There was something about the countdown to darkness that thrilled her. She had stepped into a new world that others might consider a small piece of Hell, but she felt well hidden in its chaos. Everything she had to do was by instinct. It wasn't about thinking through the cause and effect or weighing the pros and cons. She just acted, and she let everything else slip away.
In this new world she was no longer bound to the Quinn Fabray of yesteryear. She could hide behind her own shadow and remind herself that she didn't care about Lima, Ohio. She didn't care about the life she had run from on impulse. She cared nothing for her friends. She cared nothing for her family. She cared nothing for adolescent love.
There was no listening to pangs of regret that filtered into her consciousness during the daylight hours. She could sleep those hours away in the quiet of a too small apartment she shared with a man she hardly knew. Even her fairy tale dreams were slowly evolving to include the darkness she readily sought out. The dreams of marriage, of family, of...everything were fading away.
After work, Quinn threw off her wig and set aside the innocence of a girl caught up in the consequences of being a runaway. She walked to the dark corners so that she could be embraced by the comforts of being a stranger surrounded by strangers. In this world no one knew her name. There was no one to define her. She was just…a woman they called High Class not because she didn't belong but because she did.
They accepted that they might never know her real name as she knew that she might never know theirs. They were all undefined runaways coming together to etch out some sort of existence. Quinn prevented violent deranged men from committing horrific acts upon a population long forgotten to the outside world. No one asked too many questions perhaps somehow knowing that Quinn wouldn't answer them, and perhaps because they were afraid she would disappear.
Trust didn't come easily, but Quinn wasn't even sure trust was something she was seeking. She had no desire for these misfits to become reliant on her. She wasn't looking to feel needed. That's the last thing she wanted, but still…
"You're doing too much thinking, High Class," Skippy, one of Quinn's charges commented as she straightened her clothes from another successful transaction.
Quinn turned her eyes towards the young woman standing next to her. She briefly wondered how old Skippy might be and even bothered to imagine what it would be like to trade places with her peer. Could Quinn be the one exiting the cars instead of the one watching over in silent scrutiny?
"That sounded almost like an insult," Quinn finally replied, her eyes turning back to the street.
"Take it how you'd like." Skippy reached into her pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. She reached in removed two before placing the pack back in her pocket. "Just thought I'd betta say somethin' 'fore your head exploded."
Quinn forced a smirk as reached up and tapped her fist against her head. "I wouldn't worry about that. A lot of people have called me hard headed."
"You don't say?" Skippy said around the cigarettes she had between her lips, now both lit. She removed one and offered it to Quinn.
Quinn looked down at it, not sure if she was being offered a hand of friendship or an invitation further into her descent. So she looked over her companion again. What kind of a name was Skippy anyway, she thought. What kind of person went around owning up to the name Skippy?
"Thanks," she said as she took the cigarette and brought it to her lips. She was supposed to be opening up her arms to this world. She'd just have to see if it was going to throw her down to the ground to remind her that she couldn't turn into someone else. "So what kind of name is Skippy, anyway?"
The smoke didn't burn through her lungs like she suspected it should. It felt more like an act of habit than one of satisfaction. It seemed that her powers would deny her yet another human experience.
Skippy laughed. "You not actually takin' an interest in who I am are ya?" She ran her hand through her long dark hair, a clear act of nerves. "We all kind of thought High Class didn't consort with us common folk."
"Consort?" Quinn questioned not the meaning behind the word but the usage of it. She ignorantly assumed that words like 'consort' were outside of Skippy's lexicon. She made assumptions about the people she consorted with just like everyone else did. Whether that was right or wrong, Quinn hadn't decided.
"You kinda of a bitch arentcha, High Class?" Skippy asked, more amused by Quinn's austerity than offended by it. She was a girl used to being branded as one thing and one thing only. She wasn't the poster child for fighting stereotypes. She was a young minority, high school dropout, lost in the system youth, living in a pay by the week motel, whose father had abandoned her before she was born, and whose mother was serving time in prison due to crimes committed while under the influence. She wasn't about to broaden anyone's horizon's anytime soon nor was she particularly interested in doing so.
"I try," Quinn joked as she gave into a small smile. It was the most genuine she had given in a while. She was more relaxed now that some pretense that lay between her and Skippy had been pushed away.
"Don't try too hard," Skippy warned. Her tone was still light, but it was warning nonetheless. One that Quinn wasn't entirely sure she could take seriously.
"Why?" She wondered aloud.
"Because it's condescending," Skippy explained, "and some of us still have our pride. We don't mind giving up our safety for the little bit of self worth we got left."
The articulated fact, slapped Quinn across the face like a rude awakening. She realized that she was stepping into this world as a guest. They had not made her family because she had not yet proved herself. She had not yet shown any credentials past her ability to raise her fist.
"I bet you go someplace fancy when you leave here." Skippy pulled her cigarette from her lips. "And you get all the feel good emotions from having saved the few and the ugly."
"I don't…" Quinn began to say but Skippy quickly interrupted.
"Hey, let's not make this a thing, High Class. It's easy to see you're escaping a world that's too much for ya right now."
"You can see that?" Quinn whispered.
Skippy gave a soft sardonic laugh. "I've been forty since I was five. I see lots of stuff I wish I didn't."
"Do they all see what you see?" Quinn asked with sincere curiosity. She wanted to know what people saw when they looked at her.
"Are we bondin'?" Skippy asked in lieu of giving an answer. Somehow, she knew that Quinn needed to hold onto a sense of anonymity that her answer wouldn't maintain.
Quinn rolled her eyes and turned away. "I'm beginning to think there's something wrong with you."
"And I'm beginnin' to think you're even stupider than you look," Skippy quickly rejoined. "I'm also beginnin' to think that tonight's a bust. I'm not making enough money to stand out here in the cold. My tits are 'bout to freeze off."
Quinn looked back out towards the other women milling about. They were all huddled together, stray eyes every once in a while managed to turn towards her and Skippy, but it seemed like everyone was just trying to stay warm.
"Maybe you should call it a night," Skippy softly suggested. "We're clear out once you do."
"Me?" Quinn asked confused. "Why me?"
Skippy raised a disbelieving brow. "You serious?"
Her answer would be admittance to ignorance she didn't want to give, so Quinn remained quiet. She placed a silent bet that Skippy would offer more unprovoked advice since thus far Skippy was the first and only tour guide Quinn had acquired.
"So it's brawn without the brains," Skippy dropped her cigarette to the ground, "ain't that a shame."
Quinn threw her own cigarette to the ground and watched it slowly burn out as its fire died on the pavement. "That's the second time you've called me stupid," she idly commented. "I'd appreciate it if you stopped."
"Hmm," Skippy intoned as her eyes rested on the same cigarette butt Quinn was so focused on. "I've been insulting you since I been standin'. Was sort of wonderin' when you'd stand up for yourself."
Widened eyes turned to Skippy, then. Quinn had the distinct feeling that she had just been horribly outmaneuvered.
Skippy slowly lifted her own gaze to meet Quinn's. "I got the name Skippy because when the police found me at the age of three alone in my apartment I didn't even know my own damn name. So the officers named me after the jar of peanut butter I'd been living off of."
"I'm sor…" Quinn began to apologize.
"Don't," Skippy interrupted. "I didn't do this little show and tell so that you would feel sorry for me."
"I don't," Quinn tried to defend herself but was again interrupted by Skippy's abrupt dismissal.
"The way I see it, only one of us really has a shot of gettin' outta here alive," Skippy paused, letting her words sink into Quinn's selfish little state of mind. "And right now? I'm not bettin' on you."
"Don't worry about me," Quinn brushed another warning away. "I'm pretty strong."
"You don't have to kill the body to kill the soul," Skippy murmured.
"Why are you even still talking to me?" Quinn asked as she turned away from the conversation because she wasn't ready to hear what Skippy was trying to tell her. She wanted to stay in the darkness that covered her. She wanted to let all of her dreams die away so that they wouldn't hurt quite so much anymore.
It had been near a month since the last time she had bothered to fly home to peek into the windows of the house she once lived in. It had been almost a month since she had spoken to Rachel and felt like she had a friend that might actually give a damn whether she lived or died. It had been a month since she walked away so that she could build a future without death and destruction as her fate.
Skippy sighed heavily. She wrapped her arms around her body defending herself against the stubborn attack against her own cruel experiences. "You saved my life," she admitted. "The first night you came, you saved me, and that can only be made right if I returned the favor."
"I don't need saving."
Seeking a risk worth taking, Skippy uncurled her arms from around her body and then reached out her hand and placed it on Quinn's shoulder. "Good, 'cause neither did I." It was lie to pay back a lie. "Let's go get something to eat. I'll treat you to something from the nearest dollar menu."
Quinn didn't dare to look at the hand resting on her shoulder. She didn't know what she'd do if she did look, because suddenly she felt like she was standing somewhere on the precipice between tears and rage.
"I have a prior breakfast thing." She said, taking the easy out. She hadn't missed breakfast with Clark yet, and she didn't know what breaking her routine might shatter.
Skippy looked over Quinn, her hand was still resting on Quinn's shoulder. She didn't know whether she could believe Quinn's immediate refusal, but she also knew she couldn't push too hard. She let her hand fall slowly from Quinn's shoulder. "Another time then."
Quinn closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. "Maybe lunch?" The words escaped on her exhale. Neither she nor Skippy had expected them. They came like the intrusion of light upon a darkened room.
"Lunch is cool," Skippy nodded and then turned to walk away. "I'll meet you at Angie's Diner," she said over her shoulder instinctively knowing that she needed to leave before Quinn captured the words that had unexpectedly escaped.
Finally, Quinn opened her eyes so that she could watch Skippy walk away. In the last ten minutes she had just had the first real conversation she'd had in almost a month. It hadn't quite managed to measure up to the easy conversations she used to have with Rachel as they sat in Rachel's room making fanciful plans for their lives, but nothing would ever measure up to that.
It helped that Skippy wasn't trying to decipher every one of Quinn's secrets. The young woman just wanted to pay back a favor. Quinn wasn't even sure a potential friendship could become part of the complicated relational equation they were balancing out. They hadn't exactly met under blue skies as schoolgirls attending the same class.
They'd just have to see how lunch turned out.
Quinn took one last look at her charges and then turned and walked away. Skippy had been right, the night was slow and there was no reason for anyone to stand out in the cold. Skippy might even be right about all the other girls sticking around because Quinn did, but Quinn didn't turn around to find out if she was the one to disperse the thin crowd. She didn't want to bear witness to her new mantle of responsibility.
So, she walked away and then flew away back to Clark's apartment where breakfast was made and Clark was waiting. "Have you been up long?" She asked as she walked into the apartment.
"No," Clark answered as he turned away from Quinn's inquiring gaze. "How was your night?" he asked as he poured orange juice into two cups.
"Nothing special," Quinn answered having adopted Skippy's rules of transaction—one lie to pay back another. "How was your night?"
"Slept like a baby," he forced a smile and then turned away.
The difference between this conversation and the one she had had with Skippy was that neither she nor Clark were brave enough to push the other to tell the truth. So they sat and they ate in silence. Quinn let second thoughts about her planned lunch with Skippy run rampant and Clark look absently at his plate. It was like they were sitting in an empty room alone. The miles of seclusion could be felt pushing in the walls.
Maybe Skippy was right about something else, too; one didn't have to kill a body to kill a soul.
With those nearly voiceless words ringing in Quinn's ears, Quinn set down her fork and then reached out and grabbed onto Clark's hand.
Clark's startled blue eyes looked up to Quinn and then down to their touching hands. Slowly, his fingers curled around hers. Neither of them were ready to speak any words that might build the bridge between them, but for right now…for now this was enough.