A/N: This is based on a prompt from the glee_angst_meme on LJ: Rachel Berry is going deaf. This chapter is Rachel's POV; the next is Quinn's, and the following is... well, someone else's :)
It starts when Kurt rolls his eyes at you, after you have to ask him to repeat what he said for a second time. He just shakes his head and says, "Never mind, Rachel." And you want to stop him when he returns to his seat, to explain to him that you heard most of the words, just not all, and you don't want to make assumptions because Rachel Berry doesn't do that. (Even though you know you totally do.)
After class, Quinn catches up to you and takes your hand, not caring that she's never done that before in school, and you're staring down at your linked fingers when your left ear barely catches the words.
"You need to go to the doctor."
You go to the ENT first, and Quinn holds your hand in the waiting room, running her thumb along your palm. She ducks her head and bends close, her lips brushing your ear as she whispers how everything will be okay. You just want to cry, because you know it won't: you can barely hear what she's saying.
The doctor checks both your ears and announces that you've ruptured both your eardrums. You remember sinus infections with an excruciating sore throat that seemed to extend from the top of your head to your shoulder, but always shrugged them off since they were gone in a few days. The doctor rattles off words like chronic ear infections, tinnitus, and other words that you don't really care about, just the words she says when she sets you up with an audiologist, and schedules a CT scan.
Quinn punches you lightly in the shoulder and says, "See, told you there was something wrong in your head, Berry."
You smile, for her sake.
You hate these little rooms. Even if you could do what Quinn suggested, and pretend you were in a recording studio, there's no microphone. Just you and the headphones and the little clicky button… thing. A part of you dreams, perversely, of clicking the button and blowing up yourself and the entire audiology department. But Quinn's in the waiting room, and, well, you don't want to blow her up. So you simply click the button when you hear a sound, and hold your hands in your lap when you don't. Briefly you panic because you know it's been at least thirty seconds and you haven't heard anything. Your breath comes in short, sharp rasps and all you can think is that you've failed, you've failed this test.
And you have.
Severe conductive hearing loss.
You stare at the chart, trying to make sense of the little line graphs, and you curse yourself for not doing better in math. Then you scowl when Quinn yanks the paper out of your hands as the doctor talks to you, and for a brief second you question your sanity at asking the audiologist if Quinn could join you. She's in calculus, so of course she understands what she's reading, and that's why Quinn's eyes are wide and her teeth are worrying her trembling lower lip as the audiologist explains that you are sixty percent deaf in your left ear, but luckily you've only lost twenty percent in your right.
You ask the audiologist if your hearing can be recovered. The logical part of you knows that it's a dumb question, but the Rachel Berry that was nursed on Broadway tunes has hope. The audiologist shakes his head. Once it's gone, it's gone.
You lie to Quinn on the way to the parking lot and say that you're fine, that you're Rachel Berry, for goodness' sake, and this? Totally isn't going to break you. She looks at you, but doesn't push the issue, and when you get home you know she lets you touch her in all the best places because she's worried about you. But Quinn is home, Quinn is safety, Quinn is… the chance to forget. You take that chance when you can, whether it's over slushies, glee, or… this.
Later that night she holds you when you break down, because as you were watching television you had to turn up the sound, and you see Quinn, out of the corner of your eye, wince at its volume. It all starts coming together for you then: the constant ear infections you had when you were little, the allergies, sitting up front in classrooms so you wouldn't have to strain to hear the teacher, the way you had to press your cellphone to your ear, even though the volume was turned all the way up. The way Quinn would eye you as you listened to your iPod, then remark casually that maybe you ought to turn it down?
"You'll ruin your ears!" she'd laugh, smiling lovingly at you, and you know she regrets it, now.
But it's too late, she was right, and you did.
You kind of freak out before the CT scan, which results in Quinn totally making out with you to "calm you down." You think that you should freak out more often. She can't go back with you but she holds your hand until they call you, and you wonder how you ever got through anything in your life before Quinn. Which is weird, considering that she was the cause of a lot of it. But things are different now; she's different, you're different, and the past doesn't matter.
It's the future you're terrified of, now, as you lie on the table and feel it move, sliding you backwards underneath the camera. You freak out again and move, and they have to do it again. So you clench your hands to your sides, close your eyes, and think of Funny Girl.
That just makes it worse.
You go back to the ENT, but this time, you won't let Quinn go with you. Her face registers hurt, then anger, then returns to hurt, and you feel it again: that ache in your heart that you get when you want to say something, but the words just won't come. It doesn't happen often – you're Rachel, after all. But when it does happen, it's raw and you'd do anything to stop the tears that are forming in Quinn's eyes. You can't, so you just get in her car and drive, leaving her on the sidewalk, with your dads, in front of your house.
You can't even pronounce the word, and your doctor has to repeat it three times, each time slower. Cholesteatoma. For some reason, after that, you have such striking clarity that you wonder why the hell you're in the ear, nose, and throat doctor's office and she's telling you that you have a destructive growths in both ears that are going to get bigger if left untreated. And the only way it can be treated is through surgery. You sit numbly and sign the papers, then write the time that you need to be at the hospital in your dayplanner.
On the way home, you turn on your cd player, to the glee mix cd that Kurt had made everyone. You turn the knob until it won't turn any more, grateful for the pain in your ears and the steady thump of music coursing through your body. You think about all the things you've missed out on, and worry about what else you'll miss. The glee kids surrounding you, their voices raised and happy in more-or-less perfect harmony. Pitch doesn't matter now. The sound of the wind chimes on your front porch, the rain and thunder, wind rustling through the trees as you walk home from school.
On the upside, you won't hear the jeers anymore. You won't hear manhands or treasure trail or Rupaul anymore – even though you hadn't heard it much at all lately, except from Santana until Quinn had growled and advanced on her so quickly that for the first time in her life, Santana Lopez ran. You won't have to hear football players laughing at you or anyone else, won't have to hear some poor Rachel Berry Jr. get the beatdown in the middle of the hallway.
And that part of this whole thing, at least, is a dream come true.
When you get home, Quinn is sitting on the couch watching television, trying desperately to look like she hasn't been crying for the last two hours, and failing miserably. You don't say anything, just sit close to her and rest your head on her shoulder while handing her all the brochures and information that the doctor gave you. Quinn is like a barracuda when it comes to your health, devouring any piece of information she can get her hands on. She flips through every single bit of it as your gaze turns to the television. Your brow furrows when you see letters and text scrolling on the screen, and you jump up and run to your room (with Quinn in pursuit) when you realize she'd turned the captioning on.
"I thought it would help!" she cries, standing there looking at you sitting on the edge of the bed. She seems so helpless, blonde hair tousled and in her face, her mouth curled in pain and mascara running. You think simultaneously that you should leave, because she doesn't deserve this; and that you can't leave, because she's never looked more beautiful to you than she does right now.
"I thought it would help," she whispers as you stand up, and you can't do anything but take her in your arms and kiss her until she stops crying, but then it's your turn to sob and be comforted, even though there's no comforting this, this one thing that will break you, the one thing that you value above the stardom, the fame, the music.
You can't even bear to look at her as the words leave your lips and hang in the air.
"I don't want to forget your voice."
That night Quinn makes sure that every sigh, every moan, every word that escapes her, as your hands roam her body, is directly against your ear.
You try to keep up the essence of Rachel Berry in the hospital before your surgery, causing Quinn to roll her eyes at you more than once.
But she giggles at you whenever you're given something to relax, and you scoff.
"Please, I'm Rachel Berry, this kind of stuff doesn't affect…. Ooh, pretty colors!"
The surgery takes three hours. When you wake up you're alone and you try to get up, but kind hands press you down, and your dads and Quinn are waiting for you up in your room. Your dads smile and coo over you, then excuse themselves to get something to eat. Quinn sits next to you. She strokes your hair and feeds you ice chips, looking at you with the most loving expression as she quietly breaks your heart.
The growth destroyed the majority of the inner ear bones on your left side, and you're now completely deaf in that ear. The right side is not that bad, yet, but it will only get worse. They can fit you with a hearing aid, but the doctor predicts you'll be deaf by the time you're twenty-one. Deaf by the time you and Quinn would be able to begin an actual real life together, just the two of you.
You turn away from her and beg her, through clenched teeth, to leave you.
You cry yourself to sleep, and when you wake up sometime around midnight, you feel Quinn next to you in the bed, her arms wrapped around you from behind.
When she wakes up and finds you watching her, she yawns and smiles, but the smile fades when you snap that you're defective, or at least going to be, that you can't offer her any kind of life if you're deaf (even though you know that's not really true), and she should just get out while she has the chance.
She stares you down with those icy hazel eyes that you remember so well, and says, "Shut up, Berry."
Then follows two weeks of Quinn not letting you leave the bed, which is torture, and not letting you touch her, and that is pure hell. When you finally feel your equilibrium return enough to creep downstairs, Quinn rushes to meet you halfway, glaring at you, and you just smile and shake your head.
Then you see the books.
Five of them, stacked neatly on the coffee table, and another, open.
You stare at her. She chews her lip, looking uncertain. You look at her, at the books, and back at her. She has fear mixed with the love in her eyes, and you don't blame her, given the way you've acted for the last few months.
Glee. Broadway. Stardom. It just doesn't matter anymore. You'd give it all up, for her.
You're not the only one surprised when you raise your hand, with your thumb, index finger, and pinky extended.
I love you.
Quinn's smile lights up her face, and tears wet her cheeks as she raises her hand, touching a thumb, index finger, and pinky to yours.
It's the only sign you'll ever need.