Disclaimer: I own nothing. All belongs to Glee writers and creators.
She couldn't believe it. Every step, every note, every performance, every struggle to get a teammate to accept her admittedly blunt but usually accurate criticisms, every late night in the auditorium, every tattle of a tale—all of it had led her here, the place where in a year, her dreams would come to fruition, her career would begin. A brand new struggle that would be all her own.
The feeling she had just in this moment—this simple moment where she was resting on the edge of the City Hall Park Fountain, watching her friends go crazy with the Kodaks Mr. Schuester had provided them with as they attempted to snatch a picture of an iconic yellow taxi going by without blur in the brightly lit New York evening—was overwhelming. Her chest, her heart, felt as though it was swelling to the bursting point, and she fought to keep it all at bay until later, when she would be tucked down underneath the blankets next to one of her three roommates (hopefully Mercedes; chainsaws simultaneously chopping off the legs of all four posts of her bed couldn't wake that girl up). Not now, when she would likely be brushed off and called a spoiled diva for tearing up.
Well, except maybe by Kurt, but Finn had seen a hot dog vendor and dragged him off in that direction about fifteen minutes ago, since they weren't allowed to go anywhere without a 'buddy.'
Rachel was only relieved he hadn't seen fit to label her his official buddy, since she'd exchanged tickets with Kurt (after Finn exchanged tickets—and a Snickers bar—with Lauren) on the plane, placing herself firmly next to Mercedes. She ignored his puppy dog eyes for the entirety of the ride, and apparently that was enough for him to finally get the hint that she simply was not interested in what little Finn Hudson had to offer anymore. Especially not since all she would be was a rebound from Quinn. Again.
Maybe it was Jesse's words of wisdom in the duration of his time as New Direction's show choir consultant. Maybe it was the clarity of being so very close to the location where all her dreams would finally take off. Maybe it was the firm slap in the face from Quinn at prom. Rachel wasn't sure exactly what or when or how, but something had changed, and she was beginning to see Finn as who he really was for the very first time. A little boy who only wanted the toys the other boys were playing with.
She shook her head hard, ridding it of Finn Hudson for the time being so she could enjoy the happiness all around her. She giggled with Tina when Mercedes squealed and reared back from the water's spray when she tried to take a picture of the reflection of the shimmering lights, but nearly jumped in surprise when the familiar sound of an accordion filled the air.
She whipped her head about to find the source, only to be lead to four of her fellow glee club members clamoring around the stereo Noah had insisted on bringing along. She hadn't been sure why, back home in Lima when she'd gotten into a twenty minute discussion (that mainly consisted of him grunting and her lecturing) about it with him, pointing out that there would be little to no use, since accompaniment would be provided for them at the competition and it wasn't as though they could have a loud party at the hotel. But now, watching as he, Sam, Mike, and Artie took positions and began crooning the classic Disney song—directly toward where a particular blonde was trying to take a picture of a crack in the sidewalk—Rachel was certain she knew exactly the reason.
She could appreciate the effort the boys had obviously put into this plan, not to mention the great amount of teamwork it must have taken, but…. Her gaze wandered over to a lone figure, one of the only glee members not carting around their camera like a kid with candy. Her arms were tucked tight to her chest, her expression hard as she watched the boy in the wheelchair serenade the only person she had ever really loved.
Rachel's heart clenched at the sight, aching for the lonely, tough Latina whose heart really was bigger than most people gave her credit for. And again, she didn't know what it was that brought her to this moment. The sympathy for Santana's seemingly unrequited affections. The pain in her dark eyes as she looked on Brittany, whose attention had finally been caught by the singing boys. She was looking on with delight, a smile on her face and a sparkle in her eyes. The sparkle in Santana's most certainly didn't come from happiness.
Anyway, Rachel wasn't sure of the source of her brief lapse in sanity. All she knew was that one moment she was happily sitting on the ledge of the City Hall Park Fountain and the next, she was striding over to the lonely Latina, lightly nudging her elbow in a friendly greeting as she slowed to a stop nearby, still watching the singing group.
She spied Santana's body jump in her peripheral vision before she relaxed, trying to muffle a sniffle while she wiped her cheeks. Rachel allowed her that moment of privacy to compose herself and gather up the scattered pieces of her heart—and pride—before smiling up at Santana with minimal fear and saying meaningfully, "It's New York City, Santana."
It was clear right off the bat that she didn't get her meaning, because she scoffed with a raised eyebrow and said, "Yeah…? Forget your meds in Ohio there, dwarf?"
Rachel rolled her eyes fondly and spread her arms, deciding to just come out with it. "Let's dance." She received a look that likely would have had her heading for the hills if Santana's eyes weren't still tempered in harshness by salty tears. "Come on."
Without another word, she tugged Santana's folded arms free of her armpits, wrapping her arms around her waist before she embraced her in turn and began to sway. Nothing happened at first. Santana's body was rigid and her arms loose in their grasp, but Rachel didn't let up, only resting her cheek against Santana's strong shoulder and rocking as much as she could when she was dancing with…well, a rock.
And then she didn't know what did it, yet again, but Santana's arms grudgingly went tighter and her chin nestled against the top of Rachel's head, and they were swaying in this little circle in the middle of New York City for everyone to see, and Rachel couldn't help but think it really was a place for miracles.
Santana stiffened and sniffled a couple times. "Lady and the Tramp is Britt's favorite," she whispered brokenly.
Rachel gradually raised her head, leaning back to look into Santana's eyes, and smiled when she abruptly looked away in shame. "You're her favorite," she said simply, and she was sure Santana was about to smile at her.
The corners of her lips quirked up, and her tearful eyes met hers…and then Rachel jumped as she felt a tap on her shoulder, craning her head back to find the shy smile of one Brittany Pierce. Her heart leapt and a beam landed on her face as she waited for the fidgeting girl to speak up.
"C-can I dance with her now?" she asked politely, and Rachel squeezed Santana's waist one last time before stepping back, giving both a smile.
"You may indeed," she offered, and Brittany grinned at her before turning starry eyes to an awestruck Santana, and as Brittany guided her a few feet away before sinking into her arms like they were made to hold her, Rachel sighed with happiness and clutched her hands tight to her chest, giggling at her own thought that it really was a beautiful night.
Finn had returned with Kurt, she saw. Kurt was watching on in disgust as his brother practically inhaled the hot dog, entirely missing the romantic moment this atmosphere was providing. Mike certainly hadn't passed up the opportunity to hold Tina. Sam was turning bright red by the stereo as he bent his head over Mercedes' shoulder, a goofy grin on his face. Not even Noah was unromantic enough to miss out, cradling Lauren close in his arms.
She felt a modicum of relief in knowing that not only was Finn not going to offer her a dance, but that she was no longer expecting him to. She did, however, feel for his step-brother. It was too bad Blaine hadn't been able to come. Perhaps Kurt would have been spared witnessing Finn's love affair with that relish-coated hot dog.
Rachel heaved a great sigh, rolling her eyes back to who she really wanted to keep an eye on, but before she was able to take in the lovely sight of the two girls back in each other's arms where they belonged, she felt another tap on her shoulder. She jumped again, breath hitching for a second time when she turned to find—
Quinn's cheeks went a shade darker, but that was the only indication in her stoic expression that she was feeling anything whatsoever. Her hazel eyes reflected the yellow lights around, giving them an attractive glow that Rachel was hesitant to say made Quinn look even more beautiful, because she wasn't sure that was entirely possible anyway. Quinn cleared her throat heavily, but said nothing, only stuffing the Kodak camera carefully away in her denim jacket's pocket before holding out her hand to Rachel. Who proceeded to stare at it.
Quinn Fabray was…offering her hand to Rachel Berry? All right, New York City may have been a place for miracles, but this was beyond surreal. Yet Quinn wasn't moving, only watching her intently with those sharp eyes, cheeks that dusky shade of pink that made Rachel's heart pound, her perfect hand hanging out there for her to take, asking her one question that Rachel knew she only wanted to give one answer to.
She carefully, slowly slipped her hand into the crook of Quinn's, gasping with surprise when Quinn placed her free hand on her waist, drawing their bodies closer together, until Rachel could feel Quinn's stomach pressing lightly into hers with every breath. The proximity painted her cheeks red, her heart rate accelerating, but she was distracted from the warning signs by Quinn's readjustment of their hands, turning them until their fingers were intertwined tightly, until the only way Rachel could tell the difference was skin tone - and the feeling of Quinn's fingers gently kneading and massaging at her own. She turned her in an loose circle, swaying together with all the grace and ease Rachel had once hoped to share with Finn. She couldn't help feeling that finding it with Quinn was even better.
Still, Rachel was feeling unaccountably shy in the intimacy of the moment. The way Quinn was cradling her with the arm around her waist, feeling the strength in her bicep under the hand Rachel had rested on the muscle. The way their chests were pressed ever-so-slightly against each other. How their hands were joined in a dance of their own as Quinn explored every crook between her fingers, every line in her palm, with gentle caresses that sent shivers up Rachel's spine and goose bumps over her arms. How Quinn's hot breaths were landing on her forehead, seeming nearer all the time, while Rachel kept her eyes downcast, at their feet. It was all putting her body into overdrive, making her feel flushed and hot and alert and electrified in a way she hadn't known was possible from a simple dance.
And then Quinn started to sing. It was more of a murmur, actually. Very quiet, against Rachel's forehead, in a low, husky voice that threatened to sap all strength from her knees.
"Side by side, with your loved one." Rachel gradually lifted her chin, eyes hesitantly meeting Quinn's unwavering hazel as she continued, "You'll find enchantment here." She gave a squeeze to Rachel's hand, intensifying the blush on her cheeks and eliciting a shy smile. She quirked a lip before continuing, leaning closer, "The night will weave its magic spell, when the one you love is near."
Rachel didn't know what it was. The sincerity in Quinn's expression, the sweetness of her voice, the glow in her eyes, her warm embrace. But she found herself leaning up and capturing Quinn's soft lips with her own for the briefest moment.
Her heart was suddenly swelling to its bursting point again, because she felt it again. Just like when she simply sat down by the fountain, a chaste kiss with Quinn brought it back. This was exactly where she was supposed to be, exactly what she was supposed to be doing, exactly who she was supposed to be doing it with.
Quinn smiled, a small, shy thing, but Rachel thought it was more beautiful and genuine than Finn's dopiest grin. And this time when she leaned in, Quinn met her halfway for a more languorous dance between their lips, hands burrowing in silky locks and into the heat between body and jacket, exploring tenderly and tentatively.
They only parted when their joined lips began to tingle from swelling, sinking into each other's arms then in a warm embrace, and timing was definitely on Rachel's side that night, because just as she opened her eyes from inhaling the sweet citrus scent of Quinn's hair, Santana came up for air where she'd been lost in Brittany, and tossed Rachel a wink and a grin before diving back in. Rachel only smiled.
It really was a beautiful night.