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these strange steps

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A hand cups her cheek, afterward, until she manages to get her eyes open and blearily tries to read Quinn's expression.

If anything, this is sort of what her therapist looked like when she'd gone in to renew her Xanax prescription about three weeks before she was due to.

"Okay?" Quinn asks, and there's such calm and certainty in her attitude that Rachel nods and then flexes her wrists, wincing when they still can't budge.

Quinn hovers over her for a moment and long, graceful fingers pluck at the scarf binding her, until it disappears and she can lower her hands. They fall to the pillow, limp, and then her shoulders burn at finally being able to move again. It's the weirdest, most pleasure-inducing contrast to how utterly boneless the rest of her body is.

She feels a little helpless to explain all of this, even though Quinn is shifting back down and is still looking at her with some concern, and—God, she feels so much. She doesn't have the words for it.

Her eyes start watering without permission, and Quinn's eyes widen just enough for her to know she has to say something to indicate that she's fine.

That she's... just really, really alive right now. That she's probably not going to be able to sit comfortably for about three days, but that she's never felt so cared for in her...

And those words, they almost undo her completely; with a painful twist, she covers her eyes with her hand and wipes at them before she can actually start crying.

Then, she feels fingers slide under her back, and Quinn's hand starts digging into her shoulder, loosening the knot there. When it gives, and she moans audibly, Quinn reaches for Rachel's hand and pulls it away, looking into her eyes.

"Okay?" she asks again, more softly this time.

"Can—can you get me some water?" Rachel finally says, blinking at the light coming from the window; it's unexpectedly bright, and when she glances at her alarm clock, she realizes it's only three thirty.

It feels like a whole day has passed, but... it's only the middle of the afternoon.

The bed dips, and she watches as Quinn—naked as the day—disappears from the bedroom and pads down the stairs. A minute and a half later, she appears again with two bottles of spring water and, after a second of hesitating, sits down on the edge of the mattress. It takes her another moment, and a few sips of water, before she swings her legs back around, and then she settles next to Rachel again, handing over the second bottle.

Drinking the water grounds her; she starts feeling a little less like she's not even in her body with every sip that trickles down her throat, and when she's finished about half the bottle, she puts it on the nightstand and then turns to look at Quinn.

"I'm not much of a cuddler," Quinn says, after a moment, before capping her own bottle and putting it down on the ground; then, she lifts the covers and slips under them, and rolls over onto her side and looks at Rachel, hands folded under the pillow.

"Is that an assumption or a fact?" Rachel asks, ignoring the croak in her voice for now; hopefully, it'll be gone by the time she goes on tonight, and if not... well.

Quinn's eyes stare past her for a long moment, and then she tips her head back until she can look at Rachel's face. "I'm not really sure. I just don't want you to expect... things."

Rachel sort of snorts at that, unwillingly, and shifts down the bed until they're face to face again, nearly sharing a pillow; except she's on top of the covers, and Quinn is under them.

"I didn't push you too far, did I?" Quinn voices, after a moment of searching Rachel's face.

The uncertainty is unexpectedly gutting, and Rachel gambles; she's in Vegas, after all.

Her hand lifts off the mattress, and she ignores the ache that produces, because what she really wants to do is just... let Quinn be. Her fingers run through Quinn's hair, and Quinn's eyes slip shut at that, which she files for future reference. The tip of her index finger traces down the shell of a small, delicate ear, and Quinn bites on her lip in what looks like a reflex; and then she's cupping Quinn's jaw, thumb brushing past the corner of her mouth until those haunting eyes flutter open again.

"I've never done anything like this before," Rachel finally says, focusing on the way Quinn's lips are curving into her thumb's gentle sweep. "And—it was so much more than I thought it would be. Overwhelming. I don't think I've ever felt..."

She stares out the window, past Quinn, and after a moment shakes her head, pulling herself out of her head, because this—the talking about what they're doing—is probably more important than just doing it.

"It's been a very long time since I've felt like I could let go like that," she finishes, because it's honest. Maybe, "Thank you" isn't the right thing to follow that up with, but the way that Quinn's posture shifts and she suddenly relaxes... well, Rachel has said less appropriate things in her life.

Quinn licks at her lips and then says, "You've known you wanted to, though, right?"

"Be tied up?" Rachel checks.

Quinn, to her surprise, flushes a little, and it's so endearing that her hand shifts automatically, until even teeth dig into her thumb for a moment. She smiles, in reaction, and Quinn almost smiles back. "Yeah. If that's what you want to condense all of this to."

Rachel shifts onto her back and stares at the ceiling, before blinking in surprise when Quinn's hand grabs her own before it can really retreat. Her fingers are being played with, and it's unexpectedly nice and normal.

"Yes. I've known. But I'm not sure I've ever trusted anyone enough to..." she then says, before shrugging. "I was surprised to hear you say you'd never had a serious relationship with another woman. You shouldn't be surprised to hear that I haven't."

Quinn makes some non-committal noise in response, and traces a shape in her palm. "I'm sure it's not been for lack of offers."

Rachel feels her lips curve. "You're quite right. The fact that I supposedly am in a relationship really doesn't mean much to most of the people I encounter."

When she looks over, Quinn is studying her, and she tries not to squirm under the scrutiny. It's hard not to, though; it's obvious now, that Quinn wants her, in whatever way—but this kind of examination goes beyond wanting. And that's when things get complicated, because their hairy history is never all that far from her mind, even though things are really different.

Even with that in mind, though, she feels like—they've crossed a line, together, today, and that's the kind of shift in direction that means they should be able to ask questions. Pressing, or otherwise.

"I'm not really sure how to put this," she says, carefully, watching as a small frown line appears between Quinn's eyebrows almost immediately.

"Just ask," she then says, fingertips now moving towards Rachel's wrist, and—oh, that's turning into a Pavlovian thing, more quickly than it should.

Rachel feels her nipples harden almost instantly, as soon as there's even the slightest hint that Quinn might circle her wrist. It distracts her, for a second, but then she looks over and sees Quinn's small smile and remembers that—this isn't just about fucking. They've known each other for too long for that to ever be true.

"Are you in... some sort of trouble?" she ventures.

Quinn's hand stills, and for a second, Rachel thinks she's fucked everything up completely, but then Quinn just asks, in a neutral, unreadable tone of voice, "Financially, you mean?"

Rachel nods, hesitantly. "You don't have to—I'm not asking you to share things that you don't want to talk about, but if … if you need money, I'd be happy to set up a loan of some kind so that—"

Quinn laughs softly, and she runs her fingers up to Rachel's elbow, tracing there for a moment. Just about everything is turning into an erogenous zone, and Rachel chews on the corner of her mouth just to stay focused on the conversation.

"Rachel, I drive a brand new car that costs more than a house does, and you've seen where I live."

It's a fair rebuke, and Rachel sighs. "Okay. I mean, I … won't pretend that my imagination hasn't run off with me; my only real... experience with strip clubs has been a few movies here and there, and in those, the girls are usually indebted to... well, their pimp, or some gangster, or..."

Quinn snorts and rolls onto her back as well. "You need to find better things to watch."

Rachel smiles faintly, before twisting her neck to look at Quinn again; she's so incredibly beautiful, relaxed and yet poised. Like she's always ready to strike. Or run. Whatever she needs to do. "Just promise me that if you are in some kind of trouble, and you need help, you'll... you'll let me know."

"Sure. That's what friends do, isn't it?" Quinn says, stretching slowly, and Rachel feels a burst of arousal hit her straight in the gut. She doesn't have to energy for round four, though, and they really should be talking more, and so she ignores the heat pooling low and just sits up, wiggling her toes and wondering how on earth she's going to stay standing for almost two hours tonight.

"Did you—have a good time, today?" she finally asks. The self-doubt drips from her voice, and she can't really look Quinn in the eye when she voices the words, but then the mattress undulates beneath them and a hand settles at the base of her back.

"Don't ask idiotic questions, Rachel."

The words are a contrast to that sweeping brush of Quinn's hand, and Rachel glances over her shoulder. "We don't know each other well enough to make assumptions."

"Then work with what you know," Quinn says, before hesitating and looking at the sheets for a second. Then, she glances back up and says, "This was the first orgasm I've had at anyone else's hands in a very, very long time."

"You've been celibate?" Rachel asks, unable to hide the shock in her voice, and then annoyed with herself almost immediately. "I'm sorry, there's nothing wrong with that, and I suppose you were president of the Celibacy Club—"

"So were you," Quinn says, mildly. "But no, I haven't been celibate. That's not what I meant."

Rachel feels words bubble up her throat, but somehow clamps down on all of them and finally just stares at Quinn, who stares back unwaveringly.

"Are we going to talk about that?" Rachel finally asks.

"Not... right now. Not here," Quinn murmurs, after a second, and then drops her head down to bite Rachel's shoulder, just about hard enough for it to sting; but it's an oddly affectionate gesture, and Rachel melts backwards into this unreachable, indecipherable creature she's let into her bedroom despite herself.

When they're both dressed again, and Rachel's whipping them up some much-needed coffee in a kitchen she's barely ever used, Quinn looks around the room and then says, "I've seen pathology labs with more personality than this place."

Rachel sort of chuckles, before flicking the coffee maker on, and then turns around, leaning against the counter, to look at Quinn. She's all ease now, settled at the breakfast bar and just sort of gazing around. Her hair is a fucking mess, but it's just—well, God, she's never thought of Quinn Fabray as cute before, but the way her eyes curiously flit around the fixtures in the open-plan living and dining space...

"Why forensic psychology?" she asks, when Quinn looks at her again.

Quinn's eyes narrow in concentration, and then she shrugs. "It spoke to me."

"Okay, that's not—exactly the kind of thing you want to hear coming from the woman who just tied you to a bed and had you at her complete mercy," Rachel says, hoping that the teasing note in her voice translates.

Quinn dips her head and chuckles softly. "Not like that. In fact, I should revise that to, it didn't speak to me, and that's why I pursued it."

"How do you mean?" Rachel asks, before pulling open the drawer next to her and getting out a coffee spoon. "I'm—not trying to pry, but—"

"No, it's fine," Quinn says, folding her hands together, and offering a distant sort of half-smile. "Quid pro quo, though, right? I answer your questions, you answer mine."

"I didn't realize you had any," Rachel notes, and Quinn scoffs.

"Just because I don't blurt out every little thing I'm thinking..."

Rachel rolls her eyes, and Quinn laughs—a spontaneous, open laugh.

"Are you going to storm out of the room?"

"I outgrew that, thank you," Rachel says, turning to pour them both a mug; and then adding, not without embarrassment, "In large part because open spaces scare the shit out of me these days, which makes storming anywhere sort of a lose-lose proposition, but the rest of it is definitely a sign of maturing."

Quinn is still grinning a little when Rachel settles across from her and pushes a mug over, and then watches as Quinn—with exacting, compact movements—adds three spoonfuls of sugar to her coffee. That's disgustingly sweet, and her nose wrinkles before she can stop it.

"I have a sugar habit that I disguise with coffee," Quinn says, when she notices; then, she drops her chin into her hand and says, "And, to answer your question, I started out majoring in sexual psychology."

The sip of coffee that Rachel has in her mouth goes down the wrong pipe, and she coughs desperately for a moment before gulping in some air and then staring at Quinn. "Um—"

"It … was sort of a fuck you to my parents," Quinn says, a small hint of color tinting her cheeks. "Real mature, I know. But after so many years of being made to feel like the whore of Babylon for one mistake, and being almost unable to even entertain the idea of having sex again, I just needed some answers. Majoring in psych was a way of getting them without needing to talk to someone about myself."

Rachel's fingers clench around the mug. She remembers Russell and Judy Fabray, of course; remembers how they threw Quinn out, specifically, and how Quinn really hadn't recovered from that in the entire time they'd been in school together.

"Why did you change?" Rachel asked.

Quinn's eyes focus on her coffee, and after a moment she shrugs. "The courses started hitting a little too close to home. A good clinician stays detached from what they are doing. This was never detached for me, and while I learned a lot of fancy words for what was … wrong with me, I wasn't getting better. I was getting worse."

"So... you switched to forensic psychology because—it's not about you," Rachel concludes, gently, and Quinn nods. "What about... your issues?"

Quinn's expression glazes over momentarily, and then she says, "My parents threw me into counseling in high school, after they permitted me to move back in, but it was a complete waste of time. Therapy only works if you love talking about yourself."

There's a hint of playfulness in those words, and Rachel sighs. "Yes, thank you. I'm aware."

Quinn smiles briefly, but then grows serious again, her fingertip tracing around the edge of the mug. Something that benign shouldn't—can't—be sexy, but it is. The show tonight is going to be catastrophic. Kurt might kill her.

But all of that pales in comparison to how much she wants this conversation to continue.

"I knew therapy wasn't for me. At least, not when I was twenty, and finally being allowed to think for myself for the first time in years. I wasn't ready to share any of that with anyone."

Rachel almost blurts out that not much has changed, but it would be both unnecessarily snide and untrue. The idea of Quinn in high school so passively telling her these things over a cup of coffee is laughable. This is different, no matter how many barriers Quinn still clings to.

"That hardly changed that I needed some way of figuring out how to cope with my sexuality," Quinn continues, her voice taking on an almost anecdotal tone; like she's addressing a medical issue, and not her own life. "After significant consideration of how I could do that, I knew that I needed to start with something... commitment-free. Pushing my issues onto another person just felt..."

"Selfish," Rachel says, because she knows. She's been there.

Quinn nods. "So, then my friend Nicole mentioned one night, when particularly drunk at a psych department mixer, that... she made some money on the side working in this high-end gentleman's club where really, any sort of interaction was specifically catered to satisfying customer demand. There was no default performance."

Rachel takes a careful sip of coffee and then frowns. "So—you went to Rapture as a customer?"

"Only once," Quinn says, and then rubs at her cheek for a moment, before scoffing a little. "And... it was a disaster. I obviously knew I was claustrophobic, but it tends to be triggered by things like elevators and, well, closets. No pun intended. But when that girl sat on my lap and trapped me in place..." Her eyes glaze over and she shakes her head.

Rachel can picture it without difficulty. "You panicked."

"Yes," Quinn says, before taking a sip and falling quiet for a moment. "Nicole thought I'd been sexually abused somehow. It's nothing like that. I figure the control thing is inherent; my discomfort with myself as a sexual being was a product of my upbringing."

A tendril of pure regret winds itself around Rachel's heart, and tightens abruptly. "Oh, Quinn."

Quinn gives her a look that says, don't you dare pity me, and then adds, "I've come a long way, since then."

Rachel hesitates, and then winces as she asks, "Have you? Really?"

Quinn smiles faintly. "I'm obviously comfortable with my sexual orientation and my body, now."

"But not with intimacy, or your own desires," Rachel concludes, softly, because this is what Quinn meant when she said she hadn't been celibate. Quinn has had other people; but nobody has had Quinn.

The pressure of that knowledge is almost enough to make her avert her eyes, but she can't; not when this is so important.

Quinn's expression hardens for a moment, but then she nods, without saying anything else.

Rachel takes a deep breath. "Therapy helps, you know. I mean, if you're willing to use it the way it's intended."

"Like you are?" Quinn asks, pointedly.

Rachel smiles and glances at the table. "It's almost in the job description to be in some form of therapy, and I'm mostly honest with my therapist about … most of my issues. The agoraphobia, obviously."

"But not Xanax dependency," Quinn states. "Or how depressed you are."

Rachel looks at her sharply, and Quinn just shrugs.

"I don't find it hard to read you. I never have."

That's a little terrifying, and Rachel abruptly feels exposed in a way that makes her want to—to—

"Hey," Quinn says, calmly, and reaches for her hand. "Don't. I'm not fishing because I want to call you out. But... if we keep doing this, I need to know what I'm getting myself into."

"I'm not suicidal," Rachel says, after a second, when her heart doesn't feel like it's going to push out of her chest anymore in pure panic. "I'm... it's not..."

"But you need help," Quinn says, softly. "And a break."

"I'm getting one after... this summer," Rachel says, swallowing past the words. "I mean, I'll—talk to Kurt. There are some discreet treatment facilities in Hawaii and... I should be able to go to one without irreparably damaging my career prospects."

Quinn looks like she wants to say more, but then closes her mouth and pulls her hand back.

"What?" Rachel asks, after a second.

Quinn shakes her head. "I'm—I have no desire to start counseling you. That means we need to stop talking about this, though."

Rachel feels her heart sink in her throat, and stares at the counter for a long moment before sighing deeply. "It's too much, isn't it."

"What is?"

"All of this. Me. How... how close I am to bottoming out completely. I get it. I wouldn't want to get … involved with someone that fucked up either—" Rachel starts to say, until Quinn shakes her head and rolls her eyes.

"Yeah, because I'm a real catch. Don't fuck us, we'll fuck you. Girls really love it when that's your closer on a first date."

Rachel looks at her for a moment and then starts laughing, before covering her mouth and saying, "Well, it's worked okay for me so far..."

Quinn also chuckles and then just sighs deeply. "I think the key words there are so far."

The laughter trails off quickly at that, and Rachel looks at Quinn with tired eyes. "Is this what you meant, when you said you had concerns?"

"More or less," Quinn says, and then smiles at her wryly. "You're the first person in a very long time that I've been able to be ... close to. It's hard to resist, however little I can offer you in kind."

What comes to mind next is a very masochistic question to ask, but given how big a part of their relationship masochism is anyway... Rachel chuckles, at herself more than anything, and then just tilts her head at Quinn with as much acceptance as she can muster up. "What can you offer?"

"Friendship," Quinn says, after a long moment, and then glances at her wrist watch. "And—ways to navigate through downtown traffic that will get you at Caesar's in time."

"Oh, shit," Rachel bitches, and slips off the stool as Quinn just sort of laughs and says, "Sorry."

She runs to the bathroom, stopping only in the bedroom to check her phone and quickly assure a probably now-frantic Kurt that she is in fact still alive.

When she checks her phone, there are at least fifty three missed calls and messages.

For once, the sheer idea of having that many people to account to doesn't actually make her want to lie down and close her eyes.


Quinn doesn't hang around after the show.

Rachel's not honestly sure what she was expecting; the fact that she stuck around to attend it was enough of a surprise after the incredibly open conversation they'd had.

A quick call over to her team on the drive over—with Quinn behind the wheel—and a Sue Sylvester had been added to the guest list without issues, and honestly—the blinding lights have never come in better than during this show, so as to slightly blot out her awareness of Quinn, somewhere in the audience.

It's not even entirely disappointing, that Quinn has left and isn't waiting around backstage for her; and God, there's a dream she hasn't let herself have in years now. The idea of someone waiting for her when she's done, telling her exactly how good she was or wasn't on the night, before taking her into her dressing room and letting her unwind from the rush that performing does still give her, medication be damned.

They're friends, and she feels less on edge about calling Quinn now, and that means that the after-show signings—with a carefully queued, small crowd of people who bought the best seats in the theater, obviously—actually feel like they mean something, for a change.

When she's done, Kurt takes her by the arm and says, "Someone just left some fan mail for you at the bar."

"What, in the restaurant?" she asks, blinking at him and letting him lead her back to her dressing room.

"Yeah," Kurt says, feeling around in his jacket pocket and then handing her a folded note. "I'm hoping this isn't as bad as it looks."

Rachel unfolds the note, which says, truth: you got more bang for your buck when you paid to see ME perform :), and bursts out laughing.

"Rachel—what on earth—" Kurt asks, giving her a concerned look.

"It's—oh, my God. I assure you this is not as bad as it looks," Rachel says, swallowing the rest of her laughter and mentally cursing Quinn.

"Okay," Kurt drawls, slowly, opening her dressing room door and locking it as soon as they're both inside.

Rachel deflates a little, after placing the note on her dresser, and starts pulling the pins out of her hair, always up for the closing number for some reason. When she glances back at Kurt, it's clear that he's not done talking to her.

He narrows his eyes after a moment and then says, "Puck gave you an address."

"He did," she confirms.


"And—I will let you know what comes of that," Rachel says, as neutrally as she can.

Kurt smiles slyly and says, "So there's absolutely no reason for me to think that you could have possibly lied to me about where you were most of today and snuck out to see a former prom queen?"

Rachel tosses the pins onto her dresser and turns to look at him. "If you know where I was, why are you asking?"

"Rachel, as much as it pains me to have to know what you're up to at all times, I like the illusion that you would just tell me what's going on with you because I'm your friend," Kurt says, sounding a little peeved. "If you're not going to give me that courtesy, then—"

"We had lunch," Rachel says, without elaborating. "It was—possibly the first time ever that we managed to spend an hour together without ending up in a cat fight over some boy we both liked. She indicated she'd be amenable to... a friendship, of some kind."

Really, it's meant to come out positive, but she's not with Quinn right now, carefully treading around certain subjects like I've loved parts of you for the better part of my life. She's with her oldest, dearest friend, and he knows how invested she can't help but be, after all this time.

"I'm sorry," Kurt says, lowering his eyes.

Rachel looks at the note on her dresser, covered in scattered pins, and says, "I'm not. I never expected any sort of … reunion between us to be easy, Kurt, and a slow start is hardly going to deter me at this point."

"So you're going to see her again," Kurt says, rather than asks, tilting his head.

"Yes," Rachel says, reaching for her hairbrush.

"Rachel—what if friendship is all she can offer you?"

The question is gentle, and she knows she's not dealing with her manager right now, so she'll do him the courtesy of being honest. "Then, at least, I'll have tried."

He smiles weakly at her, but they both know it's the most she's sounded like herself in a fucking age—and maybe that's why he slips out of her room without further comment, and lets her be.

She wonders if the normal etiquette of waiting a day or two before initiating contact again applies here, now, still. Or if she's supposed to call at all.

She also knows that wondering about those kinds of things is just a waste of time, because unless she keeps pushing, they won't get anywhere. Quinn will just wait in the background, still and seemingly detached, because—

Because that's easier than running the risk of getting hurt.

Rachel wishes she had those kinds of self-preservation instincts.


Quinn surprises her, though.

At 5.30 am, the next morning, her phone rings and Quinn says, "Are you coming tonight?"

Rachel says, "Well, if you're offering..."

Quinn's laughter is muffled by something, which Rachel realizes is probably breakfast when she glances blearily at the clock.

"Rachel, I have to—okay. I know this isn't the best time to have this conversation, but we have certain rules at Rapture," Quinn says.


"The club. They—it's not exactly encouraged for people who know the dancers in their private lives to—show up."

Rachel rolls onto her back and closes her eyes, pinching at the bridge of her nose. "Quinn, it's not even six am and I had a long night. Can you just tell me what you need me to do?"

Quinn sighs deeply, and Rachel hears a spoon clatter against something ceramic.

She holds her breath, because she'll start babbling just to not have to listen to Quinn's clearly conflicted silence for much longer, but then relaxes as soon as Quinn says, "Even if this is merely a friendship, you're a part of my personal life now, and as such, you're banned."

"Oh," Rachel says, only realizing when she's said the word that she hadn't even considered going to the club later that day.

She hasn't thought about the club at all, for at least twenty four hours, because Quinn had been in her house, in jeans and a sweater, drinking coffee, and she'd been able to forget. Even if they'd talked about Quinn's issues, and why she'd started dancing in the first place. It had all just felt like ... a story.

Not something she'd still have to deal with, because Quinn had admitted to being over a lot of her hang-ups, at which point—was it the money?

Christ. It's none of her business. Not that that's ever really stopped her from asking questions, but for once, she's not planning on shooting herself in the foot prematurely.

Friendship, right? And she'd never tell a friend how they could or couldn't make their money, so—

"You knew what I did for a living before any of this started, Rachel," Quinn says, a hint of challenge in her voice.

"Yes," Rachel says, biting her tongue to not add anything else to that sentence. Like: but things have changed, haven't they?

Quinn is silent for a short while, like she's trying to decide if Rachel's words are genuine or not, and then finally says, "You also know I don't get involved. You're the exception to a lot of rules, and I don't plan on there ever being another one."

Well. That's quite the concession, from a friend, and after a second Rachel forces herself to move on. "When are you next free?"

"The weekend," Quinn says. "I have a busy week; many dates with many dead bodies."

"How will I ever compete?" Rachel sighs, dramatically, and Quinn makes an amused sounding 'hmmm' noise that makes Rachel's heart skip a beat in pure affection.

"I'll call you when I get a break, okay? Bye, Rachel."

The word bye somehow feels like a slow-burning promise, and when the call disconnects, Rachel lets her phone fall to her pillow before rolling onto her side and looking at her nightstand.

The scarf is still draped across it, like a tangible reminder of just how much has already changed in the last day; how much of herself she's given up, and how much she has gotten in return.

It somehow makes everything she's not getting just a little less significant.