A/N: ...Apparently, I can write angst (ninja!angst!), judging from the reactions I got for the previous chap. But don't worry, the fluff is back with a vengeance and will melt it all away with the warm and the fuzzy! I hope you guys like how I end this, because some people expressed some really strong feelings about how it should play out.

So this ends my first attempt at a multi-chap fic. Any constructive crit would be really awesome for my writing in the future. Though I would be equally happy if you just left a smiley face if only to let me know you read and enjoyed this story (anonymous/accountless posting is enabled). Thank you!

Many hugs to my beta, crimsonrosepetals, for letting me bug her endlessly, even if she had to study for an exam (aww!), and even if Faberry does absolutely nothing for her (blasphemy!).

And the Glee premiere, just how awesome was that? Woo! :D

Long author's note is long.


Chapter 06

Santana pulls her into the girl's bathroom first thing in the morning, and leans back against the door. "You look like crap, Berry."

Rachel doesn't bat an eyelash.

"Wow, you must be even worse than you look if you're not even trying to answer back."

"Is there a point to all this?" sighs the diva.

"Yes. You need to talk to Quinn."

Rachel whimpers, "I've tried!"

"You need to try harder." the Latina insists. "She's as much of a mess as you are."

"It certainly doesn't seem like it."

Santana narrows her eyes. "She went out last night and got drunk off her ass. By the time Kurt and I got to her, she was halfway to alcohol poisoning. And although she's had a couple of beers every now and then, she actually hadn't gotten even tipsy ever since she got pregnant until last night. She's a mess, trust me." She rubs her temples, and grumbles, "I want to slug that useless, idiot barista… couldn't fucking keep Quinn in check."

The brunette stiffens. Quinn had drinks with Nikki? A now-familiar pain shoots through her again. "She clearly doesn't want to have anything to do with me. Why don't you talk to her?"

"Because that's not how Quinn and I work. When shit happens, I beat up the person responsible for pissing her off. And she does the same for me, in her own way. Neither of us is really good with the words and the talking and all that emotional stuff."

"You're good at it with Brittany." Rachel points out.

"That's because it's me and Brittany, and that's how we work." the tan cheerleader sighs, obviously annoyed at having to explain this much. "It's not the same for Quinn and Brittany either. That involves mostly cuddling. And there's still no talking. But you are married to your vocal chords."

The diva now looks slightly affronted and still unconvinced. Santana almost growls, but forces herself to loosen her stance and moderate her voice. "Look, don't you think I would fix this if I could? Don't you think I've tried to as well? Don't you think I wish that things were different— that when my best friend, like, gets fucking pregnant, she could actually feel comfortable enough to discuss it with me properly and I could actually feel comfortable enough to listen? I'm not just being lazy about this by dumping it on you."

Rachel softens as well. "I'm sorry, Santana, I didn't—"

The Latina holds up a hand. "It's okay. The point is we're not perfect, just badass… although that's pretty close. I'm doing what I can, but this is between the two of you. So fix it. Use your head. Or your heart, or whatever, I don't care if you annoy her back into being your friend."

The brunette's face falls. "I do want to fix it. I was never even truly angry with her in the first place. I was being… kind of petty." She coughs, remembering how it was really her jealousy that had fueled her supposedly 'righteous' anger. "I mean, I started the fight over something that I felt was significant, yes. You should know how I feel about bullying. But it wasn't so important that I couldn't have just let it go after expressing my initial feelings, or simply handled it better in another way. We both ended up going overboard." She runs a hand through her hair in exasperation. "There really wasn't anything new about the way she reacted either— the insults, the slushie. And all the other pranks and whatnot that followed weren't her. That was the rest of the school jumping at the chance to make up for lost time and pick on me again. The only truly worrisome issue is glee."

"Artie and Tina suggested ganging up on her, or something. But that'll probably just make things worse."

"Yes, that would only antagonize her further. That's the last thing we need. If there's one thing I've learned from this, it's that Quinn abhors being told she's wrong."

Santana winces. "You have no idea. Her dad used to—" she shakes her head, "Nevermind. So this is gonna sound kinda funny, considering your height, but you're a really big person, you know that? Most people would want to shank her."

Rachel chuckles sadly, "That would be quite counterproductive to me, considering the part of this that hurts the most isn't really what she did, or is doing, but that I miss her."


Today is different. Quinn isn't ignoring her, because the blonde isn't giving her the chance to be ignored. Quinn is actively avoiding her.

The blonde walks in five minutes late to all their shared classes, kicks the person seated closest to the door out of their seat, and is gone in mere seconds when the bell rings. She's nowhere to be found during lunch— Rachel checks everywhere she can think of, twice. The brunette's head turns at every flash of golden yellow in the hallways, but none of them are Quinn.

Rachel's seen her enough to notice the bloodshot eyes and the way Quinn's shoulders are more slumped than usual though and the way she spaces out in Physics, her favorite subject.

Finally, at the end of the day, Rachel decides to conduct a stakeout outside the locker rooms, where Quinn will have to go before Cheerios practice. She sprints out of her last period, determined to get there before the cheerleader.

And as she turns the corner leading right to the gym, she hurtles into Dave Karofsky, making him spill the contents of his water bottle all over his pants.

They both stare down in horror at the mess as the rest of the hockey team snorts and other onlookers jeer about bladder control. Then Karofsky looks up and glares at her. "You did that on purpose."

"No, I—"

A loud smack. And then pin-drop silence.

Rachel stumbles backwards, instinctively reaching up to cup her cheek, where Karofsky's backhand had connected. She thinks she feels herself lose her footing even further, and then she's falling—

—into a pair of arms wrapping around her from behind. They're solid and they feel like an old habit as she sinks back into them, and Rachel almost sobs because, god, she finally feels grounded for the first time in three excruciating days.

"Quinn…" she whispers.

Those arms squeeze around her waist just the tiniest bit, before disappearing. She's about to cry out in protest but then Quinn steps around to stand in front of her and she catches a glimpse of the blonde's face.

Quinn looks positively bored as she regards Karofsky, like he's even less interesting than talking to a rock. But something feels terribly off, there's something electric in the air and Rachel's sixth sense is pinging like crazy.

She feels a hand on her shoulder, and she turns her head slightly to Brittany, who's wearing the biggest frown she's ever seen on the tall cheerleader. Santana is beside her, absolutely livid, the red of her face evident despite her darker skin tone.

The hockey jock sneers at them. "She deserved it. She's a freak."

Quinn's duffel bag drops to the floor and the head cheerleader bends over to rifle through the contents of its side pocket.

"Q, what are—" Santana starts, but is interrupted by Brittany's hand on her chest.

"Remember that time in third grade when Eddie Burns ripped the head off of Q's stuffed doggy toy? The one she'd had since she was a baby?" whispers Brittany.

And Rachel gulps when, all at once, the color drains from Santana's features, now looking whiter than her girlfriend, and the Latina actually takes a step back. "Oh, fu—"

Quinn straightens, holding a rolled up magazine in one hand and something else the diva can't make out in the other. She takes a few languid steps towards Karofsky.

Dave snorts, "You gonna whack me with that, blondie?"

There's a click, and then Quinn is tossing a lighter to Santana, and one end of the magazine is on fire.

"Holy—"

Karofsky doesn't get to finish that sentiment because he's abruptly backed up against the lockers by an impromptu torch being waved in his face. Rachel now possesses a perfect understanding of the phrase 'calm before the storm'.

"What's the matter, Karofsky?" Quinn snarks. She points the flames at his pants. "I thought I could help you dry off, since you seemed so upset about getting wet."

"I'm sorry!" he cries, "I'm sor—"

"Not yet, you aren't." declares the blonde. "But you will be, after you spend a whole week wearing skirts and lipstick to school. Won't you?"

"I don't get this! I thought you hated her again? The other guys have been—"

"I don't care what you think, you turd. In fact, I didn't even know you could think. But since you can apparently understand words, I'm going to say this. And I'm only going to say it once, so listen carefully. You, and everyone else, better stay away from her. Because if I find out that even just one hair on her head has been touched…" She finishes by thrusting the magazine dangerously close to his groin.

He nods vigorously.

"Wonderful." And she casts the burning periodical at him.

He yelps when it makes contact with his chest and he fumbles around before it drops to the floor.

"The devil—" Sue Sylvester arrives at the scene and stomps down on the flames. "I'm pissed off and wondering where the hell my Cheerios are, especially my captain, and I find her playing arsonist? Back off him, Q. And if you like fire that much, I can send you straight to hell. Figgins' office, now! And that goes for you too, Jason-face." The coach marches off in the direction of the principal.

Quinn turns to Rachel and her expression instantaneously morphs from outrage to pain and regret. Rachel has seen a similar look on the blonde, on that day she sat down beside Quinn in the hall after Finn had found about the baby not being his.

The cheerleader reaches out, as if to touch Rachel's rapidly bruising cheek, but seems to think better of it and drops her hand. "Take her to the nurse's office, B." she says quietly but firmly. Then she lifts up her duffel bag and follows after Sue. Karofsky trails her too, keeping a sizeable distance between himself and the head cheerleader.

Brittany sighs and nods at Santana, then steers Rachel around. "Ice pack time."

The diva glances over her shoulder one last time at Quinn's retreating back. If her gaze had lingered a second longer, she would've seen Quinn do the same.


"I don't understand her, Brittany." Rachel sighs, pressing the cold compress to her cheek.

The blonde chuckles, folding her arms together, "That's okay."

"Is it really?"

Brittany nods. "You don't have to get everything, Rachel. Some stuff you just have to accept. Like math formulas."

The brunette smiles sadly. "Well. Quinn is certainly a complicated equation." Then she frowns again. "I can't tell if she hates me, or what."

"She doesn't."

"But…"

Brittany takes a seat beside her on the bed, leaning back on her hands. "She's hurt because she doesn't hate you. She likes you. But you said not-nice things. She doesn't want you to think like that about her. She's been trying so hard for you, you know? And it's not easy for her. But she's been trying because she wants you to like her too."

"I…" Rachel bites her lip. "I do like her."

The cheerleader grins. "I know. But she thinks you don't anymore. So she got hurt. And Q and S are funny; they don't cry when they get hurt, they get mad instead. And Q's even madder now because she's more hurt. Didn't it hurt more when she slushied you this time than when she used to because you became friends since then?"

A few moments pass as Rachel processes, closing her eyes. Loyalty, forgiveness, humility, patience flash in her mind… no, it definitely couldn't have been easy. Change is never easy. And Quinn must have felt like her attempts at change, at being a better person, had blown up in her face. It wasn't difficult to revert back to being the person she was, to throw up the walls of steel that she used to employ to protect herself again. It's like relapse. It's actually somewhat expected at some point.

She reflects on today. Quinn stood up for her, almost just like she had on the first day of the school year. Another flashback takes her to the Monday after that, in the choir room with chairs strewn everywhere, Quinn asking her to leave… and it becomes clear that the blonde was avoiding her today to, once more, protect her from Quinn herself, in the blonde's own convoluted way. Belatedly, she realizes that might be another reason Quinn quit glee too. Quinn's been suffering alone.

She thinks of spontaneity, and how Quinn, kind of ironically, has been staying true to that word. It actually brings a smile to her face.

"She doesn't hate me."

"That's what I said, silly." Brittany throws an arm around Rachel's neck and leans in close. A serious look crosses the tall blonde's face. "I know Quinn is mean. And kind of stupid. She'll insult you when you don't deserve it, like she did that time in the cafeteria to both you and that guy, and you'll get hurt and you'll get pissed too. But I'll tell you a secret, Rach. If you stick with her, she'll make it worth your while. Because she's the type of person who'll think of something like the Conspiracy to help her dumb, blonde, farm-girl friend with most of her grades, even if she says it's for her own sake. Besides, you can be plenty nice for the both of you. It balances out."

Rachel stares at her. "Is that why you're so nice to everyone? To, in a way, make up for Santana and Quinn?"

Blue eyes twinkle. "Maybe."

The brunette's jaw drops. "I am so sorry I ever underestimated you."

Brittany laughs. "It's okay. I wanted you to. It's my way to both draw people to me and keep them at a distance."

"Okay, you're seriously some kind of ninja genius."

"Only when I need to be. I really like to keep things simple most of the time."

Rachel blows out a breath and giggles. She leans her head on the blonde's shoulder. Brittany pats her hair. They stay like that for several minutes, just enjoying the quiet after such a lively week.

Then Brittany starts chuckling. The diva raises her head slightly, "What's funny?"

The cheerleader grins. "Fried Karofsky dick on a stick."

The corners of Rachel's lips begin to creep upward, and then she starts giggling, which escalates until both girls have fallen back on the bed in full-blown laughter.


The corridors are empty now with half the school gone already and the other half busy with their various club activities, so she doesn't worry about colliding with anyone this time. Rachel makes a mad dash for the principal's office, but only Figgins is still there by the time she arrives. She knocks on his door and he gestures for her to come in.

"You're Rachel Berry, aren't you? How is your cheek?"

"Its fine, sir, I just iced it. I'm sorry to bother you, but I'm actually looking for Quinn Fabray."

"Fabray? I just sent her and Karofsky home after suspending them both for a week."

Rachel frowns. "Wouldn't that go on her permanent record?"

"Why, yes, it would."

"Principal Figgins, with all due respect, I implore you to reconsider. Surely you can't penalize her for trying to defend someone else's honor, especially if it will affect her future, such as when she applies to prospective colleges."

"I'm afraid there's nothing I can do. It's no small matter, this incident, it cannot be overlooked."

The brunette huffs; she really doesn't have time to argue with him. If she hurries, she might still catch Quinn in the parking lot. "Sir, have you ever heard of Jewish witches?"


Rachel finds her just outside the main doors, standing at the top of the front steps. It's raining and she's slipping into her letterman here under the covered entry while she talks into her phone.

"Mom, please calm down… I just had to, okay? …It was a copy of Vogue, not a flamethrower… yes, the latest issue, why— alright, I'll buy you a new one, sheesh… I am not acting out! Last night was just a stupid— urgh, can we please talk about this when I get home? …Thank you. Bye." Quinn disconnects the call and turns.

Their eyes meet, and everything Rachel had wanted to say is suddenly lost. The blonde's expression is unreadable and she exhales through her nose.

Then in three quick, long strides, and a slight dip of her head, Quinn closes the distance between their lips.

Rachel's absolute favorite feeling in the world is when she drinks a mug of hot chocolate on the coldest day of the year, and it's like liquid joy slipping past your lips and pooling in your stomach and spreading out to your fingers and toes, thawing you from the inside out, until it reaches your head and you get that warm fuzziness just inside your skull that makes you act all giddy.

The kiss feels exactly like that. Only, better.

Quinn even tastes like those mini-marshmallows. But softer.

It's chaste, just lips stroking lips, unhurried, unassuming and unbelievably gentle, with Quinn's thumbs massaging her hipbones and her hands fisting the cheerleader's jacket collar. The only thing wrong with it is that it ends much too soon.

Quinn pulls her head back, one side of her mouth quirking up. Her voice comes out quiet, but husky, "How's that for spontaneous?"

And then she steps away, pulls the hood of her jacket over her head, tosses her bag over her shoulder and charges into the rain.


Rachel's fathers take her bowling that evening. They'd been horribly worried about her the past couple of days, and they positively flipped when they saw the splotch of purple and blue on her cheek. She gently dismissed their concerns, stating that the offender had been dealt with, and the rest was something she had to work through on her own. To placate them further, she proposed a night out, so they could all have a sense of normalcy again.

It's half successful. She manages to bowl enough to pass for a game, talk enough to pass for a conversation, and eat enough to pass for a meal. Most importantly, she no longer appears despondent.

She's just awfully distracted. Needless to say, it's all because of Quinn.

They're grabbing some ice cream down the block from the bowling alley since it had stopped raining. All Star rings out into the crisp night air. Rachel fishes her phone out of her purse. It's Kurt. She smiles, excuses herself, and walks off a little to take the call.

"Hello?"

"Hey there. I heard you had quite the afternoon."

Rachel chuckles. "I did indeed."

"Is that laughter I hear? I knew there was more to this story than that oaf clobbering you and Quinn nearly turning him into a walking pyre."

She raises an eyebrow, "So that's all you care about, huh? The story?"

"Of course. You think I'd call to check up on you, prima donna? Pssh, don't flatter yourself."

"I think I heard a compliment somewhere in there."

"Must be your imagination. Oh, just so you know, Mercedes and I will be picking out those skirts Karofsky will be wearing, whenever he shows up at McKinley again. We'll make sure his fashion sense looks even worse than yours."

The brunette laughs again and Kurt joins her in her mirth. Silently, she marvels at how far her relationships with the glee kids have come. Tina (plus Arite) had called earlier too, and Puck had texted a promise to rally the footballers into towel-whipping Karofsky every chance they got for the rest of year.

"Thank you, you two."

"Are you kidding? I wouldn't pass up this chance if you paid me to. I have a lot of dumpster tosses to repay him for."

"Right." She bites her lip, "So, I guess you don't want to hear the rest of the story as a gesture of my appreciation?"

"Don't tease me like that, sweetie, I just might claw your eyes out."

"Quinn kissed me."

There's a pause, and then Kurt squeals, "That is so much better than anything I expected."

Rachel laughs nervously, "I don't know. She kind of ran off on me afterwards, so…"

"No, no! This is it! It was you!"

Rachel blinks. "What do you mean?"

"Okay, I assume Santana told you about what happened last night?"

"She said Quinn went out with Nikki and got drunk and you two had to pick her up."

"Mmhmm. The full story of that goes like this: Quinn called Chris because she couldn't remember this joke her Chris had told her. Chris called Judy because Quinn sounded really trashed and depressed. Judy called my dad because she obviously couldn't go anywhere with a broken arm and no car. Dad called me because he's in Cleveland trading car parts. And I called Santana because I required reinforcement. Santana picked me up, we picked Quinn up, I drove her and her car back to her place, and Santana drove me back to my place. Then I called Chris to let her know her little sister was safe and sound. After talking to her, Jack came on the line."

"Jacqueline?"

"Yes. She asked me if Quinn and Nikki had made out or anything. They hadn't, and I told her so. She laughed, and said 'Whoever is holding Quinn back must be really important if she can resist someone's advances even while she's in a drunken stupor. Not to mention my own. If you find out who it is, tell them I said they have great legs'."

The diva's brow furrows. "I think you might have lost me there."

"I didn't get it at first either. Rachel?"

"Yes?"

"Jack says you have great legs."

"…Oh."


Saturday morning finds Rachel treading through her favorite park to get Quinn's. They'd discovered it could be used as shortcut of sorts between their homes after that somewhat fateful meeting here nearly a month ago. The woods began only a few doors down the street from Rachel's, and the same forest bordered one side of Quinn's backyard. It reduced what would otherwise be a twenty minute walk through the main streets (five blocks down, then five blocks left) by half.

It's a warm day. Yesterday's rain clouds had moved on, riding the wind to chart other territories, leaving Lima's skies an endless, immaculate azure. The sun hangs sleepily above and behind her, caressing her shoulders and back mildly with its warmth. It's a warm day, and that's the excuse Rachel gives for her sweaty palms.

She refuses to wipe them against her skirt though. At least the left one, that is, for fear that the ink on it will rub away. In fact, it's kind of ridiculous how careful she's been about washing her left hand and things like that, pushing aside her typically anal preoccupation with hygiene to preserve that drawing of the G-clef. But she'll hold on to what she can for as long as she can, because even if Quinn's feelings for her are by and large evident now, the two of them have yet to reach a resolution.

She's about three quarters of the way there when she comes to a halt. Just a little ahead of her on the trail stands a golden retriever, tilting its head at her. She grins and proceeds again. The dog plods forward to meet her.

"Hi, Apollo." greets the brunette, stroking the top of his head. His tongue curls out in response. He has a red collar now, adorned with a diamond-shaped tag.

The dog circles around her once, then bounds a little way down the path before stopping and turning to look at back at her. She laughs, nods, and follows.

[ A/N : link to song at www(dot)youtube(dot)com/watch?v=vVlnHT8OkQQ (Switchfoot - Learning to Breathe) ]

They walk together for a couple of minutes, and just as the edge of the wood comes into view, she hears it.

I'm learning to breathe
I'm learning to crawl

She knows that voice well. She closes her eyes for a second, letting it wrap and slide around her like silk.

I'm finding that you and you alone can break my fall
I'm living again, awake and alive

She moves forward again.

I'm dying to breathe in these abundant skies
So this is the way that I say I need you

She stops by an old oak at the tree line, palming the bark with one hand and the other resting on Apollo's nape.

This is the way that I say I love you
This is the way that I say I'm yours

Her breath hitches. Rachel's not sure if it's the words or if it's the sight of Quinn standing in the garden, body angled away from the brunette, singing as she watches a pair of northern cardinals flit around a half-broken stone bird bath, the wind ruffling her plain, white sundress and loose hair.

This is the way—

Apollo shifts and his paw lands on a twig. The resulting snap is just loud enough to make the blonde turn. Her eyes widen when they land on Rachel.

Rachel smiles tentatively. "Quinn."

Quinn seems to relax a bit. "Rachel." She strolls towards the brunette, the grass crunching under her sandals.

Ducking her head, Rachel starts sputtering, "I-I'm sorry. I'm sorry for coming by unannounced, I wasn't sure you'd take my calls and I needed to see you. I wanted to see you." She shifts her weight from foot to foot. "And I'm sorry for saying those things I said. I didn't mean any of them. I was just— I was really jealous, of Jack, of Nikki, and I'm aware that I didn't have the right to be, but I couldn't help it, I—"

The blonde's feet stop a few steps away from her, and she chances a glance at Quinn's face. She looks a little… curious, but says nothing. So Rachel presses on, "And, and I never got to thank you for what you did… about Karofsky. I mean, I don't condone violence but that… it felt kind of… nice."

Quinn remains silent. The diva swallows, "Say something…?"

One of the cheerleader's eyebrows twitches. "Something."

Rachel's jaw drops, then she releases a breathy laugh and sags back against the tree, lifting her hand to cover her eyes. "You're a riot, Quinn."

The blonde grins at her. "Well, I was going to apologize first but you beat me to it." And then she sobers. "I wanted to go to you this morning. Except, I'm kind of grounded, and this is as far out of the house as I can go. Mom took my laptop and phone too. So I'm glad you came." She lowers her gaze, "I wanted to apologize right after we started fighting that day, but I just lost it and… things got out of control so fast. But you were right about the bullying. I was being defensive. I didn't mean the things I said either. I was out of line and so stupid— I got it into my head that if you would only ever think of me as a bitch anyway, then I might as well prove you right. But I should have been proving you wrong instead." She huffs, then pinches her bridge of her nose and braces her other hand close to Rachel's head on the oak, leaning sideways against the tree. "I kind of suck at apologies. I'm sorry. God, I'm sorry."

"I know." the brunette soothes, because she does know. She understands Quinn more now than she probably ever would have if they had never fought. "It's okay now."

Their gazes meet. Rachel tilts her head, and Quinn nods, and they both sigh with small smiles. And with that, their wounds close, and they heal.

Then the diva bites her lip, "So… what now?"

They both know what she's talking about. Quinn hums, "Can I just say something first?"

"What?"

"You've kind of always brought out the worst in me, haven't you, Twinkle?"

Rachel thinks that should sting, but she's thrown by the nickname and the accompanying smirk, so she just blinks.

Quinn looks meaningfully at her hand that's resting on the tree. "But you also bring out the best in me."

The brunette turns her head.

Her knees buckle.

Thankfully, the oak holds her up.

She stares disbelievingly for a long time, eyes scanning Quinn's wrist over and over.

Love.

Eventually, when she's convinced the word isn't going to vanish, she turns back to the blonde. "Yeah?"

Quinn smiles tenderly. "Yeah."

Rachel's arms snake around her neck and pull her in.

This kiss isn't like the first. Its electric, and Quinn pins Rachel's body against the oak with the whole of her own, her forearms braced on the bark. The brunette moans and fists the hand that's tangled its way into Quinn's hair while the nails of the other graze the skin of Quinn's nape. The cheerleader shivers, then nips lightly at Rachel's bottom lip in retaliation, eliciting a whimper. When Quinn's tongue swipes against the offended area to soothe, Rachel's meets it, and then its battle of dominance as they slant their mouths together hungrily.

Until Apollo barks and they jerk apart.

They look down at the golden retriever sitting on his haunches, tail swishing animatedly. Quinn reaches to ruffle his fur, "Okay boy, the only reason I'm not kicking you right now is because you did a good job today."

Rachel giggles.

The blonde grins at her again. "So you were jealous, huh?"

The diva colors, but strikes back with "So how long have you had feelings for me?"

Quinn gasps inaudibly, caught off-guard, then she recovers and licks her lips. "Uh. Do you remember when I told you about how I was a hermit in my room for a week?"

Rachel blinks, "At the beginning of summer? That long?"

"Not exactly. It didn't happen all at once." clarifies the cheerleader. "But I ended up thinking a lot about you then, reflecting on how I treated you. Then I realized that there was a lot I could probably like about you if I let myself. So I started to, and things snowballed from there. By the end of summer, I had already made up my mind to get closer to you." Quinn pauses here to cup Rachel's cheek with her hand. "And then when I saw you the first day back at school…" She trails off with a blush.

The brunette closes her eyes and nuzzles Quinn's wrist, smiling. "You planned the word thing, didn't you? You knew it would get my attention. And no one else knows about it."

Quinn chuckles. "Yes. I wasn't sure exactly how it would work out though. You surprised me too. The ultimate clincher was when you said you wanted me to be myself. I knew right then what the next word would be."

Rachel cracks an eye open. "I may have had romantic ulterior motives for that."

The cheerleader smirks and leans her forehead against Rachel's. "But you still meant it." Rachel nods. Quinn's expression turns serious. "Are you sure you still do now though?" she whispers.

"More than ever. I'm stronger than you think. I can handle you, Quinn Fabray." is the reply, emphasized by a soft kiss. Rachel feels laughter rumble through Quinn's chest against hers, and she quickly decides she loves that feeling. She pulls back. "You're coming back to glee. And you're doing something nice for San, Britt and Kurt. And you're going to introduce your new girlfriend to Nikki the next time you take me to Starbucks. Just for starters."

"Oh, am I?"

The diva presses their lips together again and strokes the small of Quinn's back. The blonde whimpers and then Rachel withdraws again, smirking.

"…Wow, I'm going to be so whipped, aren't I?"

"Think of it as another virtue."

Quinn barks a laugh. "Well. I'll have you know something, Rachel Berry." She leans in and purrs into Rachel's ear, "Your virtue? I plan to rob you of it, in time. You'll be my favorite vice."

A pleasant shiver shoots up Rachel's spine. The cheerleader chuckles and steps back, hands sliding down Rachel's arms until their fingers intertwine. Quinn gently tugs her away from the tree and out of the shade, and then pulls her close, placing one of Rachel's hands on her shoulder and her own on the small of Rachel's back and her cheek against the brunette's temple. They begin to sway lightly.

This is the way
That I'm learning to breathe, I'm learning to crawl
I'm finding that you and you alone can break my fall

Rachel smiles and nuzzles the column of the blonde's neck, feeling the vibrations of her voice and the pulse of her heart. Quinn buries her nose in Rachel's hair as she continues to sing.

I living again, awake and alive
I'm dying to breathe in these abundant skies

The brunette looks at their joined hands and untangles their fingers, sliding the tips of hers down Quinn's palm to her wrist, brushing over the inscription there. "You should get this one done permanently."

Quinn stops and pulls her head back, eyes wide. "Yeah?"

Rachel looks into those orbs of amber and emerald, radiant like fairytales. And who would she be if she didn't believe in fairytales?

They both smile as Rachel lifts the Quinn's wrist to her lips and kisses Love. "Yeah."

FIN