Beth is zero. Quinn is sixteen.
Quinn isn't even sure if that's how they count a newborn's age. She doesn't want to think about much at all. She drained, everything hurts, and there's a baby in the nursery down the hall that doesn't have a place to call home.
The other members of New Directions visit her in the hospital, surrounding her in the hospital bed. They're the closest she has to friends, she realizes as she looks from one to the next, down a row of familiar faces.
When Mr. Schue informs them that they have to get back to the competition to hear the results, they slowly file out. But Brittany lingers, fingers nervously playing with the edge of Quinn's sheets.
"I know you're giving Beth away, but…" Brittany lifts her dress and pulls out a small cloth book from under the ruffles. "Sorry, I didn't have a bag. I want her to have this. Maybe her new mom or dad can read it to her. It was my favorite book when I was younger."
Brittany holds out the book, and Quinn takes it from her. The colors on the cloth are faded from use, but the words are clear: Goodnight Moon. It was Quinn's favorite as a child, too, and she remembers reading it to herself when her parents were away, but she doesn't talk about that.
"Thanks, Brittany," she says instead, dropping the cloth book onto the side table.
Brittany beams. "No problem!"
Beth is one. Quinn is seventeen.
Quinn is sporting a new haircut courtesy of Brittany and Santana and a pair of tiny scissors that Quinn suspects had come from Santana's nail set. But they'd worked just fine chopping off her blond locks, and Santana had done a decent job styling it so it didn't look like a complete disaster.
Beth's first birthday falls on a Wednesday, and Quinn skips school and stays in bed the entire day. Because it's McKinley, she knows that nobody will care. She's pretty sure Puck has been pulling three-day school weeks since freshman year, and he's still passing.
Around four that afternoon, her doorbell rings. It's too early to be her mother returning from work, and from her window, she notices that there's no car in her driveway, so she pulls her covers over her head and ignores it, thinking it's probably a salesman, or a starving artist, or someone who thinks that she needs to be saved by Jesus.
But then Quinn's phone buzzes, and: open the door!!! I think ur neighbor is a vampire.
Quinn crawls out of bed, throws on a hoodie even though it's June, and heads down to her front entrance. When she swings open the door, Brittany bursts in and quickly shuts the door behind them.
"Do you have any garlic?" Brittany asks breathlessly.
Quinn quirks an eyebrow. "Have you been watching The Vampire Diaries again?"
Brittany's eyes widen. "No! Maybe. Yes."
"My neighbor's not a vampire, Britt."
"Okay, but—okay." Suddenly, as though switching gears, Brittany smiles. "I brought you something."
Brittany holds out a small white box with a red ribbon tied around it, which Quinn takes from her.
"Careful," Brittany warns, keeping her hand on the package to steady it.
"What is it?"
Swaying on the balls of her feet, Brittany grins. She shrugs, playing coy. "I dunno."
Quinn rolls her eyes and leads Brittany to the kitchen, then places the box down on the table. Carefully, she unties the ribbon and pulls it off. She finds the side of the box, slips her fingers under the flap, and pulls it up and open.
It's a small cake that looks a little lopsided, but there's white icing on top and the words Happy 1st Birthday Beth! in green across the surface.
Quinn, inexplicably, starts to cry. Fat tears roll down her cheeks before she can stop them, and when she wipes them away with the back of her hand, more form. Brittany startles, instantly cupping Quinn's cheeks and looking like someone ran over her cat.
"Don't cry," she murmurs. "I'm sorry, Quinn. I didn't know. Please don't cry."
Quinn shakes her head, embarrassed. "No, I just—" She hiccups. "How did you remember?"
Brittany shrugs her shoulders and looks down at her feet. "We had a quiz in history, and I didn't have anyone to copy from." She doesn't let go of Quinn's face as she continues, "I just thought—I know you miss Beth because I saw you doodling on your notebook yesterday, and when you weren't at school today, I wanted to do something to cheer you up. I figured if Beth gets to make a birthday wish, so should you. I mean, you were the one who carried her for nine months, right? You did all the hard work. I even have a candle and everything, but I burned down Lord Tubbington's playhouse by accident once, so you should probably light it."
Overcome, Quinn pulls Brittany closer and envelopes her in a hug, hoping to show her gratitude that way. Brittany quietly reciprocates, hands curled tightly against Quinn's lower back, sliding up until her fingertips brush the nape of Quinn's neck.
"Thank you," Quinn whispers against a curtain of soft blond hair.
Beth is two. Quinn is eighteen.
Despite Quinn's struggles in her senior year, she pulls her shit together and gets into Berkeley. Completely coincidentally and to many of their peers' surprise, Brittany, too, receives a fat envelope from the prestigious school, hers for the department of theatre, dance, and performance studies. Neither has a full ride or anything, but it's a way out of Lima, so both are eager for the opportunity.
But for Quinn, leaving Lima means leaving her family, and that means leaving Beth. She's fortunate to have worked things out with Shelby, who could've easily slammed the door in her face after her whole baby-snatching stint, which, not Quinn's brightest moment, she's happy to admit, but she's looking forward now.
Brittany slips beside her on the bleachers, making the metal rattle. "Hey."
"Hi." Quinn smiles, something that's become a natural reaction to Brittany's presence.
"Got some time to kill before Beth's birthday party at Shelby's. You're still coming, right?"
Brittany beams. "Yeah, of course."
Sometimes Quinn wonders how Brittany became the one person not related to Beth to care so much. But really, she knows she shouldn't be surprised. Brittany is a nurturer, a caregiver, a peacekeeper. She just wants to please everyone. It's almost like she's drawn to sadness because she wants to fix it so badly. Quinn loves her a little for it.
Quinn takes a deep breath. "I was just thinking, this might be the last birthday I get to spend with her for a little while. I mean, what if I don't have the money to fly back next year, or the year after that? What if I miss everything?"
"You're not her mom, Quinn," Brittany says with startling clarity. It stings a little less to hear now, but it still hurts. "You're like, her really cool aunt. You don't have to yell and be stressed out, but you get to do all the fun stuff like buy her presents and dress her up and love her." Brittany smiles. "Oh, speaking of presents, I got her a stuffed giraffe. I'm really glad you're not a giraffe, Quinn. Giraffe babies have to fall six feet out of their mother's vagina when they're born because they're so tall."
That night, after the birthday cake has been eaten and the rowdy toddlers have all gone home, Quinn asks Shelby if she can read Beth a bedtime story. Shelby, of course, says yes, and even throws in a quick, "Brittany can stay, too, if you girls want to do it together."
Quinn's nervous when she gathers Beth and carries her to her room, and she knows that Brittany can sense it, because Brittany's hand keeps rubbing comfortingly up and down her arm. Quinn helps Beth brush her teeth and change into her pajamas, and then Beth crawls into bed and pats the mattress invitingly.
To her embarrassment, Quinn is practically shaking by the time she takes a seat, and Beth is looking at her in confusion, and shit, she's going to fuck it all up, and—
Brittany takes her hand and squeezes it tightly. It grounds Quinn, reminds her to breathe and that this child knows her, trusts her, loves her, even. Quinn squeezes back, grateful.
"Q-bray," Beth murmurs, because that's what she calls her, and it makes Quinn's heart flutter every time. "Goodnight Moon?"
The cloth book that Brittany had given Beth two years ago sits on the nightstand. Brittany picks it up and hands it to Quinn, who opens it to the first page and begins reading.
"In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of—"
"The cow jumping over the moon," Beth supplies, her tiny fingers dragging across the pages.
Quinn smiles, leaning down to press a soft kiss against Beth's golden curls. She opens her mouth to read the next line, but she ends up swallowing a sob instead, unprepared for the anxiety that hits her. Beth looks up with curious eyes, and Quinn has to turn away to hide the quiver in her chin.
Immediately, Brittany taps lightly on Beth's forearm, catching her attention, distracting her from Quinn. "Beth, is it okay if I finish reading to you?"
Beth scrunches up her face but nods. Brittany walks around the foot of the bed to sit down on the other side, squeezing Beth between her and Quinn. She takes the book from Quinn and resumes where they'd left off.
"And there were three little bears sitting on chairs…"
Behind Beth's back, Quinn finds Brittany's free hand and holds on.
Beth is three. Quinn is nineteen.
Quinn tries, she really does, to save enough money for a flight back to Ohio in time for Beth's third birthday. But she can only work so many hours on top of five tough classes, joining the Berkeley track team, and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life. She actually does pretty well for a while – there's a jar on her desk that she drops twenty bucks into every week – but then her car breaks down the same week that her asshole roommate fucks up her coffee maker, and yeah, there go her savings.
Brittany picks her up while her car's in the garage and takes her to Walmart to pick up a new coffee maker. Quinn bitches the entire time about how awful her roommate is and how she should've done what Brittany had: gotten a place off-campus with a pair of hippies. Brittany laughs as she pulls into the parking lot.
When they're finally standing in front of a wall of coffee makers, Brittany spins abruptly. "Move in with me."
Taken aback, Quinn forces a laugh. "What?"
Brittany smiles. "Yeah, you hate your roommate, right? Our lease is up in July. Paul wants to move in with his girlfriend, and Nat's transferring to Arizona State. I can't pay the rent by myself, so I'd either have to get a smaller place or find new roommates, but I'd really rather live with you."
Quinn flushes. "Yeah?"
"Yeah, totally. Just think about it, okay?"
"I will," Quinn promises before picking out a coffee maker and busying herself with the box to distract from the fact that her face is probably the shade of a goddamn tomato for absolutely no reason.
Quinn pays for her coffee maker, and Brittany picks out a tiny pink tutu that she says she plans on mailing to Beth.
Quinn doesn't think about Brittany's proposal until a few weeks later, when Beth's birthday finally rolls around. Quinn skypes Shelby and even gets to speak to Beth for a few minutes before she's whisked back to her birthday party. Quinn doesn't realize how much she misses the little thing until Beth blows her a kiss through the screen. After that, she barely makes it to the end of the call without crying.
Later that night, Quinn drops by Brittany's uninvited because her roommate is being a colossal bitch again, and she could really use some of Brittany's sunshine. Brittany's roommates are both out, and Brittany's wandering around the apartment in just a pair of shorts and a polka-dot bra when Quinn shows up. It's not an unfamiliar sight, but it makes Quinn nervous anyway.
Brittany leads Quinn to her room and flicks on the TV. She keeps it on mute though and crawls onto the bed next to Quinn.
"You'll see her next year," Brittany says quietly.
Quinn sighs. "I don't want to talk about it, Britt."
Brittany nods. "You know what always makes me feel better?"
Quinn does, but she's still surprised when Brittany presses her down into the mattress, her body warm and soft against hers.
Being Brittany's friend means being an object of her affection, being on the receiving end of spontaneous cuddles and kisses. Quinn knows that, loves it, actually, once she had gotten over how painfully gay it sometimes ended up being. But it's Brittany, and with Brittany, it's never been about the parts; it's always been about the person. And well, sometimes it's about the presence of boobs, but that's—whatever.
"Is this okay?" Brittany asks, her lips hovering an inch from Quinn's, her bare thigh sliding between Quinn's legs.
"Yeah," Quinn breathes out, gently flipping them over so that she's on top.
Brittany's giggle turns into a moan when Quinn bucks her hips, her hand carefully brushing the loose hair off Brittany's face. For all of Brittany's constant need to touch and be touched, it's never quite been like this.
Quinn doesn't ask what it means, not when she unclasps Brittany's bra, not when she swirls her tongue around a nipple, not when she reaches between Brittany's legs and plays with her clit and fills her with three fingers. Brittany curls around Quinn, hands dancing over Quinn's body, pulling at Quinn's clothes, all while she makes these delicious noises against Quinn's ear.
Brittany is surprisingly quiet when she comes, face scrunched up, body tensing so that her muscles become defined under Quinn's fingertips. Quinn draws lazy circles on Brittany's skin, easing her down, and then Brittany's turning her over and undressing her and crawling down the length of her body to settle between her legs.
Brittany's good at what she does, practiced, and the first flick of tongue almost brings Quinn over. Quinn's close from watching Brittany, already raw with emotion before they'd even started, and so it happens quickly. When Brittany's tongue slips inside, out again to lick her clit, Quinn peaks, body shaking with pleasure.
Brittany kisses her way up Quinn's torso, meticulously attentive and reverent to Quinn's abdomen, brushing her lips over the stretch marks that only fade but never disappear. Quinn pulls her up and kisses her nose, her cheek, her jaw line, before bringing Brittany's lips down to meet her own.
Most of the time, Brittany is difficult to read. Her thoughts are her own, her logic is strange and hard to decipher, and sometimes she just speaks words to get them out there. Quinn's learned that over the years. But when Brittany brushes a kiss to the corner of Quinn's mouth and smiles through her eyes, Quinn reads her perfectly.
"You're still moving in, right?" Brittany asks, voice still heavy with arousal. "Like, we don't have to do this all the time or ever again if you didn't like it. I just—"
Quinn hums, drawing Brittany's naked body closer. "Is that what you want?" But it sounds too much like am I who you want?
Brittany cranes her head to press a kiss to Quinn's throat. "I want you to be happy."
It's all Brittany's ever wanted for anyone, and Quinn's heart flips over at the thought. "This isn't just about… my happiness, is it? Because that's not something I do."
Brittany frowns, eyes affronted. "If I thought sex was gonna make you happy, I would've slept with you like a billion times when we were in high school." She softens into a smile. "You're doing that thing where you think too much."
"I'm not," Quinn protests.
Brittany lifts onto her elbows and presses soft kisses into Quinn's collarbone. "You are."
Quinn rolls her eyes, her hands finding Brittany's hips and pulling.
Somewhere after her fourth orgasm, Quinn kisses Brittany's knuckles and murmurs, "Yeah, Britt, I'll move in with you."
Beth is four. Quinn is twenty.
To be clear, living with Brittany isn't always easy. She's a little forgetful at the worst times and leaves her dishes unwashed in the sink, and Quinn's lost count of the number of times they've fought over who's supposed to do the laundry that week. (Once, they'd tried to just do it separately, but Quinn had legitimately began to miss seeing Brittany's clothes in the hamper with hers, so she'd made up some poor excuse that she hadn't even delivered very convincingly, but Brittany had kissed her and made her apologize properly, and then—and then yeah. Stuff happened. Maybe involving a running washer; maybe not.)
They do find a third roommate – this bitchy political science major who reminds Quinn way too much of Santana Lopez – but actually, she ends up being pretty okay most of the time. When she's not completely PMSing, anyway.
Living with Brittany might not be easy, but sharing a bed with her is.
At night, under the covers, they whisper to each other about their dreams, fears, hopes, insecurities. Quinn learns more about Brittany in a year than she does about anyone in an entire lifetime.
She doesn't call it dating. Neither really calls it anything, and one is always introduced as the other's roommate. But it's not out of fear or shame. Quinn doesn't shy away from public affection, and Brittany is only too happy to hold Quinn's hand and kiss Quinn's cheek and randomly hop on Quinn's back. It's really just that Brittany never seems to care what it's called as long as she can do all those things, and so Quinn doesn't care either.
Quinn manages to drop enough twenties into her jar this year to fly back to Ohio to see Beth for her birthday. Brittany keeps a similar jar next to Quinn's, and okay, Quinn had slipped in the last hundred and twenty, but there'd been enough there for Brittany to accompany her.
On the plane, Brittany fiddles with a stuffed owl that she'd bought for Beth.
"Do you think owls are ever afraid of the dark? Because they're nocturnal, right? So they're awake all night, but what if they're scared of the dark? What then?"
Quinn leans back against the airplane seat. "Britt, don't worry about it. The stars light up the sky, and the owls will – I don't know – the stars will guide them."
Brittany scrunches up her face in thought. "So… are you kinda like my star?"
Quinn laughs and leans over for a quick kiss. "No, Britt, you are definitely mine."
Half an hour later, they land in Dayton and get picked up by Shelby and Beth, whose hair has turned dark and who speaks in full sentences now and god, she's still the most precious thing Quinn has ever laid eyes on. Beth – who still calls Quinn 'Q-bray' – babbles about owls and giraffes the entire drive to Lima like it hasn't been two years since she last saw them in person.
That night, when Brittany and Quinn are lying together in Quinn's old room in the Fabray residence, barely fitting on the tiny bed, Quinn wraps her arms around Brittany and slowly runs her thumb over Brittany's hipbone.
"I want to introduce you as my girlfriend," Quinn murmurs.
Brittany stirs. "Yeah?"
"Yeah." Quinn shifts, re-centering herself. "To Beth, to my mom, to everyone. I know it's not a big deal, but I mean, that's basically what we are, right? I'm not—" She falls silent, suddenly self-conscious. "Never mind. It's not a big deal."
Brittany cuts her off with a kiss. "Baby, if it's important to you, it's important to me." She drops a second kiss, smiling into it. "You want to be my girlfriend?"
"So badly," Quinn replies with a short laugh. "It's just, being back here, having everyone look at me like I'm finally making something out of my life—I want them to know that I'm making it with you."
Brittany grins. "So you want to show me off?"
Quinn rolls her eyes. "Don't get cocky, B."
Brittany laughs and snuggles into the crook of Quinn's neck. "Okay, Quinn, I'll totally be your trophy girlfriend."