Disclaimer: I, by no means, claim to own anything remotely related to the Glee Universe. No copyright infringement intended.
AN: This is an AU, with several triggers, namely depression, suicide and its aftermath.
Fernweh: (n.) a longing to travel, missing a place you've never seen.
When Quinn Fabray first arrives in Lima, Ohio, she is still Lucy.
She's still wearing her thick-rimmed glasses, carrying the excess baby fat that just refuses to go, and is so painfully silent that she's practically unnoticeable in the school corridors. It's not exactly what Lucy initially planned for her fresh start in this new town. In fact, she intended to use the proposed move to reinvent herself completely. She was going to spend the summer between middle and high school becoming the sort of person she actually likes.
But that was all quickly and painfully derailed when her mother received a panicked phone call from Boston.
Frances Fabray, Lucy's older sister by seven years, had a nervous breakdown at the end of her second year at Harvard, and every plan Lucy had for her summer went flying out the window, only to be replaced by her plans that directly involved her sister.
A sister who immediately comes home.
A sister who sometimes feels like a stranger to Lucy.
Despite the derailment of her own plans, the family of four still make the move, crossing the state of Ohio to settle in quiet, little Lima. Lucy's father, Russell Fabray, believes the sleepy town will do well for his older daughter, and he selfishly hopes she'll be able to return to school for the Fall semester.
Lucy's mother, Judy Fabray, is just content to have her daughter home, where she can keep a constant eye on her.
And Lucy has been doing anything and everything remotely possible to keep her sister here. She's being the perfect daughter, doing extra chores and not giving her parents any stress at all. She does all she's told to do, not bothering anyone with any of her childish problems, all while she watches.
As closely as she dares.
While nobody has actually explicitly told Lucy what happened in Boston, she's been able to hear snippets from conversations going on all around her, and she's learned more than she ever needs to. She cries the first time Uncle Richard - her father's older brother - confirms what she suspected, and she hates the man a little bit for being so blasé about it, even going so far as to blame her mother's side of the family for 'bad genes.'
Frannie's 'nervous breakdown' is actually a euphemism for a suicide attempt.
Lucy's at that age where she understands, but also doesn't. So, in trying to comprehend properly, she does what she does best and reads about it. She visits the library over the summer - only when she's sure her mother is home - and she spends hours reading about depression and psychology on various websites. It's definitely not happy reading, and she finds learning about the struggles people go through to affect her own mood.
It makes her sad; makes her accept her own reality.
It's not as if she doesn't recognise the signs in herself. She's never really been happy with herself. She's too fat and she's too ugly. She's too quiet and too intense for her age. She's been bullied enough in her lifetime to wish she didn't exist on numerous occasions. She's wanted so badly to disappear, convinced that everyone's life would just be so much better and simpler if she weren't around.
It's a shock to her system to learn that her sister entertains the same thoughts.
Lucy doesn't immediately talk to Frannie about it. Ever since Frannie left for Harvard, the older Fabray has been too busy and too involved in her own life to pay much attention to her kid sister. They were close when Lucy was much younger, Frannie taking on a role of a second mother whenever their own failed - which, in hindsight, is more than either girl would like to admit. It would be easy to blame the parenting - Russell and Judy Fabray have put a lot of intentional pressure on their daughters to be perfect and successful - but it's a lot more than that.
Uncle Richard is at least right about some of it. The Fabray girls are genetically predisposed to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders and clinical depression. It's apparent in Judy's side of the family, with her losing one sister and one cousin to suicide already. She has another sister with bipolar disorder and attempts of her own, and Judy has been fighting a battle with alcoholism for more years than she would care to admit.
Bad genes, Uncle Richard said, and Lucy sometimes thinks he's right.
The first time Frannie talks to Lucy about anything remotely related to what happened at all is late in July, and the two of them are lying in Frannie's bed. Lucy is half asleep - she's fighting it because every hour she's asleep and Frannie isn't is nightmarish for them both - and her eyes are barely open.
"You're very pretty, Luce," Frannie says, and her voice is sad, almost wistful. "I don't tell you that enough, do I? I should. You're the prettiest girl I've met."
Lucy hums, her mouth curving into a small smile. At fourteen years old, words like that are sometimes unbelievable. "Have you looked in a mirror lately?" she murmurs sleepily.
Frannie laughs softly, absently reaching out to run a hand over her sister's soft hair. "I feel like I already am," she whispers, her eyes mournful and full of sorrow as she looks at Lucy's slumbering face; "and that terrifies me."
Lucy is lost to the world by then.
When the Fall semester does start, Frannie stays home.
Lucy isn't afforded that opportunity, and she starts her freshman year of high school at a level of anxiety that sets her on edge the second she steps onto the bus the first day. It's with a heavy heart and a restless mind that she watches as her house disappears from view. She can't stay home - her parents would never let her - and she'll just have to hope above all that Frannie will still be there when the day is over.
Lucy's dealt with all sorts of students and teachers in her short school career. She's been new to a school before, and she knows how to blend in. Head down and silent, she's sure she can get through her days without making herself a target. She hears about other students suffering slushy facials, which just seems like the worst thing in the world, and others who get thrown into dumpsters. It's all so... juvenile, and Lucy has other, more important, things to worry about.
Lucy calls Frannie every day at lunch, without fail. She dials her cell straight after she lets out of World Geography, and stays in the classroom until she hears her sister's voice. She suspects Frannie knows why she does it, but her sister is happy to oblige.
Come to think of it, Frannie actually enjoys the midday calls from her kid sister, and she's working up to telling her.
Even if she's unable to help herself; she's going to do all she can to help Lucy.
Lucy catches the wrong attention in early October. Until then, she's been able to get through the days relatively unscathed. She does this by only answering questions when asked, and determinedly not offering up any more information than is required. When she's not in class or fetching food from the cafeteria that she usually doesn't even eat, she's in the library with her head buried deep in a book.
Lucy exists under the radar for exactly six weeks and two days because, on this specific day, Santana Lopez is bored.
It's the only reason, really.
Santana is a freshman Cheerio, carefully building up her reputation as the one Latina not to be messed with. She can be crass and pointed, and all the boys are looking at her because she's finally filled out in all the right places. She's not really interested in any of them, so she's bored.
And, when she's bored, she goes looking for a bit of fun.
And, when she goes looking, she notices Lucy.
Lucy Fabray, who, until that very moment, Santana didn't even know existed. She doesn't know her name, and she doesn't care. What she does notice is the way this nerdy girl can't seem to sit still. What she does notice is the way the girl is practically sitting on the edge of her seat, her right leg bouncing as the school bus they're on rumbles down the streets of Lima. What she notices is the almost anxious look on the girl's face and, because she's bored, Santana decides this girl is the perfect one to bring an end to her boredom.
At first, she just watches, trying to learn all she can about her new target. From the back of the bus, she has prime view of the girl, noting her unflattering glasses, messy bun of blonde hair and pearly whites. Santana can't help thinking the girl would be pretty if she actually tried, which is a thought she forces away immediately. There's no time for that.
Not now; not ever.
When the bus pulls up in front of a large white house, the girl jumps to her feet and practically runs off the bus and towards the house as if someone has set her on fire. Santana frowns at this, wondering if it's an anomaly, because she's sure she would have noticed something like that before. And, really, why is the girl running as if her life depends on it?
Oddly curious, Santana turns to the girl sitting beside her, a fellow Cheerio whose name she knows starts with an S. Sarah? Samantha? Sadie. Her name is Sadie. "Do you know who that is?" she asks casually, trying not to sound too interested.
"Who?" Sadie asks, unexpectedly curious.
Santana shrugs. "Never mind." She turns her head as the bus takes off, and watches the house intensely until it disappears from sight.
Santana watches just as carefully the next day. During school hours, she learns the girl's name is Lucy, and she's in nearly every advanced class available for freshmen, which means that they share a few Math and Science classes. The girl doesn't talk unless spoken to, her hand constantly flying across the page as she takes notes, and that pesky leg constantly bouncing.
Santana sees enough to note that Lucy looks at the clock on the wall once every seven and a half minutes. Without fail.
Even more curious.
After school, on the bus, Lucy is, mercifully, one of the first on board, casually sliding in beside a quiet Asian boy and barely noticing. Santana notices the way she grips the seat as she waits for the bus to fill up, and the way she rocks back and forth, as if she can get the bus driver to speed up just through the sheer power of will. Her urgency is unsettling, and Santana doesn't know what to make of it.
It's when they come to a stop in front of the large white house that Santana realises yesterday's mad dash wasn't a fluke. Lucy shoots out of her seat before the bus has even come to a complete standstill, and she's gone in a flash.
"Jesus," Santana finds herself saying. "Where's the fire?"
A few students laugh around her, but her eyes don't stop tracking the girl's progress towards the house.
Her brown eyes aren't the only ones.
It's on the fifth day that Santana decides not to sit in the back.
Instead, she drags Noah Puckerman into the third row with her, ensuring Lucy is somewhere behind her, and they slip low in their seats. Puck, as he wants everyone to call him, tries to cop a feel, and she lets him as she waits. It's the anticipation she enjoys the most and, when they come to a stop in front of Lucy's house, and the girl shoots straight out of her seat in her rush to get off the bus, Santana strikes.
Lucy doesn't see it until it's too late, and she ends up tripping over Santana's suddenly-outstretched leg, which has the entire bus erupting in uncontrollable laughter.
"Whoops," Santana says, entirely too innocently, and she's only mildly disappointed when Lucy doesn't look at her. In disbelief or rage or anything, really.
Instead, the girl scrambles to gather her fallen books, rushing through the movements as she repeats the word no to herself. Tears spring to her eyes, which should give Santana the satisfaction she so desires, but the frantic actions of this strange girl put her a little on edge.
A tan arm from across the aisle, sporting a gold star bracelet on a thin wrist, reaches out to help Lucy with her last books and, after a mumbled thank you later, Lucy is up and running again. She practically flies down the steps of the bus, stumbling on her way, and then sprints towards the house as if she's running the 100m sprint.
"Do you think she's peed her pants by now?" Puck asks loudly, and the bus erupts in more laughter.
Santana forces herself to join in, but her heart's just not in it.
If it ever was.
The next day is much of the same. Lucy isn't any more careful this time, though it's not Santana who sticks out her leg. It's Dave Karofsky, and Lucy goes tumbling, catching her chin on the edge of a seat. It's obvious she's bitten her tongue from the blood that escapes from between her lips, but she doesn't even seem to be thinking about that. All she wants to do is get off this bus and get into the house.
Once again, that same tan arm helps with her books, and then hands her a tissue.
Lucy can barely see past the tears in her eyes. She mumbles her gratitude, but it comes out as more of a gurgle. She has to go. She has to get inside, so she scurries to her feet and exits the bus as if her mouth isn't currently filled with blood.
Santana watches her run, her movements jerky, and she feels her heart clench in a way it never has.
It becomes an everyday thing after that.
Santana's started something.
Lucy still rushes, but she's more careful now, forced into dodging legs as she races to get off the bus as quickly as she can. Sometimes, she can't escape them, and she hits the deck more often than not, but she just gathers her things and hurries away. She's tried to sit at the front of the bus, but the other students fill the seats up quickly, and Lucy's sort of made a companion in the Asian boy, Mike. They've never actually spoken to each other, but there's shared pain there.
The shared trauma of being bullied can form the strongest bonds.
When the bus comes to a stop on this particular day, Lucy rises quickly and rushes through the aisle. She doesn't see any feet, which is a relief, and she's almost free when she feels someone yank hard on the back of her shirt, and she goes tumbling backwards. She reaches for purchase on something, anything, but fails to grab onto something solid enough and lands hard on her bottom.
The loud laughter and embarrassing pain force tears to her eyes, but her goal is still the same.
Get inside the house.
Lay eyes on a breathing Frannie.
Hug her if she needs to.
Without acknowledging anyone - particularly not the soft, tanned hand that rests on her shoulder for a moment - Lucy scrambles to her feet and continues on her way, her destination the only thing on her mind.
They can only watch her go.
"Why doesn't she ever say anything?" Puck asks, oddly curious.
Santana just stares after her, trying and failing to figure out this truly strange girl. "I don't think she has time," she says.
"Why?" he asks.
She shrugs. "Who knows?"
While Lucy seems to have attracted the wrong attention in Santana Lopez and Dave Karofsky; one would say she's attracted the right kind in Rachel Berry. There's just something about the blonde girl that piques Rachel's interest and, as much as she wants to talk to her, the brunette isn't sure howto. Where would she even start?
So, you're being bullied too, huh?
No, that won't work.
So, like Santana, Rachel watches.
Every day, she believes she learns that bit more about the silent enigma that is Lucy Fabray. The girl has kind eyes, even though they're rarely seen. They are eyes that hold a lot of unspoken emotion, and Rachel almost can't believe that someone so young can hide so much. It intrigues Rachel, and makes her want to be Lucy's friend that bit more.
Everyone needs a friend, right?
Which is why, in the week leading up to Thanksgiving, Rachel rushes to get to the bus and snag herself a seat in the first row. She puts her bag on the seat, the universal indicator that she's saving it for someone, and she hopes she won't have to deal with anyone willing to take the seat from her.
Thankfully, Lucy arrives before any of the more unsavoury students, and Rachel's heart rate picks up when she spots her. She watches as Lucy's eyes scan the seats, her eyes lingering over the bag beside Rachel. It's enough to give Rachel the courage to speak up.
"Do you want to sit here?" she asks, relieved that her voice comes out smoothly.
Lucy looks like a deer caught in the headlights. "Aren't you saving it for someone?"
Rachel contemplates her response. She could play it off as nothing, or she could tell the truth. She knows exactly what her fathers would want of her. "I was actually saving it for you."
Before Rachel can respond, Lucy gets shoved from behind, and she practically falls into the seat.
Lucy, while a little miffed and off-balance, manages a small smile. "I suppose that decides it, then," she says, and her voice is like music to Rachel. "Thank you."
Rachel swallows audibly. "I thought you might need a safe and quick escape."
Lucy visibly tenses, looking away, and Rachel wants to kick herself for even alluding to the way she always rushes off the bus. Lucy clears her throat. "I try to get here as quickly as I can, but I have Science last period and that's all the way in the Science Block, and it's just too far."
"I have U.S. History in the Language Block," Rachel says, which they both know is much closer to the parking lot. "I - I don't mind saving you a seat."
Lucy looks at her then, hazel eyes meeting chestnut brown. "Why would you do that?" she asks, merely curious. "You don't even know me."
I would like to, is what Rachel wants to say, but she holds her tongue. "I know what it's like."
"Being bullied," she says sadly. "It doesn't have to be you against the world, you know? We can all help each other."
Lucy looks oddly amused. "Don't tell me you have one of those fantasies of all the 'Bullied' rising up against the 'Bullies,'" she says, laughing lightly. It's music to Rachel's ears. There's no other way to explain it.
Lucy shrugs, which isn't an answer at all. Then: "I'm Lucy, by the way," she says, holding out her hand.
"Rachel Berry," Rachel automatically returns, shaking her hand and finding humour in the formality of this deal they seem to be making.
Lucy grins, and Rachel knows this is going to be the start of a beautiful friendship.
Though, as far as friendships go, this one gets off to a painfully slow start. Rachel doesn't understand why Lucy won't stay late after school, won't sign up for any extracurriculars with her, won't hang out at the mall or go over to her house. She always looks panicked and reluctant whenever Rachel tries to make plans for when they aren't in school, and Rachel isn't sure what to make of it.
While Rachel wants to ask why Lucy always races off the bus, she knows she's going to lose her friend before they've even started if she does.
So, still, she watches.
Thanksgiving comes and goes, and there's a brief reprieve for Lucy. Rachel saving her a seat helps, of course, but there's a very specific day in the week leading up to Winter Break when the brunette is absent, for whatever reason, and Lucy just has a bad feeling.
Truthfully, she's had it all day, and she can't tell if it's to do with Rachel's absence or if it's something else entirely. She can't explain it, but she tries to ignore it as she makes her way through the aisle towards the first free seat she can find beside an African American girl, who's typing on her phone.
"That seat is for my best friend," the girl quips before Lucy's bottom has even touched the leather, her eyes not even looking away from the screen.
"Oh," Lucy says, swallowing nervously, as she moves further into the bus. Where's Rachel? Why isn't she here? It's the only thought on her mind as she gets closer and closer to the jocks and the cheerleaders. It's like walking into the lion's den, and her heart is thumping against her ribcage. Santana, Karofsky, Puck and Sadie all see her coming, each of them wearing dangerous smirks that make her anxious.
She slips into the first seat available, tensing slightly when she realises it's beside a blonde Cheerio with bright blue eyes and a wide smile.
"Hello," the girl says, and Lucy flinches out of habit. "I'm Brittany."
"Lucy," she replies stiffly.
"I like your necklace," she says, reaching out to touch the pendant. "Is it an eight?"
Lucy blinks in surprise. Besides Rachel, nobody's ever really taken an interest in her. "It's actually the symbol for infinity," she explains with a slow smile. "My sister gave it to me just yesterday, actually."
As soon as she says the words out loud, Lucy freezes. She replays them in her mind, a sinking feeling settling over her body.
Her head snaps up, and her heart pounds.
She immediately reaches for her phone in the pocket of her jeans, the blood rushing in her ears.
She immediately dials Frannie's number, only for it to go to voicemail.
She tries once more, suddenly frantic, and gets the same response. It's Frannie's message tone, and Lucy forces herself to listen to it, wondering if the brief call she shared with her sister earlier during lunch is the last time she'll ever speak to her.
There's a part of Lucy that knows it's the truth, but she can't bring herself to believe it.
Lucy dials her mother next, getting the same result.
The home phone isn't any better.
Her father's secretary answers his phone, and tells her he'll phone her back when he gets out of his meeting.
Lucy just knows they're too late.
She's too late.
Maybe she's not.
Maybe there's a chance.
When the bus finally comes to a stop, Lucy immediately surges out of her seat, only to have hands force her back down, trapping her.
"Where are you going so fast there?" Karofsky sneers, his hands on her shoulders, looming over her and pinning her down.
"What's in that house of yours that you're always in a rush to get to, huh?" Sadie taunts.
In her building panic, Lucy screams, her eyes flashing with what she could possibly find in that house. She claws at Karofsky's arms, and the boy's fingers sink into her shoulders until it hurts.
"Let her go," Brittany shouts in sudden realisation that nothing about this situation is normal, and Lucy just continues to scream, tears in her eyes as she fights to get up, her eyes barely noticing the bus driver deigning to rise from his position and actually see what all the excitement is about.
She has to get off this bus.
She has to get into the house.
She has to see Frannie.
"Whoa," Puck says, suddenly panicked himself.
"Karofsky!' Santana barks. "Let her go, dammit!"
When Karofsky does release his grip, Lucy gets to her feet immediately, stumbling over invisible legs in the aisle and shoving her was past the driver to get off the bus as quickly as she can. She trips over herself once she's on the ground, her bag dropping onto the lawn of the front yard, but she doesn't care. She abandons it and runs to the house, needing to get inside.
Puck exchanges a look with Santana. "What the hell?" he asks, eyes wide.
Santana doesn't have any answers for him, and they all pretend they don't hear the anguished scream coming from the large white house as they drive away.
Lucy isn't in school the next day.
Or the next.
Rachel isn't sure who to ask about her absence, because the girl isn't responding to her text messages or answering her phone, and she just knows Lucy won't appreciate her just showing up at her house.
She hears from Mike, sort of, that there was an incident with Karofsky, but the quiet boy can't bring himself to offer any more. Whatever happened, Rachel misses her friend, and she knows there's something she should be worried about.
Lucy doesn't return to school until after Winter Break and, really, the girl who returns isn't Lucy at all. This girl is thinner, paler - almost gaunt - with her hair tied in a neat ponytail that perfectly reveals her pretty features. The glasses are gone, and she's practically unrecognisable.
Rachel even walks straight past her three times before she realises the girl who - thankfully still - has her head buried in a book is the girl she hasn't seen in almost a month. It's only when they get on the bus at the end of their first day back that Rachel has the opportunity to look at her properly, and what she sees terrifies her.
Lucy's eyes are vacant.
There's nothing there.
Rachel walks towards where Lucy is willingly sitting in the fifth row when there are free seats in the third. It's the millionth sign that something's wrong. The next one comes when Rachel sits beside her, and Lucy doesn't acknowledge her.
"Lucy," Rachel tries to say, and the girl's head snaps up. "Hey."
Lucy's jaw clenches. "I don't want to be called Lucy anymore," she says curtly.
"It's Quinn, now."
Rachel blinks. "Okay."
Rachel doesn't like the emotional gap between them. "Quinn?" she tries, unsure how she feels about the name. "How was your Break?"
The girl who was Lucy but is now Quinn looks at her with hard eyes. "Fine," she says slowly. "Yours?"
"Good," Rachel says, unsure if Lu - Quinn will appreciate an elaboration. "It was good."
Quinn just nods, and then looks back at her book.
Rachel has no idea what's happening, and she can't help thinking that this normally-sweet girl is mad at her for something. She has to know, which is why she asks the question. "Did - did I do something to upset you?"
Quinn lets out a laugh, and it sounds dark and heavy. "Where were you?" she asks.
"What?" is her automatic response. And then: "When?"
"Last year, that day you were absent, where were you?" she asks, and it sounds as if it pains her to recall that day.
Rachel frowns thinking back. "Before Winter Break?" she questions, and Quinn nods. "I was in Columbus with my Dad," she says. "We took the day off to pick up my birthday present. It's a - "
Quinn cuts her off. "You were supposed to be here," she says, suddenly teary. "I needed you to be here, Rachel. If - if you'd saved me a seat, maybe I could have got there in time. Maybe - maybe - " she releases a choked sob, and Rachel's eyes widen in panic.
"No," Quinn snaps harshly. "It's Quinn."
Rachel closes her mouth with an audible clack. Okay.
When they approach the large white house, Rachel shifts her legs out of the way, giving Quinn a direct path out of her seat, so she doesn't have to wait in her rush. It's expected, by now, that Lucy - as she's still known to so many - will shoot to her feet and make a dash for it. So, when the bus rolls to a stop and she very calmly rises, gathers her belongings and walks off the bus; Rachel's isn't the only jaw that drops.
"What the - " Puck says from the back of the bus.
"What happened to the fire?" Santana asks, disbelief in her tone.
Nobody can bring themselves to laugh.
As much as Lucy's appearance has changed to fit the new 'Quinn;' there are aspects of her personality that have as well. She's more abrasive, less likely to take shit from her bullies, and she looks people dead in the eye when she's not reading. There's a new intensity to her that intimidates other girls and makes the boys want her.
Rachel's losing her friend, if she hasn't lost her already, and she's unsure what to do about it.
Quinn participates more in class, engaging in conversations about life and love and death in English, and schooling everyone with her knowledge of trigonometry identities. She's an entirely new person, and the part that strikes everyone the most is that she wants to be left alone. The only person she talks to is Mike and, even then, those conversations include very few words.
"I don't understand her," Santana declares one day in late February when Quinn strolls onto the bus and settles herself in the fifth row beside the Asian boy whose name she still doesn't know.
"What's there to understand?" Puck asks. "She's a total babe now."
Santana rolls her eyes, but she can't deny it. Quinn is nice to look at, and that doesn't sit well with Santana. From the very beginning, so many things haven't really made any sense to her, and she's nowhere nearer to figuring out this strange girl, whose very existence is making Santana question a lot of things.
It's two days before what is supposed to be Frannie's twenty-first birthday in early March that Quinn starts to unravel at the seams. She's just been able to hold herself together by keeping busy and occupying her mind constantly, but there's a trigger.
And, when it goes off, so does she.
It starts with Dave Karofsky.
Well, really, it starts with Rachel Berry, who gets slushied by Dave Karofsky. And, while other people laugh, a switch flips in Quinn's head, and she goes... berserk. She drops her books and they slap on the linoleum floor. There's a beat of nothing, and then Quinn is on the footballer. She punches and kicks and scratches at the bulky boy, all while screaming words that nobody can quite understand.
This is all your fault.
You kept me there.
I could have saved her.
Why couldn't you just leave me alone?
You don't know what you've done.
Quinn wails on him until Puck and Finn Hudson have to pull her off, and she just screams and flails, and Rachel's arms are suddenly around her. Quinn's knees buckle then, and the girls sink to the floor, Quinn's body wracked by sobs as she repeats the same words over and over again.
Frannie, I'm so sorry.
Russell and Judy are called to school and are forced to meet with Principal Figgins. Quinn sits curled up in the reception area, Rachel's hand held tightly in one of hers. The brunette hasn't had a chance to clean up after the slushy attack, which is enough for Principal Figgins not to take Karofsky's excuse of she just went crazy on me too seriously.
The boy definitely had it coming.
Quinn sniffles every thirty-seven seconds, and Rachel just wants to hold her close. She doesn't. She isn't sure what to do. So, she just sits there and holds onto a thin, pale hand, absently wondering where everything went so wrong. She missed one day of school, and now this.
"I'm sorry," Quinn says at some point, and Rachel's breath hitches.
Quinn tilts her head to the side, her eyes red and raw. "For shutting you out," she says softly. "For blaming you."
Rachel still doesn't understand, but she has no time to ask her questions because the door to Principal Figgins' office opens and Quinn's parents step out, looking forlorn. It looks like this is the absolute last place they want to be, and Quinn immediately rises to her feet, releasing Rachel's hand and bowing her head.
Judy reaches out for her daughter, suddenly unsure. "Let's go home," she says softly, placing a gentle hand on Quinn's shoulder.
Russell walks right out of the reception without looking at his daughter, and Quinn's shoulders sag that bit more.
Rachel wants to say something, anything, but her voice won't work, and all she can do is watch as Quinn walks out with her parents.
She wonders who she'll meet the next time she sees her.
There's speculation a plenty about Quinn's freakout, and Santana hates the way everyone is talking about Quinn as if she's off her rocker. Couldn't they see? Weren't they looking at the same girl she was?
A girl falling apart right before their eyes.
A girl who reminds her worryingly of herself.
Quinn is out of school for the rest of the week, though nobody knows if it's because she's been suspended. Karofsky is also absent, but that might be because of his trip to the hospital. Santana hopes Quinn's retribution will actually teach the boy a thing or two, and make him think before he throws frozen drinks in girls' faces.
It's wishful thinking, Santana knows, but a girl can hope.
Rachel startles at the voice, and then flinches at the sight of Santana Lopez when she turns around at her locker.
"I'm not going to hit you," Santana says, rolling her eyes. "Just wanted to know if you have any news on Quinn."
Rachel blinks. "What?"
Santana huffs in annoyance. "Quinn," she says. "Blonde, hazel eyes, wicked right hook. Do you know what's going on with her or not? Because you're starting to irritate me."
Rachel swallows audibly. "I - I didn't think you cared."
"I don't," Santana hurries to say, and she ends up saying it a little too quickly, if you ask Rachel. "Not really," she adds a beat later. "Just, is she okay?"
Rachel contemplates her response, unsure if she should be divulging anything about Quinn to the girl who took pleasure in seeing her suffer as Lucy. Sighing, Rachel eventually says, "No, she's not okay."
Santana clenches her jaw, desperately wanting to demand more, but there's a part of her that admires Rachel's ability to hold back on any extra information. "When is she coming back?"
"Next week." Rachel presses her lips together. "Karofsky isn't going to want to get some revenge on her, is he?"
Santana gives her a curious look. "Shouldn't you be more worried about him getting revenge on you?"
Rachel shrugs, as if her own safety hasn't even crossed her mind. "Will he?"
"Not if Puck or I have anything to do with it," she says hauntingly.
Rachel raises her eyebrows. "Why, though?"
"I don't know," is all Santana says, and it's the truest she's been in months.
When Quinn does get back to school, she's... different.
Rachel can't determine if it's in a good or bad way. She is thinner and paler and less likely to smile, but the vacancy in her eyes is slowly dissipating. Rachel leans the reason for that is that she's started seeing a trauma counsellor. Quinn won't tell Rachel why, but she does fiddle with the pendant of her necklace when she explains why her mother picks her up straight from school on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
For a reason Rachel can't quite voice, she feels as if she's getting Lucy back; just in Quinn's body.
Lucy's emotional intensity coupled with Quinn's physical presence is a lot for Rachel to deal with on most days, but she won't give it up for anything. Not when Quinn's eyes are coming back to life, and she doesn't go looking for conflict anymore. Not when Quinn is looking at her again, and actually seeing her.
And talking to her.
"Do you ever feel as if nothing really matters?" Quinn asks softly. It's mid-March, and they're both sitting low in their seats on the bus. It's times like these that Rachel knows she has to pay the closest attention to her friend, their hands loosely clasped on the seat between them. "Do you ever feel as if you have no voice?"
Rachel swallows thickly. "Sometimes, yes," she says.
She nods. "At home?"
Quinn nods this time, and their eyes meet. "Don't let go," she says.
Rachel isn't sure what she's talking about, but she still tightens her grip on the blonde's hand and very firmly says, "I won't."
While Santana wants to know everything, she can't bring herself to ask. Not after that first time, when Berry looked at her as if she's in some twilight zone.
So, instead, she continues to watch. And listen.
Santana isn't sure how or why she feels as if something is coming. There's just something about Quinn that's screaming 'means to an end,' and so terribly unsettling that the Latina braves bringing it up to Rachel Berry on a random day in late March. It's unspoken, this odd bond they seem to share over an unsuspecting Quinn Fabray.
Santana doesn't even bother with the formalities as she asks, "Is she okay?"
Rachel's first instinct is to recoil - Santana Lopez is scary - but the look in the Latina's eyes forces her not to. For whatever reason, this girl cares about Quinn, and Rachel appreciates anyone and everyone who worries about her best friend. It was a surprise to her when she made the distinction, but now she accepts it. She has a best friend, even though the girl still hasn't ever come over to her house or met her fathers or hung out with her after school or made plans for the weekends.
Still, Rachel will take all she can.
"No," Rachel eventually says. "I don't think she'll ever be okay, but she's working towards it."
Santana blinks once, twice, and then sighs. "Do you know what happened?"
Rachel shakes her head. Even if she did know, she wouldn't tell Santana, and the Latina must know that. "Do you?" she counters.
Rachel reads her facial expression for what it is. "But you're going to find out, aren't you?"
Santana nods slowly, expecting the girl to have something to say about that. It's not surprising that she does, but her words do catch her slightly off guard.
"Just, don't ask her, okay?"
Santana can feel the protectiveness and, she dare say, love rolling off Rachel. It's in her very stance and in the timbre of her voice. Quinn Fabray is hers to protect, and Santana would do well not to hurt her again. "Okay," Santana eventually says.
Rachel nods her head once, and then turns back to her locker, feeling overwhelmed by her own feelings on the subject. She doesn't have much time to dwell, though, because Quinn arrives a few seconds later, her backpack casually slung over one shoulder and her hair looking as if it is the end of the day. Rachel's mind automatically thinks she looks cute, which is a thought that doesn't make her as panicked and uncomfortable as it probably should.
There's no need to rush to get to the bus anymore, so they walk together, much closer than is strictly necessary, but neither of them is complaining. There's a certain comfort between them, which makes Rachel wary of, essentially, 'rocking the boat.'
But, as it were, she's Rachel Berry, and she's not one for idling.
"Quinn?" she says once they're seated on the bus. "Do you, maybe, perhaps, want to come over to my house today?" she asks, suddenly nervous. "I mean, it's Friday, and I don't live too far from you, and you can call your mom from our phone, and my Dad would totally - "
"Rachel," Quinn interrupts with an amused smile. "Breathe, dear."
Rachel raises her eyebrows at the term of endearment, but Quinn must not realise she's said it.
"I'll come over," Quinn says. "My parents aren't going to be home until late, anyway."
Rachel is unsure how she feels about that, but she chooses not to comment. She suspects there are many secrets in the Fabray house, and she'll learn them only when and if Quinn is ready to share them.
Today is not that day.
"And, this is my room," Rachel finally says, concluding the tour. Her fathers aren't yet home - it's just her and Quinn - and there's something very heavy about the fact that they're alone in her house.
In her bedroom.
Quinn is suddenly standing much too close for comfort, even though she's a normal distance away, her attention on Rachel's Broadway posters on the wall. Rachel can feel her all around her, and she's not sure what to do with that.
Maybe they should go back downstairs.
That's a good idea.
When she turns to look at Quinn, the blonde is right in front of her, mere inches between their bodies.
"Quinn," Rachel squeaks, surprising herself.
Quinn looks thoughtful. "I'm not sure what I imagined your bedroom to look like, but I can't say this was it."
"I don't know."
Rachel stares at her, her eyes trailing over Quinn's angelic features. "You're very pretty," she blurts out, and then immediately flushes in embarrassment.
Quinn gives her a quizzical look. "Prettiest girl you've ever met, huh?"
Rachel looks bewildered, as if Quinn's stolen the thought straight from her mind. "Yes, actually. How did - "
Quinn reaches out to tuck a lock of hair behind Rachel's ear, effectively silencing her. "For a girl who has her entire life mapped out; you seem to be going wildly off-script."
Rachel is too confused for cohesive thought. "What are you - "
Quinn leans forward and presses soft lips to Rachel's cheek. "Do you have any ice cream?" she asks, stepping back. "And, none of that vegan crap you try to convince me tastes nice."
Rachel can only watch, helpless and hopeless, as the girl who's probably going to ruin her - and make sure she enjoys it - walks out of her bedroom.
She's always going to follow.
Quinn leaves half an hour before Rachel's fathers get home. Rachel realises, even as she's trying to convince Quinn to stay for dinner, that she shouldn't be expecting too much too fast. Quinn came over to her house and kissed her cheek.
She'll take it.
Rachel has to explain to her fathers that Quinn is, in fact, real. They tease her a little because of the many imaginary friends she had as a child - which, truly, may or may not be a sensitive subject, but they're choosing to treat it as a good thing.
"She's real," Rachel says, her voice filled with unexplained emotion. "She's real, and she was here. She's the realest person I know."
LeRoy and Hiram Berry exchange a look, neither one of them recognising the tone of their daughter's voice. They've seen her have crushes before. They've seen her obsess over celebrities and latch onto any kindness anyone shows her.
This is the first time either man considers their daughter might actually be in love.
Rachel doesn't actively acknowledge her feelings for Quinn until she hears that Finn Hudson - future varsity Quarterback Finn Hudson - is planning on asking Quinn out. It sets off the kind of panic in Rachel that she's unsure how to handle and, like many things in her life, she plans to talk to her fathers about it.
Which ends up being an unnecessary plan because, when Finn asks, Quinn says no, and the ripples can be felt in every social circle in every year of the school. Even the seniors hear about the blonde girl who said no to the boy who's definitely going to rule the school in a few short months, but Quinn appears unaffected by it all.
Rachel is the one who's more worried for her and, when Finn asks her out for the second time and she says no again; Rachel knows she's just inviting trouble. For herself.
For them both, really.
Because, after Quinn defended her against Karofsky, Rachel's been largely left alone in that regard.
And, now, because her best friend happens to be the one girl Finn Hudson can't seem to get, it's open season, once more.
As much anger and disbelief Rachel feels about the situation, Quinn positively rages. After the fifth time she gets slushed, Quinn finds Rachel cleaning herself up in a bathroom, and she mutters an endless train of obscenities under her breath as she paces like a caged animal.
"I don't get it," Rachel says, almost conversationally, as she wipes purple from her neck. "If he's trying to get you to go out with him, why would he think having your best friend slushied would be a good idea?"
"Because he's obviously an idiot," she answers immediately, her voice laced with tension.
Rachel watches her carefully, seeing the lines of stress in her face and her rigid posture. She wants to stop her movement, so she can look into her eyes and see. Quinn's eyes have always been the way Rachel reads her. Whether it's to see how desperately she's trying to hide herself, or if it's that shining amusement she gets when Rachel is acting silly; the brunette always knows.
"Quinn?" Rachel ventures to say. "I don't want to sound like everyone else, but why haven't you said yes to him?"
Quinn stops walking immediately, turning somewhat incredulous eyes on her. "Are you seriously asking me that right now?"
Rachel isn't sure what to make of her tone of voice. "Uh, yes," she manages to say.
Quinn arches a perfectly-sculpted eyebrow. "Do you want me to go out with him?"
"No." The answer comes out too quickly, and she instantly blushes.
Quinn steps towards her. "Well, I don't want to, either, okay?"
Quinn reaches out to touch Rachel's matted hair. "I'm sorry this keeps happening to you."
"I'm not," Rachel immediately says. "I'd rather it happen to me than to you, and I'd take this if it meant Finn Hudson didn't get his grubby paws on you."
Quinn laughs, which will forever be music to Rachel's ears. "Me thinks you don't like this Finn Hudson guy very much."
"I don't," she confesses. "But, it's more than that."
Quinn frowns. "It is?"
Rachel sighs. "Don't date him," she says, her voice coming out as little more than a pleading whisper. "Don't - don't date anyone." She knows it's not fair to ask this of Quinn, given the nature of their non-relationship, but she does it, anyway. The last thing she wants is to have to watch Quinn bewith someone else.
"Okay," Quinn says.
Nervous eyes lift up. "Okay?"
Quinn nods, smiling slightly. "You're not the only one going off-script here, Rachel."
"I don't know what that means."
The blonde looks a little helpless, merely shrugging in that I-don't-really-care way of hers. "Neither do I."
"You're going to have to talk to your girl."
Rachel's heart stutters at the voice. Santana Lopez just has a certain severity to her tone that automatically puts Rachel on edge. They're making a habit of this... interacting thing, and Rachel is sure people are starting to notice.
Though, as yet, Quinn hasn't brought it up.
"There's a nasty bout of shaming headed her way if she doesn't go on a date with Hudson."
Rachel frowns. "Why does everyone automatically expect Quinn to fall at his feet?"
Santana shakes her head. "Nobody cares about that," she says. "They're more concerned about why she won't?"
Quinn's blatant disregard for social expectancies starts to annoy Rachel in mid-April. It's almost as if Quinn enjoys stirring the pot, creating waves and breaking all the rules. She's just so... calm, shouldering all the looks of disbelief people send her with a casual air.
"I don't understand," Rachel admits to her while they're watching a movie after school. It's only the second time Quinn has come to her house, and she seems more relaxed this time. Maybe Rachel will even get her to stay for dinner with her fathers.
"What don't you understand?" Quinn asks, her eyes remaining on the television screen, even though she's watched this movie many times. With Frannie.
"You're not even a little bit worried?"
"That I'll eventually be bullied into going on a date that I definitely don't want to?"
Rachel blinks, and then nods. "Yes. That."
"No," Quinn answered, dragging her eyes away from the screen and looking at Rachel. There's something severe in her gaze; something telling. "We both know I lose whichever way this goes," she says. "I keep saying no; they keep pressuring me. I eventually say yes, and everything's just going to be toxic." She closes her eyes, giving Rachel a momentary break from the intensity of the hazel. "I don't want to date him, Rachel. Do you understand that?"
If Rachel didn't - which, she thinks she does - the fact that Quinn reaches blindly for her hand tells her more than she probably needed to know.
Quinn stays for dinner.
Rachel has to ask only once, and Quinn says yes, which gets her a hug that turns awkward past the twelve-second mark. Quinn laughs when Rachel hastily releases her, and then they settle in to finish the movie, their shoulders and upper arms pressed together and their fingers linked.
It's how Hiram and LeRoy find them and, if either man is surprised that neither girl immediately pulls away from the other, they don't say so. In fact, Quinn gives Rachel's hand a quick squeeze before she releases it, both of them rising to their feet for greetings and introductions.
"So, she is real," LeRoy teases.
Rachel blushes. "I told you."
If Quinn were capable of charming the pants off two gay men, she just about manages it. Rachel's never seen her like this, smiling and giving and... pretending. The brunette doesn't know if her fathers realise it, but Rachel sees it as clear as day.
She gets the real Quinn, every day, dark and broody and severe, and this is what everybody else gets. A girl who teases, who's self-deprecating and whose eyes shine with a certain mirth that Rachel didn't even know existed.
It both fascinates and terrifies her.
But, she's here and she's real, and Rachel is hit by the sudden and dangerous realisation that she has to hold on to Quinn with everything she is and everything she has.
Under the kitchen table, Rachel places her hand on Quinn's knee, just needing to touch her.
It's a surprise, and also not, when Quinn's hand covers her own, the blonde barely pausing in her conversation with LeRoy.
A minute later, Rachel turns her hand palm upward, and their fingers interlock.
It's a better grip.
Harder to let go.
"How adventurous are you feeling today?"
It's a question that surprises Rachel because Quinn isn't ever this animated in the mornings. There's just something lighter about her today of all days, and Rachel does a quick mental calculation of what the day could possibly be. She doesn't think she's forgetting any important date this late in April.
"I'm not at all adventurous," Rachel points out, her eyes on Quinn's face as the girl leans against the lockers. "What did you have in mind?"
"I want to skip today," she declares.
Rachel's eyes widen. "As in, you want to skip school?"
Quinn nods. "I want us both to skip, and just go somewhere. Just you and me on an adventure." Her eyes drift closed. "Just you and me," she repeats, almost whimsically.
Rachel studies her face. "Quinn, I have a test third period."
Quinn blinks. "Oh." Then: "Tomorrow, then."
And she's gone.
It takes Quinn asking another four times for Rachel to put her foot down and say she's probably never going to skip school, at least willingly.
It's the wrong thing to say, though, because Quinn's eyes narrow and harden, and her voice takes on an edge that makes Rachel's heart skip a worried beat.
"That's funny," Quinn says, almost sardonically; "you skipped December fifteenth."
And, they're back to that day.
Something very significant happened on that day, and Rachel feels the emotion rolling off Quinn as she says the words. Her fingers even reach for the pendant of her necklace, which has turned into her emotional tell.
"Whatever," Quinn says, and then she leaves.
Rachel doesn't see her for the rest of the day.
Or the next.
"December fifteenth," Rachel says before Santana can utter a word. "What happened on December fifteenth?"
Santana grabs her elbow and leads her away from the small group of Cheerios. "Firstly, do you have a death wish? And, secondly, what the hell are you going on about?"
"Something happened on the fifteenth of December," she says. "It's the day I was absent, and the day Karofsky pinned Quinn down. What happened?"
Santana remembers the day clearly. She's unlikely to forget. There had been something feral and animalistic about Quinn's need to get into the house, and Santana can sometimes still hear the girl's screams.
And that last one.
Santana visibly shivers.
Rachel feels the chill. "It's something bad, isn't it?"
Santana doesn't bother to answer.
"You're mad at me."
Quinn doesn't say anything. She just pats the seat next to her, and Rachel sinks down beside her, slipping low enough to be hidden by the bus' seats.
"Why are you mad at me?" Rachel presses.
"I'm not mad at you," Quinn says, sighing. "I'm not. I promise, I'm not."
"Then, what is it?"
Quinn reaches for her hand, interlacing their fingers and resting their hands on her own thigh. "Sometimes, I want to run," she confesses softly. Rachel can barely hear her over the din of the bus. "I just want to go, Rach. I want to leave this place and just go somewhere far, far away; somewhere I've never been before." She rolls her neck to look at Rachel properly. "I want to go, but I can't."
Rachel knows this is important. Everything about this is very important, because they both know Quinn is talking about something else entirely.
"I can't, Rachel," she says, and her voice sounds strangled. "You're keeping me here."
Rachel swallows audibly. "You mean, I'm keeping you in school," she says, needing Quinn to make the distinction. "I'm keeping you in school, is what you're saying."
Quinn's eyes meet hers, and there's a world of pain in them. She must hear the pleading in Rachel's voice, because she doesn't say what she wants to, and knows she shouldn't. "Exactly," she finally says, relenting. "That's exactly what I'm saying."
"Berry, you have to tell me right now, do you or do you not want to know what I managed to find out?"
It would be so easy for Rachel to say yes to Santana's offer. Quinn has been increasingly erratic the past few days, and Rachel would give anything to have some further insight into her friend, but she's not willing to give up Quinn's trust.
"Do I want to?" Rachel asks, somewhat genuinely.
Santana seems to think about it. "Honestly, I wish I didn't know," she says. "It makes me feel like even more of a bitch for every time I laughed when she ran off the bus the way she... used to."
The fact that Santana even admits that is enough for Rachel to make her decision.
"I don't want to know," she finally decides.
Santana nods once, and then makes to walk away, but she stops at the last moment. "Be careful with her, Berry," she says seriously. "Hold on or don't, decide. But you have to be careful, for both of your sakes."
Rachel breathes out slowly as she watches the Latina walk away.
Santana is saying one thing, but she's really saying something else.
It's been that way from the very beginning.
Rachel thinks she understands what Santana is trying to warn her about the first time Quinn picks a fight with her. It comes out of nowhere, so unexpected, that Rachel doesn't even know what's happening until they're both suddenly yelling at each other in the Berry's living room.
She's mid-rant when she catches herself, and stops speaking.
"What are we doing?" Rachel asks, frowning. They've never fought like this before and there's a part of her that has to accept the fact Quinn seems to enjoy it. "Better yet, what are you doing?"
Quinn just stares at her.
Rachel steps forward, right into Quinn's personal space. "Why are you fighting me? All I said is that I want to go to the movies with you. Why has that started an argument?"
Quinn clenches her jaw, her eyes flashing with something Rachel doesn't recognise. "I don't like going to the movies," she says.
"You said that," she dismisses carefully. "You're not telling me why."
"Does it matter?"
"I think it does, yes."
Quinn drops her gaze, worrying her bottom lip. "I just don't like them."
"Why, Quinn?" she asks. "Why?"
There's a moment - just a moment - where Rachel is convinced Quinn is going to lie to her. She can practically see her make the decision, and then instantly go against it. Quinn reaches out with her right hand, her slim fingers closing around Rachel's thin wrist and drawing her even closer.
"Quinn," Rachel breathes, her heart rate rising.
"Rachel," she says, her voice small and slightly trembling.
"Just tell me why," she presses gently.
Quinn sighs. "I'm afraid of the dark."
Rachel isn't sure what she's expecting, but this isn't it. It amazes her that she doesn't already know this about Quinn - it really shouldn't, though, because there's obviously a lot she doesn't know about this flighty girl - and she resists the urge to quirk an eyebrow at this admission of a fear. As far as Rachel's concerned, Quinn isn't afraid of anything, which she knows is a ridiculous thought.
"Okay," Rachel eventually says. "Instead of going to the movies, we can go to the open-air cinema at Battle Gardens on Sunday afternoon."
Quinn blinks. "Yeah?"
Rachel nods. "Now, will you please agree to accompany me to a movie without jumping down my throat?"
Quinn blushes at the sound of that, and Rachel finds it so endearing that she can't resist closing the space between them and pressing her lips to a pale cheek. Quinn breathes out at the same time, and her breath washes over Rachel's skin in a dangerous way.
Rachel forces herself to pull back, her heart thumping wildly in her chest. "So, this Sunday, you and I are watching a movie."
Quinn's fingers tighten around her wrist. "Okay."
"Is this a date?"
Rachel's steps falter and her eyes widen. They're just getting to Battle Gardens, Rachel's fathers dropping them off for their afternoon in the sun. Rachel has a picnic basket with her, filled with light foods and Quinn's favourite sweet tea. She's wearing one of her favourite summer dresses - the sun is actually shining today - and she's the one who bought their tickets.
Suddenly, Rachel understands why Quinn would think this was a date.
There are so many other things they avoid discussing, and she's surprised that Quinn's even bringing it up at all. It's one of those topics Quinn doesn't like to talk about - her family being another big one - so Rachel knows she has to pay attention.
"Do you want it to be?" Rachel bravely asks.
Quinn cocks her head to the side. "I don't know," she confesses. "I've never really been on a date before."
Rachel knows she shouldn't be surprised by that, but she still is. "Is that why you won't say yes to Finn?" she finds herself asking. "Because you don't want him to be your first?"
Quinn purses her lips, giving her a somewhat-incredulous look. "Rachel, you know why I won't agree to do on a date with him."
She sighs heavily, shaking her head in exasperation. She won't say it out loud, and Rachel knows that better than anyone. "I think I do want this to be a date," she suddenly says, surprising Rachel. "I want you to be my first."
And, if Rachel doesn't die and go to heaven in that moment, well, it's bound to happen at some point.
"And then I have to tell them I just love chicken wings!"
Quinn's laugh bursts out of her in a way that turns heads. Mike is leaning over the back of the seat in front of Quinn and Rachel, telling them a story about going out to dinner with his family over the weekend. The sound that comes from the blonde's body makes Rachel's heart beat double-time.
Since their 'date,' Quinn has been... less aloof. More present, in some cosmic way, and Mike seems to be feeling the effects as well. The usually-quiet boy is saying more words than Rachel has ever heard him say, and she now understands why Quinn is so fond of him.
Rachel would be fond of him too, if she wasn't so in love with Quinn.
Rachel feels ice-cold all of a sudden, and then blazing hot a beat later. Her eyes drift towards Quinn, and the blonde is looking at her with unconcealed amusement in her eyes. She's absolutely stunning like this, and Rachel knows she can't deny it. How could she?
She's in love with her best friend, and it's probably, definitely, going to destroy her.
They almost kiss in the last week of May.
Well, Rachel almost kisses Quinn, and Quinn turns her head at the last moment. Mortified and embarrassed beyond belief are just understatements when Rachel pulls back, eyes wide and upper lip trembling.
"I'm sorry," Rachel immediately says, stepping back.
"No," Quinn says, putting her hands on the sides of Rachel's face. "I'm sorry." She kisses Rachel's forehead, and then draws her into a hug that the brunette sinks into, her fists closing around the fabric of Quinn's shirt.
"You don't - " Rachel starts to say, but loses herself before she can even form the thought.
"I do," Quinn assures her, anyway. "Of course, I do."
Rachel forces herself not to cry, even as she buries her face further into the crook of Quinn's neck. "I don't understand."
Quinn sighs, tightening her own arms around Rachel's shoulders. "I'm - I'm not good." She clears her throat, searching for the words. "You're - you're too good, and I'm not. Do you understand?"
Quinn presses kisses to the top of Rachel's head. "I'm not good for you."
"I don't care."
"I don't," she insists.
Quinn sighs. "I do."
"Could we start again?" Quinn asks softly. "Could we go back to a time when we were unbroken? Where we were best friends who wore our hearts on our sleeves, without a care in the world?" Her voice doesn't travel far, as they lie under the stars in the Berrys' backyard. "I just want to stay right here forever."
Rachel reaches for her hand and laces their fingers. "I just want to stay right here forever, as well."
Quinn turns her head to look at her, and she can barely make out her features in the moonlight. "Yeah?" she asks. "With me?"
"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
Quinn startles at the word, her pen slipping where she's writing out her first draft for an English essay that's not due for another eleven days. She turns questioning eyes on Rachel as they sit beside each other at a table in the back of the library, in lieu of being in the cafeteria for their lunch hour.
"No," Rachel repeats, her eyes practically boring into Quinn. She's thought of nothing else for days, and she's finally... snapped. "We don't get to just start again," she says, setting down her pen much more calmly than she actually feels. "We are not broken. We are not just best friends. I care about you, and you care about me. We care about each other, and you're really just making it more difficult than it has to be."
Quinn hears the words, but it's as if she's not registering them. "You don't understand."
Quinn clenches her jaw, the only sign of her frustration. "You don't know anything about me," she says tensely.
"And who's fault is that?" Rachel retorts, her own frustration shining through.
"It's not my fault," she says calmly. "It's my design."
Rachel's brow furrows. "I don't understand why."
Quinn starts to pack up her things, even though they still have at least another half an hour before they have to be in class. "I told you I want to run," she says, rising to her feet. "I told you I want to go somewhere far away from here." She gathers her bag and throws it over her shoulder. "I don't want to hurt you when that happens."
It isn't until Quinn has disappeared from sight that Rachel's mouth starts working: it's too late for that.
Later, Rachel finds Quinn waiting for her outside their bus, a tiny paper white flag in her hand. The blonde smiles sheepishly, waving her little creation in front of her face like a small child. As much as Rachel doesn't want to smile, she can't resist Quinn's twinkling eyes and undeniable charm.
She's in love. Sue her.
"I made it during English when I realised how much of a bitch I've been," Quinn says once Rachel is close enough to hear her. "I'm sorry."
"Many, many things."
Rachel steps to the side, and Quinn follows. Apparently, they're not getting on the bus yet. "You said I don't know anything about you," she says, and her voice is little more than a whisper. She won't deny that those words stung the most, because they're something like the truth. She knows only what Quinn has let her know, and she's constantly craving more.
"I know," Quinn says, deflating. "I thought, maybe, we could try to fix that."
"Do you, maybe, I don't know, want to come over to my house?" she asks, awkward and adorable.
Quinn blinks. "Uh, yeah." Then: "Or, whenever, really. If you're free."
Rachel rolls her eyes as she reaches for Quinn's hand and drags her onto the bus. "Oh, I'm definitely going to have to check my schedule."
While Rachel has seen the outside of Quinn's house more than a hundred times, she's not sure what to expect of the interior, and she can't say she's all that surprised by how impersonal it all feels. Quinn doesn't pause in the entrance hall when they cross over the threshold. The house is cold and empty, and Rachel watches the way Quinn's shoulders slump as she realises it too.
"Do you want something to drink?" Quinn immediately asks, heading straight to the kitchen and expecting Rachel to follow. "Do you want a tour or something? I don't really know how to do this. I didn't have many friends in Bellevue, and you're the only person I would even consider bringing into this mausoleum." Quinn looks so uncomfortable, and Rachel wants to do whatever she can to ease it.
"I'm okay for now," she says as easily as she can. "What do you usually do when you get home?"
Quinn's eyes flash with something Rachel doesn't recognise. It's something dark and broken, which prompts Rachel to reach out to touch her some way. To Rachel's surprise, the blonde lets her entwine their fingers, and then smiles slightly. "I usually just go up to my bedroom and stay there," she says, and there's something in her voice that almost makes Rachel turns right around and walk out of that house.
But, she stays.
She'll always stay for Quinn.
Rachel doesn't mention the only closed door they walk past on their way to Quinn's bedroom. It practically screams at her, begging for something from her, but she just follows after Quinn in silence, trying to take in everything she sees on their way.
Once Quinn crosses into her bedroom, it's as if she becomes an entirely different person. She drops her bag to the floor, and it's as if she can breathe again. This is her safe space. It's where she's most comfortable, and it's clear for Rachel to see.
Rachel thinks she likes her even more like this.
In her own space.
Looking freer than she's ever seen her before.
It's when Rachel's taking in everything that is Quinn's bedroom - the endless number of vinyl records and piles and piles of books - that she realises there really is a lot about Quinn she doesn't know.
So, when she turns around and sees Quinn casually sitting on her bed with her back pressed against her headboard, Rachel asks her questions.
Quinn's determined to answer as truthfully as possible.
"Your necklace," Rachel says, reaching out to trail her fingers over Quinn's collarbone and smiling at the way the blonde shivers under her touch. "Where did you get it?"
Quinn's eyes close and she breathes out slowly. They're both lying on their sides on Quinn's bed, close enough that they're practically breathing the same air. "My sister gave it to me," she whispers.
Rachel doesn't so much as breathe too loudly. Quinn has never mentioned a sister and, from the sight of the actual house, it's impossible to tell there's one child living in this house, let alone two. Quinn doesn't have many pictures in her own bedroom, but Rachel did notice a few with two blonde girls: Lucy and whom she assumes is the elusive Frannie who Quinn was apologising to that day with Karofsky.
Quinn's fingers wrap around her wrist. "She's at that place I want to run away to," she confesses, her eyes shut to the world. "I miss her."
Rachel swallows audibly.
"Everyone always says that you 'commit' suicide," she says, her tone almost conversational. "I've read a lot about it, you know? The rising numbers of depression and anxiety disorders, and the way people view mental health. People don't seem to understand. There's such a stigma to it, and everyone in my family tries to sweep it under the rug and try not to discuss the disease that existed before Frannie's fatal end."
Rachel can't seem to catch her breath.
"I think that to 'commit' something, you have to be thinking rationally," she says; "and I don't think depression allows for that. It takes over your mind and uses it against you. I mean, just because people can't see the lack of neuro-transmitters; doesn't mean that there's nothing physically wrong with you."
Rachel's fingers dance over the skin of Quinn's neck, trembling as they travel over pure perfection.
"So, I prefer to think Frannie died of depression," she whispers. "It makes it hurt less. It makes me less angry with her, and it helps me try to understand. If I view it as the terminal end to a disease that went untreated for so long, then I feel as if I can actually breathe."
Rachel shuffles forward, her fingers sliding around Quinn's neck and playing with the little hairs at the nape.
Quinn sighs softly, her head leaning forward until her forehead touches Rachel's. "I tried," she murmurs. "I tried so hard. I left as late as I could, and I called her at lunch, and I got home as quickly as possible."
Rachel can't stop her gasp, and Quinn tenses. That's what Santana was talking about.
"And then, one day, I was too late," she says, and she sounds broken. "She just seemed so happy, and I thought, maybe, she was getting better. I remember, the night before, Frannie called me into her room - I usually slept in there, anyway - and she just talked. About life and about school and about love. I can't really remember much of anything she said, but I remember feeling like I was staring at the sun. Sometimes, I feel like that when I look at you."
Rachel blushes, even though Quinn can't see her.
"She told me to love," Quinn says. "To love myself, to love everything I do, and to love only the people who deserve it." She finally opens her eyes, and they're shining brighter than Rachel has ever seen them. "So far, I'm only succeeding with the last one."
It takes Rachel a moment to click.
This time, when they almost kiss, they actually kiss.
It happens when Rachel is leaving, both girls deciding it would be best if she goes home before either of Quinn's parents gets home.
Baby steps and all that.
Plus, Quinn isn't ready to explain just who Rachel is to her to parents who are able to look at her and not even see her.
So, at exactly six o'clock, texts her father to pick her up on his way home from work because she's not keen on walking the surprisingly short distance between their houses. Quinn teases her about her laziness, and Rachel just swats at her arm as she forces herself to get up off the bed and go searching for her shoes.
As slowly as she possibly can to waste as much time in Quinn's presence, Rachel gathers her things and slips on her shoes, all while Quinn watches from her position on her bed, her eyes tracking the brunette's movements with a certain heaviness.
Once Rachel is ready, she stands in the middle of Quinn's carpet and waits patiently.
Quinn doesn't move.
"Well," Rachel says; "are you going to walk me out or what?"
When a grin spreads across Quinn's face, Rachel's breath catches because, yes, this girl has the power to destroy her and she doesn't even realise it. Silently, Quinn gets to her feet and stretches, her arms lifting and her back popping. For a moment, she reminds Rachel of a cat.
"Do you know why you're my favourite person?" Rachel says.
"Why?" Quinn says, walking towards her.
"Because I don't think there will be a day when you won't surprise me."
Quinn arches an eyebrow. "I don't know if that's supposed to be an insult or a compliment."
When she's close enough, Rachel reaches out to touch her cheek, her palm pressing against soft skin. "I don't know either, to be honest."
Quinn laughs, and it's that glorious sound that makes Rachel melt. "Do you know why you're my favourite person?"
Quinn places her hand over Rachel's on her cheek and just breathes. "I can be exactly who I am when I'm with you."
"I wouldn't have it any other way," she says seriously, and it's the moment she feels it.
This is it.
Rachel sees Quinn's eyes drop to her lips, and they automatically curve into a smile... that immediately turns into an irritated scowl when her phone starts to ring.
Quinn startles at the sound and steps back.
Rachel mentally curses her father as she fishes for her phone and answers, finding it difficult to keep the annoyance out of her voice. "Hi, Daddy," she says, rolling her eyes as she turns away from a suddenly-pink Quinn. "You're here? Five minutes out? Okay. I'll head down now and wait." She hangs up, huffs, and then turns back towards Quinn, who's also just put on her shoes. "I have to go."
Quinn nods, nervously biting her bottom lip. "You have to go."
"Will I see you tomorrow?"
Quinn tilts her head. "Tomorrow's Thursday, Rach. Why wouldn't you see me?"
Rachel doesn't respond, and it's enough for Quinn to let out a tired sigh.
"You'll see me tomorrow," Quinn says seriously. "I'm - I'm not going anywhere."
"Not without you, no."
Rachel breathes out in mild relief. She knows it's the best she's going to get and, as long as she stays, so will Quinn. That's enough for now. "I have to go," she says again.
"You have to go," Quinn echoes.
Breathing a sigh, Rachel starts to do just that and starts to turn away, but the feel of Quinn's fingers on her wrist stops her in her tracks, forcing her to look back at the blonde. "Quinn?"
For a moment, the air stills and the world around them grows quiet, and then Quinn steps into Rachel's space and leans in just far enough to give Rachel the decision to close the distance between their lips.
Which she does.
Of course, she does.
It's a gentle kiss, sweet and hesitant.
Quinn is smiling shyly when they pull apart, and Rachel's own smile is megawatt and blinding.
"I knew I wanted you to be my first," Quinn murmurs, and Rachel wants nothing more than to sink into her and just stay right here forever.
"I have to go," Rachel says.
"You have to go."
Rachel shakes her head once, and then kisses Quinn again.
When she's finally leaving the bedroom, Rachel pauses at Quinn's desk, her eyes landing on Quinn's little art project resting on its top. Her fingers reach out to touch the paper flag that prompted the turn in what has turned into an absolutely wonderful day... that has resulted in the reality that she can now kiss Quinn. It's almost too much to wrap her mind around, particularly when she remembers Quinn's dismissal at lunch.
And then that little paper flag was waved in front of Quinn's face, and Rachel can practically feel Quinn letting her in. For a fleeting moment, she wonders what Santana might think about this new change, because she's certain they're all going to meet a new Quinn in the morning.
This truly insignificant day in early June is special.
"Can I have this?"
Quinn's eyes drift towards her own desk, landing on the the product of her musings during English. "The flag?"
Rachel nods. "I want to keep it."
"As a symbol of the way I've finally surrendered to your charm?"
"Well, I can be very persuasive."
"Sure," Quinn teases; "that's what we're going to call it."
Rachel chooses to ignore that comment because today has probably been one of the best days of her life. She isn't even worried about anything that's surely to come after. She's going to enjoy every second of this and worry about society and community and stereotypes and prejudice when she's not literally staring at the very person who keeps the world spinning for her.
Clearing her throat, Rachel instead asks, "Can I please have it?"
"Of course," Quinn says. "You can have anything, Rachel."
Rachel tilts her head to the side, latching on and taking those words with her into the blissful abyss of her mind's own making. "Even you?"
"Especially me, yes."
Rachel smiles to herself as she lifts the paper flag and clutches it to her chest as if it's something precious to be cherished. It is.
"For what it's worth," she says softly; "I love you, too."
Quinn visibly freezes, only her eyes moving as they dart to meet Rachel's gaze. "You do?"
Quinn unexpectedly laughs, equal parts in relief and disbelief. "I need you to know that I'm not good for you."
"You keep saying that," she says dismissively. "I don't care."
Rachel shakes her head. "I don't care, Quinn," she says. Then, knowing she's risking it, she says, "I don't care, Lucy."
Quinn's eyes widen for a beat, and then she smiles. "Do you miss her?"
"Sometimes," Rachel confesses. "Do you?"
"I used to," Quinn admits. "But I like myself a lot more these days."
"I've always liked you."
Side-stepping the declaration, Quinn points at the flag still pressed against Rachel's chest. "Hold onto that," she says, sounding oddly amused. "Something tells me, for this relationship to work out, we're going to need it."
Rachel shakes her head to stop herself from smiling. That's not supposed to be funny. "I definitely need to get going," she says. "My Daddy's probably here and getting annoyed."
Quinn glances at her wrist for the time. "I'm sure he won't mind the wait when you tell him you're late because you were busy making out with your girlfriend."
Rachel's heart jumps into her throat at the sound of that, and she so isn't prepared for this or anything else that comes with Quinn Fabray. She should probably walk out now, before she -
It's too late.
It's always been too late.
It's her smile and her laugh and her eyes and her voice and her brain and her presence.
Even when Quinn was still Lucy, Rachel was caught.
Almost accepting her fate - wholeheartedly - Rachel says, "You were right."
Quinn frowns. "About what?"
Without verbally responding, Rachel just smiles secretively, and then raises her hand in front of her face and waves the white flag.