Part 6 of a 6 part story. Quinn POV, with plenty of Tina/Artie and some Kurt for good measure. Some allusions in the last two chapters to Swift and Exacting, but they're understandable on their own.
It's the last chapter! And as promised, it was written on the flight out, and edited on the way back. I meant to post it earlier, but there were work-related emergencies that I got called in to eleventh-hour-quarterback, so a lot of things that were meant to happen earlier are just happening now.
Thank you for reading, thank you for reviewing, and an extra-special thank you to those of you that have been around since the first chapter—way to stick it out for three weeks ;) You rock.
No Glee ownership so far, but I'm keeping an eye on the mailbox.
Quinn knew it was spineless of her, but she couldn't help but feel slightly relieved when neither Artie nor Tina was in school the next morning.
Unable to extract a coherent explanation on the car ride home, Mercedes had called in the cavalry, and she and Kurt had spent the rest of the evening prying the whole story out of a thoroughly distressed Quinn. They agreed that she had screwed up, but were sympathetic to her plight—"You have no idea how many times I've wanted to lock them in a room together and not let them out until they have a bunch of poorly dressed half-Asian babies," Kurt had confessed. Mercedes was a little more down to earth: "All the awkward going on in that house was bound to start catching sometime," she said frankly, handing Quinn a sandwich bag full of chocolate-chip spice cookies that one of her aunts had made.
They were unified in their opinion that Quinn owed Artie and Tina a major apology, but disagreed on the methodology—Kurt's "say it with flowers; though you'll probably need an entire field of them, in this case" approach distinctly contrasted with Mercedes' plan to "blame it on the pregnancy hormones, and maybe start faking contractions to take some of the heat off." They were still bickering about it an hour after the final bell rang on Monday, as Mercedes drove the three of them to Tina's house. Quinn watched helplessly from the backseat, clutching the folders filled with Tina and Artie's homework assignments, as the pair volleyed back and forth:
"Can you cry on cue? Because you should definitely cry if you can; Baby Girl's a sucker for a meltdown."
"I still think she should be concentrating her initial efforts on Artie. Like in chemistry, when you have to stabilize the most volatile chemicals first to keep the entire thing from blowing up and disfiguring your eyebrows."
"Yeah, but Artie only ever really loses his shit when it's about Tina—make her happy, and he'll be about ten times easier to handle."
"Unless he thinks that Quinn's manipulating her because she's a pushover; it is the obvious strategy. Damn it! I knew I should have bought that maternity Kevlar when I had the chance."
"Will you chill out, Gay Boy? This is Tina and Artie—we're not sending her in to dismantle an atomic bomb."
"Are you kidding me? She made Tina cry. We're practically airlifting her into the Middle East."
"Bitch, please. He's not gonna hit a pregnant girl."
"Am I the only one in this car who remembers the red paint incident?"
Mercedes winced at that one, and Kurt turned back to Quinn. "Eighteen thousand dollars worth of damage," he confided, "but you didn't hear it from me." Quinn shook her head, trying not to throw up. "You guys are really not helping," she pointed out crossly. Kurt reached back and patted her knee. "I'm going to temporarily forgive your attitude problem, but only because your skin tone currently matches the color of your pants," he said, running a finger over the grey fabric. "Don't think you've got a free pass."
Mercedes saved her from having to respond. "Showtime," she announced, pulling into Tina's driveway.
Quinn walked gingerly down the path and up the ramp to the front door, Mercedes and Kurt's parting advice of "Try not to say anything stupid" and "If all else fails, lock yourself in the upstairs bathroom and text us—we'll come extract you" ringing in her ears. With one final, desperate look back at the car, Quinn rang the doorbell.
Even from the porch, she heard the chimes echoing through the house, followed a minute later by the sound of footsteps. Quinn could feel her heartbeat pounding in her ears and in the back of her throat as the door opened partway. Tina leaned against the doorframe, clad in the black tank top and thin sweatpants Quinn knew she used as pajamas, looking for all the world as if she hadn't slept at all. Her eye makeup was slightly blurred, and her expression was utterly blank, like a storefront mannequin's.
Under almost any other circumstances, Quinn realized, she would have admired the nearly perfect deadpan expression. Then she became conscious of the fact that she'd been staring at Tina for twenty seconds without saying anything.
"Um, hi," she began tentatively, and almost immediately bit her tongue. Brilliant start, Fabray, she chastised herself mentally. Say something not moronic. She held up the folders. "I, um, I brought you and Artie your homework. Kurt got me your schedules, so I went around to all of your teachers after school." Tina made no move to take the folders, and what little confidence Quinn had left was completely shot. "Look, I—I am so, so sorry, Tina," she said in a small, unfamiliar voice. "I owe you guys a huge apology for last night, and I want to make sure I do it right. Will you please just hear me out?"
After a few, eternal seconds, Tina nodded slowly and opened the door a little wider. "You can come in," she acquiesced, her voice and expression giving nothing of what she was feeling away. Quinn closed the door behind her and followed Tina down the hall, apprehensive.
Tina had always been quiet. She had never been foreboding.
Tina led her into the kitchen. "You can sit down," she told Quinn evenly, before making her way over to the living room. "Artie, Quinn's here," she heard Tina say as she pulled a chair out from the kitchen table. She couldn't decipher Artie's murmured response, but she could guess what it was when Tina answered, "She wants to apologize. And she brought math."
Twisting her fingers together, Quinn watched as Tina backed out of the doorway to give Artie room to enter. Unlike Tina, he was fully dressed, but he shared her look of exhaustion. Quinn couldn't quite bring herself to meet his eyes, and instead watched as Tina gripped the closest handle of his chair, standing slightly behind and to the side of the wheel. Quinn bit the inside of her cheek. Hard. "Artie," she opened nervously, "I just wanted to say—"
Artie held up a hand, and Quinn's voice immediately died out.
"Quinn, you said a lot of things last night," he told her, not harshly. "It's our turn to talk this time, and your turn to listen. If you still want to say something when we're done, I don't have a problem with that." He looked at Quinn, seemingly waiting for her response, and she nodded, accepting his terms. He nodded back.
"What you did last night was out of line," he said. "You took the things that Tina and I had said to you in private and used them against us in front of each other. Whatever your intentions, you meddled in our relationship without taking our thoughts or feelings about it into account. We know you were trying to be helpful, but frankly, you don't know us well enough to be able to say what's best for us—and even if you did, you still wouldn't have the right to."
Even though she couldn't see Artie through the tears that had begun streaming down her face, Quinn couldn't help but notice that he didn't really sound angry. Instead, he enumerated her sins like he was reciting a list of facts, or reading a shopping list. Neutrally, impartially.
It gave her hope.
"You told Artie that he needed to treat me like an equal," Tina continued, her tone as dispassionate as Artie's had been. "But treating someone like an equal means respecting what they say and letting them make their own decisions. And you told me that I needed to talk about how I felt and be honest about things—but you didn't talk to either of us about how you felt until last night. Instead, you just kind of blindsided us."
Quinn nodded, wiping her eyes with her hand. She knew she was guilty on all counts, but she hadn't meant to do any of it—she really thought at the time that she was being helpful, if a bit intrusive.
"Quinn, do you understand why we were so upset?" Artie asked her gently, leaning forward to meet her downcast eyes. "Yes," she muttered thickly. He nodded at her. "Good. That being said," he said, glancing at Tina, "your points weren't entirely without merit. We do have…issues, that we need to work through, both individually and as a couple. We were up until about 5:30 this morning, just talking." The corner of his mouth twitched slightly. "It might have been one of the most open, honest conversations we've ever had. Certainly one of the longest; you gave us a lot of material to work with." Tina frowned guiltily. "I broke a set of plates," she admitted.
Quinn choked slightly.
"It got pretty raw," Artie amended diplomatically. "But we're better for it. Even if it means we have to go to Lehmans and buy more dishes." Tina groaned dramatically. "God, I hate Lehmans," she complained, and Artie gently smacked her arm. "Then stop throwing plates when you get upset, woman. Easy solution." He caught her hand and kissed her fingers, twining them through his own.
Quinn was totally confused. "So, you're…not mad?" she asked quizzically. Artie sighed. "Not really, not anymore," he told her. "Your heart was in the right place, and even if you did everything else wrong, we have to respect that." Tina sat down in the chair nearest to Artie, keeping her hand in his. "We weren't completely blameless in this situation either," she said, meeting Quinn's eyes. "I meant it when I said we should have been honest with you from the start about trying to help you. And while you definitely shouldn't have blabbed everything the way that you did, we can see how living with us and us both confiding in you might have sent the wrong message, and been confusing for you." Correctly ascertaining from Quinn's expression that she wasn't sure what it was she was supposedly confused about, Tina gripped Artie's hand a little tighter.
"We talked about it," she said, "and correct us if we're totally off base here: we kind of get the idea that most of your former 'friendships'"—she air-quoted with her free hand—"had a lot of basis in control and manipulation, and appearances. We're not saying it's your fault," she said quickly, as Quinn opened her mouth to interject. "We're just saying that we don't think anyone really ever showed you how real friendship works. The kind where you keep each other's secrets, and talk about your problems and worries without having to wonder if they'll be used against you later, and where you can totally ignore the other person's advice but know that they still have your back anyway. That kind of friendship."
Artie laughed softly at Quinn's shocked expression: it was the most she had ever heard Tina say at one time. "Tee, I think you broke her," he joked, before turning back to Quinn. "It's kind of like Cheerio politics, but instead of evil conditions and strings attached, it's…" He frowned. "Help me out here, Tee—what's a nice, not-evil string?" Tina shrugged. "I stopped doing metaphors after Rachel decorated my history notebook with gold stars," she admitted. Artie sighed with exasperation. "You are no help," he told her sternly. "But anyway, do you get it?"
Quinn laughed weakly. "I—guess so? I get the basic principles," she assured them, as they both turned to each other with long-suffering expressions. "Girl scout law or golden rule, or something like that."
Though Tina nodded, Artie looked totally confused. "It's pretty much what you just said," Quinn explained. "And I know I should have just talked to you about your feelings and stuff, instead of trying to sweep in and fix everything; I get that now. I wanted everything to work out for you guys because you're both such great people, and I just wanted you to be happy. But your relationship isn't about what I want, it's about what you want. And I'm sorry, and next time I'll be less evil-stringy or whatever."
Artie raised his eyebrows. "Who says we're inviting you back?" he asked facetiously. Ignoring his playful sarcasm, Tina looked at Quinn thoughtfully. "Actually, before everything blew up last night, I was going to." Artie and Quinn both turned to look at her, and she blushed. "W-well," she stammered, clearly embarrassed at the sudden attention, "I know Mercedes' brother only comes home every other weekend now, but he's probably going to want his room back when he comes home for the summer." She glanced at Artie before continuing. "I was just going to tell you that if you wanted to stay here for the summer, you could. Artie's getting his license soon, so he could take you to work with him, and I could teach you how to do your nails, if you want. The market's open all summer, too, and the lake isn't too far away if you maybe want to go with us sometime."
When Kurt had initially proposed that Quinn stay with Tina, and even before, when Tina had first offered her a room for the week, Quinn hadn't been entirely sure. This time, there was no hesitation. "I'd love to," she said firmly, her smile genuine. Tina smiled back.
Artie groaned. "What?" he protested, noticing the dirty looks he was receiving. "I just realized I'm going to be spending an entire summer watching reruns of every show Joss Whedon ever made. I'm allowed a minute of self-indulgence." Tina laughed at him, squeezing his hand again.
Quinn stood up. "Kurt and Mercedes are probably wondering if I'm dead yet," she admitted sheepishly. "I should probably go tell them that I'm fine." Artie and Tina exchanged a quick glance, and Tina nodded at his questioning look. "Tell them they might as well come in," Artie told Quinn. "We'll order a pizza. Ow! I mean Chinese," he amended quickly, as Tina tugged his sleeve impatiently. "Use your words—what are you, five?" he pouted.
Quinn shook her head fondly at her friends. Friends. That sounded nice. "I'll be right back," she promised, grinning.
Just before stepping out of the kitchen, though, she looked back over her shoulder. "It'll probably take me about five minutes to explain that we're okay before I tell them we're invited for dinner," she reasoned.
"Just in case you wanted to make out while I'm gone, or something."
She closed the door just in time—the roll of paper towels that Tina threw at her head hit the door with a solid thunk.