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these strange steps

Chapter Text

The delivery gets in just in time.

That does have her scrambling to get ready at around one, rather than twelve, which is what she would've preferred. And no, her hair isn't as perfectly styled as it normally is these days-when Cheryl and Tony get their hands on her, anyway-and her make-up is fairly minimal, but it's all part of what she's going for here, which-

She hasn't been this excited about a role to play since the first night of Les Mis, when she'd been standing backstage, vibrating with tension, wondering if she was ready to take on Eponine at all-if they'd miscast, and should've taken on board someone with more experience, not some green-faced Tisch graduate with the Lima Community Theater as the biggest contributor to her professional background.

The stage had felt like the deck of a ship, wobbling beneath her, until her co-star Ashley had put a hand at the small of her back and said, "You are Eponine. Don't even think about it."

That same sentiment is oddly poignant and relevant now, even if she does feel a little bit ridiculous reminding herself that she is Rachel Berry, and she can definitely do this.

When she's done applying her lipstick, the doorbell rings, and she exhales slowly and-this is almost an automaton gesture-runs her hands down the front of her skirt, until it has exactly the right kind of snap, and then walks. The way she used to, not the way they've taught her to walk in the years since. She basically stalks to the front door, and then-sees Quinn's shadow, more than anything else, and abruptly feels like she's going to pass out.

Quinn Fabray is taking her, Rachel Berry, out on a date.

She's going out on a date with the prettiest girl in school.

That's the kind of stuff that would even make star quality waver, and so she takes a deep breath and then finally opens the door and-

Quinn turns to look at her, and then slowly raises her right hand and extends-

"Holy shit, is that an orchid?" Rachel says, without thinking about what Rachel Berry would have said-because this would've never, ever happened to Rachel Berry.

Quinn sort of smiles and then stage-whispers, "I thought I'd blur the edges a little when it came to budget; I mean, I also no longer own a run-down second-hand Miata, so..."

"It's lovely," Rachel says, biting her lip, and then accepts the flower; it's the same kind of light pink of the dress she wore at junior prom, and … she's going to take that as not a coincidence. God, if it came with a ribbon, she'd almost be ready to wear it as a corsage, and she looks at Quinn a little helplessly. "Does it need water?"

"Ah, yeah," Quinn says, running a hand through her hair for a second; then she glances at what Rachel is wearing, possibly for the first time, and her eyes widen abruptly. "Woah, that skirt is-"

"I thought... I'd go retro. In light of everything else we're doing," Rachel says, glancing down at the semi-hideous plaid skirt she's wearing. Which, to be fair, still does make her legs look like a million bucks. There are worse things to be stuck in for an afternoon.

"You still own skirts like that?" Quinn asks, her eyebrows slowly climbing, but the look in her eyes is weirdly nostalgic and appreciative. "Because I thought-"

"No, I ordered one from Target," Rachel says, with a small smile, before scanning over Quinn's outfit and smiling wider. "What-hm. I don't want to ask what you're wearing like it's a bad thing, but you definitely didn't wear anything like that in high school."

"Well, I had to improvise," Quinn says, shifting a little awkwardly. "I-apparently look silly in dresses and skirts now, but never wore anything like what I wear now as a teenager, so..."

The compromise she's struck is a pair of loose, flowing light gray slacks, and a surprisingly feminine-but not ridiculously so, as the dresses had been—gray striped shirt, that she's topped off with a red Hermes scarf and a white jacket that, God willing, actually looks like it's cut letterman-style.

"Do I look ridiculous?" Quinn finally asks, with a small frown and a look at her shoes-red Converse, and when Rachel spots those, it suddenly all clicks.

This outfit—it's an approximation of the Quinn that would've developed from awkward, chubby tomboy Lucy if the world hadn't intervened as heavily as it had when she was in eighth grade, and got a carte blanche to start over.

"At the risk of sounding like I'm imitating James Bond, you look dashing," Rachel says, because it's true, and Quinn smiles after a second and then nods at the flower.

"Put that away. We have a golf course to get to."

"Right; one second," Rachel says, and slips back inside, leaving Quinn dawdling out on the steps like she is in fact the somewhat shotgun-shy boyfriend that's whisking Rachel away for the evening.

It doesn't surprise her, that with the caliber of acting they both regularly engage in, this date is selling itself more easily with every passing minute.

She wonders what the shelf life of an orchid is, as she sticks it in a vase she finds underneath the kitchen sink, and then heads back outside, to where Quinn is-well, jittering, is probably the best way to describe it.

Until they look at each other again, and Quinn just smiles and says, "You look really nice, actually. I mean, that skirt is godawful, but-you look like her, you know?"

"Yeah," Rachel says, and links their arms together as they walk to the car. "And you look like-a girl I could've really, really fallen for, back then."

It's automatic, really, the way that she waits for Quinn to move in front of her and open the passenger door, albeit a little mockingly, and the way she then half-turns to look at her.

"So-are there rules to putt putt?"

"Only that you can't cheat," Quinn says, emphatically, once she's sitting down; she gives Rachel a look, and then knocks on the car stereo, and Rachel laughs when she hears what has to be the first track on some terrible Top 40s playlist from 2009-Now! number thirty something, probably.

Katy Perry croons about waking up in Vegas, and Rachel laughs unexpectedly and says, "Some part of me really wishes I could explain what I'm doing right now to other people."

Quinn changes the song as she pulls out of the driveway, and Taylor Swift sings an appropriately teenage song about belonging as Quinn says, "Please; do you think anyone would believe us?"

"No," Rachel agrees, and then watches as Quinn's hand inches over the console and then sort of lingers there, and-she might actually die, of anxious, adolescent feelings she hasn't had in close to a decade, if this keeps up.

It takes them nearly five minutes of driving until they're finally touching, and when they do, Quinn exhales with some purpose and says, "How did guys do this?", before chuckling a little and then whistling along to the song.

"Wait-you're a Taylor Swift fan?"

"Not even a little," Quinn says, dryly, as they're idling in front of a traffic light; and then she glances down at Rachel's skirt, and then at Rachel's face, and smiles slightly. "But... maybe I might've been a few years ago."

It's the first time in weeks, really, that Rachel's heard something playing on the radio, and feels a slight inclination to start singing along.

She probably should, as it's the most Rachel Berry thing she can do-never waste an opportunity to sing!-but, even Rachel Berry can't really get her mouth to work for her when Quinn Fabray looks at her like that.

"Can we talk about this whole … no cheating thing some more?" she finally says, wetting her lips when Quinn's eyes drop to them.

The light changes, and Quinn gives her a break, glancing out at the intersection before taking a left. "It's not negotiable, Rachel. There is no cheating in putt putt."

"I'm going to be terrible," Rachel says, with a sigh.

"Probably."

"Quinn!"

Honestly, the way her hand shoots out and slaps at Quinn's arm is not even a little bit staged, and Quinn snorts before looking at her.

"Relax, will you? I'll help you. That's not cheating."

"Oh," Rachel says, and then finds the silliest of grins creeping up on her. "Well, I didn't realize that … that was an option."

"It's a date. What kind of date would I be if I took you to do something that you'd never done before, and might not even like, and then didn't figure out a way to get you involved in it?"

Rachel opens her mouth, closes it again, and then just stares at Quinn for a moment.

Who looks back, grins, and says, "Finn."

"Yeah. Finn."

They both laugh after that, and spend the rest of the ride in a pleasantly nervous silence, smoothed over by Quinn's thumb gently rubbing the back of Rachel's hand.

The Putt Park isn't what she's expecting; no clowns, no windmills. Not much more than some grassy lay-outs with holes in them.

It's weirdly adult for a children's activity, but that hardly matters when Quinn tosses her a pink ball a moment later and-

"Is that a children's size," Rachel asks flatly, holding her hand out for the club.

"... maybe," Quinn says, and then laughs when Rachel whacks her in the ass with it. "What, God, you're not-the tallest."

"I hate you," Rachel says, shaking her head, and returning to the counter, where a lady is filling out a Sudoku and then looks up and gapes at her for a second. "Hi, sorry-my friend thought she was being hilarious by giving me a children's sized club but-"

"Oh, okay, we'll just switch it out then," the lady says, with those wide, star-struck eyes of recognition. She reaches behind for a different club and hands it over. "Here you go."

"Thank you so much," Rachel says, with a kind smile, and then turns back to Quinn, who is still grinning at her. "I'll have you know that if I was actually sixteen you would've been banned from making out for at least two days for that stunt."

Quinn makes as if to clutch at her heart, and Rachel rolls her eyes before heading to the first hole.

Really, though, as a teenager she did have an unhealthy attraction to jackasses.

Apparently, it's not entirely gone.

They bicker and play the first three holes with little problems, but the fourth one has some swerve on it that knocks Rachel's ball into a sand pit on no fewer than three separate attempts.

Quinn hole-in-two'd the course, and is now just standing and watching, and Rachel sighs in frustration, tugs at her skirt, and lines up the ball again.

Then, she stills, because Quinn is suddenly right there behind her, and says, "You're not swinging from your hips."

"I'm sorry?"

"You're-here," Quinn says, and puts a hand on her hip that-oh, lord, it's suddenly around three thousand degrees hotter in the Putt Park, and Rachel feels her body light up like Quinn just pulled off her skirt and bent her over the decorative fountain at hole six. All of that, just from a hand on her hip.

Quinn clears her throat after a second, but doesn't shift away, and Rachel waits for her to say something else. When she does, it's with an unexpectedly low voice.

"When you swing, you have to work your hips through."

Rachel looks over her shoulder at that point and raises her eyebrows. "Really? I have to work my hips through?"

"Constructive criticism is a sign of appreciation, Rachel," Quinn says, with a slightly shit-eating grin, because-yeah, that's definitely a Rachel Berry original being flung back in her face. "Just rotate with the swing, and you'll find that you have a lot more control over where the ball goes."

"I feel like you've bribed the ball to hate me," Rachel says, turning away again and looking at it again; and no, it's really not her fault that her ass pushes into Quinn's hips when she does it.

Quinn makes a noise and then steps away. "Why would I do that? You're much more likely to put out if I let you win."

"Let me win?" Rachel asks, in disbelief.

Okay, so that gets her competitive spirit going; she replants her feet, glares at the ball, and-fine, she fucking works her hips through it.

The ball sails past the sand pit-and into the watery ditch beyond it.

"Better," Quinn says, brightly.

Rachel just sighs and says, "I demand a foot rub at the end of all of this."

"What, in my car?" Quinn says, leaning down on her club and then winking. "Sorry, Rach, but that's a little too R-rated for a first date."

"A foot rub."

"Yeah, all that bare skin, in my lap." Quinn bites her lip and shakes her head, and then says, "C'mon. Get your ball, I'll guide you this time."

As much as she hates this game, and hates Quinn for forcing her to play it, the idea of being guided isn't entirely unappealing, and so she trudges over and collects her ball again.

She's Rachel frigging Berry. She overcomes everything, eventually.

...

Seven holes later, she calls out an abrupt, "Yes" and then points her club at Quinn with a smirk.

Quinn looks incredibly unimpressed.

"Remind me again of how... the point is to have fun, and to not worry about the score?" Rachel says, bending down to pick up her ball, and then straightening again slowly.

Quinn's eyes only lift up to eye level after a very, very long moment.

"I play to win, Berry. You better hope that your game is as good as your talk for the last six."

They brush past each other when they switch places, and Rachel murmurs, "I guess this is what you get for being a really good teacher, Quinn."

Quinn shoots her a look that basically says, stop trying to distract me, and Rachel laughs and watches her miss.

Royally.

"Loser pays for dinner," Rachel says, when they've handed their clubs back and Quinn is sulking about three percent less than she was ten minutes ago, when Rachel birdied the last hole and beat her by three strokes.

Quinn sighs, and mopes for a moment longer, and then shoots Rachel such a dopey look that she almost apologizes for having, well, dominated those last ten holes.

"This loser was going to pay for dinner anyway," Quinn finally says, with a little glance at the ground, before she adds, "She's just going to be less of a braggart during, now."

Rachel bumps her gently in the side and says, "You know I don't like you because you win at things, right?"

"Really? So you'd be here if I wasn't the head cheerleader..." Quinn says, a little pointedly.

The cross-over between now and then is getting confusing, but there's a shared truth in spite of it, and Rachel smiles after a second and says, "I only really liked you when you stopped being the head cheerleader. But you know what? Losing that title didn't rob you of any of any of the qualities I liked in you. Your focus, your drive, your passion-hell, most of that was aimed at my destruction, but I still found it attractive."

Quinn unlocks the car, long before they've reached it, and then sighs dramatically. "I'll be honest with you; I'm kind of a superficial bitch, so you should probably try to stay Glee club co-captain or I don't think that status-wise, this is going to work."

Rachel chuckles softly, and glances down at Quinn's sand-blown red sneakers, and then says, "It's all right. Rumor has it I'm fairly driven myself, so I don't think you have to worry about me giving up my captaincy much."

Quinn takes a deep breath, and then sticks out her hand. "Good game, Berry."

"Thank you. I had excellent instruction and a lot of luck," Rachel says, gravely, and then watches as Quinn grins a little before shoving her hands in her pockets.

"... okay, so we said we'd grab a milkshake, but-I could only find one place that does soy milkshakes in all of Vegas, if you can believe that, and then they don't do any vegan food, so..." Quinn says, when the reach the car; and then she reaches out and pops the trunk.

Inside is a picnic basket, and Rachel actually feels her hand fly to her mouth to cover her shock.

"I kind of... I mean, do you maybe want to drive out into the desert and-I don't mean like, really far, but there's some pretty scenic places about half an hour out of the city and-"

The rambling is beyond endearing, but they're in public and Quinn has to stop being so goddamned cute, before Rachel does something she's going to regret.

"That sounds perfect," she finally just says, and watches as relief washes over Quinn's face, which makes her reach out for just a second, brushing her fingertips past Quinn's wrist. "Really. You-planned a pretty wonderful first sixteen year old date here, Q."

The slightly shy look on Quinn's face is completely worth the awkwardness of the compliment, and after a second Quinn smiles and says, "How do you feel about mid-date necking?"

"Totally inappropriate," Rachel says, shaking her head.

"Ah, well. Worth a shot," Quinn says, before doing her best Charlie Brown impression over to her side of the car; and Rachel laughs and says, "That's terrible. You're so manipulative it should be illegal."

"Is it working? My manipulation, I mean," Quinn asks, not sounding guilty in the slightest and in fact looking slightly hopeful.

"No," Rachel laughs again, and watches as Quinn slinks into the driver's seat with a deep, heavy sigh.

Forty minutes later, they're out on a blanket and staring back out over the city, and Quinn is stacking around different Tupperware containers that are either labeled with a V or nothing at all.

Rachel leans back on her elbows and watches the sun angle off buildings, and then watches the absolute nothingness that stretches out past Vegas, and-suddenly, it's like they're literally all alone in the world.

It's almost that dream vacation, with the yurt, except the thing that was missing from that before is next to her now, shrugging out of her jacket and folding it neatly, and then handing Rachel a thermos of some kind.

"Wait, did you make milkshakes?" Rachel asks, glancing over.

Quinn shrugs. "I can cook. There's no reason not to."

That's so blithe that Rachel scoffs a little, but before she can say anything, Quinn uncaps a second thermos and adds, "Not when I'm cooking for, you know. Someone."

She has no idea if that's a sentiment from sixteen year old Lucy-Quinn or twenty five year old Quinn, but either way, she feels something tighten around her heart before she takes a first sip through the bendy straw Quinn has stuck in the thermos.

The shake is vanilla, and it makes her smile unwillingly, before she looks back at all the food.

"Just try whatever," Quinn says, as an instruction, and then lifts a pair of sunglasses out of the V of her shirt and puts them on.

"How many pairs of those do you own, anyway?" Rachel asks, because it's neither the Wayfarers nor the aviators this time around, and she suspects it's a pair of Ray-Bans.

"They're... sort of my shoes. I mean, with this climate, I rarely leave the house without, and..." Quinn shrugs after a moment. "We all have an accessory of choice. Mine is sunglasses."

"What would you do if you lived in a different climate?"

Quinn sort of smiles. "Probably start buying expensive watches." She pops open a container and digs into what looks like a small pie of some kind, and then wipes some crumbs off her lips. "What about you? What's your accessory vice?"

"Headbands," Rachel says, with a smile.

"Still?"

"I'm... banned from wearing them in public, because Kurt hates me-"

Quinn laughs at that, and says, "What a dick. How dare he not let you walk around looking like a twelve year old Catholic school girl."

Rachel rolls her eyes. "I wear them around the house."

"With sweat pants and comfy old t-shirts?" Quinn asks-and not in a casual way, but like she's trying to picture it.

"Yeah. Puck likes saying I look like the spawn of Amy Winehouse and a cleaning lady."

Quinn chuckles at that and then looks off into the distance, but with a soft smile on her face.

"Can I … ask you some stuff about your career, or would you rather not talk about it?" she asks, after a long pause, during which Rachel examines some of the food; and God, the sheer variety of what Quinn brought-

She must've spent all of yesterday in the kitchen, and that's another totally silly, meaningless, but heart-flipping thought right there.

She nods, without really thinking about it, and then watches as Quinn bites her lip and says, "Your Wiki is pretty thorough but-I mean, I don't know. I guess I'm curious about what it was like, when you got Les Mis. You knew you were going to make it-"

"I really didn't," Rachel says, softly, and then offers a smile when Quinn looks over in surprise. "Tisch was kind of a cold shower. I was incredibly special in Lima, but only marginally better than most of my peers at college. And even then, a lot of auditioning is about luck. You have to have the right vibe for something, or you won't get it. I made it to... the last ten, I think, for the Chicago revival last year-"

"Oh, you would've been great in that," Quinn says, very naturally, and it's legitimately the first compliment Rachel has received in almost a year that she's taken to heart. The last one prior to this moment was her grandmother, telling her that Barbra didn't hold a candle to her, during some birthday dinner she'd flown in to Columbus for.

"Yes, I thought so too," Rachel says, her smile taking the arrogance out of the words. "But-they ended up going with a girl who just... oozed sex, in a way that I didn't. I mean, you've seen the movie, I assume. Catherine Zeta-Jones has sort of warped the expectations of what … a Velma looks like. I'm just not quite it."

Quinn is silent for a moment, and then says, "That's ridiculous."

"What is? It's just the way the business works-"

"No, the idea that you're not sexy," Quinn says, and when Rachel looks up from the fattoush she's poking through, she blinks. "Of course you are. You're probably the most naturally sexy person I've ever met, so if it's not translating, that's a problem with direction, not you."

Rachel flushes slowly, and then says, "... Lovely a sentiment as that is, I tend to respond to my lovers a little bit differently than I do to my directors."

Quinn glances at her from behind those silly square-rimmed sunglasses and just says, "You're sexy, Rachel. Don't take my word for it because I'm sleeping with you. Do it because I'm fully enmeshed in a world of artificial sex appeal, and what you have, money and practice can't buy."

The conversation dips at that, for a long moment, until Quinn slurps up the last of her milkshake through one of the bendy straws she's brought along, and then says, "What's the one thing you really, really want to do, on stage, before you retire?"

It's one of those questions that she gets a lot, simply because it's standard interview fare, but nobody has really asked her in a way where she thinks they actually care about the answer. Until now. And it's stark, suddenly, how this is not just the first date that Quinn never got to have, when she was sixteen.

Finn's idea of supportive had been, "You're going to be awesome at everything, Rachel; because you're awesome." It hadn't involved questions about what made her tick, or what she was pushing herself so hard for, and...

Now, she's having a milkshake with Quinn, who's asking all the right things on a first date no matter what age they're at.

"People expect me to say Funny Girl, or Wicked, but-it's Cabaret," Rachel says, when Quinn looks over questioningly.

"I'm-sorry, musical theater really is not my thing, but-I seem to associate that with something about Hitler?" Quinn asks, after a second.

It breaks through the gravity of the moment, on Rachel's part anyway, and she smiles. "It's set slightly pre-Hitler. I can send you the soundtrack, if you like."

"Okay," Quinn says, and from anyone else, that would've been a dismissal, but here it just seems to be an acceptance of the fact that now is not the time to be bursting into song about the fragile state of 1930s Germany.

"What about you?"

"What musical would I really like to star in?" Quinn asks, with a teasing note in her voice. "It's going to have to be the one with the filthy muppets, I think."

Rachel rolls her eyes and takes another sip of her millkshake. "No, I mean-what... what's the life plan? Where do you see your degrees taking you?"

"That's a pretty heavy question for a first date," Quinn notes, after a moment, but then straightens her back and gazes off towards the city again. "I don't honestly know. I know I'm young, to be having a mid-life crisis, but … I ended up here out of convenience, not purpose, and the master's degree made sense to do here, because I got a discount and some funding, but a PhD is a fresh start."

"You have a lot of offers," Rachel says, because Fiona and Nicole had both mentioned that they were probably going to lose Quinn to something in or close to being an Ivy, if she had any common sense at all, over dinner.

Quinn nods, and then glances down at her shoes for a second and says, "If I'm honest with myself, now isn't the time to be making these kinds of decisions. I think I'm postponing my applications for January and taking some time off."

"But-that's the practical side. The dream is... academia, then? Teaching?"

Quinn smiles after a moment and looks over. "Teaching is completely overrated. The dream would be research. And maybe, eventually … the FBI."

"That's a fairly ambitious goal," Rachel notes. "They'd want you to-what, examine dead bodies and write up reports on them?"

"Nah, that's a forensic pathologist. If I wanted to do that, I'd have to get a medical degree," Quinn says. She rubs at her cheek for a second and then says, "I'm writing my thesis on a pathological subject, but my baseline question has to do with evaluations of the perpetrator at the time the crime is committed. You know, if signs of ritualistic marking should somehow be considered in building an insanity defense in cases of sexual assault. But I'm not interested in-the dead bodies per se."

"So at the FBI-"

"Oh, I'd … they'd want me to be... in charge of evaluation patients; competency to stand trial, sanity at the time of offense, any sign of malingering, risk of re-offending..." Quinn says, and then shrugs a little. "I could become a profiler as well, actually, with some added on-the-job training."

"What, like on Criminal Minds?" Rachel asks.

Quinn pokes her tongue in her cheek and then says, "Yeah, but presumably a little less flashy."

"Still. That's pretty damn..."

"What?"

"Hot," Rachel says, honestly, and then blushes when Quinn laughs at her a little. "What? That's, I mean, I know I'm technically a celebrity, but you have no idea how much social clout I'd get from the whole, my girlfriend is an FBI profiler thing. Although, would that be a secret? Because you wouldn't technically-what?"

Quinn is staring at her in a way that makes her hesitate, and then stop, as she thinks back on what she just said, and-

"Oh," slips from her lips and then she just stares down at the blanket they're sitting on.

This is not a pleasant silence, and after a moment she somewhat frantically adds, "For what it's worth, the anecdote would still be worthwhile if you … if you are just a friend. It's a cool fact, about someone I know. That's all I meant."

"I know," Quinn says, but in an unreadable tone of voice, and just like that, they're really not sixteen anymore; two sixteen year olds would've blushed at each other about that word choice, and then stammered something, and probably would've ended up rolling around on that blanket while not believing their luck, but even today's fantasy only stretches so far.

"Quinn, I'm sorry, I didn't-" Rachel tries again.

Quinn manages a smile and says, "I know, okay? Honest. I know. It just..."

The sentence doesn't get completed, and Rachel takes a deep breath before closing the containers closest to her and stacking them back together.

"We should probably go out and watch that movie now," Rachel says, and pushes up to her feet-possibly flashing the entire city of Vegas in the process, but she doesn't really care-and wonders if...

If she's actually going to burst into tears on what is now suddenly not just some make-believe do-over of her high school years, but in reality, the first date she's ever really been on with another woman.

Leave it to her to fucking-

"Hey," Quinn says, putting a hand on her shoulder. "Don't, okay? I'm sorry if I … I can't help what my face looks like, sometimes, when you say things I'm not expecting you to say."

"I know that, I'm just mad at myself. I got too caught up in-" Rachel says, before scuffing her shoes-a pair of really plain ballet flats that are still her go-to comfort shoes, after years and years-in the sand and sighing. "If I could take it back-"

"No, Rachel-what I mean is..." Quinn says, and licks at her lips, and looks away. "I'm... nobody's called me their girlfriend in years, now. I don't expect to hear those words, especially not from another woman, and..."

Rachel stays silent, and watches as a particularly wounded look flashes through Quinn's eyes, and she slowly deflates.

"It just surprised me, okay?" she finally says, softly, and Rachel feels her eyes well up with tears.

She nods, quietly, and then watches as Quinn bends down for her jacket, picks it up, unfolds it, and then, after the most obvious of pauses, finally holds it out and bites her lip.

"It's... getting a little chilly. Maybe you should-"

Rachel tries not to react at all, and then takes a deep breath, and then says, "No. I'm okay, thank you."

"I'm sorry, I really just—it's getting colder and-" Quinn says, now sounding guilty, and Rachel just shakes her head.

"I know. Okay, time out. I don't want..." She sighs, frustrated with herself for letting this get so out of hand so quickly, and then gives Quinn her best smile. It's not great, right now, but it's something. "Can... can we try something, that I'm pretty sure sixteen year old me would be trying right now, regardless of the consequences?"

"What?" Quinn asks, and all the defences are coming back up at once, but Rachel's starting to realize there isn't really all that much difference between current Rachel and past Rachel.

They both are willing to take the risk.

"Can I... hug you? Maybe?"

Quinn muted look of shock at that statement is almost enough to turn her smile real.

"... c'mon, Quinn, it's a hug—not a death sentence."

She doesn't really get a response, but also doesn't get an obvious no, don't, so she steps in a little bit closer, and then wraps one arm carefully around Quinn's lower back, and the other one around her neck, and mumbles, "Just-relax. I promise this isn't going to hurt."

Quinn makes a noise above her, and then gingerly places one hand on the small of Rachel's back and pulls her in a little bit closer. "You're a liar. We both know this is going to hurt," she says, softly.

Rachel squeezes her eyes shut and shakes her head. "No-"

"Not yet," Quinn agrees, and then finally drops her head just enough for her cheek to brush against the top of Rachel's head.

The way her breathing slowly adjusts, until she actually seems like she's relaxed into the movement, is one of those moments Rachel is never going to forget.

"Friends do this, right?" Quinn eventually asks.

"My friends do. I'm a touchy little motherfucker, according to my dad," Rachel says, anyway.

She feels, more than hears Quinn laugh, and then feels her gently pull away.

"Thanks," Quinn says, a little thickly, before adding a wry, "I think."

"You'll get used to it," Rachel promises.

Quinn gives her a look that she has no difficulty reading.

There isn't enough time for me to get used to it.

It's a thought far too heavy for two sixteen year olds to have, and so after a second Rachel tilts her head and says, "You want to just... go back to mine, and watch a movie there?"

Quinn nods after a second, blowing out some air. "Sure. There isn't really anything playing, anyway. I checked."

It doesn't surprise Rachel at all, that Quinn's not putting up a fight.

The fantasy is definitely slipping away from them both, now.

When she wakes up, the next morning, it's with a heavy heart.

And heavy lungs; Quinn is stretched out on the bed diagonally, and her face is pressed up against Rachel's shoulder, and her arm is slung across Rachel's chest.

That arm is surprisingly heavy, and after a second of trying to gently dislodge it, Rachel realizes she's not going to be able to move it without waking Quinn up. Which just leaves lying there, and staring at the ceiling as an alternative.

She feels like crying, and she doesn't even really know why; but then Quinn's eyes flutter open, and she gives such a relaxed, easy smile that the impulse vanishes again.

For now, anyway.

"Hey," Quinn says, not really shifting away. "Sorry-I apparently hog both covers and mattresses."

"I don't mind," Rachel says, truthfully, and then watches as Quinn rubs at her eyes for a moment, before looking back at Rachel and then glancing down their bodies, to where-

"You are really naked right now," she observes, slowly, before looking back up-brain obviously processing this at a snail's pace. "Oh, right. Because you sleep naked, and you've been sleeping."

Rachel chuckles softly. "There we go. It's that kind of quick thinking that will make you an excellent FBI profiler. Dr. Fabray, analyzing the scene of the crime at a glance."

"No crime being committed here," Quinn says, biting at Rachel's shoulder until she squirms and then smiling. "... yet, anyway."

"What kind of criminal things are you planning?" Rachel asks, running a hand through Quinn's hair, and relishing the way it almost makes Quinn purr. Her scalp is ludicrously sensitive, and Rachel honestly suspects she's the only person on earth who knows it.

That's a thought to get anyone wet, first thing in the morning, and so when Quinn shifts and starts sort of slithering backwards down the bed, in the goofiest way possible, Rachel just rolls her eyes and says, "Whatever that is-"

"The snake. It's a dance move."

"From strip clubs?"

"No, from the 1980s. It's the worm in reverse."

Rachel laughs. "There is no such thing."

By that point, Quinn is already settled between her legs, and just rubs at her face to get all the hair out of it, and-Jesus, it's really not the sexiest she's ever been, but it's very, very comfortable, and after how long it took them last night to get some ease back into their interactions, this morning feels like a well-deserved fresh start.

"There is now," Quinn finally says, and then pokes at the inside of Rachel's knee before squinting up at her with half-asleep eyes. "Open sesame, you judgmental cow."

Her laughter trails off into a moan when Quinn wastes absolutely no time getting to work, and then her moan trails off into more laughter when Quinn murmurs something about breakfast foods, and-

Sex really shouldn't be this ridiculous, Rachel thinks, pressing her fingertips back into Quinn's hair and tugging on it gently-but credit to Quinn for being able to get her off no matter how stupid they're both being.

They shower together, watch an episode of some cooking show on the Food Network that Quinn declares worthwhile just because there's a hot brunette who cooks in bikinis.

That makes Rachel look over at her with a fond little smile.

"What?" Quinn asks, around a mouthful of pancake.

"You are so gay."

Quinn shoots her a look and then says, "Yeah, really, what gave it away?"

"No, but I mean... I don't know. You and me and boys, you know?" Rachel says, before stretching tiredly and flopping on the couch more fully. Quinn sticks out a forkful of pancake and she leans forward until she can snap it off with her teeth, and then turns towards the TV.

"Sometimes I think we dated the same guy over and over again because it was a convenient way to sort of you know, be in each other's orbit," Quinn says, after swallowing most of a pancake in one go. "Like, subconsciously, anyway."

"Arguing with you about Finn always got me super riled up," Rachel admits, winking when Quinn just waggles her eyebrows at her.

"Maybe we should send him a postcard. Thanks for getting out of the way, dickhead."

Rachel chuckles, and then gently kicks at Quinn's thigh. "He'd be happy for us, and you know it."

"God, promise me you'll never tell him; he'd probably sport a boner in-"

"Quinn! Jesus Christ," Rachel laughs.

"Don't use the lord's name in vain, Rachel," Quinn says, solemnly, shaking a fork at her.

Rachel shakes her head and glances back at the TV, and then squirms when Quinn tickles the bottom of her foot for a second.

"What? You are being insanely pesky right now."

"I put like, double the required amount of sugar in these," Quinn mumbles, around her fifth pancake, and then finishes-putting the plate on the coffee table and patting her stomach before slumping down. "Genius idea, even if I do say so myself."

Rachel snorts and says, "God, I don't know why I love you."

"I have a really agile tongue," Quinn says, after just the barest of beats, and then sticks it out at Rachel, who just wills her heart to start beating again. "And um, … giant hands."

"And good instincts," Rachel adds, when Quinn stares at her with just the slightest raise of an eyebrow. Those three words contain all the bravado she has left.

Quinn smiles a little. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. With me, anyway. I'm not sure about your cooking instincts, but-"

Quinn makes a face and then says, "I can't believe I'm consorting with a sugar hater."

"Quinn, everyone loves sugar, but some of us also care about our teeth and our weight and, I don't know, diabetes," Rachel says, trying not to laugh.

"Okay, but, do some of us also care about how much energy I have right now? Because frankly, you're wasting it. You could be naked right now. Again. And I could be doing stuff."

Rachel just stares at her for a second.

Before she can formulate any real response, Quinn grins. "I may have also … doubled the amount of coffee in my coffee."

"If you have a heart attack-"

"I'm sure you know CPR," Quinn says, and then without warning, lunges across the couch and more or less manhandles Rachel into some sort of hold; she ends up wrapping her legs around Quinn's waist just to not hurt herself, and then watches with a little bit of marvel as Quinn actually manages to carry her.

Well, to the living room door, anyway; there, Quinn sort of grunts and lowers her to the floor again.

"You-are … why are you so strong?" Rachel says, gripping a flexed, tight bicep and feeling it contract for a second as Quinn rotates her elbow.

"Have you ever tried hanging upside down from a pole?" Quinn asks, arching an eyebrow.

Rachel blinks at the visual that flashes across her head and then just says, "Um. Wow."

Quinn's small smile widens, and she gently taps Rachel's ass. "C'mon. Tick tock, Rach."

That's clearly meant to be a joke, but it's pretty damn real, given how many days are left after this one.

Quinn's sugar high dips a little after they both come again, from whatever the adult equivalent of dry-humping is, like the endorphin rush literally cancels out the chemicals.

She's a stiller version of Quinn, thereafter; one who just watches Rachel for a long moment, her fingers sweeping up and down a damp torso until she smiles.

"You still up for-"

She doesn't really finish the sentence, but after a second Rachel nods, and then watches as Quinn's eyes track towards her hands, folded together on her stomach.

"Keep those there, during, okay?" Quinn asks, with a nod to the headboard. It's a gentle demand, and Rachel flexes her fingers before curling them around the bars again.

Quinn smiles, a little tremulously, and then hangs her head over the side of the bed, pulling out the bag of toys and resurfacing with a red face and their designated equipment a moment later.

Rachel laughs unwillingly when she sees what size Quinn is-well, prepared to deal with.

"What?" Quinn asks, with a small smile.

"Nothing, just, you know. I'm pretty sure last weekend you determined that one a little too small for me," she says, lowering one hand temporarily to sweep some hair out of her eyes. "I'm starting to feel a little loose."

Quinn scoffs, and then pats her on the thigh. "Put this on; you can-whatever. You know, move."

Rachel slips into the harness and then watches as Quinn looks at the dildo for a moment and then back at Rachel.

"I know it's not … large. But I'm being conscious of the fact that I haven't had anything more than say, three fingers-and those would be your fingers, so small ones-inside of me in... well, God, … since September 2009."

Rachel stills abruptly at that, and looks up from where she's dealing with a buckle, and then reaches for Quinn's shoulder. "Are you-"

"Yeah," Quinn says, forcing a small smile that doesn't quite reach her eyes. "I mean, not to be dramatic about this, but this is technically my second time, you know, with-anything that size."

"And your first time when you are... completely sober," Rachel notes, because suddenly this is a lot less playful than it was five minutes ago.

Quinn nods; her tongue peeks out and licks at her lips once, and then twice, and then a third time.

"Quinn, we really don't-"

"No," Quinn says, shaking her head. "I... it's time. I'm not averse to penetration at all, but there just hasn't been anyone else I've … you know. I …" She laughs after a second and then says, "There isn't any way to phrase what I'm thinking without making it sound like I've been saving myself for you. I'm sorry, that's not-"

"No, I get it," Rachel says, digging her nails into Quinn's shoulder for a second. "It's a trust thing, right?"

Quinn barely nods, and after a second Rachel reaches over for the toy. She's hardly an expert at this, but she's seen Quinn work the setup a few times now, and-it's easier than she expects, to get everything in place. Not any less ridiculous-feeling or looking, but somehow, the importance that they're attaching to this moment is-well.

It makes it feel less like a purple piece of plastic, and more like... an opportunity. For her to do something for Quinn, for a change.

"I think I'm all set," she finally says, and watches as Quinn takes a deep breath and then straightens. "Maybe-you should let me go down on you first, so you're less … tense."

Quinn rolls her neck for a second, and then turns to look at her with a look that says that … well, that part of the plan, she can definitely handle.

It's hard, to stop licking when Quinn tells her to, but with a slight tug on her hair, Rachel tightens her fingers around the bars in the headboard and then squeezes her lips shut as Quinn lifts up a little bit and moves backwards, down her body.

Rachel didn't exactly forget, that she was packing, but … it wasn't much of an issue for the last fifteen minutes, but now it is-because there's an insert, and when Quinn brushes against the external part of the toy, it sends an unexpected run of pleasure up her spine.

"Oh," she gasps, softly, and watches as Quinn's eyes focus on her slowly.

That eye contact doesn't stop, not even when Quinn resettles, pushing up on her knees, and then-takes the toy in her hand, raises it a little, and-

Rachel bites down on her lip hard enough for the small cut there to start bleeding again, and wills her hips down into the mattress but-God, the sight of this. She's not one of those people who waxes poetic about female genitalia as being naturally gorgeous, but this is Quinn-and her thighs are so strong, and her other hand-where it's pressing Rachel back into the bed, right around where her heart is pounding-is so steady, and...

A small hitch in Quinn's breathing lets Rachel know that they're in business, and even though this isn't doing much for her, her eyes slip shut a little, just at the idea that-just at the idea of being inside Quinn. And how good this must feel, because limited experience or not, three fingers on a regular basis means she can take the stretch and-

She takes a deep breath and focuses, watching as Quinn settles for a moment, glancing down at the place where their hips are now meeting, and then lifts up again slowly.

Rachel's hands are pressing into the bars of the headboard hard enough for it to hurt, but she needs that dull ache to remind her to not move-to let Quinn do whatever it is she needs to, and-

The smallest of moans slips from her lips when it's clear that this, too, is an activity where Quinn's dancing makes a difference, because after a few experimental lifts up and down, she arches her back and actually sinks into the movement, and God, it's the fucking hottest thing Rachel has ever seen, in her twenty five years of life.

It's only made hotter by the way Quinn's eyes drift shut and her lips part, because she's just so unbelievably beautiful.

Rachel can barely believe that she's a part of this moment.

But she is-she is what Quinn looks at when her eyes open again, and her hips figure-eight down with a small, experimental swirl, and Rachel knows that it's probably a blessing that there's a toy holding them together right now; if that was actually her cock-

And just with that thought, she's almost desperate to start doing something. She's breathing shakily and watching as Quinn angles away a little further, and-she can see everything. The tremor in Quinn's thighs, the strain in her arm where she's leaning back on it, and then the sheen of the toy where it slips in and out, at whatever pace Quinn likes.

"God," Quinn sort of exhales, after a long moment, and then-

Then, she stops, and sits up fully again-which makes the insert shift, and makes Rachel clench her thighs-and gives Rachel a heart-stopping look.

"Move," she then says, and lifts up a little as if to invite Rachel to do something right away.

"Can I-" Rachel asks, because holding on to the headboard and working her hips is-Jesus, does Quinn think she's some sort of fucking superhuman? She can barely concentrate on breathing, right now, but if she could-

"Hold my waist, if you need to," Quinn permits, and Rachel reaches down and then digs her heels into the mattress, pushing her hips upwards. "God, yes, like that."

She's never felt more validated in her life, and when Quinn climaxes, about five minutes later, she feels like she's finally-finally-managed to give something back of what Quinn has given her, in terms of experiences that have to be shared with another person.

The breathless "thank you" that is mumbled against her neck, moments later, is as good as any orgasm she's going to have later in the day, and she knows it.

She's spent.

So is Quinn, but Quinn makes them some more coffee, and brings two mugs into the bedroom and then collapses next to her, only barely able to lift her neck enough to drink some.

Her arms and legs are exhausted, and there's an added burn in her lower back from-well, thrusting in a way she hasn't ever done before. Quinn left something of a magnificent bruise on her inner thigh, and it's already starting to hurt a little when she brushes past it, but that bruise was worth it, if only for the, "that's it, Rach, that's my girl" that preceded her final orgasm, and the weightless, drifting pleasure she's been feeling ever since then.

"You okay?" she asks, tilting her head towards Quinn, whose eyes are closed and whose cup of coffee is precariously balancing on her chest, leaving an angry, red mark there.

"A little sore," Quinn admits, sheepishly, twisting her hips to indicate just where.

"It'll pass," Rachel says, taking a sip of her own coffee and then putting it on the nightstand, because, frankly-she'd rather sleep, now. "Did you like it? I don't mean in the sense of-I mean, I know you came, but-is that something you'd be interested in doing again?"

Quinn gnaws on her lip for a moment, and then says, "Not... regularly."

Rachel smiles. "I didn't think so."

"It's nothing to do with how-"

"I know," Rachel says, and reaches out to stroke a small birth mark on Quinn's rib cage, equidistant from her hip and her breast.

"I guess I just … I needed to know if I could," Quinn finally says. "Now that I do, I also know that … I'd rather..."

Rachel streaks her hand further down, curling it around Quinn's hip. "I too prefer it when you're the one taking me, okay? Don't worry."

That gets her a small smile, and Quinn finally turns her head to look over. "What-is there … "

"What?" Rachel asks, when the sentence trails off into nothing, and Quinn gets a contemplative and kind of bittersweet look on her face.

"I just... wanted to ask if there was anything... you really wanted to do next weekend," she finally says, in a small and exhausted voice.

A voice that sounds like goodbye, and Rachel closes her eyes and lets the sting of it work through her, until it's just about something she can cope with.

Only then does she consider the question, and she doesn't open her eyes until she's sure that what she's saying is the truth.

"No. All I want to do is to be with you."

Quinn tries for another smile, in response to that, but can't quite make it; her mouth starts to tremble a moment later, and then she abruptly sits up-the coffee in the mug sloshing precariously-and runs a hand through her hair. "I'm-going to go shower."

Rachel almost wonders if shower is now a code for cry, but-she can't. She can't start wondering what this is doing to Quinn, when she can't even begin to process what it's doing to her.

She doesn't have the capacity to go there, and has to focus on something else, as the shower turns on and thankfully masks whatever else is going on in her bathroom right now.

Even the idea that Quinn-Quinn, who hasn't cried about a single fucking thing in almost a decade, if Rachel can read her correctly-is starting to lose it-

No, she just absolutely can't handle that; not without at least two or three Xanax, and half a bottle of alcohol, and so she presses down hard on the bruise on her thigh, and focuses for the swell of hurt and pressure under her skin, until her mind shuts off again.

They have nine more days. That's-

It's more days with Quinn than she ever thought she'd have, and that's what she has to hang on to, for now.