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these strange steps

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Sunlight streams into her eyes the next morning, and they flutter open unexpectedly, before she grimaces and rolls over onto her other side—only to be face to face with Quinn, who is just lying there. And looking at her.

She stills, to the best of her ability, and watches as Quinn's eyes flit from some spot to her left—her hair, maybe? Is it sticking out funny? She reaches on instinct, and then watches as Quinn just pulls the covers up to her chin with her hands, curled into loose fists, and then peers at her from above it—just two eyes and a nose.

Rachel feels her own nose crinkle in response, and then says, "... what are you doing?"

"Pretending I'm under water," Quinn says, muffled by the covers.

That silly, teenage sensation of noticing another person for the first time—really noticing them, in the sense where they make up a body and a personality and a being that could slot in next to her own—washes over her again, and she's not awake enough to really control her response to it.

Thankfully, it's just an urge to do the same thing, and then they're just dumbly staring at each other, hiding grins behind the covers, until Quinn shifts a little again and runs a hand through her ever-messy hair.

"I... was going to wake you up by um, going down on you, but... some people don't like that kind of thing, so I thought I'd ask first."

"Some people being you? Because—by all means, next time the urge strikes you," Rachel says, her lips brushing against the sheets; they're tingly, now, and she knows a kiss would soothe them right quick, but—

One step at a time, and for now, Quinn is in her bed. Talking. About wanting to go down on her.

There are worse ways to wake up.

Quinn hesitates, and then rolls over onto her back and folds her arms under her head. "I think... most people would be in mortal danger if they tried it, honestly, but..."

She trails off completely, and rays of sun play across her face—highlighting the length of her eyelashes, and the perfect tip of her nose, and the way her lips are still rosy and bruised from what they did yesterday.

"God, you're so beautiful," Rachel thinks—only realizing belatedly that she's said it, or sort of sighed it.

Quinn glances at her briefly, before frowning and then stretching out her entire body. "You're biased."

"Well, yes, but even objectively..." Rachel smiles faintly and lowers the covers. "Is it really that hard for you to believe that—"

Quinn shrugs. "No. I spent a lot of money—or well, my parents did, to get me looking this way. Clearly it's satisfying some objective beauty standard."

"Quinn," Rachel says, a little more seriously, shifting in closer just because she can, until her hand is stroking down Quinn's cheek and then cupping her chin lightly.

The skin around Quinn's eyes crinkles momentarily—it's one of very few things that gives away that Rachel is not alone in suddenly getting closer to 30 than to 20—and then relaxes again. "I'm... not saying you're being dishonest, Rachel. I just …"

"What do you see, when you look in the mirror?" Rachel asks softly, brushing her hand down further, until she's drawing a small circle on Quinn's sternum with just the tip of her index finger.

Quinn grips her finger after a moment, and then says, "Ask me something easier."

They reposition almost automatically after that, until their only point of connection is Rachel's knee against Quinn's thigh, and they're looking at each other again.

"What... talk to me about yesterday," Rachel finally says.

Quinn exhales slowly and then laughs a little. "I said easier, Rachel."

"No, I mean—I … I want us to be able to talk about what we do in bed, in bed. Do you understand what I'm saying?" Rachel presses.

After a second, Quinn's expression sobers, and she nods. "Yeah. Okay."

It still leads to a slightly awkward silence, until Quinn admits, "I... thought you would time-out sooner. I really did. You had a look on your face when um, I suggested you—um—"

"Give you head?" Rachel asks, smiling faintly when Quinn blushes and then nods.

"But... when you didn't, I … I don't know. I guess you tapped into the head cheerleader, if that makes sense, and she really likes... well. Winning. And I felt like, I wasn't getting to what you needed, and—"

"No, it wasn't that," Rachel says, shaking her head quietly. There are a lot of thoughts that are relevant, running through her mind concurrently, and finally she just says, "I... don't know. What happened."

"Did you not... stop me sooner because you didn't want to disappoint me, or something?" Quinn asks, tentatively, and Rachel looks at her eyes—God, the level of concern there is something else entirely.

"No. You just... you actually just made me feel like... like you knew more about what I needed than I did. I didn't … there was an automatic end point, last time, when... you know. You knew I was done. I think this time neither of us did, until suddenly it was too much," Rachel says, reaching over and petting the covers somewhere above Quinn's abdomen for a moment. "Quinn, it—it wasn't bad, that I used the word. It means that... we're discovering more about each other."

Quinn pulls her lip between her teeth and then grimaces a little. "I wish I had... more experience with this, sometimes. I feel like I should've known, or felt it coming at least. Maybe I should have changed approach towards the end. Did you even get any real emotional release out of it, or—"

"No, but..." Rachel pauses, and then frowns. "Honestly? I don't think this … particular desire is about that. It's simpler, than... my need to earn your approval. The … the way this works is... it makes me feel guilty, about wanting to come, and that just makes me come harder."

Quinn studies her for a long moment, and then slowly says, "If this is simpler, and less emotionally—you know, exposing... why is it that you still seem a little unsettled?"

"Because I am," Rachel admits, continuing quickly—before that look of concern on Quinn's face can shift into something wholly unnecessary, like guilt or regret. "I wasn't—most of yesterday, but... we weren't in bed, most of yesterday. I didn't realize just how much your words would get me into that head space where... I don't know. What you said was true. I felt really exposed, and ashamed, and—it was kind of a shock, to go that deep."

Quinn sighs softly and stares at the ceiling. "So I did push too hard."

"No, you didn't," Rachel says, and presses her hand down a little harder, until Quinn meets her eyes again. "Q, it's my call, okay? That's why we have the words. You're not a mind-reader. You can't be expected to know what my limits are when I don't even know. But we found out, together, and—"

She takes a deep breath, and then waits for Quinn to glance at her with that same worried look on her face.

"I'm glad it was you. Okay? I'm glad it was you."

Quinn's lips part slightly at that, and her eyebrows contract; sunlight plays through her hair, emphasizing the golden blonde parts of it and hiding the darker roots, and Rachel reaches out on instinct; touches it, and watches as Quinn leans into her hand.

"What about now? What do you need from me now?" Quinn finally asks, swallowing lightly and then closing her eyes.

Rachel scratches at her scalp, and only hesitates for a few seconds before saying, "It's—I need today to not just be about what I need. What do you need?"

Quinn's expression contorts, even with her eyes closed, and her head stills against Rachel's fingers—but then she sighs softly and says, "I want to be with you, but... no games, today. I don't really trust myself right now. Yesterday was … a lot."

"For both of us," Rachel stresses, softly.

Quinn's eyes flutter back open, those endless eyelashes lashing against her cheeks, and then she says, serious in a way that makes Rachel's heart flip all over again, "Can we just—keep it simple, right now?"

The truth is: no, they can't. Not in the global sense, anyway.

But right here, in Rachel's bed, with Quinn looking at her that openly, Rachel finds it deceptively easy to forget that there's a world out there, and that world won't let them have simple.

For now, that world just doesn't exist.

"Yeah. C'mere."

...

It's their most basic connection yet.

Quinn doesn't make eye contact during, instead dropping her cheek to Rachel's, and then resting her forehead on the pillow next to her head, while they slowly explore each other. Part of Rachel craves the look in Quinn's eyes, when they get close, but—the rest of her just craves this closeness they have. It's new. It's thrilling, and terrifying.

It's the kind of thing she won't know how to leave behind.

She comes when Quinn moans, "Come on, Rachel, now", but it feels nothing like it usually does, when Quinn demands an orgasm from her. She sounds less urgent, and more pleading. It has a crash-landing effect, where before Rachel can even process if she's ready, her hips are snapping up and Quinn is holding her breath, listening and feeling her cave in.

Muscles contract around her own fingers moments later, and she curves them gently when Quinn reaches down, captures her wrist, and says, "Stay", in a breathless little voice that makes Rachel wrap her spare arm around Quinn's back and tug her in place, just for a moment.

She has no idea what any of it means, the stay included, but perhaps what matters is that Quinn isn't running off, afterwards, and only eventually rolls over and away—but not before pressing a kiss to the corner of Rachel's mouth, and God help her, she's starting to interpret that as Quinn's own version of I hate you.

If she's deluding herself, it's only for another two and a half weeks anyway.

She can't bring herself to stop. Stopping just isn't, and will never be, her strong suit.

...

She makes coffee.

Quinn makes pancakes.

After breakfast, they play a round of Boggle, which has to be one of the most pointless and frustrating word games of all times, and by mutual agreement, they abandon it halfway through.

Quinn is in borrowed, terminally-short sweats and an old Browns jersey that Rachel stole from Puck years ago, and Rachel desperately tries to focus on the game just so she can't think too much about how right it feels, to wake up together like this.

Easy like Sunday morning, right?

Except after Sunday comes Monday, and—

She blows out some air, frustrated, and then proposes Scrabble again. Quinn perks up at that, and Rachel shouldn't find her aggression towards board games as charming as she does, but it's … yeah. It fits. It suits Quinn. It's a part of the Quinn puzzle that she knows how to place, now, and given how few of those there are...

Her Scrabble reputation is going down the drain, though, because with how much she wants to just absorb Quinn's presence in her life right now, she really can't focus on the game in the slightest—and Quinn teases her gently, before kicking her ass twice, and then just says, "Hey—you can do the Times crossword online, can't you?"

They end up next to each other at the breakfast bar, peering at the puzzle; every time Rachel gets close to cheating, Quinn swats at her hands, before finally forcing her to just sit on them and taking over the clicking and typing.

They're two words short from finishing it, without cheating, and Rachel says, "Maybe these are meant to be a team event."

"Bill Clinton does them by himself."

"I think Bill Clinton is probably a bit smarter than either of us," Rachel notes, and Quinn smiles a little before glaring at their final missing words again.

"Well. I guess we'll try again next weekend," she then says, and hops off the stool and says, "What did you do with my towel from yesterday?"

"Hung it next to mine," Rachel says.

Quinn looks over at that, and something odd happens to her expression, but she finally just says, "Okay. Be right back; I'm getting a little ripe."

"Impossible; you always smell like heaven," Rachel says, suppressing a smile.

Quinn rolls her eyes spectacularly at that and says, "I'm starting to see why you've been single for so long."

Rachel pelts a Scrabble tile in her general direction, and then stares at the crossword again.

She doesn't know why she takes a screen shot, of how close they came.

She just does, and saves it in a folder labeled Q.

It's unexpected, that Quinn stays after the shower.

"No church?" Rachel asks, casually, when Quinn settles into the chair that's starting to become Quinn's chair, the more she lounges in it.

"Not for a long time, now," Quinn says, glancing at the tennis match on TV for a second and then looking back at Rachel. "I find that I'm as capable of judging myself against an impossible standard as other people are, at which point it's just two hours of sitting on an uncomfortable bench."

Rachel looks back at her Kindle—it's on the screen saver, because she has no desire to read, but Quinn can't see that she's just staring at Emily Bronte's face and not text—and then looks back up when Quinn speaks again.

"What about you? Do you still go to temple?"

Rachel shakes her head. "My hours are too irregular, when I'm working, and in any event, my family is very reform. My parents went to temple to get us mixed in with the community, but not out of any religious conviction."

"Did you and Puck go to the same temple, back in Lima?" Quinn then asks, and Rachel puts her kindle down and looks at Quinn across the room, smiling slightly.

"We did. He's legitimately one of my oldest friends, even if for a few years he preferred pretending he didn't know me and showering me with ice cold drinks."

Quinn falls silent at that for a few seconds, and then frowns. "How do you get over something like that?"

"You don't. You just accept that people change, and try not to dwell on it," Rachel says, as unaffected as she can, and then gives Quinn a small smile. "It helps that he apologized profusely, somewhere around the time he joined Glee."

She watches as Quinn looks towards the yard, her expression fading slowly, and then says, "Do you need me to apologize?"

"No," Rachel says, honestly, and Quinn looks at her in surprise. "It's been years, Quinn. I've obviously already accepted that you're not the same person you were back then. I guess the real question is, do you feel like you owe me an apology?"

Quinn stares back at the window, and then lowers her eyes for a second. "In part. You had some flack coming your way for the shameless way you kept going after Finn, mind you—"

Rachel almost smiles. "I know."

Quinn's eyes flicker and then she says, "I was miserable. I took it out on you, because I needed someone to be more miserable than I was. I wanted to break you completely, until you were that miserable little waste of a girl I had been at my old school." She pauses, and then—of course—licks her lips and adds, "... you never did break."

"Oh, I broke, Quinn. But I was smart enough to not let you see that you were getting to me," Rachel says, with a glance at the table that only barely hides her deep sigh. "Because if I gave you that much—"

Quinn's lips tremble in the most minuscule of ways when she looks over. "I'm really glad you didn't. You … it would have been awful."

They fall silent when there isn't much else to say that isn't a flash forward, to how much Rachel is giving now, and how it's still only the barest moments away from turning awful, basically all the time.

Quinn might not be a bully anymore, but she's also hardly going to turn into the kind of girl that Rachel feels comfortable taking home to her parents anytime soon. She can just picture the dinner now: Dad or Daddy, jovially asking Quinn what her intentions are, and Quinn just about launching herself off the table with a sharp, excuse me—and Rachel having to apologize for her, and—

No, Daddy, I swear, she's not uncaring — she's just... she's just complicated. I'm fine, I promise, she's not stringing me along. What we have is just private. She's just... she's just very private, but when we're alone, she's so good to me. I promise. She's good to me.

It's the premise of a Lifetime movie she has no desire to star in. Maybe she doesn't need her fathers' approval for who she's dating anymore, but...

Well. She just wants the same things for herself that they want for her, and so it's actually a relief when her phone rings, and she can excuse herself to the bedroom to take the call.

Quinn is actually watching the tennis, by the time she gets back, and then looks up and says, "Hey—I have work to do, but if I can borrow your laptop I can do it here."

Rachel says, "Okay."

"Do you need to go or—" Quinn asks, and Rachel shakes her head

"Puck's coming over later, but I'm assuming you'll be … well. Going home eventually. Right?"

It's ridiculous, that Quinn looks vaguely affronted at that assumption. For God's sake, she has a cat to feed and a need for underwear, among other things.

"If you need me to go—"

"No, you can stay and do work. You also don't have to leave when Puck gets here. We tend to order in a half meat, half vegan pizza and watch some ridiculous sports event that we missed during the week because of our hours."

Quinn gets up, and fetches the laptop from the breakfast bar, and then settles with it in the arm chair again, before pausing and looking at Rachel. "Dumb question, perhaps, but what does Puck actually do for you?"

"Anything to do with music," Rachel says, with a smile. "He doesn't have an official title. He... basically takes care of most of the behind the scenes orchestral and other live performance needs. And when I'm not touring, because I'm doing a show or something, I tend to try to get him into the band. He's quite musically gifted."

"He always was a talented guitarist," Quinn says, softly, already looking at her screen again.

"Is Beth musical?" Rachel asks, after a second.

Quinn glances up momentarily, and then shakes her head. "Not that I know. Though I don't really see how you can be raised by Shelby and... well. Not end up with some kind of exposure to music."

The conversation peters out, as Quinn's concentration flickers back to the screen, and Rachel gets up after a moment and heads into the bedroom, to a folder that's on her nightstand there, and brings it back to the sofa to flip through it.

It's time to start making choices, whether she likes it or not.

Two and a half weeks, and she's on a plane back to New York—unless she can decide now where to re-route that plane to instead.

Something about the silence between them—the clacking of the keyboard keys and the flipping of pages notwithstanding—is oddly grounding, and Rachel pores over pages of information about different facilities. They're color-coded, because Kurt knows how to get her attention, and some of them have post-its with additional information on it, like that the lead actor in that HBO show about war criminals had successful treatment in this or that facility, or that he recommends she not go to the facility in North Dakota because April Rhodes is a regular there.

On the final page, it also says that it's for the best if she doesn't use any of her normal aliases when checking in—does she have any ideas for a different one?

Picking the facility is not easy, but a fake name—well, that comes to her with just one glance at Quinn, peering at the screen and typing away, one leg folded under her, and somehow making herself look very small.

Cat-like, almost.

Carla Young, she texts at Kurt. It's between Hawaii and Connecticut as far as I'm concerned. What is your preference?

He texts back almost instantly, because—their issues aside, he is an amazing manager.

Hawaii is easier to sell as a long-term vacation. You could claim the ocean is inspiring your song-writing, yadda yadda.

She smiles faintly at that, and then, with one last look at Quinn—who doesn't look up, and is frowning fairly heavily by now—sends back a decision.

Do it. For the Wednesday. As soon as I'm finished here.

Are you sure?

Yeah. I'm sure.

In a strange parallel to lunch at Nicole's, Rachel ends up making a ridiculous fake attempt at doing dishes in her own house.

For one thing, she doesn't even think she owns dish soap.

But for another, they ate pizza straight from the box, and so she carries back two empty beer bottles and just slips out of the kitchen door, settling on the back porch and watching the sun set. It sets very, very late in Nevada, and it's something that's going to add to her depression when she goes back to New York, she's sure.

She doesn't suffer from that seasonal disorder that means that the entire period from October to March is nothing but a mood drain, but she does suffer from acute awareness of how everyone else has something to look forward to in the holiday season, and she's usually alone on Christmas—or with Puck, watching basketball—just because her fathers don't celebrate it, and the days around Christmas are the Broadway party season, so she can't just skip town.

She cried almost every night after she was in the studio, recording a Christmas covers album a few years ago; and that was before things got really bad.

She needs... a change.

Something. Something that is running to, not running from. And Hawaii is going to give her an opportunity to try to figure out what that should be, and … she needs to take it. She absolutely needs to take it and—

The door behind her slides open, and she glances up to see Puck standing behind her.

"Hey. I'm... going to head out. That was kind of... really fucking weird, after all these years, but I mean, thanks, for like—talking to her, about talking to me," he says, softly.

A cricket chirps off in the distance, and Rachel wishes she could talk to him about just picking up all their shit and driving off into the desert, without a destination in mind.

It sounds amazing, right now. Maybe out there, she'll remember who she is—without all that noise cluttering up her head and clouding her judgment. Just the occasional cricket, and a wolf howling—maybe? She has no idea what animals even live in the desert—and sightings of the stars up above.

But he'd just be a placeholder. And he knows it as well as she does.

"Anytime, Noah," she says.

He ruffles her hair quickly, and then steps back inside, and she watches as the sun slowly disappears behind her back walls.

Then, there's the tread of feet on the floor behind her, and the sliding door closing again, and suddenly Quinn is sitting down next to her; not touching, but right there.

The concept of nearly breaking has changed, since she was a teenager. Back then, it involved biting her lip until she was alone, and then staring in the mirror and wondering what was so wrong about her, before pulling her shoulders back and trying even harder to be better than everyone else.

Now, nearly breaking is as simple as just one more gentle crack, slotting in place next to a whole set of bled-through, older cracks.

"I should go soon," Quinn finally says, quietly.

When Rachel glances over, because there isn't any way for her not to, Quinn's eyes are dark, and they hide whatever it is she's thinking.

"Are you all right?"

Quinn briefly shakes her head after a moment, and then says, "With you have come a lot of things I didn't think I'd ever have to deal with again."

Rachel hides a sigh in the palm of her hand, and then just says, "Sorry."

"No, I didn't mean it like that—I just..." Quinn says, and then her shoulder slump a little. "I don't know."

Rachel does. Or she thinks she does, anyway.

She hopes she's wrong, but she's not holding her breath.

"What you mean is that you're barely capable of letting me be a part of your life, and now... other people are knocking on your door. Right?"

Quinn lifts a shaky hand and runs it through her hair. "You make me sound so …"

"Damaged?"

"Dysfunctional, is what I was going to go with," Quinn amends.

Rachel doesn't dispute that, and after a second Quinn drops her forehead to her hands. "God. I don't know how to do any of this. Puck, wanting to talk about Beth, or you, wanting to talk about ..."

She trails off. She might as well have stopped at you, wanting to talk.

It's the same thing as it's been all along. They're always fine, until something real happens. And then, they're just fucking hopeless.

"I figured," Rachel says, not bothering to sigh, because this is not a surprise. "It was stupid of me to take you at face value, when you insinuated you were capable of talking about our past. God forbid we try a conversation about the future, right?"

Quinn makes a helpless little noise at that, and then shakes her head in disbelief. "So what, you've been setting me up to fail? You—are you just waiting for me to freak out and bail on you, or what?"

There is something, here, about how Quinn's word choice has regressed by about ten years, and if Rachel wasn't splintering all over the place, she might've been able to take it as a sign. As a sign that—she's getting so close, now, to somewhere

Might've been. But nobody's perfect, least of all Rachel Berry.

"No. I'm not waiting. I'm leaving the day after my last show, which is on a Tuesday, two weeks from now," Rachel finally just says, in a soft sigh.

After a moment Quinn straightens and looks at the remnants of the sun, just about gone now, before looking back at Rachel with—

Fuck, her eyes. Some part of Rachel bottoms out, and wants to scramble for apologies and words that make it better, like, I won't go if you just ask me to stay, which—Jesus, she absolutely can't. She just can't, but Quinn's eyes. Her eyes.

Rachel feels her lips part, but then whatever terrible, degrading vomit lies in wait is swallowed whole when Quinn licks her lips, lowers her eyes, and then softly says, "I've made an appointment."

Words lodge harshly in her throat, and Rachel blinks rapidly a few times, and then watches as Quinn inhales sharply through her nose.

"For Thursday. I'm... Nic recommended her. I'm..."

The sting in her lip is acute, because her teeth downright slam down on it, and even that doesn't stop her question from spilling out. "Are you—doing this for me?"

Quinn takes a deep breath and then shakes her head. "No."

"Good," Rachel says, roughly, and she has no idea if she means it or not.

Quinn looks over after a moment, and then wipes at her eyes, even though she's not crying. "So now what?"

Rachel feels the walls closing in on her. A one person panic attack, in an enclosed back yard. This is not her condition. This is just—Quinn, and life, and she doesn't know how to keep hanging on by that single thread for much longer.

"What does this mean, Rachel?" Quinn asks, again.

"It means that... I'm going to try to get better. And so are you," Rachel says, before closing her eyes and rubbing at her face for a moment. "I don't know what it means beyond that."

They're silent, for a very long time, and then Quinn says, "What are you doing this week?"

"I'm …" Rachel starts, and gnaws on her lip. "I don't know."

"Don't start deflecting now. Do you need a break?" Quinn asks, a little more sharply, and after a second Rachel laughs weakly.

"I'm pretty sure I'm getting one of those two weeks from now. An indefinite one."

Quinn sighs deeply and then says, "Rachel, I'm fucking trying here. Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to even—"

"Yes, okay? I need space. I need space that you're not in, just for a few days," she admits, the words tearing themselves from her chest—but she stops talking before she splits open altogether.

"I … do you maybe want to go play putt putt together next weekend, then?"

Rachel looks at Quinn in bafflement and then bursts into tears and laughter at the same time, and a second later she sees that Quinn is kind of chuckling but—oh, God, her eyes are shining too.

"What are we doing?" she finally asks, when her throat isn't quite as constricted anymore.

"I don't know," Quinn confesses, tugging the jersey up and running it past her eyes, and then shooting Rachel a look that she knows she's never going to forget.

I hate you, and that corner of mouth kiss, but in Quinn's eyes.

She can't look away for the life of her.

"Putt putt sounds … terrible," she finally says, with a small heave in her chest, but the thread's still holding.

For now.

"I'll make it fun," Quinn says, like it's a promise, and then brushes a hand past her arm just for a second.

And then, she gingerly presses up to her feet, and...

Rachel can't watch her go.

She just can't, but the latch on the sliding door clicks shut anyway, and then it's just her, and the crickets, in the dark.

...

When she finally heads back inside, a half an hour of staring desperately at the night sky later, she finds a jersey on her bed that smells like vanilla and cinnamon.

She forces herself to put it in the laundry, and then changes the sheets.

It helps, but not nearly enough.

Not nearly.

...

On Monday, she gets a preview of what September, October, November, and... God, all the months after that are going to be like.

Nobody calls her over breakfast. She eats cereal from the box without milk or yogurt, and it tastes like cardboard.

She drives herself to work, and doesn't have to navigate traffic and her inbox at the same time. There are no messages.

There is nothing left to rehearse, and so she sits in her dressing room and looks at the schedule of performance, and approves Kurt's recommended changes for the last two weeks of the show without really listening. Cheryl fixes her hair and her make-up, and squeezes her shoulder with an instruction that she try smiling a little.

She tries.

Lunch with Puck is a vegan wrap backstage, while he eats chicken from a bucket, and tries to start a conversation with her three times. Her one word answers are off-putting, and he leaves her with a, "Shit, Rachel, annoying as you were in high school, I liked the version of you that never shut up better than this half-dead mute one."

Kurt pulls her aside during the afternoon sound check and asks if she's high.

Not in so many words, obviously, but she smiles wryly at him and says, "No—are you offering?"

The appalled look he gives her is the first thing she really feels something at all day, until she gets back to her dressing room and Tony is there with a new dress for her to be fitted in, and people pluck at her until her skin literally crawls with disgust.

Her thumb nudges in a I know what you mean, now on her phone before she can stop it, but she doesn't send it, because she needs—she needs to prove to herself that she can do this.

That one day without Quinn won't actually kill her.

And it doesn't.

The show goes off without a hitch; she squeezes in a final glory note on Halo, which they switched in for the Whitney ballad she used to sing as the opening to the second part, and the crowd love her. Everyone fucking loves her. A reporter from the Times is waiting backstage for her, and tells her that that's the purest she's sounded in years.

"What's the difference?"

Kurt's eyes flash in a panic, but it's too late, because she's already given him a small smile and a, "I'm not drunk tonight."

His eyes widen, and then she adds, "Just kidding. I think the Vegas air is just good for me."

She could not care less what he ends up printing, and Kurt's frantic yelling about how she could at least warn him if she was planning on committing hara-kiri so late in the show's schedule barely even registers. All she cares about is her phone, and its zero messages.

Back to normal. Nobody thinks to call her, or text her, during the evening, because she performs.

When Kurt is done raging, Puck drops her off at home and says he'll be back the next day at six for the next show.

She ticks another one off on her iPhone app, and notes that there are twelve shows left, now, and then curls up in front of the TV to watch a movie. Or pretend to, at least. So much for not normally drinking by herself, right? She can't reach the wine glasses.

But it's fine. She can reach the bottles.

By the time she's finished the first one, she's flipping through channels, looking for anything that isn't mindless reality TV. She'll take anything right now, but actually freezes when she hits the old movie channels and Rear Window is on.

It's one of her favorites; not just by Hitchcock, but in general, because Grace Kelly—

Because Grace Kelly has always reminded her of Quinn Fabray, and on screen right now, Grace Kelly is trying to seduce James Stewart with words like, "We have all night... I'm going to stay with you."

Rachel knows what comes next, because she's seen the movie often enough.

I have the whole weekend off.

It's a reflex, really, the way her phone shoots out of her hand, but she knows Kurt won't believe her if she tells him that, and so she just stares at the sizzling hole in the middle of the TV for a few minutes and then slowly starts laughing.

Santana, is who she finally calls—on the cordless house phone, obviously—because Santana knows how to fix problems.

"What the fuck, Rachel, it's after midnight and—"

"I just threw my phone through the TV and would like to replace both before Kurt notices either is broken," she says, calmly. There is about a quarter of the second bottle of wine left. She should have it. Shouldn't she?

She should.

Santana says nothing for a few seconds. Then, "Are you fucking high?"

"You know, people keep asking me that and—"

"Okay, hold up, hold up—what the fuck is actually going on with you?"

Rachel laughs spontaneously, even though it hurts, at the only shorthand explanation that comes to mind. "You know how you and Brittany like... slept together for ages before you sorted your shit out and figured out how to be in a relationship?"

"Um... yeah," Santana says, carefully.

"Okay, well, imagine that, but add in really kinky sex, a stripper, allllll of my drug problems, and Quinn Fabray."

Santana is deadly silent for a very long time and then says, "Are you having coked out kinky sex with a stripper that you're pretending is Quinn?"

Rachel snorts and wipes at her eyes. "No. That would be almost healthy. I'm having... really, really raunchy sex with Quinn. Like, you would not believe what we do together."

"Is this a dream? Am I having the worst nightmare ever?" Santana asks, now almost sounding panicked, and Rachel grins unwillingly.

Take that, Santana.

"Seriously. We're fucking spectacular together. She's amazing, as a lover. Would you believe that? So prude and Christian as a teenager, but now... God. She's so good in bed, but it makes sense, because she's an exotic dancer now."

"Rachel, okay, first of all, I really don't want to hear about this, ever, at all, and second of all—what?"

Rachel laughs and then flops over onto her back, her head almost lolling off the couch. "Pay. Attention, okay. I'm having mind-blowing, kinky sex with Quinn. The rest of the time I'm off my mind on prescription drugs, but it's okay, because I'm starting to replace them with a new addiction. Do you get it? Now I'm just getting high on Quinn! And that's fantastic, because Quinn, Quinn the stripper, she's like—I'm totally in love with her, but she's dysfunctional and I'm me, so clearly we're a match made in heaven right now, right?"

She laughs again, and then sighs, when Santana stays silent. "But you know what? That's okay, because the sex is greatReally great. And she's a good friend, you know. She's—she's really smart, and unexpectedly sweet. She elbowed a tourist in the solar plexus for me the other day. I mean, who even does that? So ... I mean, whatever, right? That she freaks out when I tell her how I feel, or smile at her a little too much, or God forbid, try to hug her? Who cares? Here's what's really going on: I, Rachel Berry, am willing to bet you, Santana Lopez, that I am currently having better sex than you've ever had in your life."

Santana exhales loudly and then covers the phone for a moment, mumbling something. Rachel vaguely hears Brittany say something, in a sleepy tone of voice, and then there's the sound of a kiss and she cringes.

She just cringes, because what wouldn't she give for...

Santana appears back on the line a moment later, and then sighs deeply. "Okay. Well. I can help you with your AppleCare. I don't know where the fuck to start on any of the rest of that, though."

Rachel gasps and says, "We should start a club. People who don't understand Quinn. I think literally the entire world population can join. It'll be like Glee, but with people clamouring to sign up, don't you think?"

Santana makes a small noise and then says, "Okay. Can I just—"

"Yeah, sure. Ask away. Ask anythingI'm not the one who doesn't answer questions," Rachel drawls, closing her eyes.

"You're—not fucking with me. Quinn is actually a stripper, and you're actually banging her."

"No. She's... well. Yeah. But she's also about to finish a master's in forensic psychology and she's ... so incredibly smart, and good at what she does. Schools are vying for her to start a PhD with them, and she's... incredibly good-looking, still, obviously. God, Santana, she's so beautiful, and—"

"Yeah, okay, okay," Santana says, a little gruffly, but it's downright nice by her standards.

Wow.

If Santana is being nice, she's really in deep, isn't she?

She chuckles softly and then says, "I just threw my phone at a TV because she didn't call me all day today, and she didn't call me all day today because I asked her not to."

"That sounds... completely reasonable," Santana says, neutrally.

A moment later, they both laugh.

"Fuck," Rachel finally sighs.

"What are you doing, babe?" Santana asks, in a tone of voice that Rachel's only ever heard her direct at Brittany, and it makes her feel like crying—just like that. "I mean, really. What are you doing? This—Quinn, with this ... job, and whatever. I mean, you know she was my people, so I'm not going to sit here and talk shit about her, but—Rach, being into someone shouldn't be making you feel like throwing shit at your television, okay?"

"I just..." Rachel says, and then feels her entire face crumple. "Everything about this is not the right time. I'm a mess, and she's a mess, and ... we both know this is just for another two weeks. Until my show ends."

"And you think it's a good idea, to keep ... seeing her, for the next two weeks?" Santana asks.

The concern in her voice is so upsetting that Rachel just bites down on her hand for a moment, before spotting the faint bruise left on her wrist and staring up at the ceiling again.

"No. It's going to make it harder to do the right thing."

"So end it now."

"I can't."

"Rachel—"

"What would you do, if this was Brittany?"

Santana takes in a very, very deep breath, and then just says, "That's really fucking unfair. For one thing, I'm not incredibly depressed, and my wife isn't a stripper—"

"Well, she could be—have you seen her legs?" Rachel says, blandly, before weakly adding a, "Sorry."

Santana scoffs a little and then says, "I'll take that as a compliment, you drunken asshole."

"You're welcome, and, oh—right, please don't tell anyone she's a dancer. That's—I mean it, Santana, please?"

She's not making any sense anymore, but whatever. Santana is smart. She'll figure it out.

Santana sighs. "Rach... this isn't high school anymore, okay? Who the fuck would I even tell?"

It's a fair point. They've all left high school a long time ago, except she somehow has ended up back in more or less an identical place anyway: staring at the back of a girl who is constantly walking away from her, and never letting her get close to what she actually wants or needs.

She hangs up, and finishes the rest of the wine, just because she can.