It's lightly raining late that Friday afternoon, as Quinn and Eliza step off the bus at the convention center – raining enough where Quinn's face is framed by scattered raindrops, not enough as to where she wishes she had her umbrella.
She bounces Eliza on her hip, and Eliza laughs. "Let's go in?" Quinn asks. She knows not to expect a response, but a large smile crosses her daughter's face, and maybe, just maybe, it's the answer she needs to hear.
They take their seats, the curtain rises, and she loses herself to the performances. The choir from Arizona, she thinks, will probably win – they have the energy, the enthusiasm, and she imagines that nothing else tonight can top their performance of "Holding Out for a Hero."
She knows, though, without even paying attention, when New Directions comes on stage. And, clear as day, she hears Artie's voice soaring through the rafters – "Once I rose above the noise and confusion, just to get a glimpse beyond the illusion" – and she feels like she's back home in Lima, that none of the past year and a half or so had even happened. And then she hears Eliza cooing and she snaps back to reality.
She should be up there on that stage. Instead, she grew up in the blink of an eye, and she wouldn't take back a moment of it, not for the world, but she's getting a glimpse of what she could have had.
She applauds until her hands hurt, stands until her feet ache, and she wishes she had stopped at the florist by her apartment to pick them up a bouquet. They'd deserve it.
She and Eliza are sitting in a bench in the lobby – results will come out in the morning, and the anxiety in the room could be cut with a knife - when she sees a familiar brunette head bobbing its way over to her. "Quinn? Is that you? What are you doing here?" Rachel asks, her voice rising at the end of each sentence, to the point where she nearly shouts the last two words. Like sailors to a siren's call, the other members of New Directions walk over when they hear her.
"Surprise," Quinn says, a little flatly.
Finn offers her a wane smile, which she reciprocates. "Is this –" he asks, picking up Eliza.
"It is," she says, and Eliza becomes the hot topic of the group, passing from one set of hands to another.
Rachel offers to burn Quinn copies of "Broadway Babies, Volume 1 and 2"; Kurt and Mercedes make an offer to take Eliza clothes shopping – because "no child shouldn't be able to be fashionable" – before they leave Seattle on Sunday; and Artie and Tina exchange a pointed look or two. The chaos and confusion allows Quinn and Finn to sink into the background.
"She looks like Puck," Finn says, watching Brittany precariously balance Eliza.
"Are you happy?"
Quinn runs her fingers along the seam of her pants, feeling the fabric ripple under her touch. "I got away because I couldn't be happy in Lima. Not anymore, not after –"
"Yeah, but are you happy now? You, of any of us, could do more," he says, "Rachel too." It's more of an afterthought, but her expression after hearing Rachel's name shifts nearly imperceptibly from a smile to a flat line.
"I put my dreams on hold."
He stands up, stares at her, and for a second, he looks like she's hurt him all over again. "You've changed, Quinn Fabray. Seattle's changed you," he says.
She starts to say "Seattle hasn't changed me, Eliza's changed me; I have to think of two people now and not just myself," but he's already walked away, fading into the throng of people.
They're in two completely different worlds now, her and Finn.
The crowd thins out, and against a back wall, she sees Puck. She walks over to him, making sure out of the corner of her eye that Eliza's safe – she's firmly in Will's arms, so Quinn feels secure in the knowledge. "I came, like you asked," she says, sticking her hands in her pockets, "Eliza's with Will."
"Schuester has my child?" From where they stand, they have a good perspective of Will and Eliza. She nods, and he walks over, talks to Will for a moment or two, and takes his child into his arms for the first time.
Quinn smiles as the scene unfolds.
Father and daughter, together.
Quinn, Puck and Eliza walk back to the hotel in near-silence; Puck carries Eliza, Quinn casts the occasional glance over at the two.
It's nice to have someone else in her world again.
Mike, who turns out to be Puck's roommate on the trip, leaves the hotel room when he sees them enter. "Dude, I'm not sticking around for the fireworks," he says, grabbing his coat and running out the door in a flash, "work it out by yourselves."
Quinn arches her eyebrow and tucks Eliza into one of the beds. "What was that about?" she asks.
"They think we're going to have a fight tonight," he says, with a smirk tugging at his lips, "but only if you want one, Fabray."
She shakes her head, and rolls her eyes. Even with a daughter, albeit one he hadn't met until earlier that night, he was still the same Puck she knew back then.
"Eliza needs a father," she says, barely above a whisper.
"I'm her father," he says, grabbing her hand. The caress of his own slightly rougher hand against her softer one, the touch that had been the spark of everything, makes her mind spin and she forces herself to sit down again before she falls to the floor. "If anyone's going to be her father, it should be me."
Quinn shakes her head vigorously. "We live two thousand miles apart," she says, "how are you going to do that?"
"Graduation's in a month," he says, "but if you say the word I'll stay –"
"No, Puck," she says, "graduate. Seattle can wait." What she wants to say is that she and Eliza can wait, they've waited for over a year, and they can wait as long as they need to. But she doesn't say it.
Reading between the lines is a skill that she forces people to use often with her.
They talk long into the night, gravitating closer, and her head droops against his shoulder. She falls asleep there, and Puck picks her up, careful to avoid her swinging feet, and lays her next to Eliza. He spoons behind Quinn, and the three of them fall asleep together.
Around four or so in the morning, Mike pops his head in, sees them sleeping, and decides that maybe begging for the floor in Finn's room would be a better idea.
Quinn wakes up that morning, and she knows something isn't right because she can hear snoring coming from next to her, and Mr. Yates next door doesn't snore that loudly. She turns over and sees Puck, asleep, and if it wasn't for his snores, it'd be a perfectly tranquil scene.
She falls back asleep, her arms wrapped protectively around Eliza.
It's later that morning when she awakes for a second time and sees Puck standing next to the bed, an odd sort of smile on his face. "Eggs?" he asks, holding a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon in one hand and a glass of orange juice in the other.
"Puck, you didn't have to bring me breakfast in bed, you know."
"I ate most of it on the way up."
"Pig," she says, with an easy laugh. She takes the fork from him and wipes it against his shirt before eating. Eliza ends up sharing some of the eggs. It's so much different, being with Puck, especially now. She feels lighter inside. It feels good.
She buys a bouquet on the way to the results ceremony. Big, beautiful flowers of all colors and varieties, it makes her smile just to look at.
New Directions takes second; the Arizona group won it all.
She hands each of them a flower from the bouquet, and keeps one for herself. It could have been her, after all.
Her and Puck walk down the pier later that afternoon, breathing in the ocean air and talking idly. Eliza is being taken care of by some combination of New Directions members – Quinn isn't sure if she's more afraid for Eliza, or for them.
"You think you'd like it here?" she asks, kicking absent-mindedly at a pebble.
"You could start over; I'll do fine."
"I left without telling anyone."
"I could too."
"And who says I can't pull off what you did?" he says, "I could, you know, and no one would know."
"I'd know," she says, and speeds up her pace.
"That's the point, Fabray," he says, catching up to her, "you'd know, no one else would have to."
She stops and turns to face him – a million thoughts running through her mind, a thousand words at the tip of her tongue – and she stands silent.
Time freezes for a minute, and she's looking at him, really looking at him, and he's looking at her, and it feels like they're the only two people sharing this moment. When his arm loops around her waist, pulling her close, she sucks in a deep breath.
And they kiss, his hand running up the back of her neck and she releases the breath as they separate. She's smiling, he has an infuriating combination of a smirk and a smile, and she wonders to herself – "why did it take us this long?"
A month and a half later, she stands waiting at the bus station. He steps off the bus, she greets him with a kiss and an embrace, and together, they carry his luggage to Hailey's waiting car.
It isn't going to be easy.
It never was going to be.
But damn if they aren't going to try their hardest first.