Disclaimer: I, by no means, claim to own anything remotely related to the Glee Universe. No copyright infringement intended.
AN: Happy birthday, Rachel Berry! I hope everyone is safe and healthy wherever you are in this world. Wishing you all a happy holiday season, and thank you for reading.
It's two weeks into their summer vacation when Rachel first sees her.
Or who Rachel assumes is Quinn, because she's actually almost forty metres away and Rachel's too uncomfortable thinking she would be able to recognise Quinn purely by her gait from this distance.
But then Rachel sees her again two days later - closer this time - and the figure is very obviously Quinn Fabray. Who is currently running towards her on the trail.
Rachel is just walking, though, Patch's leash held loosely in her hand, and she has a terrifying moment where she debates the merits of diving behind the closest tree so Quinn doesn't notice her.
Quinn sees her, stumbles slightly, laughs at herself, says hey Berry, and then continues running right past her as if everything is just normal. Which it isn't, of course. Nothing has ever been normal between the two of them, and it is just all kinds of weird to see Quinn just out and about - particularly without the obvious baby bump.
Patch tugs on his leash and Rachel's attention switches back to him, leaving Quinn in the recesses of her mind. The yellow labrador takes priority, anyway. He actually seems to like Rachel, and Rachel can't say the same about Quinn.
It's the third time Rachel sees her, which is also only two days later, that whatever Normal they've never quite established gets weirder. Because Rachel arrives at the start of the trail with Patch at the same time Quinn seems to be emerging from her run, panting slightly, skin pink under the sun and just a little sweaty.
This time, Quinn doesn't stumble when she sees Rachel, but she does offer her a small smile as she moves towards her. There's a bit of hesitance in her steps, as if she's not sure she should or even wants to approach. But then Quinn is standing in front of her, chest still heaving and saying, "We meet again," like the dork Rachel has always suspected she is.
Rachel pockets the keys to her car and manages a smile of her own. "Are you done with your run?"
Quinn nods. "Just starting yours?"
Rachel looks down at the dog sitting at her feet. "Just a walk, actually," she says. "Patch here isn't much of a runner, but he needs the exercise." Patch perks up at the sound of his name, which is always adorable, and Quinn's attention shifts to him.
"Hey there," she says, and her smile is bigger, more genuine. She glances at Rachel. "May I say hi?"
Rachel's secretly pleased she asks first, and she nods. "He loves a good pet."
Quinn's smile widens for a beat, and then she's down on her haunches in front of Patch. She holds out a hand first, allowing him to get used to her, and then Rachel watches in fascination as Patch practically melts into her; nosing at her chin and wagging his tail in his old-man excitement.
Because he is old, which is why they take only walks.
Quinn lets out this soft little laugh that Rachel shouldn't find cute, but it truly is. It sounds light and foreign, and Rachel files that all away to ponder about later.
Quinn looks up at her from the ground, right hand scratching behind Patch's ear. "You said his name is Patch?" she asks.
Rachel nods. "Patch Adams, in full."
Quinn's smile widens. "Not Doctor Patch Adams?"
"Mister here hasn't quite finished medical school, I'm afraid," Rachel says, and resists the urge to cringe at how silly that sounds. Which is why it's a surprise when Quinn just laughs, gives Patch one last scratch, and then gets to her feet.
"That's a shame," Quinn says. "He'd look dapper in a lab coat."
And, it is silly, the entire thing, but Quinn goes along with it, and Rachel is left to wonder if this is what Summer-Quinn is like. "He's just taking a leave of absence," Rachel responds, hoping she doesn't carry it too far.
Quinn's smile is still warm. "I don't think I've ever heard you mention you have a dog," she says, head tilted a little to the left, and Rachel can't help thinking she kind of resembles Patch in this moment.
"I don't, not really," Rachel says. "My parents work so much that it doesn't make sense to get a pet such as a dog, but they let me foster pets during the summer, because I'm around a lot more."
Quinn's smile actually softens. "That's really good of you," she says, genuine.
"It gets a little sad, though, because some of them are old like this guy, and you just know nobody's going to adopt them, you know?"
Quinn bends down again to give Patch some attention, getting a rough bark out of him. She laughs at his antics, this pleasant, childish sound, and Rachel can't imagine Quinn Fabray existing in the corridors of William McKinley High School and making those sounds.
Perhaps she would attract even more people to her if she did.
"I think he'll be okay," Quinn finally says as she straightens again, the ghost of her smile remaining.
It's perhaps the reason Rachel feels brave enough to ask, "Would you like to join us on our walk?"
Quinn's smile freezes for just a second, and then she glances at her wristwatch. "I would," she finally says. "I just can't today." She winces, looking legitimately apologetic. "My mother's kind of expecting me. We're going to this weird church barbecue thing that I can't miss."
Rachel tries her best not to show her disappointment, because Quinn looks perhaps more against having to leave than either of them anticipated. "Next time then?" she offers.
Quinn nods, and says, "Sure thing, Berry," like she actually means it. She grins down at Patch. "See you soon, future Dr Adams," she tells him. Then, to Rachel, she says, "Enjoy your walk," and then turns to go.
Rachel watches as she heads towards her own car further along in the parking lot. Watches as Quinn unties the sweatshirt around her waist and throws it through her door before climbing in. Remains where she is as Quinn starts her car, offers one last wave, and then reverses out of her spot. Doesn't move until Quinn and Quinn's car are completely gone from sight.
Rachel looks at Patch, who's already looking at her from where he's seated. "That was Quinn, by the way," she tells him. "I'm pretty sure she likes you more than she likes me."
Patch barks at her, which Rachel takes as agreement.
Quinn is already waiting for them when they arrive at the start of the trail two days later, and Rachel has to tell herself not to read too much into it. She's sitting on a bench and drinking from a water bottle when Rachel pulls into a parking spot, and Patch actually lifts himself up to peer at her as if he recognises her.
Of course Quinn would have already charmed him after just one meeting.
"Hey," Rachel says as soon as she has Patch out of the car and loosely leashed. "You're here."
Quinn gets to her feet, t-shirt hanging down to her mid-thigh. "I'm kind of here every day," she says, walking towards them.
"You run every day?"
Quinn's fingers pinch at the fabric of her loose t-shirt. "I do, yeah," she says quietly, as if there's more to it. "But I came a little earlier, so I could be done by the time you arrived." She looks at Patch. "Hey, Doc."
Patch barks at her, speeding up just a little to get close to her, and Quinn's smile is blinding. It's a weird thing to be jealous of a dog, but it's a feeling that flares within Rachel and then dissipates immediately.
"As much as I'd like us to go on walks every day, this old guy just can't handle it," Rachel says. "And we go really slow when we're here." It's preemptive, really, because she doesn't want Quinn to get bored.
"That's cool," Quinn says. "I need a proper cool-down, anyway."
Some days, Rachel has to coax Patch into getting started walking. She knows his bones and joints ache from time to time, but they would hurt a lot more if he didn't use them.
Today is not one of those days. All Quinn has to say is, "Come on, boy," and Patch is happily trotting along beside her. Rachel allows herself to be irritated about it for only a second, because she knows she'd follow Quinn anywhere if she asked, as well.
Their pace is slow and they make sure to keep to the left of the trail to make it easier for anyone to go past them. It's oddly comforting, just walking beside Quinn, but Rachel can handle the silence for only so long.
"How was your, um, barbecue thing the other day?" Rachel asks, and Quinn glances at her.
"Do you really want to know?" she asks.
Quinn uses her right hand to scratch the top of Patch's head. "It was actually pretty horrible."
"You know, people assume the worst thing to happen to me is that I got kicked out of my home," she says. "Which, of course, it was horrible, but - " she stops, thinks over her words. "I went to live with Finn and his mom, and then Puck and his mom and sister, and finally with Mercedes and her family, and I learned all these ways I didn't miss my house. It was always just so quiet, clean and perfect, and I just thought that would change now that my father's no longer around. But it's exactly the same. Maybe worse."
Just hearing the way Quinn casually talks about the way she moved from house to house makes Rachel feel deeply uncomfortable. And guilty.
"When my mom let me come back home, it was like - you'd assume everything would be better, right? Because my dad's not around, but now - now it's like she has to make up for all our perceived sins in the eyes of the community, and it just - it's honestly the worst thing having to pretend right alongside her and not have her understand that I don't care about the opinions of people who look at me like I'm dirty."
Rachel doesn't know what to say other than, "I'm sorry, Quinn."
Quinn glances at her for a moment. "It's one of the reasons I try to spend as much time out of the house," she admits. "We just don't know how to talk to each other right now, so it's just better for both of us."
Rachel would apologise again, but Patch very suddenly stops and plops himself on the ground. She's forced to stop walking, and Quinn takes another two steps before she notices Patch's halt.
Quinn comes to a stop, turns to look at Patch, and then bursts out laughing. It's one of the greatest sounds Rachel has ever heard, and she mentally tells herself she has to get Patch to do more things to prompt such a sound from her.
Rachel watches as Quinn moves to kneel in front of Patch, scratching the top of his head and behind his ears. "I probably should have mentioned that he does this," Rachel tells her. "When he needs a break or has just had enough."
Quinn looks up at her. "So he just plonks himself on the ground?"
"No amount of coaxing will work," Rachel says. "Believe me, I've tried. You just kind of have to wait him out."
Quinn looks wonderfully amused, her eyes bright and so green under the sun. She pats the ground beside her. "Well, come on then, Berry," she says. "Sit with us a while. Tell me what you've been doing with your summer vacation."
It's not necessarily an odd request, but Quinn has never given Rachel any kind of indication that she cares all that much. Most people tend to tune out whenever Rachel opens her mouth.
But Quinn looks interested, so Rachel just tempers her own expectations, settles on the rocks beside Quinn and jumps into a story about a visit she and her parents paid to an alpaca farm the previous weekend.
Quinn pays attention through all of it.
Rachel doesn't expect their walks to turn into a thing, but Quinn is waiting for her and Patch two days later, and then again two days after that.
Another two days later, Quinn is waiting for them with a packet of dog treats and an innocent smile on her face. She's still a little pink, breathing slightly heavy, and Rachel has come to associate this look with someone who believes Rachel is worth knowing.
"Only if he's allowed some," Quinn says. "But I was at the mall yesterday, and I stopped by the pet store. I hope that's okay."
It's really cute how uncertain she looks, as if she's worried she's overstepped. "Can I see them?" Rachel asks. "Have to make sure they're not actually bad for him."
Quinn hands over the packet, and then immediately drops to greet Patch properly. He's used to her by now, licking her hand and barking softly when Quinn lets out a small giggle.
Rachel has to force herself to read the nutritional information on the back of the snacks, momentarily distracted by Quinn's smile and Quinn's eyes and basically Quinn's everything.
"They're okay," Rachel finally declares, addressing Quinn. "As if he couldn't love you anymore, you're going to reward him with treats."
Quinn grins at her. "Jealous?"
Rachel isn't lying when she says, "Just a little," and she doesn't bother to clarify that Quinn is probably misinterpreting her jealousy.
Or maybe she's actually transparent, because Quinn straightens and says, "Don't worry, I'll bring you snacks next time."
Rachel feels her cheeks flush, but Quinn saves her from a response by starting to walk, Patch following behind her and tugging on the leash still held in Rachel's hand. They fall into step, silence between them.
It's always a surprise to Rachel when Quinn is the one who speaks first. It's usually something obscure - they've talked about constellations and birds and their favourite vegetables in the past - and today is no different. Quinn mentions that she's been watching a lot of crime documentaries, revealing her new obsession with true crime.
"I don't even know how it started," she says, rolling her eyes at herself. "I guess human beings are just really fascinating to me all of a sudden."
"Why are they?"
"I guess, if I can somehow figure out other people, then I might be able to figure out myself."
Rachel has wanted to hug her on numerous occasions, the desire more selfish than anything. She wants to hug her right now, but she just about manages to stop herself. "I don't think you have to have yourself figured out at our age, Quinn."
Quinn's smile is a little sad. "I'm sixteen, Rachel," she says, "and I've already had more experiences than some adults. I don't think the normal age timeline of a teenager applies to me."
"I - yeah, I suppose you're right." She sighs. "So, what have you managed to figure out about yourself?"
Quinn reaches for the treat packet in Rachel's hands, their fingers brushing just enough for Rachel to register the feeling of her cool skin. "Well, if you must know, I've figured out that I'm never going to drink another drop of alcohol ever again."
Quinn shrugs. "I just - I guess I don't quite see the appeal," she says. "I mean, I've watched my parents drink themselves senseless for years, and I just - it seems dangerous to tempt those genes, you know?" She opens the packet, the crinkle basically giving Patch the permission he needs to stop entirely and settle himself under a tree.
Quinn just grins at him before joining him, one arm sliding around his back and giving him a quick hug. She looks up at Rachel with this look on her face that makes her appear so devastatingly young. "I was also pretty drunk when, you know, the whole… sex thing happened."
Rachel winces as she finds a spot on Patch's other side.
"And, that's another thing," Quinn adds, voice just a little louder. "I've also sworn off sex. For forever. I'm never doing that again."
Quinn just shrugs, digging in the packet of treats and feeding one to Patch, who mewls in response. He can turn into quite the baby when Quinn is around, snuggling into her side and enjoying being treated like a really big puppy. "Maybe if I find the right person," she says. "I just don't see the appeal right now."
"I can see the appeal," Rachel tells her. "To have that connection with the person you love."
"Are you in love, Berry?"
Rachel doesn't mean to hesitate, because the answer is simple. "I don't know."
"You don't know?"
"I guess that basically means that I'm not, right?" she says. "Because I'd know, wouldn't I?"
"I think we can convince ourselves of a great many things if we really put our minds to it," Quinn tells her. "I almost had myself convinced the baby would just disappear if I ignored it hard enough, and I'm a pretty smart girl when I'm not making dumb decisions."
"A lot of supposedly smart people do some dumb things, Quinn," Rachel tells her. "I'm not immune to it."
"What dumb things have you done?" Quinn asks, looking curious.
Rachel scratches the top of Patch's head, her own hand sliding along his back until her fingers touch Quinn's, which are cold despite the heat of the air. Neither of them pulls away, which makes Rachel's heart race, but she's trying not to think about it. "I mean, I don't really want to give you ammunition here, Quinn," she says, and then immediately regrets it, because she doesn't want to bring their disastrous school lives into this little bubble they're in.
But Quinn just grins. "It's just friends here, Rachel," she says. "Doc won't tell anyone, won't you, Buddy?"
"We're friends?" she blurts before she can stop herself.
Quinn glances at her, smile small but real, but she says nothing in response.
It's easy to pretend what they're doing means something. They don't talk when they're not on the trail, and they definitely haven't hung out outside of these hour-long walks every two days. Rachel wouldn't know how to exist with Quinn if Patch weren't with her.
This part is easy, so Rachel gives in to her desire to share parts of herself with her, alluding to the mustard and ketchup concoction she used to put in her father's coffee and that one time she thought she could become an Olympic gymnast and ended up breaking her arm.
Quinn listens in silence, that small smile remaining on her face. Her attention is split between Rachel's stories and the steady stroking of Patch's fur. It's a little overwhelming having Quinn's full focus, so that's a small relief, but it still makes every part of Rachel feel warm.
Every part of her is just warm, and she can't realistically say it's owed solely to the summer sun.
It's a thought that plagues her whenever she's not around Quinn. She's wanted to be her friend for so long, and she might be getting that, but the idea that it probably won't last past the summer makes it feel like none of it is happening.
Rachel takes the fact that she doesn't mention any of her shared walks with Quinn to her fathers or anyone else from Glee to be extremely telling. She doesn't want to have to explain what they're doing, because she wouldn't even know how to.
It's better if she gives nobody the opportunity to ask.
Rachel doesn't really expect their walks to last, but Quinn is always there when she and Patch arrive, and Rachel tells herself not to get too attached. It's just that this Quinn is someone Rachel never thought she would get to know, and it constantly baffles her that Quinn hasn't put an end to all of this.
Instead, she and Quinn talk.
It starts off as random topics, but there are times when they talk about life and love and parents and the future. Neither of them mentions any names, but it's very obvious when they're discussing Finn, Beth or Shelby.
Rachel learns that Quinn's mother is an alcoholic, and that her father was cold and the unnoticeable kind of abusive. Rachel learns that Quinn actually runs twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon before she meets up with Rachel and Patch.
It's probably a silly question, but Rachel still asks, "Why?"
Quinn jogs forward slightly, and then turns her body so she's walking backwards and looking at Rachel and Patch. "I gave birth almost three months ago," she says. "I want all this baby weight gone by the time the new school year starts."
Quinn's gaze meets Rachel's, eyes almost expecting Rachel already to know the answer. "I was reduced to nothing, Rachel," she says. "So many things taken out of my control. This is the one thing I have back."
"My body," Quinn says. "I want it to remain mine."
The words strike Rachel as odd, but she can't quite figure out why. "It is yours, Quinn."
Quinn shakes her head, turning back around. "I don't think it's ever been," she says quietly. "Growing up, it was always something to be hidden, and then something to be paraded by my parents. I gave it to boys, and then Beth claimed it for so many months. I just - I don't think I could bear to let anyone else have it. Nobody should get to touch it."
Rachel doesn't know what drives her to do it, but she takes a few quick steps forward and slides her hand into Quinn's, startling her. She almost trips over a rock, but she doesn't take her hand away.
"What are you doing?" Quinn asks, a little breathy.
"Proving to you that you can be touched and still have your body belong to you," Rachel says, easy and true. She holds up their hands, merely punctuating the point she's trying to make. "See?"
Quinn doesn't respond; just squeezes her hand and keeps them walking, Patch trailing behind. It's just easy, you see, and so little of Rachel's life has been before.
She tells herself to hold onto it the way Quinn keeps hold of her hand.
It's the weekend after the Fourth of July that Kurt sends a message out to the Glee Club that he's hosting a pool party at his house. Finn makes it very clear to Rachel that he wants her to go, because she's been very cagey about spending time with him this summer - just some afternoon drinks at the Lima Bean maybe once a week and usually not with just him.
She won't admit it has something to do with Quinn.
Rachel will probably go, mainly because it will be nice to see the rest of the Club all at once, but she also gets the feeling that Quinn would rather eat nails than participate in Glee Club hooliganism when she absolutely doesn't have to.
It just never crosses Rachel's mind that Quinn wouldn't have even been invited. She brings it up during their latest walk, questioning if Quinn is going to go, and she very calmly says she didn't receive the invitation Rachel is talking about.
"Oh." Rachel can't help her frown. "Why?"
Quinn just shrugs.
She takes Patch's leash from Rachel's hand. "It's pretty simple, Rachel," she says. "Why would any of them want me around if they didn't have to?"
"I want you around," Rachel automatically says.
Quinn glances at her. "Well, you've either got a pure, forgiving heart or you're kind of an idiot."
"It's probably a bit of both," Rachel murmurs, her frown deepening. "Maybe they just don't think you would go."
Quinn shakes her head. "You know as well as I do that's not true," she says. "In the great big scheme of things, nobody would choose me." She pauses. "Even my parents didn't."
"I would choose you." Rachel doesn't know where the words come from, but they feel right. They feel true.
Quinn stops walking, forcing Rachel to stop as well. Patch looks up, eyes darting between them. "You've never before," Quinn points out. "In fact, when it did come down to it, you chose everyone else. You didn't even choose yourself."
Rachel has no response to that, because it's all true. Apparently, they're telling each other only the truth now, and it's both terrifying and liberating. She just doesn't know what to say, because they're both aware she would do it all again exactly the same.
"Come on, Doc," Quinn says, tugging on Patch's leash to get him moving again. "Gotta keep you moving."
Rachel doesn't try to bring it up again, because she's not sure Quinn will believe her. It doesn't make what Rachel said any less truth, though, because Rachel knows she would choose Quinn.
She's going to prove it.
The first time Rachel really considers what it means to have this secret walking-life with Quinn is when Finn calls her the night before Kurt's pool party and asks if he can pick her up so they can go together. Essentially make a date out of it.
Rachel actually had the intention of going to the party after her customary walk with Quinn, driving herself after she brought Patch home. She would have been late, sure, but she doesn't think they'd actually miss her. Being presented with the idea of going with Finn should excite her, but it rather -
It's a surprise to them both when she says, "I'm not going."
Finn actually sputters. "What? Why?"
Rachel's first thought is of Quinn, and Patch, but what she ends up saying is, "I'm busy."
"But I haven't seen you enough this summer."
Which is true, of course, and Rachel would be more concerned about it, but they're not actually dating and she's no longer burning with the desire for them to be.
She doesn't know how that happened, either.
"I'm sorry, Finn," she says, but it sounds as if she's apologising for a lot more than just not going to this pool party. It feels like she's apologising for not pursuing him this summer after she spent so much time chasing him during the school year.
She's convinced her interest waned after she told him about the true paternity of Quinn's baby, and she can't be sure exactly why. Perhaps the appeal fell away the moment he was no longer dating Quinn, which is a complicated thought that she's not quite ready to unpack.
"Are you sure?" Finn asks. "What are you doing, anyway?"
"I just have plans," Rachel tells him, not wanting to get into it.
"That sucks," he says. "Maybe we can do something on the weekend," he offers.
Rachel sighs. "Maybe," she allows, and then manages to get out of the conversation without actually committing to anything. She just holds her phone in her hand and stares at the screen for a while. She has Quinn's number, but she's too afraid of bursting their precious bubble by actually using it.
With another sigh, she sets her phone on her desk and goes downstairs. She finds her father, LeRoy, cooking dinner in the kitchen, and silently tucks herself into his side and wraps her arms around his waist. If he's surprised by the unexpected hug, he doesn't mention it. Just hugs her back.
"Is something wrong, Sweetheart?"
Rachel shakes her head, because nothing is actually wrong. Just a little odd. She's convinced she knows what's actually happening with her, but she's not quite ready to say it out loud. To her fathers, or to Quinn. Not even to herself.
It's all she's thinking about, though: Quinn and everything to do with Quinn. She's constantly on Rachel's mind now that this truth has crept into her head and her heart. Always just thinking about what it means for her, and for them, and if it's something she could even tell Quinn.
When she climbs into bed, and when she wakes up in the morning. When she spends the morning practicing her scales, and especially when she's getting ready to walk Patch.
Quinn is already waiting for them when they arrive, grinning the second she sees them. It makes Rachel's heart skip several beats, and it's just another defining moment for her. Because of course she's managed to develop a crush on this girl now that they're actually talking to each other like they're both actually real people.
Quinn even does a little hop and a skip as she approaches them, meeting Patch halfway and dropping to her haunches to greet him properly. Rachel's hit by a flash of jealousy all over again, wanting nothing more than to get Quinn to greet her that enthusiastically.
Instead, Quinn gives her a crooked smile, and then dives into a story about the librarian at the town library. She's uncharacteristically talkative and Rachel isn't going to say or do anything to break her flow. It's always something to behold when Quinn abandons pretence and appearances, and just acts like the Quinn she's coming to know.
It's all really cute.
Quinn is very cute, her eyes bright and alight and so very green, and Rachel's brain tries to keep her existing in this moment for as long as Quinn will allow her. Maybe for longer, if she's brave enough to ask.
It's a change to their routine when she says, "What are you doing right now?" when they're supposed to be parting ways at the end of their walk.
Quinn gives her a perplexed look. "Um. I'm going home."
Rachel fiddles with Patch's leash. "Do you - would you - I was thinking of getting some ice cream. Would you like to join me?"
Quinn goes still, her brow furrowed. "I thought you were going to Kurt's thing," she points out.
Rachel shakes her head, trying for a shrug but aware it doesn't come across as casual. "No, I - I didn't really want to go."
"Why not?" Quinn asks. "Isn't everyone going to be there?"
Quinn's frown deepens. "Please don't tell me you're not going because of me. I don't need that added to my conscience."
This time, when she shrugs, it's a lot more natural. "I just want some ice cream."
"Do you even eat ice cream?"
"There's a place that sells vegan ice cream in town," she explains. "They have only two flavours, but it's really better than nothing."
Quinn regards her closely. "You don't expect me to eat vegan ice cream as well, do you?" she asks.
"Not if you don't want to," Rachel assures her, and it might be a testament to how much Rachel's just realised she feels about Quinn that the idea of policing her animal-product intake hasn't once crossed her mind. "You'll be able to try mine, at least."
Quinn nods slowly. "Are you sure?" she asks. "You can still go to the pool party. I'm sure you'll have a lot more fun than hanging out with me."
"I want to spend time with you," Rachel tells her. "We can get coffee instead, if you want."
Quinn is quiet for a long moment, and then rather cheekily says, "I thought you just wanted some ice cream."
Which is really how Rachel comes to find herself seated on a bench with a cone of ice cream in her hand, Quinn seated beside her, and Patch settled on the ground between their feet. He seems the most at ease, happily munching on some treats and watching the other people in the park moving around.
Quinn chose pistachio for her flavour, and Rachel was forced to pick hazelnut over chocolate, mainly because she doesn't like chocolate flavoured things.
"It's weird, I know," she says, blushing when she explains it to Quinn.
"Not really," Quinn says, licking at her own cone and almost short-circuiting Rachel's brain at the sight of her tongue. "You like chocolate, but not things flavoured like chocolate. Almost the same way I like berry-flavoured things, but not actual berries."
Rachel actually chokes a little. "You don't like berries?" Her voice is high enough that Patch gives her what can only be an annoyed look. But Quinn just laughs, looking so thoroughly proud of herself. "Quinn," Rachel says, exaggerating her horror. "I don't think we can be friends anymore."
Quinn's smile freezes for a moment, and then softens. Her shoulders relax slowly. "We're friends?" she asks, soft and shy and perfect, and it is so strange to have the question directed at her in turn.
Rachel makes a point of not making too big a deal out of it, but she's actually going to answer her. "I mean, yeah," she says, shrugging as if it's becoming easier for her. "Kind of."
Rachel smiles at her, allowing just a fraction of the growing affection she has for this girl to show, and Quinn's brow creases in something like confusion.
Maybe nobody's ever looked at her like that.
"Kind of," Rachel confirms. This moment feels heavy, and Rachel realises that she and Quinn are remarkably similar in the way they're both convinced the other one wouldn't and shouldn't want anything to do with the other.
Quinn absently pats the top of Patch's head when he rests it against her leg. Rachel aches with the desire to take a picture of them, and she debates with herself for four seconds before she gives in. She gets to her feet, takes a few steps forward and turns to face them with her phone in her free hand. Quinn looks bemused for a moment, and then she grins, proudly holding up her diminishing cone of ice cream.
Rachel snaps a few pictures in an attempt to get one where Patch is looking at her rather than Quinn. She understands his struggle, but she manages one, and won't even try to stop herself from setting it as her phone's Lock and Home Screen.
"Please send it to me," Quinn says. "We want the Before picture."
Rachel returns to her seat. "Before?"
"Before Patch graduates," Quinn says, grinning. "Before he becomes this hotshot doctor and forgets all about us."
Rachel can't help scratching the back of Patch's neck, heart beating double-time when she allows her fingers to settle over Quinn's. Her fingers are cold, just a little clammy, and Rachel smiles at how unexpected it is in the heat of summer. She doesn't think the ice cream can be blamed, because this temperature is normal for Quinn.
"Your fingers are cold," Rachel catches herself saying, unable to stop herself, because this isn't the first time she's noticed.
Quinn's fingers curl around Rachel's, as if allowing her to feel their temperature properly. "I have a blood circulation problem," she explains. "And I guess the ice cream hasn't really helped."
"You run cold?"
"Or I'm just a vampire," Quinn says, winking at her and stilling her heart. "But, yeah, my toes, fingers, ears and nose are usually pretty cold. I have to eat a lot of ginger and cayenne pepper, and I drink so much hibiscus tea, oh wow."
"I did not know that," Rachel says, suppressing a sound of displeasure when Quinn's fingers disappear from her own. "I didn't even know that was a thing."
Quinn shrugs. "It kind of disappeared while I was pregnant, but came back once I gave birth," she explains. "My favourite thing used to be touching my fingers to my sister's neck, because she would scream like someone was killing her. It would drive our father mad, but it was - I think that's one of my best memories of growing up."
Rachel knows the Quinn of a year ago never would have opened up this way. Not to Rachel Berry, which is why she knows she has to pay attention to everything Quinn is saying.
"I heard somewhere that cold hands mean a warm heart," Rachel tells her.
Quinn snorts. "That can't apply to me," she says. "I'm pretty sure I've had a cold, dead heart for years."
"Don't say that." The words come out a little sharper than she intends, and both Quinn and Patch look at her in slight alarm. "Just - don't say things like that. Okay?"
"I - um, okay."
Rachel breathes out slowly. "Sorry," she says. "I just - I don't like the idea of you thinking such awful things about yourself."
"Rachel - "
"Have you always thought that?"
Quinn can't look at her when she says, "That I'm not worth the space I take up?"
Rachel's appetite disappears in a heartbeat, and she suddenly feels sick. "That isn't even what I meant," she whispers, horrified. "Quinn?"
Quinn gets to her feet quite suddenly, displacing Patch and getting a disgruntled huff out of him. "Forget I said anything," she says, dismissive. "Are you done with that?" she asks, pointing at Rachel's remaining cone. "I'm going to throw mine away."
Rachel holds hers out in silence, thoughts whirring as Quinn takes it from her hand. For a moment, she wonders if Quinn will come back, but Rachel can't bring herself to move.
She's not surprised.
Maybe that Quinn has revealed anything at all, but not what she's revealed. There has always been something inexplicably sad about Quinn, and it's overwhelming being this close to it.
Quinn comes back, and thankfully retakes her seat. "I used to be a much nicer person," she says, hand back on Patch's soft fur, as if apologising for her sudden movement earlier. "Before high school. Before I basically killed the part of me that the rest of the world forced me to hate."
Rachel looks at her, wanting desperately to reach out for her.
"Maybe that person I was would be considered warm," she says, quiet like a confession. "Having Beth, it feels like I'm stuck in this place where I could be that person again, but I also just want everything to be - " she stops. "Well, I guess nothing has ever been easy, has it?"
Rachel stops denying herself and reaches for Quinn's hand where it's resting on Patch's neck. "Who are you?" she asks.
Quinn shrugs. "I have no idea," she says. "I guess we're learning together."
"You make it sound like the worst thing in the world," Rachel points out.
Quinn sighs. "What if neither of us ends up liking the person I actually am?" she murmurs. "I've never managed it."
"I already like you," Rachel confesses, and it's perhaps a little too close to the truth.
If Quinn notices how serious her tone is, she doesn't mention it. Just looks at her and says, "Well, we've already established you've got a pure, forgiving heart."
"I'm also a bit of an idiot, apparently."
Quinn smiles like she has a secret, her fingers lacing with Rachel's like it's normal. She doesn't say anything else, and neither does Rachel. Saying anything might make Quinn end the contact and that's the last thing Rachel wants.
Patch also doesn't seem to mind.
Quinn is the first one to say she has to head home, though, rolling her eyes when she says, "My mom kind of instigated this rule where we have to have dinner together at least three times a week."
"That's sweet of her."
Quinn shakes her head. "It would be, wouldn't it?" she huffs. "Except she always forgets to cook, and then spends the entire time complaining that she's so lonely while getting through an entire bottle of wine."
Rachel can't think of a suitable response in time, because Quinn spends the next minute saying goodbye to Patch. It's always so heartwarming to witness the way she gives him her full attention, and Rachel is still jealous of him.
But then Quinn gives Rachel her own goodbye, a lopsided grin and just a bit of sparkle in her eye.
It shouldn't worry Rachel, but it does.
"I'll see you in two days, right?"
Quinn looks a little surprised that she'd even ask. "I - yeah, of course," she says. "But maybe we could get a smoothie or some fresh juice after instead? I'm trying to get in shape, remember?"
Rachel has to force herself not to tell her she's beautiful. Which is almost as difficult as it is not to be a complete dork and say, "It's a date."
She does it anyway, and desperately tries not to read into the fact she's not the only one who blushes.
Rachel remembers to text Quinn the pictures she took earlier when she's crawled into bed and is checking for any unread notifications. It's the first time she's actually used Quinn's number, and she can't even handle the way her heart starts to beat just a little too fast as soon as she's hit Send.
She tells herself not to expect Quinn to reply, but her heart still jolts in her chest when her phone pings. It's Quinn.
Quinn Fabray is actually texting her.
Is it just me or is Patch looking at me like he's plotting how to get my ice cream in that second picture?
Rachel waits until her heart slows, and then types out a reply. That ice cream would have been nabbed so fast if he were any younger.
Doc's got a young soul 💛 It sucks that he'll have to go back to the shelter when the summer's over.
Rachel tries not to think about that. She knows she's going to cry when the day comes, but she's also not looking forward to having to find some other excuse to spend time with Quinn.
We still have six weeks to get him ready for his return to med school, Rachel texts back, hoping to get Quinn to smile. Need to get him the official title!
For a supposed med student, he does such little studying.
He's a prodigy, Quinn.
It's inevitable, maybe, that opening this line of communication would be the start of something, because Quinn is constantly surprising her.
In person, Quinn doesn't appear like the talkative type, but she's an entirely different person via text. She's good at replying, keeps the conversation flowing by asking and answering questions, and Rachel never gets the feeling that she's annoying Quinn.
They spend the entire next day texting as if they haven't seen each other every two days for weeks now. She hears all about Quinn's day, from her breakfast of yoghurt and granola to the book she spends the late morning reading, all the way to the playlist she listens to when she's running.
Rachel spends the evening choosing the emojis she uses very carefully. Quinn is the one who winks, and Rachel's sure the heart-eyes emoji is now haunting her. It's just that Quinn is very unexpected and there's only so much time Rachel can spend avoiding what all of this means for her.
By the time she and Patch are getting ready to go and meet Quinn the next day, Rachel knows she has a pretty big problem. It's not anything she wouldn't be able to handle, she's sure, but she'll only make it more difficult for herself if they keep going the way they are.
The crush is bound to get worse because the more time Rachel spends with Quinn; the more she's learning about Quinn, and she likes everything she's learning.
Except for this:
"I still can't believe you don't like berries."
Quinn's chosen smoothie has banana, almonds and some frozen yoghurt, milk and honey. Not a hint of berries, and Rachel really wishes she weren't as insulted as she feels.
Quinn just looks so amused as she takes an exaggerated sip of said smoothie. "But this one is so good."
Rachel feels distraught enough that she won't bother to hide it. "I don't even know what to say to you right now."
"Take me as I am, Berry," she jokes. Pauses, and grins. "You're the only Berry I like."
It shouldn't be charming. Ugh. Rachel shouldn't blush, but she does, and Quinn's smile is full and so stupidly smug. It's actually a smirk, but it's the kind Rachel's never seen before. There's undisguised affection in it.
"That I know of, at least," Quinn adds. "Your fathers might be cooler than you, for all I know."
Rachel's convinced she's not actually angling for anything, but it still prompts Rachel to say, "You should come over to my house some time."
Quinn looks over at her, eyebrows lifted. "To meet your fathers?"
"Maybe," Rachel says. "But mainly just to hang out. If you want." Her blush deepens. "We have a pool. And lots of board games. Patch loves to swim. I'm the reigning champion at Scrabble."
Quinn's smile is slow as it curls her mouth. "You're not going to force feed me berries, are you?"
"Is that a yes?"
"Yip," Quinn says. "I can run much earlier tomorrow, and then stop by after?"
Rachel's heart immediately begins to beat faster. "Yeah?"
Quinn sips her smoothie. "Yeah."
Panic creeps up on Rachel quite unexpectedly. It's not that it catches her off guard - she knew it would happen - but the way it manifests makes her feel like a typical teenager with a crush and she kind of hates it.
Rachel doesn't tell her fathers about Quinn's impending visit until they're eating breakfast together. It's not that she's asking permission; she's just informing them. "I have a friend coming over later."
Hiram perks up. "A friend?" he asks. "What kind of friend?"
"Just a friend."
"A boy kind of friend?" LeRoy asks, more concerned with ensuring his daughter isn't going to be home alone with a potential romantic interest.
Rachel shakes her head. "A girl kind of friend," she clarifies, and definitely doesn't miss the way her father's shoulders relax. If he only knew.
Not that Rachel expects anything to happen with Quinn. They're friends, even though Rachel has a growing crush on her. Even though there's a real possibility that everything they're building is bound to come crashing down when the school year starts.
"Do we know this girl?" LeRoy asks.
"Yip." She eats a spoonful of her cultured coconut, merely to buy herself some time. "Quinn Fabray."
The silence that follows is predictable, but Patch does lift his head, as if he recognises Quinn's name. Rachel doesn't look up for a full minute and, when she does, both her fathers are just staring at her.
"Patch and I ran into her at the trail," Rachel explains. "She's been joining us on our walks for the past few weeks, so I thought it'd be nice to hang out here for a change."
"And she's been kind to you?" Hiram asks, always the priority.
Rachel nods. "We haven't had a significant clash since before last Christmas," she assures them. "It's - she's different now. Since the baby, sure, but especially now that we're out of school."
Her fathers exchange a long look, seemingly making a decision between them. "Okay," Hiram finally says. "We trust you to make friendship choices yourself, but it's also our job to remind you to be cautious, okay? The last thing we want is for you to be hurt any more by her."
That's the thing, isn't it? Quinn has hurt her in the past, and it's not something they've ever truly spoken about. Rachel suspects she's hurt Quinn too, in ways that are obvious but also not, and that's something they also haven't talked about.
Maybe that's something they can do when Quinn comes over later.
Which is a great plan to have right until the moment the doorbell rings and Patch goes running.
Patch is running.
It's so surprising that Rachel doesn't move until the doorbell rings a second time. Then she's racing to the door and yanking it open, only for her heart to jump into her throat at the sign of Quinn Fabray standing on her doorstep.
Quinn has a backpack over one shoulder, a few wisps of hair escaped from her ponytail and cheeks still pink from exertion. But the part that really causes Rachel to lose her thoughts is that Quinn isn't wearing the t-shirt she usually wears when she's running. It's gone.
All she's wearing is a tank top, arms proudly on display, and Rachel is suddenly thankful for Patch's enthusiastic greeting because she needs a moment to get back online.
Quinn is laughing, bent to greet Patch and blessedly not noticing Rachel's predicament. "Hey, boy," she's saying, easy and light, and Rachel is in even bigger trouble than she thought. "Hope you don't mind my visiting your turf. I think your mom just couldn't wait two days to see me."
Rachel's blush is sudden and hot, and she sputters out something unintelligible that just makes Quinn laugh that much harder. "Quinn," she finally squeaks.
"Hey, Berry," Quinn says, standing straight and winking. "You going to let me in?"
It is like the crush has hit her full force all of a sudden, her heart beating dangerously fast, her cheeks darkening and her words failing her. Which is probably why she says, "You're not allowed to wink at me."
Quinn just laughs, and then steps over the threshold. "I'll do what I want, thank you very much," she says, moving past Rachel with ease. "You mentioned a pool and Scrabble."
It's just that Rachel didn't really think this all through when she invited Quinn over. Because being out by the pool means -
Quinn wears a bikini and a pair of sunshine yellow board shorts. Her hair is loose, sunglasses on her face, as she spreads out on one of the deck chairs with a book and the glass of lemonade Rachel manages to fetch for her.
Rachel does her best not to stare, but she must not do a good job of it, because Quinn shifts a little awkwardly and says, "I still have a way to go before all the baby weight is gone."
Rachel seems to snap to the present, her mouth opening to explain that Quinn is -
"I used Vitamin E oil on the stretch marks, but I think they might be permanent," Quinn adds, her voice painfully self-conscious.
Rachel immediately gets up off her deck chair and moves to kneel beside Quinn's. Reaches for Quinn's closer hand and holds it in both of her own. "Quinn, you're beautiful."
Quinn frowns at her. "You've got to stop saying things like that," she says, "I might get a big head."
"Your head's the perfect size, thank you very much."
Quinn rolls her eyes, but there's a blush on her cheeks that makes her look even prettier.
Rachel squeezes her fingers, unsurprised by how cold they are. "I'm not telling you that just to make you feel better, Quinn," she says. "I'm telling you to make you believe it."
Quinn looks away, jaw tight. "It's not that I don't believe you," she admits. "Logically and aesthetically, I know I'm at least attractive, because I worked very hard to get this way. I just - it doesn't seem like it even matters anymore."
"Then why are you so concerned with losing the weight so quickly?"
"Nobody ever wanted me before," she says. "I wish I could be like you, who doesn't care what other people think, but I - I don't know how to be."
Rachel thinks on that for a moment, trying to find the words to explain her own thoughts. "Do you care what I think?" she asks.
"Do you care what I think?" she repeats.
For a second, it looks as if she's going to lie, but then thinks better of it. "I always have," she confesses quietly. "I think that's why - "
Quinn's blush seems to spread down her neck, over her chest. "I'm the kind of person who changed her entire self because of what other people thought," she says, "and you are most definitely not." She sighs. "It enraged me. Forced me to look at myself a lot more clearly, and I hated myself even more."
Rachel has to force herself not to speak. Ready to defend Quinn from herself.
"I - Rachel?"
"I'm so sorry."
"I need you to know that it was never about you," Quinn tells her, voice just a little high. She sits up and turns her body enough that Rachel is staring straight at her breasts. It takes a moment to look away, and her own blush merely deepens because it is suddenly very obvious that Quinn just gave birth. "It's always been about me. Being a complete mess. Being weak and a coward. You're just - God, you're so good, and I'm just - I'm not."
Rachel rests her hands on Quinn's knees, keeping her own self steady. "What do you need me to tell you that would make you stop beating yourself up about things that happened months ago?"
"Nothing," Quinn tells her. "I'm just apologising for my past actions. I think it's important to do that before we can really be friends."
Rachel can't stop her smile. "We're friends?"
Quinn rolls her eyes. "Shut up."
"You shut up."
Quinn pushes her gently, just enough that she squeaks in surprise as she attempts to keep her balance. "You're such an idiot."
Rachel returns to her deck chair, a stupid grin on her face. This might just end up being the best day of her summer, and Quinn ends up proving it to her mere minutes later.
It doesn't take long for Quinn to abandon her book and lemonade in favour of playing on the lawn with Patch. She throws his tennis ball a few times and plays some Tug-Of-War with him, before the two of them take to the water.
Quinn Fabray is in her pool.
She's laughing and swimming and gently splashing Patch and just being so unfairly adorable that Rachel feels a flash of irritation. Quinn Fabray shouldn't be allowed to do this to her, and yet she's here, just being herself, and Rachel realises this might be the reason Quinn hides so much. It feels as if it's inevitable, this feeling growing in Rachel. As if all Quinn had to do is be herself, and of course everyone would fall a little bit in love with her.
That's definitely not what's happening here. Who even - nope - not even a little bit.
"Hey, Berry," Quinn suddenly calls out, and Rachel's head lifts. "Come join us."
Rachel hesitates for only a moment, but then she's getting to her feet and lifting the sundress she's been wearing right off her body without giving it too much thought. She's already wearing a bright yellow bikini to match Quinn's shorts, and isn't that a sign from the Universe?
When Rachel looks back at Quinn, the blonde has stopped moving. She's staring, jaw a little slack, and Rachel chooses not to read into it too much. She wants Quinn to come back, you see, and Rachel will do everything she can to make sure she does.
Which is an endeavour that definitely isn't helped by her fathers. She and Quinn are still floating in the pool when they get home, earlier than they normally would, and Hiram makes it awkward enough that Quinn can't really reject his persistent offer for her to stay for dinner.
Quinn gives her a panicked look once he's gone back into the house, and Rachel smiles as reassuringly as she can manage. "Should I be worried?" Quinn asks, expression giving away her concern, regardless.
Rachel wades through the water towards her, careful not to get too close. Patch is on the grass beside the pool, enjoying the last rays of the sun, and she gets it that he too doesn't want Quinn too far away.
"Rachel?" Quinn murmurs, and she sounds very small, all of a sudden. She's also using Rachel's first name, and that's always worth noting.
"You're okay," Rachel tells her. "They're just curious. I normally don't have friends over."
Quinn doesn't react any way Rachel expects her to. "Me either," she says. "I'm pretty sure my mother would go crazy for you."
"You're so well-behaved and polite and you know what you want out of life," Quinn says. "I'm just - I'm just a disappointment."
Quinn shrugs, and then swims to the edge of the pool to pull herself out, the water dripping off her skin. Rachel looks away immediately, a blush on her cheeks, and she catches sight of Patch watching her. Of course.
He just blinks at her, but she imagines there's judgment there.
"I can't help it," she whispers to him, and then gets out of the water as well. She's a little shrivelled, but she doesn't mind. It's been such a good day, and she knows she wants to spend more days just like this.
Which is why she really needs her fathers not to scare Quinn away.
She uses the time that Quinn is getting cleaned up in the bathroom to convey to her fathers just how important this evening suddenly is. She tries her level best not to sound too invested in what Quinn's impression of them will be - and vice versa - but she doesn't think she succeeds. They know her too well, you see, and she can't quite keep the desperation out of her voice.
She really needs Quinn to want to come back.
LeRoy raises his eyebrows in question at her tone, exchanges a look with his husband, and then carefully asks, "Sweetheart, is there something else going on here?"
"No." Her voice is sharp to her own ears, and she winces. "No," she says more calmly. "Just - look, I don't know what's happening, but I just - I need you to - I just - " her mouth clamps shut when they all hear the downstairs bathroom door open, followed by soft footsteps on the wooden floors.
Quinn emerges a beat later, nervous smile on her face and looking all for the world like she didn't just spend the afternoon lounging by the pool. Rachel's mouth almost drops open, because Quinn looks fresh and beautiful, her hair hanging past her shoulders and the slightest flush to her skin. "Hi," Quinn says, absently fiddling with the slight flare of the dress she's now wearing.
"Hi," Rachel says dumbly in response.
Quinn's eyes drift to Rachel's fathers as she takes a breath. "Anything I can do to help?" she asks, all perfect and polite, and Rachel will hold onto this moment for the rest of her life.
It goes well.
It goes really well. Almost too well, if you ask Rachel, because Quinn ends up charming every Berry within the household enough that Rachel isn't even the one who has to invite her to visit again. Quinn looks a little caught off guard when Hiram first brings it up, but she eventually smiles and agrees, and Rachel feels warmth bloom in her chest.
Feels it spread to her limbs when she's walking Quinn to her car and hears her quietly ask, "I did okay, right?"
Rachel reaches for her wrist, risking contact. "You did great, Quinn."
She puffs out a breath, relieved. Then she grins. "I was right, you know?"
"Now that I've met your fathers, you're not actually my favourite Berry."
Rachel gasps. "Quinn Fabray," she squeaks, "you take that back."
Quinn just laughs, and it's this wonderful, free sound that stretches that warmth right to the tips of her extremities. "Okay, okay," she relents, "you're right." She leans in close, and Rachel holds her breath. "My favourite Berry is Patch."
Which, well, Rachel can't even argue with that.
And so it goes.
Quinn doesn't visit as often as Rachel would like, but she does so often enough that the only days Rachel doesn't see her during the entire week are Friday and Sunday. Quinn has Youth Group on Friday evenings, and Sunday is reserved for church and family. As a result, Rachel starts using Fridays to spend more time with various other Glee members, though she harbours some resentment towards them for the way they've all just disregarded Quinn's existence.
And she knows they have, because she gets invited to more things that Quinn doesn't, and they all very carefully claim Quinn wouldn't be interested in hanging out with them anyway if ever Rachel brings her up in those situations.
But she still goes to movies with Kurt and Mercedes, supports Mike at dance competitions, sits across from Finn and Matt when Kurt manages to get a few of them to Breadsticks, and even goes bowling with several other members, all while trying not to think Quinn Quinn Quinn.
Nobody else brings her up. Nobody else mentions her name even once, and Rachel hates that they've all just managed to forget she exists. Rachel has never been able to forget. Even before Quinn joined Glee, Rachel was aware of her.
She's always just aware of her. Even when she's nowhere near her, rather surrounded by Glee members at a booth at Breadsticks, the lot of them a little too energetic after an afternoon spent playing miniature golf. She shouldn't miss Quinn while surrounded by all these people, especially since she saw her the day before, but Rachel can't help it.
It's the reason she takes out her phone and texts her blonde friend, carefully avoiding Kurt's curious eyes and Finn's hopeful gaze. He's been watching her all afternoon, even when they weren't talking to each other, but she's kept some distance between them.
She wishes she were with Quinn instead of all of these other people, which is probably the reason she asks the disastrous question she does.
Is it too much to ask for you to come over tonight and we can have a sleepover?
She doesn't really expect to get a quick response, given she knows where Quinn is, but her phone vibrates in her hand just seconds later and she looks down.
You miss me, don't you?
I saw you yesterday, she texts right back.
Rachel feels a smile tug at her lips, but she suppresses it. Can you come over?
Is something happening? Are they being dicks to you?
Rachel lifts her gaze, eyes sweeping around the table and taking in the people who fill up her friend group. She sighs. Can you?
I'll have to ask my mom when I get home, but it really is short notice, and you know how I feel about… things like this.
Rachel does know. She learned, quite early on, just how much of a fan of routine Quinn actually is. She wonders if it's about control, but she also makes a point not to stray too far from whatever schedule they've wordlessly managed to settle into.
Tonight is different.
Please? I'll make it up to you.
Wow, Quinn texts back. You really do miss me, don't you?
I baked cookies this afternoon. Patch will end up eating them all if you don't help. He also really misses you.
Okay okay, you've convinced me. I'll see what I can do. I miss Patch, as well. Another text. I'll text you what she says, but I should be able to get to your place in about an hour.
Rachel has to clamp down on her excitement, a certain giddiness bubbling in her chest.
She just invited Quinn over for a sleepover. She's never done that before. She hasn't even asked her fathers yet. Her room might even be a mess, given she had to get ready to come out today.
Rachel has to get out of here.
It's just not as easy as she thinks it's going to be. It does help that it's pointless for her to order anything from Breadsticks, anyway. Nothing is vegan. Not even the salad, which is something she discovered by accident.
She doesn't even know what she's doing here.
When she mentions she needs to leave, they do put up a bit of an argument, which makes her feel as if she might even be missed in her absence. Finn even offers to walk her out, which she accepts with a soft smile and lets him lead the way.
"We haven't seen you nearly enough this summer," Finn says once they're outside.
"I don't know," he says, sheepish. "I just thought we'd spend more time together, you know. After everything and stuff."
That's a lot of 'stuff.'
"I thought you wanted - " he cuts himself off. "I just - can I maybe see you? Without everybody else?"
"Just think about it," he rushes to say. "I know I made a mess of us, before, but I think we deserve a chance. Don't you?"
All Rachel can really think about is Quinn at this moment, because she doesn't know how she's supposed to remain friends with Quinn and actually date Finn. She doesn't want that to be her life, anyway. She doesn't actually want that at all.
"I need to go," Rachel tells him. "It was nice to see you."
He grins, boyish and kind, and Rachel has somewhere else to be. She allows him to hug her, and then she's in the car and calling her fathers about Quinn's possibly coming over.
Of course they agree, because they're slightly obsessed with Quinn, and Rachel manages to text Quinn a confirmation on her end just as she's pulled into her house's driveway. She sits a while, waiting for a response, and bursts into action only when Quinn replies that her mother said yes.
Rachel isn't nervous.
Nope, not at all.
It's not like the girl she really, really wants to keep in her life is coming to sleep over for the first time. Spontaneously. Completely out of the blue. Unexpectedly.
She rushes through tidying up as best she can, particularly in her bedroom, and sets up for a film or even just a -
The doorbell rings.
Her heart leaps into her throat.
"I got it," she yells out to the house, and then bounds down the stairs like the completely uncool person she's being right now. Does this mean she's going to need to see Quinn every day now? She can't get through a single one without losing it, apparently?
Rachel has only a moment to register that Patch is nowhere in sight before she opens the door in a rush, heart beating just a little too fast, and she can't stop herself from pulling the blonde into a tight hug. Quinn is visibly thrown by the action, even stumbling slightly.
"Hey," Quinn murmurs, "what's wrong?" Her hands rest on Rachel's back. "Did something happen while you were out? Rachel, talk to me."
Before Rachel can even come up with a response, Patch eventually bounds up behind her, and she relinquishes Quinn's attention to him. She doesn't even know how she's supposed to answer Quinn's questions.
At least Quinn appears to forget Rachel was uncharacteristically clingy at her arrival, choosing rather to settle in to watch a film with Rachel's fathers and very casually tease Rachel about the fact she can't quite sit through Anaconda without squealing.
"It's scary," Rachel says, pouting when Quinn still seems amused when they finally turn in for the night.
"It is," Quinn agrees, eyes twinkling.
"You're mocking me."
"I'm just teasing you."
"I don't think so." She says the words just a little too casually, some other meaning behind them, and Rachel can't stop herself from reaching for her again, her hands automatically searching for any part of Quinn she can get.
Quinn keeps her gaze stubbornly elsewhere, but Rachel waits her out. "I just - I don't want to be a person who mocks you anymore," she says, quiet like a confession. "I don't want to be a person who causes you pain."
"You're not," Rachel assures her, hands holding Quinn's. "You haven't been in such a long time, Quinn. Don't you see?"
"Don't I see what?"
"Just what you mean to me," Rachel says, the words heavy. The look on Quinn's face is even heavier, and she knows she has to lighten the mood. "I mean, I wouldn't let just anyone sleep in my bedroom, you know."
Quinn blinks. "Your little palace, hmm?"
"You get the floor, though."
Quinn chuckles. "I'm basically your knight in shining armour, aren't I?" she jokes. "Protecting you from whatever could burst through that door."
As if on cue, there's the sound of a knock on Rachel's door. Rachel jumps in place, releasing Quinn's hands, and Quinn just grins, the door opening to reveal LeRoy's easy smile. "You ladies all right?" he asks. "Need anything from downstairs? I'm just locking up; we're turning in."
Rachel exchanges a look with Quinn, and then says, "I think we're okay, Daddy, thank you."
They exchange further goodnights, and then Quinn and Rachel are left alone again, Patch already passed out on his own bed downstairs. Rachel thinks it should be awkward, but it's decidedly not. Instead, Quinn is relaxed and comfortable, quietly telling Rachel about her evening with the Youth Group.
"It's not all bad," she says. "Our youth pastors are actually pretty cool. Not quite of the beliefs of the older ones, you know? They're a little more open-minded, which makes the whole experience more pleasant. Religion is one of those things that's had to be interpreted, for the most part, and I appreciate that there are new, modern ways to look at scripture."
Rachel couldn't look away from her if she tries, sitting cross-legged on her bed and watching Quinn like she's the only thing that exists in this world.
"Very different to Sunday, though," she grumbles, digging in her bag for her pyjamas and toothbrush. "Then we deal with the adults who are so set in their views that there's really no point in trying to be yourself if that person happens to be different."
Rachel gets the feeling Quinn might be trying to tell her something specific, but she can't figure out what. "Hey," she says.
Quinn looks at her.
"You can be exactly who you are when you're with me, okay?" she says.
And, like Rachel gave her an unexpected hug earlier, Quinn does the same now. She crosses the space and wraps her arms around Rachel's shoulders, holding her tightly for a full eight seconds, and Rachel feels it right in her bones.
If Rachel didn't already know it, there is no way for her to escape this.
Friday night gets added to their weekly schedule, Quinn coming over after Youth Group and successfully charming Rachel's fathers to the point that even they look forward to the end of the workweek.
Patch is in heaven, of course.
Quinn loves him, which is increasingly evident by the way her entire body is always trained in his direction. It's one of those things Rachel has to tell herself not to be jealous of, because it's a good thing. Of course, she wants Quinn to give Patch attention; she just wishes Quinn would give her more, as well.
It's never quite felt like this. Whatever this is. A crush? An infatuation? An obsession. It's something new, nothing like with Finn or Jesse. Those were easy to make sense of, but a lot of things with Quinn are new and unexpected.
Particularly the way she doesn't feel the need to fill the silences that sometimes settle between them. With other people, she always gets the feeling they would grow bored of her if she didn't constantly speak or keep them entertained, but that's not the case with Quinn.
She can exist in the quiet with her.
Although, sometimes, Quinn is the one to break it, and what she says is usually important - sometimes even unwanted. "We should probably talk about Patch."
Rachel absolutely doesn't want to do that, but Quinn is currently lying on a towel on the lawn, and Patch is practically draped over her, both of them snoozing in the late afternoon sun.
Rachel has already taken more pictures than she'll ever admit.
Quinn's left hand strokes his fur. "I'm pretty sure we were supposed to be helping him prepare to resume his studies," she says, which is not what Rachel was expecting. "We've been terrible influences."
"We're keeping him healthy," Rachel immediately says, and she appreciates Quinn so much more at this moment. "Keeping his strength up for the start of the new semester."
"Gosh, I think I'm going to cry when he goes back to college," Quinn says, and her voice is serious, severe in a way that Rachel knows she's telling the entire truth.
"We'll pack him up with everything he needs," she says, moving over to them so she can give Patch some love as well. It's not long to go now until she has to take him back to the shelter and essentially break all their hearts.
She wishes there was a way to prepare him for it; to tell him that it's nothing to do with him; to make sure he knows she would keep him forever if she and her parents didn't have such hectic schedules out of the summer months.
Her head lifts, finding Quinn's eyes on her, her sunglasses lifted into her hair. "Hey," she says back.
"It's going to be okay, you know," Quinn says, which are words she wouldn't usually believe, but Quinn has a way of making her. "We're all going to be just fine."
Quinn smiles, easy and soft. "Promise," she confirms. "You'll see."
Rachel wants to ask her many other things, but this doesn't feel like the moment. She wants to tell her she's having all these feelings, but she can't make sense of them enough to be able to explain them to her.
Which is why she tries to explain it to her fathers first. Quinn leaves earlier than normal, mentioning her mother needs help with the load of baking she volunteered to do for their church's bake sale. She doesn't look that excited about it, but she does mention that doing all these activities with her mother has been helping them actually talk to each other.
Rachel still gets a hug, and then Quinn is gone. She aches with how much she already misses her the second the door clicks shut behind her.
She manages to wait until she's sitting at the dinner table with her fathers to say, "I think I like her."
Hiram hums, distracted by trying to get some peas on his fork. "Well, we like her too, Sweetheart," he says, perhaps misunderstanding the true meaning of her words.
"No, Dad," she says, "I like her."
His head lifts. "Oh."
It's one of the things Rachel takes for granted that she can just have this kind of conversation with her fathers without any fear of their reactions. They can discuss her crush on a girl as easily as they would discuss a crush on a boy. It's just that, well, this is probably more than just a simple crush.
"Actually, I'm sure it's a bit more than just 'like,'" she adds after a moment. "I don't know what to do about it, or if I even should do something."
"Honey, truly, that's a decision only you can make," Hiram says. "Would you like her to know how you feel, regardless of her own feelings?"
"I don't want to make it weird," Rachel admits. She doesn't anticipate Quinn's not accepting her, given her attitude towards the other not-straight people she knows, but having unrequited feelings exposed to you can be uncomfortable, regardless of the gender they're coming from.
It's LeRoy who asks, "Do you think she could like you back?" which is the million-dollar question.
"I don't know," she says, because she doesn't. Quinn is a complicated, confusing individual, and Rachel can never really know what she's feeling, because she's not sure even Quinn knows what she's feeling half the time. "Maybe. I just - I know this whole friend thing is new to us both, so I don't know if I'm just seeing things I want to, or…" she trails off.
"Maybe give it some time," Hiram suggests. "Take note of things now that you're aware. If you feel you want to tell her at some point, you should, but I - we just want you to protect yourself first, okay?"
Rachel doesn't have any intention of actually telling Quinn about her feelings any time soon - if at all. It's just - the thought of her returning them is too baffling even to comprehend. Nope. She just needed to talk about it to someone else before she ends up blurting out some disastrous words at Quinn.
It doesn't stop her from wondering, though, taking her father's advice into consideration. Are there signs? Is there any evidence that Quinn could actually be interested, or is this just how friends interact with each other? She's seen Quinn with Brittany, and then with Santana, and those are two different people. Maybe she just mirrors her friends' actions, in each individual situation.
She's probably mirroring Rachel, which makes a lot of sense. Quinn probably has less of an idea of what they're doing as Rachel does. And that's fine. That's perfectly fine. They're figuring it out as they go.
Rachel already spends an inconceivable amount of time watching Quinn, but it increases tenfold now that she might have something she's actually looking for. If Quinn notices, she doesn't say anything. Just looks increasingly amused whenever she catches Rachel staring.
Until: "Do I have something on my face?"
Rachel blinks slowly. "Um."
"Are you okay?"
Patch is walking between them, his leash held loosely in Quinn's hand. Rachel doesn't know how to tell Quinn that she finds her entire being rather fascinating. "I'm fine," she finally says. "I just - I'm really glad we're friends, Quinn."
Quinn glances at her, expression unreadable for a moment. But then she smiles. "Friends, huh?"
Rachel nods, both relieved and heartbroken by the distinction. "Friends," she confirms, and it is still an amazing thing that they've managed to make it this far. "You are too, right?"
Quinn stops walking, bringing Patch and Rachel to a halt, as well. "What is this really about?" she asks. "Patch? School?"
"No, nothing." She sighs, dropping her gaze to the floor. "Maybe. I don't know."
"Hey." Quinn steps into her space, the trail feeling a lot smaller with Quinn so close to her. "Look at me."
Rachel looks at her.
"I'm not going anywhere, okay?"
Rachel just nods, feeling silly. She's acting silly, and Quinn shouldn't have to reassure her this way. She's easy to believe, though, and holds onto her words, even if the next few days end up being very confusing for Rachel.
Not in the sense that she can't understand what's happening; she just can't figure out why. Quinn is busier than usual, which alters their routine rather significantly. Her excuses are all valid reasons, but Rachel can't help thinking that she's done something that's making Quinn pull away from her.
But then she'll text her throughout the day, complaining about her mother dragging her around town in preparation for the start of school and her new gardening project. She snaps pictures of all the little things in her day that she sends to Rachel, and Rachel just knows that these pictures are just for her.
A lot of parts of Quinn are just for her, which is equal parts confusing and everything. She's still figuring out what to do with all of that.
Despite how busy she's been, Quinn spends the entire morning with her and Patch the day before she's meant to take him back to the shelter. They don't do much of anything; just lie with him in Rachel's bedroom and then play in the backyard before they give him all the snacks he could ever want.
Quinn gives him all of her attention, which Rachel definitely appreciates, and she's not even a little bit jealous today. She'll get to keep Quinn, and Patch won't. It's only fair, given what's going to happen.
"You can be sad, you know," Quinn tells her when Patch decides it's a good time for him to catch a nap. "I'm pretty sure I'm going to go home tonight and cry for hours."
"I wish you wouldn't."
Quinn shrugs, her hand continuing to stroke Patch's soft fur where she's lying on Rachel's bedroom's carpet. "You did this to me," she gently accuses. "You brought him into my life, made me fall for him, and now I'm going to cry like a baby."
"I don't know if I should apologise," Rachel murmurs.
"No, never," she says, eyes on Patch. "It's all been worth it."
It really has.
It's unstoppable and inevitable.
When Rachel has to return Patch to the shelter, she spends the afternoon curled up on her bed and cries into her pillow. She knows she'll be able to visit him, but that just seems cruel. For them both.
She doesn't move for hours, closed away in her dark bedroom, and tries to get herself to stop. It doesn't even happen when Quinn arrives, dropping by after her afternoon run and a shower, and she barely hesitates before climbing onto Rachel's bed with her and wrapping her arms around her.
Rachel just burrows into Quinn's embrace, sobs even more, and then has to fight against sleep. Despite the cold temperatures of her extremities, Quinn's actual body is warm and comforting and smells entirely too good, and Rachel is glad to be going through all of this with her. She would be more embarrassed if she weren't with Quinn right now, who seems to understand the ache in Rachel's chest.
Patch couldn't realistically stay with them, which Rachel knows, but it doesn't make it any easier. So she's going to exist in this heartache for a little longer, Quinn's arms solid around her, and try not to be too embarrassed by it.
"I'm sorry," Quinn eventually says, voice barely a whisper. "I wish there was something I could do."
Rachel burrows further into her. "Short of adopting him yourself, I think we're just going to have to get through this," she mumbles. "Why was the idiot so loveable?"
"That's Patch Adams for you," Quinn offers. "Stealing hearts and saving lives all over the world."
Rachel sighs heavily, burying her face in Quinn's chest. She smells like apples and general freshness, and Rachel has to stop herself from inhaling deeply. They've never really been this close for such a prolonged amount of time, and Rachel feels almost guilty for it. She has many feelings right now, but she can't make sense of them.
Quinn's hold tightens for a moment. "You're going to be okay," she assures. "I know it."
"You're the strongest person I know," Quinn says, but Rachel doesn't think that's true. Hasn't Quinn met herself? Doesn't she know the strength required to go through what she's been through and come out the other end?
"You flatter me," Rachel deflects.
"Maybe," Quinn allows, "but you're definitely up there, so I know you're going to be okay."
Rachel really has no choice but to believe her.
Okay, so her belief in how 'okay' she's going to be fades as soon as Quinn leaves, and it does not return when she wakes up in the morning without Patch clambering for his breakfast.
She's in a mood.
It's one of the reasons she's given herself a buffer of a few days to get through the worst of her emotions before school starts up again. But she's restless and mopey and Quinn isn't answering her phone.
To be fair, Quinn already told Rachel she would be busy today, made a point of informing Rachel she wouldn't be available until the evening because of some church/family thing she couldn't manage to get out of.
Rachel isn't angry or anything, maybe a bit disappointed, but she also just misses Quinn, and she was in no condition to be good company the day before. It's not as if Rachel wants to see her as some kind of distraction or anything; she just wants to spend all her free time with her like a completely normal person.
Then again, she's also been accused of being clingy in the past, and the last thing she wants is to scare Quinn away.
It's maybe the reason Rachel answers her phone when Finn calls. He does this, sometimes, just randomly calls with no actual warning, and Rachel is usually busy when he does. But now she's not with Quinn and she doesn't have Patch to give attention to anymore, so she answers the phone and tries not to feel guilty about using him as some kind of distraction.
It's obvious he's surprised by her willingness to engage, but Rachel really needs to talk to someone, because she has quite a bit going on. It's just a phone call, but Finn actually listens when she speaks, and Rachel unloads about Patch and her worries about their upcoming school year.
She makes a point not to mention Quinn, who is some kind of trigger for Finn, but Quinn has been such a big part of her summer vacation that she feels even more guilty and a little sick by the time she's hung up and Quinn has texted that she's on her way over after managing to escape her mother's claws.
Rachel gives her the tightest hug when she steps through the door, thoroughly enjoying the bemused look on her face. "What's that for?" Quinn asks, gently closing the door behind her.
"No reason," Rachel deflects, "just missed you, is all."
Quinn smiles a little shyly. "I know I've been a little AWOL," she says, which isn't exactly true; Rachel just misses her. "Just getting things ready for school, trying to have actual conversations with my mother, and trying to decide if I want back on the squad."
Rachel's heart stills. "Do you?"
Quinn shrugs, dropping her bag on the floor and kicking off her shoes. She places both neatly out of the way, and then leads the way through the house to the kitchen. "I don't know," she tosses over her shoulder. "I don't think I want to be a cheerleader, but I do want to be cheerleading. If that makes sense."
"It does," Rachel assures her, following her into the kitchen where Quinn immediately moves to boil the kettle. "The whole berries and berry-flavoured thing."
"You're never going to let that go, are you?"
Rachel just smiles, but it fades quickly. "Being a cheerleader comes with a lot of other things, though."
Quinn groans. "God, it really does, doesn't it?" She finds two cups, sets them on the counter, and then goes in search of tea. Rachel loves how comfortable she is right now. "But, I guess, if I'm back on the squad, I won't actually be the head cheerleader, which is, you know, less pressure, or whatever."
Rachel winces. "And you really want Santana to remain your head cheerleader?"
Quinn's expression darkens for a moment, because they actively haven't spoken about Santana or anyone else from the squad, from Glee or from school, at all. It's as if they didn't exist this summer, even if Rachel did spend some time with a few of them here and there. More Kurt and Mercedes than anyone else. Even more than Finn.
"No, I don't," Quinn finally says.
"What do you want?" Rachel asks, and Quinn stops what she's doing to give her a piercing look that makes her wonder if she's asked the wrong question. "Um. I mean, isn't that the important question?"
"Am I supposed to know?" Quinn eventually asks.
Rachel manages a smile, just about avoids saying I want you, and rather points at a box of tea in the cupboard Quinn has opened. "That one."
Quinn rolls her eyes, but that's the tea she makes for them both, and Rachel tries not to think too hard about what she could end up revealing to this truly unsuspecting girl if she just asks the right questions.
When the water has been boiled and poured, Quinn carries their cups to the living room and the two of them settle in to watch a film. It's unspoken that Quinn is staying, the two of them comfortable here in this house and in each other's presence by now that they don't even have to talk about it anymore.
"Nothing with animals, please," Rachel says, voice small, as she watches Quinn try to find them something appropriate to watch.
Quinn glances at her, puts on an actual sports documentary, and then pats the space beside her. "Come here," she says, and maybe this is just what they do now. Rachel slides across the couch and tucks herself into Quinn's side, conflicting emotions erupting within her.
This can't be fair to Quinn. To have all these feelings and take such comfort in moments like these and not even tell her what they mean to Rachel. It feels dishonest, but she's not ready for that level of truth quite yet.
"I know you said it's best not to visit Patch at the shelter, but do you think we should?" Quinn asks, her arm very casually draped over Rachel's shoulders. "It might help."
"Who would it help?"
"Both of you," Quinn says. "All of us."
It's not the first time she's considered how Quinn is dealing with all of this, but it is the first time she realises her stoic blonde isn't as held together about Patch as she wants Rachel to believe. "The shelter recommends staying away."
Quinn sighs, defeated. "I hate this."
Quinn's head turns, and Rachel swears she inhales her hair. "Well, not this," she says. "You're really very warm."
"Coming from the vampire."
Quinn giggles, humming softly. "How was your day, otherwise?"
Rachel leans into Quinn, content. "Fine," she says, which isn't really the truth, but Quinn doesn't need to know she actually spoke to Finn for an hour because she missed her too much. "I was pretty restless, but it's better now that you're here."
Quinn goes still. "I - "
"I make it better?"
Rachel tilts her head to look at her. "Of course," she says, "you make it so much better."
"Nothing," Quinn rushes to say. "I don't know. Nothing's actually wrong. It's just - well, I've never been the person who - it just doesn't make sense to me that I could make anything better for anyone."
Quinn puffs out a breath.
"You do, Quinn," Rachel insists, needing her to know. "You make everything better."
Quinn still looks uncertain. "Yeah?"
Rachel nods. "You do," she confirms again
Quinn's eyes meet hers, just a little dark. "You do, too," she murmurs, and Rachel chooses to believe her.
The day before school starts, Rachel and Quinn go on a hike together. It's their first one without Patch, which makes the first five minutes quiet and a little awkward.
Rachel didn't expect she would miss him this much. She's fostered four animals before him, but Patch was important. He's the reason she and Quinn managed to become friends, and now he's just gone. What if they don't know how to be the way they were without him?
It takes another minute for Rachel to toss that worry out the window, because Quinn reaches into the pocket of her track top and produces a packet of apple chips. She's grinning as she hands them to Rachel and says, "Told you I'd bring you snacks."
Rachel loves her.
She actually loves her.
Just like that, all good sense has escaped her, and all she can see is Quinn Fabray smiling at her with that perfect mouth and those gorgeous eyes.
"Rach?" Quinn says, looking uncertain. "I - um, I checked them, you know. They're vegan, and super healthy."
Rachel launches herself at her, wrapping her arms around her shoulders and squeezing tightly. Her own eyes remain shut, her heart pounding. She loves Quinn. What on Earth is she supposed to do with that?
Quinn's hands settle on her back, surprise in her voice when she says, "They're just snacks?"
Rachel can't even look at her right now. "They're more than snacks," she mumbles, far too emotional for any of this to be normal.
Quinn's hands hesitantly rub her back. "Is this about Patch?"
It would be easy to answer in the affirmative. Everything can be brought back to the loss of her beloved Patch, but it's more than that. It feels as if Rachel has just gained and lost Quinn in this one moment, and she doesn't know how to deal with it while still in her presence.
She eventually manages to release Quinn, her own skin flushed in embarrassment. Quinn ducks her head slightly, to be able to see her eyes. "Are you okay?" she asks.
Rachel meets her gaze. "Are things going to change with us?"
Quinn's eyes widen slightly. "What do you mean?"
"Tomorrow, at school, are we - is this still - will you still be my friend?"
Quinn's expression hardens for a moment, but then it melts and gives way to a beautiful smile. "We're friends?" she asks.
Rachel rolls her eyes. "We're friends," she confirms once more, which is everything she's ever wanted but also not nearly enough. Particularly after her recent realisation.
Quinn reaches for one of her hands and gets them walking again, palms remaining pressed together. "And, as your friend, I promise to get you ice cream after this."
They should probably talk some more, but Rachel can't really think past the fact Quinn doesn't release her hand for the rest of their time on the trail.
The first day of school is, as usual, chaotic. A summer of her own routine flies out the window, and she and her fathers are thrown into a new, early-morning schedule.
Somehow, they all manage to leave on time, just slightly worse for wear. She has a good-morning text from Quinn that she still needs to reply to, Finn texted to let her know that he has high hopes for the upcoming year, and Kurt wants to know what she's chosen to wear for the first day.
It's that kind of morning, but she gets to school with a few minutes to spare, which isn't a lot of time at all. She has a new schedule and a new locker and she's really hoping this year isn't going to turn out terrible. She wants to believe Finn that this year is going to be better.
The best she can ask for, at this point, is an uneventful day, and she's lucky enough to get through her morning classes without any actual incident.
It's at lunch when that all changes.
Rachel almost doesn't notice when a folded note falls out of her locker, landing at her feet. She frowns as she bends to retrieve it, sincerely hoping this isn't some new type of bullying. She's really not in the mood to start off her junior year on such a sour note, but she's also curious by nature. She opens the note slowly, a little wary, but it's not -
It's actually a love letter.
It's a declaration of feelings that is so unexpected that Rachel's first instinct is to think it's all a joke. Nobody would want her this way; nobody would write such words about her, surely. It's just implausible. Inconceivable.
She reads the note again, and then glances over her shoulder as if she can feel someone watching her. Well, people sometimes do watch her, but this feels purposeful. As if the person who left the note is watching for her reaction.
She's not sure what she gives away by refolding the note and slipping it into her bag, ducking her head and hiding her smile. If it is some kind of joke, someone really went to a lot of trouble.
Maybe she should talk to Quinn about this.
She and Quinn have felt as if they're on the precipice of something - hand-holding aside - and she really doesn't need to derail that by introducing a secret admirer into the mix.
What if Quinn is the secret admirer?
No, that's silly. Quinn isn't - could she be interested that way? And, even if she were, Quinn doesn't seem like the kind of person who would write an anonymous letter about it, even if said letter is asking for Rachel to meet after school. Quinn also would have signed her name.
Which leaves Rachel with a dilemma.
It would help if she'd actually seen Quinn today, but the blonde has been suspiciously absent from any of Rachel's classes - nothing new - but she's also not in the cafeteria when Rachel finally makes her way there. She sits at a table with the non-jocks and non-cheerleaders of Glee, though her eyes track the other tables for where Quinn could possibly be. She just wants to lay eyes on her, just to sate her own worry.
"Finn's over there," Kurt whispers to her, which is -
Rachel stops searching immediately, and definitely doesn't mention that Finn isn't whom she's looking for. Instead, she takes out her phone to text Quinn, who still hasn't replied to any of her messages all day.
It's a simple, Where are you?
Quinn doesn't reply, and Rachel works up the courage to ask the table if any of them have seen her at all. Even if Rachel doesn't have any classes with her, that doesn't mean nobody else does, and she hopes her interest isn't out of place.
"She was in Calculus with me this morning," Tina says, slightly distracted by the carton of chocolate milk she's trying to open. "Seemed a little tense, though."
Rachel's brows knit together, her attention back on her phone.
Are you okay?, she texts. Then: Are WE okay?
There's no response, and Rachel has to tell herself Quinn must be busy. Maybe she's talking to Coach Sylvester, because she never did seem to decide if she wanted back on the squad or not.
What if this is Quinn's way of bringing an end to their summer friendship? What if she just doesn't know how to be Rachel's friend now that they're back at school? They really should have talked about this first.
Rachel's shoulders slump.
"He's totally looking at you," Kurt murmurs, and Rachel's head lifts. She already knows to whom he's referring. "You guys have been talking, right? He hasn't shut up about it."
Rachel really doesn't know how that could be, or even why Kurt's suddenly so interested in whatever she doesn't have going on with Finn. Which is nothing. If anything, she's kept a controlled distance between them, and somehow managed to develop feelings for the boy's ex-girlfriend.
"He's definitely going to ask you out again," Kurt confirms, and it's the first time Rachel realises the note in her locker could actually have come from Finn. No. That can't be. Finn isn't the secretive kind of person. If he was going to ask her out, he would just do it.
Which doesn't really help with her secret admirer dilemma.
She contemplates the idea of actually going to meet whomever they are endlessly. She gets distracted in class numerous times as she debates just how monumentally bad this entire thing could end up being. It could be an ambush. It could be some massive, elaborate prank that would just further humiliate her. But it could also be everything she's always wanted: the kind of teenage romance she's only been able to dream about.
But what if it's not Quinn? Would she even want some amazing romance with something who's not her? With what she's feeling right now, would it be fair to someone who isn't Quinn? Does she even stand a chance with the blonde?
In the end, she knows the What If? would bother her more than it being some elaborate prank.
Which is why she takes the risk, following the few instructions at the end of the note. Their general extracurricular activities haven't quite started besides cheerleading and football, but the stadium is blessedly empty when Rachel makes her way there after school lets out.
She finds a spot on the bleachers behind the home side's dugout and takes out her phone. She needs some assurance from Quinn that everything is going to be okay, regardless of whoever the letter was actually from.
I don't know where you've been all day, but something strange happened today. Someone left a note in my locker, telling me of their feelings for me and asking me to meet them after school. You must think I'm silly for believing it, but I'm sitting here now and waiting on a person who truly seems to see me, and there's only one thought on my mind.
Rachel pauses, taking a breath. She doesn't know if she's brave enough to type her next words. They give away too much. They give away everything.
Rachel keeps staring at her screen, contemplating the best phrasing. I wish it was you. No. I hope it's you. Nope. I want it to be you. That's no better.
She tilts her head back, groaning at her own indecision. She feels silly and way out of her depth when, for all she knows, this entire thing could be some big joke.
Because, whomever she's waiting for; they're late.
It's really the number one sign that it can't possibly be Quinn, because she's the most punctual person Rachel has ever met. Heavy disappointment sets in, coupled with increased curiosity. She just wants to know if this is actually real; if another human being could really think those wonderful, unbelievable things about her.
Please, Rachel types out, still not ready to send the text. Just the thought of it makes her heart pound in her chest as she tries to decide on the best words. This could be disastrous. If she hits send, she could just be throwing away all the progress she's made with Quinn. If she -
Her head snaps up, startling at the sound of a voice she actually recognises.
"I was hoping you would be."
Rachel can't quite make heads or tails of just what she's feeling in the moment, but it's a lot, and it's not particularly pleasant.
Or it is.
She's just very confused right now.
"It's you," Rachel says a little dumbly, watching as Finn Hudson approaches her, easy grin on his face as he climbs the steps towards her.
He looks slightly bemused, though. "Of course it's me," he says, "who else would it be?"
She's definitely not answering that question. "I just wasn't expecting it to be you," she says, swallowing her disappointment. No. It's fine. This is what she expected. There was no way it could possibly be Quinn. It makes more sense this way. Why would she think anything different?
When he's close enough, he gently pulls her to her feet, smile still wide on his face. "I really want to give this a chance, Rach," he says. "You and me. Don't you think we deserve to give it a try?" The words sound so similar to what's in the note, which might actually seal it for her.
"One chance, Rach?" he presses, and Rachel nods slowly. One chance. Who knows? Maybe it'll be different than she imagined.
With a sigh, Rachel leans in to meet his hug, strong arms wrapping around her shoulders and holding her just a little too tightly. It doesn't feel right; not the way it feels to hug Quinn, and she can't remember if it ever felt right with him.
She pulls away sooner than he expects, and she looks away from his face to gather her thoughts, which is the moment she sees -
Her eyes narrow, her breath hitching, because she's convinced she just caught sight of the back of a blonde head… but that can't be.
Finn gets her attention again before she can investigate further. "Do you want to go to the Lima Bean?" he asks. "We can talk some more."
She quietly agrees, convincing herself she imagined it all.
Quinn doesn't respond to any of Rachel's texts all day - not including that almost disastrous one she stopped herself from sending just in time. She's saved it in a separate note, merely a reminder of the moment she could have destroyed their friendship with her assumptions and hopes.
The problem is that Quinn doesn't even read any of the texts she does send, and there's nobody else Rachel can ask about her without drawing suspicion. She just has to wait until the next day to get answers.
If Quinn will even give them. They feel disjointed already, and their summer has been over for only one day. If they can't establish a new routine quickly, Rachel shudders to think of all the progress they'll lose.
It's just that Quinn is either not in school at all or she's doing an amazing job of avoiding Rachel. They both take AP classes, but their schedules are vastly different, in that her classes are rooted in the Arts and Quinn's are actually in the Sciences. Even their overlaps are at different times, and Rachel has to find out from Tina again that Quinn was actually in Calculus.
"She seemed sadder today, though," Tina says, eyes on Rachel, watching her as if she can sense there's more to Rachel's questions. "I'm sure we'll see her in Glee later, though it'll be weird to see her in the uniform again."
Rachel freezes. "What?"
"Oh, yeah," Mercedes says, joining the conversation around the lunch table. "Quinn is totally back on the squad. Happened yesterday, as far as I know."
"But she's not head cheerleader?" Kurt asks, frowning at this turn of events. Or just the fact he doesn't already know the answer to his own question.
"Nope," Mercedes says. "I heard she didn't accept the position when Coach Sylvester offered it to her."
"Why wouldn't she?" Tina asks, clearly baffled.
Mercedes shrugs. "You'd think she'd jump at the opportunity," she says, "We all know just how important her popularity is to her."
It's moments like these that Rachel is reminded why she spent so much time with only Quinn over the summer. She never would have wasted her breath on this kind of speculation, rather discussing other important things.
Rachel takes out her phone to text Quinn again, because she's once again not in the cafeteria. Is she just busy? Is it a cheerleading thing?
Rachel won't allow herself to think that Quinn is actually avoiding her, but she gets her assumption confirmed when she arrives at the Choir Room for Glee and Quinn is sitting sandwiched between Brittany and their potential newest member, Sam.
Rachel tries to catch her eye, but Quinn makes a point of not looking at her.
Finn gets her attention by calling her name and waving a hand. "I saved you a seat," he says, and Rachel isn't in the mood for whatever fight it would be if she didn't sit beside him. If she went up to Quinn and demanded an explanation.
If she just plonked herself in Quinn's lap.
Rachel settles herself in her chair and tries not to get lost in thought. Something had to have happened. Quinn wouldn't just -
Or she would. Would she? Rachel doesn't even know. Maybe she doesn't know Quinn as well as she thought she did. Or maybe she does.
It's just a lot to think about, and she barely pays attention when Sam performs his audition song and they have a vote to let him into the group. It's all just a formality, but at least he can actually sing. Rachel would be more enthusiastic about getting another strong male vocalist in the group, but -
Sam spends far too much time looking at Quinn, which Rachel notices only because she's spending all that time looking at her, too. All they need to do is talk, she's sure. They can get this all cleared up if Quinn would just talk to her, but Rachel doesn't know how to get her to do such a thing without actually forcing her, and she's not inclined to do that.
When Glee is over, Quinn is out of her seat in the blink of an eye and leaving the Choir Room before Rachel can even register Mr Schuester's dismissal. She just remains in her seat as the other members start to shuffle out, and it takes a tap to her shoulder for her to realise it's just her and Finn left behind. He's looking at her expectantly, as if he's asked her a question she's meant to answer that she just didn't hear.
"I'm sorry, what?"
He frowns. "You've been out of it all day," he points out. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," she lies. "What is it?"
"Glee's over," he says. "Wanna get dinner at Breadsticks?"
"No thank you," she says, getting to her feet in the same breath. She really can't be dealing with this while she has an entire Quinn-situation to figure out. It just feels as if she's missing something very important; something she won't allow herself to see.
The answer must surprise him. "Why not?"
She glances at him. "Aside from the fact it's a school night and you've just sprung this on me, I did already tell you I wanted to take things slow, remember," she says, patient as ever. "And, plus, I already have dinner plans with my fathers," she adds, and then she's walking out of the Choir Room perhaps more and less confused than when she walked in.
Rachel lets it go on for only one week. It's all she can handle, really, because she expects something to give. Quinn can't keep it up, despite her stubbornness, and Rachel just -
She misses her so much.
She misses talking to her, and being able to spend time with her. She misses being able to touch her and just look at her. Rachel just wasn't prepared to lose Patch and Quinn in the same week.
So, that's all she can handle, really, because Quinn is - well, she's important to Rachel, and she can't handle that all the progress they made over the summer seems to have disappeared in a cloud of smoke she didn't even see coming.
Rachel plans it carefully, catching Quinn right at the start of their lunch break when she doesn't have the excuse of having to get to class. Quinn usually stops at her locker before she heads off to wherever she goes when she's not in the cafeteria, Rachel has learned.
It's not as if she had to stalk her to figure that out or anything. Don't judge. These are desperate times, okay.
It's where Rachel finds her, shuffling through her books in her locker in an emptying corridor, and Rachel spends a moment just looking at her. There's something so inexplicably different about her, and Rachel can't figure out what it is until a group of younger cheerleaders walks right past Quinn and she doesn't even notice them and they don't notice her.
The red cheerleading uniform used to be so intimidating, but now it looks as if Quinn owns it, as opposed to it owning her. It is something Rachel wants for her, though, to be so comfortable in her skin and her uniform. And not to care about the expectations of being on the squad.
She freezes where she stands, and Rachel doesn't miss the audible sound of her swallowing. It takes her a moment to turn to face Rachel, and there is something in her eyes Rachel has never seen before. Something particularly painful. Something inexplicable and noticeable.
"Hey," Rachel says, stepping forward more out of instinct than anything else, so tempted to reach out and touch her. "Quinn, what's wrong? Why are you - are you okay?"
Quinn holds herself perfectly still. "I'm fine," she says, stiffly. "Are - um, was there something you needed? I have to get to a meeting."
Rachel studies her face very closely, taking in her shifty eyes and the way she holds herself so tightly. Quinn is definitely not fine. That's obvious for anyone to see, but Rachel knows her far too well to believe her, anyway. "Are you sure?" she asks.
Quinn just nods.
Rachel could press further, but she doesn't think Quinn will offer her any explanations in a semi-public corridor. They can talk about it later, when they're alone. Right now, she just needs -
Rachel clears her throat. "Not to be clingy or anything, but, um - " she stops, cheeks flushing. "I'm sure you're busy with, well, everything, but I, um. I miss you." Her ears are on fire, and she can barely look at Quinn.
Quinn, whose entire body seems to deflate at the admission. Her features soften, losing their hardness, and this is the Quinn that Rachel knows and loves. It settles the storm in her chest.
There she is.
"Hi," Rachel says, ducking her head slightly.
"Hi," Quinn murmurs, her eyes finally meeting Rachel's. "I miss you, too." It's a quiet confession, meant for only Rachel's ears. "You have no idea."
"I think I do," Rachel tells her. "I - do you want to do something soon? Just you and me? We can go for a hike, or get some ice cream. No, we can get smoothies, if you prefer."
Quinn keeps her gaze on her, and nothing else exists in this moment. It's just the two of them, the way it was during the summer; the way Rachel desperately wants it to remain.
But then Quinn suddenly looks away, expression hardening once more, and Rachel has just a moment to wonder what's happened before she feels a hand on the small of her back and Finn is standing tall at her side.
There's a forced innocence to the gesture, but Rachel can tell he's come over here to lay a claim he isn't allowed, and Rachel bristles at the audacity. They went on one date. Barely. She's pretty sure she made herself clear of that.
"She's not giving you any trouble, is she?" Finn asks.
Rachel blinks in confusion. Who is he even talking to? "What?"
Finn glares at Quinn. "Now that you're a cheerleader again doesn't mean you get to treat people however you want again."
Quinn steps back, a slight frown on her face, because every part of that sentence is unexpected. "What are you even talking about?" she says, because Rachel knows Quinn hasn't said or done anything untoward to her or anyone else in this school.
"Leave Rachel alone," he says, completely unprovoked and unnecessary.
Quinn's eyes dart between the two of them, before her gaze drops to where Finn's arm is at her waist. "Right," she finally says. "Okay then." She turns and slams her locker closed, walking away before Rachel can even register she's conceded without so much as a sniff of a fight.
What the -
"Quinn?" Rachel calls out before she can stop herself, but Quinn just keeps walking without looking back, and Rachel can't help feeling as if she's lost her completely.
Heartache gives way to anger, and she rounds on Finn with a scowl on her face. "What the heck was that?" she snaps.
He looks genuinely confused by her reaction. "What do you mean?" he questions. "She shouldn't be bothering you."
"She wasn't bothering me," she huffs. "We were just talking."
"Oh, come on, Rach," he says, dismissive. "You and Quinn never just talk. She's a cheerleader now, and she's probably just jealous that we're dating now, so she's - "
"We are not dating," she cuts in.
He stops speaking immediately. "What?"
"You heard me, Finn," she says. "We're not dating, I already told you this. I don't care that you wrote me an amazing love letter, but this isn't how I want things to go, and I need you to accept and respect that."
He stares at her as if she's grown a second head. "What are you talking about?"
"What do you mean what am I talking about?"
Finn looks just as lost as Rachel feels. "What letter?"
Rachel stares at him in disbelief. What letter? How can he even -
When it dawns on her, she feels her stomach drop. He doesn't know about the letter. Okay. He doesn't know about the letter, which means he didn't write the letter. Which means -
"Finn," she says, voice strained, "why did you come find me on the bleachers last week?"
"Why did you come and find me?"
"I didn't," he says, frowning. "I was just walking past because I had a meeting with Coach, and I saw you there, so I thought I would say hi."
"You didn't write the letter."
"What are you even talking about?" he asks. "And what do you mean we're not dating?"
"Exactly that," she says, shaking her head. "We're not together. I have to go."
"Wait." He holds onto her arm, stopping her from leaving. "I thought you wanted to try."
"And I thought you wrote the letter," she counters. "I'm sorry, Finn, but it's not you." She thinks back to that afternoon, that flash of hair she's not sure she actually saw. But maybe she did. Maybe she saw exactly whom she hoped to see and they both just got their lines crosses. "Maybe it's never actually been," she says, more to herself, and then she's walking away.
Her mind is reeling, spinning in a way that leaves her a bit dizzy. It wasn't Finn. It couldn't have been Finn. But then does that mean -
Could it have been Quinn? Could all this cold shoulder be because it was her?
Rachel is tempted to go after the blonde and demand answers, but she's also made an assumption before and now she's even more confused by the situation she's in. If it wasn't Finn, and it possibly wasn't Quinn, then who could it be? She's sorely tempted to text Jesse after all these months, just to ask him if he's still messing with her, but that would be silly. It can't be him. It has to be -
She makes her way to her locker, actions on autopilot, and opens it to search for the letter. It's pressed between two of her textbooks, safe and out of sight, but she takes it out now and reads it again with the eyes of someone who knows in her heart of hearts that this letter is from Quinn.
You're doing that thing again. That smiling thing you do when you're convinced I'm not looking at you. Maybe I'm reading into it too much, but I'm pretty sure you look at me half as much as I look at you, and it's got me thinking. If I'm doing it, and you're doing it, and I like you, then that might mean you like me too, right?
That's the logic I'm working with here, but I've been called an idiot before, so who knows? All I know is I want all your attention and all your affection all of the time. I want to date you and be with you and have you know that I'm yours. Tell you how wonderful you are and spend my days trying to make you smile. I'm hoping you want something similar, with me.
Of whom you don't know the identity.
I suppose writing an anonymous letter is a bit of a cop out, but the problem is that you and I have some history. Not all good, but not all bad, either. It's complicated, and it'll be a tricky thing if this all worked out, but I'm willing to try if you are. I think I'll be pretty bummed if you're not, but that's a problem for a future me, whom I promise will get over it eventually.
Right now, I just want to tell you that you look beautiful. And, if you're willing to give me and us a chance, would you do me the honour of meeting me after school? On the bleachers behind the home dugout at the stadium? I can be brave, and you can know who I am, and we can talk, and you can decide if this is really what you want, with me.
Nothing would bring me more pleasure, Rachel, so I hope to see you there.
It has to be Quinn.
Who else can talk herself up and play herself down in the same breath other than Quinn, really? It's actually a talent she has.
But what is Rachel supposed to do about it now?
Rachel has been to Quinn's house only once before. It was on a random Saturday during the summer, when Quinn casually mentioned that her mother was away on some kind of women's church retreat and she was home alone.
It'd been different to when Quinn was over at her house, a bit less relaxed, but they spent the evening cooking dinner together and then watching movies and barely getting any sleep. They didn't even go up to Quinn's bedroom, the two of them eventually just passing out on the couch in the living room.
Rachel had been nervous that day, but she's doubly so right now. Coming here wasn't part of the plan, but there's no way she can go home and just pretend she doesn't know what she knows.
It was Quinn.
She knows it was Quinn.
Of course, it was Quinn.
It couldn't have been anyone else, and Rachel needs -
She just needs to be here.
Steeling herself, Rachel rings the doorbell, steps back, and waits. Her heart is pounding, unsure what to expect. Quinn's mother could end up opening the door, and then what is Rachel supposed to say to her? Quinn's answering the door might prove better and worse at this point, and Rachel listens for any sign of movement behind the door.
Her breath catches when she hears it.
It's a sound she would recognise anywhere, and she doesn't even realise her eyes are watering until the door opens to reveal Quinn Fabray with her hand on the collar of a dog that is so obviously Patch in an attempt to stop him from exiting the house in his old-man excitement.
Quinn doesn't even register it's Rachel at the door until she's managed to get Patch not to run off. But then she does look up, and her face freezes. "Rachel," she squeaks, her grip loosening on Patch's collar enough for him to escape and launch himself at Rachel.
She stumbles back under his weight, and Quinn leaps forward to make sure they both don't go tumbling down the front steps. "Patch, careful," Quinn reprimands, and he lets out a little whimper that sounds like an apology. Instead, he just licks Rachel's hand repeatedly, and Rachel doesn't even know what to make of this situation.
Patch is right in front of her.
And so is Quinn.
Rachel looks at her now, and she looks guilty and flushed and just as confused by Rachel's presence as Rachel is by Patch's. "How?" is all she's capable of saying, because nothing makes sense.
Quinn offers her a tiny smile. "I couldn't just leave him there," she quietly confesses. "My mom is here all the time, and she - you should see how much she already loves him. He's really helped us with the whole talking to each other thing."
Rachel can hardly believe it. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Here, Quinn's gaze drops to the ground, and Rachel sees it for what it is. She caught glimpses of it earlier, but it's clearer now. Quinn is obviously hurting in a way Rachel knows comes with unrequited feelings. This is a girl who wrote an enviable love letter asking Rachel to meet her, and then arrived to find Rachel in the arms of someone else.
"Quinn?" Rachel prompts.
She lets out a rough breath. "I was late," she says. "I - Coach Sylvester held me back after school, and I was too late, and I've been trying to get over it, I have, but I - " She looks helpless, and just so young, and Rachel simply adores her. "I'm sorry, okay? I'm working on it, and I definitely would have told you about Patch, but it just, I didn't know how much I would hate seeing you two together, and I thought - after the summer, I thought maybe you felt - but then - I don't - I'm sorry."
Rachel has never seen her like this; never heard her stumble over her words this way. It's stupid adorable and heartbreaking and just -
"You're an idiot."
Quinn's head snaps up. "What?"
Rachel takes out her phone and navigates to where she saved the message she didn't end up sending to Quinn, and she hands it to the other girl, needing her to see the words for herself.
"I was going to send this to you," Rachel explains, "while I was sitting and waiting on those bleachers."
Even Patch is silent as Quinn reads, just the sound of their breathing existing between them.
"What was on your mind?" Quinn eventually asks. "Please what?" When Quinn hands the phone back, Rachel realises she never did add that last all-important sentence to what she initially wrote. She hadn't been able to decide on the right words.
"You," Rachel tells her. "Always, just you. I can barely think about anything else, Quinn. I've been absolutely miserable this past week, not knowing what I'd done and wondering if I'd lost you completely."
"I've been right here."
"You have," Rachel agrees, their entire summer shifting under this new light of awareness. She wasn't alone in her feelings. Quinn was looking at her too. "You wrote the letter."
Quinn nods, a blush on her cheeks. "It was silly, wasn't it?"
"No, it wasn't," Rachel assures her. "It was cute and wonderful, and I think I've read it nineteen times already."
"Quinn," she says, tone very serious, "I was waiting for you."
"I'm sorry I was late."
They just stare at each other, both of them standing perfectly still as the reality of their situation fully sinks in. Eventually, Quinn clears her throat and says, "Do you want to come in?" Her eyes are a little nervous. "I was just working on my homework, but Patch and I are about to go on a walk before dinner if you'd like to join us."
In what universe would Rachel ever turn down that offer? She looks down at Patch, who's just been silently watching them, as if he could sense it was needed. He looks well-groomed and healthy and happy, and Rachel would cry at how good it is to see him.
She looks at Quinn again. "You went to get him," she states.
"Someone told me people never adopt the old guys," Quinn says, smiling at Patch. "Thought I'd prove that someone wrong."
"That someone sounds like an idiot."
"She can be, sometimes, yeah."
Rachel beams at her. She honestly can't help it. "Perhaps we're made for each other," she offers, feeling giddy and brave, and why is Quinn looking at her like that?
"Perhaps," Quinn quietly agrees, and then she's leaning in slowly enough for Rachel to turn away - she doesn't, because she's not that much of an idiot - and gently kisses her.
Right there, in the front doorway of her house, where anyone can see, and Rachel's heart beats against her ribs like a caged animal. Wanting to escape and shake hands with Quinn's, wrap around hers in its own hug.
It's a gentle kiss, Quinn's lips barely there and then they're gone. She steps back, eyes slightly alarmed. "Uh." Rachel doesn't think she's ever seen her look so red. "Was that okay? Sorry. I should have asked first. I don't even know if you feel the same, but then you actually showed up at the bleachers, so you must feel something, but I'm sure you didn't expect it to be a girl, let alone it be me, and I - "
"Wow, you really are an idiot," she interrupts, and then she's the one who's kissing Quinn, lips firm as her right hand moves to hold the back of her neck and draw her even closer. Closer and closer.
It's a dream. None of it feels real. Is this actually happening?
"Quinn, honey, who's at the door?"
They break apart quite suddenly, and Rachel doesn't know if she should be panicking that they were almost caught kissing by Quinn's mother: the poster woman for church society. Rachel backs away immediately, but Quinn takes hold of her hand and tugs her back into her space.
"Mom," Quinn says, "It's Rachel."
Rachel doesn't know if the sound of her name is meant to mean anything to the woman, but she appears through an arch in the wall, and Rachel hasn't felt this nervous in her life before. Quinn's hand tightens around hers, which might be a warning or some kind of reassurance. Whichever one, it doesn't work.
"Rachel!" Quinn's mother says, loud and excited. "Why didn't you tell me she was dropping by?" she asks Quinn, voice high. "I haven't baked in days, Quinn."
"Mom, Rachel wouldn't be able to eat anything, anyway," she says, "She's a vegan."
"A what?" She comes to a stop beside Quinn, Patch automatically drifting towards her, as if he knows she's the woman who now gives him his treats. "Wait. Is that one of those people who doesn't eat eggs? Martha was saying her daughter stopped drinking milk."
Quinn glances at Rachel, eyes visibly amused. "Yeah, Mom. That."
Quinn squeezes her hand again. "Mom, this is Rachel," she says. "Rachel, this is my mother, Judy."
Judy looks at her, smile a bit too wide. "It's lovely to meet you, Rachel," she says. "Quinnie talks about you so much, I'm convinced I already know you."
Quinn's eyes widen. "Mom, please," she says, cheeks flushed. "We're, um, we're going to take Patch for a walk, okay?"
"Okay, honey," Judy says, eyes turning to Rachel. "You'll stay for dinner," she states, rather than asks, and Rachel finds herself nodding. "Good," she says with a nod, and then she's turning and disappearing into the house once more.
Rachel looks to Quinn. "What just happened?" she asks.
Quinn releases Rachel's hand just long enough to step back into the house and grab Patch's leash that's hanging on a hook. She pats her pockets to make sure she has her phone, and then she's stepping out of the house and closing the door behind her. "Come on," she says, "there's a pretty neat park not too far from here that Patch likes."
They get only a few metres from the house before Quinn is reaching for her hand again, and this is such a surreal experience that Rachel contemplates pinching herself to make sure she's not actually dreaming.
"Does your mom know?" Rachel finds herself asking. She can't help herself.
Rachel looks at her. "Quinn, does she know that you - "
She really does pinch herself now. Yip, not a dream. "Yeah."
"Kind of," Quinn admits. "We've never explicitly talked about it, but, um, I really do talk about you a lot. We're doing a lot more of that now, I think I mentioned it. Spending all this time together, I was bound to talk about you, so she was bound to pick up on the fact it's more than a regular friendship, and I haven't tried to hide it."
"And she's just okay with it?"
"I guess," she answers with a shrug. "If she wasn't, I'm sure she would have said something by now."
Rachel shakes her head, because Quinn's take on the situation isn't helping with Rachel's making sense of this situation. Maybe she just needs to hear it again. "You like me?"
Quinn glances at her. "Do you not believe me?"
"It's not that."
"Then what is it?"
Rachel looks down at Patch, who is sniffing the ground as if he's caught the scent of something inviting. He's so wholly uninterested in them in this moment, which is on brand for him, sure, but does he not realise just how big a conversation this is they're having? Does he not know the role he's played in getting them here?
When she looks back at Quinn, hazel eyes are already on her. "Is he back in school?" she asks.
Quinn's surprise is written all over her face, and it's almost too cute to handle. "I - you mean Patch?" She chuckles. "Yeah, he's back in school. Complains endlessly about having to study, but we did say we'd get him his official title, didn't we?"
"We did," Rachel confirms. "Can I help?"
"You know he was your dog before he was ever mine, right?" Quinn points out, as if sensing something Rachel wasn't even sure she was giving off.
"Now he's our dog?"
Quinn ducks her head, cheeks red. "If you'll have us," she murmurs, and Rachel realises she hasn't actually confirmed that she also likes Quinn. More than likes her, in fact. Despite their second kiss, Quinn doesn't yet know the extent of her feelings, and that is a damn shame.
Before Rachel can say anything, though, Patch comes to a sudden halt and just plonks himself on the sidewalk without a care in the world, and both girls are forced to stop as well. Quinn looks amused, and Rachel uses the opportunity to step into Quinn's space, crowding her just enough that the smile on her face slips into confusion and just a hint of panic.
"You wrote the letter," Rachel says.
Quinn blinks. "I - um, I thought we already established that," she says.
"Why did I write it?"
She takes a deep breath, as if preparing herself. "Because I like you, and I was too scared to tell you in person before school started, but then I arrived on the first day and I realised how stupid that was." She shakes her head at herself. "I'm Quinn Fabray, you know, and I've been through so much already, and I thought that if - I just, in the end, I couldn't not tell you, so I wrote you a letter to give you the chance to ignore whatever we could be, but then I ended up arriving late and you were already with Finn." She puffs out a breath. "That felt like shit, by the way, and I tried to save us both from my lashing out by staying away from you, but you're - "
"You've never been a person easy to ignore," Quinn whispers, and Rachel internally squeals. "I think I've known that for longer than I've known how I feel about you."
Her eyes meet Rachel's.
"I like you, too," she says, "In case you needed to hear it."
Quinn studies her for a moment, and then she grins. "I think I figured that out already," she says, but there's an ease in her shoulders already. Like those are the words she needed to hear and now the uncertainty is gone.
She can now be her usual charming self, and she starts by reaching for Rachel's hand once more and very casually saying, "I mean, I know I can be a bit of an idiot, but you did kind of just kiss me in my doorway, and that's pretty difficult to explain away."
There's a persistent blush on her cheeks, but she has enough wherewithal to say, "Well, we are friends, aren't we?" with light teasing in her voice.
Quinn's expression softens. "Nah," she says. "We're more than that." She drops her gaze to where their hands are still clasped. "I get the feeling we've always been, even if we didn't realise it."
That's probably an entire conversation they still need to have. There's still so much they need to talk about, but Rachel isn't worried. This is probably the most at ease she's been in so long, and it's unsurprising it's when she's in Quinn's presence.
Before either of them can say anything more, Patch gets to his feet, clearly ready to get moving again, and Quinn gives him a smile. "You ready to go, Doc?"
He barks in something like confirmation, and the three of them resume their walk, none of them in any rush to get to their destination. It occurs to her now that Patch has a home. He's cared for in a family that loves him and has the time to give him the attention he deserves.
"Thank you," Rachel suddenly says, and Quinn looks over in confusion. "For Patch," she clarifies. "Knowing he's with you is - I can't even explain how that feels."
"You can visit him, you know," Quinn tells her.
She nods, already accepting the implied invitation. "How often do you walk him?"
"Me? Um, whenever I have the time," Quinn says a little sheepishly. "It's the start of the semester, but I know things will get busier, so I'll take him when I'm free, but my mom tries for a short walk every day. Sometimes even twice a day. They keep each other busy." She smiles again. "I know it's been only a week, but she's also drinking a lot less. My therapist thinks it's because she's found a purpose in looking after Patch, because, well, I mean, I've been looking after myself for years already and she probably feels as if I no longer need her."
Rachel leans into Quinn, holding onto her hand that bit tighter. "Maybe try to let her know you still do," she offers, even though she has such little experience with mothers. But Judy's a parent at the end of the day, and teenagers sometimes just need their parents.
"Yeah," Quinn agrees, slowing her steps and turning them, so they can cross the road. There's a small park opposite them, adults and children and pets roaming around, and Rachel just knows Patch is going to have a good life here with Quinn and Judy.
Rachel stops Quinn when she starts to cross, and Quinn looks at her with her brow creased. "Everything okay?" she asks, genuinely concerned. "There aren't any cars."
"You never did answer my question," Rachel says, irritated by her sudden nerves. "Earlier, I asked if you want to, um, hang out." She feels ridiculous. "A hike? Ice cream? Maybe coffee? A smoothie? Even dinner, if that's now on the table for us?"
Quinn grins at her. "Rachel, are you asking me on a date?"
"I - yeah, I suppose I am."
Quinn's grin gets impossibly wider, her lips parting to say something that she immediately rethinks. Her mouth closes, everything about her softening. It's truly a sight to behold, a Quinn Fabray who loses all the pretence and allows herself to be seen.
Hazel eyes meet her own and remain. "I would love nothing more," she finally says.
"All of them," she says. "Even if we've actually done the first four together already."
"We'll start with dinner, then," Rachel tells her, and then looks down at Patch, who is probably enjoying this disrupted walk far too much. "But you're not allowed to come."
He looks up at her without a single care in the world, and Rachel doesn't blame him. If she had Quinn in her life, she wouldn't have a single other worry, either.
Rachel does have Quinn. She's just learned she's had her for longer than she thought, and she muses over that as they finally cross the road and enter the park, Patch perking up at the proximity to other canine friends.
Quinn takes Patch off his leash to let him wander and socialise, and the two of them keep walking while keeping an eye on him. It's the first time he truly feels like their dog. They're together now, and that truth rings and blares in her brain until she's bursting with questions.
Rachel tries to be quiet as they walk, lapping the small park once, but she can't hold it in anymore. "Hey."
Quinn looks at her. "Hmm?"
"When did you know?" she asks, recalling the letter. "When did you realise you wanted me to know that you're mine?"
Quinn blushes, as if on command. "I don't think I should answer that," she says. "It's too embarrassing."
"Please." She even bats her eyelashes for emphasis, and Quinn just laughs. "I won't tell anyone."
"That's not what worries me," Quinn says, shaking her head. "But just know that I have some intense feelings for you, and that I am very attracted to you."
Rachel blinks, not quite expecting that kind of confession. It sounds heavy, as if Quinn's feelings must match her own. It would be simple to dive right into that, but they haven't been on a first official date yet, and Rachel wants to save that revelation for a special time and place.
So, instead, she says, "It was the first afternoon at the pool, wasn't it?" she teases, and Quinn's blush gets worryingly darker.
"No," Quinn squeaks. "I mean, it added to it, of course, because you're beautiful, but I knew - please don't laugh, but I actually knew the day you got all indignant about the fact I wasn't invited to Kurt's thing, that you didn't even end up going to." Her eyes meet Rachel's. "And then, after, when you chose me. Of course I was going to fall for you."
Rachel's steps screech to a stop, Quinn's words replaying in her head. Before either of them can properly panic about what those words imply, Rachel says, "I would never laugh at you," as firmly as she can manage. "And I will always choose you."
Quinn shakes her head. "Not always," she says, voice firm, and Rachel recalls that conversation clearly. "Not always," she says again, and Rachel nods her head in agreement.
Rachel doesn't need Quinn to voice what she means, but she does it anyway, and maybe they both need to hear it. "When it comes down to it," Quinn says, hand gripping hers as they watch Patch bound up to them, "you make sure you choose yourself."