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these strange steps

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Brittany doesn't have any solutions.

It helps a little, though, for Rachel to stumble out loud through hesitant explanations about what she's doing, and what Quinn is doing, and how much it's all going to end in—God, and she can't even look at her phone calendar anymore, where the date her commitment ends and she returns to New York has already been plugged in.

It's five more weeks. It's only five more weeks.

The fact that there's such time constraints in some ways make it easier for her to get up off the floor again, and tell Brittany that she's fine, honest, and that she just needs to get going to work; and it even makes it bearable for her to call Puck and ask for a ride.

He doesn't ask questions, because there are days—or there have been, in the past—where even the sensation of being stuck in traffic is enough to make her feel like she's hovering on that knife's edge that she can topple off of at any moment.

He just shows up about half an hour later with a bagel and a cup of coffee for her, and—it hits her, abruptly, how glad she is that he's in her life. It's something that she hasn't told him in far too long, and he's been slugging along through the same punishing schedule that she's kept in place just because time off means thinking about the things she doesn't want to think about.

The way she hugs him probably surprises him, but after a moment he gently strokes her hair and then says, "All right, Rach?"

"Yeah, just—happy you're here with me," she tells him, and then accepts her coffee with an almost-there smile.

He tilts his head at her a little, and then takes off his sunglasses and squints at her, and says, "You wanna talk about it? Quinn, I mean?"

She's sort of expecting the question, at this point, because both he and Kurt know they've had lunch—possibly more than once—and, yeah. It hits her all over again, how this stretches back into the recesses of her life, and they're all bundled together there.

A sip of coffee buys her some time to come up with an appropriately neutral response, and they both lean against the side of Puck's rental—not as flashy as her own, but he doesn't care and neither does she—and stare at the sun, almost directly above them.

"She's doing well," Rachel finally says. She's not hungry, but takes a bit of bagel at Puck's pointed look, and then slowly chews on it, before adding, "She's getting a master's in psychology and moved out here straight out of high school. Hasn't kept in touch with anyone, so it's not personal."

Puck runs his nails against his jeans for a moment, and then shifts a little awkwardly before clearing his throat. "Has she said anything about... um. About Beth?"

Rachel swallows hard, and chases the bite of food with another shot of coffee, and then shakes her head. "Not really. Other than that... Beth doesn't know that she's gay."

"Wait," Puck says, and turns to her more fully. "Back up."

"I've... asked her to consider coming to lunch with us, this weekend. I think you should really ask her anything else yourself," Rachel says, carefully, before blotting at her lips with the napkin Puck wordlessly hands over.

"No, I mean—she's gay?" Puck asks, raising his eyebrows.

"I doubt it has anything to do with that one time you fucked her, Noah," Rachel tells him, before smiling at him gently.

"So are you two like—" he asks, because that's what's great about him; he doesn't get hung up on the dumber things he says, or she says. He just carries on like nothing has changed since high school, and sometimes, she really needs that to get through the day.

"Not really," she says, finishing up the coffee and then feeling around her purse for a breath mint. "I mean, we … know about each other. I was honest with her about you, and how that's not real. But we've... we've just seen each other twice, now. Once over lunch, and once over a bottle of wine. We're... becoming friends. Maybe."

If anyone can tell she's lying, it's Puck, and he doesn't bat an eye at her explanation; just says, "Cool", and then narrows his eyes. "Does this mean you're like, done with that stripper?"

"Yeah," Rachel says, because she is.

She's done with the stripper. Whatever she's doing now, she's doing with Quinn.

A chill runs up her spine, but she manages a smile.

"Wasn't meant to be."

"Well, no shit, Rachel. Aim higher," Puck says, gently hip-checking her, and she laughs before handing him her empty coffee.

They've been together for so long now that he doesn't even bat an eye at being used as her manservant, and watching him head over to her garbage bins with the same laid back stroll he'd had all throughout high school, Rachel suddenly feels like maybe, she can actually make up for lost time.

With everyone, not just Quinn.

It's just a question of actually going for it, and—she's almost there.

The call comes during the sound check on Friday, and she takes it with an apologetic hand up at her team, but—whatever.

She's actually been in good form, and overheard two dancers tell each other that "at least our dear lead finally stopped acting like she's too good for this show" the other day. It was the kind of thing that would've sent her curling up in a ball in the corner of her dressing room even a few weeks ago, but … now, she's almost capable of only hearing the good parts.

She'd excelled at that, throughout high school. If it's coming back, it's a relief—though she doesn't think she'll ever be as wilfully blind to how little it matters that she has talent if she has nothing else again.

"Hey," she says, softly, heading out into the wings and sitting down on a stool left there for last-minute sewing adjustments to the dancers' costumes. "You okay?"

"Fine, just taking a break," Quinn says, easily. "Made my deadline, so that's good news."

"Oh. Does that mean that..." Rachel says, before really thinking it through, and then stops when she hears Quinn sighs softly.

"I'm not doing lunch tomorrow," she then says, almost apologetically. "I need—more time to prepare. Questions to ask you, and …"

"Quinn, for goodness' sake, it's a lunch with old friends; not a CIA interrogation," Rachel protests; she hopes that the hint of humor she injects in her voice is enough to not ruffle already ruffled feathers further, and after a moment Quinn just sort of sighs again.

"It's... Jeffrey Dahmer, Rachel. Okay?"

No.

It's not okay at all, that the mere prospect of immersing further into Rachel's life is sending Quinn into such a spiral, but she doesn't really know what the hell else she was expecting. For every step forward, there's at least two in a different direction that she just can't predict, and—

Five weeks. Fuck, she doesn't even really want to have lunch with Puck and Kurt.

"Okay," she says, as calmly as she can. "So what are our plans?"

The relief in Quinn's voice is palpable when she says, "I thought I'd come over and cook you a real meal, since you appear to be living on take-away and that shit is just awful for your skin, Rachel."

Her own laughter surprises her, because—well, it's such a silly thing to say. But there is a side of Quinn that is just that: a little offbeat, and...

She wonders if anyone else has ever gotten a chance to see it. Some part of her, selfishly, hopes not.

"I didn't realize my skin was a problem," she says, when Quinn also chuckles a little.

"It's not. It's flawless. I'd like to keep it that way," Quinn then says, with a little more warmth now, and Rachel does what she can to stop from preening. It's just such an unexpected compliment, and from exactly the right person; there's nothing that compares to the way Quinn can make her heart skip beats without even trying.

And while that's normally a cause for concern, right now? Right now, it's just nice.

"I'm still vegan," Rachel says, after a second.

"I can work with that."

"Are you... a decent cook, or should I have some sort of back-up option in the house?" she then asks.

Quinn laughs softly. "I thought you'd figured out by now that I don't do anything unless I know I can do it well."

"Oh, for God's sake," Rachel sighs, fighting a blush. "Did you have to go and do that? I'm due back on stage in a minute and now I'm all... distracted."

"Makes two of us. I'll make it up to you tomorrow," Quinn says, still intimately, and then her voice changes pitch so quickly that Rachel almost reels. "Hey—do you have any board games in that place?"

"Um..." Rachel says, before chuckling a little. "Is... are you planning on showering me with Monopoly money?"

"There's an idea," Quinn says, dryly, before clearing her throat and saying, "No, I just really like board games. It's been a while since I've had someone who can probably keep up with me at the more intelligent ones."

"I happen to be the Berry Household Scrabble Tournament Winner of... oh, five out of the last seven years," Rachel says, after a moment. "Are you willing to take on that challenge?"

"Yes," Quinn says, intently, after a moment.

Rachel's vaguely hopeful that she's no longer talking about Scrabble.

….

On Saturday morning, she calls Kurt and begs off sick from lunch.

She'd say she feels bad, about lying, but in the grand scheme of things, this is one of the whiter lies she's told both her manager and her friend—and she needs a little time to herself, to prepare for … whatever is coming tonight.

The anticipation makes her vaguely nauseous, but in a way where her entire body hums with energy, and she goes for a run around her neighborhood shortly after noon just to get to a point where she feels a little more settled.

A little is the bare minimum, for whatever Quinn has planned with her; she's put another sleepless night behind her, just hearing Quinn's voice ring around her head with promises of more and yes and now, Rachel, and... God. She could move to Antarctica and still lie awake at night, thinking about just how Quinn makes her feel.

The idea that there's no escape, really, and that she's stuck feeling this way, is oddly enough the thing that finally calms her down enough to just get her in front of the TV, watching a cooking show and then wondering if it would be weird or just overly helpful if she started gardening a little in her rented accommodation (which comes with a gardener).

It's one of those things that nobody really warned her about, when she packed up and left for New York; that there wouldn't be any scope, really, for her to set up a vegetable garden like the one they'd had in the back yard in Lima. Dirty fingernails are something she said goodbye to without realizing she'd miss them.

She now thinks a lot harder about the things that she leaves behind, wherever she goes, and... it's on that somewhat morose thought that the doorbell rings.

Her outfit is—well. It's not casual. It's definitely something she'd wear on a date, but on a date with say, the school quarterback she's also in Glee club with and knows very well. The nerves ricocheting off her insides don't really match the dress she's wearing, but she looks good in navy and the amount of leg she's showing will probably produce some sort of reaction in Quinn.

Who, as she can see through the door, is wearing a pair of form-fitting khakis and a short-sleeved button-up shirt and aviators, and... Christ. A cartoon image of a dog salivating at the sight of a steak pops into her head, and she almost laughs, but then there's a second pan and scan of Quinn's everything and—God.

The things she wants, she doesn't even have names for.

"Hi," Quinn says, before holding up a Whole Foods bag with a small smirk. "I'd ask if you could guide me to the refrigerator, but that would require you to know where it is, so..."

"I hate you," Rachel says, with a sigh, before stepping aside.

Quinn almost does, but then turns on her toes and leans down for a quick kiss that has Rachel freezing; and then Quinn also stills for a second, before finally rocking back on her heels and clearing her throat. "Hi. Um. Right."

"It's... you know, friends kiss, sometimes," Rachel says, completely incoherently; all she wants to do is reach up to Quinn's collar and smooth it down, or pull her down by it, or—cling to it while Quinn presses her up against the door. Yeah. That. The last one.

"The only friends I've ever known who kiss kiss are Brittany and Santana," Quinn says, a little awkwardly.

Rachel snorts involuntarily and says, "Well, they're an even more terrible example than they used to be, given that they're married now."

It's a curse, that Quinn's eyes are hidden behind her sunglasses, because—something happens to her face, but Rachel can't read it for the life of her. It's all a flash, anyway, and then Quinn just very neutrally says, "Yeah? Good on them."

"I'm... we're close, Quinn. I guess I should've told you that before, but … well. I'm sort of at a loss, at what to tell you that won't scare you off," Rachel says, closing the door behind her just to have to not look at Quinn for a second. "I'm sorry if that's overly honest, but—"

"No, that's fair," Quinn says, quietly. "I guess I lied, when I said I didn't want to know who you still talk to, or how everyone is. I just don't know how to ask, really. Some bridges really just burn, you know?"

Rachel smiles after a second and then says, "Hey—I won't lie and say that Santana's the forgiving sort, but Brittany honestly would just be glad to see you again, and you know how they work. Once you win Britt over..."

Quinn forces a small smile, and then makes an exaggerated tired noise before lifting the bag. "Can we start putting these away?"

"Sure," Rachel says, and … well, she'd do this with Kurt, for God's sake, at which point it's worth the risk, putting a hand on the small of Quinn's back and then guiding her towards the kitchen. Quinn reaches up and finally plucks off her sunglasses, folding them and sticking them on the breakfast bar, and then they quietly put away the groceries.

Apparently, they're doing some sort of Italian pasta thing tonight, and Rachel smiles involuntarily. "How'd that tomato and herb pasta recipe work out for you?"

Quinn stares at her uncomprehendingly for a moment and then blushes furiously, and Rachel laughs.

"There's really no point in being shy now, okay."

She watches as Quinn just sort of rolls her eyes and then gets a glass of water from the sink, drinking a few sips before finally turning around again. "Maybe I am shy."

"Okay, the girl who basically told me how to finger myself in the middle of a strip club is not shy," Rachel says, leaning against the breakfast bar and still smiling a little.

"No," Quinn agrees, after a pause, before pinning her with a very deliberate and yet teasing look. "That girl isn't. But there's probably a difference between that girl and me, just like there's a difference between the uppity little thing I'm currently talking to and the depraved little thing that will be begging me to touch her later tonight."

Her panties are instantly ruined, and Quinn knows it, just by looking at her, if that slight darkening of her eyes is anything to go by.

Rachel takes a deep breath, but then looks back at Quinn anyway, because—she's right. There's in here, where they're putting things away together and having conversations and where Quinn blushes and Rachel teases, and then there's in there, where the only thing she wants to do is...

She shivers, and then glances at her watch. "Is uh... four pm too early for dinner?"

Quinn chuckles at that and then says, "Yeah, probably a little. I hear there's a Scrabble legend in this house, anyway. I'd like to exercise my brain before I engage in any other kind of... exercise."

Rachel licks at her lips, dry and automatically parted, and then nods. "Okay. Sure. I can kick your butt any time of day, so that's fine."

Quinn shoots her a look that basically says, bring it, and—yes. This is arguably the weirdest foreplay she's ever engaged in. It's also the best foreplay she's ever engaged in, which should probably worry her a little, but it really doesn't.

It's hard not to have faith that Quinn will get them where they need to go, at least for the next five weeks.

"I can't believe you saved and played effigy," Rachel bitches, before pushing up onto the counter and letting her legs dangle.

Quinn is butchering an onion next to her, which—yeah, no comment, she thinks, and blinks rapidly when her eyes start to water. It's purely the onion, though, because Quinn just sort of smugly smiles at her.

"Effigy. I'm setting up a new house rule, which is no Christian words."

Quinn laughs and brushes the onion into a sauce pan, where it immediately start to sizzle. "I think we'd call that cheating over in the Christian world."

"Hey, my house, my rules. You want to beat me with your Jesus loving ways, take me to yours," Rachel says, with a shrug.

It's meant to be light-hearted, but Quinn's knife stops dicing mushrooms for just a second, before picking up in pace again. "Or you could just accept that I beat your ass fair and square."

"You'll find that I'm an exceptionally sore loser," Rachel says, watching as the mushrooms and some cilantro are also swept into the pan, and Quinn then reaches around her for a bottle of red wine. When Quinn shoots her a look, she smiles. "What?"

"I don't know, all this talk about sore and beating your ass..." Quinn says; even teeth close around a perfectly pink lip a second later, and then she grins. "It's like you know what's coming."

"Pun intended?" Rachel says, her voice abruptly a little hoarser. When Quinn's grin widens a little, she actually squirms. And Quinn knows she squirms, and finally just carefully lowers her knife and leans against the counter, looking at Rachel carefully.

"I know … we've talked. More about this than about anything else, and while I'm dying to know what your favorite movie is and what bands you like, or whatever..."

"Quinn," Rachel says, gently, before reaching for her fingers—pressed against the counter, flat, and unresponsive. "Just spit it out."

"Everything we've talked about," Quinn finally says, hesitantly but with an intense look in her eyes—Rachel can just about spot it, even though it's directed at the floor. "... we've been setting up how we play, haven't we? Even if... we haven't called it that."

The word choice is a little awkward, and it takes Rachel a second to decide if she understands what Quinn means, but then she tilts her head in assent. "Yes."

"And we won't always play. Some parts of how we relate to each other will always be there when we have sex, obviously, but—" Quinn says, finally glancing up.

"The last time we had sex... we just had sex," Rachel says, after a moment, and then stares into Quinn's eyes. "And tonight, we're going to..."

"Play," Quinn says, softly and with so much promise than Rachel almost whimpers in response.

"If we both want to."

"I want to," Quinn says, after a second, and then finally lets go of her grip on the counter and reaches for Rachel's fingers, stroking them slowly before pulling back. She scoffs a little, at herself, and then adds, "I've... brought … things. They're in the car, but … I wanted to make sure we're on the same page here."

There's something about Quinn's careful word choices that makes Rachel acutely realize that they're still in the kitchen, not in the bedroom, and this is Quinn's haphazard way of asking for some sort of consent.

"You've come up with a plan of some kind, haven't you," she finally says, when they're still just staring at each other, breathing a little unsteadily.

The onions in the pan hiss behind them, loudly, and Quinn glances at them quickly before focusing back on Rachel, and locking their fingers together.

"Yeah. I … I have many ideas, about what you need from me, and how I can give it to you," Quinn says, before swallowing visibly. "But I want you to know that—we don't need—"

She presses a finger against Quinn's lip before anything else totally unnecessary can be said, and then just says, "I want to play. Okay?"

It's the understatement of the year. What she means is, I want everything, but those aren't words she can say just yet; but the way Quinn's lips press against her finger a moment later, before she nips at the tip of it with a small, but confident smile—

Yeah. Maybe they can skip the favorite movie bits of this, and just go with what seems to matter to both of them.

Dinner is delicious.

Or well, she assumes it is. She can barely taste it, because every time she glances across the table, Quinn is there, doing something very every-day but … God. Rachel can't stop looking at her, or wanting her.

She compliments the food, and they manage a conversation about their favorite things that don't involve sex, and find that they both really love cheesy romance novels about time-traveling vikings, which … well. Friendships need those kind of commonalities, and the way Quinn smiles at her hints at a form of relief.

In her mind, a split takes place; between Uppity Rachel and Shy Quinn, who really are the ones at the dinner table right now, slowly getting to know each other as people and not just bodies. But, the longer the meal lasts, the more they're being replaced by Other Quinn and Other Rachel, and... she can't really sit still anymore.

Quinn takes a sip of water—and this too was unspoken agreement; apparently they both want to be sober, this new first time—and in the curve of her wrist, as the glass is lifted to her mouth, Rachel sees nothing but memories and promises of how those wrists flex when they hold her down, or how they bend when Quinn is pushing fingers inside of her and—

"I'm done eating," she finally says, clearing her throat and picking up her napkin, depositing it on the plate.

"Is it not—" Quinn starts to ask, and Rachel shakes her head.

"I'm going to have a spontaneous orgasm if we don't start... something soon, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm probably not supposed to come tonight unless you let me... right?"

Quinn very, very carefully lowers her water glass and looks at the table for a second, and then—just like that—they're done. It doesn't matter if they're still in the kitchen; they're in the bedroom now, and Quinn dabs her napkin at her lips for a second and then says, "Don't assume things."

"Okay," Rachel says, softly.

She watches as Quinn slides off the stool and then takes both plates and drops them off in the sink, and then turns to look at her with... God, she feels so naked, the way she's being examined. It's instantaneous. It's ridiculous that five minutes ago, she was being teased over Funny Girl actually being her favorite movie—which she acknowledges is ridiculous levels of cliche, but that doesn't change that she really likes it—and now...

"Go to the bedroom and take off everything but your underwear. If you're wearing lingerie, take it off and switch into the most comfortable set you own. The more virginal, the better," Quinn says, after a moment.

Rachel's entire body breaks out into goose bumps, and then she nods.

Quinn blinks, just once, and then adds, "Wait for me in the center of the bed, on your knees. Touch absolutely nothing of interest until I get back."

"Okay," Rachel says, again, almost automatically this time, before—and God, she has no idea how she knows she's not supposed to move, but it's not until Quinn nods that she gets off the chair and... well, scrambles to her own bedroom.

Less than half a minute later, she hears the front door close, and nearly falls all over herself to pick through her underwear drawer until she can find a plain black bra and a matching pair of boycut briefs, and... on her knees. The mattress dips beneath her, and she... is she supposed to be facing the door?

Shit. It's unreal how even this one simple instruction, and her own inability to actually completely follow it, has her completely on edge, because she really doesn't want to do anything to let Quinn down yet but—maybe it's the point? Maybe this is setting her up to fail, so that she can get... punished?

She swallows and closes her eyes, and digs her hands into the sheets, and then waits.

And waits some more. And … Jesus, her entire body is starting to shake in anticipation, but she has to stay on the bed, and...

Her phone rings, and—that's Quinn's ringtone. Which. Okay, now she knows she's being set up to fail, but what's worse—moving or not answering?

She takes a deep breath, and then reaches for the phone.

"We have company," Quinn says, tersely.

"I'm sorry?"

"Your... manager is outside," she adds, before hanging up.

Rachel stares down at her mostly naked body and can only just about manage an, "Oh, fuck" before scrambling off the bed and back into her clothes.

She knows she looks rumpled, when she reaches the door and steps outside—barefoot, because she couldn't find socks fast enough—and … her hands nervously run up and down her legs, smoothing out the front of her dress, which is … wrinkled. Like she's been rolling around on the floor.

None of that really matters when she sees the look on Quinn's face, though, which—holy shit, Kurt has terrible timing. Half an hour earlier he would've had Awkward and I'm Leaving Quinn to deal with, which... they could've made any sort of 'dinner between friends' excuse look plausible. Now, she looks like she just ran back inside from making out in the barn with her stable hand lover, and Quinn just looks like she wants to strangle Kurt.

"Kurt is... concerned about you," Quinn says, slowly. The tension drips from her voice, and God, this is the most like high school Quinn she's been. Rachel recognizes the defenses for what they are now, though, but that hardly gets Kurt out of harm's way.

"Yes, well, imagine my surprise when Ms. Fabray here came sneaking out of your front door before opening up her trunk and pulling out... whatever that is," Kurt says, before dramatically gesturing at the bag by Quinn's feet and raising his eyebrow. "Pray tell, Quinn. Do you bring the body bag to all your dinner engagements, or only the ones with Broadway stars you're planning on murdering?"

Quinn licks at her teeth for a second and then just shoots Rachel a look that blatantly means, get him out of my face before break his.

Whatever is in the bag clangs loudly when she lifts it over her shoulder, and Rachel feels the slowly simmering anticipation that's been running through her body for the last hour reach a new peak, because—well, shit. One way or another, she's in trouble now.

She averts her eyes when Quinn heads back inside, however great the temptation to just stare at her ass is, and gives Kurt an exasperated look. "Thanks. Can you for once in your life just call before you come over?"

"Maybe I would have, had I known you were going to be busy," he says, the smart in his voice obvious. He holds out his hand a second later and she stares at the paper bag that's in it. "Vegan miso. For the patient. I came by to see if you maybe wanted to watch a Sandra Bullock marathon while you're recovering because, well, I didn't want you to be alone as well as ill all weekend."

The apology is at the tip of her tongue, but, for crying out loud, she's an adult with her own life and she doesn't need to say she's sorry for being busy. The lie is a separate issue, but sometimes? Sometimes, it's nice to remember that she pays him, and not the other way around.

"I appreciate the gesture, but this—automatic assumption that I don't have anything better to do than to entertain you is going to have to stop, Kurt."

"Why? Because you plan on doing Quinn Fabray?"

She takes a deep breath and then takes the bag from him. "I'm going to pretend you didn't—"

"Oh, sure. Pretend away. And while you're busy pretending, feel free to field your own PR, Rachel. You're such a master at it that, oh, right. I'm spending all summer with you just for kicks, while my other clients at best get me on the phone. But they all get it, you see, because after the last five articles or so that called you a rude, stuck up bitch that's increasingly more difficult to work with, I think everyone's aware that damage control doesn't even really begin to cover being Rachel Berry's manager." He falls silent, even though he's clearly still seething, and then adds, softly, "The thing that used to make up for how hard the job is was your friendship, but if you're not going to do me the courtesy of telling me that you're involved with—a woman, and it's presumably serious given that she just walked in with an overnight bag—"

"It's none of your—" she starts saying, before wincing when Kurt explodes.

"The hell it's not, Rachel. This isn't just some fling with some waitress that we can bury while you … live out whatever sapphic fantasies you've been sitting on for the last five years. You think I haven't covered up your past excursions? I'm so good at my job that you have no idea what kind of hoops I jump through just to ensure that you can, from time to time, let loose a little. But we had deal. We had a deal, and that deal includes you letting me know when something actually important is happening in your life so that I can fucking protect you."

He's breathing heavy by the time he's done, and she doesn't honestly think that she's ever heard him swear in his life. He turns to face his car, chest heaving, and then turns and gives her the most disappointed look he's ever directed at her.

"I hope you know what you're doing. And that she's… sweet Jesus, I don't know; a primary school teacher with a heart of gold, because the minute anyone gets a whiff of this, they're going to be all over the both of you."

Rachel looks back as steadily as she can. "She's a student. She's getting a degree in forensic psychology, and she teaches part-time. We're at best friends, and I might've told you all of this before inviting you to lunch with us next weekend if I hadn't thought you would treat this exactly as you are doing."

"Yeah? And how is that?" Kurt asks, his mouth setting again.

"Like it's a problem that needs solving, rather than … potentially the start something I have wanted desperately for longer than I can remember, and something that … I would like to be able to talk to my best friend about without finding him on the phone ten minutes later, getting everyone who's ever even spoken to Quinn sign to the relevant disclaimers."

Kurt exhales softly and then stares at the pavement for a second, before taking a huge step forward and pulling her into a hug, crushing the soup between them.

"Is she good for you?" he finally asks, but this time, she knows she's talking to the real Kurt; the one who is concerned for her, and who knows she's been slipping away, and who hasn't known what to do about any of it.

"In ways you can't even imagine," she says, after a moment.

She feels him nod against her, and then he pulls back with a sigh. "Forensic psychology, huh?"

"She's kind of a brain," Rachel says, relying on all the acting training she has to not budge beyond that. "Kicked my ass at Scrabble tonight, if you can believe that."

"And you're sure there's not … a set of handcuffs and some steak knives in that giant bag she just carried in?" Kurt asks, his lips twitching after a moment.

Honestly? No, she's not.

But he wouldn't understand that, and so she rolls her eyes and says, "Thanks for the soup."

"Anytime," he says, and then heads back to his car.

Strangely, it feels like the first time in about three years that she's managed to move out of an impasse with him on both a professional and a personal level. And like they might be able to go back to just being Kurt and Rachel again.

It's a relief; and then she turns and heads back inside, to find Quinn pacing in the kitchen with an obviously annoyed look on her face.

"I am going to murder Kurt, I don't care if he is your manager, who does he think he is just coming over like that and—" she starts to say, and Rachel lowers the bag of sick food to the ground and pads over to her the rest of the way, before coming to a halt in front of Quinn.

"Hey—relax," she says, carefully. The somewhat wild look in Quinn's eyes fades after a moment, and then she just exhales slowly.

"Sorry—it's... hard to snap in and out of..."

"I know," Rachel says, glancing self-consciously down at her own attire. "Believe me. But nothing terrible has happened, okay?"

"I wasn't... expecting anyone to find out about..." Quinn says, slowly, before just sighing and looking away.

"Kurt will be fine, okay? He was just surprised, but he has no idea what … we're actually doing, and … lord, if he walks away from this just thinking we're dating and taking some appropriate precautions, I think we should both just thank him."

Quinn relaxes a little, at those words, and then asks, "Precautions?"

"A quick… look into your immediate environment. And I'm assuming he'll make sure that there are no connections between you, and me, and Beth, and Shelby, because—Christ, it's probably easier to explain to the press that I'm close friends with a stripper than to try to untangle that in the public eye," Rachel says, after a moment; she tries for a smile, but Quinn's eyes are still darting everywhere, and her fingers are tense, where Rachel's rubbing them with her own.

It takes another solid twenty seconds of them just looking at each other until Quinn sighs and says, "This is what your life is like, isn't it?"

"Pretty much," Rachel says, tilting her head. "Want a Xanax?"

"No, thank you," Quinn says, slowly; and Rachel reaches up and rubs at the frown on her forehead until it smooths away. "I need a second to... regroup."

"What can I do?" Rachel asks, quietly.

Quinn examines her, at that offering, and then there's that shift again; but it's slower, this time, and steadier, and when Quinn cups her chin, she knows it's going to happen and lets it happen.

"Same thing as you did before," she finally says, with a quick stroke of her thumb past Rachel's cheek.

It feels so unexpectdly affectionate that Rachel lowers her eyes, and then turns her head to kiss Quinn's palm; and... maybe that's taking liberties that she shouldn't, right now, but it pays off.

Quinn smiles, looking much more settled again, and then just says, "Go."

She does.

Her wrists hurt.

Not because of the way Quinn has bound them, which is fine, but because of the way she can't help but struggle against the restraints, because Quinn is right there—she thinks, anyway, she obviously can't see, because the blindfold was the first thing that came on and will probably be the last thing that comes off—and she just can't touch her, and holy God, she's never wanted anything more in her life.

Not a Tony, not the EGOT, not even the starring role in West Side Story. She's never … it's not even wanting. It's a desperate desire, a need, and at that thought—

"Please," she manages, but her throat is dry and Quinn's response is another silent one; a bite at the base of her neck, the sting of which is taken away with a harsh suck, and oh, God, the way Quinn is slowly fucking her, it's not even sex anymore. She's being plied apart, and the burn of the sheets on her ass—raw, if she has to put it in a single word—is so distracting from the pleasure that—no, she's wrong. The discomfort adds to it, because she knows that Quinn knows that it stings and yet she's braving it, she's doing what Quinn wants her to, and—

"Please what?" Quinn asks, long moments later; steady, curved fingers are still stroking her apart, never quite letting her climax, and then—they disappear, and she feels even teeth dig into her thigh. "Please what, Rachel?"

"I need—" she says, but the rest of her sentence just chokes off when Quinn licks at her clit, swirling around it for a second before pulling away and blowing cold air on it.

"What do you need?"

She needs to come. It's been hours; she thinks, anyway. She has no idea. Most of the evening has been this endless, dull thread of almost—almost—almost, but she can never quite grasp it in time, and Quinn has been merciless. Telling her that she hasn't earned the right to come yet, that it won't happen until she's demonstrated she can be good, and... oh, God, she's done everything Quinn has asked of her, she really has, she's tried to, at least, but still they're not done.

She's never felt so out of control in her life.

She doesn't even know what she wants, anymore. Words are completely useless to her, and all she knows is that she's just... there. Unless Quinn tells her, she doesn't know anything anymore.

It makes her want to—

Quinn's hand slaps the side of her ass, and she moans softly before squirming again, and biting down hard on her lip, before angling her hips upwards towards Quinn's fingers.

They retreat almost immediately. "What, Rachel?"

"Please, Quinn," she says, before licking her cracked lips. She's sotired and yet so strung tight, and she can't do this on her own. She needs— "Please let me come, I can't take this anymore—"

"Yes, you can," Quinn tells her, coolly; but when she continues, there's just the barest hint of warmth in her voice. "Come on. Just a little bit longer; you're doing great."

And just like that, there's relief.

She's doing great.

It's been—fuck knows how long since anyone has told her she's been great at anything, and...

She's doing great.

She sucks air into her lungs, and holds it there, and then slowly lets it out. Nobody moves, for a long moment, and they're barely touching, and … out of nowhere, she feels her entire body relax, because... Quinn will let her come when she's accepted that she can't.

That's the point of this, isn't it?

And so she takes another deep breath, and... forces her body—sore ass and all—back into the mattress, and waits.

The lightest of sounds, just a brief exhaling, gives Quinn away; and before she can really dwell on finally having gotten it right, Quinn's mouth is back on her. She's being rewarded, she knows, because the next strokes to her clit are more deliberate, and on target, and then Quinn pulls away just long enough to say, "Okay, that's it, Rach, you're done. Let go, now."

...

When she does, it's unlike everything she's ever experienced; it ends in tears, which—God, she doesn't know how to explain those, but she feels a bit of hysteria come on when she stops coming, and then Quinn is tugging the blindfold off her eyes and she just—she loses it completely when Quinn looks at her with so much... God, is that affection? Is it—

She needs to touch her, and she still can't, and she starts sobbing when she realizes her hands are still bound; and then Quinn just shushes her, running a hand through her hair before quickly undoing the restraints, and then—

"I've got you, you're okay. Hey, Rachel? Listen to me. I've got you—shhh—you're okay. It's okay. Hey, listen—you did wonderful, and what you're feeling is normal, I promise, you're okay—"

Compared to hard she fell apart to Brittany on the phone on Thursday morning, this is like a tidal wave, and she clutches at every part of Quinn she can reach, until they're curled up on the bed together in a small ball, and the only thing she can still hear is Quinn's voice, telling her that she's okay.

She starts to believe it, after a while, and then all she can feel is Quinn curving around her, while her eyes slip shut and she just fades away.

When they open again, she tenses at the feeling of a hand on her hip, and then carefully rolls over.

Quinn looks—

"You're still here," Rachel says, tiredly, and then shifts away a little, because Quinn looks on the verge of having a panic attack, but then takes a deep breath and shifts a little until they're not touching anymore.

Rachel feels—

She can't put it into words, but every swoop of air into her lungs feels like the first. She hasn't felt this present, or this clear, in years. Not since a therapist first gave her a prescription to deal with the stress she's been under, but... there's no stress right now. There's absolutely nothing, because Quinn took everything away from her and—

God, she's so in love with at least one version of Quinn that it's almost unbearable, especially with the way Quinn is now staring at the ceiling and anxiously clenching her fingers together.

Quinn gave her something she can't explain, today, and after indulging for just another few moments—watching, this creature who isn't quite Shy Quinn but also isn't Other Quinn, but … someone else entirely, capable of taking her places she's never even considered and then catching her once she falls—she clears her throat.

"I could... use some water. We're out, though, so … there's a corner store about a mile and a half from here?"

Quinn doesn't react for a long while, but then gives her a look that's equal parts know what you're doing and thank you, and then sits upright and slips off the bed.

It doesn't occur to Rachel that Quinn didn't have a single orgasm during the three hours they were at it until Quinn's already out of the house. Then, she shifts, and the sheets literally chafe her ass to the point of tears stinging her eyes, and that's when she gets up and looks at her self in the mirror. And, God, it's shocking; she's marked with little bites basically everywhere, like Quinn set about staking a claim before actually demanding ownership, and there are red blotches all over her ass that are going to hurt for days.

That's shocking, but—not nearly as shocking as the look on her face, because she looks...

She takes a deep breath, and then heads to the bathroom to freshen up a little, and … it's only when she's done with all of that that it occurs to her that Quinn might just not come back.

A swell of panic bursts in her chest, but she dismisses it, and runs her hands under the sink and presses them against her face. That's when she notices the bruising on her wrists, and God, her make-up team are going to kill her-but it's so worth it. Every time she'll look at her own hands for the next week and a half or so, she'll remember this, and...

She brushes her teeth, and only when the panic bubbles over into a spike in her heart rate and—God, she's not in public, or in an open space, and so this really can't be happening but it feels like it is. And she doesn't want it to happen, right now.

She doesn't. She's relaxed and happy, her face tells her she's happy and cared for and her brain, this stupid fucking condition, it can't just take this away from her. It's taken so much already and—

Her hand is already around one of the spare bottles in the medicine cabinet when a quiet knock sounds on the bathroom door, and she forces herself to take a few quick breathes for slamming the cabinet shut and opening up.

"I … got some ice cream, thought maybe we could watch a movie or something," Quinn says, a little hesitantly. "Are you okay? You're not... hurt, are you?"

"No. I'm fine," Rachel says, and feels her heart start to slow, when it becomes clear that Quinn means it. She's not going to leave, just yet. They're going to watch a movie, and maybe, if she plays her cards right, she can eat Quinn out while they're on the couch, because—

Well, shit, who needs a reason for wanting to do that? Look at her.

When Quinn gives her a small, nervous smile, after a second, Rachel puts on her best game face and says, "I hope that ice cream's vegan, or I might just have to spank you."

Quinn chortles a little, but can't actually manage a response, and then just gives her an are you kidding me type look.

"I know, I wouldn't dream of it," Rachel murmurs, flicking off the bathroom light and following Quinn back into the living room.

It's not a lie. The things she does dream about are a lot more life-changing and complicated than taking Quinn over her knee.

This bet they're running, spreading chips between a life of friendship and a life of play, … it's not going to cut it anymore; not after what she now realizes they could have, if they just went all in.

Watching as Quinn scoops up some ice cream with one of the plastic spoons she's brought—and Rachel smiles momentarily when she sees it is vegan, and then smiles wider when she realizes Quinn got a pint of vanilla—and then brightens at a Sandra Bullock marathon on Lifetime—

No, it's not enough. But she's not naive enough to think that Quinn staying, right now, just this once, is a sign of anything more, or that if she pushes, she won't fuck up everything they do have right now.

"Want some?" Quinn asks, after a moment, with wide eyes and a lick at the end of the spoon.

Some doesn't even begin to cover it.