Author's Note, 06/24/2013: This isn't an update, please don't hate me. I don't think I have anything more to add to this story. However, I was cleaning out my writing folder and read back over this and made a few structural changes that I'd always meant to- just switched around some of the flashback scenes- and figured I'd go ahead and put it up here. All of the original disclaimers apply.
Warning: this story deals with abuse. It's neither extreme in nature, nor graphic in description, but it's the central theme. If that bothers you (which I get, cos it totally bothers me), I'd suggest not reading it.
Author's Note: I hate this story. I so didn't want to write it. But it came into my head and absolutely refused to leave. I've been fighting against writing it for almost two months now, because abuse is not something that I want to write about. Hopefully, though, now that it's out of my head and on paper (er... y'know, Word document), it'll leave me alone.
The ceiling fan is loose. Her—their—apartment is fabulous and extravagant, topping a gorgeous restored old building in Manhattan; there's a doorman who has a full salary and benefits to make sure no one ever has to open a door or carry a bag alone, a fabulously efficient maid, a kitchen that costs twice as much as her parents' house in Ohio.
All of that, and the ceiling fan is still loose. Its leisurely spin creates tiny arrhythmic squeaks as it swirls the air around their bedroom. She sits on the half-couch on one side of the room, shivering in the cool air, and stares blankly at the bed, teeth worrying at her lower lip. The fluffy comforter—they had two of them because both fell in love with it while shopping and went out later to secretly by it as a surprise for one another—is tousled and lumpy looking in the dark, the city lights not strong enough to reach up to their windows. If she squints (she doesn't) she can see the slight, minuscule movements of the comforter shifting with each slow inhale and exhale of the body beneath it.
The palm of her hand still stings from a slap that left a pale bruise on paler skin.
The ceiling fan squeaks again, and she sighs. Exhausted by guilt that struggles against fury and churns her stomach, knowing that she has a breakfast meeting with her agent and a morning rehearsal in four hours, she pushes herself up from the couch and makes her way back to bed.
Her hand throbs even more when she's slipped under the covers and an arm reaches out in sleep to wrap around her stomach, a leg twining around her calf, a tousled head coming to rest demurely on her shoulder.
She stares at the ceiling, motionless in the embrace, and counts sheep until she drifts off.
They've been together for nine years, one month, and ten days when they buy their first real apartment. The beautiful old building was restored a year earlier, and no one had yet snatched up the penthouse suite. When Quinn's first big bonus comes in—and oh, God is it huge, because apparently even junior money managers get six figure bonuses when they're that good at what they do—they go out the next day and pay for it outright.
At nine years, one month, and sixteen days, their barely-unpacked home is christened by Quinn's voice slicing through the air like a razor, highlighting and picking apart Rachel's every flaw as Rachel stands there, torn between hurt and fury, her fists shaking with the effort of not hurling the soufflé dish in her hands at Quinn's sneer.
An hour later, Quinn's sneer is gone and Rachel is bellowing through the bathroom door for Quinn to open up, hands slamming loudly against the doorjamb. Her hands are shaking, palms hot and aching as much from impacting against the door as they are from the residual heat in Quinn's skin as Rachel had gripped tightly to her arms, fingernails digging in and shaking her bodily and not even noticing that Quinn's back was impacting the wall as she tried so desperately to make Quinn understand just how much her words hurt.
Rachel wakes five minutes before her alarm is set to go off. Quinn is already in the bathroom, the door half-ajar and light flooding into half of the room. With a yawn, Rachel forces herself out of bed, pausing in the door of the bathroom as she sees Quinn putting the finishing touches on her make-up. The pale bruise from the night before is invisible, and Quinn smiles brightly at Rachel, pressing a kiss to her cheek and mentioning cheerfully that she's already made coffee as she heads towards the closet.
Rachel, exhausted and frustrated and feeling like she's walking in a dream, mumbles something incoherent and, as she turns on the hot water for a shower, refuses to acknowledge the fact that Quinn's smile was tight, her eyes guarded.
They've been together for two years, six months, two weeks, and four days when they break up.
It was the worst fight they'd ever had. Rachel's explosive energy that powered everything she did ruptured like a volcano when she saw one of Quinn's classmates trying to ask the blonde out at a party, and she had stormed over to plant herself between Quinn and the tall man possessively before violently shoving him away. Quinn had seethed for three days, her rage building and building until she snapped, her voice deathly quiet and face ashen with anger as they argued in their tiny living room and she methodically deconstructed every flaw she had ever noticed in Rachel Berry, reducing the brunette to great wracking sobs before she sneered triumphantly and stormed out of the apartment.
When she returned home that night, Rachel had put herself back together and spent the hours alone pacing the apartment and growing more and more furious; she was shouting before Quinn had even shut the front door. And, just like the first time by the park bench and the second time in a restaurant bathroom and every single time after that, yelling leads to grabbing and ends with bruises on Quinn's arms and Rachel's fingernails ripped and torn from the taller girl violently wrenching Rachel's hands away and shoving her off.
And like every time before, Quinn is the one who crumples first, tears and shaking hands and insisting that Rachel deserves to have her anger, her righteousness, her fury after so many years in their childhood of taunts and sneers and torment.
In the middle of the night, Rachel wakes up in their bed to see Quinn stealthily packing an overnight bag. She fakes sleep when Quinn pauses by the bed, feels Quinn's hand hovering lightly over her cheek before lips brush against her forehead and a tear drops thunderously to the pillow beside her cheek, and doesn't move until she hears the telltale squeak of the front door shutting and locking. Only then does she roll over, curling on her side around the pain in her gut.
She doesn't sleep the for the four days until Quinn returns, instead simply laying in their bed with her knees curled up to her chest in a desperate attempt to alleviate the crippling ache in her abdomen.
Their living room is a mess. Rachel grimaces, knowing that their cleaning lady is going to have a fit. There's a broken wine bottle on the floor, thankfully empty, its glass shards scattered across the hardwood at the base of the wall Quinn had hurled it against. An end table is overturned, victim to Rachel's booted toe.
Picking her way through the carnage, pretending it's not there (because it's never there, not the morning after), she makes her way into the kitchen. Quinn is standing at the counter, briefcase propped against a stack of files and the newspaper spread out in front of her as she finishes a bowl of yogurt. Rachel stares at her back, sipping at the coffee in her hands, and curses herself for not knowing that the tension she had seen building and building in Quinn's shoulders for weeks was bound to set her off eventually. She wonders, after ten years together, how she didn't see what was coming.
They've been together six years, eight months, one weeks, and six days when Rachel fakes sick from a rehearsal and comes home early with flowers and take out to make up for the previous night's argument and a bruise blooming on Quinn's cheekbone (even if they pretend it isn't there, because it's never there the morning after). She slips into the apartment silently, knowing that Quinn is probably sitting in bed with her notes spread around her, studying furiously for finals.
The soft sound of talking surprises her, drawing her attention to the bedroom. Drawn to the sound, she tiptoes to the door, peering in the narrow crack to see Santana pacing furiously up and down the room, Quinn sitting dejectedly on their bed, surrounded by books and notes and a laptop. A patch of blue and purple is spread across her skin, peeking around the frames of her glasses, and Rachel's fingernails dig into her palms at the sight of it.
"You need to stop this, Q," Santana snarls, slamming to a stop and glaring at Quinn, fists pressed to her waist.
"It's not a big deal," Quinn says quietly. "Besides it's not like I'm not just as bad."
"Okay, one," Santana snaps, jabbing a finger towards Quinn and starting to pace again. "You're not. She's not walking around with fucking bruises from you. And two, even if you were—which you aren't—then you'd just be proving me more right. You need to get the hell out of this relationship, Quinn! It's not healthy."
"I can't," Quinn says. Her voice is soft but solid, and Rachel bites her lip as she sees Quinn square her shoulders.
"You can," Santana throws back. "She's like the size of a mouse, I'll beat the shit out of her if she tries to come near you again."
"That's not what I meant," Quinn snaps. She glares at Santana, chin lifting. "I need her, S. It's…. it's Rachel, okay? I love her."
"Quinn, look in the fucking mirror!" Santana shouts. "She's hurting you, goddammit."
"I don't care!" Quinn bellows, slamming her hands down on the textbook in her lap with a dull thud. "I love her, and we fight, but everyone fights. I don't care if it hurts because God knows I hurt her enough in the past and God knows my temper is just as bad as hers."
"Quinn," Santana says softly, and Rachel's eyes widen. She doesn't know if she's ever heard Santana Lopez sound so defeated. "It's not the same. I've known you my whole life, I know how your temper plays out. I know you throw shit when you lose it, but you've never hit anyone, never thrown them into a wall, never left her with bruises she has to cover up."
"I break her," Quinn mumbles. "I don't mean to, but I do. I try so hard to keep it in, to hold onto it, to not snap, but I always lose control. I say awful things to her, S, and it hurts her so much."
"It's not the same," Santana says stubbornly.
"No," Quinn says, her voice closer to a breath than a whisper. "It's worse."
Rachel slips away silently, making her way to the front door and slamming it loudly before calling out to Quinn in a cheerful voice.
Santana glares at her furiously on the way out, pure murder in her eyes at the sight of the flowers in Rachel's hands, and Rachel feels like she might be the worst person to ever walk on the planet.
She pastes on a contrite smile—it's not hard because she actually means it—and spends the day helping Quinn study while they eat take out and lay comfortably intertwined on the couch.
She leaves her rehearsal halfway through, citing a headache and exhaustion and needing time to recover before that night's performance. At home, she stumbles into their bedroom and flops down on the bed. A startled squeak as her body hits the mattress surprises her, and she leaps back up with a yell. Quinn sits bolt upright, staring at her in shock.
"Hey," she says uncertainly, biting down on her lower lip. "I thought you were at rehearsal."
"We broke early," Rachel lies. She crosses her arms over her stomach, unable to keep her eyes from straying to the bruise on Quinn's jaw, visible with her makeup gone. "Why aren't you at work?"
"I was tired," Quinn mumbles. "I told David I needed the afternoon off. To catch up on sleep." She gestures half-heartedly to the yoga pants and t-shirt she's wearing, the pillow, the comforter.
"I'll just…" Rachel waves ineffectually at the door, starting to make her way back to the living room.
Quinn's voice tugs at her, stopping her in her tracks. Rachel feels a prickle of apprehension as she turns around. They stare at one another for painfully long seconds, both fidgeting nervously and waiting for the other to break the silence.
"You need to move out."
The words shatter between them, slamming into Rachel like shards of glass. Her throat contracts, her stomach twisting, and it hurts so dramatically that she's positive it's done irreparable damage, that she'll never sing again because there's something cold and sharp stabbing at her windpipe.
They've been together for one year, three weeks, and thirteen days on the day the graduate from high school. Hand in hand, they bound out of the auditorium, matching red gowns whipping around their knees as they rush to join their friends for a last round of pictures. Rachel's dads stand with Quinn's mother, the awkwardness always there but buried beneath decorum and courtesy and Judy Fabray's terror at the possibility of losing her youngest daughter again.
Pictures are taken, promises made, tears shed and embraces that last too long before everyone eventually parts ways. Rachel and Quinn tell their parents they're going to the party that Mercedes is throwing, and tell Mercedes that they both have family commitments, and they drive Rachel's car to the next town to have dinner alone, where they can hold hands and be disgustingly in love and not make anyone they know uncomfortable.
Rachel chatters excitedly throughout the meal, her paratactic ramblings leaping from nostalgia to summer plans to their upcoming years in New York. Quinn is quiet, listening contentedly as she works her way through her food. After they argue about who should pick up the check (Quinn wins), they walk across the street to a park and stroll aimlessly in the fading sunlight of early summer.
Neither knows what prompted it. But somehow Quinn restraining herself from being too optimistic about her—their—future turned into Rachel seething that Quinn was merely passing time with her, which slid into retorts about practicality over dreaming, and suddenly they were standing toe-to-toe in front of the bench they had been sitting at, snapping at one another furiously. And then Rachel—her temper was always the explosive one, Quinn's leaning more towards ice and cruelty and delivering the most devastating blow possible—is grabbing at Quinn's arms, fingernails digging into bare skin as she yells at Quinn that I love you and I don't understand why you don't believe that that's all that matters.
And Quinn is just standing there, glaring, letting fingernails break skin and draw blood, half of her lost in her own anger and the other half focused on nothing but the fact that Rachel is gripping her to the point of injury and maybe—maybe—this is what she deserves for years of taunts and sneers, for sin and transgression and her every mistake. So she just stands there, wanting to focus on the anger to distract from the pain just as much as she wants to focus on the pain to subdue her anger.
Suddenly, Rachel is silent, and she leaps back, hands coming up to her mouth, a horrified look in her eyes as she stares at dark red marks marring Quinn's arms, half-moon crescents blooming and dripping with tiny drops of blood. And as quickly as it spiraled out of control, it all flies back together, and they're sitting on the bench once more, all tears and apologies and reassurances, nothing but the lightest touches and honest condolences.
Santana shows up as Rachel is almost done packing. She stands in the doorway to the bedroom, arms folded over her chest as she glares venomously at Rachel, practically daring the smaller girl to try and say something in her defense.
Rachel is silent, shoulders slumped as she meticulously packs as much of her wardrobe as she can into her suitcases. She wants to argue, to cry, to scream, to do anything to convince any one of them—Quinn, Santana, herself—that she deserves to stay, that she wants to stay, that they can sort it out.
Instead, she zips up her suitcases and does a slow once-over of the room to make sure she hasn't missed anything. Her throat aches unbelievably, and she hasn't said a word the entire time, uncertain that she's even capable of creating sound at all. A part of her wants to yell and cry, to beg, to cling and grovel and do anything for one more chance to make things right. Another part of her wants to throw Santana out of the apartment and lock Quinn in and do everything in her power to keep them together. They've been together for almost eleven years and Rachel doesn't know if she can function without Quinn at her side; she's terrified and confused and manic at even the possibility, desperately grasping at straws in her mind in an attempt to formulate a plan to make things right.
Beneath it all—all of the desperation and pain and fear and heartbreak and self-loathing—lurks anger, a tiny comforting core of emotion warm in her chest. It drives awful and impossible ideas into her skull. She wants to douse the entire apartment in alcohol and set it ablaze. If she has to be without Quinn, she doesn't want to be alone in her suffering.
Instead, she takes a deep breath and starts to wheel her suitcase to the door. She stops, waiting for Santana to give her room to pass.
The taller girl glares down her at her. "You will not come back," she says lowly. "Come near her, and I will end you."
The thrill of fear that Rachel expects at the entirely real threat never comes. Her body is wracked with too many emotions, all battling violently against one another, and there's simply no room at all for fear.
"Take care of her," Rachel whispers. Her throat burns as the words, barely audible, feel like they're being torn out of her. "Please."
Santana is silent, staring down at her with distaste and rage and violence bubbling in dark eyes. She finally moves, stepping back into the hall to give Rachel room to pass. She follows a stride behind Rachel, out to the living room, where Quinn is sitting on the couch with Brittany, knees pulled up to her chest and Brittany's arms around her comfortingly. Rachel opens her mouth to speak, but the bland look in Brittany's eyes, the anger pulsating off of Santana in waves, the bruise still visible on Quinn's jaw, all stop her.
Instead, she simply makes her way out of the apartment. Her resolve keeps intact until she makes it to a hotel room.
She doesn't sleep for six days, her whole body trembling with the feeling of something crushing her windpipe, smashing together her insides, cruelly steamrolling everything inside of her. Inexplicably, desperately, she misses the arrhythmic squeak of the loose ceiling fan.
They've been together for one hour, three minutes, and seventeen seconds.
"I'm scared," Quinn blurts out. They're sitting in Rachel's living room, Rachel perched delicately on the arm of a chair and Quinn curled around herself on the couch. Studying for a calculus test had somehow lead to a single kiss and an hour of awkward silence and halted attempts at conversations as they both grappled with the situation.
"I don't want to get hurt again," Quinn goes on, her words muffled as she speaks to her knees.
Rachel appears at her side, making her jump as she takes Quinn's hands gently in her own, all clenched jaw and serious eyes and silent promises of the world and all it has to offer.
"I won't hurt you," Rachel says softly. She leans forward to press a cautious kiss to Quinn's lips. "I'll never hurt you."