Disclaimer: I own nothing. All belongs to Glee writers and creators.
Frozen as Snow
She knew as soon as she stepped through the door. Actually, she'd known for a long time. Ever since they got together, practically, it had been something hovering at the back of her mind. She knew that, eventually, it would happen. And she knew when she set foot in their shared apartment, catching a glimpse of the darkness her lover had surrounded herself in, in her absence, that things had changed. And it had happened.
She was taken aback, for just a moment. And then the numbness set in, and she set her keys in the bowl with a sense of detachment, shut the door behind her out of habit, left her suitcase by the door, and called a bright "I'm home!" out to the silent rooms. She pulled at her gloves, a finger at a time, when she received no answer.
She had felt like this before. Nothing, not a thing, except a cold dread coiled in her stomach, threatening to bulge and rise up until she was clutching to a porcelain god for dear life, emptying herself of the sickness the world around her had infected her with. She trusted this sense she had of things that she once thought made her psychic, but she knew it wouldn't be fair until she knew for certain. She had to hear it. She had to see her.
Her gloves were tossed next to the bowl with her keys, and then she started on the buttons of her winter coat. At the second one, she heard the sniffle from the living room. For just a moment, she paused, and she felt. It was horrible, that moment. The bile rose in her throat and her hair stood on end while her eyes burned with tears and her whole body felt as though it had just been dealt such a serious blow she was going to crumple and never get back up. She thought, after it was over, that that was how she should've felt. It was how she used to feel when these things happened.
The cold shell she was encased in now ensured that that would not happen. She wouldn't crumple and fall. She would stand straight and walk away, as she had so many times now, unscathed and harder and better for it.
She reminded herself she knew nothing yet as she unbuttoned the rest of her coat, but she didn't shed it just yet. It remained hanging from her frame, its blackness seeming an appropriate representative of her outer shell.
She trod lightly on the tiled floor, her boots clicking with each step despite her caution. One peek through the open doorway into the living room confirmed what she already knew. It had happened. There was no doubt in her mind now, yet she was still making her way to the doorway, leaning against it, searching for proof. Why?
Because she cared about her, something she had never thought would happen. But it was true. She cared about the blonde young woman sitting between the couch and the coffee table, on the floor, like she thought she wasn't fit to sit on the furniture like a civilized person. She was folded in on herself, her knees tucked to her yellow shirt-clad chest, hugging her arms around them and sniffling into her legs. And though she couldn't see anything but Quinn's hair cascading over her head and knees, Rachel knew she looked beautiful, even in tears.
Yes, she cared about her a great deal. She wanted to trust her. Even though she had no reason to, she wanted to, just for once, be optimistic again. It was foolish, but she did. And she wanted her, in particular, to prove her right. That there was good in the world, that she had reason to hope and trust and be happy. She should've known better.
But her voice was surprisingly gentle when she asked, "Hey. Are you okay? What's wrong?"
Because, well, it wasn't Quinn's fault. Rachel had been the one with the unreal expectations; she had been the one to idolize and saint her. Quinn did nothing but be who she really was, and really, what more could Rachel want? What more could she expect? Nothing. And she didn't, before now.
The golden locks shimmered, even in the dim light coming through the balcony window, as Quinn raised her head sharply. Rachel was right. She looked beautiful. An angel in tears that should've been heartbreaking, but all she could feel was dread. The shame in her face, the pain in her eyes…nothing but dread.
"Rachel," she sobbed quietly, pleading and desperate and so guilty.
She strode across the room, like a concerned girlfriend should, but she didn't bend and wipe away her tears. She stood before her in silence, staring down hazel eyes that had lost their spark. Those pink lips she knew so well parted and closed and then…she knew. She knew Rachel, looking pitilessly down at her, knew. Quinn's eyes closed, her chin dropped in shame, and fresh tears spilled down her cheeks without restraint.
Rachel felt Quinn flinch as she pressed her fingers to the bottom of that chin, lifting her gaze gently back to her own. Her face was wary, but hope was in her eyes. Rachel didn't react to either, simply looking deep into her eyes and slowly straightening back up, her fingers sliding away from the soft flesh once she was certain she wouldn't lose contact with the hazel eyes. She wanted to see them as she spoke it all aloud.
"You slept with someone," she said calmly.
Quinn sobbed before she could utter a syllable, and the coil in Rachel's stomach threatened to tear her apart from inside. She tightened her jaw, expression never wavering as she watched Quinn break down in front of her.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," she wept, words barely intelligible.
She waited until the cries had hushed. "When?"
Her eyes closed; she leaned her head back against the cushions of the couch. "A week after you left."
That somehow made it better. No particular time. Not any of the holidays she had been gone for. Not when she first left, as though she had just been dying to do this. Not when she was about to return, as though she wasn't even thinking about her lover's imminent return.
Fuck it, it wasn't any better. They both knew it. Rachel was making excuses, because she still wanted to trust this woman she cared for. She wanted to trust that she wouldn't hurt her like that.
She tossed her bangs from her eyes as she asked, heavily, "Who?"
Quinn's mouth opened and closed three times before she was able to force herself past the disgust and guilt and bile in her answer. "Santana."
More tears followed, Quinn easily slipping back into her sorrow at the utterance and the flash of something in Rachel's eyes. She didn't have any more questions. That was really all she needed to know. There was no need to remain in the room with her, and she could proceed on to what she had intended on doing as soon as she stepped in the apartment, as soon as she knew.
She walked away, back into the kitchen and down the carpeted hallway to their shared bedroom. She ignored the bed and went for her section of the dresser. She dug under her underwear and grabbed both items, shut the drawer, and took the same path backwards. Quinn was hugging herself when she passed, and she had quieted again.
Rachel pushed open the sliding door and stepped into the cold winter air. Her breath went up in white puffs, but she hardly felt the chill. She didn't know if it was because of her coat or because she was so numb.
She shut the door and stepped to the railing, setting the pack on the edge after knocking out a stick. She slipped it between her lips and flicked open the lighter, trying valiantly to get a flame started. Quinn would be surprised, if she was even paying attention. Rachel didn't do this often, after all. Hardly at all. She only really had it for emergencies, and so she had hid the nasty habit in her drawer, beneath her underwear, where no one else would have reason to look.
The first time she tried it was when Shelby rejected her for the second time. It coincided with the loss at Regionals, and she could have claimed that that was the reason she did it. She knew it was all on Shelby, and the cashier who hadn't checked her ID thoroughly enough to spy her age. It made her sick the first time, but it did its job.
The second time was after she found out Finn had slept with Santana and subsequently broke up with her. She didn't get sick, but she coughed the entire time.
The third time was about a year later, when her father's poor eating habits and stressful career collided. Since the stroke had paralyzed his right side, she had smoked a lot more.
She knew what it did to her. Damaged her vocal cords, weakened her lung capacity, heightened her chances for cancer and so many other things. All things that were very bad for someone with ambition like hers, someone who wanted nothing more than to sing, for the rest of her life. But a part of her didn't care. It was the part that made her start in the first place. The part that heard it calmed nerves, decided to try it for that reason, and realized it gave her exactly what she wanted. Slow death.
Because it was moments like those that had led to her habit, moments like this one, when she felt worthless, unwanted. She deserved this.
But she never thought she'd do it because of Quinn.
The door slid open to her right. She didn't turn to face Quinn as she stepped cautiously beside her, without a jacket. Instead Rachel looked out at the city lights, watching the now-silvery puffs wafting from her mouth hit the air and cloud the orange and pink of the horizon.
"You don't smoke," she said, and her voice was indeed filled with surprise, and a little shock.
She merely raised an eyebrow to the statement and took another drag. Clearly, she did.
Quinn didn't speak again, only hugging her arms around herself in the cold air. She stayed where she was, as though she was afraid intruding on Rachel's space would elicit some reaction she did not want. Rachel didn't know if she thought she would be violent, or if she thought it would speed her departure, but she supposed it didn't matter now if Quinn thought her capable of hurting her physically.
"Did you enjoy yourself?" Rachel asked candidly, as though she was speaking of a concert Quinn had attended in her absence, or an evening with friends she wasn't privy to.
She was shocked at the question. Rachel didn't know why.
"No," she said softly, slowly. As though she couldn't believe she would think otherwise.
She took a slow drag. "I'm sorry to hear that."
"Why?" she asked, almost sharply.
"Why are you acting like this?"
She gestured at her, as though that would get her point across. Rachel supposed it did. After all, she was smoking, quietly, solemnly avoiding eye contact. All very unlike her, under normal circumstances. She raised an eyebrow anyway.
"I'm not allowed to react the way I please?" she queried, and Quinn closed her eyes, fighting tears again.
"You are; I just…." She bit her lower lip, an action that would've melted her yesterday.
"I expected…more," she replied, struggling to keep her voice low.
"More of what?" She was curious.
She shook her head. "I don't know."
"Surely you must have some idea, or else you wouldn't have brought it up."
"I don't know," she said, voice wavering.
She tapped the cigarette on the railing and turned to face her fully, head tilting curiously as she took another slow drag, savoring the burn in her lungs.
"What would you like me to do, Quinn? Shout, scream, throw a temper tantrum over something I can't change?" she asked.
She noticed a shiver travel over Quinn's body at the monotony of her voice. Those words should've been spoken derisively, sarcastically, angrily. They would've been any other time. But she didn't feel anything, so she didn't pretend to.
"No," she said, quietly.
"Then what? Would you like more questions? Very well; how did it happen? Did you decide to do it before or after I left? What kind of perfume was she wearing? Did you enjoy it at the time?" The last was spoken suggestively, unlike her unless they were alone and teasing one another, but she didn't even blink. "Did you scream her name? Did you think about me, even once?"
Quinn grimaced at each question, very close to breaking down yet again, and Rachel thought she looked like someone who was being whipped. It didn't give her any remorse.
"Do you love her?" she added, arbitrarily.
"No, no, it wasn't like that!" she exclaimed desperately, tears streaming freely again. "We were drunk, Rachel, so drunk—"
She barked a laugh. "Of course you were."
"And I missed you so much, and I-I…it just happened. I hardly remember it, but I didn't—" she bit her lip, lowering her eyes. "I didn't. No one but you, Rachel. Ever." She took a shaky breath. "I love you."
"Well, clearly," she said dryly, and took another drag.
She flinched, but said, strongly, "It's true."
Rachel considered Quinn for several silent moments, watching her swipe away the tears on her cheeks and afterward quickly fold her arms to guard against the winter. She was stupid for not grabbing a coat, Rachel thought.
"Perhaps it is," she allowed, and hazel eyes sparkled with hope. She turned back to the railing, smashed out the stub of her cigarette, and busied herself with preparing the next one as she went on. "We're very similar, you know. Things we can't have…are unacceptable. We refuse that reality and fight until we have it in our grasp, despite whatever damage we leave behind us." She spoke around the cigarette as she said, "I suppose one could argue that Santana is the same way."
Quinn winced just at the mention of the name. She looked sickly in the dimming orange light. Rachel finished lighting and inhaled.
"But her? She holds onto what she worked for with an iron fist. We get bored after a while, throw it away for someone else to pick up the pieces." She smirked, just a little. "After all, it's not exciting if you can have it, right?"
Quinn only gazed at her, silently, and Rachel took it as agreement.
"Our relationship is a product of that particular character trait," she said, and Quinn opened her mouth to contest the statement. She was having none of it. "We suffered under the delusion that we were each other's worst nightmare, the one thing we could never achieve no matter how hard we worked for it. Once we had each other, it was only a matter of time until this happened. You just happened to fall back on an old pattern in order to get rid of what you didn't want anymore."
Quinn was struggling with anger. Her eyes sparked with it, her jaw clenched. Her nails were purple from the cold, but they were going white now. Her words were biting when she retorted, "This was not out of boredom with you. It wasn't…the last thing I want is to get rid of you. You have to know that. What happened didn't mean anything to me."
"Of course it didn't," she said casually. "Santana was drunk, there. And best yet, she was the most painful person you could possibly have chosen. Just like Noah."
Quinn was stricken; so much so that she didn't even have any tears for the blow. Rachel smoked in the stillness.
"Okay, I deserve that," she said, quietly.
Damn fucking straight.
"But know that you're completely wrong. I love you, Rachel. I want you more than I've ever wanted anything, and believe me, that is saying a lot. I would never…intentionally do anything to mess this up," she continued ardently. "You have no idea how much I hate myself right now."
"Oh, yes, I do." She inhaled deeply, then paused to stare at the burning end of the cigarette, the ashes threatening to drop off any moment. "I've been you."
Quinn hesitated, voice shaking when she spoke. "Did you love Finn as much as you love me?"
Rachel sighed. She hated her honesty right now. More than anything. She could lie about just about anything else, but not about how much she loved the blonde across from her. Because she did, despite everything she had just said. She knew she would never have gotten bored with her, because this was it. This was the one that everyone talked about; that one thing that left you completely satisfied and content. You never wanted anything else. This was enough. More than, in fact. It was everything. That's what Quinn was to Rachel.
"No," she breathed.
"Then you don't know," she said simply.
She took a drag in reply. Quinn watched her from where she leaned against the railing, only breaking her gaze when the phone rang inside. They both glanced toward the window, and Rachel broke eye contact as soon as it she caught it when they turned back. Neither went to answer the phone.
"I'm not surprised this happened," she said eventually, softly. "We're creatures of habit, after all. Perhaps someday I'll find a married man, with a wife and kids. I'll attach myself to him and refuse to stop until he's mine. I'll ignore the existence of his family until it's too late." She inhaled again. "It would be rather fitting, don't you think?"
"Rachel. Stop comparing yourself to Finn. You are not my Finn; Santana is not my Puck. This isn't high school. This is you and me, and I love you." She struggled for words. "I…I want to know where this leaves us. I need to know if you think we can get past this." Tears threatened yet again.
Rachel didn't answer for quite some time. She waited, until the cigarette was burnt almost to the orange of its stick. Then she smashed it and breathed in the cold, fresh air, longing for the burn instead.
"I'll stay the night with a friend," she informed her. "Tomorrow I'll retrieve my belongings. After that, I don't want to hear from either you or Santana again."
She went for the sliding door, pocketing the lighter, and Quinn darted before her, choking out, "No!"
She met her tearful gaze with stony eyes, waiting for her to explain her outburst. She didn't disappoint.
"Rachel, I don't want you to go; please," she whimpered, reaching for her, stopping short of touching her.
"One of us has to," she replied plainly.
"No, w-we can work this out," she protested, this time bravely grasping her shoulder. "It was one night, one mistake. Don't let it end us, please. E-even if we…we can't, please don't drop out of my life. I can't bear that. I need you; I need you to be in my life. I need to see you every day. Please, I love you so much."
"You want me to stay," she said, and Quinn nodded fervently, gripping her shoulder more firmly. "And what do you think will happen? Things will magically be better? No. I'll give you empty kisses; I'll hold you because that's what couples do. I won't make love to you; I'll fuck you. I'll come out here every night just to relieve the pressure of knowing what you did and pretending I'm happy." She gestured to the ashes resting on the railing for emphasis. "And all the while, you'll know I'm pretending, because you always have. Is that really what you want?"
Quinn shrugged helplessly and said frankly, "I just want you. How is completely up to you."
Rachel stared breathlessly into burning hazel eyes. She couldn't speak, couldn't move. Quinn was soaking up every bit of her presence she could, massaging her shoulder just to memorize the feel of it beneath her hand, letting her gaze travel over every centimeter of the beautiful face in front of her and blinking rapidly to keep her vision from blurring, because she had to remember every pore, in case she should take the sight away from her.
A snowflake fluttered onto a dark eyelash, making Rachel blink rapidly and look up at the sky, breaking contact with her. She sighed as the flakes flurried down at them, already sticking stubbornly in blonde and brunette locks alike, and met Quinn's hazel eyes.
"You can't have me," Rachel whispered, and shrugged Quinn's hand off easily before making her way back into the apartment, back to her gloves and suitcase and keys, and back out into the wintry world that resembled her demeanor, her heart, and the turn her life had taken all at once. Her lip quirked humorlessly.
Metaphors were important.