Disclaimer: I own nothing. All belongs to Glee writers and creators.
Where to Begin
It had to be in her purse. It just had to be. If it wasn't, she wouldn't know where else to look. It wasn't in either of her lockers—she'd even emptied out her duffel bag in her gym locker just to make sure, even though she'd highly doubted that's where she'd have left it. She was right, and now she was in a panic in the middle of the choir room, dumping the contents of her purse on the top of the piano and pilfering through the mess this created. Her stomach clenched with apprehension the longer her search went on, and her hands started to tremble.
If she couldn't find it, she was screwed. It was the key to everything: the one thing people could use to expose her as the fraud she was. Her plan had been foolproof up until now. She'd even intended on deleting the contents of the dangerously informative flash drive upon returning home, but now it was floating out in some McKinley student's pocket or purse, or a faculty member's desk, just waiting to be opened and to ruin her for what felt like the hundredth time.
She didn't even know how to begin to narrow the search, to get to this person and offer whatever bribe they needed to keep their mouth closed. Her fists clenched around the items nearest to her fingers, pressing them hard into her palms in a vain effort to dissuade the urge to sit down and sob, to distract herself from the panic with pain.
She just couldn't lose everything. Not again.
"You know, you've really been full of surprises this week, Quinn."
Her fists loosened instantly and the keys she'd been indenting into her skin fell to the piano with an audible clutter, a gasp stealing her breath as her eyes snapped open and she took in the sight of one Rachel Berry meandering into the dimly lit room, toying with something in her hands. She was still wearing her 'nose' shirt from earlier, but now there was a black knit sweater jacket draped around her form, tied at the waist. She smiled demurely at Quinn, as though she hadn't just startled her within an inch of her life, and leaned against the doorframe, as if to prevent escape.
Quinn swallowed the lump in her throat, trying to steady her breathing and compose before Rachel could catch a glimpse of the wreckage. "Rachel. What are you doing here?"
"I mean, first voluntarily accompanying me to the doctor's so that I could emulate one of your prized features," she continued on casually, as if Quinn hadn't spoken a word, "and then not only willingly singing with me, but actually suggesting we duet." She paused, lips pursing briefly. "Now Lucy."
Butterflies batted irritatingly at the insides of Quinn's stomach, and she had to admit—reluctantly so—that it was much more pleasant than the sickening clenching it had been doing earlier. Still, she avoided Rachel's gaze in favor of scooping up her belongings, piling them unceremoniously back in her purse.
"Not to mention the fact that all of the above, to do with me anyway, was completely altruistic in nature," Rachel observed, and Quinn shook off the pause those words gave her, the way the butterflies sped up. She had hoped—so hoped—that Rachel wouldn't be so observant. That she wouldn't realize— "I mean, no offense, but usually I have to keep one eye on my back at all times to be sure there isn't a knife waiting to plunge in my dealings with you." She instantly bristled, glowering at Rachel, who raised a calming hand. "Not that I have been much more trustworthy when it comes to Finn."
She lowered her head shamefully, but Quinn's hackles were already raised, and she threw her lipstick tube haphazardly into her purse, making Rachel visibly jump at the harsh noise it created.
"Does it always come back to Finn for you?" she spat, smacking her purse down on the wood of the piano and ignoring the second whole-body jump Rachel gave. "Are you really that obsessed? Because, frankly, it's a little—no, check that—a lot creepy," she hissed, and Rachel flinched. She wasn't the least bit sorry.
"You have to admit that he serves as somewhat of an epicenter for our problems with each other," she replied softly, as if her tone would prevent that statement as serving as yet another provocation for Quinn.
She sneered, raising a hand to count on her fingers. "Other than the fact that you're annoying and loud and—"
"You didn't seem so bothered on our trip together earlier this week," Rachel retorted easily, mimicking Quinn as she took a step forward for each point. "Or at lunch afterward, or while we rehearsed our—"
"Fine," Quinn barked, sighing with relief when Rachel ceased encroaching on her space. Not that she was that close. She just didn't want her…closer. "I can put up with you for a few hours, big deal. Everyone in glee club has to have some immunity to your grating personality built up by now."
"You've apparently built up enough to willingly do me favors without any ulterior motives," she said simply, and Quinn was left to swallow and turn back to her purse, hurrying her movements now. "And you can't deny that, in this case, it was entirely selfless on your part. I gave you plenty of opportunity to deny my request when I asked for your aid, and we only discovered just how against my nose job Finn would be following the doctor's appointment. So you obviously couldn't have been helping me out of a desire to make me less attractive to him. It had nothing to do with Finn."
Her knuckles were white where she was gripping onto the edge of the piano, again hoping the burn of the sharp edge digging into the sensitive flesh of her palms would wash away her panic, but to no avail. She breathed steadily, in and out, as she formulated a response for Rachel. God, how was she supposed to argue with her when she was making perfect sense? When she was exactly right?
Finally, she muttered dryly, "Never thought I'd hear that out of your mouth. It's a little weird, I'll be honest."
"I know you have a tendency to deflect when you're being emotionally cornered, Quinn," she replied, a tinge of sympathy to her tone, "but please do try to let me reach my point before you run away, metaphorically or otherwise."
Quinn's walls again went diving up in front of her and she hastily grabbed her purse, giving Rachel a big fake smile. "Great! I'll sit down and get some homework done," she mocked, turning to stride toward the risers, "and you just give a shout when you've gotten there, mmkay?"
"You were the only person on my side this week," Rachel called.
"Did you know that?" she added, softer this time. "You supported me, and listened to me, and you carried me as far as I wanted to go through the whole process without cluttering up my head with unwanted opinions. I really, truly appreciated it, more than you know."
The butterflies hastily made their presence known in the silence of the pause that enveloped them, and Quinn slowly, reluctantly turned. She kept her arms tucked to her ribs as she eyed Rachel sideways, spying only a glimpse of that that irritatingly earnest look Rachel always seemed to wear in their rare, honest conversations like this one. Rachel took a slow breath.
"Before this week, I really didn't know what to call you, Quinn. That's why I hesitated in the doctor's office. Were you my rival? My teammate? My ex-bully?" Quinn closed her eyes briefly. "In the end, I chose 'friend' because…any of the other labels didn't seem quite right and, frankly, would have been slightly inappropriate to say in strange company. But after everything you've done for me this week, I feel like…it is the right label. You're my friend now."
Quinn met her eyes abruptly, those wide, sincere brown eyes. She was so honest. Why did she have to be so honest? Quinn's jaw worked for a moment, ridding her of sudden nervous energy, and she glanced pointedly toward the door.
"Are you done then?" she said flatly, as if those words, that word, hadn't meant anything to her. As if they hadn't sped up the butterflies. "Because I'd really like to—"
Rachel was smiling. "You're a wonderful actress, Quinn."
She shifted her stance again, eyes narrowing as she examined her curiously, arms tightening around her ribcage. "What are you talking about?"
"I guess it's just supremely lucky for you that the majority of the population pays so little attention to the small cracks in every performance," she said lightly, and Quinn's stomach tightened with that familiar ache of anxiousness, fear.
"I have a photographic memory, Quinn," she continued, saving her from having to get through that sentence without biting her own tongue because her brain was moving too quickly for her mouth. "It's part of what helps me memorize sheet music so well. I recall not only the lyrics, the words, but the exact notes that accompany them. I see it in my head. And I remember quite clearly that in freshman year, our history teacher assigned us a very particular project to help us better understand the concept of timelines: one of our own lives." Her heart rate picked up, her palms going clammy where they were clutched tight against the crooks of her elbows. "Yours had a thin little blonde girl with a fair complexion in every single picture." She could hear the beats in her ears, going faster than they should have. "Now, I've no doubt that you're skilled with Photoshop, but I doubt you went through every one just for a simple school project."
Quinn swallowed thickly, blurting the first thought that entered her mind, clinging to that one shining spot of hope. "How do you know those weren't pictures of my sister?"
She raised her chin defiantly, pleased with her own retort, and Rachel, too, looked impressed. It didn't stop her, however, as she stepped closer. Her fingers were still twisting something close to her chest, drawing Quinn's eyes briefly there before she forced them to her eyes, standing her ground.
"First of all, your eyes are incredibly unique and far from forgettable," Rachel said, a quirk to her lips as she searched the hazel depths. Quinn could feel a layer of heat start to coat her cheeks. "Second, based on the general line of events floating about the school, you received your nose job around the ages of thirteen and fourteen. Recovery from rhinoplasty takes up to a year to completely heal. The level of swelling might have gone down remarkably if you had entered McKinley around the six month mark following the surgery, but it still would have been present. Looking at your transfer picture, I see only a slight, and completely natural, difference in facial structure as you matured. Your nose, however, has not altered."
Rachel stopped here, and Quinn's panic had faded to the background in light of the fact that she couldn't argue this. Rachel had obviously researched it. How could she be so stupid to make up the nose job thing when Rachel herself was looking into it? Had she thought Rachel wouldn't give it much thought? She should've known better, really. Rachel had always enjoyed sticking that big nose where it didn't belong.
She leveled a glower at her, hackles and walls up in full force, and moved on to what was obviously the next step in this little discussion. "So what? You're going to expose me to the school as a fraud? Again? Ruin every chance I had to be Prom Queen?"
Rachel blinked, looking flabbergasted. "I've already told you I'll be voting for you in—"
"You're going to blackmail me into breaking up with Finn so you can finally have him back in your arms?" she spat, ignoring the quiet response she'd received.
Her mouth dropped open. "No! Of course—"
"Then what do you want?" Quinn snapped, watching the astonishment on Rachel's face fade to mere puzzlement as she tilted her head to one side, a wave of brunette hair following along.
"Want?" she echoed, confusion hanging from her voice.
"Yes, what do you want from me? What do you want me to do—no, what do I have to do to get you to stay quiet about this?" she demanded, seething. Did she really have to drag this out? It was hard enough.
And then suddenly, Rachel was smiling again. This sweet, amused quirk of her plump pink lips, her eyes sparkling to boot as thick lashes batted over them alluringly. "Quinn," she chided gently, "I've just told you. You're my friend, and friends don't rat each other out."
It was Quinn's turn to gape.
She knew she sounded incredibly childlike as she asked, voice so small in comparison to how loudly it had boomed just moments before, "You're not going to tell anyone?"
She blamed it on the butterflies that had taken place of the clenching gut.
Rachel's smile broadened. "Mum's the word."
Quinn's brow furrowed, tightening with confusion as she eyed Rachel warily. "Then why did you…?"
"I simply thought I would point out a few flaws for you to flesh out, should anyone else happen to notice, though I see you've already come up with a backstory for any school projects that used old photos," she replied, as though it should have been obvious what she was doing all along. A smile curled Quinn's lips. "Excellent thinking, by the way."
"You're a good friend, Rachel," Quinn murmured, breathlessly, and any that had been left was sucked from her lungs when Rachel gave her a bright grin, not in the least bit fake.
Her brown eyes darted down to whatever she'd been fiddling with throughout this conversation, and she took a deep breath. "And because I'm such a good friend," she said, tone teasing, "I'm going to remind you not to leave your stuff lying around. You are very good at Photoshop, Quinn, but I fear Lucy doesn't look so authentic when compared with the real picture."
Quinn's eyes went wide, and with one flick of the wrist, Rachel tossed the object in her hands over.
Quinn hastily caught it in open hands. Before she could say a word, Rachel was retreating to the door and out of the room, and she opened up her palms to peer down at the black flash drive resting there. The butterflies stirred and she looked up at the empty doorway in shock.
And then she smiled.