A/N: Written for hc_bingo, the prompt: "loss of voice." Not... really sure how plausible this is, but hopefully it's not disrespectful.


Definitions

Tina wasn't prepared for this. Oh, she had been warned, of course – it would have just been too cruel to Rachel to have them all expecting to hear her, and then, nothing. So Mr. Schuester sent out an email to anyone who cared enough for Rachel Berry for it to be relevant; telling them of the throat cancer and what happened. So they had been warned. Artie had said something about being supportive, but not patronizing when they saw her, and Tina just nodded along because what did she know about this sort of thing.

So yeah, she was warned. But she wasn't prepared.

Rachel still commands the room, even when no-one's paying her any attention; she throws her hair back (short now, and Tina can't help but wonder about the chemo) and Tina honestly expects her to break into one of her patented Rachel Berry tirades.

She doesn't, duh. She does, however, break into a grin when she sees Tina and wave like a madwoman. Tina waves back shyly and approaches her.

"Hi," says Tina.

Rachel makes some sort of gesture with her hands, her face still almost split in two by her smile. Then suddenly she looks worried.

"I, uh..." Tina says, "I don't speak... well, know... sign language."

Rachel nods, and reaches into her pocket, drawing out a pad of paper and a small pencil. She writes something quickly, and shows it to Tina.

Understandable. How are you?

Tina's a little taken aback, although she shouldn't be. "Um. Good," she says. Then she thinks and reaches for the pad. "Should I–"

Rachel shakes her off. Not deaf, she writes quickly.

"Oh," says Tina. "Um, should we sit down?"

Rachel thinks this over and nods. She quickly notes on the paper: easier to write.

Tina nods. "Yeah," she says, and they sit. Tina can't help but feel incredibly uncomfortable.

"So, um," she starts. "Where have you... uh..."

Rachel slides a note over. You can talk about it if you want to.

Tina stares at it. "You sure?"

Rachel shrugs. It's been all anyone's been talking about all evening. I should be encouraged that my voice was so appreciated back when I had it.

Tina winces. She did define Rachel majorly by her voice; everyone did. She was Rachel Berry; she was loud and slightly annoying, and the best damn singer in their school. Town. The two went hand in hand, and whatever Rachel did she was using that voice for something. Everyone had Rachel's identity wrapped up in her voice, most of all Rachel herself.

And that makes Tina think. If she's struggling figuring Rachel out without a voice, how the hell is Rachel herself coping with it?

"So, um," she says uncomfortably. "Have you been... You know... okay?"

Rachel pauses, and then starts writing something. It takes a damn long time – is she writing an essay? – but by the time she's done, there are tears prickling her eyes. Tina grabs it and reads as quickly as she can, biting her lip in concern.

I'd be lying if I said yes. Right after the surgery I used to just lie in my bed and cry all day because of what happened to my dream. I probably would have thrown myself off the roof of my apartment building if not for my dads hovering over me 24/7. I still feel, a lot of the time, that it's just not worth it; that the only part of me that was ever worth anything was my voice, and now it's gone I'm... But it's been a year, right? I should be over it.

"Rachel," Tina says. "You don't have to 'be over it'. You don't have to be anything. Your voice was really important to you, and if you still aren't okay with what happened – because who would be okay? – that's absolutely fine. If it still matters to you, it matters period."

She sounds like a PSA, but Rachel was always overdramatic anyway. She looks away uncomfortably, and Tina stares at her, wondering what she can say.

"Did you know Artie wants to dance?"

Rachel looks back in confusion. Tina nods.

"It's true. He told me in sophomore year, but apparently it had been his dream all his life. He doesn't talk about it much anymore, because he's given up hope, but... sometimes he breaks my heart. And sometimes... the amount he can love something he'll never do again – in the way he wants anyway – it makes me smile so much."

Rachel smiles too. I'm glad you two stayed together. It's like some hope.

Tina nods. "Yeah, well, we had our big catastrophe in junior year, remember."

Rachel laughs silently. It looks strange and unnatural, but that's probably Tina's able-bodied privilege talking, so she'll shut up.

Yeah. There is only so much drama assigned to each particular person.

"No offense? But you really got more than your fair share."

Rachel nods. I completely agree.

"Do you have instant messenger?"

Rachel frowns. Not really. Why?

Tina shrugs. "We shouldn't just go away from this whole reunion with nothing. I don't think we should lose touch after this; we should talk. Normally I'd ask for your phone number, but..."

Rachel smiles and nods. Sure. I'd like that.

It's a little uncomfortable again. "So..." Tina bites her lip. "Apart from becoming our newest token, what have you done with your life?"

Rachel laughs, and by the time she's finished Tina could probably write her thesis on the essay Rachel presents her with.