Disclaimer: I don't own Quinn or Rachel, or any of the other thousand things I mention in this story, including but not limited to Rent, Georges Seurat, Tom Petty, Titanic, and the complete works of Stephen Sondheim.
Author's Note: A warning—this fic contains a lot of pop culture references; I've never written anything quite so absurdly specific. While nothing I mention is particularly obscure, the depth and meaning of the story is kind of dependent on understanding the other texts. So if you see something you don't recognize… well, I wouldn't have included it if it weren't worth looking up.
Maybe that's all that we need; is to meet in the middle of impossibility.
Standing at opposite poles, equal partners in a mystery.
– "Mystery," the Indigo Girls
Rachel's never really considered herself much of a math person, but she knows it's important. You find the value of things by looking at the constants: for her, that's her family and her talent. Simple algebra. And if sometimes it feels like her entire life hinges on the arithmetic of a single variable—add Finn, subtract Finn—well. She's young. Part of her knows that this is something she'll grow out of.
Quinn is already sure that, whatever this is… she probably won't grow out of it.
Quinn's always been more about geometry. Love triangles, and tops of pyramids, and the distance to the bottom. Everything, she's found, can be proofed.
She's perfectly aware of what's going on here; she sees the parallels. But the thing about parallel lines is, they never actually meet.
She's kind of banking on that, to be honest.
Okay, so. It's kind of like this:
When Rachel Berry was thirteen years old, her fathers spent thousands of dollars throwing her a lavish bat mitzvah party. Attendance was relatively small, but all of her extended family flew out to see her become a woman. Noah Puckerman even slow danced with her, after she promised not to tell anyone from school.
She put most of her bat mitzvah money into a savings account, but spent the rest of it on a single, indulgent purchase: a queen-sized four-poster bed. She didn't bother buying curtains; honestly, she just wanted the poles so she'd have something to climb on during bedroom renditions of Out Tonight.
(Just for fun, she made a video of one of her performances and put it on her brand new MySpace page. It became the first of many.)
When Lucy Fabray was thirteen years old, her father spent thousands of dollars on cosmetic surgery: gave her a new nose, a new body, and a new name. It was a gift, this new identity, and Lucy—Quinn—gave thanks for the blessing. A few more layers to hide beneath. (And if maybe she'd have been happier if he'd said no, because it would have meant that—that—well, it's neither here nor there.)
Her subsequent experiences with Noah Puckerman and beds will be considerably less enjoyable.
Saying that music is important to Rachel Berry is a bit of an understatement.
Music is everything. Music is her family, her fathers. She's been singing along with the Rent soundtrack since she was old enough to sing—she can chart her sexual education and awareness of popular culture by La Vie Boheme alone.
(So many little milestones. The random Sunday in the second grade when she'd paused in her singing to ask, "Daddy, what's sodomy?" When she learned Carmina Burana for sixth grade choir and realized it sounded so familiar because she'd been singing those syllables for years, without a clue as to what they meant. The day she finally figured out that Cage probably referred to John Cage, the experimental composer, and not Nicholas Cage, the… well, calling him an actor is perhaps more charitable than Rachel is prepared to be. But still. It's like a roadmap to her young adulthood; she'd feel lost without it.)
She'll always remember the first time she saw the Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Concert on PBS—it was the defining moment of her childhood, if not her life. She'd already looked up to Barbra Streisand as her ultimate role model, but Barbra was… someone in a movie. She wasn't real. She was as far away and impossible as Ms. Frizzle and her Magic School Bus—who was Rachel's second ultimate role model at the time.
But when five-year-old Rachel Berry saw Lea Salonga step up to that oversized microphone and sing her heart out as Eponine, she realized two things in quick succession. The first was oh my God, people actually do this.
The second was I want to be her.
And Quinn? Quinn listens to a lot of Tom Petty, these days.
(All music's ever done is break her heart. She might as well be in on it.)
Pretty much everyone on the honor roll is taking AP Art History this year. In theory, it's because it looks good on college transcripts, but everyone knows the class is actually popular because Mrs. Keppinger takes them on so many field trips.
They're in Columbus for the day, set loose in the museum to find a painting that speaks to them to write a paper on later. Rachel already knows what she wants to write about—A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, by Georges Seurat. Any painting good enough to inspire an entire Sondheim musical is more than good enough for her, but she decides to take her time before finding it. She has all day, after all, so she lingers in Baroque and Rococo and takes a detour to the Warhol exhibit before finally making her way to the post-Impressionists.
When she walks into the gallery, she's a bit surprised to find Quinn already standing before her goal, gazing intently. The opening chords to "Sunday," the titular song of the show, begin to play in Rachel's head without warning.
It's a beautiful score. Filled with intricate harmonies, unexpected progressions—and narration. The little things Seurat would mutter to himself as he painted. Always the same words, over and over, like a mantra: Order. Design. Tension. Composition. Balance. Light. Harmony.
It's funny, how well it all seems to fit. Looking at Quinn looking at the painting. She's always had a flair for the dramatic, but Rachel can't help but feel like this unexpected moment is… its own kind of work of art. She doesn't want to break it.
"You're staring," Quinn says, and Rachel jumps.
"Sorry, I, um—I didn't want to disturb you. I can come back."
"I think we can manage to stand three feet apart from each other and look at the same painting, Rachel," Quinn mutters. She sounds—resigned? It's an unexpected reprieve, the use of her first name, and Rachel's not going to let it pass her by.
She steps next to Quinn.
The thing is, Sunday in the Park with George almost didn't get written. In fact, Sondheim nearly gave up on composing entirely after the critical failure that was Merrily We Roll Along—but James Lapine, his collaborator, convinced him to give it one more try. And thank God he did. Without Sunday in the Park, there would be no Into the Woods ("I wish—more than anything—more than life, I wish"), no Assassins ("Everybody's got the right to be happy"), no Passion ("Love within reason? That isn't love. And I learned that from you.")
She can't fathom why these random bits of trivia flying through her head all feel so connected, but everything about this moment screams significance. She wonders if Quinn feels it, too.
"It's pretty," Rachel says, voice low. "Not what you think it is, up close."
Quinn's eyes flicker up at her, expression inscrutable.
"Yeah," she agrees quietly.
Though really, she finds it hard to find beauty in the realization that nothing is ever as it seems.
When Quinn looks at A Sunday Afternoon, she can't get past how she felt when she watched Ferris Bueller's Day Off for the first time. It was a sleepover at Santana's, last year. Everyone had been astonished she'd never seen it before; had said it was the best teen comedy of the '80s.
Quinn hadn't found it very funny.
Without meaning to at all, this afternoon she's ended up recreating the scene that's haunted her ever since she saw it—Cameron, alone, staring into the non-existent face of the child in the painting.
Because that's the whole point of this field trip, isn't it? To find a piece of art that speaks to you. And she has. The entire concept of pointillism is that from far away, objects look whole, complete. But the closer you look, the less you see—until you realize that what you thought was an intact image is actually comprised of nothing at all.
Frankly… Quinn can relate.
The first time Rachel Berry set her eyes on Quinn Fabray, she was powerfully, viscerally reminded of the classic Hollywood aesthetic. Quinn was like something out of an old movie; some mesmerizing combination of Grace Kelly, Kim Novak and Lauren Bacall that had everyone staring. People parted for her in the hallways, even though she was just a lowly freshman, like Rachel. She exuded power, confidence, beauty—and when Coach Sylvester gave her the Cheerios captaincy second semester, none of the upperclassmen said a word.
Rachel still thinks of classic Hollywood when she looks at Quinn, lately, but for an entirely different reason. She thinks of Rick, at the beginning of Casablanca—a smooth operator of a tightly-run ship, who never lets anyone in and sticks his neck out for nobody… but so twisted up over one person that his whole world falls apart when she returns and he loses composure.
(Later—after—Rachel will think that this assessment was, at its heart, correct; she'd just mistaken Finn for the object of Quinn's fixation, when in fact it must have been Puck.
… It's funny, how someone can be so wrong and so right at the same time.)
When Quinn looks at Rachel, she's reminded of—well. She's not. She's not reminded of anything, because she doesn't look at Rachel.
Or maybe she's not reminded of anything because she does. Look.
Rachel Berry isn't the kind of person who reminds you of someone else. Rachel Berry is the kind of person who one day, people will hope to be compared to. A star that shines so bright it blinds you to everyone else. Quinn's known that since Santana sent her a link over AIM that simply read "oh god, it sings" that had led straight to Rachel's MySpace page. Rachel has talent, real talent. Rachel is going to do things and be things and get the fuck out of Lima, Ohio, and Quinn hates her for it like she's never hated anyone in her life.
Or at least, anyone but Lucy.
They actually have the same favorite movie.
(Funny Girl is not a movie. Funny Girl is a way of life.)
It's no secret why Rachel loves Titanic. Epic love story, Celine Dion soundtrack… it's like it was made for her. She can quote pretty much every line from memory. (It's possible that the notion of "You jump, I jump, right?" is responsible for more than a few of Rachel's mistakes with Finn, but… well. She still thinks devotion is admirable, at the end of the day.)
Quinn thinks Titanic might actually be the least romantic movie she's ever seen.
The ship sinks. Rose grows up to be a lonely old woman, and you know that from the start. No matter how the plot twists, you know exactly how it all turns out in the end.
She finds a perverse sort of comfort in that—the certainty. Because knowing what's going to happen changes everything. Nursery-rhyme simple. If someone had gone up to Humpty Dumpty and told him Hey, if you sit there, you're gonna fall and break yourself so hard that no power on Earth will be able to fix you, he absolutely, definitely wouldn't have done it.
Sometimes it's all she can do to stop Rachel's voice from echoing in her ears, over and over—girls want sex just as much as guys do. It haunts her. Because Quinn doesn't, and she never has. In fact, the only time she ever really feels anything is when she—is when she looks at…
More often than she'd like to admit, she has… dreams. (She wakes up gasping every time.) For the most part, they fade with the light of day—thank God—but one thing always stays with her. Hovering perpetually on the edges of her consciousness are a pair of big brown eyes—familiar ones, blown wide, liquid with want. Eyes that say trust me, I can make you feel good.
They're not Puck's, and she knows they're not, but she just… can't stand not doing anything about this anymore. (She needs to distract herself. She needs to remember what it is she's supposed to want. Because the only other option is that she needs to be fixed, and if praying it away hasn't worked yet, she doesn't hold out much hope for it working at some camp.)
So yeah. Maybe she's looking for it, when he tracks her down at a party and tells her he has wine coolers. Maybe some part of her, deep down, thinks Why not? It can't hurt if you're already going to Hell anyway.
She saw it all coming. Angles and proofs and parallel lines. She knows it's a mistake, and here she is, about to make it anyway. Later, she'll tell herself she never had a choice.
(And all the king's horses and all the king's men…)
"Trust me," Puck says, brown eyes boring straight into hers.
And some part of her, deep down, thinks close enough.