McKinley House stood at the end of a long drive through the woods at the end of town. An enormous brick building, from the outside it looked like one of the Higher Academies; but Lima Ac was at the dead center of the town, and the “students” currently at McKinley House probably were no longer able to survive even a day beyond its walls.
After showing her badge and credentials to the guard, Rachel Berry wound her car through the gate and up to the parking lot that sat to the right of the House. She dug through her front seat until she found the board with its notebook paper and pen, which she always carried on these visits. Also clipped to the board was a list of names, the people that she would need to visit with. She was lucky; today there were only five, which meant she’d be able to get home early, finally kick off those insufferable high heels and relax.
Maybe there would be a musical on television.
She knocked on the door that led into McKinley House, and stepped back when it swung inward. The orderly in his blue uniform looked her up and down, and Rachel felt her body tense when his lips crooked into a sneer.
“New resident?” he said, and she rolled her eyes.
She held up her badge. “Inspections.” The thin silver band encircling her right wrist glittered in the sunlight. It gave her no amount of satisfaction that the orderly stepped back quickly and ushered her in.
“Of course, inspections, yes Ma’am, sorry, Ma’am.”
“Relax,” she said to him. “I’m not going to punish you, but you certainly do need to check your attitude; the last thing the residents here need is an orderly with attitude problems.”
“Yes Ma’am, thank you, Ma’am.”
“Where’s your director?”
“Right here.” She approached Rachel with a smile, and held out her hand. “Shannon Beiste.”
“Rachel Berry,” she said easily, taking her hand and shaking it, then holding up her badge. “Society for the Ethical Treatment of Submissives.”
SETS had been created years earlier, to do exactly what its name suggested: create an organization whose sole aim was to protect the submissives of Lima society, and ensure their proper treatment. And never was the society more necessary than in visits to places like McKinley House.
McKinley House had only been in operation for about ten years, around the time that Rachel Berry was enrolled in Lima Academy and taking her first courses that would set her on her path for life. Dominance for Beginners. The Rights of a Submissive. Praise and Punishment. Of course, there was math and English thrown in there for good measure as well, and she’d enjoyed her extracurricular time with the choir and the debate team. While Rachel was growing up and growing into her natural role as Dominant – a role she’d been destined for ever since the silver circlet had been fastened around her wrist at age three – the first bricks were being laid as the foundation for McKinley House.
Or, as its full name was, McKinley House for the Care of Orphan Submissives.
Orphan submissives. They held a particularly sad, delicate place in Lima society. The House was for two kinds of submissives: those whose Dominants had died, or those whose Dominants had proven unfit. In Lima, if you were Dominant you could choose your own submissive, or, if you were from a wealthy family, often matches were made before the first blush of new birth had disappeared off the babies. Rachel preferred the first, and thanked whatever power there was out there that her parents had left the choice up to her. Nearly all of her visits at Houses similar to McKinley were to an “OS” whose Dominant had abused him or her, abandoned them. It tore at her heart, and often it was hard to leave her work behind when she went home at night.
Occasionally there were happy stories, about an OS that could leave the home and start a new life on their own, or with a new Dominant. But more often than not, an orphan submissive would stay at the home until they died. Because though the circumstances that had brought them to the home weren’t their fault, they were, for all intents and purposes, “pre-owned.” Damaged. Their value just wasn’t high, and it took a special person to want to claim someone who had been damaged by another Dominant.
“So this is your first visit,” Director Beiste said, beginning to walk with Rachel down the hall to the wide common room. Through the doorway Rachel could see a few people sitting at long tables playing board games, or resting on the few couches that stood in front of the wide screen television hung on the wall. “I hope you’ll be pleased with what you find.”
Rachel smiled. “You needn’t worry, I don’t think,” she reassured. “My predecessor told me nothing but good things about McKinley, and he attributed all of it to your expert guidance.” She stopped and turned to the director. “I’m sorry about what brought you here, but I’m also very relieved at the care the residents receive at your hands.”
Jesse had told her that not only was Beiste the director of McKinley now, but she was also one of its very first tenants, and one of its few success stories. Collared rashly to a man who’d had no business owning animals, much less a woman, Shannon Beiste had endured mistreatment until she’d finally found the courage to apply to the Council for Release from Servitude. It had been granted and she’d lived in McKinley for a year and a half, finally breaking out on her own and resolving to return to help people who had once been like her. Now the only thing that remained to remind anyone of her previous life was the thin band of white against otherwise tan skin. The remnants of the silver collar she’d once worn.
“Thank you,” Director Beiste said, and dutifully stepped back to allow Rachel to enter the common room. Though she was no longer a collared submissive, the deference of society still remained, and Rachel was, in that respect, her superior. Not to mention she was inspecting the House, so all formalities would need to be given.
“Which names are on the agenda today?”
Rachel scanned them; four were regulars, but one, Jesse had pointed out as he was training her on the case load, was new. Rachel tapped the name with her finger.
“I’d like to start with this one first,” she said. “Quinn Fabray.”
“Uh.” Director Beiste stopped short, so that Rachel nearly ran into her. She quirked an eyebrow. “My apologies, Ma’am,” she said quickly, “But maybe you… want to speak with one of the others? It might be best to wait till last for Miss Fabray.”
“And why is that?”
“Because, well… her time here has been, shall we say, difficult.”
Ah. There was that word. It could mean so many things, Rachel knew. A problem child. A submissive who decided that topping from the bottom was the name of the game. Or it could mean one of the saddest residents of homes like McKinley: a submissive so broken and damaged there was no hope for rehabilitation. No chance for a happy ending. Rachel knew those well. The sullen expression, masking a world of hurt and pain hidden in their eyes. The lost desire to fight, crying themselves to sleep at night or not showing any emotion at all. It was this type of OS that haunted Rachel the most.
Director Beiste seemed to struggle to find the words, and finally she just shook her head. “If you just look at her, you’ll know what I mean.” She lifted her finger and pointed, as subtly as she could. “There.”
Rachel followed the direction of the gesture, and she felt her heart sink.
The first thing she saw, rather than the girl, was the chair. It seemed to be less of a mobility aid and more an extension of her, as if the silver wheels were the girl’s legs. As it was, clad in the regulation blue sweatpants, the girl’s legs rested uselessly against the chair, and her hands stayed folded in her lap. Blonde hair spilled over the shoulders of the blue tee-shirt, and even from her vantage point across the room, Rachel could see hazel eyes that stared unseeingly off in the distance.
“Is she blind?” she asked in a near whisper.
“No.” Beiste shook her head. “Just paralyzed from the waist down. The doctor does say it’s temporary though, if we can get her to physical therapy.”
“And what is her therapy routine?”
“She doesn’t have one.”
“Doesn’t have one?” Rachel replied indignantly, turning to the director. “You just said that her recovery hinges on physical therapy, and you don’t have her in a physical therapy routine? Director Beiste, surely you understand the necessity of-“
“She won’t go, Ma’am.”
Rachel tilted her head in confusion. “She won’t go? Then what is her routine?”
“It’s… that.” Director Beiste gestured weakly towards Quinn Fabray again. “Since she came here, that’s what she does. She sits in her chair in that corner and doesn’t move. Someone brings her here in the morning; they take her back to her room at night. She barely eats, I don’t think she sleeps, and… well… she doesn’t talk.”
“She hasn’t said a word since she was brought here.”
“Why was she brought here?”
Rachel listened, a sick feeling growing in the pit of her stomach, as Director Beiste quietly and mechanically rattled off the details of Quinn Fabray’s life before McKinley. It was one of the rules of the Home (and indeed, of Rachel’s job as well) not to get involved with a resident’s story. But still, hearing everything told in such an emotionless way, it seemed almost… cruel, Rachel thought.
Quinn Fabray was 23 to Rachel’s 22, and had been promised to a boy from the moment she was born. When she was 16, while Rachel was enjoying classes and solos at Lima Academy, Quinn was collared to the boy, called Finn. Finn Hudson was tall, strong, and entirely unprepared for a life as a Dom. Beiste’s voice took on a more mournful tone as she told the story; Rachel imagined the woman was living bits and pieces of her own life, through Quinn’s. The young girl had bravely put up with his increasingly difficult demands, his over the top punishments and outright abuse, until the one night when she’d finally had enough.
She’d placed two calls: one to the Council for Release, and the other, to her parents. The second went unanswered. The Council had advised her to stay until morning when a representative could speak with her, but Quinn was confused, and basically at the end of her leash. In her panicked state she’d run away without a single belonging, not even shoes on her feet. Blinded with fear and exhaustion, she hadn’t even seen the truck coming.
Her hands were clutching the clipboard so tightly that her knuckles were white; Rachel took a deep breath as Director Beiste finished.
“What did he do to her?” she wondered softly. She could imagine what it had been like, and why Quinn had endured it for so long. Five years. Though it was one of the main tenets of rehabilitation that whatever happened to the submissives at the home wasn’t their fault, there was still a certain amount of shame to be had from running away from your Dominant. No wonder the poor girl stayed.
“We don’t really know. She won’t tell us, obviously. Not the therapist, not any of the other residents, not even me. None of us have been able to get her to talk.”
“Does he visit her?”
Beiste scoffed. “Wrote us a letter that he washed his hands of her. I believe he said she could rot in hell.”
She fought back the wave of revulsion and anger that welled up within her. Bastard, she thought. She’d met her fair share of Doms who didn’t deserve the beautiful submissives they’d been given, but never one that had just outright abandoned anyone. Rachel nodded, finally easing up her hold on the clipboard. She smoothed her dark hair behind her ear and adjusted the simple black skirt and white shirt she wore, and then looked at Beiste.
“I’ll talk to her.”
Beiste grinned sadly. “Oh you’ll talk,” she said. “But she won’t. I guarantee it.”
“Hmph,” was all Rachel said as she walked away from Beiste and across the room to Quinn Fabray.
Up close to her, Rachel could see that the girl was strikingly beautiful, if altogether too pale and weak-looking. She made a mental note to have Quinn’s diet increased. In the meantime she reached into the pocket of her jacket and pulled out a small packet of apple slices. In the quietness of the corner, it seemed that tearing the package almost echoed.
“Apple?” Rachel said, holding one out.
Rachel nodded and gently laid the apple slice on the arm of Quinn’s chair.
“You can have that whenever you’re ready,” she said. “I’m Rachel Berry.”
No response. Quinn stared off into space.
Hmm. Beiste was right, this was difficult. “I’m not a resident,” Rachel explained. “And I don’t work for the House. I work for the Department of Rehabilitation Services, as part of the Society for the Ethical Treatment of Submissives.”
It was quite a mouthful, and Quinn Fabray didn’t even blink. Rachel decided to simplify it.
“That means I’m on your side,” she said softly, pausing to munch on an apple slice. She’d forgotten lunch. Again. And now she was starving. She just hoped her stomach wouldn’t growl, that was far too embarrassing for anyone, much less a Dominant. “I work to make sure that you receive the best care possible during your stay here.” She smiled wryly, realizing she made it sound less like a care home, and more like a retreat. “Are you treated well?”
“Do you need anything?”
Rachel sat in silence then, finishing up her apple slices because she knew she’d have no chance to eat anything else for the rest of the day, until it was time to go home. She snuck little glances here and there at Quinn Fabray, and was disheartened to see that the girl was still staring off into space, those pretty hazel eyes glassy and hard. She sighed.
Well, she couldn’t just stay there and force the woman to talk, Rachel knew. Plus there were four other residents that needed her attention. Rachel stood up.
“Eat that apple slice,” she said gently. “It’s good for you and will help you get your strength back up for when you start to walk again.”
When. Not if. Rachel nodded to herself. She walked back over to Beiste, who offered her a resigned shrug.
“She’s too thin,” Rachel said. “I want you to increase her diet. Offer her more choices at each of her meals. If she acts as if she’d like to have snacks during the day, make sure those are provided to her.”
“Yes, Ma’am. She didn’t say anything to you?”
Rachel looked down at her feet, defeated. “No,” she said. “Not one word.”
“I am too,” the petite brunette said, half to herself, as she made her way over to one of the other residents.
The rest of the visit passed uneventfully; it was clear the Department’s trust in Shannon Beiste hadn’t been misplaced. McKinley House was an example to all the others, Rachel thought; Carmel especially could do with a crash course in how to treat their orphaned submissives. Still, as she moved to leave the common room, her gaze moved back to Quinn Fabray, who was still sat rooted to her wheelchair in the corner. It was clear she hadn’t changed her position in the last hour and a half that Rachel had been there.
“Better luck next time?” Director Beiste offered.
Next time… Rachel thought for a moment, and then crossed the floor to Quinn again. The apple slice still sat on the arm of the chair, untouched.
“Not hungry?” Rachel asked, coming to stand in front of Quinn. She thought she detected a flinch, but it was so fleeting she knew she must’ve imagined it.
There was no response.
“All right, well, don’t leave it too long or it’ll get brown, and that will just taste nasty.” She willed her voice to sound soft, cheerful; she wasn’t really used to talking softly. Jesse used to laugh, teasing her to dial it down a notch. She couldn’t help it; she was naturally bossy and used to getting her way. But the way Quinn looked in that chair… She’d be as gentle as she’d ever been, if the girl would only say something.
“I’ll come to see you tomorrow,” Rachel said impulsively. Her eyes widened even as she said it; this wasn’t something she was supposed to do. She had reports to work on tomorrow, and McKinley didn’t need a follow-up. So why on earth would she come back?
It couldn’t be for a personal visit, Rachel knew. In her line of work, you just didn’t do that. You could irrevocably damage someone, not to mention your reputation.
But, “I’ll come to see you tomorrow,” she found herself repeating. She leaned down, fingers poised to tentatively touch the girl’s shoulder… and thought better of it.
She straightened up and brushed her skirt once more, then offered the woman in front of her a smile. “Tomorrow.”
In swift strides, Rachel Berry made her way out of McKinley House, and left the silent Quinn Fabray behind.