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I've Been Trying to Reach You

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The strap of her backpack is digging into her shoulder. Granted, it's not the heaviest thing she's had to carry lately by a long run—and there's a thought that would have sent her back into a crying fit two months ago. Maybe she actually is doing better.

Her mother clears her throat, hands nervously tapping on the steering wheel, and says, "I know you're really not looking forward to this, honey, but—maybe it won't be so bad."

"Can't be worse than McKinley," Quinn sighs, and then leans over the console, squeezing her mom into one last semi-pathetic comforting hug.

"Call us if anything… happens," her mother says, softly, and Quinn closes her eyes, because the last time she had to call home—

This is going to be better than last year. It just has to be, she thinks, as she gets out of the car and looks up at the gated entrance to Carmel High.

One more deep breath, and then she's heading inside.

...

The hallways are empty, because she's a deliberate five minutes late, and she heads to the student office just to register. A weirdly wide-eyed redhead named Emma Pillsbury pops out of the guidance counselor's office, when none of the secretaries are free, and explains her class schedule to her, which is almost exactly the same as her old class schedule, so that's something.

"One final thing," she says, giving Quinn a pointed look. "I want you to know that my office is always open to you."

"Right," Quinn says. "I'm—my dad is a therapist, so—"

"He's also your father."

"Isn't all of this confidential anyway?" Quinn asks, looking over her shoulder, but they're in the middle of first period by now, and it's not like people can magically appear behind her without warning.

Emma Pillsbury gives her a sympathetic smile. "It's a small community, Quinn. A new student transferring two months into the year—well, you are about the most exciting thing that's happened here since Nationals last year."

"Nationals?"

A look of pride washes over Emma's face, and her smile is more sincere this time around. "Oh, sure. You'll hear about this soon enough, but we have an award winning show choir. Vocal Adrenaline are the pride and joy of Carmel High. I'm sure you will see them perform soon enough—sometimes they even sing during lunch in the courtyard, because Shelby thinks it keeps them fresh."

"Shelby?" Quinn asks.

"Shelby Corcoran. She coaches Vocal Adrenaline, and teaches the band and music classes. She's amazing. You'll see," Emma Pillsbury says, with barely disguised hero worship. It's a little much coming from one adult to the next.

Quinn glances down at her schedule. "How do I get to the gym?"

Emma draws her a quick map and hands it over. "You were a cheerleader, weren't you? At your old school?"

Quinn feels her face fall before she can help it.

"It was a long time ago," she finally says, stiltedly. It's both true and a lie.

...

She's still changing into her mandated gym shorts when the locker room doors slam wide open and three girls stride in, in matching outfits of some kind—criminally short black skirts, light blue polo shirts, matching knee socks. Literally everyone else in the room abruptly stops talking and starts watching.

Quinn straightens as the one in front looks around and then finally locks eyes with her.

"Quinn Fabray, I assume," the girl says, from halfway across the room, tilting her head.

"Yeah," Quinn says.

"Your reputation precedes you," the girl says, still with an inscrutable expression; the black girl next to her snickers, though, and Quinn feels her mouth set.

"Yeah, so I've been told," Quinn says, already turning back to her locker. That's a big mistake, because seconds later, a hand grasps her shoulder tightly and spins her back around.

"Don't turn away from me when I am speaking to you," the girl says, sharply.

It's unreal how someone so short can be so terrifying, but Quinn can barely even swallow with the way she's being stared at and backed into the lockers. Not that she'll let that show, on her first day. Lines are being drawn and she wants to make it real clear she won't be messed with.

"I'm sorry—who the hell are you?"

"Who is she; my God," Black Girl repeats, rolling her eyes. "Rach, how about we just teach this white girl a lesson right now. Slushie machine's just outside; just call down the word, yeah?"

"She's probably just confused," the final member of the trio says, blowing a bubble after a moment. "I get like that sometimes. Like, sometimes I think Rachel's name is Shelby, and—"

"Shut up, Brittany," the short girl—Rachel, apparently—says, without looking away from Quinn.

"What, are you like head cheerleader or something?" Quinn asks, because hell, that's a game she can play. She was pretty good at it for the last two years, anyway.

Rachel eyes flicker brightly. "Hardly. This school doesn't have—what are they called at McKinley?"

"Fruit Loops," Brittany offers.

"Cheerios," the other girl corrects her, and Rachel's smile sharpens.

"Right. Cheerios. Cheerleading requires neither brains nor talent, from what I've been able to deduce. Frankly, as its most recent representative, you aren't doing much to change my opinion."

"What is your problem?" Quinn asks, trying to ignore the way that her anger is climbing. This is something that she's been working on, every day, but then it's not every day that some total fucking stranger is set on pushing every single one of her buttons like this.

"Right now, I'd say it's toss-up between your current attitude and your past behavior," Rachel says, calmly.

"Oh, for the love of—" Quinn starts to say, which is when a girl with long dark hair, dangling hoop earrings, a messy ponytail and torn jeans slams the locker next to Quinn hard.

"What's up, Berry? Your latent lesbianism manifesting itself in an ugly way again?" she drawls, before looking Rachel up and down. "You know, if you'd just take me up on that offer to get that stick out of your ass—"

"You're disgusting," Rachel says, looking like she's going to throw up or at least spit on the girl's scuffed sneakers.

"How about you just fuck off and go sing about your feelings somewhere, huh?" the other girl says, crossing her arms and leaning against the lockers.

Rachel glares at both of them for a second; her entire face darkens, in fact, but then to Quinn's surprise she takes a step back anyway, and focuses her eyes on Quinn again. "It was a pleasure, Quinn. I'm sure I'll be seeing you."

The locker room empties out as Rachel disappears around the corner, her two accomplices following her, and Quinn exhales slowly.

"Welcome to Carmel," the girl next to her says, pushing off the lockers. "I'm Santana. And you're bailing on PE, because really, you need to be brought up to speed on what the deal is here, before you go and get yourself iced."

Quinn snorts. "What, by that Rachel girl? She's like five foot two. I doubt she's going to kill me."

"Not what I meant, blondie," Santana says, pursing her lips. "Look—I'm not afraid of Rachel Berry, but that girl is capable of shit nobody would think she is looking at her. Little dwarf in knee socks, right? Smile of an angel?"

Quinn shrugs. "She seems like a… bitch, honestly."

"She can make your life a living hell. Trust me—I know," Santana says, leaning around the door to Quinn's locker and pulling her jeans back out. "C'mon. I'll hook you up with some cool people. You don't want to mess with those assholes in Vocal Adrenaline."

Quinn sighs and says, "Whatever, I missed first period too. Might as well co-sign on detention immediately, right?"

Santana smiles at her crookedly and says, "The guys are going to love you."

...

"The guys" are smoking up in the back of someone's pick-up truck, and Santana swings her legs up over the side in a way that makes Quinn wonder if she's secretly a gymnast. She settles on one guy's lap—Mohawk Guy, for lack of a name—and steals the joint from him, taking a quick drag before passing it on to a guy with floppy blond hair and a sweet smile.

"Hi," he says, with a grin. "You're like, way hot."

"Thanks," Quinn says, still standing next to the truck.

"Evans, she looks like your fucking sister," Mohawk Guy says, before pressing a wet kiss to Santana's cheek, who laughs and slaps at his head.

Sam squints. "Ah, shit, yeah. You kind of do."

"Come aboard," Santana says, kicking down the latch. Quinn accepts Sam's hand and lets herself be pulled up into the back, and then shakes her head at the joint.

"Oh, man, are you some fucking tee-totaller?" Mohawk Guy asks, frowning.

"Told you she'd be a Jesus freak. All those cheerleaders at McKinley are," Sam says, tapping something on his leg; after a moment, Quinn recognizes it as the beat to a Black Kids song.

"I'm—no, I'm not a Jesus freak or straight edge," Quinn finally says. "I just—I have a pretty bad history with drugs."

Mohawk Guy grins. "Awesome. You're not alone there."

Quinn blows up her cheeks and then exhales slowly. "Pretty sure your version doesn't end with you being pregnant."

Sam chokes mid-toke and Quinn gently pats him on the shoulder. Santana stops playing with her boyfriend's shirt and gives her a questioning look.

"It's—yeah. It was a bad year," Quinn mumbles, looking down at her hands. It's not like they weren't going to find out anyway; bad news travels fast, and that Rachel girl sure seemed to be implying that she knew what the deal was with Quinn's transfer.

"Shit," Mohawk Guy says, and then tilts his head. "You look pretty damn hot for someone who popped out a kid, though."

Santana groans his name—which is apparently Puck—and then elbows him in the gut. "Ignore him. His brain is the size of his dick."

"Massive, in other words," Puck says, smirking, and Quinn can't help but laugh.

Sam offers her the joint a second time, with a gentle smile. "Puck's spoken for, and I'm pretty sure I can keep myself under control."

"Oh, what the hell," Quinn says, because honestly, there are too many parts of her pregnancy that aren't ever going to be repeated; Finn Hudson, tequila, and the idea that she'd ever sleep with a guy again to begin with, for starters.

"So, what do you do for fun, Fabray?" Santana asks; Puck's arms are looped around her stomach and she's leaning into him while assessing Quinn with narrowed, cat-like eyes.

If Quinn's honest: she's pretty hot. Not her type, but she's not blind.

"I used to be a cheerleader. Not anymore, though," she adds, quickly, at the looks on their faces. "And—I like photography. Oh, and I play the drums."

All three of them look at her sharply at that comment. "For real?" Sam asks.

She flushes unwillingly and then nods. "Yeah, it's—my parents are pretty cool. It's my dad's kit, but I started playing when I was like, four, so—"

"Dude," Puck says. "You have got to join the band."

"Yeah," Santana agrees. "Samwise has been trying to learn how to play, but like, that was because we're fucking desperate. He's much better with a guitar."

"Wait, so—" Quinn squints, because her brain is starting to get that funny, foggy feeling that she's read about but never experienced. "You guys have a band?"

"Well, we would, if we had a drummer," Sam says, slowly.

"What's it called?" Quinn asks.

Behind them, the bell rings, and she looks down at the dead roach in her hand before flicking it out of the truck.

"Trouty Mouths," Santana says, with a devious smile. "Because Sam and I have girly-ass lips."

"It's really not," Sam says, and then adds, "I've been trying to convince these losers that "The Force is With Us" is a totally cool band name—"

"—but unlike Sam, we're not total dorks," Puck says, with a grin. "My pick's always been MILF Patrol, but—"

"You're such a dick, Noah," Santana says, but it's fine; Quinn laughs when Puck winks at her.

"Do you have any ideas?" Sam asks.

Quinn glances at the double doors to the school's entrance, where some kids are filing out after their classes, and then blinks when loud music starts playing over the PA system.

Santana groans. "Great. There goes my fucking buzz."

Sam stands up and offers Quinn a hand.

"What's going on?" she asks, getting up before he answers, and watching as Puck lowers Santana to the ground before hopping off the truck bed himself.

"Santana has sort of a… love/hate relationship going on with Vocal Adrenaline. She seriously like, can't stand them—but she also watches every single one of their performances," Sam says, in a slightly softer voice, as Santana and Puck stroll back towards the school entrance.

"What—"

That's when the singing starts, and literally every thought Quinn has ever had stops in her mind at the chill that runs up her spine when she hears the female soloist.

Sam looks at her with a knowing smile. "And another one bites the dust."

"What?"

"Rachel Berry. She's a real bitch, but yeah, her voice, right?" Sam says, shaking his head, before reaching for Quinn's hand. "C'mon. You sort of need to see them, too, just to get the full experience."

...

She's never seen anything like this before. The choir-Vocal Adrenaline-have taken over the cafeteria and have prepared some sort of routine that involves the plastic chairs and the tables. Rachel is standing on one table; her male equivalent—handsome, in a sort of rogue-ish way—is kneeling on the ground in front of her.

"You have got to be kidding me," Santana mumbles, and Quinn almost shushes her, because the entire rest of the choir is frozen behind them in really, really uncomfortable looking poses—half-bent over, legs in high places—as Rachel's hips just slowly beat to the music of Ain't No Mountain High Enough.

It's hypnotic, almost, and then Rachel starts softly singing and Quinn actually shivers where she's standing.

There's that angelic smile that Quinn thought Santana was kidding about. When she's performing, something about Rachel Berry just lights itself on fire, and even though Santana's scowling and Puck has a pretty decent bored face going on, not one of them can look away from what's happening in front of them.

The rest of the choir slowly starts moving to the jerk-beat rhythm of the verse even as Rachel and the guy sing on, and then he climbs up on the table with her and spins her into his chest.

"This is pretty low key for them, actually," Sam murmurs behind Quinn, and she nods, because she can tell they're building to something.

That something turns out to be Adele's Rolling in the Deep, and even though it's probably the most overplayed song of the year, Quinn feels her breath catch all over again as Rachel and her male counterpart strut along a row of tables, until she shoves at his chest and pushes him off on the chorus.

"Jesus," she says, unwillingly.

Nobody else has to comment, because Rachel sings her heart out, and the entire room breaks into thunderous applause for her at the end. Her co-singer picks her up and spins her around, and she kisses the guy chastely before bowing, somewhat sarcastically, to her audience.

One person isn't clapping, though: a severe-looking woman at the back of the cafeteria, taking notes on a clipboard, and Rachel's smile freezes for just one second before she strides past the woman and back towards the hallway, tugging the male lead behind her.

"Who's that?" Quinn asks, even as everyone around them makes a move to start either queuing for an early lunch or head to their third period class.

"Ms. Corcoran," Puck says. "Now there's a MILF."

"She's an evil bitch whore," Santana says, shooting Puck a disapproving look.

"Oh, is she the coach?"

"Yep," Santana says, staring at the woman from across the room. "And Rachel's mother."

Quinn doesn't know why it feels like a seriously dramatic pronouncement, but it does, and she glances at the woman one more time before turning away.

"Guys—where's AP English?"

"Better follow me; pretty sure those two couldn't find their way into an AP classroom if it had an arrow pointing at it," Santana says, with an eye roll.

"Hey, I take AP Music," Sam protests, with a small scowl.

"Yeah, and I'm getting an A+ in AP Biology; pretty sure that's what we were doing in bed last night, anyway," Puck says, laughing when Santana swats at him again.

"We'll see you later. Band practice at mine after school; you can catch a ride with us," Sam says, shooting her a quick wave, before shouldering into Puck and heading down the hall with him.

"AP English, huh. You like reading?" Santana says, stopping briefly at a row of lockers and digging out a notepad.

"Yeah. I mean, I've stacked up on APs for college but English is the one I actually like," Quinn asks, before glancing inside of Santana's jam-packed locker, full of books and binders and a bunch of other really studious-looking stuff. "So, what's your deal? You're not actually a juvenile delinquent?"

"I'm really fucking smart, okay. I'm just not a prissy, pious asshole like everyone else who's going to get out of this cow town. The establishment can't handle all of this," Santana says, slamming her locker shut and gesturing down her body.

"Right, well, I know what that's like," Quinn says, as airily as she can.

"Yeah, I bet you do," Santana says, softly, before elbowing her in the arm. "C'mon. We better hurry, or we'll have to sit next to fucking Rachel and her armed guard. Rule number one about surviving at Carmel; don't look at them, you'll turn into a fucking stone statue or something."

Quinn wonders if she should be taking notes, or if common sense will be enough to get her through her first day.

...

Unfortunately, her first instinct when someone walks by with a Big Gulp isn't 'duck.'

When she blinks her eyes open, past the blue gunk that's dripping down her face, she sees Rachel Berry standing at the end of the hallway, looking at her with an inscrutable expression.

The guy with the Big Gulp just smiles at her sweetly and says, "Don't play with fire. I'm fairly certain you wouldn't know what to do with yourself if you got burned."

He's clearly family. He's also on a different section of the food chain, if the way that Black Sidekick sidles up to him as he keeps walking is anything to go by.

...

Santana helps her get the worst of it off her shirt.

Quinn looks at herself in the mirror, noticing the clenching in her jaw, and then says, "Who do we report it to?"

"Report what?" Santana asks, balling up the tissue she's been cleaning Quinn's shirt with and tossing it towards the trash.

"Um, the fact that someone just threw a fucking Big Gulp all over me?" Quinn asks, her fingers digging into the bathroom sink hard.

Santana gives her a look and then laughs wryly, shaking her head. "Fabray, I don't know what planet you live on, but at Carmel, you don't fuck with Vocal Adrenaline."

"So what, this happens a lot?"

"Sure," Santana says, hopping on the sink and digging out some chapstick. "I mean, no school rules against tripping, right?"

"He didn't trip," Quinn says, emphatically.

"Good luck convincing Pillsbury of that."

Quinn frowns and then reaches for Santana's chapstick. "She seems all right."

"Sure, she's cool. She's just also going to ask who did this to you, and when you tell her it was Hummel, she'll gasp, and say there's no way that that sweet boy would do this on purpose."

"So what? His word against mine; law of averages says we both get detention," Quinn says, because that's how things worked at McKinley. She's served enough detentions in the last year to be pretty sure of it, anyway. "I'm already lined up for it this week, what with missing three classes in one day."

"Yeah, except at this school, when a member of Vocal Adrenaline gets pulled into the school office, they walk back out with their heads held high, and Shelby's hand on their back."

Quinn bristles. "So what are you saying? Everyone just takes this crap?"

The look on Santana's face changes abruptly, from bored to incredibly pained. "Yeah, Q. Because when you try to get one up over Shelby, she will find a way to fucking destroy you. Rachel and Kurt—the other kids on that team? They're off limits. It's better to just learn how to avoid them."

It sounds ridiculous, and like Santana's just trying to intimidate her or something, but nobody looks that wan for absolutely no reason.

"I don't accept that," she says, finally, when Santana looks at her like she's checking if the point she's trying to make got through okay.

"Your funeral, blondie," Santana says, hopping off the counter, and fishing a pack of Lucky Strikes out of her pocket. "C'mon. I need some fresh air, and you need to stop looking so—"

"Blue in the face?" Quinn asks, dryly.

"Oh, she's funny, too. Where have you been all my life?" Santana calls over her shoulder, rolling her eyes.

Quinn grins and heads after her.

...

In her free period, rather than eat lunch, she heads to the library and gets out a copy of the yearbook. If these people are going to attempt to make her life a living hell all over again, she's at least going to make sure she knows their names.

Gay Dude: Kurt Hummel. Runs the Fashion Design club, co-directs the Home Economics club, and is, of course, a member of Vocal Adrenaline; he flanks Rachel to her right, with a smug little chin up in the air, in the official group photo.

Black Chick: Mercedes Jones. Abstinence Club, Prayer Circle, and Vocal Adrenaline.

Dumb Blonde: Brittany Pierce. Miniature Trampoline and Vocal Adrenaline.

Lead Guy: Jesse St. James. (She actually laughs out loud, because whatkind of name is that?) Quiz Bowl, Archery, and Vocal Adrenaline.

And finally, there's Rachel herself. Rachel Berry. By the looks of it, she's involved in every single club in the school. And co-captain of the award-winning show choir.

Quinn flips the yearbook shut with a sigh, and then runs her hands up and down her face.

It's barely even been five hours, and she's somehow already made herself a nemesis.

At least at McKinley, she got shit from everyone in equal measure.

This doesn't really feel like an improvement.

...

She's exhausted by the time the day has ended; tired of sitting in the back of the classroom and saying the same ridiculous things about herself: "Hi, I'm Quinn, I like gymnastics and photography, and I transferred from McKinley because of my dad's job."

All of it is complete nonsense, and really, some part of her just wants to go home at the end of the day.

Still, Puck's truck is idling in front of the school when she files out, and Santana leans over the console to hammer the horn.

It's good to feel wanted, even if they only want her for the band.

"Ah, man, they iced you," Sam says, with a sympathetic look, when the spots the blue V running down the front of her Metric t-shirt. "Which one of them was it?"

"Kurt Hummel," Santana says, bitterly.

"That bitch," Puck mumbles, shaking his head. "I wish it wasn't like, unethical to hit guys the size of girls, because I'd fucking beat that kid."

"He's the worst," Sam sighs.

"Yep. With him around, Rachel's never going to have to do her own goddamned dirty work," Santana agrees, before reaching over to the stereo and turning up the Strokes.

The rest of the ride is silent, and Quinn almost falls asleep in the back seat while Santana softly sings along with the song and Puck taps out the beat on the steering wheel.

...

The sticks feel good in her hands, even though they're not her own, and this kit is a shitty little replica of the set her dad's got set up at home; but a beat is a beat, and she fiddles with the snare drum for a moment and then tests the cymbals with a quick triple-tap.

Santana watches her do it silently, wrapping her hands around the microphone stand, and then says, "You know any Yeah Yeah Yeahs?"

It's the first time all day Quinn's actually felt fucking good about something, even as Puck and Sam tune their instruments, one plucked string at a time. Her grin must be contagious, or something, because Santana also grins and then says, "Lemme guess—Maps?"

Quinn hates to be predictable, but whatever. She's pretty sure she's going to surprise them with how good she is.

Two tugs on her shirt sleeves later, turning her shirt into a tank top because she knows she's going to sweat like hell if they go at it for a while, she counts them off.

...

Santana sounds ridiculously good on the chorus—sexy, even, if Quinn is pushed, and Puck's bass lines mesh incredibly well with the gentle beat she's tapping out.

She wipes at her face when they're done and Sam high-fives Puck in front of her.

"Untitled Band is go," he says, and Santana grins, tipping the microphone stand away.

"Guess something good came out of your shitty deal last year after all, huh," she says, as Puck ruffles her hair—no longer in a ponytail—affectionately.

"Yeah, I guess," Quinn agrees, with a small smile.

...

Her mom's waiting on the couch when she gets home, and almost launches off it when Quinn closes the front door.

"How was it?"

Quinn drops her bag and watches as her mother takes in her appearance—sweaty, bedraggled, tired, and her shirt's still fucking half-blue. "No, no, don't worry—it was okay. It was, you know. Any other high school."

"And the kids?"

Quinn shrugs tiredly and says, "I think I made some friends. They're a little… different, but, I guess I'm a little different too."

"Yes, well, you and your hippie parents," her mom says, rolling her eyes.

"Yeah," Quinn agrees, with a sigh. "Because Father Kevin was wrong; it's completely your fault that I was stupid enough to sleep with a guy and—"

"Quinn, honey, you don't need to, okay?" her mom says, pulling her into a brief hug, and then patting her on the back. "I took some time off baking today to make your favorite cookies."

"Vegan chocolate chip?" Quinn asks, raising her eyebrows.

"I know you hate it when I mother you too much, but—"

"Mom, honestly—I don't hate it as much as I used to," Quinn finally says, forcing a smile when her mother looks at her pityingly, and then asks, "How's the painting coming along?"

"Good. I think I've finally got the right color balance," her mom says, and Quinn follows her into the kitchen, with a small smile down at the blue stain on her favorite t-shirt.

Day one of her new life could've gone a lot worse, she guesses.

Chapter Text

In most ways, Carmel isn't that different from McKinley.

Her classes are lame, her teachers are disinterested, and the worst part of her day by far is trying to find out what the hell the mystery meat being served at lunch is. Santana and Puck and Sam seem to flit in and out of classes without worrying about detention, which within three days becomes more or less pre-band-practice time, with Santana writing down all the songs she can think of that suit her vocal range while Puck and Sam talk about how to harmonize on them.

Quinn makes a vague attempt at actually doing some homework the first two days she's kept late, but then gives up and starts adding to Santana's list with stuff that isn't in her range but with a quick key change quickly could be.

As soon as they're let out from detention, they head over to Sam's and start toying around with the things they've been plotting throughout the day. By the end of the week, they're getting Santana going on rhythm guitar on Puck's Jazzmaster, and Quinn discovers that she herself sounds really good with Sam, which leads to a few more songs being added to the list—stuff that Santana's voice is too gritty and emotional for, but that they nonetheless all like musically.

It's on Friday afternoon that Quinn takes a break, dropping the sticks onto her right tom and running a hand past her forehead. "So—what's the plan? When do we gig?"

They all look at her like she's said something crazy.

"What do you mean?" Sam finally asks.

"Well, we're … doing something with this, right? Or are we just hoofing around?" she asks, looking at all of them.

Santana purses her lips and then says, "Never really something that came up when we were like, you know, the gimp band without a drummer."

"Like, where would we play?" Puck asks, scratching at his hair.

"I don't know—school talent shows? The town fair? … we could throw a party?" Quinn suggests.

Santana laughs. "Yeah, because we're going to get permission to put something on at school. The town fair isn't for another three months, and like—who the fuck would come to our party?"

Sam runs his hand along his acoustic guitar and then says, "If we can figure out a way to get some booze, I'm pretty sure we could get some people to come along."

"Yeah, your folks will love that," Puck says, dryly.

"Mine wouldn't care," Quinn says, after a moment. "I don't think they'd go so far as to buy us a keg, but—"

"Marry me," Puck says, sounding completely serious. "Or hell, scratch that; tell your mom to marry me."

"Are you for real?" Santana asks, raising her eyebrows.

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure after last year they'd rather have me drinking at home than, you know," Quinn says, trying not to wince. "Not that—"

Santana tilts her head and says, "Well then. Puckerman can take care of the booze, Sam can bring some fucking Chex Mix or something, and I'll print up some flyers."

"We need a name first," Quinn points out. "And uh, a little more time to rehearse."

"End of the month, and let's just fucking play as Untitled Band. It's growing on me," Puck says, looking at the rest of them.

"It's kind of clever, in a really fourth wall kind of way," Sam says, with a shrug.

"I don't even want to know what the dork that means, but it's better than MILF Patrol, so..." Santana says, with a barely hidden grin.

"Cool," Quinn says, and then stretches her neck out, twisting it from side to side. "So—what are we doing this weekend?"

"Bake & bake," Sam says, high-fiving Puck.

"I'm sorry?"

"Santana disappears into the kitchen for two hours; then we get high; then we eat baked goods," Puck says, pulling Santana into his side. "Best housewife ever."

"In your fucking dreams, Puckerman," Santana says, but then smiles at Quinn. "You up for this?"

Quinn shrugs. "As long as we can bake vegan, that's cool."

"Vegans can still eat sugar, right?" Sam asks, sounding a little worried. "Because I'm okay with not having meat in my baked goods, but no sugar?"

Quinn just rolls her eyes. "Just let us take care of it."

Some loud noises upstairs have Sam looking at his watch and saying, "Crap, my siblings are home; I need to get up there and feed them."

"Yeah, I'm out, too," Puck says, giving Santana a look. "Gotta pick up Becky from her dance class. You want to come with?"

"Nah, Q will drop me off," Santana says, heading over to the nearest amp and flicking it off. "Right?"

Quinn shrugs, because even if it's not on the way, it's at best a five minute detour.

...

Santana's silent for the first few minutes of the drive, notwithstanding directions, and then gives Quinn a kind of sharp look.

"What?" Quinn asks, spotting it from the corner of her eye.

"Don't take this the wrong way—but you are setting my gaydar on like Defcon 1," Santana finally just says, looking away. "I seriously don't care, I just—you know. Digging chicks doesn't usually lead to pregnancy."

Quinn takes a deep breath and runs her nails across her jeans a few times, trying to figure out what to say. She could go with, "Actually, according to my dad, gay teenagers are much more likely to end up pregnant than heterosexual ones," but that just turns her into a statistic. She could also tell Santana to mind her own goddamned business, but they're in a band together now.

That shit runs deeper than blood, if it's good.

"Nevermind," Santana says, after a long, awkward moment.

"No, it's fine. My dad says that I should—try to talk about it. I mean, we're friends, right?"

Santana looks out the window and then takes a deep breath and says, "I used to—I don't really know what to call it, but in freshman year, I had a thing with a girl, so like, no judgment here."

"Okay," Quinn says, stalling in front of a traffic light and taking a deep breath. "Yeah. I'm gay. I just wasn't always… okay with that."

"Your parents don't sound like homophobes," Santana says.

"They're not. It wasn't them. They think it's fantastic, actually," Quinn says, trying not to roll her eyes. "It was just—you know. It wasn't what I thought my life was going to be like. I was popular, I was a cheerleader, I had a sweet boyfriend—and I was completely into my very straight, very much not interested best friend."

"Sucks," Santana mumbles, wringing her hands together.

"Pretty much," Quinn sighs, taking a left at Santana's nod. "Anyway, and Finn was just—there. That night, we were at a party, and Amy disappeared with this other guy at our school—this football player named Matt, and—I don't know. I just didn't want to care anymore, y'know?"

Santana nods after a moment. "And you were drunk."

"Oh, yeah. I would've never—you know, without a condom, otherwise," Quinn says, as calmly as she can. "Obviously. I'm not stupid."

Santana says nothing else for a long time, not until she goes, "Third on the right" after another two turns, and then she gives Quinn a wry little smile.

"That was cool. You didn't have to tell me."

Quinn shrugs, because there's really not much else to say. "I trust you won't like, go blabbing to the entire school about it. It's bad enough that it's common knowledge that I was pregnant. Nobody needs to know about… this."

Santana's eyes go distant again for a moment, and her smile falters. "No, they don't."

She's out of the car in a flash, with a "see you tomorrow" that leaves Quinn confused.

...

She wakes up on Sunday with serious cotton mouth and hazy vision, and even swinging her legs out of bed is the most sluggish movement she's ever made. There's some sort of karmic retribution in the fact that her dad's singing in the kitchen while making breakfast—loudly, some Broadway tune she doesn't know—and it is ridiculously sunny for late September.

Her dad sing-songs her name when he spots her, and she grunts and winces before gingerly sitting down at the breakfast table. He laughs at the look on her face and then gives her a glass of water and, heading to the bathroom for a moment, two tabs of Tylenol.

"Thanks," she mumbles, taking them both quickly, and then resting her head in her hand.

"Oh dear, someone had a good night," her dad says, teasingly. He flips the omelet he's cooking and then sprinkles a bit more salt over it. "Anything we need to discuss?"

"Nope," Quinn says, finishing the glass of water. "I feel terrible. Lesson learned, I guess."

Her dad chuckles and then says, "You up for working on the car today?"

"Yeah, sure," she says, after a moment. "I just think I need another nap, and maybe a shower or something. My head feels like it's—cotton candy."

"Ah, so that's what that glazed look on your face is," her dad says, and then serves her some crazy-delicious smelling egg. "Well, as someone who lived through the 60s: I could have warned you."

She laughs and starts mashing the omelet apart with a fork. "I'm so grounded, aren't I."

"Oh yeah," her dad agrees, before sitting down across from her.

...

She calls Santana to say practice is going to have to either take place during school or not at all for the next week, who just laughs and says, "I thought your parents were cool."

"They are, but I'm not being raised by wolves, jeez."

"Well, whatever, it's cool. You're fucking crazy good, we can just send you notes and you can practice at home."

Quinn taps her finger against her cheek and says, "Actually, why don't we just move practice here?"

"Uh, because you're grounded?"

"Yeah, meaning I can't leave the house. This isn't Soviet Russia, I'm not like, being shackled to the wall or anything," she says, with a laugh.

Santana's silent for a few moments and then says, "Can your parents like, talk to mine? About how to be awesome?"

Her dad shows up a moment later with a rag in his hand and a raised eyebrow, and Quinn holds up one finger; he nods and disappears. "I think not, and anyway, I have to get going. My dad and I are fixing up this 1968 Ford Fairlane and—"

"Oh my God, are these words actually coming out of your mouth or am I just hallucinating gay stereotypes?"

"Shut up."

"Right, well, have fun, Ellen. See you on Monday," Santana says, and hangs up.

Quinn looks at the phone and snorts before putting it down.

...

It's a really relaxing way to spend a Sunday, especially since she can't leave the house. Her dad whistles softly throughout most of the work and Quinn sings along when she recognizes what he's humming; they tap out different parts of 60s classics on the hood of the car, and everything goes swimmingly until her dad goes, "Oh no," and holds up a heavily corroded head gasket.

"Shit," Quinn says, and looks behind her at the collection of bits and pieces they've already ordered and are ready to start putting into the car; the entire radiator will need to be replaced eventually, and the clutch needs a lot of work, but somehow they've missed this. "We don't have a spare gasket."

"That blows," her dad says, before turning to her with a slow grin. "See what I did there?"

"I don't know why my mother married you," Quinn says, shoving him in the shoulder.

"Well," her dad says, straightening. "My dashing good looks, obviously."

"Gross."

"It's just your typical cylinder head; a modern set should work, according to the internet," her dad says, scratching at his temple for a second.

"I can stop by the garage, see if I can pick one up?" Quinn suggests.

"You're grounded."

"You're covered in grease," she points out.

Her dad tilts his head and then says, "My wallet's in my coat. Straight there and back, okay? And, by the way, you're cycling over there. Your reaction speed isn't going to be back to a hundred percent until at least tomorrow afternoon."

She sighs. "I'm really sorry, it was just—you know."

"Just take your bike, and don't worry, I know you won't do it again," her dad says, already ducking back under the hood.

"Thanks, Dad," she says, because Santana's right—her parents are in fact great, and she knows that other parents would've shipped her off to a convent by now.

...

Her bike skids to a halt outside of the garage and she quickly snaps her lock in place.

Her dad's been taking her to the shop since she was seven and she loves it there; the smell of the engines, guys just horsing around, and so many technical bits and pieces that fit together. It's what made her think about engineering as a possible college major in the first place, and every time she steps into the garage she's still a little surprised at just how happy it makes her to see cars being stripped apart and put together again.

"Hey, girl," Jose, one of the mechanics calls out. "Long time. Thought you'd forgotten about us, found your way into a skirt and some matching girl hobbies or something."

She flips him off with a glare, which just makes him laugh.

"What can I do you for?"

"Cylinder head gasket expansion kit," she says, walking over to him and peering around his shoulder at the exhaust he's rebuilding.

"For?"

"The Fairlane, duh," she says, and Jose grins, because everyone in the garage knows about the project; Burt's the one who sold them the car in the first place, when she turned sixteen.

"All right, I'll check out back. I'd say don't touch anything but that's never worked on you, so just don't break anything, okay?" Jose says, wiping his hands on his coveralls, and Quinn grins before ducking down and having a look underneath the 70s Mustang he's working on.

Somewhere behind her a car pulls up, and a door slams shut, and then she hears a very familiar voice call out, "Dad? Are you here?"

She freezes, which is ridiculous, because now she's cowering underneath a car like some idiot. Some part of her considers getting on the dolly and just rolling all the way under, but Jose will be back any second now, and she has no idea how she'd explain that.

Instead, she straightens, and turns around. Outside, Mercedes Jones is leaning against a black SUV—and that Kurt kid is striding into the garage, looking around and calling out for—

—of fucking course. Hummel Auto and Tire. Hummel.

She considers hiding behind the Mustang, but for God's sake. This is real life, not some ridiculous teen movie where she could actually get away with that. Instead, she just leans against the car and shoves her hands in her pockets, and waits.

It doesn't take long; Mercedes is still just singing along to whatever is playing in the car—Quinn's pretty sure it's some Billboard R&B song she wouldn't be caught dead listening to—but Kurt rounds the next row of cars and looks directly at her.

"What," he says, smoothing out an expression of surprise incredibly quickly, "are you doing here?"

"Replacing a blown gasket," she says, after a moment. Then, she smiles at him. "Your dad and I go way back."

His face tightens. "I'm sure I don't have any idea what you're talking about."

"No, you probably don't. If I had to guess, your hobbies are more along the … manicure, pedicure, read a copy of Vogue lines than the fixing up old cars lines, right?" Quinn says, lightly. Her fingers are drumming away on her own thighs, but Kurt doesn't know that. She hopes.

It's the wrong thing to say. Kurt is over in front of her in seconds, and he's surprisingly tall for someone so—small, she thinks, dumbly.

"Are you actually this stupid?"

She doesn't say anything, just waits for him to continue. His face is slowly getting some color back, but it's only making him look more incensed.

"There is already a target on your head. Why are you trying to enlarge it by stupidly mouthing off?"

Quinn feels herself deflate, and then says, "What have I ever done to you?"

Kurt rolls his eyes dramatically. "Dear God, do you actually want me to make some sort of I Know What You Did Last Summer joke?"

"Oh, right. Okay. So I got pregnant. And everyone knows about it. So what? How the hell does that affect any of you?" Quinn says, forcing a bit of steel into her voice.

Kurt's arms fold neatly in front of his chest—and she abstractly notes that he's wearing a kind of stupidly awesome military-style jacket with some jeggings and boots—when he says, "Newsflash, you horrible small town cliche. Our sponsors are the wealthiest, most conservative Christian charities and politicians in the state; we have a certain image to uphold at Carmel, and you are not doing anything to help us maintain it. In fact, your mere presence in our school required significant bargaining on Shelby's part. They've cut our make-up budget in half."

It's possibly the most ridiculous thing she's ever been told. She can't help but laugh.

Kurt's eyes narrow at her. "God, I see why you made Rachel's hit list in the first ten minutes of meeting her."

"I can't deal with this. So—what, so you aren't even real Christians? You're just—"

"What we are is winners, Quinn. Look it up sometime. Or maybe ask Finn about it; that conference championship seems to be in the cards for the Titans this year."

That knocks the wind right out of her, and she knows that she's lost this—cock fight, or whatever it was, when a small smile plays around Kurt's mouth.

"You know—"

"Yes. We know," he says, pointedly, before turning on his heels and calling out his dad's name again.

Somehow, she thinks she preferred the Big Gulp to the face to this.

"Hey, you know Kurt? That's cool," Jose says, appearing next to her with a cylinder kit. "On the house, Q, you know you're one of like five people in this town keeping us in business anyway. Consider it a late birthday present."

"Thanks," she mumbles, and watches as Mercedes stares at her for a long moment before getting back into the car.

...

She knows retribution will be waiting for her when she gets to school on Monday. She prodded at Kurt with a lame ass comment about his fashion sensibilities, and he completely decimated her in response.

It doesn't even really matter if that original confrontation in the locker room was just for show; they know Finn. They know. And that makes it personal in a way that it isn't with the rest of the school, who they just belittle and keep in check because it's part of their day to day lives.

She knows, because that's how she used to run McKinley. But boy, does it ever sting from the other side.

Even though she's ready for whatever they're planning, she somehow makes it through five periods without anything hitting her in the face. Of course, just when she's starting to relax in the library, the tell-tale black swish of a Vocal Adrenaline skirt makes its way past her, and someone sits down on the table next to her book.

"You're Quinn," Brittany Pierce says.

"Yeah," Quinn responds, shortly.

"Coach wants to see you," Brittany says, before leaning over and looking at Quinn's homework. 'Wow, calculus, right? You're smart."

"I'm—what?" Quinn says, because not a single part of this conversation is making sense.

"Everyone else on Vocal Adrenaline is smart. It's cool, though, I'm the best dancer."

"Have they not passed on the memo that I'm persona non grata or something?" Quinn asks.

Brittany squints at her. "Why would you be grated?"

"I—nevermind," Quinn says, and then starts packing up her books as quickly as she can. "If 'Coach' wants to see me, she can write me a summons, okay?"

Brittany digs around in her breast pocket for a second. "Yep, she can. Here it is."

Quinn unfolds the piece of paper and sighs at the fact that it's real.

"Where's her office?"

"Next to the auditorium," Brittany says, hopping off the table again and smiling sweetly. "You're really pretty, you know. You should consider a little more make-up."

It's the weirdest thing that's happened to her in her week and a half at Carmel yet, and it unsettles her completely on the walk over to Shelby Corcoran's office.

...

Ms. Corcoran's bent over her desk with a pair of narrow reading glasses perched on her nose. Her office is literally lined front to back with trophies, newspaper clippings, and playbills. Quinn looks around carefully while sitting down, and notes that her student file is on the desk.

Fuck, she thinks.

"Quinn," Ms. Corcoran says, sliding off her glasses after a moment and leaning back in her chair. "Thank you for coming."

"I didn't realize I had a choice," Quinn says, sinking back into the chair a little bit more.

Ms. Corcoran smiles after a beat. "We believe in social conventions at this school, as I'm sure you have realized by now. Politeness is valued highly."

Quinn straightens unwillingly. "Right, sorry. I'm—well, I'm here now. Why am I here?"

Ms. Corcoran leans back and folds her hands on the desk, before giving Quinn a discerning look. "How has your first week been?"

"Fine," Quinn says, because 'your daughter is a real bitch' is probably not part of the Carmel etiquette package. "I'm still getting used to things."

"That's understandable," Ms. Corcoran says, and then asks, "Has my daughter been giving you any trouble?"

Quinn blinks a few times, and then says, "No. Not really."

"Rachel is very driven," Ms. Corcoran says, carefully. "So if she has said anything to you, I can only apologize and ask that you don't take it personally. This is a stressful year for her."

"Yeah," Quinn says, looking back at her file again. "Why is that there? Am I in some kind of trouble?"

Ms. Corcoran smiles sharply, like a shark. "No, not at all. I just make it my business to know everything there is to know about all the students. We appreciate talent here, Quinn, and we make serious attempts to nurture it."

"Right."

"The Carmel newspaper staff has been—depleted, slightly, this year," Ms. Corcoran says, tapping her nail against a different file, which Quinn now realizes contains all the school clubs. "Our resident photographer graduated, and unfortunately the other person with photographic talent at the school is too involved with Vocal Adrenaline and other clubs to devote time to any additional extra-curriculars."

"You want me to join the school paper," Quinn says, because Ms. Corcoran is being about as subtle as a hammer to the skull at this point, and she knows what her transfer file says: cheerleading, yearbook, got pregnant at 16 and left.

"We run a series of exposes on Vocal Adrenaline throughout the year, which are then picked up by regional and national media outlets as the competition season progresses," Ms. Corcoran explains. "However, a good expose captures what words can't through pictures."

"I'm—what if I don't want to?"

"Let's dwell on the reality of your situation for a moment, Quinn," Ms. Corcoran says, most of the kindness dropping from her voice. "An inexplicable transfer to a different school in the same district at the start of junior year; a significant and equally inexplicable drop in your grades during sophomore year; and, an abruptly aborted cheerleading career. Were you hoping to go to an Ivy before all of this happened?"

Quinn feels her temple start to pulse with anger. "Who says I stopped hoping?"

Shelby gives her a pitying look that lacks any real sympathy. "You're right. It's probably not too late for you remedy how hopeless your resume must look right now."

Quinn tries to formulate a response to that, but however brutal the words are, they're also basically true. She has nothing.

"Think about it," Ms. Corcoran says, another show smile appearing on her face, but it doesn't reach her eyes. "We could really use you."

Quinn picks up her bag and almost runs out of the office without saying another word, before disappearing into the auditorium wings and biting her lip to not burst into tears.

...

Santana kicks hard at the bench they're sitting on.

"I can't believe she fucking said that to—"

"She's right, though," Quinn says, even as Sam awkwardly wraps an arm around her back. "I mean—we all need extracurriculars. At least this way I don't have to worry about how the hell I'm ever going to join any clubs that VA members co-captain, y'know?"

"Uh, yeah, you're not that fucking lucky, blondie," Santana says, shaking her head. "Check out the newspaper staff again."

Quinn feels all the air leave her lungs. "Oh, no…"

"Yeah," Santana says, kicking at the bench again and then stalking off back towards the building.

Puck says, "Ah, fuck" and then heads off after her.

Quinn looks at Sam. "Why is she so upset about this?"

"It's—" Sam sighs and runs a hand through his hair. "Look, she really should be telling you this herself, but—Santana and Rachel used to be best friends, until some stuff happened, and now they're like, enemies. In a serious way."

"And me joining the school paper—" Quinn says, exhaling shakily. "Shit."

"Yeah. It probably just feels like another slap in the face, y'know?" Sam says.

They both stare into the distance for a moment, and then Quinn says, "I'm going to do it. It's fucked up, but—"

"No, Santana will understand. Just—you know, be careful. Sometimes, Rachel is really nice. But when it comes down to it, she doesn't care about anyone but herself."

The bell rings, and Sam hops off the bench before shoving his hands into his hoodie. "Hey, you want to blow off physics and like, I don't know—get some Taco Bell or something?"

Quinn feels her heart sink. "Sam—you're not asking me out, are you?"

He gets a sort of priceless surprised look on his face and rocks back on his heels. "Um, no, I mean, it's really bad for the band chemistry if everyone in it is a couple, I mean, it works when there's one couple, like Metric, but just look at Fleetwood Mac, you know."

"Because I would love to go out with you, but you're—sort of equipped with the wrong parts for me," Quinn says, forcing a small smile.

"Oh," Sam says, blinking at her, and then grinning. "Oh. That's awesome. That'll be so great for our indie cred."

"So does that offer for Taco Bell still stand?" she asks, getting up as well.

"Totally, but um, I was going to just talk to you about comics; maybe we can now talk about hot girls or something instead."

"Yeah, no," Quinn says, laughing at the look of disappointment on his face. "Maybe if you get me drunk."

"Awesome," Sam says, before offering her a hand.

...

She calls her parents after school and explains that she's been 'invited' to join the school paper and should probably show up to a meeting as soon as possible, to make a good impression. Her mom, out loud, considers whether or not that undermines the whole being grounded thing, but then decides that anything that helps with college applications in principle is not 'fun,' and so she gets to stay late.

Her feet feel like lead as she heads down the hallway to where the AV department is set up, and she hesitates outside the door for a very, very long moment before finally knocking and opening it up.

A heavy-set girl in glasses, an Asian girl and a guy in a wheel chair look at her in surprise, before looking back at Rachel, who is sitting in front of the room with a little laser pointer going down a list of objectives.

"Quinn," she says, tightly, but then her entire demeanor visibly relaxes. "I'm so glad you decided to take my mother up on her suggestion."

"Yeah, well," Quinn says, before stepping into the room and closing the door again. She sits as far to the back as possible, and then watches as Rachel gives her another long look before turning back to her list.

"I therefore propose that we start with Jesse, as Kurt will be more appropriate for sweeps. Any suggestions?"

Nobody says anything, so Quinn tentatively raises a hand. "Can you—what is this about?"

"Monthly exposes on certain members of Vocal Adrenaline," Rachel says, not without pride. "They are a regular feature, and possibly our most popular one."

Quinn bites on her cheek to not point out that this is supposed to be aschool newspaper and not a local alternative to Teen Beat, and instead just says, "Okay."

"We will devote early December to Brittany, and late January to myself," Rachel says.

"Sure, R-r-rachel," the Asian girl says, taking frantic notes as Rachel keeps going down the list to explain what the action plan is.

Quinn aimlessly sits around until Rachel clicks off the laser pointer, and then says, "So—what do you need me to do?"

Rachel looks at her sharply. "Is the job title of staff photographer lacking in clarity somehow?"

"Jesus Christ, it was just—"

"Artie will show you some samples," Rachel says, cutting her off, and then looking at her watch. "I'm two minutes late to practice, so if you have any other deficiencies in your mental faculties, they'll have to wait until later to get dealt with."

Quinn considers punching her in the fucking nose for just two seconds, but Rachel's out of the room in a flash, and the other members of staff visibly relax as soon as she's gone.

"Hey," the guy in the wheel chair says. "I'm Artie; that's Tina, and this is Lauren."

"Hi. I'm Quinn." She almost adds, I used to be pregnant, because that's how everyone thinks of her anyway, but what a deeply stupid thing to give into.

"Cool," Tina says, after a moment. "So, photography, huh?"

"Yeah," Quinn mumbles, before moving forward until she's looking at the rectangular table that has the layout of the paper on it. "This is—Jesus, this is really professional."

"Yeah, Rachel is pretty exacting," Lauren says, appearing next to her. "It pays off, in the end, though."

Quinn scans the blurbs quickly and then lands on the two-page sized empty space that just says "Jesse St. James."

"So we're interviewing her boyfriend? That's uh, good for journalistic independence."

Artie laughs, wheeling up to the table, and says, "We—normally decide who gets the privilege of interacting with the Vocal Adrenaline stars through a carefully planned game of, um, drawing straws."

"Yeah, I really don't want to talk to Jesse—he's so skeezy," Tina says, shaking her head. "And besides, the artwork for this week is going to take me long enough."

"He tried to grab my boobs last year. I really don't think so," Lauren says, making a face.

Quinn watches as all three of them turn to her. "Oh, no. That's a terrible idea. Rachel already hates me, the last thing I need is—"

"The straws will decide," Tina says, easily, and produces them from under the table. "Here. It's not rigged, I promise."

Quinn takes a deep breath, and hopes for some good karma after last year.

...

She's chewing on her straw when she's heading out of the building, because it's the only right way to cope with her crappy luck. As if there wasn't enough for her to worry about in terms of avoidance; now she was basically being thrown into the lion's den for what, a fun chat about the kinds of things that made Jesse St. James tick?

She didn't have to talk to the guy to know; he probably got off on tormenting other kids at the school just the same way his girlfriend did.

"Hey, Quinn—wait up," Sam calls out from behind her. "How was it? I mean—your first real day of the paper. Did Rachel give you shit or what?"

She turns around and he jogs over to her, guitar slung over his back, and—it's weird, to realize so suddenly that maybe she's already made real friends at this place.

"No more than… I don't know, she was kind of a bitch, but…" Quinn starts to say, and then just frowns. "She was all right, actually. Nothing compared to the kind of stuff I had to deal with at my old school."

"Because you had a baby and stuff?" Sam asks, and he says it so casually that the stab of shame she expects to feel just doesn't come.

"Yeah, because of that," she just says, and he nods before nodding over to his car.

"Need a ride?"

"Nah, I'm okay," she says, and offers him a small smile. "See you tomorrow, huh? For band practice?"

"If Santana's stopped being all bitchy, anyway. I mean, you don't want to be near her when she's in a bad mood either. When she and Rachel used to get into fights about solos…" Sam starts to say, and then just shakes his head. "It was pretty ugly."

"Wait, Santana was in Vocal Adrenaline?" Quinn asks, and raises her eyebrows. "Seriously?"

Sam fidgest and then runs a hand through his hair. "Ah, Quinn, I've said too much, I mean. Just ask her yourself, yeah? You're one of us now. She'll probably give you the entire story."

"Okay," Quinn says, and then watches as Sam sticks up a hand a little awkwardly and starts walking over to his Honda.

Honestly, she's not sure she wants the entire story. She has enough drama in her own life without worrying about other people's.

...

Still, there's not getting the entire story, and then there's figuring out just what the hell she's accidentally walked into the middle of.

She doesn't know what she expects when she Googles Vocal Adrenaline after dinner, but it's definitely not what she gets: approximately 6000 hits without spelling changes. They're probably the only high school show choir with its own website.

The articles are all about how good a coach Shelby Corcoran is, and she's not interested in that side of the story, so it's not until she crashlands on Youtube that she actually gets what she wants: a video of Santana singing At Last at some competitive event. She's joined on stage by Rachel right after she's done, and the way they're hugging, it's definitely not just part of the show. Then, Rachel and Jesse perform Hello together and…

That's totally not what she's looking for, either, but it's hard to look away either way; and it's not until Rachel's voice slowly drifts out over the last line of the song that she can actually bring herself to click on something else.

Back to Google, and—whatever. She's supposed to write an article about the guy anyway, so she types in Jesse St. James—it's unlikely there are two people with that ridiculous name—and finds an article in The Post about show choirs in which he's featured.

The article calls him talented, charming, and deeply in love with his girlfriend Rachel; together, they're described as a modern-day Sandy and Danny, and the show choir power couple to beat.

It's enough to make any sane person gag, but she keeps on reading anyway, about how their futures are all lined up for them—they both plan on going to NYU Tisch to major in musical theater and then break onto Broadway-and how they support each other's ambitions. It reads like the party line, or an ad campaign, and she's not really sure what to make of it—but there is just about enough there for her to turn this interview into something other than a total ass-kissing joke, which was apparently what last year's run had been.

She can't imagine anyone caring what cologne Jesse St. James wore, but somehow it was one of the very, very important things he was asked anyway.

A few more minutes of Googling Tisch and she has a few questions down that might actually make for an interesting, non-biased piece of writing—and she can't help a small smile when she imagines the look on Rachel's face at the idea that she actually can count to five and will be taking her time on the newspaper staff seriously.

Not that that's the point. It's just a bonus, really.

Chapter Text

Santana shows up at her locker the next day like nothing happened, thrusting a set list into her hands.

She scans down it and nods a few times at the choices and then hands it back.  “Cool.”

Santana fidgets a little and then leans back against the lockers with a sigh.  “Look; about yesterday…”

“Whatever, okay?” Quinn says, before this can get any more awkward.  “I get it.  You and Rachel have history.  I mean…” 

She drops her voice to a whisper and says, “If my ex-girlfriend turned into a bitch that big I’d also…”

Santana snorts laughter and then shoves at her shoulder.  “What the hell?”

“Yeah, she’s the one, isn’t she?” Quinn asks, glancing over before pushing her locker shut and tucking her history textbook under her arm.  “I mean…  Sam said you two were best friends but if that’s not code for something, I don’t even…”

Santana laughs again, then glares a little, and then just shakes her head.  “I don’t know who’s the bigger idiot here, but you’re fucking high if you actually think I’d go there.  Like, not only is she a dwarf—”

“She’s not that short,” Quinn says, rolling her eyes as they wander off towards class together.

“Whatever, her stunted growth is like the best thing about her at this point.  She’s a bitch, Q.  She’s not like, mean in a funny way.  She’s a bitch, not to mention religious in like a serious way and completely homophobic,” Santana says.  The levity has dropped from her insults somewhere along the way, and after a second of hesitating, Quinn puts a hand on her shoulder.

“Hey, sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up anything painful.”

Santana’s eyes flicker over to hers after a second and then she sort of manages a smile.  “Not your fault.  But next time Sam calls someone my former best friend like, don’t go hallucinating about how I probably was banging them or whatever.”

Quinn snorts softly and says, “Yeah, okay.”

“So how was it?” Santana asks, after the first bell rings and they’re outside of Quinn’s classroom.  “She ride you hard?”



“Not the words I’d have chosen,” Quinn says, feeling the tips of her ears get red.  “But uh, well, I don’t know.  I mean, you make her sound basically evil.  It wasn’t that bad.”

“Good,” Santana says, pursing her lips.

Quinn almost mentions her Google escapades from last night, but decides against it when Santana’s expression clouds over again and she says, “All right, I need to get to math.  See you at lunch, yeah?”

It’s only been like a week and a half anyway. They have plenty of time to get to know everything about each other, and so Quinn just loosely salutes her and heads into the history classroom.

It’s her one class that isn’t overpopulated with Vocal Adrenaline members, and so it’s also the only one that she manages to relax in, even if it’s just a little; Tina waves her over and she slides into the desk next to her.

“You ready for your interview?” Tina asks, before the teacher starts talking.

“Sure,” Quinn says, because… well.  She has questions ready.  That’s what matters, right?

*

At lunch, Sam shows them a flyer for the gig—apparently he knows Artie because of some online role-playing game and traded his design skills for some orc armor.

“You’re joking,” Santana says, in the most hilariously flat tone of voice; Quinn almost chokes on her Sunkist.

“No, why would I joke about that?  That armor required like, six weeks of in-game saving,” Sam says, before turning the flyer around and shoving it at Quinn.  “What do you think?”

The layout’s clean—Artie picked out an awesome hollowed-out loopy script for Untitled Band which makes them look almost like they’re an opening act for Mates of State, which… well, she can think of worse things.  Her address is neatly printed at the bottom with a kind reminder to “BYOB (and don’t throw it up, please!)”.

“My mom will appreciate that,” she says, with a small laugh.  “Seriously though—good stuff, Sam.”

“So are we all good on the set list?” Puck asks, tapping his fingers against the table.  “Because we probably need to start rehearsing a little—the harmonies and whatever.  I mean, party’s set for the end of the month now and when these babies go out, we better be ready.”

“We’ll be ready, bitch,” Santana says, before swiping his last tater tot and laughing when he tries to snatch it back from her.  “Don’t you worry.  We’re going to blow up.”

“Hopefully not literally,” Sam says, before getting a slightly faraway look in his eyes.  “Though I mean, if we could set up some pyrotechnics….”

“In my parents’ basement?”  Quinn asks, raising her eyebrows.  “How about we just look for some stage lighting.”

“I can hook that up,” Puck says, before whistling softly at something happening behind them.  “Damn—someone’s in trouble.”

Santana cranes her head just before Quinn does, and they both watch silently as Rachel heavily gesticulates at a still-seated Jesse about something or other, before finally slapping her hand down on the table and then storming off.

“Fucking drama queen,” Santana mumbles, but Quinn watches as she keeps her eyes trained on someone else at the VA table for a long moment.  It’d be nice if she could figure out who, because as much as Santana obviously hates Rachel, there’s something really sad about the expression on her face right now.

She could ask Sam, and even Puck, but…

No.  This is the kind of thing that should come from Santana, if they’re going to be real friends.  And honestly, why wouldn’t they?

Santana’s the only person who’s ever had an even semi-okay reaction to her being gay, and she’ll walk through fire for the girl accordingly; and so the best thing to do is to elbow her in the side and say, “So, is the dress code for VA historically whorish, or was that something you introduced when you were a member?”

Santana slowly turns to look at her even as Puck bursts out laughing.

“You Googled them,” Santana finally says, with a sigh.  “Shit, tell me I at least sang something decent.”

“You were really good,” Quinn says, with a shrug; across the table Sam nods and Puck smiles.  “But somehow, the whole virginal school girl look…. not really your jam.”

It’s the right thing to say, because the sadness evaporates from Santana’s face and she just sort of rolls her eyes and says, “I can be as virginal as I want to, thank you.”

“Yeah, so not very,” Sam says, before falling off his seat when Santana lunges at him.

Quinn laughs, and tries not to think too much about how much she likesthese people—because shit, friendships come and go much more quickly than they ought to.  She learned that the hard way.

It’s better to not depend on anyone, at the end of the day.

*

Later that afternoon, she’s awkwardly sitting in front of Jesse St. James, who is currently fixing his hair by looking past her at his own reflection in the window.

“Is there anything in particular you’d like to share?” she asks, because the sooner they get this over and done with, the better.

“I find that I usually don’t have to come up with the questions.  People are fascinated by me,” Jesse says, before winking at her.

Her skin literally crawls.

“Right.  Okay, well, I thought I’d start with some softball questions.  What is your favorite song?”

“Covered that last year.”

“Fine.  Your favorite musical?”

“Phantom.  Again, this was covered last year.”

“Okay, so maybe we’ll just get right to the point then.  What inspires you, when you’re singing?” Quinn says, already feeling her very short fuse reach its end..

Jesse’s legs stretch out in front of him, and he smiles.  “Sex.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Sex.  Sex appeal, sexiness, having sex—”

“Yeah, we can’t print that,” Quinn says, before frowning at him.  “And anyway, I read up on you and Rachel.  Isn’t part of the whole dream team pitch that you guys are abstinent?”

“Oh, sure,” he says, easily.  “I tend to let her cover that angle of our PR for us.  She’s much more persuasive.  Probably something to do with how she wouldn’t be lying.”


My God, this guy is a dick of unbelievable proportions,

 Quinn thinks.

“Okay, you know what?  Since you’re completely wasting my time, I’m just going to make up this entire interview, but I do need to take some pictures.”

Jesse crosses his legs and gestures at himself.  “Go right ahead.”

She snaps a few shots without even framing them properly, because she’s about two seconds away from throwing up all over him or herself, and then hurries to check out the shots on the memory card to make sure they’re at least a little usable.

“I look good, obviously; but I find that photography usually really comes to life in a more intimate setting,” Jesse says, right next to her ear, before setting a hand on her waist.

“You have two seconds to—” Quinn starts to say, and then she hears a gasp.

All she sees by the time she turns around is knee socks disappearing around the corner; then, she elbows Jesse in the gut.

“What the hell, man?” she demands, taking two steps away from him.  “You have a girlfriend.”

Jesse’s expression goes from smarmy to serious in a second.  “Yes.  I have a girlfriend, because the lead singer of Vocal Adrenaline should have a partner who matches him in every single way.  Can you imagine the publicity shots if we weren’t together?”

“That’s—God,” Quinn just says, shaking her head.  

“Public perception is important, sweetheart.  I’m sure you understand, now that you’re back to having a six inch waist,” Jesse says, and the smug is back in place.

It’s a low blow, and she stares at him for another second before grabbing her camera bag and heading down the hallway after Rachel.

*

For someone so short, she moves incredibly fast, and they’re almost at the AV room again by the time she catches up.

“Rachel, look—” she starts to say, skidding to a halt next to the girl, who is fishing a key ring out of her jacket pocket and refusing to look at her.

“I have nothing to say to you,” Rachel says, a little bitingly.

“I told him to get off me, okay?  I’m not into…”  And then the words just lodge in her throat, because what can she possibly say?  Is she seriously considering outing herself to a girl who’s given her nothing but grief and, according to one of her three only friends at this school, is a massive homophobe?

A small frown appears on Rachel’s forehead for just a second, but then she straightens and says, “You wouldn’t be the first to be attracted to his talent, but if he reciprocated, you’d certainly be a new low for him.  I trust he has better taste than that.”

Stung, Quinn involuntarily takes a step back.  “Oh, great.  Your boyfriend basically molests me in the middle of an interview, I shove him off me, and of course I’m the bad guy.  You know what, Rachel?  Forget it.  Forget I said anything.  I hope he cheats on you with half the school.”

Rachel glances at her for a beat and then unlocks the room without saying anything else.

Quinn fights the urge to kick the wall next to the door when it slams shut behind Rachel, because—honestly.  What a bitch

*

She considers calling Santana to bitch about it later, but in the end decides that Santana is high strung enough about Rachel as it is and they don’t need this feud to grow any larger.

Instead, she heads downstairs and watches Mr. Smith goes to Washingtonwith her parents.  It’s a regular, in their household, and it always does just about enough to distract her from the bad things that are going on in her life.

If she’s honest, they’re a lot less bad now than they were last year, even if she’s now being painted off as some manwhore by the most popular girl in school.

She laughs unexpectedly, and her mother turns to look at her before running a hand through her hair.

“Are you happier, now?” she asks, and her hand smells familiar—like turpentine, but cleaner, and Quinn sinks into it unexpectedly.

“Yeah.  I mean, I’m getting there,” she says, and tips her head onto her mom’s shoulder.

“Worth every cent, in that case,” her mom says, pressing a kiss to her head.

With this to come home to, the whole Rachel and Jesse thing just doesn’t really seem like that big a deal.

*

She changes her mind about that when she opens her locker for her English books the next day, and a mountain of dirt falls out of it and all over her.

It takes her about five seconds to get enough of it off her face for her to breathe again, and that of course triggers a massive panic attack because claustrophobia isn’t just set on by small, enclosed spaces.  Feeling buried alive….

Puck’s hands appear on her shoulders after a second and he says, “Shit, are you okay?”, softly enough to not embarrass her but with so much genuine caring that she feels her lips sputter against the dirt again before wiping at her face with her also dirty sleeve.

“What…” she starts saying, which just results in a coughing fit.

“What the fuck is going on?” Santana asks, from over her left shoulder.  

Quinn sobers so quickly that it’s almost like the panic attack didn’t happen at all, and gets in front of Santana before any punches can get landed.  “Don’t.  It’s not worth it—”

“It’s not—have you fucking seen yourself?  That shit could’ve crushed you.  Not to mention your homework,” Santana says, seething.

There’s something about the mention of homework that makes Quinn laugh, unexpectedly, and that seems to calm Santana down just enough for a crisis to be averted.

At least, until a small, high voice rings out clearly behind them.

“I honestly did warn my mother that trash would attract trash, but you know how she is with charity projects.”

It’s the tone of Rachel’s voice that sets her off; not the abject humiliation, and not the terror, but the utterly dismissive tone of her voice.  That littlebitch, Quinn thinks, and then she turns around so quickly that Rachel’s eyes barely have time to widen before she’s slammed up against a locker.

“You really think that you got one up on me just now, Rachel?” she asks, her hand still around Rachel’s throat; she can feel the girl swallow, but it’s not doing anything to stop her muscles from coiling.  This isn’t like it was with Dave, where she never stood a chance.  She could crush this girl, and…

“I don’t know what you’re implying,” Rachel says, and her expression smooths over from fear to contempt so quickly that it’s almost impressive.

“Yeah.  I guess the back yard just randomly made its way into my locker, huh?”

Rachel smiles briefly and then says, “Take your hit, Quinn.  I’ll take great pleasure in saying that I knew you, for the two weeks you matriculated here.”

“Oh, I’m not going to punch you,” Quinn breathes, leaning in low right next to Rachel’s ear.  “But the next time your boyfriend wants to know what it’s like to not have to fake interest in a nun, maybe I’ll just entertain him for a few minutes.”

She’s dimly aware of the fact that both her own friends and half of VA are surrounding them at this point, and Rachel sucks in a deep breath before bringing up her hands unexpectedly hard and sends her stumbling backwards just for a second.

“He’d never—”

“No, I’d never.  I think it’s safe to say he already has; probably with a few of your so-called friends, even,” Quinn snaps at her, and then glances back at the dirt next to her locker.  “So really; you think this is you winningsomehow?”

Something flashes behind Rachel’s eyes, and then her hand shoots out and Quinn thinks, bingo—because there’s no way that this won’t turn out in her favor, no matter who rules the school.

But the hand never connects, and when she opens her eyes again, Miss Holliday is standing between them, holding Rachel’s hand at the wrist and looking at Quinn.

“Everyone who isn’t Miss Berry or Miss Fabray: rumor has it this is an educational institution so maybe you can go and learn something?” she calls out, calmly.  

The crowd disperses, and then Miss Holliday looks between them for a moment.  “Rachel—go see your mother.”

“What?” Rachel asks, yanking her hand away with some force and then turning a high quality glare onto Miss Holliday.  “Why?  She’s the one who assaulted me, and…”

“Yes, I must’ve imagined the part where I just intercepted your hand on a path to bitchslap,” Miss Holliday says dryly.

Rachel stares daggers at both of them for another second and then stalks off towards the end of the hallway, rubbing at her wrist.

Quinn watches her go, and then sheepishly looks up at her band teacher.  “I’m sorry.  I mean, no, I’m not.  Look at what she did to my locker, Jesus.  I …”

“C’mon,” Miss Holliday says, and gently punches her in the upper arm.  “Let’s talk about this in the band room, where Shelby’s spies won’t immediately report back on our conversation.”

If not for the fact that she chases that comment with a wink, Quinn would’ve thought she was being totally serious.

*.  


She sits down in one of the chairs for the string players and watches as Miss Holliday takes a seat by the microphone in the middle of the room.

“So—what’s the beef with you and Rachel?”

“She hates me; her boyfriend hit on me; I told him to get lost, and she filled my locker up with garden supplies,” Quinn says.  It’s hard not to sound a little sullen because—well, that’s all she knows.

“Ah,” Miss Holliday says, before sighing and stretching out her legs.  “Well, chica, here’s the thing.  You’re not going to win a war with Rachel.”

“Yeah.  Because she’s on VA, and they’re like the school’s prize pony, right?”

Miss Holliday sort of shrugs and says, “Or maybe because her mother’s the money-maker in these parts.  Without Shelby’s connections in the arts world, and the Christian world, this school would barely stay afloat.  We definitely wouldn’t be able to offer scholarships to kids like Artie Abrams and Michael Chang, who are so artistically talented it’s crazy, but wouldn’t have the money to go to a private school like this otherwise.”

It takes Quinn a second to realize that she’s being talked to like an adult, but when that sinks in, she leans forward.  “So what—I have to put up with Rachel’s crap for the greater good?”

“No,” Miss Holliday says, and puffs up her cheeks for a second.  “If you can prove it was Rachel, which you probably can’t, then I’ll make sure she lands detention for the rest of the month and has to clean your locker out for you.”

Quinn sighs.  “Yeah, well.  Unfortunately she didn’t leave a calling card.”

Miss Holilday smiles.  “Yeah.  Sucks, doesn’t it?”

There’s a reason band is everyone’s favorite class, and even though she’s mostly been in the background so far, trying to catch up to everyone else’syears of musical education, she can’t help but wonder what it would be like to be one of Miss Holliday’s favorites.

“So what are you saying I should do?”

Miss Holliday glances at the piano in the corner of the room for a moment and then rubs her hands together.  “I’ll tell you what.  For now, take the high road—and I’ll figure out a way to get Rachel off your case, okay?”

She doesn’t even know why she’s asking, but she can’t help herself somehow.  “What is her problem?   I mean, the Jesse thing aside… she just seems so…”

“Unhappy?” Miss Holliday suggests.

It stops Quinn in her tracks, and she sort of slumps back in the chair.  “Yeah.  I guess that is the word I’m looking for.”

Miss Holliday’s next smile is a little sad.  “Not everything is what it seems.  I mean, the idea that that hoodlum Santana Lopez is going to be valedictorian at this rate is just… you know?”

Quinn laughs.  “That hoodlum is my friend.”

“Good,” Miss Holliday says, and gets up.  “She’s a keeper.  And by the way—you’re terrible at reading sheet music, but you have great technique.  Can you do a gravity roll?”

Quinn smirks a little.  “With which hand?”

Miss Holliday laughs and mimes wiping some sweat off her forehead, and Quinn chuckles again.

“Seriously—give Rachel a break.  Okay?  Whatever you could do to her, she’s probably going to get worse at home,” Miss Holliday finally says, when Quinn’s almost in the hallway again.

She almost protests that idea, but remembers what Shelby Corcoran was like in that one, terrible meeting with her, and yeah.

Maybe she’s better off just letting this one go.

*

The expose has to be be finished either way, and even though she didn’t get much from Jesse that wasn’t sexual harassment, she’s read about the guy enough to be able to piece together a decent article on him.

Shockingly, even the pictures came out okay—he looks foreign and regal, like a prince conquering new land, in the few shots she managed to grab before he started noticing what she was doing.

Of course, the AV room isn’t empty after school; that would be a little too much luck, but … whatever she’s expecting, it’s not that Rachel barely looks up at her from the cutting table before going back to work on the general layout.

“Sup, Quinn,” Artie calls out from the back, where they have an impromptu dark room set up.

“Not much, dude—thanks for the flyer, by the way,” she calls back, and smiles when she just sees Artie’s thumb press against the window for a second.

Rachel glances at her again and then moves over without saying anything, leaving her some space to pull out her developed pictures and spread them out before sticking post-it notes on the ones that she thinks should definitely go in.

It’s weirdly quiet, and after taking a step back to look at the mock-up that she’s picturing versus the mock-up that Rachel’s producing, she realizes they’ve actually—without saying a word to each other—come to similar conclusions on the text versus pictures versus white space ratio.

She’d say something, but…

“Where’s the article?” Rachel finally asks, quietly.

“I’ll have it by tomorrow.  I can… email it to you, if you want.”

“I’ll need to edit it anyway, so that’s probably for the best,” Rachel says, and then looks over at Quinn’s pictures.  “Can I…”

Quinn nods and watches as Rachel picks up a few of the marked ones and starts spreading them out over the three pages they have reserved for Jesse St. James for the upcoming issue.  She works meticulously and fast, and aside from one picture of Jesse where he’s smiling—which looks so insincere to Quinn that it’s disgusting—they select the same ones.

She doesn’t recognize the humming for what it is until Rachel picks up in volume a little bit, biting on her lip and shifting one of the text markers again; but when she does, she forces herself to stay silent and just listen, because Rachel’s voice is like the only tolerable thing about her.

Of course, then it hits her that she’s humming a Pretty Girls Make Gravessong—the guitar riffs in it, actually, and the words slip out before she can stop them.

“You listen to Pretty Girls Make Graves?

She knows she sounds baffled.  It’s just that, they’re hardly a Christian band; they never made it big, and they’ve also been broken up for a few years now.

Rachel shuts up abruptly and then looks at her with a mildly reproachful expression in her eyes.  “What—just because I’m a Christian, I can’t listen to art punk?”

“No, just….” Quinn says, and then forces herself to stop before she findsmore dirt in her locker.  “They were pretty awesome.  I mean, Good Healthis one of the best things that Matador has done in years, right?”

“I liked the second album,” Rachel says, after a long pause, and then runs a hand through her hair, tucking it behind her ear.  “But only because it was easier to sing along to.”

“Yeah, makes sense; the drumming on the first one was insane, though.  I mean…”  Quinn whistles low, and after a second Rachel sort of smiles at her and says, “I guess we’re looking for different things.”

If that’s not the understatement of the century, Quinn doesn’t even know, and she chuckles for a moment before glancing back at the expose.  “Look—I know you don’t want to talk about this, probably, but I really am sorry about what happened with…”

It’s like hitting a switch, and Rachel straightens and says, “You’re going to have to take more pictures.”

“I’d really rather not,” Quinn says honestly, and then glances at the layout.  “What’s wrong with those?”

“They’re amateurish; the lighting is impossible, and in half of these you’re barely even focusing on him—it’d be one thing if that looked like a deliberate choice, but as it is, I’m fairly certain that a three year old with a Fisher Price toy camera could’ve accomplished the same effect.”

Quinn bristles.  Hard.  “Maybe if your boyfriend hadn’t put on his best sexual predator face, I would’ve had time to ask him to actually pose for a few—”

“Can you handle this assignment or not?” Rachel snaps at her.  “Because if not, I’ll gladly take some pictures of Jesse myself.”

“If you don’t mind doing it, then why didn’t—”

She doesn’t even realize they’re shouting at each other until Artie’s wheeled back into the room and clears his throat.  “I’m trying to edit a few sound bytes for the web show, guys.  Maybe…”

“Quinn was just leaving,” Rachel says, shortly. 

“Fuck that; you’re standing her decimating the few decent shots I did manage to take and now somehow I’m the one who needs to—”

Rachel shoots her a look that shuts her up abruptly, and after a second Quinn sighs and reaches out, swiping the entire mock-up off the table.  “Fine.  We’ll start over.  Maybe someone with a dick can go and interview Jesse this time, unless that also would be a problem.  Hard to tell with some guys, huh?”

Rachel flushes furiously, but takes a deep breath and says, “Artie.  Do you think you can?”

“Uh… okay,” he says, and glances between them both again.  “… now?”

“We’re on a deadline,” they say, almost simultaneously, and then Quinn just grits her teeth and says, “Get him from his left side; his profile looks better from that angle, and if he’ll work with you, see if you can get him to pose against the door frame.  He has an excellent dramatic lean.  A jacket over his polo would help sell him as a future star.”

Artie nods, and Quinn watches for a second as Rachel closes her eyes and then swallows hard, but that’s all she’s going to get.  After two more seconds of wondering what the hell she’s even thinking, Quinn fishes her bag up from the floor and heads out the door.

If both of them are still alive by the end of the semester, it’ll be nothing short of a miracle at this point.

*

“Are you the one who introduced Rachel to Pretty Girls?” she asks Santana, later that night, lying on her back and staring at the ceiling fan; she’s tossing a hacky sack up at it to see if she can get it on one of the blades, but so far no go.

Santana’s silent for a few seconds and then says, “No, actually; they were Rachel’s find.  I know about them because of her.  How do you …”

“Oh, we had a whole five seconds of not being at each other’s throats today; it’s because she was humming The Getaway and I recognized it,” Quinn says, with a sigh.  “Then, of course, her bitch face came back out in full force because I was actually dumb enough to apologize to her about her boyfriend’s crap, and…”

“I warned you, didn’t I?” Santana says; there’s the click of a lighter, and then a long exhale, and Quinn closes her eyes, letting the hacky sack drop to the bed next to her.  “Rachel’s high quality bipolar; at least, she has been for the last few years.  She was …”

“You don’t have to talk about it.”

“No, it’s cool.  You deserve to know; she’s all up in your shit now and it’s at least partially because of me, because… well.  Whatever.”  Santana takes another drag, audibly, and then sighs.  “We were best friends, from like sixth grade onwards.  Rach loved playing the piano, and I was taking violin classes back then…”

“Shut up, really?” Quinn says, laughing before she can stop herself.

“I’m really good with my fingers, Q, what can I say?” Santana says; Quinn can just about hear the smirk.  “Anyway.  She’s always been a little high strung but like, whatever.  Her mother’s kind of insane about shit so it kind of makes sense.  Anyway, we joined VA as soon as we got to high school and it was pretty sweet.  It was still mostly just the two of us, but we made other friends, and she started seeing Jesse and whatever.  Freshman year was a good year.”

“And then?” Quinn asks, when Santana falls silent.

There’s the sound of a cigarette being crushed out, and then a deep breath.  “And then.. summer before sophomore year, shit kind of fell apart.  Rachel… could’ve been a friend, but she wasn’t.  She was basically the opposite.”

Quinn glances at her fingernails, and the dirt still stuck underneath them.  “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, me too,” Santana says, for once sounding entirely sincere.  “I mean, whatever.  It was a long time ago, and I don’t miss wearing those asshole skirt and polo combinations every day.”

“Light blue is so not your color,” Quinn says, with a small smile.

“Light blue isn’t anyone’s color, except… ah, nevermind.”

They’re quiet for a moment, and then Quinn says, “If you ever want to talk about that…”

“Maybe some other time, eh?” Santana says, before sighing.  “Little too much bonding for one night, Q.  But it goes both ways.  I mean, with shit at your old school.”

She appreciates the offer, but Santana’s right; it’s all just a little too heavy for one night, or even one week.

*

Her locker’s dirt free the next day, and she takes it as a victory, even if it isn’t one.

What does feel like a victory is the mock-up in the AV room, where her best picture of Jesse still headlines the article.  It’s a victory, and it’s infuriating, because—she knew her shots weren’t bad, but the idea that Rachel somehow managed to man up enough to admit it as well is unexpected.  It’s not what a girl who actually is a completely petty and vindictive bitch would do, and that’s why she stares at the picture for a good five minutes before finally deciding that, no, she’d really rather not know.

She’s learned her lesson about talking to Rachel the hard way, and instead just chalks her picture making the cut up to extreme professionalism.  That’s all it can be.

Right?

She sighs, and heads over to the computer cluster, where Artie is typesetting the rest of the paper; and maybe something as simple as picking out fonts will get any questions about Rachel out of her head once and for all.

Chapter Text

The rest of November sort of passes in a blur.

They get the paper done in the third week, and there's something insane about seeing the entire student body stare at pages she prepped and pictures she took. She can't even remember if McKinley had a school newspaper, but as much as she wants to laugh at Rachel and Shelby's original impressions of how important these Vocal Adrenaline articles were...

Jesse St. James was a local celebrity.

The only people who weren't reading the paper were Artie, Tina and Lauren, and the rest of the band. Santana very dramatically set the copy left in her locker on fire after school, before asking everyone if they thought they were playing tightly enough now to do early Get Up Kids.

It's a week until the party, and she's in the basement, working through the drumming parts of Shorty just in case they decide to toss it in at the last minute. Honestly, listening to the words, it's no wonder why Santana would want to include it.

So much for being over that whole thing with Rachel, she thinks, but doesn't say when Sam squeezes out the lead guitar lick correctly for the first time.

...

The party's next Friday, and she's thinking about where else they can stick flyers without having to go by the student council-because guess who's president?-when someone leans next to her locker and blocks most of the light in the hallway.

"So. Rumor has it you're a little pissed at me," Jesse says, folding his arms across his chest.

When she looks over, he's for once not wearing the VA uniform and actually looks human, in his black jeans and leather jacket.

"I didn't realize that was rumor-worthy," she says, deliberately taking a step backwards and away from him. She can't really stop her eyes from darting up and down the hallway either.

He smiles faintly and then holds up his hands in apology. "Believe it or not, I'm not into forcing people to find me appealing. I don't normally have to force anyone."

She stares at him for another moment and then frowns. "Is this your way of apologizing?"

He shrugs. "Mostly, I'm just curious as to why you shot me down."

"Seriously?"

He nods, and the glib look he normally carries on his face falls; like she's actually hurt his feelings. It would be hilarious if it wasn't so stupid. "I can normally predict my chances and... you like talent. I know you do, because you were extremely high up on the totem pole at your last school, and I heard Holly Holls wax poetic about your drumming recently, so... you are talent. You must like talent."

She almost tells him that he's more than just that, but honestly, she's not sure if she'd be lying. "Will you drop it if I say that you're not my type?"

He grins a little. "What-so your type isn't devastatingly good-looking?"

"My type isn't a cheater," she says, a little pointedly. "Or an insufferable jackass, actually, while we're on it."

His lips slowly cant down again, and he sighs. "Ah. So we're back on Rachel's feelings."

"Look, I don't like her-"

"Nor does she like you," Jesse points out. "That would be the point where most people stop caring."

Is she actually going to have to come out to this guy to get him to drop it? She opens her mouth, still considering it, and then he clear his throat and says, "Walk with me."

"I'd rather not."

"Hey-I won't pull anything, I promise," he says, and shoves his hands in his pockets in demonstration. Then, he jerks his head towards the auditorium. "Come on. I'll explain a few things to you."

"Why would you even-"

"I find it really upsetting when pretty girls dislike me," he says, and then smiles. "Unless, of course, all that anger secretly turns them on."

She almost slaps the wink off his face, until he laughs and it's clear that he's kidding. Honestly, she doesn't get the feeling that he knows why he's talking to her any more than she does.

...

She tugs her hair into a pony tail when they're sitting on the edge of the auditorium, legs swinging, and then watches as he falls onto his back and stares up at the stage lights.

"I'm not in love with Rachel," is the next thing he says.

"I'm not really sure why you think that matters," she says, tentatively. "How you feel about her is your business; the fact that you're dating her is what makes you kind of an asshole."

He makes a small noise and then folds his hands together on his stomach. "Well, that's one interpretation. There's another one where... I auditioned for Vocal Adrenaline, and Shelby saw something in me that she thought she could nurture, and told me I'd be her male lead providing I'd be willing to go along with a certain idea she had. Something that would help make her daughter blossom into a better, more well-rounded performer. Not someone who just enjoyed singing with her best friend."

She stares off into the auditorium for a moment and wonders what it would be like to have her kit at the very back of it, playing to an entire room like this; Santana leaping off an amp before strutting over to Puck and running her hand down his back while he pounds out the bass lines, and Sam singularly focused on his guitar except for those few moments in the songs where the drummer and lead guitarist lock eyes and switch from a chorus into a bridge.

"It's a showmance, Quinn," he finally says, when she's still quiet. "Shelby arranged for the entire thing. Rachel was... I wouldn't go so far as to say that she was a wallflower when we met, but she was a little pathetic. Didn't know how to play off a male lead, at which point Broadway definitely isn't calling. She used to wear these ridiculous argyle skirts and sweaters with animals on them, until Shelby started asking us to wear the uniforms everywhere. It was all just a little sad."

She snaps out of her fantasy and turns back until she can look at his face, expecting him to look smug about the words that are coming out of his mouth, but instead he just looks a little torn.

"She's one of my closest friends," he finally says, and then sits up again. "But I'm not in love with her, and she's not in love with me. We're just each other's tickets out of this town, and the only reason she ran out of the room that day is because we'd prefer for nobody to find out that ...well."

"It's all a lie?" she suggests, as gently as she can.

He makes a face. "I care about her. Just..."

"What about everyone else? I mean, Kurt Hummel..."

Jesse winces and says, "Not a good subject."

"Oh, great. I thought it was just Rachel, but apparently to make it big with Vocal Adrenaline you just generally have to be a bigot, huh?" she says, rolling her eyes and getting ready to jump off stage.

He captures her wrist before she can and says, "I don't have a problem with gay people, but our sponsors might do."

"So you all know," Quinn says, feeling her mouth set. "It's like, this giant conspiracy to keep that kid in the closet while you're off making house with your fake girlfriend and... what, is Brittany Pierce secretly in Mensa?"

Jesse laughs and then just sighs. "We all want to leave Ohio. Vocal Adrenaline will get us there, but there are prices to pay. Nobody forced Kurt to do anything, and..."

"Rachel knows he's gay, right?" she asks.

He hesitates and then says, "Rachel chooses not to know. And it's not for any reason that you can come up with, so... don't even try."

She doesn't know what to say to that, and after a moment he scoots in closer to her and says, "So. Now that you know all of our big, dirty secrets-want to go and make out in the wings?"

"Jesus," she says, and shoves him off before landing down on the carpeting below again and heading out.

"I thought the truth would make you comfortable enough to-" he calls out after her, and she almost smiles when she realizes he still sounds more amused than upset at being rejected.

"You thought wrong," she calls back, and then heads out the door and back home, because this party isn't going to make or break with a few more flyers.

...

Her dad has been giving her some probing looks over dinner, which has been casual enough-general "how is school" type stuff.

When she brings home an English essay with an A- minus on it, he relaxes a little and says, "How do you feel about that?"

"It's not an A+, but it's better than a C-," she says, honestly, because her last few report cards are things she'll never forget about. The humiliation of how badly she'd lost control of her ability to just power on through is on those pages, stamped with letters down the alphabet that she hadn't ever seen associated with her name before.

She can compensate, to a big extent, but it's not as much of a given as it was before she got pregnant that she'll get into a really good school, and that's why she can't walk out on the school paper, no matter how much she now feels bad for Rachel, and that's probably a more dangerous feeling to have around that girl than just thinking she spawned directly from Satan's behind was.

Her dad gives her a wry little smile. "You know that an A- is a perfectly good mark, right?"

"You said that when I got a B in chemistry, too," she points out, before rolling some more linguine around her fork.

"As your father, I'm legally obliged to be less hard on you than you are on yourself," he says, easily.

She watches as her mother shoots a warning look across the table, but her dad just shrugs and says, "Just saying. If we needed you to be perfect all the time, we would've probably named you Perfection."

It's such a stupid thing-and so typically her dad-that she snorts and seconds later they're all laughing, but that worried look on his face-the clear are you actually okay?-is back as soon as she stops.

She doesn't know how to reassure him, because she's not sure if she is or not.

Not at all.

...

After a weekend of rehearsing and heading to the mall with Santana to find them some stuff to wear for the gig, she's so tired on Monday that she accidentally runs into Mercedes Jones on the way to the cafeteria.

"Watch it, Blondie," the girl snaps at her, and she sighs and steps away.

"If you're going to retaliate, just do it now; I'm wearing blue so I mean..." she says, feeling completely exhausted.

They're rehearsing all the time now; the set list is almost complete but Santana and Sam keep arguing about a few minor touches of it. He really wants her to do something by the Kills, but she thinks it's not challenging enough either vocally or musically, and when Sam points out that they're at a house party, not Yankee Stadium, she just loses her patience with him and snaps.

Everyone but Puck is nervous; she doesn't even know if she's worried that everyone will show up, or nobody will, at this point, but damn it, this is her one chance to do something about the bottom feeder status she has at Carmel and she wants to make good on it.

Who doesn't like a drummer?

Mercedes' expression flickers over her for a moment, but then she just shakes her head. "Not worth it. You're not worth it."

Quinn watches as she wanders off towards Kurt's locker and then they talk about something with the occasional glance in her direction, and she doesn't stop staring back at them until someone slings an arm around her back.

"Hey, Holly said that if you have time after school today you should stop by the band room," Sam says. "We're working on something and um, I agree with her, you're like way musical. You could totally help."

"You and Holly?" she responds, teasingly, finally tearing her eyes away.

Sam blushes to the tips of his ears and says, "She's cool, but she's like my mom, man."

"Your mom's pretty hot, in that case," Quinn says, keeping her face as straight as possible.

Sam just sort of grimaces at her, until she pokes him in the ribs and he laughs.

"You're terrible. But come along anyway. And bring your sticks," he says, with a quick smile, before jogging down the hallway to catch up to Artie.

Rachel and Brittany are talking about something at Rachel's locker, and she locks eyes with Rachel just once on her way by. The girl doesn't glare at her overly much or anything, which means that Jesse kept his mouth shut about their pointless conversation yesterday, and... damn it, she's right back around to pity.

Maybe it's lingering pregnancy hormones, this thing where she can't have a single normal reaction to Rachel Berry's crap no matter how hard she tries.

She'd ask her dad, but that would require her to talk about all of it, and so she's better off just sucking in a deep breath and beating everyone to English so she can hide in the back and catch up on some sleep by staring into space.

...

"Quinn-can I call you Q?" Holly asks, brightly, when she shows up, her sticks sticking out of her back pocket.

"Sure," she says, and smiles tentatively at Sam and Artie, who are looking at some sheet music and scribbling notes in the margin.

"Take a seat; the boys will get you up to speed," Holly says, before fishing out her cellphone and heading out of the class room for a moment.

She gingerly settles down on the floor next to Sam, putting her sticks down next to her, and then glances at what they're doing. "So-what's this super secret project you guys are working on?"

"It's not a secret," Artie says, pushing his glasses further up his nose. "It's just selective."

"Holly's like, organizing this charity concert for sick kids, and she's turned it into sort of an after school project for those of us who are interested in composition. Um, I think she figured you probably were, even though you're really bad with reading music," Sam says, ducking when she half-heartedly swats at him.

"We don't really have anyone to represent the rhythm section; I'm brass, obviously," Artie says, holding up his trumpet, "And Sam is really good with most string instruments, but we need someone to deal with drums."

"Is this extra credit?" Quinn asks, glancing between them. Not that she needs it in band, but she'll also not turn it down.

"It can be," Holly says, behind her. "But mostly it's to give those of you who are mega-talented a chance to shine a little outside of, well, what the Ohio Board of Education considers to be the limits of a good band class."

"This is a great opportunity to just learn some new things, and show what we can do," Artie says, with a small smile. "You know?"

"We being... the two of you?"

Sam flushes a little and Artie fidgets and says, "There's... technically three of us, but the third is kind of a secret. Well, four of us, now, but..."

"You have a secret member in your charity music composition group," Quinn says, dryly.

Holly laughs after a second and joins them on the floor. "It sounds ridiculous, I know, but let's just say that not everyone's parents are super enthusiastic about how much time it takes to rewrite arrangements just for a free gig."

Quinn looks at all of them and then laughs a little nervously. "You know you're being a little crazy about this, right?"

"Um..." Sam says, and then licks his lips, before tapping his pencil on the ground rapidly. "I think that..."

"Actually-Quinn, why don't you just go the auditorium during fifth period? Go in quietly and sit in the back, but I think you'll get what we mean. This really is about love of music, more than anything else. It's what you kids have in common."

At Holly's gentle smile, and then Artie's cleared throat and question about what kind of sounds a tom tom can make depending on how it's-"Is the right word even tuned?"-she opts to let it go, but when at the end of the day, Sam grabs her by the elbow and says, a little urgently, "Don't tell Santana. Please", she has a fairly good idea of what she's about to become a part of.

...

On Tuesday, she decides that her curiosity definitely outweighs her common sense, and follows Holly's instructions to the letter. Her sneakers normally scuff the hallways loudly, even when she's not dragging her feet, but on the carpeted auditorium floors, they don't make so much as a noise.

It's mostly dark, aside from one particular spotlight trained exactingly on the piano, and she sinks down in a chair on the very back row, lowering it gently so that it doesn't squeak and give her up.

Rachel doesn't see her, which is for the best; but the way that Rachel's fingers are moving over the keys, actually, Quinn is pretty sure that a bomb could go off elsewhere in the school and she'd hardly notice.

She knows what that is like; one time, she didn't even realize she'd struck through the skin of one of her toms until the backing track she was playing to had finally drifted to a halt. The best playing is eyes closed, no distractions, and Rachel...

Quinn can't help but lean forward, because she's not so much playing the piano as painting it, her hands moving so quickly that to suggest that she's doing anything but letting whatever music is flowing through her hair would be stupid. It's captivating, to see someone so tightly wound let go to this extent-and even though her posture is still perfect (of course it is, the instrument demands it), there's something about the limberness of Rachel's arms that's completely unfamiliar.

The warm-up exercise, or whatever it was, simmers to a halt, and then Rachel takes a deep breath and starts playing the first few notes of Fiona Apple's Oh Well. The dissonant left-hand chords strike sharply against the melody, and Quinn involuntarily starts tapping out the heavy, driving drum beat with her hands, on her own jean-clad legs.

Rachel hits the first line of singing and stops abruptly, blinking at the keys for a second, then quickly rattling off the melody again, and then without hesitating, shifting the entire thing up three quarters of an octave. Quinn's jaw drops a little, because she's seen Sam and Santana rework keys on songs, but it's a process of careful negotiation up and down scales. This is insane.

Rachel has perfect pitch, she realizes abruptly, and then Rachel starts singing and the trail of goosebumps that runs up the back of her neck short-circuits all of her thoughts altogether. She dimly remembers what the song is about but it's never sounded as bitter and angry as it does when coming from Rachel's voice, clear and high and strong, her fingers lingering on the keys for emphasis at all the right places.

About halfway through, she finally remembers to breathe steadily again, and wonders who Rachel is singing about-is it Jesse? Because given what he told her, Rachel can't possibly care this much; and she does care. Her voice cracks on the transition from the second verse to the second chorus, but all it does is make the song more haunting.

When she hits the last what wasted unconditional love, on somebody, who doesn't believe in the stuff, the piano work trails off altogether, and with just one small key tap, Rachel almost breathes out the last, "Oh well."

Rachel slumps a little after that, and Quinn watches as she takes a shuddering breath before straightening again and working her way through a Chopin piece that feels like it could be played by a toddler, the ease with which Rachel works through it.

It's almost as if she's given herself three minutes to actually feel something, and now she's putting an end to that all over again, and Quinn's stomach swims at the sensation. She gets it. She gets it, because she's nowhere near ready to even give herself those three minutes, and when her phone vibrates in her pocket it's almost a relief, because the auditorium feels much smaller when so crowded with Rachel's feelings.

Feelings Rachel would never want her to have witnessed, she knows, and she stumbles out of the auditorium, thumbing to view Santana's message, while forcing herself to just forget she ever saw any of that.

It's for her own good, if she can forget it.

...

Forgetting it is easier said than done, though, when her iTunes library decides to punish her by playing some other Fiona Apple songs after dinner. She's trying to slug through some homework because she won't have time to do any on Friday or Saturday, but her mind keeps drifting back to that performance, and the things that Rachel's voice does to her.

She's only ever felt like that once before, and differently, because whenever Amy smiled at her or high-fived her after a particularly good routine, all she wanted to do was pick the girl up, spin her and kiss her senseless. It felt like her chest was bursting all the time, not like it was caving in, so it's not the same thing.

The idea of anything ever being that uncomplicated again seems insane to her, and she gives in to her need to hear the original-just to wash Rachel's voice out of her ear-and queues it to play.

"You okay?" her dad says, from the doorway, when she's just staring into space and working her way through the words again. Jesse, or someone else? And if not Jesse, then who?

The words jolt her, and she turns to look at him. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"I've been standing her for ten minutes," her dad says, calmly.

She deflects without even meaning to. "I'm just tired. I have a lot going on."

"In your head, or do you mean the millions of things you're distracting yourself with so you don't have to think about you?" he asks, sitting down on the edge of her bed.

She feels stung, even though he's probably right and in any event, not trying to hurt her feelings. "I can't help that school is hectic and I'm doing a bunch of projects. It's all for college, … I mean, the band's not really but..."

"Quinn," her dad says, gently. "Talk to me."

She knows what he means, but she just can't, and so she pauses Fiona Apple and talks about the next best thing. "There's this girl. At school. She's awful, like, really awful. She filled my locker with dirt last week and I kind of hate her, but … there's something so tragic about her. She's in this sort of forced relationship with a guy that she apparently doesn't even like, and … she used to have real friends, but now she doesn't, and..."

She trails off when her dad won't stop staring at her. "Are you her friend?"

That produces some wry laughter. "Dad, she filled my locker with dirt."

"Yeah, so? I mean. Maybe there was nowhere else to put it," he says, with a shrug.

"You're such a weirdo." She chuckles a little anyway.

"Do you want to be her friend?"

It's a tough question, and the vast majority of Quinn balks at the idea, so she shakes her head. "I just want to figure her out. You know? Find out what's going on and why she is the way she is."

"Solve the mystery," her dad says, and she nods after a moment. "Sounds like a fun project."

"It's not really been all that fun so far," she says, with a sigh.

"Well, it's stopped you from having to think about Beth at all in the last month, so there's something to be said for it-am I right?"

Her pen clatters to the floor, and she stares at him, wondering if she can stop the tears from welling up in her eyes. "How-you can't-why would you-"

"Honey, we had a deal. You could switch schools, but only if you didn't try to just pretend last year never happened to you. And I don't mean the situation with David Karofsky; I mean the part where you had a child, and you gave her up."

She never used to cry silently; it was all big, dramatic heaving and tantrums until her sixteenth year of life, but she discovered really quickly that her bullies actually enjoyed it a little too much if she whimpered for them to stop, or made any noises at all. Now, she's not sure if she can cry loudly anymore, and after a moment her dad just says and pulls a hanky out of his pocket.

"I'm not trying to hurt you. I just want you to be honest. Are you throwing yourself into this band, and into this … situation with this girl, because that way you don't have time to think about last year?"

Her lip trembles precariously, and after a moment she nods shakily. "Maybe not... on purpose, but..."

"Can't keep that up forever, baby," her dad says, pushing up to his feet and then pulling her out of her desk chair. "You know you can't."

She presses her face into his chest and squeezes her eyes shut and says, "I'll try to … I'll try, okay? I'll try."

She feels him plant a kiss to her head and then something heavy is slipping into her pocket. "I know you will. You're the strongest kid I know, kiddo, and you need to put all of these feeling somewhere before they explode out of you."

Unwillingly, she flashes back to Rachel and a piano and three minutes of letting go, and she pulls away just enough to feel around her pocket. "What did you just..."

"Took it for a test drive this morning," her dad says, and when she glances down, the keys to the Fairlane are in her palm.

"Are you-wait, seriously? You come up here to make me cry and then you give me..." she stumbles, and then just laughs and rubs at her eyes. "Dad, what the hell.".

To her surprise, he gives her a serious look. "Use it to live a little, Quinn. I don't care if you drive halfway across the state just to get away from Lima for a while, but I need you to start working on letting go. Okay?"

Her smile is tremulous, but real, when she nods. "Can we take it out right now?"

"You sure you want your first outing to be with your lamer than lame dad?" he asks, scratching at his hair for a few seconds.

It's the stupidest question he could ask, and she gently punches him in the arm. "Duh. Someone has to help you up your cool, or Mom might leave you."

He ruffles her hair, which she hates-it's way too long to be ruffled-but then says, "Well, come on then; we'll get Judes some of that soy ice cream she really likes."

She's so lucky, and she knows it-and she slams the lid on Fiona Apple once and for all, because her dad's right: she can't keep on distracting herself with concern over someone who doesn't even like her.

It's almost as stupid as being in love with her straight best friend, and she has no intention of repeating that mistake again. Ever.

Chapter Text

"Fuck, we're not fucking doing that song!" Santana snaps, for the tenth day in a row.

Sam just sighs and says, "I need some air" and heads up the stairs of the basement to the front door, which slams shut behind him loudly.

Quinn gives Santana a look that basically says, will you just let this one go? and Santana runs a hand through her hair and sinks down onto the ground next to the wall.

"Sorry. Sorry. I just want to … we need to blow them away. Do you have any idea what shit is going to get like for us if we don't?" she finally says, shaking her head a little.

"I didn't realize there was a lower level to sink to."

Santana sighs. "This is ridiculous. I used to get up and perform in front of much bigger crowds than this without giving one fuck or another, and now it's like..."

"Well, you're doing it for you now, aren't you?" Quinn points out.

Santana stares into space for a little while and then, with a grunt, shifts back to her feet. "I'm going for a smoke; I'll talk to Sam and smooth things out."

"Santana-just do the song. He wants you to do it because you look hot as hell doing it, okay?" Quinn says, trying not to blush. "You and Puck bring the sex appeal, and Sam and I just bring..."

"Don't discredit yourself by thinking you're that level of dork," Santana says, with a little grin; her expression turns serious a moment later, and with a few quick steps she's suddenly right next to the drums, pulling on a strand of Quinn's hair. "That said-you raise a valid point. You're our drummer, baby. We can't have you looking like the only people you're going to give boners are priests anymore."

Quinn tries to glare, but the problem is that when Santana's at her bitchiest, she's also funniest. "I don't think priests generally go for the jeans and t-shirt combination, baby."

The strand of hair pops from Santana's hand, and she bends down a little to stare at Quinn's face so intently that-well, yeah, now she's actually blushing. "I was kidding about the priest shit, because like, whatever, you're hot. But... this hair isn't you. It's kind of like your head stayed head cheerleader after the rest of you spawned and stopped giving a fuck what people think about you."

"You want to gay up my hair," Quinn concludes, when Santana tilts her head a little more, almost like a puppy.

"No. I want to you up your hair," Santana corrects, and then straightens. "Smoke, Sam, and then we're going to a bathroom with some scissors."

"Hey, hang on," Quinn calls, out, even as Santana fishes her pack of Luckies out of her pocket and starts heading up the stairs. "I didn't agree that I wanted to do anything to my hair, and as a general rule, I'm totally okay with spending money on a hairdresser. Do you even know what you're doing? Or are you just going to..."

Santana just waves her off, and after a moment Quinn checks her reflection in her cymbal, because...

"It was nice knowing you," she murmurs, softly, before pulling her hair away from her face and trying to picture what it will look like when Santana is done with her.

...

The back of her neck feels so cool, and she has no idea why she's never done this before. It's going to make gigging a lot more comfortable, temperature wise, even if there's this one lock of hair that keeps falling in her eyes and she keeps tugging at.

"Leave it," Puck says, from where he's pulling bottles of beer from a box. Nobody asked where he got it, and he just smiled and shrugged when he carried it in about half an hour ago. "S'hot. You look dangerous."

She snorts and says, "Dangerous?"

"Yeah-it's like the girl version of the 'hawk, chicks are going to fucking love it," he says, easily.

She pulls on it herself and gives him a dubious look. "Sam told me I looked like an Ewok."

"High praise from that dude," Puck assures her, and then kicks in the cardboard box until he can flatten it and stick it against the wall, before glancing at Quinn with a wry smile. "Tell me he didn't actually bring Chex Mix."

"I think he left it in the car when Santana ribbed him about it," Quinn says, unable to hide a grin, and then exhaling slowly when Santana and Sam start bickering at the top of the stairs again. "God. How about you and I just play what we want to? We're the rhythm section. They can't ignore us."

"Deal," Puck says, shaking his head and rolling his eyes a little. "Man, she's lucky she gives such great head; who wants to put up with this blah blah blah all day long?"

Quinn flings one of her sticks at him. "I don't need to know what you two do together."

"I'm kidding, geez. Not about her being good but like, man. That stuff's private, right?" He tosses her stick back gently and she fishes it out of the air, before looking at it for a moment.

"I guess," she says, because the idea of anything about her sex life being private is kind of a joke. It's hard to keep a 9 month long consequence off the table, in any event, and since then...

The Sahara comes to mind.

"You ever hook up with a girl?" Puck asks, casually, and she looks up at him in surprise. "I mean, Santana says you're gay and whatever-s'cool. I'm just curious. Lima isn't like, San Francisco, y'know?"

She nods and then says, "Well, … parties at McKinley, before my fall from grace-"

Puck laughs. "Jesus."

"I'm kidding. But anyway, back when I was head cheerleader, we'd have parties from time to time and I mean, you know how Spin the Bottle gets," she says, with a shrug.

"Well, yeah, drunk and sloppy."

"Yeah. So I mean, I've kissed a few girls, but..." She doesn't really know how to finish that question. Is the truth that she thought she was straight then, or that they all were? It just doesn't feel like it counts either way.

"You're going to have to beat them off you with this new look," Puck says, with a small and genuine smile. It's weird, when he's randomly sincere, but whatever. At least he's trying to distract her—she can't stop thinking that nobody is going to show tonight, which would actually crush her at this point.

Santana snaps, "fine" in the background, before stomping back down the stairs, and Quinn and Puck grin at each other quickly before adopting the best neutral expressions they can.

"We're doing The Kills," Santana mutters, and heads straight for her guitar, tuning it for the sixth time or so, while Quinn tries not to laugh and Puck whistles innocently before heading back up the stairs to go and help Sam bring the rest of the gear down.

...

By the time it's seven, her mom pops her head downstairs and says, "We're off, Quinn. Try to keep people out of our bedroom-though if they must have sex there, there are condoms in the nightstand and..."

"Oh my God," Quinn says, before her mother grins and says, "Just kidding. Have fun tonight, Untitled Band."

Santana laughs and sticks up a hand goodbye, and as soon as her mother's gone, Puck appears with Artie in his arms and Sam follows with Artie's wheelchair.

"Well. Someone will be watching," Santana says, smirking and making a face, and Quinn laughs nervously for the eighteenth time in as many minutes.

Her hands are thrumming with nervous energy, and she just needs to start hitting things already, but they agreed to not play until 7.30, just to give people some time to show up.

She closes her eyes, and crosses her fingers, and tells God that he owes her one for the last year.

...

"Matt!" Puck calls out, before heading over to a tall black guy and bumping his fist. "Dude, you brought the whole team?"

Santana leans in and says, "After school basketball games; it's all very manly and I don't give a shit about it, but hey-we have an audience."

It's true. Tina showed up shortly after Artie, and said Lauren was on her way as well with a few other kids from the AV club and some kids from the string ensemble. It's not exactly the dream crowd-half jock, half geek-but it's all theirs, and Quinn licks her lips before leaning back in to Santana's side and saying, "We should play. Let's just do this. I'm … yeah. I can't sit like this for much longer, I'll have a heart attack."

The corner of Santana's mouth twitches. "One last question."

"Hm?"

"To what extent are you willing to crowd please?"

She shoots Santana a funny look and flicks that lock of hair out of her eyes again. "Um... well, I plan on drumming very well so..."

Santana's eyes flash with something and then she laughs. "I meant more like, if I feel like we need to spice things up a bit, do you have any issues with uh, giving the kids a show?"

"What, you and me?" Quinn asks, feeling her eyes widen dramatically.

"No, me and Mary Magdalene," Santana says, rolling her eyes. "I don't think anyone's going to be impressed by me flirting with Puck, but-"

Quinn stares at her. "Are you being serious right now?"

"Yeah, and it'd be a little more flattering if you could stop acting like I have rabies or something. Jesus. I'm not suggesting we buy a cabin in Vermont, okay," Santana says, a little sharply.

"No, I mean..." Quinn says, and then wonders how she can put this without feeling like a total idiot. "I've... I've never really done anything with a girl."

Santana blinks at her. "Oh."

"And I mean, I like you, but..."

"Q-it's cool. I just wanted to know if I could swing around to the back and toy with your hair a little, okay? I'm not going to like..." Santana says, before making a hand gesture that Quinn can't even interpret a little.

She takes a deep breath. "Okay, sure. That sounds fine. Just don't be surprised if I elbow you in the gut if you try anything."

"Just don't drop your sticks, babe," Santana says, lowly, and Quinn laughs a little harder, because-sure. Santana is hot as fuck, but after seeing her wolf down an entire bag of Cheetos with her pants unbuttoned a few weeks ago, it's a little hard to think of her as anything other than one of the guys.

She winks, before she can stop herself, and Santana winks back even more dramatically before patting her on the thigh. "Let's do this."

...

She's counted the band off a zillion times, but never quite like this-and at Sam's insistence, they demonstrate their best assets first-so it's just her on drums, working through the opening of Sleater-Kinney's One Beat, until Sam's sharp guitar comes in after the first eight-count, and God-the shiver that runs up her spine when he glances at her and lets the amp sing for him is unreal. It's never felt like this in rehearsals. Puck has the second guitar primed, and slowly starts driving in a little bit of rhythm, and their small crowd of about twenty five people is watching them completely silently.

The song was a tricky pick vocally, because Santana's voice is gritty and honey-like when she sings naturally, but they actually worked with that to their best ability, turning the entire thing into a seduction rather than an angry rant. It works shockingly well, especially because Quinn's own voice blends with Santana's to pull out even more edge from the original song and …

It's over before she even knows it, and their little audience seems to love it. That Matt guy whistles on his fingers and Tina and Artie whisper about something before clapping loudly and then giving them four thumbs up.

Quinn feels ridiculous, but also a little proud, flicking her hair out of her eyes again and then watching as Santana half-turns and mouths, No Wow at her. She winks at her comically again and Santana laughs and relaxes, before telling their miniature crowd that she's about turn her sexy on.

She's not kidding about that.

...

Chapel Hill is Sam's turn to shine, if only because Santana had insisted that she wasn't their front-woman so much as just someone who happened to suck the hardest at playing instruments, but the guitar work he knocks out has Quinn almost forgetting to drum at points-he sort of improvises the breakdown, and she has to chase him the entire way, which he acknowledges with a small grin before singing the last run of the chorus.

"Uh, we'll be back when our drummer can feel her arms again," he announces, giving Quinn a second to dig around for the water bottle behind her and-fuck it, she thinks, and uncaps the thing before pouring half of it down her face and then running her hands through her hair.

"Hot," Puck notes, and Sam nods after a moment, before bending down and messing around with his pedals for just a moment.

"Yeah, Quinn, if I went for that whole tortured, brooding thing, you'd be my thing like woah right now," Santana tells her, also drinking some water before tossing her bottle to Puck.

"This isn't a bust, right?" Quinn checks with both of them. "Like-we weren't expecting huge numbers, and..."

"Dude-they love us," Sam notes, glancing up for a moment and offering her a small smile. "And I mean, whatever. I love us, which is probably a lot more important."

Santana laughs. "Sam, you are the cheesiest little shit ever, but I actually agree with you. Fuck Carmel and whatever goes on there. We? Are awesome."

Puck smacks her on the ass a second later, and she chases him up the stairs towards the bathroom, where-yeah, Quinn doesn't want to think too hard about what they're doing, but she can't blame them, either. She's so high on performing right now that if there was anyone for her to be making out with, she's pretty sure she'd be flattening them against the wall in a heartbeat.

As it is, it's just her and Sam... and she'll just have to take this restless energy out on her kit.

...

The start to Tiffany Blews was a real nightmare to work out, because the Fall Out Boy original was so chock-full of effects that it took them ages to realize that they'd actually be better off just reinterpreting the entire thing altogether and fixing it for female vocals, because neither Puck nor Sam sound anything like Patrick Stump.

In the end, they split the song so that Quinn handles the 'oh-oh's and Santana sings the rest of it, with everyone else providing harmonies. The arrangement reminds her of car trips when she was a child, with her mother and father singing along to Queen in the front seat; she still can't help but associate Bohemian Rhapsody with Disney World these days. Still, there's something about how good they all sound and how seamless everyone's instrumental work is; Puck's bass lines at the outset of the song are so clean that she can feel them reverb in her chest but not anywhere else in the room.

On the chorus, there's suddenly a lot of noise outside, and she almost misses her beat before glancing over at Sam, who's also looking up at the staircase, and the murmuring in the crowd starts up quickly enough for Quinn to realize that something unexpected and big is about to happen.

When she hears the hissed Escalades, her heart actually stops altogether for a second, because only one group of kids drive those at their school-they're corporate sponsored trophy cars with vanity plates, and …

Why the fuck would Vocal Adrenaline show up at her house party? Other than to destroy it?

Sam's guitar cuts out only seconds before she stops drumming, and Santana falls silent half a second later, as Mike Chang, Mercedes Jones, and Kurt Hummel start coming down the stairs. Puck clears his throat and says, "Guys, come on, they're not stupid enough to try something when not on their home turf", in sort of an urgent whisper, and Quinn starts counting them off again when knee socks appear at the top of the stairs.

The minute Rachel and Brittany appear, it's like someone flicks a switch in Santana, and while she's never not sung the second verse-the one about pupils rolling like dice, which is probably about orgasms but Quinn's never really been sure-in the most suggestive way possible, but-

Quinn's eyes widen a little, and she glances at the stairs again, to where Jesse is leaning against the wall and looking down at her with a small smile-until all of a sudden Santana strolls around to stand right next to her.

And God, the bitterness in her voice doesn't really go with the way her hand is running down the back of Quinn's neck, which is more like a caress than anything else. Maybe Santana shouldn't have made that crack about Quinn dropping her sticks, because her hands feel sweaty for the first time all night, and for one precarious moment one of her sticks actually slips down a little too far.

She makes it through the chorus, which Santana seems to be singing directly at Rachel-and it's bitchy, but it also gives her voice a kind of power it wouldn't otherwise have, to be thinking of someone when singing about fading classics and hot messes-and then realizes that she doesn't actually have to be drumming through the coda.

Santana knows that, too.

Sam starts softly singing, even as Santana slinks down behind her and starts backing her up on the harmonies, and then two arms wrap around her chest and-did Santana just bite her neck?

Jesse is the first one to wolf-whistle, giving them a small round of applause, and Quinn would flip him off if she didn't have bigger things to worry about, like how Santana's slowly turning her head around and-.

She's pulled into a kiss before she can stop it when everyone but Sam falls silent, and the entire room starts cheering for them.

Her temple pulses with anger when Santana lets go with a pop, heading back to the front.

Quinn is pissed and, judging by the way that Santana refuses to look at her when she signals for the coda to start, Santana knows it. Either way, they have a song to finish and gig to end, and all that Quinn can do is stare past Santana, to where Rachel is watching them with an unreadable expression before finally heading back up the stairs and hissing something at Jesse in passing.

She doesn't care. She really doesn't, because wherever the hell Rachel is going is the least of her worries right now.

...

They somehow round off the set-some Hard-Fi, and a semi-acoustic version of Forgive and Forget that somehow calms the room down again.

As soon as she's done saying, "Thanks for coming", Santana disappears upstairs, leaving the three of them to start packing up their gear even as the rest of the party-goers polish off the remainders of Puck's beer and talk to each other about how fucking crazy it is that Vocal Adrenaline showed up.

She's helping Sam disconnect the Line 6 amp he brought over for the second guitar when behind her, someone says, "So are you and Santana seeing each other?"

She turns abruptly and looks at Brittany, who doesn't look particularly upset or surprised-but just looks curious, like...

What is she missing here?

"No, Santana's with Puck. I don't know... I think she was just trying to put on a good show," Quinn says, as neutrally as she can, because God knows she's not forgotten about her intense desire to ream Santana out yet.

"She does like putting on shows," Brittany concedes after a second. "You two were totally hot together, though. And your hair-it makes sense, now. Jesse likes you because it's just like his."

Sam snorts next to her and says, "I'm just going to go drop this in my trunk", lifting the amp and walking past them. Quinn watches as he's paused halfway by Tina, who says something to him that makes him gesture so abruptly that he almost drops the amp; but then she looks back at Brittany, who is still smiling at her.

"I'm... what? Jesse likes me?"

"Oh, yeah. I mean, he called out a mortuary on you," Brittany says, moving in closer and leaning against the wall next to her. "So now Rachel's all mad because she doesn't like it when people tell her what to do, and Mercedes is mad because Rachel's mad, but he was pretty serious."

"A …" Quinn says, before frowning. "Do you mean a moratorium?"

"Yeah, that's what I said."

She's absolutely baffled by every part of this conversation. "Is that why you guys came? Because Jesse likes me?"

"No, Rachel wanted to come," Brittany says, with a shrug. "I just like music, and seeing Santana perform, so."

The coin drops, and Quinn lets her mouth fall open stupidly just because it's better than saying something else, like, "You're the girlfriend?"

It also explains a bit more about Santana's behavior, and after a second she looks across the room to where Puck is talking to Lauren about something that looks like either pro football or wrestling, and...

Christ. And she thought her life was complicated.

"I think she... appreciated. That you came," Quinn finally says.

Brittany gives her a small, sad smile that looks completely out of place on her face. "Nah. She hasn't appreciated me coming in about two years now, but I mean. She'll always be my friend, you know? Some things don't end just because they stop."

Her heart pangs, loudly, at the idea of a baby in Cleveland, and she nods before she finds out for a fact that she can't talk past that lump in her throat.

...

By midnight, her parents come back to find her and Sam sitting on the porch; he tries to hide the bottle of beer he's nursing, but her dad just rolls his eyes and says, "Sam, for crying out loud—it's okay."

"How was it?" her mom asks, leaning into her dad's side, and she looks away from them; it's great, that their marriage is so awesome, but sometimes it just reminds her that she doesn't have anything like what they have. Tonight's one of those nights.

"Good," Sam says, and picks at the bottle label. "Um, people came. Then Vocal Adrenaline came, which was weird, but they didn't try to set anyone on fire so it wasn't as bad as it could've been. And, … well, Tina said that we were actually really good, and that she really likes the way that I used my pedals, so I mean. That's pretty awesome."

There's something about the way he says Tina that has Quinn smiling. "It went well," she adds, and then squints up at her parents. "Did you guys have a good night?"

"Oh, sure. Your mom's probably pregnant again, but I know that you've always wanted a kid sister, so..." her dad says, before winking at Sam.

Her mom just sighs and says, "Why do we put up with him?"

"I don't know," Quinn says, her voice unintentionally small, because a year ago, she would've thought her dad was equal parts funny and embarrassing.

Now, the word pregnant gets dropped, and she loses all will to talk altogether.

It's easier to think about other things; like whether or not Santana and Puck are fighting right now, or if this is just what happens when Santana's actually forced to deal with her past in a real way. Like... whether or not Untitled Band going to do this again, and if she can figure out a way to get Sam to talk to Tina, who loves manga and weird Californian progressive rock that just sounds to noise like Quinn.

Like... where Rachel went, tonight, and why Jesse didn't follow her.

It's just easier. That's the only reason she's thinking about any of that at all.

...

She's washing her car the next day in a pair of cut-off jean shorts and a tank when Puck pulls up in his jeep. He rolls down the window and she heads over, sponge still in hand.

"Hey," he says, a little tiredly. "Just wanted to make sure shit was cool after last night. I know Santana was a little..."

"If she wants to apologize to me, she can do it herself," Quinn says, a little tersely.

Puck sighs and slips off his aviators and then says, "Look-the thing is, she and I aren't like... in it for the long haul. I mean, she's my girl, but she's not my girl. I know that, she knows that, but we don't really talk about it because it makes her feel like a bitch."

"If that's how you feel, why aren't you just friends with benefits?" Quinn asks after a moment, squeezing the sponge she's holding out until it's dripping on the pavement.

Puck scratches at his cheek and then says, "Because she needs people to think she's moved on."

"From Brittany," Quinn asks, softly.

Puck looks at her in surprise, and then his face darkens. "Don't talk about that shit. I know nothing seems like it's a secret at Carmel, but there's seriously only about four people who know about this and three of them are in the band with you, okay? It's... big. It's a huge deal."

She hesitates for a second and then sighs. "It would really help if someone could just tell me the whole story."

Puck sighs. "Shouldn't be me... but it isn't going to be her." She waits him out, because he's clearly weighing out his options, and then finally he nods and says, "Okay, get in the car."

There's some Saves the Day playing in the background, which surprises her because it's so not Puck's thing, but he shuts it off before she can ask and rolls his window back up, turning on the heater.

"They were seriously in love. Like, at first sight type shit. I've never seen Santana like that with anyone and I've known her for years; we went to middle school together and everything. And it's like, she and Rachel tried out for Vocal Adrenaline and made the team and that's when she met Brittany and everything just changed."

"They dated," Quinn says.

"Sort of. I don't think they ever made it official because, well, Vocal Adrenaline's like, the Christian choir, y'know? There's rules, about what you can and can't do."

No matter how many times she hears it, it still sounds terrible every single time. "But they were together."

"Yeah. In secret. I knew about it, because I used to cover for Santana when she was off doing things with Britt, but... I mean. That was it. And then... over the summer, after freshman year, Rachel found out about them."

Her heart sinks in her chest. "That's why …"

"Yeah, that's why everything," Puck says, shortly. "Anyway, so... I mean. Santana won't talk about what happened, not in detail anyway, but … she's just with me so she doesn't have to think about any of that shit anymore."

"Don't you want more than that?" Quinn asks, before she can stop herself.

"Sure, in the long run," Puck says, with a shrug. "But we're in high school. I don't think I'm going to remember most of you five years from now, so the idea that I'm still going to be dating someone I meet now... just doesn't seem like it's something to worry about, y'know?"

It does make sense, in a strange way, even before he sighs and says, "She's my friend. She needs this, and we have a good time together. That doesn't mean that what we're doing is wrong, but lately it's started to feel like... she thinks she's using me or whatever."

"Tell her she's not, then."

"Dude, I don't do conversations like that," Puck says, shaking his head. "Seriously, no."

"Sing about it?" Quinn says, shrugging when he just shoots her a look. "Not like, a ballad. Sing about how you're just passing the time. I'm sure there's a Juliana Theory song out there somewhere that will help you out."

He laughs. "I don't know. I mean, I feel better just telling someone this shit. I know Sam's kind of a girl but I can't talk to him about this crap, and you're like the first person I've known in ages who isn't like, in the middle of it."

Quinn stretches a little and then says, "Yeah, well, enjoy that while it lasts."

"Hm?"

"... apparently Jesse St. James is president of my fanclub. I can't see that going anywhere good."

Puck whistles low. "You know, you have a real fucking talent for getting into shit that you don't want to have to deal with."

It's the stupidest way anyone's talked about her life in ages, and after a second she laughs. "Yeah, I really do, don't I?"

"S'okay though. If St. Douche tries anything, we've got your back," Puck says, bumping his fist against her shoulder.

"Thanks, bro," she says, not even entirely kidding; when he smiles at her, she feels like maybe, none of last night was a big warning sign that her life is going to get worse.

...

That turns out to be wishful thinking.

When she gets to school on Monday, someone's spray-painted the word slut on her locker, and she sighs before opening it up and pulling out her calculus textbook.

At least they left off the pregnant, this time. It's how she knows she's at a more civilized school, and her life has in fact moved on from last year.

Chapter Text

Santana finds her just moments after she makes the discovery and says, "You'd think they'd at least think of something clever."

"Yeah, before we get to my locker art...," Quinn says, diverting her eyes from the tag for just a second. "A word about that crap you pulled on Friday night, please."

Santana's face tightens and her mouth sets. "I don't know-"

"No, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Giving people a show? Sure. But I'm not the bait in your mind games with Rachel, nor am I there for you to prove a point to your..." Quinn starts to say, before shutting up abruptly and just giving Santana a pointed look.

Santana deflates with a small sigh. "Puckerman told you."

"Actually, I figured it out through her, that night. She was there to see you," Quinn says, as gently as she can.

Santana's next breath is so ragged that Quinn feels a stab of sympathy for her.

"Look, I know I shoudn't have kissed you. I just-wasn't expecting to see... aw, fuck, Quinn, I don't know," she says, looking over with a pained expression on her face.

"We will talk about this eventually," Quinn says, relenting; it's not a question, but this isn't the time or the place. She glances at her locker. "Maybe after I've figured out which darling member of VA decided this would be the way to repay me for my hospitality."

"It could be any of them," Santana says, shoving her hands in her pockets, and Quinn sighs.

"Guess we better go talk to the janitor about some paint."

"I don't know, I might leave mine the way it is," Puck says, knuckling Quinn in the back of the head until she elbows him in the ribs. He grins at her, clearly relieved that he's arrived at the end of the chick fight, but then digs out his iPhone and shows them a picture of him posing with two thumbs up next to a locker with the words man whore painted on it. "It's like free advertising or some shit. Anyone who wants to get up on my dick can just go and stand next to it."

"Charming," Santana says, but then kisses him on the corner of his mouth anyway. "I'm off to chemistry; I'll see you guys at lunch."

"Actually-" Quinn starts to say, but Santana's already gone, and whatever-things are going to be awkward for a few days even if she doesn't bring up that she's needed in the AV room.

...

Before she gets to lunch, the day gets stranger; some kid named Greg she's never spoken to in English leans over from the desk next to hers and says, "I don't care if you're a slut or not; your band is awesome. You guys sound tight, you know?"

He wasn't at the party, so how he knows is a mystery until she actually gets to the AV room and sees Artie and Tina bent over his Macbook, looking at Audacity with frowns on their faces.

"Hey-what's going on?"

She half-expects them to say that Rachel's already torn apart all of their work on the December paper, before remembering they haven't even gotten started on the December paper. Then, she just shakes her head and offers Tina a small smile.

"Oh, we're just trying to figure out how to edit out that break in that Fall Out Boy song," Tina says, beckoning her over. "You know, when you guys stopped playing because VA showed up? Because the other songs were really easy to clean up a little for downloading but..."

"Woah, woah," Quinn says, dropping her bag and slinging her arms around them both and leaning in closer. "Cleaning up for downloading where?"

"Um, your MySpace," Artie says, tabbing over to Chrome and showing her something that actually makes her breath catch in her throat.

"What... who did this?"

"Artie and I did," Tina says, with a small smile. "Sam asked Artie if he knew how to like, make a semi-professional website, but that kind of design is more my thing, and since a fair number of artists got discovered on MySpace..."

"Yeah, you guys should start writing some original music," Artie agrees.

Quinn stares at the page and listens as their performance of Chapel Hill starts automatically playing in the background, and before she can think better of it, she kisses Tina on the cheek.

"This is awesome," she says.

"We need some pictures. We'd normally ask you but you kind of have to be in them, which …"

Artie clears his throat. "We'll figure something out, Tina."

Quinn frowns. "No, wait. Ms. Corcoran said something about there being someone else in the school who's good at taking pictures but they were too busy to take on the photographer role for the newspaper. Who's that?"

Tina bites her lip and takes a deep breath, but before she can answer, Rachel's voice sounds behind them.

"Kurt, and I highly doubt he'd be willing to help you with your … delusions."

"What, will it cut into the time he normally reserves for his passion for graffiti art?" Quinn asks, turning to look at Rachel over her shoulder.

Rachel looks exhausted, but it doesn't stop her from rolling her eyes. "I'm glad to see that on top of jumping off pyramids, you can also jump to conclusions. Your parents must be so proud."

Tina clears her throat and looks at Artie, who nods. "Yeah, uh, … we're going to leave you two to it. Um. Try not to kill each other. Rachel, I'm sorry; I don't mean anything by that, please don't get me Slushied."

Something fascinating happens to Rachel's face at that soft and mild-mannered request; she swallows visibly, and her lips part a little, like she's about to protest Tina's concerns, but... then her eyes glaze over a little and she focuses on Quinn again, her mouth setting.

Quinn knows when she's seeing someone play a role they're not happy with, but there's knowing that, and knowing that someone vandalized the crap out of her locker not six hours ago, and … well, maybe her patience is wearing a little thin.

She watches as Tina wheels Artie out and Rachel ignores her completely, and then she's suddenly so sick of all of this that she just asks.

"Was it you?"

Rachel looks up in surprise.

"My locker," Quinn clarifies. "Was it you?"

"No."

"Was it on your instruction?"

Rachel's smile looks more like a wince, but she says, "As I'm sure you're aware, my boyfriend has ordered that you're off limits."

"What, and that works?"

Rachel shrugs and bends back over the table. "Believe it or not, I have bigger things to worry about than you, Quinn."

Quinn has no idea why she bristles at that, because it's not like the reverse isn't also true. "What-like the paper?"

"For instance," Rachel says, a little tersely.

"Great. So we have something in common. Maybe we can stop bitching at each other long enough to actually work on making it good this month?"

Rachel doesn't really respond one way or the other; she just heads over to the memo board that contains the year long paper plan she constructed for them, and reaches for one of the gold star pins and sticks it next to Brittany S. Pierce, before turning to look at Quinn.

"I suppose you're all drawing straws again?"

Quinn knows she's blushing, being called out on something really stupid like that, even though the straws are hardly her idea. "No, it's okay. I'll take this one. I like Brittany."

The way Rachel's head snaps back up to look at her is a little alarming. "What do you mean?"

"... I mean that she's nice? Jesus, what is your problem?" Quinn asks, unable to keep her irritation out of her voice or off her face. "Am I not allowed to talk to her or something?"

Rachel's face slackens, and she shakes her head. "No. You can talk to whoever you want to, obviously."

"I didn't ask Jesse to …"

"I know you didn't," Rachel says, before sucking in a deep breath and saying. "You're right. For the sake of the paper, we should figure out a way to work together."

Quinn sort of rolls her eyes. "Yeah, you think?"

Rachel bites at her lip and then looks at the floor before adding, "Contrary to popular opinion, school politics run themselves. I'm not actually in control of what happens in those hallways, and..."

"Yeah, you know, as head of the Fruit Loops-" and she notes with some surprise that that earns her a small smile "-I dealt with the same thing, okay? Popular or not, we're all just part of a system. But... this room isn't those hallways. It doesn't have to be, anyway."

The smile fades and Rachel takes a deep breath. "What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that I'd like to be able to work with you, not for you, because the product will be better if you stop treating me like an incompetent idiot."

Rachel sort of sighs. "I'm not the greatest at delegating."

"And I'm not the best at taking orders. We'll figure it out as we go, okay? Just lay off me, in here. I don't care if you like my band or my friends, or my life choices. I'm good with a camera. I have good ideas. So..."

"Fine," Rachel says, but gently enough where it doesn't feel like they're just treading the same water all over again.

"Okay," Quinn says, and exhales in as subtle a way as she can. "So, I'll go and see if I can get Brittany to agree to a date for a shoot, and... then I'll see you after school."

She's already almost out the door when Rachel calls out her name.

"Capture her in motion. She's at her most beautiful that way."

She hesitates in the doorway and looks back at Rachel, who's already bending over the table and starting to line up parts of the mock-up, and...

"You know, if you are on meds, I think literally the entire school would appreciate it if you could just consistently take them," she finally says.

It's a gamble, but if she can't be herself in the AV room, ever, this is never going to work out.

Rachel glances up and rolls her eyes without saying anything, but somehow, it feels like the friendliest interaction they've ever had.

Quinn will take it, at this point.

...

Brittany claps her hands together twice in excitement when Quinn finds her by the vending machine on the second floor after school.

"Oh-you know, last year I did my interview with Artie and I just rode around on his lap all afternoon, which was awesome. Are you going to get a wheelchair?"

There's something about Brittany that is so far beyond all the other crap going on at Carmel that Quinn can't help but smile. "Nah, not this year. I thought I'd ask you to... dance to something. One of your favorite songs, maybe? We'll snap some pictures and grab some video for the website. I mean, you're really good, so not only will people love but you might be able to use it for college admissions."

Brittany's smile wavers unexpectedly. "Oh, I don't think I'm going to college."

"Not even to dance?" Quinn asks, frowning a little.

"... no. I don't think it's for me," Brittany says, tentatively. It's half an answer, but they aren't really friends and Brittany is technically someone she should probably not try to get closer to-there's too many arrows pointing at Rachel and Santana and... God. She doesn't want to know.

"Okay, well, then just do it as practice or because it'll be fun?" Quinn suggests.

Brittany nods after a moment and digs out her phone from her breast pocket. "Let me text Mike. We've been working on this swing routine for sectionals and I think we can um, try it for you. You'll be honest, right? About if it's good?"

Quinn's smile is unstoppable. "Sure thing."

"Okay. I'll let you know when," Brittany says, before calling out Mercedes' name and slipping past Quinn further down the hallway.

It's weird. Back at McKinley, she's sure Brittany would've been one of her best friends just because of her status and ability... and back at McKinley, she would've never hung out with a bunch of stoners who hate on the popular crowd either.

So much has changed that it's surely only a matter of time until she herself feels different, at least, if not just better?

...

When she pulls in three days later, Brittany's waiting by her parking spot and gives her a bright wave.

"Tomorrow after school?"

It's technically a day for Holly's band project, ,but Sam will understand if she bails on this; his attitude towards Rachel makes more sense now that she knows he deals with her a few times a week still.

"Cool," she says, swinging the door open and stepping out, fishing her camera bag out the back seat. "Bring your own music, okay? And we'll do this in the dance room, not the auditorium; I think the mirrors will make for really cool effects."

"Awesome," Brittany says, and then looks at her watch. "Okay, I need to go because Jesse and Rachel have us practicing before class these days, but I'll see you later, okay?"

The temptation to stop by the auditorium and listen in is there, but... things have been going more or less okay at the AV club, and she really doesn't want to risk doing anything that will break the tentative truce, even if...

Well, God, the girl is a world class singer. Saying she's missed hearing Rachel's voice isn't weird. It means she has ears.

She slings her camera bag over her shoulder and heads over to the quad, where Sam and Puck are drumming out something on a table and Santana is filling her nails next to them.

"Hey-I'm going to be late to practice today; paper stuff," she says.

"We can just move it to the weekend," Puck says. "I'll bring some weed and-"

"Uh, maybe not to my basement."

"Nah, it's cool, we talked to your dad and he said he'd try to find his old bong," Sam says, with a shrug.

She looks between them for a moment until Puck's lips twitch and then punches Sam in the arm. "Jerks."

The bell rings, and Santana loops their arms together to walk them in; she's not surprised the boys aren't behind them, because they skip first period (PE? She has no idea what they have) more often than they attend it.

"What are you guys doing this month?" Santana asks, even as Quinn watches as Brittany, Rachel and Mercedes file out of the auditorium at the end of the hall and stalk over towards English. She wonders absently how long it took them to get the stride exactly right, given that Brittany's legs are like twice the length of Rachel's, and grins unwillingly.

"Hm? Oh-it's Brittany," she says, absent-minded, and then feels Santana stiffen next to her. "Oh, crap, Santana-I was going to tell you, but I mean... she was always going to get a month, you know? She's amazing."

"Yeah, she is," Santana says, quietly, and pulls her arm away. "I-you know what? Fuck English. I'll see you later."

Quinn sighs and calls out her name, but Santana just shakes her head and heads back to where they came from.

Just her and VA in AP English today, and God, she hopes that's not an omen.

...

Artie's still trying to get the digital camcorder they have to record for more than five minutes when Brittany and Mike stroll in, wearing Carmel sweat pants and their usual VA polo shirts. Quinn realizes only then that she hasn't actually told them to wear anything for the shoot, but-when seeing them joke around with each other before they sit down in front of her like a set of naughty schoolkids, she realizes that casual might actually be the most interesting look.

Their dancing will blow an unsuspecting audience away.

"Hey," Mike says, leaning forward and sticking out a hand. "Quinn, right? I'm Mike."

She shakes his hand and says, "Don't worry, I'm not contagious."

He half-smiles at her. "You know, not everyone on VA cares about that kind of stuff. I mean, the school yard fighting. I just want to get to a good conservatory when I graduate, you know?"

Brittany digs around her bag for a moment and then hands over a CD. "Um, it's the first song; I burned it twice though, just in case we have to do it again."

"I think we'll get it in one, if Artie can get the camcorder to work," Quinn assures them, but a look at the frown on Artie's face means that they're not out of the woods yet. "Um. Do you guys mind if we do the interview first?"

Mike moves to get out of the chair, but Brittany puts a hand on his arm. "You can do us both. I mean, we're sort of a package deal anyway."

Quinn thinks about it for a second and then shrugs. "Okay."

...

The first few questions are fairly standard; Brittany's been dancing since she was four, because the years of caterpillaring before then don't really feel like they count. Mike discovered his talent for it when he was about ten, when picking up his younger sister from her dance classes with his parents. Brittany's favorite genre is jazz ballet, and Mike's is popping and locking, but they both admit they'll do anything if the music is good enough.

"What is your favorite performance that you've done with VA?" Quinn asks, scribbling down the bulk of their conversation as fast as she can.

Mike makes a contemplative noise and then says, "Nationals last year. We did this hip-hop routine that we sort of stole from um, Tabitha and Napoleon, but mixed it up a little. It was really good."

Brittany nods, and then glances at the floor for a moment. "But my actual favorite was Valerie."

"Really?" Mike asks, looking over.

"The Amy Winehouse cover?" Quinn asks, after a moment.

Brittany nods. "We did that at Regionals in uh, freshman year. Um. … It was really good. I mean, with the singing and everything."

"Yeah, it's hard to think of Santana Lopez doing that now, but she was pretty amazing back then," Mike agrees, after a second.

Quinn almost fumbles the pencil and then looks at them both again. "What made that performance different?"

Brittany licks at her lips a little and then sighs softly. "I didn't think about it. It wasn't about making Shelby happy, or making sure that Rachel wouldn't get in trouble or anything. It was just about dancing, you know; playing off each other and Santana and..."

She trails off after a moment and Quinn stares at her paper again. The next question there is about choreography, but...

"Why did she quit?"

Mike shrugs. "I don't know. I mean, everyone knows that she and Rachel had this huge fight over the summer, but nobody really knows what it was about."

Brittany nods with a sad smile. "Yeah. I mean, I've asked. I've asked both of them, and they don't talk about it. Just... one day it was, you know, the three of us. And the next day, Santana was gone and told me that... um, that she couldn't be on VA anymore."

"Was the team stronger with her on it?" Quinn asks, looking away from Brittany's incredibly lost expression.

"We were better, because Rachel was happier," Brittany says, in a way that implies strongly that Rachel wasn't the only one who was happier.

"Yeah. I mean, she used to laugh, back then. Now? I think she just performs because she feels like she has to," Mike says, and then frowns at Quinn's notes. "Don't-I mean, all of this was off the record. I don't want her to know that..."

"No, of course," Quinn says, quickly, and then sighs, scratching out the last few lines of notes. "So-are you guys interested in choreography at all?"

Mike brightens immediately and says, "Oh, yeah. I mean, my dream is to work with Wade Robson, but that's sort of reaching for the stars."

"We're pretty good at it ourselves, though," Brittany says, even as Artie murmurs something and then finally holds up the camcorder with a thumbs up.

"This routine you're doing today-you've pieced it together?"

Brittany smiles genuinely, for the first time in a few minutes. "Yeah. I mean, you're the first people to see it. Shelby lets us rehearse by ourselves because it's like, nobody else need to get a complex, y'know? I love Mercedes but it's like her legs aren't even attached to her body, and Rachel is just so short, so..."

Quinn laughs. "Okay. Well, I promise I won't get a complex, so... whenever you guys are ready."

...

Rooney's When Did Your Heart Go Missing plays off in the background and Brittany snaps them off with her fingers a few times, and then it's like watching two people who have been dancing together their entire lives just having fun. She has no idea what any of it is called technically, but it's like watching a routine from the set of Swing Kids without any of the heartache behind it, even though it's not the most upbeat song of all times.

She asked Brittany about it, just before putting it on, and Brittany just stared into the distance for a moment before saying, "It's not technically swing, but I mean. I know what that song is about. Sometimes you're like... with someone, and they just disappear on you. And then it's like, how did we get here? You can't be sad about it forever, though. So I mean, I dance about it, until it starts feeling a little better."

"Is it feeling better?" Quinn asked, and Brittany shrugged.

"It's not worse."

Strangely, she knows exactly what Brittany means, and watching her flip over Mike's back before being swung between his legs and lifted up and twirled away again, she wishes she could dance it out like that. To what song, though, is the question she's always been stuck on.

People write about broken hearts all the time, but giving up a part of yourself just because it's the only thing you can do that's right-yeah, somehow it's not something that's covered in most of the music she listens to.

She's out of film about half way through the routine, and prays that she adjusted the shutter speed enough to capture motion and not just blurs, and then fishes around for her digital camera to take a few shots for the school website. It's only then that she glances up and spots Santana in the doorway, staring at Brittany and Mike with so much longing that it almost hurts Quinn to see it-

And then they lock eyes, for just a second, and Santana basically flees the room without saying anything.

Maybe someone does need to push her on what happened in the summer after freshman year. Quinn's had enough therapy by now to realize that talking actually does help, and even if she's not ready for it herself, maybe Santana is.

The song grinds to a halt, and Brittany and Mike high-five and hug on what was a seamless routine, before looking at her expectantly.

"You two were perfect. Really," she says, and on the surface, it's completely true-

-like most things at Carmel.

...

The pictures come out winningly; even Rachel doesn't have a single complaint about them, just making the occasional approving noise when sorting through them.

The silences between them in the AV room aren't exactly comfortable, but at least they're no longer chasing the rest of the staff out of the room with their constant arguing anymore, so that's something. Quinn suspects that Artie and Tina have a bet going about how long this detente can last, and she can't even really blame them. Every day that they're not at each other's throats feels like a respite.

Problematically, even though they're hardly talking, is the fact that she likes Rachel's approach to the paper. She's exacting and kind of insane, but it shows in the end product. If they were friends, or if they could be friends, she'd ask for her opinion on things than have now actually been delegated to her-like picture selection and editing the web piece that will accompany the article about Brittany and, by proxy, Mike.

The best days are the ones when they call Brittany in to check over what they're doing, because she's enthusiastic about all of it and that kind of excitement is contagious-even to Rachel, who actually smiles once or twice when Brittany comes up with insane suggestions like how maybe they could Photoshop her riding a unicorn onto the front page.

It's almost halfway through the month when she realizes, rather abruptly, that she considers Brittany a friend; and if that's not the most awkward and inconvenient thing, she doesn't even know. Santana has been on an angry chick rock bender lately, demanding that they do some Tracy Bonham and Alanis at practice, and the boys have advised her to let it go because she'll snap out of it sooner rather than later.

Quinn hopes they're right, because asking politely what's going on has gotten her exactly as far as pointed, "Fuck off"-and they've not known each other long enough for any further pushing to be an option.

It's a mess, and it's worse on Wednesdays, when she and Sam straddle the lines of friendships so completely that when he says, "I think of it as an alternate universe, because it's easier that way", she doesn't even laugh at him.

Wednesdays, she's in the band room with Artie, Sam, and sometimes Rachel-when one of her ten million other commitments don't get in the way-trying to transcribe popular music by ear, and adding in classical music where it doesn't already exist.

Sam's pick for the concert is Justin Bieber's Somebody To Love, which they're trying to rearrange into acoustic guitar with strings and soft drums. Artie has a surprisingly solid voice, and Rachel notes as an aside that she's asked him to join Vocal Adrenaline at least twice but "for some reason" he doesn't seem interested.

"Yes, what wouldn't be appealing about singing and dancing with his perpetual bullies?" Quinn notes, dryly, and Rachel actually cracks a small smile before forcing a glare.

That, too, is troublesome; even though they hardly talk outside of Alternate Universe Wednesday, and she's fairly sure that Sam hasn't shared that particular interpretation of their composition group with Rachel at all, she seems to understand that it's a safe place as well, and lightens up considerably. She's incredibly talented-with just the first words of most pieces they're working on, she can figure out piano accompaniment in the span of minutes, and will tell all of them-without being condescending-when their own instruments are off.

As good a singer as Rachel is, and she's brilliant, it's clear to Quinn after just two weeks of having Rachel around that this is what she's passionate about-that instrument, and how it seems to talk to her even when nobody else can hear it. So-why doesn't she ever play in the Vocal Adrenaline performances?

Even on Alternate Universe Wednesdays, they're not close enough for her to ask, and so she mostly just sits and watches as Artie and Rachel gently argue about whether or not a trumpet would help or hinder the song.

Things get a little snippy after a few minutes of it, because in the band room, Artie doesn't defer to Rachel automatically, and Sam whistles on his fingers before looking at them both. "We need a break. Concert's not until February, and my hand is starting to cramp from noting all of your suggestions, so..."

Rachel glances at her watch. "I should be going anyway."

"There aren't any clubs this late," Quinn says, before she can stop herself.

Rachel looks over at her a little sharply and then says, "It's not a club. It's a once a month support group for single parents."

Quinn feels her breath catch in her throat, and tentatively says, "... that's how you know..."

"Yes," Rachel says, and lowers her eyes back to the keys. "I've been going for six years, and he's been there his entire life, obviously."

Sam looks between them. "Um, not that I don't think telepathy is awesome, but..."

"Rachel knows my ex-boyfriend," Quinn says, before Rachel can say anything more than that, and the room falls silent for a moment.

"Um-aren't you gay?" Artie finally asks, very quietly.

Quinn watches-and it's almost in slow-motion, the way that Rachel's head snaps back up and-oh, the look on her face. This is it. The end of their short period of peace, and the end of thinking that maybe, one day, she'll have a conversation with Rachel about something they both obviously care about a lot and the end of thinking that Rachel isn't actually as bad as Santana makes her out to be, and that what happened in sophomore year is probably a misunderstanding.

The look on Rachel's face is one of pure, unmasked horror, and Quinn opens her mouth but nothing comes out.

"Uh, … she had to get pregnant somehow, dude," Sam finally mumbles, and Artie starts nervously cleaning his glasses and says, "Sorry, yeah, of course. I'm sorry, that was a dumb thing to say-"

Rachel closes the lid on the piano without saying anything else, and Quinn almost knocks over her stool when she gets up after her. "Rachel, I-"

"No, don't. If you're about to apologize for not telling me, my only response is that we're not friends, and you wouldn't have needed to; if you're concerned that we won't be able to work together anymore, I assure you that I'm perfectly capable of distinguishing between sin and sinner and …" Rachel says, rapidly, before bending down and picking her bag off the floor. "Does he know?"

"He-does Finn know?" Quinn asks, frowning. "No. I mean, I don't..."

Rachel looks at her once more and then shakes her head. "He loved you so much, you know. He was devastated when you ended it. He wanted to raise her with you, and all you could do was tell him that he wasn't good enough to be involved. That it wasn't his decision to make."

The words die in Quinn's throat, and she stares at Rachel helplessly.

"In retrospect, I suppose he should all be grateful that you were smart enough to give her up, because that child doesn't... she doesn't deserve to be raised by …" Rachel finally says, before looking away and saying, "I'll see you next week."

"Shoot," Artie says, when the door swings shut behind her. "Quinn, I am so sorry-"

"No, it's fine. I thought she knew, and that was why she..." Quinn says, pushing the words out of her throat; they sound rough and tired, and she knows she's not going to cry but that doesn't really help when she feels like it's only because she doesn't have any tears left.

"You know she's going to tell that dude, right?" Sam ventures, and that snaps her out of it enough to give chase; she's already forty percent sure it's a horrible idea, but she never wanted anyone at McKinley to know. Not after how Amy reacted, and not after what happened with Dave.

It's none of Finn's business, and Rachel doesn't get to make that call for her.

...

Rachel's fiddling with her car keys when Quinn finally spots her, and she slams the door shut before Rachel can climb inside.

"You can't tell him," Quinn says, pleadingly.

"You don't think he deserves to know?"

"Well, no, actually," she says, leaning against the door when Rachel reaches for it again. "I broke up with him because I wasn't in love with him, and one drunken mistake doesn't mean that..."

"A drunken mistake," Rachel repeats, her voice unexpectedly brittle. "That's what you're calling it? You had a child together, and he's just a mistake? Are you-"

"No, having a child with Finn Hudson was part of my life plan, especially when I was sixteen," Quinn snaps at her, before she can help it. "And, not that this is any of your business, but what part of this are you actually pissed about? The part where I didn't do the 'Christian' thing and marry the guy and raise a kid with him, or the part where I'm gay?"

She's never actually said the words like that before; people have assumed, her parents figured it out on the basis of her withering friendship with Amy and the tears she cried over it, and Santana saw right through her. But the actual words-the I'm gay-have never passed through her lips, and she sort of freezes after they're out there.

Rachel doesn't respond, and Quinn feels that same burst of anger that overcame her that day with Dave, in the hallway-the one that had almost landed her in the hospital, if not for the fact that Finn had shown up at exactly the right time.

"Because if it's the latter-I hate to be the one to break this to you, Rachel, but basically every single one of your friends is gay, and it doesn't make them-"

"Shut up," Rachel says, flushing angrily. "How dare you? I don't even know-"

"Kurt is only with Mercedes because he can't stay on the team otherwise; Brittany flips every which way, much like she dances, and Santana-"

"Don't talk to me about Santana," Rachel bites out, and then-is she crying? She wipes at her eyes and then turns all of that fury back on Quinn. "You've known her for a month. I've known her for eight years, and she was making a terrible mistake that could've cost her the future that she's always wanted-that we've always wanted, together, after high school. Sometimes, for the sake of the greater good, sacrifices have to be made and..."

"And what, you're the one who gets to decide who makes them? That's your call, and not hers?" Quinn says, before rolling her eyes. "I know you're a pretty big deal at Carmel, Rachel, but that doesn't make you God."

"I was a friend to Santana, even if she can't see that," Rachel says, her eyes flashing with something Quinn can't understand. "I never meant to hurt her, but what she was doing was wrong and-"

Quinn laughs. She can't help it, even though nothing about this is funny. "She was in love with someone. What can possibly be wrong about-"

"Being in love doesn't justify every single choice that we make," Rachel says, suddenly so dully that Quinn hesitates, but then Rachel's chin juts up again and she adds, "And Finn deserves to know the truth. About why you rejected him. This stands separate from my own feelings about your... orientation."

Quinn closes her eyes and rubs at her face. "I thought we were..."

"Yes. And I thought you were something that you're not. As it is …"

Rachel trails off, and Quinn honestly doesn't know what else she can say; with leaden feet, she steps away from the car door, and looks at the pavement while Rachel gets in the car and backs out of her parking space.

Ten months ago, she would've probably beaten her face in just to stop this from happening; but she doesn't have the energy, and unless she kills Rachel, it's a temporary reprieve anyway.

All she can do is stand and watch as Rachel drives off, until her phone rings and Santana says, "Sam told me what happened. You need a ride, or a hug or some shit? Maybe just some booze?"

"I need the truth," Quinn finally says, and watches as it starts to snow all around her. "About what happened, after freshman year. I think it's time you talk about it."

Santana sighs and says, "Be there in fifteen."

Chapter Text

Santana's blasting Thrice when she pulls up in her Lexus and rolls the window down, before spotting the Fairlane in the parking lot. "... you know what? That thing is a lot more likely to get jacked than my car is, so why don't we switch."

Quinn's starting to shiver a little, but she can't go back in there and get her coat; Artie and Sam will both just apologize some more and she doesn't need that, not now. Instead, she nods and watches as Santana pulls up in the space next to her, stepping out with the CD.

She'd protest, but maybe hardcore emo is kind of how she feels right now; they drive until Silhouette comes on, and with every repetition of the verses, she feels a little more sick to her stomach-because all she can see is Rachel's expression, her eyes turning from gently amused and open to so hurt that-

She bites her lip and stares out the window as they exit the city limits, and Santana pulls up at a diner out of town called Sally's.

"They do really good shakes," she says, when Quinn looks at her questioningly. "Rach and I used to um, bike out here every Saturday and hang out together. It felt... I don't know. Where else, right?"

Quinn doesn't have anything to say in response to that, and follows Santana into the old-time diner, sliding into a booth while Santana orders them two chocolate milkshakes and a basket of curly fries. She plays with the salt and pepper shakers aimlessly, and forces herself to not think. She's great at it, these days. She's been forcing herself to not think about something for at least a year and a half now.

Santana sinks down into the booth across from her heavily and shoves a shake across the table, before folding her hands together-almost like she's praying-and taking a deep breath.

"She was your best friend," Quinn supplies, because it's as good a starting point as any.

Santana nods. "Yeah. We um, both went to the same music school. My parents enrolled me because, I don't know. Doctor's kid, you know? It just sort of happened. But Rachel-she was a prodigy. Her dad was crazy about her piano playing; he's the one who got her started on it but I don't think anyone really expected her to be as good as she was. Least of all Shelby, who was just hoping for a little girl just like her. Someone who'd crave the spotlights of Broadway."

Quinn takes a careful sip of the milkshake, even though it tastes acrid to her, and then frowns. "Rachel's dad. Nobody talks about him."

"He's not around anymore. He left when she was ten," Santana says, and then sighs deeply. "That's when... I mean, the Rachel I met when I was eight was a real daddy's girl, you know? And Hiram was cool-super relaxed, compared to Shelby. So she had fun, and they weren't even really religious. But after he left, everything changed. Rachel was still my best friend, but... she also got close to God, in a way that I can't really explain, and only on Saturdays was it like my Rachel was still around, y'know?"

Quinn licks at her lips briefly, and then wonders why her first question is this: "Why did her dad leave?"

"I don't know. She-even right after it happened, and she cried for almost two days straight, she wouldn't tell me," Santana says, before narrowing her eyes. "Why do you care about any of this, anyway? I thought you just wanted to hear about what a bitch she turned into."

"Is that all you remember about her?" Quinn asks, pointedly.

Santana mumbles a thanks at their waitress and then steals a curly fry from the basket, chewing on it slowly. "No. I wish I could, sometimes, but the only reason I didn't beat her into a hospital that summer is because... I've known her since she was eight, and I keep hoping that she'll just tell her mother to go fuck herself and …. be herself again. But it hasn't happened."

Quinn waits patiently, and after a moment Santana tugs her jacket around herself a little more tightly and sinks back into the booth. "So, anyway. We still did a lot of stuff together, when she wasn't off to Bible camp or whatever, and then obviously tried out for show choir together when we got to high school. I mean, I did it to support her, mostly, and it wasn't a choice for her."

"Because of her mother."

"Yeah, Shelby … I mean, the piano was Hiram's thing, and Rachel didn't play for a long time after he left, but when she picked it back up Shelby really wasn't happy. So-she joined VA to like, make her mom happy and keep the peace at home. And, I mean, don't get me wrong-we had some great times during that first year, but there was always that idea that it wasn't just a singing competition for Rachel. It was like, the difference between her mom loving her or thinking of her as a total failure, you know?"

"That's..." Quinn says, and trails off before she can really say something to piss Santana off.

Santana smiles wryly. "Not an excuse to be such a fucking asshole, even though it sucks."

"So you and Brittany," Quinn prompts, and Santana's face contorts for the briefest of moments before she drinks some of her milkshake and then nods.

"Yeah, me and B. I mean. You're gay as a Chippendale, so I don't need to explain this to you. She's super hot. I saw her dancing once and it was like, bam, everything I thought I knew about myself was out the window. I mean, I like guys, but..."

Quinn makes a small noise, because it's probably better to keep Santana going.

"Anyway, one afternoon, Shelby like, totally goes off on her. Because she can't remember the words to La Vie Boheme, which like-are you kidding me? Normal people can't remember all the words to that song, full stop. But B missed her cue like three times, and Shelby calls her a moron and I just lose it, completely. I mean-she's not stupid. She's just not … y'know. Good at school, and anyway, what the fuck kind of teacher calls a kid..."

It's impossible to not share in Santana's outrage, even if in Quinn's head, it's immediately paired with visions of Rachel being told that she's not good enough, that she'll never be good enough, and... God, why does she care at all? Rachel's in some community center right now, destroying what is left of her reputation at her old school and...

Santana snaps her fingers in front of Quinn's face and says, "If you're going to make me talk about this, you better at least..."

"Sorry. It's been a long day," Quinn says, and rubs at her face. "Anyway, I'm guessing we're at the part where like the best knight in shining armor, you get reamed out by Shelby but Brittany appreciates what you've done for her and then there's kissing."

Santana snorts. "Hardly. Britt told me that the only thing worse than being called dumb was people thinking that she couldn't stand up for herself, and then told me I could make it up to her by taking her bowling that Friday."

Quinn laughs unwillingly. "Man. How hard did you fall?"

Santana smiles, clearly lost in at least part of a memory, and then sighs. "Yeah."

"And it was a secret," Quinn says.

Santana nods. "Oh, yeah. I mean. VA money has always been Christian conservative; and it's pretty low commitment, in general. I mean, Shelby's a fantastic manager. We sing a few gospel pieces over Christmas, and do some Switchfoot at a show choir competition, and all of a sudden the money comes pouring in. I don't think anyone had really ever considered about what was expected from us until... Kurt came to a rehearsal wearing sequined skinny jeans, one day."

The visual is abruptly hilarious, and Quinn sort of laughs before just picking at the fries for a moment. "God. I can't imagine..."

"Well, let's just say that he disappeared out back with Shelby for twenty minutes, and afterward we all pretended that it had never happened. He started 'dating' Mercedes shortly after that, and..." Santana shrugs. "I tried to talk about it to Rachel once, but I mean, geez. You know what she's like when she's stuck on something. I ended up just leaving her house and not talking to her for three days. And that was before Britt and I were..."

"Just call it dating, Santana. God."

Santana puffs out her cheeks for a second and then smiles softly. "Yeah. I mean, that was what it was. And I didn't care it was a secret; neither did she. It sort of made it more special, you know? Everyone thought we just hung out a lot and she helped me with choreo, or whatever. It was totally fine."

"Until the summer."

Santana's expression clouds over abruptly again. "Rachel was supposed to be at Bible camp for another weekend," she finally says, after a long pause during which Quinn awkwardly finishes her milkshake. "But, Shelby pulled her out early to go and meet with some admissions people at Tisch and... then they came back. She was so excited about the meeting that she came straight to mine, and... well, I mean. We'd been friends since we were eight. She didn't need to ring the doorbell, and the worst I could be doing in my bedroom was smoking-which like, yeah, talk about a headache-inducing lecture from hell, but..."

"She walked in on you," Quinn exhales, and then slumps down on her bench. "Um. Doing..."

"It," Santana says, without elaborating.

"Christ," Quinn says.

"I would've given chase if not for, y'know, being buck naked, and instead just ended up calling her a million and one times, but... it was too late. Monday morning, Shelby stops by my house to talk about next year's competition, as far as my parents know... and..." Santana winces visibly and pushes her half-finished milkshake towards the center of the table before running a hand through her hair. "It was simple. Either I stopped seeing Brittany, or we'd both get thrown off."

Quinn wants to question that statement, but she can't. Not after what else she's seen of Shelby Corcoran, or what she's heard about her from Kurt. "You told her to go to hell, obviously."

"Well, yeah. And she pointed out to me that while I could probably take my chances with her, I had to remember who my partner in crime was. And what Brittany's chances of ever following me anywhere would be if I ruined her chances for a music and dance scholarship."

Quinn swallows hard, and doesn't even realize her eyes have welled up until Santana glares at her a little and says, "Jesus Christ, can you spare me the sentimental bullshit?"

"Sorry," Quinn says, discreetly wiping at her eyes. "It's pregnancy hormones."

Santana laughs after a second. "Fuck off; you don't have those months after pregnancy."

"No, normal people don't, but I don't really know how to explain what's going on with me," Quinn admits, shakily, and then looks directly at Santana. "You bailed, didn't you."

"Quit the team, because-what the fuck was I going to do? Break B's heart and then sing and dance with her every day for three years? Not to mention that … I'd have to sing with Rachel, and I can't honestly promise that I wouldn't have killed her, last year, if she'd even so much as tried to talk to me."

"Why didn't you ever tell Brittany?" Quinn finally asks, in a tired voice.

"Because I was afraid she'd say that … it wasn't worth it. Not being together. She's like that, sometimes. You know? All in, without thinking about the future, and... fuck, Quinn, I can't be responsible for something like that. Not even now. I definitely couldn't when we were like, not even sixteen and barely together and..."

"Would you have done things differently if you'd known you'd still be in love with her now?" Quinn asks, staring at the table for a second before glancing back up at Santana.

Santana's eyes darken and she visibly swallows, before looking away. "I don't know."

There isn't much else to say, after that, and Quinn plays with her napkin and watches as Santana shifts the curly fries around in the basket, before finally looking back at her.

"Whatever this is shit you have going on right now, where … you think Rachel can be saved, or whatever, or Shelby can't actually be this bad, or everything will fix itself if we just hug it out-forget about it, Quinn."

"I don't..."

"You just had a fucking fight with a girl who thinks that...something that is at the heart of you is immoral and disgusting, and who is now off to out you to a guy you had a baby with without your permission, and you're sitting here feeling sorry for her."

It stings, mostly because it's true and it makes her feel like an idiot.

"I know that she's done terrible things, but... she regrets them, Santana."

"Has she said that to you? Like-out loud? I'm real fucking sorry I destroyed my best friend's life and by the way, that whole gay thing, that's a-okay with me too?" Santana asks, sharply.

Quinn feels her shoulders slump. "I don't think she can say it that explicitly. I mean. Look at her life. You hate Shelby, but you don't have to live with her, okay?"

Santana works her jaw for a moment and then says, "If you're actually saying that I should show her some fucking sympathy-"

"No," Quinn says, immediately, her fingernail scratching at the edge of the table. "What she did to you was awful, and undeserved, and … she needs to apologize to you. But she's not wrong, about what she said about me today."

"Bullshit. Who you're out to is your business, not hers."

Quinn smiles faintly. "It doesn't quite work that way when … Beth is his baby, too, Santana."

"Beth?" Santana asks, carefully, and that icicle inside of Quinn's chest makes its presence known so abruptly that she almost swoons with the pain.

"Um... that's..." she manages, before finally taking a shuddering breath. "I can't talk about this, I'm sorry, I just-"

"Hey, it's okay," Santana says, reaching for her hand across the table and squeezing for a second. "You don't have to."

"Well, you did, but-"

"Because I was ready to, okay? So-whenever you are, I'm here," Santana says, before groaning and rolling her eyes. "Can we … stop being so gay together now and talk about how we're going to beat the crap out of Berry, or something?"

"Santana," Quinn says, a little warningly. "We're not..."

Santana grins weakly, but it's something. "Bitch, please. If I was going to kick her ass I would've done it years ago. But seriously, stay away from Rachel, okay? She's not worth it. I know she's a great singer, and now that she's not addicted to plaid anymore, I guess she's all right looking, but she's also the most self-serving and sanctimonious asshole on the planet."

"I know that. Why are you telling me this?" Quinn protests, and Santana shoots her a knowing look.

"Only girl I've ever been this stupid over, I've also fingered to within an inch of my life, so-"

"Oh my God," Quinn exclaims, covering her ears.

Santana laughs and flicks a curly fry at her. "I'm kidding. Because c'mon. You're not stupid enough to actually have fucking feelings for a prude, Christian straight girl who hates your guts for a wide variety of reasons. I mean, there's being a masochist and then there's like, hugging a grenade."

Quinn shuts up, before she can do or say anything else to encourage this line of thinking, and after a second Santana just slaps the table.

"Puck's got a six pack of Mike's Hard waiting at his, and I figure it's time we teach you how to play Call of Duty. Murdering some shit will make you feel better than any conversation can, just trust me on that."

"Okay," Quinn says, because at least Santana's done insinuating that she likes Rachel Berry.

It's the most insane thing she's ever been told, honestly.

It's just not possible.

...

It's not possible, because the next day, Rachel is back to pretending Quinn basically doesn't exist, and it's almost a relief at this point-to be ignored, rather than to be stuck in this space that isn't really friendly and isn't really antagonistic either.

Things aren't that simple with anyone else, though; Sam and Artie apologize profusely until she has to basically yell at them that they can stop now, and then there's Jesse, beckoning her over to a lunch table-occupied only by him.

She doesn't even really know why she's walking over. He's definitely also not her friend, but he's got his arm slung over the seat next to his and looks very relaxed and-whatever. She needs a break from Santana as well, because Santana gets all pissy about the sympathetic looks directed at her that she can't control, and at least Jesse is kind of a predictable .. jerk.

Her tray hits the table and she sits down across from him. He raises his eyebrow at her and says, "Time of the month?"

"I don't know how you get girls to sleep with you," she says, shaking her head and digging into an apple.

He smiles after a moment. "How are you, really?"

"I didn't realize you cared."

"I don't; just trying to get the opposing perspective on what was going on with Rachel last night, and I thought you'd be as good a source to try as any."

Her teeth crunch through the apple hard and she chews on it for a long moment, before swallowing and shrugging. "I don't know what to tell you."

"Well, she seems to think you're a lesbian and that your ex-boyfriend deserved to know that that's why you gave up your baby..."

"Yeah, there is basically zero correlation between those two events," she interjects, and Jesse smiles at her again.

"Rachel is … okay. You didn't hear this from me, but-has anyone told you about her father?"

She doesn't want to care. She doesn't want to know anything else about the girl, but there are still so many things that don't make sense that it's almost inevitable, the way she sighs and admits, "Just that he left."

"Yeah. The fact that he left to be with another man is the part that she plays pretty close to her chest," Jesse adds, calmly.

Quinn almost drops her apple. "Shit. You're-"

"Deadly serious. I only know because I walked in on this gigantic fight between her and Shelby once, about whether or not she could accompany me on piano when I did Bohemian Rhapsody in our sophomore year, and..." Jesse whistles low. "It's a mess."

"He-wait. So her dad left because he's gay, and that's why Rachel hates..."

"I don't think hate is the right word. She's just... not gotten the best impression of the gay lifestyle, and a lot of that is because Shelby's kept this under wraps. I mean, it's pretty embarrassing; a former Broadway talent who gives up the stage to marry, for love, only to then get left behind with a kid for another man." Jesse pauses and then smiles. "Someone should write a musical."

He's such a jerk; she glares at him, hard, and after a second he holds up his hands in apology.

"Sorry. I suppose if you are gay, it's less of a punchline."

"Why are you telling me this? Really?" Quinn finally asks, staring at the mystery meat for a moment and then shoving her lunch tray to the side.

Jesse sobers considerably and leans forward. "Because I was there to pick up the pieces after her friendship with Santana crashed and burned-"

"That's a very generous way of describing what she did."

Jesse rolls his eyes at her. "She was a fifteen year old girl confronted with something that she had been told for years and years was wrong. She panicked, and talked to her mother, about how to make Santana not turn into her father. She's not the one who decided to issue Santana with an ultimatum, and …"

Quinn sighs and rubs at her cheek. "Yeah. Even so."

"Rachel's not perfect, but … she likes you, Quinn, even if she has no idea how to reconcile that with the rest of her beliefs. What she needs is a friend who will force her to reconsider those. Not someone else who will turn their back on her and-"

Quinn scoffs and shakes her head. "I'm not her friend."

"Maybe not by your standard, but you're one of maybe three people in this school who aren't too afraid of her mother to talk to her," Jesse says, with a gentle shrug. "That means something."

When she looks away from him, her eyes find Rachel almost immediately-and they stare at each other for a long moment until Quinn forces herself to look back at Jesse.

"I'm sorry, but you're delusional if you think I have any desire to ever talk to her again after what she did yesterday." Her voice shakes a little on the sentence, but it comes out clean anyway, and Jesse's face falls for a microsecond. Then, he straightens and reaches for his own tray.

"It's a shame."

"What is?"

"That you're not as willing to be different as you make yourself out to be," he says, before getting up and carrying his tray over to the VA table and sliding down next to Rachel, pressing a kiss to her cheek.

She has no idea why the sight of them makes her chest hurt, but it takes her exactly two more minutes to get out of the cafeteria and head to the band room.

...

Her own song for Holly's concert project is still undecided. She has a few random ideas floating through her mind, but nothing that really speaks to her the way that the Bieber song had to Sam. Artie's reworking a Jay-Z song a jazz ensemble performance, and it's actually really impressive, but it's also not her thing.

She doesn't know what Rachel's working on, but suspects it's a modern take on something from Broadway-before remembering that Rachel likes art punk and modern emo and … honestly, she doesn't know her at all. Despite spending more time with her than any other person at Carmel who isn't in the band, she has no idea what's going through Rachel's mind a lot of the time.

Except that... Rachel's father is gay. And left them, when she was ten.

She doesn't even know what part of that stings; the part where nobody should have to put up with a parent disappearing like that, or the part where Shelby apparently blamed it all on 'the gay' rather than accept that her marriage was doomed from the start, or the part where Rachel feels so terribly rejected over it that she's been lashing out at people and keeping them at a distance ever since.

Is this what Beth is going to feel like, because of the choices she made?

Her iPod is on shuffle, and she clicks past Black Flag and the Ataris before finally pausing on a Stars song she doesn't know very well-they'd been more Amy's thing than her own, and she remembers hours of gently arguing about whether or not Metric or Stars were the better Canadian alternative band. She's always liked Metric, but...

The lyrics of the song she's currently listening to-and she glances at her iPod, only to find out that it's Your Ex-Lover Is Dead-are the first ones she's heard in ages that actually feel like they apply to her. In fact, they wrench something loose in her chest and she bites down on her fist as the singers sing about what is apparently a failed relationship but the words are entirely about giving up on something despite loving it.

She doesn't even realize she's crying until Sam appears in her peripheral vision with a concerned look on his face.

He pulls out one of her ear buds and sits down next to her, shoving it in his ear and she restarts the song automatically.

"I'll need you to sing it with me," she says, her voice cracked and exhausted, and he pulls her into a one-armed hug that she sinks into.

"Of course," he says, and presses a kiss to her forehead. "It'll be okay, Quinn. I mean, now it's all out there, right? No more secrets."

She nods against his neck and doesn't tell the truth, which is that it's entirely possible that there's one more that she really can't talk about right now.

Rachel likes her, and...

God help her, she's drawn to Rachel like they're opposing magnetic poles.

When they crash together, it's going be awful.

...

Holly calls them in for a check-up session on Friday, and she follows Rachel out of the AV room towards the band room, noting with some regret that Rachel scans up and down the hallway quickly before heading out there.

Shelby must not know about her participation in this project, and if Quinn weren't so exhausted, she'd probably say something supportive. Like, do what you want, but it would be like telling a wall to breathe, the way Rachel gets through life.

It's harder than ever to ignore her back, even if that's the simplest thing to do, because despite their total fall-out, Rachel's giving her more freedom with the paper than ever before and they work together seamlessly.

It would all be so simple, if it wasn't all so hard. As it is, she heads after Rachel into the band room and watches as Holly sits them all down on pillows on the floor.

"So; rumor has it that there's some tension between all of you, and I thought we'd try to work through that, because nobody wants to see the next Beatles fall apart because nobody's willing to talk about Yoko, you know what I mean?"

Quinn smiles briefly and then stares at the pillow she's sitting on.

"Why so serious, kids?" Holly asks, looking at all of them in kind; nobody answers, and after a second pan and scan of the room, Holly sighs. "Okay-we'll do this the hard way. Quinn, according to the grapevine, you're gay, and Rachel, according to three years of observing you, you're not entirely comfortable with alternative sexual orientations."

Rachel sputters audibly, but doesn't manage to formulate a response. Sam laughs awkwardly and then scratches at his hair, and Artie stares at the ceilings, his hands fidgeting.

"That about covers it," Quinn finally says, because someone should say something.

"I don't..." Rachel starts, and then clams shut again.

"Here's how I feel about this; regrettable as your bigotry is, Rachel, it's also not really the point right now? Let's face it, the fact is that Quinn doesn't make music with her lady parts, and consequently who or what she's attracted to basically doesn't concern you at all," Holly says, calmly.

Quinn can't help but watch as Rachel flushes a dark shade of purple; she looks ready to start snarling, but Holly puts her hand up to get her to be quiet.

"Similarly, Quinn, no matter how repulsive you might find Rachel's religious views, they again don't affect your working relationship. I mean, the long and short of this, ladies, is that unless you're hoping to sleep with each other-"

"Oh, my God," Rachel finally stammers out, and stares at Quinn. "Why would you even suggest that I'd be interested in... have you talked to my mother about this theory or..."

Quinn blinks rapidly and then looks back at Holly, who is looking back at her with an unreadable smile.

"Of course not, Rachel; I want you two to get friendly. Getting you transferred to a convent mid-year wouldn't really help me there, would it?"

Rachel swallows hard but shuts up again, and after a second Sam sticks up his hand. "Um. Why are we here?"

"Because you're both terrified of Rachel and it's not exactly getting the right vibe going in this group either," Holly says, with a smile. "So... I thought we'd set up a little bonding exercise."

"Prayer?" Artie asks, and Quinn muffles some laughter into her hand before Rachel can get upset all over again.

"Prayer doesn't usually take place on decorative pillows," Rachel says, a little snippy, and Holly rolls her eyes.

"They're just for comfort. But-seriously, guys. This is now a safe communication zone. Okay? It's a sacred sharing circle. Whatever's said in the circle, stays in the circle."

"Okay, please don't take this the wrong way, because I respect your authority, but have you been snorting Elmer's somewhere?" Rachel asks, before glancing at Quinn. "The minute anything interesting is said, it'll be all over the school. I don't trust them."

"We don't trust you either, Rachel," Sam says, before shrugging and looking at Holly again. "How are we going to make sure that the stuff we say doesn't get spread over the entire school?"

"Easy," Holly says, smiling at them brightly. "If a single thing said in this room makes it out, you all fail band."

"You can't do that," Artie calls out, sounding shocked.

"Can, and will," Holly says, before looking at Quinn. "So, chicas and dudes-what do you say?"

"Forced bonding; my favorite," Rachel murmurs, and Quinn smiles before she can stop herself.

"I'm in," Sam says, and after a second, Artie adds, "Why not?"

Quinn finally just nods. "Not like things can get any more awkward, is it?"

"I was hoping you'd feel that way," Holly says, and whips out a list of questions that she shows them with a flourish.

At least they have something in common; they all look equally terrified, Quinn thinks, and fights the urge to nervously laugh.

...

"I sucked my thumb until I was nine," Sam says, flushing brightly.

Artie laughs a little but holds up a hand in apology and then swallows hard. "Um. Until about two years ago, we weren't sure if I'd be... functional. It was pretty terrible, to have to talk about that in front of my mom."

It stops the slightly amused laughter they've all succumbed to, and opens up the floor for Quinn, who closes her eyes and says, "The entire school found out I was pregnant because my ex-boyfriend told his best friend about the fact that I'd broken up with him, who then decided to have his back by writing pregnant slut on my locker."

Rachel's eyes are boring into hers when she opens them again, and then Rachel takes a deep breath and says, "My mother's been offering me a nose job for my birthday every year since I turned twelve. It's... supposed to be a career investment, but it doesn't exactly feel like one."

"Damn," Artie says, after a moment. "I'm sorry."

"Yeah, I mean. There's … you don't need it," Sam says, awkwardly. "I like your nose. Not... like, like your nose, but..."

Quinn takes a deep breath and says, "Your mom sucks."

Rachel looks over, and then finally ducks her head and says, "Thank you, but-there's no need to make me feel better. I know I'm not … unattractive, and that my voice will carry me through to the top."

It comes out lacking in Rachel's typical bravado, and nobody really comments on it.

Holly glances down at the list of questions she's whipped out, and says, "Biggest regret."

Sam frowns and says, "Um. I guess... not really taking my instrument more seriously sooner. I mean. I know I'm late. I should've been taking more intensive lessons and looking into conservatories or whatever, but... it's just something I love, you know?"

Artie nods and says, "I know what that's like. I mean, it's obviously not my biggest regret, but it's hard to regret an accident you don't even remember being in. I guess..." He shrugs helplessly after a moment, and then offers them a sad smile. "It is what it is, right?"

Quinn exhales shakily and says, "I slept with my ex-boyfriend because we were at a party, and my best friend-who I was in love with-told me that she was ready to lose her virginity to her boyfriend. I got really drunk, and took Finn upstairs, and … the next day, barely remembered any of it. Though I did land a pretty solid reminder." She pauses for a second and then looks directly at Rachel. "I don't regret having Beth. I wish I would've had her in different circumstances, but I don't regret that she exists."

Rachel blinks furiously for a moment and then stares directly at the ground in front of her, and says, "I regret that I'm not stronger. That I don't know how to stand up to my mother more, when she takes decisions I don't agree with. And I regret that..."

She trails off, looking desolate, and Holly clears her throat. "Happiest memory?"

"My first real guitar; a second hand Les Paul, and the minute I touched it I knew I was sold," Sam says, immediately.

"Um... finding out I was functional," Artie says, blushing furiously, and everyone chuckles for a second; Sam shoves at his shoulder but then holds out his hand with a fist-bump, and even Rachel gives him a small smile.

Quinn feels them all turn to her, and she freezes on the spot, because...

She can only think of one answer, and it's not one with a happy ending.

"Seeing her for the first time," she admits, before closing her eyes. "She was perfect. Unlike everything else in my life, she was right, and... I've never been happier. Not before, and not since then."

The room is silent for a long moment, until Rachel says, "Winning Nationals with my best friend."

Quinn and Sam exchange a quick look, and then Holly says, "There. An entire hour spent without yelling at each other. I feel like a proud parent, or at least less like I'm guarding the zoo with you guys in here."

Rachel rolls her eyes a little before Quinn can, and then they stupidly smile at each other, until Sam says, "This actually didn't suck, and um. I think we should-play something, together. Artie, you can handle basic guitar, right?"

"Yep," Artie says, and watches as Sam carries over an acoustic cut-away and his own electric-a 72 Telecaster that he's customized to within an inch of its life-before looking at Quinn and Rachel.

"Rach, this has a piano part-I hope you know it, because I know what kind of stuff you and Santana used to listen to, so..."

The casual way in which he references their friendship seems to make it okay for Rachel, who just nods and heads to the piano, her fingers trailing the keys as Quinn watches.

Sam tosses her her sticks, and she catches them before heading over to the drum kit in the room.

Holly moves to sit over in the string section, and after a second of showing Artie two chords, Sam counts them off softly.

Quinn's chest hurts the minute it's clear what Sam has in mind for them to play, and then he mouths, you sing at her, like she's even remotely capable of emulating Jeremy Enigk's voice-but he's too pitchy and nasal for Rachel by far, and the boys can't handle his high ranges, so she guesses it is up to her.

Sam smiles at Rachel next, who nods before shifting on the piano bench and-even before she starts playing, and when Quinn has barely started singing, she feels something. Like this is what's missing from Untitled Band-someone on keyboards, which would open up a world of music for them.

As it is, her voice trails through the last part of the first verse, and then Sam starts playing through the electric harmony automatically; bass lines are missing a little, but they still sound surprisingly good, and after a moment of contemplating with a frown on her face, Rachel starts compensating for the lack of depth with a piano harmony that's pretty close to perfect.

Every Shining Time You Arrive is far from her favorite Sunny Day Real Estate song-the drums are nothing compared to the drum work on Seven, which is still a little out of her range even with how good she is-but she can understand why it's the one that Sam picked.

They play through it seamlessly, before Sam calls out, "We're going to have to skip the instrumental bridge unless one of you has a harmonica somewhere" and Artie mumbles, "Whatever, it's not like my part changes" and Quinn chuckles before she can help it-but then the actual bridge starts, and she can't help but look at Rachel as she starts, because the piano break near the end has never not given her goosebumps.

As it is, she ends up staring straight into Rachel's eyes on the entire thing, until she finally reaches the key lines in the entire song: tearing me down every time you smile, every shining time you arrive-and there's that little piano harmony that gives her goosebumps every time, even on the album recording. It does so much more than that in this moment, though, and Rachel's mouth falls open a little on her last repeat of the same phrase, and...

An almost electrical current runs up her spine when they play out, and she has to look away, until finally Sam jams out a chord that signifies the end; they can hardly fade out, with all the instruments playing live the way they are.

Holly gives them a slow round of applause. "And that is what you guys need to pull of this concert. Do you see what I mean?"

Quinn nods without looking over, because-it's just too much.

She's never felt about anyone the way she did with Rachel in that twenty second count-down with her sticks still on the drums, and her voice gently soaring over Rachel's intricate piano playing.

A part of her wants to believe it's just the music, but it's not, because the part that made her almost forget the words wasn't the music. It was the almost open look on Rachel's face, and...

She didn't need know that she apparently wants to hug hand grenades. She just really didn't need that, on top of everything else that's going on, and with a quick, "Yeah, thanks" to Holly, pockets her sticks and heads out the school as fast as she can without running.

...

She cues her favorite Metric album on the way home, hoping it'll pull her out of her own head, but all it does is remind her that Metric's best songs all incorporate piano, too, and …

Her hands slam against the steering wheel at a traffic light, and she breaks at least six speed limits in getting home, but she just really wants to talk to her dad right now. He'll know how to make her sort this out, even if he can't give her answers, and she needs a starting point.

Anything to stop whatever it is she's feeling about Rachel in its tracks, because Santana's right. It can't ever go anywhere good, given who Rachel's mother is and given that it's not like she's going to stop being gay even if they do start getting along in a real way.

She's gay, and Rachel's not, and that's just going to have to be okay.

It has to, she thinks, as she pulls up on her drive and shuts off the engine, killing Emily Haines mid-lyric, and with one deep breath she's out of the car and heading up to the porch.

It's only then that she spots him, and freezes abruptly again.

"Hey," Finn Hudson says, straightening and shoving his hands in his pockets. "Can we talk?"

Chapter Text

"No," Quinn says, before she can stop herself, but panic is knitting a path up her throat and the answer is actually no. She can't deal with him. Not now. "Finn, this is not a good time, I'm-"

His jaw tightens a little and he sits back down. "No, I guess a good time for you would've been never."

She's about two seconds away from bursting into tears. "What do you want from me? What-"

"I'm not mad," he says, emphatically, and she chokes on the air still in her lungs, before weakly leaning against the porch rail. "Quinn, seriously, can you just..."

She takes two precarious steps and sits down next to him on the front steps, and watches as he plays with the fingers on his left hand and then takes a deep breath.

"I'm not mad. It explains a lot, actually, and I just wish you'd told me."

"How?" she asks, her throat narrow as a straw as the word bursts out. "How do you tell someone that..."

He shrugs and rubs at his face. "I don't know, but... I mean. With everything with you and Amy, and how you never seemed to really want to make out with me and stuff-I don't know. I just feel like I'm an idiot for not knowing."

"Finn, this isn't your fault," she says.

He sighs deeply and then chews on his lip for a second before saying, "It wasn't Dave. Who did that to your locker."

She closes her eyes. "I know."

"I was just so mad at you. Not because of the baby but because-"

"I just didn't know what to do, Finn. I wasn't ready to... to tell people that I was gay. I didn't want to hurt you like that, either, … but you wanted us to be a family and it was never going to happen."

"Yeah, that's what Rachel said," he says, and then looks over with an apologetic look on his face. "Sorry. I mean. Kurt says you two kind of hate each other but-"

She bursts into tears without warning and he awkwardly slings an arm around her back.

"I'm sorry," she breathes, ragged, and he pulls her in a little closer and says, "Me too-but seriously, can we actually talk about this now because..."

She nods, and guesses he feels it because seconds later he's sort of getting her to her feet again and then saying, "I swear I didn't do anything".

"I know, son," her dad says, and then she cries so hard she can't hear anything else they say to each other at all.

...

It's the most awkward family meeting of all time. Finn is clutching at a mug of hot chocolate like it's going to give him the answers to life itself, and her mother is cleaning a kitchen surface that is already sparkling. Quinn herself feels weak enough to fall off the kitchen chairs, but her dad gives her an encouraging smile and then says, "Okay. So."

"So... um. My friend Rachel, who I know from the Lima Single Parenting Group that runs like, once a month over at the community center on Belmont-she pulled me aside after the meeting yesterday and tells me that um, Quinn is..."

"You can say it, Finn. It's not a bad thing," her dad says, calmly.

Finn's cheeks redden, but then he says, "I mean-I don't know. Are you a lesbian? Is that the right way to put it?"

Quinn freezes on the spot and then stares back at her own mug, and the marshmallows slowly sinking into it. "Um. I guess. I prefer gay. I think."

"Yeah, Kurt too. I mean, not that I'd ever call Kurt a lesbian, but-"

"Wait," she says, sharply, and stares at him-in the same way that used to make him cower back when they were dating. "You know Kurt Hummel's gay?"

Finn grins unexpectedly and says, "Well, yeah, I mean, I'm not super perceptive but come on. Plus, he told me. He was worried that his dad would have issues with it the way that Rachel's mom would, but his dad's kind of awesome."

She swallows hard. "You guys... all talk about this? The three of you?"

Finn shrugs. "Not all of us at the same time, but yeah, we talk about stuff. Single parenting group is weird. I mean. I was ten when Rach and Shelby first started coming and Shelby was like, seriously messed up. I mean, she really loved Rachel's dad, you know? For the first two years, I kind of got the feeling that they blamed each other for him leaving, but like. Now they're just sort of... this unit. It's what happens. I'm the same way with my mom."

"Except your mom isn't a crazy Christian homophobe."

"A what?"

"She means that Rachel's mother is very uncomfortable with gay people," her dad supplies.

Finn frowns. "Oh. I don't know, I mean, I don't talk to Shelby, really. She tried to get me to date Rachel for a while two years ago, but then um, Jesse came along and-man, I really hate that guy, you know?"

Quinn laughs tiredly. "Yeah. Me too."

"Anyway, so this Wednesday, she... she just said that she thought I should know. I was kind of pissed at first,but like. Only because you could've told me," Finn said. "I wanted to go talk to you right then but um, Kurt said I shouldn't because what Rachel did was like a violation or something and if I wanted to ask you stuff I should be calmer."

She can't even formulate words anymore. Alternate Universe Wednesdays apparently expand long and far beyond the scope of the Carmel band room, but where to start with her questions?

Finn looks between her and her dad for a moment and then down at his cocoa again. "And I mean, I don't care. We've been broken up for ages now, but... I'd like to talk about... um."

"Beth," Quinn says, and looks at him hesitantly. "I named her Elizabeth Carole … and her last name isn't Fabray or Hudson, obviously, but..."

She watches as Finn bites down hard on the inside of his cheek and then nods a few times. "That's-really pretty. The people who have her... they're going to keep it?"

She nods. "Yeah. It's... they agreed. When they met her."

Finn's cheek muscles flex for a moment and then he looks at Quinn's dad. "Does... do any of you have any pictures of her?"

Quinn watches her dad watching her as she gets even fainter than she already feels,and like something that has been keeping her together is now rapidly unfurling in her chest, slipping like a ribbon through her hands.

"Quinn hasn't been ready to see the pictures we have, again, but the couple who adopted her have been sending a picture a month and I've been keeping them in a photo album."

The hopeful look on Finn's face makes her feel like a terrible person all over again, and she watches as he opens and closes his mouth a few times, until her dad finally reaches across the table and says, "It's okay if you want to see them. Just ask."

It's that easy for Finn.

It's not for her, and she sits like a statue as they leave the kitchen together to go and browse through a photo album she doesn't know if she'll ever be ready to look at.

Her mother puts a hand on her shoulder a moment later. "Honey, what is going on with you and this Rachel girl?"

Quinn bites down on her lip hard and says, "She's... I thought she hated gay people. I thought she... she was going to try to destroy me, now that she knew. She really hurt her best friend, a few years ago, and her mother's..."

"So she's made some mistakes, and now people won't give her a chance to make things better?" her mother asks. It's without a single insinuation, but it doesn't stop Quinn from stiffening abruptly and saying, "I'm nothing like her."

"You don't have to be like her to understand what she's going through."

Quinn watches the marshmallows bob up and down in her untouched cocoa and then rests her head in her hands. "I don't know why I care. I really don't. Our best times together, she's been civil to me and that's it. I … she's not like Amy. She doesn't look like Amy, but-"

She feels her mother sit down in the chair that Finn vacated and hears her echo, "But..."

"But when she's... when I hear her engage with music, it's like the entire world around me stops and I just want to go over there and make her better. Because the things she can do with her voice,and with her instrument-they're so beautiful, but every part of her hurts and …"

Her mouth clamps shut, before she can say anything else that she's not ready to say out loud, and she slowly relaxes into the hand rubbing circles on her back.

"God works in mysterious ways, Quinn," her mother finally says.

"What, like... after knocking me up, he's decided to grace me with the gift of falling in love with a girl who is not only straight, but also has these serious hang-ups about gay people and..." she says, before sighing and twisting her head sideways, until she can look at her mom. "I don't need this right now. I'm barely hanging on to begin with. She … what she did to Santana, Mom, and the way Santana still hurts over it now... I don't know if I could deal with it."

Her mom's eyes are shiny when she looks back, and then she looks away. "This Rachel girl... she deals with her problems through music?"

Quinn nods tersely. "I think so. I mean, she... every other day, during fifth period, she goes to the auditorium and plays things there, just for herself, and... I don't think they're random song choices. I think... she's working through stuff, through the piano."

"So why don't you do the same thing?" her mom says, gently.

"Because I don't play the piano," Quinn counters, with a weak smile.

"Baby-"

"I don't know. I'm just... I guess that … I think that if I started, I wouldn't be able to stop until there was … nothing left."

"Who says that's a bad thing?" her dad asks, from behind her.

She shrugs and leans back into him when he steps in behind her. "I'm just … scared. Of what's left, after that."

Her dad presses a kiss to the top of her head. "Well. Emptiness, at first. But when you get past that, there will be new things for you to engage with; space in your heart that you don't have now, because it's so heavy."

She says nothing for a long time, and then turns when Finn clears his throat. "Uh, I just wanted...to ask, if … can I maybe scan some of these? And..."

Her mother gets up quickly and rummages around a junk drawer in the china cabinet, before handing Finn a small folder-over envelope and saying, "You don't have to, Finn. They've always sent copies."

"Oh," he exhales, and she watches as he very carefully tucks the envelope into his jacket pocket before looking at her. "Quinn, she's like... really beautiful. I mean. She looks like you, which is good, I don't know how I'd feel about having a girl that's like-my height, but..."

She chuckles weakly and says, "When I was … before she was born, I used to pray that she'd get your personality and my looks."

He smiles a little at that. "Um. Can I call you? Next month, maybe, when you get another picture?"

The urge to say no is overwhelming, but her dad's hand is tight on her shoulder, and instead she manages a weak nod.

"Okay," he says, and scuffs his toe on the laminate for a moment before saying, "And uh, I really don't care about... the gay thing, okay? Kurt and Rachel were both pretty sure that I couldn't have made you that way, but then they started fighting about whether or not you had a choice about acting on it and it's like-well, I don't know. If you think girls are hot, then I don't think you have a choice, right? So..."

"Thanks," she says, her voice miniscule, but she means it-so much. "And I'm sorry. For shutting you out."

"It's okay. My mom likes to say that I can um, start judging you when I have to carry around a watermelon in my stomach for like, 9 months. So never, basically." He shrugs a little and then sticks out his hand for Quinn's dad to shake. "Thank you too, sir, I mean. For the pictures and stuff."

Her dad smiles a little and says, "Drive safely, Finn."

Finn nods and pulls a wool hat over his head and then disappears, and Quinn exhales slowly and steadily when the door slams shut behind him.

"You know, we could've done a lot worse as far as sons-in-law go," her dad says, and her mom chuckles; then, he looks down at Quinn and adds, "But somehow, I get the feeling you've got your sights set a little higher than a sweet and affable doofus."

She laughs weakly and says, "God. I wish that was my type. I'd start seeing Sam and..."

"When you're ready, I'd like to hear about her," her dad says, with one final squeeze, and then disappears down the hallway, whistling some Creedence.

Quinn almost feels like she can breathe again, pouring the cold cocoa down the sink.

Almost.

...

Christmas vacation is coming on soon, but it doesn't feel like a break from anything, because it's not like the issues that are making her feel so destroyed are going to go away just because she's not setting foot in Carmel anymore.

The AV room is back to what it was before: people silently working side by side, and Rachel occasionally deigning to acknowledge her presence by asking her to pass the stapler. It's not hostile, but it's also nothing like Alternate Universe Wednesdays, and some part of Quinn is dying to grab her by the shoulders and shake her, just to force her to explain what the hell she's actually trying to do.

Kurt Hummel, she's even more confused about, but she doesn't ever have any reason to be talking to him and breaching the Vocal Adrenaline circle is like a suicide run. She's not that desperate for answers; not when at the back of her mind is the idea of that photo album, and the faint tremor of a feeling that she needs to be looking at it.

The only times when she feels like she's accomplishing anything is when she, Sam and Artie are working on rearranging that Stars song she found by accident a week ago. It's already orchestral, but what she wants is to strip it down to its barest essentials of instruments, and after a few days of negotiating, she concludes that she will keep one violin, the piano, the acoustic guitar and soft drums-brushes, rather than sticks-while she and Sam sing over them.

They're basically ready to start actually trying to play it in the week before they break, but... they need their pianist, and she's not ready to talk to Rachel about this song and what it means to her.

Cowardly, she sends Sam out to fetch her, and only looks over when she's sure that Rachel's scanning over the sheet music they've left for her. Tina has joined them, because it's not like she can ask Santana to come and play the violin for them, but Tina jokes about her Asian parents and their expectations and she watches with a bit of a smile as Sam blushes, nearly trips over the amp cord on the way back to his seat, and then clears his throat, looking at her.

"Okay," she says, taking a deep breath and closing her eyes momentarily. "This-is going to sound weird, because I'm sure all of you know the song, and it's about seeing someone you were in a relationship with years later and not really even remembering them."

Artie nods, pushing his glasses up on his nose. "You're a little young to be singing about it like that, though."

She nods hesitantly, and looks at Sam. "Yeah. That's not... what I hear, when I hear this song. There are a lot of lines here about... giving up something that you had because it's just not meant to be for you, and..."

Rachel murmurs something unintelligible, and she forces herself to ignore it completely; this isn't about whatever is going on with them.

"This song is about Beth," she says, finally, before glancing at the floor for a moment. "I think.. maybe you'll understand once we start singing."

Tina gives her an encouraging smile. "I think it's … actually really brave, you know. That you'll sing about something so personal in front of an audience."

Quinn shrugs a little helplessly. "I guess. I don't know. Can we just..." and she motions with the drum brush, before glancing at Sam, who counts Tina off gently with his fingers.

They've rearranged most of the string instruments to be replaced with Sam's guitar work, and so he's mimicking a cello for a moment, with a small smile on his face as Artie takes notes on what sounds good and what doesn't. When she looks over at Rachel, there's a small frown knotted on her forehead as she reads ahead on the sheet music, before holding up her hand.

"This is too sparse," she finally says, in a tone brooking no argument. "I … can't pretend to understand how you feel, Quinn, but from an audience angle, I think we're attempting to touch them, not make them uncomfortable."

Quinn bites back her first reaction, which is to tell Rachel to find someone else's life to meddle in, when it's clear that she's not trying to be an asshole.

"What do you suggest?" Artie asks, glancing up at her.

"Piano chasing the string section-it'll be fine throughout most of the verses, because the strings mostly drop off when the singing commences. I can..." Rachel closes her mouth and then looks at Quinn so intently that Quinn almost recoils, without wanting to. "Do you trust me?"

"God, no," she says, before she can stop herself.

A second later, Sam starts laughing and then flicks his pick at her. "Jesus, Quinn. Way to be honest."

"With the music," Rachel asks, but-she doesn't look particularly upset. The look on her face is a little self-deprecating, and it's...

Quinn flushes violently when she realizes the word flashing through her mind is cute, and that's why she says, "Oh, with the music, yeah, of course. I mean, you're a prodigy, I don't even know what you're doing at this school because you should be touring the country like some sort of like, teenaged Tori Amos or something, you know?"

Rachel blinks at her a few times and then tucks a strand of her hair behind her ear, before fixing her headband. "Um. Thank you, I think. I can't say I'm a great Tori Amos fan, but-"

"Wait, seriously?" Tina says, raising her eyebrows. "Her first three albums are ingenious, Rachel."

"She's a little to... sacrilegious for my tastes," Rachel admits, causing the room to fall silent.

Quinn smiles after a second. "How about a teenaged Ben Folds, then?"

Without so much as a pause, Rachel starts softly playing the melody in Brick, before smirking at her a little. "I can live with that."

Quinn fumbles her brushes and clears her throat. "Yeah, okay. Way to rub it in, genius. God. Play what you want. I'm sure it'll be better than whatever Sam and I managed to put on paper."

Sam looks like he's about a second away from bursting into laughter again, but when she glares at him, he sobers and just gently raises his eyebrows at her.

"Let's do this, then," she says, and counts Tina off again.

...

She forgets about the... whatever that was-the mildly flirtatious tone of that half-conversation with Rachel as soon as Sam starts singing, and instead just stares straight at her drum kit and softly patterns out a gently beat. When he breathes out the last line-and all of the time you thought I was sad, I was trying to remember your name-and Tina starts playing the string melody again, Rachel trails behind her, a few keys lower.

It's beautiful, and Quinn smiles faintly before sucking in as much air as she can.

This verse is the one that gets to her, and she can't look at anything when she starts singing.

This scar is a fleck on my porcelain skin
Tried to reach deep but you never got in
And now you're outside me, you see all the beauty

And-then she almost loses it because Rachel, without prompting, gently harmonizes on repent all your sin. It adds more depth to the song than is already there-and then Sam is back with her, looking at her encouragingly.

Nothing but time and a face that you'll lose
I chose to feel it, and you couldn't choose
I'll write you a postcard, I'll send you the news
From the house down the road
From real love

They all fall silent, including Rachel's key work, as Tina's violin signals in the bridge. Then, without discussing, even Artie chimes in on the breakdown.

She believes every second of the words-live through this, and you won't look back-every time they sing them; and on the last run, she has to look at Rachel, who sings the off-harmony and slopes it down beautifully, and almost smiles at her before playing them back into the final verse.

There's one thing I have to say, so I'll be brave
You were what I wanted, I gave what I gave
I'm not sorry I met you
I'm not sorry it's over
I'm not sorry there's nothing to save

The original composition pounds to a climax on there, but Quinn and Sam agreed that it should waver out like a lullaby, softly overlapping harmonies until the final run of that melody on Tina's violin-now accompanied by soft, pedalled chords from Rachel's piano.

Artie wheels over as soon as they're done and pulls up his sweater, until she's looking at his sleeve in confusion.

"You're crying," he says, gently, and she wipes off her face with the edges of his shirt, grateful she's not wearing much make-up and even more grateful that nobody else is saying anything.

Until Tina finally says, "That was amazing."

"The variety in this concert is going to be awesome," Sam adds, still very quietly, and Quinn lowers Artie's arm with a soft smile before Sam looks over at Rachel, who hasn't moved from the piano. "Do you-have you decided what you're going to do yet?"

Rachel tears her eyes up from the keys softly, eyelashes fluttering rapidly before she nods, just once. "Yeah."

"And?" Artie asks.

Rachel smiles a little sadly. "Pressure."

Sam immediately starts strumming out a few chords and then raises his eyebrows. "That Pressure? The Paramore song?"

Rachel nods, her lips pressed together tightly.

"Good choice," Quinn finally says, when nobody else will say anything-probably because the only obvious thing to say is, so, you have some issues with your mom, huh. "I mean, uh. I really like that song and it's simple enough to allow for a lot of experimentation. That's good. I was expecting you to like, bust out some Relient K or something."

"O, thanks, that's not at all reductive," Rachel says, rolling her eyes. "You know, technically, Paramore are a Christian band. They're just not boring, hence why nobody paints them with the brand."

Quinn doesn't even know why she's smiling but she is. "Christian, huh. What gave it away-Hallelujah? Miracle? Or the live Miracle outro, which, by the way, if you've never heard-"

Rachel rolls her eyes, and starts playing it on piano without prompting, and then starts singing and-

The air lodges in Quinn's throat as Rachel loses herself in the music. Watching Hayley Williams sing this live in Cleveland a few years ago was already an out-of-body experience, in that it felt more like watching an exorcism than a musical performance, but Rachel seems to be feeling it even more, and the entire room is deadly silent while she sings.

The only words in her head are I'm fucked when Rachel looks right at her as she sings the last, I know that you're already all of these things.

"Praise Jesus," Artie says, before snapping his fingers a few times and then finger-gunning at Rachel, who grins a little. "Damn, Rachel. I can't wait until you're on a stage somewhere and I can say, yeah, I went to high school with that girl; she's tight."

Rachel's grin widens and Quinn feels her heart skip a beat. "Tight, huh?"

"I was going to go with the bomb," Sam says.

"What stopped you-the fact that this isn't 1993?" Quinn asks, dryly.

Tina laughs, as Sam glares at her and slowly flips her off.

"Well-maybe, someday, you can all come see me on Broadway," Rachel finally says, and-God, she sounds so hopeless about the prospect that Quinn's almost out of her seat before she remembers that Alternate Universe Wednesdays aside, they're not even really on friendly terms with each other.

What is she really thinking-that they can just hug it out and everything will be great?

"Yeah, maybe," she says, and then gets up from behind the drums. "Anyway. Um. Thanks for today, guys. I really appreciate it. I think it'll be great, live."

She's almost out the door already when she feels a hand on her shirt, and stops walking abruptly.

Rachel's looking at her with an inscrutable expression, before lowering her eyes and saying, "Record it for her."

"I don't even..." Quinn says, and Rachel looks back up at her with the most regretful expression she's ever seen on another person.

"If were your daughter, I would love to have a reminder like this. Of how much you obviously care about her."

Her heart splinters on the spot, and she feels something else break as well. "God-what is wrong with you?"

Rachel takes a step backwards, her hand falling away from Quinn's shirt. "What do you-"

"I can't handle this, Rachel. I can't-what the fuck, one week you're at my throat, scrawling shit on my locker or filling it with dirt, and the next you're acting like we're friends or like you care about me even though I'm this filthy gay and you think I'm going to hell. What do you want from me?" she snaps.

A tortured look passes over Rachel's face, until she takes another step backwards and reaches for her bag. "Nothing. I don't want anything from you."

All five people in the room can see right through the lie, but Quinn knows she's not the only one who can't see beyond it for the life of her, and so before Rachel can say anyhting else, she just shakes her head and heads out the room.

...

Three days later, when term officially ends, she's pulling up into a parking spot at Burt Hummel's garage, and takes a deep breath before heading inside.

Really, she's just there to buy a massive can of turtle wax for her dad for Christmas, but when she sees Kurt doing some homework at a table in the back, she doesn't even hesitate before walking over to him.

He looks up in surprise, but hides it well when she leans against the desk.

"To what do I owe the dubious pleasure?" he asks, but … she's so tired, of all the crap.

"I wanted to say thanks," she says, and now he can't hide his surprise.

"For?"

"What you said to Finn."

Kurt's face cycles through about five expressions before finally settling on indifference. He crosses his legs and says, "I don't know what you mean."

"Yes, you do," she says, softly, and then lowers her face right next to his ear. "And I'm not here to tell you that you need to come out, or that I'm going to tell people about you; I really just wanted to say thanks, because if you'd left him with Rachel, I can't even begin to imagine what he would've thought about …"

"Gay people," Kurt says, thinly.

"Yeah," she says, and straightens again. "I know we're not going to be friends or anything, Kurt-"

"Not unless you clean up your wardrobe considerably, anyway," Kurt says, dryly.

She rolls her eyes. "All I mean is, … I think we're even."

"I tagged your locker, you know," he says, after a moment, looking straight at her. She kind of respects him for it. "I got the idea from Finn, obviously, who feels terrible about what he did-and it felt like … the only way I could prove to Rachel that I wasn't..."

"What, succumbing to my terrible influence?"

He just sort of shrugs. "Life is all about alliances and choices."

"It's not if you're interested in being happy."

Kurt does avert his eyes at that point. "I'd be amenable to a truce, throughout the remainder of high school. You've obviously never done anything to me personally, and while I refuse to lick Jesse St. James' heels on command, I don't see any need to continue this feud."

"I'd offer to shake on it-"

"But your paws are probably covered in grease, so no thank you," Kurt says, primly.

"Do you know where the turtle wax is?" she asks, and Kurt jerks a thumb over his shoulder automatically. "Thanks."

"Hey, Quinn?" Kurt asks, as she starts walking in the direction he pointed.

She pauses. "Yeah?"

His voice is barely recognizable when he asks, "What's it like?"

She doubts he means pregnancy, which is what people usually mean when they ask her what anything is like, and so she frowns at him for a moment.

He half-turns, and sort of looks over his shoulder, not quite making eye contact. "What's it like to be … able to be yourself? Who you really are?"

It hits her abruptly that Rachel's not the only one playing perpetual roles, and that his is more trying than most. Other than Jesse and Brittany, who wouldn't know how to act like something she isn't, nobody on that team is capable of being honest about who they are.

"It's... not easy," she finally says, and plays with her car keys, inside of her pocket. "It's easier, in some ways, to be what everyone else wants you to be. My life was simpler when I was the pretty and bright head cheerleader, with the quarterback boyfriend. But... it was also emptier."

"Emptier than it is now that you barely have any friends and have had to transfer schools in order to escape bullying?" Kurt asks, sounding skeptical.

She licks at her lips for a second, wondering when they got so dry, and then says, "Yeah. Because-I might not have a lot of friends, but at least they like me for me. And... Kurt, we go to a school with a heavy arts emphasis. You have to know that we're surrounded by gay kids who are just waiting for someone to open up the door for them."

"I've never had much inclination to be a front runner in that sense," he says, with a sigh.

"Yeah, well-neither have I, but... sometimes you just have to roll with the punches, you know?"

The corner of his mouth twitches, and then he turns back to his homework. "I'll see you in January, for my expose."

"I hear you're a real pain in the ass to work with because you're a decent photographer yourself," she says, with a small smile.

"I hear you're a real pain in the ass to work with because you refuse to take direction from someone who has a lot of artistic insight," he replies.

She fights a smile. "Rachel needs to stop talking shit about me."

He chuckles and says, "Uh huh", and-as far as last interactions of the year with someone from school go, this one isn't half bad.

...

After dinner that day, she gets a text from Santana telling her that Untitled Band has a gig on New Year's Eve at the community center on Belmont, and she smiles a little at the flurry of emails that Puck and Sam have already started exchanging about the set list-Sam wants to go with something thematic, which involves Death Cab and Further Seems Forever, but Puck just wants to play party music and suggests Tony the Beat to get people dancing.

She wonders what Rachel would think about their options, before she can even think about stopping that train of thought, and then shakes her head at herself.

Maybe a mandatory two week break will be just the thing to get her to stop doing what she's doing, even if she has no idea what that is.

She can hope, anyway.

Chapter Text

The first weekend of their Christmas break, Untitled Band head out to Columbus in the Fairlane-which, according to Sam and Puck, needs a name, but Quinn can't think of anything that she'd want to call it and Santana just thinks that they're nerds-for some supply shopping. Quinn has her eyes on a new set of cymbals that will really help them with the cleanliness of her drumming, and Sam is looking for a micro-amp for his acoustic guitar.

Santana and Puck just want to go and horse around in an arcade for a while, and Time Crisis 5 is surprisingly fun-even when Santana only manages to get their team to win by grabbing Puck in the ass right as he's about to clean house on them, which everyone but Santana agrees is cheating.

It's not until later that night, cymbals tucked away in the trunk of the car and digging into a Whopper, that she realizes that this is the most fun she's had since the spring carnival in freshman year; she and Amy had gone with Finn and Matt, and the boys had wanted to spend a lot of time at the shooting gallery so they'd ended up going on most of the rides together and...

Yeah. Now that she's thinking about it, it's as close to a date as she's ever been on, even if it hadn't been one in Amy's mind and...

She doesn't even realize she's staring off into space until Santana literally steals half of her burger and eats it while staring at her and Sam kicks at her shin.

"Dude-you thinking about little Beth again?" Puck asks, raising his eyebrows.

"What? No."

"You had Beth Face," he says. At her blank look, Santana adds, "You just... get this look sometimes. Sam called it Beth Face a few weeks ago and... sorry. We don't mean anything by it."

"No, it's fine," she says, because she knows she does have a face that just screams I don't know how to not think about this. "I was just thinking about um, my best friend. My old best friend."

"Ah," Santana says, and shoves the burger back. "If that story's anything like me and Berry, you can have your proteins back."

"It's a little worse; I mean, you weren't in love with her, and …" She trails off and then just sort of laughs at herself. "I told her I was pregnant and that I was gay and that I was in love with her in the same conversation. I don't really know how I was expecting her to react, but... I guess I would've freaked out too if someone had done that to me."

Sam frowns at her. "That's crap. If she was a real friend, she would've just... been there for you."

"No shit," Puck agrees, stealing Santana's Coke with quick hands. "I mean, like, so what? She could've just said she wasn't into girls. You would've been cool with that, right?"

Quinn nods and then sighs. "Yeah, but still. I sometimes can't help but think that if I'd just handled everything a little bit better..."

"You can't go there," Santana says, forcefully. "I did this for months; wonder if it'd have been better if I'd told Rachel, but you know what? You can't turn some things back, and … honestly, if this Amy chick was actually offended that someone as hot as you wanted on her, she's an idiot. You're not missing a damn thing."

"Don't take this the wrong way, but amen," Puck says, winking at her.

She can't help but chuckle and then grimaces at all of them. "Do I really stare off into space all the time? Because that sounds super annoying."

"Nah; you only really do it when Rachel's singing, these days," Sam says, unthinkingly, before freezing with a fry halfway to his mouth and then dropping it. "Uh-"

"Hang on," Santana says, glancing between them. "Are you guys crashing VA practices or something?"

"No," Sam says, quickly.

"So when the fuck are you in a room with Rachel when she's singing?"

Quinn stares at the table for a moment and then closes her eyes. "It's for a band project."

"A band project you have to work on with Rachel because you're failing AP Music?" Santana asks, even more sharply.

"Santana-" Sam says, but she sticks up her hand to shut him up and looks at Quinn.

"Of all people, I thought you'd get it."

"I'm not doing the project because of her, I'm doing it in spite of her," Quinn starts to say, but Santana's chair is already scraping back on the tiles and all she can do is give chase towards the ladies'. "Santana-come on. I'm already working with her anyway, why is this-"

"If this wasn't a big deal, you would've told me," Santana says, cranking a tap open and running her hands under it before pressing them against her face. "Instead, you kept it a secret. You and Sam both, which is like-what the fuck. Are you secretly friends with Rachel? Is that what this is about?"

"No," Quinn says, honestly, and then feels a lump in her throat. "She... we barely work together civilly a lot of the time. I can never tell if I'm coming or going with her and it's stressing me out like crazy, and it would be easier if I could just drop out of all extracurriculars and never talk to her again. But we're putting on a charity concert and she's the most talented musician in the school and... we need her."

"You need her," Santana echoes, and then shakes her head. "You need her. Like I fucking needed her, back when I was wondering what my parents would say if they figured out I wasn't straight? Like I needed her when I spent a week straight crying my fucking eyes out because I'd broken two hearts with one move because of a situation she put me in?"

"It's not the same thing-"

"Of course it's not! She already knows you're gay; she's probably off somewhere praying for your fucking soul right now, and you're standing here telling me that that's fine. That you can work together and it's all great and fantastic because she's just so goddamned talented and special that no matter what, she always wins. She just does," Santana says, crumbling on the last words and shoving off the sink.

Quinn grabs her before she can storm out again and pulls her into a hug that Santana resists for a good thirty seconds. "Don't do this. Look, I don't know what's going on with Rachel but I promise you, it will never get in the way of the band or our friendship."

"It already has, you asshole," Santana says, her voice choked and her fists pressing harshly between Quinn's shoulder blades. "Don't you get that?"

Quinn doesn't know what else to say, except for a murmured, "Don't take this out on Sam. He barely talks to her and I don't think he likes her at all."

"Yeah, I know. He's not as fucking stupid as you are," Santana says, shortly, before pulling away and heading back into the Burger King.

Quinn stares at herself in the mirror for a long moment and then runs her hands through her hair with a deep breath.

What a mess.

...

The drive back is terribly awkward, until Puck says, "I think we should probably just all fuck each other; that'll get rid of the tension."

The car's quiet for a long moment until Santana snorts and kicks the back of his seat, and then Sam starts chuckling.

Quinn hazards a small smile in the rear view mirror, and Santana rolls her eyes before looking away again, but then says, "Can we get some music going or something?"

Puck opts for an early Strung Out record that has Sam miming chords in the back seat and Santana closing her eyes, and things feel almost normal when they're back in Lima.

As normal as they ever do, anyway.

...

She doesn't see any of them until after Christmas, which is both historically and for emotional reasons family-only time, but at the first post-Santa rehearsal, Santana's anger seems to have mostly blown over again.

They end up compromising on a mixture of Sam and Puck's ideas for a playlist for their New Year's gig, and split vocals among the band. Sam says out loud, at some point, that the band could really do with a keyboardist, and Santana sharply looks at Quinn, who puts on her most placid expression and doesn't say the single stupidest thing she could.

That seems to fix things between them, and after practice, they end up sitting on the hood of her car, sharing a cigarette.

"I got Britt a present. I mean, I did last year as well, and..." Santana says, out of nowhere, before pinching the cigarette back and taking a deep drag. "You're not the only fucking idiot here."

"I don't know what you're implying, but I assure you that I didn't buy Rachel a Christmas present," Quinn says, almost bone-weary of having this same conversation over and over again.

"Thank God," Santana says, laughing after a moment. "You know, for years I'd get her musicals just because it'd really piss her off and she was more fun when a little angry at her mom."

"Is Shelby really as bad … I mean, on a day to day basis... is she as bad as she sounds?" Quinn asks, looking over and shaking her head when Santana offers the cigarette again.

Santana finishes the cigarette and drops what's left of it in the snow next to the car, before stretching out and lying down more fully. "Rachel is her entire life. That is never going to be healthy, but ever since it became just the two of them, it's all been about how to make sure that Rachel gets out of Ohio in a way that... well, I guess Shelby herself didn't."

"Rachel have her eyes on New York in the same way," Quinn says, more than asks.

Santana makes a face. "I don't know. I mean, I think part of her does, but... she wanted it when she had two parents, you know. One who loved her even if she didn't win every singing competition she was in and... I mean, I don't think Shelby doesn't love her but-it's weird. I used to have dinner over there all the time and it was always like, don't drink milk, Rachel, it'll make you phlegm-y. Like. To a twelve year old."

"Sounds like it would drive any normal person crazy in the long run."

Santana exhales slowly, watching her own breath trail upwards. "Stupidest thing about it is that Rachel's going to be a fucking star no matter what. I mean, you said it; most talented musician in the school. Amazing voice, ...she doesn't need it. But Shelby's always found a way to make Rachel only notice the few things about her that aren't perfect."

Quinn looks over and hazards a small smile. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you felt a little sorry for her."

"I did. For years," Santana says, easily. "S'why I never gave her shit for what a dork she was, y'know, before getting Jesse and a makeover. S'why she slept over at my house every Friday night."

"What a waste," Quinn says, and lies down as well, staring at an almost perfectly white sky.

"Yeah. Kind of like that present I keep buying and not giving," Santana agrees, with a sigh.

Quinn unwillingly thinks back to Kurt Hummel, asking her if it's easier to be true to yourself than it is to lie.

Days like today, she's honestly not all that sure.

...

The community center on Belmont is this half-falling-down brick behemoth that looks about as appealing as a prison, and Quinn is suddenly grateful about that last-minute text she fired off to Finn, inviting him to come and watch them-the building's so unappealing that he and some geriatrics from the neighborhood might be the only people in the audience.

She's still not entirely sure what she was thinking, texting him-just that maybe, this was the easiest way to make the peace. He's never really seen her play before, and if they are going to keep in touch (about the baby, or whatever else), he needs to understand the things that really made her tick. If anything, he'll get a kick out of the fact that they like very similar music.

Santana carries over a glass of Sprite from the bar. "You all set up?"

Quinn nods. "We're not on for another hour, for some unholy reason; Sam is currently halving our set list to compensate."

Santana purses her lips and then hip-checks her. "C'mon. They have a pool table in the next room."

"I'm really, really bad," Quinn says, with a wince.

"Good. I like winning," Santana says, easily, and Quinn can't help but grin a little when she saunters off with a little extra swing in her hips-like Quinn is even remotely interested... though maybe, that's the point.

...

The guys on Sam and Puck's basketball teams show up at around 10.30, and ten minutes later, Finn walks in; he's easy as dirt to spot because he towers over everyone else present, though it's not until minutes later that he spots her and sticks up a hand.

"Hey," he says, after making his way over to the stage, cheeks red from the cold outside. "Um, this is really cool. I was just going to be watching balls drop at home, which..."

Puck starts laughing behind her and then says, "Sup, dude. I'm Puck."

"Sam," Sam says, sticking out a hand for Finn to shake it.

"I'm Finn, obviously. Um. You might know me as the first and last guy to ever sleep with Quinn here," he says, after a moment.

She feels her mouth drop open, but Puck only starts laughing harder and says, "You didn't tell us he was funny, Q."

"He's not," she says, glaring at Finn a little, who just smiles back and shrugs, as if to say, if we can't laugh about it...

"Can I maybe get you a drink?" he asks.

"We're getting free drinks" she tells him, but hops off the stage anyway and stands next to him for a moment. "Um-for the best view without getting your eardrums blown out, go stand over there by-"

And she points to a pillar in the middle of the room, only to see two very familiar faces there.

Finn fidgets and says, "Ah, yeah, I was-um. It's sort of a tradition, that we spend New Year's together. Usually with our parents, so they don't have to be alone, but... I don't know. I mean, you all go to school together right so..."

"It's not a big deal," Quinn says, before very tentatively sticking up a hand in greeting when she locks eyes with Kurt.

He looks her up and down, one of his eyebrows curving, and she glances down at her outfit-pin-striped slacks and a loose-fitting button down shirt that won't restrict her too much when she's playing-before looking back at him. He claps for her twice, and that's when Rachel stops gazing out the window-it's snowing heavily, and Lima looks unexpectedly beautiful-and spots her as well.

Her hand drops limply, and the says, "Honestly-it's fine. I hope uh, you all enjoy the show."

It's probably the fact that she gets nervous before performing anyway that has her running to the bathroom just five minutes before they're due to go on, splashing water into her face and taking a few deep breaths.

Really-she almost feels human again by the time she makes it on stage and Santana quirks a smile at her before whistling on her fingers hard and saying, "All right-we're about to blow you guys into the New Year. Are you ready?"

One of Puck's friends loudly yells, "I'm always ready for you, Lopez" and that sort of breaks through the wall of tension in Quinn's shoulders; she laughs, and taps out a quick drum roll as Santana flips the guy off.

Then, her heels count them off, and Puck and Sam start trading off riffs to the start of Tony the Beat, which-

Quinn hides a smile by lowering her head, but honestly, if someone in the audience has a heart attack tonight it'll entirely be on Santana, whose voice almost makes love to the song and that's ignoring the way her hips move on the chorus.

Sam failed to mention their audience would average to about 53 years of age, or they probably would've toned it down some.

Oh well, she thinks, and puts an extra beat into the second verse; Santana half-turns and blows her a kiss, and she mimes catching it on an off-beat, which leads to some cat-calling in the back.

It's a much smoother start than their last gig, and it shows that they've been playing together for almost three months now; the segue from Tony the Beat to Metric's Glass Ceiling is seamless, even though she has to drum for almost thirty seconds while Sam triggers his overdrive pedal and Puck cranks up the reverb on his amp.

They've practiced it so much that it's perfect when Sam does start playing, and that familiar shiver crawls down her back; she wishes it was always there, letting her know when they were putting on their best shows.

...

After Metric, they work their way through the Joy Formidable's Austere, relying on Sam's surprisingly adept falsetto for the counter-harmonies even as Quinn sings most of the lead vocals; the drumming isn't as intense as it is in the rest of the set list they'll be playing on the night, and Santana's voice is far too gritty for the song-having her focus on rhythm guitar actually works, and when she gazes out onto the crowd for the first time all night, she notices that most people-even over the age of 25-are gently moving to the beat she's tapping out.

They take a quick break for some water after that, and Santana does her a favor by pouring half a bottle over her without asking, until her shirt's basically see-through.

"You asshole; I could be naked under here," Quinn bitches, unable to stop from laughing a little anyway.

"Bitch, I was hoping you were," Santana says, pressing a wet kiss to her cheek and messing up her hair a little more.

As the shirt's totally translucent anyway, she shucks it and drapes it over Sam's guitar case and rolls her shoulders before picking up her sticks again in just a wifebeater.

"Look at you; breaking out the guns and shit," Puck says, wiggling his eyebrows before chucking his empty water bottle behind the stage..

"If I were breaking them out, it wouldn't be for you, Noah," she says back, sweetly, and he laughs before heading to the microphone at the front of the stage.

"Hey, uh-you guys ready to dance a little? Because if this doesn't make you dance it really will be because you're like this dude in the corner-sorry, man. I have a friend in a wheelchair. He's awesome, I have nothing but respect for you," he says, scratching at his head.

Quinn twists her head away from her microphone to not start laughing inappropriately loudly.

Then, Puck counts her down behind his back with four fingers, and she signals to Sam with a nod, and they're off to w.a.m.s.-possibly the only time she's ever thought Fall Out Boy made music worth dancing to, and Puck's voice makes it more so. He sings it playfully, which is better, and the few people who would know who Fall Out Boy are in their audience start moving a little.

On the pre-chorus, he actually thrusts his hips a little on let's meet in the purgatory of my hips and get well, and she almost forgets that the rest of the song is too high for him to comfortably sing-and that it's on her and Santana, to forge onwards with hurry, hurry, you put my head in such a flurry-

And of course that's when she finally spots Rachel, almost a spitting image of her mother for a change; the look on her face so focused that it's like she's mentally evaluating every aspect of their performance, and the panic is almost instant-is she sharp, is she flat? Is she missing a lick somewhere and would Rachel even know?

Their eyes lock, and Rachel stares back intently even as she trails out of the chorus towards the slow-jazz bridge to the song, …. and damn it, they're good. She knows they're good, and after another long moment, where she feels almost suspended in time, Rachel's lips curve upwards and Quinn feels an answering grin on on her own face.

She flicks her hair out of her face before the last chorus, and watches as Rachel softly mouths along-and only when the song actually ends and they get a small smattering of applause does she look away.

"Everyone, say hi to Sam; he's going to take you all the way to the New Year," Puck says, heading back to the side of the stage, only to backtrack to the main microphone and clear his throat. "And by the way, if any of you want to be getting a taste of Puckzilla around midnight-do not listen to Santana Lopez, she is not my girlfriend and-ow."

"Save yourselves, ladies of Lima," Sam says, in that terrible Sean Connery impression he does.

"Kill me," Santana mouths at Quinn, who just grins back and watches as Sam really quickly tunes his guitar.

"Okay-this next song is awesome, but if you're like sensitive about swearing, you might want to step outside for the next four minutes. Quinn?"

She's already playing by the time he says her name, and he brings the main riff to the song in right on key. Keeping Blankest Year was a great choice, because not many people know it but when she spots Rachel in the audience again, there's that same little approving smile on her face and-

God, she has other stuff to be worrying about right now, and Sam is doing a great job with both the high and the low parts of the songs, even calling out a quick sorry about this, before the oh fuck it, I'm gonna have a party repeats in the last chorus.

The audience looks very alive, and Sam turns to her and says, "Sing with me?" too softly for them to hear while Santana tunes the Jazzmaster down half a step in preparation for the last song.

They considered carefully if they wanted to do something about the New Year, but ended up instead singing about what New Year's Eve should be about: being with the people you love, and thinking about the future.

Santana had finally-and hesitantly-pitched Joy Zipper's 1, and it was a great pick-if not for the fact that she'd also immediately said she wouldn't be able to sing it, clamming up and leaving the room afterwards.

As it is, the song sounds great when Sam sings it, and they discovered while making dinner together two nights ago that she's fine to harmonize on the chorus, and-that's the version they're going to play now, until it's five minutes to twelve and people can start getting ready to count down.

She doesn't look at Rachel during the song. Not once, and when it's over, she's the first member of the band to head out the emergency exit at the side, flinching when the cold almost slaps her in the face and she remember that it's the middle of winter.

Finn shows up a minute later and shrugs out of his hoodie before draping it over her shoulder. "So, uh, you're kind of awesome. I mean. You're not the girl I dated, but … I kind of like this you better?"

She smiles faintly and says, "You liked the gig, then?"

"Yeah, oh, you guys were great. I'm not into music like Rachel and Kurt are, but they also said that you were like, really good for a high school band. You know, almost like you were professionals," Finn says, rubbing his hands together and then tugging at his t-shirt. "Um-do you want to go back inside, or..."

"I just need to cool down a little longer; don't worry, you'll get your hoodie back," she says, and watches as he hesitates when people start counting down. "I'm fine-I'm not planning on kissing anyone tonight-just give me a minute, yeah? Drumming's kind of intense. I'm just wired."

He gives her a small smile and disappears back inside, and she leans heavily against the side of the building and wonders where the warmth in her chest is coming from; Rachel's grudging compliment, or...

She's still trying to decide when the door swings open again, and then she straightens abruptly.

"Hi," Rachel says, bundled in a coat and hat and scarf, and-Quinn glances back at the ground. "I just... wanted to say goodnight, before we go."

"Curfew?" she asks, and fights the urge to slap herself, because-what a dumb question.

"Yeah," Rachel says, and offers a small, awkward smile. "Look, Quinn, I know... I haven't made your life at Carmel easy, so far, and that it's very unlikely that we'll ever be friends given who else we associate with, but... I wanted to say that …"

"Please don't," Quinn exhales, before she can stop herself.

Rachel swallows visibly; her fingers tighten on the door handle and then she asks, weakly, "Why won't you let me apologize to you?"

"Because I just don't see the point, Rachel," Quinn sighs, feeling the snow soak through her Chucks and her teeth start to chatter even despite Finn's hoodie. "You apologize to me, and I start liking you even more, and then what? You'll still have your beliefs, and your mother's expectations of what you should be like, and I'll still be-"

"One of the most passionate musicians I'll ever meet, and someone who can talk to me about music I like and who doesn't assume I only listen to gospel, and someone who knows what it's like to make terrible mistakes and want to make up for them," Rachel says, so emphatically that it hurts, because it's all true. It's at least half the reason she herself feels so drawn to Rachel, but... it's only half the reason.

The other half, they won't ever see eye to eye on.

She feels the sudden sting of tears, and she's not even entirely sure if they're from the cold or from the words coming out of Rachel's mouth, which are somehow exactly what she wants to hear and exactly what she can't handle all at once.

"Maybe. But I'm also still going to be-"

Rachel's hand slips from the door handle and she takes a hesitant step closer. "Be what, Quinn?"

It's the edge of an abyss, and she teeters carefully before taking one final step, glancing at Rachel's eyes for just a second. "Who did you kiss, at midnight?"

Rachel blinks at her stupidly and then says, "Nobody; Jesse's in Aspen and I'm..."

"Not Kurt's type?" Quinn says, with a wry smile.

Rachel lowers her eyes for a second and says, "I can't help how I feel, or how I was raised. It doesn't mean that there aren't more sides to me than this, and that... we can't be friends in spite of it."

"Like you have been a friend to Santana in spite of it?" Quinn asks, shivering wildly and pressing against the wall harder, her hands knitting into the hoodie's pockets.

"That isn't just on me. I spent two months trying to apologize to her for … how my mother reacted to …" Rachel starts saying, and Quinn shakes her head.

"You can't even say it, can you? Jesus, Rachel, they were in a relationship. Just like you and Jesse, except better, because she wasn't just with Brittany because it looked good to the outside world."

It's starting to snow harder, and Quinn pulls the hood up over her head, before saying, "You know, this is one of those things where you might be able to pretend I'm as straight as you need me to be, but I can't pretend that that look on your face isn't there."

Rachel licks at her lips and then looks up at her with a pained expression. "I just don't understand it. Why she'd choose to be with a girl when she doesn't need to be. She's with Noah now, isn't she? And they're happy? So why..."

Quinn laughs shakily. "She's bisexual, Rachel. Not being picky about gender doesn't mean that she has any more control than the rest of us do about who she falls in love with."

"It's still a choice," Rachel says, stubbornly, and Quinn drops her chin to her chest and scoffs, before sucking in a deep breath and-

She can't keep doing this. This back and forth where they both know there's something, but nobody has the guts to put it into words-and maybe it's the high from the performance, or the fact that Rachel looks adorable and tangible for the first time in weeks, or maybe it's just time.

Barely three minutes into the New Year, and she's about to make this one worse than the last already.

"Is it? Because-honest to God, Rachel, if you can help me choose not to be standing here thinking that I would've liked to be kissing you at midnight, you'd kind of be making my life here," she says, her voice wavering on the last words. "It's not like I want to feel this way about you."

The sentence hangs between them, until Rachel's mouth falls open a little, which is all the signal that Quinn needs.

"Yeah. So much for hanging out and shooting the shit about music, huh?" she says, as shortly as she can, because Rachel doesn't need to know how badly she's just put herself out there.

The only sounds outside are of bottles being popped inside of living rooms and fireworks going off in the distance. The look on Rachel's face is indescribable, and she can only bear it for a few seconds, before jerkily shrugging out of Finn's hood and thrusting it at Rachel, who doesn't grab onto it, and even though Quinn didn't think she had any hope, something inside of her shatters a little anyway at this complete lack of a reaction.

It's worse than disgust. It's just nothing.

"Don't worry, I'm not contagious," she says, bitterly flinging the hoodie at Rachel this time, before brushing past her. "Tell Finn I'm glad he came, please."

The doors slam shut behind her without so much as a sound from Rachel, which is how she knows this is actually the end of their endless back and forth.

She wonders if she should be feeling relieved, but...

Santana takes one look at her face when she's back inside and whispers something in Puck's ear before untangling from him, and then cuts a path through the slowly dancing crowd for them; she thinks she spots Tina with Sam, but can't be sure-and anyway, it doesn't matter.

This is a room for people who have someone.

She doesn't belong there; not tonight.

...

Santana drives her home and lights them both a cigarette, rolling down the window and swatting some snow back out into the world.

"I should be pissed at you," she finally says, tapping some ash out the window and then kicking her feet up next to the steering wheel.

"Yep," Quinn agrees.

"It's hard to be pissed at someone so fucked, though," Santana says, and then just shakes her head. "She really didn't say anything?"

"She was probably trying to think of her mom's phone number so she could call and tell her," Quinn says, running her palm up and down her cheek.

Santana laughs abruptly and then sighs. "I don't think so."

"Well, either way. I'm going to be made to pay for this when we get back to school. She can't be seen to be associating with the likes of me," Quinn says, toeing the dashboard in her soggy Chucks and blowing some smoke up at the car roof.

"Really? Is that why she didn't stop looking at you for even a second during tonight's show?" Santana asks, finally.

Quinn glances over wearily. "Santana, if you're going to fuck with me about something, please just-"

Santana shakes her head. "It's not going to help you that she's like-brain damaged, watching you play, because she'd rather set herself on fire than ever admit that she maybe kind of likes you..."

"So why are you telling me this?"

Santana shrugs. "Might help you sleep at night, thinking about her across town, tossing and turning and wondering if she can sing the gay out in the shower or something."

Quinn finishes the cigarette and stubs it out, before putting a hand on Santana's knee. "You're jerk, but I'm going to tell you this anyway; she said that she tried to apologize for almost two months. Is that bullshit, or?"

The teasing look falls from Santana's eyes, and she breathes shakily for a moment before saying, "No, she's telling the truth."

"You're not the only one who lost a best friend that night; and I think she misses you."

"Yeah. It's be great if that was enough," Santana says, lowering her feet again and stretching gently.

"I'm sorry, you know," Quinn says, brushing her hair out of her face. "That-any of this happened. That I'm into her. I really don't want to be, and it feels pretty damn terrible at least ninety percent of the time, so..."

Santana shrugs. "Can't help how you feel, Q. Just don't fucking lie to me about spending time with her again. Someone needs to have your back if you're going to keep playing with fire."

"Yeah... I think I'm done with that, after tonight," Quinn says, and smiles wryly when Santana shoves her in the shoulder.

"Happy New Year, Fabgay," she says.

Quinn slowly flicks her off, but heads back into her house feeling a little better anyway.

...

By the time she wakes up on January 1st, it actually feels like she's about to embark on a fresh start.

Her dad's singing some ABBA song while making breakfast and she bumps into his side, before singing along with him and hard-boiling two eggs.

"Good show last night?" he asks, when they're done.

"Yeah," she says, because the show had been great; and as for everything else, she's just going to have to learn to let it go.

She managed with Amy, and whatever it is that she feels for Rachel-

-well, it can't compare to how she felt about her best friend of ten years. Can it?

Chapter Text

The first day back at Carmel, she expects to get Slushied until lunch, when she gives up on flinching every time someone passes by her with a Big Gulp just because she can't keep waiting for the coin to drop.

It seems like Rachel hasn't told her mother, and... judging by the way that Jesse blows her a kiss from across the cafeteria, it might even be the case that Rachel hasn't told anybody.

She doesn't even know if she's relieved or disappointed, but after school, when she arrives at the AV room late and Rachel barely even glances at her, it's clear that they're just going to be pretending it never happened.

She sits down at the back, just like that first time, and fiddles with the settings on her camera just to have something to do while Rachel outlines the idea she has for Kurt's spread. Nobody really bothers saying anything when she talks about doing a take on Singing in the Rain, which would have Kurt basically dressed up in a suit, twirling an umbrella against a lamp post.

It grates, the way she's being told what's going to happen again. It grates because they were past that, and if she'd just managed to keep her mouth shut on New Year's Eve, they wouldn't be here right now.

"Have you asked Kurt if he's up for your idea?" she finally says, when Rachel asks if anyone has any questions-more to be polite than because she's actually expecting any. The dictatorship is back in full force, and nobody seems to mind.

Except for her.

Rachel glances at her and then says, "Kurt's always been on board with any ideas I've put to him."

Quinn snorts before she can help it. "Yeah, I'm real sure."

She knows it's petty; she knows it's not the time or the place, when Tina shoots her a look; and she still can't help herself.

Rachel's cheeks color beautifully, but she doesn't respond; just looks at Artie and says, "He's free after school on Friday, if you're fine to interview him then."

Quinn watches her pack up her things after that and head out the auditorium, making very sure to avoid all eye contact on the way out.

It's pathetic, and she knows that she's going to bring things to a boil even if Rachel seems to be content just acting like everything is fine and nothing at all is different.

"Artie," she says, when Artie and Tina and Lauren are murmuring at each other about something and glancing at her occasionally. "I'm vetoing this Singing in the Rain crap."

Artie gapes at her for a second and then frowns. "You can't veto Rachel."

"I just did," she says, and shrugs when they all stare at her. "Are you going to stop me?"

"What are you planning?" Tina asks, hesitantly.

"I don't want any part of it," Lauren says, holding up her hands and disappearing into the dark room. "I heard nothing, I saw nothing."

The door clicks shut behind her and Quinn hops off the table before heading over to Artie's laptop and narrowing her eyes at his notes.

"Rachel's trying to cast Kurt to be her leading man, as if he's a swap-in for Jesse. He's not."

"Well, no kidding, I mean..." Artie says, and then blushes. "Sorry, I don't want to imply anything about him but-"

"This isn't about his sexual orientation; it's about what he would do. He apparently wore sequined skinny jeans once, a few years ago, before VA made him stop dressing like that and start acting like... a copy/paste male singer. It's crap, and I'm going to talk to him about what he wants to do."

Tina is silent for a moment and then puts a hand on her arm. "Quinn-are you doing this for Kurt, or are you doing this to piss Rachel off?"

She shrugs, the question mulling around in her head. "Chicken or the egg, Tina. One needs to happen and the other is inevitable."

"Aren't you worried Kurt is just going to turn on you?" Artie asks, taking off his glasses and looking at her seriously. "He's only loyal to what will keep him on top, Quinn. You might... you know, have stuff in common with him, but …"

"I'm willing to gamble," she says, before pulling out her earphones and plugging them back in. If she can find the right song for Kurt to perform to, selling him on the idea of the rest of the shoot shouldn't be an issue.

The only concept that she has in mind is bigger than Ohio, anyway. He'll know where to take that.

...

Getting Kurt alone isn't as easy as she thinks it will be, and in the end she ends up following him into the men's room on the second floor when she's pretty sure there's nobody else in there.

"Uh, keep it in your pants for a moment," she says quickly, when he's already at a urinal.

He screams like a girl and then clutches the front of his polo shirt with his right hand. "Are you trying to kill me?"

"No."

"You can't be in here," he hisses at her, looking around. "Despite your fashion sensibilities, you are in fact still a girl, and-"

"I needed to get you alone so we can talk about your expose," she says, and watches as he takes a few deep breaths and relaxes.

"What, and you couldn't do that-"

"In front of the rest of your team and, particularly, Rachel? Yeah, no," she says.

Kurt narrows his eyes at her. "What are planning?"

"To... let you be you," she says, carefully. "Unlike-what our editor in chief would like, which is for you to fall in line and be Jesse Number Two, and..."

"It's how it works, Quinn," Kurt says, flatly. "We can't all... just do whatever we want to without consequences."

"Oh, there will be consequences," she says, trying not to think about the slapped-silly look on Rachel's face on New Year's Eve.

His face works furiously for a few moments and then he sort of deflates, leaning back against the side of the urinal and taking a deep breath. "You know that you are the only person I can talk to about... any of this?"

She lowers her eyes and nods. "I figured as much."

"I..." he says, and then sighs. "I met someone. At sectionals. In the bathroom, of all places; it's not exactly Roman Holiday but Ohioan beggars can't be choosers, can they."

She smiles unwillingly. "What's his name?"

Kurt grows incredibly wan, and for a second she thinks he might hyperventilate at the idea of saying this out loud, but instead he sort of squares his shoulders and gives her a worth-of-VA haughty look that-well, damn, she's a little proud of him.

"Blaine Anderson. He goes to Dalton Academy, plays the piano-albeit not as good as Rachel, but still very adeptly-and he told me that he didn't think light blue was my color, which it so obviously isn't, so-"

Her smile widens into a grin. "And then you kissed him?"

Kurt blushes violently. "Hardly. I'm not some... hussy. But we are meeting for coffee this coming weekend, and..."

"And what?" she asks, when he falls silent.

"I … get the feeling that it will be a disaster if I have to act like... Kurt Hummel." His lips purse briefly and then he shakes his head. "It's been so long now that I don't really even know how to stop, but..."

"If you could wear what you wanted to wear to coffee, what would it be?" she asks.

His eyes light up a little. "I have these fantastic pin-striped pants and um, cavalry boots that go with them, and a military style jacket with platinum cuff-links that..."

"Sounds awesome," she says, not even entirely sure if she's placating him anymore.

He shoots her a look. "It's a little much."

"Is that your feeling about it, or what Rachel and her mother would think?" she asks, pointedly.

He sighs again and runs a hand gently through the front of his hair. "You're right."

"And if you can be yourself on a coffee date with a guy you seem to really like-why not be yourself for this photo shoot as well?" she suggests, as gently as she can.

He smiles after a moment. "You were very good, you know. Your band."

"That's not really an answer."

"Isn't it?" Kurt says, lightly. "Finn's shown me pictures of you before, you know; back when you had your pageant hair and your baby doll dresses and... somehow, your smile never quite made it to your eyes, no matter how perfect the rest of you looked."

She feels a little ridiculous, the way he's calling her out on her crap. "If this is your way of saying that I have no right to be telling anyone else to be honest about who they are..."

"On the contrary. If anything, you're the only person I know who does," Kurt says, before smirking a little. "I'll think about it, okay?"

It's as good an answer as she's going to get, and so she heads out.

...

The temptation to go by the auditorium is there all week, but... it feels wrong somehow. If Rachel wanted to talk to her, she would've. They've seen each other in passing, and in the AV room, and it's just like it's always been-they work in silence, asking each other for the occasional thing on the other side of the table or the room, but it's like two strangers civilly sharing a space.

No more, no less.

It's not like she was welcome there before, but something is different now anyway.

She heads to the band room after school instead, on a day when they're not scheduled to work on the project, and plugs in her iPod to the first Foo Fighters album and works her way into a sweat on I'll Stick Around, which sort of makes her feel better-but not really.

She misses Rachel's voice, and the idea that she's never going to be able to hear it again just because of this one thing she said-

She doesn't want to take it back, but wishes that she'd stuck around outside just a little bit longer, to force a reaction out of Rachel.

Maybe it would've made things better, somehow.

...

Artie hands off the interview on Friday afternoon and says, "Kurt wanted me to let you know that he's ready and that Tuesday is good for him."

Quinn looks up from where she's browsing through fonts on the staff computer and says, "Those were his exact words?"

"Mmhm," Artie says, giving her a skeptical look before glancing over at Rachel, who is copy-editing a piece on the cafeteria menu. "I hope you know what you're doing."

"Rarely if ever," she admits, and Artie sort of chuckles before shaking his head and heading towards the dark room, where Tina is developing shots of the various lunches they've had over the last few days.

Rachel starts humming a moment later, and Quinn aimlessly scrolls through a lot of the fonts, until it's clear that she doesn't actually know what Rachel's singing and it's distracting more than enjoyable.

"What is that?" she asks. "What you're humming?"

"It's... a Matthew Good Band song," Rachel says, quietly. "I don't think you'd know it."

Quinn scrolls past Bodoni and-to hell with it. She can't concentrate at all. "Why do you say that?"

"Canadian, not popular elsewhere, … an early song of theirs that never made it big, but... it's always appealed to me, because it's essentially a piano piece," Rachel says.

Quinn can't help but think back to New Year's Eve, and Rachel's comments on the reasons they should be friends, and... for one fleeting second, she wants to agree to it; maybe take back the words, and sit next to Rachel as she flicks through her iPod and finds the song-sharing one earbud each as they listen to it and...

Yeah. It sounds perfect, except for the part where she also knows that in her mind, their knees would be bumping together and their feet would be brushing past each other, and Artie and Tina wouldn't be in the room, and in due course, she'd make Rachel sing until the only thing left to do would be to kiss her, swallowing her beautiful voice until there was nothing left but them.

Rachel's looking at her intently when she blinks and focuses again, and they both blush, almost simultaneously.

"Canadian bands are kind of my thing, I mean, I'd probably like whatever that song is, if I knew it," Quinn says, as offhand as she can.

"Yeah, I know," Rachel says, before looking away again.

It hurts. It hurts more than just being ignored, and with a deep sigh Quinn reaches for her headphones and puts on something that she's pretty sure Rachel wouldn't be caught dead listening to. The scratching agony of Nine Inch Nail's Eraser is just about enough to make her forget about the girl on the other side of the room.

...

Kurt shows up in the band room two coffees and an almost-falling-off scarf on Tuesday, after a weekend that she spent mostly fixing up a few final quirks in the Fairlane and watching the original Battlestar Galactica with her dad and Sam. She feels good, and Kurt presents her with the coffee with a flourish.

"I took the liberty of assuming that you drank it black like your soul, but feel free to berate me for pointless stereotyping," he says, before sitting down in the chair across from her and pulling the scarf off his neck the rest of the way.

"Black's fine," she says, and then gives in to the small grin she feels coming on. "Are you having something insanely fruity, like a soy chai latte with butternut squash syrup or whatever?"

He rolls his eyes at her. "Cappucino, thank you."

She takes a sip of the coffee and then raises her eyebrows at him. "So-have you decided about today?"

He looks past her, to where there's a lamp-post prop from last year's musical and an umbrella waiting for him-it had taken Jesse's help to carry it into the room, and she'd spent ten minutes shoving him back out after he'd flexed his arm for her with a, "Gay or not, you have to appreciate the artistry that is my bicep, Quinn" that made her laugh and cringe at the same time-and then gives her a small but devious smile.

"To hell with the traditions," he says.

"Date was good then?"

"It was wonderful," he says, emphatically, and she feels a stab of jealousy at the smile on his face. "Blaine was a perfect gentleman, pulling out chairs and opening doors, and it turns out that we have significant interests in common aside from..."

"Penis?" she suggests.

He swats at her with his scarf. "Don't be vile; you're not actually that ingrate Noah Puckerman, friends as you may be."

She grins around the edge of the cup a little and then sobers. "I'm glad. I mean that, Kurt, I mean, I know we're not friends or anything but-"

"Quinn, don't be absurd," he says, before wiping off a small cream mustache with the back of his hand. "If you're not someone who at least has the potential to be a friend, why on earth are we even considering pissing Rachel off to the extent that we are?"

"She's your best friend. She's not.. really anything of mine," she says, with a shrug. "It's not too late to just do what she asked and..."

He shrugs off his shoulder bag, putting the cappucino down on the ground, and pulls out what she can only describe as a Russian style hat and the most gregariously multi-colored polka-dotted cravat she's ever seen. "This is just the tip of the iceberg I brought today. I own a closet full of clothing I can't wear anywhere, and... frankly, I'm sick of it."

"What else is there?" she asks, carefully, and watches as he pulls out a sweater full of holes and a pair of studded leather pants that... "Oh, my God, she's going to have a coronary."

"Fashion hurts," Kurt says, with a genuine smile, and then gives her a careful once-over. "Now, not that I anticipate to be allowed to make you over into something other than pseudo-artistic trash, but … you really should do something different with your hair. Move the part over a little and then work some product into the part that serves as your bangs. You'll get them to hang steadily in front of your eyes, or you can tuck them behind an ear and actually see things. And pull on the edges for that just-got-out-of-bed look."

She smirks a little. "Yeah, I'm sure the ladies of Carmel High will love that look."

Kurt narrows his eyes at her, and then half-smiles back. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but we're both thinking of exactly the same girl right now, aren't we?"

It's sobering. "I don't know what-"

"I have to say, I admire someone who doesn't believe in committing to a lost cause half-way," he says, before picking up his cappuccino again and finishing it. "Because, much as I myself have wondered from time to time if her discomfort with... well, me, stems from latent repressed feelings she wishes she doesn't have..."

"Kurt-can we just do your shoot? I really don't want to talk about this," she cuts him off, and then gives him a wry smile. "Thanks for the coffee, though."

"Sure," he says, easily enough, and then picks up his bag. "Be right back."

...

The song he's chosen is, to her great surprise and amusement, something by Panic! at the Disco; off their first album. She can't ever remember the whole title but it's something starting with There's a Reason These Tables are Numbered, and the chorus contains the line, I've never looked better and you can't stand it-which is a dig at Rachel that she couldn't have planned better herself.

Kurt takes to the song like a moth to a candle, and struts around in front of her, actually using the lamppost prop to twirl around and the umbrella to wave around, and all of it is completely ridiculous-except for the part where he is disarming and his voice is provocative and memorable at once, and... there are so many songs where he'd excel, if Vocal Adrenaline would let him sing them. Most musical numbers she knows, thanks to her dad, actually, anything by later Sunny Day Real Estate-the idea of him working his way through Disappear is giving her goosebumps.

She's so focused on capturing the impishness and the pure joy he's displaying right now in his atrocious but-okay, fine-fun outfit that she doesn't notice there's someone else in the room until the stereo is shut down abruptly, right before the coda finishes.

She turns, camera still at the ready, and accidentally clicks down when she startles at the sight of Rachel, turning away from the stereo and looking at Kurt with such poorly disguised shock that-

She's never looked more like Shelby, and that's what finally has Quinn lowering the camera.

"What the hell is this?" Rachel asks, almost gritting out the words.

"Why are you here?" Kurt asks, with a small frown. "I thought you were busy with the rest of the paper and that's why-"

"We're waiting for your pictures before we move on. I stopped by to see what was taking so long and … and to see if I could possibly help, somehow," Rachel says, finally looking over at Quinn. "This was your idea, wasn't it."

Quinn glances at Kurt, who shakes his head. "No, actually. It wasn't."

"Bull," Rachel says, with some fire. "Kurt would've never done this if you hadn't put the idea in his head. You're-subverting me, with your agenda and..."

"My agenda?" Quinn says, and they've gone from a tense situation to one that's just plainly absurd so quickly that she can't contain her laughter. "What exactly would I gain from making Kurt dress like that?"

Rachel flushes abruptly. "You know what I mean."

"No, Rachel, I don't think either of us do," Kurt says, crossing his arms. "So-instead of hinting around it, why don't you just say what you really mean."

"I don't-" Rachel starts to say and then clams up; Quinn can almost see her vibrate with tension, and figures it's a toss up if she's going to stomp her foot or start crying.

"Or maybe you'd like me to just come out and say it?" Kurt asks, a little more sharply. "Because I don't mind, Rachel. I'm not uncomfortable with the fact that I like these clothes, or that I like extravagant, camp performance. Or that I'd rather be singing Don't Cry For Me Argentina myself, as opposed to watch you rehearse it because by default you're given the lead."

"It's a female part," Rachel says, darkly now. "It's composed bearing in mind female vocal ranges."

"Quinn, can you hit the high F?" Kurt asks, seemingly casual.

She really doesn't want to be dragged into this, but sighs and shakes her head. "No. Not even close."

"Hm. But I can. So-would you say that I'm a woman, then?" Kurt asks, crossing his arms in front of his chest; the cape he's wearing sort of twirls around him, and Quinn swallows hard before saying, "No."

"Huh," Kurt says, and directs a cutting look at Rachel. "Imagine that. Someone who can cope with the fact that a gay man with a tremendous vocal range might want to sing some parts that stretch his ability, rather than disguise it."

Rachel's cheeks lose their color so fast that for a second, Quinn thinks she might pass out, but then she pulls herself together and says, "You'll do the shoot the way I structured it. Both of you. Or I'll-"

"Tell your mother?" Kurt asks, before flashing a smile at her. "Sure. While you're at it, feel free to tell her that I either get some freedom to be myself, or she can find a new contralto before Regionals."

Rachel gasps, and beyond that, the room is so silent that when Quinn shifts from one foot to the next, it's audible.

"I'm not kidding, Rachel. I'm-exhausted. I'm so tired of acting the way that our sponsors want us to, and not even being able to be myself in front of our friends when nobody's watching. If I have to do the dog and pony show during competitions, that's fine, because it's nothing more than professionalism-but as for the rest of the time... this is me," he says, emphatically. "And there's nothing wrong with me."

Rachel says nothing, but sinks back into the table that the stereo is on, with shaking hands and a trembling lip.

Quinn says, "Kurt, maybe-you should go. I'll develop the pictures and send them to you tonight, okay?"

Kurt looks at Rachel for a moment longer and then nods. "Fine. And, by the way-I was wondering when Untitled Band is next playing. Blaine is very interested in seeing you perform."

"I think we're doing something at um, Puck's house at the end of the month," she says, with a small smile; and hell, she has no idea why she's trying to hide it. Maybe it's the deadly still expression on Rachel's face, which can't precede anything good.

"I had fun," Kurt says, passing by her, and then kisses her on the cheek. "Thank you," he adds, more quietly, before heading out the room with his bag and without so much as another look at Rachel.

It's silent again.

Quinn very, very gingerly sits down on a chair and pops the film out of the camera, before placing it its container and pocketing it; it gives Rachel enough time to make a silent exit, but she doesn't-she just stays next to the stereo, audibly sucking in one breath after another, until Quinn can't take it anymore.

"Rachel-talk to me," she says, and it's a combination of words that she didn't think she'd be using again; not after last weekend.

"Why?" Rachel responds. It's barely a breath, and if not for the stillness of the rest of the room, Quinn might not even have heard it. "What could I possibly say to you that wouldn't make you hate me?"

"I don't... " Quinn says, before sighing and running her hand through her hair. "You don't hate me, do you? For ..."

She doesn't know how she wants to finish that sentence; there's so many things she's said, and then there's just who and what she is, and... it feels like too much to just wrap up in a few words.

Rachel focuses on her after a moment, seemingly getting it despite Quinn's inability to articulate what she's thinking, and then shakes her head. "The Bible teaches us that-"

"No; that's what one interpretation of the Bible has taught you," Quinn says, as gently as she can. "The church I go to is all about love. When I … after last year, I thought for sure I was going to be turned into a cautionary tale, but my priest is the first person I came out to, when I was sure. You know what he did?"

Rachel looks at her with such tired, weary eyes that it makes Quinn swallow.

"He gave me a hug and said that God doesn't make mistakes, so he obviously intended for me to be exactly as I am-and I should be proud of every part of myself."

Rachel takes a shuddering breath and then does start crying, and Quinn hesitates for another moment before getting to her feet.

"Why is Kurt doing this? Why now? I've already lost Santana, and..."

"Your dad," Quinn says, quietly, and watches as Rachel bites down on her lip hard enough for indentations to form before nodding.

She takes a few steps until she's in front of Rachel and then says, "I don't know what to tell you about... your family. But with Santana, things just got all messed up. She misses you. All it would take for you two to start working things out was you admitting that..."

"I know I made a mistake," Rachel says, her voice thick, before she violently rubs at her eyes. "But I can't undo it. I can't change how Vocal Adrenaline is funded, and I can't make..."

"No-but you can tell Santana these things," Quinn says, before ducking down just enough until she can look Rachel in the eye. "And you can talk to Kurt before-"

"My mother is going to kill him," Rachel says, and then her face crumbles again. "And me, because I'm supposed to be setting an example and yet here I am,..."

"You're not doing anything wrong. You're not doing anything," Quinn says, as firmly as she can, but she's almost aching to reach out and-it's too much, too soon. She knows Rachel will bolt if she makes any move to touch her, and so she doesn't; digs her nails into her palms and watches as Rachel slowly pulls herself together and then looks up.

"Not yet," she finally exhales, and Quinn feels her heart flip over in her chest, almost like a barrel roll.

It doesn't feel like there's anything she can say that wouldn't be the wrong thing, and with one more deep breath, Rachel looks away again and says, "We'll deal with the pictures tomorrow."

"Okay," Quinn manages, just about.

"I'm going to... talk to Kurt," Rachel says, and then gives Quinn one more exhausted look. "Your priest. Do you think he would..."

"Yeah, of course," Quinn says, almost tripping over the words, but it feels like such a concession that she's not even really sure how she's still standing. "I'll give you his number, tomorrow."

"At band rehearsal," Rachel says, and smiles faintly. "I think I'm ready, for my song."

"Yeah. I think you probably are," Quinn agrees, and digs her nails down a little harder, because-God, if Rachel doesn't leave soon, she won't be responsible for what she does, and it would be so stupid, when everything about this moment screams give it time.

Rachel averts her eyes again and then says, "Bye", before heading out the room; Quinn watches as she pulls her shoulders back and flips her hair back over her shoulder, and the only thing that's actually missing is a literal mask.

She knows what it's like to have a game face, but nothing compares to the way Rachel heads out into that hallway.

It's like watching someone get ready to go to war, and when that thought hits her-the fact that this is going to turn into a form of war-she shivers spontaneously.

...

Santana's waiting for her outside of her house later that night and says, "Congrats on somehow trying to seduce the Virgin Mary and not getting slammed for it; what is your secret?"

"Size ten gloves," Quinn says, sticking up a hand.

Santana starts laughing so hard that seconds later the front door opens and her mother peers out, looking concerned.

"We're fine; Santana's just-having a moment," Quinn promises, as Santana slowly catches her breath.

"You asshole, I did not see that coming."

Quinn grins a little and then says, "That's for kissing me that night."

"We're even now, right?" Santana says, frowning at her a little. "Because damn, if you actually start being this funny all the time, being your best friend might kill me."

"Yeah, we're even," Quinn says, only feeling a little bit guilty-because one day, Santana will probably thank her for pushing Rachel to make amends.

Not any day soon, but... one day.

Chapter Text

The pictures are delightful. She develops them before first period and then takes a few shots of them on her iPhone, forwarding those to Kurt and, after a moment of hesitation, to Rachel as well.

She gets an enthusiastic response from Kurt, who also reminds her to try his hair suggestions out, and nothing from Rachel-which is probably for the best. Her heart can only take so much in the span of a few days, and she already feels like she's hurtling along a path she can't really see at light speed.

Not yet, her mind reminds her, and she forcibly lingers on those words and wonders how long she'll have to wait until they become now.

It won't be today, and probably not even tomorrow, but it's Wednesday and Rachel is finally ready to share her re-composed Paramore project, and that is already so much more than she thought she'd have, after the start of the year, that it's hard not to feel like the sun is shining even though it's desperately cold outside and the streets are full of sleet.

Tina joins her, as the last picture is hung to dry, and says, "... you know, you're very brave. Doing what you believe in like that."

"I don't know if I'm brave; stubborn to the point of stupidity, maybe," Quinn says.

Tina smiles a little. "It'd be great if you could get some of that stubbornness into Sam's head, because... I swear to God, if he doesn't ask me out soon..."

Quinn laughs and moves over to wash her hands at the small sink at the back. "Why don't you just ask him?"

"Because, I get the feeling he's planning on asking in a big way, and..." Tina shrugs a smile mysteriously. "Sometimes a girl likes to be surprised, you know?"

It's obvious that Tina isn't trying to say much of anything, but Quinn flicks the water off her hands and towels them off quickly and wonders if surprises are something that she should be thinking about, now, or if it's still too soon.

"Love the hair, by the way," Tina says, before heading back into the main room and booting up the computer there-and Quinn makes a mental note to thank Kurt, because apparently he does know what he's talking about.

...

It feels like a lot of time has passed by the time she enters the band room and Rachel's already at the piano, poised at ever; but her hair's up in a messy bun that makes her look very different-younger somehow, like a ballerina that's not quite ready to take direction, and Quinn feels her lips curve up into a smile before she can stop it.

Rachel's not looking at her, though, and that's how she manages to reign it in a little more before moving in closer and pressing her hand to Rachel's shoulder. "Hey-I have that number you wanted," she says, softly.

Rachel jolts and tips her head back until they're looking at each other, and then Quinn holds out the slip of paper with Father Kevin's details; Rachel palms the paper carefully, and their hands slide together like they've done this a million times before. It's exactly like handing over a stapler or a glue stick, except it's not, because Rachel's fingertips linger for just a few seconds, and...

Quinn takes a deep breath and steps back. "You ready?"

"No," Rachel admits, and then takes one copy of her carefully printed sheet music and hands it over. "I've considered adding a drum section, but... as the purpose is to reinterpret rather than to emulate …"

"It's okay," Quinn says, glancing down at the music. "I don't mind just sitting and soaking you up."

Her mind catches up to her mouth a good three seconds later and she violently clears her throat. "I mean... um. Your performance. It. I don't mind soaking it up."

Rachel laughs and says, "I know what you meant. Go sit down."

"Are you going to make me?" Quinn asks, before she can stop herself, and Rachel's smile turns a little impish before she glares with all the force of the most popular girl in school.

"Quinn-I mean it."

Everything about their interactions to date has hurt, but this doesn't feel so bad. She's wanted, for a long time now, to get to know parts of Rachel that she suspects are there but hasn't seen-but the way that Rachel is responding to her in this moment sets her heart racing in a different way.

It doesnt feel like such a bad thing anymore, and her panic levels are lessening. Instead, she just sinks down into a chair on the back row and kicks her feet up on the chair in front of it, and idly flips through the music Rachel has prepared.

She thinks of questions, like, do you write your own?, and conversations, about what Rachel is planning on doing with her immense talent at composition because it shouldn't go to waste; and then glances up and watches as Rachel is watching her read with an inscrutable look on her face.

Her smile is unstoppable, and Rachel just rolls her eyes a little, also not quite managing to hide a smile, before she turns to the piano and says, "Where is everyone?"

"We're early. … did you get the pictures?"

It sort of shatters the moment, because Rachel's hands stop brushing past the keys and she stiffens a little before nodding.

"And?" Quinn asks, not really knowing what she's hoping Rachel will say.

Rachel's lips twist briefly and then she says, "After speaking to Kurt, I'm willing to... negotiate. On a few of them. The more... conservative ones."

"That seems sensible," Quinn says, and shrugs when Rachel looks at her in surprise. "Look, I mean, your mother's a real bitch-"

"Quinn," Rachel says, and Quinn holds up a hand in apology.

"Sorry. What I meant to say is that it's probably better to take stuff in stages. I mean, rock the boat too much and it capsizes, you know?"

Rachel doesn't respond immediately, and Quinn looks at the sheet music again just to have something to do other than stupidly stare. There's not hiding so much anymore, and then there's giving off the impression that she's intellectually stunted somehow, and... she's veering quickly into the latter territory, the way she just can't stop looking at Rachel.

"Is that what you're doing? Capsizing me?" it finally sounds, quietly, from the front of the room.

There is only one thing to say, in response, and Quinn bites at her lip for a second.

"No." When Rachel looks up, she adds, "Not yet."

She can see Rachel's sharp intake of air, and then Sam rushes around the corner, apologizing a mile a minute about a broken string and Puck's guitar not being tuned right, and Quinn blinks twice before forcing herself to give Rachel a break.

The show does come first, in some instances, and this is clearly one of them.

...

What Rachel has done to the song is immense; she's slowed it down, and somehow turned it from relatively upbeat to something very depressing and desperate sounding, and when she starts singing, it almost sounds like she's having the life choked out of her.

Quinn already knows, after just two lines, that she'll never be able to hear the original again without envisioning this version, which isn't so much a song as Rachel struggling against every single part of her life right now. She doesn't need to have a conversation with her about what's going on, after this; she can see it on her face and hear it in the way that she slowly adds power to her piano playing, even before Sam starts gently picking along a counter-rhythm on guitar.

It's a very much soul-baring performance, and she knows she's giving up all of her cards to the rest of the room, the way she can't help but lean forward and rest her chin on her hand, almost straining towards the piano. When Rachel reaches the chorus, she has to swallow hard to drive off anything actually embarrassing like some unwarranted tears, but when she glances over-for barely a beat-to where Holly is watching the performance, she knows she's feeling exactly the way everyone else is.

Rachel's singing increases in volume as the song progresses, and Quinn has to forcibly remind herself to keep breathing, because the world around them could end right now and she'd still be rooted to her chair, watching Rachel sing and play with her eyes closed-until the door behind her opens, and...

She shoots up to her feet, kicking over the chair in front of her and Rachel's playing stops abruptly.

"What is going on here?"

It's so much of a parallel to the day before that Quinn feels like she's time-travelled for a few seconds, until Rachel spins around on the piano bench and says, "I can explain, Mom, if you'll just-"

"Is this why you've been late to practice lately?" Shelby asks, her voice steely.

"No-this isn't getting in the way of practice-" Rachel starts to say, getting off the bench and paling by the second. Quinn feels her heart start to race, but what can she really do?

"You said you were taking on some extra credit for class."

"Shelby," Holly says, in a soothing tone of voice that is not having any effect. "This is extra credit."

"Really? Because it looks like it's you trying to undermine my authority by encouraging her to-to-" Shelby furiously gesticulates towards the piano and then stares at Rachel again. "I thought that by allowing you to take AP Music this year, you would get this out of your system and we could focus on your future for the rest of your time at Carmel."

Rachel lowers her eyes after a moment. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have-"

"You're damn right you shouldn't have," Shelby says, her voice almost cracking with anger on the words. "Lying to me about where you are, and devoting time to that instrument when you should be getting ready to perform with Jesse and …"

"I know" Rachel says, and takes a deep breath before turning to look at Holly-and right past Quinn. "You're right, this was a mistake. Miss Holliday, I'm terribly sorry if this inconveniences you but … I don't think I can participate in this project anymore."

"Rachel, she can't make you quit," Holly says, pointedly.

Rachel works her lip between her teeth for a second and then glances away. "I'm really sorry."

Quinn's heart feels like it's breaking all over again, and before she can think better of it she says, "Don't do this. Don't-Jesus, Rachel, we need you."

"Miss Fabray, this doesn't concern you," Shelby says, her voice dropping to sub-zero temperatures. "If you have any sense whatsoever, you'll stay out of it."

"No," Quinn says, more firmly than she thinks she will. "I'm not staying out of this, because we need our pianist and you can't just-waltz in here and forbid her from playing. What do you think she is, a small child?"

"No, I think she's a near adult who is acting like a small child by shirking her responsibilities in favor of some aimless hobby," Shelby snaps. "Rachel, we're done here-"

"Dude, it's not some hobby," Sam says, and when Quinn looks at him, he looks every bit as pissed as she is. "She's like, amazingly talented. She could be playing full concert halls right now."

Shelby's eyes narrow even further, but after a second she looks back at Rachel, who is jolted into action.

Rachel reaches for the sheet music, to where it's resting on the piano, and then closes the lid; the sound echoes throughout the room, and Quinn feels her throat constrict with terror.

"Rachel, please don't do this," she pleads, one last time.

"I'm sorry," Rachel says, without turning around, and then follows her mother out of the room.

Holly exhales slowly and then gingerly sits down in the chair behind her, and Sam kicks at the side of his amp, before wincing and sitting down to rub his toes.

"Well, that was a hot mess, am I right?" Holly finally says, with a deep sigh.

"It's not your fault," Quinn says, before steadily walking down to the bottom of the room.

"Quinn, you're not going after them-" Artie says, with some concern.

"No, I'm not that stupid," Quinn says, running a hand through her hair. "But I'm not giving up this easily, either, okay? We need her."

"Yeah. We do," Sam says, giving her a small look that means that he knows what she's really saying.

"We'll figure out a different schedule, or practice somewhere else-like at my house, or..." Quinn says, before biting down on her lip and shaking her head. "We'll figure something out."

They have to, because the concert is at the end of the month and...

They just have to.

...

Santana calls her later that night and says, "Q, I hate to say I told you so..."

"Sam?" she asks, even though she already knows he was the one to tell Santana, because it's not like she was planning on it.

"She's not worth whatever you're putting yourself through right now, okay, Miss Size Ten Gloves? I know you're crushing on her and whatever, but she's always going to do what her mother wants her to do when it comes down to it. S'why an apology is so pointless. It's like, I'm real sorry, Santana, that I told Shelby you like to dine at the Y, but-"

Quinn sighs. "Can you just not? I'm still trying to-"

"Trying to what?" Santana asks, a hint of impatience creeping into her voice. "You're not for real trying to figure out a way to bend over backwards even more, are you?"

"It's not for me, it's for the concert," Quinn says, dully.

"And when Shelby actually flat out tells her that she can't talk to you anymore-what will you do then, huh?" Santana asks.

Quinn feels her teeth clench. "You know, if you're just going to be a bitch about this-"

"When am I not a bitch?"

"She can't help that she's stuck in this really terrible situation, okay? She can't help that … her mother is the way she is and I can't just demand that she drops everything for-"

"Why the hell not?"

Quinn rubs at her forehead. "Because she won't. Not now-"

"No, Quinn. Not not now. Not fucking ever. And I'm not about to sit around here and watch as you just let her crush your hopes over and over again. Fuck. You've been nothing but a mopey mess for the last few weeks anyway and-"

"Oh, thanks," Quinn bites out. "You know, if it's that fucking trying to be around me why don't you just spend time with someone else-"

"Jesus, Fabray, that's not what I mean and you know it." Santana exhales loudly and then says, "You're just-messed up enough as it is. You don't need to add Rachel's crap to your own, okay?"

Quinn feels her breath lodge in her throat and then demands, "What are you talking about?"

"I just mean, you're obviously not over the whole baby thing and-"

"Fuck you," she says, before she can stop herself.

Santana is silent in response, and that bubble of anger-the familiar one, that had her going after Dave Karofsky in the hallway that day last year-bursts in her chest, before she can stop it.

"You know what I think this is really about, Santana? I think that you can't handle that I'm not afraid of Shelby Corcoran. I think that you can't handle that unlike you, I'm not going to sit here and take her crap. Unlike you, I'm going to go after what I want and I won't stop until I have it because unlike you, I'm not a fucking coward."

The line is deadly silent until there's the slightest rustling of fabric, and then Santana says, "I hope she fucking breaks your heart, Quinn. Because then you'll be just like me."

A click signals disconnection, and Quinn flings her phone across the room before she can think about what she's doing. The cover bounces off and hits her laptop, and then there isn't anything else for her to throw or destroy, and she's stuck on her bed, chest swelling with-she doesn't even know what to call it, but it takes her a good ten minutes to calm down enough to head down the stairs.

Her father shoots her a look. "You okay? We heard a crash, but … given that it's important that teenagers have some privacy, I thought I'd examine the damage later."

She almost laughs, because the times at which her dad decides to put his professional hat on are always unpredictable. "Just dropped my phone."

"Violently," he guesses, and after a second she slumps down on the couch next to him and nods.

"Stuff at school?"

"Not like it was at McKinley. Just..." she trails off, and after a second curls up against his side.

"Aw, honey, do you have girl troubles?" he sort of sing-songs at her, and she swats at his leg.

"Don't make fun of me."

"I'm not making fun of you, I'm asking if you want to talk about it."

She knows it'll be a good conversation, and that it'll help, just like talking about the baby would help if she could bring herself to do it-but the look on Rachel's face when she left the room is still a little too raw in her mind, and she can't get rid of Santana's last words, either.

"No. Can we just sit like this for a while?"

Her dad tugs on a strand of her hair and says, "'course. However long you need."

All night, as it turns out; she only shifts when her mom joins them and demands the other corner of the couch, but she hasn't felt this small in months, and doesn't really feel much better by the time she heads off to bed.

...

She doesn't even know where to take her lunch the next day, and ends up eating it outside in the freezing cold. Kurt stops by for a moment to drop off a scarf, noting it's Givenchy and she better not ruin it, and then squeezing her shoulder with an apologetic look.

Rumors must be flying all around school, because Rachel isn't in and Quinn probably looks like she got slapped in the face with a giant sea bass. Santana just looks furious, but it's hard to tell if that's newsworthy; she looks that way a lot.

The rest of Untitled Band shouldn't be made to pick sides while they're on the outs, and so she avoids them needing to by just keeping at a distance, and just like that, her time at Carmel turns into her last few weeks of McKinley. There, they'd left her alone because they were afraid of her; now they're just leaving her alone because they're not sure what to think of her.

When she checks her locker after lunch, there's a box of cigarettes in it with a lighter and a note from Puck saying, you look like you need them and so she trudges outside again and skips fifth period.

No point in going to her classes when she can't focus on anything except where Rachel is, because Rachel should be in the auditorium, and …. fuck. Someone is going to have to pick up the slack on managing the paper, because they're close to deadline and it's going to have to be her. Everyone else working on it takes great direction, but leadership?

She doesn't need this, and she doesn't even like smoking but-therapy over the summer revealed that sometimes menial activity would snap her out of her thoughts quicker than anything else, and she shakes a cigarette out of the pack and toys with it for a few moments.

"Those will kill you," Brittany says, out of nowhere, before sitting down next to her and huddling in close. She's wearing this floppy hat with earmuffs and Quinn is hit all over again with the visual of her and Santana together, which somehow just doesn't quite compute.

"I'm counting on it," she murmurs, and Brittany swats the cigarette out of her hand.

"Don't be dumb; if you die, everyone will be like super sad. Santana especially, or maybe Rachel especially, but it's hard to tell with Rachel, y'know?"

Air squeezes out of her lungs and Brittany tangles their hands together.

"Do you know where she is today?" Quinn finally lets herself ask.

"Sick. Which is weird, because she never gets sick but um, that's what Shelby said."

Quinn nods after a moment and then sighs. "Everything's all screwed up."

"Well, it already was before you got here. I mean. That's just high school," Brittany says, with a small shrug. "I try to not let it get to me."

"How?"

Brittany's hand tightens in hers, her fingers paling where they're sticking out from her fingerless gloves. "I just have this feeling that like-the stuff that is supposed to happen will happen. So, I know that I'm supposed to be with..."

She trails off, pitifully holding on to a secret that basically everyone knows about, and Quinn smiles at her sadly. "I know about you and Santana."

"Oh," Brittany exhales, and then brightens. "That's great. Because I try not to mention her name and stuff but it gets hard sometimes, remembering who you're talking about when you can't call them anything."

Quinn laughs shakily and then says, "You're one of a kind, do you know that?"

"Except that I'm actually like, one half of a pair. I'm like an orange M&M. She's a blue one. We're supposed to be together or the flavors are all wrong."

Quinn pockets her cigarettes again and says, "It's cool. That you have this much faith."

Brittany shrugs. "It's not about like, believing in stuff. I know I'm going to be with her. We just can't be together right now because... well, Kurt was saying that maybe she needs to be with a boy until she goes to college, because her family's into Jesus-"

"You still love her, huh," Quinn says, as gently as she can.

Brittany looks over with a small eye-roll. "Um, duh And I know she still loves me. It's just Ohio, you know?"

Quinn sighs deeply. "Yeah. It's just Ohio."

...

She pulls it together enough to push the paper out, and Kurt looks so thrilled at what she ended up selecting as the pictures that it's almost worth it, being called into Shelby's office.

It's not like she has any secrets left to keep at this point, and so she almost feels like she can breathe, setting foot inside of Shelby's domain and sitting down in front of her desk.

"You like playing with fire," Shelby says.

"I thought we prided ourselves on politeness at Carmel," Quinn says smartly, before offering her best head cheerleader smile.

Shelby stares back at her, but she refuses to fidget or give in; then, a copy of the newspaper is held up and Shelby flips to the start of Kurt's expose. "I'm going to give my daughter the benefit of the doubt here and assume she didn't condone your actions as staff photographer."

Quinn almost laughs. "Have you met Rachel? Of course she didn't condone this."

"I unfortunately can't single-handedly fire you from your position," Shelby says, flatly, dropping the paper again. "Given that Ken Tanaka acts as staff advisor, and given that his only concern is that a paper is produced monthly, I've had little luck in correcting the mistake I made when I thought you deserved a second chance."

It's a small boost to her courage, and Quinn sits up a little straighter. "Forgive me for asking a very obvious question, then, but if you don't actually have the power to get rid of me, why am I here?"

Shelby's smile is chilling. "It's always the same thing with you hot-headed musical types; Santana Lopez made exactly the same mistake when trying to challenge me a few years ago, so I'm almost reeling with deja-vu at this point, but... in Santana's case, I actually had to get creative to find a solution to my problem."

Quinn narrows her eyes. "You went after her girlfriend."

Shelby leans back in her chair and folds her hands together. "What I actually did was ensure that at least one of them wasn't throwing away their future on a high school fling. I should've known better than to think Santana would see the bigger picture; that girl has always had a temper that precluded better judgment. But ... I have higher hopes for you, Quinn."

Quinn fights not to move, but can't help inclining her head a little anyway. "You don't have anything on me. I'm not a member of your show choir, you can't touch my position on the paper, and you can't-"

"You want Rachel back on your band project," Shelby says, the epitome of calm.

Quinn feels her face fall, and Shelby smiles at her, almost kindly.

"I can't say I blame you. She's exceptionally talented, isn't she? She'll go further than anyone else in this school, and at least half of that is because I raised her right."

"The reasons Rachel will make it big have exactly nothing to do with you or how you raised her," Quinn says, hotly. "And, I mean, whatever. Yeah, I want her back on the band project. We all do. So what-"

"I'll let her stay on Holly's misguided band project if you start walking the line from now on," Shelby says, her eyes training on Quinn hard, to the point where whatever reaction she knows she has is being documented and processed on the spot. "It's important to her. To the point where she's willing to fight me over it, apparently, and … well. We both want Rachel to be happy, don't we?"

"You're awful," Quinn says, before shaking her head. "I can't believe you'd use her like that, just to get some more boring pictures in the school newspaper."

"There are issues of money and reputation at stake here that you couldn't comprehend even if I tried to explain them to you," Shelby says, with a small tremor in her voice. "To you, this might just be about Kurt Hummel's self-expression, but to me, this is about questions I'm going to get asked about my team at next year's Nationals; and questions that Rachel is going to have to answer when our sponsors come and ask her about her teammates. Not to mention that poor boy's future-who is going to be able to take him seriously as a leading man after this?"

Quinn blinks furiously a few times and then says, "God. You're actually crazy if you if somehow that makes what you're doing right."

"No; you're crazy if you think that your childish acts of rebellion will do anything other than make Rachel's life harder," Shelby says, sharply. "So if you care about her at all-"

"You can't keep her from doing what she wants to be doing forever," Quinn says, shaking her head and getting up. "You think this is just about me? You're the one ruining her life, you know. I'm just trying to be-"

"A friend?" Shelby asks, coolly.

It feels like a threat, even if it isn't one. Quinn feels herself deflate, and then just snatches her bag from the floor and heads out the door, almost running past the auditorium and towards the hallway.

Only when she bursts out the double doors to the outside does she feel like she can breathe again, past the ache in her chest, because if Shelby knows...

… she might get Rachel back on the band project, but that comes at an incredibly high cost.

...

She drags her parents to church that Sunday, mostly because she just wants a moment of being able to reflect quietly and take some distance from what is going on at school.

Rachel missed most of the week, and it's an issue, because the next expose they can do is either her or Mercedes, and she really doesn't want to start working on Mercedes without Rachel's input, because Mercedes kind of hates her and-

Well, shit, she doesn't want to be taking any decisions without Rachel, full stop. Not when Rachel's going to be made to pay for anything she does wrong at home.

She misses Santana, who still is barely looking at her, and she knows she should apologize but she doesn't know how; not when they were both wrong, and went too far. Why should she make the first move? And that's childish and stupid, and she feels guilty about it more than anything.

The gig at Puck's has been postponed indefinitely, and all in all, there is very, very little going on that is making her happy right now-and the last time she felt this low and trapped, the only thing that helped was going to church.

Father Kevin gives her a bright smile when she steps in. "Quinn! Good lord, girl, I know it's been a few months, but what have you done to your … everything?"

She smiles sheepishly. "Um. This is a little more me."

"You look fantastic," he says, before shaking her parents' hands.

"Thanks. Hey-can I talk to you... after... um," she says, before gesturing awkwardly at the rest of the congregation.

His expression draws closer immediately and he says, "Is everything okay"

She fights to smile. "Yeah, just... I have some stuff to process, you know?"

"Say no more," Father Kevin says, and gently pats her on the shoulder. "Stay late. We'll talk."

...

Father Kevin hands her one of his old-time root beer pops that doesn't taste like root beer at all; she associates the flavor with confession and forgiveness simultaneously. It's nice, that some things don't change even when everything else does, and she stretches in the pew until he says, "So. How's your new school?"

"Difficult," she admits. "It's easier in some ways because I'm not just, y'know. Pregnant Quinn, or the former school Queen. But … it's still not easy."

"High school never is," Father Kevin says, and then laughs when she shoots him a look. "Don't act so surprised; I was your age once, you know."

"I know, but still," she says, with a small smile, before taking another sip.

"How are you dealing with everything that happened last year?" Father Kevin asks,gently.

"I'm not," she admits. "There's other stuff going on that is sort of... taking up all of my time, and..." She hesitates and then looks over. "I gave a friend of mine your number recently. Has anyone called to … talk about..."

"Quinn, you know I can't," he admonishes her, and then looks off into the distance. "But say, hypothetically, if one of your... friends were to call with some questions about how the church felt about homosexuality..."

She struggles not to react and forces herself to take another sip of her drink.

"Well, hypothetically, in that situation, I would probably explain as much as I could before encouraging said friend to open up their mind to new experiences and to assess all the people they know on an individual basis," Father Kevin says, before giving her a pointed look. "And hypothetically, I might have also suggested that if they have a friend in their life who could offer a personal perspective on any of the questions asked... it might be good to talk to them."

Quinn puffs her cheeks out and slowly exhales. "Right. So I guess … hypothetically... I should brace myself."

"Hypothetically," Father Kevin agrees, before stretching out his legs. "Love's a wonderful thing, isn't it?"

"It's not about love," Quinn protests, scuffing her toe against the marble floor of the church. "We've barely even had like, two civil conversations. I just... want her to be happier than she is. And... to not be so stuck on the wrong ideas, I guess."

"Hmm. And what happens if she does get unstuck?"

She feels like a thirteen year old, the way her legs can't stop wiggling and the way Father Kevin is looking at her.

"Um, well, ideally-a lot of making out in the back of my car," she admits, blushing when Father Kevin laughs. "Sorry. I know I shouldn't say that in a house of faith but-"

"Oh, don't be silly. I'm quite sure that certain members of our congregation have done far worse than talk about kissing in church," Father Kevin says.

She laughs. "Ew."

"I know, right?" Father Kevin agrees, clanking their half-empty bottles together. "Some people..."

...

She's washing her car later that day, because it finally stopped snowing, and then looks up in surprise when an engine that she would recognize anywhere sounds in the distance.

It could be Kurt, although one brought coffee and a few text messages hardly suggest that he'd stop by her house to come and hang out; and it could be Jesse, in which case she's glad she has a hose handy...

… but somehow she knows it's neither of them, and just tensely waits next to her car until the Escalade is parked in front of her drive and Rachel clambers out of it.

"That car is... have you ever considered something you-sized, like a Miata?" she asks, before she can stop herself, and then fumbles her sponge when Rachel just sort of rolls her eyes. "Sorry, that's not at all what I meant to say-I was going to start with hello, how are you, but it's not like we've ever had a normal conversation so-"

"What did you promise my mother?" Rachel asks, locking the car behind her with a click on her keys.

"What?" Quinn asks, blinking.

"To get me back on the charity concert project. What did you promise my mother?" Rachel asks, even more sharply; her eyes are shining with barely-contained anger and Quinn swallows hard when Rachel finally stops right in front of her.

"... just that I'd take some more conservative pictures for the paper. Which wasn't much of a promise, since the next two are you and Mercedes and-"

"Why would you let her … why would..." Rachel says, stumbling over the words with a furious look on her face, and then kicks over the bucket with soapy water next to the car. "Damn it, Quinn, you can't let her tell you what to do like that!"

Quinn watches the water trickle drown the drive and then looks back at Rachel. "I didn't let her tell me to do anything. She gave me a choice, and I chose what I wanted. Not because I was afraid of her, but because... I want you back on the project."

Rachel sighs and leans heavily against the wet car door, before Quinn can do anything to warn her that it's wet; she drops the sponge behind her and hesitantly steps in closer.

"Hey, it's okay, I mean. I know she's trying to manipulate me but all she gave me what was I wanted, which seems kind of stupid. I don't care about the paper that way. Working with Kurt was fun but I mean... if it's just a job, it's just a job. The band project, though..."

She watches as Rachel licks at her lips and then lowers her hands again and says, "Don't do things like this for me. Please. I'm not-"

"Worth it? C'mon," Quinn says, and takes another risk; gently nudges her shoulder against Rachel's. "Don't be stupid. Of course you are. If anything, your hands and your vocal cords should be insured, in case of injury."

Rachel laughs weakly and then looks over with a slightly sad look on her face. "Is that all I am to you? Hands and vocal cords?"

Quinn looks back until it actually starts to hurt to not blink, and then squeezes her lips shut and looks down, before saying, "Don't make me answer that if you're not ready to hear the answer."

Rachel shifts a little, until they're not touching anymore, and then says, "I called your priest."

"Yeah?" she asks, looking back up.

Rachel has a distant look on her face but then nods, gnawing on her lip. "He was … very nice. Patient, and... um. He talked to me like … I was a person. It's not what I was expecting. I don't think he quoted the Bible once."

"Yeah, he's weird like that," Quinn says, as dryly as she can, until Rachel rolls her eyes and nudges her back. "Did-did it help?"

Rachel doesn't respond for a while, but then takes a deep breath and says, "Are you really not worried about going to hell?"

It's not what she's expecting, and Quinn stares at the driveway for a long moment. "I mean, I guess I am. But... more because of some of the choices I've made. This isn't a choice for me. What … I did with …"

"Beth," Rachel says, so softly that Quinn almost misses it. "You named her Beth, didn't you?"

Quinn closes her eyes and sinks against the car more heavily. "Yeah."

"I bet she's going to grow up to be really beautiful," Rachel says, with a small smile.

"Yeah. The fact that I abandoned her doesn't really-"

"You didn't abandon her," Rachel corrects her.

Quinn shuts up abruptly and then rubs at her cheek. "I thought you of all people would …"

"My father... abandoned me. He had me, and he kept me for ten years and then decided that I wasn't worth it anymore. That's... he didn't leave me to have a better life than I could've provided. He just ran off, to be with... someone else," Rachel says, stumbling over the words a little. "You're not like him. You're nothing like him at all."

Quinn hesitates for a moment and then reaches down, until her fingers are tangling around Rachel's and-just like that, they're holding hands, Rachel gripping tightly.

"You know you're not anything like your mom either, right?" she asks, when Rachel gets that pained, distant look on her face again.

"I'm too much like her," Rachel says, shaking her head. "I'm-"

Quinn squeezes. "You're trying not to be."

"And is that enough? To try? Or-"

"Rach, what are you actually asking right now?" Quinn asks, wondering if Rachel can feel how hard her heart is beating, or if it's just imaginary, the way it's pounding right underneath her fingertips.

"I... I need a friend. Someone I can talk to about... everything that's flitting through my head right now, and someone who … doesn't have anything to do with Vocal Adrenaline and..." Rachel says, visibly working her way towards the right words. "I need... a friend."

Quinn feels her heart sink in her chest a little, but-it's more than she's expecting, yet again, and there's something so powerful about the way Rachel keeps doing more than meeting her halfway. Why other people can't see this, she has no idea, but she looks at their joined hands and brushes her thumb over the back of Rachel's hand.

"I can't pretend I'm not … attracted to you," she says, finally, as quietly as she can. Rachel's hand tightens in hers, reflexively, and she squeezes down hard to stop her from pulling away. "But … I'll never do anything about it, if you don't want me to. I'm... not into converting straight girls, okay? That's not how this works."

"How does it work?" Rachel asks, before pressing her lips shut again, looking almost like she can't believe the question that just came from her mouth.

Quinn feels like bolting, because it's a little much for a starting question, but-if she pushes Rachel away now...

"It's not any different than it is with you and... boys, I guess," Quinn says, before shrugging. "But, I mean, I'm not really an expert. I haven't ever... even kissed someone I really wanted to kiss, so..."

It's quiet for a moment, and then Rachel says, "Neither have I."

It's hard not to read into that a little, even if she did just promise not to try anything, and so she sucks in a deep breath and says, "Do you-maybe want to come inside and... um... browse through my record collection?"

Rachel bursts out laughing before pulling her hand away and covering her mouth. "You did not just actually ask that."

Quinn feels herself flush stupidly. "No, I mean, my actual record collection-I have a big one and I mean, we both like music and … I think my parents are watching us and it's kind of creeping me out to be standing here so..."

She falls a little harder at the way Rachel just sort of grins and says, "I'm shocked you've never successfully seduced anyone, with lines like that."

"Oh, whatever…" Quinn says, flicking her hair out of her eyes before rolling them. "Nevermind then."

"Quinn?"

"No," she says, crossing her arms over her chest.

"Quinn?" Rachel says again, even more teasingly.

"... what."

"I'd love to see your record collection. But I can't today," Rachel says, before holding up a slim wrist with a watch and tapping at it. "I have to get home. It's probably more important to preserve the peace than ever before, if... you and I are going to..."

"Be friends," Quinn supplies; she smirks a little when Rachel, too, looks like she knows it's a load of crap, in the long run. "Right."

"So-I'll see you at school?"

It feels like an opportunity to actually start fresh, and Quinn hesitates a little and then says, "Um-can I gatecrash your piano session during fifth period?"

"Wait, you know-"

She actually winces now. "Yeah. I mean, I don't want to ruin it for you or anything but... I really like watching you play and..."

When she looks back up, Rachel has a smile on her face she's never seen before, and her breath catches all over again.

"Maybe we can make it a standing lunch... date," Rachel says, pausing awkwardly before the last word.

"Okay. I mean, yeah? Awesome," Quinn says, wondering if her ears are as red as they feel. "Um, see you then, I guess. Tomorrow, I mean."

She somehow resists the urge to slap herself in the head until after Rachel gets back in her car and heads off with a small wave, but when she turns around, her parents are there.

"She's cute," her mom says, with a barely hidden smile. "Surprisingly short, but..."

"Please stop," she says, grimacing when her dad starts laughing at her.

Sometimes, she wonders if it would be better to have slightly less supportive parents-but when he knuckles her head and tugs her into the house for some cocoa, she acutely feels lucky all over again.

Chapter Text

She actually spends about ten minutes trying to decide what to wear, which she hasn't done in almost a year now - not since she started showing and it became a moot point what she wore to school, because she was the biggest loser present either way. Back then, it had been a choice between this sundress or that sundress, with this headband or that headband, and … now it's a question of whether or not she wants to go casual as always, in a zip-up hoodie and some jeans, or if she wants to maybe... dress up a little?

Well...

It's not that kind of lunch … date, and maybe it's best to just play it by ear. She has this awesome hoodie that has a t-rex with a rainbow shooting out of its mouth on it, and maybe that's the kind of light-hearted joke about her sexuality that will make Rachel feel comfortable.

Not that it really matters how comfortable Rachel is, when she's already close to throwing up herself and they're not even seeing each other for another six hours.

Hopefully, she'll still be breathing by then.

...

She heads down and starts cutting up some cucumber for her lunch sandwiches when her mother shows up next to her and says, "What are you bringing for her?"

Quinn almost slices off her thumb and then says, "Uh-she can feed herself, you know."

"She can, but you might want to consider bringing something," her mother suggests, with a small smile. "Not a three course meal, but-a snack?"

Quinn feels her lips twist into a grin after a moment. "You made cookies, didn't you."

"Maybe; check the fridge," her mother says, casually swiping a slice of cucumber and then heading into her studio.

Her mom knows she herself can't really bake worth a damn-it was sort of a running joke, what with how many bake sales the Cheerios organized and how many batches of cupcakes she'd ruin every year-so this is a saving grace, and she slides a few cookies into a zip-loc bag and pockets those as well as her sandwiches.

So far so good, she thinks, on the drive over to school, but there is an army of butterflies cascading off her insides and she still has four periods and lunch to get through, so... she's not really holding her breath about how together she'll be when fifth period rolls around.

As a distraction, she has something pretty important to sort out before then anyway.

...

Santana's sitting on a wall in the quad, toying with her packet of cigarettes but not lighting one because three teachers are strolling through the grounds. Quinn hops onto the wall next to her and says, "Those'll kill you."

"What are you, Br-" Santana starts to say, before clamping her lips together and staring Quinn down. "What do you want?"

"To say I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said what I did."

Santana doesn't react for a long moment, but then sighs and taps out a cigarette, the teachers disappearing back inside. "I shouldn't have brought up your kid. It was low."

"Nah, I mean, you're right. I have a lot going on. I know you were just looking out for me," Quinn says, shoving her hands into her hoodie pockets and then shaking her head when Santana offers her a cigarette.

"It's not really any of my business what you do," Santana finally says, before looking over with some concern. "But like, y'know, for the sake of the band and shit-just be careful. I don't want you getting hurt."

Quinn licks her lips and nods. She considers telling Santana about-well, the progress that she's made, but maybe this is just going to have to be something they don't really talk about all that much. There's only so much she can do to bridge the gap between Rachel and Santana anyway, and besides—Santana is not the first or even the tenth thing on her mind when she's with Rachel.

So, she just takes a deep breath and says, "Brittany's waiting for you, you know."

Santana fumbles the cigarette and curses when it hits the ground. "What the fuck are you-"

"She still loves you. She thinks that … you can't be with her because of societal pressures or something, but she's sure you two will get back together when high school is done. She's waiting for you."

"Yeah. On Mike Chang's dick," Santana says, bitterly.

Quinn scoffs. "First of all, I don't think she's doing anything with Mike Chang's... anything, and second of all-you're one to talk, Mrs. Puckerman."

"Oh, fuck off, that's so not the same thing," Santana says, scowling at the ground.

"No, it's not, because at least you know why you're not together," Quinn says.

Santana glares some more, and after a second of hesitating, Quinn slings an arm around her back. "Look-I'm not saying that it would be a good idea for you to like, tell her everything, but... maybe you could just talk to her? I know you're sad, and she puts on a good front but she misses you, too."

Santana brushes off her arm and says, "Q, you know, if I wanted an opinion..."

"I know, you'd talk to an asshole," Quinn says, and Santana sighs before elbowing her in the ribs and chuckling.

"You're lucky I've met your dad and know where you get your terrible sense of humor from, or this would totally be end of friendship."

Quinn smiles, but then sobers again and nudges Santana in the side. "Just … think about it, okay? You guys could meet up at my house or something, so that nobody gets suspicious, or..."

Santana gives her a sharp look that says don't push me and Quinn just smiles.

"What the fuck is up with you anyway? You look like you found out Sleater-Kinney are getting back together or something," Santana finally says.

"I do?" Quinn asks, raising her eyebrows.

Santana reaches up and starts screwing up her hair. "Yeah, seriously-what's with the lack of sulking or glaring?"

"I don't know; woke up on the right side of the bed today, I guess," Quinn says, shrugging.

"It's creeping me out."

Quinn laughs and says, "Well-good thing I don't really care what you think, then."

Santana rolls her eyes. "Practice after school today?"

"Yes, please. I've been working on this Juliana Theory song that I think you'll sound really good on."

Santana smiles smugly. "Bitch, I sound good on everything."

Quinn rolls her eyes and hops off the wall, flicking Santana off before heading back into the building; and yeah, life is pretty good-even better when she spots Rachel talking to Kurt at the end of the hallway, both of them smiling naturally for a change-and of course she stops looking at where she's going and crashes into Mercedes.

"Christ almighty, do you ever watch where you're going?"

Quinn holds up her hands in apology. "Sorry, I was-"

"I don't care. But I hope you know that when Jesse realizes that you aren't going to sleep with him, that cease-fire gets called off and we will make up for lost time," Mercedes snarks at her.

Quinn fights laughter, but not very effectively. "Mercedes-Jesse knows I'm not going to sleep with him, okay? I think you might want to, I don't know, figure out some different plans for the rest of the year."

Mercedes blinks at her twice, and then directs a look down the end of the hall, which-shit, that doesn't spell anything good. Quinn can literally see thoughts flitting through her mind with how her face changes, and then she abruptly says, "Just get out of my way, Fabray", before muscling her way towards her locker and beckoning Kurt over.

Kurt shoots her a look in passing and she makes her best "fuck if I know" face before looking over at where Rachel was just seconds ago-but she's gone, and the second bell is ringing, and so with a sigh she heads to history.

Only four more periods to go.

...

She sits down with the rest of the band at lunch but doesn't eat, which everyone picks up on, because despite having delivered the baby, her appetite is still at pregnancy-level highs and she can out-eat Puck on a good day.

"Sup with you?" he asks, finally, when they've all shot glances at her lack of a tray and the coffee she's nursing already.

"Just-not hungry," she says, shrugging. "I mean, I'll eat later."

Santana gives her a quizzical look but then just says, "Right, so, Barbie here wants to play some Juliana Theory and Promise Ring-and I'm dying to tackle some old Courtney Love, so I mean, I hope you guys all know how to play Violet because-"

"Um, duh, that was like one of the first riffs I learned how to play when I got an electric," Sam says, before digging back into his BLT. "I mhhph mphhmg mphhm... you know?"

Puck swats him in the back of your head. "Dude, have some manners. Cohen-Chang is never going to go out with you if you eat like that."

"Wait-she wants to go out with me?" Sam asks, looking up so sharply he almost drops his sandwich. "Like-on a date?"

"Um, duh," Santana says, in an almost perfect imitation of Brittany.

"She actually thinks you're planning some sort of big event, because it's taking you so long," Quinn says, when Sam looks at her pleadingly.

He groans. "Shit. Shit! I'm not planning anything, she just scares me a little, you know? I asked her how she felt about X-Men and she said western comics were for mama's boys and manga is where it's really at."

Puck starts laughing. "Dude, you have it bad, being all afraid of her. She's just this tiny girl, man. Get your guitar, and sing her a song."

"Not the worst idea," Quinn agrees.

Santana grins a little. "Yeah; get over to the AV room and sing Your Body is a Wonderland."

Sam looks up hopefully. "... you think that'd work?"

"No," Puck and Quinn say, emphatically, even as Santana starts laughing at him.

"Sing something that's very you-y'know, dorky, honest, and about like... feelings and stuff."

Sam squints and says, "You think she'd like The Ataris?"

"Who doesn't like the Ataris," Puck says, and they bump their fists together. "Righteous choice, my man."

Quinn snorts and tries not to look at Santana, or it's unlikely they'll stop laughing all lunch period. She's weirdly reminded of Finn, who somehow thought that she'd be charmed by him singing You're Having My Baby outside of her window two days after breaking up with him, and...

Yeah, no.

"Yay, Sam. Working up the guts of a kindergartner, at long last," Santana says, giving him a sarcastic round of applause, and Quinn's still laughing when the bell rings.

She doesn't look across the room-just picks up her messenger bag and says, "See you guys after school", before heading out to the bathroom and-okay, fine, maybe she's going a little overboard, brushing her teeth, but nothing is worse than bad breath and it doesn't mean that she's expecting that they'll kiss or anything...

Great. Now she's thinking about kissing—like the army of butterflies in her gut isn't going crazy enough.

"Pull it together, Fabray," she says to herself in the mirror, not for the first time-it was kind of a running anthem throughout her cheerleading career, what with having to look at Amy in those ridiculous scraps of fabric that passed for skirts-but somehow it feels completely new anyway.

One last deep breath, for courage, and she's off to the auditorium.

...

It feels weird to not be sneaking in, like she used to-but she lets go of the door when it's fully open and it clangs shut audibly behind her, alerting Rachel to her presence.

All the dumb crap circling in her brain sort of fades when Rachel looks up from the keys and says, "There you are-I was wondering if-"

"Sorry, just had to um-" she starts saying, and then stops abruptly, because there isn't possibly anything less appealing to say than use the bathroom. "Do... something."

"Are you done doing something now?" Rachel asks, as she walks down the aisle and then towards the side of the stage, heading up the steps two at a time, until she's next to the piano.

"Yeah, I'm all yours," she says, trying not to breathe heavily, but she did sort of run over, knowing she was late, and... well, she's not head cheerleader anymore.

Her conditioning's slipping a little and-she should work on that, because Rachel looks like she appreciates people who have diligent work-out routines... and, okay, this is what a panic attack feels like, she thinks, blinking furiously until she focuses on Rachel again.

"Sorry I'm late."

Rachel just sort of smiles and then scoots over. "Sit down."

"Uh," Quinn says, dumbly, while staring at the minuscule piano bench. "Maybe I should... sit on the floor. Or something."

Rachel gives her a look. "You know, I'm not planning on acting like you're contagious, so maybe you can stop acting like am?"

Well, if she's going to put it that way...

Quinn lowers her bag to the ground and gingerly sits down, before looking at the keys and brushing a fingertip past a few of them. "I've always wondered about playing. A string instrument, I mean."

"Why haven't you?" Rachel asks, her fingers pressing down on the other side of the piano a little, but not hard enough to produce sound beyond the soft clacking of the keys themselves. "You're quite musically gifted. I'm sure you'd take to it."

"I don't know," Quinn says, honestly. "I mean, my dad played the drums in this failed late 70s rock band, so the kit's always been in the house and I just sort of... gravitated towards it."

"You kept it a secret, though," Rachel says, and Quinn looks over in surprise. Rachel looks a little embarrassed when she adds, "… sorry. I know a lot about you. I have for years. Finn … used to talk about you a lot, when we met up on Wednesdays."

"Ah," Quinn says, not really sure what else to say. "Um..."

"I had a rather... warped perspective on you because of him. I mean... first I thought you were... amazing, actually. Homecoming queen, a shoe-in for prom, class valedictorian, head cheerleader, and... well, he had a picture of you in his wallet and..."

Quinn clears her throat. "Yeah. Our freshman year school pictures."

"Yeah," Rachel says, blushing a little before looking away. "You just seemed very impressive. Almost as though you were the athletic version of me. I used to tell him that he should bring you to coffee sometime; that we'd probably get along."

Quinn laughs unwillingly. "Geez. I'm guessing that was before..."

"Before … he called me in the middle of the night to tell me that you were pregnant, and breaking up with him. He was distraught and..." Rachel sighs. "Sorry. You probably don't want to talk about this."

"No, it's okay," Quinn says, even though it's not really; but at the same time, she's never given Finn a chance to talk about his side of things, and it's probably easier to hear it from a third party. "You must've been the first person he told."

"I thought you were selfish, and cruel. Here was this great guy, willing to man up for his ... mistake," Rachel says, with a small wince. "He wanted to be there for you, take care of you... gosh, Quinn, he would've married you and made a family with you. And you sent him packing."

Quinn stares at the keys and worries her lip for a moment. "I...I don't think I've ever really thought of how it was for him."

"You told him that he wasn't the baby's father," Rachel says, before looking over. "It really hurt him, you know. He wanted to be the baby's father."

Quinn sighs. "I wasn't... ready for anyone to be the baby's father. I wasn't ready to be the baby's mother, Rachel. It wasn't personal, I just... didn't want to get trapped in a lie. Where we stayed together because of Beth, and... muddled through life, while I knew I didn't love him. That I couldn't love him."

She looks over when Rachel sniffles and says, "Yeah. That would be a terrible choice to make."

"Oh, Rachel, I'm sorry-I didn't mean..." Quinn starts to say, a little helplessly, but Rachel shakes her head.

"It's okay. You know, for years now, it's all been about... what a terrible man he is, and how he chose to do this to us, but … I'm starting to understand that that's not the entire truth. Because I think that... my daddy tried to do the right thing, but just couldn't. Not in the long run."

"That doesn't excuse him leaving you," Quinn says, and watches as Rachel wipes at her eyes with the sleeve on her VA shirt.

"I know. And that's always been the hardest part. I don't know why he just left like that. I just heard my parents fighting, and then he was gone, and my mom took us to church and told me to pray for his soul, because he was lost and would come back. And then when he didn't, after about three months… we stopped talking about him. It was like he was never there at all."

Quinn hesitates, and then gently puts her hand on Rachel's shoulder. "I don't know about your dad, but... I saw Beth for about three minutes, and I can't forget about her. Not ever. He had you for ten years, Rachel. I'm sure he's thinking about you. And there are probably reasons for..."

"They won't be good enough," Rachel says, abruptly, and then sucks in a deep breath and straightens, forcing a smile. "Gosh, this really isn't what I wanted to be talking about today."

"It's okay." Quinn offers a small smile when Rachel looks over, with tired and slightly red eyes. "I'm just glad we're... talking."

"Do you-maybe want to have lunch? I prepared something to play for today, for a change, but... I thought we could eat first?" Rachel says, switching tacks so forcefully that it takes Quinn a second to catch up to her.

"Yeah, okay. Um. I brought my own, but not for you, because most people think vegan food is gross and-"

"I'd try it," Rachel says, easily, shrugging when Quinn looks at her skeptically. "Why not? It's not like it'll kill me; studies have indicated that perhaps there's something to say for an animal-free diet, in terms of long-term health benefits."

"So wait, your test for trying things is whether or not they'll kill you?" Quinn asks, raising her eyebrows. "Because, I mean, impaling yourself on a steak knife might not kill you either, but..."

Rachel rolls her eyes. "It's the test for trying things that sound like they might be good. I have no particular interest in being impaled, so..."

"Good. I'd think that was a little... weird," Quinn says, awkwardly.

Rachel just sort of stares back at her and yeah, okay. Trying things that might be good; she can think of a few, and they mostly involve Rachel's lips. Though there's also a thirty percent chance they will kill her, so...

"C'mon. There's some blankets out in the wings, we can go sit on those," Rachel says, slipping off the bench and picking up her pink backpack.

It's possible that she might not survive fifth period even if they don't kiss, Quinn realizes abruptly, before picking up her bag and heading after Rachel.

...

"It has more flavor than I was expecting," is Rachel's verdict on a vegan cucumber & egg salad sandwich, which... well, Quinn's heard worse.

"It's good for you," she says, before glancing over at Rachel's chorizo pasta. "Unlike that. How do you keep your skin so clean when you eat things that fatty?"

Rachel grins and says, "I'm blessed with great skin. You've seen my mother; I inherited her voice and her looks, and I mean, I could've done a lot worse."

"Yeah, you could've gotten her sunny disposition," Quinn says, dryly.

Rachel chucks a piece of chorizo at her and Quinn gasps in mock outrage.

"Damn, Berry, did you just throw meat at a vegan? That's basically a hate crime."

"It so is not," Rachel says, laughing. "My dad worked with the ACLU … I mean, I guess he might still, but... I assure you that that's not a hate crime."

It's the third time that Rachel's brought up her father, now, and Quinn decides that it's as good an opening as she's going to get. "So-how do you feel about... you know. The fact that he's gay?"

Rachel sucks in a deep breath and then lets it out again without saying anything, and Quinn flinches.

"Sorry-too much too soon, huh? I'm an idiot; I guess I should've asked how you feel about me being gay or something, but..."

"No, it's okay," Rachel says, and then there's a hand on her thigh and Quinn forgets what she asked altogether; instead, she has to remind herself to keep breathing. "I... haven't really let myself think about it. It's... our church condemns it, and I don't want to think about my father going to hell even if he hasn't been a father to me in a very long time now. So I just haven't thought about it. Like I stopped myself from thinking too much about what Kurt's fashion sense suggested, and like I tried to ignore what was happening with Santana and Brittany."

"And now that you're not ignoring those things anymore?" Quinn asks, softly.

Rachel's fingers fall away from her thigh, and Quinn watches as she pulls her knees up to her chest and hugs them. "I... don't know. I really don't know. Do I think it's a sin? Yes. I don't know how to … not think that. But I don't think..." She bites her lip for a moment and then says, "We're talking about my daddy, and two of my best friends, and..."

"And?"

"And you," Rachel says, in kind of a rush, before looking away again. Quinn tries not to wonder what it means that she's in a category all of her own. "I don't think you're bad people. I don't want anything bad to happen to you, and I want you to be happy. I just..."

"You know, I used to wish I was straight," Quinn says, and watches as Rachel looks at her in surprise. "I know I'm like the poster child for Embrace Your Inner Homo these days, but … there's a reason I was with Finn. It wasn't because I was worried about how my parents would react. I just wanted to be... normal."

A look passes over Rachel's face more quickly than she can analyze it, and then Rachel asks, "What changed?"

"I was miserable. Even before I got pregnant. Miserable, and alone, and... even though I told my best friend and she rejected the hell out of me, I felt better. Because I wasn't pretending anymore. I mean, even though I wasn't always down with this idea, my parents did raise me to believe that being true to myself is more important than being normal, you know? And I guess eventually I just learned to believe that."

Rachel nods and looks away again. "Your parents sound like great people."

"They are," Quinn admits. "And I'm lucky, because I have friends who also don't care."

"Yeah," Rachel sighs.

Quinn reaches in her messenger bag for the cookies and takes one out, tapping Rachel on the shoulder until she looks over. "I count you among those friends, you know."

"Even though I …" Rachel asks, looking a little disbelieving.

"You just said that you think I'm a good person and that you want me to be happy. How much more supportive can you get, Rach?" Quinn asks, raising an eyebrow.

Rachel smiles after a second and takes the cookie. "You're too forgiving."

"You're too hard on yourself," she counters, and watches as Rachel's eyes saucer when she takes a first bite.

"Holy ... are these vegan, too?" she then asks, wiping some crumbs off her lips, and Quinn grins.

"Mmhmm."

"Wow. So I guess vegan can be delicious, huh?" Rachel asks, looking at the cookie.

Quinn gapes at her for a moment, until it's clear that Rachel really doesn't mean anything by that, and then she just says, "Um, my mom's a good cook?"

"Yes, she is," Rachel agrees, and—is that a small smirk on her face? Quinn narrows her eyes a little, and Rachel just laughs. "You're very easy to tease, you know."

"You're kind of awful."

"Yeah, but you like that," Rachel says, brushing her hands off on her skirt and then getting up. "C'mon. I want to get some playing time in before we head back to class. This is all I have, you know."

That's a sobering thought, if Quinn's ever heard one, and she lets Rachel pull her up and drag her back to the piano.

...

"Sit down next to me again," Rachel demands, but Quinn shakes her head and leaps off the stage before settling in the front row.

"Can't watch you if I'm sitting that close," she says, and Rachel half-smiles before saying, "Fine, then."

The opening chords to Collect Call sound a moment later, and Quinn chuckles loudly enough for Rachel's fingers to pause.

"Metric, huh?" she asks, raising her eyebrows. "Any reason?"

"I know you like them," Rachel says, with another one of those half-smiles. "You were wearing a Metric t-shirt when I first saw you."

"Yeah, was that right before or right after you got me Slushied?" Quinn asks, raising her eyebrows.

Rachel plays the beginnings of a funeral march, until Quinn laughs again, and then says, more seriously, "I am sorry about that. It was on Finn's behalf, more than anything. Not to mention that you're incredibly annoying when you want to be."

"I'm sorry, I'm incredibly annoying? Did you just actually accuse me of being annoying?" Quinn asks, not knowing if she wants to laugh or throw something at Rachel or just-

Rachel grins. "Yeah; all self-righteous and smug and arrogant about your ability to … what, tumble off another girl's back? I mean, come on, Quinn. They've trained border collies to do things like that."

Throwing something doesn't feel like it'll be good enough, and so she gets back up, brushes her hands on her legs, and says, "You will eat those words; can a border collie do this?"

A kind of sloppy handspring onto the stage is hardly Olympic level gymnastics, but-

"I think it'd be more impressed if you didn't just almost fall over," Rachel notes, blithely clapping for her with a giant smirk on her face.

"I hateyou," Quinn says, glancing down to make sure she didn't lose her pants with that unplanned show of gymnastic ability. "Whatever. You're totally impressed and you know it."

"Oh, please," Rachel says, snorting. "I'm friends with Brittany. You're going to have to try harder than that."

"Yeah, like how?" Quinn asks, and-damn, she doesn't know when she got this close, but she's suddenly right next to Rachel, towering over her a little, and-

"I don't know," Rachel says back, suddenly a lot quieter, looking up at her with focused, dark eyes. "I'm sure you'll think of something."

It feels like an opening; it really does, with the way Rachel's barely breathing, and her tongue's flicking out over her lips, but-damn it. She promised she'd never do anything unless Rachel asked, and this isn't asking.

She braces herself and leans in close to her ear and says, "You know, some people say I'm a pretty okay drummer."

Rachel chuckles and swats at her ribs, and she rubs her stomach with a small wince afterwards.

"You know you're better than just okay, you nerd," Rachel says, and Quinn sinks down onto the bench next to her, still rubbing at her ribs.

"Now you oweme a Metric song. Geez. First you wound my ego, then you bruise my ribs-what's next, breaking my heart?" she asks, jokingly.

Rachel looks over abruptly, though, and Quinn sighs when she knows she's gone too far.

"Sorry," she mumbles.

Rachel starts playing, instead of saying anything, and then softly starts singing, and Quinn wonders if she'll ever be able to forget this moment; Rachel losing herself in the music, and she herself just losing everythingin Rachel.

"That was really good," she says, when Rachel trails off with the main melody just one last time.

Rachel gives her a small smile. "Thiswas really good," she says, before glancing down at Quinn's lips and-for just one second, Quinn thinks that... maybe...

The double doors in the back swing open and Jesse calls out, "Oh, there you are. Rachel, I'm dying to practice that cover of Lover, You Should Have Come Overand Brad, for some godforsaken reason, doesn't seem to think that it's appropriate for him to set up two hours early to help me."

"We can practice now," Rachel says, most of the warmth dropping from her voice; there's still some of it there, but it's all geared at Jesse, and Quinn gets up before the moment can fade away any further.

"Quinn Fabray," Jesse calls out, running up the stage and dramatically falling to his knees in front of her. "Don't leave. You're my muse. I see your-terrible hair, and your teenage boy clothes, and I just want to devote every word that falls from my lips to you."

Quinn laughs despite herself. "You are sogross. I don't know why-"

"Jesse, for God's sake, be an adult," Rachel says, curtly, without looking up from the piano.

"Can't be something I'm not, Rachel," he says, getting back up and pulls Quinn into a hug she really doesn't want-at least, not until he whispers, "It's funny how much she hatesme flirting with you, isn't it" into her ear and then slaps her on the ass.

"You're an asshole," she mouths at him, even as Rachel starts playing and he sinks down on the bench next to her, taking a deep breath before starting to sing along to the music.

It's not the performance she wanted to see today, because Rachel loosens up all over again when she starts singing along with Jesse, who gives it his all to great effect-and all their interplay is doing is reminding her that staged or not, he hasRachel in a way she doesn't.

He can put his arm around her shoulders, and kiss her on the cheek when they're done with the song, and pick her up from the piano bench and twirl her and promise her a future in New York, where they'll blow everyone away.

And Rachel's mother will support them every step of the way.

It smarts, seeing them together like this, even if it doesn't mean anything.

It just smarts.

...

She slips out the auditorium before they actually finish singing, without saying anything, and then bumps into Kurt outside. "Miss Fabray-how was your lunch with our resident diva?"

"Misguided," she says, with a sigh.

Kurt frowns at her, but she shakes her head.

"I don't want to talk about it. But before I forget-we've re-scheduled that gig that we cancelled last week. Puck's on the 14th."

"Valentine's Day?" Kurt asks, before frowning. "Lord. I'm not sure I won't have alternative plans."

"Yeah, well. Some of us are pretty sure that we won't," she says, with a wry smile. "See you later, Hummel."

He sticks up a hand goodbye, with a small frown, and she heads over to the quad, hoping that someone in the band is skipping and wants to go get something really, really fattening to eat with her.

...

Another night of tossing and turning, before she decides that she's being ridiculous.

It's not Rachel's fault that Jesse's still around.

Maybe, for half an hour, Quinn let herself believe in a magical world where there is no Jesse, and no Shelby, and no Santana and no baby Beth, and they were just two girls with a piano and a shared fondness for Canadian indie rock-but that's all that was. A fantasy.

The reality is that Jesse will be around, as Rachel's singing partner if nothing else, and she needs to not be a baby about it, because Shelby isn't wrongabout how well they gel together.

She knows what it means to work an audience, and it's not like Rachel is pitching fits because of the way Santana likes to play up the gay angle when Untitled Band-

She sits upright in bed when she flashes back to their first gig, and how Rachel had just disappeared, and then weakly falls back onto her mattress, before rubbing her hands over her face.

Surely she's not just imaginingall of these things?

But then even if she isn't, she's feeling much too raw to just askRachel, because it would be pushing things and-the answer's going to be no, if she asks now.

If she can just hold on, and wait, maybe it will turn into yes.

"Not yet," she tells herself, in the mirror, before spitting out some toothpaste and wiping some foam away from her mouth. "Not yet means someday."

She nods at herself sternly, and vows to stop screwing up what hasto be a chance for her to get what she wants.

She wants it more than ever, now.

...

She can't undo walking out of the auditorium, but she canpretend she didn't, and so she mans up on Thursday and heads to the AV room.

She settles down next to Rachel without hesitation and says, "Hey"-like they do this all the time.

Artie watches them like they're an Olympic tennis match, even though Rachel just says, "Hey" back and then goes back to the layout she's toying with.

"Um, sorry about disappearing; my dad called and I didn't want to interrupt your performance," Quinn says, because lying through her teeth is easier than admitting why she'd really left.

Rachel somehow relaxes a lot at that simple explanation. "See, Jesse thought you left for fear of passing out at the sound of his voice, but this sounds a lotmore plausible."

Quinn chuckles and says, "Jesse needs to get his head examined. What are you doing?"

"Planning," Rachel says, before offering Quinn one of her ear buds. "Listen with me?"

It's not even really a peace offering, but it's an offering, and after glaring at Artie until he starts at least pretendingto be doing something on his computer again, she takes it.

Rachel loads up a Rilo Kiley album that Quinn hasn't listened to in years, but really doesn't mind all that much, and it's another one of those strange moments where she can almost tastehow things would be, between them, if everything was completely different.

She's done sighing about that, though, and just takes it for what it is: friendship. A lot more than she had a week ago.

"I thought we'd do Mercedes, this month," Rachel says, pushing Mercedes' name card to the top of the table. "This is going to sound unbearably arrogant, but I've always been told I'm sweeps material, and since Nationals are in April..."

"It's not arrogant if it's true," Quinn says, with a shrug. "It's like dessert, you know. You save the best for last."

Rachel gives her another one of those looks that sets her heart rate thrumming, and she changes subject quickly, because friendsdon't stare at each other like this. God.

"Um, Mercedes kind of hates me, though, so... maybe someone else can take some pictures of her."

"Kurt'll do it if I ask," Rachel says, and Quinn nods; Jenny Lewis starts singing A Better Son/Daughter, and without even saying anything, Rachel fast-forwards to the next song.

Quinn gives her a look, but Rachel just trains her eyes on the layout and swaps a picture out for more text with comment. She could push, but... Artie's right there, and that's not really taking a step back the way she knows she has to.

"So-um, if I'm not doing the spread, where do you want me?" she asks, rubbing at her forehead and reminding herself to just take it easy.

Easier said than done; her mind is a mess, and ... what did she just say?

Rachel is staring at her disbelievingly and she flushes hard. "Uh-"

"Come to the quad at lunch, on Friday," Rachel cuts her off, before looking back to the table. "We're-putting on a performance and it's important to me that you see it."

"We-being you and Jesse?"

Rachel shakes her head. "We being all of Vocal Adrenaline."

Quinn winces, and rubs her knuckle against her cheek, wondering if it's as red as it feels hot. "I don't know, Rach. Sorry, but Satan's Show Choir isn't really my thing to begin with, and your mother hates me enough without me showing an interest in-"

She shuts up abruptly when Rachel's hand covers her own, where it's nervously tapping out the rhythm of the song they're listening to on her thigh. "Please come. For me."

She sighs. It's not like Santana won't drag them to go look anyway, and it's not like she can actually claim she's needed elsewhere, so why not spend another lunch period watching Rachel with her boyfriend, doing the best impersonation of being in love that she's ever seen anyone do?

"Okay," she says, before pulling her hand away-and it hurts, both the muted surprise on Rachel's face and the sudden lack of contact, but damn it.

Santana's right. She has to protect herself a little, or Rachel's not going to be able to keep that promise she made yesterday.

Her heart's in enough trouble as it is, already.

Chapter Text

Kurt drops off some pictures of Mercedes by Thursday and Quinn scans the whole lot to edit them down somehow; not that there isn't a lot to say for a black Disney princess theme-there is, because her dad likes to talk about these things over the dinner table from time to time-but something about the shoot feels really juvenile, and that's basically the last word she'd ever use to describe Mercedes.

She's still at it at around 6pm, with Tina proofreading an article across from her, when there's a small knock on the door.

"Hey," Sam says, sticking his head around the door. "Um. Tina. Do you have a minute?"

His arm's sticking out behind him strangely and Quinn tries to hide a grin when Tina just raises her eyebrows and says, "Come on in."

He shuffles in, directing a sort of pleading get out look at Quinn, who gamely gets up off her chair and pushes it towards the middle of the room, where Sam sits down on it and quickly re-tunes his guitar.

She's leaning against the wall outside of the room, trying not to laugh out loud when Sam starts playing I.O.U. One Galaxy, which is kind of cheesy, but given that 90% of the Ataris' earlier and better stuff is about break-ups, it's probably the best he could do.

"What is going on in there?" it sounds next to her, suddenly; the corridor's mostly blackened with emergency lighting only, and the only part of Rachel's face that she can see clearly are her eyes. Insipid metaphors about dark stars fire in her brain-and she blames the song for it, at least a little-until she sticks a finger to her lips and whispers, "Sam's asking Tina out."

"Through song?" Rachel asks, sounding amused.

"Well, yeah, it's kind of our thing, isn't it?" Quinn says, with a shrug, before putting her finger to her lips. A few claps sound from the room when Sam finishes, and then Quinn can hear a whole lot of nothing; the temptation to go peer through the window in the door is great, but Rachel's amusement is confusing and distracting her. "Um. Is that not how you'd want to be asked out?"

Rachel laughs softly. "Not really, no. That sort of lost its charm when Jesse did it and I found out a month later that my mother had told him what to sing and where to sing it."

She looks over abruptly, and... Rachel's bangs are messy; her fingers tremble with a desire to reach out and fix them. To stop that from happening, she says, "So-what then?"

"What then what?"

"If not by song-how would you ideally like to be asked out? You know, if you weren't already seeing someone. Um, and I mean, I'm not … asking for me, I'm just.. making conversation," Quinn says, wondering how it is possible that someone heading back up towards a 4.0 GPA manages to sound so dim every time she has to talk to this one person. It's almost a science exhibit at this point: homo sapien loses ability to function in three steps.

Rachel grins at her. "Do I make you nervous?"

"What on earth would've given you that idea?" Quinn says, rolling her eyes at herself, and Rachel leans against the wall next to her.

"I guess the person that I'd really want to go out with would just ask me in a way that was true to them. Not the way that they think I would want them to ask, and not by listening to my mother, but... it would be someone who would just..." Rachel trails off and then shrugs. "I guess what I'm saying is that it would nice to be surprised."

"Yeah, I know what you mean," Quinn says, and scuffs her nails against her jeans, just to have something to do. "I swear, one more dinner at Breadstix and a movie date with Finn and I would've probably voluntarily jumped in front of a car."

Rachel laughs. "How are you friends with Santana? She lives and breathes Breadstix."

"They don't really cater to the vegan diet," Quinn says, wincing. "I mean, the breadsticks themselves are nice but hardly a real meal and-"

"So you must spend a lot of time getting take-out from that Thai place on Third, huh?" Rachel asks.

Quinn looks over in surprise and then feels a question bubble up that she doesn't even feel like stopping. They're in the dark. This hardly counts as the real world. Maybe there won't be consequences. "Have you been doing research into vegan food in Lima?"

Rachel shrugs, like it's absolutely meaningless. "If we're going to be … socializing, I'd like to know where I can take you without being accused of further hate crimes."

God. It's almost impossible to associate this girl-the most adorable thing she's ever met-with the stuck up bitch who started a fight with her back in November. How far they've come, in just three months, and for a moment, Quinn indulges; just stares at Rachel until her heart starts racing at the way Rachel's tongue darts out and wets her lips, and the way Rachel then-nervously?-tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, and the way-

The door behind them opens up and Sam comes out, clutching his guitar and frantically rubbing at his hair.

"Yeah, you're not going to be able to make that look less messy, buddy," Quinn says, before holding out a fist for him to bump. "Just please tell me you didn't lay her out on the February mock-up because I happen to know the editor of the paper and," and she drops her voice to a whisper, "she's kind of a bitch about people messing up her product."

Rachel kicks at her shin and then, a little awkwardly, also holds out her fist. "Congratulations, Sam. The chemistry between you two has been obvious for a while now and I admire you for your ability to go after what you want. With positive results, if the state of your lips is anything to go by."

Sam looks between them for a moment and says, "I think I just figured out what the advent of the apocalypse would look like."

Quinn chuckles, and he pulls her into a quick hug and murmurs a thanks against her neck, and then gently bumps his hand against Rachel's as well.

"Where are you taking her?" Quinn asks.

"I was thinking Breadstix..."

Rachel starts laughing first, even as Quinn says, "Trust me, Sam, just don't."

He looks incredibly confused, but it's hard to feel bad about that when Rachel is so relaxed and right there and...

Happy. That's what that look on her face is. She looks happy.

Quinn's never been more smitten, and doesn't really know how the hell to hide it anymore.

...

Rachel had given her some instructions on where to sit for the best view of the performance on Friday, and so she drags Santana over to a cable in the corner of the quad. They sit down on it, even as Artie wheels up next to them and Tina plops down onto the bench by the table.

Puck and Sam wander over with their guitars a moment later and Quinn frowns at them. "Are you guys playing back-up for VA?"

"Nah, dude, this is just so we can rehearse after school today," Puck says, with a small smile. "Valentine's Day is like, next week."

"Shit, you're right," Quinn murmurs, and then looks over to where the VA army is assembling, because if Valentine's Day is next week, then it's only three more weeks until the concert and... then what? Her bargain with Shelby has a clear expiration date stuck on it. Technically, she can do whatever she wants to with Rachel's March expose-and God, that leads to some visuals of Rachel in just her underwear, rolling around on a bed, that she really shouldn't be having at all, let alone in public...

She jolts out of her thoughts when Shelby clicks on a microphone.

"Thank you all for coming. As you are probably aware by now, we are off to the Central Ohioan Regional Show Choir championships for a record seventh year in a row, and we fully intend to come back with another trophy to do this school proud."

A small smattering of applause breaks out, and Quinn snorts when she realizes that most of it is coming from Miss Pillsbury.

"As we have done in years past, as a sign of our appreciation for all the support we have been given by the entire school, we are giving you an exclusive preview of one of our performances. Before we kick off, I'd like to especially thank the Tea Party's Sue Sylvester for her donations and support in the past year-Sue is in the audience today and needs your votes if you are going to be eighteen in time for the next congressional elections."

A crazy looking lady in a track suit sticks up her hand and then bows, and Quinn just glances at Santana, who makes a cuckoo motion with her hand before leaning in and saying, "That, my friend, is a big fish; normally it's just some crazy reverend from a hardcore Lutheran church, but this is like, a huge ordeal. Nationals will be a freebie this year if that lady's backing us."

Quinn would make a comment about deals with the devil, but it feels like tempting fate, the way that Shelby's right there and she's just realized that almost all of her reasons to be talking to Rachel at all are quickly coming to an end. Rachel's expose is the last one, and after that, they do an issue on the graduating class but-it won't be the same.

And then it'll be summer, and...

Sam flicks at her shin. "You okay? It's like all thunderclouds on your face right now."

"Yeah, I'm fine, just-can they get going already?" Quinn murmurs, directing her look at the stairs on the other side of the quad again, and-oh. There they are.

They're not in their usual uniforms; instead, Rachel and Jesse are wearing white shirts over their VA skirt and slacks respectively. Everyone else behind them is wearing smatterings of red and white as well. They look good, and Brittany is pulling on her ponytail as Mike leans on her shoulder and stretches out his hamstring; and Kurt and Mercedes are talking about something on his phone for a few moments, until Rachel claps her hands together just once, and-

"If we ever go to war, I want VA in the front lines for like, so many reasons," Puck mumbles behind her, and Santana snickers until Quinn elbows her in the ribs.

Then, she almost starts laughing herself when the music starts playing, and-

"What the hell?" Santana asks, before also covering her mouth.

Vocal Adrenaline is covering Wheatus' Teenage Dirtbag, which has to go down as the least Christian friendly song they've ever performed, and … Quinn can't really help the grin that's spreading on her face-especially not when it's clear that they've inverted the lyrics and it's the girls that are singing, pushing boys away from them and then-

"Holy crap," Sam says, when on the chorus, the girls face the audience again and rip their shirts open in one smooth move, revealing black t-shirts underneath that loudly proclaim Dirtbag in a jagged, lightning-like white script.

"Um," Quinn says, sort of in agreement, but it's hard to come up with more words when Rachel shoves Jesse onto his back and then straddles him, singing the bridge in a flawless harmony with the rest of the girls.

"Wow. Someone must've leaked who's on the judging panel and uh, the composition must've changed drastically from previous years," Santana says, scratching at her cheek a little.

"You jealous you're not up there?" Quinn asks, askance.

Santana shoots her a look and then sighs. "A little. This is actually the kind of shit Rachel and I wanted to do with VA, as opposed to just fucking-you know that scene in Saved, where Mandy Moore has to like, sing about Jesus' love at the assembly?"

Quinn laughs. "Yeah, I know what you mean."

They fall silent as the performance continue, until it ends with the girls digging one heel into their boys' chests, and Rachel sweeping her hair back over her shoulder and-her eyes scan the crowd frantically until they lock on Quinn, who grins while contemplating a thumbs up-but that would be incredibly lame and obvious, so she just gently keeps clapping.

The applause Vocal Adrenaline gets feels entirely natural for a change, and when Quinn glances over at Shelby, she looks slightly surprised at how well they are received. Rachel doesn't seem to be shocked at all, and when her mother looks over to her, she just shrugs with a smug little smile.

"Thank you all very much for coming-and wish us luck," Shelby says, and clicks off her microphone.

Quinn's sliding off the table, and-okay, yeah, she gets why Rachel wanted her to see this. It was fun, and a little different, and... maybe this was Rachel's way of saying that she's not as square as she comes off. Either way, it wasn't the soppy ballad that she was expecting and so she turns to Santana and says, "Maybe you should audition again; y'know, add an authentic bad girl to the mix."

Santana really slowly flips her off. "Bite me so hard, Fabray."

Quinn grins, and then a burst of static sounds through the amps surrounding the quad.

"Um, before you all go," Rachel's voice calls out, and Quinn's head whips automatically. "I have one more performance that I'd like to share with you today."

Kurt looks at her sharply for a moment, and then she nods at him; he bounds off stage and heads towards the sound booth, and Quinn watches as Shelby's face sets and she stares at Rachel with a look that-

"What the fuck is she doing?" Santana mumbles next to her, sounding so unexpectedly concerned that Quinn takes a step back and leans against the table again.

"As I'm sure most of you know... Jesse St. James and I have been a couple for almost three years now," Rachel says, calmly. Quinn swears she can see a muscle in Shelby's neck start to throb, and she'd comment on it, but all she can do is hold on to the table with both hands and stay upright. "During that time, I think it's fair to say that he's slept with over half of the people present in our audience right now."

The crowd had been tensely silent; now, a swell of murmuring starts, and a few girls start backing away from the quad and back to the school. Quinn shoots a glance at Jesse, who-doesn't look nearly as surprised as he should, and Quinn feels her mouth fall open.

"Oh my God. They're breaking up," she exhales.

"What?" Santana asks, shooting her a look. "Uh, can't they do that in private-"

Quinn shushes her-she'd explain, but Santana really should know better, because nobody in this school goes against Shelby's wishes without paying for it somehow, and that holds double for Rachel. Any agreement to stop seeing each other in private would be overruled almost immediately, and so instead...

Jesse catches her eyes and his lips curl up just a bit; that's when she starts wondering if she's just dreaming.

"Jesse-you're a jerk," Rachel says, turning to him with wounded eyes. "I gave you everything, and you just threw it all away. But I want you to know that I'm not pining over you; that I know that I'm worth more than you, and that I will have twice the career that you will have-"

Jesse does actually flinch at that, and Quinn feels the last bit of air leave her lungs in a weak laugh.

"And that I don't need you. I don't need you at all. Kurt?"

The guitar chords for Kelly Clarkson's Since U Been Gone start playing, and Sam starts laughing behind Quinn before whistling loudly on his fingers in support.

Rachel snaps into the performance and delivers it so thoroughly that there isn't a single person in the quad who will leave today thinking she has any feelings left for Jesse at all.

That just leaves freedom, and Quinn worries her lip between her teeth until it does in fact start to bleed, because-

"Is she doing this for you?" Santana hisses at her.

"I don't know," Quinn admits, honestly. "I think she might be doing it for herself..."

"Well, either way, you better be ready to throw down with her mother because shit is going to rain down on her for this in ways that you and I can't even compute, girl," Santana says, shaking her head.

Quinn looks over, even though it's nearly impossible to stop looking at Rachel, who for once seems to be singing as herself, and not the co-captain of Vocal Adrenaline. It's awesome, in the literal sense of the word, and God, what she wouldn't give to run up on those stairs at the end of the performance and tell Rachel as much in whatever words she can find.

As it is, she has to linger back, and watch as Santana's anger slips right out of reach and is replaced by something much older than that.

"I'm going to force both of you to come and hang out at my house this weekend," Quinn says, because it's time.

Santana's jaw flexes for a second, and then she says, "Fine. But she needs to apologize for real, and if she breaks your heart I will fucking kill her."

"That seems fair," Quinn says, and looks back over just in time for the ending of the song-with Rachel almost plaintively singing one final since you've been gone.

If the applause for Teenage Dirtbag was solid, this is on a whole different scale, and Quinn flashes to an inevitable moment in the future where the quad is a theater or an amphitheater or a small cafe somewhere, and people are paying through the nose to be there when Rachel Berry performs her latest single or the closing number in her new show, and-

Fuck, she wants to be front and center, first on her feet and applauding, and that's exactly what she does-until Rachel looks right back at her, and almost smiles, and Quinn's heart feels like it's going to burst right out of her chest.

...

She doesn't have Rachel's number, and maybe asking Jesse for it is a little tacky right now-even though he was clearly in on it-so she finds Kurt and asks him instead.

He hands it over without protest, but then locks his palm over hers when she's taken the post-it from him.

"This isn't even close to the end of it, Quinn," he says, softly. "Her life is going to be hell because of what she did today."

"She didn't do it for me," Quinn protests.

"No. But she did it because of you, and you care about her, so-don't let her down, now." Kurt gives her a pointed look, and then smiles. "By the way-I'll be there on Valentine's Day. You'll like Blaine; he goes to a school without all the politics that this one has, and consequently is a much more functional person than anyone you've talked to in the last however many months."

She smiles. "Not a hard standard to meet, Kurt."

"I know, but still," he says, tipping his hat at her and heading off to physics.

She looks at the post-it note in her palm, and the number on it, and within about twenty seconds she has it memorized.

...

It takes her until the end of school to work up the guts to call Rachel, but that's to be expected. What do you say to the girl who dumps her boyfriend in front of almost two hundred people but hasn't exactly given you a legend to decipher what it means?

She settles for, "Hey", before stretching out on her back on the bleachers; with Carmel's lacking athletics program, it's the one place she's guaranteed to not be interrupted by anyone.

"Hey," Rachel says, and then almost shyly asks, "So... was it worth it? Seeing us perform today?"

Quinn could be coy, or she could be honest, and really-she doesn't know how to be coy about this. "I don't know, I mean. Isn't that something you should be asking?"

"It was worth it for me," Rachel says, with indisputable firmness in her voice, even though it's quiet. "I don't want to be in a relationship with someone I don't love. Especially not now that there's a chance that-"

"That what?"

Rachel inhales audibly and then says, "Now that there's a chance that there is someone close to me who I could have feelings for."

"Oh, my God," Quinn says, before she can stop herself. "I-uh-"

Any possible verbal response exits from her mind, and she knows she's just stupidly breathing into the phone; but then Rachel's being just as quiet, and maybe that's the way they should be, right now. The moment feels incredibly fragile, even though for once she didn't stick her foot in it, and she's almost afraid to move.

"I don't know what to do anymore, Quinn," Rachel finally admits. "I have these feelings and they're not going away. I wake up most mornings, wondering what juvenile band t-shirt you'll be wearing to school today, or where you even found that hooded sweatshirt with the gay T-Rex on it. I head to school and wonder if you'll sit at the back in English, and if you're just going to spend the entire period ignoring our teacher and reading ahead again. I try to pay attention to my friends over lunch, but instead wish that I could be sitting at your table, because you always look like you're having so much fun and..."

"Rachel, please just-slow down," Quinn breathes out, before biting down on her knuckles. "This is-you just broke up with Jesse and I mean, not that I don't want to be hearing this but... thinking about me all the time isn't the same thing as wanting to... I don't know..."

"I know," Rachel says, quickly, and then exhales shakily. "And I don't know what any of this means. It's hard for me to think about. It'd be easier if... I was more sexually experienced, I suppose, but I don't believe in sex before marriage..."

"Of course you don't," Quinn says, with a deep sigh, and then laughs at herself. "Sorry, I mean, uh, that's up to you, obviously. I don't know why I'm saying stuff like that concerns me because-"

"Quinn, don't be an idiot," Rachel says, shortly. "If I didn't think it potentially concerned you, do you really think I'd be bringing it up right now?"

Quinn swallows hard and closes her eyes, counting to five and reminding herself to keep breathing. "If … you heard a loud crash and then nothing else, it's because I've passed out. I'm on the bleachers out by the football field and um, please call an ambulance because this is a pretty steep fall down and my skull isn't that thick."

Rachel sort of sighs and laughs at the same time. "Why are you making this so hard?"

"Because … you're telling me everything that I want to hear, but you're not saying the one thing that I really need to be hearing here, which is that you know I'm a girl and you don't care," Quinn says, after a long moment of hanging on-because this will shatter the bubble and she's going to have to spend another few nights thinking about all of the things Rachel said just now and how they still don't bring her any closer to actually...

"Quinn," it sounds, right next to her, and she shoots up from the bleachers and looks down underneath them, where Rachel is standing in her little pea coat, clicking a button on her phone and then wrapping her arms around herself. "Come down here, please."

Her legs move automatically, even though the rest of her feels like sludge; because whatever is waiting for her down there, it's going to change everything, and … is she ready? Is she ready to get into this even further, when there's no clear or good outcome in sight? Can she actually do this, when she's still a huge mess and Rachel's worse than she is?

But then, her legs betray her, and she's suddenly in front of Rachel, who reaches out and zips up her coat and says, "You're going to catch your death if you don't start wearing more layers."

"Thanks, mom," Quinn forces herself to say, as lightly as she can, and then Rachel's fingers linger on the zipper and it shatters her self-control completely. "Rachel..."

"Yeah," Rachel says, looking up cautiously.

"I said I'd never … try anything if you didn't want me to," Quinn says, willing her muscles to stop shaking.

"I know," Rachel says, fingers still toying with the zipper, like it's the only way that they can possibly connect.

"You have to let me know if you want me to," Quinn says. "Because I think about you all the time as well-if today is a headband day or a ponytail day, and if you're going to be singing something happy or something sad during fifth period, and how it's even possible that you eat as much meat as you do and I still want to kiss you, and … how I wish that we could just be together somewhere, and talk about things that we don't talk about to other people and-how I want to know what you want from life, and how I want to help you get it and-"

Rachel's eyes start to shimmer, and then she says, "I haven't eaten any meat today. Just in case."

Quinn has to ask-she doesn't have a choice anymore. "Just in case what?"

And then that small hand on zipper pulls hard, and she's stumbling forward and Rachel is reaching for the back of her neck and pulling her down, into a kiss that she can only think of as her first real kiss, because it matters-it matters so much, the way she's suddenly the taller person and she needs to lean down a little, and the way Rachel cranes up and bounces onto her toes, pushing and pulling at the same time, making them both wobble precariously. It's not much more than lips pressing together, harshly, until Quinn finds her footing.

Then, she squeezes her eyes shut harder and forces herself to stop thinking about how this might be her only chance-Rachel could panic and bolt, or Shelby could find out, or maybe it's not going to be as amazing as she always thought her first kiss with a girl would be. She doesn't want any of those thoughts; all she wants is to focus on Rachel's hand on her shoulder, seeking balance, and the way that Rachel slowly starts tilting her head a little, turning the kiss from a press into a more delicate kind of contact, and...

She breaks away just long enough to lick at her lips and then actually kisses Rachel-the way she'd taken years to teach Finn how to kiss, sliding their lips together until Rachel gasps and there-that tiny bit of space that means that she can kiss first her upper lip, then her bottom lip, and then both of them at the same time again.

Rachel is trembling against her; she can feel it even though there's still some space between them, and she knows she's shaking just as hard-and then Rachel pulls back and presses her forehead against Quinn's jacket. Quinn wonders if she might actually die, the way she can't get enough air into her lungs and the way her heart is just plain running out of her chest.

She feels too much, and it would be terrifying if not for the fact that Rachel's still right there, holding on to her like the ground is going to disappear any second now.

"I'm not gay," Rachel says, softly, the words muffled in Quinn's coat. "I'm not gay, I know I'm not gay, but then there's you and I just don't know what to do anymore."

"It's okay," Quinn says, and hesitates for just a second before bringing one hand up from Rachel's lower back and running it through her hair. "It's okay-you have time, okay? To figure it out. We have time."

Rachel nods against her and swallows audibly, and Quinn wonders if there is anything about this moment that could be more perfect, even though she's standing in mud that's soaking through her Chucks, and it's starting to rain and Rachel is still shaking like a leaf against her.

She wouldn't change a thing, and lets the moment linger as long as she feels she can.

Then, she says, "Hey-Santana's sleeping over at my house this weekend. Can you think of a way to join us?"

Rachel pulls away at that, and Quinn gives herself one last gift; a quick brush of her hand against Rachel's cheek, that Rachel almost leans into, until it's gone and she's tucking her hands into her coat pockets.

"I can tell my mother that I'm spending the night at Mercedes' if … are you sure you want me there?" Rachel asks, with a concerned look on her face.

Quinn can't help the stupid, gentle smile on her face. "It was Santana's idea."

Rachel opens her mouth a few times and then closes it again, and Quinn takes a deep breath and a step back-just because slow is good, and she's not sure how slow she can manage with Rachel that close.

"I think she's a little worried Shelby is going to kill you. I mean, I am too, but... it was her idea. I didn't... I wouldn't have suggested because, I mean, um. I don't know how you feel about sleeping over at my house... in my bed," she says, feeling herself start to blush. "I mean, it would be totally … I wouldn't try anything, but..."

Rachel's face slowly relaxes into a smile. "I can't believe I used to think you were kind of tough."

"I am kind of tough."

"Yes; you're positively menacing," Rachel says, teasingly, and Quinn feels her heart patter inconsistently for the fifth time in as many minutes.

She fakes a glare. "Hey-I'm willing to brave your mother's eternal wrath for a chance to um... get to know you better-clearly I'm either crazy or really kind of a bad-ass."

Rachel's smile falters. "Yes. I guess you've got me there."

"Hey-it's okay, I don't mind kicking against the establishment for a good cause," Quinn says, ducking her head and nudging Rachel's chin up with her index finger.

"Charming as your rebellious streak is, I hope I'm worth it," Rachel says, lowering her eyes almost immediately.

"Rachel-"

Rachel smiles a little sadly and then shakes her head. "I have no regrets about today, Quinn."

Quinn feels her heart sink. "But..."

".. but I'm also not ready to ... I don't know what comes after this. I need time."

Quinn realizes that if she feels emotionally all over the place, Rachel's head must be like a shooting gallery right now, and she tilts back onto her heels and says, "I get it. It took me ages to come to terms with... what I wanted. I'm not going to tell you that you can't take your time. I'd rather you be sure than... experimenting. With me."

Rachel winces. "That's... yes. I don't want you to feel like that's what I'm doing either, which is why..."

"Can I just ask... that you're honest with me, about how you feel and what you're thinking?" Quinn hesitantly suggests.

Rachel swallows visibly and then rubs her hand together. "Well. I'm not sure I can process everything I'm thinking right now, out loud, but... when I evaluate … the kiss..."

"Um, I think... wait... are you going to actually critique my kissing skills right now?" Quinn sort of stutters out, stopping when Rachel holds up her hand.

"You asked for honesty, and this is something I can talk about," Rachel says, before sucking in a deep breath. "… I liked kissing you. Granted, technically, I feel like we were both a little off our game, and obviously any real assessment has to consider your use of tongue, which is usually a deal breaker, in my experience..."

"Jesus," Quinn says, covering her face with her hand. "Rachel-"

Rachel smiles after a second and stares down at the soggy ground between them. "Emotionally, however, kissing you made me feel the way that Rachmaninoff's later pieces do, which... well."

"Is that a good thing?" Quinn asks, and watches as Rachel digs around her pocket for her iPhone and finds something and presses play.

The musical composition in question is like an endless stream of fireworks going off, and Quinn stares at Rachel stupidly as it drills into her brain.

"I think it's a good thing," Rachel says, pulling away the ear bud and pocketing her iPod again. "I don't really have a frame of reference, though, because... nothing has ever made me feel the way that being near you does."

Quinn rubs at her face and shakes her head. "Oh, wow, Rachel. ... unless you want to collect some more empirical data for your evaluation, you should probably go right now. Geez."

Rachel smiles and reaches for her hand, squeezing it softly. "I hope you know how wonderful you are."

It's exactly the right thing to say to quell her hormones back to a bearable level, and Quinn runs her free hand through her now-wet and shaggy hair, and then says, "Give me a hug. C'mon. That's friendly and fine and-I think we both need it."

Rachel doesn't protest, and the way she slots in right underneath Quinn's chin makes her a little lightheaded. She knew she was gay before, but this sort of seals the deal in a way that just thinking about Rachel, or Amy-who now feels like a distant fleck in her rear view mirror at best-would never have been able to.

She was made to tuck a girl into her arms like this, and when Rachel softly says, "Your arms are so strong", with a soft sigh, she realizes she's not the only one who recognizes that they just fit.

Knowing that, the idea of giving Rachel some more time to figure stuff out-

Yeah, it really doesn't seem like a big deal at all.

Chapter Text

The moment breaks apart when Rachel's cell phone rings-some Broadway show stopper, and she knows already that the minute she confesses that she doesn't know what it is, Rachel will gasp in outrage and then plan out the rest of the year until Quinn is properly educated in musical theater... which sounds torturous except for the part where it's with Rachel, and so she just sort of smiles as Rachel pulls away and answers it.

The way her face tightens as soon as she says, "Hello?" makes her smile falter, but only for a second, because as Rachel starts walking away, there's still a little skip in her step that makes Quinn see that it's not just her that feels this much.

She decides to get back under the alcove right outside of the school entrance, even though her shoes are pretty much destroyed by now and she's already soaking wet anyway. She checks the time on her own phone and then fires off a message to Santana, telling her to stop by at eight or so. That might give her a little bit of time with Rachel beforehand... alone... and God, no, that smile on her face is not going anywhere anytime soon.

She feels like air. Like, sure, there's some bones and meat holding her together, but everything else just wants to float, and it's only when Rachel's voice picks up in pitch a little that she sinks back down to earth.

Rachel hangs up with a deep sigh and then walks back over, her ballet shoes also dragging with mud, and says, "That was my mom."

Quinn winces. "Um. Are you in trouble, for the Jesse thing?"

Rachel's smile is faint. "Undoubtedly. She sounds... upset, but … I'm not sure if she's upset about the fact that I broke up with Jesse or that I made such drastic changes to my career plan without first discussing them with her."

"Half mom, half manager, huh," Quinn says, as easily as she can, because Rachel doesn't need the full brunt of her dislike of Shelby right now.

"I know that you and … well, a lot of people think the very worst of her, simply because she pushes me so hard, but..." Rachel hesitates for a moment and then looks up at Quinn with a determined look in her eyes. "She's not the one who abandoned me for her dreams. She gave them up for me, and for my dad, and she could resent me for that. She doesn't. She just pushes me to go as far as I can."

"That's fine, I guess, if she's pushing you in a direction you want to go. But what if you don't?"

Rachel sighs and runs a hand through her hair. "I don't dislike singing or performing. We've never really-the piano is complicated. My father taught me how to play and used to play all the time, at home, and seeing me play... I think it's actually painful for her. There's a piano somewhere in Cleveland now, and he's playing for someone else, and..."

"Rach—that's not an excuse," Quinn says, softly. "If you want to play the piano, she should be letting you."

"I know," Rachel says, biting her lip for a second. "I know, or I wouldn't be here."

"Do you-does someone need to be there with you, when you go home?" she asks, hesitantly.

Rachel's looks at her sharply. "God, Quinn. My mother's driven, exacting, and … she has some extreme opinions about certain religious issues, but she's not abusive. What do you think-"

"I don't know," Quinn says, holding up her hands in apology. "I don't know... I want to know these things about you. I just want to make sure you'll be okay. I didn't think she'd like-hit you or anything, but I didn't know, okay?"

Rachel exhales audibly and says, "I know, sorry. I'm a little nervous. I've never defied her like this before and-"

"Are you going to get grounded?"

Rachel laughs after a second. "I don't know. I don't have much of a social life, between all the school clubs and VA practice, and as far as she's aware I'm now... wholly unattached-" She blushes lightly and then shrugs. "It doesn't make sense to ground me. But-for the sake of not alienating her completely..."

"You're not coming tonight," Quinn says, and tries not to look too disappointed.

"I want to," Rachel says, quickly, fingering the hem of her pea coat. "Mercedes and Brittany are my friends, but they never have been like Santana, and..."

"Hey-my house isn't going anywhere," Quinn says, with a small and slightly forced smile. "It makes sense, for you to try to talk this through with her, I mean. It's not like you're divorcing Jesse professionally or anything, so maybe..."

"Yeah, we can hope," Rachel says, with a sigh. She looks reluctant when she adds, "I should go."

"Okay."

Rachel lingers awkwardly for a second and then squeezes her into another quick hug before heading back into the school, and Quinn watches her go-the flip of her skirt and the straightening of her shoulders, and... then Rachel turns to look over her shoulder, and she feels stupid, just standing there, so with a few quick steps she catches up.

"We're-uh—obviously going the same way," she says, tucking her hands into her pocket. "And um, well, I'm going to miss you-tonight. And I guess this weekend, though if you wanted to come over and look at my record collection..."

Rachel laughs and bumps gently into her side. "Still not giving up on that, are you."

"It's a really good record collection," Quinn protests, with a small smile.

"I'll call you," Rachel says, or promises, and Quinn tucks her hands into her coat pockets and says, "Okay. Cool."

...

The Bourne Ultimatum is on TV, and Santana likes movies in which people get chased and things get blown up as much as Quinn's dad does, so they all end up watching it in the living room together.

Santana's been looking at her knowingly all night, and it's probably that stupid grin that just won't leave her face-even though there's a small part of her that's ongoingly worried about what's going on at Rachel's house right now, the rest of her is just stuck on something very simple.

They kissed.

And it's better than that, even:

Rachel kissed her, and she liked it.

She feels like she's twelve, kissing Bobby McFarlane behind the gym building on a dare from her friends all over again, except when Bobby kissed her it was awkward and messy and he smelled of pepperoni and she had no real positive memories of it.

This kiss...

She jerks when a pillow hits her in the face and her own father, that jerk, raises his eyebrows at her. "What was that for?"

"Uh, earth to Quinn," he says. "We called your name three times. The movie's done."

"Seriously, Q, what is going on with you?" Santana asks, with a small grin.

She sort of scowls at them and mumbles 'nothing', but then Santana leans in closer to her and says, "Wait a minute-your face smells like cherry lip gloss. You don't wear that stuff."

Her mother makes a small noise and says, "Did you kiss that Rachel girl? Quinnie! That's fantastic."

"Quinnie?" Santana asks, before laughing; Quinn shoves her in the shoulder.

"I'm not talking about this," she says, glaring at her mother.

"So there's something to talk about? Way to go, hoss," her dad says, holding out his hand for a high five.

Santana starts laughing even harder, and with a small sigh, Quinn weakly slaps her hand against her dad's.

"Santana, she'll tell you all about it later tonight; and I'll give you fifty bucks if you pass on the highlights to me afterwards," her mother says, in a hushed stage whisper.

"Oh my God."

"Deal," Santana says, easily, before clearing her throat. "We're going to disappear now because someone has some storytelling to do."

"I hate all of you," Quinn grumbles, but lets Santana pull her up the stairs anyway.

When they get to her bedroom, and she's clicked the door shut behind her, Quinn sort of sinks against it and bites her lip when Santana just stares at her impatiently and says, "Come on."

"Yeah, she kissed me," Quinn admits, and there's that stupid grin again, except now she feels a little embarrassed about it. "And it was nice. And um. That's all I want to say about it."

Santana grins back for a few seconds and then sobers. "Well. Way to go, Q. She's been surrounded by team Dorothy for years, but I guess she was waiting for someone special before she got over herself."

"Hey-come on. Give her a break. She's really trying. She was going to come tonight, actually, but her mom is probably pretty pissed at her and..." Quinn sighs. "Just give her a break."

"Yeah, whatever," Santana says, sitting down on the bed and then kicking off her shoes before scooting towards the headboard. "So are you two like dating now?"

"What? No, we're not...dating," Quinn says, pushing off the door and settling next to her. "I don't think she's ready for that."

"Are you?" Santana asks, a little pointedly.

"No," Quinn admits, with a wry smile . "But I mean. Maybe we can … figure something out. Together."

"Yeah, I hope so, for your sake," Santana says, and then stretches out lazily. "You gonna ask her to come to the show on Wednesday?"

"Only if you're okay with that," Quinn says, and Santana shoots her a surprised look. "Band comes first, okay? I said it before she kissed me, I know, but I'm not that lame. It still comes first."

Santana smiles after a second. "Fuck, I wish you'd been at Carmel two years ago. I think things would've ended up a lot different than they did."

"I doubt it. I wasn't anything like this two years ago," Quinn says, wryly.

Santana nods, and then rolls her eyes. "Yeah, whatever. Invite her. You know you want to impress her with your mad skills or whatever. I mean, drummers get a lot of play so I don't know, she might let you like—under the shirt, over the bra."

"Under the shirt over the what now?" Quinn asks, raising her eyebrows, and Santana laughs.

"The Christian version of second base. Rachel used to swear that it kept Jesse in line. Which—well."

"It'd keep me in line," Quinn says, without thinking, and then she covers her eyes with her arm. "I think. God, I don't honestly know what I'd do if-that was on offer."

"Hey-you only get one first time, with someone who matters. Y'know? You've got to make that count. It's not like I mounted Brittany the first time we kissed or anything."

"Really?" Quinn asks, looking over at Santana a little skeptically.

"No, it was the second time," Santana says, before laughing; Quinn just grabs a pillow from behind their heads and smacks her with it.

She's definitely not a Santana; under the shirt over the bra sounds insane—she'd settle for just another kiss like the one they had today, really, and it's that thought that has her falling asleep two hours later, still with an idiotic smile on her face.

...

Rachel calls around noon the next day, and Quinn hurries out of the room before her mother can say, "Is that her? Tell her we said hello!" any more loudly—but it's too late, because Rachel's chuckling and saying, "Geez, well, at least your mother seems to like me, huh."

"Don't get too comfy, Berry, she hasn't met you yet, and I haven't exactly passed on any details about your in-school behaviour," Quinn says, taking the steps to her room three at a time and then closing the door behind her and flopping down on her bed. "But nevermind that—are you okay?"

"Yes," Rachel says, and then adds, "No. Sort of? It's hard to say. We had... a real conversation, for the first time in years, and... there was a substantial amount of shouting, but she finally conceded that managing my career prospects does not mean dictating that I should be in a relationship with someone who cheats on me compulsively."

"Well, halle-fucking-lujah," Quinn says.

"Quinn."

"Geez, sorry, it's a saying."

"It is not," Rachel admonishes her. "In any event, I now feel sorry for Jesse, because—the other side of this unfortunately is that he's going to get his, um, behind served to him for having messed around on me."

"He can take it," Quinn says, and smiles. "And, I mean, I was planning on treating him to dinner anyway, what with how gallantly he stepped aside..."

"Oh, don't let him hear you say that, he'll never stop talking about his noble self-sacrifice," Rachel says, with a dramatic sigh.

Quinn laughs a little, and then they fall into a silence that isn't entirely uncomfortable.

"So—is there another side of the coin, that's going to drop?" Quinn finally asks, long moments later.

Rachel is quiet for another moment and then says, "I'll have to be careful. I hate to actually have to ask this so explicitly, but... can we please do something very traditional for my expose? I don't want to rile her up further."

"Yeah, of course," Quinn says, and then rubs at her forehead. "Are you still... free to do Holly's concert?"

Rachel hesitates and then says, "Yes. But—as a one time only thing. I know that if it's a success you three will repeat it, but... I'm sorry. There are more things at stake now and—"

"Like—"

"Like... it's going to be easier to spend time with you if she doesn't know that I'm doing it," Rachel says, quietly.

"Oh. Right, of course. Those things," Quinn says, picking at her duvet intently and then clearing her throat. "Okay. Um. Well. In the interest of... you know, you getting something for what you're losing..."

"Quinn, in English?"

She licks at her lips, as they're suddenly dry as sandpaper, and then rushes out, "Do you want to come see us play on Valentine's Day?"

"What, my favorite band?" Rachel asks, teasingly.

"Shut up, we totally are; I mean, name me one other band that has a drummer that would like... stand in the rain just to talk to you for forty five minutes."

Rachel laughs and says, "You're right, I don't know any other drummers with so little interest common sense."

"Ouch."

"I'll be there. Kurt will be happy to cover for me, I'm sure."

"Oh, yeah. He ships it. I mean, I have no idea what that means, but he texted that at me a few days ago and I think it means that uh, he'd like us to ... you know."

"You know?"

"Well, I don't know. ... go sailing, I guess," Quinn says, before tapping her knuckles against her forehead and grimacing. "Don't bother telling me that was awful; you'll get it once you meet my dad. I have the unerring ability to tell the worst possible joke at all times and it's hereditary."

Rachel chuckles and says, "Well, they say the first part of fixing a problem is admitting it's there..."

"Are you ever going to stop being mean to me?"

"Probably not. You like it too much," Rachel says, and Quinn stares at the ceiling and remembers the way Rachel's lips looked after they'd just stopped kissing, and feels her stomach flip all over again.

"Do you—maybe want to go for a milkshake at that diner on the outskirts of town, or something? Later?"

"I would, but I can't; we're rehearsing most of the afternoon. Regionals are on the 21st and the judging panel has changed a lot from last year, so..."

"What's your solo?" Quinn asks, and then adds, "Can I—do people go and see Regionals or is that weird?"

Rachel is quiet for a moment and then says, "Yes; the competitions take place in auditoriums and we all get tickets to give to family and friends."

"Oh. Well, I mean, I don't need you to—"

"All my friends are in Vocal Adrenaline, so the tickets have been mostly unused to date. I would love for you to come, but... you'd have to do so quietly, and sit in the back."

"Maybe I can go with uh... what's his face. Kurt's boyfriend."

"Blaine," Rachel says. "He's rather wonderful, actually. I mean, I'd probably have a small crush on him if he wasn't gay. He loves Broadway, has fantastic taste in movies and music, and a great vocal range."

"So he's you but ... a gay guy," Quinn surmises.

"I ... Quinn Fabray, that is absolutely not what I said," Rachel protests, and Quinn chuckles.

"Well, if he is you as a gay guy, I'll probably like him." She pauses and then asks, "So you've met ... Kurt's boyfriend? And it went well?"

Rachel sighs. "I wish you wouldn't sound so surprised. Honestly, ... I've made up my mind to try to become a better person. Because I pride myself on being a good Christian, but I've not spent nearly enough time working on being a good person and—Blaine is important to Kurt, and Kurt is important to me, so..."

"I'm... don't take this the wrong way, but I'm really proud of you," Quinn says, flushing at how stupid that sounds. "You know, as your friend."

Rachel makes a small noise and then says, "I almost ran off. After we kissed. I almost—"

"But you didn't," Quinn says. "You stayed."

"And then I wanted you to kiss me again."

Quinn almost feels like she's going to melt into the bed. "Um, next time, just ask. I mean, unless I'm literally on fire at the time, I will always say yes."

"Always?" Rachel asks, and it sounds like it's supposed to be a joke, but it's not really.

"Yeah. Always," Quinn says, and closes her eyes when Rachel just sort of 'hmm's and they drift back off into a silence that makes it feel like they talk on the phone all the time.

They will, from now on; she can feel it in her gut, and it's the warmest feeling she's had there in ages.

...

The Valentine's Day gig comes with a bunch of kosher junk food that Puck's mom prepared and, to Quinn's great surprise, some CDs with their past performances that Artie burned for them in the AV room.

"I figured that—people can start spreading the word," he says, shrugging and pushing his glasses up. "You guys should really start writing some of your own music, though, because that's how you really have a chance of making it."

"Yeah, maybe after February," Quinn says, staring at the door for the eighteenth time in eighteen minutes, because she's expecting Kurt and she's expecting Rachel, and neither of them have arrived yet.

The door opens a moment later, and Jesse steps inside, looking a little more awkward than he normally does; Sam looks up and says, "Really? What the heck does he think—"

"Sam, he's my friend," Quinn says, surprising herself, and then sticks up a hand to Jesse in greeting. That brings a little of his smirk back, and he saunters over with a bit more ease, before tapping her cymbal with his nails.

"Happy Valentine's Day. I would've bought you a card, but thought that my presence would make for a far better present," he says, leaning down and kissing her cheek.

She shakes her head and shoves at him gently. "One of these days, a woman is going to slap you in the face and—"

"Hot," he says, winking at her; then he leans down a little more and says, "You're welcome, by the way."

She sort of rolls her eyes at him, but he has a point, and so she sighs and says, "Yeah. I owe you one. Want to go to dinner this weekend?"

"Why, Quinn. I thought you'd never ask. Literally," Jesse says, smirking at her, and then nods. "Sure. I'll pick you up, unless you are in fact so butch that you'd rather fetch me—"

"Go away, Jesse," she says, and he laughs and heads back into the small gathered crowd, where Kurt and a brown-haired guy she doesn't know are now awkwardly standing and looking around.

Blaine does actually look a lot like the gay male Rachel, and she muffles some laughter into her hand before getting up and heading over. She air-kisses Kurt twice and then holds out a hand for Blaine.

"You're Quinn," he says, with a broad smile. "Kurt's told me a lot about you, I mean, you know. What you've done for him. It's really brave, actually. I can't thank you enough, because I don't think I'd like him half as much if he wasn't exactly as he is now."

It's so earnest that she smiles back automatically and says, "It was kind of self-interested; I figured that a happy Kurt would probably stop throwing Big Gulps on me."

"Ouch," Kurt says, not looking bothered in the slightest. "But fair. I deserve that."

"It's fine," Quinn says, quickly, at Blaine's slightly confused look. "Inside joke. Kind of a Carmel hazing tradition."

"What's the set list for tonight?" Kurt asks, and that's a grateful change of topic, and she runs it down on one hand really quickly before stopping abruptly when the door opens and Rachel appears.

"Holy fuck," she says, without thinking.

"Oh, you mean the Canadian electronic indie band?" Blaine asks. "That's awesome. What song?"

"Um, I think she means Miss Berry's outfit," Kurt says, gently elbowing Blaine in the side.

Quinn wonders for a moment if she looks as dumb as she feels, but—Rachel is in this ridiculously short 1960s style mini-dress and it is basically the hottest she's ever looked.

"Quinn, unless you want people to get ideas, you need to stop staring," Jesse whispers into her ear, and she closes her eyes and forces herself to focus on the set list again.

"Valentine. We're closing with the world's most obvious Get Up Kids song, but why not, right?"

"Do you have a keyboardist, then?" Blaine asks.

"Um—no, we've stripped it, to exclude the keyboards but—"

"Well, do you have a keyboard?" Blaine asks, and she tries to focus on him but—Rachel looks so awkward, hovering in the doorway like that, and so she says—"Um, ask Sam? I mean—what?"

She's already starting to move when Jesse puts a hand on her shoulder and says, "Don't", even more emphatically, and then slips around her and heads to where Rachel is tugging on the hem of her dress.

She tries not to scowl, because it's not like she's not due back on stage in a second anyway, but she feels her eyebrows draw closed until Rachel looks over, spots her, and her entire expression brightens for a few seconds, until she's saying hello to Jesse and then it shifts back to normal.

"Oh, you two are going to make me gag," Kurt says, rolling his eyes dramatically. "Quinn, I know you're having a moment, but Blaine is already plugging in a keyboard on stage and—"

"Wait, what?" she asks, looking over at him abruptly.

He smiles. "I think Untitled Band just gained a keyboardist."

"Uh—" she says, but ... Blaine seems nice enough, and Sam has been talking about this for ages, so... "Well, why not, right?"

Kurt smiles and pats her on the shoulder. "Go... hit things. Like a champion."

She chuckles, and with one last glance at Rachel—and, on a whim, a small wink that has Rachel's lips curling up—she heads back on stage.

...

The set list goes off without a hitch; Sam insisted they played songs about love, which included a guitars-only version of Dashboard Confessional's A Plain Morning and Sleater-Kinney's Oh, and all in all everything gels together very well. When they hit up Valentine, after a few more songs and the requisite water break, Blaine fits in very naturally, and the first thing Sam says when they're done unplugging is, "Dude, do you live close enough to practice with us more often? Because we need a keyboardist, or we're like, stuck doing 90s emo and can't really do stuff from the noughties at all."

"It's about a 45 minute drive, but I mean, if we set up practices on the weekends, that's not a big deal," Blaine says, with a shrug.

"What do you guys think?" Sam asks the rest of the band.

Puck shrugs. "I'm down. Bass and keyboards are like honey and sugar, you know what I mean?"

"Rarely if ever," Santana says, with a wink at Quinn, who laughs and says, "Sounds like a good idea to me."

Blaine clasps his hands together and says, "Okay, wow, awesome. I had fun tonight and there's not a whole lot of keyboard playing in an acapella show choir, so this should be great."

Santana tosses Quinn another water bottle and says, "Good show, Quinnie."

Quinn makes an obscene gesture at her that has Puck almost spraying out a mouthful of water, but Santana just blows her a kiss and then slings an arm around Puck's back. "C'mon. Let's go smoke. Q, you coming?"

"Nah, not tonight," Quinn says, with a small smile; she watches as Blaine helps Sam pack up the rest of their crap and then heads back into the crowd, to an excited-looking Kurt who gesticulates animatedly about how fabulous he was up there, or something—and how Tina then shows up with a bottle of Diet Pepsi for Sam and a bump to his hip while saying "Not bad, Evans", which makes Sam beam like he's won the Superbowl... and then it's just her, behind the drums, looking at all the other couples in the room.

It would be driving her crazy, if she wasn't just trying to catch her breath and roll out the slight strain in her shoulders; and if she didn't see how Jesse was saying something to Rachel before nodding towards the kitchen area, and if she didn't see how Rachel was heading over there without so much as a look in her direction.

She finishes her water quickly and then drops the bottle in her messenger bag, before shoving her sticks into it as well and heading over to the kitchen, running her hands through her hair briefly and then stepping inside.

Rachel's up on one of the counters, showing even more thigh, and Quinn's eyes flash to it before darting back up to her face. "Hello, Rachel," she says.

"Hello, Quinn," Rachel says back, with a smile. "Why are you being so formal? There's nobody else here."

"No, but—people will probably come and—"

Rachel hops off and holds out her hand. "Follow me."

...

Two turns around the corner and they're suddenly in the Puckerman laundry room; Quinn makes a face when a pair of Puck's boxer shorts is draped over the edge of the washing machine, and then lets Rachel pull her to the other side of the room, until they're next to the dryer in the almost dark, and Rachel pulls her in a little bit closer and puts one hand on her side.

"Wow, you're—completely sweated through," she observes, and Quinn grimaces.

"Sorry, it's not... really something I can do much about, I mean, if it wasn't the drumming it would be the lights, but—"

"It's kind of... sexy," Rachel says, softly.

Quinn's heart leaps into a higher gear and she says, "Yeah? Because I mean, I could—take this shirt off, but only for your comfort, I mean, um, I know about under the shirt and over the bra and I think that's still probably pushing it for now and—"

A finger presses against her lips, shutting her up.

"How is it that you're so confident on that stage, driving the rest of your band through song after song, no matter what style, but the minute you're in front of me, you can't even string a sentence together?" Rachel asks, sounding amused, before letting her finger fall away.

Quinn sighs. "I guess it's that whole thing where, um, I don't want to make out with the band and I know how drums work, but with you it's always... fumbling in the dark. No pun intended, because I know we're in the dark right now but—"

Rachel laughs and Quinn can feel, more than see her, shake her head. "I have such a hard time picturing you as that school-ruling head cheerleader that Finn used to date."

"You don't see that side of me," Quinn says, honestly. "I hope you never have to, because that Quinn was a miserable little girl who lashed out at other people just because she was scared of them finding out the truth about her."

"I like the truth about you," Rachel admits, after a small pause, and Quinn presses her palms against her jeans, just to make sure she doesn't grab or do anything else suddenly. "A lot, actually. More than I thought I could."

"Yeah?"

She doesn't so much get a reaction as a small tug on the collar of her shirt, and some part of her wants to warn Rachel to just ask because this is a limited edition Mates of State concert t-shirt that she won't ever be able to replace if it gets pulled out of shape... but that part is swiftly shut up when Rachel's lips connect with hers all over again.

It's brief, but no less nice for that, and Quinn's entire body is positively thrumming when they break apart for a little bit more air; but she needs to stay close, and presses her forehead against Rachel's and exhales shakily.

"When do you think would be a good time to talk to Santana?" Rachel asks, swallowing audibly.

"Any time. This weekend, or next weekend or—whenever. She's ready whenever you are, Rach. Just make sure you say the right things, okay?"

She feels Rachel nod, and their noses brush together unintentionally, and the temptation is too great; she nudges until Rachel is actually pressed up against the dryer, and then brings her hands up to cup Rachel's cheeks and kisses her again. It's—not as tame and sweet this time, because the shock factor of being allowed to do this is wearing off, and when Rachel whimpers a little, she decides to go for broke.

"I'm going to really kiss you now, okay," she exhales, right up against her lips, and Rachel responds with, "What do you think you've been—"

It's exactly the opening she needs, and she gently slants their lips together before licking at Rachel's mouth with just the tip of her tongue, until Rachel's lips part and she's given just a little bit more space. A hand comes up to tangle in the hair at the back of her neck, and she almost shudders at the feel of it, gently stroking right where her hair's starting to grow out a little.

The kiss is still slow, because she can't shake the feeling that she's being measured on this somehow, and the last thing she wants to do is pull a Finn Hudson, by being too eager and too rushed and too... tongue-heavy—but the way that Rachel is kissing back now, taking a little more initiative and pulling Quinn down with a little more force, it's all basically giving her a green light, and so the next swipe of her tongue is a little more deliberate.

Oh. Now they're kissing, and she feels her toes curl tightly in her sneakers and her knees press against the dryer around Rachel's legs, just because there is nothing for her to do but sink forward, and feel Rachel's nails dig into the nape of her neck and listen to her moan softly, the first time their tongues brush together.

It fries her mind a little, the fact that she wants to keep doing this and that it is affecting her in more ways than one: it's short-circuiting her brain, and sending synapses firing down towards her gut, where everything is swirling and hot and bright and...

She breaks away abruptly when she realizes just how turned on she is, and only then realizes that Rachel's other hand is underneath her shirt, stroking at her skin.

"God," Rachel breathes out, and when Quinn focuses on her, her pupils are blown wide and her eyes aren't seeing anything, which is the kind of feedback that makes her suck in a much-needed breath before leaning in and kissing her again and—

Out of nowhere, the entire room is bright, and Quinn feels herself freeze—at least, until she's actually pushed backwards, and stumbles to a halt a good foot away from Rachel.

"Oh, shit," Puck says, and by the time Quinn looks over, he's already covering his eyes. "I didn't see a fucking thing. But um. When you come back, if you could bring the mop, that'd be great; my buddy Nathan threw up in the bathroom and managed to miss the toilet by a few yards so—"

He's out as quickly and silently as he got in, but they're doused in bright light now and Quinn doesn't want to look at Rachel—because getting caught wasn't part of the plan, and getting shoved off just about said it all, actually.

She wrings her hands in her t-shirt and stares at the floor, waiting for Rachel to say or do something else that will make her feel useless.

"Can you deal with the mop?" Rachel finally asks, sounding incredibly frazzled. "I'll leave first, and ... you should follow a few minutes from now."

"Yeah, sure," Quinn says, holding her breath for a few moments, until Rachel has brushed past her—still tugging at her dress, and some part of Quinn really wants to point out that she hadn't really touched any part of the damn thing so it's probably exactly where it was ten minutes ago—but she can't, because it's not like she isn't halfway in shock herself.

"We need—that can't happen again," Rachel says, lingering by the door for a second, but not turning around. "Do you understand me?"

"I'm not the one who dragged you down here," Quinn says, her voice unwillingly rough.

Rachel does look at her at that, with an unreadable expression, and then snaps, "If you can't understand that that's really not the point, maybe none of this should happen again."

Quinn sighs and starts saying, "That's not what I—", but Rachel's already back on the main floor, and she has a mop to collect and drag to the bathroom.

She feels like shit, even before she's stuck cleaning up Nathan's puke on the first floor, and then just finds Sam and tells him she's going home.

Show's over, so there's no real reason for her to stick around.

...

She finds her dad in his office, going over some patient paperwork, and flops down onto the couch by the window without saying anything else to him.

"My hourly rate's a hundred," he tells her, without looking up.

"I'll pay you in breakfast on Sundays," she says, and he chuckle a little before looking at her and closing the file in front of him.

"What's up, buttercup?"

She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, and then says, "So, there's this girl I keep kissing, and it really sucks because she's afraid of how she feels about me and I'm afraid that she's going to run when things get hard, and... I don't really know what to do about any of that."

"Sucks," her dad says, after a long pause.

She sits up a little bit and looks at him balefully. "That's what a hundred bucks an hour gets me?"

He gives her a wry smile. "Honey, you don't need therapy; you just need a mug of cocoa and for someone to tell you that you won't always be a teenager and things will get easier when you're not. That advice's free, for the record."

Quinn sighs, and kicks her shoes off before rubbing at her face. "Okay, then let me ask you something as my dad. ... is this going to be worth it?"

"I can't answer that for you."

Before she can say anything else, her phone vibrates, and she fumbles with it before wincing at how bright the screen is in her dad's almost-dark office.

I just panicked. I'm sorry.

She sighs, because—how is she not supposed to respond to that?

Puck won't say anything, so I guess we were lucky, she sends back, even though she knows that's not really the point, but—she's never really felt more rejected in her life, and it's probably going to smart for a few more days.

"You know, the ones that are worth it usually know when to admit they did something wrong," her dad says, blithely, and she rubs at the back of her neck—that spot where Rachel's fingertips had been grazing, and that thought just makes her entire body flush with heat—before picking up her phone again.

And I mean, it's okay, I get what happened; just kind of a crappy ending to a great night.

She's almost fallen asleep to the sound of her dad's fountain pen scratching notes onto paper when her phone vibrates again.

That was the best kiss of my life.

Her heart flips all over again, and she feels like a sucker, but she doesn't know how else to deal with how much she feels.

Mine too, she sends back, and pockets her phone again.

"Night, Q," her dad says, just before she actually nods off; she sort of registers him dropping a blanket on her, but clings to a place that's half-asleep and half-awake, where all she really knows is the taste of Rachel's lip gloss and the feel of Rachel's body, curling upwards into her own.

It's almost enough, to permanently ignore how badly their night would've ended if anyone else had walked in on them.

Almost.

Chapter Text

It's a little silly, how basically nothing changes in the day to day of things at school.

All the making out at gigs in the world won't stop them from bickering about the direction Mercedes' expose has to go in; Tina agrees with Quinn that it's a little silly to doll her up to that extent when she's this vocal powerhouse and could be making a much more feminist statement, but Artie and Rachel seem to think that if this is how she wants to portray herself, she should be allowed to do so.

The interview's even stranger; Quinn edits it to the best of her ability, but it's very hard to get the slight tone of bitter resentment out of Mercedes' answers to questions like, "What would your ideal solo be?"

"I'd love to do some Aretha, but the solos at VA go to Rachel, everyone knows that. She's our star."

If she didn't know that Mercedes was Rachel's friend, she really wouldn't be getting that impression from what's on the page here.

...

By Friday afternoon, they're not really talking about the expose anymore, and Rachel has shut down a little again. Quinn figured it would probably happen; her dad warned her, over breakfast on Thursday, that this was going to be a lot of give and take and that it might not ever work out in her favor.

She's not going to argue the point, because she knows what this is like; Finn stopped by four days ago to pick up a new picture of Beth and all she could do was head up to her room and blast some Cursive, so in some ways, Rachel is miles ahead of her, when it comes to coping.

Doesn't mean that it doesn't suck that she is something that has to be coped with, and she sighs and messes around with her hair for a moment before finally deciding she's done what she can to this interview and sliding it across the table to Rachel.

"It's done."

Rachel looks up, clearly miles away from the AV room, and offers a small smile. "Thanks."

"You're not going to second edit?" Quinn asks, carefully.

Rachel just shakes her head. "I trust your work."

"Well, that's new," Quinn mumbles, before getting up and heading over to the printer, where the next piece-on bullying in schools, of all things-is ready for her look-over.

"Quinn," Rachel says, quietly, even though it's just them; Artie had a jazz ensemble thing and Tina's parents have dragged her to Cleveland for the weekend.

"Hm?"

"Are... is Santana coming over again tonight?" she asks, carefully. "I don't want to assume anything, but weekly sleepovers on Fridays were what we did together and... you are her best friend now, and..."

"I haven't replaced you, if that's what you're asking," Quinn says, looking up briefly. Rachel is staring at the paper unseeingly and twirling her red pen between her fingers.

"No-that's not what I mean. I just feel like..." Rachel starts to say, before sighing and stretching backwards in the chair. "Bear with me, because I don't know how to put this."

Quinn says, "Okay", and fishes the article out of the printer before sitting down across from Rachel again.

Rachel finally looks straight at her and says, "I know we haven't... that nothing has happened since Wednesday, but Wednesday scared the life out of me. It … made me realize what I was doing, and how not ready I am to be doing it."

A muscle in Quinn's cheek spasms without her permission, but other than that she just nods.

"I really like kissing you, but it's a shortcut, isn't it," Rachel says, with a sigh and a smile. "I mean, it's not going to make anything else go away. I can kiss you in dark corners for the rest of my life and tell myself that it's not sinful and that I'm not doing anything wrong, because it's a secret and nobody has to know. But... you deserve more than that."

The last of Quinn's breath hisses out between her teeth. "So-what are you saying?"

"I'm saying that... I need to work through things, and fix the things that I've done wrong, and that I need to stop hiding in you." Rachel bites her lip and then smiles wryly. "It's so tempting, you know. When it's just us, it feels like … there isn't a power in this world that could get between us, but then I go home and see my mother, or my Bible, and …"

Quinn lowers her face. "Yeah, I get it."

"I wasn't just … being coy when I said I needed a friend. I think maybe..."

"Sure," Quinn says, stopping her before words like less kissing, more talking can actually leave her lips. "Rachel, I mean, I'm not... just looking for a necking buddy, okay? I don't know what you're thinking here, but-that stuff in Puck's laundry room, that's about all I can handle right now. You're … the first person I've tried any of this with. I'm okay with slow, okay? I think slow is actually our only option."

Rachel nods, looking relieved, and then says, "Okay, so, I mean. In the interest of moving forward; can I come over tonight to talk to Santana?"

"Yeah, sure. I mean-we don't have anything planned, but I'm pretty sure she's willing to blue ball Noah to talk to you," Quinn says, looking back down at the work. "Um. You don't have to sleep over or anything."

"I want to," Rachel says, and then laughs shakily. "If I could explain to you how big the disconnect between the things I want and things I think I can handle is right now..."

"I understand," Quinn says, and faintly smiles back. "Don't worry."

Ten minutes later, Rachel's foot brushes against her ankle, and when Quinn stiffens, Rachel just says, "We can play it by ear, can't we?"

"I think this is playing it by foot," Quinn says, but runs the toe of her sneaker against Rachel's calf anyway, unable to stop a small smile.

The thing is, Rachel has a point; this is fun, but not likely to make either of them lose their minds the way kissing does, and since she's not just looking for a necking buddy-well. Maybe footsie is the level of contact they should be engaging with right now.

...

She would give any amount of money to be over at Sam's playing Crash Bandicoot! all night instead, because even though she's spent most of her life around girls exactly like this, it's been a while and they are giving her acid reflux.

Despite having ever intention to apologize, Rachel hasn't actually managed to get the words out-and a lot of that is because Santana's first comment was, "Oh, look, we're babysitting tonight; wish you'd warned me, Q, would've brought a pacifier."

Quinn sighs and rubs her hands across her face and finally snaps, "Enough."

They both stop sniping at each other and look over, and maybe it's good to know that she's still got it, but this really isn't how she wanted to use it.

"Santana, just shut up for five seconds. She came here to apologize, but it's hard to apologize to someone who won't stop being a condescending asshole to you. Okay?" It's delivered with a pointed look, and Santana rolls her eyes and looks away but does fall quiet, so it's something.

"Rachel-you've known her for more than 7 years at this point; can you stop letting her bait you? She's hurt. You've hurt her, that's all this is, so stop adding to the crap between you by letting her height jokes insult you and just-say what you want to say," she adds, raising an eyebrow at Rachel, who looks a little impressed by her; and okay, that's so not the point, but whatever.  It's one big fish acknowledging another one, and her ego flares at it a little anyway.

Then, there's a deep sigh from her left, and Rachel says, "I'm really sorry about what I did. I'm not just sorry about how my mother reacted to it, which is what I'm sure you're thinking, but I know that I had a part to play myself and that I let you down."

Quinn watches as Santana's face crumples for just a few seconds, until she she says, "I just don't get why you didn't talk to me. I mean, c'mon, Rachel. Maybe we hid it from everyone else but you knew what was going on."

"I didn't want to know," Rachel admits, quietly. "Because if you were with Brittany, then you were just like my dad and my mom was going to make me stop being your friend and... you were the only real friend I had. Jesse and Kurt weren't anything more than allies at that point, and Mercedes resented me for being a better singer, and..."

The urge to go and hug Rachel is overwhelming, and Quinn knots her hands into the carpet on the floor because this is really not the time or the place.

Santana exhales slowly. "And you thought it was disgusting. Right?"

"Santana, I know I did a lot of things wrong back then but-"

"S'not an answer."

Rachel closes her eyes and says, "Yes. I thought it was immoral and that you were voluntarily engaging in behavior that would get you sent to hell, and I wanted you to stop."

"And now?" Santana asks, working her lip between her teeth for a second. "Because, I mean, you're already pretty hypocritical, but after giving Q here a free tonsil check a few times-"

Rachel reddens abruptly and glares at Santana, who just smiles after a second.

"For God's sake, Berry, I obviously don't care; but if we're going to get over this, I'm going to need to buy what you're selling. You're not just playing Quinn, or setting her up for something, right?"

Rachel laughs disbelievingly. "God, what kind of risk/reward ratio would be involved in that? If I wanted to set Quinn up for something, I would've outed her to the rest of the choir, overrode Jesse's Slushie ban, and made her life a living hell."

"She picked cuddling instead, and I'm forever grateful," Quinn says, placidly, and it breaks the tension in the room down a little, when everyone laughs weakly.

Santana runs a hand through her hair and says, "It's never going to be okay; what you did. But, I mean, you're a little more like... the Rachel I knew before Hiram bailed now. I don't know if that's because of what's going on between you two, or because you're like, growing as a person or some shit, but... I like that Rachel, and she was my best friend."

Rachel looks like she doesn't know what to say, and after a moment Quinn pelts a pillow at Santana.

"What she means is that you're on probation, but all mutual grudges are going to be called off from now on."

Rachel nods and then rubs the corner of her mouth for a second before saying, "If... there is any way that I can make up for what I did, specifically with Brittany, please let me know."

"It's about her future at this point," Santana says, picking at some lint on the carpet. "I mean, I've been without her for two years because I want to see her get out of this hellhole. I can last another year."

Rachel blinks furiously a few times and then says, "Okay. Thank you for hearing me out", before shifting to her knees and getting up. "Quinn, is there a restroom I can-"

"Down the hall, to the left; the room without the paint cans," Quinn says, looking at her with a little concern, but she's out of the room before anything else can really be done.

Santana lets out a slow, long breath at that point and says, "I'm all right", before Quinn can even ask anything.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah, but she's not. Go after her, you moron," Santana says, tossing the pillow back, and Quinn catches it before getting up to her feet.

...

It feels a little predatory, the way she's lurking outside of her own bathroom, and she tries to look casual; but when she can actually hear Rachel cry, that just feels ridiculous as well, and so she knocks on the door and says, "It's me-I've brought a free hug, you have to sign for delivery."

"God, you're so infernally lame," Rachel says, when she pops the door open, but then she immediately sinks into Quinn's arms and pulls the door shut behind them again.

Quinn plays with the edges of Rachel's hair for a moment and then says, "Talk to me."

Rachel sighs wetly. "It was just the way she talked about... having to wait, for Brittany. She must really love her, and I've taken that away from her. Now, it's another year until they can be together and..."

"And?" Quinn presses, gently.

Rachel clings to her a little more tightly. "I don't know if I could handle that, if it happened... to us."

"It won't. I mean, I'm pretty sure you've already caught us making out and this time decided not to tell your mom..." Quinn jokes, before sighing when Rachel punches her in the arm. "Sorry, that was terrible. But what I mean is... we'll just have to be careful, Rachel. It's okay. There are many reasons to keep this to ourselves anyway."

"Like what?"

"Like-the fact that we don't really know what we're doing. I mean, we're not dating, we're just... figuring stuff out. And..." She hesitates, but what's the point? "... the fact that I don't want to share you with other people. I like having sneaky get-togethers, because then you're all mine, and I like Rachel Berry by herself so much more than Rachel Berry with an entourage."

Rachel wipes at her eyes a few times and then takes a step back. "It just scared me."

"The idea of your mother finding out?"

Rachel blinks slowly and then shakes her head. "No. The idea of not having you anymore, even though I don't... really have you."

Quinn takes a deep breath. "Yeah. That is pretty scary."

"I'm... going to go talk to Father Kevin again. He really helped, last time, but … I have so many more things that I want to talk about and..."

"If you need a friend, you know, that you're not also making out with sometimes-I think you just got one back," Quinn says, jerking her head towards her bedroom.

Rachel's smile is incredibly tremulous but then she says, "Well, perhaps if I'm ready to hear about um, fourth base, in very explicit detail, I'll go talk to Santana about this. But until then..."

Quinn laughs and says, "Gosh, was she like that at age fourteen already?"

Rachel gives her a very wry look. "I'm pretty sure she came out of the womb that way. Plus I'm extra fun to mess with, because I'm so easily scandalized."

Quinn grins and says, "Not the words I would've chosen, Miss Berry."

Rachel gives her a small smile and then fishes something out of her back pocket. "Here. Before I forget."

It's a ticket to Regionals.

"I'll be sure to wear a large hat and a mustache," Quinn jokes, and then gives Rachel a much more sincere look. "All joshing aside, thank you. I love watching you perform. It's the only thing in the world that's as good as … well. Kissing you."

Rachel blushes furiously and then says, "I'm going to go back to the room with the other person in it now."

"Yeah, that's probably a good idea," Quinn agrees, with a small smirk. "Wouldn't want to-I don't know, trip and fall on my lips, or-mmpphh."

She can barely feel her legs by the time Rachel lets up, and then just mutely stands there as Rachel licks at her thumb and smudges some stuff by Quinn's lips.

"I hope this isn't what you do with all your friends," Quinn finally says, dumbly. "Because I have some jealousy issues and I don't think I can take Mercedes in a fight."

Rachel laughs and pecks her again. "How do you do this?"

"What?"

"Make everything better," Rachel says, seriously. "I was in tears five minutes ago, and now I'm fixing your unintentional clown smile-"

"Hey; I'm not the one who wears ridiculous shades of lip gloss. I'm a clear sheen kind of girl, which really is Gay Ladies 101 because-you don't want to blend if you don't mean to, you know?" Quinn says, with a shrug.

Rachel just shakes her head and reaches for the door behind her. "What am I going to do with you?"

"Hopefully, everything," Quinn says, before she can stop herself.

Rachel gives her a dark look, and then she's shoved up against the door again-and okay, this is exactly what they weren't going to be doing anymore, but it's in her house and they can't possibly get caught by anyone who doesn't already know and-

She hears her mother clear her throat. "Quinn, sweetheart? Some of us actually need the bathroom, but if you insist on only kissing Rachel in small, enclosed spaces, you're welcome to move this to my walk-in closet."

Rachel freezes up against her and Quinn starts laughing before sighing deeply.

"We'll be right out," she calls out.

"Great; and I look forward to meeting you, Rachel!" her mother calls back.

Rachel looks horrified, and Quinn plants a quick kiss to her nose.

"Could've been worse; I mean, we're both dressed, and nobody has an erection they're trying to cover with their hands," she finally offers, thinking back to the first time Finn had met her mother.

Rachel gives her the most disbelieving look in the world, which almost makes her laugh again, but then just mutely shuffles back to Quinn's room and gingerly sits down on the very, very edge of her bed.

"She met your parents, didn't she?" Santana asks, with a grin.

"... sort of," Quinn says, and then glances over to the corner of the room. "Hey, Rach? Want to see my record collection? Because it's right there."

That snaps Rachel out of it, long enough to start giggling a little hysterically, anyway.

...

The paper goes to print right around the time that Regionals take place; she was expecting the competition to be on a weekend, but somehow it's on a Wednesday night, and so she rushes home after school and tries to decide on what an appropriate thing to wear to a show choir event would be.

Casual seems fine, and she'll need a hood, so she compromises with a pair of pin-striped cords and a polo shirt; Blaine, thankfully, is wearing something very similar when he swings by to pick her up.

"I brought us sunglasses, just in case," he says, handing over a ridiculous pair of heart-shaped shades that look like they were stolen from the children's stand at a gas station.

She pops them on, because why not, and then laughs when Blaine says that she looks great, because ... that's really unlikely.

...

By the time they get to the auditorium in Akron, the parking lot is already pretty full up, and Quinn's fairly sure they can sneak in to the back of the room without anyone noticing. There's a close call of running into Mike Chang at some point, but he probably doesn't expect her to look as ridiculous as she does, so she slips by him and heads to the row in the far back corner.

"This is going to hurt our necks," Blaine notes, before smiling widely. "There they are-two rows from the front, do you see them?"

Kurt is tugging on some part of Rachel's outfit, and she keeps swatting at his hands; it's adorable and frantic and nervous, and if not for the fact that Rachel had already told her that she wouldn't have her cell phone on her, she'd send a quick terrible joke to chill her out.

As it is, she just sits and watches, and when VA finally get up to perform, Blaine reaches for her hands and says, "That all girls choir was not bad, so they're going to have to work it; I hope they've picked edgy stuff enough because one of the judges is an ex-member of NKOTB and-"

"Wait, seriously?" she asks.

"No, I have no idea, but let's cross our fingers anyway," Blaine says, with a quick grin.

Teenage Dirtbag goes off brilliantly, and Jesse and Rachel follow that up with a rousing rendition of U2's With or Without You, which she really tries not to let get to her, but all of that falls to the wayside when half the choir leaves the stage and the lights dim on just Rachel, on a small stool, in the center of the stage.

A murmur of acapella humming starts up behind her, and Blaine shifts forward in his seat a little, before turning to her. "Kurt told me they were trying something radical this year; Rachel has a magnificent belt, but the show choir world is familiar with it and they wanted to tone it down a lot and..."

She shushes him when Rachel starts singing the first lines of Your Song, with the rest of Vocal Adrenaline pitter-patting behind her, and not a single bit of accompaniment to go along with them.

It's a haunting, chilling performance, especially because Rachel doesn't look up until the very last run of the verse, lingering on the words, I hope you don't mind, I hope you don't mind, that I put down in words...

The entire auditorium falls silent for a good four seconds, until she sings the last few lines, and lowers her head again-and then everyone is up on their feet simultaneously.

"That was brilliant. How unexpected, right? And I'm so happy for Kurt that they let him sing along in Teenage Dirtbag, because his falsetto is the perfect harmony on the chorus... wow, what a performance," Blaine says, shaking his head and clapping loudly.

Quinn only barely registers what's going on, because Rachel is curtsying on stage before rushing off, and-what she wouldn't give to be waiting there in the wings.

She's not going to assume the song was for her, because Shelby picks their tunes, but the way Rachel sang it...

"Someone records these performances, right?" she asks Blaine, who gestures down to where Brad-the pianist that accompanies Vocal Adrenaline-is folding shut a camcorder.

"Okay. Good. Because I want to see and hear that again," Quinn says, and then spontaneously gives Blaine a hug. "They're going to win, right?"

"Oh, for sure," he says, as people around them finally start sitting down again.

She's literally vibrating with nervous energy for the next fifteen minutes, as the judges deliberate, and then shifts forward to the edge of her seat as the choirs take their places back on stage. Rachel is book-ended by Jesse and Brittany, and Kurt's hand is in hers, and for just one second, Quinn thinks I love you at her so loudly that Rachel has to have felt it, somehow.

Then, pandemonium breaks out and a gigantic trophy is carried over to Rachel, who can barely even lift it-and she doesn't even realize she's crying for them until she looks over at Blaine and he's folding up his yellow sunglasses and wiping at his eyes as well.

"It's show choir. It's supposed to be dramatic," he says, with a laugh, when she curses and brushes at her cheeks with her fingertips.

She'd tell him to not be such a nerd, but all she can do is watch as Rachel gets lifted up by the rest of the team and held up like she is the trophy.

Damn right, she thinks, because even if she doesn't agree with it at all, she finally understands why Shelby pushes Rachel to do this for the rest of her life so hard.

It would be a travesty if nobody else got to hear her sing like this, and that's a fact.

...

The small cactus on Rachel's corner of the table the next day has Artie and Tina speculating loudly as to whether or not it's a threat or a gift, and Quinn ignores them until Rachel herself wanders into the room and stops to stare at it.

"There's a card," Quinn says, neutrally.

Rachel reads it, and then snorts out laughter, before looking at everyone else looking at her and saying, "The paper isn't going to staple itself back together, people."

Everyone grumbles but gets back to work, but in passing, Quinn gets a hissed, "You're so lucky you're beautiful."

She opts to focus on the complimentary side of that, because really, she has no idea what's so offensive about:

Dear Rachel, You are like this cactus to me; I'd happily get pricked a million times to try and get close to you because what's on the inside is totally worth it (and I don't mean your internal organs, though I'm glad you have those, obviously). PS: I'm glad you liked my record collection. I liked your song (pun intended). :)

...

Holly's charity concert is approaching swiftly, and they're spending most days working out some final kinks in the songs; they'll be opening with Artie's rendition of My First Song as it's actually show-stopping, the way he's managed to turn a semi-unknown rap classic into a jazzy brass piece, and after that, they've opted to go with Quinn's version of Your Ex-Lover is Dead. Sam is up after that, with the Bieber, just to get people to stop crying their eyes out, and then there's Rachel and her piano-Quinn only had to mention dessert and everyone but Rachel agreed that she was best off going last.

There are some nerves coming into play now; this isn't just goofing off with some of her friends in someone's living room, but Holly's friends from the music world will be coming to see them play in Lima's best musical venue. She's going to have to do something about her hair, which is getting to a ridiculous length, and she might even need to get her mother to drag her out shopping-there's not a single dress she owns that she could wear and play the drums in, and anyway... Rachel will be wearing a dress. She likes the idea of flanking her in something classic but different, like...

"Where do you buy tuxedo pants in Lima?" she asks, out loud, and the boys look up at her in surprise.

"Um, I don't know, but … I probably have to go shopping for some?" Sam says, with a hesitant look at Artie.

"The wedding shop on Fifth will sell them," Rachel says, with a small smile. "Quinn, no bow-ties, please."

"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize my outfit was up for public debate," she shoots back. "I was planning on a skinny tie; I own one that has little teddy bears on it, which felt appropriate for the night. Does that meet with your approval, madam?"

Rachel rolls her eyes. "You don't need my approval. It was just a suggestion."

I like skinny ties, and if you look as good as I think you will, prepare to be molested in the back of your car afterwards. In a friendly way, of course. ;)

Quinn spits out a mouthful of water all over her own lap as soon as she's done reading the text, and Sam gives her a quizzical look.

"Hiccups," she says, like that's any explanation at all.

The back of MY car? You have an ESCALADE! Why are you trying to hurt us?

Rachel snorts audibly and then starts working on adding a little riff to the instrumental bridge they've built into the song, and Quinn tries to focus on her own drumming and the way it'll tie in to the violin work Tina is doing, but...

She's so far gone, it's kind of ridiculous, because they're not really going anywhere right now.

Knowing it isn't really stopping her from staring dumbly at Rachel's hands, scattering over those ivory keys in front of her, though.

...

The sick kids in the audience are a sobering experience; even though she's still having a hard time ignoring how good Rachel looks in that red gown she's wearing, she's definitely not having any prurient thoughts about it, because there are just bigger things at stake right now.

Kids.  Kids that are sick.  As much as she normally excels at keeping her mind off certain subjects, images of the baby she once held keep flashing through her mind and it's making her a little queasy.

Rachel seems to pick up on her fragile mood just seconds before they're due on stage, and reaches up and straightens Quinn's tie for her, tightening the knot just a little more.

"You look very handsome," she then says, softly.

"I was kidding about the Escalade but-maybe we can go for a milkshake afterwards?" Quinn says, before glancing out at the crowd again. "Seeing these kids..."

"Of course," Rachel says, pressing the flat of her hand against Quinn's sternum just for a second. "You'll be great out there.  You know it."

"You too," Quinn says, and then they're filing out on the stage-the composers first, and then the rest of the performing band moments later, with Holly in front of them in a muted green dress, ready to conduct them through their work.

This feels like one of the most special things she'll ever do, and the fact that she's sharing it with one of her best friends and with her Rachel...

Her parents are somewhere in the audience right now, and maybe this will make them understand why this project is more than just a distraction; why it's something that matters to her, even if it is stopping her from thinking too much about Beth or what happened with Dave Karofsky in the last month of school last year.

It matters a lot, and when Holly signals them off for Artie's song, she forgets about nearly everything else that's going on-everything except the piano, which somehow filters through her dulled senses anyway.

...

"I can't believe we raised almost three thousand dollars," Sam says, for the fifth time in ten minutes. "That's insane."

"It is pretty great," Quinn agrees, tugging her tie loose a little and then sticking up a hand to her parents, who are making their way over.

"Good show, Q," her dad says, pulling her into a quick hug. "I had no idea you could read, let alone read music, but that was impressive-same goes for all of you."

Rachel stiffens when Quinn's mother pulls her into a hug, but relaxes after a moment.

"Good lord, you are gifted," her mother says, and then makes a face. "What on earth are you doing with our Quinn?"

"Mom-" Quinn says, a little tensely, ... but Artie's off talking to Tina and his mother, and Sam knows, so maybe they can handle this kind of teasing.

"Community service," Rachel says, after a moment, which earns her hearty laughter from both of Quinn's parents and a tremulous sigh from Quinn herself.

"Well, if that's how it's going to be-"

Her dad slings an arm around her back and says, "That song you restructured, for Beth-it was really something, kiddo. I hope you know that. Because she would, if she was here to see it."

Tears cloud her vision almost immediately and she wipes at her eyes before saying, "Yeah, thanks. It's … it was good, wasn't it."

A small hand at the edge of her pants calms her, and stops her from sinking into panic in front of a crowd of donating rich people, and she looks over at Rachel gratefully.

"Can one of you maybe drive my car home?" she asks, fishing around in her shirt pocket for the keys. "I'm... Rachel and I are going for a milkshake."

"Is that slang for making out in the back seat?" her mother asks.  "You kids and your words, I swear."

Rachel chokes on air out of nowhere and Quinn says, "Mom", so emphatically that for once, her mother actually cans it.

"It's not; there are actual milkshakes and I promise you that I have nothing but pure intentions," Rachel pledges.

"Sounds pretty boring to me; you might want to work in a few impure ones, or how else are we going to become grandparents?" her dad says, with a wide smile.

"Can we please leave?" Quinn begs Rachel, who looks torn between laughing and being horrified all over again, and that'll teach her to encourage them.

"Go have fun," her mother says, pressing a kiss to the top of her head and then shooing them out.

...

She almost reaches for Rachel's hand, as they're walking out of the concert hall, but thinks better of it and instead just rubs her hands together.

"I wish my mom had come, tonight," Rachel says, out of nowhere, and looks at the ground a little sadly. "What we did tonight was really good, and... she'll never know. She'll never know how much I put into this, or how well it was received."

Quinn would say something stupid like how it's Shelby's loss, but they both know that they're empty words, and so instead she waits until they're both in Rachel's car, and then reaches for Rachel's hand over the console.

"There. Better," she says, tangling their fingers together. "Right?"

Rachel gives her a small smile, and says, "I spoke to Father Kevin yesterday."

"Yeah?" Quinn says, looking at their hands; and God, they fit together so well. Her palm's a little clammy, as it always is around Rachel, but she's getting better about her nerves; more confident that Rachel won't just freak out out of nowhere and send her packing.

"Yeah," Rachel says, and relaxes into her seat a little more. "He's a wonderful man. And he thinks you're a wonderful person, so..."

"Person, huh?" Quinn says, with a small smile. "Is that how you're coping?"

Rachel doesn't deny it, but then the pad of her thumb brushes over the back of Quinn's hand, and... whatever. She doesn't even really care.

"I think he's right. I think I'm... very lucky," Rachel admits, quietly.

"I think we're both lucky; I mean, the combination of your looks and brains and my... um... wait. What am I contributing to this interaction, exactly?" Quinn says, making a face, just to lighten the mood a little.

"The sense of humor," Rachel says, dryly, and then squeezes down a little harder. "Can... I tell you something without it turning into... something?"

Quinn blinks a few times and then hesitantly says, "I don't know what that means, but you can tell me anything, Rach, you know that."

Rachel gnaws on her bottom lip for a moment and then says, "I had a rather explicit dream about you."

A rush of nervous laughter escapes Quinn. "Um..."

"It was kind of stupid, actually, because-I obviously have no real idea about... what two women would do together, but... well, we were naked and you were on top of me, so... I think we were doing something," Rachel says, pinking up really quickly. "And... when I woke up, I felt slightly guilty, but mostly I just felt..."

"Horny?" Quinn asks, very hesitantly.

That earns her a slap to the shoulder. "For goodness sake, what is wrong with you?"

"What! That's a normal reaction to those kinds of things, I mean, whenever I dream about you..." Quinn starts to say, before shutting up very abruptly and staring out the window.

Rachel rolls her eyes. "What I was going to say was that I felt good. I felt like it was natural, for me to dream about things like that. Like there wasn't anything strange or abnormal about it."

"Oh," Quinn says, acutely feeling like an asshole. "Well, that's better than horny, which-"

"Stop saying horny, Quinn."

"I'm trying, believe me," she says, fiddling with the edge of her tie for a moment. "So, um, you were … okay with it, sort of. What do you think that means?"

"I think it means that I need to find a different way of relating to God," Rachel says, carefully, before glancing down at her own lap. "I want him to love me for everything I am and do, and Father Kevin is helping me understand that that's not impossible. That there are many ways of being one of God's children and... Quinn, I want to believe that I can still have his love even if..."

Quinn looks over, and watches as Rachel swallows heavily and then looks over with a very open but shy look in her eyes.

"Even if, very selfishly, I also want yours," she finally says. "Sorry. I know that we're nowhere near those words, but you know what I mean; it's more about the entire concept of being with someone than..."

"Don't take it back," Quinn says, reaching over with her other hand and cupping Rachel's hand between hers. "Okay? You don't need to take it back. It's okay to want stuff that we don't have yet. If you had any idea …"

"So tell me," Rachel asks, and there's just something about her that's so available right now, in that beautiful dress and with her beautiful hair in that knot, that Quinn can't help but be honest.

"I think about not just tomorrow, but next month, and next year, and then what comes after all of that." She swallows and then glances out the window. "I have no real idea what I want to do with my life; I'm not you, I don't have anything calling to me the way that music does to you, but lately, I don't think that matters so much-because no matter what I'll be doing, I want to be doing it in a place in New York, with a drum kit and a piano and..."

Rachel's eyes smile first. "And a cat?"

"Sure; a cat named Cactus, or something stupid like that," Quinn agrees, and then shifts back onto her seat more fully, letting go of Rachel's hands. "And it's okay to want that, too; at least, I think so."

Rachel is quiet for a moment and then says, "I veto Cactus, if only because that was a terrible gift and it'll be easier to forget about if we don't have a cat around to remind me of it."

The words are punctuated with a glare of such quality that Quinn chuckles. "I figured you would. It's okay. We have at least two more years to argue about cat names."

Rachel starts the car, and Quinn blinks when she hears her own band play from the radio. "Hey-what-"

"Artie gave me one of the CDs. He thought I'd like it," Rachel says, turning the volume down a little with a small smile. "I'll be honest; the equalizer in my car is normally set for vocal enhancement because with the amount of Broadway that I do have to listen to for Vocal Adrenaline, it makes sense, but... recently I've been trying to figure out how to change the settings to enhance the rhythm section a little more."

"It's like, um, a flock of birds; you know, a wide spanned V," Quinn says, automatically. "They call it the rock setting but really it's just equal emphasis on bass and hi-hat."

Rachel smiles. "I'll take that over Cactus for the cat name, honestly."

"What, Hi-Hat?" Quinn asks, as Rachel starts pulling out of the parking space and gets them going towards Sally's.

"Yes."

"If we go with that, we should probably get two and name the other one like... Gershwin or something."

"That's terribly obvious," Rachel says, making a face. "I'd go with something more obscure like Handl, maybe."

"Handl and Hi-Hat? Our future friends are going to think you're a genius and I'm an imbecile," Quinn says, shaking her head.

"Our future friends sound like very observant, wise people," Rachel says, with a small grin, before reaching over the console again.

Quinn takes her hand, playing with her fingers for a moment, and then, when they're on a fairly empty stretch of road out of town, asks, "So-in this naughty dream you had... was I super amazing or what? Because I think I probably will be. As an ex-gymnast, I'm very flexible, and Santana tells me that I'm lucky to have such upper body strength... or well, you're lucky, I guess, but anyway. Was I brilliant, or just outstanding?"

She laughs when Rachel smacks her thigh, hard.

"You're lucky I'm a very focused driver," she murmurs, directing the car back into the right lane with a glare.

"I hope you're this focused when uh-"

"I will throw you out if you don't stop," Rachel says, warningly, and Quinn chuckles but relents anyway; she just reaches for Rachel's hand and marvels again at how much it just feels like it belongs with hers.

"How about Tchaikovsky and Hi-Hat?" Rachel asks, abruptly, pulling into Sally's parking lot a long few minutes later.

"I'm going to have to come up with something equally pretentious," Quinn sighs, and laughs when Rachel digs her nails down a little. "Ouch, or, I mean, clever and profound."

"How do you even know I want cats?" Rachel asks, before opening her car door.

"... I don't," Quinn says, and then smiles, when they meet in front of Rachel's monster SUV and stare at each other a little stupidly. "This is my future dream, you know. We haven't started working on one that's ours yet."

The corners of Rachel's mouth tip up, and there are small dimples on her cheeks that make Quinn want to kiss her senseless in the back of the Escalade after all, but then Rachel reaches for her hand again and says, "C'mon. My sugar levels are depressingly low after all that playing, and I'm dying to find out just how terribly bland a vegan milkshake is, so I can brace myself for the torment that will be my future diet if … well. You know."

"Honey, you don't need to give up meat for me," Quinn says, before smiling a little devilishly. "Well, not that kind of meat, anyway."

Rachel looks confused for just a moment, and then appalled, and Quinn laughs when she gets slapped in the stomach again.

"You are disgusting," she says, sharply, before striding off into Sally's with a still laughing Quinn in her wake.

The night's not even over yet, but she already knows that it's going to go down as one of the most special nights of her life, and she's closing up exactly how she wants to be:

With the only girl that matters, arguing about hypothetical cats and milkshake flavors, as the two most overdressed customers in Sally's Diner's history.

Chapter Text

Things that used to be a given start getting to her at the start of March.

The divide between their lunch tables feels like a small ocean now, and for what? Half of the people on Vocal Adrenaline are sort of her friends now, and Santana is definitely working on tolerating Rachel's presence more, but... then there's the fact that Shelby could show up in the cafeteria at any moment, and if there's one thing that would arouse her suspicion it's probably the sight of her daughter eating with every single gay kid at Carmel High.

Quinn's never really felt so reduced to a statistic before, and that's bearing in mind that in two weeks time, a different statistic changes.

Finn texted about it a few days ago, asking if it would maybe be okay to send a small gift to Beth's adoptive parents, and she burst into tears so unexpectedly that Sam was stuck awkwardly pulling over on the side of the road-on the way back from Untitled Band practice-and patting her on the back.

It's kind of spectacular, how many days she spends ignoring that anything there happened at all-until something like this happens and it punches her in the solar plexus all over again.

She knows that she's out of time in not dealing with it, but she just doesn't know how to deal, at this point. Beth is almost one year old, and that means almost 365 days of not having seen her, heard her, held her or...

Well, no. There hasn't been a single day where she hasn't been loved, and Quinn shoves her lunch tray away from her and heads over to the auditorium for a second lunch.

This one, she might actually eat.

...

Holly finds her at the end of seventh period and says, "So-the great news is that everyone loved you guys; and the other great news is that we just got word from up high that because of Shelby's airline budget for Vocal Adrenaline, we can't afford to hire a band for the Spring Formal."

Quinn blinks at her. "Wait, you mean my band? You want us to play?"

Holly smiles and says, "I don't know what the dating situation is like in the band, and I guess it would kind of suck to have to play at the formal rather than be able to dance with, y'know, your honey-"

Quinn laughs. "Well, Santana and Puck are with each other, so that's fine; Sam is still working up the nerve to ask Tina, and um, our keyboardist is..." She bites her lip for a moment and then darts forward, to whisper, "Kurt Hummel's boyfriend" into Holly's ear.

Holly looks surprised for a second and then grins at Quinn a little slyly. "What about you, stud?"

"Um..." Quinn says, and-yeah, there is a small tendency to smile, because even though she's technically single, she's also really just not available... but then there's the idea of a Spring Formal and, not in a million years would she be able to go with Rachel.

It hits her abruptly that she wants to go with Rachel, and she can't stop a small frown from appearing on her forehead. That's a dangerous thing to be wanting, right now, when they're still just talking a lot about Rachel's feelings and... yeah, maybe it's all a little one-sided, but it's worth it.

Holly snaps her fingers. "Let me guess; your Facebook says It's Complicated?"

Quinn laughs weakly. "Yeah, something like that. Um, I wouldn't... be going with anyone either way. So I'm definitely up for playing. I think everyone will be, honestly."

"Okay. The setlist is up to you, but try to balance out some ballads for slow-dancing with more up-tempo stuff, so that kids who come by themselves or in a group of friends also make it onto the floor, okay?" Holly says, and Quinn nods.

"Thanks for this, I mean, you've never even seen us and-"

"I know, but you came highly recommended," Holly says, a little mysteriously, before heading down the hall to catch up to Ms. Beiste, the physics teacher.

Quinn shoves her hands in her pockets and then digs out her phone, texting the band really quickly to let them know that they've actually been hired to do something.

Pay? Santana texts back.

Free punch! Quinn sends, and then laughs when Santana sends back a string of swearing in Spanish that she doesn't understand a word of.

...

Rachel's not standing at the front, when she gets to the AV room, and instead smiles at her for a moment and says, "I thought I'd let you run this one."

There's a giant gold star next to Rachel's name, and Quinn is a little taken aback.

"You're-not going to micromanage your own expose?" she asks, raising her eyebrows.

Lauren says, "She always lets someone else have a stab at her own. Journalistic independence, and all that."

"Okay, well," Quinn says, and then blinks rapidly when she realizes that this means a lot of potential alone time with Rachel. "I'll... be happy to do both the shoot and the interview, if that's okay with everyone."

"Oh, totally," Tina says, not even bothering to hide her relief.

Rachel glares at her a little, and Tina recoils before mumbling, "Sorry."

"All yours, Quinn," Artie says, with a small smile. She stares at him for a second but then looks at Rachel.

"When do you want to get together to talk about what we're going to do? We're... probably going to fight, a lot, and it's probably best to not do that in front of our... fellow staffers."

She can only barely hide her grin when Rachel's eyes widen at her for a second, but then Rachel stiffly says, "I'll email you my schedule", at which point Quinn has to actually chomp down on the inside of her cheek to not start laughing.

"Yeah, you do that," she says, equally shortly, before heading over to the mock-up table.

Rachel Barbra Berry, it says at the top, in a looping serif that Quinn runs her finger past.

She's going to make this fantastic.

...

"Um-Rach," she manages, at long last, gently nudging Rachel away with her knees. "I did actually invite you over to talk about the expose."

Rachel licks at her lips for a second and then takes a step back, and she looks wrecked. Her hair is everywhere, and her eyes are dark and her cheeks and lips are flushed pretty shades of pink, and the collar on her shirt is a mess, and...

Quinn closes her eyes and takes a few deep breaths. "Do you have any ideas yourself?"

"I'm a safe distance away now, you can open your eyes again," Rachel says, sounding amused.

Quinn carefully opens one, spots Rachel at her desk, and then opens them both, resettling on the bed and taking a deep breath.

"Well, I think we should take the pictures right now, because you look delectable and I'm sure your mother will understand that I only attempted to suck your face off you for artistic and professional reasons," she then says, a little shakily.

Rachel runs her hands through her hair a few times and then asks, "Better?"

"No, even hotter," Quinn says, before falling onto her back and covering her eyes. "Talk about something unappealing, please."

"I've brought Funny Girl for us to watch today," Rachel says, and there's some rustling and then a DVD lands next to Quinn on the bed.

"Well, there you go, a musical. That's incredibly unappealing," Quinn mumbles, before picking it up and squinting at it. "What's this even about?"

"Marriage," Rachel says, with a small smile, when Quinn lowers the DVD again. "The story itself is intensely depressing, actually, but it's one of Barbra's finest performances."

"And that matters...?"

"I thought we could re-enact some key scenes from it; maybe the one where Fanny sings My Man. That will hit the right notes with … people interested in the paper."

A large part of Quinn wants to say screw it to this idea, because Rachel sounds not at all enthusiastic about the prospect of doing this, and Quinn herself has spent most of the last few days thinking about different ways to pose someone on and next to a piano.

Sometimes, Rachel plays entire sequences with her eyes closed, like she's in a trance, almost, and she looks otherworldly when she does it; Quinn has no idea if she can even capture that look with a camera, but it's the one, and... instead they're going to be doing Jewish Musicals 1010 to make Shelby happy.

Which...

"Hang on; you want to model yourself after a Jewish icon to please your seriously Catholic mother?" Quinn asks, sitting up again and giving Rachel a puzzled look.

Rachel almost smiles when she says, "I'm half Jewish."

"Seriously?"

"Yes, my daddy's Jewish. He didn't practice heavily, but I was raised on a combined diet, as he liked to call it; Catholic church and Jewish culture."

"So-wait, is this a pleasant reminder to your mother or more like a giant fuck you?" Quinn asks, frowning. "Because I thought we'd agreed that..."

"Musical theater trumps any bad associations of my father." Rachel hesitates for a moment and then says, "Actually, when my parents met, my mother was in the process of auditioning for Fanny Brice, despite being a gentile. I think she'll view this as me recognizing that... my independence, and my future, come first. Always."

Quinn folds her legs underneath her and then says, "Is that just what she wants to hear, or..."

Rachel looks off into the distance, or at Quinn's poster wall, for a long moment and then says, "No. Not entirely, anyway."

"Oh," Quinn says, and then rubs at her head. "Well, I mean, I guess I should've seen that coming. I think it makes sense you know, given how you were raised."

Rachel looks over sharply. "What is that supposed to mean?"

Quinn shrugs. "Only that... if you see love fail so spectacularly around you, it must be hard to believe that it's worth more than other things."

Rachel's expression draws tight. "I see. And that's a failing somehow. Wanting to be sure that I have a life of my own that gives me things that make me happy, without being wholly dependent on someone else."

"No, but... I mean, I guess it kind of is to me if that means that you're going to say no to taking risks on anything but your career?" Quinn says, before sighing. "I'm not trying to pick a fight, I'm just..."

"People leave, Quinn," Rachel says, firmly. "People always do, in one way or another, and when they leave, it's important to have something to fall back on. My mother didn't. I'm not an idiot for having learned something from that."

"Not everyone leaves," Quinn says, glancing down at the duvet. "I mean, I just can't... live thinking that way. Always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I don't want to live that way."

Rachel is quiet for a long moment and then says, "We really don't know all that much about each other, do we?"

"We've only been friends for like, a few weeks. If that," Quinn notes, even though she feels as unsettled as Rachel sounds. "Knowing this kind of stuff comes with time, doesn't it?"

"Time," Rachel repeats, and then laughs weakly for a moment. "And how much of that do you think we have, Quinn? Because I'm gone for most of the summer, and after that, there's nothing but a countdown to New York. I will be going there, no matter what else happens, and..."

Quinn stares at her for a moment. "It's funny how your career plans are starting to sound like an ultimatum or a time-bomb or something."

Rachel sighs and rubs at her forehead. "I'm not trying to threaten you, I just want you to be realistic."

"So what, I can't have feelings for you because they might get in the way of that Broadway career you're not even all that interested in having?" Quinn asks, before shifting off the bed and heading towards the door. "Thanks, Rachel. That's really swell. Maybe you could've told me that-"

"Stop," Rachel says, and then exhales very shakily. "That's not what I meant."

"You're worried I'm going to screw you over somehow," Quinn says, dropping her forehead against her bedroom door. "Because I'm gay, I guess? Because your dad is an ass so every other gay person is also going to abandon you for …"

"Quinn, that's not what I'm saying."

"If you really think that I could ever turn my back on someone like that again after what happened with Beth, what I had to do with Beth," she says, before she can stop herself, and then everything just crashes to a halt-in her mind, and in her lungs, and it's not until she dimly hears Rachel calling out her name that she realizes that she's actually having a panic attack this time.

Rachel probably knows CPR, she thinks absently, and probably knows how to deal with anxiety disorders as well because Rachel is a veritable encyclopedia of useless medical information, but Quinn can't hear a thing she's saying over the rushing of blood in her head, and then the world tips on its axis and-

...

She wakes up with the sensation of water dripping into her eyes, and shakes her head abruptly.

"Easy," Rachel says, softly, and when she blinks her eyes open, Rachel is perched next to her on the couch downstairs. "You passed out, and I don't want you to panic again. You could've really hurt yourself, going down like that."

"I'm surprised you care; it must be easier to get to New York over my dead body than my live one," Quinn mumbles.

"Okay, that's enough of that," Rachel demands, firmly. "You need to stop deflecting. I didn't say anything outrageously offensive up there, and you completely lost it, so we need to talk about you here, and not my career goals."

Quinn squeezes her lips shut and lets Rachel put the wet cloth back on her forehead.

"I know her birthday is coming up. Finn mentioned it last Wednesday. I've been waiting for you to talk about it, because I don't want to be invasive," Rachel continues, quietly. "I understand now that that was a tactical error, because much as I would've gone the rest of my life without ever acknowledging that I have issues with homosexuality that are totally unwarranted, you will go the rest of your life pretending you don't have a daughter unless someone stops you."

"I don't have a daughter," Quinn says, her voice cracking on the word. "She's not my daughter. She's with two men in Cleveland who really want her and who will give her a great life, and all I did was bring her into this world without being able to take care of her. She deserves better than that."

"Really? She deserves better than someone who loves her so much that she gave her up to a better future?" Rachel asks, cupping Quinn's face with one hand and turning it until they're looking at each other. "She deserves better than someone who loves her so much that she can't even talk about her without breaking down?"

Quinn feels her eyes well up and roughly brings her hand up to her face, sweeping the cloth down and taking her tears with it.

The room is silent for a long moment, and then Rachel shifts, and Quinn tenses, because she knows she's not going get a reprieve. Not this time.

"Why didn't you have an abortion?" Rachel asks, quietly.

Her chest feels like it's caving in, just at the word, and she flings the cloth off her and says, "What, now you want to know why I didn't kill her? Are you-"

"Yes. Why didn't you? My religious convictions would've prevented it, but your parents would've understood. Your mother just told me that they offered to take you to have an abortion, so you could get back on track without any major hiccups in your school life, and you declined having one."

"I'm not devout like you are, but I am a Catholic," Quinn says, sharply.

"So this is about religion?" Rachel asks, and there's such a gentle, understanding look on her face that Quinn feels her lungs protest all over again. "Or is it about-how, the second you knew that she existed, you loved her with all of your heart and you couldn't even imagine not meeting her, and not giving her a chance to grow up to be someone?"

Quinn bites down on the corner of her lip hard and then shakes her head. "It wasn't her fault. None of it was her fault. She didn't get drunk and sleep with someone she didn't love; she didn't forget to use a condom, she wasn't not on the pill... she just was, and it wasn't her fault. Don't you get that? It wasn't her-"

"I know," Rachel says, brushing her thumb underneath Quinn's eyes.

"I could never punish her for my mistakes, and that's why I gave her up but-" Quinn says, and then looks at Rachel helplessly. "I wanted to keep her. I couldn't, but Rachel, I wanted to keep her so badly and I don't know how I can ever look at a picture of her and not think that I made a mistake."

Somewhere behind the couch, a muted sound of surprise sounds and then there's the quick patter of footsteps, and Quinn jerks upright when she realizes her parents are in the room, or they were, and then it's all over; she bursts into tears, and feels Rachel's arms wrap around her, and she just can't stop crying-even though Rachel keeps promising her that it's okay, and that she's not a terrible person for feeling this way, and that Beth is lucky to be brought into a world that's so full of love for her.

The words don't do much, but Rachel's arms tighten their hold and there's the quick brush off lips against her temple, over and over again, and after God knows how many minutes of that, she feels something start to scab over, inside of her. Not by much, and it might not hold, but...

With one last shuddering breath, she says, "Thank you."

"I didn't do anything, Quinn," Rachel says back, and then pulls back just enough to look her in the eyes. "But I'm so sorry that I ever called you selfish, because you're anything but."

A kiss presses against her forehead, and she sinks into a little, before dropping her forehead to Rachel's shoulder and taking a few slow, deep breaths.

"I'm sorry. We're going to have to meet again some other day because I don't think I can, y'know, work on your article right now," she finally says.

Rachel rubs at the back of her neck and says, "For someone so smart, you can be so stupid sometimes. I plan on dragging you back upstairs and watching the most asinine comedy you own with you tonight, and that's all."

"Your mom won't-"

"I already told her I was sleeping over at Mercedes'. She won't check," Rachel says, and then gives her a tentative smile. "And I'm sorry, if talking about New York made you feel like I was … rejecting you. It's not about that, it's just that..."

"Rachel, it's okay. Clearly I'm just... having one of those days," Quinn says, before pressing a soft kiss against Rachel's lips. "One of the things I like the most about you is how ambitious you are, and … I wouldn't want that to change, for me or for anyone. Especially not after three weeks of not really dating."

Rachel smiles for a second and then gives Quinn a serious look. "What would... really dating involve?"

Quinn licks her lips and then makes a face. "I don't know? Whatever we'd want it to, I guess."

"You'll have to forgive me, but I've been thinking about this a lot and while I understand that gender roles aren't immutable, the logistics of it have made my head spin a little," Rachel says, quietly, before linking their fingers together. "Because, I don't want to offend you by assuming you'll cater to the traditionally male roles of, for instance, picking me up and paying for dinner, but..."

Quinn chuckles a little. "There is nothing traditionally male about the fact that I think it would be kind of awesome to get to … I don't know. Woo you. That's just me wanting to do stuff for you."

"And what if I don't want to do it in reverse?"

Quinn flashes to a quick visual of Rachel, in one of her summery dresses, standing at the door with a bouquet of flowers, and can't help laughing at the idea of it. "I think I'll live."

"So-you obviously couldn't come and get me at my house," Rachel says, lowering her eyes for a second. "But-you could probably pick me up at Kurt's, who I'm sure would be thrilled to give me a make-over..."

The last of the pressure on Quinn's chest fades away at the cautious look that Rachel gives her.

"Rach, do you want to go out with me?" she supplies, because she knows a prompt when she sees one. "And just so there's no confusion, I mean on a date, like two people who are thinking about dating might do?"

Rachel sort of grins shyly after a moment. "Even though I pressured you into that, I'm still totally-"

"What?"

Their joined hands are brought up to Rachel's chest, and Quinn feels her own heart start to race at the feel of Rachel's, pounding away in her chest like a marching band drum.

"That's... something," she says, dimly, before smiling. "I... have kind of a cheesy idea, but I think it might work."

"Run it by me, because I'm fairly exacting and you don't want to screw up," Rachel says, without any irony whatsoever, and Quinn laughs.

"Damn, woman, way to instil some confidence in me."

Rachel half-smiles and God, she's so precious; Quinn darts forward and kisses her, before linking their fingers together and again. "Okay-so, the Spring Formal is coming up, and I'm going to be stuck on stage because Untitled Band got hired to do the music..."

"Ah, good, Holly listened to me," Rachel says, with a soft smile.

Quinn stares at her for a moment. "... I had many more thoughts beyond that, but now I just want to kiss you-is that okay? Can we-"

"Your parents are right there," Rachel hisses, with a look towards the kitchen.

"I think they know about kissing. I mean, I imagine some of it took place before I was conceived," Quinn says, before making a face that has Rachel rolling her eyes.

"Tell me about your idea, and I'll let you know if you've earned some kissing."

Quinn worries her lip between her teeth for a second, looking at the way Rachel is looking at her, and... yeah. She's in love. It's stupid, to realize it so abruptly, and she guesses on some level she's known for ages, but-she's totally in love, and that somehow makes her want to go the extra mile on this date even more.

"I was thinking that... since we obviously can't go to the Spring Formal together anyway, we'd sort of do... a miniature formal. Together."

Rachel's expression softens even more. "How would that work?"

"Well... I'd clear out this living room, I think, and cue some music, and … you'd have to wear the prettiest dress you own, and I'd wear whatever you wanted me to, and..." Quinn shrugs. "Then we do whatever people do at a Spring Formal. Dance, drink terrible punch, … eat food. I don't know."

Rachel doesn't react for a moment, and then she leans in for a slow kiss. "I accept," she says, when they break apart.

"Oh, good, because I'd hate to attend my very first miniature formal by myself," Quinn says, brushing her hand past her forehead. "Phew."

"And then maybe … I can plan our next outing?" Rachel asks, carefully.

Quinn fights the urge to laugh, or tackle, or do anything else, because-clearly this whole gender role thing is messing with Rachel's head in a real way, and it's probably best to not draw any attention to how silly she's being. "Well, let's see how this one goes first, I mean. I might decide that you're way too good-looking for me, or way too good a dancer, or … hm, I don't know, too interested in kissing me at the end of the night. You're sort of on probation here, Rach."

Rachel rolls her eyes, and then gives her a small smile with a sigh. "It would be nice if we could go to... well. The real thing. Wouldn't it?"

Quinn knows she can't respond to that with honesty, and so she shrugs. "Eh. School dances are kind of overrated. I mean, after the fourth one, last year, I'm kind of over them. Plus heels are so uncomfortable and-"

"I liked your tuxedo pants," Rachel says, ducking her head. "And-I have a dress in mind; it's a very pale shade of pink, actually, so if you have anything that goes with that..."

"I could dye my hair?" Quinn suggests, hiding a smile.

"Or not," Rachel says, getting off the sofa and holding out her hand. "Quit while you're ahead, Fabray."

"I'm never ahead with you," Quinn protests, and Rachel smirks a little before pulling her to her feet. "But I kind of like being behind. I mean, the view's excellent-"

"Stop talking, baby."

The word shocks both of them in equal measure, if the look on Rachel's face is anything to go by, and then Quinn just shifts from one foot to the next and says, "You know, if you're trying to make me pass out again..."

Rachel sighs dramatically. "You know how senior yearbooks give people subtitles, like most likely to succeed and so on?"

"Uh..."

"Yeah, I'm on the yearbook staff, and you are going to have to work very hard to not become Quinn Fabray: Most Likely to Ruin a Moment for the next year and a half," Rachel says, before turning back to her with the most angelic of smiles.

"Santana is right about you; you are pure evil," Quinn says, not without appreciation. "I like that in my dictators, and my women."

"I … oh, my God. I'm just going to go back upstairs now, and you can to talk to your parents, because I think they're slightly concerned about you," Rachel says, with one last squeeze to her fingers.

Quinn watches her go, and then heads into the kitchen, where her dad is hugging her mom, and they both look at her with such pitying faces that she feels another lump rise up in her throat.

"I've done enough crying for today. I really-"

"Honey, if you wanted to keep her-" her mother says, with a loud sniffle. "We would've supported you. You know that. Why didn't you ever-"

"Because it wasn't the best thing for her, even if I wanted it so badly that..." Quinn admits, and then takes two more steps forward and sinks into her dad's side. "Don't think that you did anything to let me down, please, because I know you would've let me do it and would've helped me. I know. It just wasn't..."

"How do you feel, now?" her dad asks, gently.

"A little better," she admits, and then sighs deeply. "Rachel um... sort of said all the right things, all at once. I think. I don't really remember, I was kind of freaking out."

"You lucked out with that girl," her mother says, squeezing her into the hug a little more firmly. "Don't let her push you away, because she's a real keeper. Okay?"

Quinn nods, because she knows it. She knows it, and she'll do whatever she can to hold on for as long as she can.

Chapter Text

In the end, she ends up interviewing Rachel outside on the bleachers; it's an early spring, in Ohio, which suits Quinn's mood just fine, and watching as Rachel stares out over the field, she can't help but think that she's picturing exactly what Rachel is-a national anthem, at the Superbowl, at some point in the future.

It's silly, given how gone she already is, that this is maybe the most exploratory conversation they've had with each other to date; but she finds out all sorts of things, about how Rachel is good at ballet and jazz fusion but terrible at any sort of modern dance, and how she won her first singing competition when she was four and is forever grateful that her parents were both musically inclined enough to prevent her from hitting up the pageant circuit instead.

"I was in a pageant, once," Quinn says, with a small smile.

Rachel gives her a surprised look and says, "I'm not trying to be rude, but the very thought of that makes me want to cry a little."

"Oh, no, it was … I don't know. My mom got approached by someone in a mall when I was five or six, and I was going through kind of a princesses phase at the time, so it's not like they forced me into it?"

"Did you win?" Rachel asks, picking at a loose nail in the bench they're setting on.

Quinn smirks. "Hardly. I scored very highly on looks and on talent, but very badly on the questions. Um, the other girls were already at a point of talking about wanting to create world peace and things like that; my response to my greatest wish was that I wanted to marry my best friend Amy and live on a farm with donkeys with her."

Rachel laughs, clearly surprised. "And yet it took you what, another six years to realize that you were gay?"

Quinn shrugs and looks out over the field; it's strange, being near a football field without any sort of cheerleading equipment, even though it's been more than a year since she was top of pyramid and she doesn't miss it at all. "I mean, I guess it was kind of like you and Santana. We were best friends; we did everything together. I didn't want to start making out with her until I was twelve because I guess I just didn't … want to make out at all, you know?"

Rachel nods after a moment, and Quinn looks back over her notes, quickly ticking off questions they've covered and what they still need to discuss.

"I've wondered," Rachel says, forcing her to look up again.

"About?"

Rachel is quiet for a long moment and then admits, "Kissing a girl."

Quinn hesitates, almost ready to make a joke, but then decides against it, because... this is Rachel talking. Not confronting her issues so much as just acknowledging them and moving on. "How long?"

"Since freshman year, at least," Rachel says, with a small sigh. "It was hard not to think about it after what I walked in on, with Brittany and Santana."

"So you thought about kissing one of them?" Quinn asks, raising her eyebrows involuntarily; she's not even sure if she's jealous or just weirded out by the idea of kissing either Brittany or Santana like that, but it's still kind of a relief when Rachel shakes her head.

"No, not really. They're..." Rachel narrows her eyes and then smiles wryly. "I guess the correct way of phrasing this would be saying that they're not my type."

"Physically," Quinn checks.

"Not just physically, but … yes," Rachel says, leaning forward and dropping her chin to her hands, elbows locked onto her knees. "Santana is like a sister to me, and Brittany is... I don't know."

Quinn smiles after a moment. "So what is your type?"

Rachel's mouth curves up at the corners. "I don't know; because if I'm honest, I was just as attracted to you back when you were just a picture in Finn's wallet as I am now, and you're virtually different people."

"Huh," Quinn says, and then squints a little; tries to picture Rachel with the most outrageous make-over she can envision, but nothing comes to mind; except maybe a lot of argyle, and she's not really opposed to that.

"I don't know if I'd be doing this with another girl," Rachel says, turning halfway to look at Quinn again, with some unexpected intensity in her eyes. "I've thought about this a lot, obviously, and I'm obviously not gay because I find some men very attractive, but... I'm also not as bisexual as Santana is."

"Gay for a Fabray, then," Quinn says, winking when Rachel rolls her eyes. "Don't mock me. It's like destiny; it rhymes and everything."

"You don't think that's strange?" Rachel asks, sounding a little worried.

Quinn licks her lips and then shrugs. "Sexuality is complicated. I never had feelings for anyone before Amy; then it was all Amy all the time; and now it's all you. I mean, there's going to be lots of people later on in life, I guess, that I'm attracted to, but... I don't know. Labels are convenient. They don't mean anything, when it comes down to it."

Rachel has a small frown on her face when Quinn looks over again.

"What?"

She watches as Rachel blinks a few times, and then shakes her head. "Nothing."

"No-what?"

Rachel takes a deep breath. "You just said that like... you didn't expect things between us to last. Which I suppose is nothing but realistic, but …"

"They can last if we both want them to. You know that," Quinn says, gripping the side of her notepad a little harder and looking back at it. "I mean, look at us. We're swapping life stories, and I mean, if your mother didn't hate me I'd totally stop by to look at baby pictures. Maybe that stuff doesn't mean forever, but it could."

Rachel smiles faintly after a moment. "Is that how it was with your parents?"

"Oh, God, no," Quinn says, with a small laugh. "When they met, my mother was engaged to someone else; this dude who is now a Republican senator. It's kind of gross to think about, I mean, if that had panned out I wouldn't have been born at all... but say I had been. Then my dad would've been a Republican senator."

When she looks over and makes a face, Rachel chuckles softly. "You would've run away from home."

"Yeah, or stayed on the beauty pageant circuit, or something. I don't know. Anyway, so my mom was with this guy at some function and my dad was tending bar there, during college. And he knocked a Bloody Mary all over her dress, then attacked her with napkins, until finally she yelled at him to leave her alone or she'd call the police."

Rachel grins a little. "Oh, dear. That's not the ideal start."

"Yeah. Anyway, my dad says it was love at first sight; he just knew he had to meet her again, and figure out some way to get her to notice him, so he asked everyone at the party who that beautiful blonde woman with that asshole guy who kept elbowing the wait staff every time they circulated... and finally got her name. Which didn't help him at all, because she wasn't listed."

Rachel at this point is leaning towards her a little more, listening intently. "What did he do?"

"Well, I get my unstoppable idiot streak from him, obviously," Quinn says, with a small smile. "He figured out that she was in fact also a student, at the same university, so he got his band together and they painted this massive banner that they draped over the front of the library overnight. My mom never actually saw it herself, but her friends told her."

"What did it say?"

"Dear Judy: Will you Bloody Mary Me? Love, Russell Fabray."

Rachel bursts out laughing. "It did not."

"They both swear it did, and my mom still looks so uncomfortable talking about it that they're probably not lying," Quinn says, shrugging. "Anyway, word got back to her fiancé, who concluded she had to be cheating on him and broke up with her on the spot. She was so angry with my dad that she tracked him down and yelled at him, before bursting into tears at what a mess her life had become and what a dick her ex-fiancé was."

"What did your dad do?"

"He made her some tea, and pulled her into the house he shared with the rest of his band, and watched Mr. Smith goes to Washington with her, and... that was it. They've been together ever since."

There's an incredibly soft look in Rachel's eyes when the story ends. "You're so much like him."

"Well, not that much," Quinn says, rolling her eyes a little and laughing softly. "You don't have to worry about me pulling a stunt like that, ever; I mean, I am fifty percent both of them and I'd be mortified, if-"

"I wouldn't," Rachel says, unexpectedly, and Quinn stops talking altogether. "It's a wonderful story, for children and grandchildren."

"Do you want those?" Quinn asks, cautiously. "Children, I mean?"

Rachel blinks in surprise. "Um..."

"I don't mean with me; I mean, in general. Where is life taking you? You know, do you … just picture the Grammies and the Tonies and … that kind of thing, or …" She stares back at the notepad in front of her. "It's sort of where my next questions are going; where do you see yourself five years from now, Rachel Berry?"

Rachel exhales slowly and looks out onto the field again, and Quinn follows her eyes but can't see anything there.

Maybe that's kind of the point, though, when Rachel finally just shrugs and says, "I hope I'll be happy."

"I can't print that," Quinn says, as gently as she can. "I mean, I hope you'll be as well, but please give me the party line, so that your mother doesn't have my hide about putting ideas into your head."

Rachel's mouth turns down for a second, and then she straightens and said, "Opening a Broadway revival of West Side Story as Maria, and working on recording my first solo album."

"Brilliant," Quinn says, without an ounce of feeling, and then ticks off her last question on the page. "So we can stop with this crap now, and you can tell me about what you're actually thinking."

Rachel doesn't say anything for a long moment, but then clambers up until she's sitting next to Quinn, no longer at a professional distance, and tips her head onto Quinn's shoulder. "I wish we had a story as good as your parents do."

"Who says we won't?" Quinn asks, softly.

"Well, it's too late; there is no way our story doesn't already start with … I don't know. Dear children, your one mother was kind of a bitch and your other mother had the patience of a saint," Rachel says, making a face and adopting a voice that-

"Was that a Kenneth Branagh impression?" Quinn asks, laughing and draping an arm around Rachel's back.

"David Attenborough," Rachel says, and then looks at Quinn with another one of those heart-wrenching serious faces. "I don't know if I want children."

"Okay," Quinn says, with a small shrug. "I don't... I mean. I know I already have one, but … that doesn't mean that I ever planned on having any."

Rachel sighs quietly after a long moment, and puts her head back on Quinn's shoulder. "You know, that's the first time you acknowledged her as being yours."

Quinn feels her heart slow, but the moment passes quickly, and then she just looks off at where the sun is setting, in the distance. "I'm allowed to meet her, you know. Finn and I both are."

"I know."

"If... I ever decided to do that. Would you come with me?" Quinn asks, before chomping down on her lip and closing her eyes.

"You don't have to ask that, Quinn. You know I would," Rachel says, reaching over and toying with Quinn's fingers for a moment. "She's a part of you. I can't imagine there being parts of you that I wouldn't want to get to know."

"I could make a really crude joke right now-"

"Yes, but you care about your kissing privileges, so you won't," Rachel says, and Quinn laughs and pulls her in a little bit closer.

"I'm going to write the best expose about you ever. I hope you know that. It's going to be clear to anyone with a pair of eyes that I'm totally into you-" she says, glancing down at Rachel just in time to see a small smile, "-so I hope our peers are in fact as illiterate as I think they are, or at least draw the conclusion that you edited the hell out of whatever I wrote to kiss your own ass."

Rachel chuckles and says, "I look forward to reading it", and... maybe it's the fact that all of the time she spends with Rachel feels so natural, that has her contemplate meeting Beth in a serious fashion for the first time.

Maybe it won't be as painful as she's always thought it would be.

...

She meets Finn outside of a Toys R Us later that week, and gives him a brief hug.

"Thanks for doing this. I know you're still dealing with a lot of stuff, but... I mean. I think you'll get over it and I think it matters a lot that she knows we both care about her, you know? Even if we're just like, family friends or whatever," Finn says, a little stiltedly.

Quinn closes her eyes and nods. "Okay. What were you thinking?"

"Well, she's a baby, and I talked to my mom about it and I think that a stuffed animal of some kind is probably for the best. It'll be soft and um, she can be told later that it was with her for basically all of her life."

It's a beautiful thought, and Quinn thinks to Mr. Rabbit, who now only has one ear and no eyes left, but still sits on the corner of her closet like he's never left her sight. Beth should have something like that, and while she knows on some level that her actual parents will have gotten her tons of them-part of the reason she picked this couple over others was the elaborate thought they'd given to the nursery, and how gender-neutral it was-the idea of there being just one thing that will always remind Beth of her, and Finn, …

"That sounds good," is all she really manages to say, and then they're heading into the store.

Finn talks to her about everything he can think of, and she's grateful for the distraction, but the second she sees the stuffed Dumbo, she knows it's the one.

"Really? His ears are huge," Finn says, skeptically.

"Have you never seen Dumbo?" she asks, giving Finn a disbelieving look. "The whole point is that he's different looking, but … he can fly, and the other animals learn to love him for it."

"Oh," Finn says, and scratches at his head. "So-you're kind of … saying that like, even though Beth doesn't have a normal family-"

"Finn."

"No, not because she's with two gay dudes," he says, hurriedly, looking apologetic. "I mean because she got adopted..."

Quinn feels her lungs contract terribly, but somehow powers through it and says, "I wasn't thinking about it so hard. I just think elephants are great animals and this one is particularly cute."

"Still. I think it's good, to tell her that even if she is a little different, she's just special and no less awesome," Finn says, flipping the toy around in his hands. "I mean, all kids should know that, shouldn't they?"

It's hard to stay upset with him, even though he knows exactly how to get her to feel shitty about her decision-making from last year without even trying, and so she just sort of leans into his side and looks at Dumbo; wonders how he will look in the yellow-accented crib that she's seen in pictures, and wondering how big Beth is compared to Dumbo.

She could find out, but-not today. She's not ready, and so she runs her fingertips down Dumbo's trunk, and squeezes the very end of it.

"Yes. They should," she says, and then heads out of the store and back to her car, leaving Finn to buy and wrap the elephant and send him off.

...

They're practicing for the Spring Formal when Sam suddenly starts playing a riff that Quinn doesn't recognize at all, and even he looks surprised by it; then he plays it again, and adds a variation to the end, and she says, "That's good-write it down before you forget it."

Puck looks between them, and Santana says, "Are we... considering writing songs now?"

"I'm totally up for that," Blaine says, cracking his knuckles and then sitting poised over the keyboard. "I mean. … do we have anyone with lyrical talent?"

"Quinn's the storyteller," Sam says, with a small smile. "Right?"

"Uh-" she says, and blinks at everyone in the room, because... maybe she reads a lot, and maybe she's okay with telling people dumb anecdotes about cheerleading championships and what it's like to be a teen mom, but... "I don't know if I have any rhyming skills."

"Songs don't have to rhyme," Puck points out. "In fact, sometimes you wish they wouldn't, with how dumb some lyrics are."

Santana purses her lips. "I'd be happy to help. I mean, two minds, better than one, right?"

"Stop her if she starts talking about writing songs about how massive my lips are," Sam says, warningly, and Santana grins before winking at him. "I mean it, Quinn, we are not writing or performing a song called Trouty Mouth."

"Scout's honor," Quinn says, with a small smile-and as Sam plays the start of that riff he came up with out of nowhere again, that familiar rush up her spine that says, this is good, don't stop doing it.

It's been a while-not counting all the times she's kissing Rachel, because doing that just sends sparks up and down her entire body, and nothing really compares to it.

...

The Spring Formal's not until April, and Quinn really isn't paying too much attention to what's going on with everyone else at the school, but she sort of figures that anyone who was going to have a date will have one by now, as it's the middle of March. It's an unspoken rule; her own friends always knew at least a month in advance because of dress shopping requirements and that kind of thing.

It's really nice, being this relaxed about a school function, because even though she'll be sweating through yet another pair of dress pants on the night itself, at least she doesn't have to spend two weeks scouring every gown-selling store within 60 miles of Lima for the perfect dress, or pray that Finn gets an appropriate corsage.

All she has to do is basically show up with her sticks, and the rest of the night will take care of itself; and the fact that Rachel is probably going to go with Jesse just by default, well, that's not nearly bothering her as much as it used to-dinner with the guy actually revealed him to have a soul somewhere underneath all of the production, and when he actually gave her The Talk before paying for the entire meal, she realized she likes him a little.

If anything, he's a good friend to Rachel, and they need as many of those as they can get. Just in case.

So, when Brittany finds her in the girls' bathroom on the first floor and says, "Hey, Quinn, do you have a date for the Spring Formal yet?", it feels like a non-issue, and so she just shakes her head and says, "I'm in the band, Britt, none of us have dates."

"That's not true; Kurt is technically going with Blaine, even though we're not supposed to talk about that," Brittany says, and then leans against the sink next to Quinn. "And Sam is going with Tina, who doesn't like dancing anyway so it's fine that they won't. Oh, and Puck and Santana are going with each other... I guess."

"Well, either way, we're all going to be on stage all night," Quinn says, with a small smile. "It's cool; we knew what we were getting into."

"Right, but, don't you want a date?" Brittany presses.

She's one of a diminishing number of people that Quinn would consider a friend who really doesn't know about what's going on with Rachel, but her question prompts all sorts of thoughts about what she'd ideally be doing, and Untitled Band's keyboardist and lead singer wouldn't be some guy from Dalton... so she must get a strange look on her face, because Brittany reaches over and pulls her into a hug.

"Oh, don't be sad; I'll go with you," she then says.

Quinn freezes and looks at her own guppy-eyed expression in the mirror. "Um... aren't you going with Mike?"

"He's out of town. It's like, Asian Christmas or something," Brittany says, with a shrug. "But it's okay; we're friends, and you dress like a boy so I mean, it's totally Christian."

The multiple ways in which Quinn wants to disagree with Brittany actually blow her mind a little, so she just ends up staring at her blankly for a moment. "Um. Well. …"

Brittany's bright smile starts to fall a little, and Quinn actually feels herself start to stammer awkwardly; because nobody wants to make Brittany sad, but then she'd also prefer not to be killed by Santana and/or Rachel, and...

"We can go in together, and then you can play with the band and I can dance with everyone else's dates," Brittany says, a little more tentatively. "And then afterwards I guess some people go up to hotel rooms, but Jesse says you're afraid of closets and elevators and things like that, so we wouldn't have to. You could just take me home."

Quinn blinks, because all of a sudden, the solution to her problem appears to be her problem itself.

"So we wouldn't actually... dance or anything, and you understand I couldn't spend any time with you afterwards..." she says, slowly.

"Yeah, I really just want to go so I can dance, and I don't want you to be sad or lonely," Brittany says, with a very sincere and pitying look. "I mean, last year you had a boyfriend, and now you just have like, boys in your band, but they're all gay or taken. So I thought I'd help you out."

"That's super cool, Britt," Quinn says, and then, still not entirely sure if this is a terrible or great idea, clears her throat. "Very well, I accept."

"Awesome," Brittany says, and pulls her into another hug.

"Okay," Quinn says, awkwardly patting her on the back again, and then pulling away. "I'll um, let you know what color my tie is."

"I don't really care about that," Brittany says, shrugging. "I'll wear what I want to, but I'm totally glad you're my date. You're really hot, and I'm really hot, so we're going to look really hot."

"From other sides of the room," Quinn emphasizes, just to be safe.

"Duh," Brittany agrees. "How else can we make sure everyone sees how hot we are?"

It's hard to argue with that kind of infallible logic, and even though she kind of feels like she just got mauled by a bear before being strung up by her feet in a net, she whistles when she heads out of the bathroom after washing her hands... because that could've gone a lot worse.

Brittany's happy, and she won't actually get shot on sight by any of Vocal Adrenaline's sponsors, or Santana, so...

...

Rachel pulls her into an empty classroom exactly an hour and a half later and exclaims, "How could you?"

"I'm sorry, what?" Quinn asks, dimly.

"You're going to the formal with Brittany?" Rachel snaps at her, and then-

"Oh, shit, don't cry," Quinn says, frowning and taking a step forward. "No, we're … not even really going together, we're just-"

"How do you think that'll make me feel?" Rachel asks, desperately. "Do you really think that I want to go with Jesse?"

"No, of course not, and I don't want to go with Brittany but-"

"Call it off," Rachel demands, wiping at her eyes.

Quinn stares at her for a moment, before frowning. "Uh, how about no."

Rachel gapes at her. "Why not?"

"Because it's no big deal! We're just going and leaving together, and I mean, I'll be on stage all night and-"

"And what about the photo?" Rachel asks, sounding even more frantic. "Do you not see any sort of logistical problems there?"

Quinn sighs. "What did you expect me to do, Rachel? She thinks she's doing me a favor, because as far as the entire school is concerned, I'm lonely and single."

That shuts Rachel up for a moment, but then her anger visibly flares up again. "You could've said no."

"Yeah, and hurt her feelings, and it's not like she's asking me to make out with her all night-"

"She better not be," Rachel snaps, and Quinn averts her eyes for a moment and counts to ten.

"You're jealous."

"No, I'm-"

"Yes, you are," Quinn repeats, and stares Rachel down for a moment. "It's okay. I get jealous when people try to hit on you as well, but it's going to happen unless … you know."

Rachel presses her lips together tightly, until they're growing white, and then says, "So invent a girlfriend for yourself."

"Yeah, I'm not inventing a fake girlfriend just because you're not ready to come out of the closet, okay?"

Rachel looks up, wounded. "So what, this is my fault now?"

"Well, in a roundabout way..." Quinn says, helplessly. "I mean, I'm not shy about what I want. I want you. You want a banner draped around the Carmel front gates proclaiming my feelings? I'd do it, Rachel. Like you said, I'm my father's daughter."

Rachel swallows hard, and then just sort of brokenly whispers, "I can't help that I'm not ready for anything like that."

"It's okay, but until you are, don't be an ass when someone is trying to be nice to me. It's not Brittany's fault that she doesn't know that I'm taken. And I am, Rachel. I'm so taken, even though I'm not really all that taken with this particular version of you."

"Quinn-"

"No, seriously. You don't hear me bitching about you sidling back up to Jesse, because I trust you when you say it doesn't mean anything. So how about you-"

"Brittany puts out," Rachel blurts out, and then looks so miserable that Quinn stops short of laughing at her in disbelief. "I don't want to call her cheap, but she's very loving and you would be able to get things from her that I'm not ready to give you. She puts out, Quinn, and the idea of you going to this dance with her..."

"Jesus-are you seriously insinuating what I think you are?" Quinn asks, before sighing and reaching for the door. "You know what-don't answer that. Because if you can't honestly understand that the only way I'm ever having sex again is if it's with someone that I'm completely in love with, and someone I trust and someone who loves me back-"

The door's already halfway open when Rachel's hand circles her wrist.

"Don't leave like this, please," Rachel says, thickly. "It's just... the idea of you with someone else-"

"There is no one else, Rachel," Quinn says, suddenly exhausted and really just in need of some air and space. "Don't you get that?"

It's not a question that she wants an answer to; not right now, when she's equal parts annoyed and disappointed and bitterly sad about the way they sometimes get with each other-and so she slips out of the door and heads down the hallway to lunch.

...

Rachel texts her three times, and by the third time, Quinn realizes that she has to do something or this is going to turn into a break-up before they've even been on their first date, so she texts Rachel back and asks her to meet behind the bleachers again, and then paces up and down the walkway there for a good ten minutes.

"I'm upset with you. I'm … a little pissed that you think I'm that easy, first of all, because I don't deserve that. I'm the one who pulled your hand away the other day when you skimmed my boob, okay? So-"

"I'm sorry," Rachel says, emphatically, hugging herself and staring at the floor. She looks so ashamed that Quinn feels a little crappy for berating her, but still. "I don't even know what got over me."

"Well, I do, and I'm telling you to stop freaking out, okay? Yes, I'm going to the Spring Formal with Brittany, as friends, and I don't give a crap about any of that," Quinn says, before digging around her messenger bag for the small box she's been carrying around for a few days now. "You know what I do care about?"

Rachel looks up, in confusion, before shaking her head minutely.

"Whether or not this matches that dress you told me about," Quinn says, and hands Rachel a corsage that she literally spent four days looking for online, until she was sure she had the right shade-just on that one line description from Rachel, and way too much time spent thinking about what shades of pink would complement her complexion.

Rachel stares at the box with shimmery eyes and then says, "I'm such a bitch", before sniffling hard.

"People fight, you know. I mean, it just happens. I've liked you better than I did this afternoon, but there's also something kind of flattering about knowing that it's not just me who wishes things could be different," Quinn says, with a small shrug; then, she just gives Rachel a look that she hopes implies, we're done fighting now.

Rache flies into her arms a second later, and squeezes tight enough for Quinn to wonder if she's going to have finger-shaped bruises all over her back later, but-it's amazing, just how good this feels, and how much she can't imagine not having it again.

She tries the words out for the first time, silently; mouths, I love you, you moron against Rachel's hair, and when Rachel shudders against her immediately afterwards, she just closes her eyes and grips back exactly as tight as she's being held.

"I'm so sorry about what I said. You're just so beautiful, and you could have anyone," Rachel finally says, in a small broken voice. "Sometimes I wonder why you're here at all. I'm so much effort, and with anyone else, you could be doing what you wanted. There wouldn't be any Vocal Adrenaline, or my mother, or... even just me, because sometimes all I can think about is how much I want to walk down a street holding your hand, and other times it's like-I can't ever imagine doing that, because it scares me so much."

Quinn sighs softly and says, "Rach, please just stop thinking like this, okay? You're right. I probably have options, but I don't care about what they are. All I want is you."

She doesn't have an ending to that thought, and doesn't need one, because Rachel cups the back of her neck and pulls her into a bruising, desperate kiss that sets her lungs alight; and when they separate, she sees something in Rachel's eyes that-

No. She doesn't want to guess at it, and the way that Rachel is saying, "You know there's not anyone else for me either, right?"

For the first time ever, Quinn stops wondering where she ranks in the list of things Rachel wants in life, and lets herself believe that she's at the top of the list; it's something about the way that Rachel is stroking her cheek, or the way that she's being stared into submission right now.

"I know," she says, because they're the only words she has left in her mind.

When Rachel kisses her again, for once, there's absolutely nothing but blissful silence, and she'll take it as long as she can have it.

Chapter Text

Quinn doesn't really know how she expects Santana to react, but when she very tentatively calls her later that night and says, "You should probably know that um, Brittany asked me to the dance, and I said yes, as friends, obviously", she's not really expecting laughter.

"What, you actually think I'm worried about you trying something with Britt?" Santana finally asks, when she's done cracking up.

"No, well, I mean, I hope not, but Rachel sort of freaked out about this plan earlier and I don't know," Quinn says, twirling one of her sticks between her fingers; it slips after a moment, and she winces when it hits the ground next to her kit with a loud clang. "I just want you to be very clear on this: I'm not interested in her, and I don't think she's interested in me."

"Of course Rachel is going to freak out," Santana says, sounding like she's rolling her eyes. "You're not B's type, and she's not yours. I mean, whatever, your eyes are permanently glued to some point in space where Brittany's waist would be, and you know it. I'm not worried."

"She kind of... pity-invited me," Quinn confesses, after a moment, and Santana laughs again.

"Yeah, she's great like that. Did she think you were a sad single or what?"

"Yeah. All by my lonesome, with everyone else in the band paired off."

Santana is quiet for a few seconds and then says, "I want to do Maps. At the dance."

Quinn licks at her bottom lip for a moment, wondering if it's okay to say anything other than, "Sure", but then Santana adds, "For her. I hope she'll get it, but if not-can you tell her?"

"Santana-"

"Q, I mean it, if I have to tell her myself, I'm going to mount her right there, wherever we are, and-I haven't been keeping my distance for this long just to get her thrown off VA right around the time when we should all start thinking about what colleges we want to go to, okay?"

Quinn sighs shakily, because-college. She doesn't want to think about that at all, because Rachel's future is set in stone and New York was a non-issue to her until a few months ago. Is it ridiculous to consider it an issue now? She feels like an idiot even contemplating making decisions that affect the rest of her life on the basis of … what, a relationship?

God, it'd be great if they could even call it that, but all the sneaking around and stolen kisses and talks... they just amount to a set of moments. They're not a thing.

"Does Brittany know what colleges you're expecting her to apply to?" Quinn asks, forcing her mind to stop churning. "Because-that might be a thing to start passing on, right around now."

Santana falls silent again and then says, "After the dance. Okay? I just need some time to... get ready. For her."

"You've been ready for her for years now," Quinn points out.

"Yeah, but there's a really big difference between being ready for someone and actually having them, and fuck, Quinn. In just a few more months, when our applications are out the door and everything is done and dusted... I'll actually have her."

"Yeah," Quinn says, and sighs, thinking about UCLA and Arizona State and other places she could've probably gotten a lot of scholarships to, if she'd still been a cheerleader, and if her life hadn't veered heavily off course.

Her parents are the embodiment of you can't plan for some things, but she's always been a little more cautious herself, one catastrophic mistake notwithstanding. And now, it's almost time to start making some of the biggest plans she'll ever have to...

… and all she can think about is that they shouldn't involve Rachel.

They shouldn't, but...

...

"Can Rachel sleep over, next Friday?" Quinn asks, over breakfast.

Her parents look first at her, and then at each other, and then without saying a word head into the pantry to have a hushed conversation with each other.

It's not a promising start, but then... she doesn't really know what she was expecting. They're open-minded, and very liberal, but she knows that they're probably tossing a coin about who gets to discuss the Bees and the Bees with her, and...

"Guys, I'm not ready to have sex with her," she finally calls out, and they appear back in the kitchen, looking a little less unsettled, seconds later. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but when kids are planning on doing that, they don't normally ask their parents first."

"Well, you're a little unconventional," her mother says, before smoothing out her shirt and settling back at the breakfast bar.

"A little, maybe, but not... that unconventional," Quinn says, with a wry smile. "I... honestly just wanted to know if she could sleep over, and it's mostly for logistical reasons. She's going to come in this really nice dress and it's going to be hard enough to smuggle that out of her house and over to Kurt's, so the idea of smuggling it back in is just kind of like..."

Her dad laughs. "Okay, okay. Let's talk about some rules, because-I'm willing to trust you, if you promise to be honest with us about where you are in this relationship."

"It's not really a relationship. I mean, at this point, it's really no different from having Santana sleep over," Quinn says, and then laughs a little when she realizes it's not untrue; either Jesus or Rachel have some pretty firm rules about horizontal making out, mostly amounting to 'absolutely not'. "I'll wear flannel PJs if you want me to."

"Honey, it's 60 degrees out," her mother says, making a sympathetic face. "We do trust you, you know."

"It's just a fact that your hormones might get the better of you," her dad starts saying, and Quinn strangles out a noise that gets him to stop.

"Okay, the truth is, I... I like her a lot. I'm pretty sure I'm in love with her. But I am nowhere near ready to have sex with her. So I mean, you can say no, if you are still worried, but..."

She falls silent, and watches her parents communicate telepathically (or something) for a moment. There's a weird double standard at work here. Finn would've never been allowed to sleep over, even though the chances of her sleeping with him before... well, she did, were nil; but it's different with Rachel. It just is, and when her mother says, "She needs to come to dinner on Thursday first", she figures that she's sort of won this one.

Now she's just going to have to pitch this to Rachel, which...

...

"Your parents want to meet me," Rachel says, for the fifth time, in this hushed whisper; Quinn is just picking out the best pictures that they took of her singing My Man in the auditorium, and obviously all of them are the best ones, … so it's taking it's sweet time.

The ones that she likes almost as much as the best ones, she ends up slipping into her bag, until Rachel elbows her.

Artie is literally on the other side of the room and can't hear them if they talk normally, so Quinn says, "Yeah. I mean, it's not so crazy. They've met Santana and Sam."

"Santana and Sam aren't..." Rachel starts to say, before flushing violently.

"Rach, you've already technically met them. You've said hello to them in passing, so..."

Rachel stares at her like she's from a different planet. "That is entirely not the same thing. You've said hello to my mother on occasion; would you say that's comparable to her inviting you to dinner?"

Quinn nearly starts laughing at the idea, but manages to keep a straight face. "Look, they just want to get to know you. They know we're not like... in a relationship or anything."

Rachel's expression contorts even more. "Oh, great. So they think I'm just... some harlot, taking advantage of their daughter's generosity to sexually experiment or..."

The temptation to kiss her is so overwhelming than Quinn forces herself to think about her water breaking for a few seconds, until the urge fades. "Rachel?"

"What?"

"They're going to love you. So just calm down, and come to dinner on Thursday."

Rachel bristles, but then stiffly says, "Fine. I trust you'll let me know what I should bring, as it's incredibly rude to show up empty-handed, but you have not given me nearly enough notice to devise a plan of my own."

Quinn just smirks at her for a moment and then says, "Just bring you. And maybe a movie for us to watch afterwards, okay? We're vegans. We don't expect you to cater."

It's amazing how Rachel can go from frantic to appalled in seconds, because she turns to Quinn in dismay and says, "What if I hate your mother's cooking?"

"My dad's, actually, and first of all, you won't, but if you do, we'd get you something non-vegan to eat instead," Quinn says, before gently raising her eyebrows. "Will you calm down now?"

"Remind me why I'm doing this again?" Rachel asks, in a thin little voice that has Quinn putting her palm at the base of Rachel's spine, until she relaxes just a fraction.

"Eight hours of uninterrupted cuddling."

"We'll be unconscious."

"If you actually think I can sleep with you that close, you're crazy," Quinn whispers, leaning in closer for just a second, and then sticking a post-it on the final picture. "These are the ones."

"Are you sure? Because my right side isn't as flattering as the left and..."

"Trust me; I'm a veritable expert on all of your sides," Quinn says, until Rachel finally smiles and rolls her eyes with a small huff.

When Quinn looks up, Artie is looking at her knowingly, and she gives him her best threatening look, which has him immediately wheeling back to his desk and shutting up.

Sometimes, it's good to know she's still got it... but they really should be more careful than they have been, or they're bound to get found out.

It's a sobering thought.

...

On Thursday, she doesn't really know what to expect.

As far as future-in-laws go, she can't really bring home anyone better than Rachel, who has her life mapped out until she's 25 and is ambitious, smart, talented, and incredibly polite, to the point of actually coming across as kind of a square... which is the only real problem.

It's kind of an awkward event, for the first half an hour, until Rachel at long last relaxes enough to crack a small smile at one of her dad's cheesy jokes about vegan food, and then the dam sort of bursts; Rachel starts contributing to every topic of conversation, gesturing wildly when not eating, and Quinn's dad looks at Quinn knowingly, because her mom is thrilled to finally have someone in the house who cares for the classical arts.

After Rachel offers five times to do the dishes, and Quinn and her dad decline every time, she finally gets dragged away to the art studio to see some in-progress paintings, and Quinn watches her go fondly before looking at her dad a little awkwardly.

"So?"

"She's something," he says, lightly. "If you hadn't told me a long time ago that she has issues..."

"Well, they're getting better. Sort of," Quinn says, reaching for the dish towel and slinging it over her shoulder.

"Is she talking to anyone about why her family split apart? Or, I guess what I really mean is, is she talking to her father?" her dad asks, and Quinn shakes her head.

"Hasn't been in touch since he left."

"I... doubt that," her dad says, after a long pause, and Quinn looks at him with a frown. "Just going on my own experiences here; the law's not really on his side, but in all the years I've been treating teenagers, I've only once ever seen a parent who legitimately didn't care, and that parent suffered from such mental problems that I don't think there's an analogy to anyone else."

Quinn shuts off the hot tab and looks at the suds for a moment, before grabbing the first plate from the stack. "You think he's tried to keep in touch."

"Is there any reason he could have failed?" her dad asks, gently.

Quinn sighs, because there's such an obvious answer here and-really, she should know better. "Her mother."

"Hmm," her dad says, before fishing the towel off her shoulder and drying the plate she hands to him. "What's his name? Her father, I mean."

"Hiram. Berry, I think. Her mother's name is Corcoran so I guess Berry is-"

Her dad nods pensively and says, "Okay. Huh. Do you have any idea where he might've gone?"

Quinn wracks her brain for a moment, but nothing comes to mind; she doesn't think anyone has told her more than that he left for another man, but that hardly helps with a geographical location. "Not a clue. But if what you're saying is right, he wouldn't have gone too far."

"What's he do for a living?"

"He was a lawyer," Quinn says, tentatively. "I think. She's talked about his dealings with the ACLU and..."

"Oh. That helps tremendously, if she wants to find him."

Quinn looks at her dad. "I thought you were suggesting you were going to?"

"It's so not my place," her dad says, not without reproach. "Might fix everything, but she has to ask for it, first. How would you feel someone just shoved a picture of Beth under your nose?"

Quinn sighs. "Yeah, you're right."

"That isn't to say that I don't think this is important," her dad says, more quietly. "And if she ever wants to talk to someone..."

"I'd prefer for it to not be my dad," Quinn says, pointedly.

"I was going to say, I could recommend someone," he says, hip-checking her gently.

She splashes some suds at him, and they're basically engaged in an all-out water fight when Rachel and her mom come back up the stairs, looking at them with a mixture of amusement and disbelief.

"She started it," her dad says, pointing at her accusingly with a dish brush.

"I can't believe you're blaming a 17 year old for your childish antics, Russell," her mother says, shaking her head and grabbing Rachel by the arm. "Come on. Let's go sit in the den; they'll join us when they're done being silly."

"Never," her dad calls out after them, and Quinn just grins at Rachel for a moment, before flicking a sud in her direction at well.

It doesn't connect, but that doesn't change the fond, exasperated little smile playing around Rachel's lips, and... all of a sudden she's not nervous about their planned date anymore.

Now, she just can't wait.

...

The waiting is, however, the hardest part.

She's trying not to fidget overly much, but there's something about standing around in anticipation of a text from Kurt that Rachel is ready to be picked up-clearly the only right move, there-that is just driving her crazy.

She'd go and play off some of the anxiety, but that would just get her to sweat right through her shirt, and she has to wear it for most of the night, while in close proximity to Rachel, and... maybe Rachel has said that the whole drummer thing kind of works for her, but this isn't a night about the band, or Rachel's piano-playing, or Vocal Adrenaline or anything else.

This is just about them, and so she's stuck considering whether or not she wants to take the shirt off again until Kurt calls, because now she's starting to get clammy from the waiting and-

Her phone vibrates, and she slips it back into her pants pocket without even checking it, before calling out to her parents that they better be gone by the time she gets back. One last glance at what she's done to the living room, and she's out the door, wondering if Rachel will buy into the concept of these being her fancy Chucks-because they totally are; a brand new pair she hasn't worn anywhere and won't ever wear again, after tonight-or will just laugh at her for trying to get away with the concept of fancy Chucks.

Then, she realizes she's basically done wondering, because she's about to find out.

...

Kurt opens the door, playing the role of the concerned parent, and in the background she spots Burt with an apron on; she sheepishly lifts a hand at him, and he calls out a, "Hi, Quinn-how's the transmission in that car of yours?"

"Great, sir; thanks for your suggestions," she calls back, and then feels all the air leave her lungs when Rachel starts walking up the stairs from... the basement?

She'd be thinking about that more if she could think anything, but instead she just stands there dumbly until Kurt basically shoves her forward. Her sneakers skid horribly on the hallway tiles, and Rachel glances at them before shyly looking back at her face.

"Hi," she then says.

All Quinn can think to say in response is, "Geez, you're beautiful."

It's not meant to come out sounding so surprised, but it kind of does, and so she stammers an addendum but Rachel just cuts her off with a soft, "Put it on me; the corsage."

Quinn opens the box with slightly shaky hands and then slips it onto Rachel's wrist, circling it until it looks exactly right, and-she smiles. "The color's perfect."

"I knew it would be," Rachel says, and they stare at each other for a long moment until Kurt clears his throat.

"Ladies-I have it on good authority that a living room somewhere on the other side of town awaits..."

Quinn looks at him with a grateful smile and then sticks out her arm. "My lady?"

Rachel sort of chuckles and says, "Did you bring a carriage?"

"Well, sort of; one with a lot of horse … power," Quinn says, and then finally feels a little more settled when Rachel is actually at her side, linking their hands together.

Kurt says, "God, you two are painfully adorable. Get out of here, already."

"Thanks, Kurt," Rachel says, and Quinn gives him another quick smile as well.

He looks like he might cry, when he closes the front door behind them, and then Quinn sucks in some of the night air and looks at Rachel properly-every inch of her, because there isn't a single part that isn't perfect right now.

"Nice Chucks," Rachel then says, quietly, and Quinn looks down at her feet sheepishly.

"I thought about wearing... you know, nicer shoes, but... you're with me, right? And, I don't know. I've done the whole gown and heels thing so many times now that... I wanted this to be so different, so that I could really remember it as being like... a fresh start."

"Our real start," Rachel says, quietly, and then squeezes Quinn's fingers. "I'm not normally a fan of rewriting history, but maybe our story can just start here, tonight. Officially, I mean."

Quinn feels her heart flutter for a few seconds and then has to clear her throat twice, before she can say, "I'd like that."

"So ask me," Rachel says, tremulously.

The rush of blood to her head is unexpected, maybe, but the way Rachel's just looking at her fumble is incredibly familiar, and that's what makes her realize that this both is and isn't a huge deal.

"Hey, Rachel."

"Yes, Quinn?"

"Will you be my girlfriend?" she says, enunciating as clearly as she can, but then she gets jittery anyway, as soon as the words leave her mouth, and ... all she can think of doing is violently shoving her hand into her pocket. "Um. I mean, not just for tonight—I don't want you to just be my date, but... I don't care if it's still a secret. I just want to know that-"

"My answer is yes," Rachel says, stopping her from making even more of an idiot of herself.

That takes a good second to sink in, and she blinks at Kurt's porch, before finally hazarding another look at Rachel—who doesn't look like she wants to take it back.

"Okay," Quinn then says, laughing in—what, relief? Happiness? She doesn't really know, and just rocks back and forth on her toes for a moment. "Well, good, I'm glad you said yes or tonight would be super awkward."

Rachel sort of half-smiles at her, and then says, "Hey Quinn."

"What?" she asks, gnawing on her lip and wondering if she's ever going to stop feeling this much, because she can't even really look at Rachel without her stomach churning. Maybe it's the dress, maybe it's the occasion, or maybe-

"Will you be my girlfriend?" Rachel asks, looping her fingers around Quinn's more tightly.

Quinn blinks at her. "Didn't we just..."

"It's not reasonable for you to always have to make the big gestures," Rachel says, with a small shrug. "I thought I'd... also ask."

"Oh, well, I mean. Yes, obviously. Geez," Quinn says, before licking her lips. "Um. Should we maybe move off Kurt's porch now?"

Rachel laughs and pulls her along to the car. "I just thought we should do this first. So that... everything you have planned can be our official first date."

"Yeah, wow, okay," Quinn says, leaning down and pulling the passenger door open for Rachel. "Well, it's that kind of forward thinking that led to such elaborate praise in that expose that the school newspaper ran this month, obviously."

"Quinn?"

"Yes, Rachel," she says, watching as Rachel settles into the car; when both of her legs are on board, she reaches for Quinn's tie and tugs her head forward a little, through the open car window.

"Stop rambling. It's just me."

Quinn laughs shakily, but then leans in for a really quick, barely-there kiss, just to let Rachel know that she is okay. "I know. If you were anyone else, I wouldn't be rambling. Duh."

Rachel gives her such an unrestrained smile that she leans in for a second kiss, and then hits her head on the car roof on the way out. "Ouch, goddammit-sorry, I mean the regular dammit, or well, whatever is appropriate to say when you almost knock yourself out just because your girlfriend is so pretty that you can't-"

"Say that again," Rachel interrupts, pulling Quinn's head back down and rubbing gently where she figures a hearty bump will form overnight.

"I have no idea what I said, but-"

"You called me your girlfriend," Rachel points out, and Quinn freezes.

"Yeah. I can do that now, can't I?" she then says, forgetting all about the soreness of her skull; instead, she knows she's got the stupidest grin on her face and says, "You're my girlfriend."

Rachel's grin makes her chest feel like she's going to burst, and her head spins a second time in as many seconds, prompting Rachel to tap her on the shoulder twice. "Should I maybe drive? Are you lucid?"

"If I'm anything, it's high on you, but don't worry, my motor skills survived that run-in with the roof," Quinn promises, and then darts forward for one last kiss. "Okay. I'm taking you home now."

Rachel laughs softly, but otherwise looks completely like Quinn feels; like there's nothing that could possibly make their night together suck, given how it started.

It's pretty wonderful.

...

Her parents, as instructed, have somewhat dimmed the lights around the room, and Quinn quickly pulls a lighter out of her pocket and lights the few candles that she's left in places; not too many, because it's a fire hazard and can make anything look like a brothel-not that she has any idea what a brothel looks like, but the point is... it's just an added touch.

She wants to just about be able to see Rachel, but not much more than that.

Rachel wanders over to the fold-out camping table that they've put in the middle of the room, and the two chairs set by it, and Quinn shoves her hands in her pockets and says, "I've … taken a few liberties because, I mean, I didn't think we'd actually just stand around and drink punch all night... but I made a CD, if you wanted to dance, and..."

"Is it of your band?" Rachel asks, looping around the table until she's back in front of Quinn.

"Um, no, I … thought I'd go with some classics. You know, KCi and Jo-Jo, Bon Jovi, um. Mariah Carey," Quinn says, feeling a little sheepish. "But if you want, we have... I mean, we have a rough instrumental take of our first song, I could play that. We were planning to premiere it at the dance, but-"

"I can wait," Rachel says, and then feels around her little clutch, until a CD is produced. "At the risk of being a little rude, I also prepared a CD, simply because... I like Fall Out Boy as much as the next teenager with a lot of feelings, but..." She gives Quinn a slightly sheepish look, which produces a chuckle.

"Don't worry, I'm not offended. This is kind of music is more your thing than mine." She takes the disc from Rachel, smiling when she sees that it's actually called the REAL spring formal, and heads over to the small stereo in the corner of the room.

She laughs abruptly when a moment later, some clean piano music filters through the speakers. "Wow, Rachel, if I didn't know better, I'd say this was you. I didn't realize your ideal fantasy date involved listening to yourself sing, but..."

Rachel swats at her arm, but so gently it's less than a brush, and then drops her clutch onto the sofa, where it's pushed against the back wall. "Dance with me, and let me explain."

"I'm not actually complaining; you know I love your voice," Quinn says quickly, reaching for Rachel's right hand and pulling her in close-until the only sensible thing to do is to loop both of her arms around Rachel's back, and she closes her eyes involuntarily when Rachel's hands circle her neck and clasp there.

They're almost cheek to cheek, because of Rachel's heels, and Quinn shifts until they actually are just pressed together. Only then does she realize she knows the song, and pulls back just enough until she can look Rachel in the eyes. "Gravity?"

Rachel's tongue darts out, wetting her lips, and then she nods, before giving Quinn a serious look. "Don't read into it literally, if you know the lyrics."

"I won't, I mean.. I hope you don't feel like you're … drowning, when you're with me," Quinn says, carefully.

They slowly circle, and Quinn silently shoots up a thank you to whoever decided that it would be a good idea for her to date Finn Hudson for a while, because she knows how terrible it is to dance with someone with zero coordination. She's been practicing leading with her mom for the last few days, and it looks to be paying off-though it obviously helps that she has a very skilled partner, who sighs after a moment.

"No. I don't feel like I'm drowning, … but I do feel like I'm falling," Rachel says, quietly, leaning in closer again, until her lips are right by Quinn's ear; Quinn shivers when Rachel continues talking. "I'm normally very much in control of everything I do. My entire life has been about training, and discipline, and a focused, narrow path, and I function well under those kinds of conditions. But..."

Quinn rubs at her back gently, encouraging her to continue, because whatever this is, it feels so very important. It was important enough for Rachel to prepare, and important enough for Rachel to ensure that they were in a real relationship first. She doesn't even realize that she's holding her breath until Rachel murmurs, "Quinn, breathe."

"What's the but?" she asks.

Rachel tilts her head a little more, resting it on Quinn's shoulder. "I'm never in control when I'm with you," she then finally says, before taking a shaky breath. "I feel so much, and for a long time I thought it was... because you were a girl. I thought I was so unsettled because you've shaken my world views, and my convictions, and … everything else about me that was solid. But it's not because of that."

Quinn focuses her feet, and the small circular pattern her hand is rubbing, and only when there's nothing else forthcoming at all does she ask, "Then what it is?"

"It's that you're you," Rachel says, before pulling back; Quinn stops circling them and just looks at her with some concern. "You're-not just something I want and I shouldn't want, anymore. You're so much more than that now, and I feel like... I've stepped off the edge of a cliff, and I'm just in a free fall. And the only thing that can catch me at the bottom is..."

The song reaches the bridge right as Rachel stops talking, and Quinn takes a deep breath and says, "Rach, you know that you're not the only one who feels that way, right?"

"Maybe, but-you know who you are. You know-"

"I don't know as much as you think I do," Quinn cuts her off, biting her lip for a moment before glancing down. "I don't know where I'm going, or what I want from life, and I can't figure any of it out right now, either, because... It's like-I try to think about my future, and the things that will matter for me next year, and there's nothing. It's just a giant void, and you. The only thing I can see is you, so if that's not the same thing as hoping that I'll catch you..."

She doesn't have anything else to say, and it doesn't matter, because Rachel is kissing her deeply, just seconds later, almost as soon as she looks back down at her and shrugs helplessly.

They're kissing, and Rachel's pulling at her collar and that height difference that Quinn is finally getting used to just disappears on her, out of nowhere—until suddenly Rachel is right there, and in charge, and kissing her until she can't even remember what got them here. They're just kissing, more deeply and heatedly than they ever have before, out of nowhere, until she wobbles, and then Rachel starts walking her backwards towards the couch.

Quinn kicks over the ice bucket with old time soda pops that she got from Father Kevin on the way over there, and registers that it happens on some level, but Rachel's hands are sliding inside of her jacket and running along her sides and that feels a lot more important right now.

Something is very different, about what they're doing, because as soon as her knees hit the edge of the couch, Rachel is moving away from her lips and kissing down her jaw line, until she reaches the edge of Quinn's jaw, right where it meets her neck, and when she gently sucks there for just a second, Quinn feels her hands dig down unexpectedly hard.

A sound pushes out from her lungs, and she only hazily identifies it as a moan when Rachel looks at her in a way that-

She doesn't really get time to process it, because she's pushed once more, until her knees buckle and she's actually sitting down, and then Rachel is on her lap, tugging off her tie. She wants to—she has a thought about that, barely, but then Rachel's lips are back on hers, kissing her to the point where all she can do is hold on. And then—

And then Rachel's fingers are on her buttons.

"What are we doing," she gasps, finally breaking away, but her own fingers have found the zipper on the back of Rachel's dress and—she's touching it. She doesn't know what she's doing at all, but her fingers brush up and down that zipper and Rachel's eyes slip shut and she tilts forward again, her forehead pressing against Quinn's.

"Falling," Rachel she then mumbles, and another button snaps down, until suddenly Quinn's shirt is hanging open and-

"Oh, my God," she says, when Rachel reaches inside and then her hand is covering Quinn's bra, which is actually just a polite way of saying it's on her breast and—"Oh my God, Rachel, what are you—"

"Is this-" Rachel starts to ask, suddenly looking more aware of what she's doing and Quinn stares at her, knowing her mouth is stupidly open and the only thing coming out of her mouth is this stupid, high-pitched whimper, until Rachel's hand shifts back up and rests on her collarbone.

"What-um-" Quinn asks, before running a hand through her hair and swallowing hard. "Did you just under the shirt, over the bra me?"

Rachel flushes at the question, like that makes it real somehow, but the nods. "I'm sorry; I don't know what came over me, I should have asked, but-"

"No, no, it's okay; you would've stopped if I'd asked..." Quinn says, before sucking in another desperate breath. "Um-you can do that again, if you want to."

"Just that," Rachel verifies, and Quinn closes her eyes.

"Yeah, just … please, no more. I'm not... are you ready for..."

"No," Rachel says, quickly; then she sort of giggles and says, "We haven't even had dinner yet."

Quinn starts laughing breathlessly. "Oh, so if this was after dinner..."

"No, that's not what I meant," Rachel says, before sighing and laughing as well. "I'm so sorry. I feel like a teenage boy, the way I just..."

Quinn reaches up and covers Rachel's hand with her own for a second, and then sits up a little and unbuttons the rest of her shirt. "It's okay. I mean. I'm really kind of flattered, actually, and I think it makes sense that you're curious, because... well, you know. I'm a girl, and …"

Rachel is very obviously not paying attention to her mindless rambling; instead, her eyes are trained on Quinn's abs, and-fuck, now she wishes she'd been more diligent about her push-ups and running, because … she's not as strong as she used to be, and not as flat, but...

The tips of Rachel's fingers trail a line straight down from her sternum, and then she murmurs, "Everything about you is so soft."

Quinn breathes shallowly and watches that hand reach the edge of her pants, and then drift back up, until Rachel's fingers are sort of spider-walking along the edge of her bra.

"You-do you want to... I don't know. Can we maybe kiss while you um, grope me? This is a little intense," she finally says, in a tone of voice she doesn't recognize in herself at all.

It's because she's never been this close to being pure feeling before. The air feels too thin for her lungs, and the look in Rachel's eyes just makes her think that she could evaporate any second now; but then she's being kissed, softly and surely, and Rachel's hand is...

This is such a contrast from Finn, and she hates that she has that thought, but Rachel's hand on her is gentle, and careful, and exploring, rather than possessive. There's no grabbing; instead, Rachel sort of cups her, before sucking softly on her lip, and...

"Wow," she whispers, against Quinn's lips, when Quinn's nipple hardens underneath her palm. "That's-"

"Um, sorry," Quinn says, biting her lip again. "Can't help it, it's cold. Without my shirt on. I mean..."

"Uh huh," Rachel breathes out, before capturing her lips in another kiss, and then...

Quinn swallows a surprised moan and then almost leaps off the couch when those fingers graze over her nipple, through her bra, and then covers Rachel's hand with her own. "That's-okay. I think we need to stop now," she says, willing her heart to stop racing.

Rachel's hand sinks back down to her side, and Quinn catches her breath in the middle of another kiss—this one soft, and reassuring somehow-while Rachel's thumb draws a small shape that she thinks might be a heart right on her hip bone.

"Thank you," Rachel finally says, before shifting off her and reaching for her buttons, quickly closing them back up and then fastening her tie.

Quinn just stares blankly across the room for a moment, wondering what on earth she can possibly say: "No, thank you?"

Of course, nothing sensible comes to mind, and when she does open her mouth what comes out is this: "Um. I know this is probably not a goer in your dress, as I'd have to get you basically naked first but... any chance that I get to touch my first boob tonight as well?"

Rachel laughs and sighs at the same time, before giving her an exasperated look. "Do you have to be so crass?"

"I find that honesty usually helps me get what I want?" Quinn tries, with her most charming smile.

Rachel rolls her eyes, but her lips twitch in a way that totally gives her up. "We'll see, Fabray."

Quinn smiles, and then Rachel turns and smiles back at her and kisses her again, and-if not for the fact that she's literally spent six hours preparing each course for dinner, she'd say fuck it to the whole affair and just spend the rest of the evening exactly like this.

...

Three hours later, and in matching flannel PJs—way oversized on Rachel, which is kind of adorable, and there's obviously not a single cover on Quinn's bed anymore either, or they'd both die-Quinn turns to Rachel and say, "I'm too stuffed to um, fondle you. Raincheck?"

Rachel laughs weakly and swats at her stomach. "Stop it."

"No, really, can I have a raincheck, please? I swear I'm interested. Like, very interested. But if I roll over right now I will vomit on you, and even though you're now my girlfriend, girlfriend, I somehow don't think that I'll win any points for that."

An annoyed look is temporarily directed at her, but then she mouths girlfriend again, and Rachel can't fight the soft smile that's working its way onto her lips.

At the sight of it, Quinn does roll onto her side, with only a minor wince and wave of nausea, and then says, "This is great. You sleeping over. I love my parents. Don't you love my parents? I should buy them a gift."

"Rambling again," Rachel says, shifting forward just a little bit and then pressing a soft kiss to Quinn's forehead. "Always, always rambling. There must be so much going on in your head at all times; it fascinates me."

"Like you're one to talk; you talk twice as much as I do to um, everyone who isn't you," Quinn says, before briefly glancing down her bed, to where Rachel's foot is toying with hers a little. It's about all the movement they can handle, after how much they ate.

Quinn's pretty sure Rachel will never think of vegan food as torture anymore; or maybe she will, but now only in the same way that people think of Thanksgiving as torturous.

"You want to know what I'm thinking?" Rachel asks, brushing their noses together but not leaning in for a kiss.

Quinn hesitates for a moment when she hears the front door close downstairs, but then focuses on Rachel again; on the way her eyes are shining with something that looks a lot like pure happiness, and nods, only feeling the mildest bit of hesitation at how serious and quiet Rachel is being.

"That... no matter what happens, down the line-I will never regret a single moment I get to spend with you."

It's a lovely sentiment, and Quinn forces a smile at it, because … it's just her head, that interprets that as a sign that there is an end of the road in mind. Rachel doesn't mean goodbye. She doesn't mean anything, except that she has no regrets, and...

"I won't, either," she says, running her own foot up Rachel's calf and then smiling softly. "Ever ever."

She rolls back onto her back after that, but pulls Rachel with her, and as it turns out, there is a space on her shoulder that is absolutely meant for Rachel's head to fit onto; and when Rachel slings a leg over her waist, she temporarily feels a stab of guilt about telling her parents that this is no different from when Santana sleeps over, because... it's a whole different world.

It's the one she wants to be living in, and not just this year but next year and...

Rachel looks up at her deep sigh, but she shakes her head. "Mile a minute, like you said, but nothing important."

"What's your original song about?" Rachel asks, and Quinn presses a kiss to the top of her head.

"Well, given that for some reason, everyone seemed to think that I should be writing the lyrics..." Quinn says, letting the words hang for a moment as Rachel shifts up to look at her. "It's about you and me, silly. I mean, first of all, that's what I want to write about, and second of all, the basic tenet of writing is to write what you know, and what I know is-"

Any further explanation is smothered into a kiss that makes Quinn wonder if maybe, she's not as full as she thinks she is-until Rachel actually reaches for her hand and shoves it up under her shirt, and...

"Oh, goodness gracious, you're not wearing a bra!" Quinn says, her eyes shooting up open when the reality of that statement hits her; that's her hand, on Rachel's boob, and there's nothing between the hand and the boob and...

All she can do is stare at Rachel and... maybe move her hand? Maybe not? Is this what a heart attack feels like? Rachel would probably know. Maybe she should ask. She tries, and her mouth is open enough for a question to come out, but … nope. There it is again. That pathetic, high-pitched whimper.

Rachel starts laughing softly, and then a little more loudly when Quinn tries to frown at her, until she finally just drops her forehead onto Quinn's chest and snorts. "Good lord, baby..."

"I know, I'm Most Likely to Win the Nobel Duh Prize," Quinn sighs...

… but it's hard to be actually embarrassed when she's still got her hand on Rachel's boob.

Victory is hers, as Stewie Griffin would say.

Chapter Text

When she wakes up the next morning, they're barely touching; Rachel's toe is sort of pressed against her knee, but that's it, really.

Doesn't explain how amazing she feels in the slightest, but she rolls over onto her side and tucks her arms around her pillow and just stares. She wishes her head could TiVo this moment, because they'll never have this again-their first night together, alone-and …

She's not ready for it to end, at all, and so she slips out of bed and pads down the stairs, pulling out the toaster from its cabinet and a juice carton from the fridge. A loud snort sounds behind her and she jumps, but her dad just shakes his head and says, "You know, we didn't insist on the flannel jammies."

"I know, but, I don't know," Quinn says, rolling her eyes and then popping two slices of bread into the toaster. "We slept just fine, so..."

Her dad gives her a quick hug, and then the weirdest look-like suddenly he's realizing she's growing up, out of nowhere, and she pulls him back in to a real hug just for the hell of it.

"She makes you happy, huh?" he asks, quietly.

"Yeah. Unlike anything else ever," Quinn admits, and then pulls out of the hug when the toaster clicks and two perfectly browned slices pop out. "I'll drop her off at um, Kurt's in a bit, but..."

"If you were going to nail her to the wall-"

"Dad, oh my God," she says, giving him a horrified look over her shoulder.

He laughs. "My only point is, you would've done so by now. Go surprise her."

Blushing furiously, she butters the toast before slamming it onto a plate and then tucking the juice carton under her arm, two glasses clanging in her other hand.

It's a brilliant plan, bringing breakfast upstairs, except for the part where her bedroom door is closed, and so she curses softly and puts down the empty glasses, before swinging the door open and-

"Shit," Rachel says, loudly, before cupping her face.

"Shit," Quinn echoes, dropping the toast and taking two big steps forward, pulling Rachel's hands away. "Are you bleeding? I know first aid, I can probably re-set your nose if I have to; and actually, one of the most marry-able qualities I have is that blood doesn't scare me, so …"

"I'm fine, calm down," Rachel says, thickly, wincing when Quinn gingerly touches her nose. "If it was broken, you'd know because I'd be murdering you. Do you have any idea what kinds of effects rhinoplasty could have on my voice? That's at least half the reason why I've never taken my mother up on her offer."

"Well, I don't care what the other half is, but please don't. I love your nose. It's your nose. Keep it, please," Quinn says, before carefully leaning in and pressing a kiss to it.

Rachel hisses again, and then looks at breakfast-now all over the hallway carpet. A dry look is directed at her. "You shouldn't have … true words on so many levels."

Quinn sighs and bends down to pick up the now fuzzy toast. "Um-I guess we can just shower and I'll take you to Sally's?"

Rachel leans up on her toes and gives her a quick kiss. "That sounds perfect."

"Yeah, perfect end to a perfect first date?" Quinn asks, not even really sure why she's nervous all of a sudden, but she is-the day is ending, and... they can't just randomly do this again, because Shelby might get suspicious and...

A similarly worried look over Rachel's face and then she's pulled into a tight hug; one that she returns with fervor.

"I could really do with a milkshake right now," Rachel says, with a small sigh, and Quinn kisses the side of her head on impulse.

"Okay. Well, there's a towel for you in the bathroom and... I'll be here when you're done," she says, quietly, with one more squeeze to Rachel's back.

Rachel slips under her arm and heads towards the bathroom, glancing over her shoulder just once, and something in Quinn's resolve to be grown up about this magical interlude ending just wobbles a little too much.

"No, wait, come back here. I have something to tell you," she says, a little urgently.

Rachel blinks at her, but gamely heads back to Quinn's bedroom, and yeah, that's exactly where they should be right now. When Quinn closes the door and leans in, Rachel's eyes widen and she says, "It's possible that I have morning breath; I'm obviously not sure, as this has never really been an issue before, but-"

"I don't care," Quinn responds, and kisses her deeply without further prompting.

It settles her in a weird way. She loses some of that frantic energy that always courses through her body when she's around Rachel, because it suddenly just clicks in place: this is her girlfriend. Her girlfriend who might have to go home, but isn't really leaving; she's just a text or a phone call away, and they can do this.

Rachel's nails dig into her shoulders after a while, and Quinn pulls back slowly, darting forward again for just a few more quick kisses.

"There. That's what I wanted for breakfast," she then jokes, unable to hide an impish smile.

Rachel sighs and tips her head forward, until they're head to shoulder, and then presses a kiss to her collarbone, right at the edge of her pyjamas. "You want to know something?"

"I want to know everything," Quinn pledges, semi-seriously, closing her eyes when Rachel toys with the hair at the back of her neck; it's so pacifying, and yet it also kind of makes her tremble, and...

After a few moments of just that light level of touching, Rachel pulls back, and reaches for Quinn's fingers, both hands at once, and squeezes them tightly. "I think you are going to be an amazing mom, one day."

It's really not what she's expecting, and her vision swims abruptly, when the serious look on Rachel lingers after her words do, and … then she's just stuck swallowing hard.

"I've been thinking about this, a lot actually, and... I think maybe you need a push," Rachel says, leaning back against the door, but holding onto Quinn's fingers. "I think maybe you need a push like I need a push."

"In what direction?"

"I think... I need to talk to my mother about my father," Rachel says, with a wholly unintentional grimace that makes Quinn want to step in closer and shield her from whatever prospect is coursing through her mind, but then Rachel levels her with a cautious, probing look. "And... I think you need to deal with those pictures."

"The pictures," Quinn repeats, dimly, and then looks at Rachel before pulling her hand away and wiping at her eyes. "Have you seen them? Did my mom..."

"No, baby, of course not," Rachel says, and something about her voice immediately soothes Quinn. "I want you to show her to me. I'm waiting for you to..."

Quinn exhales shakily and then sinks back into Rachel's arms, who just makes a small clicking noise before rubbing her back slowly. "I don't know if..."

"If I get answers about my dad, it's only going to lead to more questions," Rachel says, quietly. "I need someone solid there for me, Quinn. I need you. And realizing that made me wonder, or well, conclude, actually, that you need me in the same way."

Quinn presses her face into Rachel's shoulder and sighs, blinking against the few tears that she can't hold back on. "I can't yet. I'm sorry, but... it's too soon. The pictures are jut too much. But if you need help, finding your dad, or whatever. I mean. I can..."

Rachel kisses the side of her face. "Shh, it's okay."

Quinn exhales shakily, and then closes her eyes, settling again, before looking back at Rachel. "I mean it though. Just because I'm not ready to deal with my stuff doesn't mean I'm not there for you, if you're ready to deal with yours."

Rachel sighs after a long moment. "I don't think I have a choice anymore. My mother won't ever accept this," she says, gesturing between them. "But he might. I mean. I think he would, if... well."

There are too many questions here, and Quinn brushes some hair out of Rachel's face, who just looks frustrated at not knowing what she should be thinking about her dad. It's such a change from the endless bitter anger she used to feel that Quinn feels her gut clench for just a moment, and then she takes a small chance; if Rachel needs a push, maybe... maybe this is the right thing to say.

"I don't think that he ever meant to cut you out, Rach," she says, as gently as she can.

"You think my mom is the reason he's never gotten in touch," Rachel says, sounding very small, and then tipping her head back to look squarely at Quinn with the most desolate look Quinn's ever seen in her eyes. "You want to know the awful thing, Quinn? It's not just you. It's... I'm so afraid to ask any questions, because it's been seven years, and … I should've done it long before now, but I couldn't. I was too hurt, and too young, and... I didn't have anything to fall back on. I still don't. The reality is that if I push my mother on this, I might lose both of my parents. If I can't find him, and if I'm right about what I think she's done..."

"Someone very smart once …. well, didn't exactly say that it's always better to know, but she sort of implied it," Quinn says, carefully. "You know. With the whole Finn thing."

Rachel deflates a little more and then nods. "Yeah, I know."

"And... I mean, if your mom doesn't tell you anything, there's other stuff we can do." A memory of an earlier conversation lights up in Quinn's brain, just for a second, and then she says, "You said he left for Cleveland, right? That's not so far, so... if he's still there, and... I mean. He must pay child support, so … you could find out where the checks are coming from and..."

Rachel's breathing hitches a little, and Quinn squeezes her hands tightly. "You're right. I could do all of these things, but... I want to give my mother a chance. She's been there for me for so long now, I … I need to give her a chance to tell me the truth."

Quinn feels almost as anxious as Rachel looks, and then drops her head against the door. "I wish I could be there with you. When you talk to her."

"Yeah," Rachel sighs. "Me too."

This isn't the perfect ending to the perfect first date at all, but it's so much bigger than that that even though Quinn feels thoroughly leaden, she can't regret where they've ended up. Instead, she just pulls Rachel in closer again and murmurs, "It'll be okay."

"I might need some baby photos to cheer me up afterwards," Rachel says, shakily.

Quinn chuckles weakly. "Real subtle, Berry."

She can't really get to a point of being annoyed, with the way Rachel's toying with the collar on her pyjamas; it's so soothing that she's completely disarmed even if Rachel is coming on strong.

"I bet she's beautiful. I bet she looks just like you, and I am going to fall in love with her the first time I see her, just like I did with..." Rachel says, quietly, before falling silent abruptly.

"It's before noon. You can take it back," Quinn says, desperate for some words to fill that space with. "That's how weekend take-backs work in my house. Anything before either coffee or noon isn't binding."

Rachel sucks in a breath but doesn't do anything else, and Quinn doesn't dare to move; just waits out the smallest of moments, until Rachel presses in just a little closer.

"You didn't, yesterday," Rachel finally breathes out. "And I'm not going to, either."

There isn't much to say after that at all, because-it's not quite the same thing as actually saying it, but this has been basically the most up and down fifteen minutes of Quinn's existence, and she just needs to feel Rachel close, and so she pulls her back to the bed, sits down on the edge of it, and keeps Rachel right there, between her legs.

That small hand playing with her collar is driving her to distraction, but when she sees the look on Rachel's face, she just says, "I think you'll like our first song. Untitled Band's, I mean."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah," Quinn agrees, and then pulls her in for the sweetest of kisses, just to bring them over this minor hurdle; and as soon as Rachel sighs against her lips and tangles her fingers in Quinn's already catastrophically messy hair, she feels grounded again.

What a skill, she thinks, and stays in the moment as long as she can.

...

Despite all of Rachel's bravado, her plan doesn't seem to be to force this issue before the Spring Formal; and before Quinn can really compute it, it's a week later and she's driving over to Brittany's house to collect her 'date'.

Brittany is wearing an outrageously colorful dress, and when Quinn blinks at it a few times, Brittany just says, "I came as a unicorn, but without a horn because I don't want to stab anyone I dance with on accident, you know?"

"You look... amazing," Quinn says, not even really lying. Amazing is one word to describe her, and when Brittany's mother offers to take a picture, she loosely wraps an arm around Brittany even despite any misgivings. She figures she can edit herself out, in Photoshop, and pass it on to Santana or something-and even then, they might not be dating but it's also her Spring Formal, and the blood red Chucks she broke out for the occasion actually go really well with the swirly lines of color on Brittany's dress.

Brittany seat-dances along to the New Young Pony Club album that she has playing, just to get into the mood of playing a lot of stuff with danceable beats later today, and then puts a hand on her arm unexpectedly when they pull into the parking lot.

"What's Santana wearing?"

Quinn's heart reacts to the simple question, simply because of the very plain way in which Brittany poses it: like it's the only thing she ever wants to ask.

"Um, her dress matches my shoes, so … that color, and it's... it's a really nice dress, Brittany. She looks really good," Quinn says, as gently as she can.

Brittany smiles after a moment. "Good. I'm glad. She's so beautiful, I'd want her to look super pretty. You know she used to wear dresses all the time, right?"

Quinn shakes her head. "Not really."

"Oh, sure. I mean. Well, when she wasn't wearing the uniforms. But Rachel had her skirts with the knee socks, and Santana just wore dresses. And sometimes, animals."

"She wore animals?"

"Yeah, like around her neck, to save them from the forests disappearing."

Quinn almost snorts at the idea of Santana giving a shit about deforestation, and figures she probably wore fake fur to begin with. "Huh. You'd never guess now."

"I like her in jeans," Brittany says, but then leans in and says, "But I love her in dresses. I mean, jeans, you sort of have to drop halfway down but dresses you can just-"

"Ooohkay," Quinn says, patting her on the shoulder. "Noted. I'll … yeah. Thank you."

"So are you guys going to play good music or really lame pop tonight?" Brittany asks, a moment later, like she didn't just almost mentally blind Quinn with visuals she really doesn't want to have her of her best friend and oh yeah, that girl who stands in front of her all night when they sing.

"Um," she says, and then smiles faintly. "You'll like what we're doing. Pay special attention to the last song, okay? It's... yeah. It's a good one."

"Cool," Brittany says, and lets herself out of the car; Quinn feels kind of like a doorknob, for not getting the door for her first, but then Britt's already halfway across the parking lot towards the school gym when she catches up, and then Brittany's holding a door open for her with a shrug. "C'mon. In you go."

Quinn gives her a hug for posterity. "You are really awesome. I hope you know that."

"Well, yeah. Duh," Brittany says, pressing a soft kiss to Quinn's cheek that has her blushing furiously-but then she watches as Brittany heads into the gym proper, and fishes her sticks out of her sleeve before texting Sam to see if anything else needs to be set up.

Ready to lock and load! he sends back.

Was that lame? a second later.

Tina says she's sorry about me. Mean! a second after that.

She laughs, and heads into the room after Brittany, where her band is ready for her on stage-and those little bastards. They've put a logo up on the bass drum, which... suddenly makes the whole thing feel even more real.

Yep. There her palms go, as usual. Must be a gig night, she thinks, with a sigh, before jogging over to where Puck is lugging the final amp onto stage, and helping him lift it up.

...

It's hard, not to constantly look to see if she can spot Jesse and Rachel, but... wherever they are, they seem to be mostly hidden, and maybe it's for the best. She's working on not being so jealous anymore, because during every moment of spare time Rachel has, it's an immediate text or call to Quinn-sometimes just to say hello, sometimes to start a conversation, and sometimes to make plans-for dinner, for Sally's, or for … well, the far more distant future.

Selfishly, Quinn is kind of relieved that Rachel doesn't seem to have had any sort of real conversation with her mother yet, because things are going to change, and... not yet. Not yet.

She had similar prayers for most of her pregnancy, and they didn't really get her anywhere, either, but... holding on while she can is kind of her default setting.

It's way too depressing a thought for the school dance, and after Miss Pillsbury gives a brief speech to declare the formal open, they're off. They start with Interpol's Evil, which is thematically really twisted, but rhythmically very, very good-and it's a little less creepy now that they've tuned it up half a step and Santana doesn't sound like, well, she's thinking about murdering people in their sleep to begin with, so it's just about enough to get their peers to start milling and shifting from foot to foot in front of them a little.

Quinn's nerves settle after the first song, because she didn't miss a single hit anywhere, and Sam shoots her a grin before she gently lets the hi-hat simmer, until Puck nods, and starts playing the heavy bass intro to the Cassette Kids' Spin, and then her heartbeat kicks into a different gear altogether when Santana starts singing and Blaine hammers out the tinkly little keyboard harmony.

By the time they hit the chorus, people start dancing and Quinn's in what she can only call the zone; she doesn't have to think about what she's doing, and is free to look around the room. Kurt is twirling Mercedes away from him, who … did she go stag? Quinn has no idea; she'd ask Rachel, but they don't really talk about Mercedes, who is the only one of Rachel's friends that's actually super devout and thus... best left alone.

That's a sighing thought, and the song breaks for a second as she lets it sit-until Santana almost growls, "Go", and then they all snap back into play. She keeps looking as the song winds down, the drums steady and regular, and finally recognizes Jesse-by his hair. He's grabbing some punch, which means Rachel is somewhere else...

She only sees her when she also spots the night's other chaperone, and almost misses a bit, but not quite.

It's hard not to panic at the sight of Shelby, but-she's just doing what she got paid to do. It doesn't really stop her from feeling incredibly watched, out of nowhere, and she glances over to Blaine, who has to give them the cue for the next song.

She wants to kiss Sam for what he's done with the effect pedals, because Santana's rhythm guitar is pitch-perfect on the intro to Phoenix's 1901, and-they didn't think Sam had it in him when they first experimented with the song, but he's really giving the vocals his all. When Quinn glances at the crowd on the chorus, she realizes they're actually doing great, because the awkward staring that everyone was engaging in at the start of the night is definitely dead and done-and she can't help but be a little proud.

This stupid little project they started, ages ago, now has a life of its own; and when Santana turns to grin at her a little as they near the climax, she knows they're thinking the same thing.

Next up is The Wombats' Kill the Director, which Sam picked specifically as a song to sing to Tina, who looks very amused by him but not overly impressed. Sam raises his eyebrows at the end, when Quinn's arms feel like they're going to fall off, and when Tina very scathingly claps for him a few times, Santana laughs out loud and says, "We'll be back."

Quinn grabs a bottle of water and drinks it, sneaking a glance at Rachel, now next to Jesse and laughing about something-so freely, in a way that she doesn't think Rachel used to laugh weeks ago. It's hard not to look at Shelby to see if she's the only one who sees it, but …

Maybe this is just for her.

...

After a thirty minute break, during which Artie cranks a few top 40 hits through the gym's sound system, they're back to something a little more quiet than they normally play. Blaine sounds really good on the Cold War Kids' Mine is Yours, though, and she really likes the drum work even though if everything else is very quiet.

People look a little confused, because it's not quite your traditional eight grade shuffle-while-a-foot-apart song, but... they're quieted it down enough that slowly spinning is about the only thing that can be done to it.

Sam slaps Blaine on the back when he finishes, and then they all look at her, because this is the big moment.

"Right," she says, drawing the attention of the crowd to her. She clears her throat and says, "Okay, so-we're basically a really experienced cover band, but at some people's endless pushing-"

"Yeah!" Artie calls out, from the DJ booth, and she laughs as he high-fives Tina.

"What I meant to say is, because of some people's endless support, we've started writing our own songs. Or well, we wrote song, and we'd like to try it tonight."

She gets a few whistles and some spread out applause, at that, which is more than she's really expecting; and after scratching at her head for a second, just adds, "Um-yeah, grab a body close to yours and get ready for some dancing, I guess?"

It's Sam levels of cheesy, and Puck throws her a really sarcastic thumbs up that she rolls her eyes at, but then with a nod she's over to Sam and Blaine, who count them off really quickly.

Trying to decide who was going to sing her words was the last thing they agreed on. She knew she didn't want to sing them herself, because her voice is by far not the strongest in the band, and Sam's original little riff wasn't in a range comfortable for her to begin with; nor was it for Santana, and … even though she's sort of their front woman, it's more by default than anything else.

They'd been taking a break from practice when she'd caught Blaine singing the song at Kurt, over the phone, just as a demonstration, and he's had her vote ever since; but he and Sam alternate on the low and high brilliantly, and... well. All her favorite bands have male singers, aside from Metric. It's what works best for the song.

Blaine throws his all into it, hanging on all the right notes, and it's only when he's past the second chorus that she even dares to look at Rachel, who-okay, she's dancing with Jesse, but her eyes are fixated on the stage, even as she's spun away from it, and Quinn bites on her lip as they hit on the bridge.

She can't not mouth along with it, at that point; they're her words, even if Blaine is more than doing them justice.

Believe me, and don't think twice
Don't leave me, or say goodbye
Believe me, believe me tonight
Believe me, and don't think twice

Believe me

Everything but the piano and guitar then drops away, and Rachel smiles at her so spontaneously that she's suddenly not so worried anymore about how simplistic the words are, or how unpolished their songwriting skills are.

Message received, she thinks, even as Blaine reaches the piano-only coda and softly sings Have a little faith in me until the last note fades away.

"Hell yeah, Untitled Band," Artie calls out loudly, in the silence, and before anyone in the band can react, people in front of them start laughing and clapping a little.

"Thank you so much, guys," Blaine says, the sincerity basically dripping from his bow tie, and Quinn ducks her head and laughs again. "Most of the music was written by Sam Evans over there-" and Sam salutes the room, before winking at Tina, who for once actually looks a little smitten with him in return, "-and the words, our very own drumming babe..."

"Oh, please don't ever call me that again," she says, before she can stop it.

"Quinnie Fabray, everyone," Santana says, before whistling loudly on her fingers.

She bows sloppily before glaring at Santana, who then takes a deep breath and says, "Okay-back to something you'll all know. This is our last song of the night, so-enjoy it, please. And if any of you have any weddings or bat mitzvahs that you'd like to amp up with a little sex appeal and a lot of talent..."

Quinn punctuates that with a quick tap to her toms and the cymbal, even as Puck lets his bass whine.

They laugh at each other, and then Santana sobers and nods for Sam to start playing the tremulous intro notes to Maps.

...

It's a ridiculous thing to admit, but she almost cries at the way Santana is singing it, because this is the performance of her life-and they all know it, including Puck, who hasn't looked up from the floor in a minute now, not since she started singing.

Quinn hazards a look out onto the floor, and Brittany is easily spotted-leaning against a guy she doesn't know, but looking at the stage with a small frown, until she takes a few steps forwards and is suddenly right next to Kurt and Mercedes.

Santana's eyes are closed, Quinn knows from experience, and her guitar is limply hanging from her shoulder strap; Quinn's on hands are moving on autopilot, because all she can think of is how much this has to hurt.

Her song to Rachel was all about how they'll be okay. Santana's is all about how much she loves Brittany even though they're not okay, and the lump in Quinn's throat isn't going anywhere.

She can't really look at Brittany anymore either, as the song winds down, and instead just makes sure that as soon as they're done, she's up on her feet and over to Santana, who just says, "I'm okay, I'm okay-" and then pushes off her, heading down the stage and towards the exit without another word.

Puck watches her go and then unplugs his bass silently, dropping it in his case and clicking that shut with short, decisive moments. Quinn looks at Sam with a frown, who shrugs helplessly-but when Puck starts going after Santana, she knows this isn't part of the plan, because of the stiff way he's moving his shoulders and refusing to look at her.

"Guys," she hisses, and motions for Sam to follow her; Blaine has already descended into the crowd and is talking to Brittany and Kurt, who-

Shit, the look on Brittany's face is even more disconcerting, but with the state Santana is in, she's much more worried about what Puck is going to do, and so she looks for Rachel really quickly and makes a face at her.

Rachel nods, already moving over to Brittany and Kurt and...

Quinn sighs and jogs the rest of the way out of the auditorium, just in time to hear Puck say, "I'm breaking up with you."

...

Santana looks at him from where she's smoking and then flicks the remainder of the cigarette away, her eyes flashing with barely contained rage. "I'm sorry, what did you just say?"

"I'm sick of this, 'tana," he says, tugging at his bow tie and ripping it off. Quinn watches it sink to the floor, Sam stopping just a pace behind her. "I'm sick of you-tearing yourself up over her."

"What, you're jealous?" Santana asks, incredulous.

Puck sighs and rubs his hands over his head. "No. No. I'm not jealous. You don't fuck me anymore, whatever. I can get it somewhere else, but-I'm sick of you doing this, man. You're just hiding in me. Did you hear yourself just now?"

"It was just a song," Santana says, a little stiffly, fishing out her cigarettes again; but her hands are shaking too much for her to actually light it. "We've sung it before."

"Not like that," Puck says, frankly, and Quinn shoots another look at Sam, who just shakes his head.

"Whatever. You want to break up, we fucking break up. I don't care," Santana finally says, before pushing past Puck. "Are we done? Because someone's going to have to spike the fucking punch and Sam, if you don't have any weed on you you're dead to me-"

"No, I'm uh, equipped," Sam says, carefully taking a step towards her. "Um.."

"What the fuck happened to you, huh?" Puck asks, without warning.

Santana looks up at his words and her eyes narrow. "What-"

"You used to be a boss," Puck says, now actually sounding angry with her. "You used to not take shit from anyone. People fucking teased you about being besties with Rachel and you beat the snot out of them. Nobody touched you or her. You were tough. Shit, I was afraid of you. And now it's like-you just let everyone tell you what to do."

"Puck, maybe-" Quinn starts saying, but Santana turns back around and stares at him.

"You calling me a coward?"

"Yeah, Lopez. I'm calling you a pussy," Puck says, his jaw clenching. "What are you going to do about it? Fucking cry some more? Or maybe date someone else you don't give a fuck about because you're too scared to go after what you really want?"

Seconds later, before Quinn or Sam can react, they're on the floor, rolling around on the parking lot; Santana got him by surprise, and Quinn relaxes when she realizes he's not hitting back. She's railing on him, though, and he's deflecting only about half of her blows, actually groaning in surprise when she socks him in the temple good.

Sam exhales slowly and then leans down, pulling her off; she struggles against him, feet still kicking at nothing, until he says, "Santana-stop it."

"You don't know what the fuck you're talking about. None of you do," Santana bites out, elbowing Sam in the groin until he puts her down.

Puck gets back to his feet, wiping at his mouth and then pressing against the already-forming bruise on the side of his face. "That's my girl; glad to see you still got it."

"Oh, fuck you, Noah," Santana says, before laughing bitterly. "You really think that I'm pussying out? You think I haven't been trying to think of some way to beat Shelby for years now? I'm just a fucking kid, okay? She has money, and power, and Brittany's future in her hands."

"Bullshit," Puck says, firmly. "Bullshit, because you're Brittany's future, and-"

Santana shakes her head, and then starts crying. And God, Quinn doesn't seem to know what to do about that any more than the rest of them do, except for Sam-God love him-who says, "Please don't hit me" and then pulls her into a hug.

She leans heavily against the exterior wall of the gym, and runs her hands over her face, because this so wasn't how tonight was supposed to go.

"What is going on out here?" a voice asks, out of nowhere, and Quinn's head whips around-almost hitting the wall-as she looks for it.

Shelby looks both smugly pleased and unimpressed with them, and then finally levels a stare at Quinn.

"An explanation, Miss Fabray; or I get the joy of suspending all four of you for fighting at a school dance."

"We didn't fight," Quinn says, emphatically, before looking at the floor. "Puck fell."

"Onto someone's fist; like, say, yours, Santana?"

Santana pulls away from Sam and stares at Shelby with so much loathing that Quinn actually shudders at the sight of it. "Unless you think you can prove it, you don't have a thing on me."

"This time," Shelby says, with a small smile.

It's only Sam's reflexes that stop Santana from getting expelled, if not just plainly killed, because she does lunge, but Sam's arms stop her.

Shelby looks at Quinn and says, "I think it's for the best if you all go home."

"I came here with Brittany tonight," Quinn says, not looking away. "I think it'd be best if I just grabbed her and took her home as I was going to, without her finding out about this situations. Wouldn't want to have her start asking questions, would we?"

Shelby's eyes flash dangerously for a second, but then she almost smiles. "It's cute. That you think we can't live without her."

"It's not cute, it's realistic. She's amazing. There isn't a single girl at school who could replace her, right now," Quinn says, as calmly as she can, even though her blood is boiling and Santana is still bitching at Sam to let her go.

"Anyone's replaceable; you should know that better than anyone, Quinn. I've heard nothing but good things about the new McKinley High head cheerleader. Amy... something?" Shelby says, tilting her head a little. "You probably knew her."

Quinn balls her hands and feels her nails dig into her palms hard enough for little moon-shapes to be with her for a long, long time; in fact, if her nails were any longer, she'd probably bleed, and even then, her teeth still clench together. "Yeah, I knew her. I knew everyone at McKinley. What's your point?"

Shelby just looks at her for another moment and then says, "You have five minutes to clear the premises or I will suspend all of you. I'll send Brittany out."

Quinn doesn't let go of her breath until Shelby's gone back inside, and Sam is still holding on to Santana, who only gives up when he says, "What do you think you can do, man? You don't fight her. You just deceive her."

Santana looks at Quinn a little helplessly, and Quinn chews on her lip before saying, "... it's what her own daughter is doing. Maybe it is the only way."

"It's not good enough. The risks are..."

"Not comparable to the rewards," Quinn says, because she has to believe that; has to.

Easier said than done when Shelby's talking about Amy, and... God. She closes her eyes and then blinks them open again when the doors to the gym open. She just about manages a neutral expression when Brittany joins them, even though her insides still feel shredded.

"Hey-Shelby says you need my help finding your car. I'm really good at finding lost things, actually, so..." Brittany says, awkwardly, before looking over at Santana with such concern that Quinn suddenly needs to see Rachel. "Are you okay? Your hand looks like it had a run-in with Puck's face."

"'m fine," Santana says, roughly, before stepping away from Sam and glancing at the floor. "Did you-um. Did you like the song?"

"All of them," Brittany says, before taking a deep breath and adding, "But especially that last one."

"Yeah," Santana says, and it comes out so pained that Quinn is suddenly sick of seeing them do this to each other. She opens her mouth to speak, but Puck gives her a look and then clears his throat.

"Guys, our five minutes … to find Quinn's car are up," he says.

"Yeah," Santana says again, and then glances at Puck. "You're my ride, asshole."

"Whatever, bitch. You're driving, I can't see from my right eye," he says, tossing her the keys.

Santana chuckles after a moment and then glances at Brittany one more time, before wandering off towards Puck's truck.

Sam gives Quinn a look. "Um. Blaine's going to have to deal with all the equipment on his own."

"Yeah, I really don't care about that right now," Quinn says, and after a second they grin at each other. "Maybe Jesse and Kurt can help him."

"I'll text them," Brittany says, and Quinn puts a hand around her shoulder almost instinctively.

"Let's go home. This was enough excitement for one night," she tells Sam, who bumps their fists together and then gives her a small smile.

"Song went over well."

"Yep, that it did," Quinn agrees, and with a small smile in return, starts guiding Brittany to her car.

...

They've been parked outside of Britt's house for a good fifteen minutes now, but Brittany hasn't made any moves to leave the car, and Quinn doesn't know how to start talking.

"Why did Santana hit Puck tonight?" Brittany finally says, playing with the hem of her unicorn dress.

Quinn sighs. "He broke up with her, and then called her a coward."

"Wait, they broke up?" Brittany asks, and she sounds so confused and hopeful at the same time that Quinn shifts in her seat until they're looking at each other.

"Yeah. I mean, they weren't ever... really together. He was just there as a placeholder."

"A what?"

"Like... okay, you know how sometimes one side of your bed is cold? You could put like a hot water bottle there to keep it warm, until um, someone else can come and warm up that side," Quinn says, before gnawing on her lip a little. "That's what he was."

Brittany frowns at her, and then says, "So if he's the hot water bottle..."

"Yeah. You're the person," Quinn says, softly, looking down at her tie and toying with the edge of it. God, she wishes Rachel was here. Although maybe not, because Brittany is going to need the whole truth, and... she doesn't seem like the type to flip out at Rachel, but even so.

There are so many sides here and Quinn somehow finds herself on all of them. She's like a die, where all sides are sixes. Can't win or lose in that situation.

"Oh," Brittany says, looking out the window and then licking her lips in a flash. "Okay."

"She wasn't with Puck because of her parents, Britt. She was with Puck because... that way, Shelby would think that she'd moved on. From you."

"Wait, Shelby?" Brittany says, and her eyes glaze over for a moment. "I don't get what this has to do with show choir."

"Yeah, neither do I," Quinn sighs, with a small laugh, but that's not very helpful to Brittany, who looks more confused than ever. "Look, you know how Vocal Adrenaline is sponsored by these big Christian people?"

"Yeah. They're why we always have to sing about Jesus and shining lights and things like that," Brittany says.

"Well, they're also... they don't …" Quinn struggles with the right way to put it and then just goes for the simplest explanation. "They don't think it's right for two girls to love each other."

Brittany blinks at her aimlessly. "Why?"

"I don't know," Quinn says, with a sigh. "I mean, they're stupid. It really shouldn't matter who you love, but people have different opinions and... Vocal Adrenaline is funded by people who wouldn't want you with Santana, or Kurt with Blaine..."

"Or you with Rachel," Brittany says, and Quinn feels her heart stop.

"Um. I don't know-"

"Or Jesse with Mike. Or Mercedes with Angela. Do you know Angela? She can beat-box. It's really cool," Brittany continues.

"Right, yeah. Well, any of that. Shelby puts a stop to it."

Brittany seems to focus on the conversation again at that, and then frowns. "Wait, but... it's not like we love each other in the middle of practice or anything. I've asked, but Santana always said that that stuff is private and-"

Quinn laughs abruptly and then says, "No, she never saw you two. She found out because …"

It's hard to say out loud, without jumping to Rachel's defense; harder to defend her, because there isn't really one. She feels almost split in half, and then just closes her eyes and says, "Rachel walked in on you two once and told her mother, and then Shelby threatened Santana."

"Wait, …" Brittany says, her mouth turning down, but there's nothing else forthcoming. She just looks quietly upset.

"She... said that if you stayed together you'd both be thrown off, and you'd never get a dance scholarship to college and-"

"But I don't even want to go to college," Brittany says, actually sounding upset. "What? That's-Santana wants to go to college. I just want to go and become a dance teacher."

Quinn has no idea how to respond to that, and ends up rubbing at her forehead. "Well, I mean, I think Santana probably just wanted to keep your options open for you. You were really young when this happened, you know, and..."

"She should've asked me what I wanted to do. I love dancing, and I think Vocal Adrenaline is fun, but I don't like it more than I like her. So why didn't she ask me?" Brittany asks, before staring Quinn down again.

"I..." Quinn starts to say, and then just sighs. "Britt, you need to talk to her."

"Yeah, maybe, but not tonight. I'm kind of angry with her right now," Brittany says, pulling her knees up to her chest, before dropping her head to it. "This is so stupid. It's just like her, too. Once I like, had this dance move and she was really worried that I would sprain my ankle doing it and … so she bullied Mike into changing it without telling Shelby so I wouldn't get hurt."

"She loves you," Quinn says, quietly, because that much seems clear.

Brittany tilts her head and looks at her. "I love her too, but it's not like I'm telling Sam to stop writing songs where she has to sing a lot because it might hurt her voice."

It's hard not to smile at Brittany's haphazard analogy. "She's just trying to look out for you. It's hard to not do that, when you love someone, you know."

Brittany sighs. "Yeah, I guess. I don't know. I kind of want to punch her in the boobs right now, which sucks, because... they're great and normally I just want to-"

"I know," Quinn says, and this time does get out of the car before Brittany can, and then pulls her into a hug when she's out. "Just-give it a day, and then call her, okay? If you want help yelling at her, I'm pretty sure the entire band is up for it."

"That's cool, but um, maybe I'll just talk to her by myself," Brittany says, pulling away with a small smile. "Thanks for being honest with me. Even if you aren't going to be honest about you and Rachel anytime soon, but I mean, I guess I kind of understand why now. It's a secret, right?"

Quinn somehow manages to not fall over. "Uh-yeah. A pretty big one, because if Rachel's mother ever finds out..."

Brittany mimes zipping up her lips with a small smile, and then heads up her driveway.

Quinn sort of collapses against the car, and exhales slowly, wondering if there's any way for her to be less obvious, because the things that Shelby knows, and doesn't mind letting her know she knows...

They are so running out of time.

...

She's not really all that surprised when Rachel's on her front steps when she gets home, and sinks down next to her with a deep sigh.

"What happened?"

"Puck dumped Santana, she laid him out, and I told Brittany the truth about why Santana broke up with her," Quinn says, tipping her head onto Rachel's shoulder. "And now I want to die. Oh, and your mother somehow knows about Amy, and..."

"Wait, what?" Rachel says, sounding very alarmed. "Amy as in-that bitch who didn't love you back?"

It's exactly the right thing to say, because Quinn laughs tiredly and then sinks into Rachel's side more fully. "You're adorable."

"Well, that was a factually accurate description on every level, and believe me, I'm very grateful that she's the bitch who didn't love you back," Rachel says, still a little playful, but Quinn knows that she's on edge now; can feel it in the rapid thrumming of her heart. "What... how do you know my mother knows her?"

Quinn sighs. "It doesn't really matter, does it? She might as well have thrown a rainbow-colored dart at me, or something. She knows about me, and..."

"It's just a matter of time until she figures it out," Rachel finishes, also sounding exhausted. "Some part of it, anyway. The best we can hope for is that she assumes it's one-sided, I guess."

It's hard not to feel a little desperate, and Quinn shifts until she can look Rachel in the eyes. "Yeah, because that'll help how?"

Her answer is a deep sigh. "I don't know. I can't... I've only just finalized a list of questions I want to ask her about my father. I can't deal with all of this at the same time," Rachel says, a little pleadingly.

Quinn looks away from her, over at the decrepit garden gnome that her mom has owned since she was 6; it's so worn it barely has a face, but it's part of her home and …

"If she figures any part of it out, she's going to force me to stay away from you," she finally says. "Or well, she'll try. I don't know what she'll threaten me with, but... she'll try, Rachel, and she has a way of hitting exactly the right note to make people cave."

"So what, you're planning on listening to her?" Rachel asks, a little sharply. "What a choice time to start respecting authority, Quinn. Really."

Quinn drops her chin to her knees. "No, of course I don't plan on listening, but... I also don't need to see you shipped off to a convent just because we push your mom too far, okay? I just..."

Rachel is silent for a long moment and then gets to her feet. "Why are you being so damn defeatist about this all of a sudden?"

"I'm not," Quinn says, forcing herself to look back over. "I'm trying to be realistic. She's your mother, Rachel. She says we can't see each other, then … we basically can't. You live with her, she's going to put you through college, and... "

"God, I can't believe I'm hearing this," Rachel says, shaking her head. "So what was your master plan, Quinn? You thought you'd just... befriend the girl with the misguided beliefs, and then seduce her, and then make her fall in love with you, only to then be like, oh, whoops, sorry about your mother-I'll see you later?"

"No, of course not," Quinn says, getting to her feet as well, even though it's not entirely clear to her if she can stand without getting dizzy; every part of her body is rebelling with nausea, and she honestly doesn't know what words are going to fall from her mouth when she opens it. "I want to be with you, Rach; I don't ever want to be without you, but ... what can we do if she really lays down the law for us? This isn't just some crap about your future in show choir. Whatever hold she had over Santana or Brittany, she has triple that over you, because she's the only parent you have and that means that-"

"Oh, that's lovely. Thanks for bringing my father into this," Rachel asks, her voice thick with anger. "Is it somehow my fault that I haven't spoken to him in seven years and I don't really know where to start? Because you sure made it sound like it was just now."

Quinn winces, and feels her stomach twist anxiously again. "Rachel, come on. Of course it's not your fault. I'm not saying that at all. I just want you to understand that I don't like this any more than you do but maybe … maybe we just shouldn't risk it, okay? Maybe we should just should just cool-"

"Don't," Rachel says, emphatically. When Quinn looks up, her eyes are shining with unspent tears, and Quinn's heart feels like it's collapsing in her chest. "Don't say it. You don't mean it, so don't want to say anything that you'll regret tomorrow."

"Rach-"

Rachel mutely shakes her head and then starts walking down the driveway, and-it's not right. Every part of Quinn's body is screaming for her to put a stop to it. Before she has a chance to, Rachel abruptly turns around and walks back up.

"I thought you said that that song was about us."

Quinn rubs at her eyes and sighs. "It was."

"Really? Because the only place I'm seeing you running is away from me, Quinn. With your tail between your legs, like a coward."

Quinn bites back the first retort that comes to mind, and then lowers her head. "I'm sorry. You're right, I'm..."

"Do you honestly think I'm not terrified about what's going to happen?" Rachel asks, urgently, before sinking down on the steps next to her again and sniffing hard. "Do you … if I had a choice in any of this, do you think this is what I'd choose for myself?"

Quinn digs her hands into the edges of the steps they're sitting on, and flashes back to New Year's Eve; when she started this, by being honest, and saying basically the same goddamned thing. She dragged Rachel into this, kicking and screaming for the most part, and …

"I'm an asshole," she exhales, and then shakes her head. "I'm sorry. Of course I didn't mean it. Staying apart would be the smart thing to do, but the idea of not seeing you as much as I have... or not being able to talk to you whenever. It actually feels like it could kill me. I don't know why I even said-"

"You're trying to protect me," Rachel says, and pulls Quinn's fingers off the steps, kneading them until their death clutch relaxes just a fraction. "And I'm saying don't. Giving up just isn't an option."

"Well then, what is? Do we have any options?" Quinn asks, before she can stop herself. She hazards a look at Rachel, and feels her heart contract for the fifth time that night; it hurts a lot, this time, because Rachel looks just as lost as she feels.

"I don't know."

It's not an answer to anything, and even though their hands are locked together as tightly as they've ever been, Quinn has never felt more lost at sea.

This isn't so much free falling anymore; now, she can see the pavement, and she's probably not going to wake up before she hits it.

Chapter Text

By the time Monday rolls around, she's not really sure what to expect.

Maybe she's going to get decked by Santana as well, and, okay, maybe she should've called yesterday to at least warn her that Brittany was now clued in and would probably want to talk-but Rachel had pointed out that the best case scenario would probably involve the two of them wrestling naked for the rest of the day, and the thought of interrupting that...

Well, Santana would definitely be kicking her ass if she had, so as she pulls up on Carmel and then knocks off the Arcade Fire album she's listening to, she takes a deep breath and tells herself that everything will be okay.

...

Of course, that's before she realizes that neither Santana or Brittany are in school.

It's ridiculous, how her first thought is total panic: did Shelby somehow find out about them talking and get them both deported to Mexico or something? Why even Mexico? They're both American nationals, so that's really unlikely, so they're probably instead locked up in Rachel's basement and-does Rachel have a basement? She's never seen Rachel's house, which just brings to mind a whole 'nother level of suck, and...

"Are you okay?" Sam asks her, from the seat over in band, and she blinks at him furiously. "You look like you're doing like, integration, and it's not working for you."

She sighs. "Yeah, it's just been a long few days and um-where's Santana?"

He shrugs. "Playing hooky? Wouldn't be the first time."

"Yeah, but, I mean... the timing..."

"Hey, dude, it's not on you. I mean, this kind of had to happen, the way I see it. It's like-how if Princess Leia had never been kidnapped-" Sam starts saying, and Quinn snorts.

"Stop right there, please."

"Well, you know what I mean."

"I'd like to see you call Santana Han Solo to her face."

He makes a hilarious face of utter incomprehension. "Who wouldn't want to be Han Solo?"

She laughs, a little, but the unsettled feeling in her gut doesn't leave during the entire lesson. It doesn't help that, as an agreed precaution, Rachel is sitting literally so far away from her that she can't even see her without craning her neck in ridiculous directions, and all in all, by the time lunch rolls around she's ready to just go home and curl up in her bed.

Her best friend's probably pissed at her, even though she was just trying to do the right thing, and her girlfriend can't really talk to her in public just in case they look a little too much like they like each other, which is also doing the right thing.

If it all feels this crappy, though, what's the point in being right?

Santana's back in school the next day, and doesn't really say anything, at which point Quinn doesn't know if she wants to or needs to apologize, either. All Santana says is, "So, your song went over well" and Quinn just says, "Wasn't just my song."

Neither of them mention of Brittany, and by the time lunch rolls around Quinn figures she's just stuck on pins and needles for a while longer, and not just because of Santana and Brittany. Rachel's been taking deeper and deeper breaths every time they call each other right before falling asleep, and what that means is that a certain conversation with Shelby is going to take place any day now.

She has to find something about right now to focus on, instead of all this stuff that hasn't happened yet, and so when Sam sends her a text to say he's messing around with another riff, it's exactly the kind of thing that Quinn thinks she needs.

She ends up pouring over blank sheet music with him, during fifth period, but the only words that are coming to mind right now aren't good at all. If her first song was a love song, the second one is probably going to be all about being sick with anxiety and full of regret, which...

It all just feels a little passive aggressive, and so she texts Rachel to come and meet her in the janitor's closet on the ground floor, which gets an Are you serious? in response that has her laughing, for what feels like the first time in days.

When Rachel steps inside of the closet, about five minutes later, and pulls on the string to turn the light on, Quinn's sitting on the janitor's trolley, legs dangling, and says, "Stay there for a second; just... lean against the door and let me look at you."

Rachel sort of blushes and sighs at the same time, but gamely presses her back against the door, barring the outside world out effectively. And then, Quinn looks.

It's not just that she's worried that sometime soon, she can't anymore, but-well why wouldn't she? Rachel is so beautiful when she's not working so hard on seeming tough and distant, and...

"Do people actually do this?" Rachel finally asks, with a small smile.

"What, neck in closets?"

"Outside of movies," Rachel asks, even as Quinn slips off the trolley and moves closer to her, until their hands gravitate together naturally and then press, locked tight, against the door behind them.

"I don't know. But I like the idea of living up to the movies. Don't you?" Quinn asks, dipping her head just enough to be able to breathe in Rachel's natural scent. Rachel uses all sorts of soaps and things and will frequently press Quinn for an opinion on which she prefers, but the answer is really always the same: there is this one spot, on Rachel's neck, which is pure her no matter what else she smells like, and that's the one that Quinn likes best.

She kisses that place, secretly, and then lets Rachel bring their joined hands up; they only slip apart when Rachel grabs at her shoulder and then kisses her hello, teasingly, a few times.

"I wonder when Santana is going to kill me," Quinn finally says, when it's clear that neither of them are actually in the mood to escalate to rampant hormones right now. They're just leaning against each other, but it's so nice and comforting to have a little bit of time where they can actually be themselves, that kissing just seems like surplus.

Rachel fingers the neckline on her shirt and stares at this freckle on her collarbone that Quinn didn't even know she had until a few make-out sessions ago, when Rachel fixated on it for a while and then left a glorious hickey right next to it. "It's things like that, what you did for them, that make me like you so much."

"You're going to talk to her tonight, aren't you? Shelby, I mean," Quinn asks, because there's something about the tone of Rachel's voice that's just not really there with her right now.

Rachel nods after a long pause and then laughs shakily. "Do I really strike you as a janitor's closet kind of girl otherwise?"

Not a single joke, cheesy or otherwise, comes to mind, and Quinn pulls Rachel up into a real kiss in response. She's not sure what she's trying to say with it; it's okay is sort of a pipe dream, and this is a normal day, not a magical night after their first date, or the aftermath of a very eventful school dance.

Maybe all she means is remember me, because there is no telling what Shelby will do if Rachel starts pushing her, and Rachel needs to hang on to them. Quinn can't grip tightly enough for two; not as long as this might take, if Shelby actually...

No. She can't think that far ahead, or that negatively, and instead she focuses on the feel of Rachel's lips against hers. Perfect. Always perfect, and yet she always wants more.

"Band practice today?" Rachel asks, when they break apart; her thumb rubs against Quinn's lips for a few seconds, and Quinn nods.

"Working on another song, when... well. I can think of some better words."

Rachel smiles a little sadly and then tips onto her toes for what already feels like one last kiss. "I'll call you. After."

"Please," Quinn says, in response, and then gives in to the soft sigh building in her chest. "If you need to do more than call, I mean... you can come over, okay? My folks won't mind, even if it is a school night. This is-really important. And, I love you, and good luck."

Rachel blinks at her, just once, and then pulls her into a much more forceful kiss than that soft, wistful peck goodbye she just gave Quinn; and it's only after about a minute of her brain melting with every brush of Rachel's tongue against her lips, and then inside of her mouth, that she realizes that she's just said...

"Again," Rachel demands, in nothing more than a hushed whisper.

"I love you," Quinn says, a little more deliberately this time, as Rachel stares at her so intently that she feels heat coil low in her stomach, almost out of nowhere. "Um-I'm sure this isn't where you wanted to be told that, but I mean, if you squint, the decor in here is actually pretty lovely and I mean, you're here so it's basically the best place on earth regardless, right? Um..."

Next thing she knows, Rachel is basically mounting her and-well, she has to sort of grab her butt to make sure they don't both fall over. And yeah, it's kind of awesome, that she's strong enough to do this, or that Rachel's small enough; maybe both? It's the greatest feeling, until Raches presses her lips right up to her ears and says, "I love you too. Always remember that, please."

Those two sentences eclipse any concept of happiness she's ever even dreamed of, because she didn't need to push for them or ask for them at all.

With Rachel's legs wrapped around her waist, and Rachel's lips back on hers, kissing so carefully and deeply, Quinn has to lean them both against the door again just to not turn into a shaking mess and drop her.

When Rachel's hand slips under her shirt and skims right by her bra again, she bites down on Rachel's lip unwillingly; but then that produces a moan that has Quinn's hips jerk forward into nothingness-but for the first time, she thinks of all the things that Rachel will be doing between her thighs eventually, in a flash, and she groans so loudly that Rachel's nails tighten where they're gripping her, hard enough to leave marks.

"God, baby..." Rachel exhales, and Quinn drops her head to Rachel's shoulder, twisting it sideways just enough to be able to suck at a patch of skin on her neck, right where her heart is hammering. There are fingers playing with her nipple again, which is dangerous, and she tugs on Rachel's legs until Rachel's sinking down her waist a little. When her hand accidentally shoots forward to help Rachel steady, it's suddenly right there and-

It's so shocking that she basically does drop Rachel, although not very far, and then stares at her with-well, are her eyes as wide as Rachel's? Are her pupils as blown? Is she just as wet as her girlfriend is right now? Is-

"I'm not letting you touch me …. there for the first time in the janitor's closet," Rachel finally says, although it sounds more like she's trying to convince herself.

Wait, touch her where? Did she just...

Quinn feels her eyes bulge even further. "Oh my God, no, of course not, but-um." There are so many stupid questions flitting around her brain that she already knows the answer to, but in the end just tugs on her t-shirt and says, "That... you... wow."

"Something to remember me by, before I get sent to that convent," Rachel says, shakily.

"I will murder a million nuns to get close to you," Quinn says, running a hand through her hair and then taking a wobbling step forward to loosely grasp Rachel's upper arms. "Are you as-I mean..."

"Every single thought I have about you right now is impure," Rachel murmurs, softly, and Quinn feels acutely faint.

"Like, going to hell levels of impure? Or more like-I should probably confess this or something-"

Rachel chuckles and says, "A little bit of both. You?"

"Well, uh, I think that when we're both ready, for stuff, I mean. We should definitely explore this whole... vertical thing more," Quinn finally says, wondering if her head is actually going to explode. "So after we're married, I guess?"

Rachel stares at her for a few seconds, until her face falls, and then stomps her foot. "This is so unfair!"

"Um..." Quinn says, now completely at a loss. "... what is? The wall?"

"No!" Rachel exclaims, and then pouts so spectacularly that Quinn has to work hard not to start laughing. "We can't get married! So how am I supposed to..."

"Oh, geez, does this mean we're never having sex?" Quinn asks; and it's not like she wants to sound this panicked, but she can't really help it.

Rachel scowls at her with such force that the only thing she can think to say is, "I'd love you anyway, you know, I mean. I'd probably um, spend a lot of time also loving myself but..."

"Wait," Rachel says, and a blush crawls up from her chest. "Are you-"

Quinn stares at her and then also blushes. "Um... doesn't everyone do that?"

Rachel stares at her, stock still, for a moment longer and Quinn feels her jaw drop.

"Rachel, seriously? But-how do you even deal with... I mean... you know..."

There is something incredibly endearing about the haughty way in which Rachel says, "Some of us can control our baser impulses."

"Says the girl who just grabbed my boob without warning."

Rachel covers her cheeks with her hands and says, "If you're just going to make fun of me-"

"No, of course not, I mean. Is this... religious? Or personal?" Quinn asks, as gently as she can, before pulling Rachel's hands off her face. "Because-um. Beyond the obvious thing where it feels … really good, especially when I think of you during..."

Rachel sort of whimpers and then bites her lip.

"See? That's what I mean. It's good. But more than that, it's also um... instructional. I mean, I don't really know what I'd do with you but I have some idea because um..." Quinn clears her throat, because her voice has dropped so far it's basically just gone, and they don't need that right now. "Please tell you know where I'm taking this so that I can stop talking."

Rachel nods, before glancing away, and then looks back up. "It seems I have to reconsider my moral stance on some... things."

"Let me know if you'd like me to make a case for uh, the preferred alternatives. Because I mean, I'm not as addicted to Powerpoint as you are but if the topic of discussion is masturbation..."

"Quinn."

"Sorry-self-love."

"Oh, my God, I didn't mean your choice of words, I just meant stop talking," Rachel says, glaring at her a little. "Permanently, at this rate. You're banned from conversation."

"Geez, Rachel, if you'd like my mouth to be otherwise engaged, you could just ask," Quinn jokes. "But not right now. We've been in here for almost 30 minutes."

"We have not," Rachel says, before squinting at her watch and sighing deeply. "Well, so much for piano practice today."

"Maybe you can give your fingers a different kind of work-out tonight to compens-ow!"

Rachel glares at her, but then pulls her in for one last quick kiss, and with one final regretful look, slips out of the room.

Quinn drops her forehead against the closed door and then, for the first time in almost a year, locks her hands together and prays that something good will come out of Rachel's talk with her mother.

Maybe this time, she'll get heard.

She's a nervous wreck throughout dinner, pushing her food around on her plate until finally her mom just grabs her plate and shoves it into the refrigerator so she can eat it later.

When her phone rings, at 7.30, she almost has a heart attack, but then answers without looking who it is. "How'd it go? Are you okay? Did she say anything?"

"I don't know who you think this is, but I'd just like to extend a hearty fuck you in your direction for sticking your nose in my fucking life and blowing apart everything I have tried to do in the last two years," Santana says, her voice so tight that Quinn feels her legs buckle before she slumps down on the couch.

"Um-"

"Who the fuck do you think you are, telling Brittany anything?"

This is obviously an important conversation to be having, but she can't concentrate on it at all, the way her insides are swimming and her heart is racing even though nothing is going on, and so she just sighs, "Santana-you'll thank me for it one day."

"Like fuck I will," Santana says, and then there's a lot of rustling until finally someone else appears on the line.

"Don't listen to her. She just spent a lot of time crying and now she has to act tough or um, she's worried that people won't take her seriously anymore," Brittany says, and Quinn almost cries in relief.

"You're-are you two okay, then?"

"I think we're going to be," Brittany says. "And no matter what Santana says, I won't let her kill you, okay? So you'll be fine, tomorrow."

Quinn exhales shakily. "Okay, well, good. I'm really … am I happy? Should I be happy?"

"I'm happy," Brittany says, easily. "And Santana's currently still upset but it's okay, I brought my Beauty and the Beast DVD so she'll be fine in about an hour."

"Don't tell her that shit," Santana calls out in the background and Quinn laughs a little.

"Good. Well, in that case... good luck with, y'know. Figuring things out, and everything else."

"What else is there?" Brittany asks, sounding legitimately confused.

It's the best answer she could've given, and Quinn smiles when she hangs up, before remembering: right. She might be able to easily fix her friends' problems, but her own? That's a whole different league.

...

It's eleven thirteen, when the first tick sounds against her window; and then there's another one scant seconds later.

Quinn sits up in bed and wonders if she's being burgled for a moment, before realizing that there's only one thing that sound could be, and then she's off down the stairs without even checking if it is in fact Rachel throwing rocks at her window.

She opens the door and Rachel looks smaller than she ever has, in her off-shoulder sweater and navy blue skirt; the look on her face is so tight that Quinn doesn't even say anything but just pulls her in closer.

"You're not wearing pants," Rachel says, after long moments of clinging to her. "And the entire neighborhood can see you."

"Trust me, I'm less embarrassed about that than the fact that they've also seen me nine months pregnant," Quinn says, briefly glancing down at her boy shorts, before reaching for Rachel's hand and pulling her inside. "Why-where does your mother think you are?"

"Mercedes, probably. I said we were working on duet options for Nationals."

"You're singing with her?" Quinn asks, with a frown. "I thought you and Jesse were working on that Jeff Buckley song and-"

"We all get to make pitches, and... it doesn't matter. I don't even think my mother heard me, with how busy she was pretending that we'd never talked about anything."

"Shit," Quinn says, with a sigh, before pulling Rachel onto the couch with her and wrapping an arm around her back. "Was it that bad?"

"No. It was worse," Rachel sighs, leaning forward and dropping her chin to her hand, as Quinn helplessly rubs her back. "She... at first, she first shut down, completely. I guess I was expecting that, I mean, it's been seven years. And I've never asked, after those first few months when I didn't realize he wasn't coming back."

"And then?" Quinn prompts, gently; she hears steps on the stairs and by the gait, knows it's her dad, coming down from his office. Maybe they need some privacy, but... maybe they just need someone who knows how to deal with this situation. This isn't kid stuff. There's not a single lame pun she could tell that would somehow make it okay, for this to be happening to Rachel at all, and at that point, ... well, she's completely out of her depth.

"When I asked more questions, she got aggressive. She … started asking me why I was doing this to her, why I didn't understand that it was really painful. She wanted to know what had gotten into me, and then..." Rachel falls silent, and her mouth trembles for a moment. "That's when she decided that somehow, this was your fault."

Quinn's hand stills unwillingly, and she stares at Rachel without having a clue of how to react. "My... like, I made you ask?"

Rachel rubs at her face and then shrugs. "She just... thinks that ever since you started attending school, everything has started changing. Kurt, and Jesse, and now... now I'm asking about my dad, and …"

"You're the only thing that's different at Carmel this year, Q," Quinn's dad says, quietly, before putting a hand on her shoulder. "And I highly doubt that this is all that personal. Rachel's mother just needs some way to explain why Rachel is evolving all of a sudden, and..."

"So she just thinks I'm this awful influence because I'm... new, or..."

Rachel bites her lip and says, "It doesn't matter. She told me to stop talking to you. I'm quitting the paper."

"You are the paper."

"I also don't care about the paper," Rachel says, a little sharply, before looking over with an apologetic look on her face and gripping Quinn's knee. "Choosing our battles, Quinn. If the paper is what's got to give at this point, to stop her from coming after you more generally..."

Quinn drops her eyes and says, "Shit, I'm so sorry."

"How is this your fault?" Rachel asks, her voice so tired and weary that Quinn gives in, and pulls her into a real hug, even though her dad's right there and-well, whatever. Rachel doesn't seem to care either. She seems like …

… like she's given up.

Quinn glances up at her dad, who gives her a small smile and then sits down in the chair across from them. "Rachel, honey-your mother might not help you find your father, but that's not necessarily the end of the road. I counsel a lot of kids who are estranged from one of their parents, and usually, with the right information, they can be found."

Rachel exhales shakily and says, "What if she finds out? That I'm looking?"

"She won't find out from us," Quinn's dad says, and after a moment, Rachel looks up at him with just a little bit of hope in her eyes.

"What would you need to know?"

"I'll make us some tea and get a notepad," Quinn's dad says, pushing back up onto his feet, and Quinn mouths a 'thank you' at him; he just runs his hand over her hair in passing again, and then she lets Rachel sink into her arms a little more fully.

"You okay, babe?"

"Not really," Rachel admits, pressing her lips together tightly and then shaking her head. "I've seen her on vendettas like this before. Last time, it was a choir director from Illinois named April Rhodes, and..."

"Hey," Quinn says, lifting Rachel's chin gently with two fingers. "I can deal with your mother."

"You don't know-"

"No, I don't care. Whatever she thinks she can do to me, I've experienced worse at McKinley, okay?" When Rachel looks skeptical, Quinn glances away and then says, "The day I knew I had to leave, one of Finn's friends on the football team cornered me in a hallway and told me that I was doing the right thing giving Beth up, so that at least she wouldn't grow up to be a useless slut just like me."

Rachel stills against her and says, "Did you-"

"I nearly beat him into the hospital, even though he's twice my size in every way, and I was seven months pregnant and... I don't know. I can't really explain what came over me, but..." Quinn shrugs, and sighs before looking back at Rachel. "I'm not proud of it, obviously, but I'm also not afraid of your mother. She can make my life harder, but she can't hurt me, Rachel. The only person who can hurt me is you, by giving in to her. Letting her tear us apart with her intimidation tactics and blackmail and..."

Rachel presses her face into Quinn's shoulder and then, after a slow breath, says, "A football player? Quinn, you could've been killed. You idiot."

"Yes, but I'm your idiot," Quinn says, softly, as the kettle goes off into the kitchen.

She hasn't thought about that day with Dave, in the hallway, in a long time now, but the wave of emotion that comes over her when she thinks about Shelby actually taking Rachel away from her is horrible and familiar, and she focuses on just breathing Rachel in for a moment to calm down.

One of them is going to have to keep it together, if they're going to keep seeing each other; and they are.

She's never giving up on Rachel now.

Even knowing that, though, everything about school has to become about appearances from that moment onwards.

Sending Rachel back home at around midnight brings with it such a hopeless, lost feeling that Quinn tosses and turns all night, before finally getting up at six and going for a Cheerios-style run just to have something to do, to take her mind off things.

When she gets back, her dad says, "It's going to take time-finding her father, I mean."

"Well, yeah, you're a shrink, not a PI," she says, reaching for the coffee but shaking her head when he offers her some toast. "I just... you know, thank you for helping her do this. I don't know who else she could turn to, and..."

"Let's just hope she finds what she's looking for, huh?" her dad says, with a subdued smile, and with a sigh, she pounds back to the rest of her coffee and lifts her bag.

Acting's never really been in her list of interests the way it has Rachel's, but she did it for years at McKinley. She can manage the two months they have to get through until summer, and Rachel's going to be gone for most of the summer anyway, so...

Yeah, cheering herself up isn't really working as it should, and so with a sigh and a kiss to her dad's cheek, she just heads out to her car.

It's not hard, keeping apart at school, because they were never openly friendly with each other to begin with. But, in the last few months, Quinn knows she has allowed herself a few liberties before that she now can't; there will be no glancing at Rachel during lunch, no texting each other during classes, and definitely no sneaking off into janitor's closets anymore.

It's just not worth the risk, when outside of school their chances of getting caught are far slimmer and they both know it.

Knowing it's not worth the risk doesn't make it less exhausting to have to work so hard to not look suspicious, though. She's never been more tired of just the day to day slug of school, and even though the band is doing a pretty good job of keeping her occupied, what with all the various little riffs and solos that Sam keeps churning out, it's all just empty distraction.

There's only one place she wants to be, and she has no idea how to get there.

Her drumming is getting crazy, good, though; when Holly suggests that she works off "that look on her face" after classes on Wednesday with a little Queens of the Stone Age, she wants to protest, because she's nowhere near as good as Dave Grohl is, but after two days of working on Go With the Flow, she has almost the entire thing down.

"Can I ask you something?" Holly asks her, from the doorway, when she nails it on Friday afternoon. She should be in the AV room, but she can't bear being there. Not with Rachel not there-and isn't that a ridiculous thought, given what her first day in the AV room back in November had been like.

"Sure," she says, wiping some sweat off her forehead, and turning to face Holly.

"Sam tells me you're writing original songs for your band now, and that they're not half bad."

"That's not a question, but thank you."

Holly chuckles and then points a finger at her. "Can't get anything by you, can I?"

Quinn smiles a little, but her heart isn't in it. "So what was your question?"

"Why isn't Rachel in your band?"

It's such a surprising question that Quinn has no way of controlling how her face reacts, which is probably with enough emotion to make anyone wonder if she's having a coronary. "Um..."

"I know she and Santana have some history that's not all pleasant, but you and Sam like her enough to swing that vote, so..." Holly shrugs. "I'm just curious. She's so talented, musically, and..."

"Her mother wouldn't like her being in a band," Quinn says, and then somewhat mutedly adds, "Especially not one with me."

"Why, because you're in love with her kid, or just in general?" Holly asks, stepping into the class room more fully and letting the door swing shut.

Quinn opens and closes her mouth a few times and then sighs. "What gave me up?"

"Honey, I think the better question is what didn't give you up. But seriously-does Shelby know?"

Quinn shakes her head. "But... she's not exactly a fan, anyway, so..."

"Well, of course she's not. You've single-handedly turned her daughter into a functional human being," Holly says, before sitting down on the piano bench; Quinn pulls back on the ridiculous instinct to tell her to get away from it, because, whatever. It's not actually Rachel's piano.

Quinn runs her hand over the tom for a moment and then glances at Holly. "It's also best if people in the band aren't, y'know. Dating."

Holly gives her a sympathetic smile. "Say no more. Remind me to tell you about my friend Will at some point; now there's a story that would set your teeth on fire."

There isn't really a polite way to ask a teacher to not talk about their sex life, and so Quinn sort of nods and looks at her kit some more, until Holly says, "So-what's your back up plan?"

"Um, we have a keyboard player," Quinn says.

"No, dummy, I mean... in life. I know you're seventeen and in love right now, and everything is probably about Rachel, including all the words to the songs you're writing..."

Quinn starts to protest, but then shuts up, because it's true.

"But what about you?"

Quinn glances up and says, "What about me?"

"You need something that's just for you, and not about her, Quinn," Holly says, suddenly sounding much more serious than she ever has before.

This is absolutely the last thing she wants to hear right now, and she says, "Yeah, well, like I said. She's not in the band."

Holly seems to understand that their conversation is pretty much over, and gets back off the piano bench without another word.

Quinn sighs and says, "I'm sorry-"

"No, it's cool; I remember being seventeen and head over heels in love with Bryan Ryan, and there wasn't a thing on earth that could've persuaded me we'd ever not be together."

"Bryan Ryan?" Quinn echoes.

Holly laughs and says, "I know, right?"

She almost apologizes again, but before she really can, Holly just waves her off and says, "Seriously, don't sweat it. I'm rooting for you kids. You look good with each other."

"Thanks," Quinn says, with the smallest of smiles, because...

Yeah, they look good with each other. It's just that, there's really no telling when they'll actually be able to be with each other again.

By the end of the second week of only getting bits and pieces of Rachel, she feels like she's drowning, and it's the fact that she's so off guard that means that she misses that she's being approached-until the loud clang of her locker being slammed shut pulls her to attention.

"What have you done?" Shelby asks, in a tone of voice so low and so dangerous that Quinn involuntarily takes a step back.

"What have I-nothing?" she then stammers, because-fuck, she's completely off her game; exhausted, and sad, and … it's been like a lesser version of those first few weeks after Beth left for Cleveland, where the only thing waking her up in the morning was her biological clock.

Shelby looks at her for one more moment and then stalks down the hallway towards Miss Pillsbury's office, and Quinn watches her go-too shocked to really respond beyond that-until Jesse puts his hand on her arm and says, "Walk with me."

Rachel is waiting for her by the bleachers and hugs her so tightly, without saying anything, that Quinn looks to Jesse for an explanation.

He clears his throat and says, "Brittany just told all of us that she was in love with Santana and was going to ask her out formally, this time. Shelby … walked in on this conversation, and told her that she couldn't be in a same-sex relationship and stay on VA at the same time. That there were rules, with regards to sponsorship, and personal feelings of other team members aside, there was no compromising on those rules."

Quinn blinks furiously. "Oh, my God. Britt quit, didn't she."

"She quit," Jesse agrees, and runs a hand through his hair. "Which, frankly, ruins my plans for Nationals in so many ways; where am I going to find more attractive window-dressing than Brittany dancing in circles around me?"

"Yeah, I don't think that's the real issue here," Quinn mumbles, and watches as Rachel pulls away from her.

"She can never, ever know," Rachel says, shakily, and then heads back inside again without so much as another word.

"Do you dance?" Jesse asks, placidly, when she glances over to him helplessly. "Because, on a purely visual level, and with better hair... I could do worse."

"God, I hope a piano falls on you at some point in your life," she tells him, shaking her head, but when he loops his arm around her waist and says, "Quinn-someone has to remember that the glass is also half full, here", she leans on him heavily anyway.

The worst of questions weighs on her mind, when they reach the doors again, and Jesse looks at her with some concern.

"You don't think that... she'd throw Rachel off, would you?" she finally asks, timidly.

"It's the rules," Jesse says, after a long pause. "I'm not sure if they're official or not, but... Shelby's a stickler for walking the line, Quinn. I think you guys better just make sure that..."

"Yeah," Quinn agrees, and bites down on her lip until she can taste the bitter tang of copper in her mouth. Even the distraction of that pain isn't nearly potent enough, because what if they can't?

What if it comes down to her, or Vocal Adrenaline?

Chapter Text

She expects this to be awkward, every Saturday, but it wasn't the first time and it isn't now.

"Where's your mom think you are?" Santana asks, pushing Brittany's milkshake towards her.

It's kind of like a double date, except Brittany and Santana aren't dating yet-Santana is, on some level, incredibly pissed off that Brittany quit Vocal Adrenaline after all the hoops that she jumped through to keep her there, and it's going to take some time for her to calm down about that. Brittany doesn't seem worried, which is probably the real tell there, and they'll be a couple again sooner rather than later.

So, it's kind of a double date, even if none of them can openly talk about what they're doing with each other; all the secrets at school, however, don't negate the foot that is playing with the hem of Quinn's pants, or the hand that is tangled in hers, though.

She loves it, but at the same time, her eyes keep darting to the door, like Shelby has any godforsaken reason to show up here at all-like anyone does. Rachel and Santana were both adamant that in seven years of coming to this place regularly, they've never run into someone from Carmel, which is literally on the opposite side of town.

Rachel slurps up some of her milkshake and then says, "Giving Kurt a speech on the importance of masculinity."

Quinn snorts. "No."

"I'm serious. I'm not sure what my mother thinks I know about the importance of masculinity given that the only boys I've ever dated were in show choirs-" Rachel says, lightly.

Santana laughs and says, "You know, not to be a bitch or anything, but I am not surprised that you ended up mounting Courtney Love over here, because she's the biggest dude you know."

Quinn glares at Santana to the best of her ability, but the fact of it is, she can leave the house without brushing her hair. Jesse St. James? Not so much, so maybe Santana has a point.

These little Saturday morning meet-ups they engage in had been Brittany's idea. Quinn hadn't originally seen the point, because every moment spent with other people was a moment where she didn't have Rachel all to herself-and there were way too many fucking moments like that throughout the school week to begin with-but Rachel had called her up about it and said, "I need real friends too, Quinn. Not to mention that socializing with other people together would normalize our relationship."

"Our relationship is normal," Quinn had said, a little annoyed. "Just because your family-"

"I meant that I'd like to be able to do some things with you that other couples can do without thinking. Such as spend some time with people who know about us."

She'd gotten it, obviously, at that point; and then there was the added fact that the better Rachel and Santana got along, the easier some parts of her future would be. Long story short, Saturday mornings were girl time, as Brittany calls it, and she's actually starting to like that a lot.

"You guys getting close to your picks yet?" Santana asks, and Quinn blinks out of her own thoughts with some force.

Brittany's smile wavers for a second, until Rachel puts a hand on Brittany's-on the table-and says, "If we win Nationals this year, it will be sheer luck. And yes, the pick is a the end of the next week."

"What're you pitching?"

Rachel smiles faintly. "Jesse really wants to turn this Jeff Buckley song into a duet, so that's our first sell; for the group number, I'm actually backing Kurt's choice, which is REM's Shiny Happy People..."

"Ironically, I hope?" Quinn asks, lightly, and then laughs when Rachel rolls her eyes.

"And... I don't know about my solo."

Santana grins. "Oh, come on."

Rachel makes a face and says, "I know, it's out of character, but... I've had a lot on my mind lately. I can't decide if I want to fall back on Broadway-"

"Don't Rain on my Parade will get you guys a trophy for sure," Brittany says, swirling her straw around her almost-empty milk-shake. "I mean, I don't know why you haven't done it yet."

"Because I'm saving it for senior year," Rachel says, before biting her lip. "I don't know. Your Song went over very well, so I'm toying with the idea of doing something else that's a little surprising. But I don't know."

"Does Shelby know you don't know?" Santana asks, raising her eyebrows.

"I'm sure she has a back-up plan in place," Rachel says, noncommittally.

"I'm surprised she lets you guys have any input at all," Quinn says, finishing up the rest of her shake with a loud slurp. "Not to slag off her management style or anything, but giving the pleebs choices just sounds a little too liberal for the Singing Hitler Youth, you know?"

"Yeah, you'd think, but an army that feels like it's being consulted actually behaves better; standard Machiavellian theory," Rachel says; Quinn blinks at her, not sure if she should be worried or impressed by how quickly that came out, until Rachel smiles a little and adds, "And, I guess, despite everything, she wants the choir to gel together well, so this is part of her idea of team bonding. Our practices aren't actually torturous, no matter what you might think."

Quinn could point out that regardless, it they would be for her, but Santana shakes her head silently and she lets it go.

"What about you guys?" Brittany asks, looking between Quinn and Santana. "When are you guys next performing?"

"Don't know," Santana says.

"Yeah, we've been busy, working on songs."

Rachel perks up at that. "About me again?"

"Jesus, Berry, not everything is about-" Santana starts to say.

Quinn just smiles a little sheepishly. "Probably," she then whispers, and laughs when Rachel dramatically smooches her cheek in response.

Sally's is like its own planet, where things like that can happen between them; and it's moments like this one, with all of them just hanging out and being okay that make the rest of the time at school almost bearable.

The second song is almost done, and it's a lot more up-tempo than their first effort, which means that Quinn can't fall back on really basic meter for the lyrics, and... it's taking a lot longer to come up with appropriate words for what the band has started playing.

Blaine's keyboard work is really on form in the music they've written, though, and after a few more phone calls to Santana, she realizes she has to work with a little staccato and off-beats to punctuate just how much keyboard is adding to the song.

"Real subtle, Fabray," Santana says, laughing at her when she finally hands the lyrics out over practice; as they should be sung, so with plenty of lines and arrows to indicate voice switches and harmonies.

"What?" she asks, blithely.

"Your secret's safe, and no one has to know I'm your getaway?" Santana asks, raising her eyebrows. "Bitch, please, even if I didn't see you making moon-eyes at the dwarf every Saturday morning-"

"Oh, fuck off," Quinn says, before looking at Sam and Blaine. "Okay-the thing about this is that there's another high-low harmony the way I picture it being sung, but … I don't want to force you guys into it; I think Santana and I could actually handle this."

Sam stares at the lyrics and then blushes a little. "Given that, uh, a good third of this is about how you can make Rachel feel 'so damn good', I think I'm all right not singing it."

"Geez, that's not what I meant by those lyrics," she protests, even as Puck starts laughing and then high-fives Sam.

"I'm fine either way, Quinn; if this is personal to you, right now, then why don't you just sing it?" Blaine says, easily. "Though I will say, I think we can all relate to these lyrics, so if you want to take a step back and just call them a band project-"

Santana nods. "Yeah, no shit, this is like the story of my life; I mean, all that crap about dancing-"

"I didn't mean that literally, either; more like, if you're in this situation where you're with someone and it's a secret, you need to break free every once in a while and get a chance to just be, you know?" Quinn says, shrugging.

Puck smiles at her after a moment. "This is pretty good."

"All right; I'll … sing us through it in the first instance and then, I guess we can play around with it?" Quinn says, lowering the paper to her side. She doesn't need the lyrics in front of her; she has them memorized, because half of the ones that aren't the verses are things she thinks every time she walks by Rachel at school in passing.

Sam nods and knocks his amp on with a well-placed tap of his elbow. "Ready when you are, QFab."

Maybe actually singing all of this out will actually give her the little bit of confidence she needs to make it through another week in school. It's getting so close to exams, and Nationals, and then that endless summer vacation, where Rachel pledges all over again to be the best Christian she can be, and...

Well, Quinn's thinking about talking to her dad about maybe getting another car to fix up, or she'll just completely lose her mind.

"She trusts me," Rachel says, quietly because it's late, but still confidently. "No matter how much you think she controls me, she also trusts me to do the right thing in the end."

"The right thing being... Vocal Adrenaline," Quinn says, before sighing deeply and putting her palm on her forehead, pressing it down hard. "Well, as long as you're sure she's not just like-hovering outside of your room, listening in on your conversations..."

"She couldn't even if she wanted to. My room is soundproofed."

Quinn has the most ridiculously filthy thought almost as soon as Rachel's said the word. "Hmm. Oh. Really?"

"I can tell what you're thinking, you pervert, and it's not because of that; it's because the neighbors aren't as big a fan of my vocal exercises as they could be."

"Oh, gotcha. Yeah, that makes sense," Quinn says, with a small smile. "Well, either way. Say I win your mother over one day, a soundproofed bedroom will come in very useful."

"Please. When we're ready to make love, it's clearly happening in your bed," Rachel says, so blandly that it's suddenly clear to Quinn that it's really a when and not an if.

"And... um. Okay. Well, I like my bed. I like you in my bed. I don't have any problems with that."

"Uh huh," Rachel says, quietly, and … okay, so now they're both just lying around thinking about doing it and... hm.

Quinn wonders absently if this maybe is a time to bring up that self-love Powerpoint presentation.

Before she can ask, though, Rachel says, "I want to take you on a date this weekend. All night. Do you think your parents will let you?"

"What, by all night you mean-"

"Overnight," Rachel says, quietly. "Friday afternoon until Saturday brunch."

Quinn closes her eyes and feels her gut settle, at long last. "Um-that sounds amazing, and if my parents have problems with this I'll legally emancipate myself, don't worry. I mean, they know we're not having sex, so I can't imagine what the problem would be-"

"You talk to your parents about our sex life?" Rachel cuts her off, sounding incredibly unimpressed.

"It's not that weird. ... okay, maybe it is a little weird, but I think it's probably less weird when you consider that the last time I had to tell them about my sex life, it's because I was having a baby. They're just a little worried about my decision-making skills in this area, okay?"

Rachel sighs softly at that and then says, "I hope you realize I can't ever look at either of them again-"

"Save your embarrassment for when we're actually boning," Quinn says, with a small smile.

"Okay, don't ever use that word, again, and secondly-"

"You don't have a secondly."

Rachel laughs softly. "Busted."

Quinn smiles and picks at her duvet a little, mind already drifting to a combination of soundproofed rooms and all-night dates. "So, when do I buy Mercedes flowers for being our unwitting accomplice in all of this?"

"Never," Rachel says, emphatically. "My mother is obviously at the top of the list of people who can't know, but... some of the VA members go along with the Christian theme because it's just what's going to get them to a good school, and then there's the ones who believe every word of it."

"What, like you, circa three months ago?" Quinn says, teasingly.

"I've never not had doubts, Quinn. I just never had any reason to actually acknowledge and deal with them. Now, Mercedes..."

When Rachel trails off, Quinn glances at her watch and says, "Hon, it's almost midnight. Don't you have to be up at 6 to like, run on your stair master or whatever?"

"Elliptical trainer, and honestly, I wish you would just try it-it's an excellent full-body work out and the best way to energy yourself first thing in the morning."

"Yeah, no. The only kind of physical activity you could wake me up for in the morning-"

"Such big words from someone who's never really experienced that kind of physical activity," Rachel says, sarcastically, and Quinn laughs.

"Well, if you know anyone who's offering to show me the ropes..."

"Uh huh. See you on Friday, Fabray," Rachel says, and hangs up.

Quinn chuckles, and then wonders what exactly Rachel is planning, because this could go anywhere. Before she can stop herself, she fires off a few quick texts, until finally Rachel just sends back a stop! that has her pausing, finger still hovering over the send button.

You can wear a dress if you want to; I will not be wearing pants unless you want ME to; we will be doing something non-physically strenuous; I would like to take your car as it is a more date-suitable car and since you do not let other people drive it that means you are driving; and you do not need to buy me a gift, you ARE my gift. Anything else?

Quinn barely even hesitates.

Yes: I love you. :)

You too, baby, she gets back, and closes her eyes while still holding her phone.

It's one of the very few things that she's realized will actually help her sleep at night, knowing what school is going to be like the next day.

"Uh, so, I'm bailing on Saturday," Santana says, over lunch, looking a little uncomfortable. "Something... came up."

"You and Britt doing something on Friday?" Quinn asks, knowingly.

Santana hems and haws for a moment and then just sighs. "What if-nothing's like it used to be? I mean... it's been so long, and we never used to think about doing stuff together but now it's all like-a real date and shit. I made her a mixtape for her car, and now I'm wondering what to wear, and..."

Quinn smiles unwillingly. "If I call you adorable, will you kill me?"

"They could serve you as lunch meat tomorrow, you bitch," Santana says, with a small glare.

She chuckles, even as Santana's glare intensifies. "Okay, so here's my impartial advice: it doesn't matter what you're doing, as long as it's with her. Just relax, and you'll be fine."

She means every word of that, too, until she gets a text from Rachel when they're almost done eating that just says, do you have a first aid kit in your car?

"Oh my God, what kind of question is that?" she says, flipping her phone over to show Santana.

Santana laughs. "Big date, huh? Like-to the point of personal injury."

"Shit. What is she going to do to me?"

"I don't know, but I've heard it doesn't matter what you're doing, as long as you're with her," Santana says, with a super-sarcastic wink at the end that has Quinn flipping her off.

"That advice was heartfelt, thank you. I also am assuming that Brittany isn't planning on you losing any vital organs on your date, as that privilege seems to be reserved for me," Quinn says, frowning at her phone again.

As if on cue, it vibrates again.

Because if not: I have a spare, and I will bring it. :) Safety first!

"Oh, my God, either she's going crazy or I am," Quinn mumbles.

"She's been there for a while, chica; I think she's just finally started dragging you down with her," Santana says, nibbling on a carrot stick and then smiling sweetly. "Ain't love grand?"

The thing is, it kind of is, and so she sends back an I don't, and thank you :) that she actually finds she kind of means.

If randomly worrying about your girlfriend's road safety while in the middle of a cafeteria isn't a sign of love, then what is?

On Friday afternoon, she actually spends some time looking at her favorite dress; it pairs really well with this denim jacket and this pair of wedges she used to wear to parties, and... it wouldn't even be that strange to wear those things again. They still fit her, she's positive, and she'd even recognize herself if she looked in the mirror.

The thing is, though, that Rachel wouldn't... because she wouldn't be that girl that Rachel has fallen for, who is just a little lamer and a little less polished and a little more real.

Knowing that doesn't mean she can't spruce up a little, though, so she puts on a nice pair of khakis and a baby blue long-sleeved shirt, before rolling up the sleeves and spending a good fifteen minutes making her hair look like she hasn't just exited a wind tunnel. After that, it's just a question of finding the right pair of Chucks-and she puts on her lucky ones, after a lot of deliberation, because it already feels like another one of those nights where things between them change, forever, for the better.

By the time the doorbell rings-even though she's driving, Rachel had insisted on picking her up-she realizes she's not even nervous; she's just excited, and starving for Rachel, after another stretch of far too many days of not really seeing her.

Rachel's in a polka-dotted skirt and a camisole that Quinn hasn't seen on her before, and it makes her glad that she did grab the denim jacket out of her closet, because she hands it over to Rachel as soon as she realizes the night air is chillier than it should be in early May.

There's a soft smile on Rachel's face. "If I'd gone to McKinley, would you be giving me your letterman?"

"Absolutely," Quinn says, before leaning in for the barest brush of a kiss hello; Rachel's make-up is impeccable and she's sure she'll be ruining it later that night anyway, but for now, she wants to keep her date-appropriate. "You do realize that you're going to have to tell me where we're going, now, right?"

Rachel smiles faintly. "Cleveland."

"Um..."

"Just outside of the city limits, Quinn. I've talked to your parents and they know we're going there, and I promise this isn't a scheme of any kind," Rachel says, linking their hands together and then heading over to the car. "Okay?"

"Okay," Quinn says, easily enough, and then chuckles when Rachel holds her door open. She gamely sits down and then watches as Rachel rounds the car before sitting down in the passenger seat, and-

Yeah, okay, that desire to keep make-up intact is already gone. "Are we on a tight schedule or-"

"Not very tight," Rachel says, and leans over the console for a more real kiss that ends in a little nibble to Quinn's bottom lip.

"Hi," Quinn says, when they break apart. "You look amazing."

"So do you," Rachel says, and then taps the gear shift. "Ready?"

For just about anything, Quinn thinks, and shifts the car into the reverse before backing out of the driveway, past Rachel's Escalade, before heading out of Lima altogether.

She figures out where they're going before Rachel has said anything, because the open-air classical concert is being advertised well outside of the Cleveland city limits, and she looks over with a small smile.

"I wanted something... unexpected. You put so much thought into our first date that I wanted to impress, tonight. I thought about taking you to see Feist in Columbus a few weeks from now, but-it's too far away, and this feels more special. I think we'll probably be the youngest people in attendance by some distance, but-"

"This sounds amazing," Quinn says, covering Rachel's hand with her own; and the weirdest thing is, she's not even kidding. It's a particularly clear night, and she knows that anything she doesn't understand about how classical music makes her feel, Rachel will be able to explain to her; and that implies a long night of Rachel pressing up against her side, whispering into her ear. "Really. This sounds amazing."

"Good," Rachel says, a little shyly, and then produces her small backpack for the evening. "I also got us some non-alcoholic cider and I baked some vegan scones, so..."

"I need to watch the road, but please imagine me kissing you senseless right now, because you are too cute and I want to," Quinn says, overtaking a really slow-going Chrysler before signalling for the exit towards the grounds where the concert will take place.

"You're sure that this wasn't a pretentious or idiotic idea-"

"Rachel; it was a great idea, okay? I'll remember tonight forever," Quinn promises, slotting the Fairlane into a parking spot and then turning to look at her. "And not just because that skirt is sinfully short and I-"

"Hold that thought until later, please," Rachel says, with a small smile, before swinging the door open and stepping out of the car.

Quinn blinks furiously a few times, and then skips out after her, locking their arms together as they head out to find their seats.

After two hours of music, it's almost strange to walk back to the car in silence, their hands loosely linked together, but there's something very powerful about it anyway. They let go when they get to the car, and Quinn says, "What now?"

"Black and white cinema in Cleveland," Rachel says, with a small smile. "I know this is my thing, and not yours, but … I found a movie that I think you'll like, and..."

"Babe-this is your night, okay? Anything you have planned, I'm here for," Quinn says, before Rachel can get any more self-conscious, because it's so not necessary.

Twenty minutes later, she's parking in a garage somewhere downtown and then they're-with some help from Rachel's iPhone-walking towards an old-time movie theater, still styled like they're in the 1950s, and...

"Okay, how did you manage this?" Quinn asks, stopping abruptly, when the marquee above the theater proclaims that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is playing tonight.

"Sheer luck," Rachel says.

"This is a litlte more than luck, okay, this is like-"

"Destiny?" Rachel asks, with a small smile.

"Well, I was going to go with like, Disney levels of miraculous, but..."

Rachel laughs and leans into her side a little more, and Quinn feels her arm tighten automatically. Anything for this girl, who would do anything for her, at least tonight.

"Can I call you Goofy?" Rachel finally asks, softly.

"Only if you're sure you don't want to get laid tonight," Quinn says, pressing a kiss to Rachel's forehead. "So-"

She waits for Rachel to call her a pervert, or something else like it, but-nothing really happens, and when she looks over, there's just this dark and wanting look in Rachel's eyes.

"I'm not ready for... everything. But-" she finally says, and Quinn feels her balance falter almost immediately.

"Is that why we're not going home?"

"No; we're not going home because I want to be with you as long as I can, tonight," Rachel says. "But if we lose a few articles of clothing, I don't think it'll kill us."

"Holy moley, speak for yourself, woman," Quinn says, reflexively, until Rachel laughs and gently bumps against her side. "Okay, so... first this movie, and then..."

"And then we're heading out to a field I've hand-picked on the basis of TripAdvisor recommendations for star-gazing, where we'll spend the rest of the night on a blanket I've brought-"

"Wait, you fit a blanket into that tiny backpack of yours?" Quinn asks, raising her eyebrows. "Is it a magic backpack-like Hermione Granger's in-"

"No, I just know how to make efficient use of space," Rachel says, with a coy little smile.

Quinn has no idea why that sounds so dirty to her, but it's probably a good thing she's seen Mr. Smith approximately twelve million times already, because the only thing she can think of during the entire movie is Rachel's hand, and the way her fingers keep shifting and playing with her own, and the concept of efficient use of space.

God, she's stupid levels of in love, if her current reduction to thirteen-year-old-boyism is anything to go by.

The weirdest thing is that she really doesn't mind.

The grass beneath them is slightly damp, now that it's nearly midnight and a little colder, and so it's probably civic duty that has Quinn rolling on top of Rachel after a few minutes of just gently kissing each other, side by side.

Right?

At least, it feels like her responsibility, to make sure that Rachel isn't cold and that those goose bumps she's breaking out into have a lot more to do with the way they're pressed together, and the way Quinn's nails are raking down her arms, than with the air outside.

"What are-where do you want to go tonight?" Quinn asks, breaking away for just a moment; and with one glance at Rachel's lips, so soft and wet and red, she feels her stomach twist anxiously.

"Nowhere-just stay here with you," Rachel responds, her chest heaving a little, and Quinn jolts when one of Rachel's hands pulls at the edges of her shirt. "Just here, with you."

"No, I meant," Quinn says, before laughing shakily. "How far, Rach. What-what are we aiming for here."

"Oh," Rachel says, a little abruptly, and Quinn presses a kiss to her forehead, and then her nose, before nuzzling it for a moment.

"I'm good with anything except everything?" she finally says, a little questioningly, but then Rachel's hands slip up inside her shirt again, and she feels her eyes drift shut and her mind shut off at the feeling of those blunt nails trailing up her abdomen.

"Take... can you take this off?" Rachel asks, tentatively, and Quinn licks at her lips, accidentally swiping past Rachel's mouth in the process, before nodding.

She sits up to her knees and unbuttons her shirt slowly, not really knowing where to look, until Rachel sits up as well and starts helping her, their fingers knotting together.

This isn't new, but the way in which she feels mostly okay about it is; when her shirt falls off her shoulders and she shrugs her arms out of it, and she's just sitting there in a bra in front of a girl who is literally examining every inch of her, she knows she should be more nervous, but she's not. And that's how she knows it's right.

"What about..." Rachel starts to say, before tugging on a bra strap, and Quinn exhales audibly.

"If you want," she then says, before ducking her head and saying, "But I'm keeping my pants on, okay? We're-sort of in public, and …"

"How do you feel about dry humping?" Rachel asks, abruptly-but her fingers are still toying with Quinn's bra strap, and …

"Uh," Quinn says, as more sharp, twisting heat pools low in her belly. "I think... I'm a fan. I mean, I wasn't ever so much with Finn, but, well, penis, you know."

"I don't want to talk about Finn; I want to..." Rachel says, and... then she shifts, the rest of words slipping away into the night. Instead, Quinn watches as Rachel just shifts, until suddenly she's straddling Quinn, or rather, just one of Quinn's thighs, and...

"Oh, hell," Quinn says, her eyes slipping shut at the feeling of Rachel so close; she's so warm, and... what does that mean? She has no idea. She can't feel that much through her pants, and they've barely even done anything but-maybe they don't need to do much of anything, for Rachel to get wet. It would make sense, because some days all she has to do is think about Rachel's ankles and she's randomly turned on.

Ankles. Admittedly, they're really nice ankles, and they connect to even nice calves, and then there's thighs, and between Rachel's thighs there are-

She clears her throat and looks at Rachel with a small frown. "Rach-are you sure you-"

"I touched myself, last week, thinking about you," Rachel says, softly, and then her hips sink forward again and Quinn sucks in a much-needed breath. Not what she was expecting Rachel to say. Not something she's ever going to get out of her head.

She barely even notices when Rachel unsnaps her bra, but then there are bare hands on her breasts, trailing along them, palming them, and fingers rubbing against her nipples, and yet she still can't think about anything except the words that just came from Rachel's mouth.

"You-oh, God, okay, was it... did..."

"I loved it," Rachel admits, sounding a little ashamed of herself, and Quinn finally finds her focus back in that tiny note that says that Rachel isn't more confident than she is; that they're both just fumbling through on blind trust right now.

She cups Rachel's face and rubs her thumb against Rachel's cheek. "Don't be embarrassed. Geez, it's basically a daily ritual for me, and that's fine, okay?"

She watches as Rachel licks her lips and shifts her hips a little again, and suddenly it clicks into her mind, what she has to do to make this okay; her hands shift to Rachel's sides, and she steadies them there with some purpose. "I um. I think I can help you move, like this. Is that-is that okay?"

The fingers on her left nipple tighten a little, unexpectly, and she hisses to the point where Rachel looks at her in concern. She doesn't know how to say what she's thinking; it's a good kind of pain, that she'd like experiment with more, but … Rachel's hips are grinding into her thigh and that's really the only thing she can focus on right now. That, and Rachel's eyes, looking at her with such certainty that all the words just die in her throat.

She's entranced, because Rachel's lips have parted a little, and her eyes are slowly slipping shut as she rocks back and forth, and even though she knows the answer to the question already, she's finally found a word she really wants to voice.

"Good?" Quinn asks, her voice so unexpectedly rough that she's not surprised that Rachel jerks at the sound of it a little.

She watches as her girlfriend bites down on her lip, before nodding and leaning forward, pressing her face into that space where neck and shoulder meet, as if she needs to hide what she's doing and feeling right now. The idea that any of this is wrong somehow, or that Rachel might think that it is, finally brings forward familiar word vomit, and she has no intention on clamping down on it.

"You look so good. So beautiful like this; you have this little blush on your cheeks and um, I love the sounds you make. I could listen to you like this forever, you know. And watch you. Anything you'd let me; anything at all."

Rachel's hands slip away from her breasts and tighten around her shoulders, and she starts pressing down a little bit more, her breath hitching. "This-is this going to … work? Because it feels good but..."

"I don't know," Quinn admits, before kissing Rachel's neck and biting down on her shoulder gently when her own belly clenches at the sound of Rachel moaning softly, right against her neck.

It's an issue, because even though she wants this to be all about Rachel-there is definitely a situation in her own pants right now, and it's making itself known more and more with every passing second of having Rachel this close to her, and this needy.

"Can you... move your knee? Forward, I mean?" she finally stammers, feeling like a jerk almost immediately, but-God, the pulsing between her thighs is driving her to distraction, with every whimper from Rachel's lips.

When the requested knee slots in place right between her thighs, she finally has something to press up against, and it feels so good that she knows she's gripping Rachel even tighter.

"I-" Rachel starts to say, before pulling back a little with a look of mild frustration on her face, her hips still grinding. "I think-"

"Are you going to-" Quinn asks, stupidly, before looking down at her lap for just a heartbeat and; oh, why did she decide to wear pants today? She could be feeling so much right now, but as it is, what she can mostly tell is that Rachel is so hot on her leg right now, and she's rocking back and forth so desperately, that...

"I-I don't know," Rachel admits, sounding tense, and Quinn feels the most insane need to help her come up, out of nowhere. "I-need-"

She pulls Rachel into a kiss, and Rachel's teeth scrape past her lip, her breathing harsh, and-God, yes. She's ready for this. She's going to ask, because she has to ask. She has to know, if they're both ready for this.

"Is there such a thing as over the panties, under the skirt?" she asks, in barely more than a whispered exhale against Rachel's lips. It's the easiest way she can think of explaining what she wants to ask, or offer, or... no, she'd be lying if she said it was purely for Rachel's sake. The idea of feeling her, like that, it's destroying her capacity to reason.

Rachel's eyes flutter back open, focusing on her slowly, until her hips still and she finally says, in a low and warm voice, "Not according to the bible, but-"

"But-" Quinn repeats.

"Please," Rachel finally sighs, her forehead dropping down onto Quinn's shoulder in submission.

Quinn almost, almost freezes into inaction at the idea of doing this, but then she wants it so badly, and her hand slides between Rachel's legs before she can think about anything too much.

Rachel is-God, burning up, and so wet; she's wet through her panties, and for a few seconds, all Quinn can do is marvel at the feeling of damp cotton underneath her fingertips.

Then Rachel presses down on her fingers, and she feels like her lungs are being crushed, that's how hard it is to keep breathing..

"Tell me if anything isn't good, okay-this is new for me and..." she rushes out, and feels Rachel nod against her neck.

She blindly feels around, stroking a little but mostly just touching, until Rachel gasps loudly and jerks her hips forward again. That's it. That's where Rachel needs her fingers to be, right now, and so she braces them and angles them a little until Rachel can rub against them just so.

"Oh, Quinn," Rachel exhales, tremulously, when after a few moments of just revelling in Rachel riding her hand, she starts moving her hand to meet Rachel half-way..

Unlike her drumming, the pattern of her fingers right now is sloppy and uncoordinated, and she's never felt more rhythmically challenged in her life. The rest of her is just blown away completely by how much Rachel must trust her, to let her do this; and by how much she wants to be doing this, even if she can't handle the idea of doing anything more than this, and then finally, how Rachel is starting to tremble against her.

"It's okay," she says, softly, at least three times, as Rachel's hands tighten on her shoulder blades, digging in deep. After the third time, Rachel presses her entire body forcefully against Quinn's; and then... there's a rush of something against her fingertips, even through the cotton, and she moans almost as loudly as Rachel does at the sure knowledge that this actually just happened.

Rachel stiffens against her two or three more times, and then Quinn stills her hand completely, waiting for her to settle. Finally, Rachel's hips lift weakly, and then she just pulls her into an almost-collapsing hug, falling onto her back again and taking Rachel down with her.

"Do you need me to-" Rachel says, when she's finally caught her breath, and even though there are some pretty vocal parts of Quinn that are going, yes, please, she shakes her head.

"Talk to me," she says, instead, bringing her hand up to wind it in Rachel's hair, stroking her scalp gently.

Rachel exhales shakily, before lifting her own hand to Quinn's chest and drawing a small pattern on her collarbone, fingertips only.

"I don't have words for that," she finally says.

"No regrets?" Quinn checks, because she has to; they always, always get ahead of themselves, and... tonight wasn't supposed to be about any of that. Before she can actually start to worry, though, Rachel appears in her line of vision out of nowhere, flushed and sated-looking and surrounded by stars, everywhere, in the sky.

When she smiles, all Quinn can do is tuck some of Rachel's hair behind her ear, before smiling back.

"None," Rachel says, before kissing her. It's a soft promise of a kiss at first, but Quinn is incredibly on edge and when Rachel deepens the kiss, she knows she won't stop Rachel again, if she's offering to make this a mutual experience.

When Rachel's hand starts sliding down and under the waist band of her pants-but over her panties, obviously-Quinn stares up at the night sky, until her eyes slip shut and all she can do is brace herself.

There's no manual for what they're doing anymore. This is just them, and it's pure magic, no matter what anyone else will think about it.

When she wakes up the next morning, her shirt sort of draped over the parts of her torso that Rachel isn't covering, it's because someone's phone is ringing.

Rachel jerks away as well, and feels around blindly for her backpack, before fishing out her phone with a panicked look on her face, only to sigh in relief a moment later.

"Mercedes, what on earth-what time is it?" she asks, clearing her throat and then glancing at Quinn a little shyly.

Quinn uses the phone call to put her shirt on again, wrinkled mess though it may be; and then she runs her hands through her hair and realizes that-oh, geez, that smell, that's...

She feels faint all over again, and stretches out on her back as Rachel says, "Uh huh-uh-no-of course not-okay-no, we're not-well, Jesse, of course, who else-because he needed to learn a lesson, 'Cedes, not because-"

Quinn tilts her head to the side, twisting until her spine pops, and then raises an eyebrow at Rachel, who finally says, "The point is that it's a secret, and you and Kurt are the two biggest gossips on the face of this earth, so-"

There's another moment of silence, and Rachel says, "Thank you. I appreciate you not telling her anything."

That snaps Quinn out of the pleasant haze in a concrete way, and she shifts until she's up on her elbows, waiting for Rachel to hang up.

Rachel does, exhaling slowly, and then says, "Apparently my mother called Mercedes' house this morning when I didn't answer my phone, and..."

"Wait, hold up-" Quinn says, and glances at the phone. "How would we have missed that?"

"Intermittent signal," Rachel says, pointing at the signal bar on her phone-and to be sure, it flickers in and out of four bars rapidly.

"Shit. Shit, what... what did she want?" Quinn asks, pulling her knees up to her chest and looking at Rachel with so much concern that it feels like her chest is going to burst.

"Mercedes didn't say, and I'll call her in a second, but..." Rachel sighs and tugs her hair up into a ponytail without prompting. "I had to tell her something, about where I am right now, so... I told herI was sneaking around with Jesse. I don't know what else I could've said, but-"

"No, that's … really quick on your feet, actually. She won't call hito ask, surely?"

Rachel sort of laughs. "No. I highly doubt it, anyway."

"Okay, so. Um. Well. I guess you go back to being Mrs. St. James at school, then, right?"

"I'll end it again over the summer," Rachel says, with a deep sigh, before sinking down onto her back on the blanket again and pressing her hand against her lips for a few moments. "This was-God, what a close call. I don't even know how to thank Mercedes for lying, because it goes against everything she believes in... not to mention that she seemed kind of offended that I wouldn't have told her that Jesse and I were still together, and..."

"So make up some shit and tell her about that," Quinn says, rolling onto her side. "She's not our first concern right now, … righ? I mean, Mercedes did you a favor, but you need to call Jesse and your mom."

Rachel nods shakily and then stares at the blanket desolately. "Just once, you know, I'd like one of these nights to end as well as it starts."

"Hey," Quinn says, reaching for her hand, and holding it with such force that it has to hurt a little. "Yeah, it would be nice, obviously, but... don't let this ruin everything, please. I had a great time, Rach, and-"

"I love you, Goofy," Rachel says, before getting to her feet and wandering around the car until she has some better signal; and then, all Quinn can do is watch, as she calls her ex-boyfriend and basically begs him to lie for them, and as she calls her mother and slumps against the car before giving a weak thumbs up to signify that everything is okay.

...

Every part of being with Rachel is like heart gymnastics, and that's why, on the drive back home-when Rachel's done explaining Rachel explaining that all Shelby wanted was to tell Rachel that she was interviewing with the Lima Times on Sunday after church, as part of the pre-nationals promotional package-she feels around the dashboard until she can find the demo CD of Untitled Band's second song.

"Be honest, about if it's good, or not," she tells Rachel, who rolls her eyes a little and says, "Am I ever not?"

After hitting play, she pulls back onto the interstate, their hands locked together like a sailor's knot, to the sound of her own voice, singing things like, And you are always on my mind; you need to get over here, we'll disappear.

She knows she's not the only one wishing they could do just that, more now than ever.

Chapter Text

Kurt pulls her aside on Monday morning and quietly asks, "Why does Mercedes think Jesse and Rachel are back together?"

"Shit, you didn't tell her they weren't, did you?" Quinn asks, before pulling Kurt into the girl's bathroom and locking it behind them. "Did you?"

"No! Obviously not, though I can't really help the initial gaping maw reaction that her latest 'gossip' inspired, because-"

Quinn leans back against the door heavily and then rubs at her face. "God, why is everything so complicated?"

"It wouldn't be if you could remember to keep everyone in the loop actually in the loop," Kurt says, a little pointedly. "What on earth brought this on?"

"Shelby called Mercedes this weekend, when Rachel and I were..." she starts saying, and then just blushes before clearing her throat. "Out on a date. All night."

"Ah. And Rachel covered with Jesse," Kurt says, before giving her another disapproving look. "You could've told me. Who did you think she would call?"

"Well, maybe nobody? Shit, Kurt, I don't know."

He sighs, and tugs on his sweater after an askance glance in the mirror, and then just says, "I didn't tell her she was crazy. I just... didn't really say anything."

"So she might not figure out something is wrong."

"She might not," Kurt agrees, before reaching up and pulling at a strand of her hair, until it's back in line with the rest of her 'do. "But I wouldn't give her any reasons to be suspicious, if I were you."

"What, so Rachel's going to have to-"

"Sell her secret affair with Jesse St. James somehow," Kurt says, before smiling in a way that's both vicious and supportive, somehow. "Good luck with that. How do you sell a secret?"

Quinn has no idea.

The bright point of the day is Brittany and Santana finally just being together; they walk into the cafeteria with their pinkies linked together, like two Barbies that are jail-breaking, and Santana stares down at least half of the members of Vocal Adrenaline before sitting down at their usual table.

"Good date?" Quinn asks, peeling an orange with a small look up.

"Oh, yeah. We had sex all weekend," Brittany says, before kissing Santana on the cheek and saying, "I'd like... five Twinkies, and maybe a Fruit Roll-Up?"

"They don't serve that, babe," Santana responds, but when Brittany pouts, she sighs and says, "I'll ask, and if not I'll check the vending machine."

Quinn grins at Santana without saying anything, who just stares back unimpressed, but there are some kinds of happiness you just can't clamp down on; and if that's what Brittany's complete oversharing gets her this lunch, well, she'll take it.

"What about you and um, …" Brittany says, before frowning. "I can never remember what her code name is."

"She doesn't have a codename, Britt, we just don't call her anything," Quinn says, hiding a smaller smile.

"Oh, right. But did you have fun?" Brittany asks, leaning over and swiping an orange part from Quinn's tray.

"It was pretty great," Quinn says, feeling her lips stretch into a fuller smile at just thoughts of Rachel, leaning into her at that concert, leaning into her at the movie theater, and leaning into her when... well, they'd done that, which...

It's not beyond the realm of reason that she's going to fail AP History just on account of the discussion on World War II she completely zoned out on today. She knows Hitler didn't conquer Rachel Berry's panties after he hit up Czechoslovakia, but for the life of her, it had been all she'd been able to think about during third period. And fourth period. Fifth period, she'd texted Rachel about potentially reenacting the campaign, but with the pitches for solos taking place today, she knows Rachel's just going to be practicing.

They have time, so it doesn't matter; for now, what she has is a stupid grin on her face while Brittany gives her a knowing look.

"You guys figured out scissoring, didn't you?"

She's still trying to come up with a retort when Santana comes back with a normal lunch with a bonus Fruit Roll-Up.

….

"So how'd it go?" she asks Rachel, later that night, when they've exhausted just about every other topic of conversation; Untitled Band's end of year gig, for one, and how long Rachel is going to be in New York for nationals, and whether or not peanuts are the most common allergy and what a turtle thinks when it's on its back.

God, she could talk to Rachel for the rest of her life and still have things to say, because absolutely nothing and everything turns into the most ingenious conversation she's ever had once they both really get going.

"Good," Rachel says. "And that's me being modest, by the way. Jesse was pitch-perfect on Lover, You Should've Come Over, and I was sure to look at him dotingly during in case anyone was paying attention to me."

"Just what I love to hear," Quinn drawls, before chuckling a little despite herself. "Did Jesse manage to return the sentiment, or did he just look like he really loves himself, as usual?"

Rachel laughs quietly. "We really, really sold it. I also think that Shiny Happy People is on track, but I'm not sure about the solo at all."

"Really?" Quinn asks, actually surprised. "But-you're normally so... unbearably smug about your own talent levels."

"Oh, I know I'm the best singer we have," Rachel says, easily, and Quinn immediately feels like a sucker for finding Rachel's ridiculous levels of self-confidence kind of … cute. "But I'm not sure if I took too big a risk, auditioning with a Katy Perry song about self-esteem when..."

"Wait, you sang Firework as your pitch?" Quinn asks.

"You know that song?"

"I own a radio, okay, who doesn't know that song?" Quinn asks, and then frowns at the ceiling. "That's-very different from what you guys normally do."

"Yes," Rachel says, and then sighs. "It was a gamble. I just wanted... a change. I wanted to sing something I believed in, and something that was about motivating change in people and-I honestly don't think that my mother saw it as quite the anthem that I did, but... Oh, well. C'est la vie, I guess."

"No, not c'est la vie. You'll be devastated if you don't get the solo," Quinn says, because it's the truth; the better she's gotten to know Rachel, the more clear it is that only a small portion of Rachel's drive in the performing arts is her mother's pushing. The piano is something special to her, but Vocal Adrenaline is basically her entire life, and...

No. She doesn't want to think down that route, because even after this last weekend, it terrifies her, the idea that one day Rachel might have to make a choice.

"I will. Of course I will. But there's always next year," Rachel says. "Anyway, Mercedes went all out on a Jennifer Hudson song, and frankly... it's a more traditional pick. Overwhelm the audience into victory."

"You think she deserves it?" Quinn asks, carefully.

Rachel is silent for a moment and then says, "If she gets it, it's because she took it from me. I would respect that a lot more than her usual complaining about how I get all the solos."

"Oh, so I didn't just imagine that vibe when I edited her interview?"

Rachel sighs softly and says, "No. You didn't, unfortunately."

"Sucks," Quinn says, stretching out slowly and then rolling onto her side. "It's crap, though. It'd be like me getting upset at Blaine singing our songs, when he's a better singer and works his ass off to make them work."

"I like it when you sing your own songs," Rachel says, in a softer and happier voice almost immediately. "Granted, you are sharp and your voice isn't the strongest, but the gentle alto qualities of it just really... hmm."

Quinn feels herself sort of blush and melt at the same time. "Yeah?"

"Sing me something, now," Rachel asks, and Quinn wracks her brain for a song for a few moments before finally realizing she has the perfect one in her head.

"Why are there so many songs about rainbows, and what's on the other side?" she sings, softly, and when Rachel laughs and starts singing along with her, she suddenly feels something settle in her, very solidly, and she falls silent when it hits her.

"What, baby?" Rachel asks, when she sings the last line of the first verse without an answer from Quinn.

"I... I think I'm ready. For the pictures," Quinn says, and she has to be, because her first thought about Rainbow Connection was that one day, she'd like to sing it to Beth, and...

"Right now?" Rachel asked, in this kind of ridiculous hushed whisper that has Quinn laughing softly.

"Yeah. I mean-I just … I want to see her. Out of nowhere, almost, but-it's there."

"Oh, my gosh, this is so exciting," Rachel says, sounding how Quinn feels. "Well-don't just sit here! Get the pictures."

"Yeah, okay. I'll-I'll be right back," Quinn says, dropping the phone, and then padding down the stairs.

Her mother's studio's light is still on, and she hesitates, but-maybe she wants this to be a private moment. It's still a private moment if Rachel is there, somehow, but that's the only person she can imagine wanting to be there when she first does this, and even then, it's better that she's on the phone.

This is her second moment alone with her daughter, and mostly, she just needs Rachel in the background so that she can be sure that it's real.

The photo album is tucked away in a bookcase in the dining room, where they basically never eat and where she doesn't have to see it, and it's already surprisingly heavy. There can't actually be that many pictures in it, because it's not even been a year since she gave birth, but the album literally feels like there is a life inside of it, and her fingers start to shake a little again-so she tucks it under her arm and heads back upstairs, reverently placing it on the duvet before sitting down and picking Rachel back up.

Rachel stays quiet, and after another moment of staring at the album, she flips open the first page, and-

"Oh," she exhales, immediately feeling her eyes start to water.

"Quinn? Is that-are you okay? Is it too soon? Oh, honey, do you need me to come over or-"

"No, no," Quinn says, and leans forward, until she almost has her nose pressed against the picture, before finally closing her eyes and wiping at them with the back of her hand. "I'm okay, it's just... I didn't expect to see... us."

"There's-there's a picture of the both of you there?" Rachel asks, timidly. "Oh, Quinn, that's wonderful."

"It is," Quinn says, even though her voice is thick and she can't stop crying. She herself looks mostly asleep, but Beth is crying at something happening behind the camera, and whichever one of her parents took this-right before they took Beth away, on that first night-managed to capture everything about the baby that she remembers: Beth's tiny fists, one clenched and one opening up; Beth's pouting mouth, before it slowly stretches open into a smile or a cry or a yawn; and the tuft of hair, off-centre on the back of her head, that made her think immediately of Finn and his cowlick.

She turns the page, and then says, "Oh" again, because this Beth is older, and in her yellow crib, dead asleep in a onesie; and then the Beth on the page after that is older still, swatting at something-maybe a mobile hanging above her play pen, by the looks of it, or one of her dads making face. She turns again, and Beth is suddenly looking at the camera, with big, round eyes that-

"She has my eyes," Quinn says, disbelievingly, when she flips between this picture and the next one, and Beth's eyes fade from almost brown to almost green in the movement. "Her hair is darker than mine was, when I was a baby, but she has my eyes."

Rachel sniffles after a moment, and Quinn flips to the final page, which is a picture of Beth laughing at a book-on an unidentifiable man's lap-and God, how did this take her so long?

"Baby?" Rachel asks, carefully, when she stays silent a lot longer.

"She's perfect," Quinn says, around the lump in her throat. "She's-yeah. She's perfect. Hang on, I'll show you."

Five minutes later, she gets to experience her own first reactions all over again, when the pictures she takes of Beth's album start filtering into Rachel's inbox, and Rachel just says, "Oh, Quinn" in a way that makes her feel, for a change, that she's done absolutely everything right, here.

They both fall silent, when Rachel has cooed over the last picture, and Quinn feels almost weightless, for the first time in a year.

"I think I might want one, someday," Rachel finally says.

"What, a baby?"

"No. Not just baby," Rachel says, with a soft sigh. "A little you. When I've won my EGOT, and when I hit that strange late-twenties age bracket during which there are no sensible roles for women to play, I will probably want to have one."

Quinn smiles involuntarily, and then frowns and laughs a little at the same time. "Hey, hang on. If you want a little me, wouldn't that mean that I'm getting pregnant again?"

"Yes, but I'd like to at least be around after you've had my baby for me," Rachel says, teasingly. "So it's probably best to schedule our child's conception during my career break anyway."

"Oh, okay then," Quinn says, sarcastically, and Rachel laughs.

She could push this conversation further, by admitting that she's dying to see pictures of Rachel as a baby, because the way she smiles now, as an almost adult, lights up the entire room, but it must have been twice as disarming when she was just a kid-but that would just bring up all the bad blood with Shelby, and maybe reminders of Rachel's dad, and since they're not procreating until Rachel's late twenties career break anyway, she figures she can bring it up later.

"Thanks for being here," she says instead, only a little awkwardly. "It meant a lot, um. Just having you around."

"Oh, please," Rachel says, clearly rolling her eyes at how unnecessary a thank you it is, and Quinn laughs softly before they both fall silent, and Quinn lets her eyes drift shut as she thinks of her daughter: happy, healthy, and beautiful.

It's literally everything she's ever wanted for her, and..

When Quinn wakes up again, it's literally the next day, and she only wakes up because Rachel's alarm clock is ridiculously loud and then there's the humming of the elliptical trainer right by her ear.

She groans, but it's hard to really be upset when in the background, Rachel is singing along to I'm Every Woman and it's just so ridiculous that it's endearing.

Kind of like Rachel herself, Quinn thinks, and lets the call run on even longer; she'll hang up when she has to, and not a minute sooner.

Wednesday is the day the Nationals solos get assigned.

Even if Quinn hadn't known because of Rachel's increasing snappiness on the phone, she'd have known because the entire school is talking about. Miss Pillsbury is no longer the only VA devotee on the grounds, because now that they're about to head off and bring the school back some glory, suddenly everyone is a huge fan.

It's pretty unnerving, to have her girlfriend participate in something that so many people are so invested in, and though Quinn is sure that a combination of pure talent and nepotism will get Rachel headlined on every level, Rachel herself just can't get past those doubts about her song choices. Even last night, on the phone, she'd expressed some lingering concern that maybe, her mother would make her pay for her unusual choice.

"It's hard to tell when my mother will decide to make a point," she'd said. "Or what the point will be, if she does."

"Your mother's not an idiot, Rach. You're a secret weapon if I've ever seen one; everything about you is so small and delicate, but then you open your mouth and it's like .. the Godzilla of singing."

"The Godzilla of singing?" Rachel had asked, disbelieving. "In what world is that a good thing?"

"Well, maybe not Japan... but what I mean is, Godzilla destroys, okay. That's what you do. You destroy people with your voice," Quinn had said, and … well, Rachel hadn't really understood how that was a great compliment, but Sam totally got it immediately, so Quinn knows she's not entirely off base.

After Monday's moment with the photo album, she knows that today is her turn to be a steady presence in the background, and so when-at lunch time-the song selections and solos get posted in the hallway, she makes sure that she's right next to her own looker, studiously flipping through her history textbook without glancing up.

She figures that Vocal Adrenaline will be obnoxiously loud about their smug self-congratulating anyway-which, okay, she might be friends and/or more with both captains at this point, but at least some of their assholishness is legitimate and not part of an act-and she'll know soon enough just from the loud cheering.

How she knows, is not exactly how she expects to, though: with Mercedes calling out, "Are you kidding me?", so loudly and disbelieving that most of the hallway falls silent.

She'd recognize the sound of Rachel clearing her throat anywhere, even if she wasn't looking over, but since everyone else is, she might as well. "Mercedes, there will be more competitions next year, and I'm sure that-"

"Sure that what? I'm happy spending another 12 months as your back-up singer?" Mercedes asks, and Quinn bites her lip before softly closing her locker.

Rachel looks at a complete loss, because nobody talks to her like this; people either don't care enough, or accept that she's their best bet-the Godzilla-but...

"To hell with this," Mercedes finally says, shoving a path through the crowd.

"'Cedes, where are you going?" Kurt calls out after her, and it's then that Mercedes locks eyes with Quinn, who feels her breath catch in her throat.

"Talk to Shelby about some things she should probably know about her daughter."

Quinn stares back mutely and then can't help the look she directs at Rachel, who looks equally shocked. She doesn't dare move until Rachel and Jesse start trailing after Shelby, and-maybe this is official Vocal Adrenaline business, but when Kurt hisses, "Don't just stand there" at her in passing, she finally finds it in her feet to move and follows them all to Shelby's office.

The door is closed, and Mercedes glares at it for a moment before turning to Rachel and saying, "One chance. Because I thought we were friends."

"One chance to what, Mercedes?" Rachel asks, her voice surprisingly steady, even though Quinn can tell by the way that her hands are trembling that she's only barely holding it together.

"One chance to be honest with me about what you're doing," Mercedes says, crossing her arms over her chest and then directing a look at Rachel that's almost wounded. "Do you think I'm this dumb?"

"Mercedes, I have no idea what-"

"I saw him making out with Tiffany Broyer on Friday, Rachel," Mercedes says, before staring at Jesse. "Not that I actually bought that you'd get back together with his ungrateful ass to begin with, but I thought, I don't know-maybe you're playing a game or something. Getting even. Wouldn't be the first time you did something like that, so..."

"I-" Rachel says, but nothing follows from that word.

"But then I started thinking. You know, maybe you're not just using Jesse to get back at him. Maybe, you're using Jesse to cover up something else. And when I called my boy Kurt to see if he knew anything, he almost had an aneurysm."

It's hard, to hear the worst part of Rachel being called out like this, and Quinn lingers back and shakes her head at Kurt, who is now starting to look a little panicked.

"It's not your fault," she says, softly. 

"So I'm wondering what's going on here that has two of my best friends lying to me like this, and like some sort of gift from God, I run into Brittany on Sunday, at the supermarket of all places, and tell her that I miss her, we all do, and she says that she's happier like this. That she's not like you, because she wants the girl more than the choir."

Rachel's mouth closes and she blanches silently, and Quinn closes her eyes, praying that Mercedes comes to the wrong conclusion. Anything would be better than the truth.

Mercedes looks torn up, but no less angry, when she says, "And I try to laugh it off. Because it's just Brittany, and sometimes she says things without knowing what they mean, so I have to think she doesn't mean it. Right? Sometimes, things just aren't what they sound like; because I know you, and I know that you're not a homosexual."

A pinched noise squeezes from Kurt's throat, and Quinn feels a stab of sympathy for him, because Mercedes is one of his oldest, closest friends, and no matter what else happens today, she won't be after this.

"You lied to me. And worse than that, Rachel, you used me. You used me to cover up your relationship with a girl, when you know how I feel about things like that, and now you're walking off with a solo as well," Mercedes says, her voice swollen-sounding and rough.

Rachel exhales shakily. "Okay, so maybe I haven't been the best friend to you, but-"

"No. You really haven't, and you haven't been a particularly good friend to yourself, either. What are you doing, Rachel? With her. What-"

"You wouldn't understand," Rachel says softly, and at those words, something on Mercedes' face hardens, and she knocks on the door before anyone can do anything to stop her.

Quinn holds her breath when the door opens, and Shelby looks between her team captains and her best alternate singer, before spotting the crowd behind them-and it's sizable, now, because nobody in the school is going to miss this. She's pretty sure that if she turns around, she'll find Brittany and Santana, and maybe even Puck and Sam, but she can't look at anyone right now.

Not when her life is hanging on by a thread the way it is, and Mercedes looks like she's ready to bust out a pair of scissors.

"If any of you have any complaints about the solos-" Shelby finally says, before looking at Mercedes.

Mercedes glances at Rachel one last time, and then shakes her head, before straightening. "Yeah, Shelby. I have a complaint about your assignments."

Shelby sighs tiredly. "Mercedes, I know that you think that you're entitled to the solo, but Rachel earned-"

"Rachel is screwing around with Quinn Fabray behind your back," Mercedes says, flatly, and the entire hallway-including the crowd of on-lookers behind them, because nothing at Carmel beats Vocal Adrenaline drama-falls silent instantly.

A muscle on Shelby's face twitches, and then she turns to look at Rachel, who is shaking her head.

"She has no proof," she says, but it's without any real conviction. "All she has is ideas and-"

"Stop," Shelby says, and when Quinn glances up again, Shelby is staring right at her. Right through her, almost, and she feels more naked than she ever has; like she wants to curl up on herself and just hide, but she can't. Not until this is over.

Shelby glances at the other kids again and says, "Mercedes, Rachel, Quinn-my office. Now. The rest of you, go find something else to do."

Nobody moves, but after a look from Kurt, Quinn muscles her way through the crowd and into the office. Everyone else is already sitting by the time she makes it there, and she clicks the door shut behind her silently.

"There are rules, Shelby," Mercedes says, crossing her arms before anyone else can say anything. "You got rid of Brittany over this; you have to get rid of-"

"One thing at a time," Shelby says, more calmly than Quinn expects her to, and after a pointed look, she shuffles forward and sits down in the chair next to Rachel, feeling like a small child.

"Rachel-explain yourself. Now," Shelby demands.

Rachel opens her mouth, takes a deep breath, and says, "Of course. Because believe it or not, I can explain."

Shelby nods at her to continue, even as Mercedes looks on skeptically and Quinn can't really look anywhere without feeling like she's going to be sick.

"Finn introduced me to Amy Vanderburgh a few months ago," Rachel says, and Quinn's eyes freeze where they're tracking the floor, because-what? "After meeting her, and realizing how much Finn still hurt over what Quinn had done to him, I realized I had a rather unique opportunity on my hands."

Shelby leans back in her chair and frowns. "A unique opportunity at what?"

"Payback. On his behalf," Rachel says, without so much as a tremor in her voice, and Quinn glances over with a look of shock that isn't even a little fake. Rachel sounds so steady that—where is she taking this?

What the hell is going on?

Mercedes sort of snorts and says, "What, by making out with his ex-girlfriend? Yeah, I'm sure he's real grateful."

Rachel's jaw twitches, but then she adds, "Kissing her is an unfortunate part of making her fall in love with me, which is an unfortunate prerequisite to breaking her heart the way she broke his."

Quinn averts her eyes, until they're drilling into a picture of Vocal Adrenaline at least year's Nationals, Jesse and Rachel boosting up the trophy, looking like the poster children of performance.

This has to be an act. Rachel is going to somehow spin an ending on this that will get them all out of the office safely, and then-

"You see, Quinn," Rachel says, before calmly turning towards her. "Amy and I might be physically dissimilar, but we have other things in common. Drive, intelligence, talent... It wasn't hard to see why someone of your... persuasion might find her attractive, and conversely, I knew you'd grow to find me attractive as well. All I had to do was offer you some forgiveness, and..."

"Stop," Quinn breathes out, before she can stop herself, because she can't listen to this; it sounds so believable that... no. It just can't be, but then when she looks at Rachel, and Rachel stares back unwaveringly, not a shred of affection in her eyes, she feels something inside of her chest cave in anyway. "Why are you doing this?"

"Because it's the truth. And I'm not about to lose my solo to Mercedes over something that has been completely misrepresented, and should in no way cost me my position as co-captain of Vocal Adrenaline," Rachel says, forcefully, before looking at her mother, who still isn't saying anything, and then Mercedes, who looks away quickly.

Shelby finally just says, "This ends now. Regardless."

"Yes, well, obviously my plans won't succeed now that they're out in the open like this," Rachel says, rolling her eyes a little; this brings out a small, apologetic-sounding chuckle from Mercedes, and Quinn feels like she's going to throw up all over again.

"I think that your plans have succeeded, if the look on her face is anything to go by, girl," Mercedes finally says, and Rachel's flicker of a smile is like a final stab wound in the chest.

"Rachel, come on, I know that you're freaking out right now but-" Quinn says, and Rachel actually laughs at her.

"You think I'm freaking out? Look in the mirror, baby. God, this is unbelievable. You had so many chances to figure out that something was wrong. I mean, what did you think I meant when I said that my career would always come first? As if I'd throw away my chances at Nationals, and scholarships, and all of my future plans over... what, some formerly pregnant ex-cheerleader with mediocre skill at drumming?"

"Rachel, that's enough," Shelby says, strongly, and that is when tears shoot into Quinn's eyes, because of all the people to come to her defence... no.

This isn't happening.

"I'm sorry about the solo, Mercedes, but if you want to take it from me, you'll have to do so on merit; not by attempting to sabotage me," Rachel says, even more calmly.

Mercedes sighs and says, "Yeah, I know. I'm sorry; I wish you'd kept me informed, because I really thought you were losing your edge."

Rachel's smug little, "Well, there is no point in acting if you're not going to be convincing" is what finally has Quinn get up out of her chair.

Nobody tries to stop her, when she leaves, but then there's a claustrophobia-inducing number of people right outside of the room, and it's not until Puck says, "Can you all just fuck off, Jesus, she looks like she's going to faint" that they part for her.

Puck's arm slides around her shoulder, and she blindly lets him walk her somewhere until the outside air whips into her face, when she sinks down on the steps and stares into nothingness.

"What did she do?" Santana asks, urgently, seconds later, appearing in front of her and grabbing both of her hands. "Did she threaten you? Did she tell you to stop seeing-"

"No," Quinn says, and exhales shakily. "She didn't do anything. She-Rachel-"

She can't even say it, because there is no way that all of this was a lie; but ten minutes later, she's still not received a text message that explains what the hell that was, and twenty minutes later, she finally stops staring at her phone and looks over at Puck and Sam instead.

"Taco Bell?" Sam says, and she shrugs before getting up.

"Dude, I don't think Taco Bell is going to cut it," Puck notes, before shaking his head and saying, "There's a paint ball range about half an hour driving; I know the guy who runs it, and he'll probably be able to get us in."

"I'm down," Santana says, before pulling Quinn up, hugging her silently but tightly, just for a second.

...

Thirty minutes later, there's still no text, and Quinn drops her phone in her lap and stares out the window.

How could she have been so stupid?

How could she have been so completely fooled?

The Ohioan landscape has no answers for her, and Puck won't stop scanning through the radio stations, but none of it really registers, until her phone does finally vibrate.

Found Rachel's father. See you two after school?

The dam bursts, just like that, and she cries the entire rest of the ride, with Puck's hand awkwardly patting her on the thigh and Santana's soft, "Quinn-God, I'm so sorry" the only things keeping her from falling apart completely.

Chapter Text

The next morning, when she's littered with bruises from an intense game of paintball, something in her mind acutely shifts. After almost a full day of crying, and feeling like her world is completely shattering around her, suddenly, her own sense of rationality arrives and she gets hung up on just one word, but it's an important one.

No.

The girl who risked everything for her, for months; the girl who she got to hurtle into second base without a second of hesitation even though she didn't believe in sex before marriage; the girl who cried at seeing her daughter? That girl was not the one who broke up with her.

That was the Rachel Santana had warned her about, at the start of the year, and the one that Quinn had slowly unwrapped, one conscious act at a time, until there was someone else left underneath all of the bravado and theater and-

There have always been two Rachels, and the only one who should get to break her heart is the one who had it in the first place.

Because the fact is, she knows what it's like to have to play two roles like that. Quinn herself isn't exactly a stranger at deceiving people close to her, but there were such obvious limits to what she would share with Finn, and what parts of herself she'd give up to him, that she can't imagine...

She forces the actual words out of her mind because even if she can't really believe them, they hurt so much. It's time to stop thinking about them, and time to start digging at what is behind them, and with that resolve in mind, she swings her legs out of her bed and grabs her phone.

Nice try, Rachel, but I'm not buying, is what she finally ends up sending to Rachel.

When a response doesn't come, it only strengthens her determination more, and by the time she strides into the Carmel hallways, people stare at her like they're seeing her for the first time. It's not that anything about how she looks is different-her hair is purposely a disaster, her jeans are loose and slightly dirty from yesterday's paintball escapades, and the sleeveless hoodie she's wearing, she's worn before as well-but something else about her has changed.

It's funny how even people who have never seen her like this before recognize her authority almost immediately, and when she yanks on the collar of Kurt's polo shirt and says, "Bathroom, now"-he yelps and skitters away in front of her.

Maybe she never wanted to be this person again.

It doesn't mean she can't be, if she needs to.

Kurt looks a fascinating combination of cowering and offended. "There was no need for the manhandling. As I've also told Rachel, I'm on your side. Obviously."

"How much do you know?"

"Nothing; just that she kept her solos, which I'm assuming meant she threw you under the bus."

Quinn laughs dryly and says, "Yeah, you're missing some key details; like how all of this was apparently just part of a scheme to make me hurt the way my ex-boyfriend did when I dumped him."

Kurt stares at her for a moment and then stares at the floor. "She wouldn't have..."

"See, that's what I keep telling myself, but if all of this is part of some plan, why wouldn't she have-"

She forces herself to shut up because that tremor in her voice? No. That's not acceptable today.

Kurt pales in front of her and says, "If … if that is what she was doing, though, what's going to happen to me?"

The vast majority of her doesn't care about Kurt right now, but then there's the part of her that knows that he'd have been toeing the VA line if not for her pushing him to be honest, and... she threw him to the sharks. She knows it, and he knows it, and she sighs.

"If she raises any issues she has with you with her mother, it's Blaine or the choir," Quinn says, tense and-there it is again. That swelling in her chest that means she's going to blow. God, with all the therapy she had after Beth, nobody really managed to pin-point where this rage comes from. The last therapist she saw called it her 'control issues'.

She never has understood how she can have those, when controlling a situation has never been a problem for her, no matter how she has to do it.

The look that passes over Kurt's face throws some fresh salt on the wound. "Let me guess; much like Rachel, the choir wins."

"It isn't as simple as it sounds, Quinn," Kurt says, a little shrilly. "Of course I want to stay with Blaine, but I have to think about my future-and if I talk to him, and explain that, I like to think he'd wait for me."

Kurt's right; not just about how the ways in which VA matters to him, and to Rachel, but also about the way Blaine will react. He's right, and it just pushes her further in the direction that something is missing from what Rachel did yesterday. Those words... they weren't the whole picture. She doesn't know what's missing, but it's enough to make her stop hurting and start being angry.

"Better get on that, then," she tells Kurt, before heading out of the bathroom again. She has some other people she wants to talk to today.

"I don't know," Jesse says, his legs swinging from a table in the quad, now starting to look exasperated with her. "I didn't know ten minutes ago, and I still don't know now."

"She didn't run this by you?"

"No. I don't understand how I have to explain this to you, but ours was the fake relationship to cover for your real one. Whatever she's doing now, I'm not involved in and, frankly, I don't care about overly much given that my own stake in this is that at Nationals, we sing that duet that-"

She watches his head whip around, and then he clutches his cheek in bafflement.

"You deserved that," she says, even though her entire body is starting to shake.

"Yeah, I suppose you can't hit her, can you," Jesse finally murmurs, and then winces when he feels his jar. "If this permanently scars, you'll hear from my people."

She stares at him for a moment, and his expression falls and he says, "Quinn-I don't know what you expect me to do. She's my performance partner, and my friend, and I see her every day without having a clue about what's going on inside of her head. Now? Is not the time that I'm going to start probing, because she'll know why I'm asking questions and it will ruin a long-time successful partnership. Can you understand that?"

She sighs and says, "Yeah. I just thought..."

"We all thought," Jesse says, a little shortly, and then clicks his jaw. "One way or another, we've all underestimated how good an actress she really is."

She's not even sure if that's a compliment or an insult to Rachel, but she's wasting her time, and her opportunity to eat, and even though she's not hungry-well, that's hardly the point today.

Rachel is going to see her not give a shit about what happened in Shelby's office, because maybe that will prompt a reaction.

She's willing to try anything to get a reaction out of her, at this point.

Unfortunately, her friends beat her to getting a reaction, and by the time the bell for fifth period starts, they're being called into Miss Pillsbury's office: Quinn, Puck, Sam, Santana, and Rachel, Jesse, Kurt and Mercedes.

There's not nearly enough room in the office, and so they end up squaring off on opposite sides of it, like some demented scene from West Side Story.

"Guys," Miss Pillsbury says, looking nervous. "There is a serious accusation being made here, and I really am hoping that we can resolve this without any further conflict, okay?"

"What's the accusation?" Quinn asks, when nobody else says anything.

"Someone slit the tires on our cars," Mercedes says, with so much disgust in her voice that Quinn automatically looks over to the next person in line; and of course it's Rachel, staring right at her, like they're back in the first week of school.

That had been a ridiculous pissing contest. This is a little more than that, because Quinn's heart starts to burn with every second that Rachel doesn't look away, and God. No. She can't react to her like that; not until she's sure that Rachel isn't... didn't...

She bites on her lip and then clenches her jaws together.

"And how exactly does that relate to us?" Santana asks, before slowly blowing a bubble and then chomping down on her bubble gum again.

"You're the only gang of knife-carrying hooligans at this school," Jesse says, with a small frown.

Sam starts laughing. "Wait, what? You think we carry knives?"

"Yeah, dude, seriously; Cornfed over here wouldn't know a switchblade from a lightsaber. You're just talking about me and 'Tana, and I say, prove it," Puck says, with a smug little smile.

Miss Pillsbury clears her throat. "Noah, was that a confession?"

"Nope," he says, wrapping an arm around Santana's shoulder and looking at her. "We were hooking up in the bathroom whenever this happened."

"We haven't established when this happened," Kurt says, pointedly.

"Doesn't matter. Hooking up in the bathroom all morning, right baby?"

Santana grins around the gum and then shrugs at Miss Pillsbury. "Sorry."

"Quinn, Sam? What about you?"

Sam scratches at his head. "I was um, working on something with Holly Holliday over lunch. And in classes before then."

"Quinn?" Miss Pillsbury says.

Quinn looks at her for a moment, and then looks at Rachel again, and finally says, "If I had any desire to hurt anyone on Vocal Adrenaline, there would be better ways than attacking something their sponsors pay for."

Miss Pillsbury frowns at her answer, but it's not a confession either, and so she sighs and looks to the other side of the room. "Guys, I'm really sorry, but unless you can prove that they did it..."

"It's obvious that they did!" Mercedes calls out, before looking to Rachel for guidance.

Rachel glances at the door for a second and then says, "It's fine. We'll settle this on our own terms."

The lack of emotion in her voice has Quinn almost stepping forward, but Sam reaches for her wrist just in time and stops her.

Miss Pillsbury just looks confused. "Okay."

"Can we go?" Puck finally asks, and when Miss Pillsbury nods, he and Santana are first out the door.

Quinn lingers, wondering if Rachel will break away from her people, but she doesn't-and then, there isn't anything to do but follow Sam out the door as well and keep digging.

There are answers here, somewhere. She just has to find the right way to get at them.

They're heading off to band practice after school, and Santana is talking about an Incubus concert she saw a few years ago, walking backwards out of the building and explaining something about the guitarist's death leap off an amp, before going, "What?" when everyone stops walking.

It's never really hit Quinn, just how big a show choir is, but there are a lot of people standing outside, in a line.

A lot of people, with a lot of Big Gulps.

Rachel is standing next to them, almost like a referee, and for a second, Quinn wants to call out to her that she should really just have a white hankie, because this has all the atmosphere of some sort of drag racing-style show-down; but when Rachel just gives her a sarcastic half-smile and says, "Ladies and gentlemen; our vandals", she knows that theatrics aside, this is actually going to happen.

Santana is already a green and purple blur when she goes for Rachel, and Puck and Sam reach for her but they can't, because she's too goddamned slippery and so are they. Blue gunk drips down Quinn's face and all she can do is watch as Santana tackles Rachel to the floor and starts pulling on her hair hard.

"I trusted you, you fucking bitch! I let you near people I love all over again and I might not have killed you for what you did to me but I fucking warned you what would happen if you ever did anything to Q and-"

It's not until Quinn takes an automatic step forward, and the rest of Vocal Adrenaline watches silently even as Puck and Sam start pulling on Santana's shoulders, that she can see how purple Rachel is going in the face.

"Don't," she says, calmly, and watches as Santana's grip around her neck loosens. The weirdest thought hits her, even as color returns to Rachel's cheek: Santana would've made a great second on the Cheerios, and she almost laughs, until she looks at Rachel again.

"This is done, now. We're even. Do you understand?"

Rachel's eyes flash at her, hard. "I don't take ultimatums from immoral, violent scum."

"Then maybe you'll take one from someone who knows where your dad went," Quinn says, flicking her hair out of her eyes again and watching as a small spray of Slush lands right on Rachel's cheek.

Rachel almost doesn't react to that, even as Santana gets back to her knees and knocks the boys' hands off her; they stand back a little, brushing the worst of the ice bath off them, but mostly they're watching what happens next.

It's not more than a second, but something breaks through whatever Rachel is doing and there is so much pain on her face that Quinn feels her breath leave her lungs in a soft whoosh.

"I don't know why you think I'd want to talk to that man, after what he did to me and my mother, and the lifestyle he chose instead of us," Rachel finally says, sitting up a little and slowly, carefully, brushing the blue Slush off her face; like she's tossing Quinn to the side all over again.

It's very convincing, the way she recovers; it's really something, but it's not good enough, and some part of Quinn wants to drop to her knees and plead with Rachel for an explanation just because of that glimpse she got of real feelings.

But she's not going to get one, and so she squares her shoulders and gives Rachel her most dismissive look.

"Great. Because I don't know why he'd want to talk to his daughter, given what a little bitch she turned into," she says, finally, before running a hand through her hair and turning to the rest of Vocal Adrenaline. "Nobody touches us. The next person who tries, I will personally beat into a hospital; and if you think I'm kidding, try talking to a guy at McKinley named Dave Karofsky. He'll vouch for the fact that I can do it. Do you understand me?"

A few people shift awkwardly, and Kurt lowers his still-full Slushie to the ground with an apologetic look. Jesse is nowhere to be found, and-somehow those two little acts of rebellion against Rachel's current bullshit are the thing that makes her feel completely fine, even though her heart is still broken.

"Guys," she says, without turning to her band, and with a jerk of her head, they're breaking through the ranks of Vocal Adrenaline and heading towards Puck's truck.

Only when they get there, and are inside, does Quinn let her shoulders relax, with a deep, deep sigh.

"Wish you'd let me go at her more. She fucking deserves it, Q, and I could've-" Santana says, and Sam says, "No, that would've been really bad and..."

"She's off limits," Quinn says, when he clamps down on his words. Puck looks at her in the mirror for a second before nodding.

"Okay. Your call. We got your back either way."

Santana kicks at the dash and stares out the window, clearly disappointed with Quinn for pussying out on this, but Sam just looks relieved and Puck looks like he's fine just having had an opportunity to slash some tires.

"Drop me at home, will you? I can't drum like this," she finally asks, more quietly, and Puck pulls out of the parking lot with all of them sulking quietly.

All Quinn can think about is that one brush of genuine emotion that passed over Rachel's face.

It's the kind of thing that seems like it's worth waiting for, even though she has no idea how long she'll have to wait to see it again.

But—she waited for Rachel when there was nothing between them at all yet, so how can she possibly just give up after a few days now?

The next day, she slips Rachel's dad's contact details into the girl's locker, on a crumpled piece of notepad paper, and watches covertly from her own locker as Rachel opens her locker and finds it.

When Rachel smoothes the paper out, with a visible deep breath, Quinn knows that she's not just being a fucking moron and letting Rachel get away with something awful just because she loves her.

The note gets folded more carefully and tucked into the little pocket in the front of Rachel's shirt, right over her heart, and when Quinn strides past her on the way to Chemistry, barely even glancing at her, that is what she focuses on.

Puck pops into the band room during fifth period and sits down opposite her; she pulls her headphones off and says, "I think we should do a bunch of From Under the Cork Tree at the end of year bash. I mean, that's what's on my mind right now-"

"What, like, Of All the Gin Joints and Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner?" he asks, smiling a little. "Sounds good."

"I was thinking maybe XO."

"Yeah, you do have a thing for girls with bibles, huh," he says, as gently as he can.

Because it's just the two of them, Quinn doesn't mind letting go of the sigh that's building in her chest. "Do you think I'm an idiot?"

"Nope," Puck says. "I think you see shit that the rest of us don't, maybe. But either way, what am I, your mom? It's your call. Bitch hurts you again and I'll set her Cabbage Patch Doll collection on fire..."

"Shut up, she doesn't have one of those," Quinn says, smiling genuinely for the first time in days.

Puck grins at her and says, "What I will do, though, is offer you the Noah Puckerman Post-Break-Up Party. Just the two of us."

"Does this party involve me getting on your dick? Because-" Quinn says.

He actually flushes a little and then says, "Well, it can, I mean, shit, Quinn, I wouldn't say no, but I was mostly just thinking we'd go out and smoke some blow and then maybe get really drunk as well, before talking shit about the girls who dumped us."

It sounds like one of the dumbest things that anyone has proposed that she do with her feelings-her dad's contribution was a pint of Rocky Road and a shoulder with a post-it note saying "Here for you, Q!", which, God, she hates and loves him sometimes-and after a moment she pockets her sticks and says, "Okay. Sounds good."

"Okay. Wanna skip the rest of the day and get started early?"

"Why not," she sighs, and follows him out of the school building. It's not like she can concentrate in English anyway, what with Rachel sitting three rows in front of her and compulsively answering every question (correctly, which is the most irritating part).

Maybe the Puckerman Party will be just the thing to bolster her nerves.

"Can't believe it's almost time for Nationals," he says, taking a swig of tequila straight from a bottle that he got God knows where, before handing it back to her.

She hates the taste, and she can't associate being drunk with anything good either, but when Puck had uncapped the bottle he'd looked at her seriously and said, "You know, even though I would fuck you, I really don't want you to have to worry about any of this shit now, okay? I'm your girlfriend today, not the guy with the biggest cock you'll ever see."

It's so hard not to laugh at him sometimes, but true to his word, he's stayed on his side of the car and is now slowly rolling a joint for them.

"School's going to be damn near empty," Quinn says, tipping the bottle back again. The tequila burns down her throat, but she's starting to get used to it.

"S'nice," Puck says, licking at the paper a few times and then squeezing the joint closed. "Not having to deal with those assholes for almost a whole week. S'real nice."

She nods, and stares out the window as he lights the joint, toking on it deeply before passing it on. She's smoked enough, cigarettes at least, to not be bothered by the smoke when it hits her throat, and then exhales in a slow ring.

"So. You crushed?" Puck finally asks, pushing his chair back further until he can put his feet on the wheel.

She follows suit, and then hands back the joint. "Yeah. I'm pretty crushed."

"Even though you think she's not like, as fucking evil as she's being."

The corner of Quinn's mouth trembles for a second. "I think that. I don't know that. And every night, when I fall asleep, I can't help but... she called me stupid. She called me naive, and foolish, and a whore, and a mediocre drummer."

"She called you a mediocre drummer?" Puck repeats, letting the smoke slowly drift from his mouth. "Are you fucking kidding me?"

"Yeah, that was the worst part," Quinn says, sarcastically, until suddenly they're both laughing.

"No, but come on. I'm with you now. That's such bullshit that-like, why would she even throw that in there if it wasn't like, some sort of pigeon English clue for you, y'know?"

Quinn lets herself actually think of the conversation for the first time in days and then says, "Thing is, I don't know what was a clue for me and a lie for her mother, and … God. The worst thing is, even if I get her back, which I don't think I will, she's just... it's always going to be like this."

Puck hands the joint back over, and she plays with it between her fingers for a few seconds before inhaling again.

"Y'know, I love Santana. I mean, like a sister-which sounds gross given that we fucked all the time, but... she's my girl, right, and that's why shit between us has always been cool," Puck finally says. When Quinn glances over, his eyes are a little red, but he looks more on point than he normally does anyway. "She and I are more than high school. Bitch is going to be in my life in one way or another for the long haul. Like, most of these fuckers we go to school with? We won't even remember five years from now."

Quinn feels her head fogging up, but there's some truth to what Puck is saying, even if she doesn't get where he's going with it. "It's going to be kind of hard to forget about the girl who-"

"No, it's not. Because five years from now, you and I are going to be on the road together, with some other assholes who think college is for chumps, and... we're going to be making music, and girls are going to fucking want to crawl on our dicks just because of who we are, and it will seriously be like, Rachel who now?"

She scoffs a little, but there's something about what he's saying that's making her chest ease anyway. "You think Untitled Band is that good?"

"I think you and Evans are that good," he says, with a small shrug. "And you need someone built like a brick wall to carry your gear places, so I'm not getting the sack anytime soon."

She chuckles when he flexes his arm for her with an expectant look, and then shakes her head.

"Don't put yourself down. You're an amazing bassist, Noah," she tells him, and he finishes the joint, pinching it out between his fingers before tossing it out the window.

"Mediocre drummer, my fucking nut sack," he mumbles, shaking his head.

She laughs again, and then leans over until she can put her head on his shoulder. "I'd like that."

"What, my nut sack?"

They both giggle a little and she swats at him. "Shut up. I don't care about your nut sack."

"I know, babe," he says, and awkwardly pats her hair.

"I meant—I'd like touring. With the band. You know, the five of us on the road or whatever. That sounds-" It sounds like a dream, but she doesn't want to call it that, because she's not really so much into dreaming these days. It sounds like a plan, is what she's really thinking, but they'll need some luck along the way to set it into motion.

More than anything, it sounds like something she might want that has nothing to do with Rachel, and Holly was right. She needs something like that, especially right now.

"Yeah, sounds bad-ass," Puck says, sounding drowsy.

"This was a really good party, dude," she tells him, before closing her eyes.

He snickers, but it's distant, like she's in a cave and he's elsewhere, under water, and...

She's expecting a lecture, or to get grounded, when she gets home clearly a little off her ass, but her dad's just cooking dinner and her mom's still in the studio, and so she makes it upstairs without any sort of impediment.

Puck slipped some eye drops into her pocket when he dropped her off, and so she heads to the bathroom and tips her head back, knocking them in, before looking at herself in the mirror.

She doesn't hate what she sees, which is something, right?

When she heads into her room, there's an envelope on the bed that has her hesitating for a moment.

That hurts more than she expects it to; the idea of seeing Beth without Rachel around to watch her grow as well, is the first thing she's felt in days that has actually poked through now numb she is, and it makes her chest ache something horrible.

Still, she sits down on the edge of the bed, and slips the envelope open and pulls the pictures out.

Beth is starting to crawl, and laugh more, and … she's turning into a little person. Her dads have done something to fix her hair, now, and she looks like a little devil, the way she's scooting around some building blocks and then-there's a second picture of her gleefully knocking them all over.

That kind of spirit not something that she gets from Quinn, who was a very serious child, according to her mother, and it's not something she gets from Finn, either, who is just too nice and dim to actually have been that enterprising at any age.

She has the most ridiculous thought that this is possibly what Rachel was like as a baby, and then dismisses that immediately-literally forcing it out of her mind-because Rachel doesn't have the right to be a part of this.

Not with the way things are, right now.

Instead, she looks at the pictures and calls Finn, just to let him know that there are two for him as well; he sounds unexpectedly happy when he says, "Oh, cool, okay-I'll pick them up tomorrow."

Seeing him will be good, because nothing in his life is really tied to her anymore, and she could do with a conversation that isn't about how Rachel is a fiery douchenozzle (whatever that means, but the angrier Santana gets, the more creative, apparently) or how she's doing (Sam, God bless him), and she can definitely do without the somewhat scared, pitying stares she keeps getting from everyone who works on the paper with her.

Finn, for once, will be exactly what she needs-and if that's not a thought that makes her laugh...

Vocal Adrenaline leave for Nationals in two days time, and nothing has changed.

It's starting to feel less and less like she's involved in a plan she just doesn't know about, and more and more like Rachel actually just ended things between them in the worst way she could have. It's becoming a real break-up that Rachel treats like a fake break-up, which makes it both hurt more and less.

She's found a pretty specific way of coping, though, and even though it doesn't make her feel great to get back at Rachel, it's better than doing nothing.

"Move," Mercedes snaps at her, when she's queuing for lunch, later that day, and doesn't immediately follow after the person in front of her.

She's about to tell Mercedes to go fuck herself, in basically exactly those words, but when she turns, Rachel is right there behind her-and instead she smirks. "Funny; last time I heard those words, my hand was between Berry's legs, and she was literally begging me to do just that."

Mercedes gets a horrified look on her face; Rachel stares back at her defiantly, but not with a flush, and then snaps, "If you'd known what you were doing, maybe I wouldn't have had to beg."

"Is that the Chastity Club motto?" Quinn asks, sweetly. "Because the ease with which you spread your legs for me, Rachel, I'm not really sure what kind of example you're setting for the better Christians at our school."

Mercedes gapes at both of them for a moment, until Rachel averts her eyes, and-yeah. It never really feels good, but it feels better than the alternative, of letting Rachel just fucking get away with this stupid game of pretending and denying.

It's been almost two weeks, and she's not gotten even a fraction closer to getting any kind of closure; and some days, she actually has to remind herself that there is a reason she's sticking this out:

Somewhere, underneath all this crap, is a girl who said, I love you, too; always remember that, please, and if those words weren't honest...

Even after two weeks of nothing but hurt, not believing in that moment just isn't an option for her, and with one more sweet smile at Mercedes, who still looks on the verge of an aneurysm when Quinn exits the line, she heads to her table, head held high.

Two days later, the hallways are deserted, and it's a relief to not have to pretend to be as together as she is, even if it's just for a little while.

Sam gives her a pat on the back and says, "Meet me in the band room, during fifth? I have another song idea-and I think you probably have like, a lot of words that you want to work through right now, so..."

He's not wrong; she has a notebook full of break-up songs that rival The Ataris' End is Forever and New Found Glory's self-titled song, but she knows what one she wants to sing next, and somehow, she figures it'll work with Sam's lyrics.

It's something about how Rachel will never find anyone else who will be like Quinn to her, and she's almost figured out the way the chorus should go because—yeah.

There's being hopeful that there's a reason Rachel did what she did, and then there's how she actually feels in the day to day of it, and her dad was right: music is what's helping her cope, with everything that's spinning in her head.

It's letting her hang on, and she nods at Sam, who sticks up a hand in goodbye and heads off down the hallway.

She gets her locker combination wrong at least three times, and then finally manages, only to open her locker and see a post-card set against all of her textbooks.

Her heart skips a few beats as she picks it up, just to make sure it's real; and it is. She's holding a postcard of Goofy, standing in front of Disneyland (or maybe Disneyworld, she has no idea), slinging an arm around Minnie Mouse.

When she flips it, she really doesn't know what to expect. What she doesn't expect is to see "call Finn; I hope you can forgive me" there, in Rachel's boyish hand-writing, and nothing else.

Her heart lifts at the second half of that, because-if this isn't a sign that she's not deluding herself... but...

Why the heck would she call Finn? The only way he's a part of any of this is that in Rachel's revised version of their relationship, she did this for him. It clearly wasn't with his permission, because he would've hated to see someone do something like this to her—and so Rachel supposedly came up with this all on her own, after meeting him and Amy somewhere and...

The card flutters from her hand, and she's on the phone to Finn in a heartbeat.

"Um-I'm in the middle of math," he hisses at her.

"Then why did you answer?"

'I'm failing anyway, and I thought you were calling about, you know, the baby," he says, quietly.

"I'm not, but Finn, this is important."

"What is?"

She struggles not to sigh in exasperation at him. "Have you ever introduced Rachel to Amy?"

He's quiet for a few seconds. "Amy who?"

"How many Amys do you know, Finn?" she snaps, before willing herself not to explode at him.

He sounds completely baffled when he says, "Oh, you mean, your Amy? ... why would I have done that? Um, Amy's kind of a bitch and anyway, I would've introduced Rachel to you before I would have to Amy..."

It's all a lie. All of it is a complete fiction, and Quinn slumps against the lockers before bending down and picking the postcard back up.

"Thanks, Finn. That's all I needed to know," she finally says.

"Are you high?" he asks, sounding worried about her, just before she hangs up on him and staring at the postcard again.

What the hell is Rachel doing? And why is she finally getting her first clue now?

She wishes there was someone she could ask, but anyone who would have even the slightest idea is currently in New York City, where Vocal Adrenaline will...

Her mind stutters to a halt, when she comes to the only conclusion that makes any sense at all.

Nationals. Whatever Rachel is planning, she's going to do it at Nationals.

Chapter Text

"Have you lost your mind?"

Santana's reaction is the first she gets, when at lunch, she announces that she's going to New York.

"No, not at all," Quinn says, as firmly as she can. "The postcard-okay, maybe it's not exactly clear, but I know that something is going to happen there and-"

"And what?" Santana says, slamming her hand down on the table. "Damn it, Quinn, I figured you would snap out of this but you are so far in denial about what a bitch your ex-girlfriend is that I'm starting to get concerned about your mental health, here."

Brittany puts a hand on Santana's back and says, "Don't be angry with her. I mean, how did you feel when we broke up?"

Santana sighs and sits back in her chair and then rubs at her face. "Okay, so-did she actually tell you to go to New York?"

Quinn hesitates. "Well, no, but-"

"So, she didn't apologize; she didn't explain; and she didn't invite you."

Quinn stays silent, because when it's put like that...

Puck slurps up the last bit of his Coke loudly and says, "So what if she didn't say any of that shit? I mean, it's not like Quinn's like, over it or anything. She just wants answers. Right?"

It's almost accurate, because no, she's not over it. She's been thinking for most of the morning about what Rachel possibly could have up her sleeve that would somehow make the horrible things they've both said, at this point, 'okay' somehow. It's not going to be that simple, but the part about needing answers...

"Yeah, well, she can get answers when those assholes lug another trophy back to Lima," Santana says, a little sullenly.

Sam has been staring into space, but then says, with a shrug, "I don't know. I think it might be fun. I've never been to New York, so..."

"Samwise, this isn't some fun gap-year road trip, okay? Quinn is basically trying to convince us all to let her go to New York-"

"Well, like fuck we're letting her go. We're all going."

Santana stares at Puck like she wishes she had a stick to hit him with. "And then what, genius? We get to New York, and we don't have a fucking clue where Nationals are being held, or how to even get in, meaning we're going to be standing outside of a building because Quinn here doesn't know a lost cause when she sees one. That's a lot of fucking gas money for the single most masochistic-"

'Actually, I know where they are," Brittany says, brightly. "Shelby really likes planning things early so our tickets have been booked since March and um, I have an... what do you call one of those things that says when to go where?"

Quinn could kiss her. "You have their itinerary."

"Yep," Brittany says. "So I mean, we can find them. And I have two tickets-"

"Might be cancelled, hon," Santana says.

"Yeah, but they might not be," Puck adds, with a pointed look.

"Blaine's already there, isn't he?" Sam suddenly says, looking at Quinn for confirmation. "So-um, we'd need... five tickets. For all of us to go."

Brittany's face falls. "Oh. I only have two. You know, for my parents."

The table falls silent, until Quinn says, "We... probably shouldn't take you anyway. There are way too many people in the show choir world who know who you are, y'know, with all those newspaper articles about you."

Santana frowns something serious, but then says, "She's right. Someone's bound to spot you."

"Okay, so we need... four tickets," Sam says, tapping his fingers onto the table. "Um. Does Blaine maybe have extra tickets?"

"No, he's there with Kurt's dad," Quinn says, biting her lip. "I mean... I guess if you're willing to just give me one of those tickets, we can-"

"No way, Blondie," Santana says, staring at her and shaking her head. "If you want to go on this ridiculous suicide mission, we are coming with you. Not to mention that it's like a 10 hour drive and New York is like, full of gangs and shit. You need back-up."

"One of you can come with me. I mean, I guess Puck would-"

"Puck gets lost on his way to Chemistry," Sam says, and Puck flicks him off even as the rest of them chuckle. "No offense, dude."

"None taken," Puck says, and then everyone looks at Quinn some more.

If she takes Santana, she's just going to have to listen to bitching about how she's off her head the entire trip, but Sam is too nice to really be of much help in the middle of some bitchy show-down, so...

A quick look passes over Santana's face, and she clings to it. "What are you thinking?"

Santana presses her lips together and shakes her head. "Nah, nothing. It's a dumb fucking idea."

"You think all of this is a dumb idea," Quinn says, and then just sighs and looks at her as openly as she can. "San-what if this was you and Brittany? Would you really be sitting around on your ass when you know you might get... I don't know, at least some closure in New York?"

Santana sighs and says, "Okay, but I'm bringing at least three cans of mace and my handcuffs. And I hope that your flat ass chest won't ruin this plan before we can even get going."

Quinn blinks and glances down at her shirt. "What does my chest have to do with any of this?"

"Two tickets... and two VA uniforms," Santana says, arching her eyebrow. "But you're not built like B, so-"

"Water balloons," Brittany says, with a big smile. "Right? We can stuff her bra with water balloons if my shirt doesn't fit."

"Genius," Santana says, wrapping her hand around Brittany's neck and pulling her in for a slow, deep kiss that has Sam blushing furiously, Puck grinning approvingly, and Quinn kicking them under the table.

"Okay. So-we're doing this?" she asks, and when they all nod, her nerves are suddenly back in full force. "All right. I'll... call Blaine. And warn him. And maybe ask him if he … well, if he knows anything I don't. Though he probably doesn't, or he would've called, but..."

"Q-breathe," Santana says, almost kindly.

She nods, and pulls her phone out before leaving the table.

Puck leans in closer to her and says, "If this is what touring is going to be like, I change my fucking mind about what we should do after high school."

Quinn chuckles and glances out the window next to him, where they're just passing Youngstown. They're making good time, but it's at a cost, because Sam insists on playing car games and Santana looks like she's ready to throttle him with the light blue polo she's wearing.

They might actually pull this off, providing they get to New York in one piece, and when Puck deliberately cranks the radio a little bit louder-to some 70s rock classic station that seems to play only Journey-Sam finally buys a clue and just blows out some air before saying, "Um, you guys don't think we're going to have to get into a fist fight with like, all of Vocal Adrenaline, do you? Because all I can picture is that scene in Anchorman, and I don't want to kill anyone with a trident."

"What the fuck are you talking about?" Santana says, before knuckling him in the head. "Dude, will you relax? If anyone has a right to be freaking out here it's Quinn, and the only freaking she's doing is breaking all the freaking speed limits in this state."

She smiles faintly, and opts to not thinking about how this is the first long trip she's taken in the Fairlane anywhere, and she's not really sure it's built for this kind of driving, but-

Well, if there's a God, he'll get her to New York in one piece now. He really, really owes her.

That thought gets her to the next truck stop, where she and Puck switch places and he looks incredibly pleased to finally get a chance to drive her 'baby'; and when he pulls back onto the interstate without throttling the gas even once, she relaxes into her seat a little.

Sam's phone rings, and he stares at it. "It's um, it's my mom."

"So tell her you're with me and we're writing songs or whatever," Santana says, giving him a look.

"For the next day and a half?" Sam asks, raising his eyebrows. "She's going to think you've kidnapped me."

Santana stares at him. "What have you even told your mom about me?"

"Nothing! She came to the conclusion that you might be in one of those teenage girl gangs all on her own," Sam says, before sliding his thumb across his phone and saying, "Hi, Mom."

It's silent for a little moment, because Santana's look in his direction is quietly murderous, and then Sam says, "Well, actually, I'm on some sort of lesbian relationship fixing mission to New York right now; see, Quinn's in love with this girl who um, brutally dumped her a few weeks ago, but now it looks like she maybe was lying about wanting to not be with her? So we're going to New York to find out if that's true or not, because apparently this is all going to be revealed in the middle of show choir Nationals."

It's silent for another few seconds, even though Puck looks like he's going to crack up laughing any second, and then Sam says, "No, mom, I'm not doing drugs. Quinn can back me up on this story."

The phone is thrust into her hands a second later, and she gingerly puts it to her ear. "Hello?"

"Quinn? Is that you?" Sam's mom says, sounding a little frantic. "Are you all okay? What is this insanity about you all going to New York?"

"Um," Quinn says, and then bites her lip and grimaces. "He's telling the truth about that. I'm … chasing my ex-girlfriend halfway across the country because um, even though she really hurt me I still kind of love her, and I think she might love me too, still."

Sam's mother is silent for a little while, and then says, "You go get her, then. And tell Samuel that if he ever wants to see his XBox again, he better be home by Sunday."

"Yes, ma'am," Quinn says, and hangs up his phone.

"Shit," Sam says, with a deep sigh. "I'm so grounded."

"Worth it," Puck says, with a small smile to Quinn, when Santana starts laughing and says, "Aw, c'mon, buddy. We can play Punch Buggy again, if it makes you feel better."

If not for Blaine's impeccable directions to the motel he and Burt are staying at, it's entirely possible they would've just stayed stuck in one of a million one-way streets in the heart of Manhattan, when really, they need to be over in Brooklyn somewhere in order to stay somewhere affordable.

Quinn holds the phone to Santana's head as she navigates them around the city, which is overwhelming and kind of terrifying given that they don't have a clue what they're doing or where they're going.

When they pull up to the Super 8, Quinn could kiss Blaine, she's so happy to see him; instead, she hugs him tightly and says, "Anything?"

"Kurt can't really come to the phone; they are busy with so many last minute rehearsal things that the last I got was a text message saying, R seems stressed out but we all are, so..." Blaine says, sounding apologetic. "But, I think that if you're right and something big is going to happen, it will probably just be during tomorrow's performance, you know?"

She nods, and runs a hand through her hair.

"You look great, by the way. Maybe you should try out next year," he then says, and she directs a glare at him until it's clear that he's teasing her.

"I feel like I've joined a cult," she says, even though she's only wearing the polo with some jeans and the skirt's still in her messenger bag. She'd tried it all on earlier, at Brittany's house, but the skirt is insanely short and the knee socks are itchy as hell, so she's waiting until tomorrow to put the rest of the outfit on.

Blaine smiles a little and says, "I know you guys are probably exhausted, but-do you maybe want to go and explore the city a little?"

Quinn hesitates, but if she sits around in a motel for the next 24 hours, she will actually lose her mind, not to mention that other than Santana, nobody in the band has ever been to New York, and... they're doing this for her. The least she can do is something for them.

"Yeah, sure. Why not, I mean, Central Park's supposed to be amazing, right?" she says, bucking up as best she can.

Sam slings an arm around her shoulder and says, "I just want to go to Midtown. Maybe see if we can find the DC offices or something as well."

"You would, you nerd," Puck says, cuffing him in the head. "I'm down for whatever, s'long as it comes with some sort of sub with pastrami on it."

"I want pizza," Santana says, tossing Quinn her car keys. "Other than that, I'm with Puckerman. We're in New York. Fun will find us."

Quinn smiles faintly, but she means it, so that's something, and then Blaine claps his hands together. "All right! Let me just get Burt, and then we can all take the subway down town. Sound good?"

They watch him head inside, and then Santana says, "I can't believe I'm friends with someone that fucking chipper. It's like being on a tour that just never, ever ends."

Quinn laughs and says, "Hey; better than just being stuck talking to a whiny, moody bitch like me, right?"

"Damn right," Santana says, nudging her in the side gently. "At least he's crazy in a good way."

It's as close as Santana will ever come to saying something stupid like I care about your happiness, and Quinn nudges her back for a moment, suddenly feeling like maybe, this isn't the absolutely worst idea she's had since sleeping with Finn.

"I'm in New York," she says, wincing when there's no immediate response.

"And by … New York you mean... Santana's bedroom?" her dad tries.

"No, I mean, like. New York City."

Her mother says "Oh my God" in the distance, and her father sighs deeply. "Quinn, you know I'm all about giving you some rope, but it's on the expectation that you don't try to hang yourself with it."

Quinn closes her eyes and then blinks then open again, staring at the ceiling and wondering how she can best put this to make him understand. "I know-and I'm sorry, but I didn't want you to talk me out of it and um, … I'm pretty sure that I'm in the middle of my Bloody Mary moment. You can ground me forever, when I get back, but-"

"Say no more," her dad interjects, quietly. "If your mother ever asks, I gave you a stern talking to, but-hell, Q, I invented that moment, so whatever it is you're doing-don't give up, okay?"

"I won't," she says, before hanging up and covering her face with her hands.

What she probably actually means is that she can't, and it's just another six hours now, until they head to the Hammerstein Ballroom and …

Well, no matter what happens, things are going to change forever.

It doesn't even occur to her that they might not be able to get in, VA uniforms and everything, until they're already at the event-but Blaine, Sam, Puck and Kurt's dad are queuing with their tickets and Santana pulls them to a side door and knocks there, frantically.

"We like, totally lost our passes, but our coach is going to kill us if you don't let us in," she says, when someone from the staff opens up the door.

The guy stares at them. "What choir?"

"Vocal Adrenaline; better known as the winners of this shit. You'll know us when we're done," Santana says, with a wink; it's all so hammy that Quinn almost starts laughing, but instead she bats her eyelashes, and the guy-looking very uncomfortable-lets them in.

"Go through the offices and then up the stairs-your changing rooms are at the very end of the hallway, and it'll say which one on the doors."

"Thanks, baby," Santana says, blowing him a kiss before pushing past him and tugging Quinn along.

"Thank you," she also calls out, a little more sincerely, and then they more or less run past a bunch of people behind computers, staring at them and their ridiculous outfits.

Only when they're out in a corridor does Santana stop running, and when she lets go Quinn's hand she exhales a little shakily.

"I did not think that would work," she admits, and then punches Quinn in the shoulder. "Good wingman work there, Fabray."

Quinn sort of tries to smile back, but is already busy scanning the hallway; the last thing they need is to actually end up where the choirs are, and so she wanders in the opposite direction of where their staff friend told them to go.

There are double doors at the end of the hallway, and when she gently pushes them open, she realizes she's in the wings to the actual stage.

"Shit," she says, turning to Santana. "Um-how do we get into the audience without actually breaking through the curtains? Is there-"

Santana backtracks and pushes a few other doors near them open, but then shakes her head and makes her way back over. "Nothing. I don't know, Q, maybe we-"

"We'll just need to … hide. Backstage," Quinn says, before pulling Santana through the double doors when one of the doors at the end of the hallway opens. "We can do that, right? Because I mean, they shouldn't see us in the uniforms anyway and-"

"Let me just text the boys, and then you can figure out how to wrap us in a curtain or whatever," Santana says, before producing her phone from her bra and-

Quinn blinks furiously and stares at the ceiling. "That's-wow, what a storage location. Clever."

"I have a 4.0 GPA, bitch. Of course it's clever," Santana mumbles, and Quinn scans the room until she finds something functional. "Okay-um. Those crates, there. We can sit behind them, they don't look like they're going to be moved, and we can totally see the stage from there if we sit up once... y'know, the choirs are gone."

Santana glances up and nods. "Works. Shelby won't be back here anyway; at Nationals, everyone sits in the audience unless they're actually performing so St. Gay and Berry will be dragging everyone else on."

The phone is slipped back into the bra a second later, and then they both walk over, climb over the crates full of sound gear that's apparently not being used, and lean back against the back wall there.

Quinn starts fiddling with her fingers after about five seconds. "Now what?"

"Now we wait," Santana says, and after a second, holds out her hand for Quinn to hold.

Yeah, they'll never be talking about that, but it's probably for the best that she's gripping something; Quinn would like some fingernails left when this is all over and done with.

It's hard not to have a heart attack when the first choir-of like forty kids-shows up right in front of where they're sitting, but Santana directs a furious look at her and it locks whatever squealing sound she was about to make in her throat.

They mill around, nervously chattering, until the announcer says something and then they're bustling onto the stage.

"Time to test," Santana whispers, and they both sit up on their knees and peer over the crates, and-yep. Sides of the stage aside, they have a perfect view of everything; which in this case is some all girls' choir called Love's Harmony and...

Santana snorts and shakes her head. "Not the competition."

"Are you rooting for VA?" Quinn hisses at her, raising her eyebrows.

Santana sort of shrugs and looks away, before leaning in and saying, "Look-the more money our school has, the better its fucking classes, okay? I'm just thinking about next year. Not to mention that the best should win. S'how shit works."

Quinn smirks knowingly and says, "Uh huh."

"I don't have school pride," Santana says, shortly, and then glances down at her polo and sighs. "Those bitches can all die in a fire as far as I'm concerned, but after they bring home the bacon, okay?"

Quinn chuckles softly, even as Love's Harmony sings that Spice Girls' song about mothers, and... God, they are kind of terrible.

"How many performances are there?" Quinn asks, when they're almost done.

Santana fishes the itinerary out of her bra as well, and then says, "Um, this is the second round, and there are five more choirs before VA."

"I'm going to die here," Quinn groans, and covers her head with her hands. "How did we think this was a good idea, again?"

"We didn't," Santana says, pointedly.

With a deep sigh, Quinn closes her eyes and thinks about that postcard again, because-right. She's here for a reason, and if that involves sitting through an hour and a half of crappy show choir performances first... so be it.

She's almost comatose by the time Vocal Adrenaline are up, and it's not until Santana elbows her sharply in the side that she suddenly realizes that a bunch of her friends, and Rachel-Rachel-are right there, having an urgent, last-minute conversation.

"Kurt, you're jumping the gun on your verse in the ensemble; hold back one second, okay? Mike, you're one second too late on when you come in, so take your cue from Amber, who nails it perfectly every time. Mercedes, I know this runs contrary to what my mother asked you to do but I really do think that a glory note would cement your contribution, and Jesse, please just pretend I'm a mirror when we do the duet, okay?"

There's some muttering along the lines of how they've covered all of this, and then Rachel says, "One more thing."

The entire group falls silent, and Quinn can basically feel their nervous energy thrumming through the space, where it mixes and mingles with her own.

Then, abruptly, Rachel says, "I've changed the solo."

"You've what?" Mercedes asks, even as Jesse says, "Excuse me-did I just imagine you saying that-"

"I've changed the solo. Instead of our planned choreography, I would like you all to just stand behind me and sway."

Kurt makes a slightly hysterical noise that sounds like a cough and a laugh combined and then says, "What are we, your puppets?"

"No," Rachel says, more quietly. "You're my friends. At least, I hope you are."

"Girl, what are you-" Mercedes starts to say, but it's too late; the announcer is calling their name, and Rachel says, "Show faces, guys, now."

By the time Santana pulls Quinn up, it's like none of the last three minutes ever happened, because every member of Vocal Adrenaline has the same poster-perfect smile on their face, perfectly positioned apart, until Rachel nods for the music to start playing; and then, they dance.

Shiny Happy People is a surprise; as opposed to the tight, strict formations that VA is known for, the choreography is loose and limber, and everyone looks like they're actually having fun.

Santana looks mildly impressed, but does lean in to whisper that the entire thing would've been much better with Brittany there, and Quinn can't help but disagree-though the hand-clapping homage after the second verse towards the original music video is very, very well-done even without Brittany's superior dancing ability.

The tension in Rachel's voice, present before she started singing, has faded away into nothingness, and she looks and sounds airy-like there's literally not a thing wrong with her in this world, when Jesse twirls her to Kurt and she ducks under his arm even as he sings the next part of the chorus.

They're so good, it's not hard to see why this matters to Rachel. In some ways, she looks like she was made to do this-to perform with people who are just slightly less talented than she is, because she shines off them even more brightly than she could do on her own.

It's not hard to see why it matters, and why it might even take precedence over...

Quinn closes her eyes and sighs for a moment, only blinking them back open when the tremulous organ that starts off Lover, You Should Have Come Over starts playing.

This performance outdoes the last by some distance; Jesse and Rachel are playing off each other like they're in the last scene of some musical about someone who is dying, with the heartache bursting off both of them. Jesse, for once, looks like he cares more about Rachel than himself, so her advice definitely hit the right notes-and the remainder of Vocal Adrenaline slowly waltzes around them, adding harmonies to the build of the song.

When Rachel breathes out the last, it's not too late, Quinn feels her heart clench tightly, even though this isn't why she's in New York, and this isn't the performance that she thinks, or hopes, might be for her.

Santana grips her hand tightly again, without warning, and says, "I really hope you're-shit, Quinn, I don't know", which just about covers everything that's rolling anxiously in her own mind, and her gut. She feels faint, and nauseous, when-with just a second of hesitation, the entire choir moves towards the back steps on the stage and stands there.

They're almost invisible, but Rachel, in that spotlight, in the middle-that's perfectly in the line of Quinn's vision, and a vision it is, because Rachel straightens, squares her shoulders, and then stares out into the crowd.

The next words out of her mouth, without a second of hesitation or doubt, are, "This song is for Quinn."

If not for Santana's hand, grounding her to the part of the stage she's sitting on, she would feel like she'd literally tumbled off an abyss, because-

"Did she just-" Santana whispers, but shuts up abruptly when the starting guitar chords of a song that Quinn loves, and Rachel knows Quinn loves, start playing.

When Rachel sings the first few lines, she forgets to breathe, and it's until Rachel lowers her head a little again and very, very quietly sings, all I wanted was you that she realizes she needs to, to make it through the end of this performance.

Rachel barely moves, even during the second verse, but then when that second chorus bursts into life, the backing music literally jerking the crowd awake, she feels it; her spine, almost melting in her back, and she knows that it's not just her. The entire crowd is getting the absolute best that Rachel has to offer right now, but it's not for them.

It's for her.

Santana shivers next to her and then says, "Fuck".

Quinn doesn't have better words than that, and just sits and waits for the moment in the song that gets to her the most, always, when Hayley Williams sings it; the last chorus, when all the music falls away, and-

Oh. There it is. And Rachel's voice squeezes that incredibly high, tense note out, her voice cracking a little on the end of it, but all it does is make it more real, that this is being sung and being sung for her in front of this crowd full of people who matter-reporters, talent scouts, Rachel's mother, all of her friends...

"Q, you need to breathe," Santana says, when the last note rings out, and the entire room breaks out in thunderous applause immediately afterwards.

Quinn doesn't need to ask if it's a standing ovation; she knows, because her entire body is aching to join in on it, but-she can't.

She's not supposed to be here, and she lets Santana pull her back down, her heart still racing like crazy, as everyone shuffles back into the wings.

"Wow," Kurt finally says, breaking through an incredibly tense silence among the entire choir.

"You realize this could cost us our victory, right?" Mercedes asks, but any punch in her voice gets ignored, because Jesse just says, "Well, damn, if only she was here to see you do this. Is this-was this what you were planning?"

There's no audible response, and then the voices drift further and further away, and Santana says, "C'mon", before pulling Quinn to her feet.

"Wait, what are you-where are we-"

"You need to talk to her; are you crazy? You can't just-like, whatever. Yeah, she sang you a song. That doesn't mean she doesn't still owe you a massive fucking apology for that shit she said about you and-" Santana says, before giving Quinn an incredulous look. "Quinn, I know you get all weak in the knees and shit at her voice, but … come on."

"No, I know," Quinn says, wondering how long her heart can beat this fast until it gives out altogether; with another deep breath, it finally starts to show. "I just don't know if this is-I mean, she's with that entire choir and..."

"Q... what the fuck do you care?" Santana says, pointedly, before shoving her in the back.

It finally snaps her out of her stupor a little, and she climbs over the crates again and jogs after the choir, calling out Rachel's name before she can stop to think about what happens next too much.

Rachel freezes, and then turns around, and just like that, it's over; her face crumples and she bursts into tears, and the rest of the team steps aside as Rachel starts making her way back down the hallway.

"You're-what are you doing here?" she asks, sniffling hard, taking a few more hesitant steps forward, with a glance to Santana. "Why are you wearing our uniforms? Are you-"

"Everyone in the dressing room, now," Shelby calls out, sounding furious, and Quinn looks away from Rachel and towards her mother, who is now coming through one of the doors in the back that Santana didn't check and-right. That's how you get to the audience. Shit. "Not you, Rachel. I'd like a word with you alone."

Rachel takes a shuddering breath but then turns and says, "Fine. We can talk about it here."

"Talk about it?" Shelby repeats, even as the next choir makes their way past VA and into the wings, and Quinn presses against the wall to let them pass. "I don't think there's much to talk about. So help me God, if we don't win because of that little stunt you pulled-"

"I didn't do anything to jeopardize our chances," Rachel says, running her arm past her eyes. "I sang that song spectacularly well, and you know it."

"It doesn't-" Shelby starts to say, and then just shakes her head before walking the rest of the way over, without so much as a glance to Quinn, and pulling on Rachel's arm. "You're lucky I don't throw you off right now. Anyone else and-"

"You can't," Rachel says, yanking her arm away and then stepping closer to Quinn. "You can't, and you won't, because you have far bigger concerns right now than whether or not we win today."

Shelby's eyes flash. "Much as your stunt will lead to me getting some probing questions over the next few days..."

Quinn watches with no end of surprise when Rachel smiles a little, before laughing weakly. "Yes. You'll get questions about what happened, and who this Quinn is, that I dedicated the song to. But guess what, Mom? So will I."

Those words hang between them for a moment, and Shelby slowly pales. "Are you-"

"I don't doubt that Miss Sylvester has questions, and you're welcome to tell her that Quinn is a boy that I happen to have met through CCD and who I plan on attending Bible Camp with this summer. I guess you'll just have to be hopeful that I don't tell a single reporter I talk to in the next 24 hours or so the truth. I don't think our sponsors would really support a choir that has a long-standing lead who is in a gay relationship and happy about it."

Santana makes a noise, somewhere behind Quinn, and Quinn just stares at Rachel, who is looking at her mother without blinking.

Shelby looks a combination of shocked and devastated, and it takes her nearly thirty seconds to even come up with a response. "I can't believe you would... are you blackmailing me? Are you actually threatening to destroy my livelihood, and a choir you've been part of for three years now, just so you can-you can-"

A finger points at Quinn, and she flinches unwillingly, but-

"Believe me, I wish I didn't have to," Rachel says, tremulously. Quinn only then realizes how close Rachel is to falling apart, and almost automatically, her fingers edge along the wall, until they're touching Rachel's. "It would be great if my own mother could understand that I just happen to have developed feelings for a girl, and that I'm willing to keep his relationship as publicly toned down as we need to to keep our sponsors, but that's not how this is going to play out."

Shelby's hand covers her mouth and then she says, "I didn't raise you to be like this."

"No. You raised me to … reject anything different from what you think is right, and it took me a very long time to realize that you were wrong," Rachel says; Quinn can see the tears in her eyes, but they're not falling. "And you would have made me give up Vocal Adrenaline, if I intended to keep Quinn. That's not acceptable, because I want both. I love what I do, but I also love her."

Quinn exhales shakily at those words, because they're right but not entirely what she needs to hear right now; and then she stares at carpeting for a while, until Shelby clears her throat and says, "And if I … permit this relationship to continue..."

"I will have a boyfriend named Quinn as long as I'm on this choir," Rachel says, with a small glance at Quinn. "You have my word."

Shelby's voice sounds unlike anything she's heard coming from the woman when she next speaks; devastated, almost, and Quinn feels a stab of guilt that she knows she's not responsible for, when she finally says, "Okay."

"I'm sorry, Mom," Rachel then adds, and Quinn bites her lip as those tears finally start to fall.

Shelby doesn't say anything else, but takes a deep breath and heads towards the rooms in the back, where the rest of her choir is waiting.

Quinn watches her go, and only then looks at Rachel, wiping at her own face again.

Behind her, Santana sighs and says, "Q? I'm heading out, I don't want or need to be here for this."

Quinn nods, and waits for Santana to disappear through the door that gets her to the audience, before finally softly asking, "This was the plan all along?"

"I had to break your heart," Rachel admits, even as her face crumples all over again; she barely manages to pull it together, before taking a deep breath and looking at Quinn pleadingly. "Don't you see? If I'd admitted that we were together, she would've never let me out of her sight long enough to do this. Instead, I said-things to you that I never wanted to say to you, and she took me home and lectured me on my lack of compassion; that you needed help, not judgment, and that she didn't raise me to be this heartless." Rachel sucks in some air and then adds, "If she'd thought for even one minute that my feelings for you were ever real, I would've been... at some reprogramming camp in a heartbeat. I didn't know what else-"

Quinn nods at her, and waits for Santana to make her way to the room leading to the audience, and then looks back at Rachel and feels her own eyes start to water.

"Why didn't you tell me?" she finally asks, brokenly. "I would have-if you'd just said something about what you were doing-"

"Because your feelings are all over your face, even when you think they're not," Rachel says, shakily. Her lips tremble into a smile for a second, but then falter again. "Holly found out about us because you look at me in a way that... I love the way you look at me, but people see right through it. Artie and Tina did as well, you know. So, if I hadn't actually made you feel like-"

Quinn exhales slowly and slumps down against the wall, until she hits the floor. "The things you said-"

"I know," Rachel says, hesitating before also sitting down, but a respectable distance away. "I hoped that... calling you a mediocre drummer would make you realize that-"

"Yeah, well, maybe I'm not that sharp when someone is in the middle of tearing apart the best thing that's ever happened to me," Quinn snaps, without meaning to, and then covers her face with her hands. "Shit, I'm sorry, I-"

"No," Rachel says, firmly, even though her voice cracks on the word. "Don't you dare apologize to me. Don't you dare. You didn't do-"

"I basically called you a slut," Quinn says, weakly. "I mean, I obviously didn't mean it but-"

"I know. We've both said really terrible things," Rachel sighs, and then shakes her head. "I hate that being this awful to someone else is what people expect of me. That it's more believable that Rachel Berry concoct some sort of ridiculous scheme to punish some girl she doesn't even know than... that she might actually have feelings for someone."

Quinn smiles wryly, after a moment. "Your dark side should meet my dark side. Swap notes, or something."

Rachel doesn't laugh when she says, "I think they've seen enough of each other."

After that, they're silent for a long time, and now that Quinn has her explanation, she doesn't expect to be as angry as she is. The numb feeling that she's been carrying with her for two weeks now is gone, and instead there is just a lot of disappointment.

"I'm sorry you couldn't pull off this stunt with me mooning over you, but … you still should've told me," she finally says, glancing at Rachel. "I'm not... just one of your minions, or someone you can manipulate when you're busy executing one of your schemes."

Rachel nods after a moment. "I know. It won't ever-"

"Well, no, it won't, because-you just did the craziest thing I've ever seen anyone do and-I mean..." Quinn says, before laughing weakly. "I don't know if I'm impressed or just … a little afraid of you. You just blackmailed your mother so that we can be together."

Rachel looks over, and looks so ashamed and sad that Quinn wishes she could rephrase, but it doesn't matter. It's what happened.

"What else would you have had me do, Quinn? If I would've picked our relationship, she would have thrown me off VA as a point of principle, and then forbidden me from seeing you. If I'd picked VA, I would've lost you even if it was just a lie to protect you-because it's not like she would've ever stopped watching me just because I claim to have broken up with you. Brittany and Santana made sure of that, so... I pretended you were nothing to me. I couldn't think of any other way to keep her off my back, and yours, until Nationals."

The words all sound true, but they don't really do much to eliminate the hurt, and so Quinn pulls her knees up to her chest and says, "I think this is just... going to take me a little time. To get over."

Rachel closes her eyes slowly and then says, "I understand."

"Sorry," Quinn says, feeling her heart shrivel even though she knows she's doing what she needs to, for now...

Rachel just gingerly gets back up to her feet. "No, thank you for being honest with me. And... well, I should-probably go and apologize to the rest of the choir."

"If they're pissed off, they're idiots," Quinn says, glancing up at Rachel just briefly. "That was the best performance I've ever seen you give, and I'm not just saying that because-"

Rachel smiles faintly and then says, "I'm glad you were here. I had this entire involved scheme that involved Kurt's father's camcorder and... tricking you into watching a DVD of the performance, if you didn't still hate me, anyway..."

"I never hated you," Quinn says, glancing away. "Would've been easier if I had, but I never hated you."

Rachel sighs deeply and says, "See you in Lima?"

Quinn nods, and pushes up to her feet, and watches as Rachel makes a slow, long trek to the other end of the hall; when she pulls the room to the rehearsal space open, she can hear Shelby's tight, clipped criticism, and fuck, the biggest part of her wants to give chase-but she can't. It's not her place, to deal with the professional fall-out of Rachel's plan.

The only thing she has to decide is if she can get over it, and that's something she has to do without Rachel.

Her father, fucking joker that he is, asks if she's engaged when she finally gets home, late on Sunday afternoon.

She just sort of stares at him, and then bursts into tears.

"Russell," her mother says, exasperated, and then her parents pull her into a much-needed hug, after the two most draining days of her life that didn't somehow involve pushing a baby out of her body.

She knows they're both dying for an explanation, but she's not really at the point where she's ready to give one. Nor has she figured out how to make any part of this sound normal, because it might be par for the course at Carmel-and it kind of is, is the really distressing thing-but her family is incredibly normal and probably not ready to hear these kinds of things about her girlfriend.

She stiffens in the hug when it hits her that she still thinks of Rachel as her girlfriend, even though they're technically broken up, and... it's not in some weird nostalgic way, where she's just not getting over it.

It's in a way where she can just about imagine that, ten years from now, she gets home from work only to find that her office has been turned into a nursery and there's a turkey baster with her name on it in the refrigerator, and she sort of sobs and laughs at the same time, burrowing her head into her father's shirt.

"Is this a good time to discuss the terms of her grounding?" her father sort of hisses at her mother.

She actually laughs when a loud smack reverberates throughout the room, and then pulls away from them.

"I'm okay. I just-have a lot to think about."

Her dad practically beams at her. "Great! Because you're going to have a lot of time to do just that."

"I hate you sometimes," she says, shakily, but leans back into his hug anyway.

She's so lucky. She can't imagine ever doing what Rachel did this weekend, and that's not because she's not just as capable of something like that.

It's because she won't ever have to.

When she gets to school on Monday, Santana and Brittany are cuddling out in the quad and Sam and Puck are playing some DS video game together over the wireless. Tina and Artie are messing around on his laptop, and she sits down next to them with a small sigh.

"So?" Sam asks, glancing up. "You know what you're going to do?"

"Yeah," she says, nodding to herself a few times. "But I don't know when I'm going to be ready to do it."

"Uh-" Puck says, and Santana just shakes her head at him.

"I hear you. Sometimes, shit just takes time, y'know?" she finally says, with a small squeeze to Brittany's shoulder.

Brittany just gives her a sweet smile. "It'll be okay. Rachel is like a crab, and you're like-y'know, a bib. So..."

Quinn starts laughing after a moment, and Santana just murmurs something like, "Fuck, I love you" before kissing Brittany sloppily on her cheek.

It stings a little, seeing them like that, but not as much as it did last week, and not nearly as much as it did the weeks before that, because no matter what else Rachel did, she also made this possible, for them.

She's given them a real chance, and that's something that they never really had before.

It's fifth period on Friday, when she bumps into two guys carrying a gigantic trophy down the hallway.

"Do you know where-" one of them grunts, and she nods and walks them over to the choir room, only to see Shelby there already; standing in front of the trophy case, with a giant key chain on it.

They lock eyes for a moment, and then Shelby glances at the delivery men. "If you could just place it over here, Miss Fabray and I can move it inside."

The trophy is lowered in front of the case within seconds, and Shelby swings the case door open; Quinn hesitates, but that was definitely a summons, and so she finally steps into the room and moves over to the trophy.

It's for first place. She didn't really have any doubts, but they didn't stick around to hear the results, and something about seeing that they won regardless of Rachel's stunt does make her feel better.

Shelby watches her look at the trophy for a moment, and then says, "Rachel is grounded."

"I'm … okay," Quinn says, glancing up, not at all sure how to react.

Shelby lets out a sharp laugh after a second and says, "I should probably amend that to Rachel agreed to be grounded, given that..."

"I'm sorry. That things are so messed up," Quinn says, a little helplessly. "I didn't know she was going to do any of this, and-"

"I know," Shelby cuts her off, before sighing deeply. "I'd ask where she gets it from, but it's definitely not from my ex-husband."

Quinn falls silent, and looks at the trophy again. It's mammoth. It's like a visual representation of what was at stake, during this competition, and she suddenly feels very small next to it.

"She's hungry, just like I was, at her age," Shelby finally says, giving Quinn a probing look. "She will do what she has to to get everything she wants."

"I know," Quinn says, lowering her eyes again. "You're a part of that, you know. I mean, I think you're basically one of the most awful people I've ever met, but she loves you."

Shelby smiles faintly after a moment. "I appreciate honesty."

"No problem," Quinn kind of mumbles, and then glances up again, before taking a deep breath and straightening the best she can; not very well, because this is somehow a more terrifying conversation than any other she's had with Shelby. "I will never do anything to get in the way of her life goals."

Shelby doesn't say anything in response, but after a while, she looks down at the trophy. "I hear drummers are strong. Do you think you can help me lift this?"

Quinn nods, and they bend down simultaneously and lift the thing-ridiculously heavy as it is-into the case. She steps back as Shelby shuts and locks it again, and then clears her throat. "Congratulations. On the performances, I mean. They were very good."

Shelby glances at her and says, "I think we both know who actually won, Quinn", and then leaves the room again.

She exhales very, very slowly when she's sure she's alone, and then glances at the VA team picture next to the trophy, just for a second.

It's enough to bolster her courage, and she heads out to the auditorium before she can second-guess herself.

For once, the piano is not being played; Rachel is just sitting at the bench, staring off into space, and Quinn approaches nearly silently, until one of the floor boards on the stage creaks and gives her away.

Rachel looks up sharply and can't quite hide her surprise after that. "Quinn. I wasn't expecting-"

"I wasn't, either," she says, but then walks the rest of the way over anyway and sits down next to Rachel and stares at her own reflection in the keys. "I thought-we'd need a long break. Maybe just spend some time thinking about what we want, but... I know what I want. I just need a new way of getting it."

Rachel hesitates visibly before saying, "I don't know what that means."

"Everything about us being together so far has been rushed, and frantic," Quinn says, before licking at her lips and glancing at Rachel. "It's kind of hot, always feeling like we were running out of time, but it's not normal or healthy. And... I need something normal and healthy right now, as do you."

Rachel bites down on her lip. "With me?"

Quinn rolls her eyes a little. "Rachel, come on."

Rachel deflates a little and says, "Sorry. I just... okay. How do we do normal and healthy?"

Quinn takes a deep breath. "We have to start over. We get to know each other openly, you know, without all the sneaking around and stuff. And then, when things are solid and good, I want to take you out on a date, and have your mother know about it and..."

"You want us to be friends," Rachel concludes, before glancing at the piano. "That's..."

"No, I don't. I don't ever want to just be your friend, but I do want us to take it really, really slow," Quinn says, hesitating for a moment and then reaching for Rachel's hand. "And um, I want you to go talk to someone, about all of this, because... Rachel, come on. You blackmailed your mother to be with me."

Rachel smiles faintly. "Not going to get past that anytime soon, are you."

Quinn gives her an incredulous look, and Rachel lowers her eyes.

"Okay," she finally says, squeezing Quinn's hand. "I will be honest, and say that I want more than... really, really slow, but-"

"Rachel, so do I," Quinn says, quietly, watching as their hands slot together; still a perfect fit, even if it feels a little more fragile than it did before. "But I think this is for the best, if we're serious."

Rachel nods after a moment. "You're right. But... um. What about this summer? ... I'm sorry, that I have so many questions, but... are we together? Are we not? Will... will you wait for me?"

"I'll write you ever day," Quinn says, without hesitation. "I mean it. I don't care if I have to buy a pigeon to reach bible camp, but-"

"Okay," Rachel says, sounding relieved, before looking at Quinn with soft eyes. "Can-is there hugging, in going really slow?"

Quinn nods, and shifts, until they can hug on the world's smallest piano bench.

Rachel clings to her within a heartbeat and then shudders, whispering, "For weeks now, I have been so afraid that I was going to lose you no matter what I did."

"You didn't," Quinn says, squeezing back tightly. "Instead, let's just say that you have been blessed with the unique opportunity to win me all over again."

"I won't waste it, I promise," Rachel mumbles against her neck. "I'm really, really good at winning."

Quinn can't help but laugh softly, before closing her eyes. "Yeah, you are."

Chapter Text

By the first week of August, Quinn's lobster tan is finally turning into a real one, which is good, because not only are they gigging outside after Holly arranged for them to put on another fundraiser show but this time as themselves-but the first time she sees Rachel in almost two months, she really doesn't want to be bright pink or peeling everywhere.

Santana flips her aviators onto her forehead when she pulls up to Quinn's house and grins. "Looking good, QFab. Almost like you've got a pulse."

Quinn rolls her eyes. "Where's your guitar?"

"Puck's carrying it in, and Sam is stopping by later with his mom's mini-van to pick up your drums, so we're just off now to go and set up the stage."

They're playing on the front lawn of Lima's ER, which is both insane and kind of awesome, and Puck and Sam have been taking bets all week on whether or not they'll be distracted if "seriously bleeding" people wander by them into the building. Quinn strongly suspects they won't be seeing anything at all, really, what with how bright it'll be for them up on that stage, but gamely slipped in a twenty before noting that she's fine with the sight of blood so she'll keep going regardless.

Two days from now, Rachel's finally back in Lima, and that cramp she has in her right hand from writing letter after letter-mailed out mere minutes after it's done being written-might actually let up before classes start again. She managed to squeeze by a 3.8 last year, which is good, but not good enough, and she's actually gunning to get started again because she's got her eye on an actual prize right now:

At least one New York university has to accept her, right? She's already got brochures from basically all of them in a folder in her desk.

Rachel doesn't know yet, and Quinn figures they have time, to start looking ahead; for now, it's probably best that they just spend a few hours, or days, or weeks, looking at each other, because it's been forever.

She wants the easy stuff, this time around: afternoons spent lazing around her bed, with everyone's parents knowing (even if they don't approve) and no more wondering if this is the last time they'll have the freedom to be together. She can kiss Rachel now, and enjoy it for what it is, and let it build slowly, until they're back to doing-well, maybe what they did on Rachel's date, or maybe even more than that.

Okay, maybe that's jumping the gun a little, for now, but it's been three months since everything with Shelby went down, and Rachel's letters have been full of apologies and self-reflection and yeah, she's ready, to go from really slow to slow with a little more kissing.

It must show on her face, because Santana nudges her and says, "Two days, huh?"

Quinn just sort of smiles and looks out the window, because they all know; she hasn't really shut up about it in the last week, and they're really good friends for letting her ramble on and on about a girl they all... well, they don't hate her anymore, but it's going to take time.

Rachel just has a lot to make up for, but Quinn has made it clear that they need to give her a chance or they can find a new drummer, and not even Santana was willing to push her after that.

"Should be a good show, tonight," she finally just says, and watches as Santana nods.

"Good track listing. Very varied stuff, and pulling Kurt on stage with us will be awesome, I think."

Quinn remembers the look on his face when she and Blaine invited him to join them, over coffee in July, and while he'd demanded some form of artistic veto over what he would sing, swaying him over to Sunny Day Real Estate had been surprisingly easy.

"I'm glad, that we're getting to do this; y'know, before you're off to Berkeley to be a real geek and all that," Quinn says, with a teasing smile.

"Fuck you and fuck off, Fabray. Can't help it that I'm a genius; you should just be happy that when your delinquent ass gets in trouble in the next decade, you'll know a lawyer who loves you," Santana says, pulling into the hospital's visitor parking lot and then killing the engine once they're in a space.

"Are you and Britt talking about this? What you're going to do, next year?" Quinn asks, before Santana can leave the car.

Santana gives her a look, and then a small, almost pitying smile, before she quietly says, "Q, Britt and I have been talking about what's next since the first time we hooked up, okay? We have a plan. I think I'm better off asking you that question."

"It's not the same. Rachel and I haven't been in love for over three years," she says, before glancing out the window. "I mean, we're barely even together now. It's too soon, to start talking about stuff like that, right?"

"Depends. When you think about where you're going to be five years from now-are you with her, or not?"

Quinn doesn't even have to think about it. "With her. Lugging her bedazzled microphone from one sold out theater to the next while she promises it's not getting to her head, honest."

Santana laughs and then gives her a serious look. "Then you should probably start talking, huh?"

"Well, maybe after we make out a little, I mean, it's been ages," Quinn says, blithely, and then laughs when Santana actually looks a little scandalized. "What? Just because I'm not easy doesn't mean I'm dead inside."

"You are like the puritanical sister I never knew I wanted," Santana says, gravely, and then slaps her on the thigh, hard. "Let's go get set up, it's time for us to kick some ass."

They've spent most of the summer messing around with different styles of music they can play, mostly as a way of expanding on their own song-writing, because since those first three songs they've penned, Sam has beeing saying that their sound was okay but could be more mature. It's hard to leap from never having written a song to writing absolute classics, though, and so they're mostly just working on their instruments for now.

Still, it means that they're swapping between glam pop to 90s emo to 90s alt indie to the more recent stuff they've always played. They've toyed with earlier decades, because Sam and Quinn both love depressing 80s music like the Smiths and the Cure, but it doesn't sound current enough and doesn't let her go wild enough on the drums to really throw back that far.

Thinking about music they liked from those days, though, did eventually lead them to the Killers, who are a pretty solid fit; Blaine is just about theatrical enough to pull of Brandon Flowers, and so the first thing they're knocking out for their sizable crowd on this warm summer evening is Jenny Was a Friend of Mine. Santana's guitar playing has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few months, and even though she jokes that it's only because she's been working on her finger strength in more ways than one, Quinn knows she's spending nearly every free moment she has on online lessons and phone calls to Sam about certain techniques, like how to bend.

He'll always be their lead guitarist, but it won't be long now until they can actually start playing really complex counter-rhythms; she can almost taste Pretty Girls Make Graves on the tip of her tongue, and it's really, really exciting.

Their first song of the night already gets them a good, long round of applause, and then Quinn and Puck look at each other until Sam steps up to his microphone and says, "Here's some pretty recent Death Cab; please remember to donate, because our music isn't going to save children on its own."

Blaine grins, and with a nod from Sam, the three of them start playing. Ben Gibbard has a really, really weird voice that none of them can emulate properly, but Sam, when singing in his softer, higher registers, comes closest; and so they've just amplified the rest of the music a little more to make his take on You Are a Tourist sound as organic as possible. It's a nice, soft number that people can enjoy without feeling like they need to be dancing, and Quinn notes with some satisfaction that a bunch of folks in the audience, including her own dad, head over to the proverbial tip jar to sign a pledge during it.

Sam's guitar work in the song is really delicate, and she drums accordingly, until it sort of feels like they're just working on a wave; and right when they're about to lose the crowd, the song ends and Santana says, "All right, none of you will have ever heard this song, but Quinn is obsessed with it-"

"I am not," she protests, but it's kind of true; she'd been using Pandora to find new or old bands with female vocalists and finally lucked out with this early 90s outfit called Letters to Cleo, who were perfect for Santana and just genuinely fun most of the time-but they have this song called Fast Way, which is about not cheating time to try to get ahead, and yeah. Maybe it kind of has been her internalized summer anthem about Rachel, but it's also just a way for Santana to let loose and show what she can really do with her voice.

The song is fast-paced and harmonic, and if she's honest, the words matter less on a night like tonight, where she's in a pleasant breeze, outside, doing what she loves; and when Puck grins at her as they work through the verse, just on bass and guitar, even as Santana works the crowd, she knows he's thinking the same thing:

It's perfect.

She has dry her hands afterwards, and so it's good that they stage a natural semi-intermission after three songs no matter what else they do; Blaine wanders over to her kit with a bottle of water, and then they're joined by Kurt, who looks a little nervous about his debut.

"They'll love you," Blaine and Quinn say in tandem, before he can even ask for the ninetieth time if they're sure they want to let him do this. It's not really an option at this point; set list is set in stone, they've tuned their spare instruments accordingly, and now that she can drum along to most of the things William Goldsmith has done in his career, she'll be damned if Kurt Hummel takes the opportunity to do Disappear away from her.

Kurt still looks like he's going to vomit when he replaces Santana at the front and center, a good five minutes later, but then closes his eyes and nods for Quinn and Sam to start them off, and as soon as the music starts, he visibly relaxes. His countertenor is beautiful for this, because he doesn't have the same pinch in his falsetto that Jeremy Enigk does on the original, and so it sounds even more ethereal; Puck and Sam back him up beautifully, and Blaine just leans against one of the amps and watches with such a look of adoration on her face that-okay, maybe Quinn's a little touched by the sight of it, but she'd never tell anyone.

The audience seems as enthralled as they figured Kurt would have them, and the song ends almost too quickly; except that the guitar hums out low, and then Santana starts playing the finger-picked introduction to Pictures of Success, alongside Puck, until Sam and Quinn come in over on top of them and Kurt, with a quick kiss to Blaine's cheek, heads off the stage again to some lingering smatterings of applause.

It wasn't Quinn's choice to sing at all, tonight; she figures that the people who really seem to enjoy singing, but when Sam had indicated they needed some sort of anthem and this was the one they'd all agreed would be especially fun to play, she'd not really been given a choice in the matter.

"You're the Jenny Lewis of this outfit," Sam had said, as if it was some kind of pledge, and so this one's on her, even if Blaine chimes in in the later stages of the song.

Some people gasp in surprise when she sings I've had it with you, and Mexico can fucking wait in the second verse, but all in all the song is beautiful and slow; sort of like the final thing to play at a high school prom, when the queen and the king circle around each other, but younger than anything they'd actually play there.

It also builds very well, and she has her eyes closed by the time she sings the coda, which is how she completely misses what happens next.

"All right; this is almost it for us, thank you all for your donations," Santana says, and Quinn blinks her eyes back open before grabbing for her cymbals, quieting them quickly, and... "We have one more guest joining on us on stage; I'm guessing you're all from Lima so she won't need any further introduction."

Quinn blinks at Santana, who was-after days of arguing-slated to sing the Muse ballad that they're going to close with, just to get people in a slightly sentimental mood; Holly had noted that that kind of thing did last-minute boost donations and, well, they're here for more than just their own entertainment.

Santana covers the microphone and grins at her and says, "Thank me later."

Then, a hand touches the back of her neck, and Quinn almost leaps off her stool.

"Surprise," Rachel breathes, quietly, before slipping past her and heading towards the front of the stage.

It's ridiculous, how even now, people applaud just for her, and she laughs a little before turning at Quinn and raising her eyebrows. "Count us off?"

She's of half a mind to just plow right through her drums and tackle Rachel off stage, but-they're here for the kids, and so that's probably not an okay move; and so with a deep breath, not taking her eyes off Rachel, she clangs her sticks together.

She's heard a lot of people sing this song in the last few weeks, and none of them sound like Matt Bellamy; not even Kurt, who gave it a whirl just last week when they were still debating if they should include it at all. Sam had been adamant, however, that it was the perfect song for the night-

-and looking at Rachel right now, turning back to towards the crowd and softly singing, far away, this ship has taken me far away, far away from the memories of the people who care if I live or die, she can't help but agree with him.

Quinn breaks out into a cold sweat when Rachel sings I just wanted to hold you in my arms for the first time, not relying on a break to high voice for the right notes at all. She's just singing it loud, and clear, and pure; like she means every word.

The rest of the song is kind of a blur, and the thunderous applause at the end breaks her out of it; it's only then that she notices that Brittany and Santana have been off to the side of the stage, wrapped in each other's arms, probably dancing together throughout the entire song.

Shit, that looks wonderful, she thinks, and turns her head back to Rachel, who is looking right back at her.

Quinn lowers her sticks carefully, even as Sam and Puck start turning off their amplifiers, and then motions for the area behind the little stage set up for them; where they're basically hidden from view.

Rachel nods, calling out a quick and final, "Thank you all for your attention and donations" to the crowd-and it's so professional and trained that Quinn almost laughs-before following her to the back of the stage.

Quinn's already down there, and realizes that Rachel's in heels and a dress and probably shouldn't leap off anything, and so before Rachel can voice any thoughts to accompany her frown, Quinn reaches for Rachel's hips and lifts her down.

Rachel gasps into her ear, but then clings on, her toes not even really touching the ground, and just like that, she's getting what she's wanted desperately for almost two months now: the only girl that matters, right there in her arms.

The hug turns into more of an embrace after a few moments, until Rachel pulls back and says, "I wanted to tell you, but after talking to Santana-"

"You've been talking to Santana?" Quinn asks, because that's a pleasant surprise.

"I've been talking to... a lot of people," Rachel says, a little more quietly, before reaching out and gingerly touching Quinn's face. "God, you're so tanned. I almost didn't-well, no, that's a lie. I would recognize you anywhere."

"You look good, too," Quinn says, glancing down at the white summer dress and Rachel's olive tan and-there's just something freer about her. "How come you're back early?"

"I'm done with bible camp," Rachel says, with a small sigh, before tugging on a strand of Quinn's hair and slowly pushing it behind her ear. Quinn shivers, at the feeling of it, and has to remind herself that words matter; even now, they're important. They need to really be saying the right ones to each other, to make this work. "I want my faith, but I want it on better terms than I've had it. I'm going to try to talk to my mother about maybe attending your church from now on, I think."

"Any progress since your last letter?" Quinn asks, her hands still gripping Rachel's sides, and Rachel looks away and smiles a little sadly.

"It's … not really. We're talking, about everything to do with me, except this one thing. And maybe it will stay that way all year. I don't know. I've tried to talk to her about it, but I don't think she's ready, and..."

Quinn presses a finger to her lips and says, "I understand. And I'm sorry."

"It's okay," Rachel says, her eyes scanning Quinn's face again, and that hand on Quinn's cheek drifts until a thumb is rubbing at the corner of her mouth. "I can't believe how much I've missed you."

"I can," Quinn says, and then clears her throat. "I'm... okay. You know how we've been taking it slow, and have been getting to know each other and... all of that?"

Rachel nods, a little warily, and Quinn can't help but break into a wide smile.

"Yeah, I think we've been you know, super slow long enough now. I'd really-are you... I mean, I know there are people around but we're pretty shielded here and-mmmphhh."

This isn't like any other kiss they've shared; it's one that Rachel starts, but it's one that slowly changes until no one is really leading it at all, and it's like a hello and welcome back all at once. With one small suck to Quinn's lower lip, Rachel pulls back after what must've been minutes, and then smiles a little wryly.

"I wasn't entirely honest about... leaving bible camp early."

Quinn tries not to react, but the frown is automatic, as is the slight tensing. "What did you do?"

Rachel sort of sighs and smiles at the same time. "Don't worry, I didn't... it wasn't another Rachel Berry scheme. But... I might've gotten kicked out for, um, standing up in the middle of a sermon and yelling at the priest that love of all shapes and sizes is beautiful and that he should really work on being less judgmental or God might not let him into heaven."

Quinn blinks at her, and then feels her lips twitch at the incredibly embarrassed blush on Rachel's cheeks, and then finally starts laughing. "You did not."

Rachel just bites her lip and looks down and say, "I couldn't help it, okay? I'd just read that letter about how your dream vacation involves lounging around naked in a cabin by a lake of some kind and-"

"I'm pretty sure I didn't say naked," Quinn says, raising her eyebrow.

"Okay, maybe that was my amendment to make your scenario even more appealing," Rachel concedes, rolling her eyes.

"I accept the terms of your improvement, in due course," Quinn says, as seriously as she can, and then Rachel chuckles a little and presses another kiss to her lips.

"I really love you, you know," she then says, before dropping her eyes again. "I know I've screwed things up horribly, but I've also been writing to Father Kevin, and he's been helping me realize that I … I sometimes do these things just because even though they're awful, at least I'm in-"

"Control of them," Quinn says, with a small, wry smile. "Yeah. I know what that's like."

"I'm working on it," Rachel says, tugging on the collar of Quinn's shirt subconsciously, and looking at her with such naked regret that Quinn closes her eyes and pulls her into another kiss.

"You can work on it as long as you have to," she finally says, pulling away with a wet pop. "I'm not going anywhere."

Rachel hugs her tightly again, and Quinn closes her eyes and lets herself breathe in home, for the first time in months.

It smells better than ever.

Two days later, they go for coffee with Kurt and Blaine.

Blaine and Rachel are a match made in heaven, and Quinn just sort of stares at Kurt with a helpless look on her face as they ramble on and on about fantastic classical male romances, and then break out into Don't You Want Me in the middle of the Lima Bean.

It would be mortifying, if not for the fact that Kurt's facial expression is so horrified that Quinn starts laughing after the first chorus and doesn't stop until they're done.

Rachel and Blaine look like Stepford Twins when they get up off the table and bow to their reluctantly clapping audience afterwards, and Kurt hisses, "We're never coming here again" at her before also politely clapping and then asking Blaine to get him another mocha.

Quinn herself loses any and all ability to be mortified when Rachel turns to her, beaming, and says, "Thank you for setting this up. Blaine is delightful and-"

"Hey, anytime," Quinn says, even as Kurt makes a dramatic whipping noise across the table.

He might be right, but this? Having coffee in a place half their school goes to, together?

It's never been an option before. Now, she sees Artie and his mother three tables down, and just sticks up a hand at him.

He gives her two thumbs up, and she chuckles before putting a hand on Rachel's thigh; just for a moment, because you never know when a VA sponsor happens to be in town, but still.

That's a moment she gets to keep forever, now, and that totally makes it worth it.

Santana shows up on Friday with Brittany and a bag full of "gifts".

"What the hell is this?" Quinn asks, holding up a sheet of plastic.

"A dental dam," Brittany says, fishing it out of her hands. "Here's what you do with it. Okay, so-say Santana is Rachel, and-"

"Oh my God, please stop," Quinn says, covering her face with her hands.

Santana starts laughing. "What, are you not into safe sex?"

"We're essentially both virgins, what could possibly not be safe? Also, we're not having sex," Quinn complains, and then glares at them both. "And I'm not talking to you about this."

Brittany is quiet for a moment and then reaches for one of Quinn's hands, examining it from all sides, before looking at Santana with a sigh. "I don't think she needs our help, San. Look at how long her fingers are; I don't think she could miss Rachel's g-spot if she tried."

"Out. Both of you, out, right now," Quinn snaps, even as Santana starts laughing hysterically.

"But-Rachel wanted to know these things, so I thought it would only be fair if I told you as well," Brittany says, sounding a little concerned, before leveling Quinn with a serious look. "I mean, don't you want to be as good as she is?"

"Rachel asked-" Quinn says, her voice locking completely, and to complete her thought she just fishes up the discarded, unused dental dam again. "She … this?"

"No, silly; she knew about the safe stuff. That dam's hers. I just borrowed it to talk to you."

Quinn feels her mouth drop open slightly and Santana, still laughing, just wraps her arms around Brittany and says, "We should probably go; I mean, if this is how she responds to protection, God knows what she's going to do when she sees the strap-on."

"The what?" Quinn manages, and just about manages to glare at an evilly-smirking Santana, who then pats Brittany on the ass and says, "Later, Q. Call us if you have questions about anything else in that bag."

"Yeah, I won't," Quinn mumbles, and waits for them to leave before picking up her phone and calling Rachel.

"Hi."

"Hi back. So. Um. I think we just got gifted a bunch of sex toys, but I'm afraid to look," Quinn says, lifting a corner of the bag and then lowering it again before she can actually see anything. "Can you maybe-"

"I'll be right there," Rachel says, hanging up immediately; no more than ten minutes later, there's a knock at her door, and Rachel confidently walks into the room and opens the bag Quinn is pointing at.

Then, she starts laughing, and finally produces a teddy bear.

call us when you're ready for the adult stuff, loser, Santana's jagged handwriting says on the note pinned to the teddy's stomach.

"I hate her," Quinn sulks, falling onto her bed.

"I know you do, baby, but they're only teasing you because they-hey, is this my dental dam?" Rachel asks, before brightly holding it up between them. "Oh, excellent. I didn't quite know how to raise sexual safety with you when, well, we're not anywhere near ready to go that far, but then it's never too early to be prepared, so..."

Quinn snorts laughter and pulls Rachel down on top of her. "I love you."

The dental dam falls to the side of the bed forgotten, because no, they don't need it yet; but if the way Rachel's hips press up against hers tightly after half an hour of making out, she knows that there will come a point in time when she better be sure what the hell to do with a dental dam.

The thing sounds kind of unpleasant, and so she stops thinking about it altogether when Rachel sits up again, straddling her hips, and grips the edges of her tank-top. "I'm not trying to rush us into anything, but-Quinn, I've missed you, and things are better, aren't they?"

"Yeah, things are great," Quinn says, and almost instantly, Rachel whips off her tank-top.

Quinn blinks twice, and then gives up; she lets her eyes track down from Rachel's collarbones, to her breasts, and finally that lightly rounded stomach that she's been obsessed with touching for almost nine months now, give or take a few.

The thing is, things are great, and that's only about five percent hormones talking right now; the rest of it is a box full of letters with every hope, fear, and regret Rachel has ever had penned out to her, and if that's not enough to bring them close enough for certainty...

When Rachel falls apart fifteen minutes later, once again soaking Quinn's fingers through a pair of panties that Quinn is dying to get a glimpse of-not that she needs it, she's wet and shaky just thinking about them-it's with Quinn's forehead pressed against her chest, right next to her heart, still softly sucking on one of her nipples.

"The things you do to me," Rachel exhales, nudging Quinn's head away, still trembling slightly.

"If you can't find the words, perhaps you can demonstrate by example," Quinn says, pressing a kiss to Rachel's sternum, and then smiling up at her. "You know; on me, for instance."

Rachel chuckles weakly, and her eyes start to flutter closed a little, and just like that, Quinn's hormones take a back seat again; all that's left is this overwhelming need to be close to Rachel, and she gives into it.

That space on her shoulder has been empty for too long, now, but with its rightful inhabitant back in place, Quinn feels like there's not a thing in the world she can't conquer right now.

It's that feeling that has her pulling up outside of Rachel's house a few days later, on their last weekend before school starts again. The same feeling propels her out of her car, and onto the front steps to Rachel's house, and before her nerves can get the better of her, she presses down on the doorbell.

Shelby opens, after a few moments, and looks at her with an unreadable expression.

"Hi, Mrs. Corcoran. I'm here to collect Rachel," she says, trying not to shift under Shelby's stare. "If that's... okay. We're, um, … well, I'll have her back by dinner time, and if traffic is terrible on the way back I'll be sure she lets you know."

Shelby smiles faintly after a moment. "I see you've spent the summer learning some manners."

Quinn bites back a bitchy retort and then just clears her throat and says, "I've always had those, but this is more about... okay, I don't think we'll ever get along; I know you won't ever like me, because I'm not what you want for Rachel, but I think we can at least try to be civil. I don't like her being miserable because of us; do you?"

At Shelby's deep sigh, Quinn looks up at her again and suddenly notices how exhausted the woman in front of her looks. There's not much left of the shark she met at the start of the school year, ready to conquer and devour; instead, she just looks older than she ever has, and like she hasn't had a good night of sleep since-

Well, Quinn doesn't need to guess. She can put an exact date on when Shelby Corcoran started suffering from insomnia, and when no response is forthcoming, she glances away and says, "I can wait in the car, if you'll just-"

"Quinn," Shelby says, before she can walk away, and she turns hesitantly. "Anyone … involved with my daughter normally comes over for dinner so I can gauge their intentions and find out... what they stand for."

It's probably the most artificial invitation of all time, given that Jesse most certainly did not have to come over for dinner, and there hasn't been anyone else to invite over, and-some part of her wants to laugh and say, "I'd rather eat glass", but...

Rachel bounds down the stairs behind her mother, freezing when she sees Quinn in the front door, and Quinn takes a deep breath and reaches for Shelby's hand. "It'd be my pleasure, Mrs. Corcoran. If you could let Rachel know what a good time would be, I will be there."

Shelby sort of scoffs, but shakes the hand she's offered, and then steps aside to let Rachel pass.

Rachel looks at Quinn with a small smile and then turns to her mother, putting a hand on her arm for a moment. "This doesn't mean that I don't-"

"I know," Shelby says, stiffly, but then she sort of grimaces and pulls Rachel into a hug, and Quinn turns away from them just to give them a moment, because-maybe she's an idiot, but she's hopeful that one day, they'll get past this, and they'll have a real relationship that isn't just built on Rachel's New York-oriented aspirations.

The door closes behind Shelby after a minute or so, and then Rachel's hand is on the small of Quinn's back, pressing down gently.

"Thank you for trying," she says, quietly.

"Not just doing it for you, babe," Quinn says, pressing a kiss to Rachel's forehead. "You ready for this?"

Rachel laughs shakily. "Not even a little. You?"

"No," Quinn says, also smiling, before reaching for Rachel's free hand and pulling on it gently. "But I think it's time anyway. Right?"

The interstate towards Cleveland is damn near empty on a Sunday afternoon, and they're maing amazing time; but even so, Quinn can tell that she's getting more and more nervous and that it's rubbing off on Rachel, who is now compulsively pulling on the hem of her dress.

It's time to at least try to distract each other, and so Quinn nods at the dashboard, about ten minutes until her phone says they're ready to hit up the city proper. "There's a CD on the top shelf-can you-"

Without letting go of Quinn's hand, Rachel pops the glove box and pulls out a CD that's just entitled Sam and Quinn's Summer Experiment.

"Experimenting with a boy? Why, Quinn Fabray," Rachel murmurs, and Quinn chuckles before saying, "Go on, put it in."

"What is this?" Rachel asks, when the CD is loading, and Quinn watches as it cues the first track before switching to the third one.

"We've been working on … different styles, all summer, and I've been working on making my drumming more... mathematical, and crisp, I guess; this isn't the kind of music that Untitled Band will ever play, but Sam likes Bloc Party as much as I do, and so we just sort of ended up doing this with the two of us."

Rachel looks intrigued, and Quinn smiles before squeezing her hand.

"Just listen."

They'd spent hours on mixing together all the instruments needed to do This Modern Love justice, and had worked late into the night to really make sure that all the riffs gelled together well, before finally arriving-with some help from Artie-at the end product, which...

Well, it might be the best thing she's done with her kit, to date, because nothing else's she's really ever done has put the feeling of being in love down on paper quite in this way.

She and Sam had overlapped their vocals, and while she'll never be overly fond of her own voice, she can see what it's doing to Rachel, whose fingers are tightening on her all the while, until the song gently peters out with just Sam's guitar work and Quinn's voice, softly singing them out on the coda.

"Kind of how I feel about you," Quinn says, when the car falls silent afterwards.

"Kind how I feel about you, too," Rachel finally says, and pulls her knees up on the seat, until she can lean her head on Quinn's shoulder and press a kiss against her neck. "Always remember that, please."

Quinn smiles and kisses Rachel's forehead, and then takes a deep breath when the exit sign looms on their right.

And yeah, she'll never be ready for this, but suddenly she feels like she can handle meeting some of the most important people she'll ever have in her life, as long as Rachel is with her to do it-

-and when Rachel sucks in an equally deep breath and straightens, still holding onto her hand tightly, she knows it goes both ways.

...

Do you want to come over and kill some time?
Do you want to come over and kill some time?
Do you want to come over and kill some time?

Throw your arms around me.