… Clearly this isn't something I own, as I'd have better things to do with my time than write fanfiction of my own series.

My first Glee fic. I don't know how this ended up Quinn-centric. I don't even really like her.

It isn't just fitting in with the Cheerios Quinn misses, because, honestly, she's always had a love-hate with Santana, and Brittney can move, but seriously, she's got about four brain cells, and Heather was a good mall companion, but the second she was banned from putting on her uniform, she suddenly can't seem to meet her eyes in the hallway.

But there's something untouchable about being a Cheerio, something that made her feel invincible and long and lean, even on a bloated day, that made the heart-flutters Finn sometimes sent her into when he wasn't being a total moron feel more meaningful and sophisticated and important and less Dawson's Creek then High School heart flutters have any right to be.

Her poly-blend (and Kurt says that like a sneer, the little twerp, and it's annoying, but then she thinks maybe he's growing on her and sometimes shudders.) uniform was like a denotation of royalty; communicated clearly that she would not be slushy facialed, could come to school with a bad hair day without anyone mentioning it, (clearly, she would never utilize this, but it's always been a viable option, and she finds herself missing it now.) or could stutter through a Spanish oral and still have people cheer for her.

The perks were undeniably awesome, but mostly, Quinn misses being a princess. There's just something in the brohood of a sports team, even one as terrible as theirs, at least in the golden days when they were big-time losers, but still friends, that compels them to treat all their guy's girlfriends like they're made of glass.

When she can't sleep, sometimes she lets her mind wander – just remembering and reliving scenes from her life pre-fall, which is what she wistfully thinks of the time before this mess. One of her favorites to relive is sort of inexplicable: it was actually the end of freshman year, before Brittney'd whirled her way onto the team, in the brief window where she dated Matt Rutherford, who was sweet and did a lot of mumbling, but looked at her, which was new, and laughed at her jokes, even when they were only so-so.

The first night in Finn's house, she imagines the long bus ride to a town a few counties over, which starts late in the morning and won't end until they get there for the game. When she got tired, Santana fell asleep with her head against her shoulder, and then they both shifted and squirmed until they were both confortable, and Quinn thinks, this is it, because she's always imagined that this is what it would be like to really, really have friends.

When they get there, they cheer their hardest and she watches Matt when she's not getting thrown in the air or making perfect circles in the air with her solid muscles, and at one point, he looks at her instead of the ball and misses. They lost the game by almost a dozen points, and she teases him about it forever, but thinking about it even now, it's not hard to remember what she saw in him.

After the game, and here comes the unconventional part of why this memory is one of her stock favorites to play over and over in her mind like a favorite movie, she wanders away from the girls in search of a bathroom and gets turned around. It's a big campus. She's almost ready to give up, and does a literal three-sixty degree turn in one last scoping.

Which is when she finds herself not alone.

"Hello," she says, and in her memory, she imagines her voice more solid that she knows it was, less shaky. In control, practically a grown up. She always channels Sue Sylvester when she tries to project that sort of certainty.

"Hey beautiful," the great wall of Linebacker said to her, a compliment cut with cheeky menace, and she could still hear people milling about, distantly. "You lost?"

"I was just looking for—" she said, and was going to say the bathroom, but for one, she was a lady, and two, for some reason she felt more compelled to say "—my boyfriend. You know, getting back to the field."

He must have noticed her uniform, even before he said anything, but he still pretended to be surprised, ignoring her last response. "You a McKinley girl?"

She looked pointedly downward at her own covered chest, and the cross that dangled there. "I'm pretty sure I didn't mug one of their cheerleaders."

In retrospect, it wasn't one of the cleverest things she's ever said, but for some reason, with the way he was just looking at her so shiftily, gaze winding from her head to her thighs slowly, crawling down her body like an insect trail, and her muscles coiling, heart beating steady against her beloved uniform… He took a step closer, and she couldn't even think.

"You're too pretty for a Lima loser," he said dismissively, stepping forward again, impossible big, and it was the first time she'd ever heard that phrase. "You want me to help you find something else?"

She doesn't know, still, if anything would have happened with him, because she saw a flash of red and white out of the corner of her eye, and her heart immediately found its rhythm. It didn't even matter who it was, because whoever it was, she knew, he'd protect her. Even the albino senior she didn't know all that well. It was just how it worked.

She didn't take her eyes off of the Linebacker, and after the arrival of one of her boys (she thought all of the Cheerios probably thought of them this way, but really, they all really were hers.) the panic could stop filling all of her spare thoughts with alarm bells, and she noticed his uniform declared him to be Michaels, number sixteen.

"Hey, babe, there you are," Puck, who was still trying to get the nickname to stick and was still mostly Noah, said, draping his arm around her and pulling her tight against his side, "I've been looking everywhere for you."

He was only sixteen, and not quite as well-muscled as he liked to pretend, but she melted against him gratefully, and thump thump thump, her heart seemed to know that she was safe now, poked against him through her ribcage at his torso. He held her shoulder firmly, but not too tightly, and his forearm was tensed against the line of her back, like he was getting ready for something.

Quinn doesn't even remember what happened next, if number sixteen just let her walk off with Puck, who she'd never call scrawny but who he could have kicked to the curb any day of the week, or if he'd had to, like use his words.

The point wasn't even that it was Puck who'd rescued her (and from then on, she did call him Puck, because behind all of the sneering and tossing people in dumpsters, he could be a really good guy; he deserved that much.) because she's pretty sure most of the time that she does love Finn, idiocy notwithstanding, and Puck was a mistake, but that moment of comfort … when she remembers that night, she reminds herself that once, she had belonged so unquestionably that she could go from being terrified (and she didn't say it to Puck that night, or the next week, or ever, maybe, but she was terrified.) to knowing she was safe in a split second just because of the colors of her school; a half-glimpse of a letterman's jacket.

Puck had deposited her at Matt's side, and then went to talk to Finn, who at the time Quinn called Frankenteen in her head, because seriously, it was a wonder he could even walk on those stilts he called legs, because that's what best friends did.

Matt smelled like sweat and Old Spice, which her father wore, and she found it sexy, and she remembers wondering for a brief moment what that said about her.

After that, she noticed the team wading through the crowds to collect their girls or their friends who just happened to be Cheerios, and kept them on their arms or hips until they helped them onto the Cheerio's bus, which admittedly, was a lot nicer than their own.

The next week, she opened her locker, and a grey-white crumpled bit of paper fell to her feet. She leaned down to pick it up, fingers brushing against the torn edges around the article's front page blurb (local high school linebacker Logan Michaels sits out game against downtown rivals with a broken hand) while she read it. It has been folded over several times so it could fit in her locker slats.

She doesn't know who did it, or who asked who to do it, and although she had some suspicions, at the time it didn't matter. It could have been any of them, because she was the princess of the football team; you just didn't mess with her. Not with a Cheerio, and especially not with a Cheerio one of the boys had expressed an interest in. She rubbed furiously at her eyes after the initial almost-upwelling of tears at the reminder, but then the urge passes, and she pins it up with a magnet.

(Behind the picture of her and the rest of the Cheerios, of course, but it's there.)

In the present, she has to shove her knuckles into her mouth to keep from crying, her body pressed against foreign sheets.


She almost gives out a weak laugh, because seriously. Her life. "Yes, Mrs. Hudson?"

The door opens slowly, and Finn's mother looks down at her from the sliver of hallway light. "I just wanted to say goodnight, dear," she says, her eyes kind, and Quinn kind of just wants to die, or get sucked into the floor, because she doesn't deserve that. "I know it's been an unbearably long day, and I'm right down the hall if you need me."

"Thanks Mrs. Hudson," she says, reigning in a I'm lying to your son, and doesn't even have to bite her tongue hard enough to bleed to do it. Because, apparently, being a performer is paying off.