Disclaimer: I own nothing. All belongs to Glee writers and creators.

Pucker Berry

Rachel hated Christmas. And no, it wasn't because Finn recently put a very permanent end to their relationship and he happened to adore the holiday. Nor was it because Satan's—oops, Santana's—recently ex-sort-of-maybe best friend slash perhaps girlfriend with benefits but not lately loved it. She did not hate the holiday out of spite.

And no, it wasn't the decorations, either. The endless slew of godawful covers of Christmas music playing on the radio and every department store in the free world may not have helped, but it wasn't the reason either. It also wasn't because she was Jewish and she hated having people shout 'Merry Christmas' at her, only to have them scowl at her when she politely replied 'Happy Hanukkah!' That was Noah's thing, really.

It was because, for as long as she could remember, Rachel had never once had a good December 25th. And no, it wasn't because she always wished for something but never got it. Like last year and wishing for Finn, though she sincerely wished she hadn't wasted that one now. Her reasons for hating that day weren't petty like that.

When she was five, on December 25th at approximately ten in the morning, Rachel slipped on some ice and got a concussion. Eleven years old at eight thirty found her choking on her breakfast of scrambled eggs (this was one of the little known reasons Rachel had gone vegan). Fourteen at twelve fifteen she fell through thin ice while ice-skating and contracted pneumonia. There were other various instances—some more serious, some less—but it never failed. Something would always come along and ruin her day, and whether it called for Kleenex or hospital visits, Rachel always spent December 26th in recovery. Alone.

There weren't many people who knew about Rachel's curse outside of her fathers. Only her friends knew. Well, friend. Okay, Noah Puckerman, the womanizing scourge of McKinley High, was the only person who knew of her horrible luck when it came to December 25th. And that was partly because he was the cause for her horrible Christmas the year she turned nine.

He lifted up her skirt in front of their entire synagogue during the holiday party. She hadn't been surprised, really. Even at nine, Noah was obsessed with women and their pants. Or in her case, skirts. But the party had just been going so well, and she'd almost made it through the entirety of Christmas day without an incident. And he'd ruined it.

When she'd started sobbing uncontrollably, he'd done his best to comfort her and apologize—because, oddly enough, Noah Puckerman couldn't stand to make a woman cry—and that's when she'd spilled the truth about her Christmas curse. He swore never to do anything to ruin it again, and he'd kept that pledge. He'd even gone so far as to send her a small gift (whether it be a simple 'Get Well Soon' card or something thoughtful, like a sheet of gold star stickers) on Christmas every year. It helped, just a little, and she appreciated his efforts.

So, taking all this into consideration, Rachel was uncertain as to why he was currently standing in front of her with a roguish grin plastered to his face, waggling his eyebrows and suggesting she actually try to leave the house this December 25th.

"No," she said firmly, and shocked everyone paying attention to the exchange (meaning Noah) when she left it at that, turning back to her sheet music instead of meeting his disappointed gaze.

Noah's expression immediately crumpled. "What? Why?"

"You know why, Noah," she retorted sharply, shooting him a warning glare.

His frown twisted as he tried to think a way to argue around her sound reasoning for not going to his stupid party the night of Christmas. She had every right to refuse. There were all sorts of ways for her to experience her annual humiliation at a party. Not that she wasn't humiliated at McKinley High every day, but that was different. It didn't usually lead to extended hospital stays.

"Well, you don't know. Maybe it'll be different this year," Noah said at length, trying to sound chipper for her.

"Yes, because the last seventeen years haven't provided ample enough evidence to the contrary."

"You know, you've never told me what happened to you the first year. I know when you turned one you got the chicken pox, but—"

"My fathers claim nothing, but after extensive research and several forays into the family photo albums in our basement, I discovered pictures of my very first Christmas and found that I did, in fact, have a mishap, despite being only one week old." When she glanced up to find him eyeing her expectantly, she supplied, "I threw up on my first present."

His nose wrinkled. "Gross."


"But wait, how do you know it was Christmas? And you get presents on Christmas? My mom won't even budge to do that. So not fair."

"One of my father's parents are Catholic, so yes, I get gifts from them, and this was 'back in the day,' if you'll pardon the phrase, when cameras printed the date they were taken on the corner. I'm positive it was December 25th."

"That…sucks. But seriously, Rach, come on. It could be different," he said doggedly, a thought occurring to him as he followed her from the piano to her usual seat in the front row.

Rachel sighed, frowning at him as he plopped next to her. "I take it from the positively gleeful look on your face that you have some reasoning behind this completely irrational idea."

"Yep," he said simply, popping the 'p.'

"Well, please, do share. I'm intrigued."

Noah's grin went so wide she was reminded of the Grinch, and it didn't help when he leaned toward her in a conspiratorial manner, an arm not-so-subtly sliding over the back of her chair.

"This year, you've got me."

Her scowl did not lessen. "I also had you December 25th, 2003. Look what that did for me."

The hand creeping toward her thigh immediately snapped to his chest, and she smiled in amusement as his grin vanished, replaced by the most devastated look she'd ever seen on the boy. Save for when he cried in her arms the night after Shelby adopted Beth. Her defenses weakened, remembering that, and she placed a hand on his knee.

Surprise entered his eyes, but his attention wasn't diverted.

"I am hurt that you would bring that up after I apologized. The Puckasaurus doesn't apologize to anyone, babe. And after all this time of me being so nice to you. Just really…hurt."

A fond smile spread across her cheeks. "Have you ever considered acting as a career option, Noah? You would make an excellent Hamlet."

He frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"

She shrugged. "Nothing."

"Look, I've got potential, babe. And I don't need to play some pansy assed fruit in some lame chick movie."

Rachel eyed him. "Potential for what?"


Her lip quirked in a subtle smirk. "You're always saying you have potential, but you never say for what."

He rolled his eyes. "Star potential. You oughta get what that means, Miss Gold Star." His eyebrows bobbed.

"Why did you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Waggle your eyebrows."

"…Because I made an innuendo."

"No, you didn't. Absolutely nothing in that statement had anything to do with sex."

He smacked his forehead. "Seriously? You're like the most naïve person I know, Berry."

"That's not true."

"Yes, it is."

"There are other people even less well-versed in sexual matters than I am; I'm certain. Quinn, for instance. I'm sure her knowledge only extends to Tab A, Slot B."

"Yeah, but at least she's had sex."

"Thanks to you." He grinned and she rolled her eyes. "That's not something to be proud of, I hope you know."

He shrugged. "Whatever. We've got more important things to discuss than you."

Rachel's eyes narrowed, shooting to him, and she rose up indignantly as she removed her hand hastily from his knee.

"That was rude, Noah. It's one thing when Mr. Schuester or someone tells me I am being too narcissistic for their tastes when I'm actually talking about something regarding myself, but when those comments are made when all I've done is opened my mouth—"

"We were talking about you, Rach." Her lips pursed and he backtracked hastily, knowing if he didn't move fast she was going to be pissed at him for like a week. She really hated being interrupted. "We were talking about me feeling guilty, right? Or, well, how I should feel guilty. And I only do that when you talk to me about it. You're my conscience. Therefore, we were talking about you."

Rachel absolutely melted. Her smile was so obnoxiously blinding he wanted to cover his eyes, but instead he just smirked at her. It wasn't often she smiled of late, so he basked in it while he could. She leaned her shoulder into him and giggled.

"Do I get a badge like Jiminy Cricket?" she asked teasingly.

He had no idea who that was. But since she seemed so pleased about it, he decided to humor her and nodded.

"Sure. It can even be gold star shaped," he said, shrugging.

She giggled again and shuffled her sheet music in her lap. He could see she thought the conversation was over, so he leapt into action, grabbing her attention by dropping his arm to her shoulders, rather than just resting on the chair. Finn wasn't in yet, so it couldn't do any harm.

"But anyway, we got other stuff to discuss. Like you coming to my party."

She paused in her shuffling. "And how is that not about me, again?"

"It isn't. It's about me. Wanting you to come."

Rachel smiled fondly at him again. "You're sweet, Noah. But really, I don't think it's a good idea. Even the last two years, in which I haven't ventured out of the house even once, haven't eased my suffering on Christmas day. And with the size your parties tend to grow to, I just—"

He squeezed his arm around her. "Hey. I'm gonna be there the whole time to protect you. You won't have to worry about a thing." He shrugged and leaned back in his chair, putting his arm on the back of hers again. "Besides, it's just gonna be the glee club," he added innocently.

She narrowed her eyes at him. "That's not code for 'it's going to be every underage in the county,' right?"

A chuckle escaped his lips before he grinned at her, waggling his eyebrows. "Nope. Just you, me, and wine coolers, babe."

Rachel rolled her eyes and smacked him playfully on the chest, but she couldn't help giggling along with him, completely unaware of other eyes on them. Noah smiled contentedly when she leaned into his side, stroking her hair once comfortingly. He normally wasn't so touchy-feely in front of other people, but he knew she needed the physical reassurance. Plus, this meant she was giving in.

She sighed. "You'll stay with me the whole party?"

Noah's grin split his face. "The whole time, babe. I promise."


Okay, so Puck may have been bullshitting Rachel a little bit. And he felt bad about it. Really, he did. But honestly, what could happen at a party? Other than her actually having a little bit of fun for once in her life. And he didn't see what the big deal was about that.

Besides, the party didn't start until like nine at night (most people were going to have to sneak out of dinners at their family's houses and stuff), so maybe the bad stuff would happen before she ever got there. As long as she didn't break any bones, she could still come, he could cheer her up, and she could have a night of teenage normalcy instead of another one crying into her pillow or taping MySpace videos or whatever Berry got up to when he wasn't around.

He was sure after he got her with a drink in her hand and dancing with a good lookin' dude that she wouldn't even be mad that the party was about ten times bigger than he'd said it would be. Or that he wouldn't be spending the entire evening with her. Cause really, how could the Puckasaurus throw a party and not hook up with a babe? Especially when Christmas provided the perfect excuse for it: mistletoe. He'd hung up two sprigs, just in case. He only felt a little bit bad about what he was spreading underneath them.

Mostly he felt bad about lying to Rachel like…a lot. And she hadn't even said anything to him about it. She certainly was doing her job as his conscience, he thought grouchily, tossing the glue-caked brush into the sink.

He couldn't wait for nine o'clock to come around. A good party was just what both he and his gold star needed to cheer up.


Rachel was going to kill Noah, she decided. She could not believe he'd lied to her about the size of this stupid party. Well, actually, that was pretty typical behavior for him. But when he knew how horrible this day always was for her? Walking into that house now was pretty much like asking for something bad to happen. No, not just pretty much. It was asking. It was begging. She may as well be getting down on her knees and asking Karofsky to ruin her Christmas.

Though she doubted Karofsky was in there. If he was, it was only because he somehow managed to 'sneak' inside, though with his size and his brains she wasn't sure how that would work. In any case, Noah would throw him out on the spot if he caught him, but it didn't matter. Rachel still may as well be sprinting up the sidewalk to Death's Door and ringing the doorbell repeatedly.

That's what it felt like when she hit the yellow button, though she knew it wasn't likely Noah—or anyone, for that matter—would hear it ring. She could practically feel the earth vibrating from how loud they had the music on. She dreaded going into the basement even more than she already was and fiddled anxiously with the skirt of her dress.

It was a little shorter than she normally liked, particularly without her knee-highs to protect her legs, but she'd wanted to look nice tonight. And not her definition of nice, but everyone else's. This party was supposed to provide her with a night of teenage normalcy, Noah had said, so she was going to act and dress like a normal teenager. Minus the drinking.

Also, Rachel wasn't sure if most teenagers dressed in scarlet dresses and heels to attend a party. She adjusted the spaghetti straps, uncomfortable with the amount of skin she was showing, and tried knocking instead.

To her surprise, this day had actually gone pretty decently. She woke up at six, rode her elliptical, took a long bath (she learned in 2006 that showering was a bad idea on Christmas), made herself breakfast, practiced for three hours, and then spent the rest of the day watching her favorite musicals until it was time to get ready. She flipped her hair, briefly wishing she had a mirror so she could see if the layers she had tried to put in looked right. She supposed she should just be grateful it hadn't decided to frizz out and make her look like a poodle.

With this thought, it came to her attention that no one had answered the door yet. So, though it killed her to ignore her manners and all of her better judgment was screaming at her to take this as a sign and get back in her car, Rachel hesitantly eased the door open and peered into the Puckerman's living room. It was empty of all life, surprisingly enough, and she realized Noah must've kept the party restricted to the basement. Likely because his mother had had an absolute fit when one of his more recent parties ended in a ruined carpet.

The new carpet was still shag, but it was a nicer shade than the last one, Rachel noted. She approved with a nod and ventured toward the basement door, from which all sorts of unpleasant sounds and smells were emanating. Why did she listen to Noah? Why was she even friends with him?

Because no one else wants you except JewFro, and even you aren't desperate enough for that.

She rolled her eyes at herself and, wincing the entire time, twisted the knob. She was immediately blasted with the sounds of Taio Cruz's Dynamite, but eased down the wooden steps anyway, keeping one fist clenched around the banister as she descended into the mass of gyrating bodies, sidestepping a couple making out on the stairs. More than one person was smoking down here—and not just cigarettes, she was sure of it. With a wrinkled nose, she wafted the smell away with a dismissive hand and peered through the dark room in an attempt to find anyone she knew.

It was difficult to focus on finding familiar faces in that din, but Rachel was determined not to spend the evening squeezing through throngs of sweaty bodies and being groped by drunken louts. The first people she found were—unsurprisingly—Brittany and Santana. It looked like the benefits were back, and they were sharing with the hockey players, who were practically drooling at the sight of the two girls molesting each other by the speakers.

Rachel shook her head irritably. By tomorrow Santana would be back to denying her feelings once again and hopping back on anything that had something resembling a stick, while Brittany would have to crawl back to Artie. Who, while ill suited to the girl, at least didn't seem likely to stray when—where was Artie, while his girlfriend was giving her ex a tongue bath?

Her eyes scanned the surrounding area and she swiftly found him, facing away from the girls and next to what looked like the snack table. He was in a heated argument with Mike about something or other, from the looks of it, because Mike was pink in the face. Perhaps it was the heat of the room, though, Rachel pondered. In any case, Tina was standing at his elbow and looking bored out of her mind. Actually…her eyes had strayed rather curiously to the corner where Santana and Brittany were—well, Tina had always been fairly open-minded, Rachel guessed.

She shrugged it off and turned, making a mental checklist of the glee kids she'd found. Kurt probably wasn't there, she acknowledged with a frown. They weren't exactly friends yet, but she'd like to think they were getting there. They seemed to have an understanding, at least, and he was a bit more supportive than Noah in some ways.

"Rachel, babe!"

She turned immediately toward the source, relieved beyond words when she felt him crush her to his body. Even if he did smell like musk and beer, he felt so good she just sank into it until he leaned back to look at her, eyes going wide at the outfit.

"You look normal!" he observed, jaw flapping a bit. It made her grin. "An-and smoking hot! Damn! You sure you don't want to make Finnessa jealous some more, babe?"

He squeezed her ass with the hand she hadn't noticed creeping lower and lower on her back, and she smacked his arm with an indignant squeak when he just grinned at her.

"You're drunk," she accused, shaking her head.

"Uh…yeah. That's, like, the point of these parties," he retorted as flatly as he could when he was shouting above the speakers.

"How inane," she observed.

"Come on, Rach, I'll get you some punch. It'll calm you down."

She resisted when he tugged her arm. "I do believe I'll pass. I'm going to try to find someone to talk to who is not drunk," she said haughtily, and whirled on her heel with her perfected storm-off.

She heard Noah laugh and call, "Good luck with that!" behind her, but pointedly ignored him. She was still angry with him about the size of this party, after all, so he didn't deserve to be dignified with a response or graced with her presence. Especially at the moment, when he was drunk and all he could do was related to sex. That was a subtle difference most people missed about Noah. When he was sober, he thought about sex nonstop; when he was drunk, he couldn't stop himself from acting on it.

It took her a moment to get her bearings once she emerged from the mass of dancers once more. She'd seen the Santana and Brittany Show corner and decidedly turned away from that, as well as where Mike, Tina, and Artie were arguing or discussing or watching the aforementioned show. Another corner seemed to be the source of that very non-cigarette-like smoke, so Rachel counted that out, as well, and headed in the only direction this afforded her.

She had to shove through several bodies to get to it and nearly flipped over a couch by the time she reached her destination, and—well, she wasn't quite sure it was worth it. Mercedes was planted on the couch Rachel had almost catapulted over, and sitting in the armchair directly next to her, looking disgustingly sweet as usual, were Sam and Quinn. Cuddling together. Rachel fought the urge to throw the nearest person's cup of beer at them.

To be perfectly honest, Rachel had no idea why the two of them inspired such a violent reaction in her. She simply couldn't understand it. Other than the fact that the two looked eerily like twins, rather than lovers, there was nothing wrong with it. She certainly wasn't harboring an attraction to Sam—he was cute, sure, but the Bieber cut was not flattering and, frankly, he had Frog Mouth. But…nor could Rachel help it. Hence calling them 'Ken and Barbie' whenever she found the opportunity to do so.

She bit her tongue to keep from greeting them this way now.

"Oh, good evening! Mercedes, Sam, Quinn," she said pleasantly, though a feeling of dread was rapidly coiling in her stomach at the slightly discomfited expressions on all three faces.

She rounded the couch, pretending she didn't notice the hush her presence had settled over the three of them, who previously had been laughing at something or other. She was determined to remain friendly. They were teammates, after all, and if she didn't stay with them, she would have to hang out with Drunk Noah. Who was likely already halfway up the stairs with his conquest of the evening by now, and wouldn't appreciate the whining, lonely tagalong.

"Hey, Rachel," Mercedes said evenly.

"Hi, Rach," Sam said, and Rachel almost—almost—stuck her tongue out at him.

She did not give him permission to use that nickname. Quinn seemed to agree with Rachel's disgust at hearing that syllable come out of his mouth. It shouldn't have surprised Rachel, really, since Quinn didn't like anyone she associated with getting friendly with Rachel, but it was more the fact that they actually agreed on something that surprised her. Rather than the Raised Eyebrow of Doom (or RED) she was shooting at her boyfriend.

When Rachel and Quinn finished giving Sam disturbed looks, a stifling silence took hold once more and Rachel wondered if you actually could cut tension with a knife. The situation at hand would certainly be a good experiment to test the theory. Suddenly the earsplitting music wasn't quite loud enough, and Rachel wondered if this was why the music was always this loud at Noah's parties—to rid people of the awkwardness. Of course, not everyone was as big a social leper as herself, so there probably wasn't a need for that.

"You look nice," Mercedes shouted suddenly, and even though it was only because she wanted to be heard, it made Rachel jump.

"Thank you," she yelled back. "So do you."

Even though she really wasn't wearing anything different from what she normally did. Except her earrings were larger than usual, Rachel thought.

It was awkward again. Sam was just smiling and bobbing his head, and Rachel wondered if anyone had ever told him that nonstop smiling was just a little—no, scratch that, a lot—creepy. Mercedes kept flipping the flap on the arm of the couch and peering under it. Rachel fiddled with the skirt of her dress some more. And Quinn looked anywhere but at Rachel.

Rachel decided to follow her example and avoid the gazes of her fellow glee club members, gaze wandering to the dancing mob. She admired the few that were actually dancing to the beat, rather than just grinding aimlessly against one another, and particularly the ones that were managing to make their dancing look like something other than dry humping. Really, couldn't they have done this at home?

A tall figure suddenly caught her eye and then—her breath caught in her throat and she nearly choked on it, the sensation making her eyes water. Or that's what she told herself. Because she couldn't possibly be crying over Finn making out with some random cheerleader on the makeshift dance floor, shoving his pelvis awkwardly into her while she pressed her breasts against him. Because Finn wouldn't do that. He wouldn't move on this quickly—and especially not with a stupid cheerleader.

Except he did, and he was, and Rachel realized that Noah was wrong. Her December 25th did suck, even with his 'help.' Maybe this wasn't as bad as other years, but…that basement was suddenly too hot, too loud, too stifling for her. She put a hand to her forehead and began to excuse herself from the group, despite the fact that she knew they probably wouldn't notice if she just disappeared without a goodbye.

"Um…I-I'll be back." She probably wouldn't be. "I need some air."

"Okay," Mercedes said uncertainly, and Sam bobbed his head with that consistent smile and said, "Cool."

Quinn looked like she was about to say something, mouth set in a frown. Rachel didn't bother to find out what she was going to say, already turned on her heel and shoving her way through the crowd, using her elbow to get through. She raced up the stairs to the living room as fast as she could, not noticing the person who trailed her shortly afterward.


"Pathetic," Quinn spat, dropping her weight back onto Sam so hastily he almost had the wind knocked out of him.

She turned apologetic eyes on him briefly, her guilt tempering the fiery anger burning beneath the surface. He rubbed her back, both to reassure her that he was fine and to calm her. The motion did its job; she sagged back into him with a quiet sigh of disappointment, anger flooding right out of her. He squeezed her shoulder.

"What is? Rachel?" Mercedes asked, reminding the two of her presence. He felt Quinn stiffen.

"No, Puckerman," she hissed disgustedly. "He's been at her heels like some lovesick puppy since Sectionals."

Sam patted her back and bit his tongue. Mercedes was there, he reminded himself repeatedly. Besides, telling Quinn she was only mad because Puck got to the stairs first probably wasn't the best idea. He rather liked having all of his various appendages attached.

He was distracted from the horrific mental image of Quinn coming at him with a steak knife when the girl in question sank back against him again, an adorable pout on her pink lips. He tuned out Mercedes' answer in favor of murmuring something less violence inducing against Quinn's hair.

"I did my best, but you kind of choked."

Burning hazel eyes froze him in place when she craned her head back.

"Shut up."


Rachel wiped her eyes ferociously, not caring that she had probably smeared her makeup all over her cheeks. It didn't matter. She didn't intend on returning to that horrid basement this evening. She figured she would simply spare herself further embarrassment and pain and return home early. It wasn't as though anyone would notice anyway, even Noah, since he was likely halfway to a hangover by now and—


She whirled on her heel, releasing the gasp she'd just sucked in when she realized it was, in fact, only Noah. He had his hands stuffed in his pockets, like he always did when he was uncomfortable, and the sight made her sigh. This was precisely why she longed for friendship outside of her fellow Jew. He was lovable and occasionally sweet, but he wasn't capable of dealing seriously with human emotion without some air of awkwardness about him.

Still, he'd noticed that she'd left, even in his drunken stupor. And that was why Rachel adored him.

She sighed and wiped her watery eyes again. "Hi."

Silence settled between them for a moment before he drew his hands from his pockets and extended them to either side, wordlessly offering the physical comfort he knew his embrace would offer her. Rachel didn't hesitate a moment, hurrying into his arms and tucking her arms around his waist. He still smelled terribly strongly of alcohol, but the sight of her tears seemed to have sobered him some. He didn't even try to grope her.

She wasn't exactly sure why, but the realization had her suddenly sobbing into the material of his t-shirt. Noah did nothing but rub circles over her back, occasionally uttering a quiet 'shh' to her. She wasn't sure how long they stood there before he guided her to sit on his lumpy couch, where she curled her feet underneath her and rested under the arc of his arm. Soft sniffles punctuated the silence between them as the boy rested his head against hers.

"I'm sorry, Rach," he all but whispered. "You shouldn't have had to see that."

She shook her head, wiping her cheeks. "You couldn't have known."

He grunted. "Still. I promised you a good Christmas."

They were quiet again while Rachel listened to the steady thrum of his heart beneath her ear. It didn't match the rhythm of the song pounding beneath their feet. She pondered what to say to him.

True, he'd promised. He'd promised many things and hadn't delivered, but she knew that particular one meant something to him, or else he wouldn't have brought it up. But he also couldn't have possibly known that Finn would find the nearest girl and suck face with her for the entire evening, without one thought toward his ex-girlfriend and her feelings on the matter. Besides, this was, quite truthfully, one of the best Christmases Rachel had ever had.

Even of the emotionally damaging only years, it ranked highest. Seeing Finn whore himself out was really nothing compared to last year, after all. But that didn't mean it didn't hurt her to see it.

She shoved aside the ache in her heart at the recollection of last year, choosing instead to let a smirk curve her lips upward and comment slyly, "Well, if you hadn't broken your promise and abandoned me…."

Noah gasped indignantly and she had to stifle her giggle when he said, "Hey, you walked away from me, so don't go complaining—"

"Might I point out that you were trying to 'get a piece of ass' from me, quite literally, before I allegedly abandoned you?" she cut in, covering her grin with her hand when he replied.

"Okay, first, you know that's how I am when I'm wasted. And second, it was so not alleged. Third, stop giggling. I know when you're messing with me."

She lifted her head to his shoulder, eyes sparkling with mirth when she smiled at him.

"Oh, do you?"

"You suck at coy, Berry."

Rachel mock-gasped, earning a smirk from him. "I'll have you know I've successfully completed many a-mission with my tremendous talent in portraying numerous emotions, up to and including coy."

Noah just shook his head, smirk planted firmly in place, and she rested her head against his shoulder again, smiling to herself while she soaked in the comfort of his touch. They were silent again—something not uncommon for the pair, particularly at moments like these, when either one or both of them just needed to feel the calming presence and soothing touch of another human being. She could hear Teenage Dream playing beneath them, and first wondered who was supplying the music (since, as Noah put it, Katy Perry made dudes hot, but they weren't about to listen to her wailing), and then if Finn and that cheerleader were dancing to it. Or if Sam and Quinn were.

"So seriously," Noah said at length, shifting a bit beneath her. "You okay?"

She craned her head back to meet his gaze, nodding solemnly.

"Yeah." She curled her hair behind her ear with a sigh before continuing on, "Or at least I will be." He gave her a disbelieving look, so she huffed and added, "Really. It was unexpected, certainly. I didn't anticipate him being able to move on so quickly. I suppose I overestimated his affections for me." She sighed. "And I won't say that it doesn't hurt, because it does. I still have feelings for him, but…the relationship is over. He's accepted it, and I…am getting there, at least."

He nodded slowly, and she appreciated his acceptance of her answer, however reluctant it may have been. She felt his fingers drift through her hair and sighed, wondering if she would ever find someone she would enjoy doing that to her. Even when Finn had done it, she would pull away, because his fingers were simply too rough and large to make the feeling pleasant.

Rachel shook the thoughts off.

"I'm sorry this had to happen today," Noah said at length.

She shrugged. "To quote Buffy, 'it's no biggie.'" She smiled, and he echoed it. "Neither of us should really be surprised by it by now, and…well, at least I didn't have to visit the hospital this year."

She grinned up at him and soon they were both giggling, leaning into each other for a few moments more before he slapped his thigh, readying to get up.

"So, you ready to head back down?" She was the one shooting him the disbelieving look this time, and he grinned his most persuasive grin. "Come on, you're not really gonna let Frankenteen ruin the rest of your evening, are you? Look, I'll make you a deal. You come down there? And I will dance two songs—just with you, babe—before I snag myself a hot chick for the rest of the night."

Rachel rolled her eyes. "Oh, two whole songs, hm? How could I possibly resist that absolutely charming compromise?"

"That a yes?"

She sighed. "It's a 'why not?'. I don't see how anything worse could happen this evening." She flinched. "I just jinxed myself, didn't I? Is this wood?"

She abruptly rapped her knuckles against his coffee table, much to Noah's amusement. He rubbed her back and swung to his feet, pausing when she didn't immediately follow behind him.

"Can I just have a minute more?" she pleaded quietly, and he smiled—not his rough, leering smile. His soft one, just for her.

"Yeah. I'll save those dances for you."

Rachel smiled after him as he retreated back to the basement, the loud music filling the room for a few brief seconds before leaving a stifling silence behind. She took the minute he'd granted her to use a Kleenex to wipe off her ruined makeup—it wouldn't matter if she wore it any longer, she was sure, since most everyone would either be too wasted or too stoned to notice. She fluffed her hair once she was certain she'd removed the last of the makeup and stepped toward the dreaded door.

She gazed at it in apprehension. She really didn't want to put herself through seeing Finn making mooneyes at that cheerleader. Or seeing him stick his tongue down her throat for the second time that evening. Or see Sam and Quinn looking so sickeningly adorable together. But she'd promised Noah, and besides, maybe it was time she tried to make light of her December 25th. The torment this year had been so light that, well, it deserved a celebration.

With that uplifting thought, Rachel went to step forward. And quickly discovered that her feet were not moving anywhere. She strained against her shoes, trying to rip them up from the carpet and panicking horribly when they didn't budge a centimeter.

Lovely. Her Christmas curse had outdone itself this time. She was stuck, in Noah's living room, where no one could hear her above the pounding party music. She rocked her head back with a frustrated groan, and—

Oh, for God's sake.

Under a sprig of mistletoe. This wouldn't make her look desperate at all.


Thirty-seven minutes. That was how long she'd been stuck. Rachel had hoped that perhaps, eventually, the glue would dry enough that she would be able to wiggle her way out of it. Or that Noah would come looking for her, since she'd used up more than one of those minutes he was giving her. But unfortunately, with Noah, it was out of sight, out of mind. He was probably joining in on Brittany and Santana's makeout session at that very moment, while Rachel leaned against the wall nearby her stuck feet.

Noah's mother was going to kill him for wrecking her carpet again, she reflected, and at the moment, she could only hope the woman would let her watch. Rachel could not believe he'd pulled a stunt like this without telling her. If karma and reincarnation and all that was real, she hoped he came back as a dung beetle.

The warm and fuzzy feelings she'd had from their talk were all but dead, and Rachel could only stare into the space before her, hoping that Noah would come up those stairs and no one else. She wouldn't be able to bear the embarrassment if it was anyone else. She'd considered simply unstrapping her shoes and stepping out of them several times, but there was no way she was entering that massive crowd with bare feet just to find Noah and ask if she could borrow some of his mother's shoes. Nor was there a chance in hell that she would walk bare foot in the snow.

Besides, who knew what else she could step in if she stepped out of the shoes? Walking into glue in high heels was bad enough, but strutting around bare foot to possibly walk in even more glue, or stale beer, or…whatever else happened to be on Noah's floors…? She shuddered at the thought.

She folded her arms with a huff. Christmas cheer, indeed. The holiday was a menace. She wondered if there was any chance a letter to the president would be enough to convince him to cancel it completely….

There was movement in her peripheral vision and Rachel straightened in alarm, daring to hope that Noah had come to her rescue, that she—

She deflated and blanched. Of course. It just had to be Quinn Fabray walking through that basement door. This was a complete nightmare. If she managed to escape this day without at least a year's worth of material for therapy, she would be shocked.

Quinn turned after shutting the door, and then all motion ceased as soon as she caught sight of Rachel, who was simultaneously shrinking in on herself (trying to be invisible) and smoothing out her dress (trying to look presentable). Somehow, over the past year or so, Quinn had wormed her way into Rachel's mind and heart, and become one of the select few whose opinion actually mattered to her. She still wasn't sure how or when or even why it happened; all she knew was that it was annoying. Not to mention, self-destructive. Caring about someone's opinion whose only opinion was and always would be that you were an obnoxious, boyfriend-stealing, egotistical, transgender hobbit was pretty much the definition of the word.

But it was there, just like Rachel's disgust with Quinn's relationship with Sam, and just like with that, she couldn't help it. So she found herself making the motions to impress Quinn: smoothing the wrinkles out from her dress, fluffing and resettling her hair, even lightly pinching her cheeks. All of this was done very subtly, of course.

So subtly she didn't notice Quinn doing something similar until she was finished, and then she only caught Quinn straightening the flattering long-sleeved top she'd chosen for the occasion. It was a little odd seeing her out of her Cheerios uniform again, Rachel reflected, but she'd always preferred her this way. She seemed more approachable, strangely enough, since Rachel had never been able to freely approach her without some kind of backlash.

She shook herself of those thoughts when Quinn—finally—broke the awkward silence that had encompassed them.

"Hi," she said. Shortly. Stiffly. Quinn-ly.

Rachel nodded, glancing at her sideways. "Hey."

Quinn twisted her sleeves around her thumbs. "Are…are you having a good time?"

Rachel's gaze narrowed on Quinn suspiciously, and if she wasn't mistaken, a faint blush appeared on the porcelain cheeks. Was Quinn Fabray really trying to make conversation with Rachel Berry? And was she…nervous about it? It seemed unlikely. Perhaps she'd noticed the mistletoe Rachel was standing beneath and—no, she was sure that would elicit ridicule, not embarrassment.

In either case, Quinn was waiting for an answer, so she flipped her bangs out of her eyes and made a show of clearing her throat.

"It's been splendid," she said flatly.

She was surprised by her own bravery. Nobody (except Santana) took that tone with Quinn Fabray. But then, Rachel was stuck under a sprig of mistletoe in Noah's living room while a party raged beneath her feet. She kind of had nothing more to lose here. Other than Quinn finding out about her aforementioned problem, which meant the sooner she could get Quinn to depart, the better.

"Are you?"

Quinn shrugged.

It seemed it had taken all her energy to manage speaking seven (or eight, if you counted the repeat) words to Rachel. Rachel was simultaneously surprised and irritated by Quinn's response. Surprised because she hadn't had her head taken off for the dry tone she'd used; irritated because it was completely unnecessary for her to come up there and pretend to socialize when she clearly didn't want to. She preferred it when Quinn blatantly disliked her and didn't bother hiding it. At least then she was being honest.

"So, have you signed up for SATs yet?" Quinn blurted, and this time Rachel knew she wasn't mistaken.

Quinn was blushing. Big time. And Rachel really didn't know what to say to that. She found herself blinking at Quinn, whose cheeks went a shade darker, if that was possible.

And before she could stop herself, Rachel's mouth was in action: "Did you really just ask me about SATs?"

As soon as the words hit the air, she knew it was the wrong thing to say. She really wished she could find the broken circuit that was supposed to be connecting her brain to her mouth. It would've been quite useful for moments like these, when her night was going sour and unleashing her temper on the populace, and Quinn Fabray was actually talking to her like a civilized person and Rachel wanted to make a good impression. But of course she had to screw it up. It was Christmas, after all. Why ruin a good thing by having something positive happen?

Sure enough, Quinn's expression shifted from embarrassed to angry—her typical defense mechanism. Labeling it 'typical' did not make it any less intimidating, Rachel noted, as she braced herself for the forthcoming explosion.

"I am making an effort to be friendly here," Quinn snapped, eyes ablaze. "The least you could do is reciprocate."

That irked Rachel. The 'effort' part of that statement. Which explained why she was, yet again, letting her mouth run away with her.

"Why bother, when we both know you detest me and always have?" She did not expect her voice to become so…wounded when she said that. She hurried to recover, lest Quinn pick up on it. "Or can't you even bring yourself to be honest about something as trivial as that anymore?"

The guilt overwhelmed her before she even finished uttering that scathing remark, and it tripled itself when Quinn actually looked…stung. As though Rachel had struck a nerve, and she knew she had. After everything that happened last year, how could she even consider bringing that up? After Quinn had even shown her how horribly she felt hurting all the people she had with her lies. Rachel felt like she'd hit a new low. She felt like Santana.

While the nausea from that thought hit Rachel, Quinn finished processing her hurt and nodded a couple times, as if to herself, before clenching her jaw and steeling her gaze, putting her mask back into place. And then she turned to retreat to the basement, and Rachel felt so horrible and even though she was literally glued to the floor, she simply couldn't let Quinn go like that. It wasn't in her nature.

So she called desperately: "Quinn, wait!"

To her relief, Quinn paused, but she didn't turn to face her. Her spine went ramrod straight, however, and Rachel took that as her sign to continue.

"I…I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that—I don't know why I did; I didn't even mean it. I just…." She sighed, collecting herself. "I'm sorry."

Quinn looked over her shoulder, and Rachel forced herself to meet those cold hazel eyes dead on, despite everything in her wanting to lower her gaze in shame. The steel in her eyes softened and her jaw loosened, and at last Quinn fully faced her, gradually taking back the steps she'd retreated to get to the door. Rachel was all at once relieved and annoyed, and she was sick of feeling two things at once, but it was hard to avoid when she was stuck to the floor and Quinn Fabray was standing a few feet away from her.

God, this night well and truly sucked. Rachel didn't often use her fellow teens' jargon, but there was no other way to describe this day without using profanity. It just. Plain. Sucked.

She rubbed her forehead.

"It's okay," Quinn said quietly, and though Rachel barely heard her, she managed to offer Quinn the smallest of smiles before sagging to lean against the wall again, utterly spent for the day. An eyebrow arched. "Are you okay?"

Rachel paused in her self-pity session, long enough to give Quinn the once-over. It was the concern in Quinn's voice that caught her. The question hadn't been asked lightly. It was weighted, as though the answer was very important. As though it meant something.

As per usual, Quinn was a closed book, though, and Rachel was left to sigh and nod against the wall.

"I hate Christmas," she breathed, surprising both of them.

She hadn't actually meant to say that…. 'I'm fine' was what was supposed to come out. She wasn't supposed to open up to Quinn, but, well, there was something about her company right now that was making her feel rather…safe, and comfortable. Perhaps it was the concern that had been in her voice just moments ago, or the way Quinn kept edging closer, as though she was asking permission to be nearer with each and every baby step.

Whatever it was, the look of complete shock and surprise on Quinn's face was so utterly adorable Rachel couldn't help but acknowledge the butterflies winging around in her stomach. It happened often when she spoke to Quinn—not that she would ever admit to it normally, of course, but right now that was okay. Because at this moment Quinn just looked…precious in all her curiosity and astonishment.

"Y-you hate Christmas?" She blinked when Rachel gave a confirming nod. "Why?"

Rachel smiled. Quinn sounded as though she'd regressed to her six-year-old self, just finding out Santa Claus wasn't real. Why couldn't the Head Bitch be this adorable on a regular basis? This aspect of her personality certainly went along better with the image of ultimate beauty she presented, though Rachel supposed the fierceness of her attitude as head cheerleader added a sort of exoticness to that beauty that the inquisitive little girl in her failed to capture.

Quinn was like some sort of wildcat, Rachel decided then. Beautiful to look at, but made untouchable by a fierce reputation, which somehow made her even more compelling. The little girl in her would, of course, represent the kitten form of the analogy. She was adorable in either case.

Rachel's smile faded when she realized that (a) Quinn was waiting on her answer and (b) she'd just spent the last…however long it had been pondering the blonde's beauty. There was something seriously wrong with her, she decided.

"I have a variety of reasons," she replied at last, and she was going to leave it at that.

But then Quinn's jaw stiffened again, as though Rachel had just hurt her feelings somehow—again. And, apparently, Rachel just couldn't take hurting Quinn's feelings, because she was elaborating before she knew it.

"You'll likely think I'm insane when I tell you this—or, rather, more insane than you were previously aware—but I have every reason to hate this holiday. You see, I've somehow been cursed to a lifetime of bad Christmases. It never fails; something bad always happens."

Quinn's hazel eyes were lit up with amusement, and even though she was looking unfairly gorgeous again, Rachel sighed. "I warned you," she mumbled.

"I don't think you're insane," Quinn said suddenly, and Rachel's head snapped up to gape at her. She faltered. "Well…you're kind of…intense? Sometimes, but you're not crazy. I just…what makes you think you're cursed?" Her lips curved up with amusement when she spoke the last word.

She was pretty sure that this was the first time Quinn had ever given her something even resembling a smile. It was…distracting, and she had to tear her eyes away to formulate an answer.

Rachel pretended to consider this. "Well, out of the seventeen Christmases I have now had…five have ended in hospital visits—" the blonde eyebrows shot to her hairline "—six have ended in an illness of some sort, and all but four have resulted in embarrassment galore. Literally every year, something bad has happened on this day; this one is no exception." She muttered the last part before picking up in volume again. "So forgive me if it seems ridiculous to you that I've developed a belief in curses. My only other option was paranoia; though in my case, I suppose it wouldn't be that when it seems that someone truly is out to get me." She sighed.

Quinn caught her lower lip between her teeth, and if Rachel's attention hadn't been so captivated by the motion, she would've noticed how sheepish Quinn suddenly looked. Maybe. Maybe not, since she was also internally marveling at the fact that four people now knew of her Christmas secret, and that one of them was Quinn Fabray, whom Rachel had once vowed never to trust farther than she could throw her. The same could be said of Noah, of course, but this was different. She and Quinn weren't even close to being friends.

Maybe. She wasn't sure now that she'd shared something that she viewed as so personal with Quinn; and she wasn't even making fun of her. Rachel tilted her head curiously at that thought, but Quinn distracted her by moving her lip out from underneath her perfectly aligned white teeth.

"I'm sorry," she said softly, and Rachel's gaze snapped to hers again. "I didn't know."

Her shoulders lifted in a half-hearted shrug. "Why would you?"

"I'm sorry Finn ruined this one for you as well," she added, voice stronger and filled with disdain for the boy who was probably rounding second base with that dumb cheerleader as they spoke.

But Sam wasn't doing that with Quinn, and that thought, for some reason, cheered Rachel a bit. She found herself smiling at Quinn.

"It's certainly not your fault," she said lightly, and she didn't miss how Quinn's eyes brightened at the somewhat friendly tone she was being addressed with now. "Really, it's mine. I should know by now that leaving the house only leads to further disaster. Not that staying in is by any means any better. After last Christmas, home isn't even really home anymore." She tried her best not to let the sorrow wrenching at her heart coat her tone, but she knew by the concern in hazel eyes that she'd failed miserably at that. She tried to lighten the mood. "Next year, I vow to stay in bed the entire day. It'll call for provisions, of course, and—"

"Wait, what did you mean by that?" Quinn cut in, a determined gleam in her eye and set to her jaw.

Lovely. I woke the HBIC.

"By what?" she prompted innocently.

Quinn tossed her head with her patented eye-roll and huff combination, and somehow even that made Rachel feel safe and secure in her presence. It was familiar, unlike all the admittedly cute half-smiles and blushes Quinn had been giving her throughout this conversation.

"Rachel," she said sternly.

Okay, that was most certainly not familiar. Since when did Quinn Fabray address Rachel Berry by name? It was, to understate things, startling and, even though Quinn had said it with irritation coating her voice, it was also said as though it was, well…familiar. Like Quinn said that all the time. It was discomfiting and comforting and why did Quinn Fabray have to be so damn confusing?

Rachel had to give herself a firm mental shake, all the while wondering precisely how many times she'd stared vacantly at Quinn during this conversation. At least the view was nice.

The bright hazel eyes hadn't strayed from their target, and Rachel shifted uncomfortably under her scrutiny, wishing desperately she could move her feet. She needed to pace, move herself out from under that intense gaze so Quinn couldn't see how completely broken she was when she answered her. The only thing she could do was lower her gaze to the carpet, where the glue still hadn't dried enough to allow her to crack her way out of it. Her shoes would be forever ruined, she realized.

"My fathers separated last year," she heard herself whisper, and flinched at the tears she could already feel burning at the back of her eyelids. "On Christmas."

She couldn't bring herself to meet Quinn's eyes, but she could've sworn she felt Quinn move closer. It was unmistakable, really—the power of her presence was overwhelming, and it intruded on Rachel to the point where it was almost uncomfortable. Usually. Right now it was…oddly comforting, and Rachel was yet again cursing her confusion when it came to the cheerleader standing next to her.

"They got into this stupid fight over the milk, because Daddy likes regular and Dad likes two percent and, of course, I just have to have soy, so it's always this big ordeal," she continued bitterly. Why was she even still talking? "But I didn't think anything of it at the time. I was just happy I hadn't had a concussion yet. I went upstairs to check my email, or-or something, I don't really remember. I heard them start screaming at each other and…by five that evening, Daddy was going to a hotel and Dad went into his room and…I didn't see either one of them for the rest of the night."

There was silence beside her, and though the music was still banging at the obstruction of the basement door, Rachel could still distinctly hear Quinn breathing, in and out—slow and easy. She felt soothed by the sound and leaned unconsciously toward Quinn, who inhaled hesitantly before finally letting her question breeze past her lips.

"How long did they…?"

"Two months," she said softly, and finally glanced up to meet the open-mouthed cheerleader's sad gaze.

"I…wow." Her jaw flapped a bit more and she shook her head, locking her eyes on Rachel's at last. "You held it together really well. I never knew anything was even wrong."

Rachel chuckled humorlessly. "Not really, actually. I clung to Finn as hard as I could, until that fell through. And then I leapt to Jesse, and fortunately enough for me, the mission he was completing for Vocal Adrenaline was important enough to him that my smothering didn't scare him off."

Quinn's features hardened into stone, her eyes going cold and impenetrable. Rachel could only assume it was at the memory of what happened before she latched onto Finn, or possibly what Jesse had pulled on New Directions.

"I wouldn't call that fortunate," she said lowly, and Rachel was again left to stare at Quinn.

Was that actually a bit of…protectiveness she heard in her voice? Was Quinn Fabray actually angry on her behalf? This conversation was the epitome of strange, Rachel decided.

She shrugged. "Fortunate or not, he helped me through it. He distracted me from everything that was going on at home, and for that I'm grateful."

Quinn only sighed, through her nose, because her jaw was still clenched from mention of Jesse. Evidently she had nothing to respond to that with, so Rachel simply sank back into the silence between them, listening to the soothing rhythm her steady breathing provided.

"How are things now?" Quinn asked at length, looking genuinely curious and, more than that, concerned. "Between your dads, I mean."

She took a moment to consider that. "Better, I think. Nothing was truly resolved after the argument. Daddy simply came back one day and things went back to the way they were, except now they seem to find excuses to be away from home. And when they are there…I just keep waiting for something to snap. I almost wish they wouldn't come home, because I just hate walking on eggshells around them, hoping I won't unintentionally trigger another blow-up."

Rachel stiffened with surprise when she felt a gentle thumb swipe across her wet cheek, and she looked to Quinn through blurry eyes. She hadn't realized she'd been crying. The thumb retreated and Rachel frowned at the loss. Only because she enjoyed physical contact when she felt like this, of course. Not because Quinn's touch had settled something deep within her, relaxing a part of her she hadn't known needed it until she felt the relief that release gave her.

Quinn smiled shyly at her. "It wasn't your fault, you know. I'm so sorry you have to live with that, but you have to know you had nothing to do with it. There was nothing you could've done."

Rachel considered that for a long moment. Quinn was being unbelievably kind to her, and she felt like she deserved some type of reward for it, particularly considering their history. So she smiled wryly, and it felt odd on her face in front of Quinn, rather than Noah, and shared another thing with her that few people knew about: her sense of humor.

"I could've settled for two percent milk," she said with a lighthearted shrug.

Surprise lit up her hazel eyes before a startled laugh tripped past her lips, and Rachel found herself unable to hold in a giggle at hearing the musical sound come from Quinn's throat. And because of her. She felt unaccountably proud of herself as they chuckled together.

Eventually, Quinn cleared her throat and smiled widely at Rachel, leaning in almost conspiratorially. The temperature in the room suddenly spiked and Rachel swiped at her hot cheeks with remarkably cool hands.

"Well, now that I know your dairy preferences," Quinn played, eyes practically dancing with her laughter, "can I ask you something really personal?"

Rachel fought the terrible flush creeping up her neck in vain. "Sure," she said meekly.

"If you hate Christmas so much, why are you standing under the mistletoe?" Quinn asked in sincere curiosity, and it was then that Rachel noticed that, oddly enough, she wasn't the only one blushing.

"Um." She glanced above her, mentally cursing the stupid sprig of poisonous vegetation for disrupting the moment. "I…."

She could have said she hadn't noticed it was there. Or that she'd been about to tear it down when Quinn entered the room. Or, really, any variety of lies to deter Quinn from finding out the truth. Some part of her—a large part, to her chagrin—however, was begging her to tell the truth. Quinn had been so kind and good to her, and she was feeling so remarkably comfortable with her. It seemed unfair to start lying to her, rather than trusting in the tentative camaraderie they'd just developed. Besides, there was still that other part of her that was dying to scream for help because she couldn't move an inch. Not for the first time, Rachel was grateful her small size hadn't come with claustrophobia.

"Can I tell you something without you laughing at me?" she asked tentatively, and she was surprised by the hasty answer she received.

A nod. "Of course."

Rachel bit her lower lip, and just as the motion had drawn her gaze before when Quinn did it, the hazel eyes narrowed in on the action now. She could've sworn her pupils just dilated a little. Maybe. It was probably the lighting.

Her cheeks were so hot they felt as though they were actually on fire. She wondered if she would look sunburned tomorrow morning.

"I'm stuck," she blurted at last, and Quinn's eyes darted back up to hers.

"You're…you're what?"

"Stuck," she repeated, a little impatiently this time. She wiggled her leg fruitlessly for emphasis. "Noah apparently thought it appropriate to spread glue beneath the mistletoe. I suppose he assumed it would heighten his chances of catching a 'babe' for the evening. However, he failed to inform me and I'm afraid I had the misfortune of standing in one spot for a moment too long and—"

"Oh, my God," Quinn choked out, half in alarm and half in laughter, and Rachel pinned her with a glare.

"You said you wouldn't laugh," she reminded her with a pout.

"I-I'm not—I mean, not at you, I just—Puck is such a moron," she growled, throwing her hands up, and then her voice took on a higher pitch. "And why didn't you say anything earlier? I would've—I don't know."

She dropped to her knees then and Rachel nearly choked on her own spit at the mental images that action gave her—really, what was wrong with her tonight? She was glad Quinn was looking at her feet, not her face, because she was certain she would be approximately the shade of a beet at this point. She chomped down on her tongue in order to bite back a squeak when Quinn started tugging at her legs and heels.

"I-I thought you might laugh at me," she excused herself, just for something to do, because if she focused on Quinn's hands on her legs…why did God hate her? Seriously. "Or perhaps invite the rest of the party up to take pictures and possibly throw ice cold beverages on me."

Quinn froze for a second before swiping her hand over her calf in a—did she just caress her? Rachel didn't have a chance to wonder at that, because Quinn gave one last tug and then a grunt, wiping off her jeans as she popped back up to her feet.

"What kind of glue did he even use?" she grumbled angrily. "I can't get it. Um, I'll…." She ran restless fingers through her blonde locks. "I'll see if I can find any shoes in Puck's mom's room, just-just wait—" she bit her lip. "I'll be right back."

Rachel didn't have a chance to respond, because Quinn had scurried away and leapt up the stairs, apparently happy to take them two at a time in her rush to rescue the trapped brunette. My hero… she thought dazedly.

It wasn't long before Rachel heard the sounds of Quinn thundering back down the stairs, flushed and out of breath and holding a pair of brown loungewear slippers. Rachel did her best not to wrinkle her nose at them, but Quinn must've seen her disgust anyway, because her expression suddenly turned apologetic as she approached, at a slower pace now.

"I'm sorry, these were all I could find," she said sincerely. "I have no idea where the woman keeps her real shoes, but they weren't in her closet or her drawers or—"

"It's all right. These will be just fine to drive home in," Rachel cut in, sighing heavily as she eyed the slippers resignedly.

Quinn didn't respond, but Rachel was too busy waiting for her to pass them over to take much notice. When Quinn finally stepped within range—and then some—she pressed the slippers into Rachel's hands, their fingers brushing and sending heat spiking through Rachel's centre yet again. She attempted to ignore the sensation, instead lifting her head to thank Quinn.

Only to be met with the softest lips she had ever felt in her entire life.

Rachel's eyebrows shot up to her hairline and her eyes went wide enough to rival Ms. Pillsbury's. Er, Mrs. Pillsbury-Howell. How can you possibly care about correcting yourself right now? Quinn Fabray is kissing you!

Right. About that…. First of all, um, why?

It wasn't that it wasn't nice (more than nice; God, her lips are so soft), or that she wasn't enjoying it (uh, duh; your knees are practically about to give and you're hotter than a bonfire in Hawaii). It was just…she was a little…confused.

Was it the mistletoe? Because she didn't really have to—oh, wow. Quinn let this gusty sigh go against her lips, washing them with the heat of her breath, and then she captured Rachel's top lip between hers, as though to renew the kiss, and Rachel couldn't help it any longer. Her eyelids fluttered to a close and she started to give a little back to the kiss that had previously asked nothing of her—tentatively, because she didn't want to break this spell Quinn seemed to be under.

To Rachel's relief, Quinn only seemed encouraged by the response, lifting a hand to caress her cheek while the other gripped lightly at her forearm that was still between them, holding the slippers. Quinn's lips moved delicately over hers, soft and gentle, but there was a heat behind her motions that Rachel had never felt before, and it sent tingles shooting over her, responding to Quinn in a way she hadn't known her body was capable of. She found she would've been content to stay like this forever, even if they didn't deepen the kiss—enjoying each other's lips and the sticky mix of their lip-gloss and hot breaths, and Quinn's warm hand against her cheek.

It was only when that hand dipped beneath her ear that things changed. Long, pale fingers burrowed into Rachel's silky locks and all at once, she found her mouth opening to Quinn with a moan because, God, that felt amazing and she dropped the slippers, going to wrap her arms around Quinn's neck—but she didn't make it there.

Quinn jumped when the slippers hit her own feet, knocking their noses together, and then she gaped at Rachel in something resembling…panic. It made Rachel's stomach twist and she went to comfort Quinn, reassure her—of what, she didn't know, but she couldn't just stand there—but her mind was still in a haze from the kiss and she failed to beat Quinn to words.

"Oh, God," Quinn gasped, pressing her hand over her mouth briefly before she stammered, "I-I'm so sorry! I didn't mean t—I—"

And then she ran for it. Literally, she ran from her.

Rachel was unstrapping her heels before she could think twice about it and she didn't even care that she was going down to that basement with ugly brown slippers on. Because Quinn could not just do that to her. She couldn't give Rachel the best, most romantic, erotic kiss of her entire existence thus far and then just walk—run—away.

She whipped open the basement door, not bothering to swing it shut behind her as she shoved her way past the couple that was still making out on the steps, scanning the mass of people for that blonde head. Brittany and Santana were still in their corner, and there was Finn with his cheerleader at the snack table, and—

Rachel had been certain she'd filled her quota for Christmas torture this evening. She had been certain that almost nothing (besides losing a Broadway role) could break her heart more than finding out Finn lied to her about Santana and his virginity. She had been wrong on both counts, she guessed, because Quinn was curled up on Sam's lap, head buried in his neck, and Rachel felt the disappointment and the devastation and the frustration and anger hit her all at once and before she knew it, she was crying for the third time that evening.

She fought the onslaught of tears, leaning her head back to coax them back to where they came from, but it was no good. Her lips trembled and she felt a warm streak of wetness go down her cheek and she just had to get out of there. She turned abruptly, remaking the path she'd just taken and ignoring the drunk guy laughing about her 'granny shoes.' The couple she'd shoved past three times now yelled something about being rude and when she finally reached the door, she slammed it shut as hard as her little frame could manage, heaving great, shaky breaths as she tried to calm down from the emotional rollercoaster she'd just been on.

Rachel rubbed her eyes angrily. This evening wasn't supposed to turn out this way. Not at all. She wasn't supposed to cry over Quinn Fabray. And she certainly wasn't supposed to cry harder over her cuddling with her boyfriend than over Finn making out with some cheerleader. But then, Quinn wasn't supposed to kiss her, either. And it wasn't supposed to be good when she did. And Rachel wasn't supposed to feel something for Quinn Fabray other than indifference. She wasn't supposed to want her.

Why did Quinn have to confuse everything all the time? She took away Rachel's control, her reason. It was as if Rachel's world was a snow globe—and Quinn enjoyed shaking the hell out of it every chance she could, mixing it up and tossing the pieces around, inspiring complete chaos, and Rachel had to scramble to get everything back in order. Just to have her do it again.

Like tonight. Her world had finally been righted on its axis after her breakup with Finn, and then Quinn had to come along and be friendly and nice and caring. And then, just to top it off, she had to kiss her and proceed to completely wreck the first December 25th that may have actually ended in something positive. As if Rachel's life wasn't already miserable enough.

And when they returned to school, Rachel knew she would have to go back to wearing her raincoat for at least a week. Because there was no way Quinn was going to let things go after something like that.

As Rachel reached her car on the other side of the street, she stopped to glare up at the sky, arms folded to protect her from the bitter chill of the night and tears still streaming angrily down her cheeks.

"If this is your idea of a joke, it's not fucking funny!" Rachel shouted, and she hoped God heard, because she couldn't show Him a PowerPoint of reasons it was poor manners to torment someone like this every Christmas.

Not to mention, playing with someone's feelings this way. It wasn't fair to play with her head. Make her think she had some kind of chance with Quinn for the first time since Rachel realized the girl gave her butterflies, only to rip it away from her like that. It just wasn't fair.

And with that thought, as Rachel turned on the engine and prepared to drive away from that misery-inducing party, the anger melted away and all she was left with was her broken sobs as she leaned against the steering wheel.


Sam knew as soon as he saw Quinn come bolting down the stairs like the devil was after her that something…not good had happened. And if he hadn't known then, his suspicions were confirmed when she plopped herself in his lap and proceeded to bang her forehead against his collarbone, punctuating each hit with a mantra of, "Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid."

He replied with his own mantra of, "Ow, ow, ow, ow."

She still didn't seem to notice that her skull-collarbone collision was actually kind of hurting him until he started rubbing her back and said, over the music, "Uh, Quinn? Are you going to tell me what happened, or just keep trying to break my collarbone? Because if you are, I'm going to have to ask you to stop. I broke it once when I was younger and it's…it's not fun, Quinn."

Quinn's motions and words gradually came to a stop then, until she was just leaning her forehead against his chest and breathing deep, in and out, calming herself. He smoothed his hand up and down her back comfortingly, waiting for her to gather herself enough to either tell him or ask if they could go.

Mercedes was looking over at them concernedly from where she was dancing with Anthony, so Sam smiled reassuringly, mouthing, 'She's tired.' Quinn really didn't need the hassle of talking to someone new about her feelings while she was dealing with whatever bad thing had happened with Rachel. He breathed a sigh of relief when Mercedes nodded understandingly and turned back to Anthony with a bright grin.

His attention was torn away from the diva when he felt Quinn's head start to lift from his chest. His heart clenched in sympathy at the absolutely miserable look on her face, and he squeezed his arm around her as she gradually changed positions, leaning her head back on his shoulder. She sighed.

"You wanna talk about it?" he prodded gently, and she bit her lip.


"Okay," he said easily. "Do you want to go?"

Quinn shook her head.

Sam frowned in thought. "Uh…okay. What do you want to do? Cause I'm kind of at a loss he—"

"I kissed her."

He froze beneath her and she only sat there, chewing on her lip occasionally. Well. That was certainly brave. Up to tonight, Quinn had been absolutely convinced there was no chance in hell Rachel could ever like her after their history. And now she was going around landing big ones on her. He wondered briefly what had changed her mind about her chances before casting the thought aside. He was sure she would tell him later.

"I take it it didn't go well," he prompted, and Quinn flinched. He frowned, about to ask what was wrong, but she beat him to it.

"Oh, it did."

"Um, what?"

Quinn craned her neck to look at him, expression simultaneously serious and stunned, as she said, "She kissed me back."

Sam grinned before he could think about it. "Well, that's great! I told you she had some repressed les—"

"And I ran away," she cut in, and then whipped her gaze away and shrank in on herself, as though she knew exactly what was coming.

His grin flipped upside down and suddenly he was scowling at her profile with all the force he could muster. He was proud of himself when he saw her wince and burrow further into herself.

"You…I'm sorry, you what?" he demanded. She opened her mouth, but he wasn't finished. "You mean to tell me that you freaked out after the wedding, weeping in my arms and telling me how sorry you were that you were gay, asked me to keep pretending I was with you and help you out, and proceeded to spend the next month pining after her only to run away when you finally got your shot?"

Quinn was even paler than usual and her eyes were wide with panic, but she nodded—albeit meekly, and with a self-deprecating wince. Sam flicked her in the head.

"Ow! Hey!" she yelped, sitting up sharply to glower back at him.

He shrugged unapologetically. "I'm sorry, but that was just…even Finn is smarter than that."

She literally growled at him, and he leaned back into the cushions of the chair, feeling suddenly uneasy. Fortunately, she managed to calm herself down enough that she didn't kill him. Instead, she just huffed and did a great deal of sighing before she finally burst with an explanation.

"Look, I didn't even mean to kiss her! I just—she was just standing there looking so adorable and gorgeous and I-I couldn't help myself, okay? So I did. I kissed her and she kissed me back and I just got so caught up and then the slippers fell—" his face twisted with confusion and she waved a dismissive hand "—long story—and I-I got startled and…I panicked." She bit her lip sheepishly.

Sam sighed, cursing his inability to withstand the pout of one Quinn Fabray. Those eyes were always what did him in, really, and he found himself squeezing her shoulders in sympathy. She smiled a little, relieved that he didn't seem to be angry with her anymore, and leaned back into him.

"Okay…so, I just have one question," he said at length, stroking a hand over her hair.

She shifted a little. "What's that?"

"What the hell are you still doing here?" he asked, bending to catch her eyes. She bit her lip again. "Why didn't you run after her or something?"

"After what I just did?" she retorted, scowling. "I don't think so. She probably hates me right now."

He huffed. "Yeah…hence the running after her. Apologizing, explaining, you know, the whole winning her over thing?"

Quinn was pouting again. "I'm sorry; I just got…scared. I've never done this side of things before. Usually other people try to win me." She sighed, slumping against him. "She's probably halfway home by now anyway."

Sam sighed. Damn that pout.

"Yeah, you probably have a point there. But still. I fully expect you to find a way to fix what you mucked up this weekend when we go back to school," he said sternly, and she nodded agreeably.

"Yeah. I'll figure something out…."

And he couldn't help a smile when he saw the determined glint of the Head Bitch In Charge enter the blonde's eyes.


Rachel wished she could train herself to wake up later than six in the morning on December 26th, but the habit was so ingrained that she didn't even need the alarm to do so. Usually it wasn't a problem, because usually she was just so relieved that she'd survived another Christmas that she didn't even care if she was in the hospital or surrounded by a sea of Kleenex. This year, however, all she wanted was sleep.

Sleep was good. Sleep didn't let you remember the horrible things that happened the previous day. And even if she'd had some rather…interesting dreams featuring a certain blonde cheerleader last night (fueled, no doubt, by an infusion of real happenings; not because any repressed feelings had been unleashed), she didn't remember the outcome of that kiss in the dream. She was free to enjoy Dream Quinn without reality barging in and ruining her fantasies.

But sadly, as per usual, Rachel couldn't make herself sleep once she'd woken up. She spent the first few minutes of the day rubbing her tear-stained cheeks and willing herself not to cry all over again. And then she stared at the clock for approximately thirty-three minutes, watching the neon green numbers change, and trying not to think of the previous night.

When she finally dragged herself out of bed and into the cold, cruel world, the first thing she did was toss Noah's mom's slippers into the wash. She had walked in the street with them, so it was only polite to clean the grime off. After an hour on the elliptical, during which time she mostly just stared ahead and tried to see how little effort she could put in while still making the machine move, she decided a shower would take too much effort. She just wanted to lie in bed all day, after all, and showering was a standing activity.

So first, Rachel switched the slippers into the dryer, and then she drew herself a bath. In which she stayed until the dryer buzzed from across the house, dragging her from a light doze. She toweled off and threw on some sweats before making the trek downstairs to grab the slippers on her way out and back to Noah's house.

She didn't really want to go back there so soon, but it was only fair that she deliver the slippers, since she had taken them. Besides, Noah was probably experiencing a wretched hangover and it wouldn't be safe for him to drive. Not that Rachel was much less of a danger to those around her. The daze she was in nearly had her blowing off a stop sign.

Luckily, the drive wasn't that long, and soon she was trudging up the walk to the Puckerman home, not letting her twisting stomach get to her as she drew nearer and hit the doorbell. The muffled sounds of shouting floated from inside and Rachel winced in sympathy for Noah. Not that he deserved it, but his mother was downright frightening at times, and well, after what happened with Quinn, she just didn't have the energy to be as angry with him as she was before.

She was about to ring again when the door suddenly whipped open, revealing—to her relief—Noah.

"—not my fault!" he was shouting. She blinked, waiting patiently for him to acknowledge her, and when he did, a grin split his face. "Hey, Rach, where did you disappear to last night?"

Normally she would've burst out with the whole story. Normally she would've yelled his head off for getting her stuck in his stupid little Venus fly trap. But, well…she just didn't have the energy. She never thought that would happen to her, but she guessed it had finally happened. Quinn Fabray broke her.

Rachel smiled sadly in answer and lifted up the slippers. Noah's eyes went wide as he took them from her, and then his expression crumpled, going so apologetic that she was sure she would've melted if she weren't broken anyway.

"God, those were your shoes? Babe, I'm so sorry. I didn't even realize I—"

She sighed heavily. "It's okay. I washed the slippers for your mom. Please tell her I'm sorry for borrowing them without asking."

Noah frowned, wounded. "Look, please don't be mad. I'll make it up to you, all right? I'll—"

"I'm not mad," she cut in, giving him a severe look when he looked ready to protest. "It all turned out fine, all right? Quinn found me and brought me those slippers and—"

"Wait, Quinn?" His expression darkened. "Did she—"

"—I didn't like those shoes anyway," Rachel finished, again shooting him a warning glare, daring him to push her.

His mouth was open, ready to come out with it, to question her, and they were at a standstill. Rachel pursed her lips meaningfully, and she saw Noah's scowl deepen as he read the message. She wasn't talking whether he asked or not, and he didn't like it. But he closed his mouth, accepting it, and she nodded gratefully, because Noah truly was a good friend in that aspect.

"I'll see you on New Year's Eve," she said at length, fiddling with her keys. "Good luck with your mother."

She smiled, just a bit—enough to give him courage, she hoped—and headed back down the walk, not noticing Noah's frown twist with a mixture of concern and fury, and not hearing him call back into the house, "I'm heading out. I'll be back later."


Puck was pissed. He didn't know if he had a right to be. He didn't even know if he was pissed at the right person, or what he was pissed about. All he knew was that something happened to his gold star last night, and that Quinn had something to do with it. And he might be a shitty friend some of the time, but he was not putting up with this anymore.

Even if it meant cutting Santana off from enjoying the Puckasaurus, he was going to get those assholes in the glee club to start acting like the friends they claimed they were to Rachel. Starting with Quinn, who had been pulling this crap for long enough. And if she didn't like that he was pounding relentlessly on her door at eight thirty in the morning the day after Christmas, then too freaking bad for her. She could suck it up.

"I'm coming, God!" he heard her yell, and he smirked.

Good. Served her right for doing whatever she did to Rachel that had her acting so…un-Rachel-like. He didn't stop pounding on the door, knowing it would irritate her even more. And sure enough, when she whipped it open, her face was flushed and her eyes were ablaze with her aggravation, and his smirk almost grew. He shoved it back down in favor glaring at her.

"Hey, your mom home?" he asked before she could speak, and shoved past her into the foyer.

This conversation would probably go a whole lot smoother if Judy Fabray wasn't there to interrupt, after all. He heard Quinn huff as the door clicked shut behind him, and he turned to face the scowling blonde.

"Sure, come on in; make yourself at home," she said sarcastically, folding her arms defensively.

"Is your mom home?" he demanded again.

She threw up her arms. "Why, are you here for a booty call? Because first, ew. And second—"

"Would you just answer the damn question?" Puck growled, and Quinn eyed him with mild surprise.

She looked almost impressed that he would speak to her that way, but she didn't comment.

"No, she's not home," she grumbled at length.

"Thank you." He took a few steps forward as he said lowly, "Now why don't you tell me why the hell you had to do it?"

Her pink lips parted, brow knitting with genuine confusion, and he huffed when he realized he was going to have to be more specific. Of course she wouldn't think about how her actions affected other people, especially Rachel Berry. When had she ever, really?

"What are you talking about?" she asked cautiously, and he was pleased when he saw he had her full attention.

"I'm talking about whatever it is you did to Rachel," he snapped, and Quinn went pale.

So pale, in fact, that he took a step forward just in case she passed out or something. Now he was the one frowning in confusion, though, which only multiplied his anger. She shook her head slowly, avoiding his gaze.

"I don't know what you're talking about," she murmured.

"Like hell you don't. Just tell me why you did it, Quinn. Why couldn't you, for once in your life, just let Rachel be? Instead of fucking up the one Christmas she's had that was actually sort of okay," Puck snarled, and he knew he'd gotten carried away, but she wouldn't know what he was talking about anyway.

As usual, the vulnerability in Quinn's persona was folded up and shoved aside before being covered up by the one emotion she seemed truly comfortable with: anger. Her spine stiffened and her hazel eyes were on fire again, and he remembered how much he loved watching her get like this, reminding him so much of himself. He shook his head of those feelings. This was about Rachel, not him and Quinn's screwed up relationship.

"Oh, yeah, because it was going so well for her before, what with getting glued to the floor and all," she bit out, tossing her head with a roll of the eyes.

"Oh, that is so not the point. If you hadn't found her, I would've—without completely ruining her night."

"You don't even know what I did," she retorted. "So do—"

"I don't have to know to see that whatever it was, it hurt her bad," he shot back. "She wasn't herself this morning, and I know you had something to do with that."

Quinn faltered. "Please. She was probably still crying over Finn."

"No, I had her cheered up, and she was not that bad about it last night. Now stop trying to put this off on somebody else. You did this; now own up to it." He paused, breathing heavily, and those hazel eyes scanned him, a contemplative look on Quinn's face. He grew impatient too quickly to wonder about it. "Hell, normally you'd be bragging about it, so—"

"I kissed her."

Puck felt a variety of different emotions in the seconds after Quinn said that. Disbelief, jealousy, rage, arousal—all of those were major players in his reaction. But Quinn didn't falter when she said it. She was looking him straight in the eyes now, chin lifted like she was daring him to question her. Which brought him back to jealousy and arousal for a moment before he settled on what he knew Rachel needed him to.

"Why?" he asked, frowning.

Quinn looked taken aback. "That's it? You're—"

"Why, Quinn?" he demanded again, scowling to let her know he wasn't taking any crap.

She paused, pursing her lips, and avoided his eyes. "I don't know."


She growled in frustration. "I just told you I—"

"No, you don't get to do that," Puck snapped, shaking his head. "Not this time. You can claim to not know why you slept with me behind Finn's back and you can claim to not know why you dumped me over the summer, but you don't get to do that with Rachel. She deserves better than that, so don't think I won't push you until you tell me the real reason you decided to mess with her head."

She stared at him vacantly for a moment, lips pursed and wheels turning in her head.

"Since when do you talk to me like this?" she prompted quietly, catching him off-guard.

He couldn't answer for a moment, but when he finally got his tongue and teeth and lips in working order, he said simply, "Since you screwed with my Jew."

He was expecting…well, he didn't know what he was expecting, but not this. Quinn nodded slowly, like she completely understood his protectiveness. Like she would feel the same way. And when she finally answered him, he thought that might actually be true.

"I have feelings for her," she admitted, so softly he almost didn't hear her. But he did, and he ended up gaping, and Quinn shifted uncomfortably before pacing across the room toward the couch, though she didn't sit. "For about a month now. Maybe longer. That's just when I finally admitted it to myself. I just…didn't know how to go about it, you know? We'd been 'enemies'—" here she rolled her eyes "—for so long, I just…I didn't think she would be interested, in the least. And I…I wasn't even sure I wanted to do anything about it. I'd just gotten my life back into place and I didn't…." She sighed. "I didn't want to wreck it by coming out as a…a lesbian."

He swallowed at that heavy admission, but again, he had to shove his reaction to the side. Because this was about Rachel. She needed him to do the right thing right now.

"You better damn well be sure about Rachel," Puck said, and though he wasn't yelling anymore, he made sure his message was firm. "Because there's no way I'm letting you near her—for any reason—unless I know you're not gonna hurt her. She deserves somebody who wants her and isn't afraid of it."

His ex dipped her chin in acknowledgement, gazing at him seriously. "I know that. I'm not afraid of that anymore. I'd rather have a messed up life with her than an unhappy life without her."

It was rare that Puck ever truly wanted to hug someone who wasn't Rachel. But in this case, he wanted to scoop Quinn up and swing her around the room a couple times. Because yes, Quinn Fabray had finally pulled her head out of her ass. In a really unexpected way, but still.

"Good," he said gruffly, covering up his grin by wiping his mouth.

"Of course, that doesn't mean I knew how to deal with it any better than I did before," she continued wryly, an almost self-deprecating look on her face. "I just…like I said, I didn't know how to go about…changing things between us."

He nodded, understanding, and she looked relieved until he replied, "Well, repeatedly telling her you want to punch her in the face was definitely an excellent first step. Well played."

Quinn glared at him sourly and this time he didn't bother covering up his cheeky grin. Then he remembered that this wasn't really helping Rachel…of course, he wasn't sure what the right course of action here was. If she was that devastated about Quinn kissing her, he supposed he should assume that she did have feelings for Quinn. But they hadn't really talked about it before, so he didn't know.

He frowned in thought. "Okay, first thing's first. We're gonna fix this."

Quinn rose up in surprise, hazel eyes wide. "You…you're going to help me?"

"If you tell anyone I said this, I'll deny it, but…I can't stand to see Rachel like this. It hurts my heart. So yeah, I'm gonna help you patch things up with her," he said seriously, glaring when she cracked a grin at him. "Shut up."

"I didn't say anything," she replied innocently.

"I know what you're thinking, and shut up, okay? That's no way to treat the man who's helping you get your woman." He paused, frowning. "Never thought I'd say that to a chick."

Quinn rolled her eyes.

He shook his head clear. "Anyway. I hope you've already got some idea of what you're gonna do, because if you don't, this could take a while."

Quinn nodded once, biting her lip sheepishly, and Puck gestured for her to go ahead.

"What's Rachel's favorite Christmas song?"


Rachel had finally gotten her wish. Lying in bed all day was a gift she was actually grateful to receive, because it meant if she laid still enough, she could empty her mind of every stray little thought that entered it. And, for a while, it made her feel better.

However, lying on her back had never been very comfortable, and she was afraid she was going to have to move again. A painful twinge in her tailbone confirmed the notion and she took a deep breath, bracing herself for an onslaught of unpleasant thoughts as she rolled herself onto her side and burrowed deeper into her pillow. She sighed with relief when the thoughts never came, and she was again left with the peace and—

Carolers, apparently. A guitar, or two, was strumming along with the singers, and Rachel had to commend them on how complementary of one another they sounded. They harmonized extremely well, and the way they had altered the introduction to the song was actually rather nice. Normally, she found herself annoyed at having her favorite Christmas song (so what if she hated the holiday, some of the music was still lovely) tampered with, but this was pretty good.

Except…okay, now she was annoyed. The singer, though beautiful, was completely messing up the lyrics.

"Last Christmas, I gave him my heart, but the very next day, he gave it away."

She hated to tell the caroler this, but that was not at all the way it went. Though…that voice sounded rather familiar. It had butterflies winging around in her stomach again and—it couldn't be.

"This year, to save me from tears, I gave it to someone special."

She flung aside the covers and strode to the window, feeling oddly energized by the sound of that voice, and when she unlatched the glass and leaned out, she could only gape at what she saw. The entirety of New Directions, minus Finn, Tina, Mike, and Artie, of course, was standing on her lawn. Mercedes was standing by Santana and Brittany, who were, surprisingly enough, holding hands as they sang the 'ba ba ba's; Noah and Sam were sitting on the hood of the former's beat-up Pontiac, both playing their guitars.

But the most shocking part was Quinn, who was standing on the roof of the Pontiac, singing up at Rachel's window. Rachel bit back the urge to demand she get down from there immediately—before she hurt herself—because when Quinn caught sight of her, an excited smile took over her face and she glanced down at Mercedes, Santana, and Brittany. They all gave her encouraging looks while Rachel gawked.

And Quinn was so flustered she almost missed her cue. Mercedes had to mouth the words up to her, and Rachel couldn't help a small smile in all her shock.

"Once bitten, and twice shy, I kept my distance, but you still caught my eye," Quinn pointed up at her with both hands, grinning when Rachel felt herself blush. "Tell me, baby, do you recognize me? Well, it's been a day, it doesn't surprise me."

Rachel giggled at that alteration, and that seemed to give Quinn more confidence, as she started swaying a little with the others.

Noah and Sam hopped into the song then, startling Rachel out of her admiration of the gorgeous blonde serenading her, "I wrapped it up and sent it, with a note, saying—"

Quinn continued, locking bright hazel eyes on the singer in the window, "'I love you', I meant it. Now I know what a fool I've been, but if you kiss me now, I'll never fool you again."

The beautiful blonde's expression turned sorrowful and sincere with that last line, and Rachel felt her heart completely melt. She noticed in her peripheral vision that Brittany was also melting, because Santana had joined Quinn for the last part of the verse. She was happy for Brittany, but the only one she was interested in at the moment was repeating the altered version of the chorus, keeping those burning hazel eyes focused on her alone.

The references to the previous night were fairly obvious when the song continued on.

"A crowded room, friends with tired eyes, you're hiding from me, and my soul of ice. My God, you thought he was someone to rely on; me, I guess I was a shoulder to cry on." Rachel shook her head heartily at this lyric, making Quinn's beautiful, tingle-inducing smile return. "A face of a lover with a fire in his heart, a man undercover, but you tore me apart. Now I've found a real love, I'll never fool you again."

Rachel was nearing tears as Quinn and the others finished out the song, but for once on December 26th, they were happy tears. She was fairly certain that it was, in fact, the first time this had happened. She wiped her eyes and sniffled, smiling warmly down at Quinn still standing on the roof of the car as Noah and Sam played the last chords.

"Merry Christmas, Rachel!" Brittany shouted with a squeak, and the others laughed while Mercedes echoed her with a "Merry Christmas, girl."

Even Santana added, "Merry whatever you Jews celebrate, dwarf."

Quinn shared an eye-roll with Rachel before the former said her 'thank you's to the girls as they retreated to their cars parked on the street. Sam was still packing up his guitar when Quinn grinned up at Rachel again, stealing her breath away, before mouthing, 'Come down?' Rachel nodded eagerly, eliciting another happy beam from Quinn as she stood and shut the window.

She darted down the stairs at a speed she didn't know she was capable of and yanked on a coat, stuffing her feet in her boots as quickly as she could before bursting out of the house to meet Quinn, who was finally off the roof of the car.

"Thanks for the help, Sam," Quinn was saying, though she quickly turned her smile onto Rachel—who was thrilled to see it go from appreciative to ecstatic in an instant.

"No problem. Hey, Rach. I mean, Rachel." He cleared his throat. "Sorry for the confusion about everything. Our pretending-to-be-together plan was kind of dumb, but…."

He shrugged sheepishly, and Rachel smiled brilliantly at him. It only grew in size when she felt Quinn's hand slowly entwine with hers, spreading heat over her skin and butterflies to her stomach.

Things really made a lot more sense now.

"It's all right," she assured him, and he smiled, turning to go. "Oh, and Sam?"


She grinned. "You can call me 'Rach', if you want."

He grinned right back, and Rachel's attention was drawn away from his retreating form when Quinn squeezed her hand lightly. She smiled shyly up at Quinn as heat coiled in her lower abdomen the moment her body realized her proximity.

"That was…amazing," Rachel concluded, barely able to keep herself from tackling Quinn to the snow and kissing her senseless. "I…I don't even know what to say."

Quinn's grin was blinding, particularly up close like this.

"Rachel Berry, speechless. I must be good," she purred, and Rachel couldn't even begin to blame her red cheeks on the cold.

"Damn. You two are gonna be hot together. This was totally worth it," Noah commented, and Rachel nearly leapt out of her own skin—she'd forgotten he was there. He smirked at her briefly before his gaze flickered to Quinn. "Don't let her lose that smile. I'll kick your ass, baby mama or not."

Quinn smirked right back as Noah turned to pack up and leave them alone as well, and Rachel turned her attention right back to her.

"I'm sorry about last night," Quinn said instantly, and Rachel faltered at the melancholy present in her eyes. She opened her mouth to assure her it was all right, but Quinn wasn't finished. "I know I caught you off-guard, first with kissing you and then running away, and…I just want you to know that it had nothing to do with you. I mean, the kissing you did, b-because I wanted to do that and everything, but the running away was all me. I have a pretty tightly wound bolt reflex and I just panicked, and I'm sorry. I swear it won't happen again if you…if you want me."

Here her cheeks went pink and her smile turned shy, and with the snowy background in place, Rachel thought Quinn looked just like an angel. An angel she very much wanted to try a relationship with, because, well, maybe she did sort of, maybe, kind of have feelings for Quinn. She was about to announce this to her, when she interrupted again, speaking hastily.

"I mean, I know you're probably not really over Finn yet and I respect that, because it's only been like a week or something, but I really—I want to try, even if you just want to be friends right now. We can take it slow and I'll wait. Wh-whatever you want, I'm…I'll be willing to give it a shot," she said anxiously, and Rachel squeezed her fidgeting hand comfortingly. "Just don't be too mad at me if I accidentally kiss you again."

She smiled lopsidedly and Rachel chuckled, because honestly…the girl was just adorable. She could've gone on one of her famous Rachel Berry tangents at that moment, detailing exactly how she wanted the relationship to work and progress. But for some reason, she didn't want to. There was only one answer she wanted to give Quinn, and so she did.

Quinn's eyes went a little wide when Rachel shifted closer, lifting a hand to the back of her neck as she simultaneously brought herself up on her tiptoes, and brought their lips together. Quinn sank into her lips with a sigh, locking her fingers with Rachel's on the hand she was still holding and bringing the other hand up to stroke through her hair, and Rachel smiled into the kiss, because she'd finally found someone she enjoyed doing that to her. She was pleased to find that the heat behind their kiss hadn't lessened, even with last night's mistakes. If anything, it had only gotten more powerful, and Rachel couldn't resist teasingly flicking her tongue out to taste Quinn's lips—briefly, before she sank back to her heels.

She grinned cheekily up at Quinn, who let out a groan of disappointment before slowly letting her eyelids reveal those bright hazel eyes to Rachel. They looked like they were sparkling, like a firework had gone off in them, and Rachel was all the more captivated by her angel in the snow.

"I'd love to try a relationship with you, Quinn," she said softly, and the beam she received was so heartbreakingly gorgeous she couldn't help but lean in to peck her lips again. "I think slow is our best course of action at the moment, because, as you say, I still have some feelings for Finn. However, what I'm feeling for you is infinitely stronger than the lingering affections I have for my first love," she explained hurriedly when Quinn started to deflate. "And you deserve nothing less than all of my heart, so…slow, for now."

She received Quinn's tender kiss with a smile and a sigh of contentment when she pulled out of it, running her soft fingers down Rachel's jaw and cupping her chin.

"Okay. Like I said. Whatever you want." She smiled, then took a bracing breath. "However, with that in mind…we're pretty much going to be facing the Inquisition from Mercedes, Santana, and Brittany when we go back to school."

Rachel arched a quizzical brow and Quinn bit her lip sheepishly.

"I had to trade favors to get them to do this for me without asking too many questions on short notice," she explained, and Rachel couldn't help the chuckle that wrenched from her throat.

"And what exactly are you going to have to do for them?" she asked impishly, then winced at a thought. "Please tell me Santana and Brittany did not ask for any kind of sexual favors."

Quinn pondered this. "Sort of. I have to get them out of a Cheerios practice—and take their punishment—so they can go do whatever they do that I don't want to think about, and Mercedes gets my next solo." She shrugged.

Rachel's butterflies stirred up again and she smiled widely up at Quinn. "How did you get so sweet?"

"Eh, she ate a lot of candy while she was pregnant," Noah interrupted again, and Quinn practically growled at him.

"I thought you were going," she grumbled.

"Hey. That's no way to treat the guy who helped you get your woman," he said sternly, and smiled at Rachel. "I wanted to say goodbye to my gold star."

Rachel broke away from Quinn just long enough to give her best friend a warm hug, but her hand returned to Quinn's as soon as they parted.

"Thank you, Noah."

"No problem. Just think of me as your friendly neighborhood lesbro," he said, shrugging.

Both girls giggled at this, and Rachel's grin grew tenfold when she felt Quinn press her lips to her hair. She leaned back into her, feeling truly happy for the first time on December 26th.

"Guess your Christmas turned out all right after all," Noah called from beside his car, smirking at the two.

Rachel considered that statement for a long moment before realizing that she was incredibly cold. She tugged at Quinn's hand as she turned to trek toward the warmth of the inside, and said loudly enough for both to hear, "I still fully intend on spending the entirety of Christmas day next year in bed."

Quinn completely froze behind her and Rachel dropped her hand to take off her boots, missing Quinn exchanging a wide-eyed look with Noah. He grinned at her and Quinn shrugged, hurrying into the house after an oblivious Rachel.

"I have no qualms with that whatsoever."