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these strange steps

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Week 3

When she wakes up, a letter has been slipped under the door. It's been signed by both Tony and Joel, and it has a list of names on it.

Most of them she's expecting.

One of them, she was hoping they would somehow-

Well, what, forget about?

She sighs, and picks it up and puts it on her desk, and then trudges off to the cafeteria, where nobody is judging her because nobody can actually see what is going on inside of her head.

Three out of of ten is starting to feel like her baseline comfort level.

That's... a lot more than fifty percent.

Santana,

I don't really know how to put this to you, but I'm just going to be straight forward and ask you to react as the adult that you are, now.

My therapy team has concluded that a lot of my hang-ups in fact drag all the way back to high school, and that events there have led to a series of decisions on my part that I otherwise would not have made, and am probably better off undoing in the coming few months. The key here seems to be how hard I have pushed myself to have a career that makes mere mortals quiver, without paying any real attention (until it was too late to do anything about it) to my personal life, and whether or not I was actually happy doing what I was doing.

They suspect that I ended up here, at least in part, because of what the first two years of high school at McKinley were like.

Would you be okay with Joel Fischer calling you? He's my 'normal' therapist, if you like, and I think the idea is to set up some sort of joint counseling session in the next few days. We can do it over Skype so you don't have to come in.

Please don't be incredibly angry about this. I know that you're not who you were back then anymore, and I protested the idea that we had to talk about this at all given that you are now one of my closest friends, but as much as they say that I am in charge of my own recovery, I'm not the one who sets the rules.

Send my love to Britt,

Rachel

The wig goes back on, and she stares at the McDonald's entrance all over again.

"How do you feel?"

"Angry," she says, before taking a deep breath. "I'm-so furious that I'm being defeated by this … this virtual slaughterhouse of bad taste. I don't even want to go inside, but it's pathetic that I can't. I can't believe that this is what my life has come down to-I can't buy a McFlurry, and I'm so angry about it, Tony. I'm just-"

He smiles after a second. "What else?"

"I'm-upset. That these other people, who don't know me from Adam and who I'll never see again, have this kind of control over me."

She glances over at him, and watches as he produces the tranquilizer dart and then pops the glove box, shoving it inside and then looking at her again.

"We won't be needing that again."

"What, I'm cured now?" she asks, rolling her eyes. "Just because I'm-so sick of this?"

He laughs. "Well, no, if you were cured you would be in there getting me a fucking McFlurry, Rachel. But what you are is no longer at risk of losing completely control over your own emotional state."

"While I'm in here, maybe."

Tony tsks at her. "What do we call that?"

"A negative thought spiral," she says, with a deep sigh. "You're right. What matters right now is that I'm here, and I'm fine, and-"

She pauses, because this is producing the weirdest flashback of all; her pep talks to the rest of the Glee club in preparation for the competition season, with everyone looking at her completely bored and disinterested and unconvinced while she rambled on and on about how their chances were okay and they had enough members and their song choices were fine until-

Lord, someone wake me up when she's done yammering on and on about how special she is, will you? I might gag on my own vomit if I keep listening.

"Rachel?" Tony asks, snapping his fingers in front of her face. "Where did you go, just now?"

She looks back at the McDonald's, and then down at her own hands, and then shakes her head. "It doesn't matter."

"I think-we agreed a while ago that I would be the arbiter of all things mattering," Tony says, just about playfully enough for her to take a deep breath.

She sighs. "I was just remembering-a part of my life in which I gave incredibly poorly received motivational speeches on a bi-weekly basis."

Tony rubs at his beard for a second and then says, "What's the connection?"

"I don't know. Maybe-that because nobody else ever believed me when I said that things would get better, or would turn out fine, … I..." She bites her lip and then looks at him. "This is not that simple. I think it was just-a correlation."

Tony smiles. "Would you have been able to make it a few weeks ago?"

Probably not, and so here they are again, shaking outside of a McDonald's, but Rachel is getting better, or so the official verdict goes.

Rachel,

I'm checking shelters for another cat right now; how's your search for hobbies going?

My favorite book as a child was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Believe it or not, I used to be a dreamer. I related heavily to Lucy-probably in large part due to the names-but also to the general idea that if you believed in something hard enough, you could make it real for you. I haven't read those books in years, and I suspect that I'd hate them now because the overly heavy Jesus symbolism doesn't do it for me so much anymore, but back in the day, they were fairly important to me. Miffy is a fantastic cat name, btw. If you have any more pictures-attached is a shot of the venerable Carl Jung.

I know I once said Vegas was a city in which nothing real ever happened, but I've lived here for seven years now and my feet have been firmly on the ground in all that time. Just because there are elements of fantasy/fiction to something doesn't mean they're not globally still, you know. Of this world.

I don't know what to say about-well, your first paragraph. Except that I'm expecting a phone call any day now to request that I join you in a few sessions because, well, Rachel, how could I not? I don't want you to feel added pressure about having to approach me about this. There are at least three levels I can think of in which I'm sure I'm impeding your recovery somehow, and I'm going to put myself out there for a moment: it's not unrealistic that I might need the return favor, at some point. Okay?

Okay, I can't leave this there Have some levity: I'm currently not wearing pants and dancing to the Backstreet Boys' Greatest Hits in the kitchen while occasionally typing a sentence. It's drunk chicken night over in the Fabray suite - and I'm telling you because I'm also contemplating drunk tofu, and I think it'll taste just as good. I think I'll need a tofu expert to really let me know, however, in the long run. Do you know anyone who might fit the bill?

Quinn

Joel stares at her, and his mouth slowly falls open.

She licks at her lips-which, what the hell- and then just sort of stares at him. "I told you it was complicated."

"Yeah, no shit, you should've told me to draw a chart. Okay-run me through it again."

"Quinn-was sort of a friend in high school-"

"After she tormented you for no conceivable reasons for a few years," Joel notes, pointedly.

Rachel sighs tiredly. "Yeah, after that."

"Okay, and with your superhuman powers of forgiveness she moved into the friend zone, but not before giving birth to a baby that-your oldest friend fathered?"

"Yes."

"Which she then gave up for adoption-"

"Yes."

"To your birth mother, who rejected your presence in her life because she felt she'd missed too much of it and, basically, didn't want a teenager."

"... yes."

"Right, and you're surprised that you're here, right now," Joel says, rolling his eyes. "I mean, fuck, Rachel, I've been seeing people for well over twenty five years at this point, and I have never, in my life, heard of anything this unhealthy."

"I had therapy at the time," she says, after a moment.

"About your mother?"

"She's not my mother," Rachel says, flatly. "I mean, I wanted her to be, back in the day, but she's not. Just as Quinn isn't Beth's mother, and Puck isn't Beth's father."

"Do you think that saying those things out loud makes this situation less complicated?"

She smiles half-heartedly. "No. Probably not. But-honestly, Joel, I don't think about Shelby. I don't even think about Shelby when I see Quinn, or when Quinn shows me pictures of Beth."

"And what have we learned about the things we don't think about?" Joel asks, raising his eyebrows.

She stays silent for a moment, and then looks at him. "What part of this is more important? That... Quinn and I started off very poorly, or that she gave up her baby to a woman who rejected me, or that I love her now and we don't talk about any of this, really?"

"I can't answer that for you, Rachel," Joel says. His voice gets quiet and empathetic, and after another moment of thinking, Rachel sighs.

"Do I wish my mother had wanted me? Yes. Of course I do. And when-I think about Beth, all I can think about is-Quinn has pictures of her all over her phone. She walks around with them everywhere, and thinks about her all the time, and writes her hand-written letters in beautiful script, so she doesn't just get words but gets tangible memories. She isn't in Beth's life, any more than Shelby is in mine, but-Beth will never grow up thinking she wasn't wanted."

Joel frowns at her after a moment. "There is no parallel here. You do realize that, right?"

"I-" Rachel says, and then looks back at him, also frowning. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that... Shelby wasn't intending to be a mother. She was an incubator."

Rachel blanches and feels herself curl inwards. "That's-what an awful thing to say."

"It's not awful," Joel says, staring her down. "I'm stating a fact. You have two parents. They desperately wanted you. Biology, God love it, just isn't all that cooperative in allowing a baby to gestate without a female womb, so they found a solution. But-she didn't want to parent you. She just enabled them to parent you."

Rachel swallows hard and says, "Okay. I see what you mean."

"And then she sought you out, perhaps out of curiosity? I mean, why do you think she came looking for you?"

Rachel shrugs after a moment. "I don't know. I guess I would be curious too, I mean, I did-I was with her for nine months."

"It's kind of a shitty move, don't you think?" Joel says, mildly. "I mean, after what, sixteen years of pretending you'd just been … some task, to suddenly decide that pregnancy gave her an interest?"

Rachel scoffs, and then shakes her head. "I'm not-I'm not angry with her."

"Oh, Rachel, don't be ridiculous. Of course you are. She came into your life when it was fine, and offered you a glimpse of say, something that you didn't really want or need-"

"You don't know that," Rachel protests, and then stares out the window. "You have no idea what it was like to grow up in Lima without a mother. I-my dads, they tried, but there was a reason I was always behind on what was fashionable and how to make myself look good, and-"

"Right. So what you wanted was-a beauty coach. Is that accurate?"

"No," she bites out at him, and then bites her lip. "I-"

"You wanted a mother. Someone who you could bring to school and say, hey, guys. I know I've been that weird chick with the gay dads all this time, but now look what I have."

"How can you even say that?" she asks him; she wipes at her eyes harshly and glares at him, but he doesn't look away. "What kind of person would-"

"I don't know, Rachel. What kind of person?"

"It doesn't matter what I did or didn't do; she didn't want me. She wanted a baby. She wanted someone she could watch grow up, and I don't-I have the career she never got to have, do you know that? She failed at making it out on the stage but I'm not even twenty six yet and I have a Tony, and-"

Joel looks at her when she cuts herself off. "Tell me what's going on right now."

"I'm-freaking out because you-I don't think about her. She's nothing to me. I know she's Beth's mother, and-that's something that Quinn and I will have to deal with separately, okay, but that conversation isn't just up to me. This one is. And I'm telling you, I-"

"The girls at school didn't think you'd be good enough, and now that you are, they don't care that you're a star. It's easier to them if you're not. It didn't win you their respect, did it?"

She swallows hard. "They like me as a person now. Believe me, that's a lot more important than whether or not they finally recognize and applaud my talent, because-"

"Because your talent's always been there, and it's never been enough. Your own mother didn't even-she didn't even care to find out just how far it would take you. And it was the best thing about you, wasn't it? It was what should've made any parent proud," Joel says, leaning forward a little. "How does it make you feel, Rachel?"

"I don't-"

"Yes, you do. How does it make you feel?"

She says nothing, for a very long time, and then closes her eyes and says, "Like I did it all for nothing."

"Has Quinn seen your work?" Joel asks, leaning back again.

Rachel almost feels like she can breathe, but it's shallow and painful and she just wants to go and-sleep. She just wants to go lie down and sleep, but they have another fifteen minutes to go.

"Yes," she says, roughly.

"What did she say?"

"That I'm the most talented singer she's ever known."

"Big statement," Joel says.

"It is. She doesn't do hyperbole, or aimless flattery," Rachel says, and rubs at her face.

"Did it help? Finally hearing what you wanted to hear from her all those years ago?"

Rachel bites her lip and then shakes her head, slowly. "No."

"Why not?"

"Because-you can't... she can't undo what she did then just by-" Rachel admits, and then feels her eyes start to water in a real way. "None of them can."

Joel is silent for a while, and then hands her some tissue and puts a hand on her shoulder. "We're talking to Santana first, okay? Because she needs to hear this. You can't understand what it's like on the other side. These kids, the popular crowd-they probably have some lingering shame about how they treated you, but they think that time, and different behavior, makes it all go away."

"I don't think Quinn does," Rachel says, blowing her nose. "I mean, if she did, she'd be able to talk about those years more freely, and she can't. She's-getting there, but she can't."

Joel gives her a small smile. "How does that make you feel?"

She takes a deep, ragged breath, and then looks at the ceiling for a long moment. "I don't know."

"Yes, you do."

"It makes me feel like-" she starts to say, and then remembers Quinn in that chair, defensively asking if Rachel needed an apology-and that image starts to shift, until suddenly it's clear to her that Quinn wasn't unwilling to apologize.

She just hadn't known where to start.

"Like everything that happened then was as awful for her as it was for me," she finally says, and looks at him a little blearily. "You're bringing her in, aren't you?"

Joel gives her a small smile. "Is she expecting to be brought in?"

Rachel nods, after a moment.

"Have some unasked-for opinion. The fact that-someone with as many hang-ups as she has is willing to come and sit here and talk about them in front of someone whose respect and admiration she desperately needs and a total stranger?" He shakes his head after a second, and then pats her on the knee. "You two are going to be okay. Just don't hide behind the now, okay? Deal with the past. And that whole baby-mother situation, because... Christ, Rachel."

She laughs a little, even though it hurts to. "My biography is going to be one hell of a read."

"Yeah, you don't say."

Day 18

Anxious about everything and it's not even 8am yet.

It's like the first day of high school all over again.

She's wringing her hands unwillingly as Tony places the call, and then settles behind Joel's desk, while Joel sits next to her, both feet on the coffee table, and she stares at the screen in front of them with her heart beating out of her throat.

"If-if she's incredibly rude or hostile, it's not you-that's just how she is," Rachel murmurs, after the longest of silences. "I don't-"

"Stop apologizing for her," Joel says, mildly, as the screen flickers to life.

Brittany's there, peering at them and then sticks up a hand in greeting. "Hello, therapy guy - hi Rach. Okay, San is just drinking some water but-wait, do I need to be here for this?"

Rachel shakes her head. "No, but you can stay if you want to."

"Okay, because I think Santana's a little nervous," Brittany sort of whispers at them. "I think this'll go better if I just-hold her hand, you know?"

Joel makes a face that kind of says, really? You let someone who needs hand-holding during a phone call bully you for years? and she sighs. It's hard to explain Santana, who really has to be experienced.

Rachel sort of smiles when she finally appears in sight, because she's wearing her legalese best; a nice suit, collared shirt and-lord, her glasses.

This is so far removed from the high-ponied girl who had scratched her open for sport in high school that she relaxes almost immediately and then says, "Hey, Santana. Thanks for-"

"It's cool," Santana says, a little weakly, and then her eyes track towards Joel. "You're the guy who called me, right?"

He nods. "I gave you some things to think about. Do you want to start with those, or-"

Santana takes a deep breath on screen, and in the background Brittany murmurs, "C'mon, baby, this is important, and it's for Rachel, we love Rachel" and-

Rachel sighs and brings her fist up to her mouth and watches as Santana pulls a sheet of paper out of her pocket and looks at it.

"Okay. Your first question was-how do I feel about Rachel now." She hesitates, and then glances up briefly. "This does not leave this room, and we're never speaking of this again, afterwards."

Rachel smiles involuntarily, as Santana shifts and then reads, "Rachel is-one of the kindest people I'll ever meet. The only person kinder than Rachel, I married, so that should tell you something. She thinks about other people before she thinks about herself, even if she gets kind of wrapped up in her own business a lot of the time. When it comes down to it, though, she'd take a bullet for every single one of us whether we deserve it or not. And then she'd shove us in front of a bus to beat us to an audition, but-you know, we all have things that we really would kill to accomplish." She pauses, glances up and says, "That's a metaphor. I am not planning on killing anyone."

"Noted," Joel says, pressing his fingertips together and watching quietly.

"She's-incredibly talented. I can say this now that I'm in a different field and it's not like, personal anymore, but she could out-sing me with combined tonsilitis and pneumonia and without a backing track. Always has been able to. I don't think that people even know how talented she is because she's been running on empty for ages now, but I sometimes listen to old Glee recordings and..."

Santana looks up for a moment, stares at the heavens, and then sighs. "Defying Gravity made me cry about a month ago, okay? It was the gayest thing on earth and-"

Rachel sort of laughs against her hand, and then just watches as Santana lowers her eyes back to the paper. "... I sometimes listen to old Glee recordings and, I don't know. I get a little nostalgic but like, for what things could have been like."

She pauses there, and then glances to her left briefly, and finally says, "Rachel is one of my closest friends, but I don't know how to actually live up to that anymore, right now. She doesn't let any of us in and I mean, I get why, with me, and I wouldn't trust me with my personal shit either after how I treated her for ages, but-she doesn't let anyone in and I'm really, really worried about her."

Joel lets those words ring for a moment and then nods. "Okay. One more question."

Santana stares at him warily.

"Is she attractive?"

To Rachel's combined amusement and horror, Santana blushes. "I'm-what? I'm married. My wife is right here, and not to mention, Rachel's totally into someone else and-"

"I'm not asking if you want to sleep with her," Joel says, placidly. "I'm asking if she's attractive."

Santana looks at Rachel, who also blushes a little at just how hard she's being stared at, and then Santana looks back at Joel. "Yeah, of course she is. I mean, what kind of question is that?"

"A fair one, given that you used to call her... let's see. The dwarf, the hobbit, destined for a starring role in Willow, the single most annoying person you'd ever met, beak-nosed-"

Santana bristles a little, but doesn't say anything.

"Please stop," Rachel says, after a moment, putting her hand on Joel's arm when he just keeps going and going. There are so many words, here, too. All targeting different things and-

She'd been able to produce two full sides of insults without even thinking about it.

She closes her eyes.

"So she is attractive," Joel says.

Santana makes some sort of noise, but then just says, "Yeah. She's attractive."

"Was she in high school?"

Santana takes a deep breath and then rubs at her face. "Look, high school-I don't know what I can tell you. I wasn't just in the closet. I was in some sort of tunnel that stretched back towards like, the layer of magma under the earth, okay? It didn't matter that I was into Brittany, because she was popular and it was understandable that I'd think she was hot. But Rachel? That was like-fuck, no. There was just no way my rep would've been able to take that, and she wore these ridiculously short skirts that just meant you had to look at her legs and-"

Rachel feels her eyes slowly open, and then stares at a visibly uncomfortable Santana with a dawning realization that-

Santana pauses, and then sighs. "Don't get me wrong. You were annoying as fuck, and I would've probably told you to cram it fifteen different ways no matter what because-everything was always about your solos and your triumph and how you were so much better than the rest of us. It might've been true, but we didn't want to hear it. You had to learn your place somehow, and just act like a fucking person. But-everything else? … shit, Rachel. If I was attracted to Brittany, I had eyes, but if I was attracted to you in any way whatsoever-"

"You were gay," Rachel says, quietly.

"Wasn't any different for Q," Santana says, a little shortly. "I mean, not that that dumb repressed bitch had any idea at the time, but-I watched her tag the bathroom, and she drew those caricatures almost lovingly, Rach. She-was obsessed with you. And the only thing that made either of us feel like-we could survive, and be normal, was tearing you down. Well, and everyone else, I mean, I was also basically just a bitch, but yeah."

The entire room is silent for a long while, and then Brittany leans into the frame.

"For the record, I would've totally slept with you then, and now, if I wasn't married."

Joel chuckles and then looks at Rachel. "Do you have anything you want to ask?"

She thinks about it, long and hard, and then finally just says, "Couldn't you have-made me fit in better? We were all on the same team, and you-the three of you knew so much about styling and make-up and everything else that- "

Santana sort of winces at that, and then says, "Yeah. We could have, but-we all had our own shit going on, Rach. We were a bunch of bratty little kids. I was terrified my family was going to disown me if they ever figured out the truth, and Quinn-I don't know. That's a lot to ask for, and by the time I'd say we were actually friends, you'd figured out your own style. The dresses, with the Mary Janes in senior year? That was-yeah. I mean, you were fine, by then."

Rachel nods quietly, and then shakes her head at Joel when he says, "Anything else?"

Santana hesitates and then says, "I-I mean, I don't know. This feels fucking pointless, but I'm not saying it so that can feel better. I'm saying it because I mean it. I'm-you know. I'm sorry, that we weren't capable of being better back then. And it took me so long to see like, all your good sides, and not just the bad ones."

Rachel takes a deep breath, and then says, "It's okay. I did once tell you the only thing you'd be good for was stripping."

"Which is deliciously ironic now, let's not kid ourselves," Santana says, with a small smile.

Rachel smiles back after a moment, and then says, "Thanks. For-"

"Should have done it a long time ago, okay?" Santana cuts her off, and then bites her lip. "And um, if it's okay with you, please let's never talk about how I might find you slightly attractive ever again because-I'm sorry, but I just-"

Rachel laughs a little and then says, "You're like a sister to me."

"Oh, my God, please stop," Santana says, covering her eyes with her hand, and after a second even Joel chuckles.

"Okay. Let's-leave it there. Rachel and I have some things to talk about now; Santana, thank you for cooperating, you were a tremendous help."

Santana nods, and then says "Bye", a little mutedly; Brittany's hand waves at them for a second, and then Tony kills the connection.

"She thought you were hot," Joel says, after a long moment. "How about them apples, Rachel?"

"Did you miss the part where I just said she's like a sister to me?" Rachel says, raising her eyebrows.

"Now, maybe. But think about-I don't know. March, sophomore year. Santana Lopez wanted to get under your skirt, Rachel. How do you feel?"

She laughs a little and shakes her head. "Weird."

"And?"

"... validated, okay? I feel validated. Girls like that don't notice-"

"Except they do, apparently," Tony says, giving her a half-smile.

She takes a deep breath, and then says, "Let's do McDonald's. If the two hottest girls in school both wanted to tap this, I can damn well buy a McFlurry."

"That's the spirit," Joel says.

Quinn,

Joel and Tony are calling you today.

Miffy and Orphan Annie lounging in the sun attached. I don't know what Red Fish was doing at the time-probably plotting his escape, he's a roamer. Carl Jung is a beauty-those stripes on his chest are remarkable.

I'm going to call my dads and Puck now, because they're spending the entirety of the last week here with me, and I'm drained. It's been a long few days and I feel a lot more now than I did back when I was medicating so heavily and I just, I don't know. We tried McDonald's again today and I almost had the entire door open before feeling the world crash down around me, which I guess is something, but just opening doors isn't really much of anything when you can't step through them, is it.

I don't have the energy to be anything other than your very, very tired friend Rachel right now.

But I look forward to seeing you anyway.

R

Adam clears his throat over breakfast and then says, "Today's my last day."

"Officially cured, huh," Rachel says. The decaf is particularly hot today and burns her tongue, but she'd rather think about that than about how Quinn is inbound, and she can't-she doesn't know what to say about that, to anyone.

"Well-officially at a point where talking to people back home should keep me off the drugs for the time being, but cured? I don't think-I think cured is probably the wrong word," Adam tells her, staring into his mug for a moment and then giving a tentative smile. "But, I mean, I might also be saying that because I'm like two verses into a song called Getting Back on the Horse-"

She laughs. "You're not really."

"Do you have time for one last song together?" he asks, after a moment.

It's strange. She knows she'll probably never talk to him again, after this, but he's someone that she'll think about at random points in time; she'll hope for the rest of her life that she never sees him in the tabloids, and that he might find someone who he can write songs about-studying on a bed, or wherever-sooner rather than later, again.

She'll hope that for him, because she needs him to hope it for her.

"Yeah. I do."

"Any picks?"

She nods, after a moment, because something's been on her mind over the last two days. She'd sung this song years ago, with Puck, but hadn't had a fucking clue what it was actually about-but now, the combination of alcohol and a phone...

Yeah. Lady Antebellum speak to her, in ways they couldn't possibly have before.

Quinn looks-

Rachel averts her eyes, and when she feels like she's a little more in control of just how much she longs for the woman sitting next to her, she looks back at Joel, who looks between them for a moment and then smiles.

"I stalked you a little, to be truthful. You co-wrote a fascinating research paper last year with Fiona Nguyen on the categorization of early on-set developmental disorder in light of later criminal behavior," he says.

Quinn crosses her legs and undoes the button on her jacket, relaxing a little at that introduction, and Rachel goes back to looking out the window. Much as she apparently doesn't understand shit about herself, she's been clear on which Quinn showed up in Hawaii all along, because Dr. Fabray gave her a slightly tight smile out of the room and then said, "Okay. Let's get this over with."

Rachel's uttered similar words right before a root canal.

"To be fair, I mostly served as her research assistant; developmental psych isn't my field. She was just kind enough to credit me," Quinn says, with a small smile.

"Even so-I think we can all agree that you are a highly intelligent and capable woman, right?" Joel says.

Quinn vaguely inclines her head, like she's not going to belabor that particular point, and then Joel stretches in his chair and looks at her a little longer.

"So you know why you're here."

"Yeah," Quinn says, and glances at Rachel for a second. "I mean, I'm curious about your exact clinical diagnosis to an extent but I understand it's inappropriate to ask given that I'm here in a friends and family capacity, not a collegiate one."

"Oh, I don't mind sharing. Do you, Rachel?" Joel asks.

She shakes her head after a moment, and watches as Quinn gets that hawk-like look on her face that she also gets during Scrabble, and when trying to figure out if Rachel can come again or-

She goes back to looking out of the window, as Joel says, "Pathologically low self-esteem after sustained emotional abuse, suffers from key PTSD indicators such as hypervigilance and avoidance, and she's chronically depressed and has a rousing case of alexithymia despite an innate and superb ability to read others."

Quinn takes a deep breath and then says, "Okay."

"Yeah, that's real okay," Rachel says, rolling her eyes. "I-"

"What, Rachel?" Joel asks, placidly.

"Why-I mean, was there not a nicer way of saying that? You make it sound like-like-"

"Like I tormented you. Like I systematically set about to destroy your ability to believe in yourself, which was then compounded by the fact that your mother denied you the unconditional love and acceptance that you craved from her, and then transplanted it onto... a baby I gave birth to," Quinn says, slowly.

It comes out so cold that Rachel instinctively wraps her arms around herself. "What the fuck is alexithymia?"

"You have a hard time identifying and processing your own emotions," Quinn says, before taking a deep breath. "Hence why-you confused your attraction to me for love, and can't distinguish between a natural need to impress those around you and an almost pathological need for someone to approve of you."

Joel watches as Rachel tries to breathe steadily, but how do you breathe through this?

"What are we dealing with right now, Quinn? Your professional assessment?"

Quinn is silent for a moment, and then says, "No. My professional vocabulary, but beyond that, unfortunately Rachel's problems are very similar to my own. We just react to them in very different ways."

"Okay. Can you talk about that?" Joel asks.

Quinn shifts, and then says, "To an extent."

"That's one of the primary differences, then, isn't it. I mean, Rachel here-honestly, give her a topic and she'll keep going forever-"

"Fuck you, Joel," she says, rubbing at her eyes. It keeps the tears at bay, for now.

"It's not a bad thing," he says, emphatically, and then looks at her encouragingly. "It's who you are. When someone indicates they're willing to listen to you, you are willing to spill. You don't mind taking chances with your emotions, primarily because you're conditioned yourself to expect that they're going to be rejected anyway-but I'd say that underneath that fear, you're also just a brave little trooper. You believe in happy endings."

She has nothing to say to that, but then thankfully Joel turns to Quinn. "Which is why seeing you was such a heinous idea on her part, because what's your natural reaction to people directing emotion at you?"

Quinn smiles faintly. "Running."

"Exactly. So-this is like the deaf leading the blind. It's time to open our eyes and ears, ladies, okay? This isn't going to go away in a day, but we need to get our wires uncrossed here." He hesitates, for a while, and then says, "Rachel, what did you want from Quinn in high school?"

It's such a loaded question.

She almost says everything, but it's not true. What she wanted was simpler than that. She just wanted...

"A chance."

Quinn looks at her sharply, and then looks down at her own hands, squeezing her lips together until they whiten.

"To be a friend, right? To be-supportive," Joel presses.

Rachel nods. "I didn't... honestly, I disliked her completely until she became pregnant, and that's when I saw it-the misery that-I don't know. There was just something there that-"

"Try to put it into words."

Rachel takes a deep breath and then closes her eyes. "There was-the outside Quinn, who was for all intents and purposes a terrible person, but inside of her there was someone else, who was just … dying to be noticed, and for someone to reach out and-I don't know. And-"

"And?"

"I … I knew what that was like. Because that was-that was me. Externally fine, but not so great on the inside. I just-I tried not to think about that, much, about myself but I saw it in Quinn," Rachel says, before sighing and pressing her fingers together, hard, just feeling them flex over and over again so she has something to focus on. "And I just kept thinking-we could help each other. If you notice me, I'll notice you."

"Quinn, your cruelty mostly stopped at that point, didn't it?" Joel asks.

Quinn lets some air slip out between her lips, and then nods. "Yes. I … honestly, I just didn't have the energy to ruthlessly claw my way to the top anymore. I'd been there, and I'd fallen so hard that I wasn't sure I'd ever get back up again. … the Glee club was the only thing in my life that didn't... outright turn me away, with everything that was going on."

"And by the Glee club, you mean..." Joel says, slowly.

"Yeah," Quinn says. She lowers her eyes, and then straightens. "Then, the problem went away; I buried it, and went back to life as it had been."

"And by the problem you mean-"

Quinn flinches. "The baby. Sorry, I'm-she's not the problem. What her existence did to my life is."

"But you returned to form-"

"Yes."

"And this time, without picking on Rachel."

"We bickered, about-Finn Hudson, but it hadn't been as... no. We fought as equals from junior year onwards, I would say," Quinn says, tentatively, before looking at Rachel. "That might just be my impression, though. I honestly don't know."

Rachel hesitates, and then shrugs. "I think you're probably right. I don't know. Trying to analyze what I was doing back then is impossible, because I was lying to myself about every part of it. I mean, the mere idea that I actually thought I was in love with Finn Hudson..."

"Okay," Joel says, looking between them again. "So let's go back further. The pregnancy is when things changed. Is that fair to say?"

"It is for me," Quinn says, a little flatly. "Obviously."

Joel smiles at her, and then looks at Rachel, who nods.

"Why didn't you let her help you?" Joel then asks.

Quinn looks at the ceiling for a long moment, swallows visibly, and then says, "Because I didn't think she'd stick around when... she found out what I was actually like."

Rachel stares at her uncomprehendingly. "Quinn, I-I know I told Finn that he wasn't the father but-I followed you, that day. Do you really not understand that I would've stuck by you even if I did think that he deserved to know the truth?"

"Yeah. You think that would've made me feel better?" Quinn asks, shaking her head a little. "I was-I didn't deserve your forgiveness, Rachel. I hadn't even started on apologizing to you, and in fact, I didn't even try to apologize the entire time we went to school together. All I managed was telling you that I didn't hate you, like that had anything to do with-with what you were offering."

"Neither of you realized you were attracted to each other at this point, right?" Joel says, snapping Rachel out of a moment of history that's being rewritten in front of her. Completely. In a way that she doesn't know how to cope with.

Alexithymia is the word for that, apparently.

Rachel shakes her head, forcing herself to move on when Joel stares at her. "No. I felt a lot for her, when she was pregnant, but my realization that I was attracted to her actually didn't come until-I'd started dating her ex-boyfriend in a serious manner and kept thinking about her when making out with him."

"He must've been thrilled," Joel says, dryly.

Quinn laughs unexpectedly and says, "Trust me-he would have been."

"What about you, Quinn?"

Quinn licks at her lips and then shakes her head. "No, I had no idea. I mean, it wasn't even like-I had an inclination and was suppressing it. I know what that feels like. I just had absolutely no idea. I didn't have sexual feelings at that age."

"Were you in therapy during any of this?" Joel asks.

Quinn shakes her head again. "After sixteen years of essentially being told that feelings mattered less than accomplishments, I just wasn't capable of talking about mine."

Joel looks back at Rachel. "Let's bring this back to now. When you see Quinn, what do you see?"

Rachel exhales slowly and says, "That's-I'm not sure I want to answer that, because it's-we're aware that we shouldn't be together, but unless you want me to lie this is going to-"

"It's okay," Quinn says, softly.

The urge to hop over the side of her chair and go sit on Quinn's lap is almost unbearable, and after a second Joel just looks at her and says, "Your anxiety is through the roof right now, isn't it."

"Yes," Rachel admits.

"Do you understand why?"

"This conversation is awkward as hell, Joel; I don't know—I mean, I'm sure Quinn is anxious right now, even," Rachel says, glancing over for a second.

Joel nods. "Sure, that's part of it, and I'm sure she is a little. But the difference between the two of you is that she knows where her anxiety comes from. Correct?"

Quinn nods, but doesn't comment further, and Joel looks back at Rachel.

"Do you?"

She shakes her head after a second, willing her pulse to slow. Doesn't work like that, though.

"This is the core of your problems, Rachel; at the heart of you is this giant ball of tangled fears about failure and rejection. And, I've just asked you to put some of your deepest, most meaningful feelings out there, and when she rejects them, it actually gets to you. Out of all the people who have told you no, over the years, hers is the one no that still matters. So really, the fact that you're not having a massive panic attack right now is pretty damn good, if you ask me."

There's nothing she can say to that, and she watches as a pained look passes over Quinn's face, and her heart rate snaps up even higher while her vision gets a little blurry.

But he's right. It doesn't slip over the edge. She's just hovering on it, for now. Fifty percent, right?

"If you could have... a free choice, right now, between having your mother accept you into her life, fully, or having Quinn accept you into her life, fully, what would you choose?"

She sees Quinn hold her breath, and then looks at Joel and actually hates him for what he's doing.

"Quinn," she says, even though it makes her feel faint.

"That's what I'd call a fair amount of pressure, right there," Joel tells Quinn.

Quinn shoots him a look that loosely translates to I hope you die in a fire, and Rachel almost smiles in reaction to it, except it's not funny. Quinn's walls are shooting up, and she's five seconds away from begging for a pill.

How is this progress?

"So-we did this with Santana Lopez, the other day, and that was actually moderately pleasant," Joel says, almost conversationally. "I mean, Santana admitted that she'd been, to recap, a complete shit throughout high school for reasons nothing to do with Rachel, really, and Rachel got paid an unexpected compliment, and all in all I think there's probably some hugging and crying in the future, but then they'll really and truly be on the road to healing."

"I'm not Santana Lopez," Quinn says, in a low voice that Rachel can't read.

"No. You're a little more important than that, because somehow, in Rachel's mind, you've become-well, the apotheosis of everyone who's ever rejected her. How's that feel?"

Quinn looks away, and then mumbles something that Rachel can't hear.

"What's that?"

"I said, it feels fucking terrible, because I'm going to let her down. Not because I want to, but because no one person should have this much riding on them."

"Agreed," Joel says, and looks back at Rachel. "Thoughts?"

"I—" Rachel starts to say, and then closes her mouth, shaking her head. "I don't know what you expect me to say right now. I don't—"

"You didn't realize you were doing this."

"No, I really didn't," Rachel says, as tears climb up her throat and she wipes at her eyes again. "And when you say it out loud it—fuck, of course I can't—but I don't know how to—"

"Broadway or Quinn?"

"Quinn," Rachel admits feebly, pressing her palms into her eyes.

"All your friends and family, or Quinn?"

"Quinn."

"Your life, or Quinn?"

That stops her in her tracks, and she looks at him in confusion, brushing the last few tears away. "If I'm dead, I don't-I mean, that's not a choice."

"Oh, good, okay. Because honestly, Rachel, if you were actually going to say that Quinn comes before your entire existence, I would at this point ask her to leave and take out a restraining order against you."

That's bleak enough for her to shut up altogether.

Quinn is slumped down so far in her chair that her ass is almost hanging out of it at this point, and Rachel almost apologizes to her, for what she's just said, but then Joel turns back to her and says, "Can you handle this?"

A shrug is all he gets, and then he gently asks, "Your job or Rachel?"

"Rachel," she says, after a moment. "Regardless of which job."

"That's-I'm sorry, but that's a load of bullshit. You-" Rachel says, and then starts laughing a little brokenly. "Are you kidding me right now? You basically told me from day one that you'd rather break up with me than stop stripping. And yet-"

"Woah, slow down," Joel says, holding up a hand. "Quinn, explain to her what you're saying right now."

Quinn presses her lips together tightly, runs a hand through her hair, and then quietly says, "I'm talking about, emotionally, which takes precedence. I'm not commenting on what I … do. Or have done."

"Exactly," Joel says, and looks at Rachel's face when the next question comes. "Your friends, or Rachel?"

"Rachel," Quinn says, tersely.

"Your daughter, or Rachel?" Joel presses.

Quinn inhales sharply at that, and then shakes her head. "I don't know."

"Okay," Joel says, quietly. He then looks back at Rachel and says, "You rank second. To someone she gave birth to. How does that make you feel?"

Rachel feels her throat lock up before she even opens her mouth, and then just shakes her head.

"What do you see, when you look at Quinn?" he asks, repeating an earlier question.

She either has all the words, or none at all.

She goes with all of them-lovely, beautiful, so smart, so talented, so unexpectedly sweet, so closed off, so worth fighting and waiting for-and watches as Quinn cringes through most of them before finally just squeezing her eyes shut tightly, like that will make them go away.

"I don't know why she can't believe me when I tell her these things," Rachel says, thickly, and looks at Joel almost desperately.

"Quinn-what do you see when you look at Rachel?"

Quinn says nothing, until the egg timer goes off, and as Joel shuts it down, clears her throat and then says, "A girl that-" She falls silent, and then shakes her head. "I'm done. I'm sorry."

Joel takes a deep breath and says, "Okay. Well. I think we all have a lot to think about right now. Can I ask that you two keep your interaction outside of this office to a minimum right now, and for the love of God, please don't try to reconnect by having sex, because-I'm sure it'll feel good at the time, but you haven't earned it, okay?"

It's like her father dousing her in a bucket of really, really cold water-not that she was remotely turned on by any of this, but, well. She definitely won't be now.

"I would like to have dinner with her, to get back to neutral ground before we continue," Quinn says, after a long moment. "Is that-"

"Sure," Joel says, almost kindly. "Talk about anything but this. Okay? We'll dive back in tomorrow."

Dear Tina,

Any sort of entertaining anecdote you have about B&A at this point – very much welcome.

Thanks for the housing information – will discuss when back in the city.

Love you,

Rach

Over dinner, Quinn talks about her plans for graduation-which involve a party that Nicole is throwing for her, and she's not really interested in attending-and about how she's been thinking about her plans for next year and has basically decided that she's not staying in Vegas.

"Sometimes, you just have to-start over. Try something new," she says, licking her lips briefly and then looking across the table at Rachel with inquisitive eyes. "Can I say something that's intended to be friendly?"

"Of course."

"You look-so much better than you have, all summer. You look like you're sleeping, and like you're eating, and like you're... you look the way I've had you in my head, all these years, even when I pretended you weren't in it."

Rachel takes a shaky breath and says, "What can I say? It's the lack of coffee."

Quinn glances down for a long moment, and then says, "I know we're not meant to talk about this, but let me tell you this one thing. I think you are incredibly brave, but then you've always been-"

"Maybe on the outside, Quinn. Inside, we're apparently not so different," Rachel says, quietly.

Quinn pokes at her quiche with a fork, and exhales softly, before looking up with a slightly wry smile. "We're going to get yelled at tomorrow, if we keep this up."

"You know how I am with rules," Rachel says, with a small shrug, but then she leans back in her chair anyway and says, "Though I will say, breaking yours is more-well. Rewarding."

Quinn's smile turns a little bit more genuine, at that, and then she says, "So-you liked Purity Ring, huh? Want some further recommendations along those lines?"

Yes. Rachel does, to her own surprise.

Day 20

Anxiety ping-ponging between 3 and 12908530 depending on whether or not I think about today's session with Quinn and the fact that my parents and Puck are flying in the day after tomorrow.

Missed Adam at breakfast today but ate with Steven and Emily and that was fine. 3-1875783 as noted.

Got my Valium delivered by Kevin this morning which means that on top of everything else, Tony is going to push me to get him his ice cream, and all of a sudden this is less of a simulation and feels a lot more like what my real life is like, with people pulling on me on all sides. Anxiety level: Quinn told me to try this band called Xiu Xiu and they do a song called "I Broke Up" where the lead singer randomly screams, "this is the worst vacation ever, I am going to cut open your forehead with a roofing shingle". That. That is how I feel.

What I want to do is curl up on Quinn's lap and let her make everything better, because she can. Probably because I've turned her into the one person whose approval I actually need in this life, but-it's not even close to being a solution to anything.

Even if she believes in me with all of her might, she can't make me believe in myself again.