She wasn’t sure whether he was referring to the bit about being a football star or Puck’s best friend, but she decided to assume it was the former.

 

She allowed him his modest shrug and smile combo, followed by a moment of slightly awkward silence before she prompted, “So, is there something I can do for you?”

 

Finn sat up a bit straighter, looking like he’d just had his memory jogged. “Right. Um, no, actually. I just saw you sitting over here alone, and thought, y’know, I’d come over and keep you company.” He looked down at his hands fidgeting in his lap as a light blush crept up the back of his neck.

 

Rachel felt her heart soften instantly. Her jealousy at her best friend having a new best friend slowly melted away. “Well… that was very thoughtful of you, Finn.” He bobbed his head as if to agree, and Rachel felt the impending awkward silence begin to settle upon them again, so she moved preemptively to cut it off. “So. Since we’re keeping each other company, why don’t we get to know each other?”

 

“Oh. Yeah, okay. Good idea. So, um, I’m Finn, but, you know that already. Um, I’m really into sports; I play football in the fall and basketball in winter.” He scratched his head, struggling to think of things to tell her. “I don’t do too good at school stuff, but my step-dad runs a car garage, so if the whole college thing doesn’t work out I have a place waiting for me there.”

 

He nodded, looking proud of himself. Rachel’s curiosity wasn’t quite satisfied yet though, so she piped up with another question. “What kind of music do you like?”

 

“Oh, I love classic rock. I listen to it whenever I can. My girlfriend hates it, but it’s probably my favorite thing.”

 

Rachel’s gaze dropped to her knees. “Oh, you have a girlfriend?”

 

Finn was completely oblivious to her sudden change in mood and tone. “Yeah, Quinn Fabray. She keeps telling me she’s more into people like Taylor Swift. I think she secretly actually likes all of those weird alternative bands but won’t say anything because she doesn’t want to be associated with that group of kids. Flannel’s not really her thing.”

 

Finn kept rambling, completely unaware of the mildly shocked and disappointed look that had taken over the face of the girl sitting beside him. Rachel wasn’t naïve enough to think that he might be referring to another girl with the same name. McKinley was not that big, and Quinn was not that popular of a name.

 

For some reason, Rachel had expected the cheerleader not to have a boyfriend. But no, of course someone in Quinn’s position would need to have some kind of man-candy on her arm. And Finn Hudson was certainly a top candidate, when it came to attractive boys in their grade.

 

They made sense as a couple, really. Within a year, the two were bound to be named captain of the football team and head Cheerio. They were the perfect power couple to rule the halls of their high school; that cookie-cutter boyfriend and girlfriend to be figureheads of a public education facility such as McKinley. Not that Rachel could speak from tangible relationship experience, but she had seen enough teen movies to know what the popular couple should look like. They were a bit cliché, actually.

 

Still, even as she pictured them in her mind, the idea of the two of them didn’t sit well in Rachel’s stomach. They were the golden couple on paper, to be sure, but when it came down to it, something about Quinn and Finn together just didn’t feel right to her. It struck Rachel how strange this was. She barely knew either Quinn or Finn, and yet she had no problem making these snap judgments on their relationship, which she didn’t even know existed until a few moments ago.

 

But that was just Rachel. She’d always been a good judge of character. She knew it wasn’t her place to pass judgment, but even from the short exchange she had had with Quinn on the first day of school, she could tell Finn would never be able to keep up with the blonde intellectually. It was something in those green eyes. She almost wanted to call it a hidden wisdom, but that was too poetic, and she was annoyed at herself for even thinking a phrase like that about someone she had barely encountered. Quinn struck Rachel as an old soul. Someone who kept things internalized and who was too complex for Finn to hope to understand unless she spelled everything out for him. Someone who wouldn’t want to spell things out so would let every thought swirl about her mind without speaking up unless she had something important to say.

 

Rachel was the opposite. She was the type to wear her heart on her sleeve, because she couldn’t bear it if anyone in her life were to allow her moods or opinions to go unnoticed. She was a very expressive individual.

 

Quinn seemed more the kind to remain quiet unless someone directly called her out. She might make chit chat with the people around her, but she probably wouldn’t vocalize the inner feelings she held. And Rachel couldn’t help but feel as if Finn would never be observant enough to realize when she was feeling a certain way.

 

He was the type to assume everything was hunky dory until something exploded.

 

But, she reminded herself, it really wasn’t any of her business. She shouldn’t be speculating like she was. Maybe Finn and Quinn actually had a great relationship. Maybe they’d figured out a way in which they communicated really well and totally understood each other and their respective needs. Maybe they were just that couple, the one with two people who absolutely should not work together but did anyway. It was certainly possible.

 

(Rachel doubted it.)

 

“So, I’ve been meaning to ask you something…”

 

Her ears perked and her eyes widened ever so slightly in expectation. She felt the tiniest of baby butterflies start to flutter their wings in the bottom of her stomach. “Yes?”

 

“Well, you’re in the glee club, right?” She nodded. “What’s it like?”

 

“Oh.” Rachel let her shoulders relax a bit. “Why do you ask?”

 

“Um, I’ve been thinking I might want to join, but Quinn thinks it’ll turn me into a Lima loser instead of the future prom king like she wants me to be, so if I’m going to go do it anyway and have to deal with scary Quinn, I want it to be worth it.”

 

Suddenly Rachel found glee to be the most amazing musical experience William McKinley High had ever seen. “Oh, it’s great! You would really love it. It’s… boatloads of fun.” She blinked away a flash in her mind of Mr. Schuester doing jazz hands. “The New Directions are all about breaking boundaries and giving everyone a voice. And I know your perspective would definitely add to the group. And I’m certain you would get a lot out of it, too.”

 

Finn smiled and Rachel wondered briefly if anyone else ever spent time pondering over young Mr. Hudson’s lips before she snapped her eyes back to his when he started speaking again. “Yeah, that sounds a lot like what Kurt told me. I just wanted a second opinion because I always lose my train of thought when he gets going about show tunes and I can never tell if he’s being sarcastic or not when I ask questions.”

 

Rachel smirked a little to herself. “That sounds like Kurt. How do you know him?”

 

“We’re step-brothers.” He nodded matter-of-factly. “My dad died at war when I was a baby, and his mom died when he was a kid, and our parents found each other a couple years back and fell in love and stuff.” He just bobbed his head, the words tumbling out of his mouth with little emotion attached.

 

She could understand it, though. “So you never met your dad?” She spoke softly, empathy evident in her voice. He kept nodding his head, and Rachel could almost feel how he was suppressing the sadness inside himself. She reached out and placed a comforting hand on his arm. “I can sympathize. I’ve never met my mom. The circumstances are a bit different, but I know how you feel.”

 

“Did she leave you and your dad or something?” he asked bluntly.

 

“Not exactly. I have two gay dads, and she was their only way of having a child. Me. She was gone pretty soon after I was born.”

 

“Oh. I see. You have two dads.” She nodded in confirmation, watching his reaction carefully. He bobbed his head yet again, something Rachel came to assume he did when he was feeling nervous or uncomfortable, and said awkwardly, almost as a side note, “Kurt’s gay.”

 

Rachel could have laughed that that was the only connection that the boy could make. “Trust me, I know. Kurt is the most fabulously flamboyant boy I have ever met. It’s great.”

 

She grinned and nudged Finn gently with her shoulder, hoping that the awkwardness had dissipated somewhat.

 

Whether it had or not, it made no difference; Rachel looked up to see her dads pull into the parking lot, and she jumped up with a simple, “oh,” grabbed her bag, and ran to meet them. Before she got in the car, she turned back to the boy still seated on the bench and called to him, “You really should join glee! And tell Puckerman that if you do it, he definitely has to!”

 

She waited for that grin to appear on his face, gave him a last friendly wave, then climbed into the back seat and slammed the door behind her.

Chapter Text

Quinn Lucy Fabray, to her credit, had a very large heart. She held a surprising amount of love inside herself for nearly everyone. She was one of those daughters who made sure to give each of her parents a hug every night before going to bed, and she was the best friend in the world to those who managed to get close to her. She experienced her own emotions at a much more acute level than most people did, which made her sense of humanity far greater than anyone could have expected, which, despite her condemning and judgemental religious upbringing, made her view compassion and tolerance as two of the most important lessons the world needed to learn. She despised the way the group of people she hung out with singled kids out at school for being “uncool” or different. It pained her to watch the people she called her friends throw those ice cold, will-without-a-doubt-stain-your-clothes slushies, and it broke her heart to see that the recipients of the daily slushy facials just accepted it and moved on – they had given in to the idea that having freezing, artificially colored corn syrup tossed on them was their fate because they were in a certain club or dressed a certain way.

 

It tore Quinn apart a little bit more every time it happened. And that was a secret she held with an extremely tight fist.

 

She walked into school that morning in an uncommon, genuinely good mood. It was the last day of school before winter break, which meant that not a single teacher would be expecting any of their students to be paying attention in class, and that the following two weeks would be spent watching Christmas movies with Brittany and  Santana, all snuggled up on the couch, stuffing her face with about three times as much turkey as Coach Sylvester had said the Cheerios were allowed to have, laughing at her mother as she sang Christmas carols off key with Franny accompanying her on the piano and rolling her eyes, spending an ungodly amount of time with her family in general, which she secretly loved because her sister was almost never home and her dad finally came out of his office-turned-batcave. She would not so sneakily have champagne instead of the sparkling cider on New Year’s Eve, and just generally spend time soaking in the holiday spirit. It was the most wonderful time of the year, after all. It was the one part of the year when every member of her family was seriously determined to get along and be merry. Somehow they always seemed to manage it. Of course she would look forward to it.

 

Quinn was also in a particularly good mood because she was feeling good about herself as a person. A few weeks previously, Finn had confronted her and essentially told her that even though he knew it would get him knocked down several pegs on the social ladder, he wanted to join the glee club and would, whether she liked it or not. She had been rather taken aback, but at the time she had been feeling that since Finn was her boyfriend, it was probably in the best interest of their relationship if she encouraged him and the things he wanted to do instead of putting them down. So, with the preface saying she didn’t think it was a particularly wise idea, she gave him her tentative blessing and sent him off to find the French teacher or Spanish teacher or whoever it was that coached the glee club with a somewhat forced smile and a quick peck on the cheek.

 

It eased the grip on her heart a bit to know that she did something nice for Finn. It would have been just as easy to put on an icy glare and essentially bully the tall boy into forgetting his plan and leaving the glee club to gather dust. It was what any other Cheerio in her position would have done. No, actually, any other member of the Cheerios would have first bullied him into submission then forced him to slushy one or two unfortunate members of the club he was almost a part of. Really, she was a saint among the cheerleaders of McKinley.

 

It was pleasant, if she was honest with herself, to know that she’d been able to grant someone else a bit of happiness. It helped to lessen the guilt that tugged on her heart strings every time she stood and watched every other member of her team torture, torment, and tear down the rest of the student body.

 

But Quinn wasn’t thinking about that. In fact, she was actively focusing on anything else, because as soon as she left school that day, she’d have a full two weeks to forget everything that went on at her school.

 

She stopped first at her locker to put the books she’d needed to do her homework the night before away and collect the books she would be needing for her first couple of classes that day before slamming the door closed and strutting down the hallway, throwing a half-fake confident smile on her face when the mass of chattering students parted to let her pass. She met up with Brittany and Santana were murmuring to each other with sly grins on their faces at their lockers. Quinn still wasn’t sure how they had managed to trade so that their lockers were next to each other. She did, however, know that Santana had quite the mean streak and that the two spent more time together than teenage boys spent thinking about sex.

 

She shook it off, and decided not to think on it too much. She approached her two best friends with a quirked eyebrow. “Hey you two. What’s with the muttering? Scheming for your next evil mission?”

 

Brittany’s face flashed an expression of momentary awe. “Yeah, how did you know? Are you like that psychic girl on TV? ‘Cause I think you’re supposed to have a bird name if you are. We could start calling you Quail…”

 

“Britt, no way is Blondie over there the next That’s So Raven. And she was just joking.” She turned back to Quinn. “We were just discussing who this morning’s slushy should go to. I think it’s an honor worthy of Wheels McFour-eyes down the hall,” she gestured to a boy in a wheelchair who Quinn knew was named Artie Abrams. She’d seen him rolling around with those other glee club kids. Not that she’d been keeping an eye on them since Finn joined or anything. “but Britt wants to toss it on Aretha.”

 

“Of course I do. Her name should be Hot Chocolate.” Brittany stared down the other end of the hallway, and Quinn followed her gaze until it landed on Mercedes Jones, who looked like she was gossiping away with that Asian girl who stuttered and barely spoke loud enough to hear. Quinn hadn’t caught her name yet.

 

Santana’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Or we could always share the magic of slushy facials with Frankenteen, otherwise known as Mr. Q Fabray, since he so willingly signed up to be among the biggest losers at this school.”

 

Quinn whipped around to see her boyfriend walking casually down the hall with that guy Puck, who had his arm slung lazily around the shoulders of, of all people, Rachel Berry.

 

She tried not to scowl and huffed internally when she remembered that Puck too had joined the glee club. She still didn’t understand why they were so eager to stomp all over the lines that divided the students at McKinley. It was a lovely notion, to be sure, that anyone from any clique could go off and be friends with anyone from any other clique, but it was an idealist’s dream. They were only asking for disaster.

 

“No, don’t. He is still on the football team. That still makes him one of us. Go for the chess club nerds. They’re easy pickings.” Her voice came out only slightly panicked, and she felt that beautiful, gratifying wave of relief wash over her when the dark-haired girl nodded her consent. Who knows what people would start saying about her if her boyfriend became one of the victims of morning slushies?

 


 

Quinn walked out of Cheerios practice in one of the best moods she could remember being in in her entire life. Coach had spent the entire time telling the rest of the girls that she could replace them all with monkeys and they would give a better performance, while the only criticism she got was that she needed to get herself a show smile and stop looking constipated when the really strenuous parts of the routine came about. She was practically guaranteed the role of head Cheerio for next year.

 

Bringing home news like that was something she knew her father would be happy about. She’d probably even get a toast at the dinner table.

 

Being done with her cheerleading practice also meant that she was free and clear for winter vacation. There was nothing keeping her from going home, changing into her favorite pair of worn out sweats, and lying on the couch in front of the television with a bowl of popcorn for hours on end. If she was lucky her mom might have one of her fits of nostalgia and put on a Disney movie marathon like they did when Quinn was little. She stopped herself from physically crossing her fingers.

 

She walked her usual path through the school to get to the parking lot. She had to backtrack a bit when she heard familiar voices emanating from the choir room. She thought the glee club would have gone home by now.

 

She peered through the skinny window in the door, bending down so her eyes only just came above the bottom of the glass.

 

At first she was confused, because as far as she could see, the room was devoid of any human life. She almost jumped out of her skin when two bodies came spinning out of nowhere into her line of vision, one ridiculously tall, the other looking like a dwarf next to him.

 

Finn and Rachel circled each other and sang at each other with surprisingly fierce intensity. They paused and both stood on either side of the piano that stood just off the center of the room. The song reached a climactic point, and they both closed their eyes and bent their knees in order to belt it out.

 

Quinn was trapped in a state of embarrassing admiration. She never knew her boyfriend could sing like that. His voice was actually pretty fantastic. But as much as she was impressed by this newfound talent of Finn’s, it was the petite girl across from him who really grabbed her attention. There was no way to deny it. Rachel Berry had the voice of a damn star.

 

As the song came to an end, Rachel and Finn walked around the piano toward each other. They spun around a few times and finished with each of them having one arm around the other’s back.

 

And that was when Quinn snapped.

 

The loose embrace was certainly chaste enough, but the sight of Finn with his hand on Rachel’s hip sent a hurricane of what she could only assume was jealousy surging through her body. Quinn had never been jealous when it came to a boy before. Her nostrils flared and she dug her fingernails into her palms as she fought to suppress her sudden urge to kick the door open police-style and confront them.

 

She didn’t know what was happening. Envy was one of the seven deadly sins, and she’d always prided herself on never feeling the demonic pangs of jealousy. She chose to ignore the irony. Until just then, she’d kept a spotless personal record of always being the calm and reasonable one.

 

When the initial shock of realizing that she actually felt jealous of Finn and Rachel subsided, Quinn was only left with irrational anger and a bitter taste in her mouth. She would have tried to spit it out if she hadn’t been taught from the day she was born how ladies were supposed to act. In her house, improper etiquette was right up there with sex before marriage.

 

Quinn’s first instinct was to barge in and blow up at Finn, but the part of her brain that still functioned like a person who wasn’t fighting a boiling temper told her that it probably wasn’t an intelligent idea. Storming in and screaming her lungs out over something that really wasn’t anything would only make her one of those clingy, bitchy girlfriends who everyone rolled their eyes at. So she stayed put.

 

She couldn’t dispel the angry fire still roaring in her stomach, though. She decided her best option was to just aim her rage at the pretty little thing her boyfriend was currently joking around with and throwing shy little smiles at when her back was turned. It made her skin crawl. She knew as she fumed silently out of the school that when everyone came back from break and she saw Rachel Fucking Berry again, she would throw her first slushy.

Chapter Text

Rachel wiped her face off with a paper towel and cringed at having to use such a rough material on her sensitive skin. She was glad that the bathroom was empty.

 

The cold from the slushy had subsided enough for the shivering to stop, but the ice still melting and dripping down her back left her whole torso aching.

 

She patted a tear from her cheek and hated herself for letting it get to her. If she was honest, which she always tried to be, she was only aware that she had started crying because the tears were hot where the drink covering her face was cold.

 

Her heart had been cracked open the day before, and she supposed the split hadn’t quite re-sealed yet. Yesterday had been the day she had gotten her first slushy. She knew she shouldn’t have been as surprised as she was. It was practically a miracle that she had lasted as long as she had without having frozen food coloring dumped over her head. Being in the glee club combined with her tendency to speak too much or out of turn should have put a big target on her back. She wasn’t complaining, of course; her reason simply told her that the odds of her being among the first to be slushied that year were very high.

 

So because of that pre-existing logic and her grudging acceptance of her place on the school’s food chain, it wasn’t the act of being slushied itself that had caused the pain in Rachel’s heart. It wasn’t the knowledge that half of the student body had looked on and done nothing. It wasn’t even that nearly all of them had had a good laugh at her expense. No, if she was to become a successful Broadway star, then public humiliation was probably something she would need to be able to handle. It wasn’t any of that. It was the person on the other end of the cup.

 

Quinn Fabray had never thrown a slushy at anyone before. Rachel had seen her – always on the sidelines, never taking part in the action. She’d been intrigued with the blonde; someone in Quinn’s position at the school would usually be the one leading the army of jocks and cheerleaders in tossing artificially flavored ice on the weakest links of McKinley.

 

But not Quinn. She actually seemed to go out of her way to avoid being the one to slushy her fellow classmates. She never made any attempts to stop anyone else, but that was understandable. The point was, Quinn had never been behind any of the slushying.

 

That was why it hurt so much.

 

The thought that there must have been something about Rachel specifically that made Quinn hate her so much she would give up on her refusal to take part in the harassment-esque activities that her friends so enjoyed; the knowledge that there was something about herself that made Quinn Fabray, pacifist among the group of cheerleaders and their football player counterparts, feel strongly enough to single her out in a most harsh manner; the notion that, yes, it was personal - if it weren’t, the blonde would have been handing out slushy facials like free samples at the grocery store from the beginning - there wouldn’t have been that foreign look in her eye when she overturned the plastic cup onto Rachel’s hair and face, where there was usually quiet sympathy and steely defeat.

 

It felt like a black hole in Rachel’s chest. A miniscule part of her had let itself begin to hope that she might be able to talk to Quinn, convince her to take a stand within the Cheerios. Of course, Rachel knew how ridiculous that idea was, and did her best to smother it before it could take root, but as it always goes, the moment she tried to shoo it away, it latched on for dear life and refused to let go.

 

She let herself even grown fond of the idea of befriending Quinn. It really was a lovely fantasy. Then, it did also include Barbra Streisand and school bathrooms with stalls that actually locked and didn’t smell, but a girl can dream…

 

Regardless, Rachel managed to dab most of the cherry slushy out of her shirt and praised the universe for letting her choose to wear a red sweater instead of the yellow shirt she almost wore. She looked herself over one last time in the lightly smudged mirror before she exited the girls’ bathroom and narrowly avoided a head-on collision with Noah Puckerman.

 

He smirked at the sound of her startled gasp and allowed it to fade into a real smile; even when her hair was somewhat sticky and plastered to her head, Rachel Berry always managed to look presentable and put-together. Her façade crumbled a bit when she sniffled due to the fact that her nose was still running from the cold, but he was proud of her anyway.

 

“Hey Rach. I saw what happened. You okay?” He bowed his head to look her in the eye. “I would’ve stopped them, but I couldn’t get there in time.” His concern was evident, and Rachel knew how rare it was for him to willingly show any form of outward emotion; she couldn’t stop herself from jumping at him and throwing her arms around him before he could move to stop her.  She was pleasantly surprised when he brought his arms up to engulf her shoulders. She didn’t know why, but his empathy caused the crack in her heart to splinter. She tried not to choke on her own sobs.

 

“Thank you, Noah.” Her voice was muffled, as she was essentially speaking into his chest, but she knew he heard her when his body quaked slightly around her in a soft chuckle.

 

“For what, Shorty?” He released her from the hug and stepped back just enough to be able to look at her face again, but kept his hand on her shoulder where it rubbed in soothing circles.

 

She sniffed noisily and swiped at her nose. She rolled her eyes lightheartedly at the nickname, but made no comment on it. “For being my best friend. I love you, you know.” Sincerity radiated off of her, and Puck let the words sit for a moment before he replied.

 

“Same here, babe. Besties for life, right?” Rachel gave a tiny snort before breaking out into true laughter. He would have been offended, but he knew she was laughing only at his choice of words, not the sentiment. “Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up. The Puckasaurus has one heartfelt moment and you think it’s funny. I see how it is.”

 

She nudged him in the gut but kept laughing. He fake sighed and fell against the wall to lean next to where she was standing.

 

“Rachel, there you are!”

 

The two turned to look down the hall to see Mercedes marching toward them with Kurt, Artie, and Tina in tow. “Hey girl. We saw those jerks slushy you again.” She put a comforting hand on Rachel’s arm. “But we’ve all started bringing extra clothes in, just to be safe, and I can see your sweater still has a nice big stain on it, so we’ve got a couple different shirts for you to choose from.” They each held up a shirt, showing them off. She looked around the semi-circle of people she considered close friends. Artie and Tina looked at her with mild concern, while Kurt started making faces in an attempt to make her smile again.

 

Rachel laughed again and snagged the shirt Tina held up. It was a purple t-shirt that had a picture of a chocolate chip cookie and a carton of milk and said, “Together Forever.”

 

She didn’t think she could ever express how grateful she was to be friends with these people. “Thanks for looking out for me guys. I really appreciate it.” They all shared one of those aw, honey looks and smiled at her through their partially melted hearts.

 

Once the moment passed, Artie jokingly waved her off. “Psh, you know we only brought this stuff in because we were afraid of getting slushied ourselves.” They all giggled again and slipped into their usual chatter and easy banter while Rachel stepped back into the bathroom to change her shirt.

 


 

By the time Rachel got home, her mood was significantly lighter than it had been at the start of her day.

 

Throughout the eight hours she spent in school, her friends had put an incredible amount of energy into making sure she was properly cheered up. She suspected Puck had something to do with it. He was the best friend she ever could have wound up with.

 

In glee club, Finn had told her that her hair smelled good. He proceeded to smile in that goofish way of his, and Rachel couldn’t help but think that, while the reason for her hair smelling like cherry flavoring stung like that god awful anti-bacterial ointment parents always put on cuts when you get hurt as a kid, it was sort of nice for him to notice and compliment her on it. Rachel wasn’t used to anyone noticing things about her, her dads, and maybe Puck, aside. She’d once gotten her hair cut seven inches shorter and no one even realized until a week later. Yes, it certainly was a welcome change having a boy who wasn’t her parent or one-and-only-best-friend notice things about her.

 

She entered her house through the front door, kicking her shoes off onto the mat that lay just inside, and called out to her dads, “Hey! I’m home!” She dropped her bag by the stairs and resolved to get her homework done after dinner.

 

As she plopped herself down onto the couch and flicked on the television, the sounds of her fathers cooking accompanying their voices drifted toward her as they replied. “Hey baby! Good day at school? Dinner won’t be ready for a little while. Your dad here managed to turn my beautiful lasagna into a giant charcoal brick, so I have to start all over from scratch.”

 

“Hey, it’s not my fault. You’re the one who was distracting me when I was supposed to be watching the oven…”

 

Rachel stifled a giggle and pretended to gag loudly. “Gross, I’m still here you know.” She heard her parents chuckle before the sound of a pan clattering to the floor reached her ears.

 

“Okay, that’s it. You are officially kicked out of my kitchen. Get out of here.” Her daddy’s facetious voice had her smirking and rolling her eyes. She tried not to notice the playful smacking sound that ensued before her dad practically jumped around the corner with a mischievous gleam in his eye.

 

Hiram flopped onto the sofa next to his daughter, clearly having forgotten the giant flour handprint that adorned his backside. “So. School was good today?” he asked as he brought his feet up to rest on the coffee table.

 

Rachel’s gaze dropped to her hands, which busily picked at the hem of her skirt. “Yeah. It was fine.” Her voice wasn’t nearly as convincing as she’d hoped it would be.

 

Her dad turned to really look at her. “That’s not the shirt you were wearing this morning, is it? No, I remember you were wearing that adorable red sweater we got you for your birthday.” Rachel looked anywhere but at him. “Rachel. Honey, look at me.” She breathed in deeply through her nose before she met her dad’s eyes again. “This is the second day in a row you’ve come home wearing something different from what you left the house in. What’s going on, do you not like the clothes you have?”

 

“No! No, Dad, I love my clothes. That’s not it at all.”

 

“Okay. So what is it, then?” Hiram did his best to be patient with his daughter.

 

“It’s nothing. It’s just… some of the kids at my school have taken up this strange habit of throwing slushies at people they don’t like. It isn’t a big deal; it’s practically an initiation, albeit a strange and barbaric one.”

 

Rachel could have sworn her dad’s eyes flashed red. “What?! You’re saying the reason you’ve been coming home with hair that smells like cherry cough syrup is because some punk-ass kids have been dumping their drinks on you? That’s - that’s harassment! That’s assault! They… I… I’m calling the school.”

 

Rachel’s eyes widened. “No! Dad, you can’t do that.”

 

“Baby, you can’t expect me to just sit back and let those kids get away with something like that.”

 

“Dad, please. If you go and make a scene about it, they’ll only make it worse. Please, I can fight my own battles.”

 

“Rachel…”

 

“Please, Dad, just let me deal with this my own way. I’m fine. I promise.”

 

Her eyes pleaded with him, and eventually he conceded. He sighed heavily and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Alright. Fine. But I don’t like it.”

 

She leaned over and hugged him tightly around the middle. “Thanks for understanding.”

 

He draped his arm over her shoulder, most likely in a subconscious attempt to protect her from the evils he knew awaited her. He placed a light kiss on the top of her head. “I just hate thinking that anyone might be hurting you, that’s all.” Rachel’s thought immediately flew to one Quinn Fabray, and she hated that she was falling victim to the classic popular girl vs. unpopular girl contention. But the unpopular girl usually ended up with the happy ending in the movies, right?

 

They sat in silence for several moments before Leroy’s bald head poked around the corner. “Alright, fam. We don’t have enough noodles to make a new lasagna. Who’s up for take out?”

 

The family of three argued for a few minutes before deciding on Thai food. They each picked out an item or two from the menu and Hiram called their order in from the phone in the hallway.

 

Rachel opted to stay at home while the Berry men went to pick up their dinner. She thought she might try to get some homework done after all.

 

As her fathers left the house, she caught a quick glimpse of them linking hands, and it warmed her heart. The love her dads had for each other flowed off them in waves.

 

Rachel hoped she’d find a love like theirs someday. She hoped she’d be able to find a person with whom she could share anything; someone who she could laugh with and cry to and fight with and still happily fall asleep next to every night.

 

She knew that there were people out there who probably already hated her without knowing her because of the fact that her parents, who loved her and each other more than she thought could be possible, were who they were. She saw the disapproving, and sometimes even disgusted looks people sent in her family’s direction when her dads held hands or kissed in public. She couldn’t care less about their judgments, though. In fact, she felt sorry for them for being so ignorant. Once, when she was little, she had asked her fathers why a man on the other side of the street looked so angry with them. They had both squatted down next to her and explained that the man just didn’t understand. They told her that he was probably told by other people that certain types of love were wrong, and that someday they hoped she might see a world in which love was celebrated, and in which people passed judgment based solely on character, and not the parts of a person that were out of anyone’s control.

 

She listened. She lived every day hoping that she and everyone else would love themselves for themselves and love others for all they were. Rachel hoped that one day she would find a person who would look at her the way her dads looked at each other.

 

She blinked, snapping herself out of her thoughts. She had homework to do.

Chapter Text

Quinn slumped down in her seat and huffed out a sigh of exasperation before she propped her binder up on her lap so that it leaned against the edge of her desk in the perfect position to hide the pocket paperback she then pulled out of her bag. She knew she should have been in a more advanced math class – she had completed the worksheet, which was meant to take them the entire class period, within twenty minutes – but her friends were in this class, and she knew that only geeks and upperclassmen took the accelerated courses. So rather than swallowing her pride and living up to her academic potential, she spent every sixth period geometry class either staring at the clock or reading a book under the table.

 

Her current book of choice was The Catcher in the Rye. It was her favorite. Ever since she first read it in the seventh grade, she couldn’t seem to go longer than a year without going back to it. There was just something about Holden Caulfield and the way he viewed people and the world that constantly drew her in.

 

Her copy of the text was by then rather battered, and its pages were positively covered in ink where she had gone through and underlined her favorite parts and made innumerable notes in the margins. She wondered vaguely how long it would be before there would be so much writing over the originally printed words that she wouldn’t be able to read the story any longer.

 

The year before, Quinn’s sister had seen her, pouring through the worn pages for the nth time, and she had commented that the book looked beaten up and old. She’d said that Quinn would have been better off just tossing the shabby thing and buying herself a new copy. Quinn had shaken her head at that. Franny didn’t understand. The owned, threadbare quality of the book was half of what she loved so much about it. The used state of the soft cover was what gave it character. Plus, Quinn loved the smell of old books. New books were always nice, and they did have their own pleasantly crisp scent, but they were nothing next to the mustiness of books that have had a place on the shelf for years and years. The older books got, the long they were kept, the more history they would gather; with passing time, the books passed through many hands, and more and more came to know their stories, and made their own stories with the books. That was the loveliest thing about books: the more one read them, went back to them, and shared them, the greater they were loved.

 

Needless to say, Quinn cared very deeply for her books.

 

She was just settling in to read yet again, with a tiny smile on her face, about how Holden, once in New York, decided to call up an “acquaintance” of a guy he met once, and the delightfully awkward conversation that came of it, (being a generally smooth speaker herself, she always inexplicably enjoyed other people’s lack of verbal dexterity,) when the entire class fell silent at the sound of a particularly frustrated sounding growl. She looked up from her book, marking her place with a finger, and raised an eyebrow. Everyone’s gaze landed on a decidedly red in the face Rachel Berry. Quinn wasn’t sure whether to be amused or only slightly shocked by the outburst. The rest of the students seemed split on their choices between the two.

 

It wasn’t often that Rachel’s voice was heard at all in geometry, as out of character for her as it might have been – the occasional long-winded, would-be-a-paragraph-if-written-down question aside. Rachel was one of those over achieving students who always felt that they needed A’s in everything or they were a failure, and seeing as math was not one of her stronger subjects, she tended to focus her energies on paying as close attention as possible to everything the teacher said instead of spreading her social butterfly wings and talking a mile a minute for forever like she did in all of the other classes she shared with Quinn.

 

Rachel momentarily buried her face in her hands before she grabbed fistfuls of her own hair and rested her elbows on the table to that her head was propped up and she could stare at the textbook below with a classic air of having absolutely no idea what to do. The frail, older woman who taught the class approached her gingerly and asked with caution, “Is there something I can help you with, Ms. Berry?”

 

Rachel slapped her hands down on the desk on either side of her textbook. Quinn hoped no one noticed when she flinched. “I don’t understand this at all! I really just do not comprehend how I’m supposed to find these solutions. I have been paying diligent attention to every lesson you’ve taught, and it all made perfect sense when you were explaining it, but I simply cannot make sense of the problems you’ve given us to work out ourselves.”

 

“Oh dear, it’s really not that difficult. Have you looked at the theorems in the book?”

 

Quinn hid a frown. If she were a better person, she might have offered to help, but out of the corner of her eye, she could see Santana smirking openly. She stayed put.

 

The bell finally rang, and Rachel was the first to rush out the door. Quinn watched her go with a twinge of something that resembled sympathy. She heaved a breath, letting her cheeks puff out in the process, and began leisurely packing her things into her bag.

 

She made her way into the hallway, Brittany and Santana flanking her left and right, herself and the latter chortling when the taller blonde said, “But I still don’t get it. If they’re called apothems, why don’t they always hang upside down like opossums? Aren’t they cousins?”

 

Santana patted her on the arm and said gently, “I’ll explain it again later, okay?”

 

Quinn allowed a soft smile to grace her lips before she turned to face forward again and halted abruptly; Santana narrowly avoided crashing into her, while Brittany, who had the unfortunate tendency to stare at her own feet when she was walking, knocked right into her shoulder.

 

The blonde at the head of the trio was unfazed by the collision. She had an icy glare fixed on a pair just in front of her. “ What exactly is going on here?”

 

Brittany uttered that she didn’t know before her dark haired partner in crime led her away from the scene. Santana could tell things were about to get testy, and as much as she wanted to stay and see the outcome, she didn’t want to be around if things got out of hand; she was already about a toe away from a detention with more than half of the teachers at the school as it was.

 

Finn’s head snapped up at the sound of his girlfriend’s angry voice. His eyes bulged slightly in fear, and he stepped quickly out of the embrace of the tiny girl beside him, who turned to face her with wide eyes as well. His voice came out much hoarser than he would have liked. “Quinn! Um, hey. Rachel and I were just-“

 

“Hugging?” Quinn planted her hands on her hips and adopted the most accusatory look she could come up with. “So I saw.”

 

Rachel, sensing the quarrel that was rapidly preparing to unfurl, tried to interject. “Quinn, I promise there isn’t any need to get upset. Finn and I were merely-”

 

“I don’t think I was talking to you, Treasure Trail. Would you mind butting out for just a minute?” She regretted the words the moment they left her mouth as Rachel’s face reflected the sting in the words, but there was no taking them back once they were out there, so she pushed the guilt away and steeled her face in a look of contempt. “And by the way, in case you haven’t noticed yet because you’re too busy singing into a hairbrush in front of a mirror,” Rachel bowed her head and kept her eyes trailed on the floor tiles, “Finn is my boyfriend. We’re together. Do us all a favor and keep your man hands to yourself.”

 

She adjusted the strap of her bag on her shoulder so it sat a bit higher and more comfortably and stalked off down the gawking hallway, her emotions churning inside her. She was mad at Finn for hugging that stupid Rachel Berry, she hated Rachel Berry for however many reasons, and even more than all of that she was mad at herself. She was never usually cold enough to put anyone down that way; she may have been the figurehead for the group of popular girls in her class, but she had never before stepped up to truly take on the Head Bitch In Charge role. She didn’t like they way that her words had cut Rachel so deeply and quickly. Even more than that , she was seriously frustrated with herself for caring that she’d hurt the girl at all. Then she envisioned the way Rachel and Finn had looked at each other and became angry at the both of them all over again.

 

She had lost all sense of who she wanted to direct her anger at, so she turned at the end of the hallway, stomped passed a gaggle of giggling girls, and sat with a huff on the top step of the stairs. She heard heavy, almost clunky footsteps come up beside her, and before she knew it, a familiar, stupidly tall body was seated next to her. Finn didn’t look all that happy either.

 

“You don’t have to be like that, you know.” His eyes squinted somewhat, as if he were scolding her, and Quinn wasn’t sure if she wanted to outwardly scoff or not. All of a sudden the many insulting nicknames Santana had given her boyfriend seemed rather apt to her.

 

“You had your arms around another girl, Finn. How was I supposed to react?”

 

“I don’t know, but better than you did. She was upset over some math assignment, so I was comforting her. As a friend. Because that’s all we are… Friends.”

 

“Yeah, she looked real torn up. That’s why she was all happy and cozy-ed up to you.”

 

“What? Well, that’s probably just because I was telling her about an idea I had for a song for glee club. She seemed to really like it.”

 

“Glee club…”

 

“Yeah, glee. Uh… Quinn? What, why do you have that scary serial killer look in your eye?”

 


 

“Wait, wait, hold up, Q. You want us to do what ? No. No way.”

 

“I think it could be a good idea.”

 

“Thank you, Britt,” Quinn turned back to Santana. “See, Brittany’ll do it with me. Come on. You know you want to…” She pouted her lip and poked her stubborn friend in the side.

 

Santana batted her hand away and simultaneously rolled her eyes. “Yeah. I heard her. But she’s Brittany. She’s that kid who’d wander off and get in the big white van of the guy who offered her free pixie stix if I’m- if someone isn’t there to hold her hand. She’s also the type to go along with whatever you say because you’re her friend and she loves you. Personally, I think this is actually the worst idea I’ve ever been presented with. And that’s counting the time your boy Finnept told me he thought he should invent spray-on peanut butter.”

 

“Great. Now I’m hungry,” Brittany said, bending over to watch her own stomach.

 

“B, you just ate, like, five minutes ago.”

 

“Oh. Yeah. I’m not hungry anymore.”

 

“Guys. Can we stay on topic for just a second? Please, just, will you consider it?” Quinn did her best to keep the desperation out of her voice, without much success.

 

“I’m in. I think it’ll be fun.” Brittany smiled her classic, delighted-by-life smile.

 

Quinn nodded gratefully at her friend before she turned fully to the third member of their party, whose arms were crossed and was staring menacingly at her fair haired comrades. Quinn raised her eyebrows somewhat anxiously in anticipation. “S? What do you say?”

 

Santana pursed her lips for a beat before she sighed and answered, “Look, you know if Britt’s got her heart set on it, then I’m gonna come along for the ride, but don’t expect me to like it. And I’m gonna say right now that I am not a supporter of your newfound crazy.”

 

Brittany clapped her hands and positively beamed. Quinn let a grin slide onto her face, accepting the snarky words without comment. She took a couple steps forward and pulled her two best friends into a triangular hug.

 

Her plan was a go.

Chapter Text

It had to be a joke; it was probably just the football players and Cheerios thinking they were funny. There was no way they were serious. This kind of thing didn’t happen in real life, did it? No. Of course not. Right?

 

Rachel was flabbergasted, to say the least. She was utterly thrown for a loop. Mr. Schuester’s words flooded her brain, but she couldn’t make them make sense.

 

“All right, gang,” Mr. Schue announced, “I’ve got some great news. We have got ourselves some newcomers to the club! They auditioned for me yesterday, and I think they’ll be a great addition to our little family. So, without further ado, please welcome the newest members of the New Directions: Quinn Fabray, Santana Lopez, and Brittany Pierce! Let’s make them feel at home.”

 

It just didn’t come together in her head. They didn’t seem the types to want to join glee club. Rachel, when she pictured Santana outside of school, always imagined her simply wandering around the streets of Lima Heights Adjacent, practicing her insults on anyone and everyone she met, and possibly hip-checking the occasional senior citizen. Brittany, for her part, did seem to actually fit the role somewhat, but Rachel thought she seemed like she would be more inclined toward joining the dance team if she were to double up on extracurriculars. And then there was Quinn: the third piece to the unholy trinity, the apparent ringleader of the trio of cheerleading freshmen-class rulers. Rachel found that she was the hardest of the three to get a read on, the hardest of anyone she’d ever met, really.

 

Honestly. It wasn’t that she was ungrateful for any additional talent that could be coming into their group of misfit music makers – the New Directions would always welcome anyone with a voice to become a part of their lineup – she just could not comprehend their reasoning as to why they would want to. She couldn’t figure out their motive.

 

Nevertheless, as was her nature, Rachel piped up and added her own greeting on top of Mr. Schue’s. It was only proper etiquette, and she was nothing if not polite; she had always had wonderful manners, even to her classmates, who thought ‘please’ was a small, round green vegetable. “Yes, welcome! This really is a lovely bunch you’ve found yourselves a part of. I’m sure I speak for all of us here when I say that I am very much looking forward to singing with you. Despite past altercations, I feel confident that soon we’ll all be a splendid, close-knit and well-harmonized system of singers. Furthermore-“

 

“Yes, thank you, Rachel,” Mr. Schuester cut into what was only the opening of the girl’s salutation speech before he addressed the three girls whom she had been trying to bid welcome to directly. “Why don’t you girls find a seat?” He gestured to where the other students lounged in their seats.

 

Rachel crossed her arms rather huffily at being interrupted. She clenched her teeth in irritation, laced with a stinging bite of hurt when she heard Santana whisper to the other two, “I swear, if Shrimp Cocktail goes off like that every time she opens her mouth, not even a lifetime pass to Breadstix will make me stay in this stinking club. No me gusta.”

 

The trio of Cheerios made their way to the back row of plastic chairs and sat behind the short brunette while she glanced around the room to gage how the rest of the club was reacting to the news of the new members; she was met with varying degrees of interest.

 

Puck, apparently, found the information less than stirring, as he was dozing in his seat.

 

Tina, Mercedes, and to an extent, Kurt, looked pleased to have a couple more females in the room.

 

Mike and Matt, two football players who Puck and Finn had coerced into joining with them, each nodded at the girls respectfully. Cheerios and the football team lived within the same social circle; even if they weren’t necessarily all close friends, they stood by their own.

 

Artie and Finn both glanced back at the girls with just a hint of that spark of fear in their eyes, though Finn’s was mixed with a puffy cloud of confusion and a lightning bolt flash of misplaced hope.

 

It was all Rachel could do to cross her legs, hunker down a bit in her seat, and hope that they didn’t all end up struck and electrified.

 


 

That day, for the first time, Rachel was not the last to leave the choir room after glee. As she surreptitiously snuck glances at them while she slowly and carefully packed up her bag, she concluded that Mr. and Mrs. Future Head Cheerleader had hung back to be able to talk between just themselves. They looked as if they were trying very hard not to fight.

 

Quinn’s voice grew gradually less hushed as she spoke. “I don’t get why you’re upset with me right now. This was supposed to be something nice that I did for the both of us. God, Finn, we’re supposed to be the ‘it’ couple, why do we have to fight all the time? You told me you thought that this could be something fun that we could do together, okay, you’re the one who wanted this!”

 

Rachel’s eyebrows raised, and she felt the tension in the room thicken and harden like cement around her. She fought her initial instinct, which was to stay as still as possible and hope that the two would just forget she was there and leave, and slung her bag over her shoulder as quietly as she could and tiptoed out the door. When she reached the hall, however, her curiosity made her stop where she was to hear some more. She knew eavesdropping was wrong and incredibly rude, not to mention the implications of getting caught listening to a private conversation, but she knew that her forever inquisitive mind would be in overdrive for the rest of the day if she didn’t catch at least a bit more of the almost-argument.

 

Finn’s response to his girlfriend came rather heatedly. “I just don’t understand why now. Two days ago you would have given anything for me to quit glee club, and now out of the blue you want to join. As much as I don’t want to believe it, part of me thinks that you and the other two muskets are up to something. We all know Coach Sylvester would love to see the end of the New Directions, and you three are her new favorites. I just can’t help feeling… My gut is telling me that you didn’t join glee for me.”

 

“Okay, first of all, it’s musketeers, not muskets, and second, are you sure you’re not just hungry? Because I bet if you eat something your gut will sing a different tune.” Quinn’s voice was mocking, but not in a particularly malicious sort of way.

 

Rachel smirked in spite of herself, but the amused look quickly slipped off of her face and was replaced by a furrowed brow when the football player said, “That’s not funny, Quinn, I’m trying to be serious here! I know you guys think this is some big joke and that glee club is stupid, but I actually think it’s kind of awesome.”

 

Rachel stopped listening as she felt her heart grow soft. As much as her friends said they enjoyed glee club and thought it was a jolly good time and whatnot, she knew none of them fully appreciated it the way she did. But “kind of awesome” from a guy like Finn was one of the highest praises one could receive at McKinley. It pleased her immensely that something she was such a big part of could get a positive reaction like that out of one of the most popular guys in school. Rachel, who was so overtly enthusiastic about glee, was just thrilled that someone else, especially someone of Finn’s status at McKinley, felt strongly enough about it to defend it against queen bee Quinn Fabray. Even more so since said queen bee was his girlfriend.

 

Finn really did seem like a good guy; he was nice to everybody, he seemed like a very wholesome, well-rounded individual, and while he may have been lacking a tad in the academics department, no one could dispute that the boy had a marvelous singing voice, and that was something that would always score people major brownie points with Rachel. He never failed to make the people around him smile, which was a trait she deeply admired. He was almost as passionate as she was, about certain things. He was dedicated and caring. And yes, okay, fine, he was a total stud. Everyone knew he was hunky, and he was actually nice to her.

 

Oh no. Rachel cursed herself when she realized what was happening. No, no, this was not good. This was very, very bad. She could not have a crush on Finn. He was already dating Quinn.

 

Oh dear God, he was dating Quinn. He was taken, entirely spoken for, by the most powerful girl in their grade. Rachel couldn’t be that girl who just went after someone else’s boyfriend. That was a horrible label to get stuck with for the next three and a half years of her life. And she definitely did not want to incur the wrath of Quinn Fabray further than she already had. But… he really was very cute. And darn it, what Rachel Berry wanted, Rachel Berry got.

 

This was not going to end well.

 


 

“So, do you wanna hang out after school? We could hit the arcade or do a movie or something?”

 

Rachel sat sideways in her desk while her pen tapped away in her fingers against her blank notebook and she stared wistfully at the clock and willed the bell to ring.

 

“What? Oh, I can’t today, Noah. While some may feel that it is not unproductive to use their free afternoons for leisure time, I will be in the auditorium, practicing some songs for glee. Just because the club won’t be meeting today is not an excuse to slack off. If we hope to continue competing this year, then we really must buckle down. I-”

 

“Okay,” Puck interjected, deciding to use the side of Rachel’s chair as a footrest, “I get it. You work and I’ll play.”

 

Rachel heaved an internal sigh and wiped her palms on her skirt. She shouldn’t have been as anxious as she was. She hadn’t even been lying to him. She did plan on spending her afternoon practicing in the auditorium. “Thank you for understanding.” He rubbed a hand over his mohawk and shrugged.

 

“Yeah, yeah. Just remember: all work and no play makes Jackie a super dull chick.”

 

She stuck her tongue out at him playfully and gasped in mock indignation when he tossed a crumpled piece of paper at her head. She picked the offending ball of stationary up from where it landed on the floor and threw it back at him, catching him right on the nose. Puck cocked his head to the side with a sly grin plastered on his chiseled face. Before she could register his motives and move to stop it, he took careful aim and the paper ball sailed through the air and right down the front of her shirt. “Noah!” He chuckled smugly as she glanced around quickly to make sure that no one was looking, and then unceremoniously shoved her hand down the opening of her own blouse to retrieve Puck’s stupid crumpled up piece of paper. She immediately threw it back at him again, perhaps a bit harder than she had intended, and watched with satisfaction as it bounced off the top of his head and out of reach. She giggled and he tried to hide his own pleased smirk.

 

Mr. Schuester, whose Spanish lesson they were both blatantly ignoring, was a good deal less amused by their antics. “Puck, Rachel. What does a guy have to do to get you kids to pay attention? Honestly-”

 

Their saving grace came in the form of the final bell. The curly haired teacher threw his hands up in defeat. “Forever saved by the bell. Have a good rest of the day, guys. Hasta luego!

 

The class pushed their way out the door as speedily as their shuffling teenaged feet would carry them. When they reached the hallway, Puck gave Rachel a half wave, and they parted ways. Rachel swallowed he guilt that had begun to build up in the back of her throat. It wasn’t like Puck didn’t have other friends to go to the arcade with, and they saw each other every day in class. Because that was what was really eating away at her. Yes sir.

 

She paced distractedly to her locker as the corridors quickly emptied to put her texts books away and giver herself a short pep talk before she marched with purpose in the opposite direction, towards the auditorium. Her shoes clicked on the tile with each driven step.

 

As she expected, when she arrived, the stage and surrounding plush seating were deserted apart from herself and the dust floating in and out of sight as it passed through the beams of light let in by an open door backstage. It was a nice kind of empty, in some respects; it was an inviting silence. All Rachel wanted at that moment was to have that one person with whom she could share it. Someone to make it less lonely.

 

She set her bag down off to the side of the stage, and as if on cue, the sound of approaching footsteps reached her ears. She put an adoring grin on her face before she turned to face him.

 

“Hey, Rachel. How’s it going?” The boy stuck his hands in the pockets of his puffy vest and smiled back. His shoulders were hunched slightly. Rachel couldn’t help but think that he looked… out of place.

 

“Hello Finn. I’m well, thank you. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that you agreed to meet me here today. I was hoping to enlist your help.”

 

“Oh. Uh, yeah sure, I’m your guy. What do you need me to do?”

 

Rachel clapped her hands together; Finn blinked. “Wonderful! Well, you see, I will be performing a number for glee club at our next rehearsal, but I’m not one hundred percent sure that my song selection is up to par.” She broke eye contact. “All I need from you is your honest, unobjective opinion.”

 

The look on Finn’s face told her loud and clear that he had no idea what ‘unobjective’ meant, and that it intimidated him more than a little, but he glossed over it and said, “Okay, yeah. I can totally do that. What song are you thinking of doing?”

 

“I had some classic ABBA in mind…” Rachel said with a self-conscious smile as she brought a microphone stand out to the center of the stage.

 

Dancing Queen ?”

 

“No, though I am impressed that you know the song and that it’s by ABBA. No, I’ll be singing Gimme, Gimme, Gimme . Both songs are featured in Mamma Mia! , which is why they are so well known. They are excellent songs in their own rights as well, though.”

 

Finn nodded slowly, not really following what she said, but also not at all wanting her to repeat herself. “Right.”

 

She beamed at him. “Great. So you just take a seat in the audience, I’ll sing, and then you can tell me what you think.” She sidled up to the microphone, but turned back to him with an urgent look in her eyes. “Oh, but please keep in mind that this is only a very rough rehearsal. When I perform it for the club, I will have instrumental backup and a much better acquaintance with the song.”

 

“Oh, no, yeah. I’m sure you’ll be great. You always sing great.” The corner of his mouth pulled up into what was undoubtedly meant to be a reassuring grin. Rachel resisted the urge to correct his grammar and returned the smile before she stepped up to her place, center stage, and began the song. She tapped her toe quietly as the intro played in her head, and then she was lost in the music.

 

“Half past twelve, and I’m watching the late show, in my flat all alone,

how I hate to spend the evening on my own…”

 

Rachel’s eyes were screwed shut as she sang. As with every performance she gave, she committed all of herself to the song and poured herself into the lyrics. If only for that moment, Rachel was ABBA. She took the song in and brought it back out so that every word, every note said, “Right, here, right now, Rachel Berry believes this. She feels this with all of her soul, and now you will too.” Even a song as upbeat and dance-y as Gimme, Gimme, Gimme .

 

Gimme, gimme, gimme a man after midnight…

 

Rachel finished the song and took a deep breath to bring herself back to reality after letting herself wander so deeply into the song. She turned to Finn and looked at him expectantly as she carried the microphone stand back to its resting place backstage.

 

“Well,” she said as she came to stand in front of him again, “what did you think?” She placed her hands on her hips with a bright simper, eager for his feedback.

 

Finn was frozen for a moment before he could respond. He had never exactly had a way with words. “I don’t even really know. It was kind of weird for me, to be honest.”

 

Rachel felt as though her heart had hit an iceberg and was beginning to sink in a Titanic-esque manner. “Oh…” She clasped her hands together and stared hard at the space between their feet on the floor. “I see.”

 

Finn sensed that he had phrased that wrong and rushed forward to put his hands on her shoulders in what he hoped was a comforting gesture. “No, no! I mean in a good way. It was just different. Like, no song has ever made me feel it the way you made me feel that song.” He leaned a little closer and spoke a little softer. “It was kind of awesome.”

 

She lifted her head back up and looked in his eyes. She suddenly doubted that he could see the insecurities displayed on her sleeve and just as swiftly swept it under the carpet of her mind. “Really?”

 

He smiled with half of his mouth and nodded. “Totally.”

 

All of a sudden, Rachel was hyperaware of Finn’s hands still on her upper arms, and before she knew what she was doing, she was reaching around to wrap her hands behind his neck. They were both leaning in, and his eyes closed, so she followed suit, and then his lips were on hers, and…

 

It wasn’t at all like she’d imagined. Everything had gone just as she’d planned. They were alone in the empty auditorium, she had sung her song with all of the emotion she could muster, he had been blown away, and then they were supposed to share a magical first kiss that would have them both erupting with fireworks. But, there was nothing. Not even a spark.

 

And Rachel knew it wasn’t right.

 

They opened their eyes and pulled away at the same time. Simultaneously they said, “This is wrong.” They both took an awkward and hasty step backward and looked anywhere but at each other.

 

“I have a girlfriend,” Finn stated bluntly. Rachel wasn’t entirely sure whether he was speaking more to her or himself.

 

“You do.” She agreed and nodded matter-of-factly, accepting the fact for what it was.

 

“I should go.” He took several steps backwards before he stumbled over his own forgotten backpack; he picked it up, flung it over his shoulder, and hurried from the large, open room.

 

Rachel watched him go in silence. When he was gone, and the door had slammed shut in his wake, she turned to collect her own bag and nearly fell off the stage when she saw none other than Noah Puckerman standing between her and the stage door with a look of mixed sympathy and disappointment adorning his face. “For goodness’ sake, Noah, you can’t just sneak up on people like that. Were you trying to give me a heart attack? Because I can tell you right now that if I were to suffer any kind of crippling medical condition at such a young age and rendered unable to reach my dreams of Broadway, your life would be just as miserable as mine.” She raised her hand to her chest to emphasize her point as she rambled away her embarrassment and shame.

 

Puck merely shrugged his shoulders. He waited for her breathing to calm down before he spoke. He had seen the whole thing; he was thoroughly unimpressed with both of his best friends’ behaviors. But because he had utilized that patience thing his mom was always talking about, and hadn’t made his presence known until after his fellow football player had left, he had seen the way they both stopped themselves before things got out of hand. He was disappointed, yes, but he knew things could have gone a lot worse than they had.

 

In the Rachel before him, he noticed that subtle hint of pain and confusion in her eyes, and his tense shoulders slumped. “Do you need a ride home?”

Chapter Text

Quinn knew something was amiss the moment that could-be-cute-but-wasn’t, gassy-infant face came up next to her at her locker. She would have been just a little weirded out by it, but ever since the day Santana had spent an entire block period snorting behind her hand over it and Quinn had paid enough attention to it to discover that the expression was the result of Finn’s guilt over dropping her iPod in the toilet and not telling her, she couldn’t see that look without her shackles raising unconsciously and suspicion latching onto her thoughts.

 

She shoved her distrust down with effort and hoped that it might drown in the flood of things her boyfriend could possibly be feeling guilty about. But no, wait, that wasn’t right. No, she hoped it would drown in the ocean… lake… maybe pond of things that were really great about him.

 

Quinn really didn’t want to be that kind of clingy, jealous girlfriend who would always assume the worst from her boyfriend. She really, really wanted to be that kind of girlfriend that put a smile on her significant other’s face, the kind of girlfriend that anyone would be proud to have on their arm. And she was trying. She was only fifteen; the only things she knew about romance were what she learned from those classic movies and books.

 

She took her time at her locker; she carefully went through all of the homework assignments she’d been given to complete that weekend in her head, and picked out the necessary books and materials. She slipped the items into her bag smoothly and plucked her letterman jacket off its hook, draping it over her arm, before she finally closed her locker door with a quiet slam and turned to face her mountain of a boyfriend.

 

She managed to send a small smile in his direction, and he returned it, only with ten times the enthusiasm. He clearly seemed to be under the impression that because she hadn’t begun the conversation by tearing his head off of his body, she hadn’t sensed his initial uneasiness and apprehension.

 

He leaned one shoulder against the locker next to hers. “Hey, Quinn.”

 

“Hey, boyfriend.” She wondered momentarily if he was aware of the fact that one of the muscles just under his eye twitched when she addressed him as the role he played in her life rather than by his name.

 

“I missed you this week, I feel like I haven’t seen you at all.”

 

“You just saw me in glee yesterday,” she pointed out.

 

“Oh yeah. Well, I mean besides that.”

 

“Coach Sylvester has had us working day and night on this new Cheerios routine…”

 

“Oh. Yeah, cool, gotcha.” He bobbed his head a couple of times. “So listen, do you maybe want to come over for dinner tonight?” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Friday’s Italian night. My mom’s making homemade ravioli and everything.”

 

“That sounds great, Finn. You know I love Carol’s cooking.” When Quinn and Finn had first started dating, Carol Hudson had insisted that Quinn come over so that they could meet properly. She’d cooked an entire three-course meal, and by the end Quinn had felt as though she had eaten enough to feed a small African village and regretted nothing. The woman was, simply put, a genius with food. It was no wonder all of the football team dinners were held at the Hudson household. She ate there every chance she got. “But I can’t tonight.”

 

As his face fell, she felt the tiniest bit of her own guilt ebb at her consciousness. “How come?”

 

“Brittany and Santana are coming to my house for a sleepover. Plus, I kind of just want to hang out at home and relax tonight, you know? This is the first day off the Cheerios have had since pre-season. I’m in the mood for a girls’ night in.”

 

“Oh. Okay. I guess I understand. Why do you guys have the day off today?”

 

“Ms. Sylvester cancelled practice because she had an operation earlier.”

 

“Really? Is she okay?” He looked more intrigued than concerned.

 

Quinn scoffed. “Oh, she’s fine. She just had her tear ducts removed.”

 

Finn’s face scrunched in confusion. “Why would she do that?”

 

Quinn shrugged. “She wasn’t using them.”

 


 

“The gassy infant look?!” Santana’s laughter exploded out of her so hard it had her doubled over and clutching her stomach. “That is seriously the funniest thing in the world. Oh my god, I can’t stop seeing it in my head now! Dear fucking jesus, I’m dying.”

 

Quinn’s instinct told her to frown at her friend’s language, but the smirk snuck in before her brow had a chance to furrow.

 

Santana’s chortles started to die down into light giggles as she wiped a tear from her eye until Brittany flashed an alarmingly accurate imitation of the gassy infant face and she fell into another fit of hysterical laughter.

 

Quinn tried to put a chastising tone in her voice, but she failed rather miserably when her words trembled over insubordinate, escaped chuckles. “Guys, come on. It’s not that funny.”

 

“Oh please, Q. It is totally hilarious and you know it.”

 

Brittany chimed in, “ I know it.”

 

The three girls were sprawled out comfortably in Quinn’s bedroom, munching absentmindedly on the large bowl of unbuttered popcorn her mom had made for them. The shorter of the blondes sat up with crossed legs at the head of the bead with her back against a giant pile of pillows, of which she used only two when she slept, a stuffed giraffe shifting in her hands. Santana, upon her entrance into the room, had flung herself down on her back at the foot of the bed; she lay practically spread-eagle, entirely complacent on her best friend’s familiar furniture. Brittany took up a spot next to the bed, where she was seated backwards on Quinn’s desk chair; her hands rested on the back of the chair, and her chin rested on top of her hands. The bowl of snackfood was placed within comfortable reach of the three of them, and Quinn felt sure that if she were looking in on them from outside the window at that moment, that they would look as if they were in the middle of a scene from one of those awful teenage girl movies where the “BFF”s gossip and form their evil plot that would inexorably be thwarted by the geeky girl who was the hero of the whole story.

 

She was just about to reach forward for another handful of popcorn - it was delicious, she could definitely tell it was homemade -  when a vibrating in her pocket distracted her. She pulled out her phone and glanced at the screen: 1 new message.

 

It was from her boyfriend.

 

Finn: Hey boo. Hows the slmbr parT?

 

Boo ? What? That was new. Finn never used pet names or terms of endearment. He’d tried to call her ‘babe’ once, and it just came out awkwardly. He didn’t try again after that. Something was going on. Brittany muttered something about her not being very scary.

 

“Aw, what’s up, your hubby miss you already?” Santana mocked as she crawled her way up the bed to peak at the phone.

 

“As a matter of fact…” she trailed off. She pulled the cellular device out of her friend’s reach and tapped out a response.

 

Quinn: Since when do you call me boo? And it’s good.

 

The dark haired girl pouted when she couldn’t pry the phone away from the blonde. “Why won’t you let me see? Are you guys sexting or something?”

 

Brittany smirked, but Quinn was confused. She sat up a little straighter. “Sexting?”

 

Santana looked at her a bit incredulously. “Seriously, Q? Sexy texting.” She paused before she added, “You’re like, actually from the 50’s, aren’t you?”

 

Quinn was spared from having to respond when her phone buzzed again.

 

Finn: Oh, idk. Thats good. Dinners no fun w/o u here.

 

Quinn: Yeah. Well I’m sure Kurt’s keeping the fam entertained while I’m gone.

 

Finn: no hes @ the movies w/ Tina + Mercedes.

 

Quinn: Oh… At least you get Carol’s cooking. We’re probably just going to order pizza.

 

He didn’t answer right away, so Quinn rejoined the happenings of her own room. She shuffled to the end of the bed on her knees and elbows and laid on her back so that she was watching her friends’ discussion upside down. Apparently the topic of conversation was whether or not Puck was the hottest person at school. While the mohawk did give him serious bad boy points, Quinn decided that she was definitely with the ‘no’s on this one. She didn’t know exactly why, though, so she kept her opinion to herself and just listened without really hearing.

 

Her phone vibrating again where it sat on her abdomen brought her out of her stupor. Finn’s latest text left her a little uneasy.

 

Finn: … i need 2 tel u sumthin.

 

She was tempted to reply with a sharp and succinct “what did you do this time,” but decided against it. As big of a moron as he was sometimes, he was still her boyfriend, and as such deserved the benefit of the doubt. He was still the guy she was supposed to trust and be there for. She could try to be that for him. She could play the supportive girlfriend.

 

Quinn: You can tell me anything. You know that.

 

Again, his response didn’t come immediately. Quinn turned her attention back to her friends, who were by then bickering lightheartedly over MTV shows. She tuned back out as quickly as she’d tuned in.

 

She instead wondered what it was that Finn needed to tell her and stared at her phone as if it would just come out and tell her. It was probably a confession as to the cause of the gassy infant look. What did he do this time? It was probably something stupid. Maybe he stole a pair of her panties the last time he was over; she wouldn’t put it past him. Maybe he tapped the glass and scared one of her goldfish to death. That seemed like something he would do.

 

She was snapped out of her speculation session by the vibrations of her cell. She hesitated before she opened the new message. She suddenly wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

 

The declaration she was met with shocked her more than any admission of guilt could have.

 

Finn: i luv u.

 

Granted, it wasn’t at all eloquent, or even grammatically correct, but the sight of those words had Quinn struggling to catch her breath.

 

She squeezed her eyes shut. It wasn’t real. He couldn’t actually be doing this to her now, like this. She lifted one eyelid to peek at the glowing screen, and the words still glared back at her. No. No! This wasn’t how things were done!

 

Quinn suddenly felt as though something had been stolen from her. She had been waiting her whole life for those three words. It was supposed to be something special. It was supposed to be romantic and give her butterflies and make her feel safe and warm her from the inside out. It was supposed to be said quietly with soft lips and be accompanied by a shy but honest smile. It was supposed to be real. It was supposed to mean something.

 

But no. Finn had given her her first “I love you” in the form of a lame text message.

 

She didn’t know how to react. She knew Finn would be expecting her to be overcome with happiness and the urge to run into his arms and reciprocate the sentiment, but that overjoyed feeling didn’t come. She felt more like a tiny piece of her heart had been chipped off and ground into sand.

 

It dawned on her that Finn was probably expecting a text response. She hit the ‘reply’ button, but… she just couldn’t. She just could not write the words back to him. Love was something that was truly sacred to her. It wasn’t right to do it that way.

 

She went back to Finn’s text. It would have been easier if she’d just never received the message. The she realized.

 

She could always just pretend that she’d never gotten it. The idea grew on her with every passing second. When Finn would ask why she stopped texting him back, she could simply say that he was the one who’d stopped replying, and then they’d both realize that Quinn hadn’t gotten the text. Brilliant.

 

Just before she rolled over on to her stomach to ask if Brittany and Santana if they wanted to put in a movie, she sucked in a deep breath and pressed ‘delete’.

 


 

Quinn was a little startled when the doorbell rang the next day. Brittany and Santana had left a few hours previous, and Judy had set off early that morning for a weekend retreat. Russell opted to spend his Saturday at the office, as he always did, so she was home alone. Quinn wasn’t expecting anyone, and she was rather looking forward to having the house to herself for the day. Waking up to the sight of her two best friends – who were both girls – tangled all up in each other in their sleep, both of their pairs of pajama shorts riding low and Brittany’s arm flung haphazardly across Santana’s middle, had left Quinn with an uncomfortable twisting in her gut that she couldn’t shake. She had hoped that spending the afternoon doing nothing but eating clementines and playing Sims on the computer might take her mind off it.

 

She paused the game just as her character’s mac and cheese caught fire. The sim looked like she was in the middle of some kind of weird tribal dance.

 

She got to her feet and jogged to the front door as the bell was rung a second and third time. She called out, “I’m coming!” as she shrugged on a light sweater over her bare shoulders. She was still in just a tank top and sweatpants. She flipped her hair out of the clutches of aforementioned sweater and yanked the door open. “Finn?”

 

Out on the porch, her boyfriend grinned in what was clearly an attempt at charm and raised a hand in greeting. “Hey. Uh, can I come in? Your mom’s not home, is she?” Quinn shook her head and stepped aside to let him pass. She closed the door quietly in his wake before she turned to look at him expectantly. He shoved his hands deep in his pockets. “So, I just came by ‘cause I wanted to make sure we’re okay, since you never replied to my text last night.”

 

Quinn gulped almost audibly. She hoped he didn’t notice. “What text?”

 

Finn’s eyebrows dropped and crinkled. “You, you know. That one… that I sent. Last night.”

 

Quinn wiped her damp palms off as she pretended to smooth out the front of her shirt before she planted them on her hips in faux confidence. “As I recall it, you were the one who stopped texting me last night.”

 

Finn’s mouth opened a little bit. He wanted to argue. He knew he sent that text. But Quinn was giving him that scary look that told him he didn’t stand a chance in a fight with her. He closed his mouth before any angry sounds could escape. “Maybe your phone just didn’t get it.”

 

She dropped her hands back down by her sides and conceded. “Maybe.”

 

His shoulders slumped in relief. “So we’re good?”

 

Quinn closed her eyes and breathed in a long, drawn-out breath through her nose as she nodded.

 

“Cool.” An awkward silence crept over them as they stood, still practically in the doorway. “So, since I’m here… you wanna make out?” Finn’s eyes lit up hopefully.

 

She looked up at him with an indistinguishable something in her eyes. When she directly confronted her heart about it, no, she didn’t want to. He never knew what to do with those giant, meaty hands, and she knew they’d only have to stop every two minutes so he could think of that time he ran over the mailman when his mom was teaching him how to drive to cool himself down. Not to mention the total lack of any heat on her end. Kissing Finn gave her none of the fireworks people always talked about. It was just another pair of lips on her lips. It didn’t feel special or… anything. It just was.

 

Then she asked her brain and got an entirely different answer. Finn was her boyfriend. Making out was something that came with the territory in a relationship. If she didn’t make out with him, he would go off and find another girl who would. She couldn’t let that happen. Finn was her fast-pass at school. He was like a status symbol. If she didn’t have him, a studly football player boyfriend, her popularity was almost left to chance. Besides, maybe the kissing was like cheese: it might’ve stunk, but perhaps it’d get better with time.

 

“Um, sure.”

 

They walked into the sitting room and padded across the soft carpet to one of the loveseats. Quinn leaned over to the stereo and turned on some quiet music to set the atmosphere.

 

She scooted closer to Finn and put her hands on the back of his neck. Their knees touched and as she started to lean in, she silently prayed that he had at least brushed his teeth recently.

 

As their lips were about to meet, Finn pulled away sharply and stood up from the sofa, backing into the coffee table in the process. He eyes closed. “I-I’m sorry. I can’t. I can’t do this.”

 

Quinn’s confusion mounted. “What? Why?”

 

His eyes were still screwed shut. “I need to get something off my chest.”

 

Quinn’s heart started to beat faster in her chest. “Okay. You can tell me.” Oh dear lord. He was going to tell her what the text said, wasn’t he? He was going to say he loved her, and she wasn’t going to be able to react. She was going to freeze up, and everything was going to fall apart because she couldn’t say it back.

 

“I kissed Rachel.”

 

Oh. Well. Wait, what? “Excuse me?” He did not just say what she thought he just said. She sunk a little deeper into the cushions of the loveseat.

 

“I, uh, I kissed Rachel. Last week.”

 

Excuse me? ” Exasperation would have dripped from her voice had it not paled in comparison to the shock and hurt.

 

“Look, can you not make me say it anymore? It’s making me feel really bad.”

 

“Oh, you feel bad.” That was it. She finally stood, shaking her head. She had dealt with a lot of shit from Finn. She listened to him whine about football plays and lost games. She tried to be enthusiastic when he tried to teach her how to play video games. She’d fumed in silence when he chose to stay in with Burt and watch the game on TV rather than take her out on Valentine’s Day.

 

But this, this was the last straw. He actually cheated on her.

 

“Please, can we, can we talk about this?”

 

No. She didn’t care what having him as a boyfriend meant for her reputation. She still had the Cheerios to fall back on. This was too much. She couldn’t deal with it. There was no way she could trust him after this. It wasn’t worth it.

 

“I-I want to break up.” She looked into his eyes and willed her tears to wait until she got him out the door. She walked back in the direction of the foyer. “You should leave now.” She held the door open and kept her eyes on the doorknob, which she grasped tightly for support. Her knuckles were white.

 

Eventually, his overly large form shuffled past her. He paused on the threshold. His voice was hardly above a whisper, but she still heard him clear as day. “I’m sorry.”

 

She shut the door behind him without a word, and the sound echoed through the empty house. Her sobs were quiet; they could barely be heard over the music that continued to sound in the sitting room.

Chapter Text

“Hey, Hot Mama! You’re going to Puck’s party tonight, right?” Mercedes asked enthusiastically as she caught up with Rachel in the hallway and linked their arms. It seemed like everyone was in a good mood that day. It did, of course, make sense; it was the last day of school. Inconsequentially, it was also three weeks minus a day since the McKinley-famous breakup of Quinn Fabray and Finn Hudson.

 

“I haven’t decided yet whether I shall be gracing the celebration with my presence or not. Do you know who all’s going?”

 

Kurt came up and linked his arm through Mercedes’ free one and immediately jumped into the conversation as if he’d been there with them all along. “When he invited me, begrudgingly, I might add, he said it was probably going to be mostly just us glee clubbers, but then I overheard him inviting Satan – I mean, Santana – and Brittany, and he told them to invite as many of their Cheerio friends as they want, and you know every guy on the football and basketball teams are going to be there, which means the whole school is liable to show up at one point or another. Faculty included. Rachel, you can’t not go. What are you going to do otherwise? Sit at home and knit? Play scrabble with your dads?”

 

She blushed brilliantly and looked down at the red and white floor tiles; with the addition of setting up her video camera and recording a couple of new songs for her MySpace page, that had been exactly what she’d planned on doing that night. “I suppose I could stop by for a bit.”

 

“Oh, excellent!” He almost squeaked in excitement. “We can all get ready together!” When she started to cut in , he immediately beat her to the punch. “Rachel, Mercedes and I are picking out your outfit. Friends don’t let friends wear argyle to house parties. We’ll be at your place at seven. It’ll be just like the movies…” Kurt and Mercedes smiled and peeled off from Rachel before she could respond. She was left to walk, a bit dumbfounded, down the hall with a shy grin peeking out at the world.

 


 

“Are you sure I look okay?” Kurt rolled his eyes as Rachel yet again pulled self consciously at the hem of the dress. They approached the front door of Puck’s house. They could hear music blaring and voices chattering loudly on the inside.

 

Mercedes sighed while Kurt knocked twice. “Rachel. You look great. We all do. Believe me, little black dress is applicable to all situations. You’ll be turning heads tonight. Besides, I’m sure this one’s sequins will take over some of the attention,” she said, with a jerk of the thumb in Kurt’s direction.

 

The door was flung open, and a widely grinning Noah Puckerman appeared. “Rach! Hummel, Mercedes!” He stepped aside for them and all but bowed them in. “Welcome to the first annual Start o’ Summer Puckerman Palooza! Karofsky’s older brother got us a keg !”

 

Upon first examination, it seemed as though Kurt’s hypothesis was correct; it looked like nearly everyone who attended McKinley was wandering around the house. Kurt and Mercedes were off and mingling in a matter of seconds.

 

Puck dashed off to the kitchen but returned quickly, bearing a red solo cup, which he handed politely to Rachel. She was hesitant at first, but after she watched her friend practically chug all of his in one go, she figured a sip or two of whatever it was couldn’t hurt. It burned a bit as it slid down her throat, but it was still pretty smooth.

 

She groaned internally when she saw Finn trying to make his way over to her from the other side of the room. She’d been avoiding him ever since Quinn had broken up with him; she knew it was her doing, and she didn’t want to deal with whatever it was he had to say to her. She felt bad enough as it was. Before she could look for an escape route, however, the sensation of being watched overtook her. She scanned the sea of bodies until her eyes landed on the grassy greens of none other than the queen bee herself.

 

Quinn downed the rest of her drink and blinked several times before she remembered that she hated Rachel Berry and turned her stare into an icy glare. Rachel almost physically winced from the daggers that were being thrown in her direction. She could only imagine what would happen if Finn actually reached her and struck up a conversation. She shivered.

 

Rachel scanned the room again and panicked mildly when she noticed that Finn was about to close the distance between them. She grabbed Puck almost violently by the sleeve (she took a millisecond to allow herself to be impressed by the fact that he had actually gone the distance and worn a button-up with a skinny black tie for the party), pulled him roughly to the nearest vacant couch – thankful that he managed to keep a hold on his drink – and did her best to look as if they were in deep conversation. Finn saw the proximity between Puck and Rachel and stopped abruptly before he awkwardly changed directions and entered the kitchen to watch the beer pong tournament.

 

Without thinking about what she was doing, Rachel brought her plastic cup to her lips and took a large gulp. She grimaced at the taste. “Ugh. I don’t understand why adults enjoy alcohol so much; it really doesn’t taste good at all.” She turned to face Puck more directly with a warning finger. ”And you should know as my longest friend that under any other circumstances I would never condone such illegal behavior.”

 

“Rach, I know. Believe me. But come on, loosen up a little. It’s summer! Most people have designated drivers, and I told everyone that the couches are open for business if they need a place to crash. My parents are gone all week on a cruise. I think they wanted on last hurrah before they’re stuck with me at home for two months. Everyone just wants to have a little fun, you know?”

 

Rachel considered that for a moment before she answered, “I suppose that’s acceptable.” Conversation trailed off for a moment, and they both listened to/felt the vibrations of the thumping music and watched the other party goers with interest. Most of the glee kids were together in the space near the speakers, dancing and singing along. The jocks and Cheerios were dispersed around the rest of the house. A group composed of mainly football players were huddled in the kitchen, still engrossed in their beer pong. An assortment of what looked like mostly underclassmen were playing Spin the Bottle in a corner while a group of older boys played poker on the other side of the room. The odd couple could be seen making out on random couches or against the walls. All in all, it was pretty much everything Rachel had expected a high school party to be. It was almost comforting.

 

She looked back over at Puck, who happened to be looking back at her. They smiled warmly at each other, and Rachel said, “Noah, have I mentioned yet how much I admire your choice in attire for this evening’s event? You look very dapper.”

 

His smile faded slightly. “That’s… a good thing, right?” He twisted his cup in his hands between his knees almost self consciously.

 

She giggled and rested a friendly hand on his bicep. “Yes, Noah. It means you look nice; dashing, even.”

 

He nodded in understanding and his smile was back in full force. “Well in that case, I’m nothing compared to you. Have you seen the dress you have on? You look amazing… and that’s coming from me.”

 

She felt a light blush creep its way onto her cheeks and tried (and failed) to hide it in her cup. When she glanced up again, she saw Finn once again fighting his way through the crowds in her direction. Her gaze immediately fixated on the sloshing brown liquid at the bottom of her solo cup. Her neck muscles became tense, an occurrence that did not go unnoticed by Puck, whose arm had mysteriously found its way around her shoulders, where it hung loosely. He looked at her questioningly, and followed her eyes when they peeked out over the rim of her drink to his six-foot-four friend as he struggled to maneuver past the mass of bodies that separated him and Rachel.

 

It only took Puck a moment to deduce that Rachel’s darting eyes, fidgeting fingers, and general discomfort meant that she was not interested in talking to Finn, and his instincts prompted him to jump up and take his best female friend’s hand just before the teen giant descended upon them. “C’mon, Rach. It’s not a party if you don’t annihilate everyone here in a karaoke battle.” She beamed and nodded enthusiastically, and with that, he led her across the house to get the music and microphones set up, pausing on the way to punch a bemused Finn amicably on the shoulder.

 

Rachel grabbed a mic delightedly, well before Puck had gotten the karaoke set up. What could she say, singing, in any environment or circumstance, was exciting for her. She started to search eagerly for a worthy opponent. She looked around, but most people looked preoccupied with whatever it was they were doing. The prickly feeling of being watched found her again. For the second time that night, she was met with the intense gaze of one Quinn Fabray. She watched as the blonde once again downed what was surely a near-full drink and stood up clumsily. Santana and Brittany, with whom it appeared she had been in the middle of a conversation, offered helping hands as Quinn swayed on the spot, but she rebuffed them. She sent another strange look towards Rachel and stumbled off to join the older boys at the poker table. Rachel wondered briefly how much the girl had had to drink that night and if she should have been more concerned, but beside her, Puck had gotten the karaoke all set up and announced to everyone who could hear, “Okay, listen up! We got karaoke up in here! So if anyone out there isn’t too much of a wuss to take on my girl Rachel here, come on down and prepare to get your ass kicked.” The other glee members eagerly volunteered themselves.

 

Quinn was quickly banished to the back of Rachel’s mind.

 


 

After eight straight songs, all of which she rocked, Rachel relinquished her microphone and excused herself to the bathroom. Singing was thirsty work, and Puck and the others had no problem refilling her drink whenever it ran low. Not that she particularly paid attention to what she was drinking, nor how much.

 

As she stumbled across the floor, she ran into a grand total of six pieces of furniture, two of which got knocked over, and five of which she apologized to. Uproarious laughter filled her ears, but she couldn’t figure out what it was that everyone found so amusing; she laughed along anyway so she might still seem in the loop.

 

When she finally reached the short hallway in which the bathroom was located, the wall became her most trusted support in the form of an immobile walking stick. She was eternally grateful that there weren’t any end tables or similar furnishings in that hall; she knew without a doubt that if she’d had to move away from the wall she would have fallen straight to the floor and not have been able to get back up.

 

Her hands found the bathroom doorknob, and her brain took its time telling them to twist and push. The door creaked open and revealed a blonde and a brunette both crouching by the toilet. Brittany sported a moderately concerned expression and held Santana’s hair away from her face. Santana emerged from the toilet bowl and looked as though she was beginning to recover from a hefty bout of vomiting.

 

Rachel kept her eyes squinted against the harsh brightness of the light. She asked politely for the two girls to vacate the bathroom and reacted too late when Santana said, “Nice seein’ ya, Hobbit.”

 

Immediately after, she vaguely made out Brittany’s voice down the hall when the blonde asked, her tone growing more excited with each word, “Do you think she’s related to Bilbo? Does she know Gandalf? He’s my grandpa.”

 

Rachel’s giggles burst from her throat much louder than she expected, and she struggled between laughing and cringing at the noise of her own laughter.

 

After a moment she remembered why she was alone in a room with a toilet.

 

Fifteen minutes later, after she took care of her business, stubbed her toe on the bathtub, washed her hands thoroughly, and had a quick cry over the fact that there weren’t any hand towels, she threw the door open and ran head first into what she was sure was a brick wall. Of course, upon closer examination she concluded that it was just an overly tall, unnaturally thick boy. An even closer inspection showed her that it was a football player, a guy in the grade above her named Azimio. “Hey, watch yo’self, girl. Most people don’ get away wit’ runnin’ into me like that. I guess I can make a ‘ception for you, though.” His eyes were bleary and hooded as they traveled up and down her body.

 

“A-zee…zee-mo.” She tried to ignore the way he licked his lips. “You’re… and I am… super flattered, but I’m… you are way too tall for me.” Her words were slurred, and she knew it, even as she started to stutter-step away.

 

“Aw, no, wait, hey… Come on, girl, hey, I know you like me, come back here.” He pushed himself off of the wall he’d been leaning on and effectively fell forward, almost on top of her, eliciting a short, high-pitched squeal from Rachel.

 

Her beer… rum… tequila… whatever-addled brain panicked at the realization that a giant, letterman clad mass threatened to smother her. She was too young to die. The raw fear that flooded her brain sobered her enough to regain her opinion that she was also too young to be drinking and getting drunk and being attacked by large males.

 

Just as she was preparing her extensively trained vocal chords to scream bloody murder, she heard a familiar voice and the weight equivalent to a small Chevy was lifted off her. “Azimio. Cool it, man, okay? Chill out.”

 

With some effort, she located her savior and flashed him a relieved grin until she remembered that she was avoiding him. “Finn. Thank you for pulling that neanderthal off me. I appreciate you saving me from what would have most likely ended up in my sexual assault or suffocation.”

 

“Oh, it’s no problem. He’s just drunk, you know.”

 

She frowned at that. Could he really shrug things like that off so easily? “Well, it was chivalrous of you either way.”

 

“Okay, yeah.” She could tell that her vocabulary had once again proven too much for him, but couldn’t muster the energy to enlighten him before he started again. “So listen, I’ve been meaning to talk to you, you know, about what happened… in the auditorium.” His voice lowered to a whisper as he spoke.

 

“Oh. Well, I can’t say that I’m… all that surprised, but here’s the thing ,” she tapped him on the chest, probably less gently than she meant to, to emphasize each word, “you and me… it’s just not gonna work out, okay? You, you’re great, don’t get me wrong, there’s jus’ isn’t a spark there.”

 

“Actually, that’s kind of the same thing I was going to say to you. I think you’re awesome, and everything, but that kiss was a mistake. I really like Quinn, I-I think I’m in love with her. And I’m going to try to make things right with her. I just didn’t want you to think I was leading you on or anything.”

 

“Oh. Sure, yeah. I totally understand.”

 

“Cool. So, no hard feelings?” His mouth pulled into a crooked grin and he stuck out his hand.

 

“Of course not.” Rachel grabbed the proffered hand and they shook. Somewhere inside, there were a few hard feelings, but she didn’t really know what they were about, so she disregarded them and agreed to a tentative friendship with Finn.

 

They reentered the party together. Rachel was amused to see that Mercedes and Artie had completely taken over the karaoke and were performing only songs by Michael Jackson. Matt, Mike, and Brittany competed fiercely in a dance-off to Smooth Criminal . Santana watched them from a nearby sofa while she simultaneously cried and yelled in Spanish at a random, very uncomfortable looking boy before she forcefully grabbed his face and started full-on making out with him.

 

Finn looked at his watch and stated that he should get home before his mom started to worry. Rachel nodded and gave him a tight, drunken hug before she sent him on his way.

 

For the third time that night, Rachel felt that neck-hair-raising sensation of someone’s eyes on her. When she turned around, Quinn was already making her way clumsily toward her. Rachel swallowed hard. Her palms were suddenly clammy. Quinn was clearly on the warpath. Rachel gulped again. This was the girl whose boyfriend she had kissed, while they were still dating. Crap, that was a stupid thing to do. Why did she do that? Oh god, she was getting closer. All of a sudden Rachel was concerned that there wasn’t enough air in the room.

 

Quinn came to a halt inches away from her. Rachel squeezed her eyes shut and prepared for a slap or a punch in the face. She just hoped that Quinn would have the decency to avoid her nose. When no impact came, she chanced a peek out of one eye, and then opened both. The blonde was simply standing there, staring at her with red rimmed eyes. Rachel hoped that she hadn’t been crying over the whole her-and-Finn thing. She knew she probably had. “Quinn, I-”

 

Quinn shook her head, her lips turned down in a purposeful frown. She raised a finger and held it right up to Rachel’s face, so close that the girl went momentarily cross-eyed watching it. Quinn dropped the finger back to her side but leaned her face in a little closer. Her nose was runny and she sniffed loudly. Rachel tried not to flinch.

 

“This is all your fault.”

 

Quinn looked like she might say something else, but her face abruptly paled. Before another word could be uttered, the wan color tinged green and she sprinted in the direction of the vacant bathroom with a hand over her mouth.

Chapter Text

Everyone knows what the morning after is supposed to be like. When you wake up after a night of drunken craziness, the aching hangover effects are to be expected. The pressure and pounding in your head, the sensitivity to light (the “dear fucking god, why is the sun two inches from my face, I can’t see”), the fuzzy tongue that’s suddenly too big for your mouth, and most importantly, the complete lack of memory of all of the idiotic things you did while intoxicated the night before so you’ll be willing to go out and get drunk and do stupid things all over again.

 

That’s what’s supposed to happen.

 

When Quinn woke up the morning after the party, her first thoughts consisted mostly of questions as to why she had to be alive at that moment. Blood rushed and hammered against the inside of her temples. Her brain pushed against the barrier that was her skull and threatened to burst forth at any moment. She cracked one eyelid, battling the mounds of crust (she liked to call them “eye boogers”), only to snap it closed again; the sunlight that filtered into her room was blinding, despite the fact that there was a thin blind between her and the closed window. Her eyes were actually in pain. She tried to groan some of the discomfort away, but ended up emitting a sort of hoarse, frustrated growl.

 

Everything seemed to be going as expected. That is, until Quinn thought back to the reason behind her hangover. There wasn’t a moment from the night before that she couldn’t recall in as crystal clarity as a night spent without a drop of alcohol. She remembered every last blood boiling and humiliating detail. She let out another snarl but smothered it with a pillow over her face.

 

There was a light knock on the door (though it sounded much harsher to Quinn’s ears post-intoxication), and her mother entered the room bearing a glass of water and a rattling bottle of Advil.

 

“Hi, Quinnie.” Her mom’s voice was soft and gentle as she perched on the edge of her daughter’s bed, pulled the pillow away from her face, and smoothed out the frantic hairs on her forehead. “How are you feeling this morning?” Judy held out the pills and water for Quinn to take.

 

Quinn didn’t know what to say. She didn’t even know what to think. She had drunk dialed her mom at two in the morning and asked for a ride home, not only revealing that she wasn’t, in fact, sleeping over at Brittany’s, but also that she was at a party with lots of horny boys and several lawsuits’ worth of underage drinking.

 

Mrs. Fabray had gotten up and driven to get her daughter with surprising composure. After ensuring that Quinn was all right, she didn’t say a word and Quinn fell asleep in the car on the way home. “Honey, I’d like to say a couple of things.” Maybe it was the calm before the storm. “I think you already know that I am extremely disappointed in your actions and the decisions you made last night. You lied to me and your father about your whereabouts. You put yourself in a situation that had you surrounded by older boys who would have had no problem taking advantage of you. And to top it all off, you were more buzzed than your father was after his open-bar office holiday party. I know you know better than that, Quinnie.” Judy sighed. “But at the same time, I can’t help but be a little proud of you. I know any number of those other drunken kids would have offered you a ride, but you had enough of a head on your shoulders to not get in a car with any of them. So. That movie you wanted to see with Brittany and Santana? You can forget about it. However, since it looks like the hangover is teaching you your lesson, I don’t think we need to tell your father about this.” She placed a kiss on Quinn’s forehead, patted her leg, and stood from the bed. “I’m making pancakes if you think you can get up in a few minutes.”

 

Pancakes. Pancakes sounded like the epitome of perfection. Quinn tried to crawl out of bed, literally, and ended up sprawled on the floor next to it in a heap. “Be down in a second.”

 


 

“Oof, not your slickest move, Quinnster.”

 

Quinn shot her sister her best I am not amused look. Franny had only gotten home a few hours previously and she was already laughing at the disastrous tale of her only little sister’s first night of summer vacation. She spent the first fifteen minutes after her arrival going over the trials and tribulations and triumphs that made up her final year of college, followed by twenty minutes on the excitement that awaited her at the job she was set to start at the end of the summer all the way out in San Francisco, and another fifteen on this great guy who interviewed her for said job, who was allegedly Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s long lost twin or something. After that she turned the spotlight on the baby of the family. Quinn got about halfway through her brief recap of the past school year before Franny called her out and made her admit to still being hung over and demanded all of the dirty details. Quinn tried to clean up her overview as she recounted the events to her big sister, but she ended up spilling everything anyway. When she finished relaying the facts of the evening prior to her, there was a beat of silence before Franny spluttered and burst out laughing at her sister’s misfortune. Quinn winced.

 

“Fran? Do me a favor and stop making sounds.”

 

“Oh come on, lighten up. You called Mom, drunk, at two o’clock in the morning and told her you were, what was it, ‘jamming it up at mohawk boy’s rager house.’ You can’t expect anyone, especially your big sis, not to laugh at you for that.”

 

“I hate you.”

 

“You love me. Seriously, that’s totally classic stuff. Also, who says jamming anymore, drunk or sober?”

 

Quinn pursed her lips. “I’m leaving now.”

 

“Aw, you know I’m just messing around. Hey, come on, kiddo, where are you going? Come on, why don’t you want to hang out with me?” Franny pouted a lip through her smirk.

 

She shrugged. “It’s a nice day out. Think I’m gonna go for a bike ride.”

 

Franny continued to fake whine. “You don’t like me anymore.”

 

“Pretty much.” She winked and started in the direction of the garage.

 

Franny watched after her with a shake of the head and a fond grin. Just before Quinn disappeared into the next room, she turned and stuck her tongue out playfully. The elder of the pair called after her, “Okay, bye, love you too!”

 

Quinn entered the garage through the door in the mudroom and listened as the quiet slam of the door closing echoed once, and then twice throughout the exposed beams of the room. She smiled. She hadn’t gone for a bike ride since school started, and it was kind of nice to be able to go back to the days when she could just look outside, see the sun shining, see what a beautiful day it was, hop on her bike, and go out and be a part of it.

 

She checked both of the bike’s tires, since it had been so long since she last took it out, and pumped a little more air into each of them. She flipped the kickstand up with the rubber toe of her converse and swung her leg up and over so that she could situate herself on the seat. She pushed herself out of the garage, coasted down the slope of the driveway, and was off.

 

She had always loved bike rides. She had a theory that she had always appreciated the ability to ride a bike more due to the fact that it had taken her nearly two years longer than all of her friends to learn; she fell off the first time her dad tried to teach her and gave up for an unreasonable amount of time, so by the time she managed to get back on the mechanical horse, it was that much better, and never stopped being. The light strain on her calves from pushing on the pedals, the breeze in her hair, the rush of speeding down the street, it was one of Quinn’s favorite feelings.

 

She wheeled around the generally empty and quiet streets of her neighborhood until she came to the sign she was waiting for and turned off onto the bike path. It had always been her favorite place to go on her bicycle. Everywhere she looked, she was surrounded by foliage; the tall grass came up to her elbows, the trees grew in beautiful, uneven patches along the side of the path; and flowers covered everything. On nice days the sunlight would shine down in the most gorgeous blotchy rays, and it would create little halos around every leaf and every petal.

 

She wasn’t surprised when she saw a figure approaching a little ways down the path – most likely a runner. She had actually been rather surprised that she hadn’t encountered anyone as of yet. It was the perfect day to be out and about.

 

She stood on the pedals and pushed a bit harder to keep her momentum when she hit a slight incline.

 

The figure drew a little closer, and Quinn decided that it was a girl based on the ponytail that swung around behind their head and the shape of their body.

 

The path leveled out again, so she paused pedaling and glided, just listening to the rhythmic clicking of the gears.

 

The distance closed a little further between Quinn and the girl. Quinn could make out that the girl was a brunette, and she could see the basic colors of the clothes the girl was wearing: a powder pink tank top that covered her torso, light yellow cotton short-shorts on the bottom, bright white running sneakers. She looked like pink lemonade.

 

Quinn pulled on the brakes as the path dipped beneath her.

 

The girl had a black band around the bicep of her right arm that carried some sort of mp3 player. The grace with which she ran showed that she was in very good shape; she was a natural mover. The space between her and Quinn started to dissipate.

 

She kept coming closer, and the girl started looking familiar to Quinn. Wait a minute, Quinn knew that tan skin. She knew that shorter-than-average physique.

 

She recognized that dancer posture.

 

Her bike kept rolling.

 

It was a very distinctive nose.

 

The girl kept running towards her. Adrenaline started to course through her limbs, but it centralized in her chest.

 

Oh god, Quinn could not deal with this. Crap. Not now. Not today. Shit, there was nowhere to hide. They were closing in on each other.

 

They were about to pass each other. Quinn kept pedaling, hoping that they might get by each other without a word, without a look, even. But wait, the path wasn’t wide enough for the both of them there. Quinn’s heart beat a little faster.

 

They were practically on top of each other.

 

Quinn panicked; she veered sharply as they came shoulder to shoulder. A loud gasp escaped her lips when her front tire went off the path and scraped the side of the cement. She tried to keep herself upright, but suddenly balance was a foreign concept, and she toppled over onto the ground with an unrecognizable noise of alarm and then pain.

 

She was all but face down in the dirt by the bike path, half covered by her titanium steed. She was more than content to lie there if it meant that the cause of her accident would keep running and not notice who she was.

 

“Quinn?”

 

Of course, she had no such luck.

 

Maybe if she just played dead… “Quinn Fabray? That is you, isn’t it?” She felt the weight of her bike lifted off of her battered legs. “Oh my god, you’re bleeding! Are you all right? No, of course you’re not. I’m so sorry. If I’d just been paying attention… I really do need to watch where I’m going. Or perhaps if my music had been at a lower volume I could have heard you coming, and-”

 

“Berry!” Rachel’s jaw snapped shut and she brought her focus back to the reason behind her rant. She didn’t say anything, so Quinn continued. “Look, I’m fine, okay? Just, go finish your run or whatever.” Quinn wished she were anywhere else. Somewhere less awkward, like a public restroom, or health class, or middle school.

 

“I can’t just leave you here, not in good conscience. You’re obviously injured. Please, let me help you.” She offered a hand, which Quinn glared at.

 

“I’m fine. I don’t need your help.” She tried to stand on her own to prove her point. She hadn’t yet taken a moment to inspect her wounds herself. There was a long, deep gash on her right knee that was steadily leaking tracks of blood down her shin. The leg nearly gave out when she tried to put weight on it.

 

Rachel caught her by the waist, and once she was stabilized, placed a hand on her hip authoritively. “I beg to differ.”

 

Quinn wanted to argue with her. She really, really wanted to leave this moment behind and forget about it forever. She really, really didn’t want Rachel Berry, of all people, helping her hobble around the bike path.

 

She tried to pick her bike up off of its side on the ground and use it to keep herself upright. She found it was actually more difficult to balance on her good leg while trying to balance a two-wheeled contraption at the same time. She struggled for a minute, tried to hop away from the situation on the ball of the foot she could use, but after she moved a total of two feet down the path, she lost her grip on the bicycle and watched helplessly as it collapsed again; she stared at it, her arms still half stretched out from her attempt to catch it, before she sighed in defeat and let herself crash back onto her butt in the grass with a “hmph.” These were not circumstances Quinn ever wanted to find herself in.

 

“Are you going to let me help you now?”

 

Quinn stared up at Rachel; she was sure she looked like a pouting six year-old. She contemplated refusing. If she was stubborn enough, eventually Rachel would just go away, right?

 

But did Quinn really want her to go away? If Rachel went, she would be all alone. She could barely limp three steps without either having to cease movement due to the pain in her knee or tumbling to the earth.

 

Rachel looked at her with big, honest eyes and offered her hand again. Quinn pushed herself up awkwardly, but without assistance. She stumbled forward into the tiny body before her and steadied herself on Rachel’s shoulders. For her part, Rachel did her best to catch her. She braced her knees and placed what she hoped was a calming hand on the blonde’s hip.

 

Quinn cleared her throat and exuded a small grunt that sounded suspiciously like a “thank you.”

 

The ghost of a smile appeared on Rachel’s lips. Her eyes dropped briefly to the cement just to the left of her running shoes. “Don’t worry, I’ve got you. Here, just put your arm around me. I’ll push your bike, and you just try and stay standing, okay? We’ll go as slow as you need.”

 

They traveled in silence for a while. Rachel took slow, even steps as Quinn shuffled along one-footed at her side.

 

Quinn turned her head to eye the girl who was holding her up. Her arm was strong and firm around Quinn’s waist, and somehow she managed to push the bike with one hand as they crawled down the path at a snail’s pace. She shouldn’t have been here. It definitely should not have been Rachel Fucking Berry supporting her weight and helping her hop her way back home.

 

The sun beat down on their backs, and Quinn’s hand burned where her palm had skinned the cement. Perspiration condensed on her brow from the effort of moving on only one foot. Thoughts of all the reasons Rachel Berry shouldn’t have been helping her swam and criss-crossed through her mind; all of the reasons Rachel should have just kept running. She couldn’t take the heat. She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand.

 

“Why are you doing this?”

 

Rachel turned questioning eyes on the blonde. “Why am I escorting you home? When you can’t even take a step by yourself? Let’s think…” She gave a light smirk.

 

Quinn rolled her eyes, almost playfully. “Seriously though. I’ve been awful to you. I’ve made an ass out of myself being mean to you. You could have easily pretended not to see me on the ground and kept on your merry jogging way. I just… I don’t understand why you’re doing this nice thing for me when I spent half a year hoping you’d choke on your vegan pizza because I thought you were flirting with my boyfriend. Because he was flirting with you. I was terrible, and you should be running for the hills, but instead you’re practically carrying me home. I just don’t understand why.”

 

Rachel didn’t say anything for a while, and Quinn started to feel foolish. She was about to say something to the effect of “Never mind, forget I said anything,” when Rachel finally piped up.

 

“That’s just the kind of person I am.” Quinn raised an inquiring eyebrow, so she elaborated. “I’m not the kind of person to be spiteful towards someone over a few unkind words. I grew up with two gay dads. They always taught me that when kids were mean, it was because they didn’t know any better. Hating you for throwing a slushy on my head isn’t going to make me feel any better. I get that you were upset because you thought I liked Finn. I thought so too. You thought I was moving in on your man, so you turned into a playground bully. I get it. And if you want me to be mad at you, I can use my stern voice and lecture you until we get back to your house, but we were both in the wrong here, and you’re injured, so no matter how you’ve treated me, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I didn’t get you to safety. I’m not holding a grudge against you. I don’t hate you for this past year. It’s just… the kind of person I am.”

 

Quinn stared at her with her mouth slightly open and her breath trapped in her throat as they continued to amble slowly onward. A rush of… something went to her chest, and she wasn’t sure whether she wanted to cry or smile.

 

She blinked twice and grinned once, and they kept on in silence yet again.

 

They neared the end of the bike path and Quinn felt the need to say anything rise in her throat like bile. “So… you run?” Lame. So lame.

 

Rachel perked up. “Oh yes. My fathers got me an elliptical for my birthday this year, so I use that to work out on school days, but during the summer, when the sun is shining like this, I like to be able to get my exercise outside.

 

Quinn nodded. “I get that.” They were quiet for a moment and she took a deep breath. “Listen, Berry… Rachel. I want to apologize. I’m really sorry for the way I’ve been acting towards you. We’re in glee together now, there’s no reason we can’t be civil to each other. It’s tiring, hating people.”

 

Rachel looked pensive. “It’s like this book my father gave me says. ‘If there is not peace, then there will be a revolution.’”

 

Quinn tilted her head to the side a bit. “ All Quiet on the Western Front ? You never struck me as a war book type.”

 

Rachel’s eyes twinkled. “Really? You never struck me as a book type.”

 

They both chuckled. Quinn found it was actually sort of nice to be able to laugh at her own expense. “Okay, don’t tell anyone I said this, but for your information, I am secretly a giant bookworm.” She raised her eyebrows in a so-there kind of manner.

 

“You know, I can actually totally see that.”

 

Quinn dipped her head once. “Yeah… Listen. If you want Finn, you should go for it. He and I are done, so… And I know I yelled at you last night, but... I won’t do anything, if you go out with him. I know you don’t need my permission, or anything, but for what it’s worth, it’s fine with me. I’m okay with it.” Rambling. Very nicely done.

 

“Thank you. But I don’t think I’m going to go there.”

 

Oh. Good. Wait, what?

 

“Wait, what? Why?”

 

Rachel bit her lip. “Can we talk about this?” Quinn shrugged. Rachel stared into her eyes for several moments before she pressed on. “Well, for starters, when we kissed, I didn’t feel anything. And second, I hate cheaters. I really hate that I’m the reason he became a cheater, but on the other hand, he did make that choice on his own. Most of all, though, I think that I liked the idea of him more than I liked him . Plus I happen to know that he’s still totally in love with you, and I don’t want to get in the middle of that again.”

 

Quinn took it all in. “Oh… Well, believe me; you’re not getting in the middle of anything this time. I’m taking a break from boys for a while. There’s more to life than dating, right?”

 

“Right!” She giggled.

 

Both girls smiled to themselves, and this time when the quiet fell over them, it was almost companionable.

 

At last, they reached the Fabray residence. Neither of them knew quite what to say at that point. After a minute, Quinn stuck her hand out. “So, truce?”

 

Rachel looked at the outstretched hand and shook her head lightly. Quinn’s heart started to sink until the shorter girl smiled. “I’ll do you one better.” And before Quinn knew what was happening, Rachel stepped into her personal space and hugged her. Quinn swore she heard a soft rush of air, almost like a relieved breath, when she brought her arms up to lightly pat the brunette on the back. Quinn had never been much good at hugs, but her body relaxed into the embrace before her mind could react.

 

When Rachel backed away, her eyes were closed. “I’m sorry, I usually ask people, or at least warn them, before I just go and hug them like that.”

 

“Oh, um, don’t worry about it.”

 

She started up her driveway with a small wave to Rachel. She stopped just as quickly at the girl’s suddenly small voice. “Quinn?”

 

She waited expectantly. “Yeah?”

 

“So… we can be friends?” Rachel looked vulnerable all of a sudden. Her eyes were strongly fixated on the grass in front of her whiter-than-white running shoes.

 

Quinn gazed at her with a curiosity she wasn’t used to. She was nodding before the words could choke their way out.

 

“Yeah. We can be friends.”

Chapter Text

“Hey sweet potato, got everything ready for your party?”

 

“Well, I would hardly call it a party, Dad; it’s really more of a small get-together with a group of my peers. But yes, I do think all of the preparations are in place.” Hiram smiled at his daughter and shook his head good-naturedly. He started to walk away when she called after him, “And let me just remind you that while sweet potato is an adorable nickname,” her voice grew louder and more hurried as he continued on his path down the hallway, “under no circumstances are you to call me that once people start getting here!”

 

Rachel pursed her lips as he waved at her behind his back with a chuckle. “Yeah, yeah, sure thing.” He set off down the stairs at the end of the hall with a devious smirk.

 

Rachel huffed and continued talking, now to herself. “And now he’s off thinking of a million other embarrassing terms of endearment for me. Excellent.”

 

Leroy walked through the door just behind her and dropped a hand on her shoulder, halting her unintelligible grumbling. “Hey there, pumpkin. Shouldn’t you be getting ready for your party?”

 

“Everything should be good to go already.” She ticked everything off on her mental checklist again and nodded in confirmation. “Um, it’s not really a party , though.”

 

“What? Sure it is!” He waved her off. “All of your friends are coming over, we’re barbecuing, we’ll blast some music…” he shrugged, looking rather pleased with himself, “sounds like a party to me.” Leroy rested a big, comforting hand on Rachel’s shoulder and planted a kiss on the top of her head. “Now come on downstairs, your guests will be here any minute.”

 

Rachel followed her dads’ path down to the first floor and out into the back yard. The round table on the patio was covered with bowls of various chips, two pitchers of diet soda, and a pot of homemade salsa. Hiram had set up speakers so that their sound system could play outdoors. The grill was all set to be fired up at any moment and packages of burgers (both veggie and beef) and hot dogs (vegan alternatives included) were at the ready.

 

Though she would never, ever admit it, Rachel was more excited about this little shindig than she had been about anything in a great deal of time. It wasn’t often that people her own age spent their free time at her house without being forced by their parents or hers. For the first time in a long time, they were actually opting to hang out with her willingly.

 

Granted, only four of the glee clubbers had actually RSVP’d, but she’d heard from several little songbirds that those who hadn’t formally responded to the invitation were saying that they’d probably end up showing anyway. Finn, Mercedes, and Kurt had all promised to be there, along with Tina, who was bound to bring Artie. She knew Puck would come, if only out of loyalty as her longest standing friend. She had heard through the grapevine that the neighborhood pick-up game had gotten called off, so assuming they didn’t have anything better to do alternatively, Matt and Mike would make their way over out of polite obligation.

 

The only question as to Rachel’s guests was about the potential attendance of the unholy trinity. She had extended an invitation to the trio because even though they weren’t always on the best of terms, the three cheerleaders were in glee, and Rachel hoped that the common ground and her newfound friendliness with Quinn might incite an appearance from them. She hadn’t seen nor heard from Quinn since they day of her bike accident, but she was hopeful that she might still be compelled to at least drop by.

 

Regardless, for once, a semi-large group of people who somewhat liked her as a person was knowingly coming to a social event hosted by her, and she was almost vibrating with giddiness.

 

She was all decked out in her best summer dress for the occasion. It was a flowy, thin-strapped, light blue thing with large white polka dots and cute little pockets in the front at her hips. Her hair was tied back in a loose ponytail to keep it off of her neck against the heat.

 

Rachel’s eyes positively sparkled as she surveyed her back yard one last time before her guests began arriving. The sun shone high in the sky with hardly a wisp of a cloud to threaten its rays. The grass was emerald green and trimmed to look like an image from a gardening magazine. Everything was perfect.

 

Not long after, her friends and fellow glee clubbers finally began to trickle in the front door. Rachel greeted them as they came in and led them out to the back, where they were introduced to her dads, who had begun cooking the barbeque items and who were officially banned from saying anything other than “hello” and “nice to meet you” after pulling nicknames like “our little Jelly Bean,” “Minnie Mouse,” “RaRa,” and “Baby Bug.”

 

First to arrive were Kurt and Mercedes. They each met her with a hug and knew the open layout of the first floor of her house well enough from the few times they’d hung out there to find their way to the sliding door in the kitchen that led to the back lawn.

 

Finn showed next with his hands shoved deep down in his pockets and his shoulders bunched up so that they nearly met his ears. He let Rachel guide him out to the patio. He gave everyone an awkward smile and a nod before he almost immediately gravitated to the familiarity of the food table.

 

Next to come was Puck, who was as at ease as ever. He walked straight through the house without a second thought. He said hello to both of the Berry men and shook their hands amicably before he went to join Finn by the Doritos. The taller boy looked a good deal less uncomfortable with the presence of one of his jock pals at the gathering.

 

Tina arrived a little while later, pushing Artie in his wheelchair. They both smiled kindly at Rachel and followed her to the back yard, where they all chatted easily for a while with Kurt and Mercedes about musical inspirations and the like.

 

Matt and Mike popped in just as Finn and Puck produced a frisbee and proposed a game of ultimate. Artie sat out for obvious reasons, and Tina chose to sit out with him, so there were an uneven number of people; being a gracious host, Rachel told everyone she would take the bench on this one.

 

Rachel’s fathers finished grilling and loaded the steaming burgers and hot dogs onto a platter before they bid the kids a good time and headed inside so as to ease some of the awkward tension that accompanied parents’ presence at a teenage party. They were hesitant at first to leave the kids alone, but they decided that they seemed like a good, nice bunch, and they figured with all the sunlight and neighbors around that they couldn’t get into too much trouble unsupervised.

 

Puck watched their heels as the men disappeared into the house. As soon as the sliding door closed with a thud behind them, he whipped a deck of cards out of his pocket and waved it in his hand, fanning himself, with a gleam in his eye. “Alright, now it’s a party! I hope everyone brought their wallets. We’re playing Texas hold ‘em, and I’m feeling lucky. Get ready to fork over some cash!”

 

Rachel looked at him with amused disbelief. “Noah!”

 

He shrugged and put on his best innocent smile. “What? Oh, come on, it’ll be fun. A little friendly competition never hurt anyone.”

 

She opened her mouth to counter his words, but she ended up just sighing in defeat. “I… fine. But don’t you expect me to participate.”

 

Puck’s grin turned vainglorious. “Wouldn’t dream of it, babe. Just crank the music, and you can dominate the conversation while the rest of us play.”

 

“Ha ha,” sarcasm fell from her lips with the fake laugh, even though she knew that that was probably what would happen. She walked over to the speaker and turned the dial so that the Strokes song that was playing rose in volume. She bobbed her head to the tune as she made her way back to the group.

 

Puck started dealing the cards as Rachel sat across from him in the space between Tina and Mercedes. Finn glanced at her over his cards. “I didn’t know you knew the Strokes.” His eyebrows crinkled together in surprise.

 

She cocked her head self-righteously at his comment as the others began to play. “That’s a common misconception about me. I’m much more vocal about my appreciation for the clearly superior genre of Broadway musical songs, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know of, or even like, other types of music. As it so happens, one of my favorite groups is the band of sisters known as HAIM, whose music falls mostly under the category of indie and pop rock. My daddy has a whole shelf dedicated to the alternative rock portion of his record collection. Plus, it’s important as a performer to be familiar with any kind of music that could be thrown my way.”

 

Finn blinked. “Oh. Right, of course.” He hunkered down a little and focused his eyes on the cards in his hands again, leaving the job of conversing with Rachel to anyone else.

 

After several moments filled with only the sound of the poker game, Tina struck everyone when she was the one to speak up and lift the blanket of quiet that had settled over the collection of mismatched teens. All she did was ask if anyone had started back-to-school shopping yet, but one could almost hear a collective sigh escape the group’s mouths as the proverbial ice was broken.

 

From that point, everyone around the table seemed more at ease. Tina moved her seat to Artie’s lap, Kurt gave up trying to out-stare Puck over the pile of one dollar bills and opted instead to just look over Mercedes’ shoulder and whispered advice in her ear, Puck and Finn not-so-playfully punched each other in the arm when the other won, and everyone smiled easily as dialogue flowed and jokes were cracked. They all munched absentmindedly on the food spread out for them and sipped at their drinks.

 

Just as the not-party was getting into full swing, the sound of familiar voices could be heard over the fence that enclosed the Berrys’ back yard.

 

“Are we even sure this is the right place? This house looks way too normal to be the cave where Stubbles lays her head.”

 

“Wait, I thought we were calling her Rachel, now.”

 

“We are, Britt. And this is the address that was in the email, so…”

 

Rachel was up and running toward the gate in a heartbeat. They actually came!

 

“Should we ring the doorbell, or…?”

 

Rachel pushed the gate open with a flourish and beamed unambiguously at the girls who shrugged at each other.  They all started and turned to look at her when Rachel announced gleefully, “No need, I heard you coming. You can come right to the back yard. Everyone’s already here.”

 

Without a second glance, Santana strutted past her and joined the party. Brittany waved brightly at Rachel and thanked her for inviting them before she followed Santana through the gate.

 

Rachel watched as the two greeted and seamlessly meshed with the boys and girls gathered around their card game with an ardent smile. As haughty as Santana pretended to be, when she let herself loosen up, her affection for each of the members of the New Directions was obvious.

 

Soft footsteps padded almost noiselessly on the grass behind her, but Rachel’s keen ears picked up on the sound, and she turned back to face the third of the late-coming girls.

 

Rachel’s eyebrows raised just a fraction of a centimeter when she took in the sight of the girl before her. The Quinn in front of her eyes was a Quinn she didn’t entirely recognize; it was slightly disconcerting to see the blonde in clothes that weren’t her Cheerios uniform, though not necessarily in a bad way. Quinn looked more relaxed in her casual attire than she ever did at school. But maybe that was the point. She wore a pair of scuffed Chucks on her feet, and the endless expanse of toned leg from her ankle on was bare until it met the frayed edge of cut-off jean shorts mid-thigh; her Cold War Kids band t-shirt rode up over her hip bone as she shifted a large plate in her hands. Her hair hung in loose waves around her shoulders. She smiled almost shyly and licked her lips. “Um, hey.”

 

Rachel returned the grin with a little rose in her cheeks. “Hi. I’m really glad you could make it. All of you, I mean.”

 

“Me too, actually.” She remembered the dish in her hands. “Uh, my mom told me I couldn’t show up empty handed, so…” Quinn handed the plate to Rachel. “They’re cookies. The no-bake kind. I told my mom you were vegan, and this was the only recipe she had that didn’t use eggs and stuff. They’re actually pretty good, though. Very peanut butter-y.”

 

Rachel took the plate off of Quinn’s hands in both of her own. The cookies did smell appetizing. “So I gather these are the reason you’re showing up so late?”

 

Quinn scoffed silently. “ Fashionably late. And no, actually, I’m not late because I was busy making cookies. The three of us just got back from Coach Sylvester’s cheerleading camp, ” She inserted emphatic air quotes, “which basically means we spent the last two weeks sleeping on the football field and cartwheeling until we threw up. And then cartwheeling some more. I literally just got home an hour ago. Coming to your little hootenanny was kind of a last minute decision.”

 

“Oh, well in that case, I am just honored that you’ve decided to spend your first afternoon of freedom at my – wait, hootenanny ?”

 

Both girls cracked up laughing. “One of my better word choices, I think,” Quinn said through punctuated chuckles.

 

When they both caught their breath again, Rachel gestured to the gate with the plate of no-bakes. “So, would you care to actually join this hootenanny?”

 

“When we’re having so much fun at our own private party? Psh.” She grinned and winked before she motioned for Rachel to lead the way.

 

The girls entered the yard to find the guys throwing the frisbee around again, this time joined by a delighted Brittany, Artie and Tina apparently having a soda-chugging contest (Tina was winning by a landslide), Kurt and Mercedes not-so surreptitiously passing judgment on everyone’s outfits, Puck with his forehead flat on the table, and Santana laughing maniacally while counting a rather large stack of dollar bills.

 

The two girls on the edge of the scene broke out into a new fit of laughter, one because she could only imagine how her friend’s antics could have landed her that much cash in that little time, and the other because for a group of people who would, under normal circumstances, never be seen within a fifty-foot radius of each other, they all just seemed to fit so perfectly and it brought her so much joy she had to blink a few tears away.

 

They glanced at each other sideways and out of nowhere Rachel’s memory was jogged that she was supposed to be a hostess. She led Quinn over to where all of the food was located and poured herself a cup of soda while she was there. “So! With the addition of your cookies, we also have a variety of chips, although I think Finn may have worked his way through all of the Doritos already… we’ve got plenty of soda – all diet, of course – and both hot dogs and burgers. Except by the looks of it, all that’s left is the vegan hot dogs and a veggie burger. The guys made quick work of the grilled foods, apparently.” She raised her voice so that it caught the attention of the boys about whom she was speaking.

 

Finn looked over and pretended to just notice that Quinn had gotten there. He jogged over to the two girls and accidentally dunked his hand into the bowl of salsa. He pulled it out immediately and shook his hand out, spraying both girls. “Oh! Sorry! Crap.” He wiped his dripping hand on his shorts desperately.

 

Rachel smiled graciously. “It’s fine. I’ll just go get some napkins.” She bustled off towards the sliding door to fetch them.

 

Finn watched her go for a moment before he looked back at the blonde with a hopeful grin. “Hey, Quinn.”

 

Quinn closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she turned back to him, the strain on her lips was less of a smile and more of a grimace. “Look, Finn, I don’t know if you remember that I broke up with you because you cheated on me, but it is for those specific reasons that I do not want to talk to you. Okay?” His face fell and he nodded. She stared at him with quirked eyebrows, but he didn’t seem to be getting the message. She huffed and got to the point. “Walk away now, Finn.”

 

His mouth fell open a bit at her straight forwardness, but he turned and lumbered back over to the rest of the crowd. At that moment, Rachel made her way back over to the table with a handful of green paper napkins. She took in Finn’s disconcerted expression and Quinn’s decidedly down-turned mouth. “Everything okay there?”

 

Quinn’s lips quirked up determinedly. “Yeah, I think we all have an understanding.”

 

Rachel scrutinized her for a moment. “Well, okay then.” She set the napkins down on the table and returned to the subject of Quinn’s food. “So, again, it looks like the only options left are vegan hot dogs, which are a lot better than you would think, and the one veggie burger. Sorry we don’t have any more to offer you.”

 

Quinn shrugged, her hands in her pockets. “I guess that’s just what I get for showing up late to a party that Puck and Finn were invited to. I’ll take that veggie burger, though. It smells pretty good.”

 

Rachel served up the sandwich on a paper plate. “There you go; one veggie burger, cooked to perfection.”

 

“Well, I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

 

Rachel’s cheeks pinked and she directed her gaze toward her feet. When she looked back up, she saw Quinn appraising her with an amused look on her face. She suddenly found her mind blank of anything to say. She wracked her brain for something to talk about. “So, how has your summer been so far? I see your knee recovered. I hope your bicycle is okay, too. I mean, I assume, since you were able to go off to cheerleading camp, that everything is just tip-top in that area.”

 

“Oh, yeah, I’ve been good. Yeah, my sister wrapped my knee up as soon as I got home that day, and I was good to go a week later.” She popped a potato chip in her mouth with an almost self-satisfied smile before she returned to a more neutral expression. “But other than Sylvester’s boot camp and that oh so exciting afternoon, my summer’s been… pretty boring. All of my friends actually have social lives all of a sudden, so half of the time I feel like I’m third-wheeling it, which is… weird, and… stupid. It kind of sucks not dating anyone, you know?”

 

Rachel focused her eyes on the tortilla chip she was picking the salt off of. She raised her eyebrows in a somewhat dejected manner and went to dip the chip in the pot of salsa before she remembered why she had run off for napkins and thought better of it. “Yeah… I do.”

 

It was kind of a sore subject.

 

Quinn saw the pain in Rachel’s eyes, as well as how hard she tried to cover it up. “Oh, crap, sorry. God, that was stupid, I’m sorry.”

 

Rachel looked up through her eyelashes at the girl beside her. An unexpected sincerity came with the blonde’s apology, and it eased the grip of the fist around her heart just a little bit. “No, don’t… It’s fine, don’t worry about it.”

 

Quinn nodded. “Okay.” Her voice was softer than it had been with Rachel since they’d met. Things suddenly seemed too heavy for a summer barbeque-hootenanny-gathering-party-get-together-thing; she lightened up her voice considerably in an attempt to lift the mood. “Well, since you and I are both so single and bitter, and we’re friends now, maybe we could hang out sometime.”

 

Rachel brightened and giggled. “We can braid each other’s hair and dish about how much we hate being on the market.”

 

Quinn laughed along with her. “Until we’re blue in the face.”

 


 

Time moved forward, and the party went on.

 

The boys, and Tina, devoured the remaining food. Santana and Brittany disappeared for a good half hour, though no one answered directly when Artie inquired as to their whereabouts. Puck just waggled his eyebrows. After a somewhat tame round of Never Have I Ever, the ultimate frisbee game was rekindled, and everyone was surprised by the enthusiasm of one Quinn Fabray. When asked about it, she simply stated, “Yeah, I love frisbee. I used to play with my dad and my sister a lot. I’m definitely going to play on a team in college.”

 

As the sun started to sink in the sky, a sweet, albeit very, very cheesy (and they all knew it) New Directions moment occurred when Don’t Stop Believin’ came over the speakers and they belted it out like it was their anthem. And it sort of was.

 

When the horizon tinged pink, everybody started to make their way home. Rachel beamed at all of them as they said their goodbyes. Even Santana managed an eyebrow quirk and a half-smile, and Puck gave her a less than innocent wink, as per usual.

 

Quinn was the last to leave, and the blonde paused before she exited through the gate in the fence. Her eyes danced as she placed a cautious hand on the shorter girl’s shoulder. She took a breath and said matter-of-factly, “You threw a good party, Berry,” before she scurried off into the impending darkness.

 

And for the first time that day, Rachel allowed herself to believe that yes, perhaps she had.

Chapter Text

First days of school had never been particularly extraordinary for Quinn. Yes, it was the day she finally let herself wear the new outfits she’d bought on her back-to-school shopping excursions; yes, her mother always took the traditional exasperated photo of her with her bag already over her shoulder and her foot halfway out the door with an appeasing smile adorning her face; but following Judy’s minor procession, once she was off, it was just another day. Just another collection of hours spent passing the time until she could come back home and ready herself to go out the next day and do it all over again. No, first days of school were nothing special in the eyes of Quinn Fabray, and the inaugural day of her sophomore year, it seemed, was no exception.

 

Quinn woke up, exactly two minutes before her alarm clock was set to go off, to the sound of the front door slamming shut as her father left for work, as he did every morning, without saying goodbye. He had never been the most present father, a fact made especially apparent in the mornings at home, when only one of his two morning cups of coffee had been put away and all of the tasks that needed completing at work that day were buzzing around in his ears.

 

She opened her eyes but remained in a state between conscious and not; she lay on her back in bed, completely still, mind blank. She stayed under the covers, stared up at the clusters on the ceiling, and listened to the sounds of the movements of the house until her mom made the hike up the stairs to rap on her door and tell her to get moving. After she mentally braced herself to get up and face the world, she huffed a breath and swung her legs over the side of the bed. She wiggled her toes on the floor for a moment before she finally accepted that she would have to start using her energy for the day and stood up. She lumbered precariously into the bathroom, narrowly avoiding stubbing her toes along the way.

 

That was another thing about first days of school: when you’ve gotten so used to sleeping in every day over the summer, getting up for class is a real bitch.

 

Once she’d washed her face and brushed her teeth and taken care of the rest of her morning ritual, she strode back into her bedroom, far more gracefully than when she’d left it, and stuck her hands on her hips as she stared into her closet. Hanging in the front on a padded hanger was her uniform. She wasn’t entirely sure if she was relieved that being on the Cheerios and already having a required school day outfit meant she was spared the anxiety of picking out an elaborate outfit for the first day back, even if her mom had taken her shopping for new clothes anyway.

 

When she had gotten herself dressed and ready, she gave herself a once over in the mirror and hesitated before she grabbed her favorite pair of striped shorts and a random t-shirt to change into once school was over.

 

Her Cheerios uniform was something she cherished, because it gave her a sense of purpose and belonging; it was proof to the world that Quinn belonged in a group, that she had something in her life that meant something. At least, that was how she felt about it before she put it on. Despite all of the power and unity that came along with the uniform, it had never quite been comfortable. It wasn’t that the material was scratchy or the waistband didn’t fit right, it was more a sense of disconnect with the garment. Quinn knew what being a Cheerio meant, and there were aspects of the role she had to play that just didn’t sit well with her. The uniform was a status symbol at school more than anything. Quinn simply couldn’t say if she truly wanted to bear a label that carried that much weight.

 

She absent-mindedly scrutinized herself in the mirror until she shook her head and conceded to herself that it was getting late and she needed to get her ass in gear. After she quickly made sure she had everything, she pulled her door open and bounded down the stairs toward the glorious smell of frying bacon.

 

Once she was dropped off at school, the day went by almost without notice. As humdrum as first days usually were, this one was particularly uneventful. Most of her classes were with the same groups of people as last year, and only one of the teachers made the kids play a name game before she passed out a syllabus for the class and left them to themselves; most of the so-called educators merely took attendance and told them not to make too much noise.

 

Quinn ended up spending most of the day with her nose lost in the spine of To Kill A Mockingbird . It was also one of those books she loved so dearly, because, no matter how many times she read it, she always came away with something new to wallow in wonder over. She had begun her fifth reading of the book that morning at the breakfast table. She was sure she’d be finished by the time she went to bed.

 

She spend a short amount of time chatting with Brittany and Santana, but the two had a game of hangman going, and based on the smirk that split Santana’s face, she really didn’t think it was a round she’d want to join in on. She considered striking up conversation with some of the other kids, but she knew that all the guys would want to talk about would be the videogames they spent their summers playing, and she reminded herself that she was a Cheerio, and therefore she couldn’t interact with just anyone. She was an elite; it was important for her reputation that she surround herself with other elites.

 

At lunch, she sat with the usual crowd of cheerleaders and football players. Mike, Matt, and Finn talked excitedly about classic rock songs and dance moves for a number they were thinking of doing for glee club when it started up again. Puck had decided to sit with all of the rest of the lee clubbers at their own table. Quinn felt surprisingly isolated within her group of peers. She was never very close to any of the other cheerleaders, and Brittany and Santana didn’t make their way into the cafeteria until there were only fifteen minutes left in the lunch period, so Quinn passed the time people-watching.

 

She watched the people around her – people she had known forever – interact with each other. She was mildly surprised when she realized that she wasn’t surprised at herself for not saying anything. These were the people she considered herself friendly with, but the inclination to add her own words to the conversations being exchanged wasn’t there. She was not so much a wall-flower as she was a seat-body. She filled her space at the table and looked the part, but she acted only as an observer.

 

She looked over her shoulder to the "gleek table," as it was known. It appeared as though Puck was telling a story, or maybe it was a joke; everyone who sat around him was laughing wildly. A few of them were dabbing at their eyes, they were laughing so hard, and Rachel had her head thrown back so far that Quinn worried for just a minute that her chair might tip over. She instantly and unexpectedly wished she could have been over there with them. With the other glee kids, it was so much easier. When they all sat in the choir room together, she could just sit in her chair, doodle and scribble words in her notebook, and listen to the others talk without feeling as though she wasn't included. She found herself bearing a soft grin as she saw them begin to wind down from their hysterics.

 

Her home-packed lunch found its way into the trash.

 

Quinn's afternoon classes passed much as the morning ones did. Everyone was still trapped in a summer mindset, so the students were in no mood to learn (not that they ever were, but especially so that day), and the teachers were in no way dead set on teaching; from the looks of it, most of the teachers spent their afternoons struggling with Tetris on their computers.

 

That final bell couldn't have come soon enough. By the time 3 o'clock rolled around, Quinn was more than ready to book it out of those constricting hallways back to freedom. Cheerios didn't officially start until the next week, after all the newbies tried out and the weakest links ran home crying, and glee wouldn't have its first meeting until after that, so she still had a few afternoons left to do with what she pleased. So, after a quick stop at her locker - more to make sure she remembered her combination than anything - she strode out the double doors at the front of the school with a natural air of Fabray superiority. There were people around, after all.

 

Quinn walked through the parking lot at a meandering pace. She weaved through the maze of cars and slipped a pair of Ray Bans onto her face as she eyed the other students walking around her. Most bounded over to the long line of big, yellow school buses or across to the student parking lot to drive themselves home. The mass of pavement was suddenly a hive overflowing with teenagers and their keepers all hustling and bustling to get themselves home or to work, wherever it was they went when school got out.

 

It was for that reason only that Quinn saw Rachel Berry that afternoon; Rachel was the only person around not moving in the sea of students and teachers alike that surged its tides away from the building. The brunette sat alone on a bench off to the side of the front entrance. She had her cell phone to her ear, and although she couldn't hear exactly what was being said, Quinn could see from her expression and body language that Rachel was mildly distraught.

 

She backtracked and waited until Rachel disconnected from the phone call with a huff, containing a bark of laughter when she realized that the twitch of the girl's foot was a result of her fighting the urge to stomp it, before she approached the shorter girl and took a seat on the bench next to her.

 

Quinn bumped Rachel's shoulder with her own as she lifted one corner of her mouth in a sort of half-smile and let one eyebrow wander up into her forehead in a friendly, silent question. "Hey."

 

Rachel turned to her with a soft smile and regarded her with surprisingly bright eyes. "Hi, Quinn. How are you today?"

 

The blonde bounced the question around in her head. "I'm okay. It's been kind of a... blah day. But you know." She nodded at the phone still clasped in Rachel's hands. "Everything okay there?"

 

The sun was warm on her face, and it was a moment before Rachel blinked and remembered that she was supposed to answer. "Oh, yeah. My daddy just called to tell me that he's working late today, and that he can't pick me up from school. I just really don't want to take the bus home. The last time I rode the bus, I had to sit next to some guy who smelled like congealing tuna salad, and the girl sitting behind me thought that her hilarious idea of spitting out her gum in my hair was a regular hoot and a half. She's lucky I managed to rock short hair when my dad had to cut it out."

 

Quinn knew that that last bit was supposed to be funny, but still her eyes grew wide with pity and sadness at the fact that Rachel didn't seem to realize how awful the story really was. Quinn knew from her limited experience with riding the bus that, yes, there was always that one kid who nobody wanted to sit next to because they smelled, but purposely putting gum in someone's hair, especially when one was past the age of five, was strictly mean-spirited. Quinn bit her lip. She had spent all day looking forward to her quiet and solitary afternoon. It was the thought of getting away from all of the meaningless chatter and monotony of school, and the people that came with it, for a couple of hours that had gotten her through those last few periods. But then she thought about Rachel, and how the kids on the bus were bound to treat her; the idea of Rachel walking into school the next day with puffy eyes and a bob because some bitch thought it was funny to stick her gum in her hair was suddenly too much for her. She blew out a long breath through her nose.

 

"Well, we can't have something like that happening again - not when it's grown back so nicely." She plucked her fingers absently over the ends of a few strands that had fallen over Rachel's shoulder. Rachel watched her curiously until her hazel eyes, which really looked more like green in the sunlight, cleared, and she snapped out of it. She consciously kept her eyebrows from furrowing at herself and played it off as coolly as she could manage. "Come on," she stood abruptly, grabbed Rachel's wrist, and started walking, regaining confidence with each step, "you're gonna hang out with me this afternoon. We can finally make good on that promise to spend time with just the two of us."

 

Rachel stumbled as she half jogged to catch up. "O-okay. Can I ask where it is that we're going?" She noticed offhandedly that Quinn hadn't released her grip on her wrist.

 

"Well," Quinn dropped her pace slightly so that she and Rachel could walk side-by-side, "there's this place I like to go sometimes when I don't have anything to do after school and I don't want to go home right away; this little book store over on Market Street. I love it there. It always has that old book smell, which is just... and it's kind of a hole in the wall kind of place, so no one from school or anything is ever there. It's kind of my hideaway, so don't tell anyone about it. It's just kind of... Peaceful, you know?" She stared ahead of her with a ghost of a smile for a minute before she jolted with the realization that not only had she probably just revealed way too much about herself, but she had also done it while practically holding Rachel Berry's hand. She dropped the offending appendage immediately and peered at Rachel out of the corner of her eye to judge whether or not her reputation had just been thrown out with the trash. To her surprise, however, Rachel just gazed at her with a gentle wonder.

 

The walked on in something close to a comfortable silence.

 

As she focused on putting one foot in front of the other, Quinn stared at the sidewalk just in front of her feet and tried not to notice Rachel watching her in her peripheral vision. Cars rushed by on the street beside them, and the sound of tires hushing the pavement whirled around their ears.

 

Quinn directed them around one last corner, and the storefront came into sight. An old wood sign, reminiscent of the olden days’ taverns, creaked gently above the door. The paint was faded and slightly chipped, and it gave it a vintage sort of feeling. The lettering was a tad difficult to make out, but The Annex was still just legible. Though she couldn’t say specifically why, it made sense in Rachel’s mind that Quinn would be so fond of such a place.

 

She pushed the door open, causing the small bell attached to the frame to tinkle quietly, and held it open so Rachel could follow her in. She allowed herself a grin as Rachel stepped over the threshold. It grew exponentially wider when she closed the door behind her and looked over her shoulder to see Rachel gazing around the shop almost reverentially.

 

The place felt old, but not so much in the way that one might fear for the structural stability of the roof or that a wall might cave in; it was more that the store felt as if it held years’ worth of stories and experiences and history. It was a small shop with one main room and a loft that wrapped around the opposite and two adjacent walls. Every inch was covered in shelving, all of which held countless, aged publications. There was a large, but not quite gaudy, chandelier hanging over the center of the room, though it wasn’t lit; that afternoon, the light was provided naturally by the rays of sun that beamed in through the windows and the strings of holiday lights that danced along the tops of the walls near the ceiling.

 

Rachel turned back to face her blonde companion, who had all but melted comfortably into her surroundings and leaned easily over a shiny wood railing, with a twinkle in her eye to match the lights. “Quinn, this place… it’s…”

 

“It’s pretty great, right?”

 

“Yeah, it is…” she shook her head at the floor and laughed at herself, “I was going to say ‘magical.’ It kind of reminds me of the library from Beauty and the Beast , just on a much smaller scale.”

 

Quinn’s head bobbed in return. “I can see that.”

 

Just then, a tall, stooped man with a shock of wild white hair and hazelnut skin appeared from within the stacks. He shuffled, more than walked, and had wrinkles around his eyes that indicated many years of laughter; his face was a kind one. He spotted the two girls just inside the door, and his lips peeled back in a wide grin. “Miss Fabray, is that you I spy over in the biography section? We haven’t seen you in here in weeks, it’s nice of you to remember the little people.” He winked as he ambled to the front of the store. “And you’ve got company,” he blinked in Rachel’s direction, “I suppose there really is a first time for everything. Who is this charming creature?” He took Rachel’s hand in both of his, and Quinn rolled her eyes.

 

“Otis, this is my friend, Rachel. Rachel, this is Otis Williams. He and his wife have owned this place forever. Speaking of, how is Bern?”

 

“Forever and a day, my dear.” Otis’s aged eyes sparkled. “Old Bernadette’s as well as she’s been all her life. She’s busy consulting her ever-elusive muse at the moment, otherwise I know she’d love to come out and see you. As it is, is there anything I can do for either of you lovely ladies?”

 

Quinn glanced at Rachel and said, “I think we’re just going to wander around for a little while.”

 

Otis nodded, eyes studying the brunette whose own eyes couldn’t seem to stay put. “Tell me, what kind of books do you like?”

 

It took a beat of expectant silence for Rachel to realize that the man was speaking to her, and she had the grace to look mildly embarrassed at having been caught not paying attention. She smiled shyly. “I’m not sure. I’ve found that I can at least appreciate most genres of literature.”

 

He almost tutted, but not so in a way that was scolding. It was almost a chuckle, an acceptance of a challenge. “That makes this quest a most difficult one, my dear.”

 

If she was a deer in headlights a moment ago, Rachel figured she was just a lost puppy, now. Her eyebrows knitted. “Quest?”

 

“She’s a singer, if that helps you at all, Oats.” Quinn’s gaze was fixated on her fingernails, and Rachel’s questioning look flashed, unnoticed.

 

At the comment, Otis’s face lit up. A sound of exclamation escaped his lips, and he scurried back toward the stacks, calling over his shoulder for the girls to have a look around, he’d be back in a jiffy.

 

Rachel turned to a nonchalant Quinn. She struggled for words for a moment before she could get her inquiry out. “What… was that all about?” Quinn met her gaze, smirked, and uttered not a word until Rachel’s eyebrows got lost in her bangs.

 

Quinn sighed sarcastically. “But if I told you, then you would know.” The expression on Rachel’s face made her add, “Look, you’ll see soon enough. Don’t worry, it’s nothing bad.”

 

Quinn drifted lazily over to the shelves and picked at the familiar titles. Rachel trailed behind her. She watched as Quinn’s eyes scanned the spines and occasionally ghosted over the more faded letterings with her fingertips.

 

“So what about you?” Rachel queried. Quinn glanced back over her shoulder, so she clarified. “What kind of books do you like?”

 

Quinn paused with her eyes slightly glazed over. “Oh. Um, I don’t know. I guess I’m kind of like you; I can at least appreciate everything.”

 

The girls resumed walking, and when she looked closely at the shelves, once Quinn had passed them, Rachel was pleasantly surprised to find that there was not a speck of dust to be found anywhere. Quinn apparently found a title she wasn’t familiar with, as she plucked it off of the shelf and flipped it around to view the cover. Rachel formed a new question. “Okay, well, do you have a favorite book?” She elongated her stride to match Quinn’s.

 

The girl in question let her face soften. “Yeah.”

 

“Can I ask what it is?”

 

“Have you ever read The Catcher in the Rye ?”

 

Rachel shook her head. “No. I keep meaning to, though. My dad keeps telling me I should. Actually, that’s his favorite book too.”

 

“Your dad has excellent taste.” Quinn just managed to stop herself from winking. Too soon for that.

 

Rachel sort of blew a laugh out through her nose. “If you don’t mind me asking, why do you like it so much?”

 

Quinn licked her lips and looked up at the ceiling in thought. “Um, I don’t know, it’s just… Okay, so, you know how the best books are the ones that are written in a way that actually makes you care about the characters and what happens to them?” She paused and waited for Rachel to not in confirmation. When she did, she continued. “Well, this was the first book that really did that for me. The book’s perspective, it just… Holden Caulfield breaks my heart every time. In the best way possible. And it’s like, the way he talks about the people he cares about… When he talks about Jane Gallagher, who he’s loved from the day he met her… Here, let me read you what he says about her.” She halted where she stood and reached past the brunette by her side to pull a well-looked-after paperback from its place on the shelf. She flipped the book open automatically and turned almost directly to the page she was looking for.

 

She read the passage aloud, and Rachel couldn’t help but notice that the blonde’s reading voice dropped an octave or two lower than her normal speaking voice. She decided that she liked it.

 

My mother didn’t think Jane was pretty, even. I did, though. I just like the way she looked, that’s all.

 

“I remember this one afternoon. It was the only time old Jane and I ever got close to necking, even. It was a Saturday and it was raining like a bastard out, and I was over at her house, on the porch – they had this big screened-in porch. We were playing checkers. I used to kid her once in a while because she wouldn’t take her kings out of the back row. But I didn’t kid her much, though. You never wanted to kid Jane too much. I think I really like it best when you can kid the pants off a girl when the opportunity arises, but it’s a funny thing. The girls I like best are the ones I never feel much like kidding.”

 

Quinn glanced up at Rachel from the book, a blush threatening her cheeks for a reason she didn’t really understand. She decided it was probably safest to just keep reading.

 

“And it gets even better on the next page. I held hands with her all the time, for instance. That doesn’t sound like much, I realize, but she was terrific to hold hands with. Most girls, if you hold hands with them, their goddamn hand dies on you, or else they think they have to keep moving their hand all the time, as if they were afraid they’d bore you or something. Jane was different. We’d get into a goddamn movie or something, and right away we’d start holding hands, and we wouldn’t quit till the movie was over. And without changing the position or making a big deal out of it. You never even worried, with Jane, whether your hand was sweaty or not. All you knew was, you were happy. You really were.

 

“One other thing I just thought of. One time, in this movie, Jane did something that just about knocked me out. The newsreel was on or something, and all of a sudden, I felt this hand on the back of my neck, and it was Jane’s. It was a funny thing to do. I mean, she was quite young and all, and most girls if you see them putting their hand on the back of somebody’s neck, they’re around twenty-five or thirty and usually they’re doing it to their husband or their little kid – I do it to my kid sister Phoebe once in a while, for instance. But if a girl’s quite young and all and she does it, it’s so pretty it just about kills you.

 

“I’ve always sort of wanted a love like that,” she said dreamily. She closed the book carefully and eyed Rachel almost shyly. “Does that answer your question? Because if not, I think there’s actually another quote in there that sums up my feelings about books perfectly.”

 

“No, that’s okay. I mean, if you want to, then by all means, I would love to hear it. But, I get it. From what you just read me, it seems like it’s one of those books that would be personal to every single person who read it. That in itself is pretty amazing.”

 

Quinn flashed an appreciative grin in her direction. It wasn’t often she could get people to even consider understanding the reasons she loved certain books.

 

The sound of weathered feet shuffling behind them made the girls turn. Otis approached them with his hands behind his back. His expression was almost comically serious. “Alright, Miss Rachel. I have an important question for you.” Rachel looked suddenly nervous. “Our friend here has told me that you are a singer by profession, but I need to know, what kind of music is it that interests you most?”

 

She blinked. Quinn looked on with interest. “Oh. Well, it is my ultimate goal to sing on Broadway.”

 

“Ah, perfect!” Otis’s face cracked open into a beaming smile before he subdued it again. “Now answer me this: what is it about Broadway’s most famous show tunes that make them so successful?”

 

Rachel chewed on her bottom lip as she took a moment to think. “I think the reasons most people like the songs from Broadway shows are the upbeat rhythm and the fact that the lyrics are so easy to remember because they tend to rhyme.”

 

Otis nodded as if that were precisely the response he was hoping for. He finally brought his hands around from behind his back, producing a crisp, almost-new looking book and holding it out to her. “Then I would like to introduce you to Mr. Robert Frost, a poet celebrated for his mastery of both rhyme and rhythm.”

 

Rachel gingerly took the collection from him and flipped through, finding herself smiling at the pages upon pages of poetry. She looked to Otis with the warmest of eyes. “Mr. Williams, this is wonderful, thank you.”

 

He waved her off. “To you, my lady, I’m just Otis. Or Oats, if you choose to employ the nickname Miss Fabray so lovingly came up with.” He pointed to the book. “Come back when you’ve finished reading that, won’t you? I’m very interested to hear what your thoughts are. If you enjoy it, I’ve got a collection of Emily Dickinson poems I bet you’d enjoy as well. You’ll find as you go along that her poetry tends to have less of that upbeat feeling you mentioned, but something tells me they’ll still suit you.”

 

He led them back to the front of the store, where a woman, with curly grey hair cropped to her jawline and laugh-line wrinkles to match her husband’s, had situated herself behind the counter. She looked to them as they drew nearer and smiled one of the brightest smiles Quinn knew. “Quinn Fabray, as I live and breathe, I thought I heard your voice floating around the shop. How are you, darling?”

 

Quinn returned the woman’s grin, as well as her sentiments. “Hi, Bern. I’m good, how are you? How’s the writing coming along? I am going to get to read this story eventually, right?”

 

The woman rolled her eyes good-naturedly. “Yes, yes. You know these things take time.” She seemed to register Rachel’s presence, and her eyes widened slightly. “Hello, dear. We haven’t been introduced, are you a friend of Quinn’s? I was beginning to think she didn’t have any.” Her eyes twinkled in a way that indicated a lack of mirth as she offered Rachel her hand, and Quinn pulled both of her lips in between her teeth as her cheeks burned visibly. If she weren’t so fond of both of them, she would have killed the old couple by now. “I’m Bernadette Williams. It’s lovely to meet you.”

 

Rachel, oblivious to Quinn’s humiliation, received the hand graciously. “Rachel Berry. It’s a genuine pleasure.”

 

No other customers entered the store that afternoon. The four of them, two teenage girls and two elderly shop owners, lounged about the stacks within The Annex and chatted amicably as if they’d been a close-knit group for years.

 

By the time her dads called to tell her to come home for dinner, it was clear that Mr. and Mrs. Williams had almost instantly grown as fond of Rachel as they were of Quinn. When she asked how much she owed for the Frost book, Otis appeared accosted. Hand over heart, he said, “For this book, my dear, not a thing.” She made to protest, but he held up a hand to stop her before she could launch into a ramble on how she would feel awful not paying for the book and his kind attention. Quinn was impressed. “I insist. This one is on the house. Please.” He pushed the book further into her hands and fixed her with a look that said he wouldn’t take no for an answer. It took several moment’s worth of a practical staring contest, but finally she relented. She thanked the Williamses repeatedly, and Quinn was forced to basically push her backwards out the door by the shoulders.

 

Side-by-side, they walked back along the sidewalk they had come on. Rachel held her new book as carefully as if a speck of dust might cause it to disintegrate in her hands. Quinn took notice and chuckled to herself. “That book’s perfect for you, isn’t it?” Rachel nodded enthusiastically. After she read the first two pieces in the collection, she announced to the room that she had fallen in love and that she’d never known poetry could be so fantastic as it was in the hands of Robert Frost. Quinn tilted her head back and giggled. “Oh my god, he’s like the Ollivander of books!”

 

Rachel’s ensuing laugh was pure and uninhibited. In her best British old man impression, she said, “The book chooses the reader, Miss Fabray.”

 

Their consequent hysterics earned them several odd looks from across the street, and it only led them to clutch at each other and laugh that much harder.

Chapter Text

“So, Rachel, have you found yourself a date yet? I’m sure that Puckerman boy would love to accompany you.” Her daddy’s lips curled up, and his eyes twinkled as he took a sip from his glass of water.

 

Rachel looked up from her fork poking around her dinner plate to blink at Leroy across the table. Her expression suggested a feeling caught somewhere between disbelief and amusement. “Seriously, daddy? Noah and I are friends. Just friends. Always have been, always will be. Best friends, at times, even, but not anything more than that. Besides, either way, he can’t come; he’s grounded for a month because he got caught setting off illegal fireworks at the football field. His way of kicking off the school year right. ” Her tone implied air quotes, while her eyes rolled back down to the tofu salad in front of her. Leroy frowned a bit, more out of confusion as to where Puck would even have gotten illegal fireworks than anything, Rachel suspected, as Hiram struggled to cover up a snicker-turned-choke. He waved her off when she turned a worried gaze on him. He reached across the table, less than discretely stole his husband’s water, and took several large gulps in attempt to wash down the chunk of food that had lodged itself in his throat.

 

Leroy patted him on the back while continuing his conversation with his daughter. “Alright, so he won’t be joining us, then. Is there anyone else you’d like to invite?”

 

Hiram wheezed mutedly and, with difficulty, unnoticed by either of his family members, “No, really, I’m fine. Great. Don’t mind me.”

 

“Um…” Rachel bit her lip as a face flashed in her mind. “There might be someone.”

 


 

“Hey Kurt!” Rachel yelled at an incredibly high decibel as she scurried to the boy’s side with some difficulty. The halls were as crowded as ever, and, as usual, no one was eager to take the energy to take a whole step to one side to allow her to pass.

 

Kurt stopped to wait for her, but when she approached him, he adopted a playfully aloof expression. “Ah, Rachel. It always is a pleasure being yelled at by you from the opposite end of the hallway. We should do this again sometime.”

 

He patted her on the shoulder and turned to enter the nearest classroom before she caught his arm and his resolve to hold a straight face broke. “Kurt! That was not funny. And I was not yelling at you. I was… flagging you down.”

 

His smile grew as he shook his head at her. “Flagging me down? Rach, everyone within a ten foot radius of you just went deaf.”

 

Rachel was slightly offended. “That is preposterous, and you know it. Even if my voice was elevated, I was calling to you, not yelling at you.” She blinked and shook her hair to the side. “This is all trivial, anyway. I wanted to ask you something.”

 

“If it’s to be your date to homecoming, I’m going to have to remind you that just because my outfit today did come from the men’s section does not mean that-”

 

Now she was slightly more offended and a little taken aback. “What? No! I was just wondering if you have any plans for two weekends from now.”

 

Kurt raised a carefully sculpted eyebrow. “Why?”

 

Rachel smiled at the fact that she had finally gotten his full attention. “My cousin is getting married, and-”

 

“So you want me to be your date?” he cut her off.

 

“No! Well, in a manner of speaking, yes. You’d be my plus-one. But everyone would know we were just friends. There’ll be lots of cute boys in formalwear for you to look at. And I know you’ve always wanted to see Vermont.”

 

Kurt’s eyes suddenly became very excited. “Wait, Vermont? It’s a gay wedding? Forget everything I just said to you, I will gladly be your date. Can I wear ruffles?” He looped his arm with hers and started walking them in the direction of their respective classes.

 

“Well, actually, it’s a straight wedding.” He frowned, so she continued. “Yes, believe it or not, there are some people who get married in Vermont who aren’t of the homosexual persuasion. It’s a shock, I know.”

 

“Oh.” He appeared momentarily discouraged when he asked, “So when is this hetero shindig taking place?”

 

Rachel answered him brightly. “The wedding itself is on the first of October. We’re not actually in the wedding, so we would only have to get there the night before.”

 

He nodded as he thought it over before he jerked to a stop and alarmed regret took up residence on his face. “Wait, but that would be the 30th, right?” He looked distraught when she nodded. “I can’t. Mercedes and I got Beyoncé tickets for that night. Anyone else, and I totally would have blown them off – you’re right, I’m dying to see Vermont – but… it’s Beyoncé. And we’ve had these tickets for months. You understand.” The regret read all over his face as he placed a hand on her shoulder sympathetically.

 

Rachel nodded, a bit dejectedly. “Yes, I do. You should absolutely attend your concert. Of course. I’m sure it’ll be a night to remember.”

 

“But hey, you’ll still have a blast at your cousin’s wedding; even if it isn’t a gay one and despite the fact that I can’t be your date. Maybe you’ll meet someone there.”

 

He winked and chuckled quietly when she made a show of crossing her fingers.

 


 

To say that Rachel was disappointed would be something of a gross understatement. In the span of a single conversation, her top two candidates for accompaniment at her cousin’s wedding were taken undisputedly out of the running by one Beyoncé Knowles. She couldn’t rightfully hold it against either Kurt or Mercedes, either. She would have done the same in their position, and she would have done it without the bat of an eye.

 

With Puck’s name crossed of the list as well, it seemed she was running out of options. Truthfully, he probably would have been her first choice if he hadn’t gotten himself in so much trouble. Despite his sometimes crass, crude, and just plain cruddy use of the English language, Rachel did enjoy Puck’s company the majority of the time. He had a very jagged exterior, but she had known him, and been close to him, for long enough to know that he was very much like a jellybean, in that past the hard shell was a gooey gummy center. Not to mention the fact that he wasn’t at all terrible to look at and he would have done an excellent job of keeping her extended family from asking if she had any “little boyfriends at that big grown-up high school of hers.”

 

She sighed as she stood alone by her locker. She still had three periods to get through before lunch, when she supposed she could just ask if any of the glee kids were free and hope for the best.

 

The warning bell sounded, and she pushed herself off of the metal. She cradled her books in one arm and delightedly used the other to wave as a flock of Cheerios traipsed around the corner ahead of her. Her smile was, as always, enthusiastic. “Hi, Quinn!” She really was glad that they’d been able to become friends, especially after all of the drama of the previous year.

 

Quinn, who was very clearly leading the pack, looked her way upon hearing her name. What looked like a smile started to form on her lips before… something… flashed in her eyes and she stopped short. “Um…” Quinn glanced back at the girls in uniform who had fallen into rank behind her. They each bore some degree of an “is this girl for real?” raised eyebrow and amusedly scornful expressions, all directed at the petite brunette who had unwittingly offered herself up for slaughter. Quinn gulped visibly, but the cheerleaders were too busy sniggering to themselves over the humiliation their new captain was sure to exact on this lower being who dared address her directly. Rachel noticed that Quinn looked unusually nervous for a moment before the blonde set her jaw painfully. “What, so, so you think just because I joined your little glee club that it’s okay for you to talk to me in the halls? Let’s get this straight, Berry. This school runs based on a series of social circles. I belong to, and am now head of, the Cheerios, the highest up, most sought after circle you can find here. We are the top. Then there’s you: glee club nerd, loser. Your circle is the link that got cut from the chain because no one wanted to be connected to you. We,” she motioned dramatically between herself and Rachel, “are not associated.”

 

Quinn’s voice had lost most of its strength by the end of her monologue, but the words still hit home with plenty of impact. “But…” Rachel didn’t understand. It did not compute in her mind that Quinn could turn such a 180 and revert back to the vindictive agenda that she used to rely so heavily on. They had moved past this, long ago. They had progressed to the point where Rachel had truly begun to think of Quinn as one of her closest friends. After everything with the not-party and the book shop, it just didn’t make any sense.

 

Tears welled in her eyes, but she blinked them back with all her might. She wouldn’t give everyone looking on in amusement that satisfaction.

 

She watched the group of red and white clad girls continue on their way, sauntering past the other students with a pompous, self-important air. For a moment, she thought she saw a pair of green-hazel eyes turn back to look at her, but she couldn’t be sure.

 


 

Rachel lasted about ten minutes in class before she whipped out her phone. Even if it was by text, she was going to demand some answers from a certain blonde cheerleader.

 

She thought for a moment and stealthily typed out What the heck was that, Fabray? behind a notebook propped up in her lap.

 

No, she immediately decided that it had the wrong sort of tone. Much too forceful for her taste. It almost sounded like Santana.

 

She backspaced back to the beginning. Something a bit gentler… Would you mind explaining where that attack came from?

 

Not quite it either.

 

She decided to try out the sarcastic route. So when exactly did we time travel back to last year, Quinn?

 

Rachel sighed. She couldn’t send that. Sarcasm had never really been her thing. She didn’t want to appear rude, despite the fact that most people would consider it justified given the situation.

 

She looked at her phone for several minutes, mind blank. None of the messages she could think of to write in the text were sufficient to convey the range of emotions that whirred inside her like ingredients in a blender. She was so confused and hurt and betrayed and angry and humiliated, and for reasons she couldn’t work out at the moment, sorry for Quinn, and they all spun around and mixed together until she couldn’t quite discern one from the other.

 

Rachel could hear the droning of her teacher’s voice coming in her ears, but she couldn’t make her brain put the sounds together to make sense of the words being spoken.

 

Her thumb twitched over the keys on her phone, and she knew that a text message wouldn’t get the job done. She clicked ‘options’ and cancelled the message.

 

She spent the rest of the period pretending to take notes.

 


 

By the time lunch rolled around, Rachel was about ready to burst. She had spent the last two periods rendered completely unable to focus on whatever it was that her teachers had tried, and failed, to carve into her brain, because she had been too caught up in agonizing over the fact that her internal movie player had gotten jammed and played nothing but the scene starring her and Quinn in the hallway, on repeat.

 

Thinking retrospectively, Rachel berated herself for not trying any harder (or at all) to pay attention in her algebra II class; despite her best efforts, math remained a subject she struggled with consistently. Quinn was in her algebra class, though it didn’t make any difference. Rachel was pretty sure that math was a strong suit of Quinn’s, but the blonde had spent the class staring tensely at the lines in her notebook without ever writing anything down. Not that Rachel had been watching her or anything like that; she had simply glanced in Quinn’s direction once or twice a minute in hopes of catching her eye and silently communicating her frustration and bewilderment at the sudden, uncalled for, and demeaning treatment. However, the girl’s gaze was focused firmly on the emptiness that filled the opened page of her notebook for the duration of the lesson, so Rachel was left to listen to the harsh words from earlier replay in her head.

 

She took her usual seat at the table that had been claimed early on in the year by the glee kids, joined shortly by Puck and the gang. Their presence lightened her mood a bit. She even managed a smile when Puck nudged her shoulder. He watched her for a minute as she fought fruitlessly to get the straw into her juice box. Eventually, with a small snort and a shake of the head, he took the beverage off her hands, got the straw in without any trouble, and asked, “Penny for your thoughts?” His eyes revealed a hint of concern.

 

She smiled her thanks and shrugged. “It’s nothing.” She averted her gaze, and, of course, the fates directed it onto a particular cheerleader who stood, almost, but not quite, awkwardly in the middle of the cafeteria, books in one hand, lunch in the other. Hazel eyes glanced in the direction of the long table reserved for football players and Cheerios and then shifted to where Rachel sat, her hands gripping the sides of her chair tightly. Quinn held the eye contact a little too long before she blinked and looked around her, appearing almost dazed. People were beginning to give her strange looks. Quinn exited the lunchroom at a brisk pace and dumped her brown-bagged lunch in the trash as she went.

 

Rachel heaved a breath, stood abruptly, feeling suddenly empowered to take some sort of action, and followed Quinn out. As she went, she heard Puck behind her mutter something that sounded distinctly like, “Doesn’t look like nothing.” She chose to ignore it.

 

Rachel marched purposefully in the blonde’s wake. The indignation and sting of betrayal that she had only somewhat successfully buried over the course of her morning classes resurfaced with a vengeance upon locking eyes with the one who had brought it about in the first place. She burst through the double doors of the cafeteria into the hallway and scanned the mostly uncrowded corridor for Quinn like a predator stalking its prey. The phrase “eyes like a hawk” finally made sense to Rachel as she caught the tiniest flash of a red Cheerios skirt disappearing into the girls’ bathroom.

 

She shook her head. As if anyone could hide from Rachel Berry. She had prey-stalking hawk eyes, for goodness’ sake.

 

She tromped down the hall. Her arms swung tightly by her sides like she meant business. And she did, gosh darn it. She passed Finn on her path of fury, and his greeting died on his lips when he saw the expression on her face. “Hey, Rachel – are you okay?” He glanced around nervously. “You look kind of like scary Quinn, and, well, yeah, it’s kind of hot, but it’s also, you know, scary-”

 

“Can’t talk now, Finn, I’m hunting.”

 

“Oh.” He nodded for a moment before he registered what she had said and his brow furrowed. “Wait, what?”

 

Shoot. She did need to work on that whole filtering what she said thing. Some thoughts just weren’t meant to be shared. She closed her eyes and planted what she hoped was a reassuring smile on her face. “No, I just mean – I’m kind of on a mission. I have to go, I’ll see you later.” She patted him on the arm as she brushed past him and yanked the bathroom door open with a flourish.

 

Finn watched her stride into the restroom with an almost triumphant smirk on her lips and walked away even more confused about girls than he normally was.

 

As the bathroom door thudded shut behind her, Rachel faltered. The room was empty, bar an abandoned binder left on the far sink. The smile slipped off of her face as she began to second guess her raptor-esque sharp eyes, until her equally keen ears picked up the sound of a sniffle, and she stopped in her tracks. She inspected the stalls more closely, hoping no one would come in and see her peeking under. That was a situation sure to send her on a very much unneeded social downward spiral. There, in the last stall, the larger, handicap-friendly one; all she could see was a pair of knees hugged tightly to the body they belonged to, which looked as if it were trying to be as compact as it possibly could, sitting on the floor beside the toilet. The angry fist in Rachel’s chest unclenched a smidgen when another sniffle sounded, this one a touch louder, and a hand reached up, Rachel assumed to wipe the nose and/or eyes.

 

Rachel couldn’t control the compulsion to help someone in pain - even someone who had inflicted their fair share of it on her. “Quinn?”

 

The gasp that resulted inside the stall was small, not only in the sense that it was quiet and staccato, but also in the sense that Rachel thought, if gasps were measurable in terms of space, it would take up a very little amount.

 

The body in the stall scrambled to its feet and cleared its throat roughly. “Who is it? Go away.” The sound of a toilet flushing filled the room.

 

Rachel stood wordlessly for a moment, unsure if she should comply with the girl’s request and leave, or stay and get the answers she came for. A couple seconds’ deliberation had her decide on the latter option. She tried again. “Quinn, please, it’s me.”

 

The silence that followed was tangible. Rachel bit her lip in anticipation of whatever verbal attack she had surely just called upon herself.

 

After several long moments, the stall door inched open, and Quinn appeared behind it, eyes focused resolutely on the floor tile just in front of her feet, which was a slightly different shade of white than the rest. When at last she looked up, Rachel could see Quinn physically stop breathing. After a single moment’s hesitation, Quinn seemed to decide that her best option was to make a break for it. She started an abrupt power walk towards the door. Rachel brushed her surprise aside and grabbed Quinn’s wrist, just before she could make her exit. “Quinn, please wait. I just want to talk.” She wasn’t sure what else she would have followed her in for, but it seemed to stop Quinn from trying to escape again. Or perhaps it was simply that Quinn couldn’t muster the energy to wrench herself free.

 

Rachel waited patiently for a whole half a minute before it became clear to her that Quinn was not going to initiate the impending dialogue; she steeled herself and decided to plunge right into it. She looked Quinn directly in the face, unfazed by the fact that she adamantly refused to do the same. “So, are you going to tell me why you’ve come to school today haunted by the ghost of bully past?” Quinn squeezed her eyes shut, and Rachel pushed her empathy away and let the tear that slid down the plane of Quinn’s fair cheek spur her on. “What happened to you? We’ve moved on from this. We’ve made amends. What happened to that truce, which was incited by you, by the way, that we called over the summer? I thought we were really becoming good friends. What, was it all just a big, elaborate hoax to get back at me for kissing your boyfriend last year? Because if so, the Oscar belongs to you, unquestionably. I’m sorry, Quinn. I’m sorry that your boyfriend cheated on you, and I’m sorry that I’m the one he did it with, I really am, but this is old news. A cold case. I thought we had reconciled. What has happened that’s made you forget these last few weeks and relive this part of your life? What, Quinn?”

 

As her speech progressed, Rachel’s voice elevated dramatically in volume and her grip on the thin wrist in her grasp tightened. Somewhere in the middle of it, hot tears had begun to stream, unnoticed, down her own face. Quinn seemed to shrink with every word Rachel spewed at her, and her eyes had been kept screwed shut for the entirety of it. Her single tear had grown and evolved to silent, quaking sobs that shook her frame, coming from deep in her core. She looked as if she was trying not to exist, and it was the most painful thing in the world.

 

Rachel’s breathing was labored, but with her rant ended, she began to calm down and regained a shred of her composure. Her verbal expression had worked most of the hostility out of her system. As her anger subsided, her natural humanity started to rematerialize within her. Her eyes softened at the sight of the still weeping girl before her. Her voice was little more than a breath when she tried her name again. “Quinn.”

 

The girl in question finally lifted her gaze at the sound of her name spoke so softly. The harsh lighting in the bathroom caused the runs of mascara that streaked her cheeks to look particularly severe. The whites of her eyes were rimmed with red and her hair had come partly undone from the tight, high ponytail that was required of all Cheerios; blonde strands fell in loose wisps around her face.

 

Green-hazel eyes locked with brown, and the fist in Rachel’s chest closed again, this time right on her heart. It was all she could do to catch her and not follow suit when Quinn collapsed into a new fit of tears. Her face disappeared into Rachel’s shoulder; her voice was muffled, and Rachel was sure her hair was getting in her mouth, but she could just make out the words “I’m sorry” spilling from Quinn’s lips over and over.

 

The bathroom door swung open, and Rachel gave a wide-eyed freshman her best impression of a Sue Sylvester glare. The girl left in a rush.

 

For several minutes, Rachel just held Quinn, her arms around the girl’s waist, supporting her weight. It reminded her of when she helped Quinn after her bike accident, and the familiarity made her pull away slightly. She craned her neck until she was once again looking Quinn in the eye. They were both breathy. Quinn’s skin was hot. Rachel gently took her chin between her thumb and forefinger to keep it from dropping again. “Just… explain to me what’s going on with you.”

 

Quinn wiped her nose shakily with the back of her hand. She stared at a spot on the wall with a furrowed brow, not really seeing. “I just… wanted everything to be okay again.” Her voice was far away.

 

Rachel raised an eyebrow, hoping to draw her back. “And you decided that the best way to do that was to return to your old ways of emotionally scarring the people you’re close to?”

 

Quinn blinked and another tear slid down the bridge of her nose. “No, it’s just, my dad… yesterday, he found out I got a C+ on a biology test, and he said that being in glee was turning me into some kind of fruity artist type without any regard to the future or my family’s status within the community… It was the first time he ever told me he was disappointed in me. He said Fabrays were better than this, and he used to be so proud of me. I didn’t even get to tell him that I made captain. I don’t even really like Cheerios. I only joined because it’s what my parents expected. All I wanted was to make them happy. It tore me apart. I just wanted to go back to what it was like when he didn’t look at me like I let him down.”

 

Rachel didn’t have a clue how to respond. Her heart throbbed and her mind reeled and she was rendered speechless.

 

Quinn continued, hardly seeming to notice Rachel’s uncharacteristic lack of words. “It made so much sense in my head when I decided to go back to how I used to be. But then I had to follow through with it, and, and I hurt you. And, I don’t want that. I don’t want to be that person. You’re the closest anyone’s ever been to me, and that’s kind of terrifying to me, but when I think of what I said, and how I knew it would tear you down… that’s even worse.” She broke free from Rachel’s hold and slumped over a sink, clenching the sides with white-knuckled force. Her voice lowered, and Rachel couldn’t figure out if it was defeated or newly determined. Maybe it was a bit of both. “I try so hard to be perfect for everyone, to make them all happy, but I can’t keep it up; not without breaking myself apart.” She let her head fall forward, down below her head, as she shook it. “I am so sorry, Rachel.”

 

Rachel bit her lip. The words she said came much easier than she had assumed they would.

 

“I forgive you.”

 

And she did. Holding on to grudges had never been on her list of talents. She hated the way Quinn had made her feel that morning, but more than that, she hated the way Quinn had made herself feel. “I understand why you did what you did.” She crossed the few steps over ugly bathroom tile between herself and Quinn and closed the space between them. Her hand fell instinctively on Quinn’s lower back, and she saw the blonde’s reflection swallow in the mirror. “But I think you need to think less about what other people think of you,” she saw Quinn start to roll her eyes and inflected importantly the remainder of her sentence, “and focus more on what you think of yourself .” She was speaking almost directly into Quinn’s ear at this point. She knew she was probably too close for comfort by now, but she could tell that she had Quinn’s rapt attention, and she intended to get her point across while it would be heard. “You should do what makes you happy. Be who you want, not who you think your dad would think would reflect well on the family name.”

 

Quinn turned to her with a watery chuckle. “You know you sound like an after-school special, right?” Rachel giggled along with her and nodded, because yeah, she did sound like a children’s sitcom whose purpose was to boost self-confidence. But hell, that was what she was trying to do. Quinn’s voice dropped again. “Would – is there any way we could just go back to the way things were before all of… today happened?” She looked nervous and genuinely unsure of the answer.

 

Rachel’s heart cracked, and she couldn’t stop her voice from doing the same when she answered. “Of course we can. I would like nothing better.”

 

The relief on Quinn’s face was palpable. She licked her lips. “Should we… shake on it?” She stuck her hand out, but before she knew what was happening, she was engulfed in a hug that seemed entirely too big relative to the size of the person giving it. Rachel’s arms squeezed her around the neck, and after only a moment’s hesitation, she returned the hug and slipped her arms around the tiny waist pressed against her middle. She breathed in a long breath, and it was the most relaxed she had been all day. “You smell like apple juice.” She smirked into Rachel’s hair.

 

Rachel pulled away and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear embarrassedly. “Yeah, sorry, I had juice with my lunch and it sprayed me a little when I tried to get the straw in.”

 

Quinn’s grin remained intact. “I didn’t say it was a bad thing.” Her face fell a bit. “I’m sorry. I keep making you feel bad today.”

 

“Oh! No, Quinn, it’s fine, really.” She placed what she hoped was a bolstering hand on Quinn’s forearm.

 

Quinn ran her other hand through her hair. “I just feel… I want to make it up to you. Is there anything I can do? I want to do something to make things better between us again.”

 

Rachel was just about to hearteningly refute her offer and tell Quinn that, as far as she was concerned, everything was as it was before, hunky dory and peachy with a side of keen, when something stopped her. There was something Quinn could do.

 

She cocked her head to the side, noting the lift of Quinn’s eyebrows. “How do you feel about Vermont?”

Chapter Text

“I’m actually kind of offended that you didn’t ask me to go initially. I would’ve thought I’d be first choice, all things considered. You know, before I pulled an Angelus and turned evil overnight.”

 

“Did you just reference Buffy the Vampire Slayer at me?”

 

“What if I did? Answer the question.”

 

“Actually, technically speaking, you didn’t ask me a question.”

 

“Whatever, it was implied. Answer me, woman.”

 

“Well, to be perfectly honest, I did consider it, but I spent several complete and consecutive hours convincing myself of all the reasons you wouldn’t want to go.”

 

“What? That’s crazy. Name one.” Quinn looked dubious.

 

Rachel tapped her chin. “Let’s see… For starters, coming along means spending an entire weekend with Rachel Berry and her family … Guess I didn’t think you were up to it.” She reached a hand into the bag of corn chips that sat between them and popped one in her mouth.

 

Leroy and Hiram chuckled at their daughter’s antics, unnoticed by either of the girls. The four were packed up snugly in the Berrys’ station wagon and en route to the Green Mountain State. Leroy drove, and naturally, Hiram took up the passenger seat next to his husband. Their car was an old one, admittedly so and much loved by its owners, with fraying seats and crank windows that let a rush of breathy air gust through when they were opened; there was a distinct scent inside the car – not necessarily a bad one, but one that was instantly associated with the interior of a mature automobile. It was a car designed in a way that made climbing over the rows of seats very easy and sitting in the open space of the trunk almost preferable, particularly so to younger, smaller travelers. So, when it came time to load up the car and go, instead of packing all of their belongings into the boot of the car as they usually did, everyone’s bags were flung into the backseat in a pile, and the two teenage girls accompanying the Berry men disappeared behind it with a warning from Leroy about ducking down if they happened to drive past a police car.

 

Quinn and Rachel both sat perpendicular to the trajectory of the vehicle, facing each other, leaning against the windows, Quinn with her knees pulled up to her body so that her elbows had a place to rest, and Rachel with her legs stretched out; her feet extended to either side so that they wouldn’t be forced onto Quinn’s lap.

 

Quinn let a half smile twitch onto her lips. “You were probably right. In fact, now that I think about it… Oh, dear god, what have I gotten myself into?” She feigned panic, and she and Rachel both giggled.

 

Leroy chuckled again, but Hiram let a small frown depress hid features. He was wary of Rachel’s friendship with her former bully, and, as the former bully, Quinn had been made well aware of that fact. She knew how recently it seemed her life was dedicated to the torment and suffering of his little girl, but she assured him that she had only the best intentions this time around. Leroy had graciously offered her a clean slate in his book, knowing all too well the woes and bad decisions of high school, but Hiram was less eager to forgive her.

 

They rode along in comfortable silence for some time until Leroy called out, “Po-po!” This prompted the girls to drop below window-level so they wouldn’t get a ticket for riding without seatbelts… or seats.

 

Rachel slumped all the way down; her body sprawled like a rag doll, while Quinn curled more tightly around her knees and scooted so she sat shorter. Her position was very reminiscent of the one she was in when Rachel found her in the bathroom that day a few weeks ago. It clearly registered in both of their eyes.

 

Quinn was the first to find her voice, though it was hushed; being in a physical state of hiding made her feel as if her voice should be small. Rachel could barely hear her over the sounds of the highway. “I’m still so sorry.”

 

She had felt the pangs of guilt and regret every day since it had happened. They had begun to ebb away as she made an honest effort to be a good friend to Rachel, in school and otherwise.

 

She faced up to her fear of her reputation. She sat with the glee kids at lunch on alternating days, even letting Rachel steal food off of her plate, only because she so genuinely believed that she was being sneaky about it. She walked with Rachel in halls openly when they had classes in the same areas of the school.

 

Her crowning moment had been saving Rachel from a slushy attack just the day before. Her timing was perfect. She turned the corner to see an unsuspecting Rachel in the center of the hall chatting happily with Kurt and Mercedes, who were equally unaware of the impending corn syrup shower. Azimio waltzed toward her from one end of the hallway as Dave Karofsky came at her from the other, effectively trapping her in the middle. Kurt and Mercedes froze and were unable to react when they noticed the hulking boys surrounding her. Just as Azimio drew back his arm to unleash the frozen drink on Rachel, who was giving her two friends questioning looks, Quinn nimbly pushed her way between her stunned comrades and pulled Rachel out of harm’s way by the front of her sweater. Azimio, whose reflexes were not as sharp as he, or Karofsky, would have liked, ended up splashing his fellow football player with a large, cherry-flavored cup of ice. Rachel was spared, and Quinn used her captain status to ensure that all of the Cheerios and football players knew that she was off-limits in that regard from then on. It certainly earned her some looks that implied she’d lost her marbles all over the cafeteria floor, but in the end, she had enough respect and fear from all of them that her word was pretty much final.

 

Hiram’s voice bounced over the sound waves of the station wagon. “Okay, girls! You’re all clear.”

 

Rachel reached out a hand and used it to cover Quinn’s. Her eyes shone with sincerity as she husked, “You’ve more than made up for it.”

 

Quinn swallowed as Rachel sat back up across from her. She didn’t feel as though she had.

 


 

“Wow. I mean, I’ve heard people talk about it before, but… I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere as beautiful as this.” Quinn stared at the landscape surrounding her. She struggled to take it all in. the trees looked like they were flaming; the leaves all clung to their respective branches in varying hues that ranged in a gradient from vibrant, peak-of-sunset red to mellow, greenish yellow. It was breathtaking. She shook her head in wonder. The leaves changed in Lima, sure, but it was never anything like this.

 

Hiram nodded along with her. “Fall is curious in New England. It’s like coming here in the autumn and winter months is entering into a completely new world. Everything is more beautiful here. Even when the leaves fall out, Mother Nature brings in a bag of fluffy white snow and shakes it out so it falls to the land in a flurry and covers everything in glitter. And right now the hills are just… on fire.”

 

Quinn smiled as Rachel grinned at her father’s words. Taking in everything around her, she was inclined to agree.

 

Leroy put an arm around his husband and said to the girls half-jokingly, “I keep telling him he missed his calling as a poet.” Then to Hiram he mused, “I’m sure that’s why the wedding is this weekend. It’s outdoors; this time of year, it’ll be unforgettable.”

 

The sun had just dropped below the horizon as they settled into their hotel room. There were two double beds, Quinn and Rachel in one, Leroy and Hiram in the other. “I hope everyone’s okay sharing.”

 

Rachel turned to her dads with entertainment evident in her eyes and jerked her head in Quinn's direction. “As long as this one doesn’t hog the covers, I think we’ll probably survive for two nights.” Quinn rolled her eyes good-naturedly.

 

Hiram shrugged and checked his watch. “Alright, we are definitely too late for the rehearsal dinner… Do we want to stay in and do room service or go out? Oh! I know, I’ll take you all to downtown Burlington. Okay, that’s what we’re doing, everyone get ready to go.” He practically danced with excitement and a look of amusement passed between the other three occupants of the room.

 

As they piled back into the car, the girls in the backseat this time, Quinn cleared her throat and attempted to engage Hiram in conversation. “So, Mr. Berry, sir, did you, um, grow up here, or…?”

 

Hiram made eye contact with Rachel through the rearview mirror, and she answered for him. “Dad went to school here. He graduated at the top of his class from UVM in ’85. Didn’t you Dad?”

 

He nodded proudly at his daughter with a sparkling grin.

 

Quinn nodded, her lips pressed together slightly, impressed. “Very cool. I take it you enjoyed your time here.”

 

Hiram’s lips melted into a soft, reminiscent smile. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, the girl was creeping past the border onto his good side. “I really did. My college years were some of the best of my life.”

 

“Yeah, all six of them.” Leroy winked at the girls, and they giggled as Hiram smacked him playfully on the thigh.

 

Hiram turned around in his seat to address the teenagers who were biting back the laughter that was fighting its way up their throats rather unsuccessfully. “It was five years, and only because I took a semester off to travel.” He faced forward again only to bounce in his seat and lose any cool points he had just won back. “Ooh! There it is! Here, turn here Lee, park in the garage.” He watched his window with the wide-eyed enthusiasm of a child at a carnival. “I can’t wait to show you all Church Street. I can’t believe I haven’t brought you here before; it’s one of my favorite places. It’s lovely. The culture and the authenticity of it all… Just wait. You’ll see what I mean.”

 

They parked on the top level of the garage in a spot overlooking the town. Lights twinkled in the semi-darkness. The moon illuminated the water of a lake at the bottom of the hill and a staggering of mountains on the opposite shore.

 

They took the stairs back down to ground level and followed the pavement through a sort of alleyway. The brick to their right was painted into a mural of a jungle and tropical animals… along with a family of penguins.

 

The end of the walls opened onto a brick street, busy with pedestrian traffic. Light was provided by storefront displays and fairy lights that spanned the overhead of the entire length of the lane.

 

“You know, Church Street is one of the only surviving outdoor malls in the country. Way back when, all sorts of outdoor marketplaces cropped up, but the majority of them were pretty unsuccessful.” Hiram stuck his hands in his pockets and soaked in the sights that were simultaneously new and familiar to him. “I don’t know why this one has done so well, and still does, but I sure am glad for it.”

 

“I bet it has to do with the atmosphere.” Rachel smiled at him understandingly. She’d only been there for two minutes, and already she could tell she would be in love with the place by the end of the night.

 

It was such a stark contrast to the conservative Ohio environment they were all used to. All around them, people walked up and down without a single thought as to what their fellow passersby thought when they looked them over. It was a place where people went to feel free to be themselves, as much as to get some shopping done or grab a bite to eat. There was a college-age boy with dreadlocks all the way down his back, and a girl with a great big sweater foraged from the men’s section of a thrift store and glasses that obscured almost half of her face, and someone with shoulder-length, wavy hair whose gender was indistinguishable, and it was all beautiful. The appeal was apparent immediately.

 

Hiram led them up the street past coffee shops and colorful little boutiques and even more colorful people to a small bistro or café-style restaurant called Halvorson’s, where they were quickly seated in a booth next to the window. Quinn and Leroy both ordered the teriyaki burger, while Rachel and Hiram opted for simple dinner salads. When the waitress approached the table with their dishes, all four of them felt themselves salivate.

 

They ate rapidly, and after leaving an entirely too large tip for the waitress, Hiram led the way back outside, where a street performer could be seen over the heads of the surprisingly large crowd surrounding him on a tower of interlocking chairs. As they passed by him, he began to juggle flaming torches, and they clapped along, because the joke he told about living with his parents was rather amusing.

 

When they got back to the car, Rachel noticed Quinn pause before sliding into the backseat. She strained her ears to hear the blonde mutter to herself, gaze lost in the view from their elevated vantage point. “It really is beautiful here.” Unnoticed by her friend, Rachel’s lips lifted into a grin, and she nodded her agreement.

 


 

When Quinn woke the next morning, it was to the sound of Hiram and Leroy Berry singing “Here Comes the Bride” at the tops of their lungs around the hotel room. Sunlight lit the room, but only through the blinds, so it was more of a glow than a glare. She groaned inwardly and lifted her head heavily, her hair falling over her eyes and blocking her vision.

 

As she came to, lying on her stomach, she realized that her legs rested, one on top of and one between two others. With another minute, she realized that there was an arm slung lazily over her shoulders and that her head had been resting in the crook of a neck whilst she slept. She closed her eyes again and sighed. Drifting in the state between dreaming and reality was only too peaceful.

 

There was a fragrance to the air, something light and natural, a scent that was more like a subtle something that had always been a part of the air, and Quinn had only just really noticed it, but now that she had, it was the only thing she could smell. It was like walking into someone else’s house and realizing how distinct the scent was, while going to one’s own house doesn’t seem to have a scent at all. After considering it for quite some time in her half-conscious mind, Quinn decided that she would like to live in a house that smelled like this. Another long while, and she realized that the aroma was familiar.

 

When the dots connected that she had woken up almost completely intertwined with Rachel, Quinn was suddenly wide awake, and she rolled over fast enough that her momentum landed her on the floor with a thud.

 

The sound apparently woke her slumbering companion, who shot up in bed with wild sleep hair and startled eyes. Rachel looked around; she had clearly woken up unaware of where she was or what was going on, but she seemed to quickly regain her bearings and smiled sheepishly at her fathers across the room, who had only just realized that the girls had woken.

 

“Ah, ladies, you’re up. Get dressed let’s get down to breakfast. We have a wedding to attend!”

 


 

The wedding was as perfect as anyone could have hoped for. It was held at an overlook with a stone fence and gorgeous fall scenery abound. Everyone was dressed as nicely as they could manage while accounting for the chill in the air. Aside from the flower girl forgetting that she was supposed to walk up the aisle and not roll down the hill for fun, the ceremony ran smoothly. Leroy was in tears the whole time, though he denied every second of it. The bride looked beautiful, and the groom’s eyes shone the moment he laid eyes on her gracefully stepping toward him on her father’s arm. Quinn was sure in the moment the father of the bride gave her to her husband-to-be that there was one last threat having to do with if you ever hurt my little girl , but the younger man just chuckled and nodded.

 

To everyone’s relief, the reception was held at the bride’s parents’ house, and the dress was casual, so everyone stopped back wherever they were staying to change into slightly warmer and more comfortable attire.

 

The house had a shockingly large backyard with grass so green, Quinn got the impression that the yard was attempting to go out with a bang before the winter came and turned it brown. A large white tent was set up and housed numerous tables, a small dance floor, a DJ station, and a buffet. Champagne was set out in bundles of glasses, dispersed around the space. Soft drinks were located in an oversized cooler on the ground by the food, and harder drinks were served at an open bar by the entrance to the tent.

 

The adults milled about, chatting with each other and enjoying the commodities. Younger children were shooed towards the garage where a basketball hoop was set up, and the teenagers, after trying and failing to steal glasses of champagne, gathered around the fire pit a ways off in the corner of the lawn by the edge of some woods. Several dogs scrambled among all of the people, excited by all of the commotion.

 

Quinn and Rachel walked toward the group, having arrived later than most because their hotel was a farther drive from the house.

 

“I think you’ll really like my cousin Charlie. I bet you two will really hit it off,” Rachel enthused as she and Quinn trudged over the grass.

 

“Oh?” Quinn raised a trademark eyebrow. “Is he hot?” she joked.

 

Rachel faltered and then giggled. “Oh, that’s not really what I meant, but now that I think of it, you two would be adorable together.”

 

They reached the flock of their fellow adolescents and Quinn surveyed the scene. Two boys, who appeared to be around fourteen and fifteen years old, struggled to light the logs piled into the pit, three girls, two of whom seemed to be twins around the age of thirteen, snickered at the boys’ inability to make a spark. The third, who looked to be approximately sixteen, knelt down by the hole in the ground to give the boys some sarcastic advice about being careful not to catch each other on fire.

 

The last of Rachel’s cousins, who appeared to be around seventeen or eighteen, lounged in the background at a picnic table, not bothering to pay attention to the activity of the others. Quinn appraised him carefully. He and Rachel looked startlingly similar for cousins. He had a stronger jaw, and his features were distinctly less feminine, but if the two stood side-by-side, Quinn would have sworn that they were fraternal twins. It was surprising, seeing as they were related through her father, and Rachel proudly boasted that she took after her beautiful mother, though she’d only ever seen the woman in photographs. There were certainly things that clearly came from the paternal side of her heritage, and apparently her father’s siblings had passed along the same traits to their children. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; in fact, Quinn found herself musing about how attractive he was.

 

A throat cleared beside her, so Quinn swiveled her head to find Rachel smirking at her with a twinkle in her eye.

 

Quinn rolled her eyes and uttered quietly enough that only Rachel could hear. “Okay, he’s cute. Whatever.”

 

Rachel couldn’t contain her amusement. She laughed silently as she shook her head at the blonde. Without taking her eyes off of Quinn’s, Rachel called in the general direction of her cousins, “Hey, Charlie, come meet my friend, Quinn.”

 

Quinn resisted the urge to roll her eyes a second time and broke eye contact with Rachel to glance in the older boy’s direction. His eyes had followed the sound of his cousin’s voice, and his dark eyes raked briefly over the blonde, but he made no move to get up. Quinn’s brow pinched together in a slight frown, because in her book, that was kind of rude.

 

Movement in her peripheral vision caused her to shift her gaze again, and she watched, confused, as the sixteen year old girl cousin bounced over to them. “Hi. Nice to meet you.” The girl’s hand thrust forward, offering a shake, and the corners of her mouth perked up in a bubbly smile.

 

Quinn stared at the girl, dazed and uncomprehending. If the boy was Rachel’s twin in looks, this girl was her twin in personality; this girl who was introducing herself to Quinn; this girl who jumped up when Rachel asked for Charlie. Realization hit her in the chest like a punch, and all of her breath flew out of her lungs into one whispered word.

 

“Bitch.”

 

The girl, Charlie, blinked, but took it in stride. “Okay. So, I can go back to staring into the hole in the ground where the fire’s going to go…” She pointed her thumb over her shoulder.

 

“No. No, I’m sorry.” Quinn let a single chuckle escape her lips. “That was not directed at you.” She cast a sidelong glare at Rachel. “It is lovely to meet you, Charlie.”

 

They shook hands, and Quinn took the opportunity to look the other girl over. Girl. Rachel was so going to get it.

 

Charlie was a slender girl. She was on the taller side; she had two or three inches on Quinn. Her hair, which was light brown and corkscrew curly, was cut along her jawline and bounced jubilantly every time she moved her head. Her eyes were bright and shockingly blue. Her skin was olive-toned with a smattering of dark freckles across her nose and cheekbones.

 

“It’s cool.” Charlie lifted her hands passively. “And, just so you know, I kind of go by Charlotte now. My given name. Charlie is just the nickname my family gave me when I was little. Some of them,” she eyed Rachel pointedly, “haven’t let it go yet.”

 

Rachel waved her off. “Calling you Charlotte at this point just sounds weird. You’ve always been Charlie to me. Calling you anything else would just mess with my head.”

 

“Yeah, Chuck, it just wouldn’t be the same.” One of the boys in the fire pit flashed his teeth and flicked a twig in the girls’ direction. His laughter was cut short when, in pleasured retaliation, Charlie revealed that his name was Marion.

 

They all fell into an easy comfort as they all settled into folding lawn chairs around the pit. The boys eventually got the fire started with some help from Quinn. It was fascinating for her, watching Rachel interact with her cousins; she seemed very much at ease with them. She joked and laughed, and it wasn’t that she never did with her friends back in Lima, but there with her family, it came without a thought, without fear of reprehension. She looked genuinely happy, and Quinn was content to sit back in her very low-to-the-ground chair and observe Rachel and her cousins as they shared stories and reminisced and made fun of each other. They all spoke in ways that made their tales accessible to Quinn, and after a while, her cheeks started to ache from all of the smiling and laughing she’d been doing. She couldn’t tell them how appreciative she was to be made welcome and included. She had gone into it apprehensive that she’d be seen as an outsider and things would be awkward. Nevertheless, she ended up having a remarkably good time.

 

After a while, thirst began to prick at the back of her throat, so she stood with a flourish. “I’m going to grab a soda, anyone need anything?”

 

Rachel started and got to her feet as well. “I’ll go with you.”

 

“Nonsense, cuz.” Charlie hopped up. “I’ll escort your lady-friend. I could use another rootbeer myself.” She jiggled her empty soda can to prove it.

 

Rachel shrugged and sank back into her seat, before licking her lips and rejoining the conversation carried on by her cousins.

 

Quinn and Charlie hiked back up the slope of the backyard to where the tent had begun to illuminate the darkening field. Inside the white drapings, the cake had been cut, the woman who’d caught the bouquet was parading it around like she’d won an academy award, and Leroy, tipsier than a toddler on one leg, swayed around the dance floor to a tune that Quinn was sure was not the one being played through the massive speakers. She chuckled fondly. She really did like Rachel’s family.

 

The two made their way through the crowds of adults to the drinks cooler. Quinn reached in and tossed Charlie a rootbeer, grabbing a Diet Coke for herself.

 

Quinn watched Charlie watching the chaos of the dance floor, and after a minute of looking at her, couldn’t help the snort of laughter that worked its way out of her. Charlie turned to her with a curious look. “What?”

 

Quinn bowed her head momentarily in an effort to conceal her struggle with her hilarity. “Nothing, it’s just…” she giggled. “I just remembered that when we were on our way to meet you, all of you… cousins… Rachel said you and I would hit it off, and I asked if you were hot, because from the name I assumed you were a guy, and she just got this evil little glint in her eye and said that we would be adorable together.” She snorted again and covered her nose. “Remind me to kick her ass sometime, will you?” Her eyes were alight and playful.

 

Charlie surveyed her for what seemed like several minutes with a thoughtful expression. When she broke her silence, she said, “Okay, spill.”

 

Quinn lifted her eyebrows. “Spill what?”

 

Charlie let a flash of incredulity cross her features, then leaned in toward Quinn conspiratorially. She glanced around to be sure they weren’t overheard. Her voice was soft, but the words got through to Quinn’s ears loud and clear.

 

“Do you have feelings for Rachel?”  

Chapter Text

Rachel rubbed at the back of her neck with both hands as the sound of chalk hitting the blackboard echoed through the otherwise silent classroom. She stared down at the figures in her notebook without comprehension, willing the numbers and letters to come together in her mind in a way that actually made sense.

 

She knew she was smart, but this whole math thing constantly eluded her. Her teachers could explain it at the front of the class a hundred times, with increasing impatience, and she could make her best effort to follow along, but the second she was alone with the practice problems in her textbook, her mind emptied of an semblance of any mathematical knowledge or aptitude. She simply couldn’t understand why she couldn’t understand.

 

Rachel glanced around the room at her classmates, all in varying states of note-taking. Puck, of course, was leaned back in his seat, not even pretending to pay attention, drawing what was most likely an unflattering caricature of their teacher on his desk. Kurt, in the front corner of the room, watched the teacher scrawl on the board with slightly glazed-over eyes, breaking from his boredom every couple of minutes to jot down example problems before drifting off again.

 

Then there was Quinn, who sat just off the center of the room, whose eyes followed their teacher’s explanations without a hint of confusion, pencil flowing occasionally over the page of her notebook with precision. Her head was propped delicately in her hand, her chin resting on her palm, elbow on the edge of her desk. Rachel watched as Quinn lightly tapped her cheek with her fingertips.

 

Rachel bit down lightly on her tongue.

 

Quinn had been acting kind of weird ever since they got back from the wedding. She was still friendly, Rachel supposed, but she’d become a little distant.

 

Rachel worried maybe her cousins had been too overbearing or that they’d made Quinn feel out of place. Everyone had seemed to be having a good time, but looking back on the situation, Rachel wondered if she’d been having such a good time herself that she simply hadn’t noticed Quinn feeling uncomfortable or alienated.

 

As she was making a mental note to put in effort to make up for anything she or her family might have done to cause Quinn to harbor negative feelings toward her, she was snapped from her thoughts by the jarring sound of the bell signalling the end of the class period.

 

Scrambling to collect her things and cram them into her backpack, she zipped her bag and slung it over her shoulder as she followed the rest of the class into the hallway.

 

She spotted Quinn opening her locker and marched up with determination to tap her on the shoulder.

 

Quinn jumped at her touch, hand flying to her chest. “Jesus, Rachel, you startled me.” She returned her eyes to the inside of her locker, her fingers running over the spines of the different books stored inside.

 

Rachel pressed her lips together into a small, apologetic smile. “Sorry about that. I certainly didn’t mean to sneak up on you. I just wanted to check in with you, make sure everything is okay, you know, with us.”

 

Quinn’s eyes flicked to Rachel for a fraction of a second before locking back in on her books. “Of course, why wouldn’t it be?”

 

Rachel faltered. “Well because… um…” She frowned. “I don’t know. Something has been feeling off, but I guess it was just me.”

 

Quinn stilled for a moment before she tugged her books out of her locker and tucked them under her arm. “Yeah, I’m fine. We’re good. So, I should get to my next class now.” She gave a weak excuse for a grin and made to walk away.

 

“Wait, before you go,” Rachel stopped Quinn with a hand on her arm. “I had something else I wanted to ask you.”

 

Quinn froze instantly, but Rachel kept her hand at rest by Quinn’s elbow. Quinn cleared her throat before she spoke again. “Oh?”

 

Rachel nodded. “I know it’s very forward of me to ask but…” She took her hand off of Quinn’s forearm to twiddle her thumbs in embarrassment. Quinn’s eyes finally rose to meet hers expectantly.

 

Quinn almost seemed nervous. Rachel saw her swallow. “Ask what?”

 

Rachel tucked a bit of hair behind her ear and glanced around them. “I was wondering if you might consider helping me with algebra?”

 

Quinn’s shoulders dropped from their raised position, almost even with the top of her neck, as she let out a soft chuckle. “Oh.”

 

Rachel bit her lip. “I hate to ask like this, but I’m having some trouble with it, and you seem to really understand it.”

 

Quinn hugged her books tighter to her chest. “I don’t know Rachel, I’m really busy with the Cheerios and glee club and everything…”

 

Rachel took a step closer and put a hand on each of Quinn’s shoulders. “Please, Quinn? I understand it’s an imposition, but I’m verging on desperation here. I’ll do anything.”

 

Quinn stared at her for what felt like a long time before heaving an exaggerated breath. “Okay, okay. If you’re that desperate. I hate to see you all damsel-in-distress like this.”

 

Rachel beamed. “Really? Thank you, Quinn! You won’t regret this, I promise I’ll repay you somehow.”

 

Quinn rolled her eyes in amusement. “Yes, I’m sure you will. Now I really do have to go to class.”

 

“Yes, yes of course! Thank you.” Rachel released her grip and stepped aside to let Quinn pass. After a moment she called down the hall after her, “You’re the best, Quinn Fabray!”

 

Without turning around, Quinn raised her hand in a wave before she turned the corner and disappeared from sight.

 

With a satisfied smile, Rachel turned and stopped just short of colliding face first with a human wall. She took a surprised step back and raised her head to find Finn looking down at her with a poorly hidden frown.

 

“Hey.”

 

Rachel took another step back so she could look at him without craning her neck. “Hello, Finn. How are you?”

 

He shoved his hands deep in his front pockets. “I’m good. I mean, you know, fine.”

 

He looked as though he wanted to say something but remained quiet for a moment, so Rachel prompted him, “Is there something you wanted to talk to me about?”

 

His frown deepened. “So you and Quinn are like… friends now?”

 

Rachel was taken aback by his forwardness, but she soldiered on, hoping that there was a point he would get at with enough encouragement. “Yes, we’ve managed to put our differences aside and form a friendship. Surprising as it may be to some, knowing our collective past, Quinn and I have found that we’re able to spend time together and actually enjoy it.”

 

Finn nodded, maintaining solid eye contact with his shoes. “Cool, cool. Good for you guys.” He paused again. As Rachel was gearing up to force the conversation forward again, he charged in once more. “So look, do you think you could maybe, like, talk to her for me? You know, see if there’s any chance she’d like… give me another chance?”

 

Rachel’s mouth opened slightly as she took in his request. “Oh, well… I mean…”

 

Finn dipped a bit lower so his face was only slightly above her sight line. “Look, I know I messed up and stuff with her, but I really think she’s like, the one. For me.”

 

Rachel’s breath escaped from her lungs all at once. “Wow. That is… quite the realization.”

 

“Yeah.” Finn flashed a lopsided grin. “So you’ll help me out?”

 

Rachel took a breath, preparing to tell him that she didn’t feel it was her place, but as she started to speak, Finn gave her what she could only assume were supposed to be puppy dog eyes, and it became clear that refusing wasn’t going to be an option. With a sigh, she acquiesced. “I supposed I could give it a try.”

 

Finn’s body jerked as he clearly suppressed an urge to fist pump. “Thanks, Rach. This is really cool of you.”

 

“Yes, well… We should both be getting to our next classes.”

 

Rachel stepped past him without waiting for a goodbye. The whole situation gave her an increasingly strange feeling the longer it sat with her.

 

Since the couple’s break-up, Rachel had been having more and more trouble picturing the two of them together in a significant way. They really didn’t bring out the best in each other.

 

She couldn’t imagine what kind of future Finn thought they might have together. He was content to live a small town life in Lima forever, but Rachel knew that Quinn would be so much happier somewhere else, that she could do so much more. That she could do so much better.

 


 

Quinn rubbed at her temples, narrowly avoiding knocking the pencil from behind her ear. Rachel’s mind felt numb as she listened, frustrated and uncomprehending, to Quinn’s exasperated attempts at explaining whatever it was that they were learning about in their algebra class.

 

The two sat at the desk in Rachel’s bedroom, crowding the small structure that was only built to accommodate one. Rachel’s textbook rested between their notebooks and acted as the only barrier keeping their elbows from bumping each other.

 

They’d been working at the problem set for almost two hours by that point, and she could feel her eyes slowly going out of focus as the words passed into some sort of abyss between her ears and her brain.

 

Quinn sighed and tried again. “Okay so you just have to approach it like any normal equation - whatever you do to one side you do to the other to simplify it. It’s the exact same process, it’s just that the two sides have different values. Think of it like, without the variables. 20 is greater than 10, right. Divide both 20 and 10 by two, you get 10 and 5. 10 is still greater than 5, right? Whatever you do to simplify it, as long as you’re doing it to both sides, the inequality stays true, with whichever side being greater than or less than. Unless you’re dividing negatives, in which case you have to flip the sign, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves there.”

 

Rachel stared at her blankly, momentarily forgetting how to use words as she tried make sense of even one part of what Quinn had just said. “Sorry, I think a bird flew into my brain’s power lines, all I’m getting right now is static. Would it be okay if we took a break?”

 

Quinn paused for a moment. “Oh, um… Sure, I guess.”

 

Quinn pulled out her cell phone, and Rachel watched out of the corner of her eye, anxiously tapping her pencil against her thigh as she considered the best way to approach the conversation she had been tasked to have.

 

Now that she was here, she didn’t know what Finn could have been thinking asking her to broach this topic. Her history of talking about romantic feelings was riddled with bouts of word vomit, misspeaking, and losing herself on irrelevant tangents that distracted so much from the original subject neither she nor whomever she was talking to would even remember that they’d been discussing romance once the conversation was over.

 

Rachel took a deep breath and tried to clear her throat in a way that came off as nonchalant. It didn’t work.

 

Quinn looked over in her direction with raised eyebrows. “You okay?”

 

Rachel’s cheeks flushed as she fought to recover from her embarrassment. “O-oh yes, I’m just fine. I just had a little something in my throat.”

 

Quinn gave her a an amusedly skeptical look, but let it slide.

 

Rachel steeled herself to press on. She wasn’t entirely sure why talking to Quinn about her ex made her so nervous. In the end she chalked it up to not wanting to touch a nerve and bring about bad memories for her friend.

 

But, she had told Finn that she would at least try.

 

“So Quinn,” she started, unsure of how to phrase her question, “um, you and Finn, done forever?” Rachel turned her gaze to the floor and stared at her carpet in wide-eyed astonishment at herself. She’d been speaking English with impeccable grammar practically from the day she learned to talk. That monstrosity of a sentence did not just come out of her mouth.

 

Quinn, who had fished her water bottle out of her backpack and was taking a sip when Rachel began her question, spluttered a bit when the words finally made their way into the air between them.

 

Rachel rushed to clarify. “What I meant to say was: Do you think there’s any chance you and Finn might get back together?”

 

Quinn swallowed what water remained in her mouth forcefully with a hand over her chest. “Um. Wow, okay.” A frown made its way onto her face. “Yeah, no, that’s not going to happen.” Rachel silently signaled for her to elaborate. “I don’t think he and I work anymore. Like, at all. I mean, he cheated on me, and obviously that’s pretty unforgivable. He and I, I’ve been realizing more and more, weren’t even really well matched to begin with. Things wouldn’t have worked out between us either way. It was just a matter of time, there’s no reason to go back now.”

 

Rachel trailed her eyes on her lap for a moment. She was a bit taken aback by all of Quinn’s honesty.

 

More quietly this time, Quinn added, “Why? Are you… Do you want to date him?”

 

Rachel had to stifle a bark of laughter. “No. Absolutely not.” She took Quinn’s eyebrow raise as a request to explain so she continued with her answer as well. “I have also come to the conclusion that Finn and I are not compatible. My interest in him was incredibly short-lived to be honest. He and I are friends at best.”

 

Quinn’s lips twitched in what might have been an attempt to smother a smirk. Rachel suspected that her own small grin was just as unsuccessfully hidden.

 

Quinn stood suddenly, her chair nearly tipping over in the process. Rachel watched her expectantly.

 

Quinn froze for a second, then moved to stoop over her backpack. She dug through its contents for a moment, her hand reemerging with a pack of gum. She pulled a piece from it, hastily unwrapped it, and popped it in her mouth.

 

She held the pack out to Rachel in a silent offer. Rachel straightened a bit in her seat. “Oh, thank you, Quinn.”

 

She reached out a hand to take a stick. Her fingers wrapped around one of the tinfoil-wrapped pieces of gum and as her hand retreated with it, one of her fingertips grazed the palm of Quinn’s hand.

 

Rachel took a breath in as Quinn closed her pack of gum and deposited it back in her bag.

 

“So, um,” Quinn rubbed at the back of her neck, “I think we’ve done enough math for tonight. It’s getting pretty late, and I think you probably know it better than you think you do. I should be getting home.”

 

“Oh, I hadn’t even looked at the time. I’m so sorry for keeping you so long. Thanks again for all of your help, Quinn.”

 

Before Quinn could hike her backpack over her shoulder, Rachel popped up and wrapped her arms around Quinn’s shoulders in an emphatic hug. “I really appreciate it.”


Quinn’s hands patted her tentatively on the back. “It was my pleasure.”

Chapter Text

“Alright, guys,” Mr. Schuester called out to quiet the chit chat buzzing around the choir room, “I know we got a by for sectionals and are therefore heading into regionals technically undefeated, but that does not mean that we can walk into this competition with a chip on our shoulders. If anything, we are going to need to work even harder than ever in order to out-perform the other groups who have had the advantage of competing and being in front of an audience a lot more recently than we have.”

 

He walked back to the whiteboard and, rather unnecessarily, wrote the word Regionals with the squeaky dry-erase marker. Quinn resisted the urge to roll her eyes and leaned forward in her seat to rest her elbows on her knees.

 

“So,” he went on, “in order to put our best foot forward, we’ve got to come up with a killer set list. Last week we voted, and Mercedes is going to close us out with some Whitney Houston.” He paused for the smattering of light applause that popcorned around the students before him. Quinn silently prayed he wasn’t thinking up another comment about a song Mercedes sings being “dipped in chocolate.”

 

Rachel, front and center of the choir room chairs as always, straightened up and raised her hand. “If I may, Mr. Schue,” she started without waiting for him to call on her, causing Quinn to smirk behind her hands, which she had folded in front of her face. “I believe that our set at regionals would be best served by utilizing the star power that we know we have. As the most experienced performer in the room…”

 

Out of the corner of her eye, Quinn saw Santana next to her lean back in her chair and cross her arms. Quinn tensed up unintentionally, feeling Santana’s desire to mock the confidence with which Rachel spoke about her own abilities. As arrogant as Rachel seemed at times, Quinn paid enough attention to know that a great deal of Rachel’s cockiness came out of an effort to cover her insecurities.

 

She was also observant enough to see that it was an earned hubris. In the end, Quinn knew that there was no other option but to respect and admire Rachel’s talent.

 

Beside her, Santana uttered under her breath, “Ugh, Berry, you love attention, we get it.”

 

Without thinking, Quinn turned to Santana with an exasperated lift of the eyebrow. Santana returned with her own raised eyebrow, giving Quinn a strange look. “What? I know we’re being nicer to her or whatever, but she’s still annoying.” When Quinn’s face didn’t change, she added, “You feel differently?”

 

And just like that, Quinn was thrust back in her mind to the night of the wedding in Vermont.

 


 

“Do you have feelings for Rachel?”  

 

Quinn’s mouth fell open as she took in Charlie’s question. Suddenly her palms were sweaty, and she resisted the urge to wipe them on her pants by crossing her arms.

 

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Hiram and Leroy inside the tent twirling each other around the dance floor. After a moment spent trying to decide if she had heard Rachel’s cousin correctly, Quinn could only cough out an uncomfortable chuckle.

 

“I-I’m sorry. What gave you that impression?”

 

Charlie adopted a smug sort of smirk. With a little shrug, she said, “Just your guys’ whole vibe together. You seem like you’re into her. And obviously as her cousin, I feel it’s my duty to get the skinny on the situation. You seem cool, but I’ve only known you for a couple of hours, so I figured I’d get it straight from the horse’s mouth.”

 

“I, um,” Quinn cracked open her soda in an attempt to be casual and it sprayed her hand with foam, so she tried to save face by taking a sip, only to have the fizz go up her nose and cause her eyes to water. “I don’t know what to tell you,” she finished weakly.

 

Charlie cocked an eyebrow. “You don’t know what to tell me, or you don’t want to tell me?”

 

“I’m not, uh, I-” Quinn dissolved into a stuttering of nervous laughter.

 

Charlie’s eyes twinkled. “Okay, okay, maybe I jumped the gun. It’s probably none of my business anyway, I just really love being in the know, you know? You don’t have to tell me.” She paused, and Quinn nodded along, relieved. “But,” she added, “it seems like maybe you might want to have this conversation, just like, with yourself. Maybe, eventually, with Rachel.”

 

With a friendly shrug of the shoulders, Charlie made a half-turn, looped her arm through Quinn’s, and led her back to the fire pit.

 

Quinn returned to her lawn chair, and without prompting, Rachel leaned toward her, took her hand gently, and placed an impeccably made s’more on her palm.

 

With her eyes, Quinn followed the line of Rachel’s arm up to her face and exhaled a small, “Thank you.” Rachel shot her a wink, then slipped a new marshmallow onto the stick at her feet and turned back to the fire.

 

Quinn was quiet the rest of the night.

 


 

Quinn shrugged at Santana, thinking to herself, in the back of her mind, that maybe she didn’t know how she felt.

 

The room was humming with several voices, all tossing out song suggestions. From the corner by the band instruments, Finn called out, “How about some classic rock? Let the guys shine for once, something like ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ by Thin Lizzy, maybe.”

 

Quinn groaned out loud before she could stop herself. Everyone in the room turned to her with varying degrees of surprise and interest.

 

Suddenly faced with having to explain herself, Quinn addressed their teacher. “Oh, come on. Mr. Schue, we’ve already done too many ‘manly men’ classic rock numbers. If anything, the guys take the forefront and outshine the girls more than not. We’ve done Journey and Boston and AC/DC and Van Halen and the Stones. It’s tired. It’s exactly the same thing we’ve been doing for a year and a half. And it’s exactly what people are going to be expecting.”

 

Mr. Schuester looked entirely taken aback at her comment, having smiled and tilted his head at Finn’s suggestion in a way that made it clear he was on board. No doubt he was already imagining rehearsing with the boys and reliving his own high school glee club days. “Well, I don’t think I would call it ‘tired,’ Quinn-”

 

“I have to disagree with you, Mr. Schuester.” Rachel sent a flash of a smile over her shoulder at Quinn. “I think Quinn is right. While classic rock as a genre may not be expected in a show choir venue in general, for us as a group, it has become something of a calling card, and not necessarily in a good way. It was great for us when we were starting out, because it set us apart and gave us an edge compared to the groups we were competing against, but if we continue on this trajectory without any deviation, we lose our ‘wow factor.’ I’m certainly not suggesting we abandon classic rock altogether, but in order to continue to push ourselves and maintain interest from our audiences, we must at least make an attempt to subvert expectations.”

 

Mr. Schuester stared at her mutely for a moment, and Quinn had to suppress a snort as he appeared to be frozen mid-shrug. Quinn was half convinced it was because he had zoned out when Rachel started talking and didn’t actually know what she said. She shook her head mentally, unimpressed with his tendency not to listen to the views of his female students when it wasn’t convenient for him. Eventually, he said, “Well, Rachel, do you have a counter proposal?”

 

“As a matter of fact, I-”

 

“No, no!” Finn rose from his chair and went up to stand next to Mr. Schuester. “Guys, we don’t need to change anything. What we’ve been doing has gotten us this far, I don’t get why you want to mess with that. There’s nothing wrong with us having a stick.”

 

The room was quiet for a moment as expressions of confusion spread across the club’s faces.

 

Without making an attempt to hide her annoyance, Quinn clarified, “You mean a schtick.”

 

Finn’s face grew pink. “What the hell, Quinn, I don’t talk like that.”

 

Santana smirked, enjoying the controversy. “She wasn’t making fun of the way you speak, Michelin Man. Schtick is another word for gimmick.”

 

“Hey, hey, that’s enough!” Mr. Schuester rose his voice and clapped a hand on Finn’s shoulder to regain authority over the room and prevent the tall teen by his side from continuing to argue with his classmates. “Alright, well, we clearly aren’t getting anywhere right now, so how about we rehearse the number that we know we’re doing and come back to the discussion afterward.”

 

The group grumbled collectively as they rose from their chairs.

 

When Quinn and Rachel passed each other on their way to their marks, Rachel placed a hand on Quinn’s bicep and grinned as they side-shuffled through their milling peers. The back of Quinn’s neck grew hot and she let out an involuntary, and slightly embarrassing, giggle. She closed her eyes and puffed out a long breath as she reached her spot across the room.

 

Mercedes stepped up to the front of the pack, pride at having landed the lead on the only song they had decided on radiating off of her. Quinn glanced toward Rachel, expecting to see an expression of jealousy or indignation at having been snubbed. Instead, the look on Rachel’s face was one of happiness for a friend. As much as Rachel believed that she deserved the spotlight, and rightly so most of the time, she was a bigger person than most of the glee club gave her credit for, and Quinn felt a sudden fondness for her spread through her chest.

 

Mercedes glanced over her shoulder to make sure everyone else was ready before she made eye contact with Mr. Schuester and he silently counted her off.

 

For those next few minutes, as I’m Every Woman could be heard throughout all of the halls surrounding the choir room, Mercedes became Whitney Houston. It didn’t matter that her stage was the middle of a dinky choir room in an underfunded public high school in Ohio. As they danced along and sang backup, Quinn was amazed at the demonstration of absolute musical power that was taking place before them.

 

At one point in the choreography, she and Rachel passed each other, and Quinn could have sworn that she spotted a joyful tear shining in the brunette’s eye. She thought that only happened when Rachel was the one singing.

 

Quinn looked around at her other teammates. Every female in the room was sporting a genuine, beaming smile. Even some of the guys seemed hyped up by Mercedes’ rendition of the song. Or maybe it was the fact that a portion of the choreography involved the girls shimmying down and back up right in front of them. Either way.

 

Once Mercedes trailed off at the end of the song, and Mr. Schuester had provided them with a short round of applause, Quinn stepped out of the formation the group still stood in and turned to face them, her eyes catching on Rachel’s face, which gazed back at her with what Quinn could only assume was simple curiosity.

 

Quinn steepled her fingers in front of her chest as she spoke to her peers. “Guys, I’m having an idea, and I think it could be really good. Based on people’s reactions to I’m Every Woman , and the girl power the ladies brought to it… what if we did a set that paid homage to female powerhouses?”

 

After a beat in which everyone digested the idea, the room erupted with conflicted responses.

 

Tina breathed a quiet but enthusiastic “Yes!”

 

Kurt put a hand over his chest and nodded at Quinn with complete approval.

 

Mercedes beamed at her. “Hell yeah girl, now we’re talking.”

 

Brittany, on the other side of the room, said something Quinn couldn’t quite hear about mitochondria.

 

Mike and Matt both shrugged with easy acceptance, as the two most easy-going members of the club were apt to do.

 

Finn and Puck, on the other hand, rolled their eyes simultaneously. Finn once again pushed his way back to the front of the room. “Guys, come on. Obviously girls are great and have contributed a lot music or whatever, but,” he turned to Quinn directly, “you really want to just exclude the boys altogether?”

 

Quinn looked at him incredulously, at a loss for words.

 

Santana actually laughed out loud. “Oh my god, is Jolly Green Giant really trying to make the argument that men don’t get fair treatment compared to women?”

 

Before Finn could make another retort, Mr. Schuester rose from his seat on the risers and stepped in. “I don’t think anyone in this room is trying to discredit the fact that women in our society deserve better.” He glanced at Finn, clearly taking the boy’s side-eye as confirmation. “Now before we make any decisions, it’s only fair that we hear specific song suggestions.” He looked around the room while all of his students looked at the floor.

 

When no one said anything, Rachel made her way to the front of the crowd to join Quinn, Finn, and their teacher. “Actually, if no one has any other proposals, I’ve been wanting to try out an Adele song for some time.”

 

All of the New Directions made some form of interested, or at least conceding, expression, and Quinn saw Santana physically restrain herself from making a comment about Rachel finally having a song idea that she didn’t insist on right away, knowing that it was solely due to Santana’s love for Adele.

 

Mr. Schuester spread his arms and grinned. “Alright, I’m game. Let’s hear it, Rachel.”

 

The rest of the students ambled their way back to their seats as Rachel centered herself and produced sheet music out of nowhere to hand to the piano player.

 

Quinn leaned forward and rested her chin on the heel of her palm. She recognized the tune of Chasing Pavements immediately and snapped her mouth shut when she realized it had dropped open just a centimeter.

 

The slow, emotional pace of the song seeped into Quinn’s pores and engulfed her entire body. For a moment, they locked eyes, and the words that poured from Rachel’s mouth seemed to drive the beat of Quinn’s heart.

 

She took a deep shaky breath when Rachel closed her eyes as she sang into the chorus. The words melted into her and all of a sudden she realized her eyes were starting to well up. Watching Rachel perform was unlike anything, and even just in the choir room, without a stage or a spotlight, there was no doubt. Rachel was a star. And the way she was singing that song…

 

Quinn jerked in her seat. The others were visibly impressed by Rachel’s delivery of the song, but none were affected the way she seemed to be. She blinked hard to alleviate the outward emotional response she was having before anyone else noticed. Then she kept blinking. Disbelief washed over her as she realized what she had begun thinking.

 

There was no way that Charlie’s intuition was correct. Quinn couldn’t have feelings for a girl. She especially couldn’t have feelings for Rachel Berry.

 

Right? Right.

 

But the way her pulse jumped when Rachel glanced in her direction again…

 

No. There was no way. She and Rachel were friends now. That was all.

 

Yet the way Rachel’s voice, singing those lyrics, cut into her, made her wonder if, maybe, Rachel was thinking of her while she was singing them. But that was ridiculous.

 

Right? Right.

 

Right?

 

The piano dropped off for a moment, and the room brimmed with Rachel’s voice alone. Quinn was inexplicably frozen, afraid that the movement of a single muscle might shatter the delicate moment that existed all around her.

 

Then the piano came back in, and Rachel’s voice reached a new height of emotion, and Quinn felt like a fist clamped around her heart.  

 

Fuck. Fuck.

 

Maybe Charlie was right.

 

The realization nearly blew her over. If she hadn’t been securely seated in her plastic chair, she would surely have fallen straight to the floor. Rachel’s voice filled Quinn’s body until it overflowed and she couldn’t deny it to herself.

 

She did have feelings for Rachel.

 

At long last, Rachel’s eyes opened. Quinn watched her gaze slide across the rows of chairs before her.

 

Her heart dropped below her stomach and onto the floor.

 

When Rachel’s eyes came to rest, Quinn followed her line of sight to a chair at the edge of the room to find Noah Puckerman, whose soft smile showed something unmistakeable. His eyes positively shone as he watched her, and Quinn’s chest felt fit to burst.

 

Rachel shot a quick smirk in his direction, and Quinn closed her eyes as a single tear escaped onto her cheek.

 

What the hell was happening to her?

 

Quinn was not accustomed to feeling like this. Seeing something and knowing that she couldn’t have it was a foreign idea to her. Working for something? Easy. Doable.

 

But the way Rachel and Puck were looking at each other, the familiarity, the affection… what else could it be?

 

Quinn closed her eyes as she sucked in a long breath in attempt to make her outward expression more neutral.

 

It figured. The second she realized she really, actually wanted something, someone, someone else snatched it all away.

 

Rachel’s eyes closed again as her song ended, and Quinn forced herself to clap along with her classmates. Rachel gave a small curtsy and swept back to her chair in the front row.

 

Before she knew what she was doing, Quinn stood. She felt Rachel’s eyes carefully trailed on her as she stepped down the risers toward the front of the room.

 

“Um. If it’s okay, I have another song. It’s still technically classic rock, Finn, but it’s also definitely encompassing the female powerhouse scheme. Stevie Nicks is a legend, and I think she would be a good addition to the setlist. I mean, she is one of the greatest female powerhouses of all time.”

 

Various mutterings of approval and inquiry flooded the room. Mr. Schuester raised his eyebrows in interest. “The floor is yours, Quinn.”

 

Quinn darted back to make sure the piano player knew the song she was thinking of, then centered herself on the tiles before the rest of the glee club.

 

The tune to Dreams rose, and Quinn let her eyes flutter closed for just a moment. Performance anxiety wasn’t an affliction she normally suffered from, but the butterflies that erupted in her stomach made it clear that this song was a different story.

 

“Now here you go again, you say you want your freedom,” Quinn started before opening her eyes. “ Well who am I to keep you down?”

 

Her gaze landed squarely on Rachel’s face. Those brown eyes watched her unflinchingly. It was with a great deal of effort that Quinn dragged her stare from its fixation and looked around at anyone else.

 

Her throat felt like it was about to close up, but she forced herself to keep singing.

 

The words came through her mouth on a trajectory from her heart toward the last person in the world she ever expected to be singing to.

 

“Thunder only happens when it’s raining.

Players only love you when they’re playing.

Say women, they will come and they will go…”

 

Quinn’s eyes flashed back to Rachel, and her voice nearly cracked.

 

Apparently realizing that she had feelings for Rachel made it impossible to look at her without her heart constricting. The chorus rose again and she balled her hands into fists as she tried to shove all of that feeling into the lyrics. She sang with all she had, half hoping that releasing the words into the air might also release these new feelings from her chest.

 

If Rachel and Puck were into each other, well…

 

“Oh thunder only happens when it’s raining.

Players only love you when they’re playing.”

 

She allowed herself to stare at Rachel for one more short moment as the song neared its close. In those few seconds, she wasn’t sure if she wanted Rachel to understand her motivation for the song or if she hoped it would just sail over her, and everyone’s, head.

 

“Say women, they will come and they will go.

When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know.”

 

But what if Rachel didn’t want Puck? Quinn’s pulse pounded as the music began to wind down.

 

Her voice softened with the last words, and she saw Rachel watching her with a look of uncharacteristic stoicism. As she gazed back, she decided, fuck it, she hoped that when she sang it was clear. It only took a minute’s consideration for Quinn’s resolve to set in.

 

Rachel would hear how she felt.


“You’ll know.”

Chapter Text

Rachel’s leg bounced furiously as she sat perched at the very edge of her seat in the green room. Despite having experienced pre-show jitters before, and knowing that they were perfectly normal, and understanding that feeling them in no way meant that she lacked confidence in herself and her abilities, she couldn’t help but roll her eyes at herself for letting the anticipation-induced adrenaline get to her.

 

Her teammates milled about, each displaying their own subtle ticks of nervousness:

 

Tina, who had admitted to faking her stutter long ago, seemed to genuinely trip over every word that came out of her mouth as she babbled about nothing to anyone who so much as glanced in her direction.

 

Kurt kept running over to the mirrors, checking his hair, combing his fingers through it, nodding in satisfaction, turning away, and repeating the process every thirty seconds or so.

 

Artie rolled his wheelchair in endless, nervous circles around one of the couches.

 

Santana, whose temper seemed on an even shorter fuse than usual, switched intermittently between shouting at her teammates in Spanish for everything that wasn’t exactly to her liking and fuming in the corner with Brittany attempting to calm her down.

 

Even Mr. Schuester, who gave the group a whole speech about remaining calm and remembering how many times they had rehearsed and you guys have nothing to worry about, you’re going to do great was pacing incessantly off to one side of the room and muttering to himself.

 

When, at last, the lights above them flickered to indicate that it was their turn to take the stage, Mr. Schuester gathered the rag-tag group of teenagers for their usual show circle for one last jolt of hype.

 

“Alright guys, I know I made a big speech before we got on the bus to get here, so I’ll keep this one short.” Several of his students let out sighs of relief. “Yeah, yeah, you’re welcome. Anyway, you guys are amazing, and I’m so proud of all the hard work you’ve put into this set. Now get out there and rock it! Hands in.”

 

Each member of the New Directions put a hand in the middle of the circle, and after a count to three, threw them over their heads with a cheer.

 

Rachel approached the edge of the stage in the wings alone. A short debate among the glee club had yielded the agreement that she would begin their opening number herself, and the rest of the group would join her onstage starting at the second chorus.

 

Over the speakers, the announcer’s booming voice reverberated throughout the auditorium. “And now, ladies and gentlemen, from William McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio… The New Directions!”

 

Rachel grasped the smooth velvet of the curtain in a tight fist as she forced herself to take a deep breath. She exhaled long and slow, then released her grip on the curtain and walked, head high, to the center of the still-dark stage where a microphone stand awaited her.

 

A soft spotlight lowered on her as she sang the opening lines to Chasing Pavements . She started softly, emulating Adele to the best of her abilities before her voice swelled into the chorus, and as the spotlight brightened into a blaze, Rachel couldn’t help but contemplate the lyrics that poured from her lips in terms of her own life.

 

Rachel always knew that her dreams of stardom were bigger than most people considered realistic. She was talented, there was no denying that, but every so often, she wondered if her self-assurance might be undeserved.

 

Was she chasing a fantasy? A delusion?

 

Sure, she was impressive for Lima. But what passed for stardom in a little place like Lima, Ohio was hardly a rubric as to whether or not she would be successful in a cultural hub brimming with other ultra-talented people holding onto big dreams such as New York City.

 

She burst into the second chorus with gusto. The other members of the New Directions breezed in from either side and shuffled efficiently into formation behind her.

 

Deep in her gut, Rachel knew she had the talent to get her at least part of the way there. The question that really plagued her was whether or not she could maintain the drive, the tenacity to persevere when the world inevitably tried to tear her down.

 

The time would come one day for her to fully embrace her star power and eventual celebrity. But when it did, would she have the support of people who loved her?

 

When she achieved her career goals and fulfilled her professional dreams, would she have anyone in her personal life to celebrate with? Would there be anyone waiting for her when she came home after a show?

 

Would she find someone to love, and be loved by, to the same degree she loved music and performing?

 

Would her ambition continue to drive people away?

 

Was she doomed to spend her life alone?

 

Behind her, the other New Directions stepped and swayed in an ebb and flow motion.

 

Rachel had been raised to be self-sufficient, to stand on her own two feet. Part of her was ashamed for feeling the doubts that were creeping up inside of her. But she couldn’t deny that she craved affection and intimacy.

 

Clearly her pursuit of Finn had been misguided. That had been out of a desire for the kind of romance she was so enamored with on screens and stage, in which the plucky dreamer was courted by the stud-type in a feat of overcoming differences of class or social standing. In reality, she was a plucky dreamer, and he was what counted as a stud-type at McKinley, but rather than being obstacles that were to be overcome with the promise of true love, the differences that separated them were simply evidence of incompatibility.

 

She just wanted to feel what she had always been told young love would feel like.

 

Yet, somehow, Rachel knew that she was happier with the way things were now than she could remember being in a long time.

 

As the song ended, she turned her back to the audience for a moment and faced the group of people that she considered her closest friends. And they were. She had formed real, significant friendships with each of them. Some were closer than others, of course, but there wasn’t a single member of her team that she wouldn’t unquestioningly go to bat for.

 

After a moment in which the crowd’s applause rose and then settled, Rachel rejoined the group, delayed for half a moment by a quick side hug from Puck, whose face glowed with pride on her behalf.

 

Quinn brushed past them toward the front of the stage, a hot, almost angry, intensity burning in her eyes. Rachel felt an instantaneous urge to take her hand and squeeze it for reassurance, but the scant time between their group’s songs would not allow for it.

 

Rachel let herself watch Quinn step to the forefront and take one deep breath, before she stepped into formation with the team.

 

A few seconds later, Quinn’s mouth opened, and the Fleetwood Mac lyrics fell from her lips with more feeling than Rachel had heard from any member of the glee club other than herself.

 

Rachel moved her body in synchronization with the rest of the group to the number’s choreography. Every time she looked out to the audience, she could see, in the few faces that were visible beyond the blinding stage lights, how impressed and moved they were by Quinn’s performance.

 

And Rachel was right there with them.

 

Her chest swelled with respect and fondness as Quinn embodied the persona of Stevie Nicks before her. Her voice was rich, melodic, sonorous… sexy.

 

Rachel’s eyebrows shot up at herself when she realized she’d thought that last word. After a few hard blinks, keeping to the tempo of course, she shook her head at herself. Clearly acknowledging that Quinn and her voice were attractive was a mere statement of objective fact. Obviously.

 

Right? Right.

 

Right?

 

The trailing of Quinn’s last note was lost to a surge of applause. Rachel was tempted to join in.

 

In the transition to their next song, Rachel siezed the opportunity to reach out for the hand squeeze she had missed earlier. She flashed Quinn a beaming smile before they separated to take their places for their Whitney Houston number, the feeling of Quinn’s hand in her own lingering on her skin.

 

Her eyes followed Quinn as they all swung through the steps they’d practiced so many times. The stage lights were hot, but it wasn’t until then that Rachel began to feel really warm. Even her palms were beginning to feel a bit sweaty.

 

Though Mike and Brittany were the clear frontrunners when it came to the dancers of the New Directions, Quinn certainly held her own. She moved naturally to the music, graceful and sensuous.

 

Rachel’s own body was moving on autopilot while her eyes were glued to Quinn. Even as she became aware of the fact that she was doing it, she couldn’t stop herself from staring at Quinn. Her teammate. Her friend. It must have been some kind of vivid admiration. Something like that.

 

During the final chorus, the choreography called for half of the group to spin out in front of the other half, placing Rachel directly beside Quinn. When the time came, Rachel spun zealously, a mighty gravitational pull drawing her close to Quinn, perhaps closer than she had intended.

 

As they danced across each other’s paths, their fronts grazed together. Simultaneously, their eyes blew wide and they sucked in heaving gasps. Quinn’s gaze flashed with something unfamiliar, and Rachel felt herself almost falter. Which was unheard of, thank you very much, she was a professional.

 

There was no doubt about it now, her palms were definitely slick with an inexplicable nervous sweat.

 

A few notes and dance steps later, Mercedes finished the song with an incredible, jaw-dropping lilt.

 

The audience applauded thunderously and rose to its feat.

 

Rachel and Quinn wound up next to each other again as the New Directions got in a line to take a bow. They all joined hands, and for a second Rachel worried about the moisture on her palms, but when she searched Quinn’s face and their eyes locked, she was met with nothing but tenderness. Quinn raised their joined hands over their heads, their fingers interlocked, and Rachel mentally noted with off-handed interest how perfectly they fit together.

 

They bent at the waist in a sweeping bow, beaming smiles shared by each member of their team, then exited the stage with, fittingly enough, glee.

 

In the hallway back that led out from the wings of the stage, Rachel felt compelled to stop Quinn so that they could have a moment to celebrate together.

 

Before she could reach out and grab her wrist, a body appeared in front of her, cutting her off entirely. Before she knew what was happening, Puck had wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her off the ground in a twirling hug.

 

“That was unreal!” he exclaimed as he set her back on her feet. “You…” he put his hands on her shoulders and gazed into her eyes. “You were amazing. You are amazing.”

 

Rachel let out a soft chuckle of appreciation at his uncharacteristic verbal expression of praise. “That’s very sweet of you to say, Noah.”

 

“I mean every word.” Rachel felt his hands, still placed gently on the crest between her shoulders and the base of her neck, tremble slightly as he continued to watch her. The other glee club members shuffled past, seeming not to notice the two of them stopped in the middle of the corridor.

 

Rachel’s brow creased. “Are you alright? You’re looking a little pale all of a sudden.”

 

He cleared his throat, “What? Yeah, no, I’m totally good.” He puffed out his chest. “I just, uh, have something I’ve been wanting to tell you.”

 

“Oh.” Rachel regarded him thoughtfully, an knot forming in her stomach for a reason she couldn’t identify. “Well, you can tell me anything, Noah, you know that. I’m your best friend, after all.”

 

“Well, um, that’s kind of the thing, Rach.” He took a deep breath, evidently steeling himself for something. “I like you. Like, not as my best friend. I mean, you’re totally still my best friend, and I love being your best friend, but I like you as like, more than that.”

 

In what seemed almost like an effort to stop himself from talking, Puck swooped down and planted a chaste but commanding kiss on Rachel’s lips.

 

When he pulled away, he shoved his hands in his pockets, dropped his eyes to his shoes, and said, “Just, you know, thought you should know.”

 

Rachel was frozen as he took his leave, struggling to comprehend what had just occurred. “Shock” didn’t begin to encapsulate what she was experiencing.

 

She and Puck had known each other forever. They’d been friends what felt like their whole lives at this point. Always friends. Each other’s confidants. They even served as one another’s security blankets every now and then.

 

The thought of changing that, of becoming something else to Puck, and he to her, had never been a possibility that Rachel had considered. Their relationship had always, always been platonic. Even when they hit puberty, and Puck adopted his own version of machismo, he had always been like a brother to her.

 

Had she been blind to this side of his feelings all along? What kind of friend was she not to notice that he’d been hiding these intentions? More importantly, what would this mean for them going forward?

 

Rachel’s head spun as she struggled to make sense of everything that had just happened.

 

When, after several moments, she turned to catch up to the group, her gaze was met with a disappointed looking Quinn, whose jaw was clenched so tight Rachel feared her teeth might just crack and shatter inside her mouth.

 

Rachel opened her mouth, but couldn’t find any words to call out as Quinn turned and walked slowly away.

Chapter Text

Quinn dragged her feet despondently as Brittany and Santana physically pulled her by the hands down the street toward Puck’s house.

 

“Guys, I told you, I’m not in a party mood. I just want to sit at home and watch crappy reality shows.”

 

Puck’s house loomed at the end of the road. It was in no way outwardly ominous, but there was a dread that built up in Quinn’s gut with every step closer she took nonetheless.

 

There was more to it than that, of course. From the moment she admitted to herself that she had any kind of more-than-friendly feelings toward Rachel, the thought of seeing her romantically involved with someone else prompted a deep ache inside her chest.

 

Santana rolled her eyes and tightened her grip on Quinn’s wrist. “Come on, Q, there is no way we’re turning down this chance to celebrate. Do you know how rare it is for high school kids’ parents to go out of town and actually open up an opportunity for a party? That basically never happens in real life.”

 

Brittany chimed in, “You should be more excited. The party is because we won regionals!”

 

Santana raised her eyebrows jovially. “Another event that is likely to never happen again in real life.”

 

Regionals. The performance after which Rachel and Puck kissed in the middle of the hallway for anyone to see. Quinn’s stomach turned as the memory flashed before her eyes. She groaned audibly as she was yanked up the stoop to face Puck’s front door.

 

Brittany rapped her knuckles sharply on the door, and before Quinn could make a break for it, it swung open to reveal an already inebriated Tina Cohen-Chang, who welcomed them each with an enthusiastic hug. Just inside, they were greeted by their host and a blond boy Quinn didn’t recognize.

 

When Puck spotted the newly arrived trio, he immediately pulled the new guy over to them. “Evening, ladies! This is Sam. He just moved here from… somewhere. He joined the football team so he’s already met a bunch of the guys. As Cheerios, I’m sure you’ll make yourselves well acquainted.”

 

Quinn was momentarily surprised by Puck’s passable manners. She couldn’t help wondering if it was a result of Rachel’s influence.

 

Sam blushed and nudged Puck gently in the gut. When Santana inevitably questioned his presence at this particular party, he went on to tell them about how he was in a band with some friends at his old school and that he was thinking about joining glee since McKinley seemed to be lacking in the garage band department.

 

He was about to launch into the story of how he learned to play guitar, when Mike approached them and announced that the group was going to play a drinking game.

 

They wandered further into the living room, where their fellow glee clubbers were gathering in a circle. Puck shuffled a deck of cards deftly as Matt placed a beer can in the middle of the circle. Puck spread the cards in an even, continuous ring around the can, then explained the rules.

 

“The game is Kings: we go around the circle, when it’s your turn, you take a card. Each card has a rule. If you draw a two, it’s ‘two, you,’ so you pick someone who has to take a drink. Draw a three, it’s ‘three, me’ so you drink, and so on. After every turn, you stick your card under the tab of the beer, and whoever’s card cracks it gets to chug and we start over with a new can. If you draw a card and break the circle around the can, you chug the drink you already have. After this we can pull out the table and play Slap Cup or Pong or whatever.”

 

Quinn squinted at him as she cracked open the hard cider that was passed to her from a box off to the side of their huddle. “Honestly Puck, how do you even know all these drinking games?”

 

“You know, I’m just very seasoned and experienced,” he responded with a waggle of his eyebrows.

 

Quinn averted her eyes and took a long swig of her drink. Her annoyance eased ever so slightly when she heard Rachel say to Mercedes, half under her breath, “Please, you know he spent half the afternoon on Google searching ‘best drinking games.’” Rachel giggled, and Quinn hid a smirk behind another sip of her cider.

 

The game began, and Quinn found herself able to keep up with the perfunctory rules a bit too well for her liking. If she was going to be forced to be at a party she didn’t want to attend in the first place, she sure as hell wasn’t going to be sober for it. Fortunately for her, after a few rounds of purposely flubbing the rules and “having” to drink, she started to get a little tipsy, messed up naturally, and got to drink a little more.

 

Before long, the whole group was vaguely drunk and beginning to get restless, so they shifted from the slower pace of sitting on the floor with a deck of cards to the faster-paced Slap Cup. Solo cups and ping pong balls flew through the air as the glee club’s laughter and babble grew to an uproarious level.

 

Quinn found herself thoroughly enjoying this second game. As it turned out, Rachel was truly terrible at it, and watching her try and fail so spectacularly to bounce a ping pong ball into a cup before the person to her left could beat her to it was one of the most surprisingly entertaining displays Quinn had witnessed in her time as a high school party attendee. Plus, the way Rachel’s tongue poked out of the corner of her lips when she tried to concentrate was wholly endearing.

 

After a few rounds, most of the cups had been slapped beyond use, and a number of people drifted from the table toward the speakers for dancing. A small group remained circled around the table as Puck proposed a game of Survivor Flip Cup. Quinn made to wander to the dance floor but was yanked back to the game by Santana, whose competitive nature was quickly taking over. Sam, who had also been coerced into joining Santana’s team, shot her a companionable grin.

 

Opposite them, Puck and Mercedes had teamed up and were scanning the room for a third. Simultaneously, they spotted Rachel, who happened to be wandering by the table, and hooked their arms through her elbows to drag her to the game. It only took a moment’s pleading to convince her to join. Quinn could see that she was already relatively tipsy, otherwise she would have put up a much longer and more comprehensive argument as to why games like these were not of interest to her.

 

“Alright gang, you know how it goes,” Puck announced to those gathered around the table. “You chug your beer, you flip your cup, then the next person goes. First team to finish wins. But,” he held up a finger for emphasis, “since we’re in Survivor mode, at the end of each round, the losing team votes off one of their members. In the next round, you keep the same number of cups, so someone takes over the eliminated person’s drink.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, we get it.” Quinn could feel herself rapidly losing patience with Puck’s sudden need to over-explain everything and make himself look cool by acting like he knew more about drinking than the rest of them. “Let’s just play.”

 

Puck frowned, but nodded in assent. Quinn swirled the beer around her cup in attempt to dissipate the foam and avoid meeting the gaze she could feel coming at her from Rachel’s area of the table.

 

Santana and Puck, matched up against each other at one end of the table, held up their cups and cheers-ed to start off the round. They both drained their cups with great speed, almost mirroring each other with the pace at which their drinks were brought to their mouths and then lined up at the edge of the table to be flipped.

 

Santana flipped her cup a split second before Puck, and Quinn thrust her cup toward her lips. The the fizz from the beer made her eyes water, but she powered through and got it all down.

 

As Quinn attempted to flip her cup from the edge of the table, she saw out of her periphery Rachel finishing her own beer with a small burp. Quinn grit her teeth in frustration as her cup refused to land upright on the table. Her jaw dropped, equally dismayed and impressed, when Rachel landed her cup on the first try.

 

Quinn finally landed her own cup as Mercedes began drinking, and she let out a sigh of relief when Sam proved his worth by downing his drink in what seemed like a single gulp. He and Mercedes were neck and neck, and it seemed like the round might be a tie, but at the last second, as their cups landed on the table, Sam’s stabilized immediately while Mercedes’s wobbled and ultimately fell to the floor.

 

Santana and Sam both threw their hands up in celebration and clapped them together in a victorious high five over Quinn’s head. Quinn allowed herself a grin and returned Sam’s friendly nudge on the shoulder.

 

As the one who was unable to land her flip in time, Mercedes was eliminated from her team. The remaining five players set up for the next round, with Puck volunteering to take over the extra cup between him and Rachel.

 

In the next round, despite outnumbering their opponents and only having to drink and flip one cup each, Quinn’s team found themselves unable to land their cups before the other team. Santana bowed out, literally, with a curtsy and twirl of the hand, saying that the dance floor was calling her name.

 

In the following round, Sam and Rachel squared off to start. Although Sam was able to chug and flip his first cup, having opted to take on the extra in Santana’s absence, he struggled rather tragically when it came time to flip his second. Quinn hadn’t even gotten a chance to drink her cup by the time Rachel and Puck finished off their line.

 

With an apologetic glance, Sam slid his cup over to Quinn, who was left dejectedly as the sole member of her team.

 

Quinn sighed in resignation and steeled herself as she refilled the three cups that were now hers alone to drink and flip. She raised her glass to cheers with Puck to start the round, then focused exclusively on the task before her. Doing her best to block out any progress on the other side of the table, Quinn drained her cups as quickly as she was able, blinking fizz-induced tears away until her third and final cup was empty of its contents. With a deft flick of two fingers, the cup somersaulted securely onto the table.

 

Quinn let out a low belch as she finally lifted her eyes to the other team. As she did so, Puck just barely landed his second cup. Their headway hadn’t even reached Rachel. Quinn had survived the two-on-one match-up and would face off directly in the next round for the championship.

 

Quinn’s teeth clenched involuntarily when Puck hugged Rachel into his side. His speech only slightly slurred, he said, “Next one’s all you, babe. All this beer is going right through me, I gotta go break the seal.” He gave her shoulder one last squeeze before he headed off in the direction of the bathroom. Quinn turned away from them under the guise of grabbing another can of beer when she heard him utter the pet name. She distributed beer evenly between her three cups, and took a moment to take a couple of swigs to finish the can off before tossing it in the empty box they were using for recycling.

 

With her cups full and the next round imminent, there was nothing left for Quinn to do but raise her first Solo cup and wait for Rachel. Rachel topped off her own cups, lifted her first from the table, and, at last, locked eyes with Quinn over the viscous, puddle covered table.

 

Without warning, Quinn’s pulse began to race as she held Rachel’s warm, slightly beer-glossy gaze. Rachel touched her cup to Quinn’s, touched it to the table’s surface, then brought it to her mouth. Quinn blinked then forced herself to follow suit. For some reason her throat seemed suddenly too dry to allow the beer to go down smoothly. She spluttered a bit as she finished her first cup, foam lingering at the corners of her lips. She managed to get it flipped on the second try. She glanced up to check on Rachel’s position just in time to watch her expertly land her second cup.

 

Rachel, clearly inebriated and focused intently on the game, reached for her third and final cup with perhaps too much enthusiasm, and knocked it on its side, sending its contents streaming onto the table. Mercedes, who had remained in the background as a spectator, shouted, “Zamboni!” and pointed excitedly at the puddle that Rachel had created. Quinn watched, jaw slack, as Rachel put her lips to the table without hesitation and sucked at the spilled beer until it was little more than a sticky film. Quinn felt a tingling in her gut when Rachel lifted herself back into a straightened position and, seemingly in slow motion, licked the residue from her lips.

 

Seconds later, Quinn could do nothing but look on as Rachel flipped her last cup, having left Quinn definitively in the dust.

 

Quinn’s reverie was broken when Puck, who had returned from the restroom just in time to see Rachel land the winning flip, charged back to the table and raised Rachel onto his shoulders in drunken celebration.

 

Quinn spun away from the sight. The sudden motion combined with the amount of beer she had consumed caused her to stumble directly into the path of Finn, who was passing by with a loose bag of wine that had been freed from a box.

 

“Whoa, careful Quinn,” he said, swinging the wine away from where it had nearly collided with her head. “You’re supposed to slap the bag, not the other way around.”

 

From behind her, Quinn heard Rachel giggle. She glanced up at Finn’s rosy-cheeked face, then at the pink bag of cheap wine. Wordlessly, she grabbed the bag’s spout, pulled it directly into her mouth, and turned the little plastic knob. She drank until she could feel the liquid sloshing in her stomach.

 

She pulled the wine nozzle from her lips. She felt instant regret as the sugary wine interacted with the alcohol that already swarmed her system.

 

She took a deep breath in attempt to calm the unsettled sensation that began roiling in her gut. For a moment, she thought she was in the clear, then before she knew it, she clapped a hand over her mouth and was sprinting for the bathroom.

 

Quinn was bent over the toilet when she heard the door close. Wiping her mouth with a wad of toilet paper, she looked up to find Santana standing over her with her hands on her hips.

 

“You okay?” Quinn could only nod as she slumped against the wall. Santana regarded her for a moment. “Good.” Santana walked over and flushed the toilet before flipping the lid closed and sitting on top of it. “Well, with those pleasantries out of the way, what the hell is going on with you, Q?”

 

Quinn heaved a breath as the swimming in her vision began to subside. Sweat coated her skin in a slick sheen, but the cool bathroom tile seemed to help. Her intoxication was rapidly combining with acquiescence to her friend’s question and the vulnerability of her current situation.

 

She leaned her head back, closed her eyes, and told Santana everything.

 

After a long pause, Santana sighed heavily and slumped back against the tank of the toilet. “Jesus, Q.” She shook her head, eyebrows raised. “I mean, damn. I knew we had a lot in common, but…” Quinn cocked her head, and Santana deflated a little. “You love Berry. And I’m, well… I’m in love with Brit.”

 

Quinn took a moment to take this information in. The confession itself was shocking, but the truth Santana had shared, given everything, was less so. Quinn’s initial surprise wore off quickly, and she found herself thinking that it made all the sense in the world. Santana and Brittany… of course.

 

Quinn swayed a bit as she stood, then she wrapped an arm around her friend’s shoulders. With a sincere, supportive grin, she said, “I can’t say I fully saw it coming, but honestly, I see it. You two would be great together. You two… make sense.”

 

Santana’s eyes glistened as she shook her head in what could only be understood as relief. With a watery laugh she quipped, “Yeah, okay, whatever. You’re drunk.” She looked Quinn in the eyes, and Quinn saw a silent thank-you in her gaze. “You good to go back out there?” she asked with a jerk of the head toward the door.

 

Quinn nodded, took a moment to rinse her mouth out in the sink, then followed Santana back out into the throng.

 

When they re-entered the party, they were immediately met with the sight of Puck and Rachel standing very close together and talking intensely in a corner, as well as Brittany and Mike in the center of the room dancing raunchily for the entertainment of the others. Despite the shenanigans taking place throughout the room, Quinn’s vision tunneled until she couldn’t see anything other than Rachel and Puck, whose faces were far too close together for her comfort. She couldn’t make out a word they were saying, but her inebriated mind was working overtime to fill in the blanks.

 

Her face flushed with heat. In her daze, Quinn noticed the new guy, Sam, walking by her. “Fuck it,” she muttered, marching up to him. She felt Santana grab at her elbow but shook her off.

 

“Whoa, sorry,” Sam held up his hands as Quinn clumsily collided with him.

 

Quinn shook his apology off impatiently. “Do you, um… Let’s make out.”

 

Sam looked slightly taken aback as he drunkenly registered her proposition. “I mean… I, yeah okay.”

 

Quinn gave one last glance in Puck and Rachel’s direction before she leaned into Sam and placed her mouth on his.

 

Behind her, she heard Santana sigh an exasperated, “Oh for fuck’s sake.”

 

She closed her eyes and pretended that it wasn’t Sam who was kissing her. His tongue found its way inside her mouth, a little rough, a little awkward, but if she tilted her head just so, she could almost make herself believe…

 

“Alright, that’s enough of that.” Strong arms forced their way between her and Sam, and she opened her eyes to see Santana’s disapproving glare boring into her. After a beat, Santana turned to the group and clapped her hands to gain their attention. “Let’s play another game! I’m not here to sit around and watch people randomly couple off.”

 

Quinn couldn’t help but notice Brittany pointedly disentangle herself from Mike as the group’s dancing slowed to a halt.

 

Tina brought a hand to her stomach. “I don’t know if I can do another drinking game, there’s a lot of liquid already in my stomach.”

 

Finn, who had polished off the wine that had remained in the bag after Quinn’s turn with it, stumbled over and dropped a heavy arm around Quinn’s shoulders. “What if we do sum’n like Truth or Dare? Then y’only have to drink if you like, super duper don’t wanna answer a question or whatever.”

 

“Perfect! Truth or Dare it is,” Santana declared, deciding for everyone before a debate about what to do could take off. Without too much wrangling, everyone gathered around and took a seat to enjoy the game.

 

It was tame enough to start out, with mild questions like “What’s your type?” and “If you had to pick a teacher to have a fling with, who would it be?” along with dares such as prank calls, wall twerks, and trading pants.

 

Eventually it was Quinn’s turn. Kurt, having been last to accept a dare (giving a mini strip tease to “Pony” by Ginuwine) had the honor of coming up with the truth she’d have to answer or dare for her to complete. He eyed her carefully, then, with an all too knowing expression, dared her to kiss the most attractive person in the room. This prompt was followed by a long, sweaty pause.

Quinn’s eyes darted around as her palms grew clammy. “I, uh, I changed my mind, give me a truth.”

 

Kurt looked like he was contemplating pushing the matter, but relented. “Fine. Um… what was it like kissing the new guy?”

 

The room went silent as they waited for her answer. Quinn’s eyes automatically went to Rachel, who she found was watching her intently. Quinn remained silently for a long moment. She could feel the gazes of everyone else around her lingering on her face, trying to figure out what she was thinking as her jaw worked wordlessly open and closed.

 

Finally, unable to come up with a response that wasn’t too honest without being an outright lie, she quipped, “Lips like those, the man clearly knows what he’s doing.”

 

Her fellow glee clubbers broke into giggles, relieved at the break in the room’s sudden, inexplicable tension.

 

Across the room, Rachel stood abruptly. When several pairs of eyes followed the motion, she mumbled something about running to the bathroom and was gone. Puck began to rise from his own place, looking like he might follow her. Kurt placed a hand on his back to stop him and followed her out himself. A moment passed in which the group milled about uncertainly before Mercedes redirected group into another dance party.

 

Quinn remained at the perimeter of the dance floor. For some reason, her motivation to join in was lacking.

 

Sam, somewhat hesitantly, sauntered up to her. Over the blaring of the music, he said, “So uh, that was some kiss.”

 

Quinn saw the hope in his eyes and deflated. “Look, Sam. It’s Sam right?” He nodded. “I’m really sorry I dragged you into it, but I was just trying to make someone jealous. Or I was jealous. Or some combination of the two, I don’t know. But I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. You seem cool, and I think we could potentially be friends, but…” her only half-worn off drunkenness prevented her from being able to complete the thought. “You get what I’m saying?”  

 

Sam blew out a long breath. “Oh. Well… I’ll admit my ego is a little bruised,” he rubbed bashfully at the back of his neck, “but I kind of had my eye on someone else too. So, no harm no foul, I guess.” His eyes darted toward Mercedes, which Quinn did not fail to pick up on. She smiled and playfully knocked into his side as his face reddened. When he glanced at her again, Quinn encouraged him to go dance with her. He squeezed her arm in a friendly side hug before following her advice and throwing himself into the center of the jostling bodies.

 

Quinn watched her friends for a while with a small, slightly melancholy grin, then decided to head outside for some air.

 

When she stepped onto the porch, she found Kurt sitting on the stoop, nursing a bottle of cider.

 

He glanced at her over his shoulder, then went back to gazing at the moon. Quinn regarded him, then asked, “You okay?”

 

He shrugged, taking a sip. “Oh, I’m fine. Just lamenting a mild crush on the new guy Sam, who I know is obviously straight. The usual.”

 

Quinn took a seat on the step beside him and put a hand on his shoulder with what might have been too much understanding. He sighed and leaned gratefully into the comforting touch for just a moment.

 

After a short time in which he gave her an appraising look, he said, “Rachel just left. She’s walking home. I tried to get her to stay, but you know her when someone tries to change her mind. I think you two…” he paused. In a mildly surprising show of affection, or support, or maybe camaraderie, he reached out and squeezed her hand. “If you want to catch her, you still can.”

 

Quinn feigned confusion. “Why would I… ?”

 

Kurt raised an eyebrow at her knowingly.

 

She paused for just a moment as she took in his meaning, then she took off at a run. 

Chapter Text

Rachel strolled unhurriedly down the street as a warm breeze swept loftily over her. Her buzz had begun to wear off, which she appreciated, as she was more and more able to walk in a straight line without having to think too hard about it. She dragged her feet a bit as she made her way, glad to have left the awkwardness of the party but not wanting to get home just yet. 

 

The sky was cloudless. It spread out above her as if someone had painted it on. Deep, navy blue, purple, and black blended in every direction with white dots of stars splattered across its surface. 

 

Every now and then, Rachel liked to watch the stars just to make herself feel smaller. The vastness of space, the possibility of all the infinite life and activity and movement served as a reminder that she, a single person on Earth, was smaller than a speck of dust or a single grain of sand when put in the context of the universe at large. 

 

Yet simultaneously, she was comforted by the innate assurance she felt that, one day, she was sure to shine as big and bright as the stars that sparkled over her head. She was a collection of molecules that, in time, would amass into one collective and unmistakable entity of glowing heat. 

 

She was going to grow into a star. Rachel felt it in every cell of her body. She burned constantly, destined to bring light into people’s lives. 

 

As she gazed up through the darkness, she allowed herself to wonder at how impossibly far away those stars must be. In a surprising show of random knowledge, Puck had told her once that many of the stars she would look at were such a distance from Earth that by the time the light reached her eyes, the star she saw was likely already dead. Even in relation to other stars, there were billions, trillions of miles that separated them.

 

Rachel had to admit to herself, at times, focusing so intensely on her dreams of stardom did feel as though it put distance between her and those she wanted to be close to. 

 

Loneliness sunk into her shoulders, and she wrapped her arms around herself despite the warmth of the late spring air. Rachel had been hit with a lot of conflicting emotions recently, and she couldn’t deny that the confusion had made her pull away somewhat from her relationships with everyone she had spent the past two years becoming friends with. 

 

Part of her wanted to reach out to Quinn. There had been an unnamed but certain weirdness between them since Regionals, on both their parts, but Rachel had really begun to miss their friendship in the days that had passed since the competition. 

 

A part of her had been starting to wonder if there was something else there, if the fondness she felt for Quinn went beyond the platonic. If she was honest, Rachel had never been one to overthink her sexuality. She had grown up imagining herself ending up with a leading man who would whisk her off into the sunset, but she had been raised to prioritize open mindedness and saw no reason why the person who swept her off her feet at the end of the story couldn’t be a woman. 

 

Spending time with Quinn had become one of Rachel’s favorite things to do, right up there with performing for a crowd and singing along to movie musicals with her dads. Even with their rocky beginnings, there was something about their dynamic that let Rachel feel comfortable when they were together and excited to see her when they were apart. They understood each other in a way that Rachel had never experienced with her other friends. 

 

The real trouble stemmed from the fact that she had little concrete evidence that Quinn was interested in return, and the last thing Rachel wanted to do was to jeopardize the friendship they had come so far in without being absolutely sure.

 

She was pulled from her thoughts when her phone vibrated in her skirt pocket. Rachel slowed to a halt, then took a moment to sigh and shake her head. The notification on her screen told her it was from the very person who had made her decide to make an early exit from the party. 

 

Puck: hey rach, i know i said some things but pls come back to the party. i really want to keep talking about this, even if you dont feel the same way you mean the world to me

 

Rachel felt heavy as a single tear rolled down her cheek. This situation, rolls reversed, was exactly the reason she was so hesitant to explore her feelings for Quinn. 

 

Noah’s friendship had always been something she could count on. She loved him fiercely but never romantically. He was her best friend, he was even like a brother at times, and shifting their dynamic into something romantic wasn’t a change she was interested in making. She didn’t want to hurt him, and she knew that if she were to make herself vulnerable in the same way with Quinn, she would be opening herself up to the same potential for pain and rejection, not to mention completely throwing a wrench in the natural, easy nature of the relationship they had cultivated. 

 

She went to put her phone back in her pocket when it buzzed again. Rachel was hit with a surge of annoyance. Reiterating to Puck that she didn’t want to be more than friends with him was the last thing she wanted to have to do, especially over text. 

 

She muttered to herself, “Noah Puckerman, I swear,” but when she opened the message, it turned out to be from another of her friends.

 

Mercedes: hey gurl, did you leave?? nobody can find you, it’s weird havnig karaoke goin without you lowkey/highkey showing everyone up. anywayyyy i could tell somethin weird happened w you and ppuckerman but you should come back and have osome more of these drinks adn hang out w the rest of us bc we lovee you. also i’m a lil tipsy shh hahaah

 

Rachel shook her head and suppressed an amused snort at her friend’s inebriation. She bit her lip as she glanced back and forth between the direction she had been meandering and the way she had come. After a short deliberation, she ultimately decided that spending her night brooding alone in her room was less enticing than the alternative and ultimately elected to follow Mercedes’ advice and return to the party. She turned briskly on her heel and strode back toward Puck’s house. 

 

A few moments into her return trip, Rachel spotted a figure down the road. The person appeared to be jogging, rather unsteadily, in her direction.  

 

Rachel felt a momentary stab of fear as she imagined herself the subject of an episode of Dateline. 

 

That fear subsided rather quickly, however, when the figure slowly swerved, stumbled, and eventually toppled over into some shrubbery. 

 

She only realized that the figure was someone she knew when she got a little closer and recognized the voice that cursed in pain. 

 

“Quinn?”

 

Rachel gave herself a moment to laugh as she closed the distance between herself and her fallen friend. 

 

She stepped up the hedge with her hands on her hips and a poorly restrained smirk on her face. “Fancy meeting you here,” she quipped as she took hold of Quinn’s arm and pulled her to her feet. She plucked a twig from Quinn’s hair with a small giggle.

 

Quinn’s cheeks, which were already slightly flushed from alcohol, burned an even brighter pink. She glanced around, clearly hoping to mask her embarrassment. “Who, me? I’m a regular at this here… bush.” They both chuckled and looked at their feet. After a moment, Quinn continued, “Actually, I was looking for you.” 

 

Rachel’s eyes shot up in hopeful surprise, but she hastily attempted to regain her cool with a bit of sarcasm. “In the bush?”

 

Quinn laughed and rubbed at the back of her neck. “Yeah, not the most obvious place to search, but, you know, you’re pretty small. You could have been anywhere.”

 

Rachel feigned offense and nudged Quinn with her elbow.

 

They gazed at each other for a moment with amusement in their eyes, then Quinn blinked rapidly and seemed instantly more sober. She took Rachel’s wrist gently in her hand and visibly swallowed. “I really was looking for you though, Rachel. I-”

 

“Oh my god.” 

 

Quinn froze mid-sentence, eyes wide. 

 

Rachel’s eyes, meanwhile, were locked in horror on a trail of red that was slithering down Quinn’s leg. “Quinn, you’re bleeding!” 

 

Quinn seemed to shake herself from her stupor and looked down at herself. “Oh.” 

 

They both stared at a gnarly gash that had been carved into her thigh, just above her knee. It was bleeding somewhat profusely. 

 

When Rachel’s initial shock subsided, a sense of panic set in to take its place. She began searching frantically, and admittedly uselessly, for something to use as a bandage. 

 

Eventually, she came to the conclusion that because they were outside and on the literal street, there was slim to no chance of a first aid kit showing up in their vicinity. Frazzled, she ran her hands through her hair, dislodging her cloth headband. She peered at the accessory in her hand for a beat then jolted. “Ah! This! Tie this around your cut.” 

 

Despite her injury and the pain that was likely setting in more severely by the second, Quinn seemed unfazed and all but waved Rachel off. 

 

“No, no. I don’t want to get blood on it.”

 

“Quinn.”

 

“Rachel.” She shot Rachel an expression of faux superiority. “Seriously, I don’t want to ruin something that looks so good on you.”

 

She then proceeded to - far too casually, in Rachel’s opinion - use her teeth to rip a sleeve off of her t-shirt and use that to secure her wound. Rachel’s jaw hung open at the show of raw strength, and her body became inexplicably tingly.

 

When she recovered her ability to move, which had left her momentarily, Rachel slipped an arm around Quinn’s waist. “Okay, She-Hulk, let me help you home.” 

 

With a quick, appreciative smile, Quinn agreed and leaned into Rachel’s support.

 

They moved slowly, Quinn hobbling through a slight limp. 

 

As they made their way, Rachel felt a rush of déjà vu. They walked in silence, and she watched Quinn out of the corner of her eye for a while, noting to herself how nice it felt to have Quinn’s arm around her shoulders, though the circumstances were less than ideal. 

 

A few minutes later, they had nearly completed their journey, and Quinn’s house was in sight at the other end of the street. Rachel caught her with a tightened grip around her back when Quinn tripped over an uneven square of the sidewalk. She only loosened her grip again after the wince from the strain on her wound dissolved from her face. 

 

Quinn met her eyes with a look that Rachel was almost tempted to label as bashful. “You know what this reminds me of?” Quinn’s voice was low and sweet. Rachel raised her eyebrows to indicate that she should answer her own question. “That time we ran into each other on the bike path and I totally wiped out.”

 

Rachel remembered it well. She smiled softly. “The day you stopped hating my guts. Honestly, I was just thinking the same thing.”

 

Quinn stopped walking abruptly, throwing Rachel off balance for a moment as she struggled to maintain her own footing and still brace some of Quinn’s weight. 

 

“Wait, hold on a second. I know we’re friends now and all of that rivalry or whatever is in the past, but I want to make sure you know: I never hated you.” Rachel dropped her gaze, partially in uncertainty and partially because she was sure that the warmth flooding her heart must also show on her face. Almost instantly, however, Quinn lifted her chin with a finger and established deliberate eye contact. “I mean it. I hated some things about my life back then, yeah, and I definitely projected some of that onto who I thought you were to me at that point, but I never, ever hated you .” Then in a more hushed voice, “I like you.” 

 

Rachel searched Quinn’s eyes, suddenly intensely aware of the fact that her arm was still hooked securely around Quinn’s waist. This knowledge led her to the other various aspects of their semi-embrace. Quinn’s arm was settled comfortably around her shoulders, the tips of her fingers trailed delicately on Rachel’s collarbone. She was still, at least in stature, helping Quinn to stand, so their upper bodies were pressed together. Quinn’s face was close enough to hers that she could feel the faintest whisper of Quinn’s breath on her cheek. 

 

“I like you, too.”

 

Her eyes widened just a bit as Quinn almost imperceptibly licked her lips. Her whole body went hot. 

 

Rachel felt herself lean in just a couple of centimeters. Quinn leaned in return, their chests pressing together. Rachel’s breath halted in her lungs. She closed her eyes. 

 

They snapped back open when Quinn’s weight shifted and she lurched in her arms. 

 

Rachel’s heart beat in overdrive as she hoisted Quinn back into a proper standing position. “Are you okay?” Her mind and body struggled to catch up to each other in comprehending what had just happened.

 

Quinn mumbled an apology about putting her weight on her bad leg. 

 

Rachel took a deep, stuttering breath and tried to center herself. Quinn was still at least a little bit drunk. And injured. 

 

And if what Rachel thought was about to happen were going to happen, these were not the right circumstances. She took a step back, both mentally and physically. 

 

Rachel forced herself to give a soft chuckle. “Steady, girl. Think you can make it the rest of the way?”

 

Quinn nodded, and they continued on their travels the rest of the way down the street. They finished the walk in silence, not uncomfortable, but with an unnamed heaviness hanging over them until they finally reached Quinn’s front door. 

 

Before she entered, Quinn rubbed at the back of her neck and concurrently gave Rachel’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Thanks for helping me home. Again.” 

 

Rachel squeezed back before delicately releasing Quinn’s palm from her grip. “My pleasure.” 

 

She turned to leave but whipped back around with an ounce too much eagerness when Quinn called out to her. “Hey Rach, do you have any plans tomorrow?”

 

Rachel felt a fluttering erupt in her chest at the twinkle she found in Quinn’s eye.

 

“What did you have in mind?”