Wednesday morning, Quinn slept late. She had woken up more times than she could count throughout the night with a hammering pain in her chest and the feel that her stomach was far too big, an echoing concavity left in the absence of Sarah Noelle Puckerman's growing body; that Quinn had been able to fall asleep without crying for the past two nights did nothing to belie the nightmares that had haunted her every night in the hospital. Rachel had, every time, been awake within seconds every time, sitting up and holding Quinn's trembling form and wiping away her tears until the blonde fell back to sleep.
When she finally woke in the morning (not, she noted dispassionately, from a nightmare, but simply because the room was flooded with late morning sunlight), though, Rachel was nowhere to be seen. Instead, her mother and sister both sat in the room, matching blonde heads and heartbroken eyes and radiating guilt.
Conversation was awkward between the three of them, her mother still seemingly terrified of losing her youngest daughter again and her sister in complete shock—Devon, as Quinn found out, had been kept in the dark by their parents about kicking Quinn out, and was as furious at Quinn for not coming to her for help as she was at their parents. There were uncomfortable but heartfelt apologies, explanations and descriptions and lamentations and countless tears; by the time Rachel knocked cautiously on the door and stepped halfway into the room to ask if any of them wanted some lunch, some semblance of family had returned between the three of them.
"Food would be great," Devon said. She lifted to her feet from where she was sitting on the bed next to Quinn, reaching out to squeeze Quinn's shoulder gently before she walked across the room. "And I don't believe we've been introduced. I'm Devon."
"Rachel Berry," Rachel said brightly, flashing her classic winning smile and shaking Devon's hand.
"Rachel Berry," Devon murmured. She shot a look over her shoulder at Quinn, one eyebrow quirked minutely, and Quinn flashed back suddenly to a long-winded rant she had bestowed upon her sister over a long-distance phone call about that horrendous Rachel Berry and the disgusting glee club dance routine for "Push It" she had roped sweet stupid Finn into; she flushed darkly and her gaze shot down towards her lap.
Their lunch of turkey sandwiches and pasta salad was taken in Quinn's room, and Quinn let Rachel and Devon dominate the conversation, listening halfway as Devon quizzed Rachel about glee and singing and Broadway. She picked at the edges of her sandwich and dismantled the pile of pasta salad on her plate and when the three of them turned to her with concerned looks and fell silent as each one hoped one of the others would be the first to bring up the fact that she wasn't eating, Quinn yawned and said that she was exhausted and still in some pain and could really use a nap.
Within five minutes, her mother and Devon had made their way out of the house and Quinn sat on the edge of her bed, staring absently at the window. Rachel reappeared in the room, fussing with the pillows and the blinds. "Rachel," Quinn said quietly.
"Your sister is nice," Rachel said distractedly. Her attention was focused on the window, the blinds refusing to lower evenly. "I hate these things. I told Daddy that Venetian blinds are stupid, but does he listen to me? No, of course not."
"Rachel, leave them," Quinn said, laughing quietly. "I'm not really tired. I just…needed a break, you know?"
"Oh," Rachel said. She let go of the blinds, and they both winced when the string snapped up and the blinds fell down to hit the windowsill. "That makes sense." She sat down on the edge of the desk chair, smoothing her hands over her skirt, and then hopped back up. "Do you want me to go? I completely understand if you want some time alone."
"No, it's fine," Quinn said hurriedly. "Don't go."
Rachel stared at her curiously for a long second, before smiling cautiously and returning to her seat. "Can I get you anything?"
"I'm okay," Quinn said, a small smile gracing her lips before fading quickly. Her words echoed in her head painfully, and her shoulder slumped.
"It's okay if you're not, you know," Rachel said. Her voice was soft, so quiet that Quinn barely heard it. "No one expects anything of you."
"Sure they do," Quinn said, quiet and sardonic. "That's just what people do. They think they know someone, and they think they know how that person will react to things, and then when things go differently it throws them for a loop."
"Maybe so," Rachel reasoned. "But no one expects you to be okay, Quinn. None of us know what you're going through, except maybe Noah, at little bit. But we don't expect you to always put on a brave front and smile for our sake." She paused, fingers twisting in her lap. "You can't be all smiles and bravery all the time, you know."
"Why not?" Quinn whispered. "You are."
"I…what?" The surprise was evident in Rachel's voice; for the first time in what felt like an eternity, she spoke in normal tones. No one had spoke to Quinn much above a whisper since she woke up in the hospital, as if worried that too many decibels would cause her to physically shatter from her fragile state.
Quinn shrugged absently. "You always smile and act brave and untouchable, even when people are horrible to you. People throw slushies at me or Finn or Puck and we freak out. You just… carry an extra outfit and make-up and change and go back to your day. People say mean things to you, and you don't flip out or break down. You still put a gold star next to your name and ramble on about Broadway.
"If you can do that, if you do that," she went on. "Why can't I? Why shouldn't I?"
Rachel sighed. "People being jerks is nothing new," she said simply. "When you grow up the only child of a gay couple in Ohio, you get used to the rudimentary insults and cruel actions of the narrow-minded unenlightened masses. But," she added sharply. "People teasing me is nothing compared to this."
She paused, long enough that Quinn finally pulled her eyes away from her lap and looked up at Rachel through her eyelashes, and took a deep breath. "Quinn, you lost a child," she said, her voice impossibly gentle. "No one expects you to come back to school after break and just be okay."
At the word child, Quinn felt the sledgehammer pounding in her chest return and inhaled sharply and painfully, her lungs feeling like that couldn't inflate. Her hand shook, her fingers and toes feeling cold, and she felt like there was a hole the size of seven pound and four ounces of brown-eyed blonde infant left gaping in her stomach. She struggled for breath, her focus narrowing on the pressure in her chest and the hollow in her stomach and every daydream she had ever had about Sarah Noelle Puckerman bombarded her every sense until she was wholly overwhelmed and sinking undeniably into a panic attack.
Just as she thought that she was going to pass out, the lack of oxygen from her closed-up throat and pain in her stomach and tears in her eyes bordering on overwhelming, she felt hands on her shoulders and heard an urgent voice intoning words she couldn't understand. She focused on the sound of Rachel's insistent voice, on every point of contact as Rachel's hands slid from her shoulders to rub comfortingly up and down her arms, then up to push blonde hair from her face and wipe away her tears, then wrapping around her back and pulling her into an embrace painfully similar to the one she had collapsed into with Puck the first day at the hospital. Her throat opened up just enough for her to breathe but her tears redoubled, and she clung to Rachel as tightly as she could and sobbed into her shirt.
Minutes slid by as Quinn sank into every bit of pain and anger and guilt she had tried so valiantly to hold at bay, and Rachel continued to stand by the bed, arms wrapped tightly around Quinn's shoulders as Quinn cried herself half to sleep, hands clenching and releasing reflexively and sporadically at the material of Rachel's sweatshirt. A few tears of her own slipped loose, sliding off her chin to land atop Quinn's hair.
In a lull in her tears, sometime after she'd started her fourth effort to calm down and before she was struck with the invasion of a memory of the first time the baby kicked in her stomach and launched her into a fresh wave of crying, Quinn pulled back the slightest bit and turned her reddened eyes up to Rachel's face. The brunette looked calmly back down at her, one arm moving from Quinn's waist to reach up and brush away a few lingering tears on her cheeks, her face a mask of sympathy and her eyes brimming with something that Quinn could not recognize and was unable to understand, something that Quinn unconsciously filed away to consider at another time.
Rachel lowered her head and pressed a heartbreakingly gentle kiss against Quinn's forehead, just below her hair, and then Quinn remembered suddenly how it had felt the first time Sarah Noelle Puckerman kicked in her stomach, and all thoughts of undecipherable emotions in the eyes of petite brunettes vanished from Quinn's mind; her tears returned full-force and she buried her head against Rachel's stomach once more.
Quinn realized, when she woke up three hours later with a blanket tucked around her and Rachel asleep at Quinn's desk, pillowed on her pre-cal book, that Rachel must have once again held her until she cried herself to sleep. A tiny smile played across her lips as she silently sank into the comfort of knowing that someone was there to watch out for her, Quinn pulled the blanket a little tighter around herself and turned on her side, resting her head on one of her arms and watching Rachel's sleeping form until she drifted off to sleep once more.