Title: Ensnared by Despair (Let Love Set You Free)

Pairing: Quinn Fabray/Rachel Berry

Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters. Just having a little fun.

Summary: AU. Quinn broke up with Rachel during Nationals their junior year and Rachel hadn't the slightest clue why. When Quinn falls off the radar all summer and returns to school with a new look and attitude, Rachel has a feeling things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

A/N 1: I'm always fascinated with the notion of exes and having to deal with a person after sharing a past relationship with them. Mostly because I'm a firm believer in feelings never really 'dying'—they just change. For instance: you can't stop loving a person until that love has dissolved into hate or even apathy. You can't stop hating a person unless that hate changes into some level of tolerance or like. Anyway, this is where my mind state was when I wrote this. Rachel and Quinn are exes with a lot of feelings, questions, and confusion lying between them as they navigate senior year. At times their relationship may seem to take a backseat to other matters in their lives because well, they have lives (fictitious lives, but lives nonetheless). That being said, this is a romance, but the actual romance may or may not be the focal point from time to time. This fic encompasses their lives outside of each other as well as their lives together. That being said, there is Quick and Finchel and brief, super surprise ship happenings. That being said, I bring you chapter one. Hope you all enjoy. :)

A/N 2: I'm in college right now and working so if I don't update for a while at any point, it's because I'm busy.

She contemplated not going to school today. It was the first day and all she wanted to do was skip with the Skanks and go smoke in the back parking lot of Wal-Mart before a cashier came to chase them away. It was how she spent a typical Monday. But her alarm went off and though she swatted it away, she still found herself pushing up from her mattress, rubbing sleep from her eye and wobbling to the bathroom on sleep-shaky legs.

Maybe she could go to school after all. Besides, it was the first day, everyone would get to see the new her.

Quinn smirked into her reflection in the mirror. If people could see her now. Hair dyed pink just a shade shy of cotton candy color, a new nose ring, and an all-over tan that instead of coming from spending all summer at the vacation home she used to spend it at when her parents were still married, came from spending sun up to sundown outside. She didn't like going home. And the hours that weren't spent working at the local McDonald's or dating her now ex-girlfriend were spent being outside, squandering in delinquency.

During her entire summer, she only spent about a two weeks' worth of days at home. Enough to keep her mother from worrying too much to the point where she'd care enough to file a missing person's report. Quinn spent most nights jumping couches from her ex-girlfriend's house, to Mack's, Sheila's, and Ronnie's. It was a good summer.

She splashed water across her face to wash away the caked mascara from yesterday. Next, she brushed her teeth and reapplied make-up. As she slinked back to her room, she wondered to herself if going back to school would even be worth it. Then she thought of all of her friend's reactions to her new look and suddenly it would all be worth it. She would have their attention then. She would especially have her attention then.

Quinn sucked her teeth, slipped on a half shirt that bared her midriff and rolled up the sleeves to her shoulders. She looked down at herself. Her toned, tan stomach and for a split second, she recalled all it took to get it back into shape. She didn't like thinking of Beth often. But times like this when she was able to look down and see no stretch marks and a fit stomach, she became prideful and sad all at once.

Chasing that thought away, she shimmied into a long skirt and accessorized in the full length mirror in her room with a pair of earrings, and necklaces. She combed her hair to the left and pinned it there. After getting ready, she fished for her phone under her pillow. She slid it unlock to find two text messages and the time. She was twenty minutes late. That was the only drawback about her new look; it took a lot longer to get ready. She read the texts from Sheila and Mack, both asking her if she was going to school. Typing back a quick reply, she grabbed a pack of cigarettes from her nightstand and lit one as she shuffled down the stairs and out the door for school.

Rachel arrived to school with a broad smile on her face just as she did every year. And just as she did every year, she held a lot of trepidation under that tremulous smile. This was her final year. Everything was riding on this year, including her future career. This was the year where everything would be decided once and for all. Where she was going to school—which would ultimately dictate how her career was going to flourish, whether she was going to be valedictorian or salutatorian, how things were going to end or possibly continue with her and Finn.

And…how things were going to conclude with her.

She fidgeted nervously after her interview with Jacob Ben Israel because he was pushing buttons and asking questions that—though she only had nine months to find answers to—she wasn't ready to answer just yet.

Kurt eyed her critically as he came to stop on the piano. "What's wrong with you? You only miss scales when you receive a text message alerting you to Barbra Streisand tweeting."

She snapped out of her reverie at Streisand and turned to face him. "It's nothing, really. Jacob's boisterous questioning just has me thinking…"

He patted the space beside him on the piano bench and scooted over as she sat down beside him. "Is this about him again?" Kurt asked knowingly. "Or her…?"

Her head snapped up. "It's about Finn. I refuse to even think about…her."

It was a sore subject. One she didn't like talking about because to this day it still saddened and angered and hurt her to even think about.

Kurt hummed quietly. "Well, you're happy, right?"

"Sure, now I am. But will I be weeks from now, months from now? All summer I've tried to broach the subject of college to him and he hasn't given the issue much thought."

"Come on, honey, this is Finn we're talking about. I love the guy but he's not the smartest crayon in the box."

She smiled dimly. He wasn't the smartest crayon in the box, but he was Finn and she cared about him.

"But," Kurt chirped, "he always comes through in the end. And I don't think this is any different."

Rachel smiled and wrapped her arms tightly around Kurt. "Thank you," she whispered.

They pulled back just as the door to the choir room opened. The man in question walked in with a grin on his face. "It's nice to see my two favorite people get along," Finn said.

Rachel rose from her seat to meet Finn at the door. She was wrapped up in his arms, a kiss pressed to her head. This was safe, familiar. Though it was different now. She wasn't the carefree and whimsical teenager she was two years ago when she had time to waste. Not now. Now she knew more or less what she was getting herself into. She knew there was a fifty-fifty chance she and Finn would be together once this was all over and she was oddly content with those odds. She was content with the notion that her relationship with him was more like a ticking time bomb than anything else. Any minute now, it could all be over.

She leaned up to her tiptoes to kiss him soundly. "Ready for class?"

"Walk you to yours?"

They smiled at each other as they walked out of the room. Finn dapped out a football player as he walked down the hallway. He waved to the cheerleaders and gave good-natured punches to the arm to the basketball players. Rachel waved to her fellow glee club members when she saw them in the hallway. Mercedes, Tina and Mike, Artie. They walked further down the hallway and were blindsided by Jacob again.

"And here with me now I have the single leading couple of glee club ever since Noah Puckerman knocked up Quinn Fabray and the too-hot-to-look-at couple that never was spiraled into oblivion." He turned to them. "Rachel Berry and Finn Hudson, how are you guys? Barely making it, I hope." He puckered his lips in Rachel's direction and she frowned as Finn stepped up between them.

"We're doing great."

"Finn and I are taking it one busy day at a time. As you all know this is our final year in high school and we have many matters to discuss and agree on. That being said, I'd appreciate it if you all would give us the much needed privacy we are currently asking for as we deal with these matters."

"Finn, what do you want to be in life?"

"I already said I had plans, dude," Finn replied a little testily. Rachel grabbed his hand, and led him away, glaring back at Jacob.

"You don't have to answer his questions if you don't want to."

They came to a stop in front of her second class of the day. She leaned back against the wall as Finn intertwined their fingers. He stepped closer, his brow furrowing. "Someday I am gonna have to answer those questions."

She smiled as reassuringly as she could. "Someday, Finn, but not now. If you don't want to."

"That's not good enough for you."

It wasn't, but they could cross that bridge when they got to it. "For now let's just…live in the moment."

He smiled down at her and stepped closer. "What do you wanna do in this moment?" He leaned down closer.

She smiled a little and bit her lip as he leaned down to kiss her. When it was over, she bid him farewell and walked into class.

Quinn stood outside behind a fence as she watched the Cheerios practice a routine. She remembered it well. It was brutal. She could see Santana's thighs tremble with exhaustion at the top of the pyramid and she smiled cruelly. That used to be her. Sue barked out some orders into a megaphone then told them to hit the showers. Quinn backed away out of Sue's line of sight, not wanting to be propositioned for a spot on the team again. Just as she was walking away Santana called her name.

She cursed quietly, spinning around with a bored expression. She walked toward the fence as Santana and Brittany approached from the other side.

"What the fuck happened to you?" Santana asked. She looked Quinn up and down, gawking. "You don't half ass anything do you, Fabray?"

Quinn mashed her lips together in a quiet smile and shrugged. That was pretty much the response she had been getting all day. It gave her a little thrill to see the shock in everyone's eyes.

"Are you gonna rejoin Cheerios, or not? I saw you looking."

"I was mildly interested about who Coach had on the squad this year, that's all. And, no. I'm not joining. I'm not interested in the boys or the—"

Santana snorted indelicately. "I think we all know by now you're not interested in boys."

Quinn gave a sheepish smile, scratching the back of her head. Santana's brow furrowed as she took a step back. D-did she actually find that hot? Holy hell.

"I gotta say, this is kinda hot and everything, Q. But if you were going for butch, you've failed miserably."

And the strangest thing happened. She didn't blush in embarrassment. Her shoulders didn't pull taut with indignation. She hardly batted an eyelash behind her rounded sunglasses. She simply said, "I'm not trying to be butch. That's not my style at all."

Santana's jaw dropped at how her voice seemed to go even lower and, yeah, she may have wet herself a little. Brittany leaned against the fence a little heavier and Quinn smirked as she spied Brittany checking her out.

"So, what the hell are you doing?"

"I've finally found myself."

"And you're—what? A pink haired freak with a nose piercing?"

She shrugged again and Santana was admittedly becoming a little irritated. She sometimes thrived on how quickly she could rile Quinn up but it seemed this version of Quinn wasn't as tightly wound as the older one.

"Berry seen you yet?"

That seemed to get a reaction. Quinn's eyebrows rose higher on her forehead before she said in that same tone of voice, "Dunno. Maybe. Maybe not."

"Well, she's not gonna like this new look of yours."

"And I care, because?"

"Because you care about Rachel," Brittany said as if it was the most logical concept in the world.

"People grow apart," Quinn replied. Santana arched an eyebrow in a subtle warning at the sound of steel creeping into her throaty voice.

"Is that what we're doing here?" Santana asked.

"It's what we all do. Deal with it. I've got new friends now. And they accept me for who I am."

Santana was left speechless as Quinn walked away. Brittany tilted her head to the side, trying to see up Quinn's skirt though it was entirely too long.

Rachel wrote a quick greeting to the glee club members on the white board in the choir room. It was a new year, after all. And with the loss of Nationals last year still hot on their trail, it was best to boost team morale right from the start. She wanted to win this year. She needed to win this year if she was going to put leading glee club to Nationals on her college applications by the time they were due.

A flash of a Cheerios uniform caught her eye as Santana and Brittany filed into the choir room, with Puck trailing behind…leering at their behinds. Tina and Mike walked in hand in hand and Artie wheeled in with Mercedes and Kurt a moment later. Everyone was talking animatedly a mile a minute with wide eyes. Rachel turned to Finn in confusion just as he walked in, wondering what was going on. Santana caught their confusion and rolled her eyes. "Okay, have the two of you been under a rock all day?"

Rachel huffed quietly. "No, we have not, Santana. Is it possible you could inform us about the news that has seemed to work the club into a frenzy?"

"Quinn, duh."

Rachel bristled, looked around the room. Quinn wasn't there. "Where is she?"

"It isn't where she is," Artie piped up.

"It's what she's wearing." Puck leaned back in his seat. "I've seen many sides to my baby mama, but this is the hottest one."

"She did look super hot," Brittany admitted. Santana nodded a little.

"Okay, seriously, am I the only one wondering what happened to her over the summer? Girl has lost it for real this time." Mercedes looked around to see mild to little concern on everyone's face. "Rachel, come on, you gotta still care about your girl at least a little bit."

Rachel bit her lip as Finn looked down at her. Everyone did. As if she had a magical answer that would solve all the world's problems. But for now the world could wait. She had to see Quinn, had to see for herself. She cleared her throat. "If you'll all give me a moment, I have some business to take care of."

Finn looked confused because nothing aside from being sick kept her away from a glee club meeting. Before he could utter a word she was out the door.

The fourth place she thought to look was under the bleachers. Even then she didn't really think to look there; she just heard voices and followed them from off the football field. She walked closer as quietly as she possibly could. She saw Quinn, standing with her back to her as she talked with a group of three other girls. Rachel hardly even noticed the other women there as her gaze lifted from the long skirt to Quinn's lower back. She was tan. Her normally pale skin was a healthy golden shade that piqued Rachel's interest. And…was that a tattoo? Rachel shook her head with her eyes clenched shut as if to unclog her brain. She looked again and yes. That was definitely a tattoo. Her gaze continued north to the half shirt Quinn wore with the sleeves rolled to her shoulders. Her head tiled in thought—when did Quinn ever wear black? Then, Rachel nearly choked on her own saliva when to top it all off, Quinn's hair was pink. And not just pink streaks; she dyed her entire head pink. The entire transformation was mind boggling. Nothing about Quinn had made sense over the past several months and this just threw all logic out of the window. Tightening the strap of her pink purse to her for comfort, she walked forward just as Quinn lit her cigarette. And when did Quinn ever smoke?

"H-hey, Quinn." She cursed herself for how weak and scared she sounded. But she was scared. This was a new Quinn that she had never been acquainted with until now. She knew what Quinn was up to over the summer due to various contacts she had but no one ever told her this. No one ever told her that she dyed her hair, changed her wardrobe and—Quinn turned around to face her.

Rachel's jaw dropped. She had a nose ring.

She quickly tried to regroup. "Hello…Skanks…" she greeted awkwardly.

"Your friend stinks of soap, Quinn."

Rachel noticed Quinn roll her eyes, but she hardly paid attention to the girl who insulted her. Her eyes raked over Quinn's body quietly. This transformation was new but this wasn't Quinn. This wasn't her Quinn.

But she was still so beautiful. She still took Rachel's breath away. The way she bat her eyelashes when the wind shifted and the smoke blew back into her face, the dark color of her lipstick making her lips look even fuller, the blush applied to her cheeks accentuating her cheekbones. If this moment wasn't so severe Rachel would have laughed at the absurdity of it all. Was it so impossible for Quinn to look anything but stunning?

"This is new…" she said quietly.

"It's not. Don't act like you haven't been keeping tabs on me this summer."

Even her voice was different. It was lower and unyielding—dangerous, sending shivers down Rachel's spine. But she surged on, not one to be deterred. "We were in love once. I knew when you broke up with me when we went to New York for Nationals, I should have fought harder for you." She looked to Quinn sadly. "Now look at you."

Quinn gave her a dry look as she puffed her cigarette. She blew the smoke into the air in front of her, the gray cloud blurring her in Rachel's eyes. "I really don't need your pity."

"It's concern because I care about you," Rachel assured her. "Maybe when you dropped out of society this summer and dated that forty year old skate boarder, I should have said I lov—"

"We're not doing this again."

"Why did you leave me?" she murmured into the gentle wind swirling around them.

"I'll give you ten bucks if you let me beat her up for you, Quinn." Mack walked closer from behind Quinn and Rachel startled, taking a step back.

Quinn's eyes turned cold in an instant as she turned around and rounded on Mack. "Don't touch her," was all she said in that lower than normal voice that sent off warning alarms in Rachel's head.

Mack cocked her hip to the side in defiance but she complied. Quinn turned back around to find Rachel staring at her in wonderment.

"What?" she barked out defensively.

"Nothing, it's just—" she took a deep breath, "I hardly recognize you."

"Maybe you never knew me."

"I'd like to think I knew you better than anyone."

Quinn looked away from her. She took another drag of her cigarette. "Get lost for a little while, guys." The girls behind her took their time, slowly gathering their belongings before they left. Each glared at Rachel and Mack made a jerky move towards her. Rachel yelped and leapt away and Mack laughed as she walked off.

"You don't need to be afraid of her," Quinn told her as she walked over to the bleachers and took a seat. "She's harmless."

Rachel clutched her purse closer to her. "She looks like she could cause harm."

Quinn looked up at her. "She wouldn't harm you."

Momentarily comforted, she carefully walked toward Quinn, sitting beside her. She wanted to ask so many questions it was overwhelming. This was Quinn in front of her, in the flesh. Finally. Before she knew it, tears sprang to her eyes because she went months without seeing her and she was always so scared something was going to happen. "Quinn," she whispered tremulously. "I was so afraid—I tried to contact you but you wouldn't return any of my calls and I just—"

She choked on her words as Quinn reached out an arm to wrap around her. Rachel buried herself into Quinn's side and wept silently. She shuddered against her and Quinn never said of word. Rachel breathed deeply, the scent of grunge, malt liquor and tobacco doing nothing to mask the scent of coconut underneath. "I was so worried about you and you never returned my calls."

"I was busy," Quinn murmured.

"Busy forgetting about me?" Rachel replied bitterly.

"This wasn't about you."

Rachel pulled back to wipe her eyes. She saw Quinn a little better and felt like crying all over again. "Quinn, what happened to you?" She reached forward to touch her hair. It was still soft to the touch, dancing a little in the wind. "You cut your hair, you dyed it. Got a nose ring, dating older women. What have you been doing?"

"I'd say I was doing her." The corner of her lip lifted into a lop-sided grin. Rachel frowned deeply, decidedly unamused. Quinn sighed and took another drag of her cigarette. She threw it to the ground and stomped it out. "What do you want, Rachel?" she asked tiredly.

"I want you to answer my question."

"Which one? You ask so many."

"Why did you break up with me and what the hell happened to you?"

She had never gotten an answer. When Quinn had broken up with her the weekend they went to New York for Nationals she had cried and begged for a reason why and Quinn had never given her one. They had been amazing together, perfect. Everything Rachel wasn't, Quinn was and vice versa. It made sense in a really weird way that shouldn't have made sense at all.

They had begun dating at the end of April. Finn had accidently broke Rachel's nose and that moment had sent Rachel spiraling on a quest to have a nose that looked just like Quinn's. Quinn was simply the most beautiful girl she had ever met; she wanted to be with her and as creepy as it sounded, if she couldn't have Quinn then she at least wanted to be like her in some way.

Quinn was creeped out. Ironically not about Rachel's feelings for her, but about her deciding to have her nose instead of coming clean about her feelings.

They began tentatively. Quinn had managed to convince Rachel not to get a nose job and they took off from there in a careful relationship that flourished as quickly as it began for they both came to realize that what they shared had been nearly two years in the making.

Then, it ended. They had journeyed to New York and things were good until a day before Nationals. Quinn had broken up with her without a reason why. They both cried and when Quinn tried to wipe her tears, Rachel whipped back angrily, not wanting her pity.

Finn ended up kissing her at Nationals. They subsequently lost Nationals and that summer, Rachel lost Quinn. She dropped off the face of the earth. This was the first time she had seen or heard from her in three months.

"Are you going to tell me?"

She watched as Quinn lit another cigarette, taking a long, slow drag. Rachel swallowed tightly. "That could kill you," she choked out.

Quinn blew out the smoke with a shrug. "I'm gonna end up here anyway. Why spend this year trying and acting as if I'm gonna be something?"

"Because you are going to be something."

"I am sick to death of your motivational speeches, Rachel." She didn't raise her voice above that low purr and something about it was more chilling than anything else. Rachel could handle Quinn yelling and flying off the handle because she was showing emotion and Rachel could read them well. But she couldn't read this Quinn. It was unnerving to talk to her and not know what she was feeling.

"Come back to glee club," she asked instead, changing tactics. "We could really use your voice." She risked scooting closer as Quinn looked up at her. And then she saw those eyes. No matter how much Quinn had changed those eyes would always be an indicator to Rachel that she was still there. "I miss seeing you in the choir room, Quinn. I miss seeing you."

Quinn didn't say anything. Her throat bobbed as she looked away to take another puff of her cigarette. Rachel stood up, knowing that Quinn worked on her own time. If she left, Quinn would follow if she wanted to.

"We would love to have you back. I would love to have you back," she said quietly. "Whenever you're ready."

The weight of her statement wasn't lost on Quinn as she watched Rachel walk away. She made a face as the cigarette touched her lips and tossed it, stomping it with a little more force than necessary.

It had gotten bitter.

Just like her.