Author's Note: I was high when I wrote this. Truth. Like, two days out of the hospital, jacked on painkillers and insomnia, totally blitzed high. But, y'know, it's Mike Chang, and I love Mike Chang even when I can't write him, so...yeah. And I'm a weird tin-hat kid who likes the idea of Mike and Quinn for reasons that even I can't fathom. All that plus the drugs and...voila.
You're alone when you see them break up at prom. As the buzz has died down—finally—following the crowning of the king and queen, you're waiting while Tina is in the bathroom with Mercedes, your eyes wandering around the egregiously decorated room, and see Quinn and Finn in a corner, whisper-shouting angrily at one another. It's a familiar sight—Finn, for all that he was your friend, was a pretty terrible boyfriend more often than not, and you'd seen him arguing haplessly with Rachel or Quinn too many times not to know it—and you wonder what the fight is about this time.
You slide your eyes away from them in an attempt at being respectful, scanning around the room and watching as Rachel dances with cheerfully with Puck, Lauren sitting behind them and good-naturedly tossing balled up paper napkins at the back of his head; Kurt is dancing with Blaine, the content look on his face a welcome replacement to the abject terror and white knuckles that had been obvious when the two of them walked into the room together earlier; Brittany is sitting in Artie's lap, dancing in the captivating way that only she can while seated, oblivious to the fact that Artie's eyes are glued to her chest.
Santana is dancing with Sam, alternating between glaring at Artie and Brittany and determinedly ignoring them. Sam occasionally speaks to her, a concerned look etched across his features; she only shakes her head and grips onto him tighter. Your chest hurts a little for her—you've known Brittany for as long as you can remember, and Santana was always a part of the package, and seeing them so broken makes you wonder if any of them have a chance if even those two can't stay together. The dejected set to Santana's shoulders hurts to much to look at, and that's how you find your eyes back on Finn and Quinn.
They're no longer arguing. Finn looks bewildered and Quinn is crying silently, curved in on herself as she slumps against the wall behind her. Even from across the room you can see her legs and shoulders shaking, and your brow furrows as you try to will Finn into being a good boyfriend for once and at least try to comfort her.
Your psychic efforts are of no use, and watch with disappointment as he sighs heavily and throws his hands up, stalking off towards the exit. You watch her watch him leave, her shoulders shaking more obviously, before she makes her way towards the hallway leading to the bathrooms.
You debate internally for all of four seconds—Tina and Mercedes still aren't back, and Tina would understand if you were trying to help a friend—before climbing to your feet and striding after her. You've known Quinn Fabray since your first game of junior league football in the sixth grade, when she was rising above the other junior league cheerleaders with a commanding presence even at the age of eleven; for all of her mistakes, she's always been kind to you, and you hate to see her looking so disturbingly similar to how she did when she was pregnant and homeless last year.
She's slumped on the floor in the hallway around a corner, knees curled up towards her chest and arms wrapped around herself. She's staring at a bank of lockers across from her, eyes unfocused as she cries quietly, makeup leaving dark streaks on her face.
"Hey," you say quietly, unsure of how to start. "Are you okay?"
She looks up at you dully, a pathetic attempt at a smile twitching across her lips before she stops trying. She sighs, turning away from you. "Go away, Mike," she whispers.
You shrug nonchalantly, shoving your hands into your pockets. "I've got nowhere to be," you offer. You slide down the wall until you're sitting next to her, legs stretched out in front of you. Silently, you stare at the distorted reflections in the shine of your shoes.
Long seconds pass before she shifts, dabbing at her eyes halfheartedly and taking a deep breath. "Finn dumped me," she says softly.
You nod, fighting the urge to reach out and put a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry," you say, your voice just as soft.
"He said I was overreacting to losing," she goes on. "That it doesn't matter. That there's more to life than this and it's pathetic to focus on it so much."
She falls silent again, and you chance a glance over at her. She's staring down at her hands, fiddling with a ring on her thumb .
"He doesn't get it," she starts again. She looks over at you suddenly, the movement sharp and whip-like, enough to make you almost jump in surprise. The desperate look in her eyes beats against you, startling you out of the anger and frustration you'd been feeling for Finn. You don't think you've ever felt such an overwhelming desire to hurt someone, and you feel a stab of guilt at feeling like that for a girl besides the one you're dating.
Unaware of your internal debate, she continues on. "He doesn't get that people like us, like me and him, this is all we get. We're not the ones who get out of here and make lives somewhere else. We stay here and we become our parents, and this was that one last thing we could've had a chance at making ours, and we lost. And he thinks I'm overreacting."
You watch her for a long time, as her shoulders slump once more and she pulls her knees back up to her chest. After minutes have passed in silence, you see her shiver, and leap to pull off your jacket, glad for a chance to move. Ignoring her protests, you drape the jacket around her shoulders, pulling it tight to make sure it doesn't fall. You tug the bright blue handkerchief—meticulously matched to Tina's dress and folded perfectly by her mother—out of the breast pocket and offer it to her.
"You're both wrong, you know," you offer as she wipes at her face with the handkerchief. "He was wrong to say you were pathetic, or that you were overreacting. And you're wrong, because you're going to get out of here."
She laughs darkly, sniffling and shaking her head. "The only place I'm going is across town," she says. "I lost my chance to get out of here last year."
"No, you didn't," you counter. You shift up onto your feet, squatting in front of her. "You're Quinn Fabray, remember? You've got everything you need to get out of here, right there." You cheekily tap fingertip against her temple, drawing a small smile and a flush out of her.
With a smile of your own, you offer her your hands and carefully pull her to her feet. She wobbles tiredly on the heels she's wearing, and you grip her wrists gently until she finds her balance.
"Did he leave already?" she asks apprehensively, as if she knows what your answer is going to be.
"Yeah," you mutter. "Jackass."
She giggles quietly, and you smile a little wider. The niggling feeling of guilt returns as you think of Tina, but you shove it away, focusing on the girl in front of you.
"Do you have a ride?"
"I…I can ask Santana," she says after a moment. "She didn't look like she wanted to be here any more than I did."
You nod in agreement. "I'll go get her," you offer. With a reassuring squeeze, you let go of her wrists and move to leave. She catches your shoulder suddenly, halting your progress, and you turn back to face her questioningly.
She's silent for several seconds, staring at you thoughtfully before she reaches out and straightens the black suspender hitched over your left shoulder. "Thanks, Mike," she whispers. "Tina's a lucky girl."
Your throat tightens momentarily, and you want nothing more than the sprint out of the room and find Finn Hudson and punch him in the face. Instead, you duck your head to hide your blush and mumble a thanks of your own before turning again to go back to the dance. Her hand slides off of your shoulder, and you don't want to think about why your whole left side suddenly feels cold.
Inside, you pause where Tina is dancing happily with Kurt and Blaine and Mercedes, apologizing quickly for your absence and explaining where you were. She frowns when you explain what Finn had done, and nods when you kiss her cheek and make your way to where Santana is still gripping tightly to Sam.
"Hey," you say lowly, just loud enough to be heard over the music, after catching her attention and pulling her away from a confused Sam. She turns to you, a blank look in her eyes. "Can you give Quinn a ride home? Finn ditched her and she doesn't have a ride."
You watch with surprise as a dark grimace passes over her face before she nods. "Got it, Chang." She turns back to Sam, waving him over. "We have to go," she says firmly.
"We do?" Confusion is etched across his features, and you momentarily feel bad for ruining his prom.
"Yep," she says, blasé, hands on her hips. You never thought you'd be so relieved to see the old Santana back. "Q needs to go home and Finn's a douche, so it's you and me, Sammy."
He gapes at her, mouthing wordlessly for a few seconds before his mouth snaps shut and he shrugs, nodding. "Okay," he says. "Fair enough. I'll go get the car."
"Thanks," she says softly. You try to remember if you've ever seen Santana be quite that nice to anyone who wasn't Brittany, but decide that it isn't worth it to try and figure it out. She turns back to you, eyebrows raised, and you point over her shoulder to where you can see Quinn standing, silhouetted and shrunken in the doorway, your jacket still clutched around her shoulders, her chin dropped down towards her chest.
"Okay," Santana says. "Thanks for the heads up, Chang." She claps you on the shoulder before sauntering over to where Quinn is standing. You watch as she pauses in front of Quinn, saying something that makes Quinn crack a small smile, before she puts an arm around the taller girl's waist and ushers her out of the gym.
Two days later, you return from going for a run after church and see her standing uncomfortably on your front porch, a dry cleaned tuxedo jacket in one hand as she tries to explain to your mother why she has it.
"Hey," you say, leaping up the steps to stand beside her as you tug your headphones out of your ears. You flash a smile at her, and then your mom. "Mom, this is Quinn. We're in glee together."
Your mom nods stiffly, giving the blond girl one last appraising look before she makes her way back into the house.
"Sorry about that," you tell Quinn. "Mom is old-fashioned. She doesn't think boys and girls can be friends."
"Oh," Quinn says, a slight blush tingeing her cheeks. "I guess that explains why she looked at me like I was a cockroach in her kitchen."
"If it makes you feel any better, she was the same way with Tina the first time she met her," you offer.
She laughs softly, pushing her hair out of her face. She looks tired, as if she hasn't slept since Finn walked away from her Friday night.
"How are you?" you ask hesitantly.
She shrugs, the plastic around your jacket rustling loudly. "I'll be okay," she says. "It's not like I'm pregnant and homeless again, right?"
You grin at her, nodding. "True that." You hop up to sit on the porch railing, resting your elbows on your knees and staring at her appraisingly. "So I guess Santana and Sam got you home safe?"
"Yeah," she says. She hooks the clothes hangar on the front doorknob before moving to jump nimbly up to sit next to you, mirroring your posture. "Sam was surprisingly cool about it. I'm pretty sure he didn't expect prom to end with his girlfriend making him give his cheating ex-girlfriend a ride home, but he was really nice."
The self-loathing in her voice is startlingly evident, and you feel a sudden urge to grab her up and lock her away until she can be convinced that she doesn't deserve it.
"You're not a bad person, Quinn," is what you offer instead, hoping that it's something she's willing to hear. "Everyone makes mistakes, you know."
"There are mistakes, and then there are mistakes," she says, laughing half-heartedly.
You bump your shoulder against hers playfully. "We're kids," you say. "We're supposed to screw up. It's like a law or something."
She giggles again, and gently bumps back against your shoulder. You're both silent for a long while, and you stare contemplatively at the jacket hanging on your door, fluttering in its plastic encasing.
"Tina wasn't mad at you, was she?" she asks suddenly.
"Nah," you say, turning and smiling at her. "She was cool with it. She thinks Finn was being a jerk, too."
She nods slowly, staring down at her knees before she slides off of the railing and dusts off her jeans. "Thanks again, Mike," she says, smiling shyly at you. "I need to go. I should get in a run of my own sometime today."
"I didn't know you ran," you say conversationally as you amble down the sidewalk at her side.
She shrugs. "I didn't used to, not on my own. But after quitting the Cheerios, I need something to keep me active. Compared to Coach Sylvester's workouts, it's pretty low-key. And it's a good stress reliever."
You nod, coming to a halt as she climbs into her car. "We should go run sometime," you blurt out unintentionally. Your cheeks heat up at the way she pauses, keys halfway to the ignition, and stares up at you in surprise. An awkward half-second passes before her trademark Quinn Fabray smirk appears, and one eyebrow quirks up.
"If you think you can keep up, sure," she says nonchalantly.
"Oh, you're that good?" you toss back at her, the blush fading as quickly as it had appeared.
"Maybe," she says. She finally moves, starting the car and still smirking at you.
You shrug exaggeratedly, stepping back and closing the car door for her. She rolls down the window, the smirk fading into a genuine smile. "I run pretty much every day," she offers. "After I get home from glee."
You nod, leaning on your knees to see through the window. "Tomorrow I'm going to run circles around you, Fabray," you say cheekily.
"You wish, Chang," she says, shaking her head. She rolls her eyes before producing a pair of sunglasses and covering her eyes. "I'll see you at school."
You salute her comically as she pulls away, and stand stupidly watching as her car disappears down the street.
You've gone to see Matt twice a month since he moved. Brittany almost always goes with you—the three of you were the only students in your grade who loved to dance as much as you loved to breathe—and Santana used to come along, until a few months ago when she abruptly started avoiding Brittany. You invite Quinn along on a whim, on a Friday afternoon a few weeks after prom, because she hasn't' spoken a word during school or the long run you took and her eyes are overbright and sad. You don't remember until after you've spoken that it was about this time last year that her daughter was born.
She shrugs and agrees, and you pick her up the next morning with Brittany dancing in the front seat to Lady Gaga. She offers a reserved smile your way and squeaks in surprise when Brittany unbuckles her seatbelt and clambers into the backseat, long limbs flailing around as she hugs Quinn cheerfully and grabs her wrists, forcing her to dance along with the music. You spend more time than you should watching them in the rear view mirror on the drive to Matt's new house.
She's quiet when Matt bounds out of his house and barrels into the car, pounding his fist into yours and slapping Brittany's palm in a high five. His brow furrows momentarily at Quinn's presence and you tense up without meaning to, prepared to punch him in the arm, but he smiles easily and says "Hey, Quinn" in his typically soft-spoken manner.
She smiles back at him, returning the greeting quietly, and you watch in the mirror as she bites her lip and sits back while Brittany starts chattering away again.
The drive from Matt's house to the dance studio is short, and you watch with amusement as Quinn follows the three of you in through the back door, confusion written across her features. You hang back at her side, letting Matt and Brittany lead the way. "He teaches here after school," you explain quietly. "Me and Britt come up here every now and then for a jam session when there're no classes."
She shoots you an odd look, one eyebrow raised, but smiles crookedly and shrugs, motioning for you to lead on. You roll your eyes, wrapping one hand around her elbow and dragging her at a half-jog into the studio. Matt already has music on and Brittany is spinning in the middle of the floor, arms flung out wide as she giggles. You pull Quinn into the room, ignoring her blush as she stands there uncertainly, the three of you dancing around her.
It doesn't take long before Brittany charms her into dancing along with all of you, and you watch her out of the corner of your eye constantly, stumbling more than you ever have in the past. You'd never thought about it, but even when she dances, she looks restrained. Brittany dances wildly, long arms and legs flailing and body spinning on the precipice of lost control, but Quinn moves as if every step is measured, limbs never straying too far from her body. You wonder if she even knows how to relax and just move, and you feel a frown tugging at your mouth at the thought.
She looks over at you, then, and you realize that even if she refuses to loosen the chokehold she has on her control, she's still smiling and laughing and letting Brittany spin her around the floor in a corruption of a waltz, and the frown you'd felt starting to form disappears.
You and Tina break up during the second week of summer break. It's easy and amicable and you wonder why two people who get along so well can't manage to be in love with each other. She kisses you on the cheek and thanks you for the last year, and you hug her tightly. You know she still has feelings for Artie, and both of you know that his feelings for Brittany only extend so far as her boobs, so you imagine that by the time schools starts up again, Tina and Artie will be together again.
You meet Quinn every morning to go running before it gets too hot, keeping with the standing dates that had begun after prom. Some days you run easily, a meandering pace the lets you talk, and you find yourself wondering why it is you've never known that Quinn Fabray is funny. Some days it's all about the exercise, and you let her set the pace, matching your strides to hers as she pushes past your usual seven-minute mile pace and aims for a sub-six; on those days, you grumble silently and wish stupidly that Coach Beiste was half as insane as Coach Sylvester when Quinn manages to beat you in the last sprint to your house every time.
It's a Thursday in the last week of June when you beat her for the first time, a burst of determination carrying you just fast enough that you manage to tag the mailbox before she does, her hand slapping at the back of yours as you all but stumble to a stop, collapsing onto the grass.
"You cheated," she huffs out, falling down next to you. You're panting too heavily to respond—you ran to keep your endurance up for football, for dancing, but you would never be a natural at it. Quinn, though, cut through the air with ease, long and even strides carrying her forward smoothly, as if she were simply gliding along on a conveyor belt.
"Did not," you finally gasp out. You reach over and half-heartedly smack at her, managing to land a hit on her shoulder. She grumbles and kicks out, her foot slamming into yours.
You're silent, listening to the heavy sound of your breathing as it slows back down to an acceptable pace. She's quiet as well, her breaths already under control. Her foot is still pushed against the outside of your ankle, and you stare comfortably up at the sky above you.
"When do you have to leave for your thing?" she asks eventually.
"Saturday," you mumble, half-asleep even with the grass scratching at your sweaty skin and your chest still aching from the run. You were going to be at a dance workshop in Cincinnati for a week, learning capoeira as you try half-heartedly to foster a fuzzy dream of dancing professionally one day.
"Early," you add sourly. You've never been a morning person, and for some reason the idea of getting up early to drive to another city seems like so much more of a chore than getting up to go run with Quinn.
She laughs at your bitterness, kicking at your ankle again. "It can't be that early."
"Early is early," you mutter. "Stop laughing at me."
She laughs again, and you smack at her shoulder again. She kicks you a third time and you kick back, starting to laugh with her.
After she's sufficiently beaten you in your childish kicking-fight, she pushes herself up to a sitting position and looks down at you, eyes suddenly a little too serious for the laughter you feel still bubbling up from your stomach.
"What happened with you and Tina?" she asks solemnly, eyes narrowed as she stares you down.
You shift uncomfortably under her gaze, having forgotten how piercing her eyes can be when she has an objective in mind. Stalling, you push yourself up on your elbows, letting your head fall back as you exhale slowly.
"We're friends," you say finally. "We were always friends, and we really care about each other, but we're just not… I don't know, meant to be or whatever. We figured it was better to stop faking it and just stay friends."
She stares at you critically for long seconds, and you fight the urge to squirm like a child in the principal's office. You busy yourself with slowly shifting to a sitting position, wiping the last of the sweat off of your forehead with your t-shirt and scrubbing a hand through your hair.
"That makes sense," she says after a long while. "It…" she pauses, biting down on her lip as she seems to struggle for words. "Yeah, it makes sense. You guys are smart."
You stare at her, a puzzled frown on your lips as you try to piece together whatever it was she wasn't saying. "Thanks?"
She snorts, shaking her head, and hops up to her feet. "You're welcome, Chang," she tosses down at you, hands on her hips.
You smirk and leap to your feet. "There's one Vitamin Water left inside," you say conspiratorially. "Race you for it." Before she can respond, you spring across the yard, bounding up the front steps. Behind you, you hear her cursing as she takes off after you.
"Don't think I won't kill you, Chang!" she shouts. You pirouette around your mother in the kitchen and manage to get the fridge open and claim the Vitamin Water less than a second before she slams into your back. Out of the corner of your eye, you see your mother roll her eyes before smiling and leaving the kitchen.
You win the fight for the Vitamin Water, hoisting it victoriously over her head. She glowers at you, and you let her win every round of Mortal Kombat for the next hour.
You're on your last night in Cincinnati when your roommate shouts across the gymnasium that you have a visitor. You pause halfway into a spin and look over your shoulder, puzzled, to see him waving you over. Throwing a quick apology to your practice partner, you toss her a towel and jog across the room.
Your roommate jerks a thumb over his shoulder, pointing to the hallway behind him, and you peer around the corner to see Quinn standing apprehensively, arms wrapped around herself tightly. You mutter a quick thanks to your roommate and shove him playfully into the gymnasium, letting the door swing shut behind him.
"Hey," she says lowly.
"Hi," you say. You rub a hand over your hair, trying to find a tactful way to ask why the hell she was in Cincinnati. "Is everything—are you okay?"
She shuffles her feet, the movement so very unlike her that you remain with your feet pinned to the floor. You wait, trying to remember the last time you felt this awkward around her—you think it might've been the first time she drove to your house to go for a run, or maybe when she joined you and Tina on a road trip to visit Matt one weekend—and search desperately for something to say.
"Today's my dad's birthday," she blurts out. Her voice is loud, bouncing off of the walls of the hallway and making you both wince. She shrinks in on herself, and you take a step forward before hesitation pins you in place once more.
She looks up at you, biting down on her lip tightly, before speaking again. "I… I went to go see him," she says, quieter this time. "I just…I thought maybe it had been long enough that he could forgive me, you know? It's been a long time, and I tried to call him last year and I thought that maybe he'd talk to me this time, maybe last year was too soon. His new address is on all of the alimony checks, so I—I went to go see him."
Your chest feels tight, anger rising from the pit of your stomach. It's so obvious that this had gone badly, and even though you know the man probably has a shotgun or two stashed somewhere in his house, you feel a heated need to track down Russell Fabray and pulverize him.
"What happened?" you ask quietly. You finally manage to uproot your feet, moving in front of her and reaching out to grip her arms gently.
She refuses to meet your eyes, looking everywhere around you; you wait, impatient but terrified of pushing, and refuse to move until she tells you what happened.
"He threw me out," she finally says. She sounds almost as broken as she did months ago at prom, and you wish fervently, with everything you have, that you could fix it. Your hands tighten on her arms, rubbing against the material of her shirt, and you keep holding on as she slowly crumbles into you, her forehead falling to your shoulder and her hands coming out to grip tightly onto your t-shirt. She isn't crying—she's barely even breathing, it feels like, and you want to put your arms around her but you're irrationally afraid that if you do you might break her—but she clings to you as if she were.
You're not sure when it was that you became the person that Quinn Fabray clung to, why things have played out so that she turned to you when she was barely able to hold herself together, how—even when you're seething with anger at her father and desperate to make her feel better and absolutely confused about why she's in Cincinnati with her fingers wrapped in your t-shirt—you think that maybe if you asked her out to dinner she might say yes. All you do know is that you're the person she's with now, and you'll never let yourself dance again if you screw this up.
You've been back from Cincinnati for six days, and she's been avoiding you. She stayed with you on your last night there, sleeping in your bed while you slept on the floor and you sent death glares at your roommate every time he looked like he was going to say something rude, and then she followed you back to Lima the next day. You stopped in all the same places on the way, and treated her to lunch, and wondered if you could count it as a date when you paid for her meal and she blushed delicately before thanking you. She said good-bye and thanked you once more when you followed her to her house, and kissed you on the cheek before shuffling inside, and she hasn't showed up for a run or answered her phone since.
After waiting an hour later than you'd like to start your run in a halfhearted hope that maybe she'd just been exhausted and sleeping in all week, you set off on a slow jog. You haven't run alone in months, and the music in your ears doesn't sound nearly as encouraging as it once did. It's a bad run, your watch telling you that you're barely managing an eight minute mile; you make it three miles out before turning back in disgust.
She's sitting on the hood of her car outside of your house when you return, hands clenched tightly over denim-clad knees. She refuses to meet your eyes as you slow to a stop in front of her and pull your headphones free.
"Hey," you say, for lack of anything more intelligent to offer. You want to ask her why she's avoiding you, if you made her angry, if she regretted coming to you after the debacle with her father. You want to know if she's going to go running with you tomorrow, if you're still her friend, if you can take her to dinner tonight. Instead, you stop after your greeting and clench your jaw shut against the string of questions trying to force their way out.
She looks up at you eventually, lower lip tucked between her teeth securely as she stares at you, unreadable and penetrating and absolutely terrifying. Your entire body tightens defensively, as if instinct is telling you to expect a physical attack.
"I'm not a very nice person," she says after a long silence.
You feel your forehead wrinkling at the non sequitor, unsure of why she was saying that, why she was saying it now, what you were supposed to think.
"I'm just…not nice most of the time," she says again, sighing. "And you're a nice guy, Mike. You're a great guy. You're smarter than Finn and nicer than Puck and cooler than Sam. You're nicer than any of the guys I've ever dated." She bites down on her lower lip, and the warm feeling you'd started to feel in your chest suddenly evaporates as she blinks rapidly and slides off of the car.
"I don't think we should hang out anymore," she says softly. "Sorry." The last word comes out clipped and short, her voice gruff, as if she was talking around sandpaper. You stare at her, utterly confused as to what's actually happening, and watch as she makes her way around the car to the driver's side door.
"Hey!" You half-say, half-shout when her hand touches the door, surprising the both of you. "Why don't I get a say in it?"
She looks at you sadly, like she did after prom before you went to find her a ride, and your stomach clenches. "Because," she says. "Because you're a good person, and you want to save me. And that's not your job."
"You don't need saving," you scoff. "And you're not a bad person."
She takes a deep breath, exhaling slowly, and you can tell she's trying to swallow her instinctive response, trying to regulate her breathing, trying to keep control over the situation.
"It doesn't matter," she says forcefully. "I don't think we should hang out anymore, so we aren't going to. That's all there is to it."
"Why?" you challenge, crossing your arms over your chest. "Why do you get to make decisions about something that involves me as much as it involves you?"
"Because!" she cries out, one hand striking against the window in front of her. "Because you're going to get out of here, Mike. You're going to go to college and get a job and you're not going to be stuck in this shit little town selling real estate. And it's going to suck when you leave, so I'm just… not going to be a part of it."
"What if I took you with me?" you throw out without even meaning to. Once the words are out of your mouth, you can't stop them. You're speaking and gesturing wildly, your arms moving as wildly as your words. "What if I want you to come with me? You're smart enough to go to any college you want to, Quinn. And I like you. What if I want you to come to college with me? Or to go to college with you? What if I want to take you out to a movie and buy you dinner and walk you home? Why don't I get a say in any of this?"
You're breathless as the words burst out of you. You can't remember the last time you said that many words at once, when you last exploded so loudly, if you've ever ranted like that before. You don't think you ever have, and you think wryly that it probably means something that it was Quinn who first drew it out of you.
"It's a bad idea, Mike," she says softly after staring at you in shock for long seconds. "I…I drag people down. I didn't used to see that I did, but I get it now. I've never been very good for people to be around, and I can see that now. I've messed things up with every guy I've ever dated, I've hurt my best friends, I screwed up my family. I don't want to hurt you, too."
"That's not fair," you say stubbornly, arms crossed over your chest once more.
"It's not about fair," she says quietly. "It just is what it is. I'm sorry."
"Stop apologizing!" you exclaim. "You've never done anything to me that you need to apologize for, not until now, so just stop." You skirt around the edge of the car, coming to a stop in front of her and glaring, hands reaching out of their own accord to grab her by the shoulders and shake her. "You're not a bad person, Quinn. You're not."
"You're a nice guy," she says for the umpteenth time, her eyes bright as she refuses to meet yours. "You always think the best of people."
"That's not what this is," you grind out, shaking her again. "This is me liking you. I like you. I want to take you out on a date and see how it goes. I want to see if maybe we have what Tina and I didn't. I like you because you're funny and smart and fun and nice, even if you refuse to see it."
You can feel your heart beating against your chest, pounding harder than you ever remember feeling from any run or football game or dance. She staring at you, eyes wide and confused and afraid, and you can feel your hands tightening on her shoulders, as if you're determined to keep her from running away. Your throat is dry, the sunlight pouring down on you making you sweat, and wish desperately that you hadn't already used up all of the words you could conjure up, that you could be grandiose and eloquent and romantic and convince her that this thing between you is something good.
Instead, you are silent, your fingers slowly loosening on her shoulders as she continues to stare at you. Her mouth opens and closes, then again, and again, as if she has something to say but the words just aren't coming out. You stare right back her, wishing you could verbalize every confusing, terrifying, wonderful thing you've felt for her since you watched her and Finn fight in a corner at prom.
When she says nothing, you finally let go, stepping back and letting your hands fall to your sides. You take a second step back, putting a safe distance between you and her.
"I can't make you do anything," you say, finally. Your voice sounds foreign to your own ears, cracked and hoarse. You sigh. "I'm not afraid of you, Quinn. I don't need to be protected."
She doesn't move. You take a deep breath, willing your body to at least keep it together long enough for you to make it inside. You're halfway to the front door before you pause and look over your shoulder. She's turned around and is staring at you, arms wrapped around her stomach protectively, and you fight the urge to run to her and hold her like you did in Cincinnati.
"I still go run every day," you say quietly. "Same time, same place."
She still doesn't respond, and you make your way into the house, shutting the door quietly behind you and slumping against it.
You've been back from Cincinnati for eight days when you walk out of the house for a late morning run, preoccupied with your iPod headphones, and almost trip over her form sitting on the front steps. You recover automatically, stepping back from her, and watch silently as she stands slowly from her seat, dusting off running shorts and watching you apprehensively. Neither of you seems willing to break the silence, so you simply slide your iPod armband on and gesture for her to lead the way.
She leads you at a brutal pace, winding through familiar roads and sidewalks, and beats you in the last sprint to your house by two or three strides.
You stand next to her in the front yard, both of you catching your breath, and watch her out of the corner of her eye. She's staring at the ground, hands on her knees, and doesn't move until you find the courage to reach out and rest a hand on her shoulder.
Straightening up, she gazes at you, eyes unreadable. You count the fact that she doesn't pull away from your touch as a small win. You match her gaze second for second, and count it as another victory when she breaks her gaze first, mumbling something about errands for her mom and making her way to her car.
You stand silently, watching her run away from you again, and wait, disappointment heavy in your throat. She has the car door open when you turn away, and you're about to take the first step towards the house when her voice stops you.
"Mike," she says quietly.
You turn around slowly, praying that you don't look as foolishly hopeful as you feel. She fidgets with her car keys, biting her lip and looking down at her hands before finally looking back up to meet your gaze.
"Do you want to go to dinner with me tonight?"
You can't stop the grin you feel spreading across your lips, and you hope that your nod doesn't look too ridiculously enthusiastic. "Yeah," you manage to say casually. "That sounds great."
She smiles shyly at you, nodding a few times. "Great," she echoes. She smiles a little wilder and waves demurely. "I'll see you tonight."
You wave back stupidly, unable to think up a coherent response. She's in the car, windows down against the heat and wheels starting to turn when your mouth moves without your brain's intent.
"Fabray!" You call, and smirk when she ducks down to see you through the passenger's side window. "You asked, you're paying."
She rolls her eyes, a grin spreading slowly across her lips. "You wish, Chang. You wish."
You smile dumbly, not caring anymore if you look stupid, and watch her car until it disappears around the corner.
You start senior year with Jacob Ben Israel shoving a video camera in your face as you walk into the building. You slide around him as smoothly as you can and make your way towards your locker, waving at people as you do. You see Tina and Artie wheeling down the hallway, Finn following an irritated-looking Rachel into the choir room, Lauren dragging Puck into a janitor's closet. Sam is chatting with Kurt, an uncertain look crossing his face when Kurt reaches out as if to fix a stray blond hair. Santana and Brittany are at their side-by-side lockers, their pinkies unlinked but their shoulders brushing casually; Santana looks jumpy and Brittany looks cheerful, and you offer what you hope is a supportive smile.
Quinn is leaning against your locker when you get there, playing with her fingers while she waits, and she smiles when you lean against the metal next to her.
"Hey," you say.
"Hi," she returns, an eyebrow quirking at you. You think back to the first day of school two years ago, when she was armed with a uniform and a captaincy and the weight of Sue Sylvester at her back, and last year, when she was trying so desperately to be that person again, and think that this Quinn—the one who showed up to the first day of senior year in without the uniform or the cardigans or the babydoll dresses, who's standing there in jeans and a white shirt and not paying any heed to the cheerleaders or jocks or any of the other students milling around her—is the best version yet.
"So," you say, fighting with your locker to get it open. "What's first on the agenda, Fabray?"
"Art," she says airily. She watches with amusement as you curse at the finicky lock before she shoves her way in between you and the locker. She shushes you when you try to peer around her to see what she's doing, and your eyebrows climb towards your hairline when you hear metal scraping against metal before she swears softly, puts her weight behind whatever she's doing, and then lets out of a triumphant "ha!" when the locker bangs open.
She spins around and smirks at you, stepping graciously to the side and resuming her position leaning against the lockers.
"Did you just…?"
"Break into your locker?" she asks. "Yeah." She shows you a scratched nail file and winks before stowing it away in her bag.
"Awesome," you breathe out, shaking your head, and you can't help but smile when she giggles. "So, this art class. That's near Spanish, right?"
"It is," she confirms, nodding slowly, amusement still written across her features. You shut your locker and turn to face her.
"Walk you to class?"
She smiles brilliantly at you, and you can barely contain the feeling to grab her around the waist and dance towards the classroom. "Sure, Chang," she says casually, bumping her shoulder against yours familiarly as the two of you start down the hallway.
Ten steps later, her fingers are sliding in between yours, and you give up on fighting the wide smile that's been threatening to burst out. If you're still smiling absurdly widely when you step into Mr. Scheuster's class as the late bell rings, you're sure it has nothing to do with the fact that you're starting your senior year with Quinn Fabray on your arm.