|Raw and Radiant
Author: msgalinda PM
In the summer after Quinn gives birth, she and Rachel develop an unexpected bond.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Friendship - Quinn F. & Rachel B. - Chapters: 8 - Words: 34,315 - Reviews: 92 - Favs: 254 - Follows: 115 - Updated: 01-26-11 - Published: 01-06-11 - Status: Complete - id: 6631139
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"Here are your keys, ladies."
Rachel looks up at the concierge and lifts the corner of her mouth in thanks as she, Mercedes, and Tina collect their key cards from the hotel desk. The light classical music and cream-colored walls of the hotel lobby do nothing to lift their spirits as they head to the elevator and their room for the night. They say nothing as they leave Finn, Kurt, Mike, and Matt in line behind them, heads cast downwards and looking anywhere but each other.
Rachel's curiosity piques when she sees Puck and Mr. Schue standing by the elevator. Their heads are bowed as they whisper furiously. Mr. Schue stops and straightens when he sees the girls approaching, but Puck presses on, and Rachel strains to overhear.
"Mr. Schue, this is unfair! I'm going."
"Puck, not now," Mr. Schuester says, eying the three girls and smiling uneasily as Tina hits the call button on the elevator.
"I'm not leaving her in the hospital by herself!"
One thing Rachel had immediately realized while she and Puck were dating was that they had very few things in common. On the short list she had compiled, the first and most recognizable was a fierce sense of loyalty, Rachel, to her teammates, and Puck, to whomever he happened to care about that week, Finn, Artie, his sister, but always, always Quinn. It was one of the traits Rachel had admired most in him.
"Puck, you're not going by yourself. It's late, and I can't go with you," Mr. Schuester responds, crossing his arms in what Rachel assumes he thinks is an authoritative stance.
"Mr. Schuester," Rachel interjects, squaring her shoulders. "I would like to accompany Noah to the hospital to see Quinn."
She is quite sure that Puck has never looked so happy to see her. Behind her, Mercedes rolls her eyes and pulls Tina into the elevator, murmuring "Good luck, Mr. Schue."
Mr. Schuester takes a deep breath and sighs, turning to Rachel. Behind him, Puck nods eagerly at her.
"I understand that it was imperative for me to stay behind at Regionals today to represent our team and to ensure that we were not disqualified. However, I missed a vital moment in my teammate's life and was unable to provide support for her, Noah, and the rest of New Directions in that stressful-"
"Puck, go." Mr. Schuester shakes his head and pushes Rachel toward Puck, who only nods gratefully, grasps the girl around the wrist, and all but carries her out of the lobby.
"And take a cab!" he calls after them. "Don't walk!"
"Thanks," Puck says quietly, once they've settled into the backseat of the car.
Rachel looks at him and nods. "You're welcome." Puck nods back at her and wipes his hands on his pants, no longer looking as caged as he had on the bus ride back to the hotel.
"Are you okay?" she asks after a pause, not liking the silence, but not knowing how to fill it.
Puck straightens, shaking his head and shrugging. "Yeah. I don't know. I just- Yeah."
Rachel nods, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. "Mercedes said she's really beautiful."
"She is," Puck looks at her, eyes soft. "She looks just like Quinn."
Rachel's heart aches at the tender expression on his face as she's reminded why she sought out a friendship in him.
She is waiting for him in the waiting room, nervously flipping through a tattered issue of People magazine that is well past its prime when he shuffles back in, looking worn, but calm. Rachel stands, following him over to a vending machine in the corner.
"How is she?"
"She wants a," Rachel pauses as her eyes follow Puck's fingers, "a Pepsi?"
Puck raises his eyebrow at her, not unlike the way Quinn is wont to do. "I want a Pepsi. She has nurses tripping over themselves to get her what she wants."
Rachel chuckles, feeling warmth spreading through her. At least some things never change.
"Noah, can I see her?"
He shrugs and gives her the room number before flopping into a chair. Rachel passes through the door that will lead her to the hospital rooms and she finds herself nearly tip-toeing down the white hallways looking for Quinn's room. She reaches the room number Noah had given her, and she pauses, gathering herself, before she turns the handle and steps in. When she pokes her head around the doorframe, she sees Quinn lying in the bed, blinking sleepily up at her. Rachel scans the room for a crib, but she doesn't find one.
Rachel nods, tucking her hair behind her ear and moving to sit in a chair near Quinn's shoulder. Quinn is lying on her back on the bed, wearing light pink hospital pajamas and covered in a clean-looking white blanket. Her eyes droop as she regards Rachel curiously, her gaze unarmed and confused, but not unwelcoming, and Rachel realizes that this is the first time she's seen Quinn look the slightest bit vulnerable.
"Hi Quinn," she says softly. Rachel had made a list of things to say in the cab on the way over, including several ways of starting inoffensive conversation with Quinn, but now she can't seem to remember any, so she just smiles.
"Puck didn't say you were here, too," Quinn murmurs, moving one of her arms from the mattress to rest on her stomach. The hospital clip on her finger scratches against the blanket. Rachel frowns, instantly miffed.
"Well he should have. I got him in after visiting hours, and I'm the only reason Mr. Schuester let him out of the hotel at such an hour, but," Rachel stops herself when she sees Quinn smiling.
"Thank you," Quinn says quietly. "I was hoping someone would come."
Rachel feels something akin to relief in her chest, and she shakes her head, marveling that even after everything, even when she's lying prone and helpless on a hospital bed, Quinn's approval means so much to her. Rachel smiles and takes a breath. "You're welcome. You shouldn't be alone. I am sorry I couldn't be here earlier. Someone had to stay, but I wanted to see you and the- " she stops when Quinn winces and matches it with one of her own. She continues slowly, "and make sure you were okay. There are some things for which you can't take another's word."
They sit in silence. Rachel is half-afraid that Quinn will ask her to leave.
"I'm okay," Quinn says. "She is, too," Quinn turns her head to look at Rachel again and offers her a weak smile.
"Am I too late?"
Quinn shakes her head and rises to her elbows to push herself up. Pain shoots through her abdomen, and she winces again and closes her eyes, biting the inside of her cheek. Rachel is on her feet immediately, her hand hovering above Quinn's shoulder ready to help when Quinn looks up almost bashfully. Her eyes narrow when Rachel's mouth opens, ready to take her question back, to urge Quinn to lie down once more and forget everything. Rachel snaps her lips closed and nods. She holds out her hand, and Quinn grips it, holding tightly as she allows Rachel to help her sit up. Rachel guides her out of bed and into her slippers, and as the pain in Quinn's lower abdomen subsides, she tries to convince herself that this is for Rachel, and not because she wants to see her daughter one more time. She knows it isn't true.
The nursery is smaller than Rachel thought it would be. She isn't quite sure what she was expecting, rows and rows of newborn babies, bright white walls and even brighter lights, maybe, but the small room's walls are a soft, off-white shade of yellow, and the lights are dimmed because of the hour and almost cozy. Rachel instantly finds it comforting, and a glance to her side tells her that as soon as they cross the threshold and hear the muted sound of babies cooing, the tension in Quinn's shoulders melts away as well. Rachel is scanning the room, glancing only at the babies who are swathed in pink when she notices that Quinn is no longer at her side. Rachel follows as the blonde glides across the room to a crib on the opposite side. The nurse sitting in a rocking chair nearby smiles at them, and Rachel rests her hands on the cool metal rail of the crib to look down at baby Fabray.
"Oh, Quinn. She's gorgeous."
Quinn ducks her head, eyes flicking to Rachel briefly before she smiles down at her own fingernails.
Rachel stares at the baby, feeling her heart thudding in her chest. The little girl is so small, wrapped in her pink pajamas and hat. As if sensing their presence in her sleep, the baby's little hand slides out to the side as one of her legs kicks. She squirms, curling and uncurling her fingers until her brow relaxes and she settles down again. Rachel watches, hypnotized, as she feels her breath leave her chest. She reaches out, holding her hand above the baby's fingers.
"May I?" she asks Quinn. "I scrubbed my hands and used hand sanitizer before I went in to see you, and I always do my best to keep my hands free of germs."
Quinn tries to shrug noncommittally. During her months of pregnancy, the baby had broken down the cold shell she put up when her sister joined the Cheerios. Her sister would come home from school and tell her all about Sue Sylvester and the Cheerios, and what it took to be on the team, and Quinn decided there and then that she wanted to do it. It required a thorny rind of indifference and superiority, and Quinn mastered it while she was still in middle school. The baby had changed that. Being malicious and uncaring while taking care of something so innocent and fragile felt unnatural. Quinn had felt like she was betraying this tiny creature inside of her, and soon enough, the tender side of herself she reserved only for her child made its way into Quinn's everyday life. Her heart had warmed, slowly, over eight months. She cherished the child she once resented, and when this little girl was placed in her arms a month early, she fell in love and shattered all at once. She sees the same awe on Rachel's face that she felt earlier in the delivery room, that she still feels now, but now, her senses aren't clouded by a soft, warm weight in her arms, a loving face smiling up at her own. Now, she's looking at a part of herself that isn't hers.
Quinn shrugs, her eyes focused on tiny pink pursed lips, round cheeks, and little curved ears. "She's not mine."
"She'll always be yours, Quinn."
Rachel turns to Quinn for the first time since they entered the nursery, and Quinn swallows around the lump in her throat when she meets Rachel's eyes. She always thinks that she can read Rachel's soul through her eyes. Everything is right there in each facial expression, exposed for anyone to see. It was one of the things Quinn hated about the girl, how she could show herself to the world, be so completely open and brutally honest, unafraid of herself. What it would feel like to grow up with that kind of freedom, Quinn would never know. Quinn was never able to do that. She had to hide herself and every emotion she ever had behind a wall that this baby had all but stripped from her. And now, without her shield, it feels like so much as a glance at Rachel will unleash every thought rocketing through her brain. Now, though, she thinks she sees something akin to empathy in Rachel's eyes, but try as she might to see herself the way Rachel sees her now, all she can see is a coward abandoning her child.
Quinn bites her lip and turns her head away from Rachel. The baby sleeps peacefully, and Quinn touches her fingertip to a tiny palm. She is unable to hold back a shaky smile when the baby's fingers clasp around her own.
Rachel looks at Quinn nervously before slipping her finger into the baby's other hand. Tiny fingers tighten, and Quinn lets out a noise that Rachel thinks could have been a laugh if the blonde wasn't so scared.
"She's perfect," Quinn murmurs, releasing her lip and shaking her head. "She's so perfect, but I can't keep her. I'm sorry."
Rachel strokes her thumb over the baby's tiny fingers, and she feels her heart unclench when Quinn starts to do the same. As they gently caress her daughter's hands, Quinn swears she sees the baby smile.
"Don't you see how loved she is already, Quinn?"
Quinn tears her eyes away from her child to look at Rachel inquisitively. Rachel just nods, smiling, and Quinn watches her daughter again. She wonders if her baby knows how much she loves her, if she can feel the way Quinn is trying to send everything she's feeling through her finger and into her daughter, so when her daughter grows up and wonders, wonders why Quinn gave her up, if she'll remember feeling consumed by how much her mother loved her, loves her, will always love her.
"You're going to give her to a family who will love her this much forever."
Quinn's gaze shoots back up to Rachel's, and she wonders if she'll be on the brink of tears for the rest of her life.
"I never knew who my mom was until recently," Rachel continues, looking up at Quinn. "I don't know if it'll help you, but, growing up I-" she reaches up with her free hand to tuck her hair behind her ear. "I loved her. Every day."
Quinn lets out a shaky breath, eyes pricking with tears. She looks down at the tiny hand clasped around her finger and hopes that she never ever forgets what this feels like.
"Yeah?" she answers, her eyes trained on the baby.
"Have you held her?"
When Quinn looks up at Rachel, the brunette's expression startles her. Behind Rachel's usual vulnerability is a sadness that gives Quinn pause.
"Yeah," Quinn says, and Rachel exhales around a smile.
Quinn looks at Rachel curiously, a question on the tip of her tongue when the nurse sitting in the corner makes her way toward them. Quinn nods at her sadly, and when the woman smiles at her, Quinn can't bring herself to smile back. She turns back to the crib to see that Rachel has taken a step back. The brunette has turned her back to Quinn, and she's standing a few feet away, pretending to watch a baby boy in the next row. Quinn takes the moment and bends over the crib to stroke her daughter's cheek, unable this time to hold back her tears. She brushes her lips over the baby's cheek, and it feels like her heart fills her whole chest when the baby coos and turns her head into Quinn's. Quinn bites her lip and inhales shakily, nuzzling her nose into an impossibly soft cheek.
"I love you," she whispers, "I love you. I'll always love you," and even though she wants to pick up her daughter and run and run and never come back, she stands, squares her shoulders, and walks away.
When Quinn wakes up the next morning, she sees Puck's hospital bed before she sees her own. He's still wearing his outfit from Regionals. The top buttons of his shirt are undone, and the gold tie has been loosened so much, it drapes comically off of one of his shoulders. His jaw hangs slightly slack, and the worry lines that were so etched into his brow yesterday are all but gone in his peaceful sleep. Quinn tears her eyes away as her chest tightens, unable to push away thoughts of the last time she'd woken up to his face.
The door opens quietly and Rachel pokes her head in, her feet following her face into the room. Quinn is hit with a strange sense of déjà vu as a gentle smile breaks across Rachel's face.
"Hey," Rachel whispers after a glance at Puck. She's still wearing her clothes from last night, and with the way Puck is squeezed against the side of his bed, Quinn wonders if they both spent the night cramped in the little cot. Rachel sets the bag clutched in her hand on the floor and slides back into the chair she'd sat in the night before. "You're up."
Quinn raises an eyebrow, because sure, she's gone a little soft, but that doesn't mean she's going to stay that way. Maybe a little bit, enough to keep the friends she's gained, but Quinn Fabray would never be soft enough to play Captain Obvious with Rachel Berry and smile about it.
"No, Berry. I'm dreaming."
"You're not, Quinn."
At Quinn's heated glare, Rachel has the grace to blush. She shakes her head and the smile she had at the doorway returns to her face as she brings the bag onto her lap.
"I went out this morning and got you breakfast from the place across the street. My strict diet and workout regimen has kept me free from overnight hospital stays, but I've heard hospital food is atrocious, and you should be eating well to recover as quickly as possible."
Quinn raises her eyebrow even higher, but Rachel holds her gaze until Quinn looks away.
"Thank you," Quinn says.
The tension in the room is broken when Puck stirs, roughly throwing his arms over his head and rolling over. Puck startles when he lets out a brutish snort, and he sits straight up in bed. Rachel turns her head away and giggles, but Quinn can only sigh. Coming down from his stretch, Puck smiles at the girls across the room.
"Hey," he says, swinging his feet off the bed and sitting up.
"Good morning, Noah."
Puck tightens the knots on his tie and raises an eyebrow at the girls playfully. When he stands, he untucks his shirt from his pants and sighs. "Can't believe I slept like that," he says with a crooked smile as he crosses the room to stand by Quinn's bed. He rests a hand on the back of Rachel's chair. She smiles up at him briefly.
"How are you, Quinn?"
Quinn nods at him. "Fine."
A noise at the door jars them from their short-lived peace, and three heads turn. Tension fills the room as a nurse steps in. Rachel jumps to her feet and hurries to the door, clearing her throat and avoiding the nurse's eyes.
"Mr. Schuester called earlier. I'm going to go call him back so he doesn't worry. He probably wants to tell us what time to expect the bus. I'm just going to..."
Rachel takes a deep breath and looks between Quinn and Puck one last time before disappearing around the corner. With the brunette gone, the two teenagers turn uneasily to the nurse standing in the doorway. The nurse forces a tight smile, and Quinn looks away, sitting up in bed and allowing Puck to help her to the floor.
"This won't take long," the nurse says softly.
Puck glares at her and folds his arm around Quinn's waist, holding her steady as she puts on her slippers.
"Should I take you to the nursery?"
"Yes," Puck says evenly.
The nurse nods and walks out the room. Puck keeps Quinn tucked into his side as they follow her, trying not to notice how loudly their footsteps echo in the quiet hallway. He almost wishes Rachel had stuck around to fill the silence with chatter about what percentage of babies are born with the correct number of fingers and toes, or whether or not babies can smell, or how likely it is for someone to ever get over the feeling of giving away a child.
"Have you two figured out what you want to do with the baby?" the nurse asks as she turns a corner. She doesn't look back at them.
"That's none of your business," Quinn barks before Puck can. He feels Quinn stiffen against his side, her back tense as a board, and it makes his chest tighten. She's leaning against him and he pulls her closer, glaring at the back of the nurse's head as he silently dares her to turn around. She never does.
She takes them to the viewing side of the nursery. Beth is there in the first row, easy for them to see. Puck doesn't know why, but it makes him proud. Still rigid, Quinn watches the nurse disappear around the corner before she turns to Beth. Her posture softens instantly. She leans forward, touching her fingertips to the glass, and Puck takes a step away from her. He watches her as she watches their daughter, her hand resting delicately on the glass, lips slightly parted, eyes full of longing, so different from how she used to look before all this happened.
She was cocky and bossy and never vulnerable with her uniform on, but once he'd eased it off her and pressed the softest of kisses against her lips, she was different. She clung to him, almost disappearing under his chest as she hesitantly kissed him back. She had gasped, arched into him as he kissed down her neck to her bare collarbone. He remembers how she had felt beneath him. She was soft and warm and trusting, vulnerable, and he thought then that he loved her.
She taps the pad of her finger against the glass noiselessly, letting her forehead rest against it as she squeezes out a breath. He's not sure which girl is more captivating, and he has to ask.
"Do you want to keep her?"
She lies. "No."
The sun beats down in Kurt's backyard. It's the hottest day of the summer so far, awash with humidity so thick it would be easier to breathe with gills. The humidity had set in the night before, enveloping Lima in an oppressive moistness Quinn could only liken to a rain forest. Kurt had called at dusk, after the sun had gone down without taking the heat with it.
"A pool party," he'd said, "in celebration of another year of glee, and in protest of this offensive weather. It's only been a half hour and my hair is already curling."
Quinn lounges on a deck chair underneath the awning in the Hummel's backyard, her glass of lemonade sweating on the table next to her. Mercedes lies back in the chair next to her, sipping at the virgin strawberry daiquiri Kurt had made her, complete with a pink umbrella and bendy straw. Miraculously, everyone from glee had shown and scattered themselves appropriately across Kurt's backyard. Santana and Matt are locked in a death battle of Chicken against Brittany and Mike in the pool, splashing and shrieking and laughing and reminding Quinn of how free people can be in the summer. Artie, Tina, and Finn crowd around the grill, cooking burgers and hot dogs and tofu monstrosities for Rachel. Kurt is on a deck chair on the other side of the pool in the sun, meticulously slathering on sunscreen. Quinn tries not to look at Puck and Rachel, who are sitting in the grass away from the pool, heads bowed in conversation. Puck catches her looking and smiles, flexing his bicep and winking at her. Quinn allows herself to smile back before she hides behind her lemonade. At Puck's smirk, Rachel turns her head over her shoulder and catches Quinn's eye, smiling gently before she and Puck resume their talk, glancing back occasionally. Quinn bristles.
"I really need them to not become best friends," Quinn says to Mercedes, waving her drink at the two on the grass.
Mercedes rolls her eyes. "Girl, I'm a little more concerned with the argyle bikini. I mean, what store does she get all that from?"
Quinn snorts, glad for the distraction, but finds herself unwilling to say something like 'Brooks Brothers,' because Rachel does in fact look decidedly feminine. She's not sure which revelation is more startling, so she simply shrugs, taking a sip from her lemonade, and says, "Baby Gap?"
Mercedes' laugh is cut off by Brittany shrieking as she falls off of Mike's shoulders and into the pool. Mike sputters and shakes the water out of his hair, laughing even as Matt and Santana screech like hyenas at their victory. As Brittany resurfaces and launches herself at Matt, Quinn is reminded of last summer and how she spent it, playing Chicken on Finn's shoulders with the others and tickling whoever won until they fell in, too. As always, Matt dives away from Brittany's wiggling fingers, and Santana plunges from her perch into the cool water of the pool. Last summer they'd spent day after day playing in the pool, night after night in the woods off of Brittany's backyard making s'mores in the fire pit until one time, when walking through the trees with Finn, looking for a stick for her marshmallows, he'd curled her hair behind her ear and asked if he could kiss her. It wasn't her first kiss, but he was sweet and gentle, his fingers cupping the back of her head as his lips pressed to hers unmoving. She'd held a hand to his chest, and when he pulled back and looked nervously at her, barely visible in the darkness, she smiled, a real smile that she couldn't trace, and she giggled, burrowing into him, chaste and perfect. She could practically feel him grinning in her ear, and she knew, she just knew, her summer was going to be fantastic.
It's almost as if she can read Quinn's mind, the way Santana turns to look at her. Quinn has always liked Santana most in the summer, away from McKinley and Sue Sylvester and the gridlock of social rules. There had never been a need to be commanding or cruel in the summer; they were just them, Quinn and Santana and Brittany, and that's how Quinn loves them most.
Santana raises an eyebrow at Quinn and points her finger down at the water in front of her. Quinn just shakes her head, pointing to her lemonade. She knows it's a lame excuse even before Santana rolls her eyes, but it works, if only because Puck chooses that precise moment to take a running leap at the pool, coiling himself into a cannonball mid-air and crashing into the pool with a shout. The guys tackle him underwater, and completely ignore Kurt's screeching about being drenched by Puck's splash.
Rachel makes her way over to Quinn and Mercedes and sits gingerly on the chair next to Quinn.
"I'm not exactly a frequent guest at pool parties," she starts, swiping her finger across her hairline, "but I hear it's not uncommon for those who don't enter the pool willingly to be thrown in."
At this, Mercedes perks up, her hand immediately flying to pat down her hair. "Oh, uh uh. Not happening. I will cut Puck."
Rachel's eyes light up with mirth, bemused at Mercedes' reaction, and she looks at Quinn to smile.
"I came over here to see if you two wanted to go in- willingly, that is. It's boiling out here, and we're the only ones who haven't gone in yet."
Mercedes looks at Rachel with thinly veiled suspicion. "Is that what you and Puck were talking about? Are you in on it?"
"No," Rachel shakes her head, the smile still on her face. "I would like to go in, though. Do you want to?"
Mercedes shakes her head, eying Rachel nervously as she stands and backs away, heading over to Kurt. Quinn giggles, and Rachel turns to her.
"She thinks I want to throw her in, doesn't she?"
Unable to control her laughter, Quinn nods, speaking through it. "Totally. I don't know why, though." At Rachel's confused face, Quinn continues. "As if you could throw anyone into the pool, Berry."
Rachel's jaw drops slightly open, but her eyes still sparkle. It makes Quinn think that Rachel may actually be fun to banter with.
"Quinn, Mercedes may be... larger than I am," her voice drops but never changes tone. "But I am quite certain that I could push her or anyone into a pool."
At that, the gentle smile that Quinn had grown so used to seeing on Rachel's face flattens into a slight curve. Rachel's eyes narrow wickedly as she slides her hand around Quinn's wrist.
"Would you like to go for a walk with me, Quinn?" Rachel asks, already standing and tugging on Quinn's arm.
Quinn, incredulous that Rachel thinks she's that stupid, yanks her wrist out of Rachel's grasp and lies back on her lounge chair.
"I'm not even going to say nice try."
Rachel sits back down next to Quinn and gestures over to where Kurt finally coaxed Mercedes into the pool. The two are bobbing happily around the shallow end of the pool, each wearing a bright pink shower cap to protect their hair.
"I admit that that was not very well thought out, but," Rachel pauses mid-sentence to think and to curl a lock of hair behind her ear, briefly dropping her eyes down Quinn's frame when the girl takes a sip of her lemonade. "But maybe you'd like to go in? It's really hot, and it is a pool party after all. I promise I won't push you in."
Rachel trails off when she notices that Quinn is looking at her, calmly waiting for her to finish instead of interrupting.
"I'm fine here," Quinn says quietly, smiling when Rachel looks at her curiously.
"It's so hot. Aren't you hot in ... that?"
Quinn glances down at her sundress before leaning her head back and closing her eyes. Yes, she is hot. She can feel the heated moisture all over her skin that the cotton of her dress is keeping encased against her. The fabric is clinging to her back and her stomach and the backs of her thighs where the rubber slats of the chair press into her, and she wants nothing more than to dive headfirst into the water, but she can't. Everyone would look at her, and Puck would make jokes, and Brittany would ask why she's in the pool with a dress on. She shakes her head.
"Rachel, please," Quinn whimpers, turning her head away from Rachel to grab her sunglasses from the table. She shoves them on her face and bites the inside of her lip, trying to hold her tears in her eyes.
She hears Rachel let out a shaky breath next to her, but never hears the girl move.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Rachel asks quietly, her voice even more delicate than it was after Finn had found out about the baby, even more delicate than when they were in the nursery.
Quinn bites her lip. "It's fine, Rachel."
Rachel hesitates as she watches Quinn's brow scrunch as her eyes clamp shut even tighter. The blonde turns her head slightly away from Rachel, and Rachel briefly wonders around the guilt pounding in her chest if Quinn has enough control to cry out of only one eye.
"Okay," Rachel agrees quietly. She sits by Quinn's side and watches her friends in the pool, glancing at Quinn until the blonde's forehead relaxes and is smooth once more.
After a moment of silence, Quinn's head straightens. Rachel watches out of the corner of her eye as one of Quinn's hands moves to rest on her stomach, and realization dawns.
"Do you have a scar? I thought you had a natural birth."
Quinn stiffens next to her, but turns, still hidden behind her sunglasses.
"I don't have a scar."
Rachel nods, holding Quinn's gaze through her lenses. She continues cautiously.
"Then, what?" she asks, and Quinn nearly has to strain to hear her. "What is it?"
"I don't," Quinn starts and stops, her head tilting down, dragging her eyes from Rachel's. Rachel follows Quinn's eyes down to her own lap, but shakes her head at Quinn, confused. Quinn turns her head to where Brittany and Santana are climbing out of the pool. The girls don't bother to towel themselves off, instead flopping down on deck chairs and laying out in the sun.
"I don't look like that anymore."
Rachel looks at Quinn's hand where it rests low on her stomach, breath tremulous with empathy.
"Quinn, you're beautiful."
Quinn shakes her head rapidly, biting her lip until she seems to lose whatever battle is waging inside of her head. "Fuck, Rachel," she cries softly. Quinn is out of her chair in an instant and barging through the back door of the house, ripping her sunglasses off of her face and disappearing.
Later, when the group is huddled around a makeshift fire pit created begrudgingly at Brittany's unrelenting pout, Rachel sneaks glances at Quinn. The blonde is nestled safely between Santana and Mercedes, a fortress and a moat Rachel wouldn't dare approach unless Quinn offered her a drawbridge. Brittany's marshmallow drops into the fire and before her mouth can even turn downward, Santana plops her own marshmallow onto Brittany's s'more. Brittany squeals and smashes the other graham cracker onto the pile before taking a bite. Quinn watches the scene in amusement, then pulls her marshmallow away from the fire. She blows on it and turns to hold it out to Santana. Rachel looks away, but not before catching Santana's grateful smile and the way she rests her chin briefly on Quinn's shoulder. Quinn chooses the moment Santana sits up again to look at Rachel, and Rachel drops her gaze immediately, feeling as if she's intruded on a private moment. Her cheeks flush with warmth, and she lets herself be distracted when, next to her, Mike manages to set all seven of his marshmallows on fire.
Rachel catches Quinn's eye again eventually, and the blonde nods once at her, a half smile appearing at the corner of her mouth before she looks away and the moment is gone. Mercedes has her head bowed down with Kurt's as the two discuss something completely inaudible to Rachel's ears. Quinn sits quietly, amidst conversations that don't include her, and she fiddles with her graham crackers and leans into Santana. The brunette is busy talking to Brittany, but she leans back on her hands, sliding one behind Quinn to rest on the grass. Allowing what appears to be a semblance of a smile to cross her face, Quinn shifts slightly closer into Santana's side, tossing her graham crackers on the grass and closing her eyes to the soft strains of Puck's guitar.
Rachel listens, too, as the fire crackles and the crickets chirp and Puck's fingers meld arpeggios into melodies, all of it lovely except for the two graham crackers and the melted slab of chocolate lying in front of Quinn, uneaten.